Monday, April 1, 2019

The Invisible Wife

The Invisible Wife

*This is a photo of my great-great-grandfather, Charles Shumway, and one of his favorite wives. I have no photos of my great-grandmother. Poor thing had a mind and she knew it, so she was invisible. She was Charles' shame, although he impregnated her 14 times. 

I was given the story that follows when I was about twelve. It had been typed up and you could see the shine of liquid ink. I've carried it around since Jr. High, not wanting her story and her life to disappear completely, but I never knew what to do about it.  Since I'm currently editing my dad's biography, I'm including this story.  I've always been a history buff, I looked into the details with older family members and it all checks out. I find it so inspiring and I hope others do as well.-TM

Henrietta Bird Shumway—1833-1907. Born in Newton, New York.

It is from the green years of life that biographers draw their riches metrical with which to portray a character. But if Henrietta Bird, Charles Shumway’s third wife, ever lived through the droll antics of childhood or knew the tragi-comic sorrow of growing pains, there is no record of it. In fact, she never seems to have been young—just a small person who became a larger one.

Our first knowledge of her comes from Nauvoo, Illinois. She was a 12-year-old ‘hired girl,’ which in those days meant slavery. At seventeen, she crossed the plains, and since she came from an impoverished family, that meant she walked the brutal 932 miles from Council Bluffs to Salt Lake City. One year after she arrived, she began working in the home of Louisa Minnerly, Charles’ oldest living wife.

Henrietta was a little thing, undoubtedly stunted in childhood from malnutrition and overwork. Her hair was straight, thin and of the palest red. Her small eyes were so light a blue that they were all but colorless between her blonde lashes. She had ‘good skin,’ however, for all her sons are supposed to have inherited her rosy cheeks.

Since her looks didn’t recommend her, there must have been something that won Charles to take her for his third wife. And that something was elbow grease! In later years, at the height of his ridicule and complains, he would always add (as though giving a dog a bone), “But there was never such a worker as Hett!”

And why would this slip of a girl marry him?

With her plain looks, men were not apt to be plentiful and since being an old maid in the Nineteenth Century was quite an unbearable life, she really had no choice. Besides, she would much rather work for herself than to be a drudge in some other woman’s home. She was accustomed to polygamists—her father was one. She might have felt that sharing a man might be less bother than having to put up with the antics of an individual.

Since she had been delivering children while still a child herself, the ‘miracle’ of conception and birth were robbed of all romance. Luckily, she kept this realistic approach for when she was scarcely nineteen, she delivered her own first baby in a covered wagon somewhere near Payson—and her husband didn’t show up for days.

At least she was spared the pain of loving him.

Charles was something of a big-wig in the Mormon Church. He was elected to the church’s governing council and appointed to serve as a member of the first Territorial Legislature for the Utah Territory. Brigham Young had nothing but praise for Charles, saying, “There was never a more faithful man in the Church. He was a man who was not wed to his gold. He would give everything he had to the Church, to the building of the Kingdom of God.”

All of Charles’ pioneering spirit and his attachment to the church did not make him a good husband to Henrietta, however.

He was a man of his time, but Henrietta, with her stubborn insistence on her own path, was a hundred years before hers. She was a Twentieth Century woman struggling desperately within the iron-bound restrictions of a Mormon community during the Victorian Era. She was a feminist without ever having heard the word. As for Charles, an Old Testament prophet could not have been more authoritative in his demands. And Henrietta’s refusal to kowtow either to the church or to him was an affront to both his faith and masculinity.

It was probably this frustration which caused him to make Henri the butt of bawdy jokes. Like many in his time, Charles considered a wife as his property, just the same as his land and stock. So how did their eleven children spring from such a battleground? Henrietta had little to say about the matter. Not until after World War I was a wife’s body legally her own to give.

During the first few years of her marriage, Henrietta lived here, there and everywhere. In covered wagons, sheds and shacks. Later, when her sons would ask her to recall those hungry, threadbare years, she would only shake her head. She had more of a servant-master relationship with Charles. She couldn’t help but stammer whenever she had to respond to him.

On an autumn day in the early 1860s, Charles relocated Henrietta to Mendon—a one room cabin that was, to her, a palace. There, in a small clearing, Charles set her down with five children, the oldest of whom was not quite seven. He left her with a cow, a few pigs and some chickens. He told her that if she needed any supplies before spring, she could get them from the local Mormon Bishop and he went on his merry way.

Henrietta was determined to do no such thing. She went to the local Indians instead. While out hunting for rabbits she ran into a young Indian boy with a broken leg and took him back to her cabin to set it. That was the perfect introduction for these new neighbors. The Indians shared their game with her. They taught her to scrabble along the creek bed and in the woods for any growing thing that wasn’t poisonous. She did washing for her Indian neighbors and delivered a few babies in her little one-room cabin. They repaid her by keeping her stock supplied—sometimes even better fed than her family.

