Sarah Frances Shirley

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Sarah Frances Shirley (Virgin)

Birthdate: (92)
Birthplace: St Charles, ID, USA
Death: December 15, 1968 (92)
Rexburg, ID, USA
Place of Burial: ID, USA
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Amos Moses Virgin and Sarah Frances Virgin
Wife of James Frederick Shirley
Mother of Frederick Amos Shirley; Myrtle Ester Shirley; Leo George Shirley; Eva Sarah Shirley; Alice Jennette Hadley and 7 others
Sister of Alice Xarissa Hansen; Linda Rose Virgin; Mary Ann Muir; George Amos Virgin; Eugenie Long and 5 others

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Sarah Frances Shirley

Life and Testimony of Sarah Francis Virgin Shirley, wife of James Frederick Shirley:

Sarah was born July 22, 1876, in St. Charles, on the beautiful Bear Lake, Idaho. She was the oldest child of ten children. By the time she started school in 1886, her parents had already taught her to read, write, add, subtract and divide. Sarah appears to always have been a student of the gospel. She was made a Sunday school teacher before she was sixteen years old. She loved to sing, and sang in the ward choir. She also sang solos and duets with others.

She loved the social life around Bear Lake too, which was exciting and eventful. They had political rallies, boat rides and dances. It was at a square dance in Fish Haven that Sarah met James Shirley. They were married about two years later in the Logan Temple. Just after she was married, the sealer told them, “If ten devils have been after you before, one hundred will be after you from today, after you have made covenants.”

The very next day, as they were traveling home, they stopped at a spring in Logan Canyon for a drink. James had made his team secure by putting on the brake and fastening the lines well. But before he could get a drink from the spring, Sarah heard the team start to move up the canyon. James ran over and caught the mare by the bit and called, “Whoa.” But she gave a lunge forward and threw the lines lengthwise on the ground. Then the horses jumped into a run. As the wheels passed by, they threw dirt into James’ face. He ran after the team as fast as he could. They turned around a high ledge where the rock had been blasted out to make a road along Logan River Bank. Soon he came to his team tied to quaking aspen. Two men were going down the canyon with a broken wagon wheel and when James’ team saw them, they turned off through the quaking aspen. The trees flipped up in back of the wagon. The men caught and tied the horses up.

There was no damage to the wagon or its contents. Sarah and her mother-in-law who was with them caught up, and got into the wagon. They continued their journey, and soon came up over the divide on a very dim road. As they started down the mountain they saw some sage hens off to the left. James put on the brake and gave Sarah the reins. He went to the back of the wagon and took out a shotgun and followed the birds a ways. As he came back and put the gun under the wagon cover and got into the wagon, Fan again acted like she was possessed and both were ready to run again. They traveled down the road a short ways, then both horses started running. James soon found a place to turn them to the left and up a slight incline where he stopped them. When he got out to look things over he found a bolt had fallen out and let down the brake. So he wound it up and they went down safely. They then went on to their new home. What a honeymoon!

In October, 1898, Sarah and James, with a young son, and a sister and her husband, moved to Salem, Idaho. They camped overnight several times on the way, “arriving all well, only much tired out with the long, cold journey. It had rained on us nearly all day Sunday. That night the wagon covers had leaked; our bedding was wet; we couldn’t find any water that would be good for use; and having no way to light a fire, ate a cold bite and went to bed on top of our load. When morning came every thing was frozen and the ground covered with snow. When we reached our destination we found the place still occupied by the folks whom we bought the property from, so we had to help move them.”

But undaunted, they moved into a two room log cabin with a dirt roof. Sarah and James lived in the East Room and her sister and brother-in-law lived in the West Room. There was much to be done. The men soon busied themselves with repairing sheds and building fences while Sarah and her sister settled down to raising children and house keeping.

Of their first winter in Idaho, Sarah wrote, “We stayed at home most of the winter, not having any sleigh to use. All were blessed with good health. It was a very cold winter and spring. The snow went early in April and the planting season began.” In August, they were pleased that Sarah’s parents and their eight children also moved to Salem, where they bought a big farm on the West side of them. The family was all together again.

