Striving to Live the Principle in Utah’s First Temple City

A Snapshot of Polygamy in St. George, Utah, in June 1880



Just as the Galapagos Islands became a laboratory to study natural selection, so St. George has become a prime laboratory for scholars seeking to understand nineteenth-century Mormon polygyny. For almost thirty years, since Larry Logue showed that the percentage of those in St. George practicing plural marriages was high and Ben Bennion showed that St. George’s high percentage was unusual, researchers have been grappling with the questions of why plural marriage was so prevalent in St. George and what those high percentages tell us about the practice of plural marriage in Utah generally.1 Moreover, Davis Bitton and Val Lambson’s article in this issue posits that the prevalence of polygyny in St. George was above sustainable levels. As Utah’s first temple city, St. George was indeed unusual, although its high prevalence of polygyny is, at least in part, explained by in-migration of polygamous wives.

The demographic work to understand the lives of those families in plural marriage is labor intensive, and this article will provide only a snapshot of polygamy in June 1880, when Daniel Handley McAllister visited the houses of St. George, Middleton, and Price City to take the federal census. Note that this study will include all three municipalities, although they will be referred to collectively as St. George. Whether McAllister visited every household or enumerated every person in town seems doubtful because some family members who should be in St. George are missing and are enumerated nowhere else in the 1880 census. Despite its imperfections, the 1880 federal census provides the foundation for this study, particularly in conjunction with the list of polygamists who lived in St. George or who had a husband or wife who did so, as identified by Ben Bennion and me (see appendix A). I have added information about these families using such sources as family and Church records found in New FamilySearch, the Mormon Migration Index, and the Mormon Overland Pioneer Trail Index. The figures provided may differ slightly from Bennion’s 1984 article on the prevalence of polygyny because his continued research has produced a more accurate list of those living in plural marriage.2 It also differs from Logue’s work because his is a longitudinal study rather than the snapshot given here, and he counted polygamous husbands as present in St. George in 1880 if one or more of their wives resided in St. George, even though the husband was enumerated only elsewhere in the 1880 census.3

Polygamous men, women, and their families accounted for 41.4 percent of St. George’s population in 1880.4 High as that figure appears, it is less than the percentage in 1870, which, as Bennion’s work in this issue shows, is 44.3 percent. Bennion’s previous extensive study of polygyny in 1870 shows that no other town with a population of over five hundred had as large a percentage living in polygamous families as St. George.5 The polygamous population in 1880 was a mere 3 percent lower than it was a decade earlier, although overall the town had grown by 27 percent. But that 1880 percentage is considerably higher than the proportion of the polygamous population in Manti, Utah, where only one-fourth lived in plural families, down from its high of 43.1 percent in 1860.6

Nevertheless, because women in the 1870s married on average three to four years later than they did during the late 1850s, the percentage of never-married women over the age of sixteen was about eight times higher in 1880 St. George than in 1860 Manti. During the Mormon Reformation, the intense religious revival in 1856–57, the number of new plural marriages was so large that Brigham Young wrote to President James Snow of Provo, cautioning him that he should discourage such aggressive promotion of plural marriages.7 Young probably could have saved his ink, because it is likely that by March 1857, when he penned his letter, most women of marriageable age were already married. “Nearly all are trying to get wives,” Wilford Woodruff wrote a month later, “until there is hardly a girl 14 years old in Utah, but what is married, or just going to be.”8 In that heated atmosphere, Latter-day Saints were surprisingly obedient to the counsel to marry, and in 1860 Manti, only 1.6 percent of women over the age of 16 had never been to the altar.9 Mormons, however, proved that their initial good intentions exceeded their ability to endure to the end. In the two years after the Mormon Reformation, the number of requests Brigham Young received for cancellations of sealings rose to its highest point during his presidency.10

Given this not entirely satisfactory experience, never again would the Saints quite so vigorously promote plural marriage. Even St. George in 1880, where the prevalence of polygyny was high, 48 women between ages 16 and 27 were single, considerably more than single marriageable females in the wake of the Mormon Reformation in Manti. But these 48 women were fewer than the 58 single men between ages 20 and 30 enumerated in the census. This disparity between numbers of men and women suggests that St. George had reached an unsustainable level of polygyny prevalence, had there been no in-migration and no marriages contracted with those residing elsewhere. But, of course, there were both. And the totals of all those who were single and of marriageable age are more nearly equal: there were 75 single women age 17 and older compared to 84 single men 20 and older. (These ages represent the lower limit of those included because the youngest wife on the census was 17, while the youngest husband was 20.)

To be sure, men were at a disadvantage in this marriage market, but not so much as women would have been without plural marriage. There were 1.24 women for every man 20 years or older; that is, for every 5 women there were 4 men. Plural marriage may have put men at a disadvantage in the marriage market, but it did ensure that women who wanted to marry could do so, even in the face of a sex ratio significantly skewed against them.11

But, of course, St. George was far from being an isolated marriage market. In fact, among the seventy plural families in St. George, over one-third had husbands or at least one wife who lived outside the town.12 Most polygamous spouses residing outside St. George lived elsewhere in southern Utah, but A. F. McDonald lived with one wife in Mesa, Arizona, where he served as bishop, while two of his wives remained in St. George; John D. T. McAllister (fig. 1), Josiah Hardy, and Benjamin Pendleton each had a wife who preferred to live in Salt Lake, while William Croff’s first wife chose to live in Logan with her married daughter.

Moreover, the majority of couples entered plural marriage before they became residents of St. George: 91 percent of first wives married their husbands before moving to St. George, 56 percent of first wives were not residents of St. George when their husbands took a second wife, and about two-thirds of plural wives lived elsewhere when they entered plural marriage. (The term plural wives refers to second and later wives, and the term polygamous refers to first and plural wives collectively.) To be sure, the numbers of those marrying when they were nonresidents of St. George partly reflect the relatively late date of St. George’s establishment in 1861. Slightly more than 40 percent of polygamous husbands and wives living in St. George in 1880 had already married before the town was even established. In fact, one-fifth (21.8 percent) of plural wives had entered plural marriages from 1855 to 1857, during the famine and the Mormon Reformation. To a considerable degree, then, St. George reflected marriage patterns established elsewhere in Utah.

