Chapter Thirteen: Polygamy
“I could get you all wives” (Wardle, Isaac, letter 1879)
Should each prove true their work to do
Like true and faithful wives
Then all shall share, my love and care
With crowns of endless lives. . . . . . (Johnson)
The church espoused polygamy. There are reports of the doctrine having been received as early as 1831, and practiced among church leaders from as early as the early 1840s. This is based on a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and recorded in 1843 D&C 132:
30 Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them.
31 This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.
32 Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.
33 But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham.
…61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
The leaders of the Church began this practice before Joseph Smith was killed, but it was not public. It was made public in 1852. “On August 29, 1852, at a general conference of Mormons in Salt Lake City, the church leadership publicly acknowledged plural marriage for the first time. Orson Pratt, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, delivered a lengthy discourse, inviting the members to "look upon Abraham's blessings as your own, for the Lord blessed him with a promise of seed as numerous as the sand upon the seashore." After Pratt finished, Young read aloud Smith's revelation on plural marriage. (Roberts 2) "Pratt announced that he had unexpectedly been called upon to address the crowd on the subject of 'plurality of lives.' Denying that the practice had been instituted to 'gratify the carnal lusts and feelings of man,' he argued that its chief purpose was to provide righteous men and women the opportunity to have 'a numerous and faithful posterity to be raised up and taught in the principles of righteousness and truth.’” (Van Wagoner)
That the Saints might take more than one wife was not publicly announced until 1852; but it was included in a revelation at least nine years earlier. The original teaching on this subject was a simple revival of the practice of polygamy by Old Testament Patriarchs; which had been sanctioned by God. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 10)
Polygamy was openly taught in the churches in England after this time. “At this time polygamy was taught in all their churches.” (Goodaker, BYU) The announcement was made public in England before Isaac emigrated.
There were two basic tenants of how polygamy worked. The first is that entry into a polygamous relationship was a very serious manner, and was through personal and church revelation. (See Van Wagoner p 3) The second is that entry into a polygamous relationship required approval of church leadership. "Some men entered plural marriage because they were asked to do so by Church leaders, while others initiated the process themselves; all were required to obtain the approval of Church leaders before entering a plural marriage." (lds.org/plural marriage) "Sometimes a man might take a new wife due to personal inspiration, the sense that God desired it. But as frequently a more highly ranked officer in the church might take him aside and note that his leaders felt the time was right for him to take another wife." (Bowman p 129)
Church leadership was sometimes a reason to practice polygamy. However, entry into polygamy was not a requirement for leadership positions. With the exception of general authorities and stake officers, both polygamous and monogamous men were called to different leadership roles. (Embry chart p 111)
The Millennial Star explained the process of polygamy:
(Extract from the Seer) No man in Utah, who already has a wife, and who may desire to obtain another, has any right to make any propositions of marriage to a lady, until he has consulted the President over the whole Church, and through him, obtains a revelation from God, as to whether it would be pleasing in His sight. If he is forbidden by revelation, that ends the matter; if, by revelation, the privilege is granted, he still has no right to consult the feelings of the young lady, until he has obtained the approbation of her parents, provided they are living in Utah; if their consent cannot be obtained, this also ends the matter. But if the parents or guardians freely give their consent, then he may make propositions of marriage to the young lady; if she refuse these propositions, this also ends the matter; but if she accept, a day is generally set apart by the parties, for the marriage ceremony to be celebrated. It is necessary to state, that before any man takes the least step towards getting another wife, it is his duty to consult the feelings of the wife which he already has, and obtain her consent.
