Among the Mormons

A nineteenth-century writer meets Brigham Young and explores the "City of Saints"

The first Mormon household I ever visited belonged to a son of the famous Heber Kimball, Brigham Young's most devoted follower, and next to him in the Presidency. It was the last stage-station but one before we entered Salt Lake, situated at the bottom of a green valley in Parley's Cañon (named after the celebrated Elder, Parley Pratt); and as it looked like the residence of a well to do farmer, I went in, and asked for a bowl of bread and milk the greatest possible luxury after a life of bacon and salt spring water, such as we had been leading in the mountains. A fine looking, motherly woman, with a face full of character, gray-haired, and about sixty years old, rose promptly to grant my request, and while the horses were changing I had ample time to make the acquaintance of two pretty young girls, hardly over twenty, holding two infants, of ages not more than three months apart. Green as I was to saintly manners, I supposed that one of these two young mothers had run in from a neighbor's to compare babies with the mistress of the house, after our Eastern fashion, universal with the owners phenomena. When the old lady came back with the bread and milk, and both of the young girls addressed her as "mother," I was emboldened to tell her that her daughters had a pretty pair of children.

"They are pretty," said the old lady, demurely; "but they are the children of my son"; then, as if resolved to duck a Gentile head and heels into Mormon realities at once, she added," Those young ladies are the wives of my son, who is now gone on a mission to Liverpool, young Mr. Kimball, the son of Heber Kimball; and I am Heber Kimball's wife."

A cosmopolitan, especially one knowing beforehand that Utah was not distinguished for monogamy, might well be ashamed to be so taken off his feet as I was by my first view of Mormonism in its practical workings. I stared, I believe I blushed a little, I tried to stutter a reply; and the one dreadful thought which persistently kept uppermost, so that I felt they must read it in my face., was, "How can these young women sit looking at each other's babies without flying into each other's faces with their fingernails, and tearing out each other's hair?" Heber Kimball afterwards solved the question for me, by saying that it was a triumph of grace.

Such another triumph was Mrs. Heber Kimball herself. She was a woman of remarkable presence, in youth must have been very handsome, would have been the oracle of tea fights, the ruling spirit of donation visits, in any Eastern village where she might have lived, and, had her home been New York, would have fallen by her own gravity into the Chief Directress's chair of half a dozen Woman's Aid Societies and Associations for Moral Reform. Yet here was this strong minded woman, as her husband afterward acknowledged to me, his best counsellor and right hand helper through a married life reaching into middle age, witnessing her property in that husband's affections subdivided and parcelled out until she owned but a one-thirtieth share, not only without a pang, but with the acquiescence of her conscience and the approbation of her intellect. Though few first wives in Utah had learned to look concubinage in the face so late in life as this emphatic and vigorous natured woman, I certainly met none whose partisanship of polygamy was so unquestioning and' eloquent. She was one of the strangest psychological problems I ever met. Indeed, I am half inclined to think that she embraced Mormonism earlier than her husband, and, by taking the initiative, secured for herself the only true wifely place in the harem, the marital after thoughts of Brother Heber being her servants rather than her sisters. She was most unmistakably his favorite.

One day in the Opera House at Salt Lake, when the carpenters were laying the floor for the Fourth of July Eve Ball, Heber and I got talking of the potpourri of nationalities assembled in Utah. Heber waxed unctuously benevolent, and expressed his affection for each succeeding race as fast as mentioned.

"I love the Danes dearly! I've got a Danish wife." Then turning to a rough-looking carpenter, hammering near him, —You know Christiny,— eh, Brother Spudge?"

“Oh, yes! know her very well!"

A moment after, —The Irish are a dear people. My Irish wife is among the best I’ve got."

Again, —I love the Germans! Got a Dutch wife, too! Know Katrine, Brother Spudge? Remember she couldn't scarcely talk a word o' English when she come, —eh, Brother Spudge?”

Brother Spudge remembered, and Brother Heber continued to trot out the members of his marital stud for discussion of their points with his more humble fellow polygamist of the hammer; but when I happened to touch upon the earliest Mrs. Heber, whom I naturally thought he would by this time regard as a forgotten fossil in the Lower Silurian strata of his connubial life, and referred to the interview I had enjoyed with her on the afternoon before entering the city, his whole manner changed to a proper husbandly dignity, and, without seeking corroboration from the carpenter, he replied, gravely,

"Yes! that is my first wife, and the best woman God ever made!"

The ball to which I have referred was such an opportunity for studying Mormon sociology as three months' ordinary stay in Salt Lake might not have give me. Though Mormondom is disloyal to the core, it still patronizes time Fourth of July, at least in its phase of festivity, omitting the patriotism, but keeping the fireworks of our Eastern celebration, substituting “Utah” for "Union" in the Buncombe speeches, and having a ball instead of the Declaration of Independence. All the saints within half a day's ride of the city come flocking into it, to spend the Fourth. A well to do Mormon at the bead f his wives and children, all of Whom are probably eating candy as they march through the metropolitan streets in solid column, looks to the uninitiated like the principal of a female seminary, weak in its deportment, taking out his char for an airing.

Last Fourth of July, it may be remembered, fell on a Saturday. In their ambition to reproduce ancient Judaism (and this ambition is the key to their whole puzzle) the Mormons are Sabbatarians of a strictness, which would delight Lord Shaftesbury. Accordingly, in order that their festivities might not encroach on the early hours of the Sabbath, they had the ball on Fourth of July eve, instead of the night of the Fourth. I could not realize the risk of such an encroachment when I read the following sentence printed on my billet of invitation

"Dancing to commence at 4 P.M."

Bierstadt, myself, and three gentlemen of our party were the only Gentiles whom I found invited by President Young to meet in the neighborhood of three thousand saints. Under these circumstances I felt like the three-thousandth homeopathic dilution of monogamy. Morality in this world is so mainly a matter of convention that I dreaded to appear in decent polygamic society, lest respectable women, owning their orthodox tenth of a husband, should shrink from the pollution of my presence, whispering, with a shudder, "Ugh! Well, I never! How that one-wifed reprobate can dare to show his face I" But they were very polite, and received me with as skilfully veiled disapprobation as is shown by fashionable Eastern belles to brilliant seducers immoral in our sense. Had I been a woman, I suppose there would have been no mercy for me.

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