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Category Archives: Elmer

Was Grandma Elsie a Bigamist?

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 ancestry.com and familysearch.org. 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 ancestry.com 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

 

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

 

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A Man and His Wives

 



 

In one of my recent posts I discussed “Women in Mormonism“ – let’s talk about the men today. It is a well known fact that the Mormon sect practiced polygamy. This concept fascinates me and revolts me all at the same time.

My gg-grandfather, John Henry Spencer, was converted to Mormonism while still a child in England. He came to America with his family onboard the passenger ship Sheffield in 1841. Once the family made land fall at the port of New Orleans, they journeyed up the Mississippi River and joined the “Saints” at the “Kanesville Branch,” now known as Council Bluffs, Iowa. The family was living in Kanesville when Richard Spencer, my ggg-grandfather, and John Henry’s father, was killed on 22 Aug 1851 in some sort of an accident involving a horse – the details of which are unknown to me.

That next year, in 1852, John Spencer, along with his mother Mary and siblings, set out for Utah. They traveled (along with 200 other people) with the Third Company under Captain Thomas C. D. Howell. They left Kanesville, Iowa on 7 Jun 1852 and arrived in Salt Lake City on 27 Sept 1852. The next month in October of 1852 the family relocated to Payson, Utah.

It was in Payson that John met and married Jerushia Kibbe Elmer on 4 July 1858 (sealed for time and eternity). They became the parents of 14 children.

On that very same day, John’s brother, Richard Spencer married Lucy Lodica Elmer, Jerushia’s niece. Sadly, Richard Spencer died shortly after he married Lucy Lodica Elmer. The family story that has been passed down indicates that Richard Spencer and his wife Lucy Lodica attended a dance soon after their marriage, and being over heated and perspiring, he left the hall and laid down on a pile of wood to cool off – where he contracted a “lung fever.” It has been claimed that on his death bed he asked John to marry his widow and raise a family “for him.” Accordingly, about two years after Richard’s death, John Henry Spencer married Lucy Lodica Elmer on 7 Oct 1860 (for time only). (In a nutshell – the marriage with Jerushia is for “time and eternity” and the marriage with Lucy is “only for this lifetime.”) To this union ten children were born.

It has been said that the John Henry Spencer family home in Payson was made of adobe and logs and consisted of two large rooms with each wife being allotted a room. According to family oral history: “The ‘Indians‘ always came on baking day and they were given fresh baked bread. Both of John Spencer’s wives cooked large banquets for the settlers and the Indians alike. His wives and small children helped him a great deal in “Indian affairs.“ John’s first wife, Jerushia, was a nurse and midwife; many a night she was called to go out alone in the pitch black dark to answer a neighbor’s call. She had to travel over a bridge which she dreaded to cross and to her wonder it was her husband’s other wife, Lucy Lodica who carried the light. She helped the Indian squaws sew and care for their sick. While residing in Payson, John Henry Spencer owned property on both sides of Utah Avenue. Both wives helped in clearing away debris and rocks by carrying them in their aprons. Then they planted the orchard and garden for the family.”

Along with many of the other Mormon men, John Henry Spencer was prosecuted later in life for practicing polygamy (unlawful cohabitation and adultery).

Cause No. 672: UNLAWFUL COHABITATION: COMPLAINT – Offense: Unlawful Cohabitation; Complaint filed July 21, 1888; Warrant issued: July 21, 1888; “…on oath complains that John Spencer of Indianola in the County of Sanpete and Territory of Utah…..did then and there unlawfully live and cohabit with more than one woman to wit with Mrs. John Spencer and Jane Doe Spencer whereas name is otherwise unknown to complainant against the peace and dignity of the United States of America, and contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided. Wherefore complainant prays that a warrant may issue for the arrest of said John Spencer and that he be dealt with according to law.”
Cause No. 833: ADULTRY:  “….being then and thus a married man and having a lawful wife alive did commit this offense of adultery by having carnal knowledge of the body of one Lodica Spencer ….” 

He gave bail to await the Grand Jury action. His plural wife, Lodica, also gave bond to appear as a witness. The trial transcript reads: “Bishop John Spencer of Thistle married his second wife in the fall of 1860, had been taking care of his family since. He had lived with the Indians for the last twelve years and was a poor man. His youngest child was four weeks old and they have very little means. The court asked the defendant if he had taught the Indians anything about polygamy and he said, “No”. He was sentenced to a term of four months in prison.

During that time his family suffered; however, was able to sustain themselves through the coldest winter they had experienced.

 

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Elmer, Spencer

 

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The Women of Mormonism

When I look upon the faces of my strong, proud and handsome Mormon great-grandmothers (Lucy Lodica Elmer and Mary Rosetta Patterson), only their eyes tell of their great suffering, loneliness and anguish.  The cause?  The Mormon doctrine of polygamy or “plural marriage” as it is sometimes referred to. 

