In September 1886, Zella sustained severe burn injuries when her home mysteriously burned (arson was rumored). For the next year she was bedridden and in severe pain. Purportedly her fiancee, George Smoot, never came to see her after the fire. After her injuries, Zella became close to James E. Talmage, who had insomnia and had begun watching over Zella at nights. Before she died, Zella requested that she be posthumously sealed to Talmage and not to her fiancee George Smoot.

Zella passed away in Provo on September 28, 1887. Her funeral services were held on September 30, 1887 at the Provo Tabernacle. As she requested prior to her death, James E. Talmage was the speaker at the funeral.

Sources about Zella Lee Webb

Shannon Howell writes the following comments:

Maeser and Talmage spent long hours at her bedside and Wilford Woodruff (then President of the Twelve) visited and administered to her. Talmage stayed nights and worked days for two weeks prior to her death, losing 15 pounds and coming to love her. Talmage sat up nights with her body until her burial.  Zella was engaged to Pres. Abraham Owen Smoot’s son, George. During her post-injury illness, George became cold and distant. In a letter to her missionary son, Zella’s aunt, Harriet Carter Lee, spoke of her husband visiting Zella and her mother (Clarissa Jane Lee was William Henry Lee’s sister) a few months before Zella’s death. It indicates that Zella wished for death and said that if she lived, she would never marry, as both of her breasts had been burned off. Zella’s dying request was that she not be sealed to George, but that permission be sought for her sealing to Talmage. It should be noted that George named his daughter Zella in 1890. It may be that he acknowledged the change in feelings between himself and Zella, recognized the closeness between Zella and James Talmage, and did not pursue her temple work out of deference to Zella’s desires.

James Talmage waited for a period after her death and his subsequent marriage, desiring to avoid “every appearance of denying George Smoot a blessing.” After obtaining an explanatory letter from Zella’s mother, Clarissa Lee Webb, Talmage petitioned the First Presidency and received approval. Several months of intense illness and trial for Talmage and his recent bride ensued, a true time of refinement and tempting by the adversary, who endeavored mightily to discourage them and place a wedge in the relationship. After he and his wife were recovered, Talmage accompanied Clarissa by train to Logan and they did Zella’s endowment and sealing. He wrote eloquently and tenderly of his joy at being with his dear Zella in eternity. When his daughter was born, he named her after “an angelic being I knew.” It’s obvious in reading his “Private Journal” that this was an intensely humble, devout man, an “apostle in training.”

Alternate text of the above found online:

The following was learned in review of James E. Talmage’s Personal Journals in Special Collections at BYU: Zella was engaged at the time of the fire which ultimately took her life.  During her post-injury illness, her fiance became cold and distant. Maeser and Talmage spent long hours at her bedside and Wilford Woodruff (then President of the Twelve) visited and administered to her. Talmage stayed nights and worked days for two weeks prior to her death, losing 15 pounds and coming to love her. Talmage sat up nights with her body until her burial. Zella’s dying request was that she not be sealed to her fiance, but that permission be sought for her sealing to Talmage. Talmage gave time for the fiance to attend to Zella’s ordinances in order to avoid the “very appearance of denying ___ a blessing.” After the man married and showed no interest in attending to Zella’s temple work, Talmage (with mother Clarissa Lee Webb’s approval) petitioned the First Presidency and received approval. Several months of intense illness and trial for Talmage and his recent bride ensued, a true time of refinement and tempting by the adversary, who endeavored mightily to discourage them and place a wedge in the relationship. After he and his wife were recovered, Talmage accompanied Clarissa by train to Logan and they did Zella’s endowment and sealing. His journal entry said “today my dear Zella became mine for eternity.” He wrote eloquently and tenderly of his joy at being with his dear Zella in eternity. When his daughter was born, he named her after “an angelic being I knew.”

From an unpublished work by Mary Pratt Parrish:

No one but Zella knew how the fire got started and she wouldn’t tell anyone. It happened two weeks before she was to be married. She tried to put out the first but it was too far along before help came. Her fiance never came to see her, but Brother James E. Talmage came every day, and when she died he had her sealed to him.