[Disclaimer: This post is in tribute to BYU’s excellent but short-lived page on the history of Mormon polygamy. Because some people wilfully misread the intentions of writers on controversial topics, I state unequivocally that I do not support modern polygamy or polygamists. This article is offered only as an illustration of the complexity of the historical Mormon experience with plural marriage, and a recognition of the difficulties of dissolving polygamous families in any era.]
“I was born in Nauvoo … [of] Mormon parentage … [A]ll my life has been spent within the church, and I would to heaven … I could be permitted to remain until the final shadows shall have enveloped me.”
Shortly after penning those words in 1908, Josiah F. Gibbs was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His disfellowshipment came after more than 60 years of a busy frontier life which was in many ways typical of those who had settled and developed their western kingdom.
At his birth in 1845, Josiah was already a third-generation member of a church that was then barely 15 years old. His family wandered for ten years in Iowa and Illinois following their expulsion from Nauvoo, the father enduring imprisonment and the children enduring taunting for their religious beliefs. They crossed the great plains by oxcart in 1857, arriving in Salt Lake City just in time to join the temporary evacuation before the army that had been sent to bring the Mormons under American control. Josiah worked on community projects, including the great Tabernacle on Temple Square, being instructed in carpentry techniques by Brigham Young himself. With his father, he stood weekly guard to protect Brigham Young, and was welcomed into the family circle to such an extent that he considered himself something of a foster Young.
Josiah pioneered several central Utah towns. He interacted closely with the local Indians, first serving as a cavalryman in the Blackhawk war against them and later making close friendships among the native Pahvants, learning their language and extracting valuable accounts of historical events from an Indian perspective. He served a three years’ proselyting mission to England, and upon his return engaged wholeheartedly in local religious activities including leadership in educational endeavors, service as a ward teacher, and enthusiastic promotion of Sunday schools. He became deeply interested in politics, favoring the Democratic party and promoting statehood. While in his role as a newspaper editor he forcefully opposed ecclesiastical influence in the political process, he staunchly maintained the right of the Mormon people to govern themselves as American citizens, and fiercely defended his place in the Mormon community:
“[W]e ask our readers to remember that the writer was born among this people, that his hopes for the present and future are identical with theirs …
“The above declaration [of opposition to ecclesiastical involvement] is made without the slightest bitterness of feeling toward any member, or leader, of the church in which I was born and in which I expect to die.”
And yet Josiah did not die in the church. In 1906 his position shifted from that of reformer from within to attacker from without.
“I will … do all in my power to break down the insidious religio-political monstrosity called Mormonism.”
“Joseph F. Smith [is] the most contemptibly pious fraud of all the centuries.”
“[T]he Mormon ‘kingdom of God’ is fully as harmless as a coiled rattlesnake waiting to strike its fangs into this Nation, and to substitute the rule of the Mormon priesthood for the rule of the people.”
So what was responsible for this unanticipated and bitter break with his people? It arose from Josiah’s participation in the most distinctive feature of 19th-century Mormonism, participation which he never publicly acknowledged in thousands of pages of intensely personal writing. Josiah Gibbs simply refused to discuss his status as a polygamist, the simultaneous husband of two wives and father of two families.
Josiah married Maria in 1870, shortly after returning from his English mission. At virtually the same time Josiah’s father married polygamously to a widow with two children. Two of Josiah’s sisters married as first wives to their respective husbands, and sometime later their youngest sister became the plural wife of her own sister’s husband. Josiah himself took a second wife, Monetta, in 1880. This complex extended family settled together first in Fillmore and later in Deseret where for the most part each wife had her own home.
And what was life like for these polygamous families?
Josiah’s mother embraced the principle fiercely, determined to endure the trials of polygamous mortality which were certain to earn her a place in the Celestial Kingdom of heaven. She testified in one women’s meeting that she “[k]nows this is the work of God [and w]ould rather see her children in prison than apostatize.” At another meeting she taught that it “is through our trials that we are to be proven” and she felt “to rejoice that she is in the kingdom of God.” When her husband’s plural wife died, however, her willingness to embrace the trials of polygamy did not extend to making a home for her husband’s son, who went to live with Josiah and his first wife, Maria.
Josiah’s sister Mary fled to Mexico for a time with her own polygamous husband. Before leaving Deseret, she told her sister-sufferers that “she looked forward for something better in the future than this life[;] if she did not [she] would not care for living.”
Without dwelling on the difficulties, Josiah’s sister Imogene suggested that polygamous life was not easy, especially when she shared her husband with her own sister:
“Dora and I never quarreled. I think I would have felt better if I had some one other than a sister in polygamy because I could have brushed over and relieved myself some. Not many men know how to handle polygamy after they get into it. They are pulled one side then the other.”