Lucy Lodicia Elmer - from the collection of Blaine Spencer

Before we start you should probably know that I am not Mormon nor do I have any plans of ever becoming one – in fact, I reject the doctrine completely.  I think it would be advantageous to the reader if I gave a brief history of the Mormon sect and how it came into existence:

This sect was formed in New York in 1827 by self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Smith who claimed that he received a visit from the “angel Moroni,” who gave him some “golden plates inscribed with symbols,” which Smith then translated into the Book of Mormon.  Volumes could be written about Joseph Smith, but suffice it to say, that he was shot to death by an angry mob while in a jail cell in Illinois.  After Joseph Smith’s death, the sect split into two distinct groups – the group that my ancestors were a part of, elected a “new prophet,” Brigham Young, and headed west across the great plains to Utah.  This became known as “the great Mormon migration.”  The practice of polygamy within the Mormon religion once again got it’s start when old Joseph Smith claimed to have received a revelation in July of 1831 that Mormon men could practice “plural marriage.”  This revelation would later be published in the Mormon’s “Doctrine and Covenants.”  Interestingly, the doctrine is still in place and can be found in their canonized scripture to this day.   

Mary Rosetta Patterson

During Joseph Smith’s life, polygamy was practiced, however, it was kept “secret” because, of course, it was illegal.  Not only was it kept secret from the authorities – it was initially kept secret from his first wife and the church breathern as well….hmmmmm.  Once in Utah the sect practiced “open” plural marriage and thus they began to experience life in large “plural” family groups.  Many of the biographies that I have received that pertain to my female Mormon ancestors paint a very inspiring picture – a picture of women that struggled together with their husbands and “sister-wives” to overcome great obstacles and challenges – who lived out their picture perfect lives – and then went on to their celestial reward.  

Even in the best of circumstances, this lifestyle seemingly would have been excruciating.  The struggle must have been constant with polygamous husbands giving great attention to favored wives and disregarding a less favored one; limited access to a husband’s time, resources and emotional support; jealousy among the wives; squabbles among the children; attempts to deal with sexual issues; fighting; and general chaos.  The problems seem too numerous to count.  As my own husband so sweetly stated, “Who could deal with more than one wife.”  In the records and biographies, it has been well-documented that many “plural” wives were very intelligent, resourceful and capable women – I thus find this whole arrangement very distasteful – and it honestly makes my skin crawl.  

Jerusha Kibbe Elmer

Out of my four ggg-grandfathers, two of them practiced polygamy: 

Elias Gardner married:  Harriet Snow; Amy Pitchard (my ggg-grandmother); Betsy Elizabeth Markham; Diantha Hanchett; Ellen Elizabeth Abbott; Ruth Markham; Annie Elizabeth England; Martha Todd; and Annie Ann Abbott – that’s nine wives and about 40 children. 

Alvis Houston Patterson married:  Martha Fillmore (my ggg-grandmother); Pricilla Harding Taylor; and Fannie Maude Carline – that’s three wives and about 20 children. 

Out of my two gg-grandfathers, both practiced polygamy: 

John Henry Spencer married:  Jerusha Kibbe Elmer and Lucy Lodica Elmer (my gg-grandmother) – that’s two wives and about 24 children. 

Henry Erastus Gardner married Emma M. Moesser and Mary Rosetta Patterson (my gg-grandmother) – that two wives and about 24 children. 

Martha Fillmore

Mercifully, and due to the fact that Utah wanted statehood, the Mormons “officially” discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890. 

“What is your opinion of Mormon polygamy as a religious tenant?,” was asked of an eminent divine, upon his return from a visit to Utah, where he had spent several weeks investigating the system, with eyes, ears and heart wide open.  “It may be good enough for a certain class of men,” was the reply, “but for the women, it is a damnable doctrine.  Religion was designed by the Creator to satisfy that longing for infinite good and purity, which exists, in some degree, in every human soul; its mission is to elevate and purify mankind, and a system which tends to degrade any portion of humanity is but a libel upon the sacred name of religion.  The best resources of our language cannot supply me with strong enough terms in which to denounce this infamous doctrine of the Mormon Creed!”  The corner-stone of polygamy is the degradation of woman, and it can flourish only where she is regarded and treated as a slave – and whatever degrades woman, degrades man also.  Excerpts from Women of Mormonism – The Story of Polygamy – as told by the victims themselves and edited by Jeannie Anderson Froiseth – 1886. 

It is not my intention with this post to instigate a discussion on the doctrines of Mormonism.  My focus is the effect that polygamy had on the women and children of these families.  I will write further as I learn more about these courageous, if not misguided, women.  To learn more about polygamy and Mormonism in general – I found this blog very interesting and straightforward –

http://skepticmormon.blogspot.com/2011/02/troubling-facts-about-polygamy.html

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Elmer, Fillmore, Patterson, Spencer

 

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