Mary Ellen "Ellie" Titensor Larsen


In the I850's, Manchester, England, was a busy, bustling manufacturing city, one of the largest in the world. It was here that Mary Ellen Titensor was born an January 13, 1859, to Thomas and Sarah Robbins Titensor, The time of her birth must have been a particularly trying one for her parents as her brother, George, passed away with scarlet fever less than a month after Mary Ellen came into the world. In 1861 the family decided to take their three little girls, Suzanna 6, Mary Ellen 2, and infant Sarah and emigrate to America. The Robbins family was indeed saddened by this as two of their daughters had died on the way to America and one while making preparations to go. Nevertheless, they helped their daughter, Sarah, prepare for the long journey which began in April of 1861. They sailed from Liverpool on an old vessel, the "Underwriter," which lay at anchor in the harbor over the weekend while the Saints had a Sunday meeting on board, Pres. George Q.Cannon spoke to the people, encouraging them to be true to their faith and promising them the blessings of the Lord in their undertaking. The parents of Sarah Robbins Titensor as well as her sister, Ellen, hired a boat and spent that last Sunday with their daughter and her family. How great their sorrow when the good-byes were said. They all knew that this would be the last time in this world that they would see their loved ones. After five seasick weeks, the "Underwriter" sailed into New York harbor. The passengers were taken to Castle Garden until their baggage was inspected by the U. S. Customs officials. The Titensors planned to take the train to St. Louis, purchase the necessary equipment there and cross the plains to Salt Lake City. As they made ready to board the train they found a conductor or brakeman standing at the entrance of each car to prevent anyone else from getting on the train. "This car is loaded to capacity -- move along" was repeated over and over until they reached the last car which was empty. Again they were told, "This car is reserved for a dignitary and his party." Mary Ellen was ill and Thomas Titensor was desperate. He was a tall, handsome man of great bearing. He drew himself to his full height, his brown eyes flashing signals of anger and in his most commanding voice he said, "Stand aside -- there is no one on this train more important than I." The Titensors rode in the special car all the way to St. Louis. The family had to spend a month at Winter Quarters waiting for a group to be organized to go across the plains. There were four families staying in one old room and to make things worse, all the children had the measles. The family had here their first encounters with the Indians when they came into the camp begging for food. The women and children were terrified thinking they would surely meet their maker at the hands of savages. Crossing the plains was a time of great trial and hardship. Many times after the tent had been put up for the night a thunderstorm arose and the tent would be blown down. Sarah Titensor knew all about comforting wet, frightened children by the time the trip was over. There were three families to a wagon and only women with young children could ride. We think today of all the courage shown by these our ancestors who logged many miles on their poor sore feet. Mary Ellen was very ill at this time with what was known as "Land Fever." (This was possibly typhoid.) She had a high fever, the end result being the loss of every hair on her head. She had beautiful, curly auburn hair so the family mourned the loss, especially when the new growth was straight as is fashionable today. The Titensors reached their destination in October of 1861. They were taken to Emigration Square near where the City and County Building now stands. Their boxes and bedding were unloaded and there they were, not knowing a soul in this strange, new country. They stayed in their tent until Thomas found work, Two weeks later they went to Bountiful where they had found friends that they had known in England. Their friends urged them to settle there but Thomas was advised to go into Cache Valley since men of his trade were badly needed. (He was a master mechanic.) So on to Richmond, Cache County, where they stayed with Sarah's sister and brother-in-law, the John Allsops. What a desolate place Richmond was in those days! Just a small fort consisting of about two dozen houses built close together for protection. All had dirt roofs and some no floors. In the summer the dirt roofs were veritable gardens -- sunflowers and mustard blooming abundantly, making wonderful play places for the children. However, in winter when it rained things were a bit different. There were not pans enough to catch the water. Buckets, tubs and boilers were all pressed into use. (The boilers were like oblong wash tubs, designed to fit on two holes of a cook stove and used to boil the clothes.) The Titensors stayed with the Allsops until Thomas could build a log room for his family. All the houses were grouped together for protection against the Indians. The children had to play inside the fort. The horses and cattle were kept in corrals all around the fort with each man taking his turn at nightly