As with many religious leaders before and since, Joseph Smith had critics who accused him of using power as a potent aphrodisiac. Smith, who was married, approached Helen Kimball, the 15-year-old daughter of Apostle Heber C. Kimball, with these words: “If you will take this step, it will insure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred,” according to Mormon Polygamy, a History by Richard S. Van Wagoner. In the last years of the Mormon settlement in Nauvoo, Ill., Smith allegedly made similar approaches to a large number of women, some of them the wives of his friends or wards in his household.
In an earlier age, such indiscretions would have been hushed up, or repented. But with a new religion in a time of newspapers and rapid communication, the outcome was very different. The news media picked up on the accounts of “spiritual wifery” and Mormons and non-Mormons alike became outraged. Smith, as the self-proclaimed Prophet of God, couldn’t repent, but he could reveal new doctrines that more-or-less covered his behavior. They were initially met with skepticism, especially from his first wife. The fact that Smith was lynched by a mob in 1844 made him a martyr to his followers and eliminated criticism of his conduct.
Brigham Young took over the leadership of the Latter-day Saints after Smith was killed. When he began to lead the faithful west he had to decide whether to bring polygamy to the new land or leave it behind. His prior involvement in Smith’s secret practices pulled him toward acceptance of polygamy.
Plus history and cultural practices around the world seemed to be on the side of plural marriage. Mormons often said four-fifths of the world practiced polygamy. It was true that affluent Moslems had up to four wives, upper-class Chinese had concubines and primitive societies in Africa, the South Pacific and Native Americans practiced polygamy.
Jessie L. Embry in Mormon Polygamous Families wrote that the Catholic Church did not consider polygamy a sin until after 600 A.D. Luther was willing to sanction multiple marriages for Henry VIII. The Catholic Church even encouraged polygamy in 1650 after the devastation of the Thirty Years War. Also, the Old Testament tells about patriarchs living with multiple wives in the pastoral society of the ancient Middle East.
Young believed he was free to make his own laws because the Mormons were headed to the remote West, an area only nominally administered by Mexico in those days.
He miscalculated. The U.S. won the vast territories of the West in the Mexican War only one year after the Mormons arrived. And polygamy was anathema in the societies of Europe and their extensions into the Americas. Marx and Engels said monogamy grew up in early Greek societies as men sought to ensure paternity of the children who would inherit their property. Others have pointed to the importance of monogamy in upholding the status of the woman and the status of her kin who had contracted the first marriage. Monogamy had been sanctified for more than a millennium before the advent of Christianity and, with few exceptions, had been enforced during 2000 years of Christian culture in Europe. Monogamy was so well established in America that anything else was treated with revulsion.
Before polygamy brought Mormonism into another conflict with the United States, it was to have some positive effects on the expansion of Mormon settlements. Nearly all Mormon women found themselves involved in a productive role in a family, having children and working to increase the family wealth. Of course, all the family’s assets were controlled by the husband, which gave men with multiple wives control over many people and resources. So Polygamy tended to strengthen the extremely patriarchal nature of Mormonism, which says women cannot get into heaven unless they are married to a man who has obtained the priesthood, and is willing to pull them into heaven after death.
Still, most Mormons – approximately 80 percent — remained monogamous. The practice of polygamy was usually limited to the affluent. Awarding additional wives became a method of binding prosperous men into the church hierarchy. In its classic form, a man rising within the church would take a wife in her late teens once every five to ten years, until he had accumulated five or more.
Polygamy was not universally condemned by the non-Mormon world. In Elijah Was a Valiant Man, Arvin Palmer says George Bernard Shaw approved because there were more Mormon women than men, and a frontier society could not cope with a large number of single women.
It took awhile for the idea of polygamy to germinate in the heart of one man who would later settle in the White Mountains. The Life of Delbert L. Penrod recreates the words of the pioneer. “Polygamy was being practiced at this time and leaders of the church and others often approached me with the subject, but for some reason I was not interested. One day, a family moved to Escalante (Utah) from Panguitch. The oldest girl in this family was a beautiful, dark haired maiden with very black eyes. For some time I spent considerable time trying to meet her. Without seeming too bold, but from that time on, I thought that a second wife was what all men should have.
