Thomas L. Kane was an influential general and politician from Pennsylvania. He had helped the Mormons so much at two earlier junctures in their history (first in 1846 and then in 1858) that in 1872 Brigham Young invited him to visit Salt Lake City again, this time via train, with his wife and children. Based on his own experience in Utah’s St. George (capital of “Utah’s Dixie”), Young assured Kane that spending the winter there together would improve each other’s health. Kane accepted the invitation, not just to benefit his ailing body but also to advise his close friend on legal matters and to take notes for a planned biography of him.
Tom never got around to writing such a book, but his wife, Elizabeth Wood Kane (fig. 1), who came to Utah with no manuscript in mind, kept journals and penned letters to family members in Pennsylvania. These materials became the basis for a curious little book “printed for private circulation” in 1874 in Philadelphia with an awkward title: Twelve Mormon Homes Visited in Succession on a Journey through Utah to Arizona.Promoted by Elizabeth’s husband and published by her father, this small volume set forth a lively account of the Kanes’ 330-mile trip from Salt Lake City to St. George during winter 1872–73 (fig. 2). This essay combines her curiosity about plural living with our interest in Mormon architecture and historical geography through an examination of one of the homes included in Twelve Mormons Homes and by trying to better understand the everyday lives of Latter-day Saints participating in plural marriage.
The Kanes Visit Utah
After taking the train from Salt Lake City as far as they could (thirty-five miles to Lehi), the Kane family traveled by carriage in the company of their host and an entourage that included two of Brigham Young’s wives and several close associates (fig. 3). The group stopped overnight in twelve different towns and stayed in thirteen separate homes (two in Fillmore). In all but two instances, the Kanes and their youngest children (both boys, ages eleven and nine) lodged with a polygamous family.These encounters proved fortuitous, for they gave Elizabeth, a thirty-six-year-old mother of four, an unprecedented opportunity to view firsthand the vagaries of Mormon domestic life under what she perceived as the un-American system of plural marriage. Elizabeth, whom Tom called “Bess,” had agreed to accompany her ailing husband only with “great reluctance.” Her hesitation came not because she feared two long rides over rough roads in wintry weather might worsen Tom’s condition; instead, she dreaded the prospect of finding herself “in a sink of corruption, among a set of Pecksniffs and silly women their dupes.”
As with many of her contemporaries, Elizabeth Kane was bothered by Mormon polygamy and concerned about the subservient position in which it seemed to place women. How was such a repulsive marital practice possible in the United States? Were these women victims or willing partners? As a self-styled “anti-polygamist questioner,”Elizabeth initially recorded her impressions of plural living in diaries and letters. The more wives she watched and interviewed, the more inclined she was to portray them with sympathy as they carried out their household tasks under the trying conditions they and their families faced in colonizing the desertlike “Deseret” territory. She never became an apologist for polygamy in spite of her increasing sympathy for the many women trying to live the “Principle.” Elizabeth let her father publish Twelve Mormon Homes only because she hoped it would help the Saints avoid more persecution as the national campaign against polygamy intensified in the early 1870s.
As an amateur ethnographer who realized she was probably “the only ‘Gentile’ woman of respectability who [had] been admitted freely into the [Mormon] homes, and to the society of the women,”Elizabeth Kane produced an account of Mormon life that tantalizes as much as it satisfies. One cannot read it without wanting to know more about the towns, buildings, and people she introduces but never fully embodies. Who were these Mormons? What kinds of houses and towns did they live in? This essay (and the forthcoming book from which it is drawn ) attempts to address these and other questions by placing the families the Kanes visited within the broader framework of community history.
Polygamy in Utah Territory
Two major themes emerge from our research. First in importance is simply the surprising prevalence of polygamy (fig. 4). Elizabeth Kane apparently never asked the challenging question posed by other contemporary outsiders: What proportion of the Mormon population practiced polygamy? But in both Twelve Mormon Homes and in her St. George journal (not published until 1995),she expressed amazement upon learning that someone, supposedly a monogamist, actually lived in “plurality.” Wherever the Kane family went, they found themselves in the company of polygamists—both in the party that accompanied them to St. George and in the homes in which they stopped overnight. Those frequent “plural” encounters might have been a natural, if unintentional, result of Young’s inclination to place the Kanes in the homes of leading Latter-day Saints, presumably those most likely to practice polygamy. But in Utah’s Dixie, where Thomas and Elizabeth mingled for eight weeks with a broad cross section of residents, the Kanes became acquainted with numerous plural families, not just those of the so-called elite.
Seldom did Elizabeth Kane hesitate to ask the women she met questions about Mormonism’s most vexing practice. While polygamy, even for most twenty-first-century Latter-day Saints, remains a mystery half-hidden in the closet of history, we concluded from our own (and others’) research that it was prevalent enough to label Utah polygamous in spite of its monogamous majority. Consider for a moment the impact of polygamy on a given town: married Saints with only one spouse were expected to accept plural marriage as a valid principle and were warned time and again not to oppose its practice openly at the risk of being “cut off” from the Church.Moreover, many members of the monogamous majority who steered clear of “Polly Gamy” (a future plural wife’s pun) were indirectly tied to her through polygamous relatives—their own parents, siblings, children, or in-laws. Plural households were known and accepted as part of the local social topography—the townscape that people walked through as part of their daily routine. These factors made early Mormon settlements undeniably polygamous, a social reality we think historians should acknowledge.