...It is the duty of a man who takes another wife, to look after her welfare and happiness, and to provide for her the comforts of life, the same as for the first. (MS XV 1853 pp 214-15)
Entry into plural marriage was not based on lust, nor even sometimes romance:
For these early Latter-day Saints, plural marriage was a religious principle that required personal sacrifice. Accounts left by men and women who practiced plural marriage attest to the challenges and difficulties they experienced, such as financial difficulty, interpersonal strife, and some wives’ longing for the sustained companionship of their husbands. But accounts also record the love and joy many found within their families. They believed it was a commandment of God at that time and that obedience would bring great blessings to them and their posterity, both on earth and in the life to come. While there was much love, tenderness, and affection within many plural marriages, the practice was generally based more on religious belief than on romantic love. (Lds.org/plural marriage)
Contrary to popular notions about polygamy, the Mormon harem dominated by lascivious males and hyperactive libidos, did not exist. The image of unlimited lust was largely the creation of Gentile travelers to Salt Lake City more interested in titillating audiences back home than in accurately portraying plural marriage. ..Mormon plural marriage, to propagating the species righteously and dispassionately, proved to be a rather drab lifestyle compared to the imaginative tales of polygamy, dripping with sensationalism, demanded by a scandal-hungry eastern media market.
...Brigham Young explained the purposes of plural marriage to a 14 July 1855 Mormon audience: "God never introduced the Patriarchal order of marriage, with a view to please man in his carnal desires, nor to punish females for anything which they had done, but He introduced it for the express purpose of raising up His name a royal Priesthood, a peculiar people."
…Plural wives, like their husbands, viewed polygamy as a practical and honorable means for providing marriage and motherhood to thousands of women who may have otherwise remained unmarried in a monogamous world. Church leaders pronounced over and over that plural marriage countered various social evils. Above all they stressed that the principle was commanded by God to raise a righteous generation. Mormons nearly always entered polygamy because they believed it was essential to their salvation, that God required it of them. ((Van Wagoner Ibid pp 89-90)
The religious reasons were two fold; first to follow the prophet, and second to follow God's command to multiply and replenish the Earth. While it is true, second and third wives had less children than first marriages, the progenitors of a polygamous male was much larger than that of a monogamous male. (Embry p 40)
Open polygamy changed the society in general. Some of these changes were foreseen, including an increase in the fertility rate. Others were not foreseen, such as an alleviation of poverty as widows and lower class women married wealthier men. Another consequence was the lowering of the age of marriage:
While the Mormon marriage system was in place....the church's influence on families was decisive. The influence of plural marriage reached beyond those who entered it. When many women became plural wives, as they did in the late 1850s, the entire marriage market was affected, and the average age of all brides decreased. In addition, the church's lenient divorce policy provided opportunity for women who wished to remarry. Moreover, as the richer men took economically disadvantaged women--the widowed, the divorced and the fatherless--as plural wives, the wealth per capita within families became more evenly distributed. Plural marriage thus supported the goals of the church: it supplied all women who wanted to marry and opportunity to do so; it fostered a more equal distribution of wealth; and it provided aid to financially disadvantaged women by transferring economic resources from wealthier men. (Daynes, pp 13-14)
Almost all Mormon women married during this time. "The demand for wives meant that almost all women married. ...Less than 1 percent of those [Mormon] women never married, in contrast to 7 or 8 percent of women….in the United States more generally. Moreover, immigrant women from Europe in particular generally married within a year of arriving in Utah, nearly half as plural wives." (Bowman p 131)
The change of the Mormon society from a monogamous society to polygamist happened very quickly. There was no established norm. "Since the number of wives permitted was never defined some men married beyond their means. ...Courtship manners were not well established... The rules of wooing depended on the individuals involved: interest could be initiated by the man, the prospective wife, or even the first wife who felt it was her religious obligation to do so." (Van Wagoner p 90)
Polygamy was not the norm among members of the Church:
Although monogamy had been the most common marriage from among Mormons, polygamy was considered the ideal from the mid-1840s to 1890… The standard Mormon explanation is simply that God chose to introduce the practice, as he had in ancient Israel, and he therefore made his well known to his spokesman on earth. However that may be, it is clear that the Prophet typically went to the Lord with problems and then received answers. A naturalistic approach would pay a good deal of attention to the kinds of problems that entered the Prophet’s mind in the first place. Among these might well have been the practical difficulty of providing for all the unmarried females who were attracted to the new religion. (Arrington and Bitton pp 194-95)
