Mark Twain and the Mormons

It has been a while since I posted anything on this blog, and many things have happened since my last post. Sadly, many of those things will have to be left without comment – the moment has simply passed. But, in order to get back into writing, I thought I would start with a simple, and lighthearted post, and one which I have been wanting to write for some time.

Mark Twain in 1867

In 1872 Samuel Longhorn Clemens, (Mark Twain) published an autobiographical account of his travels thru the Wild West during the span of years from 1861-1867. It was during these travels in the pioneer west, that he first made use of the pen name, “Mark Twain”. While on these travels Samuel learned many things; among them was “how far he could push a joke” a lesson learned from some “disagreeable experiences” he brought upon himself.

He made these travels with his older brother, Orion Clemens, who was the newly appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory (its first and only). In writing the account, Twain relied on his brother’s diary to refresh his memory. In order to fill in the gaps, he borrowed heavily from his own active imagination, and wry sense of humor.

Altho I would recommend the book generally, it is very long, being 608 pages. And tho I have read a good deal of it, I could not push myself to complete it before the library stopped allowing my renewals.

However, for the interest and entertainment of the reader, I will reproduce some briefer quotations from the book below. The Great Salt Lake City, founded by Mormons in 1847, became known as, “The Crossroads of the West”. A great many travelers, famous, infamous, and otherwise, came thru Salt Lake City in those early pioneer days. Many of them were naturally curious to see the Mormons and their peculiar ways; namely, plural marriage. Samuel Clemens was no exception, and goes on for several chapters of his book, Roughing It, describing his experiences in Utah among the Mormons.

In the beginning of Chapter 13, after arriving in Great Salt Lake City (more commonly known today by its short form, “Salt Lake City”, or even just, “Salt Lake”), Twain reports:

We had a fine supper, of the freshest meats and fowls and vegetables—a great variety and as great abundance. We walked about the streets some, afterward, and glanced in at shops and stores; and there was fascination in surreptitiously staring at every creature we took to be a Mormon. This was fairy-land to us, to all intents and purposes—a land of enchantment, and goblins, and awful mystery. We felt a curiosity to ask every child how many mothers it had, and if it could tell them apart; and we experienced a thrill every time a dwelling-house door opened and shut as we passed, disclosing a glimpse of human heads and backs and shoulders—for we so longed to have a good satisfying look at a Mormon family in all its comprehensive ampleness, disposed in the customary concentric rings of its home circle.

He goes on to say:

Next day we strolled about everywhere through the broad, straight, level streets, and enjoyed the pleasant strangeness of a city of fifteen thousand inhabitants with no loafers perceptible in it; and no visible drunkards or noisy people; a limpid stream rippling and dancing through every street in place of a filthy gutter; block after block of trim dwellings, built of “frame” and sunburned brick—a great thriving orchard and garden behind every one of them, apparently—branches from the street stream winding and sparkling among the garden beds and fruit trees—and a grand general air of neatness, repair, thrift and comfort, around and about and over the whole. And everywhere were workshops, factories, and all manner of industries; and intent faces and busy hands were to be seen wherever one looked; and in one’s ears was the ceaseless clink of

One Crest

hammers, the buzz of trade and the contented hum of drums and fly-wheels.

The armorial crest of my own State consisted of two dissolute bears holding up the head of a dead and gone cask between them and making the pertinent remark, “UNITED, WE STAND—(hic!)—DIVIDED, WE FALL.” It was always too figurative for the author of this book. But the Mormon crest was easy.

The Other

And it was simple, unostentatious, and fitted like a glove. It was a representation of a GOLDEN BEEHIVE, with the bees all at work!

We saw the “Tithing-House,” and the “Lion House,” and I do not know or remember how many more church and government buildings of various kinds and curious names. We flitted hither and thither and enjoyed every hour, and picked up a great deal of useful information and entertaining nonsense, and went to bed at night satisfied.

On the next day Twain was very much excited to meet the famous, Brigham Young, but the feeling was not as mutual as he would have liked.

The second day, we made the acquaintance of Mr. Street (since deceased) and put on white shirts and went and paid a state visit to the king. He seemed a quiet, kindly, easy-mannered, dignified, self-possessed old gentleman of fifty-five or sixty, and had a gentle craft in

Brigham Young

his eye that probably belonged there. He was very simply dressed and was just taking off a straw hat as we entered. He talked about Utah, and the Indians, and Nevada, and general American matters and questions, with our secretary and certain government officials who came with us. But he never paid any attention to me, notwithstanding I made several attempts to “draw him out” on federal politics and his high handed attitude toward Congress. I thought some of the things I said were rather fine. But he merely looked around at me, at distant intervals, something as I have seen a benignant old cat look around to see which kitten was meddling with her tail.