The second theme resulting from our study centers on what we like to call “the ordinary architecture of an extraordinary practice” (fig. 5).As already indicated, most of the houses visited by Elizabeth Kane were residences of plural wives. Although polygamous housing constituted a distinctive aspect of the Mormon cultural landscape, it is also apparent that such architecture, like the practice of polygamy itself, while widespread, was also virtually invisible, lost in its ordinariness. For the few historians interested in the housing of plural families, several well-known but unique examples have stood for the whole corpus of multiwife architecture. Most notable are the large houses built for Brigham Young and his counselor Heber C. Kimball in Salt Lake City, yet nearly all the buildings associated with the practice are less—much less—spectacular; in fact, they are so normal that most have gone unnoticed.
In Mormon settlements, the solution to the problem of accommodating multiple families was found in what the Saints already knew, in the traditional and popular housing of the time. Most plural families adapted their new marital status to houses that from the outside appear to be single-family residences. In this sense, the architecture sustains our general perception that life in the Principle was so commonplace and tacitly accepted by the monogamous majority that it should be viewed not as an exception, but as an ordinary, integral part of the Saints’ social life.
Kane Calendar for December 12–24, 1872
Twelve Mormon Homes Itinerary:
The Kanes’ Journey from Salt Lake City to St. George
12. After their two-week stay in Jesse C. Little’s American Hotel, the Kane-Young caravan took the train thirty-five miles from Salt Lake City via Sandy Station to Lehi, then the terminus of the Utah Southern Railroad. They traveled by carriage about fourteen miles to Provo and spent the night in Brigham and Eliza Burgess Young’s home (not with President Abraham O. Smoot, as editor Everett L. Cooley had assumed).
13. After touring the Provo Woolen Mills, the caravan journeyed eighteen miles to Payson, where the Kanes lodged with William and Agnes Douglass, a monogamous couple (not with Bishop Joseph S. Tanner and his wife).
14. Their first full day of travel (twenty-five miles) brought the Kanes to Nephi, where they stayed with Samuel Pitchforth and his wives Mary and Sarah Ann.
15. The Kanes spent the Sabbath in Nephi with the Pitchforths, giving them a chance to attend their first Latter-day Saint worship service.
16. A thirty-eight-mile journey brought the Kanes to Scipio, where they stayed in the one-room cabin of Bishop Daniel Thompson’s plural wife Lydia. On the return trip, the Kanes lodged in first wife Lorinda’s two-room cabin.
17. From Scipio the caravan traveled about twenty-five miles to the Millard County seat of Fillmore. On the way south, the Kanes stayed with a monogamous couple, Thomas R. and Matilda King. On the return trip, the Kanes lodged with Mary Phelps, third wife of Bishop Thomas Callister.
18. From Fillmore the party journeyed thirty-six miles to Cove Creek Fort, where the entire party spent the night as guests of one of Ira N. Hinckley’s two wives. He and the other wife (a sister of their hostess) had gone to Salt Lake City.
19. From Cove Fort the caravan traveled twenty-five miles to Beaver, where the Kanes lodged in the large home of Bishop John R. Murdock and his three wives.
20. The thirty-five-mile trip to Parowan took the Kanes to the house of Bishop William H. Dame and his three childless wives.
21. This day the caravan traveled about eighteen miles to Cedar City, where nearly blind Bishop Henry Lunt and two of his three wives—Ellen and Mary Ann (not Sarah Ann)—hosted the Kanes.
22. The even shorter distance from Cedar City to Kannarra, fifteen miles, gave three of the Kanes a chance to attend church services with their hosts, Bishop Lorenzo W. Roundy and perhaps one or both of his wives. Mrs. Kane chose not to attend the service.
23. The next day’s journey was equally short (fifteen miles) but terribly rough and steep. The women in the party voted to stop in Bellevue (Pintura), where Jacob Gates’s third wife, Mary Ware, took care of the Kanes. Gates and his other two wives lived in St. George.
24. The last thirty miles of the Kanes’ thirteen-day journey brought them to their winter destination—Erastus Snow’s “Big House” in St. George, where Elizabeth Ashby, the third of his four wives, served as their main hostess.
The Pitchforths of Nephi
The Samuel Pitchforth family lived in Nephi, the Juab County seat in central Utah. This was the town that Elizabeth seemed to favor most. She gave it and her three Nephite hosts (poorly disguised as “Steerforths”) twice as many pages as any other place or family in the book, perhaps because “we stayed longer at their house than at any other on [the] tour.”The Kanes spent three nights there instead of the usual two, stopping for the Sabbath (December 15, 1872) and attending their first Latter-day Saint church service. Here, in this small town at the foot of towering Mount Nebo, we begin our own journey expressly designed to “revisit” Twelve Mormon Homes.
