Eunice Fitzgerald, daughter of Joseph Hawkins and Catherine Parkhurst Fitzgerald, was born 7 February 1818, at Newcastle, Henry County, Kentucky. She was of Irish descent, which makes for a decidedly courageous back-ground. Those who knew her remembered the piercing black eyes that seemed to penetrate anyone at whom she was looking. Her father was a soldier under General Anthony Wayne in the War of 1812.
On the second of November 1834, Eunice married Alexander McRae, the son of John B. and Mary (Polley) McRae, also at Newcastle, Henry County, Kentucky. Soon afterward she and her husband accompanied her parents and other relatives to Ripley County, Indiana. Here her oldest son, John, was born.
In 1837, she first heard of the Mormons or Latter-day Saints. She and her husband walked eight miles to hear the Elders preach and made the return journey that same night, carrying their nine-month-old babe in their arms. They were both baptized in June of 1837, and soon moved to Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, to join the other Saints. Here their second son, Joseph, was born. They suffered the hardships and persecutions common to all the saints of those days.
During the time that Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wright, and her husband, Alexander McRae, and others were incarcerated in the Liberty Jail, Eunice was one of their most frequent visitors, and only on one occasion did the guards search her before admitting her to the prison. Several times she took letters and other messages to and from the place. It is possible that some of the revelations written by the Prophet Joseph Smith while he was in prison were contained in some of the letters she took out with her. She was fearless. She said she would take off her stockings and put the letters next to her feet, then put the stockings on and leave. She also took letters in that way. Sometimes they were carried in and out in the clothing of her baby. Once she took a pistol in and was not detected. The Prophet wondered how she managed to get it into the prison without being discovered. She received many blessings and promises from him.
She took her second son, Joseph, into the jail when he was young, and he received his name and a blessing under the hands of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Eunice always bore the strongest testimony to the divine mission of the Prophet. Her children sat at her feet and listened to the stories she told. In common with thousands of women, she endured many untold privations and sufferings, for she had to take complete care of her small family at times, seeing that they were fed and clothed. She was a courageous and determined soul.
One story she told was about four men who came to her home to search for counterfeit money and the dies for making it. She gave them access to all parts of the house and they searched everywhere including the cupboards and dresser drawers, without success. Then they decided to look under the floor (a puncheon floor made of split logs, with the smooth side up). Two of them got down and began to dig and throw dirt up on the floor. When they had finished their task and could find nothing, they got up, brushed the dirt from their clothes and turned to the door, to be confronted by Eunice with a pistol in her hand, and she said, "Gentlemen, you had your fun. Now put all that dirt back in the hole you took it from, and put the floor down as it was, and clean the floor. The first man who attempts to leave before it is completed will get killed." They only had to look at her to know she meant what she said, and they complied with her demand.
While her husband was in jail, she was there once when they were brought food. A roast of meat was brought to them. It was almost black. The Prophet always deferred to his brother, Hyrum, because he was older. The latter took up his knife to carve the meat and it fell from his hand. He picked it up again and it fell again. The Prophet said, "Don't touch it. It is human flesh." Hyrum Smith and Lyman Wright both confirmed the statement that they had human flesh brought to their table, and it was said that a piece had been cut from a dead Negro. This the guards called "Mormon beef."
Eunice went with the Saints who were driven from Missouri to Quincy, Illinois. Here, upon their escape from prison, the brethren found their families. When the city of Nauvoo was founded, Eunice and Alexander homesteaded 160 acres of land and they helped to build that city. Four more children were born to them while they lived at Nauvoo, three boys and a girl: Kenneth, Alexander, Daniel and Catherine, who died at four months of age and was buried in Nauvoo.
They also endured many hardships while living in Illinois, and were driven out with the other Saints in the winter of 1846. They went to Winter Quarters where they spent the winter of 1846-47, and then moved on to Kanesville, Iowa, where they lived for five years. Here two daughters were born, Mary Jane and Martha.
They came to Salt Lake by ox team in 1852, arriving in October. They located on the corner of Sixth East and Second South at an early date, and were members of the Eleventh Ward. Eunice served as the Relief Society President for several years and her husband was the Bishop until his death. Here four more children were born to them: Charles, Eunice, David Fitzgerald and Sarah.
Eunice spent the last sixteen years of her life as a widow. She died 3 December 1906, at the age of eighty-eight years. The Deseret News gave the following account: "Mrs. McRae was a devoted and loving wife and mother, and a faithful Latter-day Saint to the last. Among those who knew her, she was noted for her generosity. Whatever she had, she was always willing to share with the needy, and she was true to her duties through all the trying scenes, even at the risk of her life.
"Her posterity numbers 152, as follows: twelve children, 59 grandchildren, 75 great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren. Of these the following are living: seven children, 43 grandchildren, 68 great grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren, total 138.
"At the funeral services, President Joseph F. Smith and others bore testimony of the integrity and faithfulness of the departed and urged her descendants to follow in her footsteps."
The life of Eunice Fitzgerald McRae was a continuous sacrifice but she was never heard to complain. She and her husband were very familiar figures in Salt Lake City for thirty years, and each contributed much to the foundations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not only in Salt Lake but also in Missouri, Illinois and in the trek across the plains made by the Mormon pioneers.
The following excerpts have been quoted as being very typical of Eunice McRae, and of her great contributions:
"The bravest battle that was ever fought---
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find them not;
It was fought by the mothers of men."
"Mothers of men who won a wilderness came to rock the cradle of a new empire. Adventure calls to men, but duty summons women. And so, when the time was ripe to breed new stars for the flag, she set forth from her birth place in the East to mother the Western wilderness.
"Only God and she know the fulness of her giving to the West.
"She lived in log houses and dirt-roofed huts, with the nearest neighbor often a day's trudge away.
"She had no luxuries. What longings they must have repressed, and smiled while doing so. Women love gentle homes; they have innate desires for fair garments, rich adornment; they dream of sur rounding their homes and those of whom they love with the grace and cheer and charm of their pre sence and accomplishments.
"She helped in the fields---at the plowing and the sowing---and she helped to scythe the crop and bind the sheaves. She made a garden and preserved the winter food, milked the cows and nursed her children. The sleepy-eyed sun found her already at her tasks, and the mid-noon heard her croon the baby to rest.
"Her 'beauty sleep' began at 10:00 p.m. and ended at 4:00 a.m. Year in and year out she never had an orange, a box of sweets or a gift of remembrance.
"She fought death and drought and savages and savage loneliness. Her 'Sunday bests' were calico and linsey woolsey. She grew old at the rate of twenty-four months a year at the grubbing hoe and the< washtub and the churn.
"She born her bairns alone, and buried them on the frozen prairies.
"But she asked no pity for her broken arches, her aching back, her poor gnarled hands, or for the wistful memories of a fairer youth in sweeter lands.
"She gave America the great West, and was too proud to quibble at the cost of the stalwart sons to whom she willed it.
"She mothered MEN."
- Herbert Kaufman
Eunice Fitzgerald McRae was truly that kind of woman. In addition, she was thrifty and economizing, hospitable and kind to everyone who passed her way. She loved peace and expressed the desire of having the good will of humanity. She was generous, sympathetic and very affectionate. She added to the sum of human joy; and, were each person for whom she did some loving service to bring a blossom to her grave, she would sleep beneath a wilderness of flowers.