John Kenneth was the third child born to Joseph and Maria Taylor McRae. Like his older sister and brother, Eunice Ann and Joseph Alexander, he was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. Eunice Ann was born 26 September 1863, was blessed by her Grandfather, Bishop Alexander McRae on 6 October 1863, and died soon afterward. Joseph Alexander was born 19 March 1865, and John Kenneth followed on 12 November in 1867.
The family moved to Charleston in Wasatch County, in 1873, to farm land belonging to Maria's brother, Joseph Edward Taylor, on shares. In October, 1876, Joseph McRae attended General Conference in Salt Lake City. While there he planned to purchase lumber to finish their new home which was anticipated by the entire family, but instead, received a "call" from President Brigham Young to take his family to Arizona to help build up the "waste places."
While living in Charleston, John was baptized on his eighth birthday in the icy river waters of the Provo River. He left his Utah home with his father and brother in November of 1876, with the teams of horses, wagons, and the family's belongings. They met the rest of the family at Minersville, Utah, where they spent Christmas with the family of Maria's sister, Margaret Taylor Goodman. Then the family left for St. George where they attended the dedication of the St. George Temple on 1 January 1877, the first temple to be dedicated in Utah.
John felt very important to be able to witness the dedication ceremony at the Temple. It was presided over by President Brigham Young. A hushed silence fell over the audience as President Young stood before them. He glared over into the small audience and his face grew red with anger. He struck his knotted cane over the rostrum with a loud thud and blurted: "May this be left as a mark in this Temple! A witness against people who are chewing tobacco and spitting in this House of the Lord!" The crowd shuffled uneasily. Two men looked down with humiliation and reluctantly drifted outside. The mark on the rostrum still stands today as a witness to this act.
They left St. George on the 17th of January. President Young traveled south with them a short way, held a meeting and gave them a blessing. He also organized the company. John's father, Joseph, had two wagons and was blacksmith of the company. Other men in the company were: Henry C. Rogers, George Steele, Thomas Biggs, John D. Brady, Isaac Turley, Austin Williams, Daniel W. Jones, and Philemon C. Merrill. The small group pushed their way slowly towards the south, arriving in Lehi on March 6.
John McRae was nine years old when his family stopped with the others at Lehi. As the company set about planting their crops and doing the other necessary things, it turned into the summer months. The summer weather was hot and every means were used for relief during the long days.
"Never forget how they did it," John would chuckle as he recalled those days, "the men plowed the land between the canal and the river. They would plow to the river, stop the horses, dip themselves in the cool water and then plow back to the canal. They would stop their horses again, and dip themselves in the canal. The water helped ease the pain of the stifling weather."
The camp had a flock of sheep. Every day the children would take them out across the Salt River and watch them. One evening, they failed to notice that someone had set fire to the willows along the river. The animals followed their usual path to the river. The boys were powerless to stop them. Ninety were badly burned, some to death, while others had to be killed. The parts of the animals that were not burned were salvaged and used for food. They ate roast mutton, boiled mutton, fried mutton, broiled mutton, dried mutton, etc.
"I never saw so much mutton," John declared. "The women preserved the meat by jerking it. They dipped it in boiling water and hung it on the clothes lines to dry. Pepper was put on it to keep the flies and insects off. We ate mutton until we felt like sheep ourselves!" John never did like mutton after that.
Early in August, 1877, the greater number of the Lehi settlers left Salt River, traveling southward under the leadership of Philemon C. Merrill. John McRae and his family were with this group. They often traveled at night to avoid the intense heat of the sun.
The company stopped at Tucson for a few months in order to build up their resources. Then they left Tucson and headed for the San Pedro Valley. While they were traveling, the leaders decided they had not covered enough ground for one day, and in order to lessen the dangers from the Indians at the same time, they let the horses keep on traveling after dark. After many hours, it was discovered that the horses were going around in circles. They stopped and camped for the night. They arrived in the San Pedro Valley in the fall of 1877.
This was the land of the Apaches, one of the most merciless tribes of Indians the United States ever had to deal with. They were cruel and treacherous. The colonists built a fort, or three-sided structure, with rooms joined as a defense against possible Indian attacks.
