A Westward Wind Part 2: Colorado

  • Webster Lithgow

“In 1884, I taught a class in Christian Science and formed a Christian Scientist Association in Chicago. From this small sowing of the seed of Truth, which, when sown, seemed the least among seeds, sprang immortal fruits through God’s blessing and the faithful labor of loyal students,—the healing of the sick, the reforming of the sinner…”1

—Mary Baker Eddy

Pamphlet for the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, 1884, LMDB-8149, Longyear Museum collection.
Mary Baker Eddy, ca. 1885, Photograph, P0017, Longyear Museum collection.

In the 1800s in the United States, a westward wind stirred the air. As settlers spread out from eastern states across the plains of the Midwest toward the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coast, an expansive, open-minded spirit was sweeping the still-young nation. People were eager to leave the old and move forward to new spaces, new ideas—no matter what adventures might lie ahead.

That vigorous pioneering spirit was evident in Mary Baker Eddy’s thousand-mile western journey in 1884 from Boston to Chicago. There, she taught one class of 24 students and delivered a public address to a small audience.2 It might seem that such a modest venture could make little difference. But that historic missionary journey planted the correct teaching of Christian Science healing. How that seed took root and grew is evident in the stories of two frontier women in Colorado—stories that would be echoed in thousands of lives across the American West.

Pioneer spirit in the Rockies

A forward-looking frontier spirit certainly characterized Mary Melissa Hall of Denver. At age 16, back in her home state of Michigan, she married a man named Nathan Nye. Looking to strike it rich in the Colorado gold fields, Mr. Nye brought his wife and their two children by ox-drawn wagon to the Pikes Peak area. Alas, Nye turned out to be an abusive alcoholic who eventually took the children with him and abandoned Mary Melissa in a mining camp.3 In short order, an ad hoc miners’ court was convened and granted her an uncontested divorce.4

Denver, Colorado, ca. 1880s. Courtesy Art Source International, P-0300

In the winter of 1861, the young woman found herself living on her own among prospectors encamped in a Colorado mountain valley. One day, far off in the snow-covered hills, there were gunshots—a signal for help. The miners formed a rescue party and found two prospectors who had been lost for weeks. Hardly able to crawl, the men had survived starvation by boiling their boot tops and leather breeches for food. The one who had fired the gun weighed only 48 pounds. His name was Charles Hall. Mary Melissa nursed him back to health. Mr. Hall continued prospecting for gold, but he would find his fortune with a salt spring, as salt was of great value for metallurgy and other purposes. Hall went on to establish a salt refinery, mines for other minerals, and a cattle ranch in the hills. And he married his nurse.

As Hall’s wife, Mary Melissa spent the next years mainly at his Salt Works Ranch. The remote location demanded self-reliance, independence, and courage. At one point, there was a battle on the Hall property between Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes and their enemies, the Ute nation. The Utes were on friendly terms with the settlers, and sometimes came to the door for food. The ever-caring Mrs. Hall even nursed wounded Ute fighters in her home.

There were also outlaws to contend with. One of them burst into the Halls’ home one day when Mary Melissa was alone, and threatened to kidnap her. She coolly raised a loaded rifle and ordered him to put up his hands. The man quickly obeyed—fortunately for him because, as one historical account records, “Mrs. Hall was a dead shot!”5

This combination of motherly kindness and fortitude defines the spirit of a woman who would pioneer Christian Science in Colorado. Her children, too, would demonstrate that same spirit. 

Turning a sudden corner

Charlie Hall’s mining ventures prospered. As the wilds of Colorado Territory were tamed into the 38th state,6 he became a business and government leader. In addition to the ranch, the Halls also occupied one of the larger homes in Denver, where their daughter Minnie was born in 1863. A son, Charles, arrived in 1865, followed by another daughter, Nettie, in 1869. In their younger years, the Hall children spent most of their time at Salt Works Ranch in the hills, where they often rode four miles to school on horseback.7

Later, the family lived full time in Denver so the children could attend local academies. Minnie’s life-goal, at age 22, was to pursue art as a career. She showed great promise, having studied painting and sculpture in Chicago and New York, and she had learned French and German in preparation for studying in Europe.8

But then debilitating physical troubles overtook her mother—and, suddenly, all of their lives turned a corner. In early 1884, Mrs. Hall lost her sight. She was told the condition was irreversible. Then, she injured her foot severely. For a year and a half, she could neither see nor walk. Doctors in Denver diagnosed the foot injury as life threatening. They foresaw the possible necessity of amputation.

