Plural Lives:
Mitt Romney’s Polygamous Heritage

Todd M. Compton

© 2012 Todd Compton. Unauthorized copying or distribution of this work, except as provided under “fair use,” is prohibited.

In summer 1885, Miles Park Romney, Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather, wearing a disguise, boarded a train in Salt Lake City with his wife, Annie Woodbury Romney, and her three young children. He may have sat apart from them, to preserve his incognito. They traveled to San Francisco, then east through California and into Arizona. At the San Simon railway station in southeastern Arizona, in Cochise County, near the New Mexico border, Will and Miles Archibald Romney, two of Miles Park’s older sons, met their father and Annie with a team and wagon, which would transport them to Mormon settlements that were just beginning in Mexico.

Why was Miles Park moving to Mexico? Annie was his fourth wife. Will was the son of his second wife, Carrie, and Miles Archibald was the son of his first wife, Hannah. Earlier in the year, Miles had left his home in St. Johns, in eastern Arizona to escape federal marshals who sought to arrest him and his wives on charges of “unlawful cohabitation,” polygamy. Therefore, he was “advised by the Presidency of the [LDS] Church to flee to Old Mexico for safety,” according to a family history. Church leaders knew that Miles was a prominent target for U.S. marshals, as he had been a church leader and a combative newspaper editor in Arizona, and they probably also realized that his talents as a builder would be invaluable in the pioneering Mormon colonies in Mexico.[1]

As Romney crossed the U.S.-Mexican border, he must have pondered this momentous step he was taking. Mormons were usually proud Americans, and often told of their ancestors fighting in the Revolutionary War. But as the result of intense legal harassment, which Mormons regarded as straightforward religious persecution, many Saints, include Miles Park and eventually all of his five wives (except for one wife who had separated from him), would leave America and face uncertain prospects in a foreign land. This choice shows their profound commitment to their faith, its leaders, and its most peculiar and controversial practice, plural marriage.

Though Mormons such as Mitt Romney are now viewed as thoroughly in the conservative political mainstream of America, his forefathers and mothers were, just a few generations back, sacrificing much to perpetuate a non-standard marriage system, polygamy, that they believed was commanded by God, and that was illegal, and often necessarily practiced in secret. Their life histories offer a revealing cross section of the Principle, showing what it meant to live in plurality in nineteenth-century Nauvoo, Utah, Arizona and Mexico.[2]


Anyone who hopes to understand Mitt Romney’s polygamous heritage must first understand that the Mormon concept of religious leadership is based on the idea of modern prophets; modern prophecy is accepted as a restoration of an ancient Old Testament institution. Latter-day Saints view their church leaders as directed by God in a unique, absolute way. The Mormon idea of having a prophet as leader—and the church’s president is formally titled “prophet”—is that the prophet receives direct revelation from God (somewhat equivalent to the Catholic doctrine of infallibility of the Pope, though the Catholic doctrine has limitations that Mormonism doesn’t have). This mantle of prophecy is also given to the Prophet’s two counselors (who with the Prophet make up the First Presidency) and to the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles, who are all sustained as “Prophets, Seers and Revelators” by church members in general conferences.

Thus, if you are an orthodox Mormon, you accept the living prophet’s pronouncements as coming from God. While there is a slight recognition in the Mormon tradition that church leaders are human, this is not emphasized; and for practical purposes, church members accept the statements of high church leaders, especially the prophet, his two counselors, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as inspired. In the LDS Church, emphasis is on obedience to church leaders – two popular songs in Mormonism are “Follow the Prophet” (sung by children) and “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet.” President Wilford Woodruff stated, on October 6, 1890, “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place.”[3] A member of a recent First Presidency, James Faust, has said that in the LDS church, there is no such thing as a “loyal opposition.”[4]

The concept of a living prophet, and twelve living apostles, presiding over a church with authorized priesthood leadership, all viewed as a restoration from Biblical practice, has been a powerful religious ideal. It helps explain the intense devotion, loyalty and energy of Mormons, both in the nineteenth-century and the contemporary LDS church. Mormonism presently has fourteen million plus members worldwide, is financially prosperous (as all active members are expected to give ten percent of their income to the church, and the church shepherds its resources carefully), and is growing—the church has an active and successful missionary program.

According to the first prophet of this church, Joseph Smith, LDS polygamy began as direct revelation and a commandment that he received from God. The revelation has been canonized as Section 132 in the current Mormon book of revelations, the Doctrine and Covenants. Smith obeyed, taking his approximately thirty-three plural wives in secret ceremonies mostly between the years 1841 to 1843. (Thirty-three by my count; conservative biographer of Joseph Smith, Richard Bushman, accepts thirty-two of those marriages. Other historians believe he married more.[5]) For Smith, polygamy was the heavenly form of marriage, and was necessary for complete salvation. Monogamy, he taught, was a lesser form of matrimony; the greater the number of wives you married in this life, and the greater the number of children you had, the greater your kingdom and exaltation (a Mormon term for the highest salvation) in the next life.[6]

Polygamy was illegal in Illinois, where Smith first practiced plural marriage in an extensive way, but he simply ignored this law.[7] Historian D. Michael Quinn has referred to this principle of placing religious practice over secular law as “theocratic ethics.”[8] God’s commandment took precedence over man’s laws. If the prophet instructed a true believer to do something that was against the law of the land (as Mormon leaders publicly did from 1862 to 1890, in the case of polygamy), such a believer could not disobey the prophet, who was viewed as receiving inspiration directly from God, and remain in good standing. In addition, Mormonism regarded itself as a political organization, a kingdom, and thus looked forward to the time when church leaders would be in charge of secular government, as well as the ecclesiastical organization.[9]


One of Mitt Romney’s great-great-grandfathers, Parley Parker Pratt (1807-1857), began to practice plural marriage even during this early period of Mormon history, in Nauvoo.[10] Pratt was one of the most dynamic and brilliant leaders in early Mormonism. He left a beautifully-written autobiography, and many skillfully-argued religious tracts.[11] He lived the standard amazingly eventful life of early Mormon leaders, including numerous stateside and international missions, and exploring and colonizing expeditions in the far West.[12]

On September 9, 1844, the thirty-seven-year-old Pratt married twenty-six-old Mary Wood (1818-1898) in Nauvoo, as his second plural wife. They would have four children. Mitt Romney is a descendant of this union. (Strangely enough, Jon Huntsman is also a descendant of Parley, but from a different wife, Belinda Marden.)

Pratt had a family of twelve wives in all. His first wife was Thankful Halsey (1797-1837), whom he married in 1827. After she died on March 25, 1837, he soon remarried, wedding the widowed Mary Ann Frost Stearns (1808-1891) on May 14 of the same year. Mary Ann was Pratt’s monogamous wife for a number of years, then played the part of first wife in his early plural family. However, she and Pratt then separated and divorced.

Joseph Smith introduced Parley to the doctrine of plural marriage in Nauvoo, in May 1843, and required him to comply with it. According to family traditions, Parley “begged Joseph not to insist upon his entering into polygamous marriages, but Joseph was adamant.”[13] According to a letter by Vilate Kimball, wife of apostle Heber C. Kimball, Joseph Smith “even appointed one [a plural wife] for him.”[14] Parley had a conversion to the principle (reportedly after his first wife, Thankful, appeared to him, “came and told him that by taking other wives he would be adding to his own glories in the next world and thus would make her a queen over the other wives”[15]).

Therefore, Parley married his first plural wife, Elizabeth Brotherton (1817-1897), on July 24, 1843.

The following year he added Mary Wood, Hannahette Sniveley (1812-1898) and Belinda Marden (1820-1894) to his family. He then married Sarah Houston (1822-1886) in 1845, Phoebe Elizabeth Soper (1823-1887) in 1846, and Martha Monks (1825-?) and Ann Agatha Walker (1829-1908) in 1847.[16] The marriage to Monks ended in a separation. After a hiatus of a few years, he united wih Keziah Downs (1812-1876) in 1853 and Eleanor Jane McComb McLean (1817-1874), his last wife, two years later.

With these wives, Parley had thirty biological children. He liked to name his boys after Book of Mormon prophets, so they received the unusual names of Moroni, Helaman, Mathoni, Abinadi, Alma, Nephi, Lehi, Teancum, Mosiah, Omner, and Ether.

For Pratt’s wives, daily, practical family life was difficult, as Parley was a man always in motion, due both to his frequent missions, often beyond the borders of the United States, and the constant hegiras of early Mormonism. In addition, he was a writer and editor, a time-consuming occupation. Add the strains of polygamy to that, the splintering of Pratt’s limited time and resources among his wives and children, and it is clear that these wives’ marriages were challenging. His family often lived in poverty.