Based on the best information now available, we estimate that no more than five percent of married Mormon men had more than one wife.” (ibid p 199)
Other sources indicate the prevalence of polygamy was much higher, and that about half of the church membership lived in a polygamous family, either as a child or married partner. (See Lds.org/plural marriage) Other estimates of the proportion of men involved vary from one-tenth to one-fifth; and exceeding few of them took more than a second wife.” (Taylor, P.A.M. p 68) However polygamy was the norm among the leaders of the church:
In emphasizing how small was the percentage of Mormons, who were directly involved in polygamy it is important to recall that all the central church leaders were polygamists. From the president down through the apostles and the Presiding Bishopric during the period, no general authority was a monogamist; the same was true of most bishops and stake presidents, as well as, for all practical purposes, their counselors. The privilege of polygamy was granted to the pure in heart and hence was a clear sign of worthiness for promotion in the Mormon hierarchy. (Arrington and Bitton p 204)
The rate of polygamous marriages varied greatly from community to community. Some had rates as high as 67 percent, while others as low as 5 percent. “...Polygamous men often married only one additional wife.” (see Van Wagoner p 91) Van Wagoner quotes a study by Stanley Ivins in which two thirds of polygamous men had only two wives. Isaac would represent this group, having only two wives at a time.
Isaac decided to enter polygamy with a fellow handcart pioneer, Mary Ann Ashton, the daughter of William Ashton who left the handcart company and joined the infantry at Fort Laramie. We can get an idea of Isaac's motives for entering a polygamous relationship from a letter he later wrote while on his mission. "And I was glad to hear that our worthy Bishop William A. Bills and Thomas Jenkins was getting ready to be a partner of Bro George Reynolds and stand up for God and His kingdom on the Earth by taking more wives. I hope that some of the brethren will follow suit. ...I hope that all the good will be married before I come home." (Wardle, Isaac, undated letter)
As noted earlier, entry into a polygamous relationship would imply the consent of the first wife. "Although the first wife's consent was required by scripture, occasionally it was not sought nor freely given." (Embry p 70) There is nothing written nor story told explaining this with regard to Isaac and Martha, but most often the husband approached the first wife and received consent before seeking consent from Church authorities.
It is not known if Isaac was familiar with Mary Ashton on the handcart trek or not. It is impossible to tell if they were in the same ward on the trek, as records were not kept of who was under which captain of 100. However, with the circumstances of Mary's mother passing away on the plains, and their father leaving the company to join the infantry at Fort Laramie, and three sisters passing away on the trip, it is likely Isaac had heard about them. The surviving Ashton girls, Sara and Mary, had been taken in by local church members. There circumstance for the ten years after the trek until they married was not recorded. One family story says they were not always well treated, and were forced to serve families as maids or servants rather than treated as family members. Isaac in marrying Mary, and Thomas Beckstead in marrying Sarah were rescuing them from a bad situation. (As related at Isaac Wardle reunion June 2010.) Thomas married Sarah Ashton a few years before Isaac married Mary. “Thomas W. Beckstead, sixth child of Alexander and Catherine Beckstead, was born April 27, 1833. Homesteaded in 1859. Thomas married (2) Sarah Ellen Ashton on January 30, 1864. In 1887 the Thomas Beckstead family moved to Whitney, Idaho, where they lived the rest of their lives. Thomas passed away September 21, 1893, and Sarah died January 18, 1912.” (Bateman p 65)
Isaac married Mary Ashton in August or September of 1867. (Family Search has the date 14 August, Mary Rupp as 23 September and Ronald Bateman as 14 September.) She was 16 at the time:
How the contact between Isaac and Mary was made the records do not tell. Those were the days of polygamy in the Church. Generally polygamous marriages were made only at the instruction or at least with the permission of the General Authorities of the Church. Nevertheless, in the early fall of 1867, Mary was a young girl just turned sixteen. They were married in Salt Lake City in the Endowment House 14 September 1867. (Wardle, Orrin)
Marrying someone that young was common on the frontier. Also the age difference was also common in marrying a polygamous second wife. "Women did marry at fairly young ages in the first decade of Utah settlement (age 16 or 17 or, infrequently, younger), which was typical of women living in frontier areas at the time." (Lds.org/plural marriage) Well more than half of women married before age 20. The age difference between husband and wife usually increased with second or third marriages. Also the number of children usually decreased with subsequent marriages. (See Embry, charts pp 35-37)
Courtship was quite different during this time. It was less often based pm romantic love and was usually shorter. The motivation for courtship was often religious. (Embry p 40) In this case, it may have also been a practical solution for Mary to leave a situation where she was being taken advantage of and was possible bordering on being abusive.