This plucky frontier women would have none of that. In June of 1885, she and her daughters boarded a New York-bound train, hoping to find more advanced treatment in the East. They did find it—but not at all the way they expected.

“The blind see, the lame walk”

En route, the Halls stopped off for a brief stay in Chicago. While there, they met a friend whom doctors had diagnosed with cancer. Now, she was recovered—due entirely, she told them, to Christian Science. Mrs. Hall had resigned herself to blindness, but this new approach to healing impressed her. Accustomed to heading in new directions, she decided to stay in Chicago and try this Christian Science treatment for her injured foot. She and her daughters contacted Roger Sherman, who was fresh from Mary Baker Eddy’s Primary class in Chicago, and  her Normal class in Boston. It took two men to carry Mrs. Hall up the steps to Mr. Sherman’s office. While treatment progressed, Minnie and Nettie threw themselves into studying Mrs. Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, reading it aloud to their mother day and night. Minnie reports: “At the end of three months, we were rewarded by ‘the light coming into the eyes,’ as she expressed it.”9 Soon, their mother was walking. And she could see! Guests at their boarding house were amazed—so much so, that some of them took up the study of Christian Science themselves.

Like his son Roger, Bradford Sherman had just completed the Normal class with Mrs. Eddy. One of the first classes he taught on his return to Chicago included Mrs. Hall and her daughters. Minnie describes what occurred during this experience and the months preceding it as “the unfolding of a Christian life from the old school to the new, from being unable to pray with understanding, to that understanding gained by Divine Science.”10

In September, after their class with Bradford Sherman, the Halls packed up and headed home. What happened next embodied the exuberance with which Christian Science flourished in America’s West.

Patients on packing crates

The Hall family was well known in Denver, as were Mrs. Hall’s afflictions. When she returned home healed, word traveled fast. The news was also spread by an unlikely courier—a somewhat ragged, white-haired scissors-grinder. He was a familiar character around town, easily spotted by his scraggly white beard—and his crutches. Years earlier, he had lost the use of his legs, and now, swinging between his crutches, he hobbled from door to door plying his trade. One day, he came to the Halls’ to sharpen some knives. As he worked, Minnie told him how her mother’s foot and eyesight had been healed and tried to convey what she had learned about Christian Science. She must have shared this with great conviction, because the man insisted that Minnie herself come to his home the very next day to heal his crippled legs. Minnie agreed.

Her mother would not have her 22-year-old daughter going off to visit a man alone, and so she went along with her. They found his cabin and knocked on the door. The tiny home’s one small sitting room was furnished only with a bed and some grocer’s packing crates. Seated on the crates were the man’s ailing neighbors, waiting expectantly. The scissors-grinder had invited them to come and be cured. Just like that, Minnie and her mother were plunged into the practice of Christian Science healing!

The small house offered no place for privacy, so the novice practitioners improvised. They went around the circle from person to person, sharing statements of truth as best they could. Each patient who came that day was soon healed. One of them, a consumptive who had not been expected to live more than a day or two, was restored to health and went to work as an express man at the Denver train depot.

For his own part, the scissors-grinder improved rapidly. One day while treating him, Minnie simply told him to walk, if that was what he wanted. He rose and took a few steps. His astonished 16-year-old child had never seen him walk before. Within three weeks, the man threw away his crutches. After that, he found he had no time for work. “All I can do,” he said, “is tell people how I was healed. They stop me at every corner!”11

Thanks to that one woman, Mary Melissa Hall, her two young daughters, and a poor scissors-grinder, word of Christian Science spread through the city. Before long, people were coming to the Halls’ home for healing at a rate of up to a hundred visitors a day.

