Church History
35 A Day of Trial

“A Day of Trial,” chapter 35 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)

Chapter 35: “A Day of Trial”

Chapter 35

A Day of Trial

Man wearing United States marshal badge

A large crowd was waiting at the train platform when George Q. Cannon and his captors rolled into Salt Lake City on February 17, 1886. Marshal Ireland escorted George off the train and to an office in the city, where another crowd had gathered to show sympathy to the battered and bruised prisoner. Inside, the marshal gave George a mattress and let him rest while they waited for his lawyer and other visitors to arrive.1

George’s trial was scheduled for March 17, and a judge released him on a $45,000 bond. A grand jury, meanwhile, began interrogating George’s wives and children to gather evidence that he had violated the Edmunds Act.

“Those men are dead to every human sympathy,” George declared when he learned of their aggressive questioning. “They are as pitiless as the most abandoned and wicked pirates.”2

After his release, George met secretly with President Taylor. George had all but decided to go to prison, but he had prayed that the prophet would know the Lord’s will on the matter. At their meeting, George explained his predicament, and President Taylor agreed that he should submit to the law. If George did not stand trial, he would forfeit the $45,000 bond, which his friends had generously agreed to pay in his behalf.

That night, however, the Lord revealed to President Taylor that his first counselor should go back into hiding. The revelation was like a flash of lightning, and after it came, the prophet immediately knelt beside his bed in grateful prayer. A few years earlier, the Lord had inspired him to invest non-tithing Church money into a mining company in order to create a special reserve fund for the Church. President Taylor believed the reserve should be used to reimburse the men who had put up George’s bond.3

George felt that the revelation was an answer to his prayers. He and President Taylor submitted it to the four apostles in the city, and they approved the plan to carry it out.

George worried about the propriety of going back into hiding, though, especially when other men had gone to jail for their convictions. He did not want anyone in or out of the Church thinking he was a coward. Yet he now knew the Lord’s will for him, and he chose to trust in it.

“If God directs a course for me to take,” he wrote in his journal, “I desire to take it and leave the result with Him.”4

Around the time George Q. Cannon went back into hiding, Emmeline Wells was again traveling to Washington, DC, on Church business. Seven years had passed since her meeting with President Rutherford Hayes and his wife, Lucy. Opposition to the Church had only increased since then, especially now that Congress was trying to amend the Edmunds Act with an even harsher piece of legislation, which would come to be known as the Edmunds-Tucker Act.5

The proposed act sought, among other things, to rob Utah’s women of their right to vote, and Emmeline felt duty bound to speak out against it.6 She was hopeful that she could persuade reasonable people—especially her allies in the fight for women’s rights—to see the injustice of the act.

In Washington, Emmeline spoke to lawmakers and activists who were sympathetic to her cause. Some were indignant that women in Utah might lose their right to vote. Others disagreed with a part of the act allowing the government to confiscate the Saints’ private property. But opposition to plural marriage muted the enthusiasm of even those Emmeline called friends.7

After several weeks in Washington, she boarded a westbound train, believing she had done all she could for the Saints. On her journey, she learned that two thousand women had recently crowded into the Salt Lake Theatre to protest the government’s treatment of plural families. At the meeting, Mary Isabella Horne had called on the women to speak out against the injustice. “Must we, women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, still submit to insults and injury without raising our voices against it?” she asked.8

Emmeline was thrilled by the strength of her sisters in the gospel, and she looked forward to reuniting with them. But on her way home, she received a telegram from President Taylor asking her to return to Washington. A committee of Latter-day Saint women had written resolutions calling for the nation’s leaders to end their crusade against the Saints. The resolutions also pleaded with wives and mothers throughout the United States to come to the aid of Utah’s women. The prophet wanted Emmeline to present the resolutions to Grover Cleveland, the president of the United States. Ellen Ferguson, a Latter-day Saint physician and surgeon in Salt Lake City, would join her.9

Within days, Emmeline was back in Washington. She and Ellen called on President Cleveland in the White House library. He was not as intimidating as they expected, but they knew it would be difficult to persuade him to support their cause. A year earlier, he had met with a delegation of Latter-day Saints from Utah and told them, “I wish you out there could be like the rest of us.”10

The president listened attentively to Emmeline and Ellen and promised to give their resolutions serious consideration. But while he seemed sympathetic to their cause, he was not sympathetic enough to risk offending antipolygamy legislators.

