Was Grandma Elsie a Bigamist?

17 Jan

For some time many years, I have been on the trail of my great-grandmother, Sarah Elsie Gardner. Young, attractive and melancholy, by all accounts, Elsie had a difficult time settling into life as the wife of a sheep farmer.

Sarah Elsie Gardner was born 4 July 1882 in Indianola, Utah, the daughter of Henry Erastus Gardner and Mary Rosetta Patterson. Her parents were members of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and her father Henry was a polygamist – two wives and 23 children. While polygamy was openly practiced in the Utah Territory it was frowned upon by the rest of American culture. Utah at that time was vying for statehood, and under pressure from the United States government, the then president of the LDS Church had an alleged “revelation from Jesus” one night in 1890 which commanded that the church should cease the practice of “plural” marriage. Not surprisingly, statehood was granted to Utah shortly thereafter in January of 1896, and the United States government began rounding up and prosecuting practicing polygamists. During this time period many men went on the run and into hiding, and this included Elsie’s father, Henry Gardner.

Sarah Elsie Gardner

A Young Sarah Elsie Gardner – from the collection of Baine Spencer

In the absence of her husband – Elsie’s mother, Mary, was forced to supplement the family’s income. From the 1900 census, it is not altogether clear whether Mary worked at a boarding house or whether she opened her own home to boarders. Either way, as the oldest daughter in the household at that time, Elsie’s life was undoubtedly one of hard work and very little free time. It is likely that Mary depended on Elsie to perform household chores and cooking tasks – which were laborious at the turn of the century. In addition to this, Elsie was more than likely responsible for the care of the younger children still in the household so that her own mother could work (Amy, 16; Eva, 14; Millie, 12; Daisy, 9; Bertie, 1; and Silvie, 3).

Four months after the 1900 census was enumerated, on 22 Oct 1900, eighteen year old Elsie married 30-year old George Francis Spencer in Manti, Utah. George was the son of John Henry Spencer and Lucy Lodica Elmer. George was also the product of a polygamist family – his father had two wives and 24 children.

George and Elsie made their home in Indianola, which was settled in 1871, for the first five to six years of their marriage. Indianola is a small community located in Sanpete County, Utah – east of Route 89 at Thistle Creek. By early 1907, the family had moved to George’s birthplace, Payson, Utah. Payson, being more established, was settled by Latter-Day Saints in 1850. While Elsie “kept house,” George established a small sheep herding/farming business. According to statistics taken from the 1900 census, the average wage was $449 per year – George being a farmer and a sheep herder in a small rural community – probably profited much less than this.

Elsie and George had five children over a period of fourteen years (Earl Francis in 1903; Mary Lodica in 1905; Ernest Richard in 1907; Elmer Bert in 1908; and finally my grandmother, Pearl Eva in 1914); however, based on the records located and the family stories told, Elsie and George did not live happily ever after. It is unknown whether the couple ever formally divorced; however, in the 1920, 1930 and 1940 census for George Spencer, he is indexed as being divorced. George never remarried. By the 1920 census Elsie is present in the mining community of Mammoth, Juab County, Utah with a man indexed as her husband, Carl Person. Conflicting information extracted from that census leads me to believe that there was upheaval and confusion within the family – the children (with the exception of Pearl) were indexed twice – once in Indianola with their father; and once in Mammoth living next door to their mother and new husband.

Elsie’s granddaughter, Bonnie Allias Mortenson (daughter of Mary Lodica Spencer), confirms that Elsie did leave George and the children on multiple occasions. Bonnie additionally stated that when Elsie’s youngest child, Pearl, grew older, she was often left in the care of Elsie’s oldest daughter, Mary Lodica. Bonnie’s mother never spoke of her parents divorcing or her mother remarrying – only stating that, “Elsie grew weary of being poor all the time.” We cannot presume to know what led Elsie to abandon George and the children. One can only speculate that the burdens of her childhood, the marriage at 18 to a much older man, and the dreary day-to-day responsibilities of a poor farmer’s wife became more than the young woman could manage.

A more mature Sarah Elsie Gardner - from the collection of Margie A. Montoya Hensel

A more mature Sarah Elsie Gardner – from the collection of Margie A. Montoya Hensel

Today, 115 years after Elsie’s marriage to George, I have confirmed that Elsie did in fact marry again. (As an aside, I am forever grateful to all the many indexing volunteers at both and Because of their efforts new collections are coming online almost weekly, which is how I discovered Elsie’s second marriage in the Montana County Marriages database.)