As was usual in early settlements in Arizona Valleys, malaria appeared very soon. Nearly the entire company came down with the disease.
Brother Jim W. Campbell, who joined the Church in Texas where he owned a store, was a savior to the pioneers in the San Pedro Valley. He had loaded his store goods and large family in freight wagons pulled by strings of mules or horses and came to San Pedro. He invested in a sawmill in the Huachuca Mountains, and gave the settlers food from his store. John's father, Joseph, along with most of the other settlers, moved his family to the mountains, partly for the healthful climate and partly for the need of employment. The Indians around them were not friendly, and after many incidents, most of the group moved back to the San Pedro.
The Mormon pioneers knew that education was an important requirement in establishing a way of life. Their first school house was built of adobe. Later, a white rock building was used for a church house and a recreation hall, and also a school.
After his school days, John McRae hauled lumber from Ross' sawmill in the Chiricahua Mountains to the Bisbee mines. He did a lot of prospecting for mineral ores in southeastern Arizona. It was during this period that he first met Pearl Sabin.
"That's my son, John!" Sister McRae pointed proudly as she whispered to Sister Sabin. Pearl was sitting between the two ladies as they waited for Sunday School to begin. "He's been away hauling lumber. That's why he hasn't been around." The conversation went on and Pearl realized that over on the other side of the church house, where all the men were fast filling up the empty benches, was quite an important person according to his mother. The organ started and Pearl bent over to get a look at the prodigy. "So that's what they're talking about," she thought, "he doesn't look like much to me."
But it wasn't long before John found his way to the Sabin home. He started keeping company with Pearl in 1892. They were married 28 February 1895, in St. David, Cochise County, Arizona. John's older brother, Joseph Alexander, was the Justice of the Peace, and he performed the ceremony which united John Kenneth McRae and Pearl Elizabeth Sabin in the bonds of holy matrimony.
When John and Pearl set up housekeeping, they had to have land on which to live. The Homestead Law was in effect. After building the walls of their home, they drug in a bed, and on the 16th of May, 1895, officially began their homesteading. They put a large canvas over the bed. According to the law, one must occupy land in order to maintain rights to it. Pearl and John slept in the partly-constructed adobe room with no roof, no windows or doors. It wasn't long until it was completed and they lived here and farmed.
Their first four children, all born in St. David, were: Edith Annie, born 1 July 1896; Martha, born 15 May 1898; Gecoza Maria, born 28 June 1900; and Walter, born 21 November 1902.
John McRae moved his family to Bisbee in 1903, and began working in the mines. He worked as a miner and shift foreman in Bisbee for many years, and always believed in giving a good day's work. His experiences were varied ones which only convinced him more of the truthfulness of his God.
One Sunday morning John and Mat Grigg had to go into the tunnels to prepare for the next morning's working crew. The powder to blast further into the mountain had not as yet gone off. A heavy piece of iron covered the hole. It was half-inch thick. The two men were in the tunnel when the powder accidentally went off and the heavy iron came crashing through the tunnel.
"It seemed like something made me shrink up to nothing," John explained, "I saw it coming." Mat Grigg was blown to bits but John escaped without a scratch.
In Bisbee, their last five children were born: George Alexander, born 1 April 1905; Helen, born 26 November 1907; Joseph Pratt, born 14 June 1910; Parley Kenneth, born 24 May 1914; and Irene, born 10 June 1919.
John's church activities were many. Among them he served as a Counselor to Bishop Peter A. Lofgreen in St. David, and to the Presiding Elder, John Warren, in Bisbee. He was always active in church. He filled a proselyting mission in California.
In his last few years he had two accidents which caused him to lose his health. The first was caused by a runaway team. He was in the field gathering wood when something frightened the horses. They started to run and all the boards on the rack blew off, knocking him down. His head was badly battered.
The other accident was with a car full of officers who were traveling from Phoenix to Bisbee at a high rate of speed. These Army officers and a girl stenographer were going to a safety meeting. They collided with John McRae in the town of St. David where the speed limit was twenty-five miles per hour. His nose was badly cut and his knee cap was broken. He suffered shock. It also affected his hearing and eyesight.
John and Pearl celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary on 28 February 1945, and their Sixtieth Wedding Anniversary in 1955.