Mary Ann Frost became estranged from Parley in the early years of his entrance into polygamy. In Nauvoo she had married him for eternity in 1843.[17] When she and Parley were introduced to polygamy by Joseph Smith, Vilate Kimball wrote to her husband Heber C. Kimball, “Sister [M.A.] Pratt has been rageing against these things. [polygamy]. She told me herself that the devil had been in her until within a few days past.” Then Mary had a conversion: “She said the Lord had shown her it was all right. She wants Parley to go aheaed, says she will do all in her power to help him; they are so ingagued I fear they will run to[o] fast.”[18] But Mary Ann’s support for polygamy would not be consistent.

Despite the fact that Mary had been married to Parley for eternity, in February 1846, in the Nauvoo Temple,[19] she was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity, with Parley standing proxy. Then she married Parley for time. This remains an enigmatic marriage ceremony.[20]

The way in which Parley took newer wives was a factor in Mary Ann’s separation from him, as he had married some wives and had children by them without informing Mary Ann, according to family traditions. Family historian Reva Stanley, a great-granddaughter of Parley, wrote that after the birth of Belinda Marden’s first child, Nephi, on January 1, 1846, Mary Ann confronted Belinda and asked if the baby was illegitimate. Stung, Belinda told Mary Ann the truth; he was Parley's child, the result of a marriage. Mary Ann was furious.[21] After this, she separated from Parley, returning to her former home and family in Maine.

Later she came to Utah, but took the unusual step of obtaining a formal divorce from her husband in 1853. The divorce was not amicable.[22] Her story probably shows the difficulty of a “first wife” adjusting to polygamy, but it also may have resulted from Parley’s missteps as he began his extended, patriarchal family.

After Mary Ann’s departure, the strong-minded, intelligent, Belinda Marden apparently acted as “first wife” in the family.[23] Parley had met her in Boston, where she and her husband, Benjamin Hilton, had converted, but her husband turned against the church. Belinda left him, gathered to Nauvoo, and soon thereafter married Parley.[24]

Belinda stands out in Mormon history because she wrote one of the earliest and most widely–reprinted polygamy defenses, Defense of Polygamy, by a Lady of Utah, in a Letter to her Sister in New Hampshire (1854).[25] In it, she justified polygamy by praising the Old Testament prophets Abraham and Jacob and their plural families as paradigms of righteousness. She wrote, of the righteous polygamous man, that

If God shall count him worthy of an hundred fold, in this life, of wives and children, and houses, and lands, and kindreds, he may even aspire to Patriarchal sovereignty, to empire; to be the prince or head of a tribe, or tribes; and like Abraham of old, be able to send forth, for the Defence of his country, hundreds and thousands of his own warriors, born in his own house.

She described the Pratt household in glowing terms:

I have a good and virtuous husband whom I love. We have four little children which are mutually and inexpressibly dear to us. And besides this my husband has seven other living wives, and one who has departed to a better world. He has in all upwards of twenty-five children. All these mothers and children are endeared to me by kindred ties, by mutual affection, by acquaintance and association; and mothers in particular, by mutual and long-continued exercises of toil, patience, long-suffering, and sisterly kindness. We all have our imperfections in this life; but I know that these are good and worthy women, and that my husband is a good and worthy man; one who keeps the commandments of Jesus Christ, and presides in his family like an Abraham. He seeks to provide for them with all diligence; he loves them all, and seeks to comfort them and make them happy. He teaches them the commandments of Jesus Christ, and gathers them about him in the family circle to call upon his God, both morning and evening.

She closed the letter, “Dear sister, do not let your prejudices and traditions keep you from believing the Bible; nor pride, shame, or love of the world keep you from your seat in the kingdom of heaven, among the royal family of polygamists.”

Mitt Romney’s great-great-grandmother, Mary Wood, was also a well-educated young woman, and an accomplished seamstress. She had converted to Mormonism in England, and became good friends with Parley and Mary Ann as they served a mission there. Mary Wood came to Nauvoo in March 1844, and half a year later, on September 9, joined the Pratt family as a plural wife. In 1846, as the Mormons left Nauvoo, she started crossing Iowa while pregnant, and on March 22, about an hour from Mt. Pisgah, a Mormon way station that had been founded and named by Parley, she asked for her wagon to stop. She bore her first child, Helaman Pratt, Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather, there, and a half hour later, she and the baby were on their way west again.[26]

Polygamy was a factor in Pratt’s untimely death at the age of fifty.[27] His last wife, Eleanor, had been married to a non-Mormon, Hector McLean, whose heavy drinking and abusive, violent nature had put severe strains on their marriage. The couple moved from New Orleans to San Francisco, and Eleanor converted to the church there, but Hector did not, and became strongly opposed to it. Parley met Eleanor in San Francisco in 1854, and tried unsuccessfully to help her in her troubled marriage. Hector sent their three children to New Orleans to live with their maternal grandparents, to prevent Eleanor from taking them to Utah. Eleanor followed them, and this marked her final separation from Hector. Both Parley and Eleanor came to Utah in the late summer 1855, and on November 14, she and Parley were united by Brigham Young, in a religious, not a civil, ceremony. In 1856, Parley was sent on a mission to the eastern United States, and Eleanor accompanied him, hoping to regain her children. She was able to take two of her children from her parents, and she set out for Utah. Hector, meanwhile, had learned that Eleanor had married Parley, and began seeking both Eleanor, his children, and her new husband; he was helped by local lawmen and solders. Parley took refuge in Oklahoma, the “Indian Territory,” but was arrested there in May 1857. Hector McLean pressed charges of kidnapping (or theft of the children’s clothes) against the apostle, and though Pratt was acquitted of all charges for lack of evidence on May 13, soon after he was released Hector McLean shot and stabbed him to death near Van Buren, Arkansas.

As this story shows, polygamy was a persistent cause of conflict, internal and external, throughout the history of Mormonism. A number of church leaders in Nauvoo rejected Joseph Smith because of plural marriage, and it was a contributing cause to Smith’s being killed by a mob in June 1844. The LDS Church’s biggest break-off group, known for most of its history as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now it is called Community of Christ), militantly rejected polygamy.

After Parley’s death, some of his widows remarried. Mary Wood, however, could not. Though she received proposals from prominent Mormons, “always the face of Parley came to her and she could see no other,” according to a family history. Thrifty and capable, she raised her four children as a single mother. Helaman, as the oldest son, had to shoulder many burdens early, in the absence of a father. Mary despised bad language, and once, when a “prominent” man used a vulgar word in her presence, she replied, “Brother, I have some good, strong soap, a scrubbing brush, and hot water. You had better use some of it to wash out your filthy mouth.” Or at least a family history reports her saying this.[28]


Many Mormon leaders married plural wives in the Nauvoo Temple in 1846 before the Mormons abandoned Nauvoo and crossed the plains to settle Utah in 1847. Another great-great-grandfather of Mitt Romney, Miles Romney (1806-1877), who was a skilled carpenter, helped build that temple. He and his wife, Elizabeth Gaskell (1809-1884) (Gaskell later became the first name of Mitt Romney’s grandfather, Gaskell Romney), had converted to Mormonism in England in 1837 and came to Nauvoo four years later. They arrived in Utah in 1850. In 1862, Miles was called to move to southern Utah (called “Dixie” because of its hot climate and because it was a “cotton mission”) and settled in the main city in that area, St. George. He superintended the building of two masterpieces of pioneer architecture, the St. George Tabernacle and St. George Temple, and died in 1877, after falling out of a window of the Tabernacle. Miles was never a polygamist, though a bit of internet misinformation persistently credits him with having twelve wives.[29]

In Utah, Mormons began to practice polygamy openly. Brigham Young, the prophet who succeeded Joseph Smith, married approximately fifty-five wives and had fifty-seven children (though some of his wives divorced him, and some were elderly women).[30] Young’s first counselor, Heber C. Kimball, married approximately forty-three women and had sixty-five children.[31] In Mormonism, polygamy was a religious practice that was especially associated with the elite; and the higher you rose in the hierarchy, the more wives you were likely to have. In fact, if you were called as a leader, you were often instructed to take a plural wife. (In Mormon polygamy, church leaders sometimes married widows and single women to give them economic support, but this social motivation was entirely secondary to the religious motivation.[32])

In 1852 polygamy was publicly proclaimed and defended in a sermon by Orson Pratt, Parley Pratt’s brother, another brilliant early LDS apostle. This set the stage for a protracted ideological and legal conflict with Victorian-era America, with its Puritanical background, for even though Mormons were far from the centers of political power in the United States, they were still a territory in the republic, and there were reformers in the eastern states who were shocked by polygamy’s affront to Protestant and Victorian mores (they generally overlooked the fact that Abraham and some other biblical prophets had practiced polygamy). In 1854 the first Republican party platform inveighed against the “twin relics of barbarism”—slavery and polygamy—and after Congress passed the Merrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed it into law.[33] Believing that the revelations of God took precedence over laws of man, Mormons ignored it (and the law itself did not include adequate means for prosecuting polygamists). Yet, the political pressure against polygamy increased throughout the century. Utah, as a territory, was desperately seeking statehood, a status that would have given them a mechanism for legalizing plural marriage; as it happened, this patriarchal form of matrimony was one of the reasons Utah could not obtain statehood.

