“Mine Own Due Time and Way,” chapter 38 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)
Chapter 38: “Mine Own Due Time and Way”
Early in 1889, Joseph Dean was struggling to find people to teach in Samoa. Shortly after he and his wife Florence arrived on the island of Aunu‘u the previous summer, the work had progressed quickly, and the island soon had enough Saints to form a branch with a Sunday School and Relief Society. New missionaries had also been sent from Salt Lake City to assist the Deans and the Samoan Saints.
But Samoa was in the middle of a civil war, and dangerous battles were erupting across the islands as factions fought for control. To make matters worse, the king was opposed to the Church. Rumors spread that he had made it illegal to be baptized a Latter-day Saint and that anyone who was baptized would be thrown in jail. Now fewer and fewer people were requesting baptism.1
Despite these challenges, the Samoan Saints built a meetinghouse, thatching the roof with coconut leaves and covering the floor with white pebbles and seashells. Florence Dean and Louisa Lee, another woman serving in the mission with her husband, held Relief Society meetings every Friday. The elders, meanwhile, bought a small sailboat so they could preach the gospel on other Samoan islands. They christened the new boat Faa‘aliga, the Samoan word for “revelation.”2
In late 1888, Joseph, Florence, their young son, and several missionaries had moved from Aunu‘u to a larger neighboring island, Tutuila. But the island had a small population, and most of its men were away fighting in the war. Few people were interested in the gospel, and Joseph soon felt that he and the other missionaries were no longer making progress. He decided to go to the island of Upolu and visit Apia, a city at the center of Samoan government and trade.3
On Upolu, Joseph planned to contact the American consul and discuss the king’s rumored threats against the Saints. He also wanted to find a man named Ifopo, who had been baptized by the Hawaiian missionary Kimo Belio some twenty-five years earlier. Ifopo had already sent Joseph two letters, and he was eager to meet missionaries who could help establish the Church on his island.4
On the night of March 11, Joseph and his two companions, Edward Wood and Adelbert Beesley, set sail for Upolu, a seventy-mile journey. They understood the danger of three inexperienced sailors traveling in a small boat over potentially rough waters. Yet Joseph felt the Lord wanted them to make the journey.
After a night of rough sailing, the missionaries approached Upolu. But as they neared the shore, a strong gust of wind took them by surprise. The boat tipped and immediately filled with water. The men tried to hold on to the oars, boxes, and trunks now bobbing alongside them in the waves. When they spotted another boat about a quarter mile away, they yelled and whistled until it finally turned around.
The Samoans who came to the missionaries’ rescue spent over an hour righting their boat, diving under the waves to retrieve its sails and anchor, and helping the missionaries gather their possessions. Joseph was sorry that he had no money to give the men for their service, but they kindly accepted his handshake, and he asked the Lord to bless them.
By the time Joseph and his companions reached the city of Apia, they were exhausted. They offered a prayer of gratitude to God for protecting them during their journey. In the days that followed, they set out to find the American consul and search for Ifopo.5
Back in Utah, twenty-nine-year-old Lorena Larsen was pregnant with her fourth child. Her husband, Bent, had recently finished serving a six-month prison sentence for unlawful cohabitation. Since Lorena was a plural wife, her pregnancy could be used as evidence that Bent had violated the law again. To keep her family safe, she decided to go on the underground.6
Lorena first found refuge serving in the Manti temple. The temple was sixty miles from her hometown of Monroe, Utah, and her ward had been asked to provide temple workers. Lorena moved to Manti and served in the temple for a time, but it was difficult to be separated from her children, who had been left in the care of Bent and other family members. After almost suffering a miscarriage, Lorena was honorably released by the temple president, Daniel Wells.7
Lorena and Bent next decided to rent a home for her and her children in the town of Redmond, halfway between Monroe and Manti. Since informers were everywhere, Lorena had to keep her identity secret. Her name was now Hannah Thompson, she told her children, and if their father came to visit, they were to call him “Uncle Thompson.” Again and again, Lorena stressed the importance of not revealing their true names.8
When the family arrived in Redmond, Lorena avoided public places and spent most of her time at home. One afternoon, however, she joined a group of friendly Relief Society sisters, and they told Lorena that when they asked her two-year-old daughter her name, she had responded, “Uncle Thompson.”
