Chapter 8.
Miracle Tale

Mary Elizabeth Rollins (Lightner Smith Young)

Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.
Copyright (c) 1997. Signature Books, Inc. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

[Permission is granted to include the chapter from "In Sacred Loneliness" on your website, Sincerely, Gary James Bergera, Signature Books.]

Soon after a childbirth in 1843, Mary Elizabeth Lightner became sick With "inflammation of the bowels" and almost died, according to her autobiography. Her mother was summoned and brought consecrated oil - "she anointed me, and prayed for me," wrote Mary, who began to convalesce. After lying in bed for two weeks without letting anyone touch or move her (which caused her excruciating pain), she allowed herself to be lifted out of bed, wrapped in quilts, and placed in a rocking chair while her mother changed her bed sheets. As she sat in the chair, a sudden storm broke outside, "and our House was struck by Lightning and all of us badly shocked, the door casing was torn out and Struck Mother on the Shoulder and bruised her terribly. All were sensless for some time."

Mary regained consciousness first, looked around at her household of six, and thought all were dead. She called for her husband, Adam, and, receiving no answer, staggered into the next room to find him entirely rigid. Even throwing a bucket of water on him elicited no response. She sent for a doctor, who wrapped Mary in a quilt and, after some time, managed to revive Adam, who said that the revivification was extremely painful for him and that he would have preferred death. Mary's children and mother all revived. Curiously enough, Mary herself had been entirely cured of her illness. She reports that people came from miles around to see their house, which was torn to pieces.

This is but one of many extraordinary incidents in Mary Elizabeth Lightner's long, varied life. She was another polyandrous wife of Joseph Smith, marrying both Smith and Brigham Young while still cohabiting with her first husband, Adam Lightner. But in contrast to Zina and Presendia Huntington, she never left her "first husband," even though he was a non-Mormon. Curiously, Adam was never antagonistic toward the Latter-day Saint faith and was content to live among Mormons for most of his life, including twenty years in Utah, where he died. Mary, like Presendia Huntington, Louisa Beaman, and Patty and Sylvia Sessions, lost children

Page 205 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

under tragic circumstances and lived a difficult life. As she grew old in southern Utah, she felt isolated and neglected by the church. Nevertheless, she remained faithful to her religion, retained her reverence for Joseph Smith, and frequently gave public speeches in which she testified that she had been married to him.

Mary left a short autobiography, some sketches and talks, and a number of letters. The autobiography is a remarkable document - moralistic, heroizing, and full of the miraculous. The centerpiece of the story is Joseph Smith as omniscient seer, who makes a prophecy about Mary's life that is fulfilled in all its details. Miracle and prophecy were the neo-biblical psychic environment in which the early Mormons lived.

I. Shipwreck

Mary Elizabeth was born on April 9, 1818, in Lima, Livingston County, New York, about twenty miles southwest of Palmyra, to twenty-six-year-old John Porter Rollins, a native of New Hampshire, and twenty-two-year-old Keziah Keturah Van Benthuysen, who had been born in New York. Mary had two siblings-an older brother, James Henry, who was born in 1816, and a younger sister, Caroline, born on May 1, 1820.

Her father traded for a living, transporting sheep and cattle across Lake Erie in large boats, then selling them in Canada. Six months after Caroline's birth, in November, he was traveling by boat on Lake Ontario when a storm appeared suddenly and his boat shipwrecked. He was killed along with nearly everyone else on the ship. Mary, two-and-a-half years old, had lost a father.

II. "His Face Outshone the Candle"

After John Rollins's death, the family lived for years with Keziah's sister, Elizabeth Gilbert, and her husband, Algernon Sidney Gilbert, a merchant. James Henry, and probably Mary, worked in their uncle's stores while growing up. Around 1828 the Gilbert / Rollins clan moved to Mentor, Ohio, then to nearby Kirtland, where Sidney became a partner of Newel K. Whitney in the Gilbert - Whitney store.

In 1830 the Gilbert and Rollins families began to hear rumors of the Book of Mormon, and in November they listened to the preaching of Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson, who were traveling through Ohio during their mission to the "Lamanites," or Native Americans, thought to be remnants of Book of Mormon peoples. The four men bore an impressive testimony of the restoration of the New Testament church in nineteenth-century America. Contemporary newspapers report that Oliver "predicted the destruction of the world within a few years, that he expected to found a city of refuge, that he proclaimed that he and his associates were the only ones on earth qualified

Page 206 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

to administer in the name of Jesus and that they were going to gather and convert the Indians, who were the lost tribes of Israel." Here apocalyptic fervor joined with authoritarianism in the earliest Mormonism.

The Rollinses and Gilberts could not resist this call. In November 1830, when Mary was twelve, she was baptized by Parley P. Pratt in a stream near the Isaac Morley farm, while Oliver Cowdery, Ziba Peterson, and Peter Whitmer witnessed. Mary's mother and Newel Whitney converted at about the same time, and Sidney Gilbert joined the church in December. Local pastor Sidney Rigdon and many of his congregation also converted in November, so an important nucleus of the new movement was organized in Kirtland.

When Isaac Morley obtained one of the first copies of the Book of Mormon, Mary went to his house just before a meeting started, hoping to borrow it while he was at the meeting. Isaac protested that he himself had not yet had a chance to look at the book, but the twelve-year-old pled so earnestly that he let her have it till the following morning. "If any person in this world was ever perfectly happy in the possession of any coveted treasure I was when I had permission to read that wonderful book," she wrote. Her family all took turns reading until late at night, then Mary awakened very early the next morning and memorized the first verse of 1 Nephi. When she returned the book, Isaac remarked, "I guess you did not read much in it." She recited the first verse verbatim and summarized 1 Nephi. Morley was amazed and said, "Child, take this Book Home and finish it. I can wait."

Later, in early February 1831, Joseph Smith moved to Kirtland and visited the Gilbert home where he was surprised to see the copy of the Book of Mormon, still rare in Ohio. Newel Whitney told him the story of Mary's intense desire to read it, and Smith asked to meet this young woman. Mary wrote, "I was sent for; when he saw me, he looked at me so earnestly, I felt almost afraid [and I thought, 'He can read my every thought,' and I thought how blue his eyes were.] after a moment, or too he came and put his hands on my head and gave me a great Blessing, (the first I ever received) and made me a present of the Book."

A few evenings later she visited the Smith house with her mother and attended a meeting Joseph had organized. Mary sat on a plank resting on boxes. After prayer and singing, Smith talked, then suddenly stopped:

And his countenance Shone, and seemed almost transparent - it seems as though the solemnity of Eternity rested upon all of us..., [He) seemed almost transfixed, he was looking ahead and his face outshone the candle which was on a shelf just behind him. I thought I could almost see the cheek bones, he looked as though a searchlight was inside his face and shining through every pore. I could not take my eyes from his face.