Nephi, as Elizabeth Kane surmised, was smaller than Provo and Payson, with fewer than thirteen hundred inhabitants in 1870. The town, which was informally called Salt Creek after the salty stream running through it, lay along the main road between Salt Lake and Southern California, providing horse-powered travelers with a convenient place to stop, rest, and refit. Nephi also stood strategically at the mouth of Salt Creek Canyon, which led to the colonies emerging eastward in Sanpete County; the city later supplied salt and timber to the Tintic mines to the west. As with most early Mormon towns, Nephi was laid out on the grid plan favored by Church leaders, in this case with four lots to the block (fig. 6). The main occupations of Nephi were farming, milling, and mining, with most families living within the town and commuting to the surrounding fields and mountains that sustained them.
Upon entering Nephi, Young’s party separated into “squads,” each carriage apparently assigned to a different house. The Kanes presumably could have stayed with any of the town’s better-known families—the Biglers, Bryans, Caziers, Footes, McCunes, or Udalls. Instead, Young steered them to the “plain adobe [two-story] house” of Samuel Pitchforth (fig. 7) on Center Street—close to the town’s Social Hall and just a block away from the Tabernacle on Main Street (fig. 8). No family treated the Kanes more cordially than the Pitchforths, who prepared a “bountiful lunch” for them when they left for Scipio, their next town, and gave them two books of poetry (one by Eliza R. Snow) on their return trip. Besides, as Elizabeth Kane noted, Samuel’s two sister-wives, Mary and Sarah Ann, “were the first Mormon women who awakened sympathy in my breast” through their “tender intimacy.”
Samuel Pitchforth became acquainted with polygamy five years before taking a second wife late in 1851 at the rather young age of twenty-five. His mother, Ann Hughlings, grew up in a family of Welsh extraction and married Solomon Pitchforth, a wealthy West Yorkshire businessman. When his wire mill burned down, the couple moved to Douglas on the Isle of Man. There they managed an inn and in 1840 boarded a pair of Mormon missionaries named Joseph Cain and John Taylor, one of the Church’s twelve Apostles. The family heard the missionaries’ message and, in the case of Ann and Samuel, they heeded it. Solomon permitted their baptism, but he opposed his young son’s desire to preach the Mormon gospel in Douglas. Ann responded by leaving Solomon and taking their only son and three younger daughters back to England to live with her father.
Then, with funds provided by Mr. Hughlings, Ann and the four children soon boarded a ship in Liverpool bound for New Orleans. On the same day they set sail, Samuel married Mary Mitchell of Herefordshire. She was the woman whom Elizabeth Kane characterized as “the chief speaker” of the Pitchforth wives, “tall rosy, brown-haired, and blue-eyed.”Upon reaching Nauvoo in March 1845, the Pitchforths were warmly welcomed by the same elders who had converted them. Once settled, Ann gave piano lessons to some of Elder Taylor’s daughters while Samuel became his apprentice in the Church’s Times and Seasons print shop. Early the next year, perhaps not so surprisingly, Ann was sealed as a plural wife to Elder Taylor just before the Saints began their exodus from Nauvoo. Sadly, the slow crossing of muddy Iowa proved too much of an ordeal for Ann, who died near Winter Quarters in late 1846. The next summer, the surviving Pitchforths joined the second company of Saints bound for the Salt Lake Valley, one led by the oft-married Taylor and fellow Apostle Parley P. Pratt.
A few months before moving to the year-old settlement of Nephi in 1852, Samuel and Mary decided to join the growing number of Mormons inclined to try the plural life. Perhaps by then Mary’s apparent inability to bear children also had influenced Samuel’s decision to court Sarah Ann Goldsbrough, a young woman from South Yorkshire whom he married on December 20, 1851, two months after her arrival in Salt Lake City with her brother Henry. Elizabeth Kane viewed this second Mrs. Pitchforth as a quiet and “pale little lady, dark-haired and black-eyed,” and “exceedingly unlike” the first wife, Mary (figs. 9 and 10).
When the Pitchforths arrived in Juab County, they found most of the Nephi residents living within the walls of a fort being built for protection against the local Sanpete Ute Indians.Central Utah was one of the few Great Basin areas with a large indigenous population, and it was here that hostilities, twice breaking out into warfare, were the greatest. No known record of the first Pitchforth house exists, but it was probably a temporary one- or two-room dwelling that resembled those described the previous year by a newspaper reporter. He noted the presence in Nephi of twelve houses: “three were built of adobe, two of willows plastered both inside and outside, one two-story house built of four-inch plank, and the remaining houses of logs.”