Despite these gathering storm clouds of conflict, Mormons enjoyed a period of “practical polygamy,” when plurality was lived openly, from about 1847 to the early 1880s. Many of Mitt Romney’s ancestors entered into plural marriage during this period.

His great-great-grandfather, Archibald Newell Hill (1816-1900), had five wives.[34] Hill was born in Scotland, but his parents moved to Canada when he was a boy. A carpenter and farmer, he married the Canadian-born Isabella Hood (1821-1847), Mitt Romney’s great-great-grandmother, in 1840 (they had three children, one of whom, Hannah Hood Hill, would marry Miles Park Romney). After converting to Mormonism in the same year, they came to Nauvoo in 1843.[35] Archibald, like Miles Romney, helped build the Nauvoo Temple. In 1847 Isabella died in Winter Quarters, near the Missouri River, while she and Archibald were preparing to cross the plains to Utah.[36] He placed his three children with relatives, and moved to Utah. Hannah was taken in by her aunt and uncle, William Swapp and Elizabeth Hill Swapp, who brought her to Salt Lake City when she was six years of age.[37] Hill became a successful businessman in Utah, worked at the church co-op store, ZCMI (Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution), and oversaw the LDS tithing office for fourteen years.[38]

He married Elizabeth Margaret Fotheringham (1828-1887) in 1851; Mary Emma Milam (1837-1913), his first plural wife, in 1853 (they later divorced, see below); and Caroline Graham (1841-1906) in 1857.[39] Fifteen years later, in 1872, he married Mary House (1848-1923).[40]

In the story of Parley P. Pratt’s death, the non-Mormon legal husband of a wife killed a man who married his wife in a polygamous marriage. In the family history of Archibald Hill there is a curious inverse mirror image of that event, in which a non-Mormon married one of Hill’s plural wives (Mary Emma Milam) in a civil marriage, and was murdered as a result.

Mary Emma had married Archibald on December 20, 1853, a few days before her sixteenth birthday, and he was thirty-seven.[41] (Marriage to young teens was more common in polygamous culture than in monogamous society because plural marriage caused increased competition for wives, which caused the marriage age of women to lower.[42]) The marriage was not too stable, as Mary left Hill to live with a non-Mormon for a short time, but she returned to Hill, and they had two children. About a decade later, on March 28, 1866, when Archibald was on a mission to England, Mary Emma left Hill’s household again, and married Squire Newton Brassfield, a non-Mormon freighter who had become wealthy during the silver boom in Austin, Nevada. (Brassfield, according to some reports, had deserted a wife in Kansas when he came to Nevada.) The marriage was civil, performed by a non-Mormon judge.

Mary Emma and Brassfield sought to take her children and possessions from Hill’s household one night, but his family and friends called the police to prevent them. The Mormon community was furious that a non-Mormon had married a woman while her polygamous husband was overseas. Brassfield allegedly drew a weapon on the police during the confrontation, and Miles P. Romney, Hill’s son-in-law, brought suit against Brassfield on the charge of resisting arrest. In court, Brassfield was released on bail, and tried a few days later. This indictment was quashed. Romney then brought suit against Brassfield on the charge of larceny. On April 2, after a long day in court, the freighter was returning to his hotel, accompanied by a U.S. marshal, when an unknown assailant suddenly opened fire, shooting him five times, then running and escaping into the dark back-streets of Salt Lake City. Brassfield died soon thereafter.[43]

Murder mysteries, in fiction, have neat solutions; in history they are often unsolved, as here. However, it is probable that a close relative of Archibald Hill was responsible.

This murder, like the killing of Parley P. Pratt, shows the social and legal difficulty of living in a culture (territorial Utah) in which two different marriage systems were operative. Sometimes they could be combined (as when a first wife was also a legal wife), but at other times each type of matrimony seemed to negate the opposing system, ideologically. In addition, this conflict resulted from a common pattern in the history of polygamy: young teenage wives, when they married older men, sometimes did not bond emotionally with them, and divorces resulted.[44]

The murders of Parley P. Pratt and S. Newton Brassfield obviously deserve more extended examination than can be given here. If we try to look at these incidents through the lens of twenty-first century morality, they have a Rashomon-like quality, especially as we look at contemporary pro-Mormon and anti-Mormon journalistic treatments of the events. Both murders seem reprehensible to us; both were consistent with cultural assumptions of the nineteenth-century south and west.[45]

Mary Emma retreated to Fort Douglas for protection, was able to gain custody of her children, and left Utah for Austin, Nevada. There she remarried.


Another great-great-grandfather of Mitt Romney was German-born Carl Heinrich (Americanized to “Charles Henry”) Wilcken (1831-1915), whose name was preserved in Mitt’s father’s full name: George Wilcken Romney.[46] Charles Wilcken stands out as a colorful character even in the varied roster of Mitt Romney’s ancestors. As a young man of large stature (Frank Cannon called him “a giant of a man”[47]), he fought for Prussia against Denmark, and the Prussian king gave him the Iron Cross for valor after the war. However, instead of following a military career in Europe, Carl Heinrich decided to go look for a brother who had gone to South America. But he kept missing the South American boat, and ended up in England, then in New York City. Here, running short of cash, he joined Johnston’s Army, and marched west to subdue the Mormons in the “Utah War” of 1857! On October 7, however, Charles Henry, disgusted with lax military discipline, deserted from the U.S. army and turned himself over to the Saints. He became a prisoner of the legendary Mormon enforcer Orrin Porter Rockwell (who let his hair grow long because Joseph Smith told him this would make him invulnerable; and who reportedly said he’d never killed a man who didn’t deserve it). Charles apparently didn’t offend “Port,” for he survived, and was baptized a Mormon two months later. After this somewhat surreal series of abrupt changes in cultural context, he cast his lot with the Mormons for the rest of his life.

Wilcken served in the Mormon military, and worked for ZCMI, and as a watermaster and miller. He became a close friend of many church leaders, and served as a trusted go-between, bodyguard and messenger for church presidents John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, and First Presidency counselor George Q. Cannon, when they were in hiding during the federal raids on polygamists in the 1880s.[48] Wilcken’s friendship with Cannon was so strong that he was sealed to him as an adopted son.[49]

Charles Henry himself became a polygamist, wedding four wives. His first wife was Eliza Christine Carolina Reiche (1831-1907), whom he married in 1853, in Germany. Eliza and two children followed him to Utah in 1860. Charles Henry and Eliza had eight children,[50] two of whom, Anna Johanna Dorothea (“Dora”) and Bertha Christina, became wives of Helaman Pratt. Charles Henry next married Mary McOmie (1836-1893), in 1861—they had four children, from 1866 to 1870, but the marriage ended in divorce.[51] Two of the children stayed with Mary, two with Charles Henry and Eliza. Wilcken married Bodil Marie “Mary” Jorgensen (1860-1892) in 1883; they had three children.[52] When Marie died in 1892, Eliza added these three children to her already large family. Unfortunately, she became an invalid at about this time, confined to a wheelchair.

In 1885, Charles Henry married Haidee Verena Carlisle (1860-1940), daughter of English converts who had settled in Millcreek, in south Salt Lake City. Church leaders on the run from U.S. marshals often hid in the Carlisle home. Charles Henry and Haidee had six children from 1889 to 1905, of whom three lived to maturity. Unfortunately, Charles Henry did not support Haidee and her family consistently, and in 1899 required them to live near Abraham, Millard County, in west-central Utah, five miles west of Delta. Haidee was extremely isolated in Abraham, with little female companionship, and Charles Henry visited only infrequently. He sold the ranch in Abraham in 1903, and Haidee and her children moved back to Salt Lake City. Living in the same house with Eliza did not work out, and Haidee asked Charles to build them a home on the property her father had left her in Millcreek. He replied, “No, there is a home in Abraham if you want it.” According to a family history, “As much as Haidee dreaded going back to Abraham, she made the choice. Charles went to Abraham with them to help them move and get located. . . . The house they moved into was the Harris home in the town . . . Charles stayed to see that they were settled, then left and never returned.”[53] Some polygamous marriages never seemed to crystallize into a full relationship—this may have been one of them. The thirty-year age difference between Charles and Haidee may have been a factor. Or Charles may have wanted to keep his polygamous family secret, and having Haidee live far from Salt Lake City would accomplish that.[54] Despite Charles Henry’s absence, Haidee never formally divorced him, and the name on her gravestone, in Delta, is “Haidee V. Wilcken.”


