After several years of researching family history, I can trace most of my ancestors at least back to when they first arrived in North America. Such is not the case with the family of my fourth-great-grandfather John Lowry Senior. We know that his father, William Lowry, was born about 1769 and lived in Robertson County, Tennessee, but little more information can be found beyond that. Slightly more can be found concerning John’s mother, Mary “Polly” Norris, born about 1769, the daughter of Thomas Norris, who is thought to have come from England, settled in the colonies, and served in the Revolutionary War. Some people would call this a brick wall in their family tree, but I prefer to see it as a temporary barrier that will someday be vanquished.
The things we know about John Lowry’s early life come from history recorded by his granddaughter, Sarah Jane Lowry Reynolds, as it was related to her by her father, John Lowry Junior. John Lowry Senior’s early life appears to have been filled with many sad farewells.
Photo of John Lowry from the Church Historians Office, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
John Lowry’s first farewell was to his father, to whom he never got a chance to say good-bye. William Lowry worked as a mail carrier for the United State government. One day while servicing his mail route, a storm arose, and a stream he regularly needed to cross was overflowing. William’s hat was later discovered on the stream bank, but neither he nor his horse was ever seen again. Although it was assumed he had drowned, it was also considered a possibility that he might have been murdered for the money that might have been in the mail he carried.
We don’t know how many children were in the Lowry family, but we do know of at least two brothers, James and Ira. John’s second farewell was to Ira. The widowed Polly Lowry could not afford to support all her children, so John and Ira were indentured to a wheelwright. The wheelwright was a cruel, violent man, who would often beat his apprentices. After one of these beatings, Ira became sick and later died. This encouraged John to escape from his difficult life with the wheelwright and begin a better life elsewhere.
John’s third farewell was to his mother. Since he was running away from his indenture, he couldn’t remain at home, so his mother gave him instructions on how to locate some members of her family. She watched her thirteen-year-old son leave for the last time wearing tow trousers, a hickory shirt, and a ragged hat. The story is told that he walked away, barefoot, with a light snow on the ground, but this may have been an embellishment added to enhance the drama of the moment. This was around the time the War of 1812 was just beginning.
John never attended school. He was said to be a strong, sturdy man and a great hunter, known for his fighting abilities. He worked for a while as a riverboat pilot, as did his brother James. John’s fourth farewell was to James, when they met for the last time in Natchez, Mississippi. John was piloting a steamboat heading up the Mississippi River, and James was piloting a steamboat heading the other direction.
John married his first wife, Susan Grooms, in 1817 in Nashville, Tennessee. After the marriage, they moved to Madison County, Missouri, where their two children were born, William Grooms Lowry, born February 10, 1818, and my third-great-grandmother, Sarah Lowry, born October 16, 1820. John’s fifth farewell was to his wife. After only six years of marriage, she died in 1823, leaving John alone with two young children.
I don’t know the source of this photo, but it is said to be my third-great-grandparents, George Peacock and Sarah Lowry Peacock, John Lowry’s oldest daughter.
John married his second wife, Mary Wilcox, February 1, 1824, in Shelby County, Tennessee, where his first wife’s parents lived. Mary was born in Canada. Her grandfather was a Loyalist who was killed in battle while serving in the English Army during the Revolutionary War. Her family was living in Arkansas at the time she and John were married. During the early years of their marriage, they lived in Madison County, Missouri. Mary was an intelligent woman, who finally taught John how to read and write, since he missed getting any kind of education as a child.
John’s sixth farewell was to his uncle Nicholas Norris in 1827. John and Mary needed to make a decision whether to move south to Arkansas, where Nicholas was moving, or to move north to Marion County, Missouri, where Mary’s parents had recently relocated. Once the wagon was packed and the horses harnessed, John picked up an old gun barrel from the yard, stood it on its end, and told his wife that whichever direction it fell would be the direction they would travel. When he let go of it, it fell to the north, so they traveled north to Marion County, and John never saw his uncle again.
In addition to John’s first two children, John and Mary had ten more children together. James Hazard Lowry was born in Madison County, Missouri. Hyrum Madison Lowry, John Lowry Junior, and Abner Lowry were born in Marion County, Missouri. Mary Artemesia Lowry (whose story can be read in “Chief Walker’s Brief Courtship”), her twin Susan Lucretia Lowry, and George Moroni Lowry, were born in Clay County, Missouri. Sarah Jane Lowry was born in Caldwell County, Missouri. Elizabeth Eunice Lowry was born in Lee County, Iowa. William Mahonri Lowry was born in Nauvoo, Illinois.
During this part of his life, John Lowry’s farewells were mostly to homes rather than to people, although he also had to bid a sad farewell to four of his children before finally settling in Utah. After joining the Mormons in 1833, John and his family were constantly being forced by unwelcoming neighbors to move from place to place. They joined the Mormons in Jackson County, Missouri. They almost immediately had to flee from Jackson County to Clay County, Missouri. During this time, John’s son William Grooms Lowry died in Warsaw, Illinois. Then they moved to Caldwell County, Missouri, and then to Lee County, Iowa, across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo, Illinois. John did not have a clear title to his home in Lee County, so he recrossed the river to temporarily settle in Nauvoo.
They left Nauvoo in 1846 and camped along the west side of the Mississippi River throughout that summer. During this time, they had to say farewell to their two youngest children, who both became ill and died, Elizabeth Eunice near Bonaparte, Iowa, and William Mahonri near Mount Pisgah, Iowa. They finally passed through Council Bluffs, Iowa, and crossed the Missouri River into Winter Quarters, Nebraska, where their son, Hyrum Madison died when he drowned after breaking through the ice trying to cross the frozen river. They built a house in Winter Quarters to protect them during the winter, but John and his oldest sons spent the winter upriver in Rush Valley, where along with a group of other men they could tend to the cattle in a place with plenty of good feed. They traveled the following summer to Salt Lake City in the 1847 Edward Hunter–Jacob Foutz Company.
With each move, they sank deeper into poverty, as they were unable to take the time to sell their homes or gather all of their belongings. In November 1949, the Lowry family was one of fifty families chosen to settle in Sanpete County, Utah, where they lived the rest of their lives, and John actively participated in church, government, and military affairs there.
While in Manti, John married two additional wives. The first plural marriage was in 1853 to Anna Maria Johnston, widow of William Singleton, who brought one daughter, Anna Maria Singleton into the marriage. In 1854, a son was born to John Lowry and Anna Maria Johnston, William Alexander Lowry, who died the same day he was born. The second plural marriage was in 1858 to Elizabeth Crompton, widow of William Orlando Haydock, who had six children, John Haydock, Nancy Haydock, George Haydock, Mary Haydock, Martha Haydock, and Alice Haydock, who were all either grown and on their own or had died by the time of this marriage.
John had four more farewells before his death in 1867. His son George Moroni died in 1856. His daughter Susan Lucretia and wife Mary Wilcox both died in 1859. His wife Elizabeth Crompton died in 1862.
John Lowry Senior died in Manti, Utah, January 7, 1867, after a severe illness of the lungs, probably conrtibuted to by several colds. He was survived by one wife, Anna Maria Johnston, who also died less than a year later; three sons, James Hazard Lowry, John Lowry Junior, and Abner Lowry; and three daughters, Sarah Lowry Peacock, Mary Artemesia Lowry Peacock, and Sarah Jane Lowry Higgins.
This family tree shows my descent from John Lowry.
Although we often hear about polygamy being practiced in the
Utah Territory, the fact that the practice started in Nauvoo, Illinois, is not always
publicized as well. It is estimated that Joseph Smith had more than forty wives,
some of whom were already married to someone else and married him without the
knowledge or consent of their husbands. Personal journals, diaries, and memoirs
of early Mormon leaders narrate tales of Joseph Smith encouraging and sometimes
commanding his Apostles to take plural wives, informing them that failure to do
so would cause them to lose their Apostleship and be damned, and telling them
to take young wives they could raise children by.
When Brigham Young led the 1848 company of pioneers to Salt
Lake, he had 39 wives, 18 of whom are believed to have accompanied him on the
trip. Heber C. Kimball, who served as first counselor to Brigham Young, had 37
wives at the time he travelled in the 1848 Heber C. Kimball Company, 14 of whom
are believed to have accompanied him on the trip. Heber C. Kimball’s 31st wife
was Ruth Amelia Reese, the sister of my fourth-great-grandmother, Catherine
Reese Clawson. Ruth Amelia travelled separately in the Brigham Young Company. Howard
Egan had three wives at the time he travelled in the 1848 Heber C. Kimball
Company, one of whom was my fourth-great-grandmother, Catherine Reese Clawson,
who had become his plural wife after she was widowed. Catherine travelled
separately in the Brigham Young Company, while Howard’s first wife travelled
One of the most disturbing aspects of this early practice of polygamy is that the wives in these plural marriages were often seen as trophies rather than as life partners. The polygamists were instructed by Joseph Smith that having multiple wives would ensure a special place in heaven for them. The marriages were often kept secret, and sometimes even the wives’ families were not informed of them. And when the men travelled west with some of their wives, many other wives were abandoned and left in Winter Quarters to be sent for later.
The Story of Catherine Reese Clawson
Catherine Reese was the fourth of twelve children raised by John Reese and Susannah Owen Reese. John and Susannah came from Montgomeryshire, Wales, and immigrated to New York City about 1800. After living in several New York State locations, they settled on a farm in Elk Creek, Pennsylvania. In 1823, they left their two oldest children in charge of the Pennsylvania farm and returned to New York City, planning to stay one year, but John became ill in New York and died in 1824. John and Susannah’s twelve children were: Rebecca, Susannah, Jonathan, Catherine, Mary, David, John, Edward, Enoch, Benjamin, Ruth Amelia, and Harriet.
Catherine Reese was born January 27, 1804, in New York City. She married Zephaniah Clawson on January 8, 1824, in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. Zephaniah was born May 13, 1798, in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, to John Clawson and Elizabeth Martin Clawson. Not much documentation can be found of Zephaniah’s early life, but this fun story of his school days appears in History of Crawford County, Pennsylvania (various authors, 1885, Warner Beers and Co., Chicago): “[School teacher] Joshua Pennel, in 1810, held a term. He tried to inculcate the habit among his pupils of thinking twice before speaking, and particularly with Zeph Clawson,·who often spoke rashly and unthinkingly. The master was standing one day with his back to the fire, when Zeph accosted him with ‘Well, master, I think—’ ‘That’s right, Zeph, now think again before you speak,’ interrupted Mr. Pennel. The lad kept silence till the teacher said, ‘Well Zeph, now speak.’ ‘Your coat is on fire,’ was the meek response. Zeph was allowed his natural way of speaking thereafter.”
Catherine and Zephaniah had six children together. Two of
their children, Susanna and Louisa, died as infants. Their four surviving
children were: Hiram Bradley, John Reese, Helen Cordelia, and Harriet Cornelia.
Zephaniah disappeared in September 1841 and is believed to have died in a
steamboat accident on the Ohio River.
In 1844, Catherine Reese Clawson married Howard Egan as a
plural wife. At the time of the marriage, Hyrum Smith (Joseph Smith’s older brother)
told John D. Lee that this marriage “was a most holy one … in accordance with a
revelation that the Prophet had recently received direct from God.”
When Catherine Reese Clawson crossed the plains in the 1848
Brigham Young company, she was listed as Catherine Clawson rather than as
Catherine Egan, so this marriage was obviously not an important part of Howard
Egan’s life. Catherine was travelling with her children, Hiram, Helen, and
Harriet, and with her sister, Ruth Amelia. Ruth Amelia was married to Heber C.
Kimball at the time (his 31st wife), but was listed in the company as Ruth A.
Reese rather than as Ruth Kimball. Howard Egan and Heber C. Kimball were
travelling separately in the Heber C. Kimball Company, Howard with his first
wife, Tamson Parshley, and Heber with several of his other wives. Catherine’s
oldest son, John Reese Clawson, had been serving with the Mormon Battalion in
California and joined them in Salt Lake after they arrived.
In 1851, Howard Egan shot and killed Catherine Reese Clawson’s nephew, James Madison Monroe. Catherine divorced Howard in 1852. This story will be related later.
On June 10, 1855, Catherine Reese Clawson became another in the
long list of plural wives of Brigham Young, but she appears to still have been
known as Catherine Clawson, as that is the name she used in the 1856 Utah Statehood
Census Index. I have not yet been able to find her in the 1860 U.S. Census, so
I don’t know what name she may have used on the census that year.