Josiah’s favorite sister Medora paid the highest price for polygamy because she was forced to live “on the underground,” or in hiding, when her baby was due, in order to protect her husband from obvious evidence of polygamy. After his estrangement from the church, Josiah wrote this account of Medora’s death which, although in a fictional setting, he swore was accurate in its details:
“Hers was a face to be remembered. She was not handsome, but she was good and loveable. I will never forget her modest, gentle deportment. …
“Dora was to become a mother. It was a difficult case … The elders were called in, and they anointed her with ‘consecrated oil’ and laid their hands upon her head. …
“The girl had implicit faith in the power of the priesthood … [but t]he services of a skilled physician, rather than [prayer] was needed in the supreme ordeal which was slowly crucifying the helpless girl. …
“After fifty hours of agony for the young wife, [they] were still on their knees praying … A stifled, agonized moan, and the spirit of the trusting girl entered the presence of the Good Father, who alone knows all that Mormon women have endured for their faith …
“The only brother of the girl was in Provo. A few hours after his sister’s death he received a message – it read:
“‘Dora died at 3:30 this morning.’
“By steam and horses the brother with a skilled physician could have reached the bedside of his favorite sister within six hours. But [they] watched and prayed while the confiding, undelivered girl was slowly dying.
“The brother went home and learned the truth … he looked down into the drawn, pain-furrowed face of his sister and into the dark, strangled face of the babe, and realized the horror of the unnecessary tragedy …”
Josiah had his own difficulties with polygamy. From later developments, it seems clear that his first wife, Maria, was the love of his youth and that his affection for her lasted into their old age. Life with the younger second wife, Monetta, was more difficult. Josiah could temporarily escape his domestic situation, however, by making extended prospecting trips to further his mining interests. These absences from home protected him somewhat from the raids of the federal marshals.
“By frequent, and unexpected, invasions of the place, Marshal Mount had captured all but one of the polygamists. During two years Mount had carried a warrant for the special law-breaker, but all efforts to “serve the paper”had failed. In fact, he had never seen him to know him. The man [Gibbs] had received a commission from the Geological Survey to make a collection of fossils … One evening as the man was getting supper for his son, brother and himself, a traveler drove down to the spring and prepared to camp. The brother went down to the traveler’s camp, returned, and in a scared voice said, ‘Mount is down there.’ ‘All right; if he asks any questions tell him my name is Brown, and that I’m in the employ of the Government.’ Mount and ‘Brown’ spent a very sociable evening.”
If Josiah was out of reach, his wives and children were not; in September of 1889, both Maria and Monetta, and Josiah’s 15-year-old daughter Ruby, were subpoenaed to testify against him. It was probably to spare his wives and daughter this pain and embarrassment that Josiah turned himself in that fall, traveling from Deseret to Provo with his bishop, who was also under indictment for polygamy. He did not confide his plans to his bishop, however. The next day, after being convicted of unlawful cohabitation and receiving his prison sentence and fine, Bishop Black “was then put in charge of a bailiff, who conducted me up to an upper room where a few of the brethren who had been sentenced had preceded me. The number continued to increase till there were 12 in the room. A man by the name of J.F. Gibbs had accompanied me from Deseret and was to have been sentenced the same afternoon. I kept watch to see him coming.” He needn’t have waited – unknown to him, Josiah had made other plans.
Maria, Josiah’s first and legal wife, had filed for divorce from him so that he could legally marry Monetta, whose children were still quite small. Josiah pleaded guilty to unlawful cohabitation, and because the judge was aware of the pending divorce no sentence nor fine was imposed. The divorce was completed, the parties returned to Deseret, and Josiah and Monetta were legally married a few days later, about a year before the Manifesto ended plural marriage for most other Mormons.
Although never mentioning Maria’s name in print, Josiah expressed his grief and admiration for her and others who, like Abraham’s despised wife Hagar, had been driven out to make their way as best they could:
“[T]housands of Mormon Hagars [were] driven into the wilderness [and] in loneliness and sorrow, are serving out the hard sentence of separation … [T]he tenderest emotions of the human heart were rent asunder, that Mormon practices might be in harmony with the demands of the majority. The details of that struggle will never be written on the pages of mortal history. Only the recording angel has noted the events of those days.
“From girlhood they had been taught the “righteousness” of the doctrine, and their minds educated for its practice. The monogamous world may sneer at Mormon women. But since Eve, in her primeval innocence, with bowed head stood before her Maker, no purer, truer women have graced the Creator’s footstool than the great majority of Mormon plural wives. …
“Those plural wives were as devoted to their home surroundings as the monogamous wives. The plural wife looked for the periodical home-coming of the husband and father with all the eagerness of the monogamous wife. And it was on those plural homes that the shadow of the Manifesto fell with crushing force. Those women had laid the best of their lives and all they possessed on the altar of polygamy. By the edict of the Manifesto, hundreds of modern Hagars were driven forth into the wilderness of a new and strange existence. In some cases the first wife voluntarily secured a divorce from her husband, so that the plural wife might become the legal wife, and that, too, from the loftiest motives.”
Although now legally married, Josiah and Monetta spent little time together. Monetta divorced Josiah in 1902 in an action he described as “but one of the echoes … of lives that had been wrecked on the rocks of latter-day polygamy”. Monetta moved to California, and her grown children lived alternately in California and with their father in his now permanent home in Marysvale, Utah. Maria, in a puzzle I have yet to solve, married again seven months before giving birth to a daughter. She lived with her second husband for more than 20 years, but after his death she too moved to Marysvale, where Josiah provided a house for her in the family compound. She is buried by his side in the cemetery overlooking Marysvale.