guard duty, as the Indians were vary adept at taking the rails down and driving the animals away. They were especially eager for the horses. The nights Thomas stood guard were terrifying ones for his family -- no one slept because the lives of the men were in danger. During the day the men worked their farm plots, but if the Indians were particularly troublesome, they had to work in groups. In April of 1862 the baby Sarah died. She had not been well since leaving England and the long journey had been too much for her. The night she died there was no light in the house, only the light from the very green firewood. Proper nourishment was non-existent since there were no mills. The children had boiled wheat and a little milk. Many times they went to bed to try to forget their hunger. When Mary Ellen was still quite small she remembered one year when the crops had done especially well and of course everyone was delighted until great swarms of grasshoppers descended on their beautiful fields, stripping every leaf from every bush and tree. When they started in on the precious wheat, potatoes and corn the people became desperate without these crops they faced starvation. Every man, woman, and child was called upon to help drive the "hoppers" back. Armed with bushy-branches in each hand, they would beat them to the edge of the field and try to hold the line until sundown when the men would pour kerosene on each side then set fire to this strip on the edge of the fields. Many were destroyed, but great numbers remained to continue their relentless destruction. One day all of the people were called upon to fast and in the afternoon a prayer meeting was to be held. Mary Ellen and the other small children were left to play on the logs near the wood piles. During the meeting all the grass- hoppers arose in one great swarm and started to fly away. There was a great whirring sound and the sun became so clouded that the children were frightened and the chickens thought it was night as they ran to the coops to roost. The adults came out of the prayer meeting with tears streaming down their cheeks. A miracle had happened in answer to their prayers and no one ever forgot the day the "hoppers" left. Mary Ellen vividly remembered when one of her little friends, Rosie, was taken by the Indians as she walked down to the grist mill to call her father for dinner. Rosie was never seen again. The Indians became very hostile in the Preston, Idaho, area and the soldiers were called in to fight a fierce battle north of Preston -- now called Battle Creek. The children remembered the soldiers going through Richmond in mud so deep it came to the hubs of the wagons and over shoe tops. Eventually the Indians became less bothersome so the people moved out of the fort and built their homes on plots of ground laid out in city blocks. Each person had enough ground for a big garden, a barn yard for stock, sheds far farm machinery and stables for the animals. One night before the Titensor house was finished, it was Thomas' turn to stand guard duty. He had cleaned out a sheep shed for his family. It was all enclosed and he put a layer of clean straw on the ground so they could spend the night there. During the night a terrible thunderstorm broke in all its fury. They were terrified of the lightning and thunder so they wrapped their shawls around them and ran through the block to John Allsop's. There were no extra beds so everyone moved over and mode room for one more. When the house was finished they Were duly impressed With its grandeur. They had one of the first cook stoves in Richmond and there Was always a passer-by to look at this wonder. Their clock was the talk of the town it was the first striking clock in Richmond and when the time drew near for it to strike, the Titensor children did their work well, running along the road shouting to one and all that the clock was about to strike. They could hardly wait for another hour to pass so they could witness the marvel again. Mary Ellen's grandmother sent boxes of lovely clothes from England to outfit the family but Sarah Titensor was a very reserved and modest person. She did not wish to appear in better apparel than her fellow settlers so she took some of the more elegant dresses and made draperies for her new home. Everyone worked very hard to finish the new house. Mary Ellen (or Ellie as she was known to all) helped her mother make "dobbies" to insulate the walls of the house. They used a certain type of clay, shaped them into brick form, then carried water in buckets to keep them moist. If they dried too fast the clay would crack and crumble. Ellie also helped her mother make candles. They had brought candle molds from England and used mutton tallow for their candles. There was a real knack in getting the wick in the center, but she was not a proper pioneer unless they learned these skills and certainly no one wanted to marry a girl who could not do "everything," They braided straw to make hats. This was done by soaking the straw in water then after it was braided soaking it again and shaping it into a hat. They could be shaped and sized for men, wornen, and children. Sometimes on Sunday the women would pick fresh hollyhocks or sego lilies and trip their