Joseph McRae was born 3 March 1838, in Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, a son of Alexander and Eunce Fitzgerald McRae. At the time of his birth, his father was incarcerated in Liberty Jail with the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church Leaders. His mother walked from Far West to Liberty, a distance of fifty miles, carrying her infant son, so he could be given a name and a father's blessing by his father. The Prophet asked permission to bless and name the child, which was granted. He gave the child his own name of "Joseph"; perhaps the only baby to be blessed by a prophet in chains.
Joseph's childhood was spent amid the drivings and persecutions in Missouri, Illinois and elsewhere. In September, 1850, he was baptized by M. Wilbur. When fourteen years of age, he drove an ox-team from Iowa to Utah, arriving with his family in Salt Lake City in 1852. He hired out to learn the blacksmith trade.
On 4 March 1962, Joseph married Maria Taylor, daughter of George Edward Grove Taylor and Ann Wicks. Four children were born in Salt Lake City: Eunice Ann, 26 September 1863 (she died the following month); Joseph Alexander, 19 March 1865; John Kenneth, 12 November 1867; and George Edwin, 29 March 1870.
The family moved to Charleston, Wasatch County, Utah, in 1873, where Annie Marie was born 3 February 1873, and Mary Jane was born 23 May 1876.
In October, 1876, Joseph 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." They were told to sell their possessions, but to take with them a two-year supply of food and clothing as their contribution to the "United Order." Some did not bring enough, but, of course, shared alike.
Joseph and the boys left in November with the teams, while Maria and the girls went to Minersville, Utah, by train, to the home of Maria's sister, Margaret Goodman. Joseph met them there and they spent Christmas together. Then went on to St. George and were there for the dedication of the St. George Temple on 1 January 1877.
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 organized a "company," and formed the group into the United Order. Among the men were Henry C. Rogers, George Steele, Thomas Biggs, John D. Brady, Isaac Turley, Austin Williams, Daniel W. Jones, Philemon C. Merrill and Joseph McRae. Daniel W. Jones was chosen as leader, with Philemon C. Merrill as assistant. There were twenty-two wagons in all.
Joseph McRae had two wagons and was the blacksmith of the company. The way was through Beaver Dam to the mouth of the Virgin River. That profiteering was not unknown in those early days is shown by the fact that the expedition at Stone's Ferry on the Colorado had to pay ferriage of $10.00 for each wagon. Much of the cost was borne by Joseph who turned over one wagon, some horses, and a little money to the ferryman.
To the south the road was well-traveled from Fort Mohave Ferry to Prescott, through the valleys of Chino and Peoples, the village of Wickenburg, to Phoenix. They did not stop in Phoenix, however, because of an epidemic of smallpox there, but drove up the river on the north side to where the road crossed going to Fort McDowell - called the Wells-McDowell-Maricopa Ford. They arrived there about noon on March 6. Many cottonwood trees grew along the river as well as large numbers of reeds. The latter grew large enough to provide fishing poles, and the stream was well-stocked with fish. They were informed by their leaders that they were now at the end of their journey. Considerable dissatisfaction was shown by this decision, because President Young had named three possible colonization points, namely: the upper Gila, the San Simon or the San Pedro.
In the afternoon, plows and scrapers were put into use and ground broken for a dam and canal to divert the river waters to the thirsty land farther downstream. While part of the company worked on the canal, others went down the river to clear away a dense growth of mesquite covering the land, preparatory for crop planting. Anyone who has never cleared land of mesquite cannot appreciate the difficulties they had.
The work was completed and crops were planted which thrived in that virgin soil beyond their fondest expecta-tions - melons of a rare flavor, corn, sugar cane, and garden vegetables in abundance.
Henry C. Rogers was superintendent of canal construction. Ross R. Rogers was engineer and made the survey with a spirit level and a straight edge. The first cost was about $3,500, most of which represented labor. (The canal is still in operation, but with some modifications - 1957.) George Steele planted a nursery and kept the young trees alive by hauling water from the river.
Fort Utah was begun in July - a square, built of adobes, with a well in the center, and houses built around the inside of the square to protect the women and children from the Indians while the men were at work.
Pioneering conditions were very trying - the land was infested with all sorts of dangers: scorpions, tarantulas, centipedes, lizards, gila monsters and rattlesnakes. But, as in all warm climates, brilliant-hued birds were numerous, and the mocking bird was at his best - he should be heard in his native habitat to be really appreciated. Quails were also very numerous.
They had 150 head of sheep to supply meat and the herd was cared for by the boys of the colony. One day a fire broke out in driftwood in the bend of the river, spreading over several acres. The trail of the sheep to water was over this drift, and since sheep do not like to change their habits, they started over the drift to the river, and the boys were powerless to stop them as the animals rushed into the fire. Ninety were badly burned, some to death, while others had to be killed. The part of the animal not burned was salvaged and used for food. The pioneers had roast mutton, boiled mutton, fried mutton, broiled mutton, dried mutton, etc. "Mutton" was a very dangerous subject for a long time afterward.
