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Mary Ellen Criddle Russell

In 1893 Mary Ellen Criddle met William F. Russell. He had come to Basalt, Idaho to work for the summer. She apparently never dreamed that she would one day marry him for in her words, "he made no impression."

Mary Ellen's father, Charles Criddle, homesteaded and worked on the canal. He became the postmaster and Mary Ellen served as his assistant for eight years. The Criddles hadn't always lived in Basalt. Mary Ellen was born on October 1, 1878, while her family was living in Meadow, Millard County, Utah. Two and a half years later the Criddles settled in Morgan, Utah, staying there until the move to Basalt in 1888. It was in Morgan that Mary Ellen received all of her formal education - about a year and a half of school.

In 1897 Will Russell returned to Basalt. His uncle, William M. Dye, had been called on a mission to the southern states. Will lived with his Aunt Julia while her husband was away. Will sang in the Basalt Ward Choir and so did Mary Ellen Criddle. During this time Mary Ellen was told that Will had had his fortune told and the fortune teller had said he would have twelve sons. She renarked to someone, "Gee, I'd like to be their mother."

Will left Basalt in 1898 and returned home to Riverdale, Utah. He had dated Mary Ellen about a half dozen times. Before leaving Idaho Will had received a letter stating that his parents had been called by the church to go to Canada as new settlers. Will had no intention of going.

Will's mother, Hannah Maria Child Russell, had said she would not go without all her family. Eventually Will was convinced that he should go along. He told his father that first he would have to return to Basalt and settle up affairs there.

Will took the train to Basalt around the first of July. The next day he talked with Mary Ellen Criddle. Although they had only dated a few times he proposed to her. He told her, "The President of the Church has called my parents to move to Canada and settle in Alberta. My mother won't go without all of her family and I won't go unless you'll marry me and go with me." She accepted and they were married less than two weeks later, on July 12, 1899 in the Logan Temple.

A wedding reception was held that night in Riverdale in their honor. The bride ard groom never made it to that celebration, as the rail road tracks were washed out at Oxford. They spent their first night together on a railroad car. There was no food on the railroad car but they managed to get something to eat from a nearby cheese factory.

When the young couple arrived back in Basalt a Relief Society conference was in progress and they insisted on giving them a wedding dance in the school house. The school was packed for the dance and one man remarked,"Best time I ever had in my whole life."

The newlyweds traveled by train to Stirling, Alberta, Canada, arriving there July 17, 1899. There they lived in a 12' x 14' tent until January 15, 1900. There was heavy grass everywhere with neither trees nor sagebrush to be seen. Of the three houses in the community only two were completely finished.

In January Will built a 12' x 16' one room home. They moved into the little house about the fifteenth of that month. On March 17, 1900 the Relief Society had its annual birthday celebration complete with a program, supper, and dance. Will's mother was the Relief Society President at the time. Fortunately she was also a trained mid-wife for at about 2:00 A.M. Ellen woke Will and said, "Get your mother." Before 3:00 A.M. their first baby arrived two months premature. He weighed about 2 and one-half pounds. It was doubtful whether he would survive.

The Elders were called and they administered to him. In the blessing, Bishop Brandley promised him he would live and grow to full stature of manhood. William B. Hardy blessed him and gave him a name: Francis Criddle Russell, and through the efforts of Will's mother and her close attention, the mother and baby got along very well.

Will reported that "after his wife was able to be out " she took the baby every morning at 5:00 o'clock into the fresh air for an hour. At five months he weighed seven pounds, and then he came down with the whooping cough. Up to that time, he had been very inactive and hardly moved. But when the coughing spells came, the activity came, both in his arms and legs. Again it was doubtful whether he would survive. However, he did recover, and after that he grew very fast. At fourteen months he was walking and was as active as any normal child. It was hard to believe he had been so small that he was carried on a pillow and fed with a medicine dropper. He had been so small that he wasn't big enough to dress until age six weeks."

For the winter of 1902 the Russells rented a house in the village and moved from the farm. On March 2nd their second baby, Julia Ellen, was born. She weighed seven pounds. She was a normal baby and she grew fast.