Josiah believed that the sacrifice of and by his wives was shared universally by his church, its members, and their leaders. He considered the Manifesto a pledge of faith with the American people. He recognized that statehood, with its provision of full political stature to all Mormons, would never have been granted without the full and complete abandonment of polygamy. However, his interpretation of the Manifesto seems to have been that all polygamous relations would be severed, not merely that no new marriages would be contracted. Such an absolutist interpretation is not supported by the language of the Manifesto, nor by the teachings of church leaders, nor by the behavior of church membership generally.
In 1904, church president Joseph F. Smith was called to Washington to be questioned in the matter of the seating of apostle Reed Smoot as a senator from Utah. Week after week of testimony made it obvious that Gibbs’s sacrifice had not been shared universally by his fellow churchmen. New plural marriages continued to be contracted in secret. Josiah’s wife Maria had borne the fate of Hagar in the wilderness, but the wives of Joseph F. Smith had been sheltered and had even continued to bear him children – at least 11 following the Manifesto. Somewhat disingenuously, Josiah felt he could no longer support Joseph F. Smith as a prophet and the leader of the Mormon people.
Following the Senate hearings, Josiah took time to put his thoughts in order and consider his options. It was not an easy problem to work through..
“[T]o the average Mormon … the most terrible punishment that can be meted out … is to be called an apostate. [I]t means that a man is a traitor to his God, to his people, and to himself. … [I]f a layman exert his right to disbelieve in President Smith’s right to break the laws of God and man … that layman becomes an apostate, with all that the name implies. In so far as the term apostate applies to the charge that I have ‘departed from the religion of my parents,’ I most earnestly deny the charge.”
Nevertheless, Josiah issued his own manifesto in the pages of the Salt Lake Tribune: “From this date until the leaders of the … Mormon church keep the pledges … they made with the people of the United States … I am ‘heart and soul’ with the American party” [the local party whose sole platform was to oppose and discredit the Mormon church]. There followed in rapid succession a series of caustic articles denouncing Joseph F. Smith, the 1908 excommunication, speaking tours throughout Utah denouncing Mormonism, lectures to California audiences, and publications dramatizing the most controversial aspects of Mormon history and social policy. For a while, Josiah was the toast of anti-Mormon society, an insider who knew where the bodies were buried and a brilliant, if partisan, opponent with whom it was difficult to argue or discredit.
And then the attention of Utah and the nation turned to other spectacles, and Josiah dropped below the radar of popular notice. He carried on private correspondence with a few notable Utah authors and occasionally wrote letters to the editor of the Tribune, but he became largely forgotten. He outlived most of his friends, his wives, several of his children, and most of his siblings. When he died in 1932, his request to be given an old-fashioned pioneer funeral was honored, and he was buried next to Maria following prayers offered by the town’s Mormon bishop. A few weeks later, his only surviving sister requested baptism by proxy to restore Josiah to membership in the Mormon church.
The issue of polygamy temporarily faded from public view at about the same time as Josiah vanished. It never went away entirely, of course, and flares up from time to time – it is burning hotly now. Law enforcement is in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t position: when action is taken, sheriffs and prosecutors are branded as hypocrites because someone invariably uncovers an ancestral tie to a polygamous marriage. Yet when action is not taken, or is not vigorous enough, the same sheriffs and prosecutors are rumored as reluctant to enforce laws against a principle they secretly endorse.
Utah has not outlived its heritage of plural marriage. The cast of characters has changed but the human investment has not. Whether one endorses or opposes the practice, no one should approach the issue without considering the best interests of plural wives and children. Josiah Gibbs never forgot these families with whom he sympathized in florid but sincere terms:
“Under that domestic relation children were born and reared, and ties just as tender, and love just as pure and holy as any passion that ever had birth on this earth, had been formed. Upon thousands of homes … [the] manifesto fell with crashing force. Wives who loved their husband with all the tenderness … of which woman’s nature is capable, women who would have died by the most exquisite torture rather than part with a domestic relation that had placed upon their brows the holy name of wife, and upon their heads the wreath of honorable maternity, bowed … in the presence of a sorrow infinitely worse than death. … Alone in their sorrow those women have pursued the pathway of life. … No one but He whose sympathetic being notes the falling of a single sparrow, understands the magnitude of the terrible sorrow that has come …; no one but the Father has read aright the motives that have prompted them to endure.”
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No authority should be so foolish as those officials in Beijing who, in their rush for ever greater glory, are sending in the diggers and dozers to prepare the city for the 2008 Olympics, with no regard for the treasures that are being crushed, stolen and lost in their haphazard dash for prestige. Chinese national heritage is being destroyed by those whose responsibility it should be to preserve it. We have gained nothing if all that remains is the shiny, bright and new. “The complexity of the historical Mormon experience” should not be made to vanish, or get varnished, but rather be brushed off and examined to determine its value. Great post.
Comment by Chino Blanco — 2/6/2007 @ 11:00 pm
[T]o the average Mormon … the most terrible punishment that can be meted out … is to be called an apostate. [I]t means that a man is a traitor to his God, to his people, and to himself.