“All that can be done here in presenting facts and seeking to remove prejudice seems only a drop in the ocean of public sentiment,” Emmeline wrote in the Woman’s Exponent a short time later. “But one must not be weary in well-doing, even though the opportunities may be few and the prejudice bitter.”11

Meanwhile, in Utah’s Sanpete Valley, marshals had begun rounding up polygamous Saints in Ephraim, Manti, and neighboring towns.12 As president of the Ephraim South Ward Primary, Augusta Dorius Stevens instructed children how to act if the marshals tried to question them.13 Unsuspecting children were often easy sources of information, so they needed to learn how to recognize the marshals and create confusion to muddle investigations.14

More than thirty years had passed since Augusta left her family in Copenhagen, Denmark, to come to Utah. She was only fourteen at that time. Her mother had hated the Church then and had just divorced her father. If somebody had told Augusta that her family would one day be together again in Zion, with her parents sealed by proxy in the temple, she probably would not have believed them.15

But that was exactly what happened, and now the Dorius family was a sizable presence in Sanpete Valley. Augusta’s father and most of her siblings were long since dead, but her mother, Ane Sophie, was now in her seventies and taking great pride in the children whose Church membership used to embarrass her. Augusta’s brothers Carl and Johan had large plural families that grew year after year with more children and grandchildren. Her stepbrother, Lewis, the son of her father’s second wife, Hannah, also had a large plural family. Augusta’s stepsister, Julia, whom her mother had adopted in Denmark, was likewise married and raising a family in the valley.16

While the Dorius brothers’ plural marriages put them at risk of arrest, Augusta’s husband, Henry, was safe. His first wife had died in 1864, so he and Augusta were no longer practicing plural marriage. They had eight children together, five of whom were still living.17 None of their married children practiced plural marriage either.18

Because she worked as a midwife and nurse, however, Augusta could still be a person of interest to the marshals. Seeing a need for better medical care among the Saints, Brigham Young and Eliza Snow had begun in the 1870s to urge Latter-day Saint women to gain medical education. Augusta became a midwife in 1876 after receiving her training in Utah. With encouragement from the Relief Society and Church leaders, other women attended medical schools in the eastern United States. Some of them also helped the Relief Society establish the Deseret Hospital in Salt Lake City in 1882.19

In the eyes of marshals, children were evidence of unlawful cohabitation, if not plural marriage, and midwives like Augusta could serve as witnesses in court. Augusta continued to deliver babies and visit patients, however, going door-to-door with a black satchel and a cheerful countenance.20

In Primary, she often told the children how blessed they were to grow up in Zion, despite its present dangers. Primary meetings provided a secure place for children to learn the gospel. Augusta taught them to be kind to the elderly and those with disabilities. She encouraged them to be polite and do all they could to share in the blessings of the temple.21

Like other Church leaders, she also emphasized the importance of taking the sacrament worthily each week, which the children did in Sunday School. “We must not take the sacrament if we have bad feelings in our heart toward our playmates or anyone else,” she taught them. “We must be prayerful and have the Spirit of God that we may love one another. If we hate our playmate or our brother or sister, we cannot love God.”22

And she reminded the Primary children not to forget those being harassed by the marshals. “It is a day of trial,” she said, “and we must remember to offer up our humble prayers for our brethren in prison—and all Saints.”23

That winter, while living on the underground in Utah, Ida Udall received a telegram from her husband, David. President Cleveland had pardoned him for perjury, and he was coming home.

Ida was overjoyed for David but sad that she could not reunite with him in St. Johns, Arizona. “How lonely and homesick it makes me to think I can join in none of the rejoicings over the return of my own husband,” she lamented in her journal.24

Ida continued to live in Nephi, often battling feelings of loneliness and frustration at her exile.25 In September 1886, after David had to delay a long-awaited visit to see her, she wrote him an angry letter and mailed it before she had time to change her mind.