Catherine Reese Clawson died on November 7, 1860, in Salt
Lake City. In the Utah Death Register, she is listed only by the name Clawson,
with no first name, no list of close family, no birth date and place, no death
date and place, and her burial location listed as “Young Lot.” According to
cemetery records, she is buried in a pauper’s grave next to her brother John in
the Salt Lake City Cemetery, where they share a headstone at plot number
B_4_PAUPER_756. The headstone gives her name as Catherine Reese Clawson.
The Siblings of Catherine Reese Clawson
This is the story of Catherine Reese Clawson and her marriage to Howard Egan, but it cannot be complete without also listing her siblings who were also participants in plural marriages. According to the journals of Catherine’s brother Enoch Reece, four of the Reese sisters joined the Mormon church in 1841. The only other siblings whom I could find records of joining the church are one sister: Ruth Amelia; and two brothers: Enoch, who joined the church and moved to the Utah Territory, and John, who joined the church after moving to Utah. Both brothers had multiple wives after their move to Utah. Ruth Amelia became a plural wife while still in Nauvoo. I assume that the other two sisters mentioned by Enoch Reese as having joined the church in 1841 might be Rebecca, whose son James Madison Monroe later moved to Utah and was shot and killed by Catherine Reese’s second husband, Howard Egan; and Susannah, whose son David H. Kinsey died in Salt Lake City and son Stephen A. Kinsey died in Genoa, Nevada, which had been settled by John and Enoch Reese.
Ruth Amelia Reese Kimball
Ruth Amelia Reese was the eleventh of twelve children raised
by John Reese and Susannah Owen Reese. She was born May 10, 1817, in Beaver
Township, Crawford County, Pennsylvania. She was six years old when her father
died. According to her brother Enoch Reese’s journal, after their father’s
death, all the siblings except Enoch and Catherine moved from the family farm
in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, to New York, where their mother lived, so
Ruth would have moved to New York at that time.
Ruth joined the Mormon church and moved to Nauvoo, Illinois,
where she became the 31st wife of Heber Chase Kimball. As stated above, Ruth
travelled to Salt Lake City in the Brigham Young Company of 1848 under her
maiden name, while her husband was travelling with several other wives in the
Heber C. Kimball Company. At the time they left Winter Quarters, Heber C.
Kimball was second only to Brigham Young in the number of wives they had. Young
had 39; Kimball had 37.
One question that came to mind was whether Ruth’s travelling
under her maiden name might be an indication that her marriage to Heber C.
Kimball was not considered as important as marriages to some of his other
wives. My research into the life of Heber C. Kimball showed that he had married
several widows (particularly widows of Hyrum and Joseph Smith) who lived their
lives separately from him and his other wives, but that would not be the case
with Ruth, who had never been previously married. Then I started looking at all
the wives who travelled in the 1848 companies to see how they were listed on
the rolls of the companies.
Of Heber’s thirty-seven wives, fourteen of them migrated to Salt Lake in 1848. One wife, Ellen Sanders Kimball, was already in Salt Lake, having travelled with Heber in the 1847 Brigham Young Company, one of only three women in that company. The remaining twenty-two wives remained in Winter Quarters to make the journey at a later date. My main source for information about their travels was the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database at history.lds.org, which might not accurately show the names they were using during the journey. I was lucky to find a roster showing that Ruth A. Reese was travelling in the Brigham Young Company with her sister Catherine Reese Clawson, because the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database mistakenly shows her in the Heber C. Kimball Company under the last name of Kimball. I have not been able to find this kind of documentation for Heber’s other wives, and not everything in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database is thoroughly documented, so I cannot be sure of the accuracy of a lot of it, but I am sharing my findings here.
Eight wives travelled in the Heber C. Kimball Company under
the name Kimball: Vilate Murray Kimball, Sarah Peak Noon Kimball, Sarah Ann
Whitney Kimball (who was a widow of Joseph Smith, but did not live separately
from Heber C. Kimball’s family as some other widows did), Amanda Trimble Gheen
Kimball, Harriet (born Helga, which had been Americanized to Harriet) Sanders
Kimball, Christeen Golden Kimball, Laura Pitkin Kimball, and Mary Ann Shefflin
Kimball. As stated earlier, Ruth Amelia Reese Kimball travelled with her sister
in the Brigham Young Company under the name Reese. Charlotte Chase Kimball (who
would divorce Heber the following year) travelled with her parents in the
Brigham Young Company under the name Kimball. Ann Alice Gheen Kimball travelled
in the Willard Richards Company under the name Kimball. Mary Fielding Smith
Kimball (widow of Hyrum Smith) travelled in the Heber C. Kimball Company under
the name Smith. Lucy Walker Smith Kimball (widow of Joseph Smith) travelled in
the Heber C. Kimball Company under the name Smith. Presendia Lathrop Huntington
Buell Smith Kimball (widow of Joseph Smith, although she was also married to
Norman Oliver Buell, who left the church because of Presendia’s involvement in
polygamy and remained in Missouri for the rest of his life) travelled in the
Heber C. Kimball Company under the name Buell.
It is unclear whether Frances Jessie Swan Kimball, who
travelled in the Heber C. Company under the name Swan, was married to Heber
before or after their journey to Salt Lake. She later left the church because
of her disagreement with the principle of polygamy, and lived the rest of her
life in California with her new husband, George C. Clark.
Although some of Heber C. Kimball’s marriages ended in
divorce, most personal histories written by members of his family indicate that
he treated his wives well. They lived in several houses, but appear to have
lived as one extremely large family unit. It doesn’t appear that Ruth Amelia
Reese Kimball was ever mistreated in any way by her husband. They had three
children together, but none of them lived long enough to provide her with any grandchildren.
Their daughter Susannah R. Kimball, died on the same day she was born, July 10,
1851. Their younger son, Enoch Heber Kimball, born September 2, 1855, died on
August 20, 1877, when he accidentally shot himself while retrieving his shotgun
from the wagon after returning from a hunting expedition with relatives in
Meadowville, Rich County, Utah. Their older son, Jacob Reese Kimball, born
April 15, 1853, died after a prolonged illness on May 30, 1875, in Salt Lake
City. Perhaps inspired by the time she spent treating Jacob before his death,
Ruth spent the rest of her life dedicated to tending to the ill and afflicted
until about 1890, when her active life was curtailed by blindness. She was also
said to have been an excellent tailoress, and Heber was proud of all his
clothes that she made for him.
Ruth Amelia Reese Kimball died of general debility and old
age on November 26, 1902, in the home of her nephew, John Heber Reese, in Salt
Lake City. She is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery at plot number
G_14_10_3EN2. Many other Reese relatives are buried nearby. Her children are
all buried in the Kimball-Whitney Cemetery in Salt Lake City, along with their
father and many of his other wives and children.
Colonel John Reese
John Reese was the seventh of twelve children raised by John
Reese and Susannah Owen Reese. He was born October 15, 1808, in Whitestown,
Oneida County, New York. After his father died in 1824, he moved with most of
his siblings from the family farm in Pennsylvania back to New York, where his
mother was living.
John Reese married Catherine Miles about 1832 or 1833 in New
York City. They had three children that I know of, all born in New York City:
Mary Miles Reese, born October 15, 1838; Miles Reese, born about 1842; and
William McIntosh Reese, born August 13, 1847. Although I haven’t seen any
documentation of John’s military service, it appears that he served in the New
York Militia and was known for the rest of his life as Colonel John Reese.
In 1849, John’s brother Enoch, who had joined the Mormon
church in 1841 and moved to Nauvoo in 1844, was preparing to travel to Salt
Lake City with his family in the Allen Taylor Company. John decided to leave
his wife and children in New York to travel with his brother and his family,
bringing a large load of goods in order to become merchants in the Utah
Territory. After arriving in Salt Lake, John went back almost immediately for
more goods, while his brother opened a store named J. & E. Reese.
John returned to Salt Lake in 1850 with more goods, and the
brothers ran their business there during that year. In Spring 1851, John loaded
up thirteen wagons with eggs, bacon, flour, and seeds, and travelled to Carson
Valley, on the western edge of the Utah Territory. He was the first non-native
to settle in the area, and he built a house known as Mormon Station (also known
as Reese’s Station) that served as a boarding house and trading post. He
cultivated thirty acres to grow goods to sell to the miners heading to and from
the California gold fields. After the house was completed, he sent for his wife
and family who travelled by boat to San Francisco, where he met them to escort
them to their new home. This settlement later became the town of Genoa, Nevada.
His brother Enoch joined him there for a couple of years, and together they are
considered the founders of Genoa.
Around 1859, John sold his business interests in Genoa and
moved back to Salt Lake City, where he married his second wife, Louisa M.
Christian, who was sixteen years younger than he was; and his third wife,
Caroline Emily Wilkie, who was thirty-nine years younger than he was. He had
four children with Louisa M. Christian: Katherine Christian Reese, Sarah E.
Reese, Louise Christian Reese, and Alfred Christian Reese. He had five children
with Caroline Emily Wilkie: Samuel Wilkie Reese, Edward Wilkie Reese, Dollie
Emilie Reese, Emilie Ann Reese, and Benjamin F.W. Reese.
John Reese’s first wife, Catherine Miles, divorced him February
27, 1875. All I have is a newspaper account announcing the divorce, so I have
no details of the circumstances.
John Reese’s third wife, Caroline Emily Wilkie, married
Albert Leith about 1878. I assume that she must have divorced John Reese prior
to this, but I have not been able to find any documentation of it. There is a
possibility that she just stopped being his wife in accordance with the Morrill
Anti-Polygamy Act of 1862, but that is doubtful, since the act was never
actively enforced. It has been said that President Abraham Lincoln gave Brigham
Young permission to ignore the act in exchange for not becoming involved in the
So when John Reese died on April 20, 1888, in Salt Lake
City, he had only one wife. His funeral service was held at Saint Mark’s
Cathedral, an Episcopal church, so he was probably no longer associated with
the Mormon Church at the end of his life. He is buried in a pauper’s grave next
to his sister Catherine Reese Clawson in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, where
they share a headstone at plot number B_4_PAUPER_756. The headstone gives his
name as Colonel John Reese.
Enoch Reese was the ninth of twelve children raised by John
Reese and Susannah Owen Reese. He was born May 25, 1813, in Whitestown, Oneida
County, New York. When his father died in 1824, he remained in Pennsylvania, living
with his sister Catherine and her husband, Zephaniah Clawson. They soon moved
to New York, where Enoch learned the trade of masonry, which he followed for
Enoch married Delia D. Briggs on January 4, 1837, in Utica,
New York. They had two sons, Edward Briggs Reese and Charles E. Reese, both of
whom died in infancy. Delia died September 3, 1839, possibly from complications
of the birth of their second son.
Upon returning to Buffalo, New York, in 1841, he was
surprised to learn that four of his sisters had joined the Mormon church, but then
he also decided to join. He presided over a Mormon branch in Buffalo for a
Enoch married Hannah Harvey on September 30, 1843, in Buffalo. They had six children together: Enoch Moroni Reese, David Reese (who died as an infant), James Henry Reese, Hannah Adelia Reese (who died as an infant), Susannah Lavina Reese (who died as a young girl), and Isaac Genoa Reese. They also had two adopted Native American daughters: Jane Reese and Ann Reese. They moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1844, and migrated to Salt Lake in the 1849 Allen Taylor Company with their two oldest sons and Enoch’s brother John.
After arriving in Salt Lake, Enoch took three additional
wives. He married Sarah Ellen McKinley on June 22, 1850, and they had two sons
together: John Heber Reese and Enoch Leo Reese. He married Ann Eliza Dunlap
(widow of Bradford White Elliott) on April 18, 1856, and they had three
daughters together: Ruth Amelia Reese, Mary Ellen Reese, and Alice Reese (who
died as an infant). He married Amy Jane Wightman on January 4, 1865, and they
had four children together: Milton Alma Reese (who died as an infant), Charles
Wightman Reese, Amy Estella Reese (who died as a young girl), and Joseph
Wightman Reese. All of Enoch’s wives were younger than he was, but his last
wife, Amy Jane Wightman, born October 26, 1844, was thirty-one years younger,
even younger than Enoch’s oldest surviving son, Enoch Moroni Reese.
