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Mary Ellen Melling (1855-1940) was a baby pioneer born in Wyoming as her parents trekked from Preston England to Zion in 1855. The family suffered the physical trials and deprivations common to pioneers in the 1850s, and amid these circumstances, Mary Ellen grew up to be spunky and independent.

By the time she was 9 she was living in Marriott with her mother and step-father and her job was to tend the family’s sheep. She wrote that she would go “ a long way from home and stay all day with the sheep. We used to get very hungry as we had only bread and an onion and salt to take for dinner and we used to dip our bread in the river before eating it. One summer following a season after the grasshopper pest we had no bread to eat. We had to live on potatoes and we would take some boiled potatoes and salt and an onion. We also dug wild segos and ate them. Oh, a piece of bread would have been a luxury then. I always feel hurt to see a piece of bread lying in waste, to me it seems a sin for I have known the need of it.” [1]

By the time she was 15, the country had become more thickly settled and a little more civilized with the arrival of the railroad. In 1870 dancing was the most important social activity. She wrote: “We generally used to dance in the school-houses; we would go from one settlement to another and dance. Sometimes our dances would continue until a late hour reaching far into the morning.” [2]

It was at these dances that Mary Ellen met her future husband James H. Stone. Her mother and step-father had someone else in mind for her to marry and forbade her from dancing with or talking to Mr. Stone. But Mary Ellen liked Mr. Stone and cared nothing for the fellow that her parents had in mind, so the trouble started for Mary Ellen and James.

James gave her small tin type of himself making Mary Ellen feel sure that he cared for her as he did not give a picture of himself to any other girl. When her parents discovered the picture, they took it away. [3]

James and Mary Ellen continued meeting “accidentally”, as often as they could arrange it. During the May Day celebration of 1871 Mary Ellen slipped out of her house without permission to meet James for the May Day Stroll. James took her to the cabin of his brother Ed Stone in Bingham Fort, and they were visiting there when Mary Ellen’s parents found them. Her parents were excited and angry and told Mary Ellen to come right now and go home with them.

Mary Ellen refused to go unless they would promise to give her the freedom to go out with and keep company with the boy of her choice. They said no, and her step-father, Thomas Salisbury, grabbed hold of James’ ear roughly pulling it, ordering him to take Mary Ellen back home.

Amid this confusion and in the presence of everyone, James fell on his knee and proposed to Mary Ellen. He told her that he was not prepared to marry, but if she wanted to take the chance with him, he would do his best for her and they would get married on this very day. She accepted. He was 18 and she was almost 16.

Her parents were enraged and tried to put a stop to it. Her step-father was Justice of the Peace in Marriott. He hurried around and told all other Justices of the Peace in the area of his protest to this marriage. Knowing that no one in Weber County would marry them, James secured some horses, and with the help of his brother and some friends, they forded the Weber River when its water was at its highest run off and rode south to Kay’s Ward where they were married on the evening of May 1, 1871. The day of the May Stroll turned out to be their wedding day. [4]

James Stone and Mary Ellen Melling in 1871; crayon portrait by Ed Stone.
James Stone and Mary Ellen Melling in 1871; crayon portrait by Ed Stone.

For the following year Mary Ellen was shunned by her parents, and James was excommunicated from the Church for their unapproved marriage. It was not uncommon in these times to be cut off from the Church for perceived disobedience or willfulness. But they were devoted to each other and lived happily.

After eloping they lived with James’ widowed mother, Mary Cruse Stone, for about a year. James worked very hard to earn money and purchased some land next to the railroad tracks from Sam Gates; this land had a large, elongated pond that was bridged by the railroad track in a narrow portion. Perhaps this parcel of land was sold because of its location by the tracks and the wetlands (today’s Fort Bingham subdivision). James built a cabin next to the pond, and in time the pond came to be known as Stone’s Pond. After the first year of their marriage, they were reconciled with Mary Ellen’s parents, but Mary Ellen did not resume activity in the Church until 1885. [5]

James and Mary Ellen had five children and thirteen years of married happiness. In addition to farming James worked as a horse-back mail carrier to Huntsville. He worked hard for five more years, and they were able to buy more land and an adobe house on 2nd Street.

Their bliss was cut short in November 1884 when James was injured in a run-away horse and wagon accident; he died on December 24, 1884, and was buried on Christmas Day.

After the death of her beloved husband Mary Ellen was a single mother with five children under the age of 12. The Stone brothers, Ed and Moroni, helped her to retain the farm and sustain her family, but they had large families of their own. It was necessary for Mary to go into the field and hold the plow and do other work only suited to a man. During this time, she prayed to Heavenly Father to bless her crops, and the Lord opened up the way. Her tithing record for 1885 is still written on the wall of the old tithing house still located at 196 2nd Street.

The older children helped her continuously, and she also took in domestic work. Under these circumstances she accepted three motherless children into her home and raised them as her own. Over the years others who were in need stayed with her for various lengths of time until they could get on their feet and establish their own homes. Baby Carl (1891-1961) was adopted by Mary Ellen and given the Stone family name. [6]

Mary Ellen became an active member of the Lynne Ward and the Relief Society and served as counselor to two Relief Society presidents. She also worked in Primary, went to Logan and did temple work, and participated in the Utah silk project. In 1889 she was married in polygamy to neighbor Walter Crane, but she remained independently in her own home and continued to manage the family farm (the west portion of today’s Fort Bingham).

She wrote that although she had much sickness and many deaths in the family and passed through many sorrows, she had joy in her labors, particularly since she had become an active member of the Church. Many times, when death was at the door, she exerted faith in behalf of her children and saw miraculous healings. She was known to visit much among the sick and the needy and tried to the best of her ability to comfort the hearts of the distressed. [7] She died in February 1940 at the age of 84. Her obituary described her as an early pioneer in Ogden, Utah, and stated, “She not only reared her own family, but also other children not of her family. She is known by all who have associated with her as a great mother and a friend to all.”

Mary Ellen Melling’s silkworm cocoon, part of the Utah Silk project, circa 1878.
Mary Ellen Melling’s silkworm cocoon, part of the Utah Silk project, circa 1878.

Mary Ellen Melling with pet owl in front of her home at 386 W. 2nd Street, Ogden; 1912.
Mary Ellen Melling with pet owl in front of her home at 386 W. 2nd Street, Ogden; 1912.


[1] - Autobiography of Mary Ellen Melling Stone Crane, manuscript, 1922, p. 6.

[2] - Ibid, p. 6.

[3] - Sarah Stone Crowther, Biography of Pioneer James Hyrum Stone, 1949, manuscript, p. 4.

[4] - Sarah E. Crowther, Biography of Mary Ellen Melling Stone, handwritten manuscript, c. 1935, p. 54,55.

[5] - Autobiography of Mary Ellen Melling Stone Crane, p.9.

[6] - Ibid, p. 9,10; Autobiographical Historical Sketch, p. 2

[7] - Autobiographical Historical Sketch, p.3.

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