A PEEP BEHIND THE CURTAIN AT SALT LAKE.
BY H. D. J.
As I took up my paper this morning I read: “There are four Mormon women of the best families of Salt Lake now in Washington, to act as a part of the lobby seeking to prevent hostile legislation." How little those who have not been upon the stage, nay, behind the curtain, at Salt Lake, know of the real feelings of the Mor-mon women whom these four are supposed to represent.
Apart from the motives of fear, specially powerful with women who realize their weakness when brought into conflict with men, there is in every organization a certain esprit du corps which forces them to hide their real feelings. In this year of strikes we all know that the quiet and reasonable majority of working-men is swept on by the turbulent and fanatical few whose voice is supposed to be the voice of "the working-classes." So some of us have good reason to know the women of Utah will, before the public, swear undying fealty to the system which degrades them, while in private they weep as bitter tears as slaves ever shed in the Negro quarters of a an old-time plantation.
Years ago, in the days of my early man-hood, there was a neighbor of ours in an Eastern State who became a convert to the preaching of some stray "apostle" of the Latter-Day Saints. I had heard nothing of him in years; and, in fact, his name had well nigh escaped my memory until, about to make my first visit to Salt Lake, his story was recalled, and I determined to look him up upon my arrival in that city. This was not difficult to do, since, being one of the comparatively few American-born Mormons, he was a man of consider-able intelligence, and had early assumed a place of no little prominence among them. I received not only a kind invitation to be-come his guest, but, indeed, the courtesy was so pressed upon me that I understood to decline would be taken in the nature of an affront.
Nothing of unusual moment occurred dur-ing the first two or three days of my visit; but my host and his family strove by every available means to make my stay as agree-able as possible, evidently intent that I should carry away with me only the most favorable impressions of the city and its customs and its people. Occasional refer-ence was made to the bills which were then being pressed in Washington for the "per-secution" of the "Saints"; but nothing was said which indicated personal interest in the questions involved, and nothing oc-curred to make me suspect the slightest difference of sentiment between man and wife upon "the peculiar institution" of the Church. My friend was a married man at the time of his conversion to Mormonism, and I found him just as I had known him years before; himself, his wife and one daughter constituting his household.
It was after having spent several days in this apparently happy and united family that I was straying meditatively about the city in the later hours of the afternoon, marveling much over the condition of affairs, so far as I had been able to ascer-tain them, when I suddenly woke to the fact that I was in a strange part of the city, and had evidently lost my way. Hastening my steps a bit, I thought to find some fa-miliar landmark without the necessity of asking any questions, but failed to do so; and the setting sun warned me that I must ask some guide or I should be involved in no little trouble even to follow the direc-tions which might be given me. Accord-ingly, saluting the first chance passer-by, I asked if I could be directed to where Mr. S. lived. I was told that I had but to pass two blocks to the right, and take one turn thence to the left and I would find his house to be the second from the corner. Hastening my steps, after acknowledging the kindness, I was even more confused and surprised to find that the quarter of the city to which I was directed was still wholly strange to me, and that the house indicated as the residence of my friend was one that I was sure I had never seen be-fore in my life. At a loss what next to do, or to understand why any one should have wilfully set me upon the wrong path, I turned aimlessly away and saw no other es-cape from my dilemma but to repeat the question to the next person I might chance to encounter. Before I had gone the length of the block I had an opportunity to do so; and I was promptly told that I had just passed the house I was inquiring for, while it was further indicated to me by the finger of my informant. Astonished, and not as yet having the slightest suspicion of the fact, I exclaimed that it was "impossible!'' I had been a guest of the gentleman referred to for several days, and I was sure that I had never seen the house before to which he pointed. "Oh!" was the immediate re-sponse, "you must have been visiting where his first wife lives. This is where an-other wife lives with her family." I hope it was too dark for my informant to note the change which, I felt sure, came over my face. I was simply struck dumb with amazement. I could scarcely find my tongue to thank my informant; but wan-dered on for an hour or more, seeking to control my excitement sufficiently to put in an appearance at the home of my host with-out betraying the fact that I had learned of the deceit he was practicing upon me.
However, I came at last back to his house, and, making some excuse to the family, I retired at an early hour, resolved that before I left his roof-tree I should know the actual condition of his affairs, and the feelings of his first wife and her daughter regarding the polygamy of the husband and father.
The very next day I let it be understood that I might not return to my host's house until evening; but as soon as I knew the husband to be absent for some hours, I walked straight back to the house, and be-ing met by the wife and daughter with looks of astonishment, I frankly declared what I had learned by accident the day before, and begged them to tell me why these facts had been concealed from me, if at heart they sanctioned the deed.
Never can I forget the fire that flashed in the eyes of both, as they answered my in-quiry. With blazing cheeks, they poured out the story of their shame and suffering in polygamy. Through it all they protested hemselves "loyal Mormons"; but my ap-peal had opened the fountains of their hearts, and their indignation was something painful to witness. I learned that my host had once proposed to bring his second wife to the same house where he had lived for years with his first family; but no threat of husband, no anathema of the Church, availed to persuade this lawful wife to so degrade herself and her legitimate offspring. Here were two women with whom I had been in daily contact, hearing their praises of the Church, listening to their encomiums of their leaders—discovered to be leading double lives; one of open defense of Mor-monism, and one of secret animosity to all that distinguishes it before the world. How many thousands of women are there, do you think, in that city of Salt Lake, who will lobby for the Church in public, and curse the polygamous wives of their own hus-bands, when surprised into speaking their real sentiments in safe confidence?
Realizing before long their danger, they begged me not to prolong the inter-view, but to leave them to compose them-selves before the return of the husband and father, saying that if they had lost all hope of honor and joy in the home, they had resolved to maintain peace; and not for the world would they have Mr. S. know of what had passed between themselves and me.