The 1880s, when Charles Henry Wilcken married his last two wives, marked a period of intense turmoil for the Latter-day Saints, and especially for Mormons in plural families. Polygamy had been illegal since the Morrill Act in 1862, but finally, in the 1880s, Congress began to pass laws putting teeth into the federal anti-polygamy ban.[55] In 1882 the Edmunds Act was signed into law, which disfranchised Mormon polygamists and allowed them to be imprisoned on grounds of “unlawful cohabitation.” John Taylor, the church president at the time, would not consider any compromise on this issue, vowing that Mormons would never forsake plural marriage. He went into hiding, as did many polygamists, and even married a plural wife, Josephine Roueche, on December 19, 1886, in a secret ceremony. Charles Henry Wilcken witnessed this historic event.[56]

In 1887 Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker bill which required the LDS church to give up its property to the federal government, including its prized temples, if it continued to practice polygamy. But the Mormons continued their counter-cultural quest, and a number of Mormon men were arrested by federal marshals and served terms in jail. The church’s second in command, counselor in the First Presidency for many years, George Q. Cannon, served a term in prison for cohabitation in 1888-89. Charles Henry Wilcken drove him to the penitentiary, visited him there almost daily, and drove him home when he was released.[57] One of Cannon’s statements is typical of the sentiment shared by many Latter-day Saints at the time:

A violent and vicious attack is being made upon the doctrine and practice of patriarchal marriage. . . . To comply with the request of our enemies [and give up polygamy] would be to give up all hope of ever entering into the glory of God, the Father, and Jesus Christ, the Son. . . . So intimately interwoven is this precious doctrine [polygamy] with the exaltation of men and women in the great hereafter that it cannot be given up without giving up at the same time all hope of immortal glory.[58]

In 1888, when Mitt Romney’s great-great-grandfather Archibald Newell Hill was seventy-two, he was arrested for “unlawful cohabitation” under the Edmunds-Tucker law, and served a short term in prison. His son, Samuel Hood Hill, the husband of three wives, was arrested on the same day. In the Latter-day Saint milieu, such “prisoners of conscience” were viewed as heroes.[59]

Rudger Clawson, the first Mormon polygamist to be tried under the Edmunds Act, when he was sentenced, said, “I very much regret that the laws of my country should come in conflict with the laws of God, but whenever they do I shall invariably choose the latter.” Rudger subsequently became a folk hero among the Mormons, and was called to be an apostle. Historians of polygamy have concluded that he took a plural wife on August 3, 1904, long after polygamy had been officially abandoned by the Mormon church.[60]

Thus, nineteenth-century Mormons believed that the federal government was profoundly wrong in its attempt to legislate against their non-standard marriage practice. The church newspaper, the Deseret Evening News, called the Edmunds-Tucker Act “the Infamy” or “the Edmunds-Tucker Subjugation Infamy” or simply the “Anti-Mormon Bill.”


Mitt Romney’s great-grandfathers, on his father’s side, were part of a generation that began in the open polygamy of mid-nineteenth-century Utah, but ended in a period of secret and exiled polygamy that followed the church’s public, official renunciation of polygamy in 1890.

Miles Park Romney (1843-1904) had been born in Nauvoo to Miles and Elizabeth Gaskell Romney. Like his father, he followed the trade of carpenter. He was a gifted orator and writer, and loved drama. He served in a number of bishoprics, both as bishop and counselor.

A family history tells how and why Miles Park entered polygamy. Already married to a first wife, Hannah Hood Hill (1842-1928) since 1862 (Miles and Hannah would have eleven children[61]), he returned from a British mission and built a home in Salt Lake City, “and had scarcely completed it when he took a second wife at the request of President Brigham Young.” This marriage, with Caroline (“Carrie”) Lambourne (1846-1879), a beautiful young woman born in England, was solemnized on March 23, 1867. The family history then takes the trouble to show the religious motivation for the marriage:

Nothing short of a firm belief in the divine origin of the Revelation of plural marriage could have induced Miles P. Romney to take a second wife, and certain it is that Hannah would never have permitted such a heart-breaking thing to come into her life had it not been for the testimony she had of the divinity of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This was no doubt the greatest trial that ever came into her life, for her love for her husband knew no bounds.[62]

Absolute faith in the prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young required this plural marriage. It was illegal by federal law; but if a prophet commands, theocratic ethics require that you obey. Possibly Brigham also saw Miles Park’s leadership potential, and thus instructed him to enter into patriarchal matrimony.

Miles Park and his family were called to settle in St. George in southern Utah in 1867.

The marriage to Caroline Lambourne did not last. According to a family history, “The trials incident to plural marriage proved to be too great for Carrie and after she had given birth to two children . . . she left her husband and returned to Salt Lake City to make her home.”[63] There she remarried. Miles Park next, in 1873, wedded Catherine Jane Cottam (1855-1918), daughter of English converts who had settled in St. George. Hannah wrote movingly of Catherine’s entrance into the family. Miles Park and Catherine had traveled to Salt Lake City to solemnize the plural marriage. While they were gone, Hannah worked hard to prepare a pleasant home and room for the new wife. “I worked all day and part of the night,” she wrote.

I had a room finished for Catherine with new carpet and furniture all ready for her. I cannot explain how I suffered in my feelings while I was doing all this hard work, but I felt that I would do my duty, if my heart did ache. I had such a hard time with his other wife that I feared I would have the same kind of trial again, but when I came to live with Sister Catherine it was quite different. She was considerate of my feelings and good to the children.[64]

Miles Park married his fourth wife, Annie Maria Woodbury (1858-1930), in 1877. A gifted teacher, she also moved into the large “White House” in St. George that sheltered the entire Romney family.


In 1876, Brigham Young had founded Mormon settlements on the Little Colorado River in central to eastern Arizona. Miles Park Romney was called to this Little Colorado Mission in 1881, which would turn out to be a major trial for the Romneys. They settled in St. Johns, which had a significant non-Mormon population. As the editor of a pro-Mormon newspaper, Miles became a focal point for anti-Mormon feeling, and his political enemies sought to arrest him on polygamy charges. Marshals were as active in Arizona as they were in Utah, and Catherine and Annie had to go on the underground, a common experience for plural husbands and wives during the 1880s.[65] Once the marshal came to the door with subpoenas for Miles’s plural wives, but Hannah delayed him while Catherine and Annie slipped out the back and hid in a ditch.[66]

Faced with widespread legal prosecution of polygamists in Utah and Arizona, LDS Church President John Taylor sent Mormons to found colonies in Mexico. The purpose of these colonies was to allow the Saints to practice plural marriage without prosecution by United States officers. They were sanctuaries for polygamists.[67] As we have seen, in 1885 Miles Park moved to the colonies with Annie. It was a significant symbolic event; he and his family were giving up all the benefits and advantages of American culture and government so that they could live polygamy in peace.

A year later Miles sent for first wife Hannah to join him. Her trip to Mexico, through Apache country in Arizona, with only teenaged sons to accompany her, became part of family legend. Raiding Apaches, such as Geronimo, were still a serious danger. At one point, seventeen-year-old Miles Archibald Romney and fifteen-year-old Gaskell Romney (the grandfather of Mitt Romney) came upon a party of whites who had been slaughtered by Indians days before. They calmly removed the shoes from the dead horses, put them on their own horses, and continued their journey.[68] Hannah and her children made it to Mexico safely.

After another year, Catherine and her family were able to travel to Mexico.

The Romneys lived near Colonia Juárez first, in the northern part of the state of Chihuahua, then, in 1899, moved about fifteen miles northeast, to a farm near Colonia Dublán. Miles Park helped construct many buildings in Mexico. Life in the colonies was a struggle, one more pioneering experience for these hardy Mormons, veterans of southern Utah and the Little Colorado settlements in Arizona. Here they faced health challenges—at one point thirteen of Miles Park’s twenty children were down with malaria.[69] There were tensions with local Hispanics, and Indians were also dangerous. Hannah Romney wrote of her time in Juárez, “Many a night I sat up in bed trembling for fear the Mexicans would come to disturb us as they had threatened to run us off the farm.”[70] However, Miles and his hard-working children eventually were able to live safely and prosperously in Mexico.