By the end of the Black Hawk War in 1869, most of the Utes in the Juab area had been killed or removed to reservations, and Mormon settlements in central Utah—like Nephi—began to blossom. A correspondent informed the Deseret Evening News in January 1874 that “Nephi has been built up and improved surprisingly within the past seven years, a large number of public and private buildings having been erected in that time.” A month earlier, the same paper reported that “Bishop Grover and W[m.] F[T]olley [two of the town’s newcomers] have erected, each, a good and well finished dwelling-house, which serves to incite their neighbors to do likewise, for many such buildings are needed in Nephi.”
This late 1860s and early 1870s building boom probably saw the construction of the Pitchforths’ two-story adobe abode (fig. 11).It was not a grand house by any means, but it was comfortably large and well-fitted, having two rooms and a passage on each of the front levels. It also had a kitchen wing or ell, a one- or two-room wing placed on the back of the house (most often as a part of the original construction rather than a later addition) perpendicular to the main front section. The rear ell generally contained service rooms such as kitchens, pantries, and a servant’s quarters. The range of housing options for polygamous families like the Pitchforths was always rather limited: each wife could have her own house, however small, or else some kind of cohabitation arrangement could be worked out. The ingenuity required in a “cohab” house design depended largely on the number of wives and children who needed accommodation. The more persons in the family, the more traditional design options were stretched. Large numbers called for dormitory or boarding house structures, like Brigham Young’s Lion House or Aaron Johnson’s sprawling compound in Springville. The Pitchforth sister-wives, as Elizabeth Kane observed, were apparently a compatible pair in spite of their different appearances and personalities. For them, a shared domestic space in the form of the common American two-story I-house probably proved to be a satisfactory choice.
One of the most popular houses in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century was two stories high, two rooms wide, with a kitchen ell at the back and often a hallway separating the front rooms. Room use varied with the owners, but usually one of the downstairs front rooms served as a parlor or living room, the other as a parents’ bedroom. Children frequently slept in the upstairs bedrooms. In the rear were the service areas, including a kitchen, dining room, pantry, and bedrooms for servants or boarders. Researchers named these homes I-houses because they were so common in the central Midwest (Indiana, Illinois, Iowa), and the name, while arbitrary, has stuck. Such houses were known in England and began to appear in colonial America in the eighteenth century, but they achieved their greatest popularity in the first half of the nineteenth, being found from Maine to South Carolina and from the Atlantic Coast into the Upland South and Ohio River Valley.Mormon converts knew them from their home districts and built them in both Missouri and Illinois. I-houses could bear any number of decorative exterior treatments. In Nauvoo, for example, they appeared with stepped parapets on the gable ends, an upper Midwest fashion trend in the 1830s and 1840s.
I-houses are notable not only for their numbers but also for their function as status symbols. Geographer Fred Kniffen found that “early in its movement southward the I-house became symbolic of economic attainment by agriculturists and remained so . . . throughout the Upland South and its peripheral extensions.”As carriers of style and prestige, such houses met the needs of Mormons eager to project an image of refinement and respectability to the outside world. They also served to clarify class distinctions within Mormon as well as American society, for these were the houses favored by Church leaders and prominent businessmen. Middle- and lower-class Saints built smaller one- or one-and-a-half-story houses with only one, two, or three rooms. Whenever Brigham Young and other authorities spoke of building good or better homes, I-houses were most likely the kind they had in mind.
A diagram of the thirteen houses the Kanes slept in suggests the degree to which the I-house dominated Mormon domestic architecture, particularly in the postpioneering years (fig. 12). During the 1847–57 decade of Mormon colonization, housing styles were often quite diverse, reflecting the immediate background of the newcomers and the exigencies of first settlement. Elizabeth stayed in several of these first-period houses: the William Douglass house in Payson, “which had grown with his prosperity, for it had been added to three times”;Bishop Daniel Thompson’s two tiny houses in Scipio, the first “a little, one-roomed log-cabin, with a lean-to behind”; the fortified dwelling of Ira Hinckley at Cove Creek; and William Dame’s central-chimney house in Parowan, a reminder of many such homes in his native Massachusetts. These houses reflected the immediacy of frontier life, but they were frequently replaced during the second stage of settlement, when time and resources allowed fuller attention to building larger and more fashionable dwellings. Often, as figure 13 reveals, Mormons relied on an I-type house to convey their sense of style, permanence, and status. Of the thirteen houses in which the Kanes lodged, seven were variants of this popular form. Erastus Snow’s house in St. George was a larger and even more prestigious four-room two-story cousin of the I-house type.
The Pitchforth house, then, is typical of second-period, upper-middle-class houses in Mormon country, both monogamous and polygamous. An important caveat in examining such structures is to beware of the “double doors” prescription. For years almost everyone in Utah has assumed that a polygamous house needed to have two front doors—the double entry denoting two wives inside. This was simply not the case. Double front door houses, whether of the I-house type or smaller dwellings, were found throughout the United States in the nineteenth century. Double doors allowed the inside front rooms to be of equal size and gave the house a bilateral symmetry valued at the time. In Mormon country, to be sure, the two-front-door-home lent itself to cohab living, but there are many examples of houses with two doors and only one wife.
