<<< Prior Chapter >>> Next Chapter Notes

The Mormon exodus and pioneer period tend to be well understood by Mormons. However Mormons typically do not consider plural marriage as part of that history. It is therefore useful to trace the impact of plural marriage in the pioneer history from Brigham Young’s departure from Nauvoo in 1846 until we see the Mormon Church renounce new plural marriages in 1890 (and again in 1904). Modern place names are used for clarity.

For this discussion, the fifty years in the wilderness stretch from the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois (starting February 4, 1846) to Utah’s admission as a state of the United States (January 4, 1896).

1846 – Winter Quarters and the Battalion

Brigham Young had attempted to ensure everyone could be part of a family unit, even though this resulted in hundreds of “polygamous” families by February 1846. He also urged each family to gather a year’s supply of food, expecting it would take the entire summer growing season to reach safety in the Rocky Mountains. [1] But not everyone gathered the suggested supplies.

By the winter of 1846/1847, the Mormon refugees had only crossed Iowa. They established Winter Quarters on the Nebraska bank of the Missouri River.

Concerned about the crushing poverty facing the people and the Church, emissaries to Washington D.C. arranged for a battalion of 500 to be raised from among the Mormons to fight in the Mexican War. [2] The funds from the service of these 500 significantly helped those left behind.

Additional plural marriages were solemnized at Winter Quarters, as single women attached themselves to the able men who had not left with the Mormon Battalion. [3]

Several of the women who had become plural wives in Nauvoo were now giving birth. Among the 300 who died that winter were the babies of Joseph’s widows Louisa Beaman, Emily Partridge, Lucy Walker, and Elvira Annie Cowles. [4]



1847 – This is the Place

The pioneers did not reach the Salt Lake Valley until late July, 1847. The crops they planted the summer of 1847 did not produce a significant yield. The likelihood of a second winter of crushing illness and death loomed.

The Mormon Battalion veterans were ordered to remain in California to avoid increasing the stress on the meager supplies available in Utah. Again, the needs of pregnant wives caused great concern. Meanwhile, the presence of “Europeans” in the valley caused the local Indians to become ill.

The Indians came to John Taylor, asking him to heal the Chief’s son, who lay near death. John Taylor blessed the boy, then came back to the Old Fort. There Taylor prayed that the Lord would bless the child to live.

Shortly thereafter the Indians approached the fort again. They brought with them gifts of sego lily bulbs, thistle root, and a nutty mash. When the nutty mash was exhausted, the pregnant women began to suffer again. John Taylor returned to request more food from the Indians. The Indians were happy to share more of the nutty mash, which they revealed was made from ground up roasted crickets (a local pest), drizzled with honey. [5]

John returned to the fort with the mash. He refused from that point to partake of the stuff, but did not tell the others what they were eating. Had he told the truth, it’s likely some of the pioneers would have refused the life-saving food. If your ancestor was born in Utah in 1848, it’s possible their life was saved by the Indians and John Taylor’s “lie.”

1852 – Preaching Polygamy from the Pulpit

In August 1852 Orson Pratt was asked to deliver a sermon explaining the Mormon doctrine of plural marriage. [6] As Orson explained,

“…it is rather new ground to the inhabitants of the United States, and not only to them, but to a portion of the inhabitants of Europe; a portion of them have not been in the habit of preaching a doctrine of this description; consequently, we shall have to break up new ground.

“It is well known, however, to the congregation before me, that the Latter-day Saints have embraced the doctrine of a plurality of wives, as a part of their religious faith. It is not, as many have supposed, a doctrine embraced by them to gratify the carnal lusts and feelings of man; that is not the object of the doctrine.” [7]

Orson Pratt had notably been the apostle whose wife had been seduced by John C. Bennett. Orson’s original refusal to sustain Joseph Smith in the midst of Bennett’s attacks had caused great turmoil in the Quorum of the Twelve while Joseph was in hiding during 1842.

With open acknowledgement that Mormons practiced plural marriage, or polygamy, opposition to the Mormons and their beliefs intensified. It is widely believed that open preaching of plural marriage ended any chance for Utah statehood when the attempt was made in 1856. The number of individuals gathering to Utah declined in the wake of this announcement. In 1852 thirty-five companies had traveled to Utah. Two years later the number was less than half as many. [8]

1854 – Mourning the Martyrs


On the tenth anniversary of the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, a special meeting was held in Salt Lake City. John Taylor was the featured speaker, giving his first public description of the events inside Carthage jail. By June 1854 Taylor was the sole living witness. Fellow survivor, Willard Richards, had passed away in March 1854.

Taylor’s sermon was recorded by George D. Watts using Pittman shorthand. However as Watts never transcribed the sermon, many details of the sermon were unknown to historians until 2011, when LaJean P. Carruth’s transcription of the 1854 Taylor sermon was published. [9] It is unknown why George D. Watts excluded this sermon from his Journal of Discourses.

John Taylor’s address discussed not only the day Joseph died, but also the events preceding Joseph’s incarceration at Carthage.

“In relation to some of these events, I can relate some of the outlines of these things. There was a time, some time, little time before these persecutions commenced; there was a time that was particularly trying to the people—new doctrine of what is called what used to be called then “spiritual wifery” (and the doctrine was first introduced of men having more wives than one). It was a thing new to the whole of us. Yet it was a thing that was substantiated by scripture and made manifest also by revelation, and it only needed men to have the spirit of God or women to know and to understand the principles that Joseph communicated unto them.”

