Margaret Cooper was born on December 9, 1804, in Halifax, Montgomery County, Tennessee, the daughter of John and Esther Fletcher Cooper. As a young child, she exhibited a talent for healing. Her father died when Margaret was four, and her mother when she was fifteen.1 She missed her mother greatly and turned to religion two years later. When she was in her early twenties, Samuel Walker West asked her to marry him. She explained: “I prayed for the Lord to help me make a wise choice, and it seemed that the Spirit said, ‘You must pray together,’ to which I agreed. We were married the 29th of January, 1829, and I felt contented and happy.”2
During a serious illness in 1830, Margaret dreamed that “the day of the Lord was at hand” and that “something great had either taken place, or was about to take place on the earth.”3 Shortly thereafter, two important events occurred that she thought fulfilled her dream. In 1834, a salesman came to the door with a book, Samuel Thompson’s New Guide to Health.4 Margaret’s interest in healing persuaded her to buy a copy for the then-huge sum of twenty dollars out of her own funds; thus began her lifelong dedication to the Thompsonian school of healing.
Soon afterward, two other men also arrived at the West home with another book, the Book of Mormon. Feeling that this was a sacred book, Margaret and her family accepted the gospel message taught to them by Elders David W. Patten and Warren Parrish. Margaret and Samuel were baptized in late 1834 and remained faithful the rest of their lives.
Because of increasing distrust and persecution, the family moved first to Kentucky and then, in 1842, to Nauvoo. The Wests left Nauvoo with other Saints in 1846, settling temporarily in Kanesville, Iowa. There Margaret’s tenth and last child was born, only to die within a year. Traveling with the Harry Walton–Garden Grove Company in 1851, their family had two wagons, eight cows, and eight sheep. They arrived in Salt Lake City in September. At general conference a short time later, they were called to settle in Parowan, Iron County, Utah. Their neighbors considered them “a vigorous, lovable, hospitable people.”5
Margaret continued to serve in the community as a midwife and healer, blessing the lives of hundreds. She had gained a hard-won testimony of the principle of plural marriage while living in Nauvoo, and Samuel married two other women in Parowan. A few years after her husband died, Margaret went with several of her children to settle in Snowflake, Arizona.
Margaret died in Snowflake on June 19, 1882, leaving a large posterity. The Snowflake Relief Society composed the following tribute to her:
We hold in sacred memory her many virtues, both in precept and example: . . . her firm integrity to the principle of Celestial Marriage, even to the last . . . ; her many years of usefulness among the sick, etc. . . . We strive to imitate her meekness and patience, benevolence and uncomplaining disposition, her economy and cheerfulness, her wisdom, in being a woman of but few words, and her devotedness to her God and his people.6
1. John Cooper, Margaret’s father, died April 28, 1809. See Montgomery County Tennessee Genealogical Journal 6 (September 1976): 17. According to http://new.familysearch.org, Margaret’s mother died about 1820.
2. Mary West Riggs and Roy A. West, Our Heritage as It Glows from the West (Salt Lake City, UT: Utah Printing, 1956), 9.
3. Riggs and West, Our Heritage, 10–11. Eight months earlier, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized.
4. We have chosen to use the spelling of Samuel Thompson, which is how his name appears in Margaret’s personal copy of the book, 9th ed. (1833). Many other editions say Thomson. As a result, his practices are known as both Thompsonian and Thomsonian medicine.
5. Carl N. Smith, ed., Inside the Circle of the Samuel F. and Lulu J. Smith Family (Phoenix, AZ: privately printed, 1977), 1, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
6. Relief Society Sisters in Snowflake, Arizona, “A Mother in Israel,” Woman’s Exponent 11 (August 1, 1882): 38, originally written on July 13, 1882, for the local newspaper and for her many friends in Parowan, where Margaret had lived for twenty-seven years.