“I told him he need not worry about coming at all on my account,” she fumed later in her journal. “I thought I had fooled around long enough for someone who did not care a snap for me.”

Not long after, Ida lay awake crying, regretting that she had sent the letter. Then, in a message from her sister-in-law, she learned that David prayed for her and Pauline’s well-being. The thought of David praying for her and their daughter touched Ida’s heart, and she wrote to him again, this time apologizing for her angry letter.26

She soon received a letter from David assuring her that he was her “affectionate and devoted husband,” followed by another, longer letter full of hope and loving, contrite words. “Forgive me too for every unkind act, word, thought, and apparent neglect,” David pleaded. “I have a testimony that the day of deliverance is near at hand and that we will have joy in the earth.”27

In December, a polygamy indictment hanging over David was dismissed, making it possible for Ida to return to Arizona.28 David came to Nephi in March 1887 to bring her and Pauline back, just in time for the little girl’s second birthday. Pauline did not know her father, and she reacted strongly whenever he tried to hold Ida. “Keep his hands off!” she warned her mother.

The family’s journey to Arizona lasted three weeks. It was the most time Ida had spent alone with her husband in the five years they had been married.29

A year after accompanying her husband into the mission field, Susa Gates had grown used to her home in Hawaii. Jacob worked as a sugar boiler, turning the settlement’s sugarcane crop into a product that could be sold.30 Susa did her best to meet the demands of domestic life. She was pregnant again, and aside from doing laundry and cooking meals, she kept busy making shirts for Jacob, gingham dresses for their six-year-old daughter, Lucy, shirts and pants for four-year-old Jay and three-year old Karl, and new aprons for infant Joseph. She often felt tired at the end of the day, but she still found time to write and submit articles to newspapers in Utah and California.31

One morning in February 1887, little Jay came down with a fever and a cough. At first, Susa and Jacob assumed it was a cold, but the symptoms got worse over the next week. They cared for Jay as best they could and called in Joseph F. Smith and others to bless him. Susa marveled at the faith exercised in behalf of her son. But Jay did not get any better.

On the night of February 22, Susa stayed up with Jay, rubbing his belly with oil to try to relieve his pain. His breaths came hard and short. “Don’t leave me tonight, Mama,” he told her. “Stay tonight.”

Susa promised she would, but after midnight, Jacob urged her to get some rest while he watched their son. Jay seemed to be sleeping soundly, so she went to bed, unwilling to believe her little boy would die. He was on a mission with his family, she told herself, and people did not die on missions.

Jay awoke later and whispered “Mama” over and over throughout the night. In the morning, he looked worse, and the family called for Joseph F. and Julina Smith. The Smiths stayed with the Gates family for the rest of the day. Jay did not improve, and that afternoon, he fell peacefully asleep and then passed away just before two o’clock.32

Susa’s grief was inexpressible, but she had barely begun mourning when Karl came down with the same sickness. As he grew worse, the Saints from around Laie fasted and prayed, but nothing helped. The family was placed under quarantine to prevent the spread of the disease, and Karl died soon after.33

Though many families came to Susa and Jacob’s aid, Joseph F. and Julina Smith were constantly by their side. They had lost their oldest daughter, Josephine, when she was about the age of the boys, and they understood their friends’ anguish. When the boys died, Joseph was there at their bedside. Julina washed their bodies, made their burial clothes, and dressed them for the last time.34

In the days that followed, Jacob wept for their sons, but Susa was too stunned to cry. She worried their other children might catch the disease. After Karl’s passing, she had also felt no movement from the baby in her womb. Though Jay had seen the child in a dream just before his death, Susa wondered if the baby was still alive.

Then one day she felt a slight flutter—a small sign of life. “A very faint motion comforts me with hope that life still beats under my saddened heart,” she wrote her mother. She did not understand why her sons had died, but she found strength knowing that God was watching over her.

