Martha Parker Woodbury - Notable Women Ancestors
Martha Alice Parker Woodbury

Contributed by Charles Kyker

(Martha) Alice Parker was born in Accrington, Lancastershire, England May 22, 1846. Her parents were Robert Parker and Ann Hartley Parker. Both worked in the textile mills, where Robert was apparently a skilled worker or craftsman of some sort; the family was comfortable. He was an early convert to the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and in May, 1856, the family (Robert and Ann; Max, 14; Alice, 10; Arthur, 5, and Ada, 1) set out to join the Saints in Utah. They came by sailing vessel, the Horizon to the east coast, and by rail to Iowa City. Here they joined the second Mormon handcart train under Captain Daniel D. McArthur.

All their possessions were heaped in a handcart which Robert pulled and Ann, caring for the baby, pushed. Alice followed on foot with the other children of the train, with responsibility for Arthur. Before they had gone far Robert was stricken by a wasting fever, and had to be placed in one of the wagons; now it was Ann and Alice who powered the handcart. As they passed through the Nebraska timberlands, Arthur one day became ill, sat down to rest beside the train, fell asleep, and was left behind, unmissed until the end of the day. Members of the train searched for two days without result, then had to go on. Ann and Alice went on with the train; Robert, still ill, went back to look for the boy, finally returning with him to the train, after a week. By now Robert was gravely ill, and Ann and Martha Alice pushed and pulled their cart the rest of the way. When they reached the head of the Salt Lake Valley in September, 1856, Ann collapsed from exhaustion and went no further until a passing carriage passed and pulled the cart into the city. They had walked thirteen hundred miles.

Robert recovered and made his way to Beaver City, where woolen mills were being set up and his skills were apt. Alice grew up there. She is said to have been an unusually tall woman, and a graceful one. At a Christmas celebration in 1863 she met John Stillman Woodbury of St. George, UT. He was 39, a direct descendant of one of the Woodbury brothers who with Roger Conant founded Salem, MA in 1627, and was a pioneer farmer and husbandman who had already twice been sent on mission to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). Alice was 17. They married one year later, and she set out with him on another long, rough trip to Utah's southland, walking most of the way. Their first home was a tent and wagon box.

Their family and their plantations flourished, and by 1877 they had five children and Alice was carrying her sixth. She had chronic difficulty with eye inflammations exacerbated by the intense heat, sandy dust, and ubiquitous flies, and now, aged 31, was nearly blind. They were still building their house, and the roof was not yet on. At this point the elders of the Church called upon John for a third mission in Hawaii. He seems to have tried to protest, but was told he was specifically needed because he was fluent in Hawaiian. In the event, he went. She was totally blind by the time her sixth child was born. Somehow she saw all this through until John came home in 1880. Just before he did, she recovered much of her vision. Four more children followed.

She must have had a sense of humor. It is reported that when he realized their 10th child was under way, John remarked that they "would have to be very economical," and she collapsed laughing. Despite their circumstances they raised 10 children to adulthood, and contrived to give them all a good education: among the 10 there were a doctor, an attorney, eight teachers, and probably a nurse. After a long life she died, aged 79, as the result of an automobile accident in October, 1925, which broke her back. She lingered for two months, reportedly in great pain and good humor, and died December 17, 1925. Her youngest child, Camilla Woodbury Judd, who became a locally well-known poet of the Mormon pioneer experience, memorialized her mother in "Child of the Hand-Cart Train."

Child of the Hand Cart Train

I see her trudging down the dusty trail,
Struggling to heep within the handcart's sight
A girl-child, knowing anguish and travail;
Clasping the hand of a little brother tight,
Or on her back the loving burden bore,
Her faithful little feet so tired and sore.

I hear her singing down the silent wind;
Singing to the creak of handcart wheels,
Cheering the lagging feet that fall behind;
A song of faith and courage as she kneels
To smile into a little tear stained face
And heal its heartache with her gentle grace.

I see her lending her tender might,
Pushing the cart on its tortuous way,
For her gentle mother, broken and white,
Alone in the traces must toil today.
Dear God, give me just one note of that song
Of the spirit, that led her feet along.

I hear her sobbing by the campfire's glare;
Piling it higher with trembling hand,
For brother, left to the children's care
Is lost in the treacherous timberland;
And her father, weak from fever and pain,
Is searching and praying and calling in vain.

I see him returning, his face is grim;
No sound is heard save the wild wolf's wail;
Till the captain speaks, in the morning dim--
"The train must move on, every man to the trail."
But her father's voice rings out on the plain,
"I must stay till he is safe in my arms again."

I can see him standing so gaunt and tall,
While her mother pins round him a bright red shawl,
"If you find him dead, wrap him tenderly,
If alive -- a signal wave to me;"
And breathing a prayer, Thy will he done,"
Alone he faces the rising sun.

I see her keep watch by the dimming trail,
Six days have passed and her tired eyes fill;
But the faith within her will never fail --
When there, from the top of a distant hill,
Glimmering faint in the sunset's glow,
A bright red shawl waves to and fro!

I see her kneeling, words cannot tell
The sweet soul-gratitude given birth;
Someone is singing, "All is Well,"
As she falls asleep on her bed of earth.
Kind God, I thank Thee, that her I can claim
As my mother--child of the handcart train!

From the book Too Frail My Lute, by Camilla Woodbury Judd, 1967 Art City Publishing Corp., Springville Utah.

Footnote: Martha Alice's nephew, her elder brother's oldest boy, was Robert Leroy Parker, better known to the movies as Butch Cassidy. The claim, dating from Butch's time, is that he changed his name so as not to shame his respectable Mormon family.

* * *

  • MARTHA ALICE PARKER m. John Stillman Woodbury
  • Ada Elizabeth Woodbury m. George Robertson Scott
  • Aimee Elizabeth Scott m. Frederick William Reynolds, Jr.
  • Penelope Scott Reynolds m. Granvil Charles Kyker, Jr. (myself)

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