hats to wear to Sunday School. Of course, all the girls had to be handy with their needles, Sarah had brought hers with her from England in a piece of flannel saturated with grease so the needles wouldn't rust in crossing the ocean. Sometimes they were exchanged for a little meat or butter. Soap making was another necessity which began by putting powdery wood ashes in a very heavy wooden tub-like container on a high stand to start the lye. Then out of a small hole on the side near the bottom, the water which had been poured on the ashes would drip slowly into a small trough into a wooden bucket. Then the right amounts of beef suet, mutton tallow, or pig fat were combined with the lye and boiling water and stirred with a firm stick until the fat dissolved. After this, it cooled and set allowing the cutting process to begin. Those bars of homemade soap didn't leave much dirt under anyone's fingernails. One of the most important skills was that of spinning and weaving. It was along way from the back of the sheep to the back of the pioneers. After the sheep were sheared came the long, tedious process of picking the burrs and bits of sticks out of the wool. This job was done by the children. Then the wool was washed many times to remove the oil. If the wool was to be dyed, it was done at this time. Some of the friendly squaws showed them how to gather roots, bark of willow trees and wild berries to make the various colors. The wool was then carded and made ready for spinning although the heavier thread was used for knitting. Looms were built and much of the material for the clothing was hand woven. Stockings, mittens, gloves, sweater coats, head scarves, and shawls were all knitted. Everyone had a shawl, even the babies. The heat from the fireplace kept the front of the person warm but the shawls were for their backs, Also from the Indians they learned to make corn meal or oat meal. They used a large flat rock which was hollowed out and with another smooth round rock they ground the grains of wheat to a powder. The Indians also showed them how to gather the wild fruits and dry them for winter use. There were service berries, elderberries, and wild currants -- black ones and big delicious amber ones. The choke cherries were boiled and squeezed through a bag, sweetened with honey, and boiled again to a syrup, later to be made into jelly. The Indians gave or traded seed corn to the pioneers and showed them how to dry it which was a great aid in supplementing the diet. Preservation of the meat was a problem, but from necessity many problems were solved. If one man butchered a sheep, he shared it with relatives or neighbors. Perhaps it would be divided into four parts to be paid back when someone else butchered one of their sheep. The meat all had to be cooked soon after the killing because of the lack of refrigeration. Since Mary Ellen was older than the brothers that were later born to the family, she went with them to herd the sheep in the springtime. She says that she enjoyed this very much because they did most of the work. She also, at various times, helped to drive the crickets when they became a nuisance. She did not enjoy this and screamed every time she stepped on one. Sometimes her father was nearby and came to lend a hand if her shrieks were particularly heart-rending. Christmases were a time of great joy for the children with rag dolls, a piece of apple or molasses candy, and other simple pleasures. One year Thomas Titensor had been in Salt Lake City helping set up the machinery for woolen mills there. He walked from Salt Lake City to his home in northern Cache Valley to spend Christmas with his family. He brought Ellie a candy lamb which she carefully hoarded to trade a lick of her lamb with another child in return for doing her chores. Even though the Indians became less hostile Mary Ellen continued to be afraid of them. One day when she was home alone she saw some Indians crossing the yard. They saw her even though she tried to hide behind the door. They thought this was about the funniest thing they had seen and there was much laughter and hand clapping. They wanted garden produce so Ellie told them to help themselves so they cleaned .out the garden. On another occasion she was visiting her aunt (her father's second wife) and helping her mix the bread when some Indians came begging for bread. Since flour was at a premium, Auntie told them they couldn't have any bread -- she was just mixing it. One of the braves became so angry that he spit in her dough. That was quite the wrong thing to do to Elizabeth Titensor's dough. Although she was less than five feet tall, she grabbed her broom and beat the surprised Indian over the head, chased him out of the house and into a gooseberry bush where she was able to give him a few more good whacks while he was trying to make his escape. Before the church was completed, all meetings were held in a ''bowery" which was built with strong posts on each corner and support poles across the top. Early on Sunday morning the young men would gather fresh, leafy branches and place them on top of the bowery for a good shady roof. Since Sacrament service was at 2:00 p.m., many people would bring their lunch with them if they lived too