It is possible that John Taylor, speaking extemporaneously, was merely unclear, allowing a reasonable person in the audience to suppose that spiritual wifery was merely an alternate term for plural marriage within the New and Everlasting Covenant. Or it could be that the vague reference to spiritual wifery was intentional. Taylor and other leaders were surely aware that there were thousands who had heard rumors of high Church leaders and spiritual wifery in Nauvoo. Those who had only heard talk of spiritual wifery would be able to recast their memories within a context where plural marriage was regulated and approved of God.  Emily Partridge is an example of one who would later suggest that “spiritual wives, as they were called in those days” were merely plural wives within the context of the New and Everlasting Covenant.

John continued:

“I remember being with President Young and Kimball and I think one or two others with Brother Joseph soon after we had returned from England. He talked with us on these principles and laid them before us. It tried our minds and feelings. We saw it was something going to be heavy upon us. It was not that very nice, pleasing thing some people thought about it. It is something that harried up our feelings. Did we believe it? Yes, we did. I did. The whole rest of the brethren did. But still we should have been glad to push it off a little further…

John Taylor indicated that some of the apostles had learned about the principle of plural marriage soon after they returned from England. Some have inferred that this confidence occurred within days of the apostles’ return from England. From the perspective of nearly 12 years, however, a mere six months would also be considered “soon after” the apostles had returned from England. Elder Taylor then began to discuss the heresy that had torn the Saints apart.

“About this time John C. Bennett commenced some of his operations. He made use of some of those principles to corrupt to destroy not only himself but others.

“And as it was impossible almost together to come out and teach correct principles before the public in those days, some of those men got an inkling of these things and corrupted themselves—were full of <lasciviousness> [10] and abomination, and corrupted their own bodies—and sought to destroy others. And they succeeded in great measure with many.

“I could name the names of many: John C. Bennett, the two Higbees, and some others I could name [but] do not feel disposed [to do so]. But they had to be handled and brought before the high council and the council had to sit with closed doors because of the corruptions there manifested. It was pretty generally known the course that was pursued.

“Joseph came out strongly against John C. Bennett. He was naturally a corrupt man and given to it. The first trouble that ever we met with was in the city council. I was present [in] the city council of Nauvoo and Joseph wished an ordinances ordinance to be introduced there upon adulterous practices. This militated so much against John C. Bennett, he began to go away from that time and to be Joseph’s enemy. and He then began to publish and circulate.”

John Taylor suggested he could name the names of many involved in John Bennett’s corruption. We cannot known how many in the audience were afraid he might do just that. But John stopped after naming those who had already been publicly exposed in the newspapers: John Bennett and the Higbee brothers.

“And finally those other men associated with them—there were [a] number of them, and some perhaps who didn’t know the iniquity of the parties. They asserted, ‘We believe Bennett’s stories about the ladies, that white veil, black veil story.’ They joined with him and purchased a press; called it the Nauvoo Expositor.”

In 1854 John Taylor was not fully aware of the conspiracy involving hundreds of men including the Higbees, led by William Law and Austin Cowles. But John clearly laid the blame for Joseph’s death with those who had formerly been aligned with John C. Bennett. John Taylor also clearly believed John Bennett was behind the acquisition of the press. It may be that John Taylor knew the conspirators were corresponding with John Bennett. After Joseph’s death, John Bennett and many of the conspirators would align themselves with James Strang, cementing in John Taylor’s mind the idea that the conspirators had been colluding with Bennett all along.

John Taylor proceeded to describe the legal reasoning behind the decision to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor press, a decision for which he took credit. Regarding the legality of destroying the press, Taylor related a conversation he had with Governor Ford following the martyrdom.

“Says he, ‘Mr. Taylor, I was sorry you destroyed [the Nauvoo Expositor press];’

“ ‘Yet,’ says I, ‘it was legal.’

“ ‘That is nothing but it comes in contact with the prejudice of people.’

“ ‘Do you know the law about that? Yet, what were we to do then? Were we to be trampled upon? Is there a city in the union that ever did?’

“ ‘No.’

“ ‘What were we to do then?’

“ ‘I would have got up a mob to destroy it and that would have cleared the city council.’

“We had honest integrity enough to maintain the truthfulness of law but the governor of state so afraid of the what the people say but let us get up a mob to destroy the damned thing…”

Apostle Taylor then proceeded to describe the events of ten years earlier. Ten years earlier, in September 1844, Taylor had produced an affidavit discussing the deadly day at Carthage, recounting evidence and tentative conclusions. In 1854 those tentative conclusions were recounted as facts.

Following the sermon, George D. Watts filed his shorthand notes away, apparently having decided that Elder Taylor’s sermon was not worthy of including in the Journal of Discourses. John Taylor’s summary of the heresy that ripped Nauvoo asunder and the subsequent conspiracy by the heretics which led to Joseph’s death would therefore disappear from the historical record.