John Kenneth McRae passed away 21 August 1957, in St. David, Cochise County, Arizona, at the home of his eldest son, Walter. His beloved wife, Pearl, had preceded him in death just a year earlier on 27 August 1956.
Taken from biographies included in "Ye Olde Taylor Family," compiled by Florette McGuire and Darrell E. Smith, and published in 1966.
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The following was written by Gecoza Maria Jarvis, the third daughter of John Kenneth and Pearl Elizabeth McRae, in April and May of 1978:
"Today I have been trying to look back and remember important things about Father's life. One thing I always remember is about the security we always felt. Father worked in the mines but he always came home so clean from the baths he had after work. Supper was usually ready when he reached home after a day of work. Sometimes Mother would even have us kneeling by our chairs when he came in so we would be ready for family prayer before we ate.
"Here are a few of my earliest memories - at four years. It must have been the night that George was born. I remember Father carrying me up a hill, probably to Aunt Mamie McGuire's house. I woke up and smiled, after that he put me down to walk.
"When I was about four, we moved from Bisbee to South Bisbee. Our home was a three-room lumber house with wall-papered walls. When they turned the water on it shot across the room. Father hurried to turn it off. It really messed up the terrible red wallpaper.
"Our yard was quite small but Father decided to have some rabbits so he dug a trench and put wire deep to hold the rabbits, so they couldn't dig out. They didn't prove too successful.
"Father made us a swing that was attached to the south side of the house. A large rope was laced through the seat. It gave us many happy times and also attracted the neighborhood children.
"One happy Thanksgiving there was a big family get-together. At the dinner were three "Uncle John's" and my father, John. Mother placed them at the table: East John, West John, North John and South John. It made for lots of fun. There were John McGuire, Parley John Sabin, mother's brother, and John Henry Sabin, a brother-in-law.
"Father worked in the mines in Bisbee as a shift boss or one that instructed the workmen just what to do each day. He had to climb around and up and down ladders. In time this flattened his fingers so he could not close his hands tight so he could not milk a cow.
"Aunt Mamie McGuire, father's sister, lived next door. Whenever a baby was expected to arrive, we were all sent to the other house. Babies at that time were born in the homes. On one such occasion I was put at the foot of father and mother's bed to sleep. When father came home after the night shift, he asked, 'How is Mame?' Mother told him twin daughters had been born but both died. This was to be kept a secret from the children. In a very important way I took all the youngsters out behind the barn and told them all I had heard. I was spanked and was completely in the dog house for a few days.
"In this home we had a terrible round with scarlet fever, both George and Helen had it. We were quarantined. Father had to stay away from home so he could continue to work and also bring needed supplies.
"The fourth of July was always a time for a big celebration. Father and Uncle John McGuire made root beer. There was homemade ice cream and watermelon. We had firecrackers and many times fire works that father took over to keep them safe.
"We attended the little neighborhood church until some Church authorities came from Salt Lake and advised parents that children should be taught at home until a church could be built. So then church members took turns having Sunday School in their homes. Father often was the main leader to administer the sacrament, bless babies, bless the sick, etc. At Sunday School the Juvenile Instructor and song books helped with the Standard Works of the Church.
"Father was a very silent man so to me it was special to hear him give a lesson or a sermon on Sunday.
"We were very forceably taught by mother to "Respect your Father!" One thing we always did was call him "Papa." He said if we called him "Daddy" some day it would be "Dad" or "the old man."
"Martha stopped to see me on her way home from her art class yesterday so we talked quite a bit about our childhood years in Bisbee. The things I wrote to you last were between the years 1904 and 1909.
"I started to school in South Bisbee and went there through the fourth grade. Then in 1909 and 1910, father got a new job in the mines. I believe they called it a 'foreman.' He decided to move his family to a better home in Bakersville, a small community between Lowell and Warren. There were six large rooms in the house, one screened-in porch, and the living room had a fireplace. We collected all kinds of fuel to make a fire from the surrounding hillsides. Father bought a cow named "Lill." One of the neighbor ladies had the same name so mother warned us never to call the cow by that name.
"We lived in Bakersville one Christmas, and what a Christmas it was! So many gifts and goodies to eat as father's wages had increased.