Page 207 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

Smith asked, "Who do you suppose has been in your midst this night?" Someone suggested an angel, but the prophet did not answer. Then Martin Harris dropped to his knees and clasped Smith's legs:

I Know Brother Joseph; it was our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Joseph replied, Martin, the Spirit of God revealed that to thee, Yes, Brethren our Saviour has been in Your Midst, and talked with me face, to face and he has given me a Commandment to give unto you - he has comanded me to seal you up unto Everlasting life, and he has given you all to me, to be with me, in his kingdom, even as he is in the Fathers kingdom - and he has commanded me to say unto you, that when you are tempted of Satan, to say get thee behind me Satan, for my salvation is secure.

Smith then knelt and prayed for a very long time. "I felt he was talking to the Lord and the power rested upon us all," Mary wrote. "The prayer was so long that some of the people got up and rested then knelt again." Later she reported that Smith's words and appearance at this time were "photographed" on her brain. She regarded this as the first time she was "sealed" to the Mormon prophet ("He has given you all to me"), though she was "sealed up to eternal life" by being "given" to Smith, their advocate with Jesus, along with the rest of the small congregation. Only later would "seal" come to mean "marry" or "link" in Mormon theology.

III. Jackson County

In the fall of 183 1, when Mary was thirteen, she, with her family and the Gilberts, travelled to Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, in a company including the Burks, Partridges, Morleys, and Phelpses - the first expedition to settle the place Smith had designated as the center stake of Zion. There Uncle Sidney opened a dry goods store, and Keziah married her second husband, John M. Burk, a widower. Mary evidently continued to live with the Gilberts much of the time after her mother's remarriage.

Like the Huntington sisters, Mary received the gift of tongues at an early age. She often heard Oliver Cowdery and Thomas B. Marsh speak ecstatically during Sunday meetings and was curious to know what they said, so she prayed that she would be able to understand their strange utterances. One night the "Brethren" came to the Gilbert home for a meeting and "were filled with the Spirit, and spoke in toungnes." Mary "was called upon to interpret it" and "felt the spirit of it in a moment." Her interpretation predicted that the Saints "would be driven" from Jackson County by mobs. The High Council and Oliver Cowdery protested stridently

Page 208 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

and even wrote to Joseph Smith in Kirtland concerning the matter, Smith answered that Mary had interpreted correctly: "Interpretations belonged to the Priesthood, but, as they had not asked for the gift, and I had it was taken from their Shoulder and put onto mine. "

Another time, when she was fourteen, she interpreted one of Oliver Cowdery's sermons that was reportedly spoken in an Indian language, and she affirmed that an Indian agent present asked her where she had learned the language. Mary wrote, enigmatically, "I lost the gift after we were driven." Apparently she stopped interpreting tongue-speech after leaving Jackson County. I

While still there, she worked for Peter Whitmer, a tailor, and gained a reputation as a good seamstress. Lilburn Boggs, who had just been elected lieutenant governor, asked Peter to make a suit for his inauguration, so Mary went to Boggs's house to stitch the collars and face the coat. The Boggs family liked her so much that they tried to induce her to leave Mormonism and live with them, but she refused.

The New England-born, "clannish," politically unified, theocratic Mormons had moved into a state dominated by slave-owning southerners on the American frontier. Tensions were inevitable, and they were resolved in typical frontier manner, through extralegal means-the destruction of property and physical intimidation. Anti-Mormon vigilantism erupted on July 20, 1833, when a mob, enraged at a mildly abolitionist Mormon editorial, attacked the office of The Evening and the Morning Star, which was then printing the early Mormon scripture, the Book of Commandments, a precursor to the Doctrine and Covenants. When members of the mob brought out the printed sheets of the book, Mary and Caroline were hiding and watching. Mary heard them talking about destroying the edition, so while the mob was busy "prying out the Gable end of the House," the girls each ran and gathered an armful of the sheets. Although the men saw them and shouted at them to stop, Mary and Caroline darted away and hid in a large cornfield. Some of the men rushed after them but could not find them. Mary and Caroline later delivered the sheets to Sister Phelps, the printer's wife, who was overjoyed to receive them.

On this same night Bishop Edward Partridge was tarred and feathered. In early November the Gilbert store was plundered, and soon the Mormons were forced to leave Jackson County. Mary, her mother, and the Gilberts settled in Clay County, where Mary began to teach a small school.

In early June 1834, when Mary was sixteen, Zion's Camp-a paramilitary expedition led by Joseph Smith-marched from Ohio to Missouri. The Gilbert household provided accommodations for many of the brethren,

Page 209 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

including Smith and his brothers Hyrum and William, his uncle Jesse, and Luke and Lyman Johnson. When cholera broke out, Uncle Gilbert was one of the earliest to be struck down, and he died on June 29, followed by Jesse Smith and three others at the Gilbert home. Soon after, Zion's Camp returned to Kirtland.

IV. Far West

Mary at sixteen must have been pretty, for she attracted the attention of two men, one of them Joseph Smith. In later years she wrote that Smith was commanded to marry her at this time, apparently after he returned to Kirtland: "In 1834 he was commanded to take me for a Wife, I was a thousand miles from him, he got afraid." It was not until much later in Illinois, however, that Mary heard about this revelation. Meanwhile, in Missouri in 1835 another young man, Adam Lightner, a twenty-five-year-old non-Mormon originally from Pennsylvania, began to court her. They married on August 11 when she was seventeen. At first they lived in Liberty, but soon moved to Far West, Caldwell County, where Adam opened a store. On June 18, 1836, Mary bore her first child, Miles Henry.

In the latter part of 1837, Mary and Adam opened a store in Milford, ten miles from Far West, then moved back to the city. While they were gone, a mob ransacked the building. Violence increased in 1838. Once Adam, though non-Mormon, was sent by Mormons to buy a keg of powder, which he managed to smuggle past the enemy-thus demonstrating his close attachment to the Latter-day Saints. If he had been caught, he might have been killed.

On October 31, the day after defenseless Mormons were massacred at Haun's Mill, the state militia came to Far West to level it with a cannon. Boggs, now governor, reportedly gave orders to spare only two families, the Clemensons and the Lightners. But when General Lucas requested them to leave, Mary states that she refused. Heber C. Kimball stepped between her and Lucas, saying, "Sister Lightner, God Almighty Bless you, I thank my God for One Soul that is ready to die for her Religion, not a hair of your head shall be harmed for I will wade to my knees in Blood in your behalf." This self-heroizing anecdote is typical of early Mormon autobiography.