Correct Christian Science teaching comes to Denver

Mrs. Hall quickly saw that more Christian Science healers were needed. And this growth called for the same correct teaching she had received from Bradford Sherman—which he had received directly from Mary Baker Eddy. Mrs. Hall wrote to Mr. Sherman urging him to come to Denver to teach a class in Christian Science healing. She had barely ten students lined up, but she promised him there would be more. So certain was she, that she deposited a thousand-dollar advance in the bank to guarantee that enrollments would cover expenses.12 Her husband warned that she was going to lose the money, because there would never be that many people willing to take up the study.

Charlie Hall hadn’t reckoned with the number of people who were being healed by his wife and daughters. By the time Sherman arrived in December, nearly 100 prospective pupils had signed up! They had to be divided into classes, which Sherman taught day and night. Then he returned to Chicago.

Just weeks later, the Halls gathered another batch of students. This time there were about 45. In February 1886, Sherman was again on the west-bound train to teach in the Rockies. Thus it was that, little more than a year after Mary Baker Eddy’s westward-looking mission to Chicago, Colorado was home to nearly 150 class-taught Christian Scientists.

Darkness before the dawn

One of those newly-minted Christian Scientists was Ella Peck Sweet, who until recently had been a hopeless invalid. Back in 1845, the Pecks of Ohio had taken their seven-year-old daughter Ella and joined a wagon train rolling west, settling near the Missouri/Illinois border. There, when she was 20, Ella married John L. Sweet. From childhood, Ella’s health had been frail at best. As a wife and mother, her life was largely confined inside her home, due to illness.

Around 1878, seeking new opportunities, the Sweets trekked further west to Buffalo Springs, Colorado. They were also hoping the climate might invigorate Ella. Instead, she grew worse. In the mountain passes around their remote village, her outlook dimmed. For five long years, failing health clouded her days in bleak despair. Ella would later call this time her “darkness before the dawn.” In desperation, the Sweets moved down from the hills to Denver, but the family feared they would soon lose Ella.

An extraordinary change

In the mountain country, Ella had become acquainted with Mary Hall and her daughters. After the Sweets were settled in town, Minnie Hall paid a visit. It was just weeks after she and her mother had returned from Chicago, and Minnie was brimming with enthusiasm for Christian Science. Knowing her friend had come to Denver expecting to die, Minnie described her mother’s healing. Then, abruptly, Minnie asked if she might heal Ella through Christian Science. Ella was speechless —hardly grasping what her young friend was talking about. Minnie repeated her offer. Out of little more than courtesy, Ella consented. Without wasting a minute, Minnie began a brief prayerful treatment.

“An extraordinary change came over me,” Ella recalls. “A great peace enfolded me….”

As that day wore on, her family sensed that something new was stirring in her. When Ella woke up the next morning, she found herself staring into the eyes of her young daughter, who was leaning on her mother’s pillow intently staring back at her. “Mama, you are not going to die, are you?” the girl said. “No, child,” Ella replied with new confidence, “I am going to live.”13

“Thus began my pioneer work”

During the weeks that followed, Ella Peck Sweet dove into studying Science and Health. She had always loved the Bible. Now, the familiar scriptures lit up with new meaning for her. Soon she was completely well. She resolved to dedicate her life to helping others, and in December she was among the hundred students in one of Bradford Sherman’s first classes in Denver. Soon, Ella’s improved health and spirits had people talking, and she herself was being called on to heal the sick.

Her first patient was a woman with inflammatory rheumatism so severe she could be turned in bed only by being lifted gingerly on a sheet. After one Christian Science treatment by Ella, the woman perked up and showed improvement. In a few treatments, she was up and about, as well as ever.

The next patient was a child seized by an epileptic fit. The child had been subject to these attacks since birth, but during Ella’s first treatment, the seizure stopped. The epileptic fits never recurred.