1856 – Arrest and Handcarts

In the fall of 1855 Putnam’s Magazine published an article recounting a visit one of their reporters made to the home of Joseph Leland Heywood, the U.S. Marshall for Utah. The reporter interviewed Heywood and two of Heywood’s three wives. According to the article, this was “the only instance in which I have seen two wives of the same man together…” The reporter ended his piece predicting the imminent demise of Heywood’s original wife, Sarepta. The reporter had “detected in her countenance, while in repose, a look so gloomily sad, that her whole heart of agony lay bare before me. Poor, poor wife! Her days are destined to be few, and full of trouble.” [11] A month after the article was published, 40-year-old Heywood married his 16-year-old ward, Mary Bell, [12] and proceeded to Washington DC.

Once in DC, Heywood was notified he had been fired from his position as U.S. Marshall. Heywood was also arrested for stealing five dollars, a week’s wages for a senior employee. The accusation was later determined to be false. Reeling from the twin blows of being fired and arrested, Heywood visited Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who Heywood had known when he was a successful merchant in Quincy, Illinois. When Senator Douglas received Heywood, he inquired after Heywood’s wife, Sarepta, whom he had known in Illinois. Senator Douglas asked “if she was living.” It appears Stephen Douglas had read the article in Putnam’s Magazine, with the dire predictions regarding Sarepta Heywood. Joseph Leland Heywood assured Senator Douglas that Sarepta was fine.

Meanwhile, those who were willing to embrace Mormonism in the face of polygamy had only the most meager economic resources. The Church funds to support emigration had been exhausted. Those who had previously traveled to the Salt Lake Valley walked most the way. Brigham Young suggested that these impoverished converts might be able to walk, pushing their few belongings in hand-drawn carts. The handcarts were accompanied by wagons to carry the food and supplies needed by all to succeed in the journey. The three initial handcart companies made the journey successfully, leaving Iowa City in June, and departing Florence, Nebraska, roughly six weeks later, in July. These three companies arrived in Utah nine weeks after leaving Florence, in late September and early October.

Two handcart companies arrived in Florence roughly a month after the initial three, followed by two wagon companies. Late departure would risk encountering winter weather, but a majority of the pioneers with the Martin, Willie, Hunt, and Hodgetts companies decided to press on to Utah. Winter arrived early that year, trapping the four companies near Devil’s Gate, Wyoming.

Over a hundred members of the companies died that snowy October. The proximate cause of their deaths was the decision the companies’ leaders had made in Florence to urge the pioneers forward despite the late date. Brigham Young sent rescue parties as soon as learning of the late companies, over a week before the blizzard and weeks before the pioneer deaths. Hundreds were saved. However as the one who developed the handcart plan, Brigham Young was also condemned for the disaster.

It bears noting that the Church’s stance on plural marriage had contributed to the poverty that had inspired the handcart plan. Similarly, the animosity of the individuals in Florence that made a late departure seem desirable was caused in large part by the Church’s acceptance of plural marriage. [13]

Unaware of the unusually harsh conditions on the trail to Utah, Heywood left Washington, DC, to travel to Utah with the mail party. Delayed by weather, the mail party reached Devil’s Gate the day after Christmas, 1856. The mail party spent the rest of the winter snowed in at the horrible landmark, where the bodies of the recent dead had been left. Despite the meager food available, the members of Heywood’s party refused to eat wolf meat, presumably because of what the wolves had fed upon. Heywood and the entire mail party were eventually able to escape Devil’s Gate alive, arriving in Salt Lake Valley on March 23, 1857. [14]

As a consequence of accounting disputes, the U.S. government refused to reimburse Heywood for the tens of thousands of dollars he had committed as U.S. Marshall, a value roughly equivalent to 10 million dollars in 2015. The U.S. government was no doubt concerned they were being bilked to support polygamists or pay for their protection, After fighting for the payments for decades, Heywood was finally able to obtain the funds from the U.S. government and pay those who had provided services.

1858 – The Utah War

In 1857, the United States decided to act on its paranoia about the allegedly seditious activities of the Utah Mormons. Secretary of War Floyd  was anxious to prevent the U.S. government from using military force against a rebellious South. The specter of a rebellious polygamous Utah served as a pretext for sending armed forces thousands of miles to the west.

The so-called Utah War, prompted in large part by outsider concerns revolving around polygamy, was not a fighting war. Yet it created horrific economic conditions that further increased the need for leading men to reach out to protect Mormon women in the community.

The army began to form in May 1857. That same month well-loved Mormon apostle Parley P. Pratt was gunned down. The gunman was a drunkard, [15] the estranged husband of Eleanor McComb [McLean]. Eleanor had fled her abusive marriage. Parley P. Pratt had protected Eleanor in San Francisco, California, when Hector McLean had beaten Eleanor and evicted her from their home. Eleanor and Parley had been sealed in Salt Lake City in 1855 at a time when Eleanor considered herself no longer married.

Word of Parley’s death arrived with the news that the U.S. army planned to march on Utah. The violence Mormons had experienced in Missouri and Illinois was fresh in the minds of many, revived by news of Parley’s death.

Brigham sent out orders that no one was to interact with the various wagon trains passing through Utah. But the order meant the wagon trains bound for California could not obtain necessary food and water. Tensions rose. On September 11, 1857, a group of Mormons in Iron County attacked the Baker-Fancher wagon train, which had camped at Mountain Meadows en route to California. Less than twenty children were spared, those who were believed to be too young to describe the massacre. [16]

The advancing U.S. Army detachment was the largest single troop concentration then in the United States, numbering over 3,500 men. [17] Given the magnitude of the armed threat and Mormon culpability for the tragedy of Mountain Meadows, Brigham required the Saints to flee.