This is true to some extant even today. It’s among the most unfortunate aspects of Mormonism. People fear apostasy and apostates more than they fear losing their job or their family. It’s bizarre, frankly. It’s a religion, for crying out loud!
Comment by DKL — 2/6/2007 @ 11:15 pm
In many ways, I am reminded of Samuel W. Taylor’s descriptions of his family and his father’s passing.
As a note, the polygamy site has been resurrected:
Comment by J. Stapley — 2/6/2007 @ 11:19 pm
Thanks for this poignant post. When I hear about polygamy, I have a knee-jerk emotional reaction against it. This post forced me to see the grey where I normally only see black and white.
Comment by Keri — 2/7/2007 @ 12:17 am
wow… ok… can I ask this question…so Josiah believed that the Manifesto meant that the families were to be broken up and yet other members of the church did not believe it to mean that but only to mean no more new marriages? Is the part in the article about the prophet true? The prophet Joseph F. Smith lived in hiding and continued in polygamy even after the Manifesto? This is something I didn’t know and I admit I am confused on. I don’t understand why were some people’s understanding of the Manifesto so entirely different than the Prophet’s and why wasn’t it more clear?
I am blown away when I read things like this… it makes it so real… I too have an emotional knee jerk reaction against polygamy when I read things like this… it’s the one thing I have a hard time not only understanding but trying to accept as part of God’s plan.
Comment by Stephanie — 2/7/2007 @ 2:56 am
I think his point abou the ‘Hagars’ is something we gloss over and forget about. My father believed he was the first convert to the church in his family, but in doing family history found a direct ancestor who had been a plural wife in Utah who left and went back east. The social complexity of these extended families, which gets played out in the media and popular culture still, is daunting.
Comment by Norbert — 2/7/2007 @ 5:05 am
I’m enjoying everyone’s comments — thanks for sharing your thoughts. Stephenie’s question needs a particular reply:
Except for some grumbling among a few politicians and journalists, the 1890 Manifesto almost instantly relieved pressure on the church where polygamy was concerned. It took a few more years for the church to regain what was left of its escheated property and for Utah to gain statehood, but the raids, prosecutions, and imprisonments of individual members stopped.
Joseph F. Smith was not in hiding; there was no need for him to be on the underground once the polygamy raids ceased. He, like the vast majority of LDS polygamists, lived at home with his families. The language of the Manifesto merely calls on the Saints to “refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land”: — i.e., from establishing new marriages. (The well established fact that there were hundreds of church-sanctioned post-Manifesto plural marriages is beyond the scope of this post.) The church never, ever, ever, ever called on its members to abandon their plural families as a result of the Manifesto or for any other cause. Men were expected to go on providing for, caring for, and claiming their plural families — far from prohibiting continued family relationships, the church expected those families to continue in mortality as well as in eternity. Hence, Joseph F. Smith, other general authorities, and rank-and-file polygamous church members continued to live with their plural wives in every sense.
A very few men did seize on the Manifesto as an excuse to shed uncomfortable and unwelcome baggage, and some wives and families were abandoned, generally treated by their communities as widows. Numbers are hard to come by, but they seem to be rather low. Josiah GROSSLY exaggerates when he refers to “thousands” of Hagars.
Later, years later, and usually for political reasons, some people, including a few members of the church like Josiah, claimed that they had believed the Manifesto required them to sever family relationships. Their claim is hard to justify — they can’t point to the language of the Manifesto or to any church teaching for support. But the relative peace between Mormon and non-Mormon that had grown after the Manifesto was beginning to fray, and it was a nice little political ploy for them to rewrite history and claim that Mormons had reneged on their promises given for statehood. By the time of the Smoot hearings, Josiah’s politics had become far more central to his life than his religion, and he bought into that political philosophy.
Josiah is not typical of Mormons and the end of polygamy. He just happens to be a man whose life I’ve studied a great deal, and he was very eloquent in describing the emotional effects of both the practice and the abandonment of polygamy.
Joseph F. Smith, on the other hand, is typical of Mormons and the end of polygamy. He did not, to the best of my knowledge, contract new plural marriages, but he continued to support his wives and children, to enjoy their company, and to be an active, everyday presence in their lives.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 2/7/2007 @ 9:23 am
Ok that makes more sense. Thank you very much for answering that. I admit that polygamy is a difficult thing to understand… especially since we weren’t there and are going on other people’s experiences. History can be so complex when trying to figure out all the pieces, especially since so many people had so many different perspectives and experiences.
That truly is sad about the families breaking up and not staying together and that they used the Manifesto as an excuse for that.
I was going to ask about the many plural marriages performed AFTER the Manifesto that were sanctioned by the Church but I think I will leave that for another day.
By the way I went to that website www.mormon-polygamy.org and it looks very interesting. Has anyone else been there and checked it out and what is your impression?
Comment by Stephanie — 2/7/2007 @ 11:16 am
My family exp with the 1890 and 1904 manifesto’s is as follows.