By and by I subsided into an indignant silence, and so sat until the end, hot and flushed, and execrating him in my heart for an ignorant savage. But he was calm. His conversation with those gentlemen flowed on as sweetly and peacefully and musically as any summer brook. When the audience was ended and we were retiring from the presence, he put his hand on my head, beamed down on me in an admiring way and said to my brother:

“Ah—your child, I presume? Boy, or girl?”

As for Twain’s intentions to bring about a reformation of the Mormons, on the subject of polygamy, he had these sobering words to share in Chapter 14:

Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter.

I Was Touched

I had the will to do it. With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here—until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically “homely” creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, “No—the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure—and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.”

And finally in Chapter 15, he shares a humorous tale which, tho fictitious, has a kernel of truth. It was supposedly told to Mark Twain by a Gentile named Johnson:

Mr. Johnson said that while he and Mr. Young were pleasantly conversing in private, one of the Mrs. Youngs came in and demanded a breast-pin, remarking that she had found out that he had been giving a breast-pin to No. 6, and she, for one, did not propose to let this partiality go on without making a satisfactory amount of trouble about it. Mr. Young reminded her that there was a stranger present. Mrs. Young said that if the state of things inside the house was not agreeable to the stranger, he could find room outside. Mr. Young promised the breast-pin, and she went away. But in a minute or two another Mrs. Young came in and demanded a breast-pin. Mr. Young began a remonstrance, but Mrs. Young cut him short. She said No. 6 had got one, and No. 11 was promised one, and it was “no use for him to try to impose on her—she hoped she knew her rights.” He gave his promise, and she went. And presently three Mrs. Youngs entered in a body and opened on their husband a tempest of tears, abuse, and entreaty. They had heard all about No. 6, No. 11, and No. 14. Three more breast-pins were promised. They were hardly gone when nine more Mrs. Youngs filed into the presence, and a new tempest burst forth and raged round about the prophet and his guest. Nine breast-pins were promised, and the weird sisters filed out again. And in came eleven more, weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth. Eleven promised breast-pins purchased peace once more.

“That is a specimen,” said Mr. Young. “You see how it is. You see what a life I lead. A man can’t be wise all the time. In a heedless moment I gave my darling No. 6—excuse my calling her thus, as her other name has escaped me for the moment—a breast-pin. It was only worth twenty-five dollars—that is, apparently that was its whole cost—but its ultimate cost was inevitably bound to be a good deal more. You yourself have seen it climb up to six hundred and fifty dollars—and alas, even that is not the end! For I have wives all over this Territory of Utah. I have dozens of wives whose numbers, even, I do not know without looking in the family Bible. They are scattered far and wide among the mountains and valleys of my realm. And mark you, every solitary one of them will hear of this wretched breast pin, and every last one of them will have one or die. No. 6’s breast pin will cost me twenty-five hundred dollars before I see the end of it. And these creatures will compare these pins together, and if one is a shade finer than the rest, they will all be thrown on my hands, and I will have to order a new lot to keep peace in the family.

Sir, you probably did not know it, but all the time you were present with my children your every movement was watched by vigilant servitors of mine. If you had offered to give a child a dime, or a stick of candy, or any trifle of the kind, you would have been snatched out of the house instantly, provided it could be done before your gift left your hand. Otherwise it would be absolutely necessary for you to make an exactly similar gift to all my children—and knowing by experience the importance of the thing, I would have stood by and seen to it myself that you did it, and did it thoroughly. Once a gentleman gave one of my children a tin whistle—a veritable invention of Satan, sir, and one which I have an unspeakable horror of, and so would you if you had eighty or ninety children in your house. But the deed was done—the man escaped. I knew what the result was going to be, and I thirsted for vengeance. I ordered out a flock of Destroying Angels, and they hunted the man far into the fastnesses of the Nevada mountains. But they never caught him. I am not cruel, sir—I am not vindictive except when sorely outraged—but if I had caught him, sir, so help me Joseph Smith, I would have locked him into the nursery till the brats whistled him to death. By the slaughtered body of St. Parley Pratt (whom God assail!) there was never anything on this earth like it! I knew who gave the whistle to the child, but I could, not make those jealous mothers believe me. They believed I did it, and the result was just what any man of reflection could have foreseen: I had to order a hundred and ten whistles—I think we had a hundred and ten children in the house then, but some of them are off at college now—I had to order a hundred and ten of those shrieking things, and I wish I may never speak another word if we didn’t have to talk on our fingers entirely, from that time forth until the children got tired of the whistles. And if ever another man gives a whistle to a child of mine and I get my hands on him, I will hang him higher than Haman! That is the word with the bark on it! Shade of Nephi! You don’t know anything about married life. I am rich, and everybody knows it. I am benevolent, and everybody takes advantage of it.