"We went to school first in Warren, then transferred to Lowell. Father lost his job in the spring - at least they tried to put him back as a shift boss and he decided to quit. So before the school year was out, I was in St. David. Three schools in one year - 1910!
"Uncle Joe Goodman came to help us move to St. David. All household things and family. The cow tied on behind. We went by way of Don Louis, Hereford, and Fairbanks to avoid climbing over the mountains. There was camping out at least two nights before we finally arrived in St. David at an old adobe house with only two rooms. In time two lumber rooms were added. The adobe rooms were only whitewashed so were continually shedding dust. That year father killed thirteen rattlesnakes around the place.
"In time we had two horses and a wagon. On one occasion father took us to the Dragoon Mountains to get acorns and black walnuts. He traveled over the foothills without benefit of any road. Brush scraped the bottom of the wagon many times. Sometimes the going got pretty tough, but we just kept going. The acorn nuts were plentiful. We were each given a small pan or cup to fill and then dump in a sack. On the way back home we went into the Gila Wash to gather black walnuts. We got quite a few gunny sacks of them. A fine mist rain was falling before we reached home in the late afternoon.
"Fences had to be put in around the garden and to keep the cow and horses in the field. Father was busy from early morning until late at night trying to make things livable.
"When the garden was planted each of us was called upon to work the hand-made pump to water the garden. That didn't work very well so a windmill finally helped. Water for the household had to be carried a bucket-full at a time. At times it seemed a long way to the house.
"Father owned 160 acres and he seemed to love to walk out into the field and explore. To him the land was very precious. When he gave me my ten acres, he reminded me over and over again to not sell it to anyone except members of the family. I obeyed this counsel so now my daughter, Lois, bought the land and I am quite interested to see just what she will do with it.
"In 1910-1911, we had one or two cows that we had to go after every evening. One old bossy would permit someone to ride on her back. That would be fine until we were near home, then it would be wise to slip off as she would always get a drink and stand in the pond to cool off. One evening we went for the cow and found her dead. She had been shot by some careless hunter.
"At this time father had gone to California with his brother, Parley, who was trying to get over a bad drinking habit.
"When the cow was killed there was very little to eat. I remember potatoes and water gravy. No milk, butter, cottage cheese. We really missed the cow.
"We lived a long dusty way from town and school.
"A ditch of water was put in diagonally across father's land. Wild ducks often came and father would bring in six or seven for dinner.
"Father planted alfalfa. When he watered the land would sink. It made a bad problem. He plowed with horses and a hand-operated plow. It was hard work and the horses were not always cooperative. Once I heard him swear. I remember I sat down flat!
"He had a garden near the house. He also put in a large orchard. I remember as a child how shocked I was when he pruned the trees back so closely.
"Sometimes the chickens would get into his garden. Father was quite furious. As he chased the chickens he would push his false teeth out of his mouth and looked so funny."
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The following was written by Helen M. Stock, the fourth daughter of John Kenneth and Pearl Elizabeth McRae:
"My father, John Kenneth McRae, was forty years old when I was born, so he was close to fifty before I really became acquainted with him.
"He was a handsome man. You should have seen him as I saw him in my very early years. He was very serious, very handsome, close to six feet tall, and with dark brown hair that verged onto black and that curled very easily. His eyes were blue and his complexion pink and white, especially when he spent his days working underground in the mines. Until in my teens, father wore a mustache, a brush-like affair that covered his top lip and hid any sign of a smile that he might have. It was hard to look beyond that stern mouth decoration to see a twinkle in his eyes.
"His fair complexion changed to mahogany brown when we lived in St. David and he worked out in the sun all the time.
"I always thought he was handsome until that fateful Sunday morning when we were living in St. David. He came out of the bedroom, just before time to go to our meetings, with his mustache shaved off. Since his face was so deeply sunburned, the area where his mustache had been was a ghastly white. He looked horrible. At Sunday School and Church people looked at him, were startled, and then turned to hide their wide grins and giggles behind their hands.
"He didn't look very handsome, either, when he was irritated and would push both plates of false teeth out to make his lips protrude. Little children looked at him with horrified expressions, and sometimes they cried.