My wifes great grandfather who was the son of Daniel H Wells maintained his second wife in a seperate house until his death after ww2 in full view of the Church Leadership in SLC. His first family was very quietly aware of the circumstances. Our side of the family to this day has made some limited contact with the descendents of his second family.
Comment by bbell — 2/7/2007 @ 11:18 am
My grandfather’s father had four wives. My grandfather lived in one town with his mother in very difficult circumstances, feeling pretty much abandoned, while his father lived with other wives in another town. He was bitter over polygamy and was totally inactive. I wonder how many children of polygamists left the church.
Comment by Sally — 2/7/2007 @ 1:07 pm
“The church never, ever, ever, ever called on its members to abandon their plural families as a result of the Manifesto or for any other cause. Men were expected to go on providing for, caring for, and claiming their plural families — far from prohibiting continued family relationships, the church expected those families to continue in mortality as well as in eternity.”
I’m not so sure about this. My understanding is that when many of the post-Manifesto polygamous families moved from the Mexican colonies back to Salt Lake City (around 1910, I believe), they were required to split up. Before he died my own grandfather (who was born in Colonia Juarez) told stories about how heartbreaking it was when his “aunt” and “cousins” set up their own household in Salt Lake, while the rest of the family settled in Bountiful. I don’t know the economic arrangements, but I know that they no longer lived together as a family as they had in Mexico.
Comment by Greg Call — 2/7/2007 @ 1:22 pm
I think I’ve read that certain interregnum families felt pressure to live separately. That is, for a while, it was unclear whether the Manifesto only applied to U.S. families, and general authorities continued to make plural marriages for members living in Mexico. That (more or less) ended with the Second Manifesto in 1904. And it for-sure ended when two members of the Twelve, Taylor and Cowley, were excommunicated for their roles in performing post-Second-Manifesto marriages, mostly as a result of the publicity from the Smoot hearings.
As a result, some (but not all) of the members — particularly people sealed after the Second Manifesto, but also some married in the time between the two — felt pressure not to live as a family, sicne the marriage was in some way tainted.
Comment by Kaimi Wenger — 2/7/2007 @ 1:44 pm
I think it’s clear that some polygamous families did split up; I guess the question for historians is whether that was mandated by an ecclesiastical authority, or whether it was informal social pressure instead. I’ve always understood it was the former.
Comment by Greg Call — 2/7/2007 @ 2:25 pm
Its my understanding that the local Bishop and SP played a large role in deciding if they split up or not. Pressure either way would come from the local leaders. In my families case the SP was the uncle of my relative. The marriage occured in the SLC temple in 1900 and the sealing was done by a member of the presidency of the seventy.
#12: People married Polygamously after 1904 faced a generally hostile FP/Q12 and if discovered were normally exed. There is a commentator that comments frequently in the bloggernacle who’s great grandfather was exed in the 1930’s for such a marriage.
Maybe you can get Kevin Barney in here to comment. There was one FP member in particular who made it his job to ferret out these types of marriages and ex them. Brown? Kevin?
Comment by bbell — 2/7/2007 @ 2:40 pm
Does anyone have information or stories of when the last “officially sanctioned” polygamists died out?
Heber J. Grant was the last church president to practice plural marriage, and he died in 1945. Theoretically those who were joined just before the manifesto and those joined post-manifesto could have lived into the 50’s and 60’s, or even the 70’s. Is there any information on when this last group died out, and who they were/ how they were viewed?
To me it is interesting to think about because we always talk about how polygamy ended as a practice in 1890, but some of those marriages would have lasted well into the middle or later part of the 20th century, bringing its reality much closer in time to the present.
Comment by Talon — 2/7/2007 @ 2:40 pm
The latest I can find are Spencer W Kimballs in laws who died in the 1950’s. This is from the recent Autobiography.
Comment by bbell — 2/7/2007 @ 3:13 pm
It was President Clark that was the great inquisitor.
Comment by J. Stapley — 2/7/2007 @ 4:07 pm
The hardships mentioned above weren’t caused by polygamy; they were caused by the persecution of those practicing the principle.
Or is the position of most members of the church today that the persecution on the basis of plural marriage really was justified?
Comment by Mark N. — 2/7/2007 @ 4:43 pm
Quinn addresses the question of whether the church ever called on its members to abandon their plural families as a result of the Manifesto in his article on post-Manifesto polygamy.
He notes, for example, that two weeks after the re-sustaining of the Manifesto in the October 1891 General Conference, President Woodruff made the following statements under oath in the church confiscation case:
A. [Pres. Woodruff] Any person entering into plural marriage after that date [24 September 1890] would be liable to become excommunicated from the church.
Q. In the concluding portion of your statement [the Manifesto] . . . Do you understand that the language was to be expanded and to include the further statement of living or associating in plural marriage by those already in the status?
A. Yes, sir; I intended the proclamation to cover the ground, to keep the laws — to obey the law myself, and expected the people to obey the law.
Continuing . . .
Q. Your attention was called to the fact, that nothing is said in this manifesto about the dissolution of the existing polygamous relations. I want to ask you, President Woodruff, whether in your advice to church officials, and the people of the church, you have advised them, that your intention was — and that their requirement of the church was, that the polygamous relations already formed before that [Manifesto] should not be continued, that is, there should be no association with plural wives; in other words, that unlawful cohabitation, as it is named, and spoken of, should also stop, as well, as future polygamous marriages?