The same caution holds as well for very large structures, such as Brigham Young’s Beehive House and Erastus Snow’s “Big House” in St. George. Despite their association with polygamists, both were single-wife dwellings at the time of the Kanes’ visit.In studying the architecture of polygamy, since exterior evidence remains ambiguous and households were so fluid, with wives often moving in or out, the best rule is to take nothing at face value. It is best to stick to the census and land deed records, which, although imperfect, are still the most reliable sources for knowing who lived where and when.
For the Pitchforths, an I-house was a convenient solution to their housing needs, giving them ample room and a central hallway for privacy (fig. 13). We cannot know for certain how the rooms were used. Elizabeth Kane mentions “a large bedroom on the ground floor” as well as a “cozy dining-room,” a “great kitchen,” and a “breakfast room.”Conventional usage of such houses suggests that one of the front rooms served as the bedroom and the other for dining, while the kitchen was located in the rear ell. What we do know, however, is that the house was full.
The Pitchforths had eight children, and to Elizabeth Kane’s surprise, all except an adopted Native American, renamed Lehi, belonged to plural wife Sarah Ann. The children ranged in age from eighteen to one, with a noticeable gap among the youngest ones. The mother, whose first child died at birth, had four babies during the late 1860s, all of whom passed away within three years. At the time of the 1870 census, Samuel’s youngest sister, Annie, also lived in the house with two sons, ages ten and seven, all three bearing the name Pitchforth. By then, Annie had divorced husband Robert Rollins and reverted to her maiden name. She and her children may have lived in the small rooms just off the kitchen.
Polygamous Households Related to the Pitchforths
Life in a polygamous household could be, as Nephi’s leading official, Jacob G. Bigler, told a gathering of the local women’s Relief Society, “a great trial.” In fact, he admitted, “if many of you were to give way to your feelings, you [would] do as Jobs wife counciled him to do[,] curse God and die.”Certainly he could have cited some examples of conflict, remorse, and divorce from his experience as a stake president and probate judge. But the Pitchforths, Elizabeth Kane discovered, were different; their plural marriage had worked well. For one thing, childless Mary had embraced Sarah and Samuel’s children as if they were her own—“our girls,” she called them. Furthermore, there was common purpose: the women “pointed out to me the comfort, to a simple family, that there was in having two wives to lighten the labors and duties of the household.” And Mary “spoke of the friendship that existed between such sister-wives, as a closer tie than could be maintained between the most intimate friends living in different circumstances.” Elizabeth was stunned. “Can you imagine anything sober—more insane?” she asked. But she became sympathetic toward, and even fond of, these two Pitchforth women who had found much more than a silver lining in the cloud of plurality.
The practice of plural marriage spread in spite of its challenges, at least among the Pitchforths. A year before Samuel’s death in 1877, two of his daughters married the same man on the same day, apparently convinced, after growing up in a happy home, that polygamy, as their father believed, was the preferred form of matrimony. They were Sarah Ann’s two oldest girls, Mary Amelia and Sarah Alice, each named for one of their “joint mothers.” The girls’ husband, William Robert May, was a rancher (and onetime public notary) who, at age thirty-three, was more than ten years older than they when the trio married. His literal sister-wives seemed as inseparable as Samuel’s widows, still living in the same house with Mr. May as late as 1900.
What would Elizabeth Kane have thought had she met Samuel’s two oldest sisters and learned that they, too, had embraced polygamy, albeit as first wives? Writing about an unhappy marriage of his sister Mercy, Samuel opined, “I believe the Lord is letting her see some Trouble [from her husband] to show her that if a Woman marries a man that has no wife that she can have Trouble and sorrow[,] for her spirit must be humbled till she seeks to find life eternal for she has not felt well to the celestial Law of marrige.”On December 7, 1861, Mercy married Richard Jenkins, but not until 1870 did he take a second wife, a decision that may have pleased Samuel more than Mercy, although as late as 1880 the two Jenkins women lived next door to one another, each with six children.
Samuel’s second sister, Sarah Barbara, married a jovial German-born brick mason and farmer named John Kienke (figs. 14 and 15) as early as 1854.They waited even longer than the Jenkins before entering polygamy by adding British-born Elizabeth Harvey to the family. The two wives initially lived in town as near neighbors, two blocks north of the Pitchforths. But by 1878, when John left for a two-year mission to German-speaking Europe, Elizabeth alone had moved to the family farm four miles north of Nephi. Six years after his mission, John became bishop of Mona, a small settlement a few miles north of his farm. U.S. deputy marshals arrested him for unlawful cohabitation in 1888, but he was never brought to trial, perhaps thanks to the leniency of newly appointed U.S. Judge John W. Judd in Provo.