Kind Saints in Redmond were quick to serve Lorena’s family. On Easter Sunday, she found a bucket of fresh eggs and a pound of butter on her doorstep. Still, she missed her home in Monroe. Pregnant and alone, she struggled every day to take care of three children in a strange town.9
Then one night, Lorena had a dream. She saw her lawn in Monroe covered in wild bushes and vines. It hurt to see her home in ruins, so she immediately went to work digging out weeds in the yard. As she began pulling at deep roots, Lorena suddenly found herself beside a beautiful tree, heavy with the finest fruit she had ever seen. She heard a voice say, “The underground tree brings forth very choice fruit too.”
In the dream, Lorena was soon surrounded by her loved ones. Her children, now fully grown, came to her, bearing dishes, bowls, and small baskets. Together, they filled the bowls with the delicious fruit and passed them among the crowd, some of whom Lorena perceived to be her descendants.
Lorena’s heart rejoiced, and she awoke full of gratitude.10
Shortly after arriving in Apia, Joseph Dean and his companions met with the American vice-consul in Samoa, William Blacklock, and asked if the rumors about Samoan Latter-day Saints being imprisoned were true. “It is nothing but a bluff,” the vice-consul assured them. A treaty between the warring factions on the islands allowed people to worship as they pleased.11
Still, the threat of war loomed over the islands. Seven warships were anchored in Apia harbor—three from Germany, three from the United States, and one from Great Britain. Each nation was determined to defend its interests in the Pacific.12
Eager to find Ifopo, the missionaries next planned to travel by boat to his village, Salea‘aumua, on the east end of the island.13 But a storm soon descended on Apia. Howling winds and crashing waves sent Joseph and his companions scurrying for shelter. After they took cover in a loft above a local shop owner’s barn, the missionaries felt the ramshackle building clatter against the gathering tempest, and they feared the structure would collapse.
The storm intensified, and the missionaries stood at a window watching in horror as the cyclone battered the huge warships in the harbor. Massive waves crashed upon the deck of one ship, sweeping men out to sea. Some sailors on another ship scrambled up the masts and rigging, clinging to the ropes like spiders, while others jumped into the roiling ocean to try swimming to safety. The ships were only one hundred yards from shore, but nothing could be done to help the men. All Joseph could do was pray for mercy. 14
After the storm, debris and wreckage from the warships lined the beach, and about two hundred people had perished.15 The missionaries were wary about venturing out to sea again. During cyclone season, another storm could descend without warning.16 Setting their fears aside, however, the missionaries sailed for Salea‘aumua to find Ifopo.
When they arrived, a group of Samoans rowed out to greet them, and one of the men introduced himself as Ifopo. For two decades he had stayed faithful to his testimony of the restored gospel, all the while unsure if new missionaries would ever come to his island. Now Joseph and his companions had arrived, and it was time to celebrate. They met Ifopo’s wife, Matalita, and enjoyed a feast of roast pig and fruit.17
In the days that followed, the missionaries became acquainted with Ifopo’s friends and neighbors. During one meeting, a hundred people gathered to hear Joseph speak, and the Spirit was powerful. The people were genuine in their questioning, eager to know more about the gospel.
One afternoon, Ifopo and the missionaries walked to a nearby stream. Although Ifopo had already been baptized, many years had passed, and he asked to be baptized again. Joseph waded into the water with his new friend and immersed him. Ifopo then knelt by the water’s edge, and the missionaries confirmed him a member of the Church.
A few days later the wind changed, allowing Joseph and his companions to begin the journey back to Tutuila. Ifopo accompanied them beyond the reef to show them the way. When the time came to say goodbye, he pressed his nose against each of the missionaries’ noses in turn, sending them off with a Samoan kiss.18
In the spring of 1889, Lorena Larsen’s husband, Bent, decided to evade federal marshals by fleeing to the relative safety of Colorado, a neighboring state where the Edmunds-Tucker Act did not apply. His first wife, Julia, could remain in Monroe with the rest of her family. But he wanted Lorena and her children to stay in Utah with her brother until he was sufficiently settled in Colorado to send for them.19
Lorena did not like the plan. Her brother was poor, she reminded Bent, and her sister-in-law had recently battled typhoid fever. They were in no position to help Lorena and her children. Lorena was also approaching the final months of her pregnancy and wanted her husband by her side.