After migrating west, Enoch lived most of his life in Salt
Lake City, but he did spend some time in Genoa, Nevada, working with his
brother John at their business there. They are recognized by the state of
Nevada as the founders of Genoa, although records seem to show that John
arrived there without him and actually built the business himself. Also, the
birth dates of Enoch’s children seem to indicate that he didn’t remain away
from Salt Lake for long periods of time.
Enoch Reese died July 20, 1876, in Salt Lake City. He died
intestate, and his probate proceedings weren’t finalized until 1894. The heirs
listed in the final petition papers include one wife (Hannah Reese, who was
named as his widow) and his eight surviving children (Enoch Moroni Reese, Isaac
Genoa Reese, John Heber Reese, Enoch Leo Reese, Ruth Amelia Reese, Mary Ellen
Reese, Charles Wightman Reese, and Joseph Wightman Reese). One wife (Anna Eliza
Dunlap) and two of his children (James Henry Reese and Amy Estella Reese) died
between the time of his death and the time his estate was settled. His other
two surviving wives (Sarah Ellen McKinley and Amy Jane Wightman) are not
mentioned as heirs. His estate was reopened in 1949, but only to clear up a
cloud caused by an ambiguous property description on a title of land that Enoch
had sold prior to his death.
Enoch Reese is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, at
plot number B_13_2_1W, next to his wife, Hannah Harvey Reese, buried at plot
number B_13_2_2W. Wives Sarah Ellen McKinley Reese and Ann Eliza Dunlap Reese
are buried in different sections of the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Wife Amy Jane
Wightman Reese is buried in the Payson City Cemetery in Payson, Utah County,
Utah, along with two of her children.
The Story of Howard Egan
Now we get to the meat of the story, the marriage of
Catherine Reese Clawson to Howard Egan, who had taken her as a plural wife
after she was widowed. It is hard to tell if it was a marriage in anything more
than name. There is no evidence of them having lived together; they had no
children together; and they migrated to Salt Lake City in separate companies,
he with his first wife and she with her children and her sister.
Howard Egan was the sixth of ten children born to Thomas Howard
Egan and Ann Meath Egan. Thomas Howard and Ann were from County Offaly,
Ireland, where all their children were born: Eliza Egan, Mary Egan, Catherine
Egan, Bernard “Barney” Egan, John Egan, Howard Egan, Ann Egan, Richard Egan,
and twins Eliza and Margaret “Gretta” Egan.
Howard Egan was born June 15, 1815, in Tullamore, County
Offaly, Ireland. He was not quite eight years old when his mother died on
February 15, 1823. There is no record showing a cause of death, but as she had
given birth to twins two weeks prior, her death may have been caused by
complications of childbirth. Two years later, his father took all the family
(except for Gretta, one of the twins, who was left with an aunt in Ireland) to
Montreal, Quebec, Canada. This was the second phase of the Irish migration to
Canada financed by the British government to transport poor families from
Ireland, which was in the middle of a depression at the time, to Canada. They
can be seen on the passenger list of the steamship Chambly, travelling from Quebec City to Montreal on June 7, 1825,
listed as Thomas Howard Agan and seven others and two children under twelve.
(Actually, four of the children, including Howard, were under twelve, but you
can’t fault a poor nineteenth-century immigrant for not having the mathematical
abilities to calculate all his children’s ages.)
Three of the children, Eliza, Barney, and Ann, died within a
year of their arrival, and Thomas Howard Egan died August 5, 1828, leaving six
orphans. After the death of his father, Howard Egan is believed to have stayed
with his sister Catherine and her husband, John Ransom, until he was old enough
to procure a job as a seaman, working on boats on the rivers of Canada. Around
1836, he moved to Salem, Massachusetts, where he learned the trade of rope
making, and he continued in that profession for the next ten years.
Howard Egan married Tamson Parshley December 1, 1839, in
Salem, Massachusetts. He was twenty-four years old; she was fifteen. Howard had
learned prior to their courtship that Tamson was prejudiced against the Irish,
so he changed the pronunciation of his last name to make it sound more
French-Canadian, and he told her he was born in Montreal. It wasn’t until after
his death that she learned he was born in Ireland. At the time she found out,
she said, “I will never forgive him and he will have to pay for it in heaven,”
but by the time she died she had forgiven him for lying to her.
Howard and Tamson had five sons: Howard Ransom Egan and
Richard Erasatus Egan, born in Salem; Charles John Egan, born in Nauvoo and
died as an infant; and Horace Adelbert Egan and Ira Ernest Egan, born in Salt
Howard Egan became a United States citizen in 1841. He and
Tamson joined the Mormon church in 1842 and moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, to
gather with the other Mormons. While living there, Howard opened a rope-making
factory and served as a Nauvoo policeman and sometimes as personal guard for
both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. He also served in the Nauvoo Legion. Some
histories say that this is when he became known as Major Howard Egan, but he reached
only the rank of Captain in the Nauvoo Legion at that time. It wasn’t until
years later (1857–1858) in Utah, when the Nauvoo Legion was reactivated by
Brigham Young to repel the United States Army forces commanded by Colonel
Albert Sidney Johnston from reaching Salt Lake, that he was called into service
with the rank of Major.
In 1844, Howard Egan married Catherin Reese Clawson in
Nauvoo. She was a widow and eleven years older than he, and this marriage
doesn’t seem to have carried the same importance as his other marriages,
despite the fact that Joseph Smith’s brother Hyrum described the marriage as “a
most holy one … in accordance with a revelation … direct from God.” Catherine
appears to have continued using the last name of Clawson throughout the rest of
her life. They had no children together and would divorce after eight years of
Also in 1844, Howard Egan was sent as a Mormon missionary to
New Hampshire, but his mission also doubled as a volunteer effort on behalf of
Joseph Smith’s Presidential campaign. In addition to being assigned the usual
missionary duties, those being sent out that year were also instructed to
“present before the people ‘General Smith’s Views of the Powers and Policy of
the General Government,’ and seek diligently to get up electors who will go for
him for the Presidency.”
Howard Egan married his third wife, Nancy Ann Redden, on
January 23, 1846, in Nauvoo. They had two daughters together, Helen Jeanette
Egan and Vilate L. Egan, both born in Winter Quarters, Nebraska. This marriage
would last for only a short time. Although I can’t find a record of their
divorce, Nancy can be seen in the 1850 census living under her maiden name with
her two daughters in the household of Joseph Johnson, probably as a boarder. She
married Alonzo Hazeltine Raleigh on May 5, 1856, in Salt Lake City, a marriage
in which she was one of many plural wives. She had one son with him, George
Redden Raleigh. It appears that she also left this marriage, because she can be
seen in the 1860 and 1870 censuses under her maiden name with her children, and
in the 1880 census under the name Egan living with her daughter Helen and her
family. She died on April 3, 1892, in Salt Lake City. Her obituary and her
headstone give her last name as Raleigh.
In March of 1846, Howard Egan and his wives and children
moved from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters (now the Florence neighborhood of Omaha,
Nebraska), along with most of the Mormon population of Nauvoo. He had already
put in the foundation for a new house he was building for his family in Nauvoo
and had to abandon it in order to make the move. Then, in September through
October of 1846, Howard Egan went with John D. Lee on an assignment in which
they travelled to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, then on to Santa Fe, New Mexico,
and back to Winter Quarters in order bring back the pay of the members of the
Mormon Battalion to distribute to their families.
In April 1847, Howard Egan left his three wives behind in
Winter Quarters, two of them pregnant, in order to travel with the Brigham
Young Vanguard Company, the first company of Mormons to travel to Salt Lake. He
returned in October to find he had two new children. In June 1848, he again
left Winter Quarters to travel to Salt Lake in the Heber C. Kimball company. He
travelled with his first wife, Tamson Parshley, and their three children. His
second wife, Catherine Reese Clawson, travelled separately in the Brigham Young
Company, with her children and her sister. His third wife, Nancy Ann Redden,
remained in Winter Quarters waiting for him to return to bring her to Salt
Lake. He then returned to Winter Quarters, and in April 1849, he organized the
Howard Egan Company, in which he travelled to Salt Lake with his third wife,
Nancy Ann Redden, who was pregnant at the time, and their daughter.
Within months of arriving in Salt Lake, Howard Egan married
his fourth wife, Mary Ann Tuttle. He and Mary Ann had one son together: Hyrum
William Egan. Mary Ann divorced Howard sometime before 1854. On January 20,
1854, Mary became a plural wife of Titus Billings. She was thirty-seven years
younger than he, and younger than all but one of his surviving children. She
had three children with him who survived to adulthood, but Mary Ann and Titus
divorced sometime before his death in 1866. Mary Ann cannot be found in the
1860 or 1870 censuses, but two of her children, Emily Billings and Hyrum
William Egan, appear to be living with Titus Billings and his first wife in the
1860 census. On November 28, 1866, Mary Ann became the second wife of her
sister Martha Ann Tuttle’s husband, Walter Elias Gardner. They had one son. She
died December 10, 1910, in Bicknell, Wayne County, Utah. Although her last
husband was Gardner, her headstone shows her with the last name of her second
In November 1849, Howard Egan left for California, acting as
a guide for gold seekers. His new wife, Mary Ann Tuttle, was pregnant at the
time. During the next two years, he returned to California more than once, sometimes
as a prospector as well as a guide. After returning from one of these trips in
1851, Howard discovered that in his absence his first wife, Tamson Parshley,
had given birth to another man’s baby. The other man was James Madison Monroe,
the nephew of Howard’s second wife, Catherine Reese Clawson. Howard immediately
went looking for James Madison Monroe, and when he found him he shot and killed
him. Catherine divorced Howard the following year.
During the next several years, Howard had many occupations,
most of which kept him away from home most of the time. He was a trailblazer,
and one route to California that he explored, known as Egan’s Trail, was later
used by the Overland Mail and the Pony Express. He worked as a cattle drover,
driving stock to California. He was a carrier for the Overland Mail and later
acted as superintendent. He was a superintendent for the Pony Express, and although
the Pony Express specifically wanted young men (around eighteen years old) as
riders, Howard Egan was known to ride a route occasionally when circumstances
deemed it necessary. While acting as superintendent for the Overland Mail, Howard
purchased the Deep Creek ranch in western Utah, which became his family’s
principal home as well as a station on the Overland Mail line, and later a
station for the Pony Express.
After the completion of the telegraph lines and railroads
from coast to coast, the Overland Mail and Pony Express were no longer needed.
After a long active life, Howard settled down and worked as a store owner,
Third Judicial District Court deputy clerk, and Salt Lake City policeman, an
odd occupation for someone who is known to have killed for vengeance.
Howard also acted a special guard for Brigham Young, and
after Young’s death Howard served as a special guard at his grave. A building was
erected specifically so that Howard could look out over the grave at night
without getting out of bed. On one cold winter night, Howard got his feet wet
while guarding the grave, which resulted in an illness that took his life on March
16, 1878. He is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery next to his first wife
(and at the time his only wife), Tamson Parshley.
The Murder of James Madison Monroe
The murder of James Madison Monroe is important not only
because it was the cause of Howard’s divorce from Catherine Reese Clawson, but
also because it set a precedent in Utah courts that allowed men to get away
with murder for decades to come.
James Madison Monroe was the son of Catherine Reese
Clawson’s sister, Rebecca Reese, and her husband, William C. Monroe. His
parents were married about 1818 in Elk Creek, Erie County, Pennsylvania, where
his mother had worked as a school teacher. Not much information can be found
about James’s father. His mother can be seen as head of household in the 1840,
1850, and 1860 censuses, but there is no indication as to whether she was
divorced or widowed. Since the city directories from Utica, New York, in the
1860s list her as Mrs. Rebecca Monroe, I am assuming that she was widowed. In
addition to her son, James Madison Monroe, she also had two daughters,
Henrietta Monroe and Cornelia Monroe Frintz. Rebecca died of pneumonia on
February 25, 1873, in Green Township, Hamilton County, Ohio, and she is buried
along with her two daughters in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio.