Henry Goldsbrough became even more entangled in the “Slough of Polygamy”than his brother-in-law Samuel. As with Mary Pitchforth, Amelia Hallam, Henry’s first wife, had no children. Henry took a second wife in December 1851 on the same day that his sister Sarah married Samuel and almost a year before the Church publicly acknowledged its practice of plurality. After attending the Church’s April 1857 general conference in Salt Lake City, the two brothers-in-law had their wives sealed to them at the same time in the Salt Lake Endowment House. Brother Pitchforth then bade goodbye to “Bro Goldsbrough and his wives. . . . He has 3 having got [another] one lately.” In 1858, Henry added a fourth wife, Ellen Jackson, to his family. By the time of the 1870 census, three of his four spouses occupied adjoining houses with ten children (and two servants). A decade later, the second wife, Susannah Spencer, no longer lived with the family, having apparently opted for a divorce after bearing Henry ten children.
By 1865, the Goldsbroughs had moved from Davis County to join their Pitchforth and Kienke relatives in Juab County, whom they soon outnumbered. As Samuel said of Henry at an earlier date, “Bro G. is increaseing in Cattle and Sheep and children.”The 1870 census listed both men as farmers, but Goldsbrough’s property was appraised at more than twice the value of Pitchforth’s (and ten times that of Kienke’s). Henry acquired a house on Main Street that he gradually expanded into an inn (fig. 16) and a livery stable to supplement his farm income. In the 1880 census he appears as a “hotel keeper” and in the 1900 census as a “livery stable proprietor.” By the latter date he lived alone; his five wives had either divorced him or died, and all of their children had left home.
Gentile visitors to Utah, like Elizabeth Kane, often remarked on “the great Mormon crop” of children.But when Brigham Young decided in September 1868 to create a Juab Stake of Zion, a member of his traveling party exclaimed,
The number of children [in the huge crowd that welcomed “Zion’s Chieftain”] was something astonishing for a place no larger than Nephi. Accustomed as we [Mormons] are to seeing children in great abundance their numbers here surprised us. Probably the explanation is found in the inscription which we noticed on one of the banners which the children carried, ‘Monogamy at a Discount.’ A monogamist in the company remarked that the only fault he could find with the sight was, “he had no hand in producing it.”
According to a biography of John Muir, the naturalist came to Nephi four years after the Kanes’ tour, not to study polygamy but to climb Mount Nebo (fig. 17) in late May 1877. En route to Nephi, Muir lodged with David Evans, bishop of Lehi and the husband of five wives and father of forty-one children. Muir asserted, “The production of babies is the darling pursuit industry of Mormons.” And he naturally used mountain metaphors to record his impressions of Mormon “baby farming.” Wherever deltas developed at the mouths of canyon streams, there formed “a delta of babies[,] . . . as if like the boulders they had been washed down in floods.” He also observed that “the height of the baby line in Utah” lay at roughly six thousand feet. Above that line only “babyless, barren . . . gold seekers” lived.
Thanks to polygamy, Utah’s cradles carried more babies per capita than any other American state or territory as of 1870. By then, close to 20 percent of the territory’s population was under five years of age and nearly 60 percent under twenty (fig. 18).Closer inspection of this population pyramid reveals that males barely outnumbered women in each age group between twenty and fifty-four—a result of the influx of Gentiles, mostly single men, with the railroad’s arrival in 1869 and the fact that some polygamists, notably those with wives living in different towns, were counted twice. One case in point is that of a Dane named Canute Brown and his two young sons, who were recorded in both Nephi and Ephraim, in each city with a different one of Canute’s wives.
If we accept demographers’ assumption of a fairly even ratio of males to females among Mormons of marriageable age by 1870, a rarely asked question arises: how many men like Samuel Pitchforth, who firmly believed in plurality, could have secured a second wife? Some who wanted more than one had to wait quite a while before finally finding a second spouse. Homer Brown, an early Nephi polygamist, recorded that “John Cazier got home from the City and brought another wife with him he has now accomplished . . . [what] he has been trying to [do] for a year or two but he has been very unsuccessful heretofore.”A recent unpublished study concludes that in any stable society “polygyny by more than 20% of husbands and 30% of wives is on the high end of what is mathematically plausible, unless the difference in marriageable ages is very large.” Latter-day Saint believers like Henry Goldsbrough who “caught” anywhere from three to thirteen wives would further lessen the chances of aspiring polygamists, like John Cazier, to attract even a second spouse.
Having used the Pitchforths as a point of entry into Nephite society, we can begin to see to what degree polygamy pervaded local life. A scan of the two pages where they appear in the 1870 census schedule suggests that they lived in a centrally located neighborhood occupied by several other unrelated plural families. By combining census and genealogical records,we have identified at least fifty-three polygamous households, twenty of them headed by one of the wives (see appendix). They are scattered across the town’s four plats, but with a pronounced concentration in Nephi’s original Plat A, surveyed in 1862 (fig. 19). To what extent polygamists tended to cluster in certain areas is difficult to determine because many, including Samuel Pitchforth and his three brothers-in-law, owned several lots. But the appendix does demonstrate that Nephi’s plural households represented a broad range of family sizes, occupations, incomes, and national origins.