Soon there were other cases, including one of cancer and another of hemorrhage. “[B]oth received almost instantaneous healing,” Ella tells us, summing up simply, “Thus began my pioneer work in Colorado.”14

Christian Science: No and Yes, published 1887. Mrs. Eddy later revised and retitled it No and Yes. LMDB-10613, Longyear Museum collection.
The need for teachers

As these events were taking place in the far West, back in Boston Mary Baker Eddy was seeing the urgent need for more correct teaching. Imitators, plagiarizers, and outright frauds were spreading distortions and errors and seeking to capitalize on the increasing fame of Christian Science. As she wrote to a Chicago student: “There are twenty false lecturers and teachers to one that is true.”15 Could these be taken as other versions of the truth—competitive brands of the same Science? Mrs. Eddy’s answer would be a resounding no. Her booklet No and Yes made the following points:

  • “My hygienic system rests on Mind, the eternal Truth…”
  • “…there is but one standard statement, one rule, and one Principle for all scientific truth.”
  • “As a science, this system is held back by the common ignorance of what it is and what it does, and (worse still) by those who come falsely in its name.”
  • “Taking advantage of the present ignorance in relation to Christian Science Mind-healing, many are flooding our land with conflicting theories and practice.”16

To counteract that flood, she called for more practitioners to become teachers, prepared by her in the Normal class at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College. Bradford Sherman of Chicago had been one who answered that call. Another would be young Minnie Hall.

Panorama of Denver. Photograph, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. MSS-1608 item 214.
“Go forth and teach.”

In 1886, 23-year-old Minnie laid aside her life-long ambition in fine art to devote herself to the “divine art” of Christian Science healing.17 Teaching that art would soon follow.

The very next year, Minnie received a telegram inviting her to attend the Normal class in Boston. At that moment, she happened to be visiting San Francisco. True to character, Minnie telegraphed her acceptance, packed up, hopped on a train, steamed across the continent, and arrived just in time to begin the course. After her class with Mrs. Eddy, she wrote:

“The truth drawn from her lessons and association with her changed the whole character of one’s future years, and her own wonderful spirituality seemed to be imparted to her faithful students.”18

Returning home, Minnie lost no time in starting the Colorado Christian Science Institute. Over the next 12 months, in and around Denver, she taught 13 classes.19

Wanting to do more for the Cause, Minnie wrote Mrs. Eddy asking whether she might be more helpful to her in Boston. Mrs. Eddy’s answer came back: No—she was most needed in the West. Minnie was told that her teaching was helping the Cause, and thus was truly helping her Leader.20 During one of Minnie’s visits to Boston, Mrs. Eddy instructed her, “My dear, go forth and teach and never stop teaching until I tell you to, and open your mouth and it shall be filled.”21

Minnie was obedient to her teacher, and she continued to teach and heal into the 1950s, when she recalled that during all the years of her Christian Science practice, she had never had fewer than five patients a day.22


After Ella Peck Sweet’s class with Bradford Sherman, she was answering calls for help throughout Denver. Her healings came to the attention of Mrs. Eddy, who invited her to join the Normal class in Boston in April 1886—the same one that Minnie Hall raced across the country to attend. But Ella had been too modest to ask patients for payment, and instead had been doing her healing work at no charge. As a result, she had to reply, sadly, that she didn’t have enough money to make the trip east. In response, Mrs. Eddy told her to be in readiness for the next Normal class.23

Then came what looked like a further set-back. John Sweet’s business required that the family move back to their isolated home in the mountains, wrenching Ella away from her growing field in the city. Despite the remoteness of the location, news of Ella’s restored health attracted requests for healing,  which flowed in from far and wide. Now, in obedience to Mrs. Eddy’s admonition to all Christian Science practitioners, Ella charged appropriate fees. A year later, in 1887, when Mrs. Eddy again invited her to join the Normal class, Ella’s profuse healing work had provided ample funds.24

Minnie Hall Perry, C.S.D, and one of her Primary classes, ca. 1900. Minnie sits with the open book, front row, 3rd from left. In the back row, 2nd from left, is Minnie’s daughter, Mary Antoinette Perry. Minnie had married William R. Perry in 1887. Antoinette—”Tony,” as she was known to family and friends—went on to a well-known theatrical career, including producing and directing the Broadway hit “Harvey” in 1944. As a memorial to her, after her passing, the American Theater Wing created an annual prize for theatrical excellence: The Antoinette Perry Award—nicknamed after her, the “Tony.” Photograph, P1458-1, Longyear Museum collection.

