Kathy Riordan

Kathy Riordan
Florida, United States
April 27
One woman's view of life and the universe. Follow @katriord on Twitter.


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APRIL 8, 2010 9:44AM

Polygamists at My Door

Rate: 42 Flag



I don't watch "Big Love."  I've seen maybe a couple of episodes here and there staying in hotels that have HBO, but every once in a while I feel like I've stepped into it.

Late last night, I got a phone call from someone with a decidedly Mormon name in a decidedly Mormon county south of Salt Lake City who asked if I knew about "the One Mighty and Strong."

Ruh-roh, I thought.  This man's been reading a book on Mormon fundamentalism, and got my name somewhere.  (How he got my phone number, which escapes most people, I will forever wonder.)

Simply by virtue of the fact that I had an ancestor, a great uncle, who happened to have gotten mixed up with Mormon fundamentalism and managed to get my grandparents excommunicated from the Mormon church in the process, I get phone calls.  The last one was from an author writing a book on the subject, so I assumed this one was, too.  The previous author learned I had a copy of my great uncle's journals in my possession and cited them in his book and in a scholarly article he published on the subject, journal entries that would make a screenwriter blush.  "Big Love" had nothing on these folks.

Did I know about the Dream Mine? Yes.  The One Mighty and Strong? Yes.  The Three Nephites? Yes.  Did my ancestor believe that John T. Clark would come back from the dead and still be the One Mighty and Strong? Probably.

The hillsides of Utah are filled with people who dream of silver and wandering spirits and leaders who've lost their way and hopes of the aspiration of Muslim men.

I had ancestors who practiced polygamy, back in the day when it was not only accepted but encouraged by the leaders of the Mormon church including contemporaries of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young who themselves famously practiced it, but I'm quite certain neither my great uncle nor my grandfather practiced it despite the apparent reality that they advocated it.  I had ancestors who went to prison for practicing polygamy after it became a problem between the Mormon state and the Union.  I did not, like Mitt Romney, have ancestors who fled to the Mormon colonies of Mexico or Canada to continue practicing it in places like Colonia Juarez or Bountiful. 

I just have this, one more piece of a colorful legacy. 

I picture Harry Dean Stantons everywhere, and want to flash him back to "Pretty in Pink," out of the dust and tumbleweed of Utah and back to the wrong side of Molly Ringwald's tracks, back before I pieced together the puzzle of family history, before serendipity intervened and brought me a long lost cousin and the journals and the filled-in blanks.

And polygamists at my door.



For further reading:

Hales, Brian C.  Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations After the Manifesto 

Hales, Brian C.  John T. Clark: The "One Mighty and Strong."  Dialogue - A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 39, No. 3 / Fall 2006, pp. 46-63. 



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Excellent post. I love "Big Love." But, frankly, with an ex-wife and a current wife, I couldn't find time to manage more. ;)
"before serendipity intervened"

I love the little colorful puzzle pieces we find along the way as we age and discover and I especially love how you share them so well, Kathy.
Mormons.... oh boy.... a lot their to raise an eyebrow, eh? If you know of a lost sister wife... send her my way.
More than one wife? I can't fold the towels correctly for one, how in the hell could I ever hope to fold the towels correctly for more than that?
I would love to read those journals....
As always, I'm fascinated by details of ways that I do not know. Still, I wonder why any man would want more than one wife.
I would prefer the state to ease out of dealing with marriage.

I support the legislation that provides subsistence support to widows and orphans.

I have no problem with gay marriage as a civil contract. And a ceremony. And stuff that seems harmless enough and nice for the individuals involved.

However, it gets weird when we start thinking about gay divorce, and big love, and frankly -- I feel for the transgendered, but can't imaging legislation with every permutation of sex and gender.

And what about the species barrier. Although I would draw the line at Mammals, others might not. People love their animals. They write them in their wills. It is the next great taboo.

And most heterosexual couples are a bit down on the institution.

So, WTF.