They became active in the Salem ward. Sarah says she and her mother went around the 640 acre section where folks lived as visiting teachers. She also served as a Bee Hive adviser. Later she was the first Gleaner teacher in Salem Ward for a number of years. She was a Sunday School teacher for a long while. Finally, she taught Relief Society theology lessons for thirty years, from 1926 to 1956.

She was rather tall in stature, and wore her hair drawn back in a neat knob at the top of her head. She was blessed with a strong and vigorous constitution, which helped her to endure the discomforts and privations of early pioneer life, such as having no running water in the house, no electricity and no inside plumbing. She had a favorite saying which was, “Every back is made for the burden.” And, she would bear heavy burdens in her life.

Sarah loved music and often sang around the house, music she had learned singing with her father and sisters around an old, upright organ. Among her favorites were “What Shall the Harvest Be,” and one about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, with a chorus which went, “Sound the Loud Timbrel o’er Egypt’s Dark Sea. Jehovah hath triumphed, His people are Free.” She also sang in the ward choir and for old folks parties.

Myrtle, the oldest girl, remembers that Sarah was full of love and concern for her family. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for her children, if she could do it. Sarah made clothes and knitted the family’s stockings and mittens.

When winter came and the windows were all frosted over and some one got the croup, she would prepare a mustard plaster with an aromatic camphor, mixed with lard and mustard. Then she would wrap a hot iron with cloth and put it in the bed to keep the patient’s feet warm. This proved to be a sure cure for the worst case of croup.

In 1918 a world wide flu broke out. It was severe and throughout the world, millions of lives were lost. Not many families in Salem escaped this deadly disease. It seemed everyone in the Salem Ward were sick at the same time. The Shirley family was hit very hard. Sarah worked through many long days and nights of hard and constant care, administering hot and cold packs to reduce the high fevers. She was pregnant with Ada. For a time Sarah herself became bed fast with others, all near death for days. Sarah had a very high fever, and they feared for her baby. There had been reports of how dangerous the flu was for unborn babies. Doctors couldn’t begin to get around to help all those in need.

But they were blessed to have help from neighbors who brought food. And particularly, through the faith of James, who used administrations and prayers, their lives were spared. Only one child, the youngest, Rodney, did not get the flu. He became known as “the little scout.” He would sit on the back porch patiently waiting for a pot or chamber to be emptied, then he went from room to room to empty the wash basins and the potties. On April 21, in the midst of this, Ada was safely born. A neighbor who lived down the street, was brave enough to come to help.

Sarah worked hard, as all farmer’s wives did. Threshing time was particularly memorable. The women joined together to prepare food for the huge threshing crews. They borrowed dishes and utensils so they would have enough to feed everybody.

When threshing was over, she would exchange the old straw in the mattresses for new straw. First she washed the mattresses, then filled them with clean, dry straw. They were fat and hard at first, but in time they became softer and comfortable to snuggle down into during the cold winter nights.

The girls were given inside chores as they grew older, such as helping churn the cream, and ironing with heavy irons that were heated on the kitchen stove. Sarah had a sewing machine, which she operated with her feet and hands, and made the children’s clothes. Myrtle came to know that when she went to town and came home with a big roll of outing flannel, that in the near future, a new baby would arrive at the home.

Because of James’ terrible hay fever, he eventually began searching for other kinds of work to do, letting his older sons handle the farm. The two oldest children married and were living in Utah. James went to Utah in January 1924 to help on a fruit farm owned by a relative, and to help them remodel their house. He often visited his married children living there. In April, Sarah went to visit him with her youngest. He took the day off and they had a wonderful time together.

But Sarah said later, that after she had said goodbye to James, to return home, a feeling of sadness came over her and she cried and cried. In July, James was found to have a ruptured appendix. Sarah was notified and went to Utah. He promised her that as soon as he got well, they would go on a long trip together. But instead, he died. Through the help of her sons and other Utah relatives, all the necessary arrangements were made. Sarah and other family members, and also James’ body, went back to Salem by train. Sarah was tired and exhausted from the pain and anguish she had been through. She struggled to smother her emotions and hold back her tears.

