Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Indian Mary by Eleanor P. Madsen

“Her edifice of strength still calms our fears. She left a lamp to shine through all our years.”1 Mary Thompson, affectionately known as “Indian Mary,” did, indeed, leave a light to shine for those who knew and loved her in the community of Ephraim where she lived for seventy years.

At the time when Mary was six months old, she and her mother had been captured by a band of Indians who took them to Spring City. Here they placed the mother and her baby in a wickiup with a guard stationed to watch them so they wouldn’t escape. During the night the guard fell asleep and Mary’s mother left her on the ground and escaped. No doubt the mother knew if she stayed that both she and the baby would be massacred. No one knows if the mother was able to return to her Navajo people in Arizona. When the Indians discovered that the mother had escaped, they wondered what to do with the baby. It looked as if they would kill her. It was then that Caroline Thompson Black’s husband, Joseph, 12 offered the Indian a hundred pounds of wheat for the baby. The trade was made and the baby was taken to Caroline’s father, Peter Peterson Thompson, in Ephraim where she lived until she was grown.

Mary was a “dear member” of the Thompson family and did much to help them in their declining years. When Mr. Thompson was stricken with cancer she helped care for him in those days, cloth was very scarce and Mary “patently washed all the bandages that were used in the care of the cruel sores.” After Peter died, Mary stayed in the home and cared for his wife, Mary Hansen Thompson, exhibiting the same tenderness she had in caring for Mr. Thompson. A son, Peter Thompson, also lived in the home at the time his first son was born, his wife died. Mary took care of the little boy. “Became his slave,” until he, too, died at the age of six with diphtheria. Mary mourned stoically. For weeks and weeks she kept little food in her stomach, although no one could tell from outside appearances that she was mourning.

As Peter married again, this time to Marie Peterson, Mary decided to leave and for a time made her home with the Canute Peterson family and was “much loved” by them. Later, Mary moved into a small, one room home at 150 East Center Street in Ephraim. Although the room was crowded with many things, it was always neat and clean. A small, coal stove with four lids stood on one side of the room. The stove and pipe were always so shiny you could see yourself in them. A bed, a table, a book case and two chests completed the furnishings. A rack on the back of the door was her clothes closet. During the early years Mary lived in this home, often Indians would come around begging. She was very sensitive about this and would pull the shades down and not answer the door when the Indians knocked.

 Mary was extremely independent and would carry water in a bucket from an outside tap and coal from the pile at the back of her house while walking with crutches. Sometimes, she would let the little boys, Neal and Knute Peterson and LaVor Taylor, help carry the buckets. Mary had her one leg amputated at the knee when she was young.

There are several conflicting stories regarding how this happened. One story states that she was born with a bad leg and developed tuberculosis in it, which caused the need for amputation. Another tells that she was exploring an unfinished house as a child in Ephraim and fell the height of the room, splintering the bones so that they did not heal and had to be removed. A history of Mary says that when Professor Anthony C. Lund, a grandson of Canute Peterson, went to Provo to study music, Mary was sent to care for him. He rented the upstairs of a house. There was no railing around the landing. One night Mary stepped off the landing and fell to the ground, breaking her leg. It was set but would not heal. Finally it had to be amputated.

Even though Mary walked with crutches, she was able to make a living for herself. She became a dressmaker. She was an excellent seamstress and tailoress. She went to the homes where her services were needed, charging 50 cents a day. Many homes in Ephraim were blessed with the skill of her hands as she designed beautiful coats, suits and dresses. May sewed often in the home of P. C. Peterson for the six children in the family. She made suits and coats for the three boys from clothing the father had worn. The boys were always proud to wear anything Mary made for them. The clothes never looked “made over” but were preferred to the boughten suits and coats. At one time she made baseball suits for Neal and Knute who were about nine and ten years of age. They had professional photographs taken wearing the suits.

In addition to her sewing ability, Mary was also an excellent cook. Her dumpling soup was unexcelled. Friends remember that she made the “most delicious divinity they had ever tasted.”  Whether it was cooking, sewing or playing, Mary was enthusiastic. She was one of the College’s strongest “boosters.” There was nothing she enjoyed more than attending basketball games at the college. She had a reserved seat on the front row and was number one in her own private, cheering section. If the opposing team didn’t behave just right, she would shake the umbrella she carried at them.

Her favorite phrase was, “O you big fool!” Evan Ericksen and Rulon Peterson were two players on the Snow College team. She was very fond of Rulon and became extremely jealous when he courted and married Maxine Justesen. As the couple invited Mary to their home for dinners, she grew to love Maxine as much as she did Rulon. They became dear friends. Mary liked baseball and all types of sports. She enjoyed pictures shows. On Saturday afternoon, she and Knute Peterson, a son of P.C. Peterson, “whom she loved as though he were her own,” went to the afternoon matinees at the local theater. The films were mostly Western with many incidents concerning Indians. Mary asked Knute’s mother not to tell him she was an Indian until after her death. When Mary died, Knute was about 12 years of age and did not know, until she was lying in her casket at the home of Jennie Johnson, that Mary was an Indian. This made no difference in his love for her and he would go often to the cemetery and care for her grave.

 In her later years, Mary used to enjoy standing by her curved, wooden picket fence to greet the people who passed by. Whether it was an adult or a child, she enjoyed visiting with him and made many friends through her warm, cheerful personality. A tribute to Mary from Ethelyn Peterson Taylor has this to say of her: “When I read in the Book of Mormon about the Lamanites becoming a white and delightsome people, I think of Mary. She is proof to me. Her skin was no darker than my olive complexion. She was a distinctive looking, aristocratic lady. My recollections of her were that she always wore a long, black skirt with beautiful blouses and a large, elegant, black hat with satin ribbon and hat pins. Although on crutches, she was regal in bearing, always a perfect lady. She was kind, generous and selfless.

Mary was an impressive example of thrift and taking care of one’s self. Through the years she saved enough money to pay for her burial expenses. She never knew she was ‘deprived.’ Mary was a noble, unselfish, intelligent, independent and beautiful character. I shall never forget her.” Mary Thompson was born in 1860 and died in 1930. She is buried in the Ephraim Park Cemetery where many of her friends place flowers on her grave each May time. Indian Mary is a legend of one of Ephraim’s ‘best loved’ citizens. Her life was “one of service and devotion to those who had befriended her.”

Sources:  Saga of the Sanpitch, Maxine R. Jennings, “A Lamp to Shine”. Jennie T. Johnson and Ethel Thompson Lewis history, “Indian Mary”. Personal recollections of: Ethelyn P. Taylor, LaVor Taylor, Lucille Peterson, Grace Johnson, Rulon Peterson, Olive Thorpe, Ruth T. Langston, and Chauncey Thompson. 

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