The Smiths Of Salt Lake City
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
BEFORE going to Salt Lake City I had heard that the Mormons were in complete control of politics and business in the State of Utah, and that it was their practice to discriminate against "gentiles," making it impossible for them to be successful there. I asked a great many citizens of Salt Lake City about this, and all the evidence indicated that such rumors are without foundation, and that, of recent years, Mormons and "gentiles" have worked harmoniously together, socially and in business. The Mormons have a strong political machine and pull together much as the Roman Catholics do, but the idea that they dominate everything in Salt Lake City seems to be a mistaken one. Time and again I was assured of this by both Mormons and "gentiles," and an officer of the Commercial Club went so far as to draw up figures, supporting the statement, as follows:
Of the city's fourteen banks and trust companies, nine are not under Mormon control; of five department stores, four are non-Mormon; all skyscrapers except one are owned by "gentiles"; likewise four-fifths of the best residence property. Furthermore, neither the city government nor the public utilities are run by Mormons, nor are the Mayor and the President of the Board of Education members of that church.
This is not to say that Mormon business interests are not enormous, but only that there has been exaggeration on these points, as on many others concerning this sect. The heads of the church are big business men, and President Smith is, among other things, a director of the Union Pacific Railroad Company.
Among other well-informed men with whom I talked upon this subject was the city-editor of a leading newspaper.
"I am not a Mormon," he said, "although my wife is one. You may draw your own conclusions as to the Mormon attitude when I tell you that the paper on which I work is controlled by them, yet that, as it happens just now, I have n't a Mormon reporter on my staff. Here and there there may be some old hard-shell Mormon who won't employ any one that isn't a member of the church, but cases of that kind are as rare among Mormons as among other religious sects.."
Every business man with whom I talked seemed anxious to impress me with this fact, that I might pass it on in print.
"For heaven's sake," said one impassioned citizen, "tell people that we raise something out here besides Mormons and hell !"
One of the most level-headed men I met in Salt Lake City was a Mormon, though not orthodox. His position with regard to the church was precisely the same as that of a man who has been brought up in any other church, but who, as he grows older, cannot accept the creed in its entirety. His attitude as to the Mormon Bible was one of honest doubt. In short, he was an agnostic, and as such talked interestingly.
"Of course," he said, "out here we are as used to the Mormon religion and to the idea that some men have a number of wives, as you are to the idea that men have only one wife. It does n't seem strange to us. I can't adjust my mind to the fact that it is strange, and I only become conscious of it when I go to other parts of the country and find that, when people know I 'm a Mormon, they become very curious, and want me to tell them all about the Mormons and polygamy.
"Now, in trying to understand the Mormons, the first thing to remember is that they are human beings, with the same set of virtues and failings and feelings as other human beings. There are some who are dogmatically religious; some with whom marriage—even plural marriage—is just as pure and spiritual a thing as it is with any other people in the world. On the other hand, some Mormons, like some members of other sects, have doubtless had lusts. The family life of some Mormons is very beautiful, and as smoking, drinking and other dissipations are forbidden, orthodox Mormon men lead very clean lives. In this they are upheld by our women, for many Mormon women will not marry a man excepting in our Temple, and no man who has broken the rules of the church may be married there.
"Among the younger generation of Mormons you will see the same general line of characteristics as among young people anywhere. Some of them grow up into strict Mormons, while others—particularly some of the sons of rich Mormons—are what you might call `sports.' Human nature is no different in Utah than elsewhere.
"My father had several wives and I had a great number of brothers and sisters. We did n't live like one big family, and the half-brothers and half-sisters did not feel towards each other as real brothers and sisters do. When my father was a very old man he married a young wife, and we felt about it just as any other sons and daughters would at seeing their father do such a thing. We felt it was a mistake, and that it was not just to us, for father had not many more years to live, and it appeared that on his death we might have his young wife and her family to look after.
"My views are such that in bringing up my own children I have not had them baptized as Mormons at the age of eight, according to the custom of the church. This has grieved my people, but I cannot help it. I am bringing my children up to fear God and lead clean lives, but I do not think I have the right to force them into any church, and I propose to leave the matter of joining or not joining to their own discretion, later on."
Another Mormon, this one orthodox, and a cultivated man, told me he thought that in most cases the old polygamous marriages were entered into with a spirit of real religious fervor.
"My father married two wives," he said. "He loved my mother, who was his first wife, very dearly, and they are as fine and contented a couple as you ever saw. But when the revelation as to polygamy was made, father took a second wife because he believed it to be his duty to do so."
"How did your mother feel about it?" I asked.
"I have no doubt," said he, "that it hurt mother terribly, but she was submissive because she believed it was right. And later, when the manifesto against polygamy was issued, it hurt father's second wife, when he had to give her up, for he had two children by her. However, he obeyed implicitly the law of the church, supporting his second wife and her children, but living with my mother."
Later this gentleman took me to call at the home of this old couple. The husband, more than eighty years of age, was a professional man with a degree from a large eastern university. He was a gentleman of the old school, very fine, dignified, and gracious, and there was an air about him which somehow made me think of a sturdy, straight old tree. As for his wife she was one of the two most adorable old ladies I have ever met.
Very simply she told me of the early days. Her parents had been well-to-do Pennsylvania Dutch and had left a prosperous home in the East and come out to the West, not to better themselves, but because of their religion. (One should always remember that, in thinking of the Mormons : whatever may have been the rights and wrongs of their religion, they have believed in it and suffered for it.) She, herself, was born in 1847, in a prairie schooner, on the banks of the Missouri River, and in that vehicle she was carried across the plains and through the passes, to where Salt Lake City was then in the first year of its settlement. Some families were still living in tents when she was a little girl, but log cabins were springing up. Behind her house, I was shown, later, the cabin—now used as a lumber shed —in which she dwelt as a child.