Miles Park’s last wife was Emily (“Millie”) Henrietta Eyring Snow (1870-1947), a widow, whom he married in 1897.[71] Though Miles Park generally treated his wives equally, both in his affections and in economic matters,[72] the previous wives of Miles Park reportedly resented his attentions to Millie.[73] It was a common pattern in Mormon polygamy for a younger wife to become a “favored” wife, causing tensions with the previous wives.

Miles Park had thirty children with his five wives.[74]

The Romney and Eyring families were closely connected in the colonies. For example, two of Miles Park’s daughters, Caroline Cottam and Emma, married Edward Christian Eyring (1868-1957) in 1893 and 1903. Edward, a wealthy rancher and farmer, was a son of German convert Henry Eyring (1835-1902), who served as a counselor to Anthony Ivins in the Juárez Stake Presidency. A number of prominent Mormons descend from this family. Henry Eyring (1901-1981), a world-famous chemical scientist, was a son of Edward and Caroline.[75] His son, Henry B. Eyring (born in 1933), is present-day first counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church. Camilla Eyring Kimball (1894-1987) was also a child of Edward and Caroline; she married Spencer W. Kimball, who became an apostle and then president of the LDS Church.[76] When Spencer courted Camilla, the Edward Eyring family was living in Pima, Arizona, after leaving Mexico in the exodus of 1912.[77] The two wives shared a large farmhouse, Caroline and her children living on the north side, Emma and her children on the south side. Two grandchildren of Edward write, “Strict equality was Edward’s approach to plural marriage, so each Saturday he packed his leather valise and moved from one half of the house to the other.”[78]

In 1902 apostle Matthias Cowley ordained Miles Park a patriarch, an office that allows the holder to give prophetic blessings.[79] He died two years later, at Dublán. Hannah was inconsolable. She wrote, “When my husband died I was so overwhelmed with grief I feared I would lose my mind. We had lived together for forty years through all kinds of circumstances. I felt entirely alone with a family of children and a big farm. I couldn’t sleep nights and would walk the yard in hopes I would meet him. I even prayed to die that I might be with him.”[80] But then she realized she must live for her children, so turned toward life once again.


Another of Mitt Romney’s great-grandfathers, Helaman Pratt (1846-1909), entered polygamy in much the same way that Miles Park had. He had married his first wife, Emeline Victoria Billingsly (1852-1910), in 1868. But Helaman probably showed early leadership potential, and therefore, as a family history tells us, “On April 20, 1874, Helaman, on the advice of Brigham Young, married Dora Johanna Dorothy Wilcken as his second wife.”[81] Anna Johanna Dorathea “Dora” (1854-1929) and Helaman eventually had nine children. Later, in 1898, he married Bertha Christine Wilcken Stewart (1863-1947), Dora’s younger sister.[82] Helaman had twenty children with his three wives.

Family traditions record that this was a successful plural family. “Helaman asked for her [Dora’s] hand in marriage,” according to one history. “This he did with the full consent of his wife Victoria. The two wives understood and loved each other and helped each other with their families during the long months and years that Helaman was away on his many missionary endeavors.”[83]

Bertha was a teacher, as a remarkable picture of her as the only female member of the faculty of the L.D.S. College (later the L.D.S. Business College) in Salt Lake City shows. She had married before, as a plural wife, a marriage that ended in a painful divorce. When she married Helaman, though, she wrote,

Now began a great contrast between this marriage and the other one. I have been recognized, respected, loved and esteemed, as much so as any wife could desire without infringing upon the right of others. Among the many fine qualities of Helaman Pratt was justice. He loved and honored every member of his family and treated them all as nearly alike as was humanly possible. I lived with my sister Dora from choice. I was offered a home alone, but I preferred to live with my sister’s family.[84]

Pratt’s plural family dynamics present a striking contrast to his father’s tumultuous extended family life. Helaman limited his family to three wives; and he apparently took his plural wives with the full consent of his first wife.

Helaman Pratt had served missions in Mexico (in fact, he had been part of the first Mormon exploring mission to Mexico from 1875 to 1876, and had been a mission president in Mexico twice in the 1880s), so he was a logical leader for the colonies after they were founded.[85] He arrived there as a permanent resident in 1887, making the same momentous choice to leave the United States that Miles Park had, and Dora followed him via railroad. On the same railroad car was Catharine Cottam Romney and her family; the two women became fast friends.[86] When the colonies became a stake with Anthony Ivins as a stake president (an office somewhat equivalent to a Catholic bishop, while the Mormon bishop is somewhat equivalent to a Catholic priest), Helaman served as a counselor to Ivins, along with Henry Eyring, mentioned above.[87] Helaman acquired a ranch in the Sierra Madre Mountains, Cliff Ranch, where Dora and part of the Miles Park Romney family, Catharine and her children, lived for a time.[88]


In Utah, legal and political pressure inevitably mounted until church president Wilford Woodruff, faced with the loss of all church facilities and any Mormon voting rights in Utah, produced in 1890 what was called the “Manifesto” in which he stated that Mormons would give up plural marriage. This, along with the church’s commitment to staying out of civil politics, allowed Utah to become a state in 1896.

However, the observant reader will have noted that one of Miles Park Romney’s marriages, and one of Helaman Pratt’s, took place after 1890. Though the LDS church had publicly and officially disavowed polygamy in 1890, church leaders (including the president, his counselors, and many of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) continued to secretly authorize and contract new plural marriages, sometimes outside of America (in Mexico, Canada, and on boats), sometimes in America.[89] Many post-Manifesto plural marriages were solemnized in Mexico. Typically a couple would arrive in Mexico with authorization from the First Presidency, and President Ivins, later an apostle and member of the First Presidency, solemnized the plural marriage. Ivins performed Helaman Pratt’s marriage to Bertha Wilcken in 1898.[90]

Two common misconceptions about Mexican post-Manifesto polygamy are that polygamy was legal in Mexico, and that the Manifesto did not apply outside the United State. In fact, polygamy was illegal in Mexico, and church leaders had publicly agreed to discontinue polygamy throughout the world, not just in the United States.[91] This transitional period of LDS history included many mixed and contradictory messages which have left a legacy of uncertainty in the LDS church that continues to this day. Many contemporary Latter-day Saints do not know that much post-Manifesto polygamy was authorized for about fourteen years after 1890. It is a fascinating, complex tale of internal and external cultural conflict, skillfully analyzed by historians D. Michael Quinn in “L.D.S. Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904,” (1985) and B. Carmon Hardy in his Solemn Covenant: the Mormon Polygamous Passage (1992).

News of authorized post-Manifesto plural marriages inevitably leaked out, and when Reed Smoot, one of the Twelve Apostles, was voted into the U.S. Senate in 1904, the Senate held hearings questioning whether he could be a legitimate senator, and examined the LDS church’s involvement in post-Manifesto polygamy. These hearings were a considerable embarrassment to Mormon church leaders.[92] Under great pressure, Joseph F. Smith, then president of the church, asked two apostles to resign from the Council of the Twelve, and released what is known as the “Second Manifesto” on April 6, 1904. Since that time, Mormon leaders have stopped authorizing or practicing polygamy (with a few exceptions), and the LDS Church became thoroughly monogamous, as it is today.

However, one feels about polygamy, it is hard not to admire the dogged tenacity of the Mormons who practiced this non-standard form of marriage in defiance of the weight of American popular and political opinion and legal pressure throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.


Dora became the “cheese and butter maker” in the family economy. Eventually, the Pratts settled in Colonia Dublán, in a comfortable house and farm. Dora served as Stake President of Y.L.M.I.A. in the Juarez Stake until 1912.

Helaman died in 1909, in Colonia Dublán, and Emeline followed him the next year. Dora and Bertha, however, lived for decades after Helaman’s death. While many Mormons left the colonies in the exodus of 1912, Dora and Bertha stayed. However, they often visited their children in Utah and other states. Bertha died in 1929, and Bertha in 1947, both in Colonia Dublán.