At home, she was soon surrounded by her children, who tried very hard to buoy her up and comfort her. She also had her parents, and other relatives nearby, and friends who came to show their love and support. But all the family acknowledges that the years following James’ death were all long, lonesome, and terribly hard for Sarah. Children who slept with her remember her silent sobs in the middle of the night. It was most sad when she had to leave home to work, sorting seeds in a seed house, leaving the children to manage the work at home and on the farm. The children did everything they could to support her financially and emotionally.

One son noticed the very badly worn shoes of his siblings. He was working at the sugar factory at the time. He bought a shoe last and other equipment and set up a shoe repair shop at home. When the belts at the sugar factory wore out, he would bring home the good part and sole shoes with it, including any needy neighbors‘shoes.

The children kept growing. One by one they graduated from high school, many of them with honors. Two sons went on missions, and others as young women and men got enough education to start teaching school to help out financially. Other sisters went directly to work in stores, etc. All did what they could to help their mother and each other. And, of course, one by one, they began to marry. Eventually, all who were still around took on the project of building a new house.

Some say it was the girls’ embarrassment about their green house when boyfriends came that caused them to take on such a project. But everyone worked hard to raise and save money for it. Those who helped raise sugar beets suddenly had new motivation to raise a good crop. One daughter says “I know Hazel and I spent all summer weeding and hoeing those beets and maybe even talking to them, because they grew into the biggest and best we had ever grown.” Other siblings, who had jobs, saved their money to buy paint and other materials. The brothers tore down the old house so they could use its materials. They dug the footings for the foundation, even though the ground was frozen at the time. They had finished the framing and plastering late in the fall.

The project was possible because Fred, the oldest, had learned the construction trade when in Utah. He designed the house for them in the latest styles used in Salt Lake City, and guided the work. So when the house was finally finished, they had special features that were the first to be introduced into the Rexburg area. They were all very proud of their new home and of the fact that they had built it themselves and together!

And great was the day when the Electric Power Company finally brought power lines into Salem. Before that, the older children got up early Monday mornings and each one turned the old washing machine, by hand, for a few timed minutes. By this method, a few washers full of clothes were done before the school van arrived. Over time, electric lights replaced the kerosene lamps, an electric iron replaced the heavy flat iron, and an electric washing machine replaced the wash board and the hand washer.

Sarah and James raised a really wonderful, strong family of their own. In fact, she was once chosen “Mother of the Year” in her area of Idaho. On top of Sarah’s own family duties, she performed as a midwife and gave help to others in sickness. She later brought into her home for a time many sweet little orphans, three of them her sister’s children, and later five of her own grandchildren. She attended and cared for the aged. She had several incidents in her life when she felt her life had been preserved. In later years, her life was less laborious, and she was blessed to go with many of her married children on traveling expeditions throughout the Western states.

Finally, she left a legacy as a strong teacher of religion. She and James had many religious books in their home. She loved to read. She had a remarkable memory and this helped her gain a knowledge of the gospel. She was quick to defend the truth at all times, even when there was opposition. She became known throughout her area for her gospel teaching ability in Relief Society and Sunday School classes.

Throughout her life, by teaching and by example, she taught the principles of prayer, fasting, tithe paying, church service and participation. In recording her own life, she expressed her thankfulness for her children and grandchildren who had served missions, been married in the temple, and were faithful to priesthood callings. She prayed her later descendants would follow that example, and that after they were married in the temple, they would keep their sacred covenants and would always be virtuous and true.

Sarah Frances Virgin Shirley died December 15, 1968, at the age of ninety-two. All her descendants greatly honor her.

Again, thanks to Paul Brown and Lee Hadley for contributing additional pedigree names, photos and these wonderful narratives about their ancestors.


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Sarah Frances Shirley's Timeline

July 22, 1876
St Charles, ID, USA
September 20, 1897
Age 21
Fish Haven, Bear Lake County, Idaho, United States
Age 22
Age 24
Age 29
March 15, 1908
Age 31
Sugar City, Madison County, Idaho, United States
Age 33
January 3, 1915
Age 38
Salem, Madison County, Idaho, United States