Nevertheless, St. George developed its own variations on the Utah marriage theme. In my study of Manti, I found that women who married into plural marriage (that is, as second or later wives) were not drawn at random from Mormon females but came predominantly from three potentially overlapping groups: (1) women, either divorced or widowed, who had been previously married, (2) women whose fathers were dead or who were not in Utah at the time of the daughter’s marriage, and (3) other women, the majority of whose fathers practiced plural marriage. The family backgrounds of plural wives in St. George were similar but in different proportions (see fig. 2). Among the most prominent differences are that in Manti women who had been previously married made up a greater proportion of plural wives than in St. George (30 percent compared to 17 percent), while in St. George a slightly larger percentage of plural wives came from plural families (17 percent in Manti compared to 27 percent in St. George). The prominence of daughters from polygamous families is greater when considering only those plural wives who resided in St. George when they married (39 percent). Women residing in St. George when they wed were marrying from 1861 to 1880 and hence, on average, at a later date than women in the first two columns of figure 2, whose marriages took place over a considerably longer period, from Nauvoo in the 1840s to 1880 in the case of St. George wives (column 2) and to 1890 for Manti women (column 1). Those women marrying in the 1850s and early 1860s were doing so during the period of heaviest immigration into Utah, some of whom immigrated without their fathers or whose fathers died during the rigorous journey to Zion, and they were subjected to all the rigors of frontier living. The larger proportion of polygamists’ daughters entering plural marriage after the settlement of St. George in 1861 suggests that polygamous relationships were to some degree replicating themselves in the second generation.

Figure 2: Family Background of Plural Wives,
Comparing Manti with St. George

1840s to 1890
All SG plural wives,
1840s to 1880
SG plural wives residing in SG when married
1861 to 1880
SG Plural wives married from 1877 to 1880
Previously married 30.0% 16.7% 17.9% 36.4%
Father dead/not in Utah 37.2% 44.9% 25.0% 9.1%
Father in plural marriage 16.9% 26.9% 39.3% 45.5%
Mother dead 4.3% 3.9% 3.6% 4.6%
Parents monogamous 11.6% 7.7% 14.3% 4.6%

But so were monogamous relationships. Monogamous parents raised monogamous daughters. Although monogamy was still the prevalent marriage form in Utah and in St. George, daughters from such marriages in general avoided entering plural marriage, as shown by the small proportion—less than 15 percent—they constituted of plural wives (figure 2). In this context, we can understand Martha Cragun Cox, when she wrote about her family’s reaction to her choice to become a plural wife: “My decision to marry into a plural family tried my family, all of them. . . . When the final decision was made known to my family that I could not recede from my purpose, the storm broke upon my head.”13 Whatever the Church doctrine and official policy, there remained a view popular among some Mormons, particularly monogamous ones, that shunned plurality for themselves and their own families, even if they might condone it for others.

One of Martha’s erstwhile admiring friends articulated this attitude clearly: “‘It is all very well for those girls who cannot very well get good young men for husbands to take married men, but she [Martha] had no need to lower herself, for there were young men she could have gotten.’ She and other friends ‘cold-shouldered’ me and made uncomplimentary remarks.”14 An unofficial but apparently widespread attitude existed in Mormondom that made allowances for women who needed breadwinners in a pioneer economy—women whose fathers were not in Utah or who no longer had husbands—but held that plural marriage demeaned women whose economic circumstances permitted them the time to wait for the right bachelor to propose. Although monogamous families were in the majority, the small proportion of daughters from monogamous homes who entered plural marriages, as shown in figure 2, suggests the extent of such views was considerable.

Bennion’s article in this issue shows that St. George was not that different from the remainder of “Dixie” in its high levels of polygamous families, but it was unique as a large town with such a high percentage of its population living in plural households.15 It was also unique in becoming Utah’s first temple city. That is well known, of course, but unknown is the impact that fact had upon its polygamous population. Over one-quarter of St. George women listed in the 1880 census who married an already-married man were wed after sealings began to be performed in the St. George Temple in 1877.16 That is, 28.2 percent of plural wives enumerated in the 1880 census had entered plural marriage in the three and a half years immediately preceding that census. Moreover, of polygamous husbands who lived in St. George in 1880, 37.9 percent married plural wives in those three and a half years. But these were not just polygamists taking additional wives: 20.6 percent of polygamous husbands whom the census taker visited in June 1880 had acquired that status for the first time after sealings began to be performed in the temple in January 1877. That is, one-fifth of polygamists had recently attained that status. If we add the men who by 1877 were no longer polygamists, through the death or divorce of a spouse, but then married a second wife between that date and the arrival of the census taker, the figure rises to 29 percent of polygamists in the 1880 census who had recently entered plural marriage.

Of course, these new plural marriages had a significant impact on the number of people living in plural families when D. H. McAllister knocked on their doors to list them on the census forms. In other words, without those new plural marriages contracted after the opening of the St. George Temple, McAllister would have found only 492 individuals in plural families rather than the 600 he enumerated. That is, the population living in plural families would have been 7.4 percent less than it actually was, bringing the percentage down from the unusually high 41.4 percent to 34.0 percent, still high but not as dramatically so. To be sure, even without the completion of the temple, some plural marriages would have been contracted after 1876 (between 1871 and 1876, new plural marriages among St. George residents averaged one per year), so that if previous patterns had prevailed, the percentage of St. George residents living in plural families would probably have been about 35 or 36 percent. The percentage would vary considerably depending on the number of children the first wife had borne and still had living in her household, whether the plural wife brought stepchildren into the home, and how many babies she had borne in her short marriage. But whatever the percentage would have been, the figures clearly indicate that the relationship between the temple and prevalence of polygyny was direct and significant.