“With all this, we know that God rules in the heavens,” she wrote her mother. “God has blessed me and helped me to bear my burdens. Praise His holy name forever.”35

Early in 1887, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act. The new law gave Utah courts even greater power to prosecute and punish plural families. Women in the territory lost their right to vote, and children born of plural marriage were stripped of inheritance rights. Prospective voters, jurors, and local government officials were required to take an antipolygamy oath. The Church and the Perpetual Emigrating Fund ceased to exist as legal entities, and the government was given authority to confiscate certain Church properties valued at over $50,000.36

John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, and other Church leaders worked to keep one step ahead of the marshals. More and more Saints were finding refuge in small Church settlements in Chihuahua, Mexico, including Colonia Díaz and Colonia Juárez.37 Other Saints had founded a settlement in Canada called Cardston.38 These women and men were willing to move hundreds of miles to remote locales outside the United States to protect their families, follow God’s commandments, and keep their sacred temple covenants.

That spring, John Taylor’s health declined sharply, and George grew anxious for the prophet’s well-being. Though still in hiding, the two men had lived the past six months with a family at an isolated home in Kaysville, about twenty miles north of Salt Lake City. Lately John had suffered from heart pains, shortness of breath, and sleeplessness. His memory was starting to fail, and he found it difficult to concentrate. George pressed him to see a doctor, but aside from a few herbal teas, John would take no remedy.39

On May 24, John did not feel well enough to attend to Church business, and he asked George to handle it himself. More business matters arose, and John asked George to resolve them too. When a message came requesting advice on an important political question, John asked George to travel to Salt Lake City to handle it.40

George’s thoughts turned often to Joseph F. Smith, who was still in exile in Hawaii. The previous fall, he had written to Joseph about the challenges he and John were facing. “I cannot say to you how many times I have wished that you were here,” he had expressed. “I have felt about the First Presidency like I would about a bird that had one wing lacking.”

More recently, George had informed Joseph about John’s poor health. “His will, as you know, is indomitable,” he had noted in a letter. But the prophet was not a young man, and his body was slowing down. If John took a turn for the worse, George had promised to send for Joseph immediately.

That time had now come. Though George knew calling Joseph home would place him in danger, he sent word urging him to return to Utah.

“I have taken this step without communicating it to anyone, for fear that it might create alarm, or it might endanger your safety,” he wrote. “I have nothing to say except that you cannot be too cautious.”41

George began the morning of July 18 signing temple recommends, a task normally reserved for the president of the Church. By now, John Taylor rarely left his bedroom and scarcely had the strength to speak. The entire burden of the First Presidency’s responsibilities had fallen on George’s shoulders.42

Later that afternoon, a covered wagon approached the house in Kaysville. When it stopped, a familiar figure emerged, and a flood of relief and joy rushed over George as he recognized Joseph F. Smith. He brought Joseph inside to see the prophet, and they found John sitting in a chair in his bedroom, barely conscious. Joseph took John’s hand and spoke to him. John appeared to recognize his counselor.

“This is the first time the First Presidency have been together for two years and eight months,” George said to John. “How do you feel?”

“I feel to thank the Lord,” John whispered.43

Over the next week, John’s condition worsened. One evening, George and Joseph were handling Church business when they were suddenly called into John’s bedroom. John was lying motionless in bed, his breath short and faint. After a few minutes, his breathing stopped completely. It happened so peacefully that George thought of a baby falling asleep.

For George, losing John was like losing his best friend. John had been like a father to him. They had not always seen eye to eye, but George considered him one of the noblest men he had ever known. He thought about the First Presidency’s reunion just one week earlier. Now they were separated again.

George and Joseph quickly began making plans to notify the apostles. George had already written about the prophet’s failing health to Wilford Woodruff, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Wilford was slowly making his way to Salt Lake City from St. George, taking care to avoid the marshals. Most of the other apostles were still in hiding.

In their absence, George knew he was in a delicate position. Since the Church president had died, he and Joseph could no longer act as members of the First Presidency. Yet the Church still faced grave dangers and needed leadership. If he continued to manage Church affairs, independent of the Twelve, he might displease the other apostles. But what choice did he have? The quorum was scattered, and some matters simply could not be put off or ignored.

George also knew that he and Joseph had to act quickly. If John’s death became public too soon, the marshals might learn of their whereabouts and come after them. He and Joseph were no longer safe.

“We must break camp,” George announced, “and get away from here as soon as possible.”44