Mary Murray Murdock (“Wee Granny”)

“Pioneers from my family.”
Mary Murray Murdock (“Wee Granny”)
My Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother
By Carl Duke
50th Ward
All of us have likely sat through a Sunday School lesson on which way our tent
should face. In the Old Testament we read about how Lot dwelled outside of
Sodom but pitched his tent in the direction of that wicked city (Genesis 13:12).
The direction of his tent is symbolic of the desires of his heart; in fact, he ended
up eventually living in Sodom and found himself in some very difficult
circumstances because of this choice. It would have been better for Lot if he had
followed the example of Abraham and shunned everything that occurred in
Sodom and Gomorrah. We are further taught about the direction of our tents
during King Benjamin’s address where his people “pitched their tents round
about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the
temple” (Mosiah 2:6) another clear symbol that the people of King Benjamin
understood the importance of this spiritual concept. While I think the image of
the way which we face our tents is powerful, I have a family story that also
teaches this lesson in a manner that I don’t believe you will soon forget.
My Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother Mary Murray Murdoch was born
in 1782. To help put this into perspective, she was a five-year old little girl living
in Scotland when the United States Constitution was drafted and signed in
Philadelphia. She did not enjoy an easy life before her years as a pioneer. She
married James Murdoch when she was 29 and 20 years later he died in a was
killed in a mining accident while trying to rescue a friend. This left Mary a widow
and a single mother of six children and an orphaned niece ranging from age 4 to
20. They were poor and all of her children were forced to work to help provide
scanty meals of potatoes and salt.
In 1850, Mormon missionaries came to Scotland and Mary’s son John quickly
recognized the truth of the Gosple and converted. A year later Mary joined the
Church and was baptized by her son John. She was 69 years old when she
joined the Church. I find this in and of itself a miracle. I have a hard time
changing my habits and beliefs at the ripe old age of 35; I can’t image how
difficult it must have been to accept the gospel at such an old age after an entire
life of habits and beliefs had solidified. Keep in mind, when she was born doctors
did not understand the need to wash their hands, life expectancy when Mary was
born was 39 years (due in part to high infant mortality), if you could survive to the
age of 30 you could expect to live to the age of 59. Mary was already 10 years
past her life expectancy when she joined the Church!
Her son John was a sheepherder and was asked to come to Utah to help herd
Brigham Young’s flocks in 1852. John and his young family scrimped and saved
for four years and at the first chance they had sent for Mary to join the saints.
This act of faith, in and of itself, is humbling and noteworthy. John was almost
exactly my age, working hard to settle the Heber Valley. Think of how he could
have invested this money. He could have purchased land, livestock, crops, etc.
All of those things would have brought his family money and comfort in the
subsequent years. He instead sent his money to his mother Mary, the equivalent
of a centurion today in terms of health and strength, so she could see Zion. John
made an extremely difficult investment with this choice, he is my Great Great
Great Great Grandfather and to this day I benefit from the yields of this
amazingly faithful choice.
So in 1856, at the age of 74, Mary began the 6,000-mile journey from Scotland to
Salt Lake City. She was 4’7” and weighed 90 pounds. When Mary arrived in
Iowa City she was assigned to cross the plains with the Martin Handcart
Company. She left Iowa City on July 28, 1856 and trudged as far as Chimney
Rock, Nebraska before she passed away on October 3, 1856.
Her dying words were “Tell John I died with my face towards Zion.” These words
are the title for the painting above. Many LDS people are familiar with the story
of Wee Granny and these dying words; in fact, President Monson has referenced
her in General Conference addresses as an example of bravery and strength.
For me it is the ultimate reminder of where I should be facing, the direction I
should be keeping my tent, and the rewards of a faithful life on posterity.
I will forever be grateful for these wonderful saints. I will never forget the
example of strength shown by Mary. I will cherish the choices and sacrifices
made by her son John to leave posterity with this story. I cannot wait for the
opportunity to meet and thank the dear friends who agreed to bring Mary across
the plains. None of these decisions were easy and none of the actors could have
foreseen the blessings that would accrue five seven generations later. This is
one of many reasons I cannot wait for Trek.