Fancy the fascination that there was in hearing that old lady tell, in her simple way, the story of the early Mormon settlement. For all her gentleness and the low voice in which she spoke, the tale was an epic in which she herself had figured. She was not merely the daughter of a pioneer, and the wife of one; she was a pioneer herself. She had seen it all, from the beginning. How much she had seen, how much she had endured, how much she had known of happiness and sorrow ! And now, in her old age, she had a nature like a distillation made of everything there is in life, and whatever bitterness there may have been in life for her had gone, and left her altogether lovable and altogether sweet.
I did not wish to leave her house, and when I did, and when she said she hoped that I would come again, I was conscious of a lump in my throat. I do not expect you to understand it, for I do not, quite, myself. But there it was—that kind of lump which, once in a long time, will rise up in one's throat when one sees a very lovely, very happy child.
When our friend Professor Young asked us whether we had met President Joseph F. Smith, we told him of our unfortunate encounter with that gentleman, in the Lion House, a day or two before. This information led to activities on the part of the Professor, which in turn led to our being invited, on the day of our departure, to meet the President and some members of his family at the Beehive House—the official residence of the head of the church.
The Beehive House is a large old-fashioned mansion with the kind of pillared front so often seen in the architecture of the South. Its furnishings are, like the house itself, old-fashioned, homelike, and unostentatious.
I have forgotten who let us in, but I have no recollection of a maid, and I rather think the door was opened by the President himself. At all events we had no sooner entered than we met him, in the hall. His manner had changed. He was most hospitable, and walked through several rooms with us, showing us some plaster casts and paintings, the work of Mormon artists. Most of the paintings were extremely ordinary, but the work of one young sculptor was remarkable, and as the story of him is remarkable as well, I wish to mention him here.
He is a boy named Arvard Fairbanks, a grandson of Mormon pioneers, on both sides, and he is not yet twenty years of age. At twelve he started modeling animals from life. At thirteen he took a scholarship in the Art Students' League, in New York, and exhibited at the National Academy of Design. At fourteen he took another scholarship and also got an art school into trouble with the sometimes rather silly Gerry Society, for permitting a child to model from the nude. Work done by this boy at the age of fifteen is nothing short of amazing. I have never seen such finished things from the hand of a youth. His subjects—Indians, buffalo, pumas, etc.-show splendid observation and under-standing, and are full of the feeling of the West. And if the West is not very proud of him some day, I shall be surprised.
After showing us these things, and talking upon general subjects for a time, the President went to the foot of the stairs and called:
Whereupon a woman's voice answered, from above, and a moment later Mrs. Smith—one of the Mrs. Smiths—appeared. She was most cordial and kindly —a pleasant, motherly sort of woman who made you feel that she was always in good spirits.
After we had enjoyed a pleasant little talk with her, one of her sons and his wife came in: he a strong young farmer, she pretty, plump and rosy. They had with them their little girl, who played about upon the floor. Later appeared President Penrose (there are several Presidents in the Mormon Church, but President Smith is the leader) who has red cheeks and brown hair in spite of the fact that he is eighty-two years old, and considerably married.
Here in the midst of this intimate family group I kept wishing that, in some way, the matter of polygamy might be mentioned. By this time I had heard so many Mormons talk about it freely that I understood the topic was not taboo; still, in the presence of Mrs. Smith I hardly knew how to begin, or indeed, whether it was tactful to begin—although I had been informed in advance that I might ask questions.
But how to ask? I could n't very well say to this pleasant lady : "How do you like being one of five or six wives, and how do you think the others like it?" And as for: "How do you like being married?" that hardly expressed the question that was in my mind—besides which, it was plainly evident that the lady was entirely content with her lot.
It did not seem proper to inquire of my hostess: "How can you be content?" That much my social instinct told me. What, then, could I ask?
At last the baby granddaughter gave me a happy thought. "Certainly," I said to myself, "it cannot be bad form to make polite inquiries about the family of any gentleman."
I tried to think how I might best ask the President the question. "Have you any children ?" would not do, because there was his son, right in the room, and other sons and daughters had been referred to in the course of conversation. Finally, as time was getting short, I determined to put it bluntly.
"How many children and grandchildren have you?" I asked President Smith.
He was not in the least annoyed by the inquiry; only a little bit perplexed.
"Let's see," he answered ruminatively, fingering his long beard, and looking at the ceiling. "I don't remember exactly—but over a hundred."
"Why !" put in Mrs. Smith, proudly, "you have a lot over a hundred." Then, to me, she explained : "I am the mother of eleven, and I have had thirty-two grand-children in the last twelve years. There is forty-three, right there."
"Oh, you surely have a hundred and ten, father," said young Smith.
"Perhaps, perhaps," returned the modern Abraham, contentedly.
"I beat you, though !" laughed President Pen-rose.
"I don't know about that," interposed young Smith, sticking up for the family. "If father would count up I think you'd find he was ahead."
"How many have you?" President Smith inquired of his coadjutor.
President Penrose rubbed his hands and beamed with satisfaction.
"A hundred and twenty-odd," he said.
After that there was no gain saying him. He was supreme. Even Mrs. Smith. admitted it.
"Yes," she said, smiling and shaking a playful finger at him, "you 're ahead just now; but remember, you're older than we are. You just give us time!"