far away to walk. Sunday was a great day for visiting since they worked from daylight until dark all through the week. Mary Ellen had many impressive spiritual experiences in those early days. She records, "At Richmond, Utah, I first heard Brigham Young at a meeting where he spoke. My mother asked a friend to identify Brigham Young. The friend took her toward his carriage. I was at her side. The friend said, 'President Young, here is a sister who has never seen you before,' President Young said, 'She shall not only see me, but she shall feel me,' He leaned over and shook hands with my mother and me, too. If an angel from heaven had held my hand, I couldn't have been more thrilled -- just to think that the President of the Church would trouble himself to shake hands with a small barefoot girl. One thing that made a great impression on my mind was later on when I was about fourteen at a meeting in Richmond where President Young was to speak. My mother and my aunt (both my father's wives) were asked to sing at the meeting. They sang vary lovely "Hard Times Come Again No More". All the time they sang he leaned over the pulpit watching and listening intently. When they finished he said, 'Thank you, sisters, that was beautiful, Will you please sing the same song this afternoon?" This they did. That gave me the impression that he loved music. At Franklin, Idaho, I heard him speak and he asked the daughters of Zion to dress modestly and not follow the immodest fashion fads. That made a great impression on my mind because he fairly pleaded with the Saints to dress neat and decent." The Titensor family lived in Richmond for about fourteen or fifteen years before moving to the neighboring town of Cove, formerly known as Coveville but the name was later changed to Cove because of the confusion with the town of Coalsville, Utah, Mary Ellen attended school at the old Brigham Young College in Logan which was located on 1st East near 2nd North, The College was the forerunner of the new Brigham Young College also in Logan. It was first called the Miss Ida Cook School. Ellie went there for about two years. After she left school she became a Sunday School teacher and thus began long years of service to her Church and her fellow men. She married John Christian Larsen on the 24th of November, 1881, in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, She was his second wife in polygamy, his first being Mary Ellen's own sister, Susannah. Eight children were born to Mary Ellen, seven girls and one boy. They are as follows: Alice, who died the same day she was born, July 22, 1862; David, born June 23, 1883; Almeda born November 20, 188S twins, Irene Esther and Inez Sarah born July 27, 1888; Barbara LaVerne, born January 29, 1895; Edna Maria, born November 16, 1897; and Mary Teresa, born December 8, 1900. When Ellie was part of the polygamist "underground" she, as the second wife had to be hidden from the U. S. Deputies. This often meant staying with relatives or friends in remote locations. When her oldest child, David, was about five and her daughter, Meda, three, she was momentarily expecting her third child when she received word that the marshalls were at a neighbor's. She took the children and went down into the brush by the creek bottom to hide. She stayed there all day since the deputies waited all that time for her. "The deputies were after my husband and a neighbor came and said the masrshalls were at Carson's and so my mother said, 'What will you do ?' It was just before Inez and her twin sister, Irene, were born, and so I went down by the creek bottom and hid. My brother, Will, came and brought lunch and told us my husband was on a horse and had gone to my brother's north of Franklin, about 25 miles from where we were. We got in a cart and went very fast. We had to ford the river and we went on. We were very frightened and dared not stop. We were soaked. We got to my brother's about sundown. We were safe." Shortly after this, Ellie had taken the children and gone to the home of John and Esther Comish in Mountain Home situated about half way between Cove and Franklin, three miles east of the state highway along the rolling hills. In the evening Ellie's labor pains began. It was a dark and cloudy night that prevented John Comish from readily catching the horse so he could get out the buggy and drive the four or five miles to Richmond to get Melindy Funk, the midwife to come and deliver the baby. Before he could get started the baby was coming. Ellie called to Aunt Esther to come quickly and get the baby. Aunt Esther took one look at the situation, panicked, and ran leaving Ellie in the last stage of labor. She called firmly to Aunt Esther, "Now listen, get some string and scissors, wash them with soap, and pour boiling water over them. Bring the clean rags and hurry," When Aunt Esther hesitatingly reappeared, Ellie sat up in bed, cut and tied the baby's cord, and told Esther to take the baby, rub her with oil, and wrap her in a blanket, Ellie suddenly realized that there was another baby coming and shortly the twin girl arrived. She again cut and tied the card, but the baby had turned very dark from lack of oxygen, Ellie raised her arms, breathed into her mouth, then gently pressed