A. Yes, sir; that has been the intention.
These statements, made in court and under oath, were reprinted in the Deseret News. Quinn’s article includes other statements to the same effect.
It is no wonder that people were left scratching their heads about what to do.
Comment by Randy B. — 2/7/2007 @ 5:18 pm
Also, while it is true that JFS continued to live with his polygamous wives, his actions in this regard did not always comport with church directives. For example, under President Snow, the “brethren” were instructed not to have children born to them by their polygamous wives. [It is unclear from the short excerpt in Quinn’s article whether “brethren” was intended to signify all men or merely the General Authorities. As to JFS, of course, it makes no difference.] After this decision was handed down, JFS’s polygamous wives bore him more three children. See pages 85-86 of Quinn’s article.
Comment by Randy B. — 2/7/2007 @ 6:11 pm
Based on the above references then, was Joseph F Smith excommunicated then also?
Comment by Stephanie — 2/7/2007 @ 7:49 pm
[Edited comment — apologies to anyone who might be building a comment based on my original (admittedly defensive) comment here.]
It’s always dangerous to make blanket statements of “always” and “never” where church history — and probably anything else — is concerned. History is messy. The lives of people in 1907 were as messy and complex as lives in 2007.
I should not say unequivocally that no one in any place under any circumstance was ever advised to leave a plural family, although I am not aware of any such statements and I do believe that even under some unusual circumstance, the requirement that a man be responsible for the children he had begotten would have held true. The Manifesto was not a ticket for a man to unburden himself of responsibility for the welfare of his dependents.
Individual families made arrangements for their individual lives — then, as well as today, couples chose to stay together, or to separate, or to divorce, according to their individual circumstances. The family stories mentioned by various commenters suggests the variety of ways that families faced the end of plural marriage.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 2/7/2007 @ 8:21 pm
Six of my great grandparents were born to polygamous marriages, so polygamy was a big issue in my family history. Of the polygamous men who were my great great grandfathers, along with one polygamous ggggrandfather, about half “divorced” all wives but one. This has caused contention in the family that I still heard about back in the 1980’s, from my grandparents and their siblings. I have a photo album that belonged to my gggrandmother, a polygamous wife, and daughter. Back about 1985, I took it to a great aunt to see if she could help identify some of the photos in it. She could identify some, but not all, and mentioned a relative, descended from another wife, that she thought would know more. But then she wouldn’t tell me who it was or any details. She said, “That family was always grabby.” She’d take this away from you.” Interesting that 90 years after the manifesto, there were still hard feelings there. One great great grandfather fathered 4 or 5 children with 3 different wives, in the 1890s. They lived openly then, in Smithfield Utah, but he was in hiding through much of the 1880s. By about 1900 or so, he seems to have split from some, but not all of the wives, and lived till 1914 dividing time between the two remaining wives. I thought that everyone was told that they had to choose one wife to stay married to after the first manifesto, but could be very wrong. One of my great grandmother’s half brothers stayed married to both his pre-manifesto wives and they lived on the same lot, in two houses, in Smithfield, until the late 1940s. I asked my mom once what she remembered about that situation, and she said she’d never really thought about it much. It just seemed fairly normal because of the history of polygamy in the family. She would have been fifteen when the husband in that group died. I do know that there was a lot of fighting between the two families, so perhaps people in town didn’t really consider him to be married to both. What a lousy way to spend your life!
Comment by Paula — 2/7/2007 @ 8:40 pm
Just a quick point of interest–a friend of mine (former bishop and entirely orthodox) published a fictionalized account of his family history, which involved polygamy. I saw him over Christmas and he informed me that Seagull Books had “banned” his book, instructing all of their stores via letter not to carry it. It was so disheartening to him. His response was, “Why can’t we be honest about our history?”
I have a tape recording of my great grandmother urging all of her family to live worthy to have “plural marriage” restored. (She had been raised to defend it, since her father had two wives.) And I remember being shocked when my grandfather criticized Idaho’s once governor Dubois for being so opposed to “Celestial Marriage.” My thought was, “Grandpa, do you actually plan on marrying other women in the next life?” It was a horrifying thought. Still is.
Comment by Margaret Young — 2/7/2007 @ 11:12 pm
“History is messy.”
Comment by Randy B. — 2/7/2007 @ 11:18 pm
I’ve just seen too many people leap to doctrines and rumors of doctrines in order to justify stuff that they wanted to do anyway.
Think about it. Your marriage is falling apart. You live in a time before the whole concept of “no fault” divorce has percholated into the culture. You think that you might exaggerate the intent of the manifesto in order to justify splitting up — and later in life when you regretted the split-up, blame the church for what you did?
Comment by Christian — 2/8/2007 @ 1:44 am
perhaps someone here might find it interesting to ponder this post alongside what’s being discussed in the current thread
“Why can’t we be honest about our history?”
well, if you’re going to mention a banned book, aren’t you kinda obliged to let slip with the title, so we can all go out and buy it? you’ve certainly piqued my interest in picking it up.
