A Mormon “Widow” in Colorado: The Exile of Emily Wells Grant

As the southbound Denver & Rio Grande train pulled out of the depot at Salt Lake City in November 1889, Emily Wells Grant breathed a sigh of relief, and relaxed. As a plural wife of Elder Heber J. Grant, she was used to dodging United States marshals. Her recent crisis, she admitted, was of her own making. Why had she insisted on attending her father’s seventy-fifth birthday celebration in the Twelfth Ward after five years of secrecy? She had been spotted there, the grand jury had reopened her husband’s cohabitation case, and she had been forced to flee again. The federal government was increasing its pressure on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to end polygamy. Emily was now leaving Utah and entering a year-and-a-half exile in Manassa, Colorado. From there, she would regularly correspond with her husband, her lively letters conveying a rare view of the feelings of the “privileged” plural wives who were allowed to set up separate households. Since such a practice required considerable means, these women comprised the social and economic elite of the practicing polygamists. The story of Emily Grant’s exile illustrates the human side of the Church’s transition from a regional sect that practiced plural marriage to its more expansive and “American” form of today.

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