My Pioneer Stock (A Pioneer Day Re-post)

Ever since I left the Mormon Church to join the Church of Sleep-in on Sunday and go to Brunch, I have experienced a significant improvement in quality of life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love my Mormon ancestors. I am particularly proud of the Mormon women. The men did a lot of interesting stuff, and the polygamists are just wacky fun. But the women? The women could give birth in a back room with nothing for pain management but a stick between their teeth and not even wake up the other wives sleeping upstairs. And then they got up and washed the sheets. Those women were ballers.

In honor of Pioneer Day (or, as we heathens call it, Pie and Beer Day), I want to write a brief biography of my Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Phebe Draper Palmer Brown. Phebe was the daughter of William Draper, for whom the town of Draper in Salt Lake County is named (or for her brother William Draper – I have heard it both ways). She was born 1797 in Rome New York. The Drapers moved to Canada when Phebe was a girl and she married her first husband George Palmer at the age of 18. The Drapers joined the LDS church a few years later (though George never did) and Phebe was baptized by Brigham Young. George and Phebe had six children and another on the way when he up and died on her in 1833. She was 38.

Phebe packed up her family and followed the Drapers back to the states. They met up with other Canadian Saints but were driven out of Ohio and then Missouri by Mormon-haters. They eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. She received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith who told her to be good and that she would get another man. This was a little ahead of the polygamy trend, but I don’t think Joseph would have snatched her up in any case. He preferred 14 year-olds who had not yet pushed a half a dozen babies out of their vaginas. Phebe was 40 and she looked like she had pushed two of her seven children out of her eyes.

brown_phoebe_draper

My sisters and I often joke about having inherited our looks from Phebe.

Phebe worked hard to support her family and I have read she had some talent for nursing. Luckily she wasn’t too good at it, because after Phebe failed to nurse her friend Ann Brown back to health, she married her widower, Ebenezer. That was in 1842. Ann left him with four young children and it just made sense to join forces. He was a looker, also.

ebenezerbrown_copy

The Mormon situation in Illinois was becoming untenable. In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846, Phebe and Ebenezer joined the group of Saints who were following Brigham Young (now president of the church) west to the new “Promised Land.” They were passing through Council Bluffs Iowa in July and were met by US soldiers. The war with Mexico was in full swing and the soldiers asked Brigham to give them 500 men to take to California to fight. He complied – hoping to obtain government aid for the migration (because he was a “taker”).

Along with another 550ish Mormons, Ebenezer and Phebe both volunteered – probably to get away from the children. Actually, Phebe’s 14 year-old son Zemira Palmer joined also. They pawned the younger children off on relatives in the wagon train.

What would come to be known as “The Mormon Battalion” marched 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California. Phebe worked as a cook and laundress and Zemira served as a Colonel’s aid. The trek was pretty miserable, by all accounts. They walked through the deserts and mountains… for a year. Phebe was one of only four women who made the entire trip and at 49 she was by far the oldest of the four (the second oldest was 22).

Considering the distance and the difficulty of the terrain, they actually made pretty good time. But by the time they got to San Diego, the war was over and the Battalion was dismissed. (There is one story about a herd of wild cattle attacking the Battalion as they crossed through Arizona, so they did see some action.)

Ebenezer and Phebe were out of money so they re-enlisted for another year. They were sent to Sutter’s Mill and were among the group who found flakes of gold in the American River, a discovery the led to the California Gold Rush. They collected a small amount of gold but then received the call from Brother Brigham. It was time for them to re-join the Saints in Salt Lake City.

On their way back through the California mountains, they were part of the group that discovered the remains of the Donner-Reed party. (I know what you are thinking. “What? Not possible! Was your GGGG Grandmother Forest Gump?” I don’t know how much of it is true. I just know what I have read.) The survivors and rescuers of the Donner Party had been unable to bury the dead due to the ice and snow, so the Mormons stopped and buried all the bodies they could find before pressing on to Salt Lake City.