As figure 2 indicates, of those entering plural marriage from 1877 through 1880, many fewer plural wives lacked fathers alive in Utah, one indication that in St. George the harshest rigors of immigration and colonization were past (9.1 percent of plural wives marrying from 1877 to 1880 compared to 44.9 percent for all St. George plural wives). On the other hand, in this same group the number of daughters from polygamous families increased; almost one-half of plural wives marrying after the temple dedication came from such homes. The small percentages of wives from monogamous homes marrying after the temple dedication compared to those from plural households underscores the importance of the polygamous culture within families in perpetuating plural marriage after the exigencies of the frontier period had passed.

The number of new plural marriages after the temple dedication not only increased the overall percentage of those who resided in plural families, but it also, of course, increased the percentage of polygamous husbands and wives. Of the married men in 1880 St. George who were enumerated in the census, 28.2 percent were currently living in plural marriage. This percentage does not include men whose wives had died or divorced them by the time the census was taken, so that they were monogamists when McAllister appeared on their doorsteps.17 This latter group included men such as John Horne Miles, whose famous divorce from his wife Carrie Owen led to a case that was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.18 Not surprisingly, an even higher percentage of St. George married women than of men were polygamous at this moment in time: 45.6 percent of married women were polygamous, the same percentage Manti reached only at its peak in 1860.19

The percentage of husbands and wives in plural marriage would have been somewhat lower had only one new plural marriage a year taken place, as was the case among St. George residents from 1871 to 1876. Under the conditions prevailing in St. George before the temple dedication, 21.8 percent, rather than the actual 28.2 percent, of married men would have been polygamists in 1880. For wives, the comparable figures would have been 39.5 percent instead of 45.6 percent. Nevertheless, both the actual and the hypothetical percentages of husbands and wives are high. In light of the theoretical limits on sustainable prevalence set forth by Bitton and Lambson, both the hypothetical and the actual percentages were too high to be perpetuated. Larry Logue’s study indicates that the average interval between the mean age at first marriage for males and females in St. George was four years. At an annual growth rate of 3 percent and an interval of five years between husbands and wives at first marriage, the upper bound on polygyny prevalence, according to Bitton and Lambson, is 16 percent of husbands and 28 percent of wives in plural marriages (see figure 3). The percentages in plural marriage correspond better to an average interval of ten years between husbands and wives; yet the average interval prevailing in St. George from 1861 to 1880 was less than half that, evidence clearly buttressing Bitton and Lambson’s argument about polygyny’s unsustainability at the level observed in 1880 St. George.

Figure 3: Percentage of 1880 St. George Husbands and Wives
Compared to Theoretical Upper Limits of Polygyny Prevalence20

Husbands Wives
1880 Actual 28.2 45.6
1880 Hypothetical (if the dedication of the temple in 1877 had not increased the rates) 21.8 39.5
Upper bound at 5-year marriage age interval 16 28
Upper bound at 10-year marriage age interval 34 51

The contrast with the experience in Manti is instructive. The percentages of husbands and wives in plural marriage in 1860 were at approximately the same level as those in St. George in 1880. In Manti, 28.7 percent of husbands and 49.7 percent of wives were living in plural marriage. The marriage age interval between husbands and wives marrying for the first time in the decade before the 1860 census varied between six and eight years. During the Mormon Reformation, when so many marriages took place, however, the age interval was at its greatest, at about eight years.21 These percentages of polygamous husbands and wives are at the upper bound calculated by Bitton and Lambson, assuming an age interval of ten years. With only 1.6 percent of women sixteen years or older who had never been married in 1860 Manti, it is clear that the prevalence of polygyny was too high to be sustainable. And, in fact, twenty years later the percentages had declined. In the twenty years before 1880, the average age interval between husbands and wives at first marriage varied from four to six years, and the percentages of husbands and wives in plural marriage (15.7 percent and 26.7 percent, respectively) were at the high end but still within the upper bound of sustainable polygyny when the age interval was five years with a 3 percent annual growth rate (see figure 4). Unlike St. George, in Manti the prevalence of plural marriage had declined from the demographically unsustainable level in 1860 to a high but sustainable level in 1880.

Figure 4: Percentage of 1860 and 1880 Manti Husbands and Wives
Compared to Theoretical Upper Limits of Polygyny Prevalence22

Husbands Wives
1860 28.7 49.7
Upper bound at 10-year marriage age interval 34 51
1880 15.7 26.7
Upper bound at 5-year marriage age interval 16 28

Given that the prevalence of plural marriage in St. George exceeded the theoretical upper limits in a marriage market with an average four-year age interval between husbands and wives at first marriage, in-migration was clearly crucial. The majority of both first and plural wives were residing outside St. George when they entered plural marriage, as noted previously. The importance of in-migration may be further illustrated by the twenty-two plural wives who married after the dedication of the temple. Only one-half resided in St. George when they married, two others lived close by in Washington County, six lived elsewhere in Utah, and three emigrated from Europe within a year of being married. Of the eleven who resided in St. George, nine were single, never-married women. Those nine women becoming plural wives put no undue demographic strain on the ratio between men and women at prime marriage ages. As Bitton and Lambson explained, at a 3 percent growth rate, the cohort of women was larger than the cohort of men five years older.23 In St. George, the mean marriage age for men was 23.4 years, while for women it was 19.4.24 Comparing the relevant age cohorts in 1880 shows that 75 women were ages 15–19 and 68 men were 20–24. The next age cohorts were less equal, with 79 women ages 20–24 and 49 men ages 25–29. For the age cohorts at prime marriage age, there were 154 women and 117 men, and single women also outnumbered single men, with 46 single men ages 20–29 and 70 single women ages 15–24 (see figure 5). That is, even with the high prevalence of polygyny in the town, single men near the mean age of marriage would not be at a demographic disadvantage in the marriage market in the next few years, even without marrying wives from outside the town, as of course some did.

Despite the unusual upsurge in new plural marriages after the dedication of the temple, the continued high levels of polygyny in the town was to a large extent the result of in-migration of polygamous families and plural wives rather than unusual demographic patterns. To be sure, the high fertility rate created a demographic structure that could accommodate some plural marriages, as explained by Bitton and Lambson. The 1880 St. George population pyramid is bottom-heavy because of the large number of children: 44.4 percent of the population was fourteen years or younger.