Far West was spared, but Smith and other church leaders were captured and narrowly escaped execution. A few days later Mary and Adam decided to visit his brother forty miles away in Lexington, but then they heard that anti-Mormons were intending to intercept them to testify against Joseph Smith. "Adam loved the Prophet and his brother, " wrote Mary, so the Lightners detoured to Louisville, Kentucky, to see Adam's uncle. But he had relocated to Pennsylvania, so they were forced to rent

Page 210 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

a room for six months in Kentucky, where they exhausted their resources. Mary painted a few pictures and sold them and tried tailoring, but she made little headway without recommendations. When a man hired her to make some shirts, he only paid her $.30 each, a devastating underpayment. She spent the money on molasses and cornmeal, which she said kept the family alive for several days, but Adam and the baby became sick from eating nothing but cornmeal.

V. Nauvoo

Eventually the Lightners heard that the Mormons were regrouping in Illinois and that Henry Rollins was in Alton, just north of St. Louis, so they sold their meager possessions and traveled northwest. When they arrived at Henry's house, however, there were already two families living with him. Mary managed to obtain some medicine for her sick baby and found some painting students. The Lightners transferred to a boarding house, then moved to Mary's mother's cabin in Montrose, across the Mississippi from Nauvoo. There Mary Elizabeth bore her second child, Caroline, on October 18, 1840.

Three weeks later, Adam unable to find work, the Lightners moved to Farmington, fifty miles east of Nauvoo, and settled into a two-room house. Adam practiced carpentry and Mary sewed. But their bank failed and they lost their savings, so returned to the Burks' home near Nauvoo. At one point Adam had loaned two thousand dollars to some church "brethren," but they took advantage of the bankruptcy law and defaulted on their debt. One paid with a barrel of pork, but it turned out to be full of weevils. During this difficult time Adam was again unemployed, so Mary began giving painting lessons, and her pupils included Julia Murdock Smith (Joseph Smith's adopted daughter) and Sarah Ann Whitney (later one of Smith's plural wives). With the money she earned, she bought a Nauvoo lot near Joseph Smith's.

VI. Patriarchal Marriage

By Mary's own account, she had had spiritual presentiments that she would become Joseph Smith's wife: "I had been dreaming for a number of years I was his wife. I thought I was a great sinner. I prayed to God to take it from me." However, the prophetic dreams were fulfilled - Smith proposed to her in early February 1842 at the home of Newel and Elizabeth Whitney. In her later life she retold the story a number of times, which allows us to construct a fascinating, detailed composite account showing how Smith approached his prospective wives. First, after he introduced the idea of plural marriage to Mary, he told her that God had instructed him to marry her in 1834, but he had been in Kirtland and she in Missouri. He said that he had been frightened of the idea at first, but, he

Page 211 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

said, as Mary remembered it, "The angel came to me three times between the year of '34 and '42 and said I was to obey that principle or he would slay [destroy] me."

Then he made an important statement: "Joseph said I was his before I came here and he said all the Devils in hell should never get me from him." In her autobiography Mary wrote that Smith told her, "I was created for him before the foundation of the Earth was laid. " So we have the doctrine of spirits matched in the pre-existence, a concept that gives important insight into Smith's practice of polyandry. It fits him into the context of the broader "spiritual wife" doctrine of the Burned-over District, in which spiritual affinities between a man and a woman took precedence over legal but nonsacral marriage. Perhaps the Mormon doctrine of the pre-existence derived in part from this influence.

Smith also told Mary, "I know that I shall be saved in the Kingdom of God. I have the oath of God upon it and God cannot lie. All that he gives me I shall take with me for I have that authority and that power conferred upon me." In other words, Smith linked plural marriage with salvation, as he did in later marriages. If Mary accepted him as her husband, her place in heaven would be assured.

She did not agree to the marriage at first-she was married to and presumably in love with another man, and was skeptical of Smith's doctrine. She asked why, if an angel came to him, it had not appeared to her? She asked pointedly, wasn't it possible that the angel was from the devil? Smith assured her that it had come from God. She replied that she would never be sealed to him until she had a direct witness from God. He told her to pray earnestly, for the angel had told him that she would have a witness. As the conversation ended, he asked her if she would turn traitor and speak of this to anyone. She replied, "I shall never tell a mortal I had such a talk from a married man!"

She was understandably troubled by this proposal. Nevertheless, she prayed about it and discussed it with the only person Smith would allow her to confide in, Brigham Young. One day she knelt between three haystacks, and, she wrote, "If ever a poor mortal prayed I did." She even prayed with her hands upraised, following the pattern of Moses. A few nights after that she was in her bedroom where her mother and aunt slept also, when, she later recounted, "a Personage stood in front of the Bed looking at me. Its clothes were whiter than anything I had ever seen, I could look at its Person, but when I saw its face so bright, and more beautiful than any Earthly being Could be, and those eyes pearcing me through, and through, I could not endure it, it seemed as if I must die with fear, I fell back in Bed and Covered up my head." As she hid under

Page 212 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

her covers, her aunt awoke and saw "a figure in white robes pass from our bed to my mother's bed and pass out of the window."

Mary soon related this to Smith, who explained the sign to her and predicted events that would take place in her family. "Every word came true. I went forward and was sealed to him. Brigham Young performed the sealing, and Heber C. Kimball the blessing." This happened toward the end of February 1842 in the upper room of Smith's Red Brick store, the makeshift Masonic Hall. The marriage was "for time, and all Eternity." The prophet's sixth wife, approximately, Mary was twenty-three years old and pregnant with her third child by Adam Lightner during the ceremony. He was out of town, "far away" at the time, so probably did not know about it.

Mary later commented on the polyandrous aspect of her marriage: "I could tell you why I stayed with Mr. Lightner. Things the leaders of the Church does not know anything about. I did just as Joseph told me to do, as he knew what troubles I would have to contend with." So Smith instructed her to stay with her husband. One obvious advantage to such a modus operandi was that it would preserve the secrecy of their polyandrous union.

About a month after the marriage, on March 22, George Algernon was born to Mary in Nauvoo. Miles Henry was now six, Caroline one and a half. On April 14 Mary was accepted into the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, and on June 9 she contributed $ 1.00 to it. Adam Lightner was back in Nauvoo by July 1, when he bought a hat at the Joseph Smith store.

VII. Pontoosuc

Once again unable to find employment in Nauvoo, Adam soon secured a job cutting cordwood fifteen miles up the river at Pontoosuc. He bought a log house there and Mary prepared to follow him. However, Joseph Smith was distraught at his new wife's decision to leave him and the Saints, "and while the tears ran down his cheeks - he prophesied that if we attempted to leave the Church, we would have plenty of Sorrow; for we would make property on the right hand, and lose it on the left, we would have sickness, on sickness, and lose our children. and that I would have to work harder than I ever dreamed off [of] and at last when you are worn out, and almost ready to die you will get back to the Church." Mary thought these were "hard sayings" as her life had already been "about as hard as possible." But the rest of her autobiography is written in the form of a narrative showing the complete fulfillment of Smith's prophecy, ending with her arrival in Utah after years of misfortune spent apart from the Saints. Before she left, Smith rebaptized the Rollins and Lightner families and "tried hard to get Mr. Lightner to go into the Water," but Adam said he did not feel worthy.