Over 30,000 Mormons gathered south of the Traverse Mountain Pass separating the northerly Salt Lake Valley from Utah Valley to the south. The topography of the Traverse Mountain Pass is similar to that of Saratoga, where the Americans defeated the British during the Revolutionary War. An aggressor attempting to attack through such a pass can be stopped by cannon fire from the flanking mountains. [18]

Once the U.S. Army approached Utah, negotiations ensued to avoid what was feared might become a bloody and damaging interaction. In late June 1858 terms were established. When the U.S. Army advanced into Salt Lake Valley, Mormon men stood at the ready to destroy all “improvements” on the land if the U.S. Army attempted to occupy Salt Lake City. The U.S. Army, under strict orders to comply with the terms of the June agreement, marched through the valley without incident.

In July 1858 the Mormons began to return to their homes. They had lost yet another growing season. In many Mormon settlements, the carcasses of untended livestock littered the fields. Prior to the Utah War, Mormons had established 90 communities. Following the 1858 Utah war, outlying Mormon settlements in Idaho, Nevada, and California were abandoned entirely, never to be re-settled. Others would not be re-settled for decades.

US opposition to Utah and polygamy continued. In 1862 Congress passed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. [19] However the U.S. was embroiled in the Civil War by then. President Abraham Lincoln declined to use the act to interfere with the Mormons so long as they left the United States alone.

In the 1860s Joseph Smith III agreed to lead the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS). Joseph Smith III took the position that his father had never taught or practiced polygamy, even though numerous Mormons who had remained in the Midwest knew Joseph Smith had taught plural marriage. RLDS missionaries began to proselytize in the West while the Civil War was still raging, hoping to redeem the “Brighamites” from the error of polygamy.

1870 – Women and the Vote

By 1870 various conditions had combined to make plural marriage a reality for many Mormon women. Though only a minority of Mormon men were every polygamists, roughly 50% of mature Mormon women had been married to a man with more than one wife by the 1870s. [20]

Not obviously related to polygamy, Brigham Young did not want anything to do with outside economies. By demonizing trade outside of the Mormon community, Brigham Young alienated merchants.

Of these merchants, William Godbe actively fought against Brigham Young. Godbe and his supporters began publishing the Utah Magazine, a periodical that would later become the Salt Lake Tribune. In time Godbe became convinced that getting the vote to women would contribute to Brigham Young’s political downfall. Godbe believed enfranchised Mormon women would break the economic control Young held over the state of Utah. Godbe reportedly worked to get women the vote in Wyoming towards the end of eventually getting Mormon women the vote.

An amazing thing happened next. Both Mormon opponents and Mormon proponents decided it was in their best interest to secure the vote for women. Brigham’s opponents thought “oppressed Mormon women” would reject their oppressors. Brigham’s proponents saw that awarding women the vote would counter the image that Mormon women were oppressed.

While Wyoming’s fledgling vote for women got tied up in the courts, Utah’s decision to award the vote to women was celebrated by all. The size of the Mormon electorate swelled to roughly three times the previous male-only Mormon electorate. The first woman to cast a vote was Sarah Young, grand-niece of Brigham Young. Mormon women typically voted the way their men did. [21] Mormon control over Utah was not harmed at all.

As the opponents of Brigham Young realized their error, taking the vote away from Mormons, male and female, became their aim. Meanwhile, Brigham Young was concerned that Mormons were becoming reluctant to embrace their duty to embrace the New and Everlasting Covenant.

1873 – A Sermon in Paris

As Brigham neared the end of his life, he felt the people’s hearts cool towards the requirement to embrace plural marriage. The RLDS missionaries had continually claimed Joseph Smith taught no such doctrine.

In 1873 Brigham Young was certain plural marriage was constitutional and good for the welfare of the Mormon people. In 1873 Brigham was likely beginning to consider how to demonstrate that the LDS practice of plural marriage was constitutional. Brigham eventually selected George Reynolds to demonstrate that the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act was an attack on Mormon freedom of religion, a freedom guaranteed under the “free exercise” language of the First Amendment. In order to serve as the test case, Reynolds would marry Amelia Jane Schofield on August 3, 1874.

Confident that plural marriage was beneficial and constitutional, Brigham visited Paris, Idaho. On Sunday, August 31, Brigham delivered a sermon touching on a broad number of topics, including plurality of wives. [22] Watts would include this sermon in his Journal of Discourses.

It was clear to Brigham that most in the audience would forget his words all too soon. He said, “Now I am going to tell you some things, and how long will you remember them? Until you get home?”

About two thirds of the way through his discourse, Brigham turned to the topic of a plurality of wives. He quoted a hypothetical woman saying “This is rather a hard business; I don’t like my husband to take a plurality of wives in the flesh.” Brigham answered this, saying “If we could make every man upon the earth get him a wife, live righteously and serve God, we would not be under the necessity, perhaps, of taking more than one wife.”

Next Brigham convolved two stories that were well-known to his audience. The first was the biblical story of the talents, where the man who had hidden his talent in the ground was stripped of that talent. Brigham suggested that it would be similar for the man who refused to accept a plural wife, that the wife he did have would be taken from him.