Upon her return from Mrs. Eddy’s instruction, Ella set out over Colorado’s twisting mountain roads and rail lines in a hundred-mile circuit of healing—and now teaching—in towns with names like Pueblo, Salida, Buena Vista, Canon City, and Colorado Springs. She, and others like her, began gathering people into associations, societies, and churches. In Colorado Springs, within a few years of such healing and teaching, there were 46 charter members forming a branch church there. The church Board called Ella to be the congregation’s preacher. (This was in the days before Mrs. Eddy ordained the Bible and Science and Health as pastor of her church.) When the Sweets moved back into Denver—again to accommodate John’s business needs—Ella continued to serve First Church of Christ, Scientist, Colorado Springs, as preacher and then First Reader. She writes:

“…during a period of six years, I traveled to the Springs on Saturday afternoon, holding the testimonial meeting Saturday evening and preaching on Sunday morning, occasionally going on to Pueblo and Canon City to preach Sunday evenings.”25

The round trip was over 150 miles each week—strenuous work for a woman who, a few years earlier, had despaired of her very life. Ella tells us:

“I was a pioneer and many problems awaited my advancing steps…. [B]ut when my courage faltered, I had but to think of our brave and dearly loved Leader who, quite alone, had reopened the trail blazed by the great Master, and new inspiration would come and the way smooth before me….”26
A westward wind

Ella Peck Sweet was, indeed, a pioneer—one among many others trained by Mary Baker Eddy. Ella and her young friend Minnie Hall were two of the 250 teachers sent out from the Massachusetts Metaphysical College in the 1880s to spread Christian Science as taught by its Discoverer. Among them were individuals who would go on to fill important roles in the organization of her Church and serve as staff in her household.27 By the turn of the century, those hundreds of teachers had mushroomed into thousands of class-taught Christian Scientists. That surge, under Mrs. Eddy’s instruction and leadership, carried Christian Science on a westward wind to the Pacific Coast of the United States and around the country and beyond. Years later, Minnie Hall DeSoto (who had remarried by then) wrote of the responsibility she felt to disseminate her Leader’s teaching:

“…the opportunity of studying with Mrs. Eddy was the greatest privilege which could come to any human being in this age, and with it we realized the great obligation to pass on for future generations this memory and example, as well as the pure Science which she gave us.”28

Web Lithgow, Multimedia Producer for Longyear Museum, has written and directed six Longyear documentary films, and has written numerous articles for Longyear’s Report to Members and website.

This article was first published in the Spring/ Summer 2018 Longyear Museum Report to Members newsletter.