Page 213 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

In Pontoosuc, the Lightners scraped out a meager existence. Mary continued to make some money sewing, while Adam cut cordwood. Then George suddenly became ill and died: "I was alone with him at the time, husband had gone to a neighbors for assistance. an Old Lady helped me dress him. and Mr Lightner had to make the Coffin - as he was the only Carpenter in the place. the two men that dug the Grave, and a little Girl was all that went to Bury my darling." Mary felt that Smith's prophecy was beginning to be fulfilled.

Soon afterwards, on May 3, 1843, Mary's and Adam's fourth child, Florentine Mathias, was born after which their house was struct by lightning, as related above. They stayed in Pontoosuc through 1844. Joseph and Hyrum were killed in late June, so Mary, now twenty-six, had lost her second husband, though she continued to live with her first.

Soon after, the Lightners suffered fevers and chills for six months. Mary contracted "bilious fever" and was again expected to die. However, she had a dream in which an angel came to her and told her that if she went to Nauvoo and asked for a Brother Cutler who worked on the temple to administer to her, she would be healed. She wanted to obey the warning but could not obtain transport. Finally her brother sent a boy with an ox team for her, so at the point of death she set out for Nauvoo, accompanied by Adam and the children.

A "green liquid" flowed from her mouth as she travelled, "and the hue of death was on my countenance." In Nauvoo they asked the local residents if there was a Brother Cutler who worked on the temple, and she was told yes, Alpheus Cutler. He was summoned, administered to Mary, and immediately, she wrote, "I got up, and walked to the fire alone in 2 weeks I was able to take care of my Children."

VIII. "Without Compass or Rudder"

The Lightners stayed in Nauvoo. On January 30, 1845, at Parley P. Pratt's home, Mary received her endowment, thus joining the elite group of the Holy Order. As a widow of Joseph Smith, she would have enjoyed some prestige, and this led to her next marital union. In the fall of 1844 Brigham Young and Heber Kimball offered themselves to Smith's widows as proxy husbands and Mary accepted Young's proposal. She was sealed to him for time in a proxy marriage on May 22, 1845: "I was also sealled to B Young as proxy for Joseph," she wrote, though she continued to live with Adam. As was customary, this marriage was repeated in the Nauvoo temple, in this case on January 17, 1846, the same day she received her temple endowment.

When the church left Nauvoo, however, Mary and Adam stayed behind. She evidently took her marriage to Brigham seriously and remembered his departure with some bitterness. He had asked her if she

Page 214 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

wanted to leave with the Saints, and she had said yes. A few days later, however, she learned from her stepfather that Young and his family were crossing the Mississippi on the ice. "I felt stuned, the thought came to me that Poligamy was of the Devil - and Brigham knew it, or he would have cut off his right hand before he would have left me ... I wept myself sick, and felt to give up, and go among the Gentiles in fact I felt as though I was like one in any open Boat at Sea, without Compass or Rudder."

As the Mormon population of Nauvoo dwindled, anti-Mormons prepared to ransack the city and Mary's brother Henry tried to rally resistance against a mob with a flag. According to a family tradition (possibly embellished into a heroizing anecdote), "At that critical moment Aunt Mary Lightner ... stepped up and said, 'I'll carry that flag.' One of the captains came up to her, 'If you and your brother and your husband and your husband's people will come out of Nauvoo we will murder all the rest of the people.' Mary turned on her heel and cried, 'Blow away, I'll go back and die with them.' " Despite their threats, the mob reportedly scattered.

IX. The Root Huckster

After Brigham reached Winter Quarters, he sent word to Mary to come join the Saints. One wonders if he sent for Adam also, or if he would have preferred for Mary to live openly as his own plural wife, as was the case with Zina Huntington. But the Lightners were experiencing utter poverty at the time and did not even have sufficient clothes to wear, let alone money for outfitting a wagon and team. Instead, Mary and Adam moved to Galena, in the northwest comer of Illinois, and lived there comfortably for a while. On February 9, 1847, Mary's next child, John Horace, was born joining Miles, eleven, Caroline, six, and Florentine, four.

In the last week of June, Mary was washing and somehow pressed a needle into her wrist "close to the pulse." It broke off and half of it was left beneath the skin. Despite her best efforts, neither she nor Adam was able to extract it, and her wrist must have become infected. She consulted "4 different Doctors but could get no help," she wrote. "Neither could I Sleep, only when I was perfectly Exhausted ... it was September before I could sew." Calamities seemed to follow Mary and her family wherever they went.

The Lightners soon moved to St. Croix Falls, a small lumber mill town on the St. Croix River in the northwestern part of Wisconsin, after accepting an invitation to manage a hotel. The St. Croix river valley was a popular resort area known for its beauty and hunting. After prospering for a time, Adam contracted "brain fever" and the baby came down with chills and fever. Mary, tending her husband and child, noticed that her own feet were beginning to swell and turn purple. One doctor recommended amputation, another disagreed; but after a while, to Mary's relief, the swelling

Page 215 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

retreated. Aunt Gilbert came to visit during the crisis and Mary was glad for the help and to have another Mormon to talk to.

In the latter part of 1847 a traveling salesman came to the Lightner home selling a cure-all root and offered samples to the whole family, including Aunt Gilbert. In a few moments they were all violently ill, and Mary's eleven-year-old son, Miles, and her four-year-old son, Florentine, died quickly. Aunt Gilbert was pronounced dead and was laid under sheets with the two boys. Doctors, when they arrived, predicted that Mary and Adam would also die, but they slowly recovered. Then, to the amazement of all, Aunt Gilbert began to have convulsions under the sheets. She was alive. Her spasms continued for two weeks, but she survived.

Local men pursued and captured the poisoner, whose motive, according to Mary, was hatred of Mormons. The posse brought him to the hotel, put a noose over his neck, and opened Mary's window so she could watch the execution from her sickbed. "He was an elderly man with a pleasing Countenance," she wrote. But she begged them to try him first. However, with the help of an accomplice, he escaped that night. Mary later learned that this "quack Doctor" became lost in the Woods and that both of his feet froze until the flesh dropped off the bones. He suffered great pain in his feet for the rest of his life, and he was thus able to escape men, Mary wrote, but not God. Divine vengeance on persecutors of the Latter-day Saints is another persistent theme in Mormon folklore.

