Sarah McKee Davis (1799-1888)

History of Sarah McKee Davis
Written by a granddaughter, Sarah Davis Dalton
In order to really know Sarah McKee Davis we must go back a century and more in years, to the State of Pennsylvaniayes, even farther back than that to the Parish of Country Down in Old Ireland.

America. In the very dawn of U. S. history it must have been, because Sarah McKee was born September 22nd, 1799. Some number of years must have elapsed between the coming of the McKee brothers and the birth of Sarah, whose father was one of those brothers. We like to fancy how he built his little home after a few years spent in getting his large farm under at least partial cultivation, and so while we do not know the exact date, I feel secure in stating that her paternal ancestors were among the founders of this country. Her father’s name was Joseph. Her Mother’s name was Jane Young, daughter of Alexander and Margaret Anne Porter Young. Tradition has it that her people were of the German Pennsylvania Dutch descent, but whether they were from the Dutch colonies in New York or from the German colonies of Pennsylvania, we do not know; but, judging from a description given of the New York Dutch by one historian, I conclude that they were pure Dutch. The characteristics he ascribed to those people were the exact counterpart of those possessed by Sarah McKee. He said, “They acquired a fame as wide as the world for the noble virtue of honesty, defenders of the right; they were brave, bold and plain spoken. They were peaceful and were justly celebrated for their moral and domestic virtues from both nationalities.

Having established her ancestry let us get a picture of the home of her birth, childhood and youth. It was situated at Cochran Mills, a little farming community just eight miles out from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was just a humble home but a prosperous, happy one judging from the description she gave of it in later life, especially of the little log millhouse which was built to contain the pan of milk, the cream and the rolls of sweet butter and cheese. Her people used to take their produce in to Pittsburgh for sale. She often told of going to dances on horseback where no doubt she was the “Belle of the ball” as she was a very attractive girl with beautiful black hair and sparkling brown eyes. Her voice was sweet and clear as she sang in later years Irish lullabies and old ballads. One song she often sang was “The Wearing of the Green.”

She was a small, frail-looking girl weighing less than a hundred pounds, and was about five feet in height. She was married to William Davis of Westmoreland, Pennsylvania on October 3rd, 1822 when she was twenty-three years old. Ten children were born to them. Most of them were born in Pennsylvania or at least before the Davis’ came to Utah. She and her husband joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and endured the persecutions heaped upon them prior to and during their exodus from Missouri.

In 1848 she and her husband came to Utah in President Lorenzo Snow’s company. They remained in Salt Lake City until March 11th, 1851 when they came to Box Elder County in answer to a call from President Brigham Young. It must have been a lonely journey for the little company of eight or ten people to travel in prairie schooners, sixty miles beyond civilization and settle in a land covered with bunch grass and greasewood with here and there clumps of trees and underbrush bordering the streams. The Davis Company built three log cabins, which were joined together in fort fashion as a protection against the Indians. It was located down near what was called Reeder’s Grove. Later in 1851 the Davis’s were joined by the Jamison and Carter families, who added three more log cabins to form part of an enclosure. This was thereafter known as the Davis Fort. In July of 1853 they moved into the old fort located between what is now known as 1st and 2nd West and 2nd and 3rd North. Mrs. Davis’s life was a busy one because she, like all the other pioneer women, helped to shear sheep, wash, pick, card and spin the wool into yarn, then color it and weave it into cloth from which she made clothing and bedding for her family. She had spun linen in her childhood home so she was adept in helping other women. However, Mrs. Davis’s family was growing smaller. The four oldest children weren’t married. David, Eleanor, Joseph and Sarah Bell were the four. On December 25th, 1853 Margaret married Elisha Grenard. This was one of the first marriages solemnized in Box Elder. On March 2nd, 1856 James married Susannah Clapper, thus leaving only one child at home.