  1. Mary Baker Eddy, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellaney, 182
  2. “A Westward Wind – Part 1: Chicago,” Longyear Museum Report to Members, Fall 2017.
  3. U.S. laws of the 19th century continued the English common-law rule that fathers had the exclusive right to the physical custody, labor, and earnings of their children – while mothers had no such legal parental rights. This was one of the main complaints issued in 1848 by the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York. Writing about this injustice from her own experience, Mrs. Eddy states in the chapter “Marriage” in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (63): “If a dissolute husband deserts his wife, certainly the wronged, and perchance impoverished, women should be allowed to collect her own wages, enter into business agreements, hold real estate, deposit funds, and own her children free from interference.”
  4. According to one published account: “Nathan [Nye] was a habitual drunk who beat his wife, causing her to miscarry their third child. The miners’ court banished Nye and granted Mary a divorce decree. Nathan took the two children and headed back east, later writing to Mary that their wagon had been attacked by Indians, and the children were killed…” Nye’s claim was a lie, but Mrs. Hall didn’t discover it until years later. “History at the    Pass,” Ute Country News, December 2013.
  5. A widely reported account is that on the 4th of July 1861, as the American Civil War erupted, Mary Melissa fashioned the first American flag to be flown in the newly formed Colorado Territory. It was stitched together from scraps of a red flannel dress, a blue bonnet, and white cloth intended for a shroud. After being torn down and stolen by a Confederate partisan, her flag was retrieved and returned to her by frontier scout Kit Carson. Wilbur Fiske Stone, ed., History of Colorado Vol. IV (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1919), 211.
  6. In 1876, in a decree signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, the Territory of Colorado, organized in 1861, became the 38th state admitted to the Union.
  7. Reminiscences of Mrs. Minnie Hall (Murphy) De Soto, C.S.D., 1, Longyear Museum Collection, hereafter referenced as LMC.
  8. Minnie Hall was a sufficiently advanced painter to have exhibited and to have been mentioned in Who Was Who in American Art by Peter Hastings Falk, and the Dictionary of Women Artists by Chris Petteys.
  9. “Sight Restored,” Christian Science Sentinel 3 (August 22, 1901): 818.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Reminiscence of Mrs. Minnie Hall (Murphy) De Soto, C.S.D., 4, LMC.
  12. Her $1,000 deposit would equal nearly $25,000 in 2018 US dollars.
  13. Ella Peck Sweet, C.S.D, An Account of Pioneer Experiences in Christian Science, 7-8, LMC.
  14. Ibid., 9-10.
  15. Mary Baker Eddy to Ellen Brown, August 8, 1887, L07867, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library, Boston, Massachusetts, (hereafter referenced as MBEL).
  16. Mary Baker Eddy, No and Yes, 2, 10, 11. The book was first published in pamphlet form in August 1887 under the title Christian Science: No and Yes, and distinguished sharply between authentic Christian Science teaching and its imitators.
  17. The Art of Healing by Divine Power was the title of Mrs. Eddy’s first lecture in Boston in 1878. Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), 61.
  18. Reminiscences of Mrs. Minnie Hall (Murphy) De Soto, C.S.D., 9, LMC. After Perry’s passing, Minnie married Edward R. Murphy in May 1910, and would later marry Emilio De Soto in 1930.
  19. It wasn’t an unusual practice at this time to teach multiple classes per year.
  20. Mary Baker Eddy to Minnie B. Hall De Soto, May 26, 1886, L05494, MBEL; Minnie B. Hall De Soto to Mary Baker Eddy, June 15, 1902, 223a.37.018, MBEL; Minnie B. Hall De Soto to Mary Baker Eddy, February 21, 1903, 223a.37.019, MBEL; Mary Baker Eddy to Minnie B. Hall De Soto, January 29, 1906, L05518, MBEL; Mary Baker Eddy to Minnie B. Hall De Soto, January 30, 1907, L05521, MBEL.
  21. Minnie B. Hall De Soto reminiscences, 3, MBEL.
  22. Ibid., 4
  23. Sweet, An Account of Pioneer Experiences, 10, LMC. Although Mrs. Eddy regularly discounted or waived tuition for her Primary classes, she had a different thought about Normal class tuition. She explains: “The student who pays must of necessity do better than he who does not pay…. No discount on tuition was made on higher classes, because their first classes furnished students with the means of paying for their tuition in the higher instruction….” Mary Baker Eddy, Rudimental Divine Science, 14.
  24. Sweet, An Account of Pioneer Experiences, 10, LMC. In 1894, Mrs. Eddy invited certain of her Normal class students to contribute $1,000 each to the building fund for the Original Edifice of The Mother Church. At first, Ella was taken aback: “Such a sum of money had never been in my hands,” she recalled, but she found that “infinite resources seemed at once opened to me, and at the appointed time the amount was mine to send, and my gratitude for this great proof of Love’s supply was unbounded.” Ibid., 25-26.
  25. Ibid., 25. In 1895, after Mrs. Eddy replaced preaching in branch churches with readers, Ella was elected First Reader at Colorado Springs. She would later devote herself to First Church of Christ, Scientist, Denver.
  26. Sweet, An Account of Pioneer Experience, 22, LMC.
  27. In 1904, Mrs. Eddy interviewed Ella Peck Sweet at Pleasant View, her home in Concord, New Hampshire, and asked her to be a metaphysical worker in her household. Ella assisted there for six months, during a challenging period of church construction in Boston and Concord.
  28. Reminiscences of Mrs. Minnie Hall (Murphy) De Soto, C.S.D., 9, LMC.