As to the question, I’d take a stab at it, but I think DKL already answered:
“People fear apostasy and apostates more than they fear losing their job or their family.”
which is why I thought the post I referred to above might be interesting for folks already thinking about this, in the sense that
if in other faith traditions, their historians understand their work as a liberation of their tradition from an all-too-human history, what sort of liberation is possible when the history IS the tradition?
iow, how can we do Mormon history without always already being apostate for having done it?
Comment by Chino Blanco — 2/8/2007 @ 5:38 am
it felt like ‘progress’ the first time I clicked on polygamy.byu.edu … I thought I’d stumbled upon evidence of some new-found institutional resolve … but, reading the post and comments above, I wonder if my own sunny notion of ‘progress’ isn’t as suspect as whatever reasons were or might be given for removing the new materials.
A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
– Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philiosophy of History
Comment by Chino Blanco — 2/8/2007 @ 7:30 am
Chino, I’m afraid you’ll have to go to a philosopher with your grand questions, and that isn’t me. I’m jest a little old historian, a-kickin’ away at the pile of debris, a-tryin’ to discover what happened way back when. I very seldom presume to say why it happened, and, outside of a clearly defined lesson in a church or family setting with guidance from an established doctrinal principle, I never presume to say what any of it “proves” in the “and thus we see the purposes of the Lord” kind of way.
I do insist that before someone can accurately proclaim what it “proves,” he needs as accurate as possible an understanding of what it is.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 2/8/2007 @ 9:44 am
Ardis, I apologize if I came off as high-falutin’. In my defense, “Echoes of Lives Wrecked” is an intriguing choice of title and brought to mind the “wreckage” that Benjamin’s angel of history would salvage if it could.
I myself can’t tell a story to save my life. Maybe that defect places me too much in awe of anyone who can write up a post telling a story of Josiah F. Gibbs or dash off a comment that tells a family story to great effect. In any case, reading the stories here collectively, it feels like reading history, which means I find it both enjoyable and edifying.
I applaud your tribute to the excellence of the work that went up on the BYU site. I also applaud the way you told the Josiah F. Gibbs story. When I finished reading your telling of his story, I had no idea where you yourself might stand one way or the other on any of the issues of his day, which I mean as a compliment to the historian telling the story. Pity there’d be any need to preface your account with a disclaimer. What kind of reader sits down to read a story of someone’s life and thinks “This story better end the way I expect it to or I’ll make that historian pay” … ??
Comment by Chino Blanco — 2/8/2007 @ 1:11 pm
Reminds me of an analysis of Romeo and Juliet that I heard in the Provo dollar theater a few years ago. As the lights went on, one of three crying teenage girls exclaimed: “that really sucks,” refering, I assume, to that staggered double lovers’ suicide that the whole show is famous for. A pretty astute analysis if you think too much about it. Despite the warning of the introduction, “two star-crossed lovers take their lives,” you somehow dare to hope that Danes and Dicaprio are somehow going to make it through alive.
Here, we’re talking about history. Kind of funny that someone could read an article entitled “echoes of lives wrecked” and somehow manage to expect that it would end “and they all lived happily every after.”
Comment by Christian — 2/8/2007 @ 1:23 pm
I, for one, really appreciate the historical context that Ardis brings to her posts and discussions. As I noted in a private e-mail to her, her act of discussing complex historical topics in an accurate but non-polemical way forces people to view events with greater historical context, which is a very good thing.
The past is often more complicated than the simple narratives we’d like to fit it into. We can find out, for instance, that the Manifesto was not clear in its application; that different members reasonably read it differently; and that Joseph F. Smith said some things in deposition that don’t correlate perfectly with how church leadership always interacted with members. These aren’t “anti-Mormon” facts – they’re just facts. Incorporating them into our understanding gives us a richer, more complete view of the past.
Comment by Kaimi Wenger — 2/8/2007 @ 6:57 pm
Title of the banned book: _The Leah Shadow_ by H. Kay Moon
Thanks for asking.
Comment by Margaret Young — 2/8/2007 @ 11:12 pm
In one sense it reminds me of Heinrich Heubner’s story: how does a priesthood leader speak and how do we interpret his words when he has a gun to his head and the lives of thousands of church members are hostage to a hostile government?
Comment by Christian — 2/9/2007 @ 12:18 am
Margaret – and thanks for obliging.
Christian – I looked for the HH story online, didn’t find it. Enjoyed your overheard at the Provo Dollar Theater story. For some reason, I’m thinking Provo Dollar Theater sounds like a cool name for a Mormon blog version of the “Crooks & Liars” blog
Kaimi – What you said. A very good thing. There are plenty of non-Mormons ready to follow Bishop Stendahl’s rule about ‘asking adherents, not enemies’ when it comes to understanding the religion, but it seems obvious that overly idealized or simplifed or just plain misleading narratives are worse than useless, they’re counter-productive in this regard. There’s a lot coming up around the bend for the church, and for orthodox Mormons to find doing Mormon history to still be so fraught with peril, well, that in itself seems problematic.