Altogether these households accounted for close to 15 percent of the married men, 28 percent of the married women, and about 23 percent of the town’s total population as of July 1870.The last figure includes the spouses, their children, and six family servants. However, these numbers exclude a few plural families that had either moved away or dropped out of polygamy due to death or divorce by the time the census was taken. The data also omit several men such as Pitchforths’ aforementioned future son-in-law, William R. May, who entered into plurality after 1870. Nor have we counted those older children who grew up in a plural family but who by 1870 had established monogamous households of their own in Nephi. These key variables—marriages, migration, births, deaths, and divorces—kept changing the incidence of polygamy in every Latter-day Saint settlement.
Were we to subtract from Nephi’s 1870 census population any Gentiles, apostates (including those who joined break-off groups such as the members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), or even lukewarm Latter-day Saints, the plural percentage would increase at least a little. By 1880, when either Church or government officials noted individuals’ religious standing on the left-hand margin of the census, Nephi had about one hundred and thirty residents classified as disaffected members or Gentiles. This group included William Warwood, who joined the RLDS “Josephites” in 1869 partly because by then he shared their opposition to the Principle, but only after he was “cut off” from the Church for allegedly breaking up the marriage match of a polygamist’s daughter and the suitor whom her parents favored.
Polygamy cast a net broad enough to catch many members of monogamous households. A fair number of traditional couples sooner or later witnessed the marriage of a daughter (or even a son) into a polygamous family. For example, Edwin Harley had four daughters, two of whom married polygamists. In 1878, the father recorded that “Mary Emily started for St. George with [an already married] Edward Sparks contrary to my wishes.” They were sealed in Utah’s newly completed first temple.Six years later, Edwin simply noted, “My Daughter Margaret started to Salt Lake City to Conference this morning,” a trip that culminated in her marriage to Ira N. Hinckley, founder of Cove Fort, as his third living wife. To reemphasize an important point, Nephi’s monogamous majority could claim a large number of close relatives among its polygamous minority—children, parents, siblings, in-laws, not to mention first cousins, nephews, and nieces. If the two groups were combined, they probably comprised a majority among the residents of Nephi in 1870.
Prevalence of Polygamy Elsewhere in Utah
How did the incidence of polygamy in Nephi compare with that of the other places where the Kanes stopped on their journey through Utah?Juab’s county seat falls in the same 20 to 25 percent range calculated for most of the twelve towns with a population of more than five hundred. Fillmore barely reaches 20 percent even with the inclusion of Ira Hinckley’s plural clan at Cove Fort. The figure for St. George, about 45 percent, stands well above that of all but one small settlement, Bellevue (later renamed Pintura). Even with her strong aversion to plural marriage (and Brigham Young, its principal proponent), Elizabeth Kane could not have asked for a place better suited to observe the often tangled lives of plural wives and their husbands. Only Bellevue (68 percent), with fewer than fifty people, exceeded St. George’s percentage. In such hamlets, one or two polygamous families—like those of John D. Lee or Dudley Leavitt—could skew (or leaven) the numbers in polygamy greatly. Even more surprising than the figures found in “Dixie” is Scipio’s rather high rank (30 percent), since Elizabeth saw it as “the poorest and newest of the settlements.” Ordinarily, one would expect to find fewer polygamists among a relatively poor and young population.
In whichever town the Kanes stayed—old or new, poor or well-to-do—they never escaped the presence of polygamy. Had they traveled up Salt Creek Canyon into Sanpete County, or past Salt Lake and Ogden into Brigham City, or through Sardine Canyon into Cache Valley, the Kanes would have found plurality even more prevalent than along the southern route they took.By this time in the 1870s, all Latter-day Saints knew of the practice and were expected to accept and support it if they wanted to be in good standing with Church leaders. While the architecture of polygamy did not stand out and proclaim its identity, it was undoubtedly recognized by town residents. As people walked to their fields, to church, to the store, or to social gatherings, they frequently passed the houses of plural families. The mere presence of these dwellings, implicit reminders of the unique marriage system that distinguished the Saints from other Americans, cannot be discounted. Seemingly invisible and always fluid, the landscape of plurality remains vitally important to a fuller understanding of early Mormon history. Just as the American North in the 1860s saw the South as a slave society that needed to be reconstructed, so it viewed Utah as a polygamous society that had to be changed. The families of slave owners probably constituted an even smaller minority of Southerners than polygamous households did among the Mormons. But in each region a controlling minority tended to rule the population’s majority. About twenty years after the United States went to war over slavery, it launched a ten-year campaign to abolish polygamy that finally enabled the Territory of Utah, after fifty years of waiting, to become a state. During the 1880s, a decade strongly marked by federal raids on those practicing plural marriage, the Church understandably sought to minimize the importance of its polygamous past.