James Madison Monroe was born January 9, 1823, in Elk Creek, Erie County, Pennsylvania. He was the second of the three children in the family. He joined the Mormon church in 1841 along with others in his family in Buffalo, New York. He soon moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, where he lived from 1842 to 1845. While in Nauvoo, he built a school house, and he worked as the personal tutor for the children of Joseph Smith. In his personal journals from his time in Nauvoo, he refers to Joseph Smith’s wife as Aunt Emma, but this seems to be a term of endearment rather than any indication that they were somehow related. He also makes references in his journals to Aunt Catherine and Aunt Ruth, who would be his Aunts Catherine Reese Clawson and Ruth Amelia Reese.
I could not find any record of his travelling to Utah, but I
would assume that once he was there he worked at the store owned by his uncles,
Enoch Reese and Colonel John Reese, especially since the wagon train he was in
at the time of his death was known as the John Reese Freight Train. I haven’t
found any documentation of his life in Salt Lake City, but some family
historians say that he boarded at the home of Howard Egan and Tamson Parshley. This
would seem to make sense, as his aunt Catherine Reese Clawson was one of
Howard’s wives. It would also have set up a situation that could have led to
his romantic liaison with Tamson Parshley while Howard Egan was out of town.
When Howard Egan returned from one of his expeditions to
California in late 1851, he discovered that in his absence his wife had given
birth to a son fathered by James Madison Monroe. Although the child was the son
of James Madison Monroe, he was given the name William Moburn Egan, and
throughout his life he was raised no differently any other child in the Egan household.
Upon learning about this birth, Howard immediately set out to find James
Madison Monroe, seeking revenge. James Madison Monroe had already left town,
but was returning in the John Reese Freight Train, bringing goods for the stores
owned by Enoch and John Reese.
William Woodward, one of the teamsters in the wagon train,
described this incident in his journal: “About the twenty-fourth of September,
as we were ‘rolling out’ of camp, a person rode in and conversed with Mr.
Monroe. The man was a stranger to me. This was in the vicinity of Yellow Creek,
and about seventy miles from the Valley. The next I saw of him, he came riding
by saying, ‘Gentlemen, I have killed the seducer of my wife.’ He put his hand
to his breast and said, ‘Vengeance is sweet to me.’ Our captain rode past and gave
orders to stop. I went back to see what was the matter, and James Monroe lie
dead. He was shot by Howard Egan, for seducing his wife.”
Howard Egan returned to Salt Lake City and turned himself in
to authorities, and he was put on trial for the murder of James Madison Monroe.
Among the arguments put forth by the defense lawyer, George
A. Smith, were the following: “Quoted by the learned prosecutor yesterday … the
person killed should be, or must be, a reasonable creature. … It was admitted
on the part of the prosecution, that James Monroe … had seduced Egan’s wife. … A
reasonable creature will not commit such an outrage upon his fellow man. … In
this territory it is a principle of mountain common law, that no man can seduce
the wife of another without endangering his own life. … The principle, the only
one that beats and throbs through the heart of the entire inhabitants of this
Territory, is simply this: The man who seduces his neighbor’s wife must die,
and her nearest relative must kill him! … If Howard Egan had not killed that
man, he would have been damned by the community for ever. … If Howard Egan did
kill James Monroe, it was in accordance with the established principles of
justice known in these mountains. … This act of killing has been committed within
the Territory of Utah, and is not therefore under the exclusive jurisdiction of
the United States. … The jurisdiction of the United States extending to this
case, does not exist.”
The presiding judge, Zerubbabel Snow, seemed to agree with
the defense concerning “mountain common law.” Toward the end of his
instructions to the jury, he said, “If you find the crime … was committed
within that extent of country between this and the Missouri river, over which
the United States have the sole and exclusive jurisdiction, your verdict must
be guilty. If you do not find the crime to have been committed there, but in
the Territory of Utah, the defendant, for that reason, is entitled to a verdict
of not guilty.”
It took the jury fifteen minutes to reach a verdict of not
This case set a precedent in the judicial system of Utah
that continued for a long time. Men who were accused of killing, or attempting
to kill, the seducers of their wives or daughters were found not guilty by
claiming the Egan defense.
As late as 1877, the Egan defense was used in an attempted
murder trial, where William Hobbs was charged with attempting to kill Cornelius
Joseph “Con” Sullivan, the alleged seducer of his daughter. Sarah Ann Hobbs,
the daughter of William Hobbs, was engaged to be married to Con Sullivan, a
local saloon keeper. Hobbs, suspecting “criminal intimacy” between Sarah and
her fiancée, forbade his daughter to leave their home in West Jordan one Sunday
night. She ignored his order and fled into the night with Con Sullivan. William
Hobbs went to the Sullivan house, forcibly entered the house, destroyed the
furniture therein, and threw Con’s belongings out into the street. When Hobbs discovered
the following day that Sarah and Con had gone to Salt Lake, he took his pistol
and went looking for them. He finally found them at the Eagle Emporium, where
he drew his gun and fired a shot at Con. The shot missed, and Con and Sarah
fled down First South Street with Hobbs in pursuit. Hobbs fired three
additional shots, two of which struck Con, but neither wound was fatal.
William Hobbs was arraigned on a charge of assault to commit
murder. The judge presiding over the case was Bishop Alexander Cruickshank
Pyper. The prosecuting attorney was, ironically, Judge Zerubbabel Snow, who had
presided over the Howard Egan case. The defense attorney was the city attorney
for Salt Lake City, Joseph Lafayette Rawlins. The prosecution brought Sarah Ann
Hobbs to the stand, who testified that her father was the man who shot Con
Sullivan. Then the defense attorney had her testify that she and Con had been
“criminally intimate” about a year previously and that on the night of the
attack they had registered at the Townsend House Hotel. Surprisingly, Judge
Snow, who was acting as prosecuting attorney, also testified for the defense,
stating that Hobbs had asked him the night after the shooting if he could have Con
arrested for running away with his daughter.
Judge Snow, in his statement for the prosecution, said that
although homicide would have been justified in the heat of passion, there had been
time for Hobbs to cool off before committing the act. Rawlins, in his statement
for the defense, portrayed Hobbs as a “noble father,” defending the honor of
his family. Bishop Pyper discharged the defendant, saying no assault had been
committed. The following year, Con Sullivan and Sarah Hobbs were married. They
moved to Chicago, and later settled in Custer County, Idaho, where they raised
a large family together.
There are several disconcerting aspects to the practice of
polygamy by the early Mormons. One of most troubling is the number of wives left
in dire economic situations and children left with no male leader in the house
while the husbands and fathers left for months and sometimes years at a time
doing missionary and church work and exploring and trailblazing the western
part of the country. Howard Egan seems to have been home only a few months at a
time during most of his life. Although John Reese’s leaving his wife and
children in New York for years while he settled the area of Genoa, Nevada, happened
prior to him becoming a polygamist, that action gives an indication of what
kind of husband and father he was. These women were living lives of single
motherhood despite the fact that they were actually married.
Another big problem is the dishonesty involved in these
polygamous marriages. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime and for decades after his
death, the official church narrative was that Joseph Smith had one, and only
one, wife. This can no longer be the official narrative because of the amount
of documentation showing that he had at least thirty-four wives. There are also
many women rumored to be his wives in marriages for which there is no record,
and when they are added to his list of wives there may be as many as
forty-nine. At least eleven of his wives were married to someone else when marrying
him, and it is questionable whether all their first husbands either knew or
approved of the marriages. In one instance, Joseph married a woman in order to
rescue her from the poverty she had fallen into while her husband was away
serving as a missionary in Jerusalem, where Joseph had sent him.
The reasons given for the practice of polygamy are varied and mostly questionable. The main reason I always heard for the polygamy in Nauvoo and Utah was the need of husbands for women who had been widowed while travelling in Mormon caravans to these new locations. However, census data and church records from the 1840s and 1850s in Hancock County, Illinois, and in Utah show that there was no shortage of marriageable men in either place. In both places, there were more marriage-aged men than women during that time. Also, if there were widows in need of financial help, there were much more practical ways of supplying welfare to them without forcing them into loveless marriages.
Another reason for polygamy was the belief fostered by
Joseph Smith that numerous wives would secure a “special place in heaven” for a
polygamous man. I often wonder how they believed their many divorces from plural
wives would affect this “special place in heaven.” There were numerous plural
marriages ending in divorce, often on grounds of non-support, which also defies
the reasoning that these marriages were made in order to give support to
When asking young women to become plural wives, Joseph Smith
would often take advantage of their zeal for their new religion and tell them
that he had received a revelation telling him that Joseph not marrying a
certain women would offend God and that God would send down an avenging angel
with a sword to strike Joseph down. They married him in order to save him from
the wrath of God.
Later, in Utah, whenever an older beloved colleague of
Brigham Young felt the need to add a specific young wife to his family, Brigham
would command the young woman’s parents to instruct the young woman to marry
the older man, despite the fact that the young woman may have been already
engaged to a young man closer to her own age and more suited for a happy
marriage. Failure to follow these commands of Brigham Young could result in
banishment, which in the hostile terrain of the Utah Territory could possibly
be a death sentence.
Finally, it is bothersome that so many of these marriages
were not based in love. The women in these marriages were trophy wives. The
more wives a man had, the higher his social status was. You don’t see any
mention of love when these marriages are mentioned in these men’s personal
journals, only a reference to the “patriarchal order of marriage.”
I have stated before that as the descendant of many plural marriages, I would not be here if it weren’t for the practice of polygamy, but I still often wonder whether my existence is worth the amount of unnecessary heartache and pain it caused for so many people.
As I was growing up, my paternal grandparents used to tell
what seemed to be a rather romantic story about my second-great-grandfather,
Johann Friedrich Fechser, and how long he had to wait to marry the girl he
loved. According to the story they told, Johann had a girl he wanted to marry,
but the church leaders told him he first needed to marry an older widow who needed
support, and that when he could afford a second wife he could marry the girl he
wanted. Then, when he could finally afford a second wife, they told him he
needed to marry a second older widow who also needed support, and he wasn’t allowed
to finally marry his first choice until his third wife.
That may be an endearing tale, but when I researched this
branch of the family, I discovered that this is not exactly how it happened.
The Wives of Johann Friedrich Fechser
Johann Friedrich Fechser had six wives that I know of, but there may have possibly been more. These six are all documented in some way, and are probably the only ones, but some family histories say there might have been more. I will enumerate these six wives one at a time here.
Rosina Frederica Keyser
Johann Friedrich Fechser married his first wife, Rosina
Frederica Keyser, in 1850 in Hamburg, Germany, before travelling to the United
States. They had a son in Hamburg who died as an infant. After coming to the United
States, they had a daughter born to them in Saint Louis, Missouri. During their
overland journey to Utah, both the wife and the daughter died, and Johann
Friedrich arrived in Salt Lake City alone.
Cathrine Amalie Rasmussen
Johann Friedrich Fechser married his second wife, Cathrine
Amalie Rasmussen, in 1855 in Salt Lake City. Cathrine, also known as Trine, was
from Denmark, and had been widowed on the journey to Utah. She had one
surviving daughter at the time she married Johann. Neither Trine nor her
daughter can be found on the 1860 census. Trine can be seen living with Johann
in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 census records. She died in 1902.
Johann Friedrich Fechser married his third wife, Elizabeth
Nielsen, also from Denmark, in 1857 in Salt Lake City. She is said to have been
widowed, but I could not find any information about her first husband or any
children they might have had. Johann and Elizabeth had two daughters. Elizabeth
can be seen living with Johann in the 1860, 1870, and 1880 census records. She
died in 1888.
Ida Christina Johnson
Johann Friedrich Fechser married his fourth wife, Ida Christina Johnson, from Norway, in 1864 in Salt Lake City, and she is the main subect of this story. They were living in Mount Pleasant, Utah, at the time, but they traveled to Salt Lake in order to be married in the temple. They had thirteen children together, at least ten of whom survived to adulthood (the only record of their youngest daughter is in the 1900 census, so it is not known what happened to her; she must have either died or gotten married prior to the 1910 census). Ida can be seen living with Johann in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 census records. Widowed in 1908, she was living with her daughter Ella in the 1910 census; in the 1920 census she was living alone; and in the 1830 census she was living with her daughter Elizabeth and her family. She died in 1931.
Anna Katherina Hafen
Johann Friedrich Fechser married his fifth wife, Anna Katherina
Hafen, in 1867 in Salt Lake City. She had arrived from Switzerland the year
before with her eleven-year-old daughter. Johann and Anna had one daughter who
died very young. Anna and her daughter cannot be found in the 1870 census, but Anna
can be seen living with Johann in the 1880 and 1900 census records. She cannot
be found in the 1910 census. She died in 1914.
