Ned also records the risks faced by children in that time and place: “Edwin King[’s] smallest boy accidentally fell in my well yesterday, & had a narrow escape at drowning. Bro. Hammond fished him out.” “I was wakened this morning by Bishop King, who told me that Bill Ney’s little child had died, & that he wanted me to make the coffin. I did not like to make it, not being very well. I went to work however, & had it made & painted by ten O’clock.” “I [made] a coffin for Culbert[’s] little girl & one for Dan Sedwick[’s] baby who died this morning.”
Ned’s softer feelings for his neighbors’ children extended to their farm animals. Agricultural practices at Kingston were perhaps not the most enlightened, even for their day, as shown by reactions to Ned’s chicken coop: “I built also a chicken house 5-1/2 x 6-1/2 with s[h]ingle roof and window. [T]he people laugh at the window. But I don’t care[;] I believe in chickens having a comfortable[,] lighted & clean room to live in.” Also, “They keep on the old way of sending their cattle on the hills to starve all the winter and keep only such as they absolutely need home, and even these are so poorly fed that they are a pity to look at in the early spring, especially the calves, which mostly look like walking skeletons, having nothing but the skin and bones and great staring eyes that tell of the suffering they have passed through. A good many of the cattle die year by year and they ascribe all to bad luck instead of to the real cause.”
The Kingston community was functioning during the period when federal harassment of polygamists was beginning to pick up steam. Ned notes the arrest of Order members, and reports that when the bishop returned from his time in the penitentiary, the entire community went down the road to greet him and held a celebration. True to his cantankerous nature, though, Ned considered the periodic federal raids in terms of the inconvenience they caused him personally: “Word was sent to the Polygamist[s] of our District of country that an Irish man … stirred the judicial jackasses of Beaver into sending some one to arrest the brethren, wich makes Wm. King to go hide himself. Henry had to watch out & hide himself several times, so he could not help me steady.”
Surrounded as he was by examples of marriage, Ned himself never married. This was not for lack of interest in either sex or women, however. He wrote once: “I was lazy this morning. I lay awake early dreaming lasciviously, … Then at 30 minutes past seven I got up [and] washed myself. … I said my prayer altho I hardly felt like it, on account of my lasciviousness, of wich I am ashamed.”
Such explicit daydreams may have violated the moral code, but apparently a certain amount of physical friskiness was acceptable. “In the afternoon had the visit of Maria Syrrett & Celestial Knight. The Latter wanted to borrow some New York Ledgers wich I lent her. [P]layed a little a hugging & kissing them.” A few months later, while calling at a neighbor’s house, he “found [the] McCullough … & Culbert girls there[;] joked with them & went on to the river …. On my way back… I joked with the girls again. Ellen Mar McCullough kissed me, but would not let me kiss her again. [T]he girls ran in the bedroom & closed the door against me. I went out, the girls came after me t[h]rowing sticks & rocks at me. I made a show to run at them & they ran off .”
Social contact between the sexes in the form of dancing was a favorite United Order activity. Strict rules were set for the hours of dancing and the behavior of those who attended. At one such dance Ned was put in charge of enforcing the rules: “The boys had a dance last night, on the occasion of young Johnny Wilcox leaving for a trip to Colorado. Poor fellow, he don’t know enough to stay at home with his parents. … In the beginning of the dance a fellow came in with his pipe lighted. I told him that it would not do to smoke here; he did not seem to be willing to understand, so I repeated my words in a higher tone. So he had sense enough to quit. I let them dance till half past twelve o’clock; they wanted to dance longer, but I protested, & reminded them that the agreement was that they were to quit at twelve o’clock. So they were shamed and left..”
Community parties for the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day were also favorite activities. Ned never attended such gatherings, and indeed seemed to be his bluest at those times because he did not fit in. He did, however, frequently help prepare for the parties he did not attend: While he was working on some improvements at the school, for instance, “the girls came in to wash & clean the school house for the twenty fourth. … I took all the windows out for the girls to wash & put them all back again. I carried water for them to wash the floor. I also made a pair of swinging poles.”
The United Order was not a notable success. Ned reported early on that “A few useless members have had the kindness to take themselves off from the United Order, so the balance will run all the better.” It did not run much better, members continued to leave, and the community was eventually dissolved — although it took Ned several years to settle accounts and collect what was due him.
So why would someone like Ned, so temperamentally unsuited to communal life, even make the attempt? Because, he wrote, “in my youth, in the old country, it was given to me, in answer to my prayer, that the gospel as preached by Joseph Smith and the Latter day Saints was true and from heaven[;] so also, when Prest. Brigham Young preached the principles of the United Order, it was given unto my understanding that it emanated from heaven for the benefit of the Latter-day Saints.”
I have chosen the stories for this paper largely because they were amusing or revealed ordinary human nature in a topic that is often approached with stuffiness. We should not forget, though, that such human behavior is only one part of the story. Whether or not they were able to live out their lofty intentions, members of the Kingston community entered the United Order as a matter of religious conviction, with the faith that caused them to cross a continent – or, in Ned’s case, two continents and an ocean. They believed that such a life was pleasing to God and conducive to human progress.
As for Ned, he remained in Kingston until his death in 1904. His diary ends in the late winter of 1892, at a time when his finances were unusually low. “As this end[s] the volume of my memoirs … I must close until I am able by the Providence of the Lord to buy me a new blank book & so till then, Adieu.”
If Ned was able to buy a new blank book, it has become separated from this part of his diary and has not been discovered. Ned died in 1904. A trove of his letters to family members, recording his thoughts on working as a carpenter on the St. George Temple, on being a member of three United Order communities, and on his intense but thwarted desire to obtain his genealogy for temple work, was discovered five years ago; that will be the subject of a later post.
3 Comments »
Fascinating. Thank you!
Comment by Julie M. Smith — 11/26/2006 @ 5:32 pm | Edit This
Awesome! What a wonderful story! Thanks so much for this! =)
Comment by Tatiana — 11/26/2006 @ 6:58 pm | Edit This
You continue to give Wilfried a run for his money both for the quality of the stories you tell and for your writing. Thanks.
Comment by Jim F. — 11/27/2006 @ 2:21 pm | Edit This
This was published at another blog on 26 November 2006.