"Marital love was not seen as something held exclusively for one person. Learning to work together for common goals including the ultimate reward, eternal life, was more important than physical attraction. ...With this attitude about love, nineteenth-century "dating" in monogamous and polygamous marriages was much different from today. ...These courtships were very short, and by our standards quite formal." (Embry p 40)
Mary lived in the same home as Isaac's first wife and her two children, Isaac John Jr. and Crilla. It was common for the second wife to initially stay in the same home as the first wife and husband. "Often the wives shared a home just after the second marriage, but as soon as it was financially possible, the husband provided a separate one for each wife. (Embry p 73) Family roles would have been similar to that in a monogamous families with the only benefit being a sharing of some of the household chores. (ibid p 89) During this time a second daughter was born to Martha, Araminta born 25 April, 1868, (Family Search) Generally wives shared responsibility for newborn babies, or helped with the other children while the birth mother attended to the new born.
A year and a half after her marriage, April 5 1869 Mary gave birth to William Haston. Mary would not survive childbirth as she passed away. (Rupp) “Isaac married Mary Ann Ashton in the Endowment House on September 14, 1867. She too had traveled across the plains in the Martin Handcart Company. Mary Ann died four hours after giving birth to their only child, William Haston Wardle. She was buried in South Jordan.” (Bateman p 70) Uncle Orrin wrote:
Mary’s life was not to last much longer. When she gave birth to her first and only son, William Haston Wardle, on 5 April 1869, there were complications and she died only four hours after her only son came into this life. It should be noted that Isaac apparently gave the young son a name after his maternal [the son’s] grandfather, only he heard the pronunciation of his wife’s maiden name as Haston rather than Ashton. (Wardle, Orrin)
Mary likely was attended by the Relief Society President, who was also a local midwife:
Ann Harrison Holt was a remarkable individual who served as a nurse, doctor, and midwife. She also gave blessings by laying hands on patients’ heads and pronouncing words of comfort and healing. … Ann Holt delivered five hundred babies in the southern part of the Salt lake Valley. She cared for innumerable sick people and stayed an hour or a day, depending on their needs. Many times she cared for a mother and her baby for ten days in a row. … She served as ward Relief Society president from 1869 until her death in 1901, a period of thirty-two years. (Bateman pp 43-44)
Ann Harrison Holt: Ann was a midwife who delivered more than 500 babies in the south valley area. For a time, she was the only midwife and doctor between South Jordan and Point of the Mountain. She had received her training in England. (ibid p 86)
The relief society was responsible to sit with the dead. This included preparing the body for burial:
One responsibility of the ward Relief Society was to help prepare the dead for burial. They helped by washing the bodies and then placing quart bottle of crushed ice around them to retard decay. Saltpeter dissolved in water was used to bathe the face to keep it looking nice. “Sitting with the dead” was a common practice in which two or more people sat with the body all night and replaced the ice as needed to preserve it. This was often done in the parlor of the family home. Burial clothes were made by hand, as were the caskets. (Bateman p 44)
This gives us some idea of the process Mary’s body would have gone through before her burial at South Jordan Cemetery. She is buried in the middle, towards the back of the cemetery, with her in-laws close by.
Isaac did not remain long without a second wife. “Isaac married Sophia Meyers in the Endowment House on July 26, 1869. Their children included Charles M., Hannah M., Atheamer M., and Wilford Woodruff Wardle.” (Bateman p 70)
Isaac made Sophia a separate home on the same homestead, close to Martha's. (Isaac Wardle reunion) However when it was built, and if she always stayed there I am not certain. She did not have a separate home after the family moved to Idaho.