Phebe, Ebenezer and Zemira arrived in Salt Lake in 1848, at the end of a 3,000 mile journey. Phebe had a mule to ride by then, so that’s nice. They settled in Willow Creek, which would later be renamed as “Draper,” as I mentioned before. Ebenezer became the Postmaster, but he couldn’t read so Phebe (who was well educated for the time) served as Postmistress. She also ran a school for small children. Zemira was sent to work in Orderville, which was Brigham Young’s big communist experiment. Two guesses as to how that turned out.

Unfortunately, Brigham Young wasn’t finished with the Draper-Palmers yet. Brother Brigham told Ebenezer that he wanted him to become a polygamist and have more children. Phebe is said to have approved, and in 1853 and 1854 Ebenezer married two more women. One of them died a decade later, leaving Phebe with yet another brood of small children to raise.

Phebe died in 1879 at the incredible age of 82. (Granted, in the photo she appears to be about 127, and it looks like she made at least part of her 3,000 mile march by walking with her face.) That lady was a stone cold badass, and I’m proud to be her descendant.

Also, in reading up on all of this stuff, something has occurred to me that may be a brilliant bit of insight as to how Mormon services are operated. Perhaps the reason that those damn meetings are three hours long is because it was the only time those poor people got to sit down! It HAD to be as long as they could possibly get away with!

One more thing – this is a letter from Zemira to Phebe from Orderville. I think it is adorable in its presciently passive/aggressive tone, which is still the Mormon modus operandi.  I especially love the way he waves off his inheritance and then signs the letter from “your unworthy son.”

Letter from Zemira Palmer to his mother Phebe Draper Palmer Brown

Latter Day Saints and Sinners

I allowed myself to be drawn into another family’s facebook fight last week.  I knew it was a bad idea, but I couldn’t help myself.  And anyway it has been so long – I think I just needed to be reminded that you aren’t going to change anyone’s opinion.  Not on the topic of homosexuality.  And not on facebook.

A little background…

When I was a kid, my Mormon bishop was unequivocal about homosexuality.  It was a choice, and it was a bad choice.  This was the message I got from everyone in my community.  But in the last few years, I have noticed a distinct evolution in the way Mormon’s talk about our LGBT brothers and sisters.  Suddenly, there was a different tone.  It is still bad, of course.  But they seemed to get that it wasn’t a choice.  I think the word I have heard most is that it is an “affliction.”  As in, “Have you heard? Her son is afflicted with same sex attraction.”

In the beginning I thought that just the fact that they were moving on the issue was good, because it showed progress.  But I quickly decided that was wrong.  In fact, I’ve decided that the new stance is as or more toxic.  They still believe you have a choice.  If not a choice in who you love and are attracted to, then you have a choice in what you do about it.

This is best explained by the Josh and Lolly phenomenon.  Josh and Lolly Weed are a couple who came out several years ago as “mixed attracted” for lack of a better term.  They wrote a long blog post that went viral and gave a lot of people in the church hope that even if their child suffered from this condition that they could still live a “normal” life, centered around a person of the opposite sex, their children and their church.  And the Saints rejoiced.

But then, a few months ago, the Weeds wrote another post announcing that they were wrong.  It wasn’t working, and they are divorcing.

As a result, in the Utah parlance, people are flipping the freak out.

Last week a woman I know through a writing group posted this blog post written by one such flipper outer titled “Actually, the Mormon Position on Gay Marriage is Stronger Than You Think.  I read the title and knew that I was clicking on danger but as I said already… yeah.  It was a slow work day.  The post has since been removed, but here is the gist: So it didn’t work out for the Weeds.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work!  You don’t have to be attracted to a person to love them, you just have to endure the times when you aren’t ‘feeling it’ until you develop that deeper truer Fiddler on the Roof kind of love.  Then he cites his experience of enduring his wife’s postpartum depression without filing for divorce as proof that this can be done.

It was stupid and my general response was a big eyeroll and an “Oh yeah… I forgot about the enthusiasm with which these people will turn themselves into cognitive knots out of desperation to not have to admit they were wrong.”  Then I started looking through the comments that were being posted and I saw that another person from the writing group, a young and out gay man, returned missionary and current student in good standing at BYU, was trying to have a discussion with the poster’s inlaws, cousins, and other hard believing friends.

“Oh God,” I thought.  “Calvin needs some cover fire.”

