Elizabeth Ross Mathis

By Grace Walker Fielding

Elizabeth Ross was born 12 March 1804 in Guilford County, North Carolina.  She was the daughter of Andrew Jackson Ross and Mary Ann Kimons.  These Ross’s were descendants of Betsy Ross who made the first flag.  Her father had a large plantation and Negro slaves.  He treated his slaves well and refused to take part in the buying and selling of slaves.  The colored men worked out of doors and women helped with the work inside.

In these early days there were few cities.  The counties were the dividing lines.  Tobacco and cotton were the principle crops.  Tobacco was so common that even the children used it and no one seemed to know of its harmful effects or spoke against its use.

Little is known of Elizabeth’s childhood.  She probably grew up much the same as other children on these Southern plantations.  She played and learned to work with the colored servants for whom she had a kindly feeling and pleasant memories of her childhood remained with her throughout her entire life.  In later years she often told her grandchildren many pleasant stories of these kind Negro mammies and their little pickaninies.

There were nine children in the Ross family—five boys and four girls.  Elizabeth was the second child.  Opportunities for schooling were very limited yet she learned to read and write.

When she was eight years old, the war of 1812 broke out and many men, both old and young, were called away.  This war was not of great length and when it came to a close the soldiers went back to homes on the plantations to a normal life again.

A few years passed and Elizabeth began to keep company with one of these soldier boys.  He was Isaac Mathis.  Their association developed into friendship and later into love.  On 22 February 1822 they were married.  Isaac had gone into war with the Tennessee Troops and after the war closed he went back to his Carolina home.  When he was married he took his wife back to Tennessee to make their home and it was in Paris, Henry County that their first child was born, 3 January 1823.  They named the little girl Elsa.

They were not quite satisfied here so the moved into Carroll County and began a new home.  Here six children were born: John born 25 September 1825, Allen born 8 September 1827, James Henry born 13 November 1829 and died two years later, Robert born 17 January 1832, Mary Elizabeth born 18 August 1834 and died in 1835, and Sarah Ann born 7 December 1836.

Now they were not satisfied—they seemed to be looking for something, they knew not just what.  They moved into Dyer County where Isaac, Junior was born on 27 February 1839.  Later they moved into Iron County where Thomas William was born on 25 July 1842 and Martha Jane on 12 October 1844.

When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints began to send its missionaries into the southern states they found this Mathis family in their Tennessee home.  The blood of Israel flowed in their veins and they recognized the voice of the shepherd and were baptized into the church.

The spirit of gathering came upon them and they began to make preparations to gather with the saints.  The Lord blessed their efforts so they were fairly well fixed financially and they planned to be as comfortable as possible in their travels

They built large strong wagons.   They butchered animals that they raised on their plantation and dried and cured the meat.  They gathered wild fruit and berries, dried and preserved it to be used on the way.  In 1851 they went into Pottawattamie County, Iowa.  There preparations continued.  In the spring of 1852 they started west.  They were much better prepared for the journey than many of the pioneers.  The three older children of the family were married and had small families of their own.

All went well with them until the cholera made its appearance.  It seemed to be a very severe type of the disease and most of those who contracted it soon died.  New graves were made by the wayside nearly every day.  Allen’s wife and baby boy took it and died leaving a small girl and a grief stricken husband.  People became so afraid that they buried their dead as soon as the necessary preparations could be made and moved on their way.

On the 22nd of July the family camped at Glen Creek, near Fort Laramie, Wyoming.  The evening work was done and then the family retired as usual.  During the night the father became violently ill with this dreadful disease.  When morning came he had passed away.  The younger members of the family were not aware of his illness until they arose in the morning to hind him dead.  The older children had been up to render whatsoever assistance they could and were making a coffin from the boards of one of the tops of the beds or a wagon when the younger children awakened.  A good, strong box was made and the husband and father was laid to rest by the roadside and the company moved on.  There was no lingering about nor looking backward.  With sad hearts they turned their faces again toward the west and Zion.  They only felt thankful that they had a good box to bury their father in.  Sometimes the dead were wrapped in a blanket or laid in the bark stripped from a tree and then put in a grave so shallow at times that wild animals could scratch away the dirt and drag the bodies out.

This was a great trial to Elizabeth.  They had buried two children in Tennessee and a daughter-in-law and her baby only a short time before on the plains.  But she must care for the little granddaughter and her own large family and be both father and mother to them, even now while they were out in the wilderness.  A time it seemed almost more than she could bear but a kind Heavenly Father came to her aid and in the stillness of the night showed her it was better this way.  She thanked Him that her husband had been called home while he still had a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel for which they had given up so much.  The load seemed a little lighter now as she picked up her cross, stood erect and began to go forward.  They journeyed on, arriving in Salt Lake City 12 Oct 1852, the very day her baby daughter turned eight years old.

They remained in Salt Lake City until the following spring and made a living there as best they could.  Then they moved down to Santaquin in Utah County.  Later on they moved to Payson.  Here on 1 November 1855 her daughter Sarah Ann was married to James A. Holman and it was with this daughter and her family that she spent much of her later life.  During these years one of her younger sons, Isaac, lost his wife, leaving a large family of young children.  Grandmother Mathis went into his home and helped to raise his family.  While with this son, she lived in Fountain Green in Sanpete County.

A severe illness in her younger life caused the loss of her hair, which never grew back and she always wore a black lace trimmed cap to cover her bare head.  She was slim, rather tall, had blue eyes and brown hair—what little she had.  She always stood erect, was active and had a quiet, patient, lovable disposition.  Some of the habits of childhood stayed with her throughout her life.  She had always worked hard and endured many hardships and at the age of 69 when she was unable to work for a livelihood, she asked the United States government for a pension from her husband’s military service in the was of 1812.  This was granted 28 August 1874.  She also received back pay because she had not asked for it earlier.  The pension was small compared with pensions of later times, but she managed to get along with it and felt quite independent.  She was living in Santaquin at this time.

In the early eighties she moved to Fountain Green and lived with her daughter, Sarah Ann.  While here she spent sometime in the home of her grandson, James Isaac Holman and his wife.  They had two small children and she enjoyed the quiet of the home and the cunning ways of the two children.  In the spring of 1887 one of her sons came from California to visit her and when he went home he took her with him.  They lived in San Bernardino and it was here she passed away in Aug 1891.  She was buried at Mountain Pass a short distance from the city.  Thus came to a close the life of one of Gods noble women.

(from the files of Mary Jean Caldwell.)

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