But most of all, thank you, Seagull Books. I never imagined that placing an order to Amazon could feel quite so subversive. I look forward to sneaking over there more often now to satisfy all my illicit reading urges. Although, I still will need your ongoing help with expanding my list of dangerous orthodox Mormon authors. As it is, it looks like it’s only going to cost me about $15 to buy the entire library.
Comment by Chino Blanco — 2/9/2007 @ 2:15 am
Here’s some info on the story: http://www.timesandseasons.org/archives/001208.html
I saw a wonderful play on it performed at BYU in the 1990s. In attendance was one of the three boys, one of Huebner’s cohorts who survived the camps. He stood afterwards and attested that what we’d seen was actually how it happened.
Looks like there’s going to be a movie on it now:
Comment by Christian — 2/9/2007 @ 3:34 am
Hey, that’s a great thread, and now When Truth Was Treason gets added to the ol’ shopping cart, cheers.
Comment by Chino Blanco — 2/9/2007 @ 3:48 am
I found polygamy appalling when I first encountered it (in Orson Scott Card’s book Saints), and particularly the lies that surrounded it. It bothered me that Joseph Smith Jr. lied to Emma. But after that, I came to dearly love Joseph F. Smith (from his teachings of the presidents book) and I think I totally would have been happy as his 4th wife or whatever. I picture him walking the floor with sick babies night after night. He was such a sweet and loving man. I do understand why they thought it was a higher principle. It must be quite hard to do, to share your spouse, but I think the spiritual rewards would have been commensurately great.
That said, I do think that in mortality, we have only time and attention enough for one spouse each, and even then can’t do them full justice. And I do believe in following the church teachings. But in post-mortal life, when there is more time to do things right, I feel sure that polygamy (both polygyny and polyandry) are divine principles.
Thanks for this very moving post. So, was President Woodruff lying? Somehow that is a possibility that didn’t occur to me.
Comment by Tatiana — 2/9/2007 @ 9:39 am
“So, was President Woodruff lying?”
I think that this is most likely the case. Those called to testify in these type of situations during this period time often viewed shading the truth on these tough questions as a form of civil disobedience to unjust prosecution.
That said, it is also possible that Pres. Woodruff believed he was technically telling the truth, couched in semantics that the questioner (and many members, for that matter) did not fully understand. I’m not sure that is possible here given the specificity of the question quoted above and the direct admission from Pres. Woodruff, but that may simply be the failure of my imagination.
Putting aside possible semantics, I am not aware of any evidence that Pres. Woodruff actually instructed polygamous families to split up. There is evidence, again discussed in Quinn’s article, that Pres. Snow felt that this should happen; in fact, he specifically proposed as much in a meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve. There is also evidence to support the claims discussed above about polygamous families from Mexico having to live separately upon their return to Utah. That said, I am not aware of any statement by any church authority to the effect that men were required to completely abandon any and all forms of support, including financial support, to their polygamous families. Indeed, there are many statements to exactly the opposite effect, including statements made on the national stage during the Reed Smoot hearings.
Given all the circumstances, however, who am I to cast blame on those who took seriously Pres. Woodruff’s under-oath statements that the Manifesto did in fact apply to existing polygamous relationships. A messy situation indeed.
Finally, let me say that I agree with Kaimi entirely here that these “aren’t ‘anti-Mormon’ facts – they’re just facts.” The sooner we come to grips with that fundamental insight the better. I too greatly appreciate Ardis and the historical context provided by her posts. (If she doesn’t win the Niblet for best blogger, there is no justice in the world!)
Comment by Randy B. — 2/9/2007 @ 11:24 am
I enjoyed this discussion of confusion after the Manifesto–studying that history can help us understand the confusion about polygamy today.
“Law enforcement is in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t position: when action is taken, sheriffs and prosecutors are branded as hypocrites because someone invariably uncovers an ancestral tie to a polygamous marriage. Yet when action is not taken, or is not vigorous enough, the same sheriffs and prosecutors are rumored as reluctant to enforce laws against a principle they secretly endorse.”
Besides being branded as hypocrites, prosecution of polygamy can be difficult in UT and AZ because it resonates with people, LDS and non, that most polygamists publicly state how sincerely they believe in what they are doing–and when they are not harming others, people start to think maybe they should be left alone. The few polygamists I saw brought to court in Provo were there on domestic violence charges, and the issue of polygamy wasn’t even mentioned.
I know a counselor in Utah valley who has worked with polygamist wives there. She said many of them start out saying how great things are and how happy their family life is, but as they learn more of the opportunities available to them outside the home, and especially, as they quit having to tend the other wives’ children (frequently, a couple of the wives will tend 20+ children while a couple others work full time, usually doing off-the-books type jobs like door to door selling) the women want more and more to quit living as polygamists.
I wonder if that’s what happened historically with a lot of the wives after the Manifesto–emotionally the principle meant a lot to them, but practically it was easier to live their own lives. A lot of them were already completely financially supporting themselves, and for them, becoming a single mother and not a wife meant not bearing a child alone after their husband’s annual visit and not having to help pay off his debts.
Comment by Day — 2/10/2007 @ 7:15 pm