Maria Taylor was born in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, England on 17 January 1845, the youngest child of George Edward Grove Taylor and Ann Wicks. Older children in the family were Joseph Edward, her only brother, and two sisters, Margaret Ann and Martha.
When Maria was seven years of age, the family heard the Gospel message from Elders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were converted and the parents were baptized 27 July 1848. Shortly afterwards, her brother, Joseph, was also baptized on 11 August 1848. Maria could hardly wait for her eighth birthday so she could be baptized.
Maria only went to school a few weeks in England where about all they taught was sewing, having to count the threads of the cloth between each stitch. She was well rewarded for her patience, as she became a good seamstress. She was the mother of seven children before she had a sewing machine.
The family wished to go to America, but as they did not have the money for all to go, they thought it best to send their son, Joseph. He arrived in Salt Lake City in 1852, obtained employment at different jobs to help earn money for the others to follow. He later became one of the pioneer undertakers and built the first coffin factory west of the Mississippi River. As soon as he could save enough money, it was sent to his mother so that she and his two younger sisters, Martha and Maria, could pay for their voyage to the United States.
They were ten weeks and three days crossing the ocean. They arrived in St. Louis and remained there for a year. Each went to different homes to work. The mother did nursing and the girls took care of children and washed dishes to pay for their board and room. Maria was small for her age and had to stand on a box to wash the dishes and mix bread.
With the help of the Emigration Fund, they started for Salt Lake City, a thousand miles away. They shared a wagon with another family and as the Mother was sick most of the time, and her sister not very strong, Maria had to walk most of the way.
As she trudged along over the rough country day after day, Maria became discouraged. One day she went and sat down under a tree and let the wagons go by. Soon she heard a noise and looking up, saw a large Indian standing nearby. She arose and ran as fast as she could, the Indian following her, but he didn't try to harm her. When they were near the wagons, he disappeared into the bushes. This taught her a lesson, and after that she stayed near the others.
After suffering many hardships, they arrived in Salt Lake and stayed in the home of her brother, Joseph, a while. Then again, each went to different homes to work. Maria was fortunate, living in the homes of cultured people, the Whitneys, where she helped to care for Orson F. Whitney when he was a baby. She would take him for walks up City Creek Canyon. He has said that his first recollection was the wild roses that grew there. She later lived in the home of Emmeline B. Wells, Editor of the "Woman's Exponent", later called "The Relief Society Magazine." Sister Wells was very kind to her, encouraging her to read, and relating many wonderful experiences in her life and of the Church. Maria became so attached to the daughter, Annie, she later named her own daughter after her.
As the girls grew older, they earned fifty cents a week and paid for their clothing. They had three dresses a year, two made of unbleached muslin, which they dyed with the bark of trees or plants, and one wool made in the Fall, for Church and social occasions.
Maria was about 4' 5" tall, had grey eyes and dark auburn hair, with a permanent wave that could never be combed out, and always kept a clear English complexion which never freckled, in spite of dust and heat of traveling.
She married Joseph McRae, son of Alexander and Eunice Fitzgerald McRae, on 5 March 1862. Their lives were mostly spent in pioneering, living the first years of their married life in Salt Lake City where four children were born: Eunice Ann, who died in infancy; Joseph Alexander, John Kenneth; and George Edwin. As Maria's brother, Joseph, had some farming land in Wasatch County, he offered the land to Joseph and Maria to run on shares. The family moved to the town of Charleston, where two daughters, Annie Maria and Mary Jane, were born. It was here they built their first home.
As their home was about completed, Joseph went into Salt Lake City to Conference. He was also going to buy more lumber to complete the house, but returned with a "call" from President Brigham Young to go to Arizona to help settle some of the wastelands there.
It can well be imagined the feeling of the family, especially Maria, when the father arrived home and told of the new plans. New adventure was exciting for the boys, who no doubt were dreaming of fighting the Indians, but not for Maria, always pioneering, always wanting a home where some of the comforts of life could be had for her growing family, this must have come as quite a blow. A home had been so near before her husband left, and now, at his return, the plans had been changed so completely. However, never doubting the divinity of the "call", never shirking her duty, she went quietly about getting their possessions ready for the long trip into the land of "privations and hardships".
Taking their lives in their hands, but with great faith in their leaders, they sold their home and left Charleston with their five children.
Joseph and the boys started in November with the teams, and Maria and the girls went by train to Minersville, Utah, to the home of her sister, Margaret Goodman. Her husband and boys met them and they spent Christmas together. They went on to St. George and were there for the dedication of the Temple in January.
They formed a Company at St. George under the leadership of Daniel W. Jones, with two teams and wagons, loaded with what food and essentials they might need in an unknown country, they set out. Arizona at that time seemed to be mostly inhabited by Indians who were committing many degradations.
When they reached the Colorado River, Joseph had to sell a wagon and Maria gave up her valuable flat-irons and other useful articles to pay the ferryman for helping the Company cross the river. They now had to crowd into one wagon until they reached the Salt River and camped where Lehi now is.
They went to work and took out a canal, planted gardens and lived in tents.
As they had received a letter from President Young asking that at least part of the Company go farther south and settle on the San Pedro, they, with six other families, left Lehi the last of August. The privations and hardships of this journey are explained in the history of her husband.
On arriving at the San Pedro River near what is now called St. David, they again camped in tents. For those refined and delicate mothers, sick and sad, deprived of the comforts of home, cooking over fires in the open when the wind filled their eyes with fire and dust, going to bed and getting up unkempt and unwashed, their children deprived of the little niceties of civilization, made them very discouraged and disheartened.
