“A Steady, Onward Movement,” chapter 30 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)
Chapter 30: “To Die in the Harness”
When Wilford Woodruff arrived in Salt Lake City three days after Brigham Young’s death, thousands of mourners were filing through the tabernacle, where Brigham’s body lay in state. The prophet’s casket was simple and had a glass panel on its lid, allowing the Saints to view his face one more time.
Saints in Utah believed that Brigham’s leadership had helped fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of the desert blossoming as a rose. Under Brigham’s direction, the Saints had irrigated the valleys of the mountains, watering the farms, gardens, orchards, and pastures that sustained several hundred settlements of Latter-day Saints. Most of these settlements had taken root, fostering communities of Saints who strove to live the principles of unity and cooperation. A few settlements, like Salt Lake City, were rapidly become urban centers of manufacturing and commerce.
But Brigham’s success as a planner and pioneer did not surpass his service as a prophet of God. Many of the people honoring Brigham that morning had heard him speak or seen him out among the Saints in the territory. Some had known him as a missionary in the eastern United States or England. Others remembered how he guided the Church safely through the uncertainty following Joseph Smith’s death. Others still had crossed the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains at his side. Many people, including the tens of thousands of Saints who had gathered to Utah from Europe and other parts of the world, had never known the Church without him.
As Wilford stood over the casket, he thought his old friend looked natural. The Lion of the Lord was at rest.1
On September 2, 1877, the day after the viewing, Saints filled the tabernacle for Brigham’s funeral while thousands more stood outside. Rows of looping garlands hung from the tabernacle’s arched ceiling, and black fabric draped the organ. The Saints did not dress in black, as was customary at funerals in the United States. Brigham had asked them not to.2
The Church had not yet sustained a new First Presidency after Brigham’s death, so John Taylor officiated at the meeting as president of the Quorum of the Twelve.3 Several apostles paid tribute to the deceased prophet. Wilford spoke of Brigham’s great desire to build temples and redeem the dead. “He felt the weight of this dispensation resting upon him,” Wilford said. “I rejoice that he lived long enough to enter into one temple and attend to its dedication, and to commence the work of others.”4
John testified that God would continue to lead the Church through the turmoil of the latter days. Already, the Salt Lake Tribune had predicted that Brigham’s death would lead to squabbling among Church leaders and disaffection among the Saints.5 Other critics hoped the courts would bring the Church’s ruin. George Reynolds, who had been retried and convicted for bigamy, was now appealing his case before the United States Supreme Court. If the court upheld his conviction, the Saints would be virtually powerless to defend their way of life.6
But John did not fear the future. “The work we are engaged in is not the work of man. Joseph Smith did not originate it; neither did Brigham Young,” he declared. “It emanated from God. He is its author.”
“And it is for us, as Latter-day Saints, now to magnify our calling,” he said, “that as the changing scenes we are anticipating shall come upon all nations—revolutions succeeding revolutions—we may have a steady, onward movement, guided by the Lord.”7
After the death of her father, Susie Young Dunford struggled to know what to do about her failing marriage. When her husband, Alma, left on a mission, she had hoped the experience would change him. But he continued to be angry and defensive in his letters to her.8
Not wanting to act rashly, Susie considered her options, praying continually about her dilemma. Shortly before his death, her father had reminded her that the roles of wife and mother were central to her success in life. Susie wanted to fulfill those roles righteously. But did that mean she had to stay in an abusive marriage?9
One night, Susie dreamed that she and Alma were visiting her father in the Lion House. Brigham had an assignment for them, but rather than give it to Alma, as he usually did when he was alive, he gave it to Susie. As she left to fulfill the assignment, Susie encountered Eliza Snow in the hall. Why had her father given her the assignment, Susie asked, when he had always asked Alma in the past?
“He did not understand then,” Eliza said in the dream. “But he does now.”
Eliza’s words lingered with Susie after she awoke. It was a comfort to realize that her father might have a different perspective in the spirit world than he had in life.
Susie filed for divorce soon after, and Alma returned from England and began consulting lawyers. Church leaders often tried to reconcile couples who wanted to divorce. But leaders also believed that any woman who wanted a divorce from an unhappy marriage should receive one.10 This was no less true for women who struggled to adapt to the challenges of plural marriage. Since the local court system did not recognize these marriages, local Church leaders handled divorce cases involving plural wives.11
Because Susie was Alma’s only wife, her case was different. As a woman in an abusive marriage, she could expect to receive a divorce, but she and Alma had to go before a civil court. Courts throughout the United States and Europe usually sided with men in divorce cases at this time. Although Church leaders counseled husbands to provide amply for former wives and their children, Alma insisted on getting custody of the children and nearly all the family’s property.
Susie’s and Alma’s divorce hearing lasted two days. In the end, Alma received full custody of their four-year-old daughter, Leah. Since their son, Bailey, was only two, the court placed him under Susie’s care while designating Alma his legal guardian.12
Losing her children tore at Susie’s heart, and she left the courtroom distraught over the ruling. But because the divorce had left her with no property and no means of financial support, she had little time to dwell on her pain. She badly needed a plan for what to do next.13
A short time after the divorce, Susie spoke to President John Taylor about her future. She had left school at age fourteen, but now she wanted to return. President Taylor was supportive and offered to help her get started at the local secondary school. As Susie left his office, however, she encountered apostle Erastus Snow.
“If you want to go to school, I’ll tell you the place to go,” he said. “A place where you can fill your soul with the rich light of inspiration as well as crowd your mind with the learning of the ancients and moderns. This place is the Brigham Young Academy at Provo.”
The next day, Susie took a train south to see the academy. Even though her father had founded the school, she knew little about it or its purpose. When she arrived, she met with the principal, her old schoolteacher Karl Maeser. He greeted her warmly and added her name to the rolls of the academy.14
Meanwhile, on the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the island of Molokai, Jonathan Napela’s health had taken a turn for the worse. When Napela had begun living among the people with leprosy on the peninsula, he was not afflicted with the disease ravaging so many other Hawaiians, including his wife, Kitty. Now, almost five years later, the disease had taken hold of him too. His face was swollen almost beyond recognition, and many of his teeth had fallen out. His hands, which had blessed countless people for more than twenty years, were riddled with sores.15
On January 26, 1878, Napela and Kitty welcomed into their home two missionaries, Henry Richards and Keau Kalawaia, as well as Nehemia Kahuelaau, the presiding Church authority on Molokai. Keau and Nehemia were longtime Hawaiian Saints, and both had served several missions. Henry was the youngest brother of apostle Franklin Richards and had served his first mission to the islands in the 1850s, a few years after Napela’s baptism. Henry had last seen Napela in Salt Lake City in 1869, but now, less than a decade later, he was surprised by how much Napela’s appearance had changed.16
The next day was the Sabbath, and Napela planned to take his guests to visit the branches on the peninsula. Despite his illness, Napela continued to lead the Church in Kalaupapa, overseeing seventy-eight Saints in two branches. But before Henry could travel throughout the settlements, he needed to present a visitor’s permit to Father Damien, the Catholic priest who served as the colony’s superintendent. Because the Hawaiian board of health advised visitors against spending the night with people who had leprosy, Henry would stay at Father Damien’s house until morning.
Father Damien had in fact already contracted leprosy, but the disease was still in its earliest stages and no one knew about his condition. Like Napela, he had devoted his life to caring for the spiritual and physical well-being of the exiles on Kalaupapa. Though he and Napela disagreed on some religious matters, they had become close friends.17
In the morning, Napela and Henry attended a branch meeting in the home of Lepo, the branch president of the Saints on the eastern shore of the peninsula. Between forty and fifty people, many of whom were not members of the Church, attended the meeting. Some of them appeared healthy. Others were covered from head to foot in sores. The sight of their suffering moved Henry to tears. He and Keau spoke for forty-five minutes each. When they finished, Nehemia and Napela gave brief remarks.
After the morning meeting, Napela took Henry and Keau to visit the other branch on the peninsula. Henry then spent the rest of the evening and the following morning visiting the sickest people in the settlement with Father Damien.
Napela, Nehemia, and Keau were waiting for Henry when he returned. Before his visitors left, Napela asked them for a blessing. It would not be long before he and Kitty were bedridden, and they would probably never see Henry again.
Henry placed his hands on Napela’s head and spoke the words of the blessing. With heavy hearts, the old friends then said goodbye, and Henry, Keau, and Nehemia started back up the steep mountain trail.18
Later that summer, in rural Farmington, Utah, Aurelia Rogers had dinner with two prominent Relief Society leaders from Salt Lake City, Eliza Snow and Emmeline Wells. The women had come to Farmington for a Relief Society conference, and Aurelia, a local Relief Society secretary, had an idea she urgently wanted to share with them.19
Aurelia was keenly aware of the needs of children. When she was twelve, her mother had died, leaving her and her older sister in charge of four younger siblings while their father served a mission. Now in her forties, she had seven living children, the youngest a boy just three years old. Lately, she had worried about the young boys in her community. They were rowdy and often stayed out late at night.
“What will our girls do for good husbands?” Aurelia asked during dinner. “Could there not be an organization for little boys, and have them trained to make better men?”
Eliza was intrigued. She agreed that young boys needed more spiritual and moral guidance than they received in Sunday School or their regular day schools.
Eliza took the idea to John Taylor, who gave his approval. She sought the support of Aurelia’s bishop, John Hess, as well. Eliza wrote him about the proposed organization, and Bishop Hess soon called Aurelia as president of the ward’s new Primary Mutual Improvement Association.
As Aurelia planned how to reach out to the boys in her ward, she realized their meetings would be incomplete without the girls. She wrote Eliza, asking if she should also invite the girls to take part in Primary.
“We must have the girls as well as the boys,” Eliza wrote back. “They must be trained together.”20
On a Sunday in August 1878, Aurelia and Bishop Hess met with parents in Farmington to organize the Primary. The bishop spoke first. “I hope parents will feel the importance of this movement,” he said. “If anything in this life should engross the attention of parents, it should be the care of their children.” He set apart Aurelia and her counselors, and Aurelia spoke strongly about the need for an organization to support parents in teaching children.
“I feel that this move will be of much benefit,” she said. She then compared the children in Farmington to an orchard of young trees. “The roots of the trees should be looked to,” she said, “for if the root is sound, the tree will be sound, and there will be but little trouble with the branches.”21
More than two hundred children gathered two Sundays later for the first meeting of the Primary. Aurelia did her best to maintain order. She organized the children into classes by age and assigned the oldest child in each class to act as a monitor. At the next meeting, she invited the children to raise their hands to sustain her and the other leaders.
Aurelia’s teachings to the children were simple and sincere: No child is better than another. Avoid contention with others. Always return good for evil.22
In September 1878, about a month after the organization of the Primary, President Taylor sent apostles Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith on a mission to gather more information about early Church history. Orson was the Church historian, and Joseph had long worked in the Historian’s Office.
Traveling east, Orson and Joseph stopped in Missouri to visit David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. The apostles wanted to interview him and see if he would sell them the manuscript that had been used by the printer to typeset the first edition of the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris had passed away in Utah in 1875, and David was the only one of the Three Witnesses still alive.
David agreed to speak to the apostles in their hotel room. He had not returned to the Church after his 1838 excommunication, though recently he had helped found a church that used the Book of Mormon as scripture. Now over seventy years old, David expressed surprise when Orson introduced himself. In 1835, David had assisted Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris in calling Orson as one of the first apostles of the dispensation. At the time, Orson had been a shy, slender young man. Now he had a broad waist, a receding hairline, and a long white beard.23
Soon after the interview began, Orson asked David if he remembered when he saw the gold plates Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon.
