Polygamy: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow?
Polygamy: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow?
by Charles Adams
The current mishap in Texas over polygamy is similar to what happened in Arizona over 50 years ago in a small community just over the Utah border, away from Utah law enforcement, heavily against polygamy. This Fundamentalist branch of the Mormon Church, based on Polygamy, in Short Creek, Arizona, survived. Their leader over 80 was so shocked he died of a heart attack still fathering babies at his age. The children wanted their mothers, their fathers, and home life. In time the whole thing became a debacle for the government of Arizona. Recently I visited Short Creek now called Colorado City. The community at Short Creek is flourishing as far as I could tell. Women wore the same long dresses and bonnets as today at the temple in Texas. Too bad the Texas authorities didn’t learn from Arizona’s mistake. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this sad event. One of the problems these communities develop is the surplus of boys. The older men eagerly wait for the girls to sexually mature, but the boys are often run out of the community leaving the young girls for the older men. Nature balances out the males and females so that is a problem in smaller communities.
The main branch of the Mormon Church has been trying to stamp out polygamy for over a hundred years without a lot of success, considering that the founder and prophet Joseph Smith had a revelation from God approving of polygamy, now a part of the official scriptures of the Church, DC 132. Their second prophet Brigham Young carried this to extreme with 26 wives. The third prophet, John Taylor ordained men to continue granting plural marriages. This authority has been carried on to this day. The Fundamentalists are on solid doctrinal ground. They delight in quoting from the early church leaders on plural marriage and that it will never be taken from the earth. There are estimated to be over 10,000 privately practicing polygamy throughout the West, and it has little threat from the law except for under-age girls brought into the fold. They argue that since God made girls fertile at around age 14 or 15, then they should be available to marry at that age. As long as they are low key and avoid sex with young girls there is little threat to their existence.
Utah wanted to become a state in the 19th century but with polygamy sanctioned there was no chance. When the Republican Party came into existence in 1856 they maintained there were two evils in America, slavery and polygamy. Thus polygamy had to go and in 1890 the Church started the painful process of ending plural marriage, but little colonies emerged and have continued to emerge to this day as with the temple in Texas. There were some colonies in Mexico from which the Romney family came. Others are bound to emerge to the devout believer.
My great grandmother Emma has a story to tell on Mormon polygamy in the days it was sanctioned by the Church in Utah. As a young woman born in 1833, in Radcliff England she and her husband Joseph Warburton converted to Mormonism at an early age and came to America, landing in Boston and then on to Salt Lake City by wagon train arriving in the 1850s. He became a very successful businessman, in real estate and founder of the leading department store popular today throughout the Utah region, the ZCMI. Brigham Young made the young leader a Bishop that lasted until his death 40 years later. I heard the rest of this story from my grandmother on her 90th birthday. Seems they wanted to make him a General Authority but that meant he had to practice plural marriage and that required the consent of his first wife Emma.
Emma said NO. When the leading Brethren tried to change her mind with an appeal to God, and then hell, fire and brimstone, she put her foot down hard and again said NO! to polygamy. She was not going to have her husband tom-cat around town to bring home a young filly into their home. In Utah in the 1860s this took a lot of courage. The Church was all-powerful in that world. She took her family out of the Church except for music and plays. The boys did not go on missions. Her husband may have been disappointed with her objection to polygamy, but when the jails were filled with polygamist men in striped jail cloths he must have realized the wisdom of his wife’s decision.
His wife wasn’t through with making a name for herself. She went back to what became the Mayo Clinic and became the first woman doctor in the Utah Territories. When she died in 1920 at age 87, her obituary said, “Pioneer Woman Crosses Over.” You are deemed a pioneer if you came before the railroad. In a book on Mormon biography there is a long article about her husband but nary a word about this remarkable woman.
Polygamy has a long history with man. The founder of the Moslems over a billion today taught that you could have 4 wives recognized in Moslem countries. Ancient Israel leaders all had many wives with King Solomon reported to have had a thousand. The mother of the Arab peoples was Father Abraham’s second polygamist wife.
There is a good chance polygamy with fundamentalist Mormons will be with us for a long time so long as there are women willing to be a polygamist wife. Not all are uneducated. There was the story of a woman lawyer in Utah published in a national newspaper a few years ago, telling the advantages of plural marriage. When she was off to court her child was with a loving mother, one of the other wives. When sex was wanted she would sign up on a calendar for her turn. I showed this article to the secretaries in my office and they thought it was hilarious about signing up for sex. Got a better idea?
April 21, 2008
Attorney Charles Adams (send him mail) is the author of When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession, and Those Dirty Rotten Taxes: The Tax Revolts That Built America.
Copyright © 2008 by Charles Adams
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