Mary grieved for her two dead sons, then turned to raising Caroline, seven, and little John Horace. The next spring, in 1848, the Lightners moved forty miles down the St. Croix River to Stillwater, Washington County, on the Minnesota bank of "Lake" St. Croix, a widening of the river. Stillwater was then a bustling lumber community with five stores and two hotels. In the spring of the following year, they moved to Willow River, later Hudson, on the Wisconsin side of the "lake," ten miles south of Stillwater.

On April 3, 1849, Mary, thirty-one, bore a second daughter, Elizabeth Lightner, in Stillwater. Soon after this, Adam bought a sixty-five-acre farm opposite Stillwater, where he built a four-room house and acquired a horse and cow. But the horse was found dead in the stable a week later, and then a hired man drove their cow so fast that it also died. This was such a blow to the family that they accepted an offer to manage another hotel. Mary wrote that they were glad to get into a warm house, as the winters were severe in Wisconsin. However, finding the work at the hotel too demanding, they eventually returned to their farm.

On April 9, 1851 (Mary's own birthday), she bore another girl,

Page 216 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

Mary Rollins Lightner, at Willow River, who joined Caroline, eleven, John, four, and Elizabeth, two. The Lightners then managed a boarding house at Willow River for two years. Mary's next child, Algernon Sidney, was born on March 25, 1853. When the baby was four weeks old, Mary learned that her sister, married and living in Farmington, west of Peoria, Illinois, was very ill and close to death, so Mary returned to Illinois to attend her for five weeks. "She died strong in the faith of Mormonism so Called for that I was truly thankful," Mary wrote. Caroline left four children: Mary Jane, fifteen, Frances, thirteen, Orlando, eleven, and William, seven. Mary took Mary Jane back with her, then evidently sent for the others later.

On November 10 Algernon died in Willow River; Mary had now lost four of her eight children. The next year the Lightners moved to Marine, on the Minnesota side of the lake, and managed a popular hotel, the Lightner House. There Mary Elizabeth entertained a mysterious old man whom she suspected of being one of the three Nephites - in Mormon folklore. the immortal, wandering Native American apostles from the time of Christ. After she gave him food, he commended her Christianity, then disappeared with no explanation. A Three Nephite story is a necessary part of any repertoire of the miraculous in early Mormonism.

Three years later, on March 17, 1857, Mary, nearly thirty-nine, bore another boy, Charles Washington. Caroline was now eighteen, John, eleven, Elizabeth, nine, and Mary, seven. Caroline married Thomas Jewell on October 18, 1858, but as Mary Elizabeth entered the grandmotherly era of her life, she still had not had her own last child. After two years in Marine, the Lightners bought a two-story home and a large lot on which they built a five-story hotel for the booming tourist business. They went into debt to prepare for occupancy, expecting to repay their obligations within a few months. But once again bad fortune dogged their steps. The Civil War began in 1861 and many of their boarders suddenly left to enlist. The Lightners could not meet their mortgage and soon lost their property. After this devastating blow, Mary remembered Joseph Smith's prophecy and felt that she had suffered enough. She convinced her husband that it was time to gather with the Saints in Utah. They sent letters to Henry in southern Utah, then moved to Hannibal, Missouri, for a year, waiting for a response from him. But they received no reply. They moved back to Chisago, Chisago County, Minnesota, where Adam Jr., her last child, was born on October 28, 1861, when she was forty-three. John was now fourteen, Elizabeth, twelve, Mary Rollins, ten, and Charles, four. Mary apparently was also raising Caroline's children.

X. To Zion

Letters finally came from Henry, so Mary and Adam made arrangements

Page 217 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

for the journey west. On May 25, 1863, they boarded the steamboat Canada for St. Louis. This would not be an easy journey. The two younger boys, Charles and Adam, contracted the measles on board, but there were no beds for them, so they could not even he down. After the Lightners transferred to the Fanny Ogden for St. Joseph, they sat near a box with a corpse for two days, and there was talk of the ship being attacked because of the war.

At St. Joseph they boarded the Emilie for Omaha, where they met other Saints bound for Utah. They drove six miles to Florence through a rainstorm without a cover on their wagon, then slept in wet bedding. Mary had cholera the next night and baby Adam Jr. had "bowel complaint," probably dysentery or severe diarrhea. Other immigrants had smallpox and two of them died. But on June 20, Edwin Bingham, husband of Mary's half-sister, Phebe, arrived from Utah to help the Lightners cross the plains.

Mary's overland diary is a lively specimen. She records the sicknesses of her family -on August 10 "Elizabeth Crazy with the teethache al night & so for 2 days." Buffalo and prairie dogs are noted with interest. Problems with horses and livestock occurred frequently. She often described food - on August 15 she wrote, "Breakfast Coffee Bacon fried Cakes." There were moments of low spirits - on August 15 Mary noted: "Our Cow very sick no Milk for 2 or 3 days ... sand & Gravel the whole day - almost sick and feel cross for if there is a Bad place in the Camp ground we are sure to get it." Sometimes she described landscapes with the appreciation of an artist. On August 31 she "passed through the Mountains in a Winding Kind of way, And they look Sollemn in their Grandeur, rising one above another and their verdure of Many Colored hues & {Roks} of Various Shades looked (to me) to be beautiful indeed - & had I time & the Necessary Implements I should take a Scetch of our Camp at the foot of a Mountain with the Cattle feeding or lying down on its Sloping sides."

XI. Minersville

On September 15 the Lightners arrived in Salt Lake City. Mary possibly visited her proxy husband, Brigham, at this time, though the autobiography is silent on the subject. Two days later Henry, whom Mary had not seen for seventeen years, met her, and after the joyful reunion, he served as the Lightners' guide in the long journey to southern Utah. When Mary arrived in Minersville five days later, she reunited with her mother and half sister, Phebe Burk Bingham. The autobiography ends: "We were thankful to find a home, and friends after an arduos journy of one thousand Miles in an ox Team - besides our trip on steamer from Stilwater Minnesota to St Louis, then up the

Page 218 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

Missouri to Omaha. " Many Mormons felt that the noteworthy part of their lives ended when they reached Utah and settled down to a peaceful life untroubled by "gentile" mobocracy. Mary's later life can be sketched chiefly through her outgoing and incoming correspondence.

Minersville, as the name indicates, was connected with several mining projects-Henry himself had discovered the first lead mine in Utah in 1858. Adam began doing carpentry work, and Mary took up sewing and schoolteaching. Mary Rollins later wrote of her upbringing in Utah: "[I] came across the plain in ox team 1863 walked barefoot nearly all the way ... [In Minersville I] went barefoot every summer untill I was 18 years old. Gleaned wheat barefooted. helped to kill and drive chintz bugs off of 5 acres of wheat and save the wheat one year, for Uncle Henry Rollins." Henry was a bishop in Minersville for many years. Meanwhile, Mary now became a grandmother in good earnest as Elizabeth married Joseph Orson Turley in 1865. In 1870 John Horace united with Louisa Abigail Burk and Mary Rollins was joined to William Jenkins Carter. Charles Washington married Lydia Williams in 1883.

