Tracing my Mormon pioneer roots because my story began with those who came before.
Not every Mormon man was permitted to practice polygamy. Generally, these marriages needed approval from church leaders. Daniel Wood had as many as thirteen plural wives, which shows he was held in high regard and was perceived to have the means to care for them and the children these marriages would produce.
Being someone who likes order, I organized Daniel Wood’s wives into three categories, the mysterious, the divorcees, and the faithful four.
First is the mysterious Nancy and Ann, who married Daniel in Canada after his conversion. There aren’t details about who Nancy and Ann were, if they had children, and most importantly, why they only received a passing journal notation. Neither of them immigrated to America with Daniel and his wife, Mary. My mind wants to spin a dramatic plot around why their time with the Wood family was so brief.
The next group of wives, the divorcees, includes Sarah, Eliza, Lydia, and Laura. Each married and then later divorced Daniel. Their marriages to Daniel were not their first time as brides, as each was either widowed or divorced before marrying Daniel.
Laura divorced Daniel because she said he was not a good husband and treated their daughters poorly. Sarah describes an elaborate divorce settlement agreement between herself and Daniel. Other than that, details are disappointingly sparse.
I had hoped to call the divorcees “the Feminist Four,” thinking they stormed out of a marriage and religion thick with misogyny and racism. But it appears they remained church members and most remarried.
The final group of wives includes Mary, Peninah, Emma, and Margaret, whom I call “the faithful four.” Daniel was their only husband, whom they remained married to until death.
Most of Daniel’s wives were English or Canadian. Once, he married two women on the same day. He also married two sisters, Lydia and Laura. His son John continued this tradition by marrying a pair of sisters himself. Interestingly, Daniel’s wife, Eliza, was the mother to the two daughters that married his son, John.
Because women’s pioneer stories have not been documented as much as men, their full ocean of thoughts and feelings was lost, stuffed down in the corners of worn apron pockets.
Not all his wives had children, but the ones who did bore Daniel about thirty biological kids. He was a stepfather and adopted father to more. His last child was born when he was nearly sixty years old.
His children moved throughout Utah, Idaho, California, and Mexico spreading Mormon beliefs well beyond the Salt Lake Valley. One son was a collector of historic church landmarks and artifacts, opening a museum with oddities like the death masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. One grandson became a church apostle.
Before my understanding of racists expanded to include sweet grandmothers, woke liberals, and those like myself with black friends and family, I gauged my potential for friendship with other white women on whether they were kind. Back then, I naively believed nice white women could not be racist. Boy, was I wrong.
Daniel’s loving wives upheld racism within the home and church. They birthed, nursed, and parented their children with the church’s belief they were precious and chosen because of their skin complexion.
White women have always been active accomplices in oppression. White women allowed black women to be enslaved and raped. We saw black and brown children ripped from their parent’s arms while safely tucking our own in bed. White women fought for voting rights while leaving black and brown women voiceless. We packed picnics for lynchings, sewed klan robes, and made Trumpism the disease it is. Frothing, we attend school board meetings lamenting against diversity education because we are afraid our children might feel a twinge of guilt.
Over and over, we chose silence. We fucked men with good hearts and racist ideologies. Our vapid tears water the seeds of fragility. Systemic and individual racism continues today because of white women like Daniel’s wives and me.