Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Eminent Women: Lucy Bigelow Bunch and Sarah Creagh Philpot Curran

Eminent Women: Lucy Bigelow Bunch and Sarah Creagh Philpot Curran

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - March 25, 2014

They were eight cousins: Dora, Susa, Mabel, Mary, Lucy, Martha, Hannah, and Emily Aurilla. They were talented, clannish, and — simply put — did not live dull lives.

The eight cousins, born into two families in Utah Territory, were well-connected and experienced both the privileges and the difficulties associated with those connections. Their mothers, Martha and Lucy, were sisters-in-law. Martha Mecham was married to Hiram Bigelow, and Hiram’s sister Lucy was married to Brigham Young.

The lives of the eight cousins intersected for a few vital years in St. George.

Sisters Mary and Lucy Bigelow were teenagers when they and other unmarried young women first attended the new St. George Temple. Anyone used to the sensationalist portrayal of Utah polygamy would assume that they were all being “groomed” for polygamous marriages, but only one of these many young women was ever involved in a polygamous marriage, and she later divorced her husband.1

The eight Bigelow and Young cousins also didn’t have much use for polygamy: only one of them was involved in a plural marriage, and she quickly divorced.2 Divorce became a common theme throughout all their experiences; there were at least ten divorces between the eight cousins.

Only one of the cousins, Lucy Celestia Bigelow, was never divorced. Raised mostly in Provo, her family was called to St. George to help with the construction of the Temple.

A month after Brigham Young dedicated the temple, his fourteen-year-old niece Lucy Celestia participated in her own endowment. After that she was able to help do proxy work in the temple.

The Hiram and Martha Bigelow family. Lucy Celestia is probably the daughter standing in the back with a long bead necklace, with her arm around her sister.

Not long afterward, Lucy’s family was called to the Little Colorado Settlements in Arizona and they made the dry, arduous trip down through the settlements and up into the White Mountains where they settled in Round Valley.

Lucy worked as a school teacher, and when she was nineteen years old she married the dashing and ambitious Apache County Probate Court Judge Elias Conway Bunch.

It was an era of great tension between the Mormon and non-Mormon settlers of Apache County, and Lucy’s marriage to an active enemy of the Church must have been difficult for the community and her family.3 Bigelow family histories do not mention her marriage; they just list her birth and death dates.

One newspaper noted about this time, “Judge Bunch and other anti-Mormons of Apache county tell us that the Mormon population of their county is not increasing very fast, nor is it likely to do so. The Judge has heard of polygamists, but doubts … there are twenty such in the county.”4

The newspaper neglected to mention that Judge Bunch was married to one of Brigham Young’s nieces.

Elias and Lucy lived near Round Valley, and Elias regularly traveled thirty miles to preside over the probate court in St. Johns.5

Lucy gave birth to three sons: Hiram, Alma, and Carlisle. Alma died at birth; Hiram died shortly thereafter; and not long after Carl celebrated his first birthday, Lucy died. The circumstances surrounding her death and the location of her grave are unknown.6

* * *

In the simpler days of 1877, Lucy did the temple work for Sarah Creagh Philpot Curran.

* * *

Sarah Creagh was Irish, and a doctor’s daughter. She married John Philpot Curran in 1774, and her small fortune allowed him to pursue further education and a career in politics. Philpot Curran was one of the great and influential Irish nationalists in the list of Wilford Woodruff’s Eminent Men, a noted lawyer, orator, duelist, poet, and Master of the Rolls in Ireland. His most famous saying is, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance,” usually paraphrased as, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

John and Sarah established a lovely home in Ireland and Sarah served as hostess for political and literary gatherings. The two were the parents of eight or ten children before Sarah left John for the Reverend Abraham Sandys. John’s views about such a scandalous event were clear; in a similar case he noted:

There is a species of defense, which perhaps the gentlemen on the other side may attempt to set up—I mean that of recrimination; and I have been led to think that acts of this kind proved against the husband ought not to prevent him from recovering damages for the seduction of his wife; for the consequence arising from illicit connections is widely different with respect to the husband and the wife; casual revelry and immorality in the husband is not supposed to cast an indelible disgrace upon the wife and can not defraud the children of their property, by introducing a spurious offspring to which the infidelity of the wife may lead. Errors of this kind in the husband may not arise from an actual turpitude of heart; he may have committed errors of this kind, and yet be a good father; he may be a good citizen, he may be a good husband, notwithstanding he may not be entirely without blemish. I am not speaking of a constant scene of riot and excessive debauchery, but of acts which, though they are to be condemned, it is possible to atone for by subsequent good conduct. Could the ill conduct of the husband entail upon the wife the character of a prostitute? No. But the consequences resulting from the conduct of the wife are of a very different nature indeed.

John and Sarah did not divorce, but he brought a suit against Sandys and won damages. The Reverend Sandys is said to have faded from public life, and Sarah afterwards lived a quiet life, while her husband is said to have suffered greatly from all these events and consoled himself by moving in with a Mrs. Fitzgerald and having two children with her.


Sarah Philpot Curran lived in London for many years before she died in 1844. Her will, naming her as the widow of John Philpot Curran, bequeathed a variety of sums to her few surviving children.

* * *

From the ongoing series, The Eminent Women of the St. George Temple.