In a letter from Maria to her mother, here is just a little of the heartache:
San Pedro River, Arizona
2 February, 1879
"My dear Mother:
"This is Sunday afternoon and we have no meeting so I thought I could not occupy my time better than to answer your very welcome letter. We were very glad to hear from you and that you were all well, as it found all of us pretty well. The children have the chills sometimes. I have not had but one hard chill since we have been here. We do not know what we are going to do yet about where we shall live. President Taylor writes he should not like to have the settlement broken up on the San Pedro River. He thinks it will be more healthy farther back from the river, but it will be very expensive to take the water out. The most of the Company feels like trying it another year. It is nearly time we settled down somewhere. When I read about what the sisters are doing in Utah, I feel as though we were not doing much good, but I suppose it is all necessary for the forwarding of the work.
"Dear Mother, I can realize how you loved the Society of Saints, for I long for the time to come when there will be some good Latter-day Saints come here to live. Do not think there is none here, but when you mingle with people every day, you begin to know one another so well that there is nothing new; but when you are deprived of a blessing, you know how to appreciate them when you get a chance, Mother.
"You wanted me to write a long letter, but we have nothing particular to write about. I have plenty of hard work as usual. We have two boarders, besides our own family, and living in a tent is not as convenient as a house, but I want to try and get a few things that we need. We are surrounded by gentiles and they are a rough set. They have nearly all been to Utah and have drifted down here.
"Tomorrow is Annie's birthday. She is very large for her age. It does not look like it did in Charleston six years ago. The ground is dry and dusty, and very warm in the middle of the day, but very cold at night. This is a good climate if it was only healthy.
"Joseph and the children send their love to you. I must stop and get supper. Give my love to all
From your loving daughter,
(signed) Maria McRae."
P.S. We live 38 miles from the post-office, so I do not know when I shall get a chance to send this.
After living here for some time, they managed to build a fort to protect them from the Apache Indians. They were never molested. As Joseph said, "We were not called down here to be killed by Indians", but they had many scares. After they were settled in the fort, everyone became ill with chills and fever except Joseph. Maria had a settled fever all summer, which they called "Malaria". At times the sick had to wait upon the sick. In October, while all were sick with these chills, Apostle Erastus Snow and others made them a visit from Salt Lake City. He administered to the sick and promised them that this River would yet be settled with Saints. Maria believed this promise and hoped to live to see it fulfilled. As nearly all were sick in bed, she must have had great faith.
It was truly a blessing to the new settlers when the Lord guided Brother John W. Campbell to join with the saints on the San Pedro. Great was the relief and many of the problems solved when he gave the saints work on the sawmill and food from his store.
Joseph and Maria took their family and moved to the mountains to work. He was happy to get the money that they sorely needed at this time and was in hopes that change of climate might improve Maria's health. In Miller Canyon, Joseph built a large one-room house out of new lumber, thinking to have a nice comfortable room when the baby was born. Shakes were put on the roof instead of shingles. As the lumber had not been seasoned, the boards shrunk, so on 20 September, as the rain poured down outside, their son, Charles, was born, being the first white child born in Cochise County. Pans and buckets were placed over the bed to keep Maria dry.
Some time later they came back to the Fort and helped settle the Valley, taking out a canal, freighting to Tombstone (which was discovered in 1878), and also to Bisbee later. Here a home was built and three more sons were born: Parley Taylor; Orson Pratt; and Milton.
Maria taught the first school in St. David. This was in 1878 and 1879. She would call in the neighbors' children and teach them along with her own. She didn't want her children to grow up in ignorance. It is said that she was the first teacher in Cochise County. She, with Susan Curtis, established a school in her home.
The McRae home was the largest in the community. They held lots of entertainment there and always had a group in their home.
One night Maria had a dream in which she saw canals along the foothills above the town, and everything was green and pretty. Maybe, if Charleston Dam is ever completed, this may come true. She loved St. David very dearly and even after moving to the Gila Valley she wanted to return.
Maria had a tremendous adjustment to make when Joseph returned from Salt Lake City in April, 1888, with the news that he had entered into plural marriage with Augusta Erickson. The taking of another wife by Joseph, while the righteousness of the act was never questioned by Maria, was a great trial to her.
Joseph's release from the "call" to assist in colonizing Arizona came in the fall of 1890. Being discouraged about crop failures and things in general, the family decided to return to Utah to live. Joseph and Maria left the children on the old homestead in 1893, while they went on ahead to their intended home in Utah, but returned at word of Charles' serious illness with typhoid fever. Parley and Milton also had the fever.
After the children recovered, the family decided to move to the Gila Valley. This was on 20 July 1893. When they first entered the Valley, they stayed in Safford a few months; then bought a home in Thatcher where the children attended school.
Maria's health began to fail and it became the duty of her daughter, Mary Jane ("Mamie"), to care for her as Joseph was away a good deal of the time. His inability to succeed in matters temporal, although he was a good man, a true father and a faithful Latter-day Saint, caused her to fall into a sort of melancholy which unquestionably hastened her death. It seemed impossible for her to rise above and conquer her feelings.
She passed away in the old home in Thatcher on 19 April 1901, with three of her children, Mary Jane, Charles and Milton, with her. Her husband and daughter, Annie, were living in St. David and were unable to attend her funeral due to storms which had washed away the railroad tracks between St. David and Thatcher. She was buried in Thatcher.
She was loved and mourned by many, being regarded as a faithful wife and true and moving Mother. So goodness, honor, and purity adorn the parents of whom the family should be justly proud.