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A History Tour of Brigham Young’s Beehive House

BeehiveHouseSLCBy Sharon Lindbloom

This article was taken from Mormon Coffee on July 17, 2014.

On June 19, 2014 I visited Utah and took a tour of the Beehive House, Brigham Young’s principal residence in Salt Lake City. Guided through the 1854 home by two young sister missionaries, I learned a lot about the comfortable pioneer life enjoyed by Mormonism’s “Lion of the Lord” during the second half of the 19th century. However, much of what I learned was not true. For example, I was told that:

  • Lucy Decker Young was the only wife of Brigham Young that ever lived in the Beehive House. [Actually, Mary Ann Angell Young (Brigham’s only legal wife) also lived there until she opted for quieter surroundings, moving to another home in 1860 (see John G. Turner, Brigham Young Pioneer Prophet, 236, 377).]
  • The famous Lion House, located next door to the Beehive House, was built as a storehouse; no wives or women ever lived there. [Actually, the Lion House was built in 1856 to house Brigham Young’s growing family. In that year a “large number” of Brigham’s wives began living next door to him (Turner, 236).]
  • The only reason Mormons practiced polygamy in Utah was to care for the many women who lost their husbands back east because of persecution; legally, these widows were not allowed to keep their property or children. Mormon men married them in order to provide for their needs. [Actually, women had strong property rights as individuals in the 19th century. They did not need husbands to retain property or keep their children. And very few women became widows because of persecution. Additionally, there were more men than women in Utah Territory; why wouldn’t single men have married and cared for any needy women? This whole explanation made me wonder why, if Mormons were so committed to obeying the supposed laws regarding property rights, they did not feel constrained to obey the marriage law that said polygamy was illegal.]
  • A very small number of people practiced polygamy in Utah. [Actually, an average of 20-30% of Mormons lived in polygamy between 1850 and 1890, amounting to tens of thousands of people.]
  • Brigham Young with some of his 55 wives

    Brigham Young with some of his 55 wives

    Brigham Young didn’t want to engage in polygamy, but he did it in order to help these widows legally and financially. [Actually, some of Brigham Young’s 55 wives were women who divorced their husbands just prior to marrying Brigham Young, women who had other interested suitors, and women who already had living husbands (Turner, 374-382; Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 45). Furthermore, Brigham Young’s stated rational for polygamy was theological, not altruistic (Turner, 205). See “Polygamy, Brigham Young and His 55 Wives” by John Turner for further reading.]

  • Once married, Brigham Young never even saw most of his plural wives again. [Actually, Brigham Young’s 58 children suggest otherwise (Turner, 375). But if this were the case, Brigham Young completely disregarded the biblical model of marriage that provides for a man and a woman to complete each other – the two become one flesh (Genesis 2:22-24). The husband is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” cherish her, and hold fast to her (Ephesians 5:25-31).]

In case you’re wondering, during my tour I didn’t challenge the sister missionaries about their misinformed history; I imagine they were just repeating what they have been told. But here’s the thing I struggle with. The Mormon Church knows its history. Given that, it seems to me that the Church can choose one of three options:

  1. It can choose to invite people to tour Mormon sites of historical significance and tell visitors the difficult but unvarnished truth;
  2. It can choose not to provide historical tours at all (or to provide unguided tours) and thereby be relieved of any obligation to reveal embarrassing truths; or
  3. It can choose to invite people to tour Mormon sites while lying about Mormon history.

The Church has chosen the third option. Why? It could choose to act faithfully, but instead has chosen that which is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 12:22).

Why has the Mormon Church made such a bad choice? Why does it choose to cast its lot among the wicked?

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