“When I began to show an interest in her, I found that the interest was mutual and after getting her father’s consent, I spent many happy times with her without seeming to neglect Sarah and children, as they knew my intentions and were willing for me to take this step. We were married in the St. George Temple the 14th of March, 1888. That same summer we received a call to go to Arizona to help settle new country and to build new homes. We were very skeptical about this trip as we had heard some very unfavorable reports about Arizona from some that had been out here and come back.” Penrod pushed aside his doubts and took his two wives and children to Taylor.
Polygamy left some young Mormon men without brides while a few older men accumulated many wives. Palmer tells the unhappy story of Joe Thomas and Rhoda Perkins who had recently migrated to Taylor from Utah. “For Joe the situation was different. Rhoda’s father had made it clear that he wanted his daughter to marry an apostle, and she apparently concurred, so the young Thomas lad could not measure up. With disappointment in love added to extremely difficult times, Joe got on his horse one day and retraced his path to Utah where he would remain a bachelor throughout his lifetime.” Palmer added in a footnote: “Rhoda later became a wife of Brigham Young Jr. and had one child by him. She was to spend most of her married life alone.” Rhoda was the fourth of Young’s six wives. He acquired the fifth only 10 months after his marriage to Rhoda.
Kent Lightfoot, the anthropologist, writes that polygamy was part of a marriage practice that stratified the communities. While as many as 80 percent of Mormons married within their communities, the more prominent men would marry women from other Mormon towns. “A man of sufficient status and wealth to obtain a wife from a powerful family would augment his own political position and, at the same time, strengthen his inter-community connections,” he wrote. “This process of political development was enhanced by [polygamy], which allowed influential men to cultivate social ties with several powerful families. However, the means to support several wives and their respective children was an important factor limiting the rate of [polygamy]. It is clear that poorer men were often hardly able to support one wife, let alone several spouses and numerous children.”
The biography of William Flake, written by a son, explains his decision to take a second wife. “William thought it was his duty to obey the principle. (This was before there was any law against it.) Mother thought it right, so with her full and free consent, he sought the hand of Prudence J. Kartchner, who lived on the Muddy (southwest Utah). On October 10, 1868, they were sealed husband and wife in the endowment house, Salt Lake City. Mother was present. Eliza R. Snow asked her if she was willing. She said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you think you can live it?’ [the wife of the Apostle then asked Mother.] She said that she was willing to try. Sister Snow then gave her a blessing, and said that she would retain her beauty and never grow old. Up until she passed away more than thirty years later, she was an exceptionally fine looking woman. The two women lived in the same house, or in close proximity and often helped each other when their work permitted. Later in life, ‘Aunt’ Prudence’s (we called her) helping days were over. A number of years before she died, she suffered with asthma until life was a burden to her. She rarely left the house for months at a time, because of that disease. I remember her suffering from the time we came to Arizona; for months she could not leave her bed. She was the mother of four girls living and one girl and two boys had passed away in infancy. The girls did a noble part by their mother.”
Many accounts of polygamy from the participants are positive. Mary Serena Davis, on March 14, 1888, married Jacob N. Butler as his plural wife. Her story is told by one of the children in the Penrod manuscripts. “I have often looked back down the years, and marveled at the love and companionship that existed in our home, between mother and aunty and we children. We always felt bad when someone would say, your half brother or sister; to us there was no half. I can see mother and aunty at the ranch at Greer, especially on wash days, two big wooden tubs, set on a bench and two washboards. One would wash the clothes and put them in the other tub … on the fire to boil them. Then they would take them out and put them through two clear waters, then starch them and hang them out. (The starch was made out of flour and water.) Both of them would hang out. Not only did they wash together, but anything that had to be done was done in unity, no arguing or waiting for the other one to do it. They always worked together.