The second story was aimed at the women, who might think it better to be single in heaven than to cleave to a husband who might marry a plural wife. Brigham told the story of his sister, Fanny, who had claimed she would prefer to be a ministering angel in heaven than embrace Celestial Marriage. Joseph Smith had suggested to Fanny that she did not know what she would want in heaven. Persuaded, Fanny agreed to covenant with Joseph then and there, a ceremony Brigham had performed.

Undoubtedly many in attendance forgot most of the sermon before they got home, as Brigham had predicted. But one man took the sermon all too seriously.

James Oakley and Mary Cooper [Oakley] joined the Church in 1850 in Nottingham, England, before the public announcement that Mormons embraced the possibility of a plurality of wives. It seems likely they became close to other Mormon converts in Nottingham, including a young unmarried woman named Ann Carson. The Oakley family remained in Nottingham until 1863. They emigrated to America in the midst of the US Civil War, shortly after Ann Carson’s marriage to a non-Mormon.

Mary was adamantly opposed to the possibility that James might take a plural wife. Mary had told James that if he ever required her to accept a plural wife, she would leave him. The family knew the pain such separation could cause. When they boarded the ship to America, their daughter was abducted from the ship by a non-Mormon suitor. For five years James and Mary mourned the separation from their daughter. Eventually their daughter’s marriage in England failed, and she joined the family in the west.

James listened in dread as Brigham told the talent parable, believing he risked losing Mary for all eternity if he failed to accept one of the widows in the community to be his plural wife. He knew there would be no convincing Mary. Though it was against policy for a man to covenant with a plural wife without express permission from the first wife, James no doubt explained his difficulty. D&C 132 explained that a man could marry plural wives without his first wife’s consent if she had refused to allow him to obey. [23]

James might not have gone through with marrying a plural wife. But Ann Carson [Taylor] had recently arrived from England with her two young children. Her unbelieving husband had died, leaving her a widow. Mary had known James and Ann in Nottingham for over a decade, a friendship that would naturally become apparent to local leaders tasked with caring for widows. Surely, they may have reasoned, if there was any woman Mary might accept as a plural wife, it would be Ann. And they knew James wouldn’t wish to risk losing Mary in eternity.

Local leaders arranged for James to marry Ann Carson [Taylor] in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. The ceremony took place October 12, 1874. [24] James and Ann then traveled back to Paris, to inform Mary of what had taken place. Mary had been at Brigham’s sermon the previous year. Surely she would understand James had only married Ann to ensure he wouldn’t lose Mary. And Mary knew Ann so well.

Mary did not see it that way. Without a word, she and their three youngest children walked out of their Paris home. Mary and her children started over again eight miles east of Paris, living in a dugout on a 160 acre homestead. The site of the dugout eventually formed the nucleus of a small community which became known as Dingle Dell and later as simply Dingle.

As the Oakley family drama was transpiring in Paris and Dingle, George Reynolds was actively providing authorities proof that he was a bigamist, reportedly having married his second wife for the express purpose of challenging the federal bigamy statute. Reynolds was indicted on October 23, 1874. To Brigham Young’s dismay, Reynolds was convicted of bigamy.

Brigham Young would die before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld George Reynolds’s conviction on charges of bigamy. It is unlikely Brigham ever knew of the pain his parable had caused the Oakleys, or how that pain would reverberate through the generations to the present day. [25]

1882 – The Edmunds Act: Taking Away Mormon Rights

In 1879 the Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling in Reynolds v. the United States, confirming the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act could constitutionally suppress the Mormon practice of plural marriage.

George Q. Cannon was serving as the Congressional Representative from Utah Territory at the time. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Cannon wrote:

“We married women instead of seducing them; we reared children instead of destroying them; we desired to exclude from the land prostitution, bastardy and infanticide… the law is swiftly invoked to punish religion, but justice goes limping and blindfolded in pursuit of crime.” [26]

Cannon lived in Nauvoo in the 1840s and was the nephew of John Taylor’s wife, Leonora Cannon [Taylor]. Cannon had been sealed to John Taylor in the Nauvoo temple as an adopted son and was almost certainly familiar with details of the illicit intercourse scandal. Moderns who are unaware of the illicit intercourse scandal will find Cannon’s comments nonsensical. However knowledge of the 1841-1842 illicit intercourse heresy makes Cannon’s comments entirely understandable.

But the New York Times likely reflected the typical American opinion of the Mormon defense of plural marriage when it likened Mormonism to:

“a sect which should pretend, or believe, that incest, infanticide, or murder was a divinely appointed ordinance… that the enforcement of the common law, as against either [sic] of these practices, was an invasion of the rights of conscience.” [27]

In 1882 Congress passed the Edmunds Act, [28] which increased the penalties for bigamy. The Edmunds Act expanded the coverage of the law to any couple determined to have been living together as man and wife or engaging in co-habitation. There would be no need to prove the marriage had been formally solemnized, proof Brigham Young had protected as sacred Church records.

Plural wives went underground. Families throughout the Mormon settlements opened their homes to women without question. Even so, Mormon women and thousands of Mormon men were incarcerated. [29] There were also deaths. George Manwaring, author of the iconic Mormon hymn “Oh How Lovely Was the Morning,” died of pneumonia contracted while imprisoned under the Edmunds Act. [30]

Ironically, a man keeping a mistress was not considered co-habitation. Non-Mormons could indulge as before. Prostitution was legal. Brothels were located in Salt Lake City along second street, in Ogden, and near the army barracks. [31] The brothels were populated with non-Mormon women brought in to satisfy the sexual desires of non-Mormon men in the region.