Johann Friedrich married his sixth wife, Benta Nielson, from Sweden, at some time between 1880 and 1900. Benta was widowed first in 1864, from Andrew Johnson, and for the second time in 1873, from Andrew Peterson. In the 1880 census, her name is listed as Benta Peterson, and her marital status is listed as widowed. In the 1900 census, her name is listed as Benta Fechser, and her marital status is listed as married. She died in 1908 and is buried in a plot in the Mount Pleasant City Cemetery along with three of Johann’s children and one of his granchildren.
The Story of Johann and Ida’s Marriage
Ida Christina Johnson was born August 13, 1846, in Risør, Norway, to Christopher Johnson and Maren Evenson. She was the second of eight children in the family. In 1857, the Johnson family is recorded as leaving the state church of Norway as dissenters. At some time during this period, they joined the Mormon church and made plans to sail to America and settle in Utah. According to an autobiographical sketch by Ida, the family sailed to Quebec, Canada, in 1860, where they lived until 1863. In 1863, they travelled in the John F. Sanders Company, leaving Florence, Nebraska, on July 6, and arriving in Salt Lake City on September 5.
By the time Ida arrived in Utah, Johann Friedrich Fechser
was already married to two wives, so the story about him not being able to marry
the woman of this choice the first two times did not seem to work. Futhermore, Ida
was twenty-one years younger than Johann Friedrich, and was not even a teenager
when he married his other two wives, so that also contradicts the story of two
young lovers being unable to marry when they wanted. I needed to find out more
about this relationship.
Memories of Ida C. Johnson Fechser, written by Ida’s granddaughter Ina Fechser, relates stories that Ida told her children and grandchildren. One of the stories repeated in that memoir tells of Ida falling in love with a young man who had been sent by Brigham Young to help guide the immigrant company headed for Utah. When they reached Utah, the young man was sent back to help guide another company of immigrants, and they planned to reunite when he was finished with that task. Before he was able to return, however, Johann Friedrich Fechser decided he wanted a younger wife, and he was fond of Ida, who sometimes came to Johann’s flour mill with her father, so he asked her father for her hand in marriage. Ida’s father felt that he owed Johann, who had helped them through their poverty during their first year in Utah, and agreed. Ida did not want to marry Johann, but obeyed her father and got married. Later, the young man she had fallen in love with returned from guiding the other company of immigrants across the plains, and learned of her marriage. According to her, he threw up both of his hands in sorrow and surprise and grief. Ida grew to love her new family, but constantly related this sad experience to her children and grandchildren.
Ida and Jep in their later years. Were they young lovers separated by Ida’s marriage to Johann Fechser?
Who Was That Young Man?
There was no mention of the young man’s name in the memoir,
so I wanted to do more research to determine who he might have been. I cannot
say that I have solved the mystery, but I think I have a pretty good case for who
My first clue to the identity of the young man came from the
journal of Lars Christiansen Nielsen, who was another immigrant in the John F.
Sanders Company. Lars wrote, “On July 6, we began our journey over the desert
in John F. Sanders Company. They were from Sanpete. Our wagon master was Jep
Sumager from Manti. He was a very fine young man, he was so good to the
children. On mornings when I walked ahead with my two oldest sons, Peder and
Jens Christian, to entertain them a little Jep would say ‘You can let them sit
by the side of the trail and I’ll pick them up to help in the wagon.’”
Jep Sumager didn’t seem to be a name that matched an actual
person of the time, so I began searching for names that were similar, and I
finally came up with Jeptha Shomaker, who had arrived in Utah with his parents in
Jeptha (sometimes spelled Jephtha) Shomaker (sometimes
spelled Shoemaker), was born July 25, 1838, in Adams County, Illinois, to
Jezreel Shomaker and Nancy Golden, the fifth of nine children. His parents had
moved to Illinois from Kentucky about 1828, where they homesteaded and owned
one of the largest farms in the Adams County. They gave up everything in 1847,
when they joined the Mormon church and journeyed to Salt Lake City in the Charles
C. Rich Company. They were among the first pioneers to settle in Manti, Sanpete
County, Utah, in 1849, where they built a stone house and raised sheep for
According to a history written by Jeptha’s granddaughter, Alice Larson Day, Jeptha went back more than once to help lead other immigrants to Utah: “Several years later, Jephtha went back to Winter Quarters for more of the Saints. This company was comprised of all Danish people, and they had quite a time making each other understand what they were talking about. He enjoyed the trip immensely. He sent his team back again, and on the trip one of his oxen died.” This leads to the conclusion that he was the wagonmaster from Manti mentioned in Lars Christiansen Nielen’s journal, and that he might possibly be the young man Ida fell in love with during her journey to Utah.
After returning from helping the other immigrant companies, Jeptha settled in Manti, where he was a farmer. He served for six months in the Utah Territory Militia before marrying Ann Marie Bailey, an immigrant from England, on October 2, 1867, in Manti. In 1881, they were among the first pioneers to settle in Ferron, Emery County, Utah. They had eight children together. Jeptha died March 1, 1893, in Ferron. His wife died a little more than a year later on July 6, 1894.
The first conclusion that can be drawn from this story is that family tales that have been passed down might not always be accurate. More study needs to be done before anything can be accepted as fact. The story passed down by my grandparents was not entirely accurate, and the story that I am telling here is still a mere conjecture and also might not be accurate.
Although it starts with sadness, this story does have a happy ending. Ida and Jep, after being forced to go their separate ways, each raised a large happy family. Nevertheless, we have to appreciate the tragedy of two young lovers being forced by family to separate. It reminds me of Romeo and Juliet, or Tony and Maria, a love that was meant to be but could never reach fruition.
Since all of my ancestors in the second half of the 1800s were Utah Mormons, it would seem logical that I have a number of polygamists in my family tree. There were five that I know of: 4th-great-grandfather Thomas Foster Rhoads (1796–1869), 4th-great-grandfather John Lowry Sr. (1799–1867), 3rd-great-grandfather George Peacock (1822–1878), 3rd-great-grandfather Edwin Cox (1838–1895), and 2nd-great-grandfather Johann Freidrich Fechser (1825–1908). The first three of these died prior to the passage of the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882, which was used to prosecute Utah polygamists for “unlawful cohabitation.” I could not find any documentation showing whether Edwin Cox had ever been arrested under this act, but in the years before his death, he could be seen in records with only one wife, Jane Butte (the second wife that he had married); his first wife, Harriet Barrow, could be seen as having married Charles Wilkins, who had been widowed in 1891.
While researching my latest story about Johann Friedrich Fechser’s mother (Single Mothers in Nineteenth Century Germany: the Kiesseckers), I discovered some court documents indicating that Johann Friedrich had been indicted for “unlawful cohabitation” in 1888, and I decided that should be the subject of my next story.
Johann Freidrich Fechser was born July 19, 1925, in Nassau, Württemberg, Germany, to Johann Georg Fechser and Anna Maria Kiessecker. He married Rosina Frederica Keyser on December 26, 1850, in Hamburg, Germany. Their son, Georg Frederick Fechser, was born March 1, 1852, in Hamburg, but died as an infant. Later that year, Johann Freidrich and Rosina Frederica joined the Mormon church, and came to the United States aboard the ship Rufus K. Page, leaving Liverpool, England, on August 24, 1853, arriving in New Orleans on October 28, 1853. Their daugher, Emma, was born December 28, 1853, in Saint Louis, Missouri, prior to their leaving on their overland journey to Utah. On June 18, 1954, they left Westport, Missouri, in the James Brown Company headed for Utah. Much of the company was taken ill with cholera on the journey. Johann Freidrich’s wife died of cholera on June 21, and his daughter died of cholera on June 24; they were buried outside of Leavenworth, Kansas. Johann Freidrich arrived in Salt Lake City on September 28, single and childless. At some point after arriving, he Americanized his name to John Frederick Fechser, and was sometimes known simply as Frederick Fechser.
On January 15, 1855, John Frederick married Cathrine “Trine”
Amalie Rasmussen, from Denmark, stepdaughter of Peder Christian Borreson. Her
first husband, Peter Henrick Christensen, had died in Saint Louis as they were
preparing make the journey to Utah, and her youngest daughter, Jensine Sophie
Christensen, had died at sea en route
to the United States. She had another daughter, Anna Christine Christensen, who
had crossed the plains with her.
In October 1857, John Frederick married Elizabeth Nielsen, from Denmark. She is said to have been widowed on the journey to Utah. John Frederick and Elizabeth had two children. Elizabeth died March 11, 1988, and would not have been a part of this indictment.
On January 2, 1864, John Frederick married my 2nd-great-grandmother, Ida Christina Johnson, from Norway. She had made the journey to Utah with her parents and siblings the previous year. John Frederick and Ida Christina had thirteen children.
On September 24, 1867, John Frederick married Anna Katherina Hafen, from Switzerland. She had arrived the year before with an eleven-year-old daughter. Johann and Anna had one daughter who died very young.
The dates of these marriages come from the diary of Johann Friedrich Fechser. I have not been able to find any other documentation of the dates. Cathrine Amalie Rasmussen, Ida Christina Johnson, and Anna Katherina Hafen are the only wives mentioned in the indictment, but John Frederick had at least one additional wife, possibly more.
The indictment of Frederick Fechser, as submitted by the Grand Jury.
Following are transcriptions of the documents pertaining to
the indictment. In these documents, he is referred to as Frederick Fechser.
United States of America, District of Utah. PAPERS AND FILES IN CASE No. 759 OF UNITED STATE OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF, vs Frederick Fechser, DEFENDANT. FROM First District Court, Utah Territory. 1888 [number added with an ink stamp] 809 FILED IN THE OFFICE OF CLERK OF The United States District Court, District of Utah, AT SALT LAKE CITY, This 15th day Mar, 1898 [signed] Jerrold R. Letcher CLERK.
Subpoena for Ida Fechser
U.S. vs Fetchler [sic] — Adultery Mt Pleasant In the District Court of the First Judicial District of the Territory of Utah. Utah County The People of the Territory of Utah Send Greeting to Ida Fetchler [sic]
We Command You, That all and singular business and excuses
being laid aside, you appear and attend before the Grand Jury of the First
Disctrict Court of the Territory of Utah, at the Court House in Provo City, on
the 27 day of September A.D., 1888, at 10 o’clock A., M. and disobedience will
be punished as a contempt by said Court.
Given, under my hand and the Seal of said Court, this 11th day of June 1888 [signed] H.H. Henderson Clerk. By [signed] B. Bachman Jr. Deputy Clerk.
Service of Subpoena for Ida Fechser
U.S. Marshal’s Office, Ogden, Utah,
TERRITORY OF UTAH,
County of Utah.
I, Frank H. Dyer, U.S. Marshal for Utah Territory, do hereby
certify and return that I served the within subpœna upon the therein and
hereinafter named persons by reading the same to them personally, in their
presence and hearing, as follows:
To Ida Fechser at Mt Pleasant on May 23, 1888
FRANK H. DYER U.S. Marshall By [illegible signature] Filed on return Sept 25 1888 [signed] H.H. Henderson Clerk. [signed] B. Bachman Jr. Deputy Clerk.
TERRITORY OF UTAH,
FIRST DISTRICT COURT.
Territory of Utah
County of Utah.
I hereby certify that at Mt. Pleasant on the 26th day of
November 1888 I served the within Warrant upon the within named Frederick
Fechser By arresting him and now have him in my custody before the Court.
[signed] Frank H. Dyer U.S. Marshal By [signed] R. Clawson Deputy.
Witnesses examined before the Grand Jury. Ida Fechser Additional Witnesses Trena Amelia Fechser Catherine Fechser No. 759 First DISTRICT COURT, TERRITORY OF UTAH. THE UNITED STATE OF AMERICA, Against Frederick Fechser INDICTMENT FOR UNLAWFUL COHABITATION. A TRUE BILL. [signed] Alvin L. Robinson Foreman of the Grand Jury.
Presented in open Court, by the Foreman of the Grand Jury,
and in its presence filed by me, the 27 day of September 1888
[signed] H.H. Henderson Clerk [signed] Benjamin Bachman Jr. Deputy Clerk [signed] Ogden Hiles Asst. U.S. Att’y
Grand Jury Charges
United States of America
TERRITORY OF UTAH,
1st JUDICIAL DISTRICT.