Aunty did most of the sewing for both families, mother did the cooking and ... made butter. Daddy always worked hard to support his big family and our mothers were very saving and took care of all that was fetched in, so we always had plenty. …
“Strangers coming in would never know who our mother was. If any of us needed correcting, they didn’t wait for the real mother to do it. We were corrected by the one that was with us. We thought it was what should be done and took it for granted without complaining. If we were to say, ‘Aunty slapped me’, we would be apt to get another one, so we never tattled. Mother never could milk, but when we girls had to milk alone, aunty would say, ‘come on, girls, I will help you milk.’ … We all felt fortunate to have two mothers to care for us.”
Some accounts of polygamy, though positive, were given through gritted teeth. David King Udall, the founder of a political dynasty that stretches from Arizona to New Mexico, Colorado and Washington, D.C., came to St. Johns with his wife Eliza (Ella) Stewart. He became bishop and ran the church co-op where he became interested in Ida Hunt, the store’s bookkeeper. After Udall proposed to her, Ida returned to Snowflake and wrote to Ella. Her letter is quoted in Arizona’s Honeymoon Trail. “I feel that I cannot allow another day to pass by without writing you to ascertain if possible your true feelings upon a subject which is, no doubt, one painful to us both, but one which, I realize, must be disposed of sooner or later – the possibility or probability of my becoming at some future day a member of your family. … I cannot allow the matter to go farther, without first having received some assurance of your willingness to such a step being taken. … I promise you I shall not be offended, but on the contrary shall thank you for it all my life, and I believe you will not have written in vain, for, unless it meets with your approval, I shall never listen to another word on the subject.”
The answer came: “The subject in question has caused me a great amount of pain and sorrow, more perhaps than you could imagine, yet I feel as I have from the beginning, that if it is the Lord’s will I am perfectly willing to try to endure it and trust it will be overruled for the best good of all.” Ida took that answer for a yes and David, Ida and Ella went to the temple in St. George for the wedding.
Some Mormons remember that polygamy did not always result in perfect harmony. In Elijah Was a Valiant Man, Palmer wrote about friction among his ancestors. “His father’s home had been rather unsettled by the petty jealousies that one wife had borne for another and to the end of his days it was a subject he refused to discuss.”
Congress first made polygamy illegal in the territories in 1862 with the Morrill Act, but there were no resources in the midst of the Civil War to enforce compliance. Latter-day Saints considered the law unconstitutional, and fought it until the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in 1879. Then in 1882, Congress passed the Edmunds Act, making polygamy a felony punishable by five years in prison. Unlawful cohabitation remained a misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a $300 fine.
Polygamy was a convenient club for opponents of the Mormons. “In the United States, whatever is unlawful is no part of religion,” wrote the Apache Chief newspaper in St. Johns. “So long as we fight the Mormons for disobeying the laws we are not fighting any religion, and our warfare, instead of being persecution, as is charged, is merely self-preservation.”
“Something must be done by which the Territory can be kept pure and unsullied. … If some means are not resorted to then Arizona will take its stand by the side of Utah in the great calamity of Mormon domination,” the Apache Chief said in an article quoted in On the Road to Nowhere. In another editorial, the paper said, “It is the elders who keep houses full of wives, the rich old bishops that have accumulated large fortunes out of the church tithes, and who can afford this luxury.”
“Persecutions were in full swing and United States Marshals were all over the place,” the St. Johns Stake history says. “The Polygamists were busy, too, taking steps to insure their own safety. Some followed the lead of Bishop Udall and sent their extra families back to Utah to live with relatives and some took their families with them and moved to Mexico. A few decided to stay and ride it out by playing a kind of cat and mouse game with ... the Marshals, but in general it was a time of exodus, especially for the people in positions of leadership.
“A roster of leaders who made the Mexico move would include two Stake Presidents, Jesse N. Smith of the Eastern Arizona Stake and Lot Smith of the Little Colorado Stake, and many Bishops, Branch Presidents, and Priesthood leaders. So many of these substantial citizens left that their hurried withdrawals of capital from the co-op store system left it on the verge of collapse.”
“A piece of territorial legislation briefly took the vote away from polygamists and anyone who believed in the doctrine,” the Road to Nowhere says. “Hundreds of Mormons fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution, or moved families to other locales to maintain the appearance of monogamy. One early settler in Round Valley who was a polygamist left by foot for Old Mexico, where his family later joined him.”
