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!

The World is Upside Down

If buttercups buzzed after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches in the sea,
If ponies rode men, and the grass ate the cow,
If cats should be chased into holes by the mouse,
If mamas sold their babies to gypsies for half a crown,
If summer were spring and the other way ’round,
Then all the world would be upside down.

world upside down

I am amazed sometimes by the world I live in. Things are changing at such an alarming and accelerating rate, and it seems like things have just gone absolutely mad at times. The whole world does indeed seems upside-down at times, and here is the latest:

This legislative session, the Utah State legislature has just declared that adultery, sodomy, and fornication are no longer crimes. The justification given for this change is that these laws aren’t enforced anyway. Fair enough, but this is the very same thing they say about plural marriage, “We don’t enforce it.” However, in the case of plural marriage they go on to say, “But we just want to keep holding it over your heads.” The whole situation is crazy! These are the descendants of polygamists who settled the desert lands of Utah. They would happily throw their grandparents and great-grandparents in prison, while turning a blind eye to actual crimes. It is a sad state of affairs indeed, but I don’t want to get too much into the hypocrisy and lies surrounding the position taken by the state (that would take a separate post). I just want to highlight the absolute turn about of things!

When I heard about the startling change, I was immediately reminded of a passage from the book, Key to the Science of Theology, by Parley Pratt (one of the first apostles in the Mormon Church). Check it out.

Where is the nation called “Christian,” that does not uphold or permit prostitution, fornication and adultery with all their debasing, demoralizing, degenerating and corroding effects, with all their tendencies to disease and crime, to operate unchecked, and to leaven and corrode all classes of society?

Where is the “Christian nation” that does not prohibit the law of
God, as given to Abraham and the ancients in relation to marriage?

Where is the “Christian nation” that punishes the crime of adultery and fornication with death, or other heavy penalties?

Where are the institutions which would protect, encourage, and honour the patriarch Jacob, with his four wives and their children?

Where is the community who would feel themselves honoured in associating with such a family—although, all corrupt practices would be frowned down, and all persons discountenanced, who, under the name of gentility, nobility, or royalty, glory in their conquests and victories over the principles and practices of virtue and innocence?

Echo answers, Where?—unless we look to the far off mountains and distant vales of Deseret, a land peopled by the Latter-day Saints, and governed by the law of God, the keys of the eternal Priesthood, and organized in the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, Chapter 17

Oh how the tables have turned! They have flipped a full 180 degrees. Things could not be more upside down. Parley must be turning in his grave!

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! – Isaiah 5:20

How the teens took it…

Note from the blog owner: Melissa is my sisterwife and she is a new contributor to the blog.  This is her first post.  

 

I have been asked many times how my teens reacted to me becoming a plural wife.

I’ll tell you: Horribly. And I don’t blame them.

Let’s review the collapse (there will be other blog posts fleshing out these experiences):

All my life I was raised to be very judgmental of others: hair, weight, clothing, how people carried themselves, etc.  It was never just, people are different.  No.  There was some immeasurable standard to which all were compared, and to which all failed to measure up to.  They were mocked, made fun of, and there was an undercurrent of haughtiness embedded in my very soul.  I laugh now because my family was hardly the type who could lord anything over anyone.  Sincerely, my own grandmother was annoyed by us – she is likely the one this critical worldview was passed down from in the first place.

Naturally, I passed all of that judgmental world-view on to my children.  In the line of attack were people who lived in any manner differently from North American, mainstream, LDS, intact nuclear family.  The sad part is that my own family didn’t meet the criteria for which I judged people – I was a divorced single mother.

Believe it or not, I was the worst toward polygamists.  I didn’t know any polygamists, and I didn’t need to.  I believed they were apostate, weird, and likely inhuman.  I was mainstream LDS, born and raised in Colorado (with a 6-year stint in Seattle), and educated in Utah.  I’d been living in Utah since 2000.  My only reference points toward those living in plural families were news stories about how horrible the fundamentalists were; from not educating their children, to wearing old-fashioned garb, to their reprehensible lifestyle of sharing husbands.  I was particularly horrible during the Texas events of 2008.  I declared that all of the FLDS children should be removed by the authorities and raised by others.  I confess that I vocally cheered at their trauma.  God, I am such an ass (that was a prayer).

Five weeks before our lives were rocked by a series of events which left us homeless, (which in turn led to a series of events that created the structure, and mind/soul shift, for me to become a plural wife), upon hearing about a local plural family, I started off on a mean-spirited diatribe about how disgusting I thought their entire lifestyle was. We were in the car. All of my children were with me. And I was a monster. What a stage I set.

the teens primary colors

As all of this was going on, I did not prepare my children for my change of heart, and I don’t know that they would have understood it. When I first approached my children with the idea, they were horrified.  They thought I had lost my mind. Suddenly, their rock-solid mom was adrift and they thought she was mad, unstable, brainwashed – everything I had said about polygamist women.