Mitt Romney’s grandfather was the abovementioned Gaskell Romney (1871-1955), son of Miles Park and Hannah Hood Romney.[93] Gaskell married Anna Amelia Pratt (1876-1926), daughter of Helaman and Dora Wilcken Pratt, in 1895. They were both part of a transition generation: born into polygamist households, but living their adult lives as monogamists. Gaskell and Anna Amelia had seven children, one of whom, George Wilcken Romney (1907-1995), born in Colonia Dublán, was Mitt Romney’s father. After Anna died in 1926, Gaskell married her sister, Amy Pratt (1890-1976). There is a marvelous photograph of him as a baby, held by Charles Henry Wilcken, his great-grandfather, the veteran of Prussian Wars, the Utah War, and bodyguard of John Taylor and George Q. Cannon as they faced legal prosecution in the 1880s.

The majority of Mormons left Mexico in 1912 as they were not safe during the Mexican Revolution that had begun in 1910. (In addition, there was less motivation for Mormons to live in Mexico after the Second Manifesto in 1904.) Some colony refugees were able to return to Mexico; there are two colonies of mixed Anglo and Hispanic Mormons in Chihuahua, Mexico today, Colonia Juárez and Colonia Dublán (the latter now part of the town Nuevo Casas Grandes). It is a remarkable experience for a modern Mormon from the United States to visit these communities; in architecture and culture, they are much like two Utah towns miraculously transplanted to the middle of Mexico.[94] In Colonia Juárez is a substantial LDS school, the Academia Juárez, and an LDS temple.

However, many colony refugees came to the United States, and never returned to Mexico; they were at first reduced to poverty once again. Gaskell and Anna were part of this exodus back to America, and they brought five-year-old George W. with them. Other Romneys, descendants of Miles Park, still live in Mexico.[95]

As is fairly well-known, the Gaskell branch of the Romney family eventually landed on their feet, financially, in the states.

In 1931 George W. married Lenore LaFount (1908-1998). They had four children, one of whom was Willard Mitt Romney, born in 1947, in Detroit, Michigan.


From this colorful background, full of non-standard marriages carried out in defiance of the U.S. government, comes the man who is the standard bearer for the superconservative Republican party, which is veering ever farther to the right. The political rise of George and Mitt Romney is an improbable story, in one sense. In another sense, it is typical of the transformation of Mormonism from a nineteenth-century “counter-cultural” church to a twenty- and twenty-first-century church that has aspired to transform itself into a quintessentially “normal” American organization.[96]

When he was governor in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney positioned himself as a moderate Republican. But as he seeks to become the Republican nominee for president, he has shifted hard to the right. He certainly wants to portray himself as a quintessentially “normal” American, and so he has downplayed his ancestors’ participation in a non-standard marriage practice. In his book, Turnaround, he writes proudly of his pioneer ancestors in Mexico, but never explains why Mormons went to Mexico, which is an important part of the story.[97] Hannah Hill Romney, after describing her primitive home when she first came to Mexico, wrote, “That was a very crude home, different from what I had been used to, but I was thankful for it as my dear children and I would be with their father and we could live in peace, with no marshals to molest us or separate us again.”[98]

In defense of Romney, one could argue that the modern LDS church has collectively “forgotten” its history of polygamy, for the most part, and that he simply has the viewpoint of a typical modern Latter-day Saint.[99]

However, Mitt Romney has dealt with polygamy in passing as he has campaigned against the recognition and legalization of homosexual marriage—a key cause for the “social conservatives” in the Republican party. In an interview with Fox News on May 10, 2012, Romney said: “I believe that marriage has been defined the same way for literally thousands of years, by virtually every civilization in history, and that marriage is literally by its definition a relationship between a man and a woman.”[100] This statement labels historic and modern Muslim nations, and Judaic culture through much of history, as less than civilized; and it shows Romney studiously ignoring his own polygamous ancestors, whom he presumably does not view as sub-civilized.

Romney has even taken the extraordinary step (for a Mormon with prominent polygamous ancestors) of stating that prosecuting plural marriage in nineteenth-century Utah was morally correct. In a congressional hearing in 2004, he brought up the history of Mormon polygamy to support a constitutional amendment banning “non-standard” marriage. Romney said, “There was a long time ago a state that considered the practice of polygamy [legal] and as I recall the federal government correctly stepped in and said, ‘That is not something the state should decide,’” Romney told the committee. “We have a federal view on marriage; this should not be left to an individual state.”[101] (Actually, Utah was a territory when the federal government passed anti-polygamy laws.)

Nineteenth-century Mormons, including Mitt’s ancestors from Parley P. Pratt to Miles Park Romney, profoundly disagreed with this position. Polygamy was clearly put forward as a revelation given to modern prophets (and the revelation given to Joseph Smith on polygamy, Doctrine and Covenants 132, is still included in Mormon scripture), and it would be hard for Mitt Romney to reject the theological and ethical basis for nineteenth-century Mormon polygamy without denying the prophetic calling of church leaders such as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor. As the 2012 campaign for president continues, it will be interesting to see if Mitt returns to the issue of polygamy and continues to take the side of the federal government in its punitive legal campaign against his ancestors in nineteenth-century Utah and Arizona.





[1] Thomas Cottam Romney, Life Story of Miles P. Romney (Independence, MO: Miles P. Romney Family, 1948), 177. Miles Park had been indicted for polygamy, and also for perjury in relation to a land claim. In the view of Mormons, this land claim charge was drummed up when marshalls could not find Miles Park’s wives as witnesses against him for polygamy. Faced with an anti-Mormon legal system that was dealing out three year sentences in Detroit for polygamy and/or trumped-up perjury charges, Miles Park, advised by President Taylor, skipped bail and moved to Old Mexico. See ibid., 141-42, 160, 166, 168. JoAnn Blair and Richard Jensen, “Prosecution of the Mormons in Arizona Territory in the 1880s," Arizona and the West 19.1 (Spring 1977): 25-46, 33-34. Investigative reporter Jeff Biggers emphasizes Romney’s legal jeopardy due to his testimony concerning the land claim. “In the 19th century, the Romneys fled the law,” Salon, Sept. 9, 2011, at (accessed Oct. 8, 2012). However, Blair and Jensen, ibid., p. 4, cite polygamy first as his main motivation for skipping bail and fleeing to Mexico. “Fearing he would be prosecuted for polygamy, as well as for the earlier charge of perjury regarding his land claim, Romney skipped bond and fled to Mexico.” See also Charles S. Peterson, Take Up Your Mission: Mormon Colonizing Along the Little Colorado River 1870-1900 (Tuscon, AZ: The University of Arizona Press, 1973), 228-32.

[2] This paper focuses on Mitt Romney’s ancestors on his father’s side. However, there was some polygamy on his mother’s side. See Amy Tanner Thiriot’s excellent blogpost, “A Brief Guide to Mitt Romney’s Polygamous Heritage,” May 15, 2012, at (accessed May 31, 2012). Lewis Robison (1816-1883), Mitt’s great-great-grandfather, married four wives. Mitt is a descendant of Clarissa Duzette Robison (1822-1891), the first wife. Elnora Warner Berry Dalton (1822-1865), Mitt’s great-great-grandmother, first became the wife of Robert Berry, but then married Simon Dalton as his second wife. Dalton subsequently married two other women. Elnora’s daughter, Rosetta Berry, married Charles Robison, son of Lewis and Clarissa; these were Mitt’s great-grandparents.

[3] As quoted in The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Containing Revelations Given to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, with Some Additions by his Successors in the Presidency of the Church (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 292.

[4] “Keeping Covenants and Honoring the Priesthood,” Ensign (Nov. 1993): 36–39. One might find examples in Mormon history of church members not following the counsel or commandments of church presidents. However, generally, obedience to the prophet was and is the watchword.

[5] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: the Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (SLC: Signature Books, 1997); Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (NY: Knopf, 2005), 644n1. Historians who accept more than thirty-three are D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (SLC: Signature Books, 1994), 587-88, and George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “... but We Called It Celestial Marriage” (SLC: Signature Books, 2008).

[6] See documents cited in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 10.

[7] The Revised Laws of Illinois (Vandalia: Greiner & Sherman, 1833), 198.

[8] Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, 88-89, 634; B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 1992), 363-88.

[9] Klaus J. Hansen, Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967) and “The Political Kingdom of God as a Cause for Mormon-Gentile Conflict,” BYU Studies 2.2 (1960): 241-60; Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, 105-42 and The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (SLC: Signature Books, 1997), 226-313; David L. Bigler, Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896 (Spokane: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1998). While some might argue with the details in these books, few would deny that nineteenth-century Mormonism sought for a political kingdom.

[10] For Parley P. Pratt, see now Terryl Givens and Matthew J. Grow, Parley P. Pratt: the Apostle Paul of Mormonism (NY: Oxford University Press, 2011); also Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, 571; Reva Stanley, The Archer of Paradise (Caldwell, ID: the Caxton Printers, 1937); Peter L. Crawley, ed., The Essential Parley P. Pratt. Classics in Mormon Thought, 1 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990). For Pratt’s family, “Parley P. Pratt His Twelve Wives,” in Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage 17:205-52; and the superb Jared Pratt Family Association website, at (accessed Jan. 18, 2012).