In the first Judicial District, in and for the Territory of
Utah, within the United States of America, of the term of September in the year
of our Lord on [sic] thousand eight hundred and eighty-Eight
THE UNITED STATE OF AMERICA,
The Grand Jurors of the United States of America, within and
for the district aforesaid, at the term and in the Territory aforesaid, being
duly empanelled, sworn and charged, on their oaths do find and present that
Frederick Fechser late of said district, heretofore, to-wit: on the first day
of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-Six,
in the said district, Territory aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of this
court, and on divers days thereafter, and continuously between the day last
aforesaid and the first day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand,
eight hundred and eighty-Eight then and there, did unlawfully claim, live and
cohabit with more than one woman as his wives, to-wit: with Trena Amelia
Fechser with Ida Fechser and with Catherine Fechser against the form of the
statute of the said United States, in such case made and provided, and against
the peace and dignity of the same.
[signed] Alvin L. Robinson Foreman of Grand Jury. [signed] Ogden Hiles Asst. U.S. District Attorney.
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF THER
TERRITORY OF UTAH.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,
To the U.S. Marshal for Said Territory, Greeting:
An Indictment having been found on the 27th day of September
A.D. eighteen hundred and eighty-eight in the District Court for the First
Judicial District in and for the Territory of Utah, charging Frederick Fechser
with the crime of unlawful cohabitation
You are therefore commanded to forthwith arrest the above
named Frederick Fechser and bring him before that Court, to answer said
indictment, or if the Court has adjourned for the term, that you keep him or
cause him to be safely kept in custody until the further order of this Court;
or if he require it, that you take him to be admitted to bail in the sum of
[signed] J.W. Judd Judge.
WITNESS my hand and seal of said Court, affixed at Provo
City, this 27th day of September A.D. 1888
[signed] H. H. Henderson Clerk. [signed] B. Bachman Jr. Deputy Clerk.
I was not able to find any additional court records to discover
whether he was convicted and sentenced. The
Deseret News seemed to carry good summaries of court proceedings, so I
searched through their archives for the three months following the indictment,
but was not able to find a mention of Frederick Fechser’s case. More than a
thousand Mormons did prison time for “unlawful cohabitation,” but I don’t know
whether he was one of them. It is disappointing not to be able to end this
story with the final outcome.
I have always been troubled by the practice of polygamy in
my ancestry. When I was growing up, I was given the rationale that so many
women were widowed on the journey to Salt Lake that there needed to be plural
marriages in order for them to be taken care of. I feel that if they had the
resources to take care of these widows in marriages, they must have had the
resources to take care of them with more kind and charitable means that didn’t
involve ordering someone to enter into a marriage they didn’t really want.
Also, when I read the narratives of young women being forced to forsake the
young men they were engaged to because an older man with some influence in the
church wanted to have another young wife, I realize that this practice caused a
great deal of pain and heartbreak.
I realize that as the descendant of several plural wives, I wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the practice of plural marriage, but I wonder sometimes whether it is worth the heartache it caused so many people.
There are a large number of social and government programs available to assist young single mothers today. However, when I discovered that my third-great-grandmother, Anna Maria Kiessecker, and many of her female relatives were young single mothers in Germany in the early 1800s, I began to wonder what kind of help they would have been able to receive. As difficult as it is today to survive as a young single parent, it must have been even more difficult at that time.
There were various reasons why a young woman would be a
single parent. Sometimes a young couple would become parents before they could
afford to raise a family. In that case, the young woman would often have to
fend for herself and their child while the young man was learning a trade to
support his family. They would later marry, but until that time, financial and
emotional support was scant.
In another scenario, a man and a woman would live together
with their children, considering themselves a family, but unable to afford the
marriage fee or unable to get to a pastor in a timely fashion. Some German
states made marriage difficult by by enacting legal restrictions in an effort
to curb population increases. These cases would not necessarily be considered
single parenthood, but the relationship would still be frowned upon by some
segments of society. In many of these cases, the couples would eventually
marry, and the social stigma would lessen, but the churches continued to preach
against the practice, viewing the marriage ceremony as the most important
aspect of a committed relationship. Similarly, some peasant societies had
marriage customs that didn’t necessarily jibe with official customs. In those
cases, there were married couples who were not officially recognized as married
by the church or the state.
Of course, the most challenging situation is that of a young
man refusing to accept responsibility for his actions, leaving a young unwed
mother forced to face parenthood alone. In these cases, the young woman would swear
before a judge on the paternity, and the father would be ordered to pay childbirth
expenses and maintenance payments, but this would never be enough to cover all
the costs of raising a child.
Finally, divorce or death of a spouse would lead to single parenthood. There was no social stigma attached to this, but the children still suffered from the problems arising from a parent trying to maintain a family alone.
Most of the genealogical information included in this narrative come from German birth, baptism, marriage, and death records, and also from German Familienbuch (family book) records that were kept in local churches or government offices.
This portion of the Familienbuch record for Anna Maria Kiessecker demonstrates the challenge of trying to transcribe a record in a foreign language, written with poor penmanship, and poorly scanned.
Anna Maria Kiessecker
Anna Maria Kiessecker was my third-great-grandmother. She was
in the unique position of having become a single mother on two separate
occasions under two different circumstances.
Anna Maria Kiessecker was the ninth of ten children born to Johann Georg Kiessecker and Ursula Fertig. She was born January 12, 1784, in Scheinhardsmühle, Württemberg, Germany. Several unsourced family trees and family group sheets give her death date as June 12, 1854, but I have not been able to find any documentation of her death.
This tree shows the children of Johann Georg Kiessecker and Ursula Fertig. There were two sons named Johann Wendel Kiessecker, which made documenting this family somewhat confusing. There are separate birth and baptism records for each Johann Wendel, showing that they were indeed two separate persons.
Anna Maria Kiessecker married Johann Georg Spörer on July
31, 1814, in Niederrimbach, Württemberg, Germany. Their first daughter, Anna
Barbara Spörer, was born on August 26, 1814, in Niederrimbach, and died two-and-a-half
weeks later on September 14.
Their second daughter, Maria Ursula Spörer, was born on
October 11, 1815, in Scheinhardsmühle, Württemberg, Germany. Although some
later records give her birth place as Niederrimbach, a translation from her
baptism record on October 17, 1815, says, “Born in Scheinhardsmühle. The mother
lives with her parents as she is to be divorced from her husband.” According to
the Familienbuch record for Anna
Maria Kiessecker, Anna Maria was divorced from Johann Georg Spörer in 1823.
From Maria Ursula’s birth in 1815 until the divorce in 1823, Anna Maria was
technically a single mother, as she was separated from her husband before Maria
Johann Georg Spörer and his second wife, Anna Margaretha
Hertlein, had five children, none of whom survived to adulthood, so Maria
Ursula was his only child to marry and have children.
On July 19, 1825, Anna Maria Kiessecker’s son, Johann Friedrich Fechser, my second-great-grandfather, was born in Nassau, Württemberg, Germany. The birth of Johann Friedrich is listed on the Familienbuch record for Anna Maria Kiessecker with the abbreviation spur., for the Latin spuria, indicating illegitimacy. The translation from the Familienbuch record for Anna Maria Kiessecker also states, “She was married in Hamburg to the father of her illegitimate son, the tailor Fechser.” Although this record does not give Fechser’s first name, later records show that he was Johann Georg Fechser. Johann Georg was born February 26, 1796, in Weikersheim, Württemberg, Germany, and died January 26, 1862, in Hamburg, Germany.
This tree shows the family of Anna Maria Kiessecker, including her children and both of her husbands.
I could not find a record of the marriage of Anna Maria Kiessecker and Johann Georg Fechser. In the autobiography of their son, Johann Friedrich Fechser, he recalls his early life with his parents but does not appear to recall a time when his father wasn’t in the household. However, his autobiography also says that his parents moved to Hamburg when he was seven-and-a-half years old, and the Familienbuch record says they were married in Hamburg, so they might have been married many years after Johann Friedrich’s birth. Due to state laws limiting the ability of males (including children) to leave the state before having served in the military, when Anna Maria and Johann Georg moved to Hamburg, they had to leave Johann Friedrich behind to live with his aunt, Ursula Kiessecker, and her husband, Johann Michael Markert. He was not able to rejoin them in Hamburg until after he became an adult. Because Maria Ursula Spörer’s marriage in 1841 occurred in Hamburg, I am assuming that as a female she was able to make the move to Hamburg with her mother and stepfather.
So, from 1815 to 1825, Anna Maria Kiessecker was the single
mother of one daughter. It is uncertain how much time she spent as a single
mother of two children before Johan Georg Fechser officially joined the
Maria Sophia Kiessecker
record for Anna Maria Kiessecker also shows another household member, her
niece, Maria Sophia Kiessecker, with a daughter, Maria Magdalena Baier. Maria
Magdalena also has the abbreviation spur.,
for the Latin spuria, indicating
illegitimacy, next to her name.
Maria Sophia Kiessecker appears to be the only child of Johann Wendel Kiessecker (1790–1817) [birth and death dates included here to distinguish him from his brother, Johann Wendel Kiessecker (1788–1843)] and Anna Margaretha Herrmann, but records from that family seem to be scarce. Maria Sophia was born January 14, 1814, in Louisgarde, Württemberg, Germany. Her baptism record includes the abbreviation unehel., for unehelich, indicating illegitimacy. I cannot find any record showing the marriage date of her parents, but it was probably soon afterward. Her father died when she was just three years old. After being widowed, her mother married Johann Conrad Kilian, and most later records identify Maria Sophia as the stepdaughter of Johann Conrad Kilian. Her mother died when she was twenty-one years old.
Maria Sophia Kiessecker’s daughter, Maria Magdalena Baier, was born April 22, 1837, in Nassau, Württemberg, Germany. According to a translation of her baptism record, it was determined in an official hearing that “unmarried farm hand Johann Andreas Baier” was her father, and she was given his last name. She was “legitimized” by the marriage of her parents on September 1, 1841. I could not find records of Maria Sophia and Johann Andreas having any other children. Johann Andreas Baier was born July 4, 1812, in Creglingen, Württemberg, Germany, to Johann Georg Baier and Eva Sophia Schneider. I have not yet been able to find any documentation for the deaths of either Maria Sophia Kiessecker or Johann Georg Baier.
This tree shows the family of Maria Sophia Kiessecker, including her parents, her husband, and her daughter.
Since Maria Sophia and Maria Magdalena appear in the Familienbuch record of Anna Maria
Kiessecker rather than with Johann Andreas Baier, I have assumed that Maria Sophia
was a single parent from the birth of her daughter until the time of her
marriage, although the Familienbuch
record is a bit confusing. According to the autobiography of Johann Friedrich
Fechser, his parents moved to Hamburg when he was about seven-and-a-half years
old. If this is true, then Anna Maria Kiessecker would no longer have been living
in Württemberg when Maria Sophia’s daughter was born, so they could not have
all been a part of the same household. My best guess is that they were placed
on the same page of the Familienbuch
record because they were single mothers from the same extended family.
Sophia Barbara Kiessecker
Anna Maria Kiessecker had another niece, Sophia Barbara
Kiessecker, who was also a single mother for about five years.
Sophia Barbara Kiessecker was the sixth of eight children
born to Johann Wendel Kiessecker (1788–1843) [birth and death dates included here to distinguish him from his
brother, Johann Wendel Kiessecker (1790–1817)] and Maria Margaretha Nasser.
She was born October 14, 1829, in Scheinhardsmühle, Württemberg, Germany. I
have not yet been able to find any documentation of her death.
Sophia Barbara’s son, Johann Georg Kiessecker, was born July 26, 1853, in Nassau, Württemberg, Germany. Birth and baptism records, and also the Familienbuch record of Sophia Barbara Kiessecker, indicate that Johann Georg’s father was Andreas Beck from Elpersheim, Württemberg, Germany. The mentions of Andreas Beck also include the word “America,” along with other wording that I have not yet been able to translate, along with the date August 17, 1854, which leads me to believe that he might have emigrated at that time.
This tree shows the family of Sophia Barbara Kiessecker, including her parents, her husband, her son, and her son’s father.
I have not been able to find any later records for Johann
Georg in order to determine whether he went by his mother’s maiden name, his
birth father’s name, or his stepfather’s name after his mother was married.