A polygamous family had some things in common with other families and other things were different. There was not always a clear distinction as to who parented who. In Isaac’s case, Sophia took the major role of parenting William. I have an original photo of Sophia and her family. William is included in this picture. Children however had relationships with both parents. In a letter Sophia wrote to Isaac while he was on his mission, we get a glimpse of their family life. While Martha was tending baby Junius, Sophia helped with her next youngest child Silas, “Little Silas is calling me to come to bed so goodnight and God Bless you.” (Wardle, Sophia, letter August 6, 1879)
Because a woman did not have her husband fulltime, this could lead to jealousies, or feelings of loneliness. "Church leaders, recognizing the emotional trauma that polygamy could induce, encouraged plural wives to focus their attentions on their children and on church and community activities." (Van Wagoner p 102)
Loneliness could be a byproduct of a polygamous family, whether for the husband or one of the wives; "especially when the husband was at another home." (Embry 130) "While plural wives experienced loneliness when their husbands were gone….the wives worked closely together in common interests." (ibid p 133) In Isaac's family, the common interests were the garden and the orchard. These would have been the responsibility of the wives while Isaac tended sheep. "Religious commitment was a major incentive for the wives to work together closely." (ibid p 139-140)
The admission that polygamy introduced trials is a clue that it often led to heartache and suffering. The initial discussion between husband and wife presented opportunities for misunderstanding and tears. If there was agreement that another wife would enter the family, deciding just who it would be presented other grounds for bickering. Once the new wife was in the home, the wisdom of a Solomon was required to prevent jealousy from developing. Who would do what chores? Who would accompany the husband to church meetings? To the theater? How much time would he spend with each? Possibilities of friction led those who could afford it to build separate houses, and when polygamists were prosecuted, it became prudent to maintain households in different settlements. Spending alternate nights or alternate weeks with each family was a common method of attempting to be fair to both wives, but even here there were practical obstacles. After passage of the Edmonds Act, whether admitted or not, the fact that only the first wife had married status in the eyes of the federal law gave her an advantage over the others. And although in theory all wives (as well as children) were equal, jealousies between different families could easily make the plural families feel like second-class citizens. (Arrington and Bitton p 202)
Embry points out that the relationship between spouses in a polygamous family could take on three patterns, mother daughter type pattern if there was a great difference in age, a sisterly pattern, or that of friends. (See Embry pp 139) In reading the letters Sophia wrote, it would appear Sophia and Martha took the role of close friends or sisters. In the case of Martha and Sophia, Sophia was literate and Martha was not. Sophia would write the letters to her husband, and provide comments as requested by Martha.
Being involved in a polygamous relationship required personal growth. "Living in polygamy and overcoming natural jealousies and selfishness took considerable effort." (ibid p 128) One sister, Mary Jane Jones, would say:
Polygamy was a great trial to any woman. And it was just as hard for the man. He had to learn to adjust to his women and his troubles were worsened by the women having to learn to adjust too. ...Polygamy was a great principle and we were taught to believe in it. I know that it does bring added blessings if one lives it the best she knows how. It makes one more unselfish and more willing to see and understand other people. After you learn to give in and consider other people, it makes you less selfish in all your relations. I never wanted polygamy, but I don't regret that I lived it. (As quoted in Embry pp 187-88)
Additional hands made for less work for all. This included additional wives as well as children. "Since the women made all the food from scratch and clothing by hand, extra hands made the load for each individual lighter and there was usually plenty for everyone to do." (ibid p 94)
Children sometimes referred to their mothers through polygamy as aunts, and sometimes as mother. (See Embry p 164) Although Sophia took the mothering role for William after she married Isaac, William had positive relationships with both Sophia’s and Martha’s cildren. William is in several family pictures, some in the primary family group, but others with siblings across groups. This gives an indication that the sons of equal age were very close. (I have a portrait of William with Charles and Joseph from three different wives.)