Mary Elizabeth's relationship with her other husband, Brigham, is curiously distant, but occasionally their paths crossed. "The authorities stopped at our home many times and Brigham always came to see us, " she wrote. "He would have moved us to the City if I would go." But Mary stayed in southern Utah with Adam. On May 20, 1864, she wrote to Young, describing her family: "Myself and Family are as well as usual at present, Mr Lightner and my Son John (who is of Age) have gone to California to be gone a year or so - in fact I do not know when they will return - I am Engaged in Teaching School and making Garden, I have planted nearly an acre of ground, with the help of my Daughter & a little Son - and by Gods blessing I hope to be able to accomplish that, which will Enable me to keep my family together in Zion. "

Then she gave a description of Minersville. It had "improved Considerably in the last year - not so much in Building. As in the Planting of fruit Trees, Shade Trees &c The People here are generally poor - But since the Road has been opened to Pahranegot - they have had a better oportunity of obtaining wagons & other articles that were needed." Henry's health was poor, and he was suffering from a more serious psychic burden: "His mind is weigh[ed] down with Sorrow in Consequence of being under your displeasure as a Californian. " Henry had lived in the Mormon colony of San Bernardino, an offense that many Mormons could not forgive. Despite being a bishop in Minersville, Mary reports, some of his ward members would tell him, "You Californians do not have the spirit of the Lord." She ended the letter, "Remember me with kindness, in your suplications at the throne of Grace. Yours in the Covenant Mary E Lightner."

Page 219 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

In a May 30 reply, Brigham commended the civic improvements in Minersville and hoped that Henry's health would improve. He assured Mary that her brother was under no curse for having lived temporarily in California. The letter closed, "With love to you, to him [Adam] and the family, and praying the Lord to bless you. I remain your Brother Brigham Young. "

In a March 1865 letter to Eliza Snow, Mary narrated some of her prophetic dreams. On April 3 Eliza responded: "I will repeat President Young's words, as follows. 'When you write, give my respects to sister Mary and tell her I am here-full of faith, and the kingdom is moving on, and if she and I stick to it; when that goes up, we shall go up with it.' He pronounced your dreams good." Evidently, Adam Lightner was not in Minersville at the time, for Eliza wrote: "You say Mr. Lightner is gone ... Although your prospects seem dark, God will overrule all things for your good."

Other passages in Eliza's letter show Mary's friendships with elite plural wives in Salt Lake, wives of Brigham and Heber and Joseph:

I feel that you are truly my very dear Sister, and whenever I think of you, I feel to thank the Lord that you are in the land of Zion - that you are gathered out ... Sister [Marinda] Hyde was very much pleased with the keepsake (night cap) which you left with sister Emily [Partridge Young] for her. She said she prized it more for you having worn it. She wished me to thank you for her, and send her love. Sisters [Elizabeth] Whitney [Vilate] Kimball, Lucy D. [Decker Young], Susan S. [Snively] Young], Zina H. [Huntington Young] Emily P [Partridge Young] &c. &c. send their love and blessings, not forgetting your Aunt.

So Mary Elizabeth was apparently taking care of Aunt Gilbert at this time. At some point, perhaps in the late 1860s or early 1870s, former apostle Amasa Lyman tried to recruit Mary and Adam to the Godbeite heresy which he had joined, but Mary, ever a visionary, had a dream that convinced her to stay with the main body of the Saints.

XII. Relief Society President

In an 1887 letter, Mary described a meeting she had had with Brigham Young, "who; the last time but one that he was South; sent for me, and told me, that he had bought a House in the City for me, and that hereafter my family should be provided for. that I, had suffered enough, and the Lord did not require me to suffer any more." However, she then noted, with a touch of bitterness, that Young had not followed through on his promises: "I never received the House, or any thing - for I suppose he forgot all about me. having more important Business to attend

Page 220 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

to." Mary's relationship with Brigham was not quite a full marriage but was more than a friendship.

When a Relief Society was formed in Minersville, possibly in early 1869, Mary, now fifty-one, was chosen to be president. On May 27 Eliza Snow wrote to congratulate her: "I was pleased to hear that a F.R. [Female Relief] Society has been organized in Minersville, and was also pleased that you were appointed to preside over it." Eliza wrote to Mary again on June 17, 1870: "1 rejoice with you & your society in your success so far. It seems rather a bold step for you to undertake building so soon but I glory in your courage."

Mary's mother died on January 29, 1877, in Horse Shoe Bend, Utah, and on August 29, when Mary was fifty-nine, Brigham died. Her third husband had passed on, but her first was still alive.

XIII. Despondency

From a letter Emmeline Wells, General Relief Society secretary, wrote to Mary on March 8, 1880, it can be inferred that Mary had been fighting discouragement:

I saw your name as one of the committee on Resolutions at the Ladies meeting in Beaver. That is as it should be, come out of the nutshell in which you have lain so long and take an active part in the labors of the organizations for woman's advancement. Throw off the despondency which seems to enshroud you, and embrace every opportunity to speak in defense of the principles of truth ... Do not suffer your mind to become darkened but recollect that the darkest cloud has a silvery lining and trust on.

Apparently Adam was very ill and Mary was burdened with debt. On September 13, 1881, she wrote to John Taylor, reporting that she desperately needed support, as she could not pay back a loan "in consequence of sickness and the inability of those indebted to me to pay what they owe - Mr Lightner has not been able to earn twenty five cents for the last Eighteen Months - Please inform Me of your will in the Matter And Oblige Mary E. Lightner." This is the first record of Mary seeking assistance from the church. These pleas for support and complaints at not receiving it would continue throughout her later years. As with many welfare recipients, it is often hard to judge if she was asking for more than she deserved or if she was being unduly ignored by church authorities.

In August 1884 Mary traveled to Salt Lake and Emily Partridge Smith Young mentioned her arrival in her journal on the 25th: "Went with Mary Lightner to see Joseph F. Smith. She wants the Church to help her." Mary left Salt Lake City on September 2.

Page 221 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

XIV. Widow

In the summer of 1885, when Mary was sixty-seven, Adam became seriously ill. In an 1887 letter she wrote, "I have never called on the Church for aid; until, the long Sickness, and Death of Mr Lightner accompanied by a Series of Misfortunes Compelled me to apply to Brother Taylor for Assistance. Just before My Husband died, Brother Taylor Allowed Me two hundred Dollars a year during his life time - but intimated that he would increase the Amount at his [Adam's] death - he died two years ago - and left me in debt over a hundred Dollars." He died of tuberculosis, "consumption," on August 19, in Minersville. Mary must have grieved at the death of her legal husband. Though he was not her eternal spouse, and though he had often been out of work, he had been her lifelong companion and had helped raise their children.