Sophia Barbara Kiessecker married Johann Michael Breuninger
on August 24, 1858, in Nassau, Württemberg, Germany. Johann Michael was born
June 1, 1826, in Elpersheim, Württemberg, Germany, to Johann Michael Breuninger
and Margaretha Barbara Schultz. It is not indicated whether Johann Michael and
his father of the same name were known as Junior and Senior. I have not yet
been able to find any documentation of Johann Michael’s death.
So, from 1853 until 1858, Sophia Barbara Kiessecker was a
Maria Barbara Lindner
record for Sophia Barbara Kiessecker also shows someone named Maria Barbara
Lindner, a single mother with three children. When I first saw this, I assumed
that they were members of the same household, but that couldn’t be true,
because Maria Barbara Lindner died more than a year before Sophia Barbara
Kiessecker gave birth to her son. I then assumed that they were probably
related in some way, but I couldn’t find any evidence of that. They might have
been included on the same page in the Familienbuch
record simply because they were both single mothers living in the same area,
but I decided to include Maria Barbara’s story here anyway.
Maria Barbara Lindner was born February 26, 1777, in Scheinhardsmühle,
Württemberg, Germany, to Johann Friederich Lindner and Anna Maria Ketter. I
have not been able to find any records indicating whether there were any other
children in the family. Maria Barbara died February 8, 1852, in Nassau, Württemberg,
Germany. It appears that she remained single throughout her entire life. Her
death record does not include the name of a spouse, and her youngest son’s
marriage record, in the column for parents’ names, shows Vater unbekannte, which translates as father unknown.
The Familienbuch record that lists Maria Barbara’s children is from Nassau, Württemberg, Germany, so I am assuming that is where they were all born. Her oldest child was a daughter: Maria Margaretha Lindner; born December 2, 1802; died July 13, 1828. Her second child was a son: Johann Friederich Linder; born May 6, 1806; died March 8, 1811. Her third child, the only one to survive to adulthood, was a son: Johann Michael Lindner; born August 7, 1810; married to Anna Margaretha Kölle January 26, 1842; death unknown.
This tree shows the family of Maria Barbara Lindner, including her parents and her children.
Maria Barbara Lindner was a true single mother, raising one daughter
on her own from her birth in 1802 until her death in 1828, a son from his birth
in 1806 until his death in 1811, and another son from his birth in 1810 until
his marriage in 1842.
It is difficult to piece together the story of someone’s life just by using official documents, so I might not be totally accurate in the stories of these women from my family’s past. The birth and baptism records I have been looking at from this time period show me that single motherhood was quite common in Nineteenth Century Germany, perhaps even more so than today. What the records do not show, however, is whether in any individual case the father was there to help raise the child; whether the child was part of a committed family relationship or the result of a youthful indiscretion; and what kind of support the mother had from other family members. The lives of these single mothers might not have been as difficult as I imagine them to be, but I sometimes look at the hardships faced by my ancestors and wonder in awe about all of them surviving over the centuries in order to contribute to my existence.
Although this blog is meant to tell “stories of my family,” I occasionally tell stories of people who aren’t related to me but whose stories I discovered while researching genealogy. This is the story of Morgal Curry Davis. Since he never married and had no children to share his story, it probably wouldn’t get told if I didn’t tell it.
DNA Detective Work.
Part of my genealogical research involves DNA testing. Last December, a DNA match, who was projected to be a third-to-fourth cousin, contacted me to tell me she was an adoptee trying to find out who her birth parents were. My wife and I jumped in to try to help her solve her mystery. From our DNA results, we could identify which of her matches were in common with me and which were not. Although my research began by looking at our common relatives, my wife and I are also researching the side of her family that is not related to me. That is where I discovered Morgal Curry Davis, and he intrigued me, so I tried to flesh out his story.
Do I Have My Facts Correct?
When publishing a story, my greatest concern is whether or not my facts are correct, because I don’t want to tell a story that might not be factual. Here I will describe how I reached my conclusions.
I know from the 1920 and 1930 United States censuses that Robert Davis and Mabel Elizabeth Branin Davis had a son named Morgal C. Davis who was born about 1911 or 1912 in Dayton, Ohio, living in Dayton. In the 1920 U.S. Census, Morgal is also listed as living in the household of his widowed grandmother, Caroline Yetter Davis, in Columbus, Ohio. It is impossible to tell whether he alternated between living with his grandmother and his parents, or whether he may have lived with his grandmother but was also listed with his parents in that year’s census. Morgal was an 8-year-old polio victim, and his grandmother—who had three adult children at home—may have been better equipped to care for him than his parents—who had three other young children at the time.
Then, I had to determine whether this was the same Morgal C. Davis who was later living in San Diego, California. The California Death Index, transcribed on both ancestry.com and familysearch.org, shows a Morgal C. Davis dying in San Diego on November 23, 1968, having been born in Ohio on December 6, 1911, in Ohio. From this, I decided that the Morgal C. Davis in San Diego was probably the same Morgal C. Davis who was the son of Robert and Mabel Davis in Ohio. Voting registration records and city directories both show Morgal living most of his adult life in San Diego, working as a news seller.
The middle name of Morgal Curry Davis comes from a genealogical web site, cochranfamily.net. Although I have discovered occasional mistakes on this web site, I assume that they must have some legitimate source for this name, so I am going to assume it is correct.
The year that Morgal moved to San Diego from Dayton is questionable, due to some ambiguity in a newspaper article that mentioned him. He was identified as a witness in a murder investigation in San Diego in 1931, in which the newspaper article said he had known the victim “for several years,” but the United State Census showed him living with his parents in Ohio in 1930. My conclusion is that the newspaper reporter probably meant to say several months instead of several years. Those mistakes can happen in newspaper reporting.
Moving Away from Home
Morgal was crippled by polio at the age of six months. At the age of nineteen years, he traveled more than two thousand miles from his parents’ home in Dayton, Ohio, to settle in San Diego, California. At that time, he was able to walk with crutches or braces, but was later confined to a wheelchair. My interpretation of this is that he felt a need to prove he could live his own life independent from his family. Voter registration records show him living at various addresses in San Diego, working as a newspaper seller, and the 1940 United States Census shows him living in the Majestic Hotel in San Diego. It was not a glamorous or well-to-do life, but he was living as he wanted, without any outside interference.
This photo, taken in Jackson, Mississippi, appeared in newspapers all across the country, showing Morgal C. Davis in his effort to hitchhike through all 48 states in his wheelchair.
Hitchhiking Across America in a Wheelchair
The inspirational story of Morgal Curry Davis is is his 1955 journey, hitchhiking across America in his wheelchair. Several newspapers across the country carried a photograph taken of him in his wheelchair in Jackson, Mississippi, during the time that he was striving to hitchhike through all 48 states. At the time the photo was taken, he had already been through 28 states, and he said that his only trouble during that time was when he received a speeding ticket in his wheelchair in Saint Louis, Missouri. He was traveling downhill and was clocked at 22 miles per hour. (There is no mention of what the speed limit was.) There was not a follow-up story, but I must assume that he finally made it through all 48 states.
Witness in a Murder Investigation
The other significant event in his life happened shortly after he had moved to San Diego. In a 1931 newspaper article about a murder, he is identified as “Morgal Davis, a crippled newsboy.” It was said that he had known the murder victim, Louise Teuber, and had told police that she had told him she had been on a date with a man name Jerry on the evening before her death. He tried to remember the license number of Jerry’s car, but there was no such license registered in the state, so he must not have remembered it correctly. The police followed various other leads, but the murder was never solved.
The “Coast Fiend Killer” was of nationwide interest, and this article about the four 1931 victims was published in several newspapers.
The Coast Fiend Killer
There were several other unsolved murders in the area during that time, and the newspapers seemed to believe that they were all committed by an early serial killer they called “the Coast Fiend Killer.” There were dozens of persons of interest investigated, but none of the murders were ever solved.
In the news stories, some of the victims were referred to as “modern girls,” which seemed to have been the 1930’s version of blaming the victims’ behavior for the crimes. We would hope that by now we would no longer have to tolerate this prejudice, but we still need to come a long way to overcome this type of misrepresentation.
The first victim was 10-year-old Virginia Brooks, who disappeared on her way to school on February 11, 1931. Her dismembered body was discovered on March 10 in a burlap bag under a clump of sagebrush. Because of the dismemberment, they couldn’t determine the cause of death, but they believed she died from a blow to the head. There were two strands of blonde hair in one of her hands, which today could have led to a DNA match with a suspect, but that science was not yet being used in forensic police work. There were also tire tracks leading away from the discovery point. They took plaster casts of the tire tracks, but could not match them to a specific vehicle.
The second victim, although the third body found, was that of 43-year-old Mrs. Dolly Bibbens, who had been strangled and beaten in her apartment. Her body was discovered on April 23, but they determined she had been dead for several days. When the police found her, there was a bloody towel wrapped around her neck, and it was later determined that her throat had been slashed. She was known to have loved jewelry, and they originally thought her murder had been part of a burglary, but the only item missing was a diamond ring forcibly taken from her hand. She had been an avid gambler and was frequently seen at the race track, which fact the newspapers used to label her a “modern girl.”
The third victim was 17-year-old Louise Teuber, the woman whom Morgal Davis had known. She was discovered on April 19, 1931, by a family looking for a picnic spot on Black Mountain outside of San Diego. She had been killed the previous night. Her body was dressed only in silk stockings and high-heeled shoes. She was partially hung from an oak tree, her feet still on the ground, partially seated on an Army blanket, her other clothes neatly folded nearby. She was a young lady who enjoyed going out skating and dancing and dating many young men, which led the newspapers to label her as a “modern girl.” She had quit her job at the five-and-dime store that day and had sent a letter to her father telling him she was running away from home: “Dear Dad, I’ve tried for a long time to be satisfied with the way you are running the house and I can stand it no longer. I am leaving home tonight and I am not coming back.” Some of her friends had reported that she was either engaged or already married, but those reports could not be verified. The medical examiner found skin scrapings under her fingernails, but once again this was before DNA testing could be used to help find a suspect. The noose was tied with a nautical knot, so some local sailors were looked at as suspects but later exonerated and released. There was also a local art photographer who was a person of interest, but it was determined that he and his wife were out of town at the time of the murder.
The fourth victim, 20-year-old Hazel Bradshaw, was a switchboard operator for the San Diego and Arizona Railway Company. She was found by two Boy Scouts at Indian Village in Balboa Park, having been stabbed nine times. A boy friend was the initial suspect, but he was acquitted in a jury trial, although there seemed to be some strong evidence against him. She also had other boy friends, which led the newspapers to label her a “modern girl.”
During the next several years, more victims’ death were attributed to the serial killer. On August 18, 1934, 16-year-old Celia Cote, was discovered near her back yard in San Diego, having been raped, mutilated, and strangled. She had gone for a walk after dinner and had never returned. On August 31, 1936, 48-year-old Y.W.C.A. executive Ruth Muir was discovered at a La Jolla Beach, having been bludgeoned with a large slab of concrete. Then, on March 25, 1938, 67-year-old Florilla Lee Crolic was was found in her San Diego beach cottage, wearing only her underwear and stockings, having been bludgeoned to death with a piano stool. It was determined that she had been dead for about three days.
The police and newspaper reporters seemed to think there were enough similarities in the cases for them to believe they may have been perpetrated by the same person. Looking back at the new stories of the time, it is difficult to see the similarities, but I don’t have access to the same investigative information the police may have had.
The Summary of a Well-Lived Life
Morgal Curry Davis was born in Dayton, Ohio, on December 6, 1911, to Robert Davis and Mabel Elizabeth Branin Davis, the third of seven children. He was the brother of Robert Davis Jr. (1908–1923), Sarah Alice Davis Rhyan (1909–1985), Laura Amide Davis (1913–1913), Raymond B. Davis (1914–1978), Charlotte Jasmine Davis White (1916–????), and August Walter Davis (ca. 1921–1964).
Some time around June 1912, Morgal was diagnosed with polio. He spent many years of his life able to walk with braces and crutches, but as an adult he was later confined to a wheelchair. During his childhood, he sometimes lived with his widowed grandmother, Caroline Yetter Davis, who had three adult children living with her, probably to give respite to his parents, who had five other very young children.