Mormons continued to flee to Mexico for nearly 20 years as the battle with the government over their “principle” continued.
William Flake’s wife Lucy gave this account published in Arizona Memories: “One of our neighbors came one night and asked for help to go to Mexico. He only had one team and his boys would need that to harvest their crop and haul wood for the family. He had no money to buy another outfit so could William lend him one. Well, a wagon, cover, water barrels and a span of our best horses were rigged up for him. The horses were harnessed up, hitched to the wagon and driven up to his door after nightfall. He and his plural wives slipped away. In about a year he returned the outfit, with thanks. That was all that was necessary. If he had never brought them back, it would have been the same.”
She told another story about giving their best horse and a saddle to help a man make a run for the border. “It was always the same, if anyone needed anything and we had it, they knew it was theirs.”
The Snowflake Stake history recounts: “In January and February of 1885 most of the polygamist men left for Mexico, with a few going to Utah and elsewhere. Some of those from Snowflake who left were Jesse N. Smith, Joseph Fish, John Hunt, Jesse N. Smith Jr., Samuel H. Rogers, John Kartchner, Isaac Turley, W. W. Roundy and James Palmer. A few others who were not polygamists joined them. This sudden flight of so many of the principle men of the community left things in quite a bad spiritual and temporal condition. … Many sold property at reduced prices.
“After reaching Mexico John Hunt received word that on his birthday March 8, 1885 his wife Lois, who had remained in Snowflake, had accidentally burned to death. He immediately returned to Snowflake.”
In 1886, church property was being confiscated in Utah, so the Mormons sent a herd of sheep south and asked that William Flake get the animals to Mexico, which he did.
A Tribute to the Lakeside Pioneers tells about the flight of the Jonathan Henry Webb family from Pinedale: “In June 1898 the families moved to the Mormon Colonies in Mexico. Edward Milo, Henry’s father, didn’t want his family separated. He had two other wives, Aunt Ellen and Aunt Lottie. Seven weeks in four covered wagons moved them all ‘body and britches.’ They had horses stolen, had rough roads, floods, and a whole week at the border with ‘Customs.’ Henry drove his mother’s wagon. He was 12 years old. The excited children sang:
“Eeny, meeny, miny, mo
“On the road to Mexico
“To Mexico we’ll go or bust
“When we start, Just watch our dust.
“And there was plenty of dust. They arrived in Colonia Dublan the last week in August. It was very hot, but crops were lush and at their peak. There were plenty of ripe watermelons.”
To whip up sentiment against the Mormons, or perhaps to boost circulation, the Apache Chief sent an undercover reporter to Utah to learn the secrets of the Mormons. The secret correspondent says he was able to enter the Mormon Endowment House where he learned various secret handshakes and breathlessly told of the Mormon “garment” he was given. The newspaper story, making some obvious comparisons to Masons, lamented that its agent had only one wife and might have gotten more good stuff if he had been able to work into higher degrees through the attainment of more wives. “I was then taken into what they call ‘Anointing Room’ where I was stripped perfectly nude and every member of my body touched with what I supposed from its smell, was olive oil. A part of the body which I do not care to mention was specially anointed ... to typify and symbolize fecundity.” The article published a picture of the Mormon under-garment, but modestly showed it only from the waist up. The graphic looks a little like the base of a lamp, but probably helped sell papers.
The U.S. government’s push against polygamy started in Utah. “The other day Judge O. W. Powers, of Michigan, one of Mr. Cleveland’s appointees to the bench in Utah, had a two hours’ conversation with the President,” the St. Johns Herald reported in 1885. “The subject was the enforcement of the laws against polygamy in Utah. Judge Powers says the President is determined to wage as fierce a war as possible against the Mormons, and has instructed the judicial officers to carry out the law most vigorously. A large number of leading Mormons are now under indictment, among them being John Taylor and George Q. Cannon, the two being at the present fugitives from justice. Judge Powers says the Mormons generally are rapidly recognizing the fact that the Government is in dead earnest, and that they only preach and practice polygamy when they are out of sight of the officers of the law.”
Apostle Wilford Woodruff, who had five wives, was in hiding near the White Mountains because of the ongoing prosecutions in Utah. He was living in Sunset near present-day Winslow under an assumed name, according to the St. Johns Stake history. He later became church president and eventually abolished the doctrine of polygamy.
The crackdown soon came to Arizona, according to this account in the Snowflake Stake history: “After the (St. Johns) Ring had succeeded in the election of 1882 they commenced to agitate on the subject of prosecuting the polygamists and attempted to drive the Mormons out of Apache County. From this time on they began to be aggressive in their actions, encroaching on the rights of the people, taking away their water rights, entering vexatious lawsuits and bringing them before a Mexican Justice who was their tool.
“In March 1882 the Congress of the United States passed the Edmunds Act which provided heavy penalties for the practice of polygamy, including imprisonment, fines, disfranchisement of voting rights or the holding of public office. This was enforced even though most of the plural marriages had taken place prior to the enactment of this law.”
“Persecution of Polygamists was more or less a universal thing; nowhere was it pursued more viciously than along the Little Colorado,” the St. Johns Stake history says. “The Mormons were blocked at every turn. They were refused the right to vote and barred from jury duty. The extent to which the courts had been prejudiced against them can best be judged by the tone of this excerpt from a supposedly patriotic Fourth of July speech that was delivered by Judge Sumner Howard, Chief Justice of the Territorial Courts in Prescott:
“There is no danger which menaces this beautiful Territory equal to that black cloud that follows the blasting approach to a polygamous priesthood, and which has already cast its withering influence over the most beautiful portion of your Territory. … I say to you, fellow citizens that it is not only the design of the foul and unscrupulous priesthood to seize upon this Territory and those adjoining it but that it will be an accomplished fact unless there is a rising of the people of this Territory … to free themselves from the impending danger.
“With Judge Howard as Chief Justice; George McCarter, the United States Court Commissioner, stationed in St. Johns and moonlighting as the leader of the St. Johns Ring; and United States Attorney Zabriskie (the same who had been prosecutor at the trial of John D. Lee) as Chief Prosecutor at the Mormon trials in Prescott, it is hard to say whether the Ring was corrupting the courts or the courts corrupting the Ring.”
McCarter was assisted by Sol Barth, J. Lorenzo Hubbell and others in starting the St. Johns anti-Mormon newspaper Apache Chief.
“The Polygamy issue which erupted in 1883 was a perfect opportunity for the St. Johns Ring to further harass the Mormons,” the St. Johns Stake history says. “It was with great anticipation that they set about playing the role of stool pigeon for the anti-Mormon territorial courts. Consequently, seven prominent Mormons, including such leaders as D. K. Udall, Ammon Tenney, and William J. Flake, were hauled into the 1884 fall session of the Territorial District Court in Prescott, with Judge Sumner Howard presiding.”
Flake’s biography expresses anger at the administration of Chester Arthur as it turned up the heat on polygamy: “A weak President and a subservient Congress, influenced by a hireling ministry egged on by a low class of people, such as always follows a carpetbag Government, passed laws that were unconstitutional and retroactive, and had their dupes shove them to the limit. In Utah, many of the leading citizens had gone to jail, others were in hiding, largely in adjoining States. That same lawless element started the persecution in Arizona which, like Utah was a territory and not allowed self Government.
“Early in September 1884, the United States Marshal sent word to Father that he would be at Snowflake on the 15th, at noon, to arrest him for polygamy, thus giving him plenty of time to get away, for he did not want to arrest him,” according to Flake’s biography. “They had never met, but the Marshal knew his reputation and that almost every man was his friend, and that he was a good honorable citizen, and not to be compared with the rif-raff that were causing the trouble. About noon on the 15th, he drove up to Flake’s home, introduced himself as Marshal Donovan, and was much surprised when the reply came, ‘Well Marshal, I am your man.’ He served the paper and put him under arrest. Flake said, ‘Unhitch the team and put them in the stable and feed them, my wife will have dinner for us soon, and I will be getting ready to go with you.’ Mr. Donovan said, ‘I want to go back to Holbrook to-night, but the train we take does not leave until 2 p.m. tomorrow. You can stay here tonight, and meet me at the train tomorrow, if you like.’ That suited William much better. So, after dinner the Marshal returned to Holbrook, where they met the following day. The Marshal took out a roll of bills and offered him some money, and said, ‘Take this and pay your own way, buy your own ticket, no one needs to know that you are a prisoner.’ He said, ‘No, Marshal, I am your prisoner, treat me as one, I am not ashamed of it. I have broken no law, I am a victim of persecution.’ ”
At Prescott, William Flake was released on bond. John D. Schone had signed the complaint. “Schone came to him and begged him to jump the bonds saying he would pay them. He cried and said that he did not want to see him go, and that he would never have signed the complaint, but they had gotten him drunk and forced it on him.”
The trials started in November 1884. Ammon Tenney was convicted first and thrown into the local jail with the common criminals. Flake received help from the non-Mormon who had sold him the ranch to create Snowflake. “James Stinson was living at Tempe, and it was a hard trip to Prescott, but when he learned that his friend Flake was in trouble, he went at once to his aid. Father started at once to hunt for some of his friends, and did not stop until he had Tenney out of the filthy prison.”
A plea deal was offered in which Flake would not serve time, but the others would serve eight and a half years at the House of Correction in Detroit. Flake says he went to the judge and objected to the deal. The judge then gave him six months in prison, but cut the sentences of the others by three years.
“His old friend Jim Stinson … was his main help all the way and he really took it hardest of the two,” the biography says. “Next morning he was at the Station to see him take the stage. Just before it was time to leave, Miles P. Romney of St. Johns, under the charge of an officer, came and asked him to go a bond.”
Romney was the editor of a Mormon newspaper in St. Johns. He was to become the grandfather of a future governor of Michigan, and great-grandfather of Mitt Romney, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
The Flake biography recounts the conversation: “Father said, ‘I am a convict just starting for the penitentiary, I can’t go on a bond.’ Romney said, ‘You have friends who would, if you asked them. I haven’t a friend in this city and will have to lie in that jail for six months awaiting trial unless you help me.’ Always lending a helping hand, he turned to Stinson and asked him to go the bond; he said that he would, but that it would take another. So he asked Bagnall to sign with Stinson. Bagnall said, ‘I will, if you guarantee me against loss.’ So it was arranged and he bid his friends good-bye, stepped on the waiting stage and off to prison.”
In her account, Flake’s wife said they wound up paying off $2,000 when Romney skipped bail. “Money was scarce and interest high,” she wrote. “It took us seven years to square that two thousand dollars.”
In subsequent trials Mormon bishops C. I. Kempe and Peter J. Christopherson were tried, convicted and sentenced in Prescott to a fine of $500 and three and a half years in the House of Correction in Detroit.
The polygamy charge against Bishop Udall was dropped for lack of evidence. “Having failed to bring Bishop Udall to trial on the polygamy charge the previous year, the Ring decided to haul him in on a charge of perjury,” the St. Johns Stake history says. “At his trial he was not allowed to testify in his own behalf, nor to present witnesses who would testify in his favor. By dubious means they secured a conviction and on October 10, 1885 he was sentenced to serve a three-year term in the Detroit House of Correction in Michigan.”
The St. Johns Herald gloatingly reported: “David K. Udall, high priest and counselor of this stake of Zion, and also the leading Mormon bishop of Arizona has been convicted in the United States Court at Prescott, of perjury and sentenced to imprisonment for three years in the House of Correction at Detroit, Michigan. The bishop was found guilty of falsely swearing to the land entry of Miles P. Romney, later editor of the Orion Era. Romney is also under indictment for the same offense, but has skipped to Mexico leaving his bondsmen in the lurch to the tune of several thousand dollars.” The paper, however, was pleased that Joseph Crosby was acquitted of the same perjury charge, explaining that Crosby “is a business man, a hard working citizen, and undoubtedly made the affidavit in the land entry of Miles P. Romney on the representation of that fugitive and the polygamous bishop that the requirements of the law had been complied with.”
In another article on the conviction of Udall, the St. Johns paper said: “We commented on this case for the purpose of enlightening the blind followers of the wicked promulgators of the false and pernicious doctrine of polygamy, and to show the deluded dupes the insincerity and wickedness of their cruel masters.”
In yet another article, the Apache Chief said: “The late convictions for polygamy at Prescott are a grand victory of intelligence and morality over ignorance, bigotry and degradation. It is a victory for women and decency. It is a step toward releasing from bondage thousands of poor ignorant slaves, who are under worse masters than those freed by the late rebellion. It is a victory for the Gentiles of Apache County and Arizona.”
Flake became a champion for prisoners’ rights while he was at Yuma. When they were served spoiled meat, he told the warden: “I am a citizen of this state and a heavy taxpayer. I am in your power, now, but you cannot keep me here very long. I have plenty of friends and when I get out of here we will turn this place upside down. We pay for decent food for our prisoners and they are going to have it or we will find out the reason why.” Food improved. Flake and the other Mormons counseled inmates, re-organized the kitchen and prison industries, took the warden’s children fishing and were beyond model prisoners. “Because of the delay in the mails, the money to pay William’s fine had not arrived when his sentence was up,” his wife wrote. “Some of the prisoners found this out. They had money of varying amounts deposited with the warden. They drew it out and presented it to him. He only accepted it as a loan and returned it as soon as he got to Mesa.”
When Flake reached Snowflake, there was a full celebration of the entire community. “A program of songs, music, readings and sentiments, all written for the occasion, took up the afternoon,” Mrs. Flake wrote.
“Upon his release he was asked which one of his wives he would give up,” the Snowflake Stake history reports. “His answer was neither – he had married both in good faith and intended to support both of them. He had served his sentence and could not be retried on the same charge.”
“As a pendulum reaches the end of its travel and then reverses its motion, so it was with the political fortunes of the Mormon settlers along the Little Colorado,” the St. Johns Stake history says. “Almost before the prison doors were closed behind Bishop Udall a spontaneous movement was launched to effect his release. It was a natural thing for the Mormons to do, but it is almost unbelievable that Judge Howard and Chief Prosecutor Zabriskie independently wrote to President Cleveland asking him to consider the granting of a pardon for Bishop Udall. Zabriskie stated that in reviewing the evidence he had formed a doubt in his mind as to Udall’s guilt. Even the county officials of Apache County, all of whom were members of the St. Johns Ring, decided to get into the act.
“It is almost certain to have been President Cleveland’s appointment of the Honorable Conrad Meyer Zulick to take over the reins of government in the Territory of Arizona that prompted them to make that paradoxical about-face. Arizona had been in the grip of a succession of Republican governors. The first order of business for the new Governor was to start building and strengthening the Democratic Party. The Mormons, comprising one-fifth of the Territory’s non-Indian population, and over half of Apache County’s Anglos, were a ready made base for which to build his Democratic organization.
“To start cultivating political relations with the Mormons Zulick granted pardons to all polygamists who were serving time in the Territorial Penitentiary. The Governor’s appointments to the courts were, if not pro-Mormon, at least men with open minds. To further cement these relations the Governor took steps to make Mormon problems a political issue and ultimately, through his efforts, the Democratic Legislature … wiped the slate clean of the anti-Mormon legislation that had been railroaded through by E. S. Stover, representative from Apache County, who was a wheel horse of the St. Johns Ring.”
The St. Johns Stake history says that John D. Young, who had been brushing shoulders with several railroad magnates, helped Bishop Udall get a pardon from President Cleveland, on Dec. 12, 1885.
“William J. Flake and P. N. Skousen had already returned home after serving a six-month sentence in Yuma,” the St. Johns Stake history says. “Ammon Tenney, Charles Kempe, and Peter J. Christopherson, who had been sent to the Detroit House of Correction on Polygamy charges, were soon pardoned for good conduct.”
The St. Johns papers, so triumphant in announcing the convictions, were sheepish in telling their readers about the subsequent pardons. In a story barely more than a line, the Herald said: “According to a recent decision of Attorney General Garland, it appears their trial was illegal and today President Cleveland pardoned them.”
When Udall returned to St. Johns, he had no money, but his former enemy Sol Barth sold him 8,000 head of sheep, and allowed him to pay for them over time. Udall considered the change of heart more or less miraculous, but perhaps Barth was making preparations for his own visit to prison, which was not far in the future.
“The people who had taken refuge in Mexico began returning, some almost immediately,” the St. Johns Stake history says. “Jesse N. Smith was there for ten months and returned just in time to forestall the installation of another Stake President in his place. It is estimated that about 50 percent of those who moved to Mexico returned within two years.
“Under the administration of Governor Zulick the Mormon strategy of domination of the issues by superior numbers was paying off. The political climate was fast becoming somewhat bearable. Though the St. Johns Ring was softening its campaign, its influence lingered on into the Twentieth Century. That lawless element so embittered the people of old St. Johns that even today we occasionally detect traces of those old animosities.
“The Mormons were trading one set of problems for another, as this excerpt from the diary of Jesse N. Smith indicates: ‘December 10, (1885) On the road early. Saw a number of acquaintances. Reached home at 1 p.m. after an absence of about 10 months, during which I had earned but very little. My expenses and losses were considerable and my family were a good deal in debt.’ ”
Meanwhile in Utah, hard pressed by the government and consistently losing in court, Mormon President Wilford Woodruff was backing away from polygamy. On October 20, 1889, he said, “I have refused to give any recommendation for the performance of plural marriages since I have been President.” In 1890, he gathered his advisers. In an account in Mormon Polygamy, a History, Van Wagoner says, Woodruff told them their last legal defense had fallen and that he came to them “with broken and contrite spirit.” Woodruff said he “had sought the will of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit had revealed that it was necessary for the church to relinquish the practice of that ‘principle’ for which the brethren had been willing to lay down their lives.”
“I have arrived at a point in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where I am under the necessity of acting for the temporal salvation of the Church,” he is quoted as saying.
Woodruff’s decision applied only to polygamy within the United States, allowing it to continue in Mexico.
Osmer D. Flake, in the biography of his father William Flake, explains the thinking of local leaders as Mormons changed course on polygamy. “The principle of polygamy was taught at that time. It was done away with in 1890, by a revelation to Wilford Woodruff, President of the Church. We, who live fifty years later can see how it was a saving principle. Even at that time, many of the leading men of the World defended the principle. It was being practiced by at least seventy-five percent of the Nations of the Earth. There were laws passed against plural wives. We, as a people, are taught to obey the laws of the country in which we live, and when prohibitory laws were passed, God relieved His people from the requirement.”
Some Mormons, particularly those who had taken multiple wives when it was still legal, persisted in polygamy and the prosecutions against them continued into the 20th century. While opposing new plural marriages, church leaders encouraged members to continue to support all of their wives. In 1904, a new president of the church and nephew of the Prophet, Joseph F. Smith, gave a Second Manifesto, prohibiting church leaders from performing plural marriages and threatening excommunication.
Jake Butler, whose wives and children got along so well in Greer, took his second wife in the late 1880s, six years after it became a felony and only two years before the church abandoned the practice. He maintained his two families well into the 20th century. Butler’s story is told by one of his children in the Penrod manuscripts. “The one great sadness for him and his families who had always lived under the same roof, came about 1905 when polygamists were being persecuted, hounded and chased out of the country. He moved his second family to Concho. It seemed very hard, indeed, for the families to be separated after living together for so many years.
“In September of 1906, he was on his way to Old Mexico. He left his second family at the sawmill six miles from Greer and went into Greer to bid his other family goodbye before he left, not knowing when they would meet again. On returning to the mill, just before arriving there, he was overtaken by officers of the law and took to St. Johns to stand trial. He was fined $100 or one year in jail or penitentiary at Florence. Having very little money, it looked like our dear father would have to go to jail as $100 in those days was a lot of money. But thanks to Solomon Barth, a non-Mormon, but a very good friend in times of need, came to his relief and let him have the money to pay his fine.”
Barth had come full circle, traveling west with the Mormons, creating a viciously anti-Mormon political machine in St. Johns and then paying a fine to keep a latter-day polygamist out of prison.
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