Shy, gentle creatures,
Patriarch's multiple wives
struggle to survive.
This gentle memoir, Daughter of the Saints, by Dorothy Allred Solomon, of being raised in a polygamist home will open your eyes.
It begins, "I am the only daughter of my father's fourth plural wife, twenty-eighth of forty-eight children." Solomon's father was the leader of the "Allred Group" (now called Apostolic United Brethren), an offshoot of the Mormon Church.
As you may know, the Mormon Church (officially called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) announced in the mid-1800s that a man must have multiple wives to attain the highest exaltation in the hereafter. About 50 years later (50 years of persecution from the U.S. government), the church published a Manifesto that said they would no longer support or teach plural marriage.
Solomon's ancestors tried to remain in the organized church but refused to give up "The Principle" of polygamy, and eventually formed their own splinter group.
Daughter of the Saints is the story of their struggle to survive and remain a family. At times, they shared a "compound," where six wives lived in three houses, each with her own designated rooms. Solomon depicts these times with some nostalgia: lots of mothers and cousins, all loving and supportive (though certainly fighting at times too).
When the government cracked down on them, though, they were forced to separate. At one point, they moved en masse to Mexico and lived in misery, under the thumb of a polygamist family that would later murder Solomon's father. Other times, they splintered, and the family that went with Father lived fairly well. But the mothers alone with their children lived in abject poverty: diving into dumpsters for food and living in abandoned shacks without running water or toilets.
Solomon decided, early on, that she didn't want a polygamist marriage and has faced much harassment from her extended family, particularly the uncle who became leader of the group after her father was murdered. Yet she remains in touch with those of her family who will, and the voice throughout the book is one of peace and gentleness and forgiveness.
And the language is beautiful. I particularly like this passage in the "Introduction":
My family's presence in Utah might best be compared to the deer herds that populate the Wasatch mountains above the Salt Lake valley. For the most part, we were shy, gentle creatures who kept to ourselves, ruminants chewing on our private theology, who dealt with aggression by freezing or running. As with the deer herd where several females precede the male into the meadow, my father's wives ventured into the fields of the wicked world -- the neighborhood, the public school, the grocery story -- drawing fire in behalf of their shared, stately husband.
I read the book for research. I am writing a novel about a young wife who runs away from polygamy, and I wanted to hear from someone who had lived it.
But I found myself drawn into Solomon's story as a reader, not for research at all, simply to understand the human spirit a bit more.
Daughter of the Saints is a beautiful memoir: unnerving in its oddity and unsettling in the lifestyle depicted. But lyrical and eloquent and well worth reading.