[11] Pratt’s biographers, Givens and Grow, refer to him as the Apostle Paul of Mormonism. This seems excessive. Parley left nothing that has been canonized in Mormon scripture, for example, while much of the New Testament was written by Paul. But it is true that Pratt’s missions were extraordinarily successful, and his writings influential.

[12] William B. and Donna T. Smart, eds., Over the Rim: The Parley P. Pratt Exploring Expedition to Southern Utah, 1849-1850 (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1999).

[13] Stanley, Archer of Paradise, 163.

[14] Vilate Kimball, letter to Heber C. Kimball, June 27, 1843, Winslow Whitney Smith Papers, box 5, folder 2, LDS Church Archives; see also Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 97.

[15] Stanley, The Archer of Paradise, 164.

[16] For Ann Agatha, see her death certificate.

[17] Family Record of Parley P. Pratt, March 11, 1850, in Belinda Marden Pratt's journal, Belinda Marden Pratt Papers, MIC A 9, microfilm of holograph, Utah State Historical Society (hereafter, USHS); Mary Ann Stearns Winters, "Mothers in Israel," Relief Society Magazine 3.8-4.8 (Aug. 1916-Aug. 1917), 643. Joseph Smith may have cancelled this sealing, as Hyrum had not been authorized to perform it, but the sealing was performed again. Givens and Grow, Parley P. Pratt, 205.

[18] Vilate Kimball, letter to Heber C. Kimball, June 27, 1843, Winslow Whitney Smith Papers, box 5, folder 2, LDS Church Archives; see also Stanley Kimball, Heber C. Kimball, 97.

[19] Mormon temples are not buildings for meetings on Sundays; instead they are places for esoteric rituals, such as baptism for the dead, endowments, or eternal marriage ceremonies. Non-Mormons are not allowed to enter temples.

[20] Some scholars have concluded that Mary Ann married Joseph Smith during his lifetime, and this is a theory worth looking at. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 207-9; Gary James Bergera, “Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841-44,” Dialogue 38.3 (Fall 2005): 1-74, 20-21. But the data for Mary and Parley and Joseph is so contradictory and problematic that I do not accept her as a wife of Joseph Smith, during his lifetime.

[21] Stanley, The Archer of Paradise, 189.

[22] Parley P. Pratt, Family Record.

[23] Givens and Grow, Parley P. Pratt, 321. See her autobiography on the Jared Pratt Family Association website, (accessed June 19, 2012).

[24] Givens and Grow, Parley P. Pratt, 229.

[25] B. Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy, Its Origin, Practice, and Demise (Norman, OK: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 2007), 95-97; Givens and Grow, Parley P. Pratt, 328-30.

[26] “Mary Wood Pratt,” a sketch, at (accessed on Feb. 14, 2012).

[27] Steven Pratt, “Eleanor McLean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” BYU Studies 15 (winter 1975): 225-56; Givens and Grow, Parley P. Pratt, 371-91; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “An American Album, 1857,” American Historical Review 115 (Feb. 2010): 1-25.

[28] “Mary Wood Pratt,” a sketch.

[29] Caroline Eyring Miner, Miles Romney and Elizabeth Gaskell Romney and Family (Salt Lake City : Publishers Press, 1978). Miles, probably with Elizabeth standing proxy, had been married to twelve deceased women on May 6 and 8, 1872 in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. They were Ellen Slater, Bridget Gaskill, Hannah Gaskill, Mary Gaskill, Dorothy Athinson, Bridget Athinson, Elizabeth Fisher, Bridget Fisher, Elizabeth Fisher, Bella Fisher, Ann King, Margaret Romney. Thus he would have been seriously committed to being a polygamist in eternity, but remained a monogamist in this life. Email from Craig Foster, June 4, 2012, citing Temple Records Index (Family History Library film no. 1267083 – Qare-Sloan surnames), which refers to Book H, pp. 135-36. See also Cordelia Hebblethwaite, “Mitt Romney's Mormon roots in northern England,” at (accessed July 25, 2012).

[30] Jeffery Ogden Johnson, “Determining and Defining ‘Wife’: The Brigham Young Households,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 20.3 (fall 1987), 57-70, 69.

[31] Stanley Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), appendix.

[32] The economic support motivation for plural marriage is emphasized in Kathryn Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001).

[33] Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 55-83.

[34] For Hill, see John Wessman, “Archibald Newell Hill,” in Youngberg, Conquerors of the West: Stalwart Mormon Pioneer, 1100-2, also Junith Roberts, “Alexander Hill,” 1099. “Samuel Hill,” in Biographical Record of Salt Lake City and Vicinity Containing Biographies of Well Known Citizens of The Past and Present (Chicago: National Historical Record Company, 1902), 474. Frank Esshom, cp., Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah (Salt Lake City: Western Epics, Inc., 1966), 934, 121. In 1888, Archibald served a prison term for polygamy, see below.

[35] Hannah Hood Hill Romney, autobiography, Our Pioneer Heritage, 5:262. For different dates, Lucy Brown Archer, “Archibald Newell Hill,” at the Orson Pratt Brown website, (accessed Jan. 29, 2012); introduction to Hannah Hood Hill Romney, autobiography, Our Pioneer Heritage, 5:262.

[36] At the Daughters of the Pioneers museum in Salt Lake City is a green tea canister on which a paper written by Archibald Hill is attached. It says that the canister was bought by Isabella in Farmington in Toronto, just before their marriage [on] February 27, 1840. It gives her death date as March 20, 1847. See Amy Tanner Thiriot’s superb genealogical blog, The Ancestor Files, at (accessed May 30, 2012).

[37] Archer, “Archibald Newell Hill.”

[38] “A Pioneer’s Funeral,” obituary, in Deseret Evening News, Jan. 3, 1900, p. 2.

[39] There is a brief obituary for Caroline in the Improvement Era 9 (Aug. 1906), viewed in LDS Library 2006. “Died . . . -In Salt Lake City, June 26, Caroline Graham Hill, born Alabama, March 15, 1841, came to Utah in 1852, and became the wife of the late Patriarch Archibald N. Hill.” See also her death certificate.

[40] She died on Jan. 1, 1923, in Salt Lake City, see her death certificate. This gives her birth date as November 7, 1848, and her birthplace as Bath, England. Her father was Jervis House. Her name is given as Mary House Hill, and Archibald Hill is listed as her (deceased) spouse. According to Roberts, “Alexander Hill,” 1099, Archibald married a sixth wife, Ester Sainsbury, on the same day, January 22, 1872, but I have not yet been able to verify this marriage.

[41] There are alternate, later marriages dates for this marriage, but a legal document from the Brassfield case conclusively supports this date. “The Habeas Corpus Case,” Daily Union Vedette, April 12, 1866, p. 2. Connell O’Donovan, “ ‘Let This Be a Warning to All Niggers’: The Life and Murder of Thomas Coleman in Theocratic Utah,” at (accessed Jan. 25, 2012), 23n48. In addition, Archibald and “Mary Emma Milam Hill” (born on December 29, 1837, in Caldwell County, Missouri) received patriarchal blessings from John Smith together on March 26, 1854 (Patriarchal Blessings Book, vol. 12:658-59, from a card index), another solid piece of evidence that they were married in 1853.

[42] This is a complex issue, but this statement is generally true, according to conservative BYU scholar Kathryn Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 96. See also Todd Compton, “Early Marriage in the New England and Northeastern State, and in Mormon Polygamy: What Was the Norm?” and Craig Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age of Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” both in Newell Bringhurst and Craig Foster, eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 184-232 and 152-183.

[43] See legal documents for Brassfield’s two trials, Salt Lake County Probate Court, Civil and criminal case minute books, 1860-1887, Series 3939, reel 1 (I am indebted to Connell O’Donovan for sharing these with me); Deseret News Weekly, “Shot Dead” in “Home Items,” Apr. 5, 1866, 5(141); Apr. 12, 1866, 4(148); “Murder Most Foul,” The Daily Union Vedette, 5.76, Apr. 4, 1876, p. 4. O’Donovan, “ ‘Let This Be a Warning,’” 22-25 (the best treatment of this event, though the Brassfield murder is not the main focus of the paper). Daynes, More Wives Than One, 201. Brigham H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930), 5:184-88. Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, 4 vols. (SLC: George Q. Cannon & Sons Co., 1892-1904), 2:143-47.