In addition to a demographic structure and marital patterns that could accommodate some level of polygyny, a polygamous culture was embedded in St. George polygamous families. The relationship between the heightened religiosity in the wake of the St. George Temple’s dedication and the Mormon Reformation goes beyond their both having a significant impact on fostering new plural marriages. Although the plural marriages of St. George residents had been solemnized throughout the period from 1844 to 1880, almost one-half (46 percent) were solemnized during six crucial years: the two and a half years surrounding the Mormon Reformation, a period of heavy immigration, and the three and a half years between the completion of the St. George Temple and the census taker’s arrival in June 1880. Those couples who had entered plural marriage during the Mormon Reformation had a considerable number of daughters of marriageable age in the late 1870s. Not all of these became plural wives, of course, but almost half of those marrying between 1877 and 1880 were daughters of polygamous parents. St. George polygamists such as Stephen Wells, William Empey, and Joseph E. Johnson, who married plural wives during the Mormon Reformation, had daughters who in turn became plural wives in the wake of the St. George Temple’s dedication. Plural marriages in the 1850s produced both the large numbers of children and the culture that perpetuated a second generation living the Principle.

But explaining the high prevalence of polygyny must also include understanding how St. George acted as a magnet for polygamous families. Bitton and Lambson have aptly pointed to the idea that committed Latter-day Saints answering church calls to hardscrabble Dixie were also more likely than others to enter plural marriage. In 1880, George Q. Cannon noted their faithfulness, stating that the Saints “in St. George, where the people are all poor, . . . paid more Tithing and more Temple donations in proportion to each soul than any other part of the Territory.”25 Bennion expands and complicates this explanation and also points to the importance of Church leaders’ examples and encouragement to take additional wives.

Beyond these explanations is the importance of St. George as Utah’s first temple city. Clearly the temple, as both the spiritual and economic center of the community throughout the 1870s, held an important place in the lives of St. George residents. The influx of Church capital and the provision of jobs for builders had helped the community to survive the vicissitudes of droughts, floods, and falling grain yields.26 About a third of polygamists living in St. George in 1870 held occupations associated in some way with building the temple, such as stone masons, brick masons, carpenters, or those running saw mills. Such occupations associated with construction were still prevalent in 1880 after the temple had been dedicated, including a plasterer, a painter, and a wood turner. That is, Church employment in building the temple brought to St. George those called to work on the temple and attracted some seeking jobs. In building the temple, the Church improved the local economy, but also upon its completion that sacred structure gave St. George residents easy access to the only holy place where at that time all the ordinances necessary for the living and the dead were performed. Both economic and religious reasons reinforced St. George Saints’ commitment to the Church and its leaders, which in turn strengthened their commitment to plural marriage.

Building the temple demanded sacrifices, not only in enduring the difficult Dixie climate but also in providing the resources to finance construction of the temple. These sacrifices undoubtedly heightened commitment to the purposes for which the temple was built, sacrifice being a mechanism that increases commitment to the cause for which the sacrifice is made.27 That purpose included sealing of marriages, both monogamous and plural.

Moreover, after its dedication, the temple required workers both to perform ordinances and to maintain the temple. And it attracted those who wished to perform ordinances for their deceased ancestors. Committed Saints came from other communities to spend varying lengths of time performing temple ordinances, sometimes spending several months in the town to do so. Plural wives also seem to have found the town and its temple attractive. Twelve of the plural families in St. George in 1880 consisted of wives usually with their children but without their husbands, who lived elsewhere. In addition, widows of two polygamists chose to remain in the town. These fourteen families constituted almost one-fifth of the polygamous families residing in the temple city in 1880.

Beyond the religious significance of the temple as a symbol of commitment was the opportunity that proximity to a temple provided for performing plural marriages. St. George was 350 miles south of the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, where plural marriages were performed. In 1870, the railhead was still 200 miles north of St. George, and by the time of the temple’s dedication it was still over 100 miles away. A journey to Salt Lake City was long, arduous, and expensive. Such challenges were eliminated when the St. George Temple was dedicated and marriage sealings began to be performed.

St. George was unique both in its high prevalence of polygyny for a large town and its becoming Utah’s first temple city, and these anomalous characteristics were related to each other. Bitton and Lambson’s work is significant in providing a context for understanding the high prevalence of polygyny in the town. Given the demographic structure of St. George and the age interval between husbands and wives at first marriage, their formulations make clear that the high level of polygyny observed in 1870 and 1880 was not sustainable over the long term without considerable in-migration. This continuing high prevalence of polygyny contrasts with patterns in most other communities, which evidence, both narrative and statistical, suggests was high in the wake of the Mormon Reformation but declined thereafter.28

On the other hand, as the percentage of husbands and wives in polygamous marriages declined, the numbers increased. In 1882, the Utah Commission reported that about 12,000 polygamists had been disfranchised because of their marital status.29 That figure is about twice the number of Saints who would have been in plural marriages in 1860. The aggregate count of men 20 years and older (the average age of men at first marriage was between 22 and 24) was 8,428, while that for women 15 and over was 10,245 (the mean marriage age for women varied between 16 and 19).30 Taking the highest percentages of men and women involved in polygyny in 1860—22 percent of men in Manti and 50 percent of women in Mill Creek31—6,976 men and women would have been polygamous. That is the maximum number because the calculations include every person in Utah, no matter what religion or what race.32 Assuming a high but not the maximum percentage of participation in polygyny observed in any community—20 percent of men and 40 percent of women—5,784 would have been husbands and wives in polygamous marriages in 1860, less than half the number disfranchised twenty years later. Note that the 12,000 mentioned by the Utah Commission did not include those polygamous families who had moved to other territories by the 1880s. In short, the percentage of husbands and wives living in plural marriages lagged behind the increase in the general population, thus reflecting a declining prevalence in Mormondom, but the absolute number of polygamous husbands and wives continued to increase.