 Elsie married Carl Person on 17 May 1918 in Butte, Silver Bow County, Montana. On the marriage license she describes herself as being the daughter of Henry E. Gardner and Mary R. Patterson Gardner having been born in Basin (Payson) City, Utah. Interestingly, Elsie further indicates that she had never been married and that she was 35 years old. Carl Person states that he is the son of John Person and Emma Johanson Person; that he is 39 years old; and was born in Halmstad Sweden. He also indicates that he has never been married. From other records we know that he was an ore miner employed at the Mammoth Mining Company.  Butte, Montana sits high in the Rocky Mountains and was settled in the Silver Bow Creek Valley as a mining town in the late 1800s.  First gold and silver was mined there and later the area became known for its abundant copper.  The small town was often called “the richest hill on earth,” and was the largest city for many hundreds of miles in all directions.  A very different life from what Elsie had been living in Indianola.

Marriage License - Elsie and Carl Person

Marriage License – Elsie and Carl Person

Seven years later, on 16 Feb 1925, Elsie died at the young age of 42 years. A majority of the public member trees on indicate that she died in Redlands, San Bernardino County, California; however, no one seems to have a source for this. I am researching a San Bernardino death record for an Elsie “Pearson” with matching dates to our Elsie; however, it is not proven that this is her.

My great grandmother, Sarah Elsie Gardner Spencer, is laid to rest in the Gardner plot at Payson City Cemetery. Her tombstone inscription – Mother – Sarah Elsie Spencer.

Sarah Elsie Gardner Spencer - Headstone - Payson City Cemetery in Gardner Plot

Sarah Elsie Gardner Spencer – Headstone – Payson City Cemetery in Gardner Plot



Posted by on January 17, 2015 in Elmer, Patterson, Spencer



25 responses to “Was Grandma Elsie a Bigamist?

  1. mickeybatin

    January 17, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Did you know my middle name is Elsie.  I was named after my dad’s mother.  I have always treasured that name, even though I never knew her.

    Until We Meet Again,   Mickey Batin 402-916-5695    

  2. mickeybatin

    January 17, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    PS:  As I was named after my Dad’s (Ernest Richard Spencer) mom, where does this fall in the lineage?  As far as Elsie to Elsie and who was his mom?   Any help you can give me would be wonderful.  Thank you!   Mickey

    Until We Meet Again,   Mickey Batin 402-916-5695    

  3. mickeybatin

    January 17, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    NEVER MIND!!!!!  I didn’t read far enough, this is his mother.   lolol

    Until We Meet Again,   Mickey Batin 402-916-5695    

  4. mickeybatin

    January 17, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    There is one child missing,  Aunt Marie.  Is she on the census? 

    Until We Meet Again,   Mickey Batin 402-916-5695    

    • Judy Curbow

      January 17, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      Yes, Mickey – I knew your middle name is Elsie….how cool that you were named after her. How sad that she died so young. Did you ever hear your dad speak of her? Can you share? Can you confirm that she died in California? I’d like to know what happened to her. She was so young when she died. I hope you and your family are doing well. Judy

    • Judy Curbow

      January 17, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      Her name was Mary Lodica…..Marie must have been a nickname.

  5. Shaffer Janis

    January 17, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    I must admit that Sarah’s later pictures show her looking beautiful and serene compared to the young one. I guess this means being the wife of a miner trumps being the wife of a sheep herder. I have often wondered if the formalities of divorce were necessary if each party agreed to the split in the old days. I wonder what was entailed to get one?

    • Judy Curbow

      January 18, 2015 at 7:47 am

      Jan – I’ll have to do some research on that. I know that very early on – women would have to go to the Legislature to get a divorce! Later to the Courts. I’m sure most of the pressure probably came from the church and from family. But divorce was more common than you’d think. It seems that most people just quit living together instead of formally getting a divorce. I totally agree with you….she looks much calmer and “together” in the more mature photograph….almost worldly.

  6. mickeybatin

    January 17, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    So you don’t have confusion Mary Lodica always went by “Marie.”  This is where I got confused also Uncle Burt, it isn’t Bert.  Also according to all records he was born 1909.  If this is a mistake it needs to be changed.     Love Mickey

    Until We Meet Again,   Mickey Batin 402-916-5695    

    • Judy Curbow

      January 18, 2015 at 7:52 am

      Mickey, yes, I met Aunt Marie in Salt Lake City one time. Marie must have been the name that she used…but her formal birth name is Mary Lodica. As for Burt/Bert, I will make a note. The birthdate that I’m using is from the Social Security Death Index and it says – 18 Jun 1908 – which could be in error. I’ve seen mistakes come from there. Looking back on the census records, it could be very likely that he was born 1909 as you say. Do you have any documentation that you could send me?