Everything that had been brought from the North that was salable was put into a large tent or commissary, with Thomas Biggs as storekeeper. It was not designed to sell to people outside of the colony but the members could purchase articles with tin money in the denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50 cents and $1.00. These pieces of tin money were stamped with a steel die, according to the value represented. The money was issued every Monday morning according to the size of the family, but luxuries were not to be had. Everyone was to share equally, but the rumor spread that some were favored and had the "cream of the stock"--before this, all legal tender money was turned into a common fund, therefore, it was not possible for malcontents to go to other places and purchase anything.
Early in August, 1877, the greater number of the Lehi settlers left the Salt River, traveling southward under the leadership of Philemon C. Merrill, known in history as an officer in the Mormon Battalion. Besides the leader, the adult members of the compnay were Dudley J., Seth A., Thomas, and Orin D. Merrill, George Steele, Austin Williams and Joseph McRae. All but Williams and Orin D. Merrill had families.
The company traveled at night to avoid the intense heat of the sun, and one night the driver of the lead wagon went to sleep and his team turned out of the road and began to travel in a circle. The others followed, and soon were going round and round, getting nowhere. The country was so level, it was some time before the mistake was discovered; then it took about an hour to straighten out the train and go on.
Next morning they reached a well in the desert where they had to buy water for the stock at ten cents a head, and thirty cents for domestic use. The water was drawn in a bucket made of rawhide. The constant use of the bucket rendered it very slimy, and anything but inviting, but it was water out of that rawhide bucket or no water!
When they reached Hayden's Mill, about five miles down the river, Williams, who had been working there as a millwright, allowed them to draw food on his wages and this was enough to supply them for at least a week longer, when other ways had to be provided.
Tucson was the first stopping place, and there they learned of the death of Brigham Young. The news cast a gloom over the little band, for they felt he was really the only man who knew the WHYS of their being in that land. They felt like sheep without a shepherd, but mourning could not be indulged in for long, for someone had to feed the hungry mouths. A Mr. Thomas Gardner owned a sawmill on the east side of the Santa Rita Mountains, about thirty miles from Tucson, and this brought immediate relief when a contract was made with him to haul logs to the mill and lumber from the mill to Tucson.
As the group rounded the southern end of the Whetstone Mountains behind them they could see the Santa Ritas they had just left; on the right were the Huachucas, which were to the right of the Dragoon Mountains. This later became the site of Bisbee, a land famous for copper. The first camp was made on 29 November 1877, about one-half mile south of the present site of St. David. The country had been settled to some extent by Mexicans and Spaniards, prior to the coming of the Mormon Battalion. The waters of the San Pedro must have been a welcome sight to the jaded Mormon Battalion when crossing it in 1847 on their way to California.
This was the land of the Apaches, one of the most merciless bands of Indians the United States has ever had to deal with - not brave, but cruel and treacherous. These Indians divided into several units called Chiricahuas, Coyute-resk, Pinilinos, and Arivaipas. The first named were the ones which roamed that part of the country, led by such chieftans as Victorio, Cochise, Geronimo and Captain Kidd. The Chiricahuas - the last of the Indian warriors - were subdued by General Miles in 1886. He surrounded Geronimo and his band in their stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains, directly east of the settlers. They were taken to the San Carlos Reservation in the northern part of the territory, but a small band broke away under the leadership of Captain Kidd, an Indian who had had much training as a Govenment trooper. They burned, pillaged and murdered on their trail to Mexico, where they were eventually captured by U.S. Troops, who had been given the right to follow them into that country.
The colonists built a form of fort, or three-sided structure, with rooms joined as a defense against possible Indian attacks. The stone was taken from a hill on the west side of the river about two miles distant, and could be cut like chalk. An ordinary axe could fashion the stone, but when exposed to the weather for a length of time, it hardened, and the outside became as hard as flint. Lumber was scarce and of poor quality, and what could be purchased cost one hundred dollars a thousand. The only lumber used to build the houses was for doors and window frames. The floors and roofs were typically Mexican - made of mud.
During the fall of 1878, about a dozen horses were stolen and several men took the trail toward Mexico to look for them. All turned back after a short time except Joseph and Orin D. Merrill. The horses were located near the town of Arivipa, Sonora, Mexico, guarded by the thieves. Joseph and Brother Merrill were considering sending for reinforcements, when the outlaws seemed to sense danger and fled with the horses. Smuggling animals across the international border became quite a business, and outlaws profited on both sides. Other things were smuggled too. Some of the first oranges ever seen were brought from Mexico. They were small and pretty sour - almost as sour as lemons, and not much larger. They also brought cane, or sorghum. The sugar came in bars, or cakes, weighing about one-half pound. These bars were melted to make syrup. Often there were "foreign substances" imbedded in these cakes of sugar that did not add to the appetizing qualities, but which had to be overlooked.
As was usual in early settlements of Arizona valleys, malaria appeared very soon, spread by mosquitos from stagnant water. In the fall of 1878, nearly all the settlers were prostrated with the malady, even spreading to the domestic animals. The sick had to wait upon the sick, and when Apostle Snow visited there on 6 October 1878, there was no one to greet him. His first address was to an assembly of thirty-eight individuals, many of whom had to be carried to the meeting on beds. Notwithstanding these conditions, the Apostle blessed the place, prophesying that the day would come when the San Pedro Valley would be settled from one end to the other with Saints, and that they had experienced the worst of their sickness. For nearly two years the Saints had been separated from all that seemed dear to them, living among uncouth people, in an unfamiliar environment, discouraged, disheartened, and the Apostle's visit was like a tonic and they felt better in body and spirit.
Brother Jim W. Campbell, who joined the Church in Texas where he had a store, was a savior to the pioneers in the San Pedro Valley. He loaded his store goods and large family in freight wagons pulled by strings of mules or horses and came to San Pedro. He stored his gold in the bottom of a wagon, and passed through the Indian territory without mishap. With this money he invested in a sawmill in the Huachuca Mountains, and gave the settlers food from his store. Joseph, with most of the other settlers, moved his family to the mountains, partly for the healthful climate and partly for the need of employment. Here in the mountains, Nymphus Charles was born 20 September 1879.
While the Saints were establishing themselves on the San Pedro and the Gila, the Church authorities had by no means lost sight of the primary objective of the southern migration. St. David was the scene of one of the most notable councils of the Church. It was held in January of 1885, and was presided over by President John Taylor, who left Salt Lake City on the third of January. Included in his party were Apostles Joseph F. Smith, Erastus Snow, Brigham Young, Jr., Moses Thatcher, and Francis M. Lyman, among other dignitaries of the Church. They were met at St. David by Jesse N. Smith, Christopher Layton, Alex F. McDonald and Lot Smith, Presidents of the four stakes in Arizona. The persecution of the members of the Church was the main topic under discussion. There was determination to extend the Church settlements further south. According to Orson F. Whitney; "In order to provide a place of refuge for such as were being hunted and hounded, President Taylor sent parties into Mexico to arrange for purchase of land in that country upon which the fugitive Saints might settle. One of the first sites selected for this purpose was just across the line of Mexico in the State of Sonora."
One day while in Mexico, Joseph watched with much amusement some natives trying to shoe a horse. They were having a difficult time. Being a blacksmith, he asked permission to shoe the horse. In a few minutes he had the shoe on the horse to the amazement of the Mexicans. The horse was owned by a wealthy man who had a large number of ranches. He offered Joseph a ranch thirty miles square if he would bring his family and live among them, but Joseph refused the offer, not caring to conform to the Mexican ways.
While living in St. David, three sons were born to Joseph and Maria: Parley Taylor on 19 January 1882; Orson Pratt on 15 October 1884; and Milton on 8 May 1888.
In the winter preceding Milton's birth, Joseph went to Salt Lake City, and while there entered into plural marriage with Augusta Matilda Erickson, on 3 February 1888. He returned to St. David one month before Milton was born, bringing Augusta with him. This was a great surprise to the entire family, especially to Maria. Three sons were born to Joseph and Augusta.
Joseph was released from his colonization of Arizona "call" on 24 October 1890. After being flooded out several times, he became quite discouraged and decided to return to Utah to live. He and Maria attended the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893, leaving the children on the homestead in St. David, but were called home by the serious illness of Charles who had contracted typhoid fever. Parley and Milton also contracted the disease but were not so seriously ill.
After two attempts to return to his old home in Utah were thwarted, Joseph decided that as the Lord had called him to pioneer in Arizona, he was not meant to leave, so, on 20 July 1893, he moved the family to the Gila Valley. They stayed in Safford a few months, then purchased a home in Thatcher. Here the children attended school.
Maria's health became very poor after arriving in Thatcher. She passed away 19 April 1901, and was buried there. Joseph was in St. David at the time, but because of a storm washing out the road, he was unable to attend her funeral and arrived some time later.
Joseph sold the family home in Thatcher, and the boys went to Bisbee to find employment. He returned to St. David. He passed away 12 July 1914, at the home of his son, Orson, in Bisbee, Cochise County, Arizona, and was buried in St. David, Cochise, Arizona.
(Tune: "Oh Beautiful, for Spacious Skies"}
Joseph McRae, an honored name;
Blessed by a prophet's hand;
His own great name he gave that day
Joseph, a name so grand.
Young Joseph grew til manhood seen,
A blacksmith was his trade.
Maria fair, he wed one day,
A helpmeet to his aid.
Joseph McRae, an honored name;
As father tall you stand;
Sent forth a leader of his day,
To pioneer this land.
Joseph McRae, an honored name;
Blessed by a prophet's hand.
Sent forth a leader of his day,
To pioneer this land.
Joseph McRae, Joseph McRae
Thy name we honor still,
Thy sons and daughters pledge to thee
To keep the faith, we will.