The next year Will and Mary Ellen moved from Stirling to Taber. They homesteaded in the Taber district and spent the summer of 1903 in a tent. That July Will opened a lumber yard for Rogers Lumber Co. of Lethbridge. In the fall he built a two room house, 14' x 28'.

Mary EIlen returned to Stirling to have her third baby. While under the care of her mother-in-law Mary Ellen gave birth to another daughter, Fauntella, on November 27, 1903. The family moved into the new house with the week-old baby in December. While the family was stiIl in Taber another son, Warren was born. His birthdate was September 17, 1905.

In August of 1907, the family moved to Provo,, Utah. Will went into the livery stable business with William Probert, a man with whom he had worked in the management of the Taber community. Mary Ellen cared for her growing family while Will worked and attended the Brigham Young Academy

While they were living in Provo three sons were born to Will and Mary Ellen. Austin was born December 10, 1907. On September 21, 1909 Bill was born. And Ken was born on January 11, 1912. When their son, Bill,was about six weeks old, the family was going to take the excursion boat across the lake to Saratoga Hot Springs. There was a sand bar in the river, so that people had to go in row boats out to the big boat. Mary Ellen held Bill and sat in the end of one of the row boats. As it was shoved off, she fell backwards into the deep water at the edge of the pier. She went to the bottom and came right straight up. They grabbed her and hauled her into the boat. She had been holding the baby so tightly that her clothes weren't even wet where she had clutched him to her.

It's no wonder that Mary Ellen was frightened. Four years earlier her mother and little sister had drowned. Mary Ellen's mother, Emma Jane Crofts Criddle, was an excellent swimmer. Emma was carrying her youngest child, Lottie, across a ladder-type bridge when she slipped. Her foot caught on the bridge and she drowned with her head in the water, unable to use her swimming abilities to save herself. The little girl's body was found in the shrubs at the side of the canal. Emma's husband, Charles Criddle, was in England on a mission. He was released by President Joseph F. Smith and returned home.

Mary Ellen was eight months pregnant with her son Warren and was unable to travel to Basalt to attend her mother's funeral.  Mary Ellen's fall out of the row boat must have dramatically reminded her of her mother's death. Mary Ellen never again got into a row boat.

In the summer of 1912, Will, Mary Ellen, and their seven children moved to Riverdale, Utah. Will held different jobs in the city and on the farm. On December 10, 1913, Mac was born.

Two years later the family moved to Ogden. They lived in the ninth ward where their bishop was Owen Ridges, the son of the builder of the Tabernacle organ. Will left his family to work in the harvest in Canada. He stayed for thrashing until the middle of December. He returned back home to Ogden for Christmas. Soon after his return Mary Ellen gave birth to their ninth child, a daughter. Beth was born on February 3, 1916.

Mary Ellen and Will returned to Canada in 1917. They bought some land and started farming north of Taber. They raised only a light crop in 1918. Will also operated a livery stable.

The fourth daughter was born to the Russells on August 21, 1918. Ruth brought the total number of children to ten. The last of the eleven children, Glenn, was born on June 6, 1921. That year the family moved onto a ninety acre, irrigated farm at Barnwell. For the next few years the family would live in Barnwell for the summer, then back to Taber for the winter. They lived in a yellow house, and it was here that they had their first electric lights.

In the fall of 1925 the Russells sold their farm in Barnwell to Frank Stevens and moved the family to Lethbridge. The boys stayed on a farm at Diamond City, a town just outside of Lethbrjdge.

Mary Ellen was always very active in church work where ever they lived. At the age of fifteen she went visiting teaching with her aunt in Idaho. For fifty years she continued to serve as a Relief Society visiting teacher. After the family had settled in Lethbridge, Mary Ellen served on the Lethbridge Stake Primary Board as well. She worked as a temple worker in the Alberta Temple from 1933 - 1952. Her husband, Will, did the same from January, 1947 to September of 1952.

The eleven Russell children loved their mother very much. Whenever they were away from the family they received a letter from their mother each week.

On July 11, 1949, Mary Ellen and Will had a large celebration for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. A family dinner was held at the Marquis Hotel in Lethbridge. Fifty-three people were in attendance. The group included all ten of their living children (Warren died in 1938).

Mary Ellen died on April 21, 1957 in Lethbridge. She was seventy-eight.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup