Church History
34 Nothing to Fear from the Wicked

“Nothing to Fear from the Wicked,” chapter 34 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)

Chapter 34: “Nothing to Fear from the Wicked”

Chapter 34

Nothing to Fear from the Wicked

Pamphlet titled Why We Practice Plural Marriage

On March 8, 1885, Ida Udall awoke on her twenty-seventh birthday to glorious sunshine. But as much as she welcomed a warm day at the end of winter, Ida knew she had to be careful when stepping outside. Most days she had to stay indoors until the sun went down—or risk being recognized by a United States marshal.1

Eight months had passed since Ida had fled her home in St. Johns, Arizona, to go “underground,” a term the Saints were beginning to use to describe life in hiding from the law. In that time, her husband, David, had been indicted for polygamy and gone to trial with five other Saints. Nearly forty men had testified at the trials, and several of them had sworn falsely against the Saints. “There seems to be no law or justice for Mormons in Arizona,” David had written to Ida at the time.2

When the trial concluded, five of the six men were convicted of polygamy. Three men were sentenced to serve three and a half years at a penitentiary in Detroit, Michigan, two thousand miles away. David alone had avoided conviction, but only because his case had been delayed for six months while the prosecution searched for more witnesses against him—including Ida.3

After leaving Arizona, Ida had moved in with David’s father and stepmother in Nephi, a town about eighty miles south of Salt Lake City. Only Ida’s closest family members and friends knew where she was.

Ida had never spent time with her in-laws before, so at first she felt like she was living with strangers. But she had since grown to love them and had made friends with her new neighbors, including other plural wives who were hiding to protect their families. Attending Church meetings and socializing with friends now helped to brighten her long, lonely days.4

On Ida’s birthday, her friends and family in Nephi threw her a party. But those who were dearest to her heart—her parents, David, and David’s first wife, Ella—were hundreds of miles away. She had not seen David for almost six months. And his absence felt particularly hard to bear since she was expecting their first child in a few weeks.5

A short time after the birthday party, Ida received a copy of a newspaper from Arizona. When she opened the paper, she was stunned to see a headline announcing the death of her mother, Lois Pratt Hunt. Lois had been only forty-eight years old, and Ida was not prepared to lose her.

Ida’s friends gently took the newspaper from her hands and sat with her until dusk. A few hours later, she went into labor and gave birth to a healthy, blue-eyed girl she named Pauline.

The weeks that followed were a blur of sorrow and joy, but Ida was grateful to have Pauline with her. “I was blessed with a dear little daughter of my very own,” she wrote in her journal. “I thanked God that I now had something to live and labor for.”6

That spring, in northern Utah, Sagwitch, his wife Moyogah, and sixteen other Shoshones ascended the hill leading to the Logan temple.7 The temple had been finished and dedicated a year earlier, a testament to the faith and hard work of Saints in northern Utah and southern Idaho. Among those who had labored tirelessly to build the temple were Sagwitch and other Shoshone Saints.8

The Shoshones had traveled a long road to reach the temple. Twelve years had passed since Sagwitch and over two hundred other Shoshones had joined the Church. They worshipped in their own ward and in their own language.9 Sagwitch and Moyogah had been sealed in the Endowment House,10 and Sagwitch’s son Frank Timbimboo Warner had been called as a missionary among the Shoshones.11

But the U.S. Army’s attack on the Shoshone camp along the Bear River still haunted the survivors, and other hardships continued to plague them. After joining the Church, Sagwitch and his people received land in northern Utah to settle on and farm. But a few months after the Shoshones arrived, people in a nearby town who were not members of the Church began to fear that white Saints were inciting Indians to attack them. The townspeople threatened the Shoshones and forced them to abandon their land just as they were beginning their harvest. The Shoshones returned the next year, but grasshoppers and stray stock invaded their fields and ate their crops.12

Acting under President John Taylor’s direction, Church leaders soon found land for the Shoshones along Utah’s northern border.13 Now their small town, Washakie, had several homes, corrals, a blacksmith shop, a cooperative store, and a schoolhouse.14

Building a new life was demanding, but it had not kept Sagwitch and his people from helping to construct the temple. With the little time they had to spare, men from the community would travel by team and train to Logan, where they helped haul the stone. At other times they prepared the mortar that held the temple walls together or mixed plaster to cover the interior walls. By the time the temple was dedicated, the Shoshones had donated thousands of hours of labor to build the sacred structure.15

Sagwitch had taken his turn too, though he was getting old and his hand was scarred from the Bear River massacre. The slaughter was never far from his people’s minds. Many survivors now reckoned their age by how many years had passed since the horrifying event.16 They could not forget the parents, siblings, husbands, wives, children, and grandchildren they had lost.

On the day of the massacre, Sagwitch had not been able to stop the soldiers from killing his people. But in the spring of 1885, he and other Shoshones spent four days in the temple, performing ordinances on behalf of their deceased relatives, including many who had been killed at Bear River.17

In June 1885, Joseph Smith III and his brother Alexander came to Utah Territory on another mission for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As previous missionaries from their church had tried to do, the brothers wanted to convince the Saints in Utah and elsewhere that the prophet Joseph Smith had never practiced plural marriage.18

Among the Saints who noted their arrival was Helen Whitney, the fifty-six-year-old daughter of Heber and Vilate Kimball. Helen was familiar with the brothers’ message. In fact, she had once published a pamphlet, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph, in response to Joseph III’s claims about his father. As a plural wife of Joseph Smith herself, Helen knew for certain that the prophet had practiced plural marriage.19

Helen was fourteen when her father taught her the principle and asked her if she would be sealed to Joseph. Her feelings had revolted at first, and she responded indignantly to his words. But over the course of the day, as she thought about what to do, she knew that her father loved her too much to teach her anything that was contrary to God’s will. She agreed to the sealing, believing the union would help exalt her and her family and connect them to Joseph Smith in the eternities.

The arrangement had been unconventional in almost every way. Helen was young for marriage, although some women her age did marry in the United States at that time. Like some of Joseph’s other wives, she was sealed to the prophet for eternity only. She and Joseph rarely interacted socially, and she never indicated that they had an intimate physical relationship. She continued to live in her parents’ home and, like other plural wives in Nauvoo, kept her sealing private. But she had been the age when some young women began courting, making it hard for her to explain to her friends why she stopped attending some social gatherings.20

After the prophet’s death, Helen had married Horace Whitney, a son of Newel and Elizabeth Ann Whitney. Helen was seventeen and Horace was twenty-two at the time, and they were deeply in love. On the day of the marriage, they promised to cling to one another for the rest of their lives and, if possible, in the eternities. But at the altar of the Nauvoo temple, they were married for this life only, since Helen had already been sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity.21

Later, after settling in Utah, Helen had consented to Horace’s marriages to Lucy Bloxham and Mary Cravath. Lucy died a short time later, but Mary and Helen lived next door to each other and enjoyed a good relationship. Helen and Horace were happily married for thirty-eight years, and she gave birth to eleven children.22 Horace died on November 22, 1884, and Helen now spent some of her time writing for the Deseret News and Woman’s Exponent.23

Plural marriage had never been easy for Helen, but she defended it vigorously. “Had it not been for a powerful testimony from the Lord,” she wrote, “I do not believe that I could have submitted to it for a moment.”

A few years after writing Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph, Helen had published a second pamphlet, Why We Practice Plural Marriage, which addressed common criticisms of the practice. “There can be no evil,” she told her readers, “in a thing that inspires prayer, drives selfishness from the heart, and lengthens the cords of human feelings, leading one to do greater deeds of kindness outside of his or her own little circle.”24

Though writing sometimes exhausted Helen, the income paid for her newspaper subscription and other expenses.25 Her editorials chastised the Church’s persecutors for championing freedom and religious liberty on the one hand and pursuing a ruthless campaign against the Church on the other. Her words also provided encouragement to her fellow Saints.

“If this people will do their part, the powers of the Almighty will be made manifest in their behalf,” she reassured her readers in August 1885. “We have nothing to fear from the wicked.”26

Helen viewed Joseph III’s efforts to distance his father from plural marriage as an assault on truth.27 One day, while traveling by train through central Utah, she noticed a man who boarded her car and took a seat in front of her. He did not look like a member of the Church, and Helen wondered if he was a government official there to enforce the antipolygamy laws. After the stranger exited the train, Helen learned to her shock that he was Joseph Smith III.

“If I had known him,” she wrote in her journal, “I would have been more bold to criticize and tempted to make myself known.”28

Though Helen spent most of her life married to Horace, she knew she had been sealed to the prophet Joseph Smith. How her relationships would work themselves out in the hereafter was not always clear to her. But she intended to claim all the eternal blessings God had promised her family. God had always brought her through the furnace of affliction, and she continued to trust that He would make things right in the end.

“I have long since learned to leave all with Him, who knoweth better than ourselves what will make us happy,” she wrote.29

A few months after the birth of her daughter, Ida Udall was on the move again. Traveling under an assumed name, she stayed for a few weeks at a time with different friends and relatives in Utah.30 David would be going to trial in August 1885. Since prosecutors were unable to assemble a convincing case against him for polygamy, they had turned instead to a trumped-up perjury charge his enemies in St. Johns had leveled against him some time earlier.31

Ida and David had last seen each other in May 1885, two months after Pauline was born. Since then, Ida had received a letter from David expressing regret over all she had to endure because of him.

“Better, it has been my feelings sometimes, that I had suffered imprisonment than to have you going by another name and running here and there for fear of being known,” he wrote.32

But Ida was hopeful that her sacrifice would be worth the struggle, especially since many people believed that David would be acquitted. As she awaited news of the trial in Arizona, she took comfort in caring for Pauline. Attending to the baby’s needs was sometimes the only thing distracting her from the wearying suspense.33

On August 17, news arrived that David had been convicted on the perjury charge and sentenced to three years in prison. Ida was dismayed, but she hoped she would at least be able to return to her family in Arizona. Apostle George Teasdale recommended against coming out of hiding, however. If David was pardoned in the flimsy perjury case, his enemies would again try to convict him of polygamy.

Ida followed the apostle’s advice and did not return to Arizona.34 But with every passing day, she grew more and more anxious to hear from David in prison. He could only write one letter a month to his family, so she depended on Ella to send her copies of his letters. Ella was facing her own challenges, though, especially after her youngest child, Mary, passed away in October 1885.

For three months, Ida received no letters from David. When a bundle of his letters finally arrived, she found that he had begun using a code name for her. Wary of incriminating himself, David now referred to her by her mother’s name, Lois Pratt.35

That fall, while hiding from marshals south of Salt Lake City, President Taylor called Jacob Gates on another mission to Hawaii. It had been six years since Jacob had returned from his first mission to the islands. In that time, he had married Susie Young, who now went by Susa. They were living in Provo, raising their three children together and expecting another. Bailey, Susa’s son from her first marriage, also lived with them. Her daughter Leah, however, still lived with her father’s family in northern Utah.

Jacob’s unexpected mission call left Susa anxious and full of questions. The letter asked Jacob to leave for Hawaii in just three weeks, giving him little time to settle up his business affairs. It also did not indicate if he could take his family with him, as missionaries were sometimes permitted to do.

Susa wanted to go with him and take the children, but she was not hopeful. “From the tone of Jacob’s notification, he doesn’t think I will be wanted to go,” she wrote to her mother the next day. “So you can imagine my prospects for the next three years.”36

Jacob accepted the mission call promptly, but he asked President Taylor if Susa and the children could join him. “I would rather have them go with me,” he wrote. He reminded the prophet that Susa had been to Hawaii before and knew the area well.37

No immediate response came, and Susa prepared to send Jacob off on his own. She learned that three other missionaries had already received permission to take their families to Laie, where housing was limited, so she did not expect the same blessing. Then, just a week before he needed to leave Utah, Jacob received a letter granting him permission to take his family.38

Susa and Jacob hurried to prepare. Among other things, they wrote to Alma Dunford, Susa’s ex-husband, to ask if ten-year-old Bailey could go to Hawaii with them. Rather than write back, Alma waited until the family was leaving for Hawaii. He then confronted them at the train station in Salt Lake City with a deputy and a court order invoking his right to keep Bailey with him in Utah.

Though Bailey had always lived with Susa, the court order left her powerless to stop Alma from taking him. As Susa parted with her son, heartbroken, the boy cried out and tried to go back to her.39

Susa and Jacob sailed for Hawaii a short time later with their other children. During the voyage, Susa was grief-stricken and sick. When the ship docked in Honolulu, Joseph F. Smith, who was living in exile on the island to avoid arrest, greeted them. The next morning they went to Laie, where a large crowd of Saints greeted them with dinner and a concert.40

Susa and Jacob soon settled into life in Laie. Susa admired the lovely scenery around her, but she struggled to adjust to the missionary quarters, which were infested with vermin. “If I feel at all lonely,” she wrote in a humorous article for the Woman’s Exponent, “I have plenty of company in mice, rats, scorpions, centipedes, cockroaches, fleas, mosquitos, lizards, and millions of ants.”41

Mostly, she was homesick for Utah.42 But a few months after arriving, she received a letter from Bailey. “I wish you were staying here,” he wrote. “I think of you in my prayers.”43

In those prayers, at least, Susa could take comfort.

When John Taylor went into hiding in early 1885, he had joined George Q. Cannon, who had entered the underground a few weeks earlier. So far, they had found refuge in the homes of a few faithful Saints in and around Salt Lake City, moving whenever neighbors began acting suspicious or John felt uneasy. Since marshals were always hunting them, they could never let their guard down.44

Unable to meet with the Saints in person, the First Presidency tried to handle Church business by letter. When certain matters could not be resolved that way, they would meet secretly with other Church leaders in Salt Lake City. Every trip to the city was dangerous. No Church leader who practiced plural marriage was safe.45

In November, federal marshals arrested apostle Lorenzo Snow, who was seventy-one years old and in fragile health.46 Before his arrest, Lorenzo had decided to live with only one of his families to avoid the charge of unlawful cohabitation. But one of the judges involved in the case said that he needed to stop being a husband to his wives entirely. “I would prefer to die a thousand deaths,” Lorenzo had stated, “than renounce my wives and violate these sacred obligations.”47

In January 1886, the judge sentenced Lorenzo to eighteen months in jail for three counts of unlawful cohabitation. The following month, marshal Elwin Ireland and several deputies raided George Q. Cannon’s farm and served subpoenas to family members living there. Ireland then issued a $500 reward for George’s arrest.48

When George learned about the reward, he knew a pack of “human bloodhounds” would be hunting for him. Unwilling to put the prophet in danger, he decided to part ways with John for a time. John agreed and advised him to go to Mexico. A few days later, George shaved his beard and boarded a train, hoping to slip out of Utah undetected.49

Word had somehow gotten out that George had left town, however, and a sheriff boarded the train and arrested him. Marshal Ireland then came to escort George back to Salt Lake City.

As the train rattled along, a Church member approached George and whispered that a group of Saints was planning to rescue him before the train reached the city. George stood up and headed for a platform outside one of the train’s cars. He did not want anyone to be arrested—or killed—because of him.

Looking out over the winter landscape, George thought about jumping from the train. The western desert was a desolate place, though. If he jumped at the wrong time, he might end up miles away from the nearest town. Traveling this barren land on foot could be deadly, especially for someone nearly sixty years old.

Suddenly the train lurched, pitching George overboard. His head and left side slammed onto the ground as the train chugged on, disappearing into the cold, gray distance.

Lying half-conscious on the frozen earth, George felt pain course through his head and body. The ridge of his nose had been pushed to one side, broken. A gash through one of his eyebrows cut straight to his skull, coating his face and clothes with blood.

Picking himself up, George began walking slowly along the track. Soon he saw a deputy heading toward him. Marshal Ireland had noticed him missing and had ordered the train to stop. George limped to the deputy, who escorted him to a nearby town.

There George sent a telegram with a request that no Saint interfere with his arrest. He was in the Lord’s hands now.50