Her greatest trial in the era following Adam's death was a criminal offense committed by her last-born, twenty-four-year-old Adam Lightner, Jr., and his subsequent punishment. In 1885 he and some accomplices were convicted of grand larceny and incarcerated in August or September. Mary wrote to President John Taylor with a mother's advocacy: "The next Sabbath after Mr Lightners Death - My Son was sent to Prison for a term of Six Years, for a crime he was not Guilty of, but was found in bad Company - He was all the help I had, he was a good and affectionate Son, and perfectly Honorable in all his dealings." She worked ceaselessly to have Adam Jr. pardoned and released from prison. In May 1886, while visiting Salt Lake, she wrote to Taylor, "I Borrowed Money to pay my passage up here, in Order to See the Governor in his behalf, Mr West gave me considerable hope, said he would look into the Matter, and do all he could for me. This is why I came up-also to learn the cause of no remittance being sent me." "No remittance" is a typical complaint. She continued, "I was under a great deal of expense during Mr Lightneres Sickness and Death - in fact it has left me without any means of support - ... I am hardly able to go out to work, as I was sixty eight years old last Month-now if you do not feel willing to assist me any more, as Josephs wife I must do the best I can without Money, and without friends."

On April 28, 1886, Emily Partridge Young wrote to Mary:

I feel a great sympathy for you because of your many afflictions. To look at things from the standpoint of mortals we might think you had more than your share of sorrow, but when we consider that there is no perfection only through suffering.... we can rejoice in affliction. Who knows but what your sons imprisonment may prove his salvation. It is better to hope and trust in the Lord than to despair ... I have your letter to Hyrum [Clawson] and he said he would try and do all he could for your son ... Hyrum and brother Nicleson have been very much interested

Page 222 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

in some of the prisoners since they have been in prison themselves ... I hope when I write again I will have some to say to cheer your aching heart. Give my love to your aunt Gilbert and all enquiring friends. And believe me your sincere and well wisher. Emily P. Young.

In June Mary came to Salt Lake City and stayed with Helen Mar Whitney, another widow of Joseph. Mary petitioned the governor for Adam Jr.'s release, to no avail, then secured the help of William Godbe, Henry 'Lawrence, and Hyrum Clawson. Clawson informed her on the 18th that the necessary papers were in order and she could go to the "Pen" to pick up her son. Overjoyed, she, with Helen, visited the prison the next day and Adam was freed. Having accomplished her mission, she departed from Salt Lake on the 23rd, leaving Adam to work in the city.

Zina Huntington Young wrote to Mary on June 27, the anniversary of Joseph Smith's death:

My Dear Presious Sister: As I have no pen in my room you will excuse the pencil. We remember this day, of all days to us. I went into Sister Eliza, we talked over our past a little, then Sister E spoke a few words in tounges to comfort and cheer us ... I send you a cromo Sister E sayed God bless her we rejoiced that your son was liberated and felt that your last days would be your best ... At 3 P.M. Sister Emily P Young sent over for Susan, and Sister Presendia was there, to be administered [to] as she has the Erysipelas {very} bad we left her {r}esting, I wonder (who) Joseph will want next to go on with the work in the other Land ... My Darling Sister be patient for O what a glory lays before you ... I am improving slowly in health for which I am very thankful ... Where will we be one year from today I would not like to lift the curtain if I could. Your true and loving Sister Zina D. Young.

This letter gives a rich sense of the community that Joseph Smith's wives shared, and shows how focused they were on Smith-commemorating his day of death, wondering which of them, aging as they were, would be called to join him next "in the other Land." In Mary's household it was not she but Adam Jr. who would depart next. He died unexpectedly on September 21 , 1890, at the age of twenty-eight-her last and most problematic child.

In her twilight years Mary apparently continued to battle depression. Emmeline Wells, in a February 10, 1887, letter, chided her, "I was in hopes that your visit here last summer and the good luck you had in getting your son pardoned would have made you quite brave and strong for the daily cares & annoyances of battling for a living." Emmeline seems somewhat unfeeling, but she may have been trying to shock Mary into a more positive frame of mind. In a letter that can be dated only to the 1880s, Wells again tried to boost Mary's spirits: "I have no doubt but it

Page 223 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

would do you good to come up to the city for a month, I wish you might have the opportunity. Aunt Presendia & Zina have both been in my office today ... I quite forgot to mention your message. I will try and recollect it and ask Zina to write to you. She is a very sympathetic woman, and one who cherishes a very tender feeling towards all Joseph's wives. I trust the way will open for you to be made more comfortable than at present. "

In early October 1887 Mary visited Helen Mar Whitney in Salt Lake City again. On the 7th she wrote to President Wilford Woodruff:

Dear Sir - I take the Liberty of addressing you upon a matter of vital importance to me. I find after being a member of this Church fifty Seven Years this Month; that I am under the necessity of asking assistance from the Church for my future Support, I ask this favor of you in Confidence, the more so; because I have been promised [support] repeatedly by Brother Joseph, and Brigham Young ... My House is Built of inch Lumber, and very Cold in Winter & hot in Summer - I have not lived in a House that was plastered in any part - ; Since I came to the Mountains - but that does not matter much, as I am used to hardships of all kinds.

She mentioned her son's death and John Taylor's promise, then added:

He [Adam Sr.] died two years ago - and left me in debt over a hundred Dollars - a Jew has my note for $80.00 Eighty-Dollars and I have not a Dollar to pay on it - the rest of the Debt is paid. I have not received a cent Since Brothers Taylors death - I have Aunt Gilbert to Support, who; is now in her Eighty-Eighth year of her Age, and a Cripple - I Borrowed Money to come up, hoping to see you, I find my Only alternative is to pen these lines to you. hoping the Lord will direct You in this matter.

She recounted the story of her sealings to Joseph Smith. "I cincerely hope You will not pass this request by, for I assure you; that unles I am assisted, I must suffer for both food, and Clothing for the coming Winter. Please Answer this Letter as soon as convenient. Direct to the care of Hellen, M, Whitney - and I can get it - I shall be here a few days longer - Your Sister in the Gospel Mary E Lightner." Her letter was seconded by a note from Helen Mar to the effect that Mary, "as the Prophet's wife, should be relieved and provided for the remainder of her days." The request met with some success. On October 11 Woodruff wrote in his journal, "Sat in Council through the day. We made the following appropriation: ... To Mary E Lightner $100 Cash & $200 tithing annually."

