This is the first in a five-part series submitted by Edres Barney of the Eastern Arizona Museum and Historical Society of Graham County Inc., commemorating Arizona’s Trailblazing Women in conjunction with Arizona Archives Month.
Wilmirth Margaret was born Nov. 18, 1824, in DeKalb County, Ga., the second child of Nathaniel Hunt Greer and Nancy Ann Terry Roberts. Shortly before her third birthday, the family moved to Troup County bordering the Cherokee lands across the Chattahoochee.
Nathaniel was a member of the Alabama Legislature in 1833. At age 12-1/2, Wilmirth brought to Texas childhood memories of several years spent in the verdant hills of Chambers County, Ala. After two years of Texas frontier life, Wilmirth met Edward Wallace East, an enterprising young man from Tennessee. Bold and pioneering, he had served the new republic for one year as a Texas Ranger.
Although Wilmirth was not 15 and Ed was 10 years her senior, they were married by her father, the justice of the peace, on Oct. 2, 1839. For his ranger service, Ed had received a bounty warrant for 1,280 acres, but the young couple deferred land acquisition and chose to live on her parents’ Washington County property. Among other jobs, Ed helped Nathaniel Greer with his postal contracts.
On July 22, 1853, Ed and Wilmirth were baptized into the Mormon faith, as were her father and all of his family. Both families felt a growing urge to gather in Zion with their spiritual counterparts. Their arduous journey to Salt Lake began in 1855. Along the way, Wilmirth lost her father, youngest brother and four children to cholera. A few weeks after their Utah arrival, they lost another daughter to measles, which left only two children out of seven.
In Salt Lake, their family increased, during which time Ed served as county clerk for 14 years and helped lay the foundation of the Salt Lake Temple, while Wilmirth taught school, wrote poetry and did church work. She was well known in Salt Lake among the church authorities, having lived there 22 years in the Fourth Ward, where she held many positions of trust.
The Easts relocated to Arizona, and she served as the first president of the Relief Society in Apache County from 1877 to 1883. They relocated in Pima, and she became the first St. Joseph Stake Relief Society president, serving from 1883 to 1898.
Other activities of Wilmirth while living in Pima were as justice of the peace and the first woman to serve on the Pima School Board. Over a period of several years, she wrote many articles for the Woman’s Exponent on women’s suffrage and other current issues of the day.
Ed and Wilmirth served two missions for the LDS Church. Ed, with his two sons, Joseph and Thomas, established a mercantile business located a few doors north of the present museum in Pima. The boys continued to operate it until about 1902.
Death came for Ed on May 29, 1884, and for Wilmirth on March 31, 1902. They raised only four children to maturity, having given birth to 12. The four were Sarah Mariah Texana East, Edward Martin East, Joseph Fielding East and Thomas Nathaniel East.
Pat East Bryce (Ben) of Pima, along with her five children and 23 grandchildren, are direct descendants. Pat is the daughter of Acel, who is a son of Wallace, and he is the son of Thomas Nathaniel.