      • mickeybatin

        January 18, 2015 at 10:16 am

        I think we are all looking at the same stuff. I have a friend down in Utah that has been trying to sort all of this out including her second marriage as the church records were not quite in order. I can ask her.

  7. mickeybatin

    January 17, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Although it say’s in some places that Pearl is Carl’s “step daughter”, by her age, it is thought she is his “daughter.”  So when her mom died, what happened to Pearl??

    Until We Meet Again,   Mickey Batin 402-916-5695    

    • Judy Curbow

      January 18, 2015 at 7:54 am

      Right…..Pearl was the daughter of George F. Spencer, the census taker got it wrong. When her mother died Pearl was only 11 years old. She went back to her father George where she is with him in the 1930 census. By the 1940 census Pearl has married my grandfather Jose Celestino Montoya and they are in Bingham Canyon….(Aunt Marie is also there). Father George F. Spencer is living with Pearl and family.

  8. mickeybatin

    January 17, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    I’m finding as I dig deeper, I am answering my own questions.  So I have jumped the gun with a lot of stuff.  It has been such a joy to see all the of this.   Although I am adopted and don’t feel like I belong anywhere, I so much enjoy all of this.  Thank you for all the hard word you have put into this.

    Until We Meet Again,   Mickey Batin 402-916-5695    

  9. mickeybatin

    January 17, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Since daddy died in 1960 and I was only eight, all I knew is that I was named after her and he always said her name with some amount of reverence. She definitely died in California and they brought her family obviously back to Payson. I got to go to Payson last year and see my dad’s grave and the rest of the family. It was the first time I had been there in 30 years. Many tears were shed of gratitude for all of those family members. I saw Uncle Earl and Aunt Margaret’s home. They had taken such good care of their home and to say the least it was a mess (understatement)

    As far as Aunt Marie, “yes” I pieced it together that she used Marie as a nickname. I spoke with her before she died. She had all of the family records of everything, but wouldn’t let it go, so I don’t know what happened to it after she passed away or where it went.

    • Judy Curbow

      January 18, 2015 at 7:55 am

      I believe that her daughter Bonnie has it.

  10. mickeybatin

    January 17, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    By the way, you answered why the family stayed in Mammoth when there were only five families left in that old mining town and a mina bird that swore like a sailor. lol I have stories of Mammoth and Payson that are dear to my heart. Also when we get our new home this year and I can find the pictures, I have pictures of Uncle Earl, Dad, and Aunt Marie when they were very young. Unfortunately right now, I don’t know what box they are in.

    • Judy Curbow

      January 18, 2015 at 7:56 am

      I’d be forever grateful to you if you would share the family photos….such a treasure – and as we know – easily lost forever.

      • mickeybatin

        January 18, 2015 at 10:22 am

        I have no problem doing that whatsoever. I’m hoping by summer at the latest we will be in a permanent home again. Dad and Uncle Earl were extremely close and my mom because of the age difference between mom and dad was extremely close to Dot (Dorothy Rusby) and Don. Their son Bruce and I were inseparable when we were kids.

  11. Joan Quiroz

    January 18, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Great work! Very interesting and well written.

  12. MaryCurbow

    January 19, 2015 at 6:57 am

    Good work and so interesting! I sympathize with Elsie and applaud her strength.

    • Judy Curbow

      February 2, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting Mary. I’m trying to get back in the swing of writing – there’s never enough time to do everything I want to do.

      • mickeybatin

        February 2, 2015 at 2:44 pm

        Judy, at least you are trying. Sometimes life gets in the way, but you have done all of us a tremendous service.

  13. Jan Rubenkoenig

    March 26, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Judy, I enjoyed the information you have here. I have seen your name on Ancestry when I do searches and had wondered about the relationship but hadn’t asked. My grandmother was an Atwood. Our lines converge further back, my gggrandfather was George Washington Atwood son of William James Atwood and Elizabeth Ann Miles. I am going to bookmark the site and come back to read some more and look at the pictures.


    • Judy Curbow

      April 7, 2015 at 3:17 pm

      Hi Jan – thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to leave me this comment. My husband’s mother was an Atwood. He also goes back to William James Atwood and Elizabeth Ann Miles. I have that line up on my family history website at if you want to take a look. Thanks again, Judy


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