on her ribs and kept repeating the procedure until she began to breathe. When Uncle John Comish finally arrived with the mid- wife, the twins were doing fine, but Ellie was exhausted, so Melindy cleaned up and tock over for poor frightened Esther. After John Larsen became the bishop of the Cove Ward, a position he held for 35 years, there were many things for Ellie to do in addition to raising her amily. She served in the following ward capacities: President of the YWMIA for about four years. President of the Relief Society for about twelve years -- she also served as Secretary and Treasurer for about fifteen years; President of the Primary for about fifteen years. She went an hour early to Primary and took her own kindling wood and paper to start the fire in the big pot-bellied stove as the janitor was very absent-minded and would sometimes forget it was Primary Day. Ellie said that she thought she loved the Primary work best of all. She loved to meet with the dear children and hear them sing those sweet songs. When she was President of the Relief Society, the sisters were often called upon to prepare the dead for burial. They washed and dressed them, often having to make clothes. Coffins were made by hand and later purchased at the furniture store. Also she was a member of the Mary Hogan Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Camp, Bonneville, Idaho. Mary Ellen raised a fine family. All were married in the Temple and, in spite of limited funds, David and LaVerne were sent on missions for the Church, and LaVerne, Edna, and Teresa received the education to become school teachers. Ellie raised chickens and turkeys to supplement the family income. She sewed for all six girls. She was resourceful and never wasted a crumb. She taught her girls all the homemaking arts. First and foremost in the minds of many, Ellie was a nurse. She was the first to be called when birth or sickness arose. Those kind, gentle hands worked to make so many people well, never demanding, always prayerful. She also became a mid-wife and helped many babies on their way in life. In 1918 the family moved to Logan where she served as a Relief Society teacher. She always had her husband's temple clothing pressed and ready to wear, which was nearly every day while he was a temple worker in the Logan Temple. She also worked in the Temple until rheumatism put an end to this. Since her husband, John, had worked on the construction of the Logan Temple, Ellie looked forward to its dedication. She held the number one ticket to the dedication, signed by Pres. John Taylor. She also held a ticket to the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple signed by Pres. Wilford Woodruff. Her patchwork quilts were works of art -- beautiful and original and still preserved as priceless heirlooms in the families of all who own one. The time and patience in each quilt can scarcely be measured. Nearly every afternoon Ellie would get out her "pieces" as she called them and work on an Irish Chain, a Wedding Ring, or a Nosegay. She was an excellent cook and how the mouths watered when she made biscuits, jelly roll, or raisin filled cookies. Thanksgiving day at her home was an event fondly remembered by her family - always a beautiful, bounteous table surrounded by the family. Her husband at the head of the table and she at his side. There was always something to eat at her house -- bread and jam or cheese (which Dave brought from Star Valley) on bread and toasted in the old coal stove oven. She was a tidy housekeeper and took pride in her home always. All who knew her loved and honored her because of her gentle, yet firm, and always sound advice. Her values were true and wise and she was a friend to all. She had long gray hair arranged into a neat bun at the back of her neck and a sweet smile for everyone, What a sweet, prim little figure she was, dressed in her black coat and bonnet, purse in hand, going to town to buy a bit of material for an apron or to set a quilt together. She might even stop to buy some nippy cheese which she loved to toast on bread in the oven of the old coal stove. Her husband, John, preceded her in death of causes due to age in a Logan hospital the 27th of April 1943. Losing her wonderful mate and sweetheart was indeed a shock and in spite of the loving care of her children, she lost a great deal of weight. In June of 1944, Mary Ellen broke her hip. Complications set in and seven weeks after the accident she passed away on the 26th of July, 1944, in a Logan hospital. It is difficult to pay tribute to such a marvelous woman and say what we feel in our hearts. After her 80th birthday, the Logan newspaper paid tribute to her with this: "A faithful wife and loving mother, Aiding one and then another, Ever cheerful, good and kind, A truer saint it's hard to find."

Mary Ellen "Ellie" Titensor and John C. Larsen

Mary Ellen's House (abt. 150 So. 200 E., Logan, Utah


Go To Larsen History Page Index:
Go To Larsen Photo Album Index:
History of John Christian Larsen: (husband)
History of Susannah Titensor Larsen: (sister)
Go To History Of Fredrick Titensor (brother):
Go To History Of Thomas & Sarah Robbins Titensor (parents):

Dennis Larsen
10890 Bohm Place
Sandy, UT 84094
United States