In Nephi, as in most other nineteenth-century Mormon towns, plural marriage, directly and indirectly, had become so prevalent that Elizabeth Kane concluded federal persecution would make the Saints all the more determined to maintain their system of “Celestial Marriage.”Consequently, soon after arriving in St. George, she wrote that long letter to Senator Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, already cited, pleading with him to use his influence to stop the national antipolygamy campaign. When that plea proved fruitless, she received encouragement from her husband and her father and agreed to have her impressions of Mormonism’s plural society published and distributed, mainly to influential Easterners whose negative opinions the Kanes hoped to change. What did Mormons themselves think of the book this perceptive gentile lady wrote about them? Most never saw it, and no known record exists of what Brigham Young might have thought. But one of his counselors in the First Presidency, George Q. Cannon, read the manuscript and gave Elizabeth Kane’s “felicitous narrative” his approval in a letter he wrote to Thomas shortly before its publication. “Such a journal as this, . . . cannot fail to . . . dissipate many prejudices and misconceptions which prevail in relation to the people of Utah.” Cannon also thought
not one of the persons alluded to . . . will take the least exception to the manner in which their households are described. To make contrasts vivid and striking there must be shadows. The people of Utah fully understand that rose-colored notices of them are viewed with distrust, and that a journal written as this is will be more acceptable to a large number of readers than one which should contain only kind and flattering descriptions.
Perhaps not only Elizabeth Kane but also Elder Cannon would approve of our attempt to revisit and reconstruct Mormonism’s polygamous landscape with its fascinating combination of rosy scenes and striking shadows.
Nephi’s Plural Households from the 1870 Census
|Census #||Name||Age||(Family Members)||Occup.||Property Values||Birthplace|
|170||ANDREWS||58||John (2 wives, 1 child, 1 svt)||Sawmill Propr.||$6000/3000||England|
|234/35||BAKER||35||William G. (2 wives, 8 children)||Laborer||$550/400||England|
|246/47/48||BIGLER||57||Jacob G. Sr. (4 wives, 10 children)||Farmer||$3350/2350||VA|
|179||BROADHEAD||40||David (2 wives, 12 children)||Farmer||$100/400||England|
|95||BROWN||49||Canute (1 wife, 2 children, 1 svt)||Retail Merchant||$1500/2000||Denmark|
|47||BRYAN||62||Charles H. (3 wives, 1 child)||Farmer||$3000/3500||KY|
|67||CAZIER||36||David (2 wives, 4 children)||Farmer||$700/400||KY|
|187/245||CAZIER||49||John (2 wives, 4 children)||Teamster||$600/700||VA|
|13||EDGHILL||30||James (2 wives, 5 children)||Brick Mason||$500/300||England|
|35/36||FOOTE||70||Timothy B. (2 wives, 6 children)||Farmer||$2500/3000||NY|
|231/32/33||GOLDSBROUGH||47||Henry (3 wives, 10 children, 2 svts)||Farmer||$10300/2375||England|
|57/58||HAWKINS||52||John (3 wives, 3 children)||Shoemaker||$1150/300||England|
|212/13||HAYWARD||53||William (2 wives, 2 children)||Laborer||$200/550||England|
|63/97||JENKINS||35||Richard (2 wives, 9 children, 1 svt)||Farmer||$1500/1200||Wales|
|4||JONES||37||Edward (2 wives, 10 children, 1 svt)||$600/900||Wales|
|33/34||KENDALL||51||George (2 wives, 10 children)||Farmer||$1700/775||England|
|5/6||KIENKE||40||John (2 wives, 5 children)||Brick Mason||$450/400||Germany|
|123/27||LUNT||54||Edward (2 wives, 5 children)||Farmer||$800/550||England|
|189||McCUNE||59||Mathew (2 wives, 1 child)||Physician||$1000/400||Isle of Man|
|244||MECHAM||70||Elam (2 wives, 3 children)||no occupation||$250/300||NH|
|252||NORTON||37||Jacob W. (2 wives, 1 child)||Farmer||$300/200||AL|
|21/43||OCKEY||55||Edward (2 wives, 12 children)||Farmer||$4000/3400||England|
|176/78||PEXTON||59||James (2 wives, 7 children)||Blacksmith||$800/600||England|
|42||PITCHFORTH||43||Samuel (2 wives, 7 children, 3 relatives)||Farmer||$3000/2500||England|
|28/29||RICHES||40||Benjamin (2 wives, 6 children)||Farmer||$1100/950,||England|
|40/41||ROLLINS||38||Martin (2 wives, 2 children)||Farmer||$1900/3150||IL|
|18||SAPP||34||Alphies (2 wives, 1 child)||Farmer||$400/250||NC|
|117/18||TIDWELL||44||Thomas (2 wives, 14 children)||Farmer||$4400/6200||IL|
|3||TOLLEY||20||Sarah (pl. wife of Wm. F., 2 ch, 2 rel’s)||Keeping House||$300/250||England|
|44/45||UDALL||46||David (3 wives, 9 children)||Farmer||$1500/1750||England|
|48/49||WARNER||43||William (2 wives, 9 children)||Farmer||$500/800||MA|
|196||WINN||38||Dennis (2 wives, 6 children)||Works in Grist Mill||$650/400||England|