I wrote The Wives of Billie’s Mountain to better understand my great grandmother and her religion.
I am not Mormon and polygamy has always been an unsettling concept for me. How did my smart, hardworking, industrious ancestors accept it? Even at times embrace it? How did it work between wives? How did it work for the children? And how did it affect families when they were turned away from the Church because they practiced what the Church taught?
I was conflicted—fascinated and repelled at the same time. I had to dig deeper. So I went back further. To Mary’s grandmother, Mary Mott, who was one of the early Mormons. She and her husband, Zebedee, along with the rest of the church were forced out of Ohio, then Missouri, then Illinois. Upon the threat of arrest or death, they joined the long wagon train over the Mormon Trail to the territory of Utah, where they could practice their religion freely.
There they lived in a state of anomie—with no real outside influence—as polygamy ballooned.
Why did they stay? This is what I had to discover.
They had given up everything—families that had turned their backs on them, or families that were just too far away to ever see again. They buried children on the trail, leaving them in shallow graves. They bore children in wagons, not even stopping for labor. They buried husbands and sisters and mothers and fathers. And most, like my ancestors, were without resources to leave even if they’d wanted to.
I tried to do these women justice. Their introduction to polygamy; their given, and sometimes forced, obedience. Their belief in a man who demanded all from them.
This is their story. Due out next year.