I hope you all enjoyed these accounts, and can see the humor in them.

Happy Pioneer Day!

Plural Parenting

I’ve been a plural wife for almost 6 years. We have lived separately for 5 of those years as I got my teens grown and launched.

Charlotte had 3 children when I joined the family. Now she has 4.

It’s been very interesting being a second mother to her children.

I am very grateful that the basics of early parenting are so similar. Cosleeping, extended breastfeeding, baby wearing, etc. I”m grateful that we agree on discipline techniques and are constantly looking for better ways to parent each individual child.

For a long time, because I was only around parts of a couple of days a week, it was difficult finding my voice as a parent to the portion of the family I didn’t live with daily. Now that I live in the same overarching home, it has gotten much easier and I have much more enlightenment on the day to day running of the household. I’m beginning to understand how kids can work the system, and how much more plural parents have to be in communication in order to limit treats and deal with chore assignments.

I am a parent to these children of Joshua and Charlotte. I have a very vested interest in them and even more so now. We are a family.

We support each other in parenting. If we believe another adult to be out of line or too harsh, we save those criticisms for out of child earshot. I have been very neededly pulled out of situations where I escalated too abruptly and too loudly (AKA lost my damn mind). A pair of scissors and a Bluebird flour bag come to mind.

There are a couple of funny things which have happened recently:

Each night we have family time which consists of Joshua reading, each person sharing something about the day, and family prayer. A while ago, while gathering the 10-year-old came in sulking and complaining “In the last 5 minutes, I’ve been asked by 3 parents if I’ve brushed my teeth!” Sorry kid; it’s just a parent thing, and you have more than most.

I was reading a book to the 2 1/2-year-old about 5 little monkeys and their mother’s birthday. The little monkeys were making their mother a cake. Our toddler was very confused and asked “Where is the other mama?! as she thumbed through the pages looking for another mother. I told her that there was only one mother in the monkey family and she kept asking why.  I just explained that there are many families with only one mom.  She was very dissatisfied that that was the case.

We were at a Sunday meeting with other multiple-mother families and the 6-year-old was on a stairwell with a group of other young girls. She was attempting to explain who I was, “She’s kind of like my Stepmother, but she’s not.”  I called up to her, “Just call me your other mother. All of these girls likely have at least 2 maybe 3 moms.”  She had a sigh of relief and the other girls collectively nodded their heads in understanding.

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One of the most exciting and joyful things about being in my family is that I am expecting a baby in about a month.

As hard as it was to wait for so long, I am so happy this kiddo is being born into a plural family who lives together. I’m excited to have other parents who are so good at parenting and are much closer to the tiny years, so I can ask for help on things like baby carriers and EC.  I’m excited that this baby will be like an only child, but with older siblings who are eager to help and excited for a new family member.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Men Become Gods (book review)

I just finished reading the book When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back, by Stephen Singular.

The book moves from the narrative of Joseph Smith in 1820 and walks the reader through the roots and evolution of the FLDS Church. Since I have not spent much time studying the FLDS Church (or the history of other fundamentalist Mormon sects, for that matter), the book filled in several gaps in my knowledge of the history and connections between the groups and the families involved, as well as the context of the infamous 1953 Short Creek raid and some understanding of how Warren Jeffs ended up in charge of the FLDS Church. My husband Joshua is pretty much an expert on the different Mormon groups, both “fundamentalist” and otherwise, so I am always the weak link in our discussions on those topics. I’m glad I read this book and I hope I can find others to read that are just as interesting and informative. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

Warren Jeffs was arrested in 2006 and convicted (the first time) in 2007. The book was published just a few weeks after Jeffs’s sentencing, so the narrative ends rather abruptly with a courtroom scene; it doesn’t go into any of the FLDS drama that has happened in the last 10 or 11 years.

I felt like the (obviously non-Mormon) author was fair in his treatment of the doctrines and the stories. He helps the reader understand what the terrible problems were in Short Creek. Polygamy itself is not actually on that list.