In late 1930 or early 1931, Morgal asserted his independence by leaving his home town of Dayton, Ohio, and moving west to San Diego, California. This was his first trip across the country, and he was still walking with braces and crutches at that time. He lived in the Majestic Hotel in San Diego, and made his living selling newspapers.
During his first year in San Diego, a new acquaintance of Morgal’s named Louise Teuber was violently murdered, possibly a victim of a serial killer. Morgal helped in the investigation by giving the police some information about a man Louise had dated the night before her murder, but the lead didn’t pan out. It must have been emotionally difficult losing a friend in this way so soon after moving so far from home, but he remained in San Diego and continued selling his newspapers.
He appears to have moved back to Dayton around 1942 when he appears in a City Directory living with his father and his brother August Walter. The reason for this brief move is not apparent, but he soon returned to San Diego, where he also worked as a doorman.
In 1955, Morgal once again decided to assert his independence by showing that he could hitchhike through all 48 states in his wheelchair. His photo appeared in newspapers all over the country celebrating this accomplishment. Then he returned to San Diego once more.
Morgal died on November 23, 1968. No further information seems to be available about his death or burial. After living an independent life for 56 years, he has faded into relative obscurity until someone can uncover additional records.
When studying our ancestors, we must accept the fact that not all the stories we find will be of an uplifting nature. Our tree of progenitors contains villains as well as heroes, and their stories are just as important as the others. When my cousin Sue Anne emailed to tell me about our descent from possibly the first woman to be executed in the Plymouth Colony, I was immediately intrigued and started a new line of research.
When I first saw the stories about my tenth great grandmother, Alice Martin Bishop, I thought she might have a Mayflower connection, but it appears that she wasn’t directly related to any Mayflower families. This story does contain an indirect connection to my Mayflower ancestry in the fact that the man who presided over her trial was my tenth great grandfather, Governor William Bradford.
My research about Alice Martin Bishop did reveal a new Huguenot line in my family: Alice’s grandson, Richard Sutton, married Sarah Runyon, a daughter of Huguenot Vincent Rognion, who escaped to the Channel Islands in 1665 and later settled in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Vincent Rognion is my ninth great grandfather, and that story will have to be explored later.
Although the story has been sensationalized by many writers, the only documented facts of the case are contained in Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, edited by Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, M.D., Court Orders: Vol. II, 1641–1651, Boston, from the press of William White, Printer to the Commonwealth, 1855 (later reprinted by AMS Press, Inc., New York, 1968).
The most extensive modern analysis of the case is written by Erin Taylor and Kristin Luce, two descendants of Alice, collected in their web site, Alice Martin Bishop: Motherhood & Murder in the Plymouth Colony (alicemartinbishop.com). They have spent years researching and writing about this crime, and most of the conclusions I am sharing here have been gleaned from their writing.
Who Was Alice Martin?
Many versions of Alice Martin’s story assume that Alice was the daughter of Mayflower passengers Christopher Martin and his wife, Mary (widow of Edward Prower). Mary’s son from her first marriage, Solomon Prower, travelled with them on the Mayflower, and all three died during the first winter in Plymouth. There is no evidence that Christopher and Mary had any other children with them when they arrived in Plymouth, or that any children had been left behind to arrive later. There is no mention of Alice Martin in Plymouth until her marriage to George Clarke in 1639. We may never know the true origin of Alice Martin, but the most logical story that has been suggested is that Mary probably arrived around 1631 as an indentured servant, and got married after serving her seven years of servitude.
Alice Martin married George Clarke on January 22, 1639, in Plymouth. They had two daughters: (1) Abigail, born about 1642, and (2) Martha, born about 1644. George Clarke died about 1644.
Alice Martin Clarke married Richard Bishop on December 4, 1644, in Plymouth. They had one daughter: Damaris, born about 1646.
Crime and Punishment
The crime was first discovered by Rachel Ramsden, wife of Joseph Ramsden (also known as Ramsdell, which is the surname of most of their descendants). Rachel, twenty-three years old at the time, was the daughter of Mayflower passenger Francis Eaton and his third wife, Christian Penn.
On July 22, 1648, Rachel Ramsden stopped by the home of Richard and Alice Bishop in the Plymouth Colony “upon an errand.” There is no record of what the errand was. Since Rachel’s statement and the ensuing inquiry mentions only Alice Bishop and her daughter Martha Clarke, it seems as if Richard Bishop and the other children were probably not in the house at the time. Alice asked Rachel to fetch some buttermilk for her from the Winslow house (probably the home of Mayflower passenger Edward Winslow and his wife Susanna White, but it could have been the home of one of their sons), and gave Rachel a kettle for that purpose. Rachel said that before she left to carry out this request, she saw that Martha was sleeping peacefully and that Alice appeared normal.
When Rachel returned to the house after fetching the buttermilk, she noted that Alice appeared “sad and dumpish” and that there was blood at the foot of the ladder leading up to the loft. When Rachel asked Alice about the blood, Alice pointed up to the loft and told Rachel to go look. Rachel refused to look in the loft. Having seen the blood on the floor and noticing that Martha was no longer in the bed, Rachel perceived that Alice might have killed Martha. Rachel ran to her parents’ house and told them what she had seen. Her parents notified the authorities, and an inquest was started.
The investigation, under the order of Governor William Bradford, was conducted by John Howland, James Hurst, Robert Lee, John Shaw, Francis Cooke, James Cole, Giles Rickard, Richard Sparrow, Thomas Pope, Francis Billington, and William Nelson. Upon arriving at the house of Richard Bishop, they noticed blood at the foot of the ladder; then each went up to the loft. There they saw the body of four-year-old Martha Clarke, lying on her left side, dressed in her shift. Her throat was cut with divers gashes, and her wind pipe had been cut in a downward motion. A bloody knife was lying by her side. At that time, Alice confessed to murdering her daughter with the knife.
This is the court record of the investigation into the death of Martha Clarke.
A Court of Assistants hearing was held in New Plymouth on August 1, 1648, presided over by Governor William Bradford, assisted by William Collier, Captain Myles Standish, and William Thomas. At this hearing Alice confessed to committing the murder, saying she was sorry for it.
A General Court trial was held in New Plymouth on October 4, 1648, presided over by Governor William Bradford, assisted by Thomas Prence, Captain Myles Standish, Timothy Hatherley, and William Thomas. Alice Bishop was indicted for felonious murder by a grand jury consisting of John Dunham Senior, Isaac Wells, Thomas Bourne, Robert Finney, Henry Wood, Ephraim Hicks, James Walker, James Wyatt, Love Brewster, John Barker, Joseph Colman, John Allin, Thomas Bordman, James Bursell, Joseph Torrey, Michael Blackwell, and Daniel Cole. Alice Bishop was found guilty of felonious murder by a petit jury consisting of Josiah Winslow Senior, Thomas Chillingworth, Anthony Snow, Richard Sparrow, Gabriel Fallowell, Joshua Pratt, Giles Rickard, John Shaw Senior, Steven Wood, William Merrick, William Brett, and John Willis.
This is the court record of the conviction and execution of Alice Martin Bishop.
Alice Bishop was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until her body was dead. She was immediately taken to the place of execution, where the sentence was carried out.
I don’t know the source of this painting, but it is said to depict Alice Martin Bishop being led to the gallows.
After the Crime
We don’t see much about Richard Bishop afterward. He may have been a less-than-upstanding citizen, as he can be found in a court record on March 6, 1649, accused of stealing a spade from Andrew Ring. On May 6, 1649, he was sentenced to sit in the stocks and give a new spade to Andrew Ring before the next General Court, at which time he would be whipped if he failed to comply.
After Alice’s execution, her daughter Abigail Clarke can be seen in two court records. On May 9, 1949, John Churchill was ordered regarding the disposition of George Clarke’s house that it should be for the use and good of George Clarke’s daughter Abigail Clarke. On March 3, 1662, Abigail Clarke attested in court to the authenticity of John Churchill’s nuncupative will. It might be possible to draw the conclusion that Abigail Clarke was taken in by John Churchill’s family after Alice’s execution. No further records can be found regarding Abigail.
Alice’s youngest daughter, Damaris Bishop, was married to William Sutton on July 11, 1666 in Orleans, Massachusetts, and they moved to Piscataway, New Jersey about 1672. They had ten children together. Damaris died on February 6, 1682, in Piscataway.
Why Did She Do It?
The courts in the early American colonies were more concerned with whether a crime was committed and not with motives, so there is no record to suggest why Alice killed her daughter. It is left to those of us in modern times who are interested in the case to try to make conjectures as to the reasons for what she did.
There are many online Monday-morning psychiatrists who like to suggest that in today’s world Alice would have been diagnosed with post-partum depression and properly treated, and the murder would never have happened. While this might be a possibility, it is impossible for even a professional to make that kind of a diagnosis more than 350 years after the fact.
It has been suggested that young Martha may have been showing signs of physical or mental disability and that Alice saw this as a mercy killing. This seems unlikely, as the colonies needed every able-bodied worker they could get, and even the handicapped were capable of some sort of labor necessary for the good of the community. Also, one would think that if Alice were considering this as a mercy killing, she would have chosen a less gruesome method.
There is always the possibility that someone else, perhaps Alice’s husband, Richard Bishop, committed the murder, and that Alice confessed to spare him. This seem highly unlikely, however, as there is no mention of Richard being present at the house at the time of the death. Although we have very few facts in the case, his presence would probably have been mentioned if he were there.
The most likely thing to have triggered the crime, in my opinion, would be a general depression and a frustration with the hazards of life in the colonies. Less than three decades after the arrival of the Mayflower, survival itself was a hazardous enterprise. The voyage across the ocean had severely affected many people’s health and had cost the lives of loved ones. Cut off from the rest of the world, colonists had lost contact with many of their friends, and the higher mortality rate in the New World took many more, leaving them with little network for emotional support. With occasional skirmishes with the nearby native tribes and food supplies sometimes depending on the whims of nature, coping was difficult if not impossible for some. At times, it could take just one small incident, “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” to cause someone to lose control. Alice had lost one husband and had no time to grieve as she continued the task of caring for her children. She probably slowly lost her joy of living until she finally gave up and killed her child out of frustration and mental exhaustion.
It should be noted that Alice Martin Bishop was the eighth woman known to have been executed in the colonies. Prior to her, there were two in the Virginia Colony, one in Maine, and four in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Out of these seven, three of them were convicted of killing one of their children. Jane Champion was hanged in 1632 in James City, Virginia, for an unknown offense. Margaret Hatch was hanged on June 24, 1633, in James City, Virginia, for infanticide. Dorothy Talbye was hanged in 1639 in Massachusetts Bay Colony for killing her three-year-old daughter. Mary Latham (along with co-defendant James Britton) was hanged in 1642 in Massachusetts Bay Colony, possibly the only woman executed in America for adultery. Mrs. Cornish (unknown first name) was hanged in 1644 in Maine for murder. Mary Martin was hanged in 1646 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for killing her infant daughter to cover up her unwed pregnancy. Margaret Jones was hanged on June 15, 1648, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for witchcraft.
My Descent from Alice Martin Bishop
Damaris Bishop was the daughter of Alice Martin Clarke Bishop and Richard Bishop. Richard Sutton was the son of Damaris Bishop Sutton and William Sutton. Anna Sutton was the daughter of Richard Sutton and Sarah Runyon Sutton. Job Slaght Senior was the son of Anna Sutton Slaght and Hendrick Slaght. Henry Slaght was the son of Job Slaght Senior and Elizabeth Johnson Slaght. Mary Slaght was the daughter of Henry Slaght and Abigail Clouse Heminover. Nancy Cunningham was the daughter of Mary Slaght Cunningham and Henry Cunningham. Miriam Catherine Thayne was the daughter of Nancy Cunningham Thayne and Ebenezer Thayne Junior. William Moroni Cox was the son of Miriam Catherine Thayne Cox and William Edwin Cox. Reba Cox was the daughter of William Moroni Cox and Minnie Josephine Burgon. Theodore Paul Christensen was the son of Reba Cox Christensen and Theodore Angelo Christensen. I am the son of Theodore Paul Christensen and Carol Madsen Christensen.
This tree shows my descent from Alice Martin Bishop.
Family history can be a fascinating endeavor, filled with tragic as well as joyous stories. Although killing one’s own child may be thought of as one of the most horrific crimes that could be committed, I hope that people don’t judge Alice too harshly, as we have no idea what her circumstances or her mental state might have been at the time.