Monday, April 22, 2013

Ellen DePriest's Miracle

Margaret "Ellen" Talley DePriest [1] would certainly qualify as one of the lesser known early Saints. Yet her life can be just as interesting as the more often told stories. Ellen was the recipient of a miracle which saved her life. But her life was so much more than just one event. She was born in the uncertainty of the Civil War on 3 April 1864 in Lewis County, Tennessee to Elisha Freeland Talley & Barbara Ellen Hudson.

Ellen's family had moved to this remote part of Tennessee two generations earlier.  They came in the 1820's, soon after the Treaty of Washington was signed in 1806. The treaty allowed white settlement south of Tennessee's Duck River to the state line. For this vast tract of land, the Creeks received $14,000 while the Cherokees received $10,000, a gristmill, a cotton gin, and a $100 yearly payment to Chief Black Fox.

Small towns sprung up on the larger rivers. But there were large parcels of land to be had on the highland creeks. They attracted the adventurous like the DePriests, the Talleys, and the Lancasters, from North Carolina and Georgia where the opportunities to build your own farm were limited to those who could afford to buy the land.

There were no churches in this highland frontier. But occasionally an itinerant preacher would wander through. Campbellites, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists were the most common,  but the Mormons made an appearance too.

Ellen's parents, Eli & Barby Talley, were the first in Lewis County to join the Mormons in September of 1879.  Mormons were not well liked. They were known to be polygamists and were accused of far worse. Then her uncle John Lancaster joined, and her aunt Malinda's husband, Jim Conder joined too. With her family joining a strange and unpopular faith, it must have seemed like a strange autumn, to be sure. But then a miracle happened. Uncle John's invalid sister, Rachel Lancaster was healed by the power of prayer. It was no trickery. Rachel was at death's door and everyone knew it. She had been sick for years and now had worsened. She could not breath and was not expected to last the night. But there she was the next morning, singing Mormon hymns!! And it was the prayers of the Mormons that did it. They had administered to her with oil like was done in the Bible. Rachel was baptized a week later along with Elizabeth, Uncle John's wife.

It didn't take long for Ellen to decide follow their example. She and her new husband, Tom DePriest, were baptized in Cane Creek on the 28th of January along with three others: Ellen's sister Leona, and her husband's brother and his wife, James and Margaret DePriest.[2] 

Ellen and Tom [3] were expecting their first child. It was an exciting time. A new marriage, a new church, and the baby was due in early May. Sadly there was an accident. The details are sketchy. There appears to have been a fire which went out of control. Accidental fires were a frequent hazard.  Ellen's own grandmother Feriba would die from a fire accident in 1896. While she was making soap outdoors in a kettle over an open fire a gust of wind blew the flames onto Grandma Feriba's dress. The single description of the accident in Ellen's case is more vague. We don't know how the fire started or even where it was. Ellen and her husband were able to suppress the fire, but the "exposure in fighting [the] fire" caused her to miscarry.

Six days passed and she had not delivered the dead child. Ellen was growing ill and was bedridden. Her belly swelled abnormally. She was "chewing her tongue & swooning." The midwives and the local doctor determined there was no more they could do for her. One midwife left saying she would not attend a dead woman. They sent for a physician who had the tools to remove the child in pieces, thinking this was the only way to save her life. Two of the missionaries laboring in the area administered to her, and pronounced that she would have health and strength.

Late in the afternoon on the seventh day, after being prostrated for two days, Ellen finally delivered the dead child, feet first. About an hour later the doctor they sent for arrived and declared her as healthy as any woman he had seen give birth. By the end of the day he declared her fully recovered.

It must have been a monumental event in her life. When other family members turned away from the Church in later years, Ellen remained strong. In March of 1883, Ellen and her husband joined an emigrant company heading for Colorado. Travelling with them was Tom's brother and his wife, James and Margaret DePriest. Both families settled in Manassa, on the same block.

In November 1884, after the Cane Creek Massacre, Ellen's parents and other relatives including Tom's other brother Pleasant, followed them to Manassa. Although her parents didn't stay for more than a couple a years, Ellen remained and raised her 11 children in her new home. All of them grew to adulthood, married and had children of their own. She shared a long life with her husband who died in 1932. Ellen passed away, few years later, still living in Colorado, still true to the faith, on 9 May 1937.

[1] There is a photo of Ellen floating around the internet, but I have not been able to verify its authenticity with a family member, nor have I been able to get a clear enough version to make it worth putting in online. Much of the information about her was confused with her aunt/sister-in-law with the same name.

[2] Ellen shared more than just a first and last name with her sister-in-law, Margaret DePriest. They also shared maiden names: Talley. Her sister-in-law, Margaret Eisabel Talley DePriest, was also her father's younger sister.

[3] Ellen and Tom lived "up the hollow" from her parents Eli & Barby Talley. Missionaries usually visited both families on the same day, so it was probably very close by.


Ardis said...

Wow. Reports of healings occur so often in missionary writings and publications, but not usually with enough detail for a reader all these generations later to know how to think of them. I appreciate reading an account with a name and date and enough specificity to recognize the miraculousness. Knowing something of Ellen's life before and after her healing helps, too. Thanks.

BruceAllen said...

I was also surprised at the detail describing her condition and the efforts to help her. It must have been a powerful experience for Ellen.

My wife commented commented to me privately that had Ellen actually had the 1880 equivalent of a D&C, there would have been little chance of her surviving, let alone having any more children.

Tod Robbins said...


This is such a great post! I just added Ellen to the Dictionary of Mormon Biography wiki:

Feel free to register and add more information. I'm still building out a person template for the site so just wing it for now!

BruceAllen said...

Thanks Tod. It looks like this is a new project of yours.

Tod Robbins said...

Yup. We're just trying to build momentum at this point. The hope is for it to be a staple for researchers, and to add all primary source and secondary source citations for every Latter-day Saint we possibly can.

BruceAllen said...

A reader provided me with a pair of biographies of Ellen and her husband, written by two of their daughters. Both of them pick up while the family was living in Colorado. They knew little of Tennessee, except that it was beautiful, warm and lush; a stark contrast to their home in Colorado.

They remember Ellen as a woman who worked hard to feed not just her family, but many other people too, often opening their home to 30-40 people, even perfect strangers in need. They describe her as genteel, with no bad habits, and who never criticized anyone.

Michelle Stubbs said...

Thank you so much for posting this. Ellen is my great, great grandmother. We have had this story passed down in our family, but is nice to get some more details. My grandmother, who was her grand-daughter spent every Sunday at her home. Ellen was loved very much and according to my grandmother very sweet. She played with her grandchildren and they would eat big pieces of chocolate cake with her. My grandmother cried everytime she spoke of her. She missed her dearly. She said she was the hardest working woman she had ever known.

I look forward to reading more of your awesome posts.