Additional studies will expand, refine, and complicate our understanding of patterns of prevalence of plural marriage in nineteenth-century Mormondom; nevertheless, the overall contours are clear: in the wake of the Mormon Reformation, prevalence of polygyny was high, too high to be perpetuated, and it thereafter declined to demographically sustainable levels, although the absolute numbers of polygamous husbands and wives continued to increase. In his path-breaking study, Stanley S. Ivins a half century ago claimed that plurality was unpopular and that as the proportion of Saints entering plural marriage had demonstrably declined over time, he claimed, “Left to itself, undisturbed by pressure from without, the church would inevitably have given up the practice of polygamy, perhaps even sooner than it did under pressure.”33 More recent studies and the theoretical work of Bitton and Lambson point to a different paradigm: the relative decline in the proportion living in plural marriages was a demographic necessity to bring down the prevalence to sustainable levels, even as the numbers practicing the Principle rose. When Reynolds v. United States was decided in 1879 and the Edmunds Act passed in 1882, two federal government actions paving the way for active prosecution of polygamists, plural marriage was in fact thriving in Utah. Although levels varied throughout Mormondom by 1880, in Manti, a fairly typical town, it remained near the upper limits of sustainability.34

Mormon pioneers are remembered for their sacrifices and tenacity in the face of drought, floods, grasshopper infestations, and the resulting poverty, to name only a few of the difficulties they endured. The minority who practiced plural marriage—at times a large minority—also deserve to be remembered for striving to obey the commandment then current in the Church to live in plural marriage, despite the manifold challenges plurality presented to family life.

Appendix A
St. George Precinct’s Plural Households as of 1880
(* = those in St. George in 1870)