Bent agreed, and Lorena and their children soon started for Colorado with him. The journey was over five hundred miles, through deserts and over mountains. It was wild country, and the men they encountered along the way often appeared dangerous. At one point on the trail, the only available water was pooled in holes in the rocky mountainside. Bent hunted for water while Lorena slowly drove the wagon through the canyon, periodically calling his name to ensure she had not lost him in the darkness.
Lorena was grateful when her family finally reached Sanford, Colorado, and joined the small community of Saints there. When the time came for Lorena to give birth, she was still weak from traveling. Her labor was so difficult some feared she might die. Lorena’s son Enoch was finally born on August 22, and the midwife declared he was the biggest baby she had delivered in twenty-six years.20
Meanwhile, laws and practices designed to injure the Church continued to bear down on families like the Larsens. Even Saints who did not practice plural marriage were affected.
In Idaho, the territorial legislature had passed a law requiring prospective voters to swear that they did not belong to a church that taught or encouraged polygamy. It did not matter whether the voters participated in the practice themselves. This effectively barred all Saints in Idaho, or almost one-fourth of the population, from voting or holding office. Latter-day Saint immigrants to the United States were likewise singled out by government officers and judges who refused to allow them to become citizens.
Cases challenging the lawfulness of these measures moved through the U.S. court system, but public sentiment against the Church ran high, and rulings in favor of the Church were few. The Church’s lawyers had contested the legality of the Edmunds-Tucker Act soon after Congress passed it, however, and the Saints were hopeful that the Supreme Court would strike it down. The court had recently begun hearing the case, but it had not yet issued its ruling, leaving the Saints in suspense.21
Even in a remote town like Sanford, Lorena knew that her family and the Church would remain fractured and fearful as long as the government continued to deny the Saints their religious rights.22
As the Larsens and other Church members went underground to preserve their families and practice their faith, the First Presidency searched for new ways to protect the Saints’ religious freedom. Determined to win allies in Washington, DC, and ultimately achieve statehood for Utah, Wilford Woodruff had begun encouraging Latter-day Saint newspaper editors to stop attacking the government in their publications. He urged Church leaders to stop speaking publicly about plural marriage lest they provoke the Church’s critics in the government. And he had asked the president of the Logan temple to stop performing plural marriages in the house of the Lord.23
Under these new policies, fewer and fewer Saints entered new plural marriages. Yet some Saints still hoped to follow the principle as it had been previously taught. They were usually encouraged to go to Mexico or Canada, where Church leaders quietly performed the marriages beyond the reach of the United States government. Occasionally, though, plural marriages were still performed in Utah Territory.24
In September 1889, while visiting Saints north of Salt Lake City, Wilford Woodruff and George Q. Cannon met with a stake president who asked if he should issue temple recommends to Saints who wanted to enter plural marriage.
Wilford did not immediately answer the stake president’s question. Instead, he reminded him that the Saints had once been commanded to build a temple in Jackson County, Missouri, but they had been forced to abandon their plans when opposition became too great. The Lord had accepted the Saints’ offering nonetheless, and the consequences of not building a temple fell on the people who had prevented it.
“So it is now with this nation,” said Wilford, “and the consequences of this will have to fall upon those who take this course to prevent our obeying this commandment.”
He then answered the stake president’s question directly. “I feel that it is not proper for any marriages of this kind to be performed in this territory at the present time,” he said. Then, gesturing toward George, he added, “Here is President Cannon. He can say what he thinks about this matter.”
George was dumbfounded. He had never heard Wilford speak so plainly on the subject before—and he did not know if he agreed with him. Should the Church cease performing plural marriages in Utah Territory? He personally was not as ready as Wilford to answer that question, so he made no reply, letting the conversation move to other matters.
