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Indianna Mary Maybert: More than the Way Her Life Ended

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 05, 2009

The Butte Daily Miner reported in November, 1881: “At five o’clock yesterday afternoon, a young woman in this city died from an overdose of morphine.” Who upon reading that notice could guess the history of the 18-year-old prostitute and suicide who called herself Inez Maybert?

Indianna Mary Maybert – “Ina” in childhood, and “Inez” when she joined the demi-monde – was born in Calcutta, India, to an English military family. Her mother died when Ina was an infant, and Ina was taken in by Emily McMahon, her grandmother. Emily had been a Mormon convert for 11 years when she brought two-year-old Ina to Utah in 1865, where Emily died soon afterward. The orphaned toddler was adopted by Lucy Bigelow Young, a wife of Brigham Young, and raised with Lucy’s daughters, first in Salt Lake City and later in St. George.

Ina didn’t adjust well to the quieter life in southern Utah. She wanted to go back to the city, or perhaps even farther. In February 1879 when she was not quite 16 years old, Ina wrote a letter to her father. The letter was delivered to an uncle in Calcutta, who appealed to a Protestant minister for help. The men wrote to Ina, telling her that her father had gone with the army to Burma and lost touch with his family. They assured her that her extended family would bring her back to India if she wished.

The minister in Calcutta wrote to Thomas C. Iliff, Methodist minister at Salt Lake City, appealing for his help. So, when the Rev. Iliff made his next tour of the territory, he called on Ina, discovering that she had left her home with the Young family and had found employment of some sort in the mining camp at Silver Reef. Ina welcomed the minister, showing him the letter from her uncle and chattering freely about the glamorous life she would have when she returned to India. Without consulting Mrs. Young, Iliff brought Ina back to Salt Lake City to stay with his family.

Ina was pleased to be back in the city, and enjoyed the small notoriety she gained in the Gentile community as having been “rescued from the Mormons.” But in the spring of 1880 when Mrs. Iliff went East for an extended visit, the family decided Ina should not stay in the house alone with the minister. Iliff recommended that Ina stay with her foster sister, Dora Young, but apparently he took no responsibility for assuring that Ina was safely housed.

On July 5, when one faction of Utah’s fractured social community sponsored a parade through downtown streets in honor of Independence Day, “sandwiched in between the carriages of Federal officials and some prominent citizens of Salt Lake, was an open barouche, containing several notorious members of the demi-monde, in broad display.” Riding with the “public women” was 17-year-old Ina – newly christened “Inez” – who had found a home for herself in one of the city’s brothels.

Then followed several months with Ina as the subject of a war of words: the Gentile press blamed Ina’s downfall on her upbringing in a polygamous household; the Mormon press blamed the interference of Protestant ministers. Except for the Youngs, who urged Ina to return to her foster family and home, nobody seems to have remembered that Ina was still just a young girl in need of help. To everyone else, she was a political symbol, a club to be wielded by each side against the other.

Her family in India never did send the means for Ina to rejoin them. Sometime late in 1880 or early in 1881, Ina left Salt Lake City for the mining community of Butte, Montana. In November, unable or unwilling either to go home or to go on as she had started, Ina took her life.

Everyone deserves to be remembered for who she was, not only for the way she died.

This is a retelling of the story I first told on blog as Tracing Emily, rewritten for the Salt Lake Tribune and published there on 4 October 2009.



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