[44] Another example in Thomas G. Alexander, Things in Heaven and Earth: the Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff, a Mormon Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991), 135.

[45] Kenneth L. Cannon II, “Mountain Common Law: The Extralegal Punishment of Seducers in Early Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly 51.4 (fall 1983): 310-17, 326; Givens and Grow, Parley P. Pratt, 373-74.

[46] See Charles Henry Wilcken’s obituary, Improvement Era 18 (May 1915), viewed in the CD-ROM, LDS Library 2006. His gravestone, in the Salt Lake Cemetery, gives his birth date as 1831; his death certificate has birth and death dates as Oct. 5, 1830-Apr. 9, 1915. See William C. Seifrit, “Charles Henry Wilcken, an Undervalued Saint,” Utah Historical Quarterly 55:4 (fall 1987), 308-21. Amy Pratt Romney, “History of Charles Henry Wilcken, 1831-1914,” USHS, and Amy Wilcken Pratt Romney, interview conducted by Elden G. Hurst, “Stories from the Life of Charles Henry Wilckens,” MSS A 375, USHS.

[47] Frank J. Cannon and Harvey Jerrold O’Higgins, Under the Prophet in Utah: the National Menace of a Political Priestcraft, (Boston: The C. M. Clark Publishing co., 1911), 24.

[48] For example, Whitney, History of Utah, 4:412. Other examples in Seifrit, “Charles Henry Wilcken.”

[49] Seifrit, “Charles Henry Wilcken,” 315. For the Mormon practice of linking men as adopted sons to prominent leaders, see Samuel M. Brown, “Early Mormon Adoption Theology and the Mechanics of Salvation,” Journal of Mormon History 37.3 (summer 2011): 3-52; Jonathan A. Stapley, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism,” ibid., 53-188.

[50] Amy Pratt Romney, “History of Caroline Christine Eliza Reiche Wilcken, 1830-1907,” in Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage, 3:49-50; for her birth and death dates, see her death certificate.

[51] Romney and Hurst, “Stories from the Life of Charles Henry Wilckens,” 8. She later married Philip Roberts, according to some genealogical records.

[52] “Mary Jorgensen Wilcken,” born in Denmark in November 1855, death date May 6, 1892, is buried in the Salt Lake Cemetery, grave location I 19 8 4E. She was married to Charles Henry on December 14, 1883.

[53] “Biography of Haidee Carlisle,” 8 pp., typescript, MSS A 1625, USHS.

[54] While

[55] Edwin Brown Firmage and Richard Collin Mangrum, Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 160-262; Gordon, The Mormon Question; Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham, 281-302 .

[56] Quinn, “LDS Church Authority,” 29-30. See below.

[57] Davis Bitton, George Q. Cannon: A Biography (SLC: Deseret Book, 1999), 292-93, 295; Seifrit, “Charles Henry Wilcken,” 316.

[58] George Q. Cannon, “Editorial Thoughts,” Juvenile Instructor 20.9 (May 1, 1885): 136.

[59] Whitney, History of Utah, 3:636-7; Stan Larson, ed., Prisoner for Polygamy: The Memoirs and Letters of Rudger Clawson at the Utah Territorial Penitentiary 1884-87 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1993), 219.

[60] Larson, Prisoner for Polygamy, 17-22, 41.

[61] Aside from Gaskell, Mitt Romney’s grandfather, another of their sons, George Samuel Romney (1874-1935), was the father of Marion G. Romney (1897-1988), LDS apostle after 1951 and member of the First Presidency after 1972. Marion was born in Colonia Juárez.

[62] Romney, Life Story of Miles P. Romney, 61.

[63] Romney, Life Story of Miles P. Romney, 327.

[64] Hannah Hood Hill Romney, autobiography, in Our Pioneer Heritage 5:267-78.

[65] Romney, Life Story of Miles P. Romney, 160. Jennifer Moulton Hansen, ed., Letters of Catharine Cottam Romney, Plural Wife (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 21-111. Peterson, Take Up Your Mission, 232. Kimberly Jensen James, “’Between Two Fires’: Women on the ‘Underground’ of Mormon Polygamy,” Journal of Mormon History 8 (1981): 49-61.

[66] Romney, Life Story of Miles P. Romney, 168.

[67] Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham, 329-30, 366-70; F. Lamond Tullis, Mormons in Mexico: the Dynamics of Faith and Culture (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1987); Thomas Cottam Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico (SLC: Deseret Book, 1938; republished by the University of Utah Press in 2005).

[68] Romney, Life Story of Miles P. Romney, 187.

[69] Lebra N. Foremaster, “The Miles P. Romney Family,” in Carter, Treasures of Pioneer History, 3:209. Hansen, Letters of Catherine Cottam Romney, 117-19.

[70] Hannah Hood Hill Romney, autobiography, 280.

[71] Romney, Life Story of Miles P. Romney, 283.

[72] Romney, Life Story of Miles P. Romney, 173.

[73] Hardy, Solemn Covenant, appendix, #163.

[74] Hansen, Letters of Catherine Cottam Romney, 286-87.

[75] Edward L. Kimball, “Harvey Fletcher and Henry Eyring: Men of Faith and Science,” Dialogue 15.3 (autumn 1982): 74-86.

[76] Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball: Twelfth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (SLC: Bookcraft, Inc., 1977), 90-91.

[77] See below.

[78] Kimball and Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball, 90-91.

[79] Rudger Clawson, diary, Aug. 28, 1902, in Stan Larson, ed., A Ministry of Meetings: The Apostolic Diaries of Rudger Clawson (SLC: Signature Books, 1993), 475.

[80] Hannah Hood Hill Romney, autobiography, 281-82.

[81] Amy Pratt Romney, “Dora W. Pratt,” in Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage, 3:80-81.

[82] “Bertha Wilcken Pratt,” Autobiography, 16 pp., typescript, USHS.

[83] Mary Pratt Parrish, “Helaman Pratt,” at

 (accessed Feb. 24, 2012).

[84] As quoted in Parrish, “Helaman Pratt.”

[85] F. Lamond Tullis, “Early Mormon  Exploration and Missionary Activities in Mexico,” BYU Studies 22.3 (summer 1982), 308.

[86] Hansen, Letters of Catharine Cottam Romney, 121; Romney, Life Story of Miles P. Romney, 189.

[87] Larson, Diaries of Rudger Clawson, Aug. 28, 1902, 475.

[88] Hansen, Letters of Catharine Cottam Romney, 168, 286.

[89] H. Grant Ivins, “Polygamy in Mexico as Practiced by the Mormon Church, 1895-1905,” available at Utah State Historical Society, also on New Mormon Studies CD-ROM (SLC: Smith Research Associates, 1998). For background on this period of Mormon history, in which polygamy went underground again, see D. Michael Quinn, “L.D.S. Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 (spring 1985): 9-104; Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890–1930 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 60-73; and B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 1992). A talk by D. Michael Quinn on post-Manifesto polygamy can be found at (accessed Jan. 18, 2012).

[90] Hardy, Solemn Covenant, appendix II, #152.

[91] Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 173-75; Alexander, Mormonism in Transition, 61; Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham, 353.

[92] Michael Paulos, ed., The Mormon Church on Trial: Transcripts of the Reed Smoot Hearings (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2007).

[93] For his birth and death dates, see his death certificate.

[94] Gibert Cunningham Terry, “A Little Utah In Mexico: The Transformation Of A Desert Region In Chihuahua Into A Rich Farming Country By Mormon Colonists,” The World’s Work: A History of Our Time 20 (June 1910): 13071–13076. Available in Google Books (accessed Jan. 18, 2012).

[95] Nick Miroff, “In besieged Mormon colony, Mitt Romney’s Mexican roots,” Washington Post (23 July 2011), at (accessed Jan. 18, 2012).

[96] Gustive O. Larson, The "Americanization" of Utah for Statehood (San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1971); Alexander, Mormonism in Transition.

[97] Mitt Romney and Timothy Robinson, Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, 2004), 8-9. 

[98] Autobiography, 276.

[99] Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham, 390.

[100] Neil Cavuto, “Gov. Romney: Marriage issue isn't about fundraising,” interview transcript, Fox News, May 10, 2012, at (accessed August 24, 2012).

[101] “HATCH DROPS PLANS FOR OWN AMENDMENT, SUPPORTS FMA,” The Salt Lake Tribune, Thursday, June 24, 2004. Available online at (accessed Feb. 15, 2012). Thanks to Lavina Fielding Anderson, B. Carmon Hardy, D. Michael Quinn, Connell O’Donovan, Craig Foster and Joe Geisner for comments on this paper. Any mistakes are entirely my own.