There were a couple of circumstances that lead to supportive roles for Isaac's wives. While Isaac was on his mission, based on the letters Isaac received, particularly that of Henry Beckstead, it appears both wives were living together. (Beckstead, Henry, letter) Also when either wife was pregnant, or with a baby, the other wife would provide extra support. (See Martha's letters) This was a common reaction in polygamous families. "Moments of need--particularly those related to health--usually saw extra helpfulness." (Embry p 147) Jessie Embry comes close to describing the relationship between Martha and Sophia:
Although any given set of human relationships is complex, the relationship of plural wives, though sometimes strained, was surprisingly rewarding in many cases. Motivated to accept polygamy as a religious practice, plural wives tried hard to treat each other with respect and love. ...There were jealousies, but the women learned to overcome, deal with, or suppress them, and still love each other. Relationships changed, especially with childbirth and sickness, and brought the women closer together. (ibid p 149)
The general population of the United States abhorred polygamy. "The reactions from outside the Church to Pratt's announcement and subsequent statements about polygamy were immediate and negative. In 1854 the Republican Party termed polygamy and slavery the 'twin relics of barbarism'" (ibid p 8)
Polygamy became a source of contention between the Mormon Church and those the Mormons considered “gentiles:”
Of plural marriage, little need be said. American feelings of horror and fascination were stirred up again and again by books written by outsiders or deserters to expose all that was bad in Mormonism. The fact that plural marriage was never practiced by more than a minority of Saints, the existence of Church supervision rather than personal caprice as the controlling force, the sobriety of most Mormon family life, were all overlooked; and for many Americans Utah became a society in which, to gratify the lusts of elderly hypocrites, maidens were daily torn by authority from young men of their choice, who suffered coercion or worse. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 68)
A review of newspapers of the period gives an idea of the enmity in the non-Mormon community towards Mormons and polygamy:
Thousands of female dupes, are annually brought over to the Salt Lake Zion. Rochester U.S. Herald
This Church of Latter-day Lepers sends its procurers abroad under the protection of our flag, and fills it harems with victims duped with the promise freedom--the most flagrant crime perpetrated today in the name of liberty. New York Herald
Another squad of Mormon tramps left the city yesterday to rope the ignorant classes into the Latter-day fraud. Salt Lake Tribune, June 1 1881 (Jarman)
The Morrill Act was passed in 1862. This act, "prohibited plural marriage in the territories, disincorporated the Church, and restricted the Church's ownership of property to $50,000." (Embrey p 8) However this law was not really enforced as the government was focused on the Civil War.
In 1867 the Utah Territory asked for the repeal of this law. However the governmental reaction was to seek even more strict laws with regards to polygamy. The Cullom Bill was introduced to strengthen control over the territories. This bill passed the House of Representatives but not the Senate. (Polygamy Faq)
Mormon women let their voices be heard on the subject. “An early public mention of South Jordan regarding polygamy was in the Deseret Evening News of January 13 1870. The article stated that twenty-five thousand ladies voluntarily assembled in mass protests against legislation designed to suppress “patriarchal marriage.” South Jordan was one of the principal settlements where such a mass meeting was held.” (Bateman p 167) “1870: “Indignation meeting” held by South Jordan women to protest anti-polygamy in U.S. Congress. (ibid p 242)
"The Mormons continued to practice polygamy despite these laws since they believed they were protected by the freedom of religion clause in the Bill of Rights." (Embrey p 9) In 1879, while Isaac was serving his mission, the Supreme Court ruled that laws against polygamy were constitutional. Bishop Bills talked about a meeting in Salt Lake that many from South Jordan attended, to show their support for polygamy and against the persecution that the Saints were enduring. “We have had a Grand Demonstration in Salt Lake City to welcome President D H Wells back on his return from the Penitentiary as he was fined for contempt of court one hundred dollars and two days imprisonment for not revealing the secrets of the Endowment House. Most of our Ward went…” (Bills) The persecution was very heavy and burdensome, starting before Isaac left on his Mission. Bishop Bills wrote to Isaac. “The news that I selected for you contains more news and rascality from our enemies than any other paper ever published.” (Bills)
Isaac got some idea of the changed atmosphere that took place while he was on his mission to England upon his return home while traveling through New York. (See chapter 13.) A New York reporter confronted them ( See New York Times 1879) about efforts of the State Department with regards to asking other countries to prohibit Mormons from immigrating to the U.S. because of their belief in Polygamy. Secretary of State Evart had written a form letter to go to other countries. "It is not doubted, therefore, that when the subject is brought to its attention, the government of ___ ___ will take such steps as may be compatible with its laws and usages to check the organization [Mormon Church] of these criminal enterprises by agents who are thus operating beyond the reach of the law of the United States and to prevent the departure of those proposing to come hither as violators of the law by engaging in such criminal enterprises by whomsoever instigated." (U.S. Department of State 1879) No foreign government saw a way to comply with this request.