Census # Name Age Family Members Occupation Place of Birth
161/164 ALGER* 60 John Carpenter OH
55 Sarah P. (4 children) KH [keeping house] NY
Jane Ann missing from census
131/134 ANDRUS* 35 James Stock Raiser OH
42 Laura KH MS
38 Manomes (10 ch. total) KH MS
26/28 ANDRUS 66 Milo Farmer NY
47 Mary A. (5 ch.) KH Eng.
(Price City)
ANDRUS 40 Margaret (7 ch.) KH MI
5/5 ASHBY 45 Nathaniel Stock Raiser MA
39 Mary V. KH IN
35 Martha A. (13 ch. total) KH UT
50/52 BAKER 62 George Farmer Eng.
61 Mary A. KH Eng.
58 Mary G. (2 ch.) Music Teacher Eng.
212/216 BARLOW* 49 Mary J. (1 ch.) KH Eng.
219/224 BARLOW* 53 Catherine (3 ch. & 1 grdch.) KH Eng.
Oswald’s widows
238/243 BARNEY* 73 Edson Carpenter NY
75 Lillis KH NY
210/214 BARNEY* 57 Louisa KH OH
10/11 BLAIR* 52 Tarlton Farmer IL
(Price City) 51 Lydia (3 ch., 1 nephew) KH NJ
209/213 BLAIR* 37 Eliza A. (3 ch.) KH IL
41/43 BLAKE* 65 B[enjamin]. F. Cabinet Maker Eng.
50 H. KH Eng.
36 Mary A. (2 ch., 2 stepch.) KH Eng.
197/201 BLEAK* 50 James G. Accountant Eng.
33 Jane T. (7 ch.) KH Eng.
56/59 BLEAK* 48 C. B. (3 ch.) KH Eng.
204/208 BLEAK* 52 Elizabeth (2 ch.) KH Eng.
32/34 BOOTH 21 E. E. (2 ch.) KH UT
103/147 BOOTH 37 James Photographer Eng.
(Frisco, Beaver Co.) 30 Annie E. (2 ch.) KH Eng.
201/205 BRYNER* 45 Casper (+ mother) Farmer Switz.
48 Mathilena KH Switz.
28 Susannah (8 ch. total) KH Switz.
58/61 BURT 48 William Plasterer Scot.
26 Louisa (4 ch.) KH UT
36/43 (Beaver) BURT 48 Margaret (4 ch., 1 grdch.) KH Scot.
11/13 BUTLER 56 William Farmer IN
(Price City) 52 Sarah KH IN
29 Cathrine (1 stepch.) KH Switz.
6/6 CANNON* 42 David H. Farmer Eng.
39 W.L. KH DE
31 Josephine KH DE
21 Rhoda A. (9 ch. total) KH UT
109/112 CARPENTER 59 William H. Broom Maker NY
41 M.S. (3 ch.) KH NY
42 Mary (1 adopted ch.) KH Switz.
1/1 CARTER* 69 William Farmer Eng.
65 Ellen B. KH Eng.
45 Harriet U. KH AL
38 Sophronia (15 ch. total) KH AL
178/181 CLARK* 74 Lorenzo Tanner NY
45 Mary A. (6 ch., 1 grdch.) KH Eng.
165/168 CLARK* 74 Bulah KH VT
239/244 COX* 43 Isaiah Farmer MO
44 Henrietta KH CT
32 Elizabeth KH NE
28 Martha (14 ch. total) School Tchr UT
91/94 CROFF 63 William C. Blacksmith NY
31 Sophia KH Eng.
213/242 (Logan) CROFF 63 Julia A. (with md. daughter) KH OH
232/237 EMPEY* 71 William Farmer Can.
70 Mary A. KH Can.
42 Martha F. (7 ch., 1 grdch.) KH Eng.
130/133 EYRING* 45 Henry Merchant Ger.
49 Mary B. KH Switz.
27 Deseret (6 ch. total) KH UT
28/30 FARNSWORTH 46 M[oses]. F. Accountant IN
46 E. J. KH IL
29/31 BULKLEY 22 L. J. (M.F.’s pl. wf.) KH UT
7/8 GARDNER 60 Robert Farmer Scot.
(Price City) 39 Leonora (5 ch.) KH Eng.
3/3 GARDNER 39 Mary A. (5 ch.) KH Eng.
48/50 GATES* 66 Mary KH VT
156/159 GATES* 49 Emma F. (4 ch.) KH Eng
__/9 (Bellevue) GATES* 69 Jacob Farmer VT
36 Mary (4 ch.) KH Eng.
___/___ HAMMOND 57 Joseph Farmer NY
56 Elizabeth KH IN
141/144 HAMMOND 21 Delta [Kelsey] KH UT
78/81 HARDY* 66 J[osiah]. G. Carpenter MA
42 Ann D. (7 ch.) KH Eng.
81/86 (SLC 12th) HARDY* 65 Sarah KH MA
79/82 HARDY 39 Warren Wood Turner MA
34 Caroline KH Eng.
26 Sarah (6 ch. total) KH PA
JOHNSON 21 M. A. (1 ch.) Boarder IL
(Warren’s wife)
242/247 HEMENWAY 67 L[Luther]. S. Laborer MA
47 Harriet KH Eng.
35 Sarah (9 ch. total) KH Eng.
__/__ (SLC 4th) HEMENWAY 59 Elvira KH NH
191/195 HENDRIX 27 Daniel L. (+ mother) Farmer UT
25 Agnes A. KH Eng.
26 Villeta (4 ch. total) KH UT
235/240 HENDRIX 25 Ed. A. Farmer MO
24 Mary E. (2 ch.) KH NY
10/11 (Price City) HENDRIX 20 Rosillia [Priscilla] KH UT
213/217 HUNT* 51 Isaac Stone Mason Eng.
53 Ann (3 ch.) KH Eng.
213/218 HUNT* 29 Parthenia (5 ch.) KH IA
154/157 IVINS* 64 Israel Doctor NJ
63 Anna L. KH PA
46 Julia H. (4 ch. total) Milliner Eng.
256/261 JARVIS 26 Ellenor KH UT
23 Roseinia (4 ch., 1 niece) KH UT
Wives of Geo. F., missing from census
149/152 JEFFERY 49 Mary A. (1 ch.) Seamstress Eng.
2/2 (Gunlock) JEFFERY* 55 Thomas Farmer Eng.
43 Elizabeth C. (7 ch.) KH Scot.
87/90 JOHNSON* 63 J[oseph]. E. Merchant NY
57 Harriet KH Can.
40 Eliza (total 9 ch.) KH Eng.
84/87 (Wash.) JOHNSON* 51 Hannah (2 ch.) KH PA
90/93 KEATE 66 Susannah (1 adptd ch.) KH Can.
(Silver Reef)
KEATE* 72 James Shoemaker Eng.
81/84 (Wash.) KEATE* 35 Bena (8 ch.) KH Den.
141/144 KELSEY* 67 Easton Miller NY
46 Mary J. (3 ch., 2 grdch.) KH IN
168/171 KELSEY* 46 Jennet M. (1 ch., 1 relative) KH Can.
39/41 LANG* 53 William Farmer Eng.
52 Mary A. KH Eng.
37 Ann (total 4 ch.) KH Eng.
116/119 LUND* 58 Eliza B. (3 ch.) KH Eng.
12/12 (Hebron) LUND* 66 Wilson Farmer Eng.
44 Ellen (7 ch.) KH Den.
69/72 MACFARLANE* 46 J[ohn]. M. Surveyor Scot.
43 A. C. KH Eng.
34 A. E. H. KH Australia
22 E. J. (9 ch. total) KH UT
40/42 MANSFIELD* 69 M[athew]. Farmer Eng.
66 Isabella KH Scot.
50 Johanna (2 ch.) KH Swed.
200/204 MATHIS* 47 John Farmer Switz.
50 Barbara (4 ch.) KH Switz.
Maria S. (missing from census)
53/56 McALLISTER 53 J[ohn]. D. T. Minister DE
52 E. H. KH Nova Scotia
36 C. A. KH PA
24 M. N. (8 ch., 2 grdch.) KH Den.
145/148 McARTHUR* 60 D[aniel]. D. Farmer NY
60 Matilda C. KH NY
38 Elizabeth KH Can.
26 Mary (9 ch. total) KH UT
266/271 McDONALD 49 E. G. KH Scot.
(Middleton) 41 Agnes (3 ch.) KH Scot.
Wives of A. F. McDonald in AZ
___/___ MILLER* 73 Henry W. Farmer NY
42 Fanny (5 ch.) KH Eng.
240/245 MILLER* 69 Elmira KH OH
43/45 MILNE* 47 David Painter Scot.
44 S. Y. KH Scot.
31 C. J. KH Eng.
26 Anna H. (7 ch. total) KH Switz.
143/146 MOODY* 58 John M. Farmer AL
20 Margaret P. (1 ch.) KH UT
228/233 41 Elizabeth (7 ch.) KH Eng.
177/180 NIXON 36 Johannah (8 ch.) KH Den.
(Mohave County, AZ) James Wm. w/ 2 wives (missing from census)
54/57 OXBORROW 63 Joseph Laborer Eng.
27 Mary (5 ch.) KH Eng.
203/207 OXBORROW 63 Jennet KH Eng.
233/238 PACE 48 William TN
234/239 GOULD 35 Marie (2 ch) KH IL
233/244 (Provo) PACE 49 William (counted 2x) Miner TN
49 Epsie (5 ch) KH IL
99/102 PENDLETON* 62 B[enjamin]. F. Blacksmith NY
44 Alice (5 ch.) KH Eng.
234/278 (SLC 9th) PENDLETON 59 Lavina (2 ch.) Seamstress NY
10/10 PERKINS* 83 Decy no occup. VA
10/11 PERKINS* 79 W[illiam] G. no occup. SC
71 Hannah KH Eng.
36/38 ROMNEY* 36 M[iles]. P. Carpenter IL
37 H. H. KH Can.
25 C. J. (11 ch. total) KH UT
3/3 ROMNEY* 22 Anna W. KH UT
196/200 SANDERS 70 Amanda KH TN
70 Mary (2 ch., 5 grdch.) KH MA
Widows of Moses M.
17/19 SLAGOWSKI 50 X[avier]. F. Tailor Poland
61 Mary KH Ger.
35 R. (2 ch.) KH Switz.
118/121 SMITH* 60 Charles Watch Maker Eng.
58 Sarah KH Eng.
45 Eliza (5 ch., 1 grdch.) KH Eng.
107/110 SMITH 63 William House Painter Eng.
71 Jane T. KH Eng.
38 Maria H. KH Eng.
36 Annie E. KH Eng.
31/33 SNOW* 61 Erastus Minister VT
61 A. B. (3 ch.) KH NY
7/7 SNOW* 58 Minerva KH MA
8/8 SNOW* 48 Elizabeth (7 ch.) KH MA
46/48 SNOW* 43 J. J. (6 ch.) KH NY
223/228 TERRY 26 William A. Farmer UT
23 Martha (3 ch.) KH UT
50/52 BAKER 21 M[ary] A. (Wm’s pl. wf.) NJ
170/173 THOMAS* 40 Harriet (3 ch.) KH Eng.
26/26 (Leeds) THOMAS* 63 Elijah Farmer NC
55 Ann KH Eng.
70/73 THOMPSON 42 W[illiam]. H[enry]. Engineer Eng.
29 Emma (6 ch.) KH MO
35/37 THOMPSON 40 A. E. (3 ch.) Midwife Eng.
20/22 WALKER* 47 C[harles]. L. Stone Cutter Eng.
38 Anna KH Nova Scotia
22 Sarah (7 ch.) KH UT
198/202 WELLS* 50 Annie (5 ch.) KH Eng.
30/30 (Leeds) WELLS* 57 Stephen R. (Boarder) Clerks in Store Eng.
24/24 (Leeds) WELLS* 65 Mary A. (w/ 1 md. daughter) House Keeper Eng.
103/106 WHIPPLE* 40 Caroline (6 ch.) KH IL
10/11 (Pine Valley) WHIPPLE* 60 Eli Lumber Mill VT
65 Patience KH NY
13/14 (Pine Valley) WHIPPLE* 22 Mary Jane (2 ch.) KH UT
84/87 WHITEHEAD 38 A[dolphus] R. County Recorder Eng.
35 Mary G. (4 ch.) KH Eng.
WELLS 28 Mary E. (listed as boarder) KH UT
3/3 WOODBURY* 51 Orin N. Farmer MA
48 Anna (7 ch.) KH Eng.
1/1 WOODBURY 52 Orin N. (counted 2x) Farmer MA
(Gunlock Prec.) 36 Frances (5 ch.) KH Eng.
140/143 WOODWARD* 62 George Brick Mason NJ
65 T. D. KH PA
37 Mary A. KH PA
186/189 WOOLLEY 35 Edwin [D. Jr.] Farmer IL
33 Emma (4 ch.) KH MO
8/8 WOOLLEY 24 Flora S[now]. (1 ch.) KH UT
16/18 WORTHEN 54 Sarah (2 ch.) KH Eng.
80/89 WORTHEN* 54 Samuel Brick Mason Eng.
(Panguitch) 42 Maria D. KH PA
39 Jane (total 7 ch.) KH Eng.
5/6 WULFFENSTEIN 47 B. P. Farmer Swed.
(Price City) 49 Olina (2 ch.) KH Nor.
(Logan Prec.) WULFFENSTEIN 56 Betsy KH Swed.