I am not against 'gay marriage.' I am against marriage.
Do people who are excommunicated in life get recommunicated in death? Like, I understand the Mormons are deep into geneology and baptizing the dead of all sorts of other religions, with the goal of baptizing EVeryone...
Myriad, the answer to that is a little complicated. My grandparents, who were excommunicated in the early 1930's at the same time as my Uncle Harry, had their work "restored" (via proxy temple work in LDS temples done by family members) after their respective deaths. It's my understanding from talking to members of my Uncle Harry's family that the LDS Church has not permitted his work (that is, baptism, restoration of priesthood, etc.) to be done posthumously. I'm not sure what distinction they are drawing. The LDS Church leadership acknowledged in my grandparents' lifetime that they had made a mistake in excommunicating them and told them they could have all "blessings" (read: church membership, priesthood) restored if they would simply repent and be rebaptized, which they did not do (my grandfather felt the excommunication was invalid in the first place, which whether correct or not, was understandable). I've seen online notes from others that Uncle Harry supposedly practiced polygamy in this life. I have no evidence of that, and his youngest son, a credible source, says otherwise. Theoretically, though, yes, those ordinances can be restored posthumously through church appeals and LDS temple ordinances. Is that clear as mud?
"The hillsides of Utah" must be very interesting. Thanks for the references, Kathy - it will be on the summer reading list.
I saw a comedian once who joked "I don't know why men cheat. Who wants two people riding them 24/7?" So while I don't watch "Big Love", I can't say that I would be intrigued by the possibilty of practicing polygamy.
Fascinating history, Kathy. Thanks for sharing.
The Mormon history is a fascinating to explore. I will leave it at that so as not to cause any trouble.
Thanks, Kathy. Yeh, a little muddy... Owell, not my worry.
The joys of family history. Or, perhaps, the learning of it. Those journal entries will probably never unburn themselves from your mind. I enjoy the way you always finish a story with a visual flourish. :)
Oh, and in spite of the fact that the guy who called last night denied writing a book on the subject, I Googled him later. Published author.
Good post, Sister Riordan. I have a friend with rather close ties to one of the polygamous sects. Interesting folks, they are.
Stellaa, if it's the documentary I think it is (Frontline/American Experience: The Mormons), my former Latin teacher from college (Margaret Merrill Toscano) is interviewed in it. I think the reason Mormon leaders say there "is no Mormon fundamentalism" is because they don't like anyone other than the Salt Lake branch of the church co-opting the name "Mormon," although they themselves chastise media for using the nickname. Clearly, Mormon fundamentalism exists. Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, and after his death, those who followed Brigham Young to Utah practiced polygamy. Later, the church outlawed it publicly but condoned it privately, sending some to colonies in Mexico and Canada to continue practicing it. Those who believed it was a restored principle never to be taken away believe the leaders were wrong, and are currently in error. It's like the history of any major religion, even in Christianity, Orthodox/Roman Catholic/Protestant, with differences of opinion about who is more correct. Within Mormon fundamentalism, there have arisen several different factions. In my childhood, we were taught that polygamy would one day be restored in the Mormon church and again practiced; I do not believe this is currently taught to children, but it was taught in my lifetime.
Very interesting read Kathy! I was raised Catholic and couldn't watch Big Love for the "ickiness" of some of it. Religious hypocrites are everywhere. It struck a chord in me.

After reading the comments. As a SAHM, while my husband works, sometimes I wouldn't mind having an extra husband or wife to share the load.
Great post! By the way, I love "Big Love." Very interesting show.
Hmm..."In my childhood, we were taught that polygamy would one day be restored in the Mormon church and again practiced"

So was that in the conventional Mormon church, or a splinter group? If the former, very interesting indeed.
Did you mean Muslim or Mormon, hon?
Hey at least you didn't have them at your door. ;D

I think they like seeing me naked, they sure do come to my door a lot!!! And don't even try to sell me on anything!! Teeheehee!! :D
Bill, in the conventional (Salt Lake) LDS Church, the one most people associate with the nickname "Mormon." I was never a Mormon fundamentalist, was not raised in Mormon fundamentalism, and all my LDS ancestors were essentially mainstream Mormon, with some dissenting hiccups (see above). Even Uncle Harry held positions of leadership in the LDS Church until he was excommunicated. I'm not aware that my grandfather or my Uncle Harry ever affiliated with any other branch (considered by the LDS Church to be "apostate," not "fundamentalist").

Dewy Red, I meant Muslim. Joseph Smith freely admitted to thinking he was a Mormon Mohammed (see Brodie and Bushman). My reference was to the promise of Muslim men to have multiple wives in the next life, and was intentional. Contemporary Mormons don't always realize the source of some of that doctrine.

Stellaa, you have exactly encapsulated the argument of people like the man who called me last night, who fail to understand how something can be "revealed doctrine" and then taken away. Those who consider themselves fundamentalists believe the practice was continued secretly in perpetuity, then found themselves turned out the door. This gentleman was looking for his own pieces of the puzzle and hoped I had more of them to give, including more journals. Everyone wants to make sense of their own life, their own history. I'm sure they call me because I'm actually willing to talk to them, something many would not do.
I love "Big Love" and am fascinated with polygamy. I'm laughing because every time I saw Roman Grant I couldn't help flashing back to him in "Pretty in Pink." I loved that movie. Very interesting post, Kathy!
This is fascinating. Thanks for sharing. Rated.
I really liked this one. My favorite section: "The hillsides of Utah are filled with people who dream of silver and wandering spirits and leaders who've lost their way and hopes of the aspiration of Muslim men."
Why is it women always get the short end of the stick?!
If polygamy is making a comeback, I want me some younger models who appreciate the wisdom and heat of an older woman! I dare not go further with this comment as it could get me in some pretty hot water!
This makes me want to blog about the time I was stalked by Mormons. If I do, I'll be sure and let you know so you can read it – it's at least good for a laugh :)
Joseph Smith was my great-great-great (maybe another great in there) uncle. My family is descended from his youngest sister, Lucy (named after her mother, Lucy Mack Smith), who, along with other family members, stayed in Illinois after Joseph's murder. His proclamation of polygamy split the church, and after his death there was a time of great schism when the survivors argued about who should be the new leader.

