Polygamy: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow?

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The current
mishap in Texas over polygamy is similar to what happened in Arizona
over 50 years ago in a small community just over the Utah border,
away from Utah law enforcement, heavily against polygamy. This Fundamentalist
branch of the Mormon Church, based on Polygamy, in Short Creek,
Arizona, survived. Their leader over 80 was so shocked he died of
a heart attack still fathering babies at his age. The children wanted
their mothers, their fathers, and home life. In time the whole thing
became a debacle for the government of Arizona. Recently I visited
Short Creek now called Colorado City. The community at Short Creek
is flourishing as far as I could tell. Women wore the same long
dresses and bonnets as today at the temple in Texas. Too bad the
Texas authorities didn't learn from Arizona's mistake. It will be
interesting to see what becomes of this sad event. One of the problems
these communities develop is the surplus of boys. The older men
eagerly wait for the girls to sexually mature, but the boys are
often run out of the community leaving the young girls for the older
men. Nature balances out the males and females so that is a problem
in smaller communities.

The main branch
of the Mormon Church has been trying to stamp out polygamy for over
a hundred years without a lot of success, considering that the founder
and prophet Joseph Smith had a revelation from God approving of
polygamy, now a part of the official scriptures of the Church, DC
132. Their second prophet Brigham Young carried this to extreme
with 26 wives. The third prophet, John Taylor ordained men to continue
granting plural marriages. This authority has been carried on to
this day. The Fundamentalists are on solid doctrinal ground. They
delight in quoting from the early church leaders on plural marriage
and that it will never be taken from the earth. There are estimated
to be over 10,000 privately practicing polygamy throughout the West,
and it has little threat from the law except for under-age girls
brought into the fold. They argue that since God made girls fertile
at around age 14 or 15, then they should be available to marry at
that age. As long as they are low key and avoid sex with young girls
there is little threat to their existence.

Utah wanted
to become a state in the 19th century but with polygamy
sanctioned there was no chance. When the Republican Party came into
existence in 1856 they maintained there were two evils in America,
slavery and polygamy. Thus polygamy had to go and in 1890 the Church
started the painful process of ending plural marriage, but little
colonies emerged and have continued to emerge to this day as with
the temple in Texas. There were some colonies in Mexico from which
the Romney family came. Others are bound to emerge to the devout
believer.

My great grandmother
Emma has a story to tell on Mormon polygamy in the days it was sanctioned
by the Church in Utah. As a young woman born in 1833, in Radcliff
England she and her husband Joseph Warburton converted to Mormonism
at an early age and came to America, landing in Boston and then
on to Salt Lake City by wagon train arriving in the 1850s. He became
a very successful businessman, in real estate and founder of the
leading department store popular today throughout the Utah region,
the ZCMI. Brigham Young made the young leader a Bishop that lasted
until his death 40 years later. I heard the rest of this story from
my grandmother on her 90th birthday. Seems they wanted
to make him a General Authority but that meant he had to practice
plural marriage and that required the consent of his first wife
Emma.

Emma
said NO. When the leading Brethren tried to change her mind with
an appeal to God, and then hell, fire and brimstone, she put her
foot down hard and again said NO! to polygamy. She was not going
to have her husband tom-cat around town to bring home a young filly
into their home. In Utah in the 1860s this took a lot of courage.
The Church was all-powerful in that world. She took her family out
of the Church except for music and plays. The boys did not go on
missions. Her husband may have been disappointed with her objection
to polygamy, but when the jails were filled with polygamist men
in striped jail cloths he must have realized the wisdom of his wife's
decision.

His wife wasn't
through with making a name for herself. She went back to what became
the Mayo Clinic and became the first woman doctor in the Utah Territories.
When she died in 1920 at age 87, her obituary said, "Pioneer
Woman Crosses Over." You are deemed a pioneer if you came before
the railroad. In a book on Mormon biography there is a long article
about her husband but nary a word about this remarkable woman.

Polygamy
has a long history with man. The founder of the Moslems over a billion
today taught that you could have 4 wives recognized in Moslem countries.
Ancient Israel leaders all had many wives with King Solomon reported
to have had a thousand. The mother of the Arab peoples was Father
Abraham's second polygamist wife.

There is a
good chance polygamy with fundamentalist Mormons will be with us
for a long time so long as there are women willing to be a polygamist
wife. Not all are uneducated. There was the story of a woman lawyer
in Utah published in a national newspaper a few years ago, telling
the advantages of plural marriage. When she was off to court her
child was with a loving mother, one of the other wives. When sex
was wanted she would sign up on a calendar for her turn. I showed
this article to the secretaries in my office and they thought it
was hilarious about signing up for sex. Got a better idea?


April
21, 2008

Attorney
Charles Adams (send him mail)
is
the author of When
in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession
,
and Those
Dirty Rotten Taxes: The Tax Revolts That Built America
.

Charles
Adams Archives

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