Census Population of St. George Precinct (including nearby tiny Middleton & Price City) in 1880: 1,449.

Number of People in Precinct’s Plural Families: 600 = 41.4% of Census Population (not counting at least 75 plural family members living outside of the St. George Precinct).

About the author(s)

Kathryn M. Daynes (who can be contacted via email at is Associate Professor of History Emerita at Brigham Young University and serves on the Church History Board of BYU Studies Quarterly. Her book More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System received the Best Book of the Year on Mormon History award for 2001 from the Mormon History Association and the Best Book award for 2001 from the Utah State Historical Society. She has published a number of articles and chapters in her specialty and is now engaged in two book projects that continue her study of plural marriage. In 2008–2009 she served as president of the Mormon History Association.

Important contributions were made to this paper by the research assistance of Sheri Peterson and Lyn Rassmussen and by support from the Center for Family History and Genealogy. Particularly significant were previous research by Ben Bennion, which he shared with me, and his and Val Lambson’s comments on this paper.


1. Larry M. Logue, A Sermon in the Desert: Belief and Behavior in Early St. George, Utah (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988); Lowell “Ben” Bennion, “The Incidence of Mormon Polygamy in 1880: ‘Dixie’ versus Davis Stake,” Journal of Mormon History 11 (1984): 27–42.

2. Bennion, “Incidence of Mormon Polygamy,” 27–42.

3. 1880 U.S. Census, Washington County, Utah, population schedule, St. George, enumeration district (ED) 93, pp. 345A–362C, 363A–364C (stamped); digital images,,; citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1339. Logue counted eighty households as polygamous in 1880. Logue, Sermon in the Desert, 49. Ben Bennion’s and my research counted seventy-two households as polygamous families. Two of these families were composed of widows of two deceased polygamists, twelve were families in which the husband was not enumerated in St. George with his wife or wives, and fifty-eight were families with the husband and at least one of his wives resident in St. George as enumerated on the census. Logue’s larger number of polygamous households probably includes some in which the family had been in plural marriage previously but were no longer by 1880. See Bennion, “Incidence of Mormon Polygamy,” 32. My calculations do not count such families as polygamous. Had I counted polygamists as Logue did, my calculations of the number of polygamous husbands in 1880 would have been within a percentage point of his figure of 33 percent. As a snapshot of the population in June 1880, the figures in this study do not indicate the full extent of the practice of plural marriage over time.

4. When a polygamous wife or husband was the household head, all family members were counted as part of the polygamous population. This includes parents, in-laws, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews if they resided in the same household. Servants and boarders enumerated in polygamous households but not related to the family were not counted.

5. Lowell C. Bennion, “Plural Marriage,” in Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History, ed. Brandon Plewe (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2012), 122–25.

6. Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 101.

7. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and David A. Allred, “A Peculiar People: Community and Commitment in Utah Valley,” in Nearly Everything Imaginable: The Everyday Life of Utah’s Mormon Pioneers, ed. Ronald W. Walker and Doris R. Dant (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1999), 97; citing Brigham Young to James Snow, March 5, 1857, Brigham Young Papers, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City; as cited in Paul H. Peterson, “The Mormon Reformation” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1981), 132.