As time progressed, I did other less than mindful things which were ignorant to the venom others held and created a huge backlash for myself.  I put my children in the care of my parents who were terribly misinformed and highly malignant against this lifestyle.  My father told my children that my husband was going to take my 16-year-old daughter as a wife. My parents called my ex-husband – a man known to them as an alcohol/crack/porn addict, and spouse abuser – to offer him custody (apparently, they thought he would be a better parent than I, in spite of all of his limitations, and regardless of me being the legal custodial parent since September of 2000).

My father called both the police and DCFS (Child Protective Services) to report me. At the time polygamy was not illegal. Thankfully, the authorities told my father to bring my children home, or be faced with possible kidnapping charges.  However, I still had to deal with a police officer coming to my home for a keep the peace call.

At one point I attempted to go to a counselor.  I had no idea who to reach out to.  The one place which specialized in polygamy turned out to be an agency which helped women and children flee from abusive plural situations.  The counselor told me that she had never counseled anyone entering a plural marriage and could not help us.  She did have a private session with my daughter where she told my child to flee the home entirely.  I have since found out that counselors who are LGBT(etc.) friendly are the most open to those joining a family in a plural situation.  I made one appointment for my daughter with an LGBT(etc.) friendly counselor, but the counselor moved immediately after and gave us a referral.  My daughter refused to speak with the referral.

Through all of this, my kids were confused, horrified, and had no resources to sort things out.  I truly believe that I could have made it much easier had I not been all along so horrendous about those unlike myself

TL;DR bottom line: Don’t judge.  Don’t teach others to judge.  You may be eating a feast of crow, and end up being judged by those for whom you set a terrible example of judgment.

My religious background and childhood experiences with polygamy

My parents raised my siblings and me to be faithful, active members of the LDS Church. We were all born in Utah, we attended Church as a family every Sunday, and we accepted every assignment our Church leaders were in the mood to give us.  We had Family Home Evening on Monday nights and every morning we read the scriptures as a family.  As children we all got baptized at age 8, and as youth we attended all the requisite youth classes and activities. When I was 15 years old my dad became the bishop of our ward (local congregation). All of us married in the temple, and all the brothers and brothers-in-law served missions.  Etc.  We were “good Mormons.”

I was taught to receive personal revelation, but only in the context of 1. Gaining a testimony, and 2. Making big life decisions such as whom to marry and what career path to follow.  Besides those 2 categories of revelation, knowing what to do was a matter of following the commandments and instructions as laid out by the Church leaders, both the local leadership and the General Authorities.  It wasn’t until I was married with kids that I finally figured out I had been missing personal revelation category # 3. God’s guidance in the life of the individual, if she’ll only let him lead her down the path he has for her and her alone.  (This fact was right in front of me the whole time, since General Conference and General Authorities give general guidelines, not specific directions.  Duh.  Man, am I slow sometimes.)

I remember when I was a young adult and I started to have questions about the Church and the gospel, my father would answer me by saying things such as, “Well, I’ve never heard that topic talked about in General Conference, so I don’t worry about it.”  He genuinely believed (believes) that obeying and following Church leaders defines righteousness.  This was what I was taught to believe as well, and that’s how I felt for my entire life up to my mid-20s.

My very limited experience with polygamy and polygamists

When I was a young child, my LDS aunt (my dad’s sister) became convinced that polygamy was required for exaltation (the Mormon name for the highest level of heaven), and when she couldn’t convince her LDS husband to take another wife, she left her marriage, deserted her 4 tiny children (the youngest was 6 months old), and became a plural wife. I would never recommend anyone do this. (Fortunately, my aunt’s amazing ex-husband ended up getting remarried to a wonderful woman who raised the abandoned children with love, and who has earned enough loyalty and respect from them to be called “Mom.”)  I believe watching his sister make such a life-wrecking decision was traumatic for my father.  I think it’s one of the reasons he rejected my polygamy so vehemently (I’ll share more details about his reaction in the future). He has had a difficult time seeing that in the case of his sister’s polygamy, her children lost their mother, but in the case of my polygamy, my children have essentially gained a mother.

I remember as a child seeing fundies in a grocery store and my mom hissing, “Don’t look at them — they’re polygamists!”

These few memories are all the experiences with polygamy I remember having in my childhood, aside from the confusing stories of polygamy I heard in Church itself, which I never understood but which I knew were controversial.  Even in my gospel studies as an adult, I procrastinated looking into “the whole polygamy thing” because I had a vague idea that it was troubling, and I suspected I wasn’t scholarly enough to understand it or even retain my faith if I looked too deeply into it.  As you’ll see later in my story, I never did get around to studying the issue, even though in 2013 I had clear enough personal revelation (category 3) to know God wanted me to live it and I plunged right in.