In an effort to destroy the Mormon influence in the region, the Edmunds Act denied the vote not only to polygamists or “cohabs,” but to anyone who would not publicly recant the right of individuals to cohabitate. In select instances, one had to recant Mormonism to be allowed to vote. [32]

1886 – John Taylor Seeks Revelation

In 1886 the hunt to incarcerate Mormon leaders had intensified to the point that John Taylor, President and Prophet, decided he had to go underground.

As opposition mounted, Taylor felt the will of his people demanded he seek revelation on the matter. Apparently he inquired how far the New and Everlasting Covenant was binding on the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It seems John Taylor considered plural marriage synonymous with the New and Everlasting Covenant.

The response Taylor got demanded that the New and Everlasting Covenant remain in place. By this, John understood that he was not at liberty to end the practice of plural marriage. Men present in the house when the revelation was received would advocate for plural marriage after John Taylor’s death. One was Taylor’s son, Apostle John W. Taylor. The others were the safe house owner, John W. Woolley, and his son, Lorin.

1887 – The Edmunds-Tucker Act: Taking Away Mormon Property

Four key events occurred in 1887.

First, Sophia Whitaker, wife of John Taylor, suffered a serious stroke. As she lay near death, federal agents surrounded the home and bed where she lingered, hoping to apprehend the Mormon Prophet. They would invade Sophia’s bedroom whenever it was suspected John Taylor might have returned to comfort his dying wife. Sophia’s son, John Whitaker Taylor, stood at her side, witnessing these indignities. Sophia would die without ever seeing her husband again. [33]

Second, David Patten Rich, a son of apostle and noted polygamist Charles C. Rich, was arrested for robbing a bank. David Rich was convicted of committing a felony and was excommunicated. [34] David Rich’s example as a moral degenerate produced by Mormon polygamy became an important part in the lobbying to pass the Edmunds-Tucker Act. [35]

Third, the Edmunds-Tucker Act passed. The Act called for the seizure of Mormon Church properties valued at more than $50,000. This would include the temples in which Mormons sealed families together and performed proxy baptisms. [36] Edmunds-Tucker also stripped the vote from all Utah women.

Finally, John Taylor learned that Sophia had died and that the Edmunds-Tucker Act had passed, possibly receiving word of these events on the same day. Taylor died roughly two months after receiving news of these twin disasters. [37]

Before John Taylor’s death, advisors had suggested the Mormons flee to Mexico. However John did not act on this advice. Instead he had moved to transfer as much Church property as possible into private hands.

1890 – Mormons Renounce Polygamy (Part 1)

With the death of John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff became the Mormon Prophet. [38]

Decades before, when Joseph Smith died, Woodruff had been presiding over Church efforts in Europe and the eastern United States. Here he had uncovered William Smith’s wrongful actions and teachings in Massachusetts regarding illicit intercourse and spiritual wifery.

Unlike those who had preceded him as Church President, Woodruff did not marry a plural wive either during Joseph’s lifetime or in the year after Joseph’s death. [39] Woodruff would remain a monogamist until after the Nauvoo Temple was closed in early 1846.

But August 1846, Wilford Woodruff was at Winter Quarters. Given the lack of supplies and northern latitude, it was predicted the winter would be brutal. Many were in need of assistance. On August 2, 1846, Wilford Woodruff covenanted with two young women: Sarah Elinor Brown (18), and Mary Caroline Barton (17).

Ignoring their covenants with Wilford Woodruff, Sarah Brown and Mary Barton would stay out all night with other men. When Woodruff commanded them to end the late-night activities, they refused. Woodruff ended the marriages, sending Sarah and Mary away to spend winter with other families.

Sarah and Mary went on to live respectable lives in the extended Mormon community. Sarah Brown eventually married Lisbon Lamb, who at eighteen years old was one of the youngest members of the Mormon Battalion. Lamb had departed Winter Quarters with the Battalion in July 1846, roughly a month before Sarah’s brief marriage to Wilford Woodruff.

It is possible the teenagers were worried about Lamb. He was young and would be one of the sick soldiers sent to Pueblo in October 1846. Lamb’s youth and fragile health suggest an innocent reason the teenagers chose to talk all night despite Woodruff’s orders.

Given Wilford Woodruff’s history with early polygamy, he was not as vested as his predecessors had been in continuing plural marriage as a necessary mortal component of Celestial Marriage. As federal scrutiny intensified in the late 1880s, Woodruff ceased living with all but one of his wives. When Woodruff learned a plural marriage had been performed in the Endowment House without his permission, he had the structure razed.

Faced with the fact that the Edmunds-Tucker Act would result in the loss of the temples if Mormons continued to practice plural marriage, Wilford Woodruff issued the 1890 Anti-Polygamy Manifesto. The Manifesto advised Mormons not to enter into any future plural marriages prohibited by the law of the land. [40] Woodruff explained it was more important to retain the temples and the ability to perform the saving ordinances than maintain the practice of plural marriage in mortality.

Four years later, Woodruff would further revise the Mormon understanding of temple ordinances. At the time of the 1846 temple ordinances in Nauvoo, it had been impossible for many saints to seal themselves along family lines. The practice had grown up of sealing or adopting people to Church leaders. In April 1894, Wilford Woodruff stated that sealings should link individuals to their actual parents. [41] Shortly thereafter, the Utah Genealogical Society was formed.