So I weighed in and said some pro LGBT stuff, basically stating that I know many LGBT folks in life-long partnerships that are as full of love, sacrifice and commitment as any other couple I have ever met.  Sometimes I think that the one helpful thing one can do in these circumstances is remind everyone that they are talking about real people.  Here is an example of a comment that I got in response.

A homosexual relationship cannot meet the purposes for eternal marriage. Being in love longterm by itself means very little in the scope of eternal purposes for marriage. But in reality, there are relatively few homosexual relationships that are longterm anyway. The media has been very successful in painting a certain picture of homosexual family bliss, but the reality is much much more often promiscuity, damaged people, disease, and misery.

So I said:

I think we worry too much about the afterlife and deciphering God’s plan. I would rather focus my energy on doing the most with this life and caring for my family and loved ones, who are not the promiscuous damaged and diseased people you may think they are. But even if they were, I believe that the Jesus Christ I have read about would pull them in closer and not shun them, IMHO.

That same God loving lady responded with:

It is one of the most successful tools of the adversary, to convince people that disapproval of a sin is equal to hating the sinner. It has become a most powerful lie.

Oh my mistake.  I thought you just wrote off an entire community as diseased and damaged people, which sounds a lot like hating the sinner to me, but whatever.  I don’t know how we got to this place where it is far worse to call someone bigoted than to be bigoted, but that seems to be the way of it.

I lost an entire day on this thread.  I stopped commenting, but I kept reading.  Calvin was fighting a good fight, but he was getting ganged up on and no one wanted to hear what he had to say.  I was proud of him, but was hurting me to watch.  Finally, around midnight, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I fired this off in the comments (please forgive the run on sentences – it was late and I was feeling feisty):

Calvin, I should PM you… but I’m going to just say this publicly because as we say in Utah County “what the heck.” If the article’s data is correct and 40% of millennial Mormons are struggling with their faith over social issues, then the church is in a crisis. As has been stated in this thread many times over, there is a clear choice. Accept all on faith and stay, or find that is not possible and leave (where I find myself). You have somehow made another choice. The bravest choice. You have your testimony of The Heavenly Father and you have what you know to your bones to be true about yourself… in your own heart. Clearly, the dissonance is painful for you, and yet you stay and fight for an answer. It seems to me that those of us who want the church to survive in the future might look to you and your choice and say “how do we resolve this together?” Not to lecture or to call you wicked or to say your choices are to remain celibate and die alone, without knowing love or affection, OR to leave… Here is the thing. I have what I want. I have a Supreme Court decision ruling on my side. The fact that the future of the church weighs in the balance of the next generation, and it seems they are split… a person who has been fighting this fight since the 90s might see that as icing on the cake, and there may be days where I do. But you aren’t me. You have taken the braver path. You are staying to fight the brave fight. There will be many people who will tell you to sit down and listen. Those people want to validate their own decisions. What they don’t understand is that they are validating my decision, with every young person they call wicked and push away. On my basest most broken level I want that. I want the church to fail for everyone the way it failed for me. I want my decisions to be validated. But I have – even now – an elevated level, where I see that this church has the power to help people find meaning in this world. And that part of me wants to tell you to never be discouraged. Keep seeking. Keep asking questions. Keep challenging the accepted views. Sooner or later, for the sake of the future, they will sit down and listen.

If not, the Unitarians are lovely and they don’t care if you wear jeans to church. Just sayin’.

 

Calvin and I ended up taking the conversation over to private message and had a long chat about all of this.  It was really good to decompress and to ease some of the frustration by preaching to the choir instead of to the gargoyles.  The next time I saw him I gave him a big hug and I felt like I had adopted a new nephew.  I know I didn’t budge any minds on that thread; we all left as self-certain as we began.  If I managed to give Calvin a little encouragement, then maybe it wasn’t a lost day after all.

Did I mean it? Do I hope he stays and fights this fight?  Not really.  It was killing me just watching him stand up to some strangers on facebook.  The actual church?  I can’t even imagine.  If I could make his decisions for him, I would get him out of that church and introduce him to some truly compassionate people.  But that’s the whole point.  I don’t want anyone making decisions for each other.  I want us all to have the space and empowerment to find our own paths, wherever they may lead.