  1. Lora Ann Amelia Starr Sanders was 19 years old when she first attended the temple and 21 when she married. She will eventually have her own biography in the Eminent Women series. []
  2. Eudora Lovina “Dora” Young was briefly married to Wilford Woodruff. []
  3. Local newspapers, including the St. Johns Herald under the editorship of Henry Reed, ran a constant stream of critical commentary, even death threats against the Latter-day Saints. Here’s a random example:

    The tintinnabulation of the Mormon meeting-house bell has been incessantly heard for the last few days. Probably some polygamous old saint, possibly Milner, has had a revelation transmitted to him direct from Heaven (by Wells, Fargo and Company’s Express) and is congregating the people to bore them with his senseless harangue, or likely it is only a summons to the regular incendiary meetings, for the purpose of damning the gentiles and the United States Government. (St. Johns Herald, May 28, 1885, 3.)

    And from the next page:

    It will not be an easy matter to fully enforce the law, and the United States troops may have to go to Utah to give the Mormons a little information touching the duties of a citizen of this country. It would be unfortunate if it should be necessary to kill two or three thousand of these lustful devils; but it might have its value as an example. (St. Johns Herald, May 28, 1885, 4.)

    It wasn’t all a battle of words; the Little Colorado settlers suffered great losses at the hands of government officials and business interests and the Hashknife Gang. []

  4. The Arizona Champion, August 30, 1884, 2. []
  5. “Judge E.C. Bunch, of Springerville, he of the Probate business, was in town on Sunday and Monday. No one particularly knew what he had come for, but it finally became manifest. He had settled the title of the town site of Nutrioso, appointed an assistant Probate Judge for this district, married two lovers, joined two hearts that beat as one, got his fees, and now the big bad Bunch is prepared to say, “the time of my departure is at hand,” and all the rest of the people in St. Johns are waiting to respond, amen!” (St. Johns Herald, November 26, 1885, 3.) []
  6. The May 7, 1885 St. Johns Herald that would mention Lucy’s death is missing from the Library of Congress collection. She and her sons are probably buried in a family graveyard, perhaps in the vicinity of Bunch Reservoir. Not long after Lucy’s death, Elias traveled to his Arkansas hometown to marry Ellen Weatherford and then returned to Arizona. Ellen raised Lucy’s son Carl as well as her own five children. Elias became a prominent Arizona government official. []


  1. Divorce in prominent Mormon families is seldom discussed — but what a pattern you’ve found here, and how odd that unhappy/disapproved marriages are what links Sarah with Lucy’s family!

    Thanks for another report humanizing what otherwise would be merely names.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 25, 2014 @ 8:03 am

  2. It may seem that Curran was engaged is the crassest of sexist arguments–excusing the philandering husband while condemning the adulterous wife. But the law in the 18th century provided for substantially different consequences: a child born to a married woman was presumed to be the child of the husband, and would have inherited property equally with his siblings, whereas the child fathered out of wedlock would not inherit his father’s property.

    In those days before any sort of genetic testing was available (or even imaginable, given the understanding of biology in the 18th century), there wasn’t much else the courts could do. Allowing testimony as to “access” could have opened the courthouse doors to no end of salacious (and likely perjured) testimony, but that was all cut off by the rule presuming paternity in the case of married women.

    I do wonder, however, if Mr. Fitzgerald found as much consolation as Mr. Curran in the latter’s arrangements with his wife. Or had he already passed to his eternal reward?

    Comment by Mark B. — March 25, 2014 @ 8:41 am

  3. I love LBY but have known relatively little about her broader family. Thanks!

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 25, 2014 @ 11:05 am

  4. Thanks, Ardis, Mark, and J. for your comments. It can be fascinating to compare written family histories with the vital facts and see what is and isn’t included, and it’s been interesting figuring out the identity of all the Youngs and Bigelows in the project. I probably won’t get back to any of them for awhile — there are other bios I want to write first — but it is an interesting extended family group.

    Also, I didn’t figure out the identity of Mrs. Fitzgerald, Mark. Women who are named like that in the histories tend to be courtesans, so there may or may not have been a Mr. Fitzgerald. And if anyone follows the link about the Curran home, the Sarah mentioned there is the daughter of this Sarah, and a fascinating historical figure in her own right.

    Comment by Amy T — March 25, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

  5. Great research as always Amy!
    Curran’s rhetoric on the subject was strong but, from a lawyer’s perspective, it is interesting that Curran risked publicly suing Sandys because Curran’s own affairs were exposed during the trial. (As far as “Mrs. Fitzgerald” … Curran defended Lord Fitzgerald after the 1898 Irish Rebellion. Maybe she was a related/fellow nationalist.)

    In my research on Wilford Woodruff I followed the lives of Lucy Bigelow’s three daughters. They pursued three very different paths. The most mysterious is Eudora Lovina Young … after two divorces, an affair with Albert Hagen (the lawyer who represented Brigham Young’s notorious wife Ann Eliza Webb), the commmitment of Hagen’s wife, and Eudora’s subsequent marriage to Hagen, she was finally able to live a normal life in Idaho with their three children. Albert died in Idaho in 1895 and Eudora died in 1921. She was buried in the same cemetery in Salt Lake City (Mt. Olivet) as her sister Mabel. Her death certificate lists her name as Dora Mary Hagen.

    Comment by Jennifer Mackley — March 28, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

  6. Thanks for the additional notes, Jennifer. It’s great having a couple of lawyers weigh in on the Curran history.

    Hopefully by the time all five biographies are written of the women of the Young and Bigelow families in the Eminent Women project, it will provide a fuller portrait of some of the complexities of their lives.

    Comment by Amy T — March 28, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

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