1896 – Utah Becomes A State

With Mormon polygamy renounced, the United States cautiously considered making Utah a state.

One major question was whether women would be allowed to vote in the new state. Advocates of statehood initially desired to separate women’s suffrage from the matter of Utah’s status within the United States. They were concerned that opposition to giving the vote to women might derail recognition of Utah as a state. But the insistence of the women led to inclusion of their right to vote with the language making Utah a state. Though Utah had originally granted voting rights to women nearly a quarter century earlier, only Wyoming and Colorado were allowing women to vote at the time Utah finally became a state in 1896. Universal female suffrage would become law in the United States in 1920 when the 19th Amendment passed. Prior to 1920, most western states had accepted female suffrage, including every western state where Mormons had settled prior to 1870. The contribution of Mormon women to female suffrage in the west should not be dismissed.

In the minds of many Mormons, it was unclear whether the Manifesto affected their ability to practice polygamy in other nations. Although polygamy was illegal in Canada and Mexico, those countries had not decided to take a hard stance against Mormon polygamy. The settlement of Cardston, Alberta, Canada, just north of the United States border, was established by Mormons in 1887 at the behest of John Taylor for the express purpose of creating a Mormon colony that was beyond the reach of the United States’ anti-polygamy prosecutions. Mexican communities, such as Colonia Juarez, sprung up just south of the U.S. border, filled with plural wives and their children.

Though the majority of Mormons shrugged off plural marriage willingly, a select few clung to the practice. These few believed plural marriage in mortality was a critical component of the restored gospel. [42] The days of defiance were about to begin.

Fifty Years in the Wilderness – Notes

The Mormon dedication to plural marriage arguably informed every aspect of pioneer history. Whether directly or indirectly, plural marriage caused the attempt to use handcarts, the Utah War, the Mountain Meadows massacre, female suffrage, and settlements in Canada and Mexico.

<<< Prior Chapter >>> Next Chapter Top

[1] Modern long-term supply standards estimate a need for 300 lbs of grain per person for a year. This would be 1500 lbs of flour for a family of five. Pratt, Parley P., Parley indicated a family of five would need “1 good wagon, 3 yoke cattle, 2 cows, 2 beef cattle, 3 sheep, 1,000 lbs flour, 20 lbs sugar, 1 rifle and ammunition, a tent and tent poles, from 10 to 20 lbs seed to a family, from 25 to 100 lbs tools for farming, and a few other items…” cited by Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah, Salt Lake, 1890, reprinted by Bookcraft, 1964, p. 214, footnote.

[2] Rich, Russell R., Ensign to the Nations: A History of the LDS Church from 1846 to 1972, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Publications, Chapter 4 – Mormon Battalion, pp. 51-82.

[3] An instance of this is seen in the first plural wives Wilford Woodruff marries. The young women appear to have been added to the Woodruff household primarily for economic reasons. When Wilford Woodruff requested that they refrain from staying out all night with young men, they refused. Willford Woodruff sent the young ladies packing and asked that the young men be whipped. Despite modern outrage that these young women were allegedly treated so harshly, these girls went on to be first wives who allowed their husbands to marry young teenage brides, as they had been when they joined the Woodruff household.

[4] Emily Partridge’s diary mentions the death of her baby, and also discusses comforting Elvira when her baby died. The two babies are buried in the same “column” of the graveyard, a few rows apart because of the time elapsed between their deaths. If one stands to look at the angel plaque at the Pioneer gravesite at Winter Quarters, one is standing on the grave of Elvira’s baby daughter. The death of Lucy’s daughter Rachel was discussed on the final page of Chapter 17—Healing Wounded Hearts.

[5] Taylor, Samuel W., Last Pioneer: John Taylor, a Mormon Prophet, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1999.

[6] Orson Pratt, Celestial Marriage, delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, August 29, 1852.

[7] Reported by G. D. Watt. Online 20 Jul 2014 at http://jod.mrm.org/1/53.

[8] See Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel – Chronological Company List, online 20 Jul 2014 at http://history.lds.org/overlandtravels/companydatelist.

[9] Carruth, LaJean P. and Mark L. Staker, “John Taylor’s June 27, 1854, Account of the Martyrdom,” BYU Studies, vol. 50 no. 3, 2011, pp. 25-62, online 2 Mar 2017 at https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/john-taylors-june-27-1854-account-martyrdom.

[10] LaJean Carruth noted “This is the most likely reading, but the transcription is uncertain.”

[11] Putnam’s Magazine, Vol. VI, September 1855, No. XXXIII p. 265-266, reprinted in Ipson, Ever Faithful: The Life of Joseph Leland Heywood, pp. 220-221.

[12] It appears the marriage was unconsummated, but intended to secure Mary as Heywood’s wife upon his intended return a year later. Heywood reportedly married his ward at the request of his other three wives, as “they all loved her she did much to lighten the work load.” By the time Mary wed Heywood, she had for several years been “mother” to Omer Badigee, the Paiute Indian boy Heywood adopted.

[13] Various sources, including Mormon Handcart Pioneers, online 20 Jul 2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_handcart_pioneers.

[14] Ipson, Ever Faithful, pp. 198-202.