Now, Mrs. Davis began in real earnest the work which gave her the beloved title of “Grandma Davis.” As a girl in her Pennsylvania home she had gained valuable knowledge through assisting her father, who was a skilled physician and surgeon. The training she received under his direction, combined with her sincere faith in God, caused her services to be sought for all classes of people. Thousands of babies were brought into existence and their mothers received loving care from her. Her services were graciously and willingly given to all in time of sickness and death. She went by day or night in any kind of conveyance available regardless of cold or storms. At one time en route on an errand of mercy Grandmother was thrown from the moving vehicle in which she was riding and was seriously injured, sustaining several broken bones. She was miraculously healed and her life was spared to continue her labors among the sick. She was interviewed by the famous eastern surgeon, Dr. John S. Ormsby, who said he wished to learn her way of setting broken bones and the methods used in healing. She attributed her phenomenal success to her great faith in God, never leaving her home to attend the sick without supplicating the Lord in humble prayer.

Many incidents of almost unbelievable healing could be related. One remarkable occurrence which has been told many times and was a puzzle to learned surgeons was when her grandson, Charles Forsgren, son of her daughter Sarah, was working on an old-fashioned threshing machine drawn by twelve horses. His foot slipped and he fell into the cogwheel of the machine. Before the horses could be halted, his foot had been crushed and the bones were mashed and broken. Grandmother set the bones, bandaged the foot and applied sugar of lead, iced to prevent infection. The foot healed perfectly, every bone in place, and health restored as if by magic. For many years she made no charge for her services, accepting anything people offered her. Later she charged a three-dollar fee. She not only cared for her patient, but if the patient lived some distance away, she stayed two or three days or until she deemed it safe to leave the mother and baby to the chance care of friends and neighbors. She prescribed for sick children and adults, set broken bones and scattered cheer and comfort wherever she went.

A remarkable testimony was given to my grandmother just before she left her home in Nauvoo to go with the Saints to Utah, which I will relate in her own words. “Before we left Nauvoo, a mob of men came to our house at twelve o’clock claiming they would burn it down over our heads. We put two changes of clothing on each of the children, my husband, and myself and in order to take some bedding with us, the bedding was placed on the back of an old cow, all of our horses having been stolen. A few hours before the time set for us to vacate our house, I became violently ill and unable to go. I begged my husband to take the children and go and leave me as I feared for their lives. They refused to go without me. Presently the children slept, then my husband and I also fell into a deep sleep. When I awakened the sun was shining brightly and I was healed of my sickness. We evacuated our home and later found that had we started at the appointed time we would have encountered the mob and probably would have been murdered as were others who met them.” The life of Sarah McKee Davis was preserved that she might live to fulfill her destiny among suffering humanity. God watched over her in time of danger.

In her home in Pennsylvania, one morning the family was kneeling in prayer. Aunt Elle (Eleanor Jane), a child of five years exclaimed, “Father the Lord says prophesy.” Her father said, “Then go ahead and do so.” The child foretold that they would be driven from their homes, about their journey across the plains, and then related some of the sufferings they would have to endure before reaching the Valley of the Mountains. The predictions of this five-year old child were fulfilled to the letter.

Sarah McKee Davis had no opportunity for education. Her life was spent in service to her fellowmen and God. She not only reared her own large family but after the death of her daughter, Sarah Bell Davis Forsgren, she reared her three grandchildren, Charles Q., Alice and John H. Forsgren. Surely there will be a great reward for her. In this life she was loved and respected by all who knew her. On one occasion she received public recognition for her faithful services. President Lorenzo Snow ordered the man in the old cabinet shop to make two easy chairs, one for Grandfather and one for Grandmother Davis. The chairs were placed near the pulpit in the meetinghouse so that the aged couple might sit in comfort to enjoy the Sabbath worship.

Sarah McKee Davis died on 20th February 1888 in the old home on North Main Street at the ripe age of 88 years, five months and 28 days. Funeral services were held in the Stake Tabernacle and were attended by hundreds of sorrowing friends. Let her name be among those noble women, the memory of whom will live forever.