The atmosphere and persecution of polygamist families Isaac met upon his return home, was different from when he left.
After the U.S. Supreme Court found the anti-polygamy laws to be constitutional in 1879, federal officials began prosecuting polygamous husbands and wives during the 1880s. Believing these laws to be unjust, Latter-day Saints engaged in civil disobedience by continuing to practice plural marriage and by attempting to avoid arrest. When convicted, they paid fines and submitted to jail time. To help their husbands avoid prosecution, plural wives often separated into different households or went into hiding under assumed names, particularly when pregnant or after giving birth. (Lds.org/plural marriage)
The Edmunds Act
The Edmunds Act calling for more severe penalties was passed in 1882. It increased the penalty for polygamy, but also added a misdemeanor, unlawful co-habitation which was easier to prove. "Soon after the Edmunds Act passed, federal marshals began to enter Utah in force, and the period the Mormons called 'the Raid' began. ...By 1886 every Mormon settlement in Utah had been visited and its people questioned." (Bowman):
As the legal wheels set in motion by the Edmunds Act began to turn slowly, disruption of Mormon life became extensive. Scores of federal marshals were brought into the territory to conduct "cohab hunts," and bounties were offered for information leading to the arrest of polygamists. Mormons not wishing to give up their plural wives and children faced dismal options--legal prosecution, a life in hiding on the "Mormon underground," or complete exile. Despite the bravado demonstrated by the "cohabs," as the polygamists were called, those who did not submit to arrest had to be constantly on the move.
Many Mormon men on the underground hid near or within their own homes. Hidden compartments and cellars--"polygamy pits" as they were called--secreted men who had scurried for cover when an unexpected knock was heard at the parlor door. (Van Wagoner pp 118-19)
The Edmunds Act also questioned the citizenship of the polygamist:
...Starting in 1862, and again in 1882 and 1887, anti-polygamy laws were enacted in the U.S. Congress. Each succeeding law was harsher than the preceding one. The Edmunds Act of 1882 provided for a stiff fine plus imprisonment of polygamists. It also took away the right to vote, hold public office, or trial by jury. The law took away the U.S. citizenship of violators. Consequently, federal marshals were sent to Utah to hunt and prosecute polygamists with the purpose of incarcerating them. The marshals were awarded a twenty-dollar bounty for every polygamist they arrested which was an added incentive. Also, all local and state public officials were replaced by federal appointees brought in from the East. In addition, the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 resulted in the seizure of all church-owned property. The Mormons felt they were again under extreme persecution. They had suffered greatly in both Illinois and Missouri and had migrated to the West to escape the persecution. (Bateman p 166)
One can only imagination how Isaac would have felt at being stripped of the right to vote, or hold public office. Isaac also would have felt the pressure of federal marshals who searched for polygamists.
The Edmunds law did not stop polygamy. The Mormon men went into hiding, and if they were sent to prison would come home as folk heroes after serving their term. Consequently a more severe Edmunds Tucker Act passed in 1887. This law "required plural wives to testify against their husbands, dissolved the Perpetual Emigrating [Fund], abolished the Nauvoo Legion, and provided a mechanism for acquiring the property of the Church." (Embrey p 10)
The Edmunds Tucker Act also indicated that only children of the first wife were entitled to inheritance. Isaac however planned for this and left a will with all of his children receiving inheritace. (See chapter fifteen.)
