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Age Disparity among LDS polygamists

Modern-day polygamist Samuel Bateman’s Facebook photo

By Bill McKeever

Note: The following was originally printed in the January/February 2023 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.

Polygamist Samuel Bateman was raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), and though this organization is not associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquartered in Salt Lake City, the two groups share many theological beliefs.

In a December 3, 2022 article in the Salt Lake Tribune (“Polygamous leader Samuel Bateman had 20 wives, according to FBI”), Bateman, 46,  “began to proclaim he was a prophet” in 2019, and was leading a “small offshoot of the FLDS faith” that had “approximately 50 followers and more than 20 wives, many of whom are minors, mostly under the age of 15.”

According the Tribune article, “Bateman began gathering young women, and then girls, and then the adult wives of his male followers as his own wives.”  On Sept. 13, Bateman’s two homes home in Colorado City, AZ were raided by the FBI . According to the search warrant, they were “looking for evidence of underage marriages or sexual relationships between adults and children.” As a result, Bateman was arrested.

Comparing this case with the events in Nauvoo, IL during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, a number of similarities arise, though I personally find Bateman’s behavior even worse in some cases than that of the first Mormon prophet. Most people are outraged when they hear of older men taking advantage of vulnerable younger women and girls, even when the victims of these relationships defend their perpetrators. Bateman, like 19th century LDS polygamists, insist there were following God’s commandments and that marrying multiple women, many of whom were under the legal age of adulthood, were not motivated by sexual lust.

Apologists for plural marriage have stressed that marrying very young girls in their early to mid-teens was commonplace during the 19th century; however, when it comes to their first marriage, this pattern doesn’t often hold true when we look at the ages of men who practiced polygamy during the Nauvoo period (1838-1844).

Take, for instance, Joseph Smith. He married Emma Hale on January 18, 1827. At the time he was 21 while Emma was 22. Brigham Young married his first wife, Meriam Works, when he was 23 and she was 18. John Taylor, Mormonism’s third president, married Leonara Agnes Cannon in 1833. He was 24, she was 36. When 4th President Wilford Woodruff married Phoebe Whittemore Carter in 1837; both were 30 years-old.

Much has been said about Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith marrying two young girls that were 14 years of age (Nancy Winchester and Helen Mar Kimball), but history shows that several LDS leaders married plural wives who were significantly younger than they.

On February 15, 1857, [Apostle] Wilford Woodruff wrote in his diary that he “spoke to Brigham Young about my daughter Phebe. He did not wish to take any more young wives but would see that she was take[n] up in due time” (Waiting for World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff,  189). When this conversation took place Brigham Young was 55;  Phebe Amelia Woodruff was less than a month shy of 15 years-old.

Young certainly had his share of wives who were much younger than he. On May 8, 1844, the 42-year-old Young married 15-year-old Clara Caroline Decker.  Two years prior, the 41-year-old Young married Clara’s sister Lucy Ann Decker who, at the time was 20.

Young was 45-years-old when he married 16-year-old Lucy Bigelow on March 20, 1847. That same day, Young married Lucy’s sister Mary Jane, who was 19.

In 1859, Wilford Woodruff was still trying to marry off his daughter Phebe. On January 27, 1859 he pens in his diary, “I conversed with Brother Snow upon the good of his taking Phebe for his wife….I spent the evening at home…. Elder Lorenzo spent the evening with me until midnight. He had some diversion with Phebe” (221). Phebe is now 16, Lorenzo Snow is 45.  Snow eventually married her on March 4, 1859 when he was 44 and she was 17.

Two years prior to marrying Phebe, Lorenzo Snow, 42, married Mary Elizabeth Houtz, age 16. Snow married his final plural wife on June 12, 1871. He was 57 years old and his new bride was 15-year-old Sarah Ephramina “Minnie” Jensen. Together they had five children.

Orson Hyde was baptized into the LDS Church by Sidney Rigdon in 1831 and became an apostle in 1835. He served on several missions including one where, while in Jerusalem,  he claimed to “dedicate” the land to the Jews. Orson Hyde’s first wife was Marinda Nancy Johnson, the 19-year-old daughter of John Johnson, the man who owned the home where Joseph Smith was staying when a mob dragged him out of the house and tarred and feathered him. Hyde was sealed to several plural wives, his last plural marriage was to Sophia Margaret Lyon. When they were sealed on October 10, 1865, Hyde was 60, Sophia was 18. Marinda and Orson divorced in April 1870.

Duncan McArthur joined the LDS Church on March 22, 1835. When Joseph Smith ran for President in 1844, he was one of over 300 “electioneering” missionaries who were sent out to specifically campaign for Smith. McArthur was elected to the Utah territorial legislature in August of 1854 and helped settle Mt. Pleasant, Utah in 1856. When he married his first wife, Susan McKeen on January 17, 1846, he was 21 and she was 16. When he was 61 he married another 16-year-old, Eliza Rebecca Scoville.

James Alleed Allred joined the church on September 10, 1832. For a time he was Joseph Smith’s bodyguard and also elected as judge when the Saints were in Caldwell County, MO. When he married his first wife, Elizabeth Warren, in 1803, he was 19 and she was 17. One of his plural wives was Kisner Olson who was born on February 7, 1844. They were sealed on March 14, 1857. James was 73 and Kisner was 13.

Naturally there were many more men who engaged in plural marriages who were sealed to spouses much younger than they were. This small sample shows that in many of the first marriages, the husband and wife were very close in age; this was not always the case when men took on more wives in later years of their lives.

[Many of the dates and ages in this article are from George D. Smith’s book, Nauvoo Polygamy, Signature Books]

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