[15] Online 20 Jul 2014 at http://jared.pratt-family.org/parley_histories/parley-death-stephen-pratt.html.

[16] Walker, Ronald W., Richard E. Turley, Glen M. Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Oxford University Press, 2011.

[17] Camp Floyd in its heyday held more than 3,500 men. In addition, the advancing force was supplemented by an additional 3,000 troops as they approached Salt Lake Valley.

[18] The Traverse Mountain Pass is now the site where I-15 passes from Salt Lake Valley to Utah Valley, referred to as Point of the Mountain. I am not sure Brigham Young positioned cannons on the Traverse Mountains, but he had at least one cannon, which the Holmes-Thompson company brought back to Salt Lake Valley after mustering out of the U.S. Army. The Traverse Mountains have been eroded to supply concrete for construction projects.

[19] See the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, online 21 Jul 2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morrill_Anti-Bigamy_Act.

[20] See Troy A. Wynn’s analysis of Utah households based on 1880 census data, online 9 Dec 2015 at http://www.somemormonstuff.com/polygamy-in-utah-1880/

[21] An outstanding example of when this was not true is seen in the case of Martha Hughes [Cannon], who became the first female State Senator ever elected in the United States. Martha or “Mattie” ran as a Democrat. Her husband, Angus Cannon, had also been a candidate for State Senate, running as a Republican. He was not elected.

[22] Journal of Discourses, vol 16, discourse 22, pp. 160-171. “The Gospel Incorporates All Truth, Etc.” Discourse by President Brigham Young, delivered in the Bowery, at Paris, Oneida County, Idah, Sunday, August 31, 1873. Online 30 Dec 2016 at https://journalofdiscourses.com/16/22.

[23] D&C 132:65, “…because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife.”

[24] See familysearch.org record for Ann Carson, KWJF-7YX, online 30 Dec 2016.

[25] Carol Lynn Pearson is a descendant of James and Mary Oakley and author of The Ghost of Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men, Pivot Point Books, 2016. The story of James and Mary features prominently in Ms. Pearson’s description of her own anguished relationship with the Mormon practice of plural marriage.

[26] Cannon, George Quayle, A Review of the Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Geo. Reynolds vs. The United States, Deseret News Printing and Publishing Establishment, Salt Lake City, Utah, p. 52.

[27] “A Blow at Polygamy,” The New York Times, Jan 8, 1879, online 8 Mar 2017 at http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9E03E1DE123EE63BBC4053DFB7668382669FDE.

[28] See Edmunds Act, online 21 Jul 2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmunds_Act.

[29] Stromberrg, Lorie Winder, “Prisoners for ‘The Principle’: The Incarceration of Mormon Plural Wives, 1882-1890,” in The Persistence of Polygamy, Vol 2, pp. 298-325.

[30] The Deseret Weekly, Volume 42; Volume 52, p. 834, online 10 Apr 2014 at http://books.google.com/books?id=D2LUAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA834&lpg=PA834&dq=george+Manwaring+released&source=bl&ots=hSxRpxEIgT&sig=eNFhDiPrcq-Q35GLZ5ajd8kkorY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ZyxHU535EsvhsASSooJg&ved=0CF0Q6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=george%20Manwaring%20released&f=false.

[31] Hal Schindler, The Oldest Profession’s Sordid Past in Utah, online 21 Jul 2014 at http://historytogo.utah.gov/salt_lake_tribune/in_another_time/theoldestprofessionssordidpastinutah.html.

[32] Under the Edmunds Act (1882), polygamists’ right to vote was revoked. This revocation was enforced even if the individual merely stated belief in the Mormon doctrine of plural marriage. All elected offices were vacated, and an election board issued certificates to those who both denied belief in polygamy and did not practice it. Then new elections were held.

[33] Taylor, Samuel W., Last Pioneer: John Taylor, a Mormon Prophet, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1999.

[34] Wife Alice Ann Kimball, divorced him and married Mormon apostle, Joseph F. Smith.

[35] Account conveyed to Meg Stout by a descendant of Rich and Alice Ann Kimball. See also Joseph F. Smith Marriages and Family, online 21 Jul 2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Joseph_F._Smith#Marriages_and_family. Mormon prophet, Spencer Woolley Kimball, allegedly later opined that his cousins, the children of Alice Ann by David Patten Rich, should not have been sealed to Joseph F. Smith. Personal conversation with descendant of Rich and Alice Ann Kimball.

[36] Edmunds-Tucker Act, online 21 Jul 2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Edmunds%E2%80%93Tucker_Act.

[37] Taylor, Samuel W., Last Pioneer: John Taylor, a Mormon Prophet, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1999.

[38] Wilford Woodruff, online 21 Jul 2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Wilford_Woodruff.

[39] Wilford Woodruff had been heading up the Eastern States Mission when Joseph Smith died.

[40] See 1890 Manifesto, online 21 Jul 2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1890_Manifesto. Also canonized in LDS scripture as Official Declaration 1 and currently included in the LDS scripture volume The Doctrine and Covenants.

[41] Wilford Woodruff sermon of Apr 1894, online 21 Jul 2014 at http://scottwoodward.org/ Talks/html/Woodruff,%20Wilford/WoodruffW_LawOfAdoption.html.

[42] The LDS Church has never insisted that families must be monogamous in eternity, despite its increasingly harsh penalties against those who practice plural marriage in life.