The book says that in 1953, when Governor Pyle organized the raid,

The governor had made several miscalculations — but one was huge. The press had known of the coming raid but held off reporting on it until it took place. Now the media repeatedly showed heartrending images of families torn apart by law enforcement, with FLDS men being hauled off to jail as their wives cried and reached out for the children they’d just been separated from. Photos from that time show the adult males of Short Creek being treated no differently from thieves or murderers. Confronted with these pictures, the public confounded the governor and began to feel sympathy for the people of Short Creek. What right did Arizona have to tell these folks how to live? They weren’t harming anyone, so why not just leave them alone? Neither polygamy itself nor the problems surrounding it were as black and white as the governor had imagined (both then and now, some women much prefer plural marriage to conventional matrimony). There was more to life in The Crick than sexual license.

When I first picked up the book, I assumed that the author would demonize polygamy the way so many people in my life have done. I was pleasantly surprised at the neutral writing and I appreciate that the book was sprinkled with notes like the one above.

The trial itself was also amazingly neutral about polygamy and religion. It sounded like the judge did a fantastic job of making sure the jury understood and focused on the crime at hand: accomplice-to-rape for Jeffs’s role in a 14-year-old’s monogamous marriage to her 19-year-old first cousin. Polygamy actually had nothing to do with that marriage, nor with Warren Jeffs’s conviction, nor was it a factor in many of the other FLDS marriages with problems that were described in the book.

If I could change one thing about the book, I would have it emphasize the monogamy of those marriages. I recognize that some people, FLDS included, call themselves polygamists even if they are unmarried or monogamous. So in one sense, the term “polygamist” can simply mean a person who believes in polygamy or desires to be a polygamist.

On the other hand, consider this: When a crime is committed by a polygamist, the news headline never fails to highlight it, but when a crime is committed by a monogamist, that fact is always left out. The number of wives a man has isn’t what makes him violent or non-violent. Polygamous men, monogamous men, and single men alike can all be violent criminals and child molesters. In fact, being a polygamist might be evidence that a man isn’t a creep.

I like the following excerpt from When Men Become Gods. The part in bold reminds me of Tianna Foster’s answer to the question of why she wants to practice polygamy someday.

A group of plural wives in Centennial Park took the attorneys general of both Utah and Arizona on a tour of their community, explaining why they’d freely entered into this way of life and how no one was being harmed by it.

These women and others spoke out in favor of polygamy to CNN and ABC, citing various reasons. They liked knowing where their husbands were at night; sharing their sexual duties with other women; having several mothers around to help take care of all the children; and a stable environment that provided them with the financial, emotional, family, and spiritual resources to assist them in every phase of living. They enjoyed belonging to a culture and a faith that offered them religious absolutes, moral clarity, and protection from the external world. They didn’t approve of what America had become — particularly its political leadership and emphasis on consumerism — seeking instead to separate from mainstream values and beliefs. Sex was far less important in their lifestyle than outsiders believed: they simply didn’t place that much emphasis on it. Like Warren Jeffs himself, they felt they were answering to a calling higher than secular law, and any sacrifices or hardships endured were for the glory of God and their own salvation.

Some of the women mentioned the specific psychological benefits of polygamy. Plural marriage had helped them come to terms with difficult feelings like jealousy, insecurity, competition, and thinking that they “owned” their spouse. Instead of denying these complex emotions, they’d been forced to confront them in order to make their marriages work. They saw all this as a growth experience — a lifestyle that was not only tolerable, but preferable.

The most visible supporter of plural marriage was LeAnne Timpson, the administrator of the Masada Charter School in Centennial Park. Timpson, who described herself as a polygamist and a feminist, had attended Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was outspoken about her legal right to be a plural wife and the virtues of her choice. She considered her activism civil disobedience and eventually hoped to go all the way to the U>S> Supreme Court to have plural marriage decriminalized. Within her community, she often appeared before civic groups and the media to show that a woman with her educational background could embrace plural marriage. One of her patented replies to the charge that polygamists were abusing polygamists was that “monogamists are abusing monogamists.” …

After Utah and Arizona officials ended their tour of Centennial Park, they restated their point of view: they weren’t against polygamy among consenting adults and weren’t going to investigate or prosecute that. They were only interested in pursuing cases involved sexual abuse, forced marriages, and crimes against minors.

What do you think?  Have you read this book, or do you know much about Warren Jeffs?  Leave your comments below.