Monday, March 16, 2009

"Daughter of the Saints" a great memoir find about growing up in polygamy

I just had to write about this book as the author of a memoir (not published) called "Daughters of the Shadow Men" because of how much what culture we are born into affects our lives. Dorothy Allred was born to a northern Utah polygamist, a naturepathic doctor and obstretician who delivered hundreds of babies, and when he decided to 'live the principle' after first marrying in the mainstream Mormon church, she was born the daughter of his 4th wife I believe it was out of seven he had for years, before in his old age, he added 9 more! On top of that, Ervil LeBaron, a murderous fundamentalist and polygamist who was always talking about the Mormon principle of blood atonement, only to him murder was justified, sent two wives to kill Rulon Allred who would not come under his leadership ala Warren Jeffs. Dr. Allred would not do it because he regarded Ervil LeBaron as a dangerous psychopath. The wives did succeed in getting past his fierce wife guards in his office and murdered him.
I was reminded so much of the stories my grandmother on my mother's side used to tell about being raised in polygamy 'in the old days' when polygamy was still practiced among all Mormons. Her mother was the third wife and by the time the kids came along, her father was ailing, so her mother had to take in washing, sell quilts, anything she could do to earn money, so they endured utmost poverty. For quite a while they lived the United Order where they turned all their earnings over to the main branch and then were fed in large meeting halls. She was proud of living in the last place in the old Utah that practiced the United Order in a town called Orderville.
Well, Dorothy Allred tells about the hardships the 'polygie' kids had to endure when Utah and Arizona together raided polygamy conclaves and tried to stamp out polygamy altogether in the families where it still flourished. So they had to go on the run for years, and she talks about how many lies they had to tell so her father would not be recognized as a polygamist and be locked up again after serving one term in jail. Of course that did not stop him from practicing polygamy or the principle, so Dorothy is always thinking about how polygamy caused them to have to live differently, lie, and live in fear, why she would not live it when she was grown.
Dorothy is very intelligent as was her father and she explains how women wanted to marry him even when their own husbands were still alive because he was kind and could take care of them better. He was also tall and handsome, so then she says all these wives, having married him, demanded a slice of his time, too. She believes that it was perhaps ego that motivated her father to marry so many women and also she came to realize that in old age it was not lust, but concern for the many he had developed as a doctor that manifested in plural marriage. He was reminded by the other fundamentalist men that Joseph Smith had married many women for these reasons, women who would not even had the joys of marriage without these unions, and that they would not be able to marry more women as easily if he, their leader, did not. So that is how they all sank deeper and deeper into the cycle of taking more and more wives. Warren Jeffs is reputed to have married over 75 women and has 150 kids or so! Dorothy also had 28 brothers and sisters! Imagine needing to interact with that many siblings, and she writes about many of them especially those who did not thrive and came to haunt her, another toll of polygamy. A very enlightening story about what it is really like to be born into polygamy. It could just as easily happened to me as to her, as my grandfather delivered many babies and might have decided to live the principle, too. Instead of that, I was born to a Jack Mormon skeptic and cowboy who instead fell into another secret culture, that of gay married men. And I had to contend with other kinds of secrets and lies while growing up in his household. I wonder if we get the chance to pick who we will be born to, perhaps for a mission, as she is doing to enlighten and teach people about the pitfalls of polygamy as experienced first hand. There are a lot of secret polygamists still around, too!


Sugar said...

sounds very interesting. since i love reading, & also learning about other cultures, beliefs, etc. this book sounds quite informative.
have a good week, my friend.

DB said...

An amazing read. You often hear about such marriages still going on i spite of the laws, as in the recent experience in Texas. But seldom hear an inside story. Thank you.



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