“It was in June 1829,” David said. “It was just as though Joseph, Oliver, and I were sitting just here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light.” David related that an angel had then appeared with the ancient records, the Urim and Thummim, and other Nephite artifacts.
“I saw them just as plain as I see this bed,” he said, striking the bed beside him with his hand. “I heard the voice of the Lord as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God.”
Orson and Joseph asked more questions about the Church’s past, and David answered them with as much detail as he could. They inquired about the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon, which Oliver Cowdery had given to David. “Would you not part with it to a purchaser?” Orson asked.
“No. Oliver charged me to keep it,” David said. “I consider these things sacred and would not part with nor barter them for money.”24
The next day, David showed the manuscript to the apostles. As he did so, he noted that the Lord had wanted His servants to take the Book of Mormon to all the world.
“Yes,” Joseph replied, “and we have sent that book to the Danes, the Swedes, the Spanish, the Italians, the French, the Germans, the Welsh, and to the islands of the sea.”
“So, Father Whitmer,” Joseph continued, “the Church has not been idle.”25
Later that fall, in Utah, sixty-seven-year-old Ane Sophie Dorius traveled to the St. George temple with her oldest son, Carl. Nearly thirty years had passed since Ane Sophie had divorced Carl’s father, Nicolai, after he joined the Latter-day Saints. She had since cast aside her bitterness toward the Church, embraced the everlasting gospel, and left her native Denmark to gather to Zion. Now she was about to participate in sacred ordinances that would begin to mend her fractured family.26
Ane Sophie had emigrated to Utah in 1874, two years after Nicolai passed away. Before he died, Nicolai had expressed hope that he and Ane Sophie would one day be sealed together for eternity.27
When Ane Sophie arrived in Utah, she settled in Sanpete Valley near the families of her three surviving children with Nicolai—Carl, Johan, and Augusta. Over the years, Ane Sophie had seen her sons during their several missions to Scandinavia. But when she reunited with Augusta, who was thirty-six years old and the mother of seven children, it was the first time they had seen each other in over two decades.28
Settling in Ephraim, Ane Sophie embraced her new life as a mother and grandmother. When Brigham Young and other Church leaders reorganized the wards and stakes in 1877, they split the Ephraim Ward in half and called Carl to serve as the bishop of the Ephraim South Ward. Afterward, whenever Ane Sophie attended a play or musical performance in town, she would enter without a ticket and simply proclaim with a smile, “I am Bishop Dorius’s mother.”
Ane Sophie had been a successful baker in Denmark, and her family in Utah benefited from her talents after her arrival. She enjoyed dressing nicely for get-togethers where Danish pastries were served. On her birthday, she would wear a red geranium on her dress, bake a large cake, and invite all her family and friends to celebrate with her.29
Ane Sophie and Carl entered the St. George temple on November 5, and Ane Sophie was baptized for her mother and for her sister who had passed away when she was young. Carl received the ordinance for Ane Sophie’s father. Ane Sophie received her endowment the following day and later performed the ordinance for her mother and sister while Carl performed it on behalf of his grandfather. Ane Sophie’s parents were also sealed together, with her and Carl acting as proxies.
On the day she received her endowment, Ane Sophie was sealed to Nicolai, with Carl acting as proxy, healing the bond that had been broken in mortality. Carl was then sealed to his parents, with apostle Erastus Snow, one of the first missionaries to Denmark, acting as proxy for his father.30
In early January 1879, Emmeline Wells and Zina Presendia Williams, one of Brigham Young’s daughters, left Utah to attend a national convention of women’s rights leaders in Washington, DC.31 Since the indignation meetings of 1870, Latter-day Saint women had continued to champion women’s rights publicly in Utah and the rest of the country. Their work had even attracted the attention of some of the nation’s leading activists for women’s rights, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who together came to Salt Lake City and spoke to Latter-day Saint women in the summer of 1871.32
While attending the convention in Washington, Emmeline and Zina Presendia intended to lobby Congress on behalf of the Church and Utah’s women. Recently, in ongoing efforts to weaken the Saints politically, some legislators had proposed taking the right to vote away from Utah women. Emmeline and Zina Presendia wanted to defend their right to vote, speak out against the government’s efforts to interfere with the Church, and seek political support at a time when George Reynolds’s bigamy conviction was being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.33
This was not the first time Emmeline had undertaken an enormous challenge for the Church. In 1876, at the height of a grasshopper infestation, Brigham Young, Eliza Snow, and leaders of the retrenchment movement had called her to lead efforts to store grain in the territory. By the end of 1877, she had led the Relief Societies and Young Ladies’ Associations in collecting more than ten thousand bushels of grain and building two granaries in Salt Lake City. Following her instructions, many Relief Societies in the territory had also stored grain in bins in their Relief Society halls or ward buildings.34
Emmeline, a plural wife of Daniel Wells, was also known as a staunch defender of plural marriage and the rights of Latter-day Saint women. In 1877, she became the editor of the Woman’s Exponent, and she used its columns to express her opinions on a variety of matters, both political and spiritual. Though swamped with work since taking the lead on the newspaper, she believed that publishing it was vital to the cause of the Latter-day Saints.35
“Our paper is improving and benefiting society,” Emmeline noted in her journal soon after taking over the Woman’s Exponent. “I desire to do all in my power to help elevate the condition of my own people, especially women.”36
When Emmeline and Zina Presendia arrived in Washington, George Q. Cannon, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton welcomed them to the city. They also learned that two days earlier, the Supreme Court had unanimously upheld George Reynolds’s conviction, ruling that the United States Constitution protected religious beliefs but not necessarily religious action. The court’s decision, which could not be appealed, meant that the federal government was free to pass and enforce laws prohibiting plural marriage.37
In the days that followed, Emmeline and Zina Presendia attended the women’s convention, defending plural marriage and their right to vote. “The women of Utah have never broken any law of that territory,” Emmeline declared, “and it would be unjust as well as impolitic to deprive them of this right.”
“The women of Utah do not propose to relinquish their rights,” Zina Presendia added, “but to aid their sisters throughout the land.”38
On January 13, Emmeline, Zina Presendia, and two other women from the convention went to the White House to meet President Rutherford Hayes. The president invited the group into his library and listened politely as the women read the resolutions of the convention, including some that rebuked him for not doing more to support women’s rights.
Emmeline and Zina Presendia also cautioned the president against enforcing the Morrill antipolygamy law of 1862. “Many thousand women would be made outcasts,” they said, “and their children made illegitimate before the world.”
President Hayes expressed sympathy, but he made no promises to help. His wife, Lucy, soon entered the room, listened graciously to Emmeline and Zina Presendia’s appeal, and gave the visitors a tour of the White House.39
In the following weeks, Emmeline and Zina Presendia testified before a congressional committee and spoke to leading politicians on behalf of the Saints. They also presented a memorial to Congress asking for the repeal of the Morrill law. In the memorial, they asked Congress to pass laws that would recognize the legal status of the wives and children in existing plural marriages.40 Some people were impressed by their courageous defense of the Saints’ beliefs. Others treated them like curiosities or complained about plural wives being allowed to speak at the national women’s rights convention.41
Before leaving Washington, Emmeline and Zina Presendia attended two parties hosted by Lucy Hayes. Despite their efforts, Emmeline and Zina Presendia had been unable to change the president’s view of the Saints, and he remained determined to destroy the Church’s “temporal power” in Utah. Still, Emmeline appreciated Lucy’s kindness and admired her simple tastes, charming manner, and firm refusal to serve alcohol in the White House.
At a reception on January 18, Emmeline presented Lucy with a copy of The Women of Mormondom and a personal letter. Inside the book she had written a short message:
“Please accept this token of the esteem of a Mormon wife.”42