I withdrew with heavy heart, willing to shield them from further questioning, and hoping to save them from that persecution which they evidently dreaded with too good reason.
I do not remember whether it was the next day, or a little later, that I entered the office of one of the chief bureaus of Mormon propagandism in the city, and found myself a second time alone with two Mormon women, who began, as usual, a zealous glorification of the Latter-Day Saints. My former experience had taught me how much zeal there might be which was simply formal and not sincere; and here, it seemed to me, was another fit hour in which to press the question home. Mak-ing bold but cautious advances toward the vital issue, I at last told them something of what I had discovered, and then ap-pealed to them to tell me in all honor and faithfulness whether they advocated polyg-amy as a matter of policy and fidelity to the Church, or from personal conviction and happy experience of it? Within five min-utes both women were bathed in tears, in the same breath venting their hatred of the system and praying me not to betray them to their masters—the husbands of their homes and the rulers of their Church. Were I to make known particularly where this interview occurred it would involve the happiness for life of one of the best known female propagandists of the faith now liv-ing in Salt Lake. And this is the system which seeks to convince the nation that their women are happy by sending female lobbyists to Washington as advocates of polygamy! My own heart is full of the profoundest sympathy for women who are forced to praise in the face of the world what in the silence of their own chambers they hate with an unspeakable bitterness of soul.
Strangely enough, my impressions so derived were soon confirmed and deepened by an interview with a man of education and intelligence, who had been for nearly a score of years intimately connected with the affairs of the Mormon Church as one of its trusted leaders. At the time of my visit to Salt Lake he was involved in a personal controversy with certain other members of the board, and I judged it was a good time in which to learn some of the inside facts of Mormonism. Hardly had I taken my seat in the sleeper at Ogden before the conductor came to me and said: "Do you know Mr. H., formerly one of the apostles of the Mormon Church?" In less time al-most than it takes to tell it, I was in con-versation with one of the most agreeable gentlemen I have ever met; and he seemed not less pleased to find a sympathetic lis-tener than I to find a ready talker. Begin-ning with the most indifferent themes, I quickly found that no careful approaches were needed; for he was frankly willing to unbosom himself upon every theme which touched the life or practice of Mormon-ism.
"You ask me," he said, "my personal judgment of polygamy. There," he con-tinued, pointing to two well-dressed ladies who were arranging their sections in the car, "are two of my five wives. I have had personal experience of polygamy for many years; and I give you my frank judgment of it when I say that I believe in it as a defensible theory, but I know it to be a failure in practice. My wives have been kind and true, and I have sought to be a just and honorable husband; but in the present state of human advancement polygamy is at war with the ineradicable intuitions of the soul, and I should not be sorry to have its future practice suppressed by law. I believe the time will come when it may prevail, but I know that it cannot prevail now without destroying the happi-ness of the home. I should personally put away my wives to-morrow, were it not that I am in honor bound to them and to their children. No law should be retroactive; but I know enough of the present of polyg-amy not to wish it perpetuated. I know enough of its working to wish it forbidden by federal statutes."
"How, then," I asked, "is the present state maintained in the territory? How does it happen that there is such power in the Church, and such subserviency upon the part of the people?"
"The reason," continued Mr. H., "is not hard to find. The leaders possess all the wealth of the territory and pretty much all the intelligence of the Church. The people are bound by the double chain of poverty and incapacity. Seven-tenths of the people are immigrants, and to this day most of them owe for their passage money. The Church pays their passage, supplies them with tools and implements for labor, but takes their notes for every penny that is advanced. In nine cases out of ten, with tithings and inevitable losses added, the foreign-born Mormon never is able to pay his first debt to the Church; and if he attempts to revolt or leave the territory, he is stripped of everything that he seemed to possess. By far the larger part of our im-migrants can neither read or write, and come to Salt Lake without a dollar, loaded with debt for first expenses; and what wonder that they continue for years the blind, obedient servants of a Church which rules their conscience and holds their purse? As for me, I can defy the powers of the leaders only because I have acquired prop-erty and, am independent. But the aver-age Mormon is poor, and what little he seems to control is his only so long as he remains submissive to the Church."
I was forcibly reminded of this conver-sation when, a few weeks later, upon my return journey, I fell in with one whom I knew to belong to the fami-ly of the late head of the Church; and in conversation with him he showed me a piece of valuable mineral, and told me that he owned not less than a thousand acres, under every rod of which lay an eleven-foot vein of this.
It is hard to say why a private person visiting Salt Lake can learn so much, and an investigating committee so little, unless, indeed, the fact of the immense wealth of the Mormon Church, and of Mormon offi-cials, throws some light upon the problem. It is more than certain that a little patient inquiry shows how utterly vain it is to hope to judge Mormonism by its external aspect. Women will protest their perfect content in public, who will burst into tears, or flame in secret; and even their paid and salaried female agents will, in safe confi-dence, lament and deplore and curse the chain that galls them. Everything stamps it as nothing less than one of the "twin relics of barbarism," and so long as it is suffered to remain, it will remain to degrade its own dupes, to impoverish its own slaves, and to force those whom it fetters to appear before the public in the role of sympathetic advocates. When, by the will of God, despite all the intrigues of demagogues, the chains are at last broken, these women will be found as jubilant and grateful as were the black slaves of the South when the War converted them into freemen. There were thousands of bonds-men twenty-five years ago who, in the presence of their masters, gave God thanks for their birth in bondage; but those who talked with them in their cabins failed to hear the echo of these protestations. It is one thing to listen to the female defenders of this Mormonism in public, and another thing to hear their sobs and see their tears when out of reach of the husband's eye or the Church official's wrath.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.