Page 224 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

XV. A Living Relic

Mary's living arrangements in her later life are not well documented. However, she lived in Ogden with a son for some time, and after that with her daughter Mary in Minersville. She stayed in close contact with the leading women of Mormonism. Her daughter wrote that Emmeline B. Wells, Eliza Snow, and the general authorities often asked her to speak in meetings. To judge by her talks, she often gave accounts of her marriage to Joseph Smith and conversations with him. She also delivered patriotic orations on Fourth of July gatherings, and one of these, given in 1898 when she was eighty years old, has been preserved.

An 1888 letter from Emily Partridge Young to Mary reveals that both Mary and Aunt Gilbert had been ill: "I trust your health is better than it was when you last wrote. Your aunt must be a great sufferer to be sick so long." In March 1889 Emmeline B. Wells wrote, sharing news of sister wives in Salt Lake and asking her to write a sketch of her life for Andrew Jenson's Historical Record, including details of her marriage to Smith. Mary visited Salt Lake again in June. Like many of Smith's wives, she spent time doing ordinance work in temples, and she wrote to President Woodruff in April 1891, informing him that she was going to travel to Manti (in central Utah) "to do a work for my Dead" and asking that a recommend be at the temple waiting for her when she arrived.

On May 25, 1895, while living in Ogden, Mary, now seventy-seven, wrote to her brother Henry, who had just celebrated his seventy-ninth birthday: "I would be so glad if I could be with you, and enjoy your society again ... But money is [so] hard to get hold of at the present time, that It is impossible for me to go ... But I send you one Dollar." Henry died on February 7, 1899, in Lyman, Uintah, Wyoming, where some of his children were living.

XVI. Spiritually Neglected

Mary Elizabeth, however, would live into the twentieth century. In 1902, at the age of eighty-three, she signed an affidavit documenting her marriage to Joseph Smith sixty years earlier in Nauvoo. Her financial woes continued. In April 1903, while living in Minersville, she wrote current church president Joseph F. Smith, complaining that her support money had not arrived and that when she had notified her local bishop, the payment had not been forthcoming:

The Order on the Tithing Office, that I receive from the Church, is my only means of support. I have no home of my own, am living with my Daughter. She furnishes me a room, fuel, Bread and Washing, and I pay her 35.00 every 3 months out of the Order. I also pay 4.50 of the Order and 50c cash in Tithing and then my Daughter pays tithing on what I pay

Page 225 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

her out of the Order. which makes $8.00 that is paid out of the $50.00 that I receive. I am to Old to work or I should not let the church support me and my Daughter depends on my help to help support her family. Please let me hear from you. Your Sister in the Gospel, Mary E Lightner.

Joseph F. penned a note on the letter: "Let the usual allowance be forwarded to her." She wrote to her local bishop on April 20, 1904, again complaining that her normal Tithing Office payment had not arrived.

On April 14, 1905, now eighty-seven, she spoke to the graduating class of Brigham Young University, once again telling of her marriage to the prophet. That summer Emmeline Wells wrote her again and Mary's reply is slightly hurt in tone:

Dear Sister Wells I was very much Surprised to receive a letter from you, after 15 years Silence. but am very thankful to be remembered. I have felt, and do yet, that I am alone. I feel as if I was not recognised by the Smith family. I have never had five minutes conversation with Joseph (F.) Smith in my life. I could tell him a great many Some things about his Father that Joseph said he does not know about the Early days of the Church, and in far West. but have never had the opportunity. have received but very little council or advise Since Josephs death. I feel that I have been Spiritually neglected. I was at your R S Conference in [the] afternoon last April. Sisters Stevenson & Pratt came and shook hands with me. after Meeting I spoke to you, and Sister Richards who has been my Staunch friend for years. Oh, how I have longed to have a good talke with you How happy you must be up there all together among the noble women who are energetic in the work of God.

Mary then told the details of her marriage to Smith, answered some related questions, and continued:

My health is precarious ... [but] am always able and willing to talk to the people whom they want me to, want to do all I can for the kingdom of God Yes; I Love to talk about the Prophet and the Early days of the Church will always remember how [he] looked, especially how he look[ed] at that first sealing ... he was tall and of a commanding figure, full of Life and when filled with the H. Spirit his face was beautiful in Expression. I have a Picture of him (Sidelong) done in Water Colors, but it is faded some. Joseph Jr. Smiths [Joseph Smith III] smile is exactly like the Prophet Josephs was ... Yes; I could tell you many things that I cannot write - I remember every word he ... ever said to me of importance have seen his prediction verified especially so in my own family ... Think I have answ[er]ed all your questions now, you can use this letter as you see fit. Your Sincere friend and Well wisher Mary E Rollins Lightner

Page 226 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

XVII. Last Vision

Once Mary was working with Apostle Heber C. Kimball in the Endowment house, and he said, "Sister Lightner, you will see Joseph before you die." Sometime between mid-1868, when Heber died, and 1905, when she told the story, Mary had a spiritual experience that she felt fulfilled this prophecy. She was sitting on her porch, humming the pioneer hymn "All is Well," and musing:

Suddenly I saw just outside the door three men. They stood about two feet from the ground. These men were the Prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum and Heber C. Kimball. Joseph stood in the middle with an arm around each of their shoulders. They were bowing and smiling at me ... Now I was looking into those clear blue penetrating eyes as I had done years ago when he had answered my many questions about the Gospel ... I looked around, pinched my arm to see if I was dreaming. As they were still smiling and bowing ... thought I would shake hands with them. They saw my confusion and understood it and they laughed, and I thought Brother Kimball would kill himself laughing. I had no fear ... Trembling with joy, I arose, took a step forward and extended my hand. They began fading away as the going down of the sun.

Heber's prophecy had been fulfilled, and Mary Elizabeth, like Eliza Snow and Presendia Kimball, had received a visitation from Joseph Smith after his death.

On December 21, 1910, Caroline Lightner Jewell died, so Mary, in her long life, buried six of her ten children. She finally moved on "to the other Land" herself on December 17, 1913, in Minersville, at the age of ninety-five. She had outlived the first five presidents of the Latter-day Saint church, the first two of whom had been husbands. She was the last of Joseph Smith's wives to die, and one of only four who would live into the twentieth century. A full life of miracle and tragedy behind her, it was time to rest.

Page 227 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness : The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature books 1998.

Copyright (c) 1997. Signature Books, Inc. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Footnotes to Chapter 8 as well as other references to information on Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lighter Smith Young.

A typescript of Mary Elizabeth's Dream.

The Mary Lightner, Autobiography as in the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine,UG&HM 17 (1926), p.193-205, 250-260

A version of Mary Elizabeth's Life Story as edited for Our Pioneer Heritage.

Signatures's web page about the book "In Sacred Loneliness",



All the way Back.