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Wild Women Wednesday: Eliza Mott

COWGIRL LIFE

Wild Women Wednesday: Eliza Mott

In 1854, Eliza Mott recognized the need for education in the Carson Valley and she decided to do something about it.  The dedicated wife and mother started the first school in Nevada in her own home and became the state’s first schoolteacher.

Due to her achievements in the field of learning, education became important in that area.  Two years later the first official organization of school districts was established.  

Eliza Ann Middaugh was born in Toronto, Canada in 1829.  As a young girl she moved with her family to Iowa.  There she met and married Israel Mott, also a Canadian.  Following their marriage, the entire Mott family moved to American Fork, Utah Territory and in 1851 Eliza gave birth to her first child.  Later that same year the young Mormon couple left their infant son with Israel’s parents and joined a Mormon emigrant train in Salt Lake and journeyed with them to Mormon Station, Nevada.  There were several men and 18 women and it is believed that the wagon train was led by Kit Carson.  Eliza had all their belongings, including a cherry wood piano and her rocking chair, carefully packed in a wagon.  

After several weeks of traveling over the rough hazardous country, the small group arrived at the Carson Valley.  While the oxen were being re-shod, Israel explored the valley and decided to remain there.  The rest of the wagon train went on to California, and the Motts, who were farmers, proceeded south along the Carson River to the base of the Sierra Nevada.  There, where a sparkling stream flowed down from the mountains, they decided to settle.

Eliza lived in the wagon, on the banks of the river, while Israel built their first home from abandoned wagon beds.  He created a window sash with his jack-knife and found a piece of glass to fit it.  The hard-working family diligently worked their 2,100 acre claim.  The other men and women of the Mott clan built comfortable log houses, an irrigation system, and brought the first thrashing machine and grist-mill to the Carson Valley.  In 1854, Eliza, who now had a secure home, gave birth to her second child, Louisa Beatrice.

More families settled in the area and when the need for a school became apparent Eliza decided to begin teaching classes in her kitchen.  When she opened the doors to her little school in 1854 she became Nevada’s first teacher.

Eliza’s strenuous schedule included housekeeping, feeding the stock, and milking the cows.  She had rose before dawn and milk six cows then return to the house to cook breakfast for her family and hired hands.  Next Eliza carefully prepared lunches for the students and then started her school day.  Eventually another woman came in to assist the young woman with her teaching.

Later the school that began in a kitchen was replaced by a one-room frame building with plastered walls and two six-pane sash windows.  It was named the Mottsville School and a man named Austen became the first teacher.  In the winter the children walked to school with their feet wrapped in barely sacks tied with a string.  The first older boy to arrive had to start the fire and the older girls were expected to clean and sweep the school at the end of each day.  There were no indoor restrooms.  

By 1856, in the community now known as Mottsville, Eliza had her third child, Mary Elizabeth.  The child died in 1857 and Eliza, filled with grief, buried her daughter in the back yard of the Mott home.  Later a neighbor’s child died and was also buried there.  These two graves were the start of what eventually became the Mottsville Cemetery

 

Eliza and Israel had two more children and in 1863 Israel died leaving Eliza with four children to raise.  She married a neighbor, A. M. Taylor, in 1864 and her father-in-law, Hiram Mott, deeded 80 acres of the family claim to Eliza.  Mr. Taylor and Eliza ran the ranch together.  She continued to do the milking and added “a string of pigs.”   

In 1890, Eliza’s second husband died.  With the help of her sons she continued to operate the ranch until her death from natural causes in 1900.  Her funeral was appropriately held in the Mottsville School.  The Reverend Francis C. Ball offered a moving tribute to this sterling pioneer lady when he said, “I seldom if ever saw a more beaming face.  She was a great friend and she did all the good that she could in every way she could wherever and to whomever she could.  This out of the pure goodness of her heart without thought or hope of reward.”

Eliza Mott was 86 when she passed away.

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Chris Enss is a New York Times Bestselling author who writes about women of the Old West.

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