"Father had had very little schooling and it showed in his conversation. He'd call Russia, "Roosha"; pudding was "puddin'"; and once he convulsed us with laughter as he told a story saying, "I says says I" and He says, says 'e."
"For all his teeth-pushing and peculiar speech, I loved and admired my father. I knew him as a very brave man. In memory I can still see him during the strike in Bisbee when he went off to a meeting with his pistol hanging over his hip at the back, and his overcoat, that should have covered the pistol, hanging over his arm in the front. Mother told of the time when he was the dance manager in St. David and was invited outside by ruffians who stood around the door. He went outside. There was no special trouble, but he faced whatever might have happened. Another time he was threatened at the mines, but he continued to go to his work as if nothing was wrong. Mother used to say that he would "face a circular saw." I always had the feeling of great security with father in our home. I felt that we were protected with him at our head.
"Mother insisted that we treat our father with respect, and we did.
"Father was an honest man. He always paid his tithing in full, although he didn't feel that he should pay on taxes. He paid a generous (for that time) fast offering. When I started living alone with my children, he advised me that I was now head of a family and should pay my fast offerings. His honesty was known throughout Bisbee. Once Walter needed some repairs done on the car at a late night hour. He took it to the old Brophy garage to ask for the repairs to be done. Walter was fairly young at the time, but when he said he was "Jack" McRae's son, there was no problem because they knew father would pay the bill.
"Fathers religion was not just a surface affair, and it was not limited to being quoted. It was a part of his every-day living. Even when he was so old that he'd forgotten some of his children, he remembered which was fast Sunday and he kept the fast. On Sunday only the most dire circumstances kept him from church. Ordinances were performed at the proper time. I was blessed when I was eight days old. He held me in his arms, and standing at the foot of mother's bed, blessed me and gave me my mortal name. Baptisms were performed on time. Although my birthday is on the 26th of November, I was baptized on that date for the record's sake. On my eighth birthday, he took Mama and me to the old church building where baptisms were performed in a big, metal stock tank housed in a tiny room at the rear of the church. The tank was nose-high to me if I stood on tip-toe, and the water deep enough to cover my knees. The night was cold, so Papa built a nice big fire in the little pot-bellied stove and put in about three generous-sized pieces of iron to heat for warming the water. When all the irons had turned bright red, he dropped them sizzling into the baptismal tank. But two or three hot irons scarcely nudge up the water temperature at all. Then mother lifted me over the high side into his arms. He eased me down into that icy bath. I'll never forget the sensation of having that bitterly cold water closing over me. Now it is easy to remember the date of my baptism. Confirmation followed on the next fast Sunday.
"Father hungered for knowledge. He had the mental potential of a Ph.D. and would have been exceptional in research. But, circumstances prevented him from getting an education. In his youth, one member of the family was selected for further education. The rest of the family earned theirs in the College of Hard Knocks. Father's older brother went to college. Although father had just been through the second reader in school, he used to work algebra problems in his head while he freighted into Bisbee. Martha says that math was always easy for him. He loved to read. When he came home from work in the field, or from the mines, he would sit down with a book and be completely engrossed in it. That is, until the night he was reading while the boys were tossing a basketball across the living room and it suddenly crashed through a window. The crash brought father out of his book, while the playing did not. He frequented the Bisbee Public Library. Men in the mines have said they enjoyed having him discuss ores and strata while they were eating their lunch in the mines. I really didn't realize how much he longed for an education until one evening I spouted out an "Oh, gosh!"
"Father looked straight at me and asked, "Is that what I get for sending you to school?" Suddenly I realized just what going to school meant to him, and I was more cautious with my language after that.
"Because he spent so much time reading, he was very shy with people and had a hard time expressing himself. Words came falteringly as he tried to say what was on his mind. People were uncomfortable with him. He sat and listened and watched intently and that gave them a feeling of being criticized. Yet, he enjoyed having people around.
"Father's posterity have inherited some of his very good qualities. A goodly number continue their education; some are excellent in math; and most of them want the finer things of life. I, for one, am grateful to that father who wanted better things, but who settled for giving his family the daily necessities of food and clothing, warmth and a home, plus the ambition to make their lives better than his. And I'll always thank him for the feeling of security that he left me."