8. Wilford Woodruff to George A. Smith, Church Historian’s Office, Journal History of the Church, April 1, 1857, Church History Library (chronology of typed entries and newspaper clippings, 1830–present), microfilm copy in Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

9. Daynes, More Wives Than One, 108–9.

10. Kathryn M. Daynes, “Breaking the Seal: Analysis of Cancellations of Sealing by Brigham Young,” Mormon History Association Conference, Killington, Vermont, May 26–29, 2005.

11. Men in nineteenth-century Utah were able to find wives by marrying women who were older or considerably younger than themselves. Kathryn M. Daynes, “Single Men in a Polygamous Society: Male Marriage Patterns in Manti, Utah,” Journal of Mormon History 24 (Spring 1998): 89–111.

12. Of the seventy St. George families living in plural marriage, twenty-four (34.2 percent) had at least one spouse living outside the locality as shown by their location in the 1880 census. Another three polygamists had wives who could not be found after extensive searches in the 1880 federal census.

13. Martha Cragun Cox, Face toward Zion: Pioneer Reminiscences and Journal of Martha Cragun Cox (n.p., Francis N. Bunker Family Organization, Isaiah Cox Family Organization, Martha Cragun Branch, 1985), 1:108, 111.

14. Cox, Face toward Zion, 1:108, 111.

16. Although the dedication date for the St. George Temple is officially April 6, 1877, an earlier dedication on January 1, 1877, took place to dedicate that portion of the temple completed at that point. Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Washington Chapter, Under Dixie Sun: A History of Washington County, rev. ed. (St. George: The Chapter, 1978), 342–43. The first plural marriage among St. George residents took place on January 11, 1877.

17. Logue calculated that 32.3 percent of husbands in his study from 1861 to 1880 were polygamists, and in 1880, 33 percent were. Logue, Sermon in the Desert, 49. See note 3 for explanation of the differences between our figures. Moreover, my calculations are for St. George, Middleton, and Price City, so the figures are not exactly comparable.

18. Miles v. United States, 103 U.S. 304.

19. Daynes, More Wives Than One, 100–101.

20. Daynes, “Single Men in a Polygamous Society,” 95, 100.

21. The percentages of husbands and wives in plural marriage compared to all husbands and wives is based on an analysis of the 1880 U.S. census, calculated to include only those actually enumerated in the St. George census. The hypothetical percentages are based on the 1880 census while subtracting the twenty-two new marriages sealed from January 1877 to June 1880 and adding four marriages based on the average marriages per year for St. George polygamists from 1871 to 1876. The upper bound for polygyny prevalence is from Davis Bitton and Val Lambson, “Demographic Limits of Nineteenth-Century Mormon Polygyny,” BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 4 (2012): 11, figure 2.

22. The percentages of husbands and wives in plural marriage compared to all husbands and wives is based on an analysis of the 1860 and 1880 U.S. manuscript censuses for Manti, Utah. 1860 U.S. Census, Sanpete County, Utah, population schedule, Manti, pp. 636–59 (stamped); digital image,,; citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 1314. 1880 U.S. Census, Sanpete County, Utah, population schedule, Manti, enumeration district (ED) 65, pp. 407A–428B (stamped); digital image,,; citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1337. The denominator included all husbands and wives because two families labeled as apostate Mormons continued as plural families. The upper bounds for polygyny prevalence are from Davis Bitton and Val Lambson, “Demographic Limits,” 11, figure 2.

23. Bitton and Lambson, “Demographic Limits,” 9, figures 1a and 1b.

24. Logue, Sermon in the Desert, 56.

25. George Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855–86), 22:128, October 31, 1880.

26. Logue, Sermon in the Desert, 10; Michael Lyle Shamo, “Making the Desert Blossom: Public Works in Washington County, Utah” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2010), 27–56.

27. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), 76.

28. Stanley S. Ivins, “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” Western Humanities Review 10 (Summer 1956): 229–39; Bennion, “The Incidence of Mormon Polygamy in 1880,” 27–42; Bennion, “Plural Marriage,” 122–25; Bennion, “Mapping the Extent of Plural Marriage in St. George, 1861–80,” 32; Daynes, More Wives Than One, 93–119; Marie Cornwall, Camela Courtright, and Laga Van Beek, “How Common the Principle? Women as Plural Wives in 1860,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 (Summer 1993): 139–53; Jan Shipps, Cheryll L. May, and Dean L. May, “Sugar House Ward: A Latter-day Saint Congregation,” in Portraits of Twelve Religious Communities, ed. James P. Wind and James W. Lewis, vol. 1 of American Congregations (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 307; Dean L. May, “People on the Mormon Frontier: Kanab’s Families of 1874,” Journal of Family History 1 (Winter 1976): 172.

29. Utah Commission Report, November 17, 1882, “The Edmunds Act: Reports of the Commission, Rules, Regulations and Decisions, and Population, Registration and Election Tables, &c. For the Information of Registration and Election Officers in Utah,” Internet Archive, 2007, The figure of 12,000 polygamists is plausible. Dividing that number proportionate to the percentage of men who had two, three, four, and five or more wives yielded approximately 3,500 polygamous families in 1882. In 1890, the number of families had declined to 2,451, a reasonable decrease in the number of families, given the prosecutions of the 1880s and those polygamists who moved to Canada and Mexico. The percentages for number of wives per polygamist were calculated by Ivins and my slightly different figures, but both yielded a number close to 3,500. Ivins, “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” 233; Daynes, More Wives Than One, 130.

30. Population of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1864), 574–75.

31. Manti figures come from my extensive study of Manti; Mill Creek figures are from Cornwall and others, “How Common the Principle?” 148.

32. Dean May calculated that non-Mormons accounted for 12 percent of Utah’s population in 1860, so the figures given in the text overestimate the numbers in polygyny that year. Dean May, “A Demographic Portrait of the Mormons, 1830–1980,” in After 150 Years: The Latter-day Sesquicentennial Perspective, ed. Thomas G. Alexander and Jessie L. Embry, Charles Redd Monographs in Western History, no. 13 (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1983), 51.

33. Ivins, “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” 239.

34. For analysis of variations in percentages of the 1880 population living in plural families, see Bennion, “Incidence of Mormon Polygamy in 1880,” 27–42.

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