This is all pretty recent history, as far as religions go, so it is interesting to see the orthodoxy of the moment presented as if it is the established wisdom of the ages.

By the way, neither me nor anyone in my present-day family is Mormon. Nice people, wacky theology.
sixtycandles, with respect to your second paragraph particularly: Word.
I've never seen big love but I'll have to look for it. Check out my love poem to OS readers
I barely handle one husband. I can't have more than one!!
So much drama!
I do enjoy BigLove even when it gets tedious and Bill gets so whiny. You remind me of a time when I was still living in Philadelphia, my hometown. This was in the mid-70s; I was in my mid-20s. The Jehovahs Witnesses were, then, pretty aggresssive in my culturally and racially and religiously very mixed neighborhood, West Mount Airy. Passing by my door I saw a pair of them coming up my steps. Perhaps not with brilliance (I was a young man as I say) I dropped my shorts and three off my Tee, opened the door to them naked and welcomed them into my house warmly. They stood still then turned and left fast. I was never again approached by them, Mormoms, any religious door-knockers. Apparently information of this nature is shared among a variety of The Faithful.
I've been to the Dream Mine with wife #2s father back in the 1980s. Just another "wish hole" , like those that fill the Weatern landscape.
ohsillyme, I'm pretty sure my grandfather had stock in the Dream Mine when he died, not sure what became of it. I discussed it with an aunt a few years back, as some peripheral family members also ended up owning stock or being interested. Me, I'm only interested for the history and the family connection, did tap into a Dream Mine yahoogroup a few years ago just to see if I could find anyone who knew my grandfather. All of that is a side of Joseph Smith's legacy few people see.
Fascinating - the post as well as the comments!
I'm fascinated by those people. They freak me out. I saw some at the Grand Canyon once and my husband accused me of being more interested in staring at them than I was in looking at the scenery. He was right too. r
Loved the Harry Dean Stanton paragraph.
Can't watch Big Love.

Loved this piece Kathy - definitely peeked my interest. The comments are quite enlightening as well. How lucky you have those journals to sort out the ancestral details.
I just finished John Krakauer's book "Under the Banner of Heaven" and found it utterly fascinating. Thanks for the other references. I don't know why this is all so intriguing to me, but I'm hooked.

And I think Just Cathy is a bit of a cougar. ;)
Maureen, I'm pretty sure those people you're referring to at the Grand Canyon have no connection to anything I'm talking about here except that they practice plural marriage. My great uncle and grandfather weren't affiliated with any of those groups, Colorado City or Short Creek, that kind of fundamentalism. For those people, time stopped.

Scarlett, in a weird way he reminds me of my grandfather. But I captured my grandfather already well in the "Copper" post. Thanks.

Sparking, I don't have the actual journals, just a photocopy given to me by my cousin, my Uncle Harry's youngest son. In turn, we made copies for everyone in the family.

sweetfeet, Krakauer's book is quite intriguing and enlightening, to be sure. The two references in my article were the ones that cited the material I gave the author.
Hubster is descended from Mormons as well. That makes us related somewhere down the tree. I thought you looked familiar.. heh!
Well, there's one thing for sure, there's nothing bland and boring about your ancestry. Gives you lots of great stories to share and you do so well.
I love this piece, Kathy...one of your best...it has a dream like quality...I suppose the way many of us perceive this phenomena...xox

a man wants more than one wife so she can care for the other one when the other one is sick. me? I could not cope with more than one opinion on how I'm wrong. multiples conflicting opinions would not be fun.
Wow, this is very interesting. I have watched "Big Love" and I could not even imagine sharing my other half. I don't share well. Rated
Kathy, did you ever read Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet?
No, sheepdog, I haven't, but I'm familiar with its contents. Danites did exist in Mormon history; whether Conan Doyle represented them accurately or not I could not say.
Kathy, I was searching for my Grandpa Harry's journals, and low and behold, look what I stumble upon. If he was your great uncle, then your Grandpa must have been his brother Harold. I guess we're cousins.

I'm glad you're the one getting all the calls. Now I'm afraid to get a copy of the journals; someone may track me down with questions too.