“Federal marshals harassed the polygamists of South Jordan during the 1880s as they did elsewhere in the territory…. Even after the 1890 Manifesto whereby the church outlawed polygamy, the marshals continued to hunt for polygamist for several more years. Finally, under threat of excommunication, most stopped the practice. (Bateman p 167) One particular story of this harassment was that of the Bishop:
In 1886, the federal marshals, who were searching for Mormon polygamists, came looking for “Billie Bills,” as they called him. Joseph Thomas Hutchings was approached by the marshals, who mistook him for Bishop Bills. Fortunately, Mr. Hutchings was acquainted with one of the marshals, Frank Drier. Joseph warned the bishop, who escaped via an irrigation ditch and hid in Hutchings’s straw stack for three days. Mrs. Hutchings supplied him with food and water during the time he was hiding.
Thereafter, Bishop Bills built a room in the loft of his barn to hide in when harassed by the marshals. He had a bed, a chair, and a table he used for a desk. When the marshals came looking for him, Bishop Bills hid in the secret room. It was so carefully constructed that no one but the bishop could find the entrance.
A raid undertaken in South Jordan on April 6, 1887, searched the houses of Isaac J. Wardle, J.W. Winward, Henry Beckstead, and William A. Bills. John W. Winward was arrested but was released when the marshal stated that a mistake had been made. Alex Bills (William A. Bill’s son) and Henry Beckstead were arrested and posted fifteen hundred dollars’ bond. Alexander and Henry were arraigned in the Third District Court, September 22, 1887, on charges of unlawful cohabitation, the which they pleaded guilty. Alexander was asked if it was his intention to obey the law against cohabitation in the future. His matter-of-fact reply was, “No, sir; it is not.” (Bateman p 93)
As indicated above the marshals were looking for Isaac in 1887. An indictment was placed against him in 1887, and we was actually arrested in 1890:
Isaac J. Wardle of South Jordan was arrested Wednesday, June 4 at his home by Deputy Marshal Doyle, on a charge of unlawful cohabitation. He was brought to the city and taken before Commissioner Greenman and bound over for trial at the September term on an indictment found against him April 23, 1887. Geo. A. Lowe and S.P. Teasdel are his bondsmen. (The Deseret Weekly, Volume 40 p 824)
The Church issued the Manifesto in 1890, withdrawing support for polygamy. After this time, very few new plural marriages were performed. President Woodruff explained, "This Manifesto only refers to future marriages and does not affect past conditions. I did not, could not, and would not promise [the nation] that you would desert your wives and children. This you cannot do in honor. (Van Wagoner p 145) However even this statement was confusing to some members, as President Woodruff testified in court, "I intended the proclamation to cover the ground, to keep the law." However he further explained "he was placed in such a position on the witness stand that he could not answer other than he did. Yet any man who deserts and neglects his wives or children because of the Manifesto, should be handled on his membership." (Embrey p 13, quoting President Woodruff)
Consequently, the polygamist family was left with dual messages, and the individual family confronted the Manifesto and the new laws in many ways. Some families chose to separate, the husband generally living with the first wife, and the second wife living elsewhere, often in another town. The husband would visit only occasionally, like for conference or when in the area on business. Some chose to leave the state and even the country, moving to Arizona, Mexico or Canada. Isaac chose to stay with his wives, and attempted to use the underground. The federal marshals only had jurisdiction in the territories. For this reason, polygamists would sometimes move to the states. Isaac did eventually move his family to Idaho, perhaps to be farther from the marshals. He also disappeared for a time, perhaps trying to stay ahead of the marshals. (See chapter sixteen.)
Isaac had affection for both of his wives (Martha and Sophia after Mary had passed away.) This is expressed in his missionary letters he sent to his family from England. “Dear Wives, it with love and affection that I set down to write to you and my dear children.” (Wardle, Isaac, letter Feb. 17, 1879)