But later, as George recorded the conversation in his journal, he continued to struggle with what Wilford had said. “To me, it is an exceedingly grave question,” he wrote, “and it is the first time that anything of this kind has ever been uttered, to my knowledge, by one holding the keys.”25
Amid growing questions about the future course of the Church, Susa Gates published the first issue of the Young Woman’s Journal in October 1889.
Susa had begun promoting the magazine after she and Jacob returned to Utah earlier that year. In June, her sister Maria Dougall, a counselor in the general Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association presidency, had encouraged the young women of the Salt Lake Stake to support and contribute to the new magazine. A few months later, several newspapers printed announcements of its imminent publication.26
Susa had also invited several Latter-day Saint writers to send their poetry and prose to the journal. For years, Saints with literary talents had honed their writing skills in such Church-supported newspapers and journals as the Woman’s Exponent, the Juvenile Instructor, and the Contributor. In Europe, Saints had also provided writing for the British mission’s Millennial Star, the Scandinavian mission’s Skandinaviens Stjerne and Nordstjarnan, and the Swiss-German mission’s Der Stern.27
The Saints sometimes called this writing “home literature,” a term that brought to mind Brigham Young’s notion of “home industries,” or locally made products, like sugar, iron, and silk. In an 1888 sermon, Bishop Orson Whitney had encouraged the youth of the Church to create more home literature to showcase the Saints’ greatest literary talents and testify of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Write for the papers, write for the magazines—especially our home publications,” he had urged them. “Make books yourselves, which shall not only be a credit to you and to the land and people that produced you but likewise a boon and benefaction to mankind.”28
In the first issue of the Young Woman’s Journal, Susa published works of home literature by some of the best-known writers in the Church, including Josephine Spencer, Ruby Lamont, Lula Greene Richards, M. A. Y. Greenhalgh, and sisters Lu Dalton and Ellen Jakeman. She also included some of her own writing, a letter from the general Y.L.M.I.A. presidency, and a health and hygiene column by Romania Pratt.29
In her first editorial for the journal, Susa expressed hope that the magazine would soon feature writing from the young women throughout the Church. “Remember, girls, this is your magazine,” she wrote. “Let its field of usefulness be extended from Canada to Mexico, from London to the Sandwich Islands.”30
Later that fall, a federal judge in Utah denied U.S. citizenship to several European immigrants because they were Latter-day Saints and thus, in the judge’s mind, disloyal to the United States. During the hearings, disaffected Church members claimed that the Saints made hostile, anti-government oaths in their temples. District attorneys also quoted sermons from times when Church leaders had spoken forcefully against corrupt government officials and people who had left the Church. These sermons, as well as other Church teachings about the last days and the kingdom of God, were construed as evidence that the Saints disregarded the government’s authority.31
Wilford and other Church leaders knew they needed to respond to these claims. But responding to statements related to the temple, which the Saints had made solemn promises not to discuss, would be difficult.32
In late November, Wilford met with lawyers who advised Church leaders to supply the court with more information about the temple. They also recommended that he make an official announcement that no more plural marriages would be solemnized by the Church. Wilford was unsure how to respond to the lawyers’ requests. Were such actions truly necessary, just to pacify the enemies of the Church? He needed time to seek God’s will.33
Night had fallen by the time the lawyers left Wilford alone. For hours, he pondered and prayed for guidance on what to do.34 He and the Saints had come to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 seeking another chance to establish Zion and gather God’s children to the peace and safety of its borders. Now, more than forty years later, opponents of the Church were tearing families apart, stripping women and men of their voting rights, creating obstacles for immigration and the gathering, and denying the rights of citizenship to people for simply belonging to the Church.
Before long, the Saints could lose even more—including the temples. What would happen then to the salvation and exaltation of God’s children on both sides of the veil?
As Wilford prayed, the Lord answered him. “I, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, am in your midst,” He said. “All that I have revealed and promised and decreed concerning the generation in which you live shall come to pass, and no power shall stay My hand.”
The Savior did not tell Wilford exactly what to do, but He promised that all would be well if the Saints followed the Spirit.
“Have faith in God,” the Savior said. “He will not forsake you. I, the Lord, will deliver my Saints from the dominion of the wicked in mine own due time and way.”35