Though it was a long, hard winter, she and her little family made it through to the spring, when she could plant a vegetable garden, as well as some hay and wheat. Later in her life, when she looked back at that time she recalled how painful it was to withhold seed potatoes from her hungry little ones.

In very short time, Henrietta could do anything on the farm that an experienced man could do, be it butchering hogs, sheeting sheep, sticking a bloated cow, shoeing horses or helping the animals birth their young. Ever practical, she recognized the usefulness of the local Indian mother’s back-cradle and made a papoose for herself. Thus, with a baby strapped to her back and her hands free for work, she threw her body into tending her stock and fields.

When winter fell again, the fever came with it. Too far away to get a diagnosis from a doctor, she never knew what it was, but the illness struck every member of the family. Baby Brigham died and then the fever struck Henrietta, already big with child. Despite being desperately ill, she had to tend to the stock and her other children. There was simply no one else for it. She was out in the snow when her only daughter, Isabelle, was born, and quickly died. If a neighbor had not come by to check on the laundry Henrietta had taken in for them, there may have been many more deaths in her little cabin.

The loss of these children was a sore spot for Henrietta for the rest of her life. When Charles finally showed up again in the spring, she railed at him and the needless deaths of her children, if only she hadn’t been banished to such an isolated spot.

During her fight for survival in those early years, there was always a baby at her breast and sometimes two, for she lacked the heart to push away a sobbing infant due to a new arrival. Charles once caught her sitting on a log near the creek bed, an infant at each breast, and made much of it while gathering with some other men around the corral that night.

Inspired by the guffaws of his avid listeners, Charles enlarged the tale and treated them to the verbal sight of Henrietta, stretched out on the earth like a mother pig, with all her offspring scrabbling for a mouth hold. Word got back to Henrietta of this tale, and others where Charles used her as the butt of one of his jokes. She was deeply embarrassed that this story was getting around and understandably very wary of townsfolk because of it.

In addition, Henrietta wore pants in a time when women simply didn’t do such a thing. For her it was a matter of practicality. She was on horseback often, searching for her milk cows or hunting game. It was easier to just wear pants.

She also desperately needed a saddle. She solved this problem by stealing one from Charles during one of his rare visits. Charles went berserk and threatened to beat each child until one confessed, so Henrietta ended up riding bareback after all.

It was about this time that Henrietta came in from the fields to find a bear inside her cabin. She finished him off with the weapons she had at hand—a flat iron to stun the beast and a poker to finish him off. After word of the bear incident got around, the brood-sow image that Charles had cultivated began to fade.

This pants-wearing, saddle-stealing woman continued, however, to be at odds with her church. Though she had never read Voltaire, like him, she considered that faith unsupported by facts was valueless. Anything that she could not see, hear, feel, taste or smell was what she called “botheration.”  All she wanted was her sons, her beasts and her fields. And to be let be.

But that was something her good neighbors could not do. Just as the Puritan fathers persecuted Quakers, though they themselves had just escaped persecution, so the LDS church harassed Henrietta. But as much as Charles might rage and the bishop scold, she refused to wear her uncomfortable temple garments or attend church.

When Louise and Elizabeth, Charles’ other wives, tried to remonstrate with Henrietta, she set them about their own business so rudely that they never tried it again. She knew all too well that it was Charles who was sending the ward teachers her way. He knew how their interruptions and pious attitudes would infuriate her in his absence.

And so they would come—the elders—one usually an older man who hammered down doctrine to her by the hour, the other was a pimply-faced youth, staring at her wide-eyed as though he must be on his guard against such a wicked female. Henrietta was a clever one, and learned to free herself from being this captive audience. She simply lighted her pipe and they scurried away.

As a mother, she was never mean. In a flash of irritation, she might cuff a child as a she-bear cuffs her cubs, but there was never any planned punishment. Charles, on the other hand, whipped his horses with a wire whip and his sons with a belt buckle. Once, when he was whipping one of his sons in such a manner, Henrietta broke a stool over his back, effectively ending his lesson.

Henrietta’s only friend was Mr. Finklestein, who came twice a year in his peddler’s wagon. He was the one to introduce her to books. Heretofore, her reading had been by guess and consisted of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the almanac and an occasional newspaper. Mr. Finklestein changed all that by giving her a dictionary. It was the Rosetta Stone which unlocked the door to her being. Words! Words! Words! They were weapons! She could fight with them. No longer would she have to sit dumbly while others blasted her with words. Now she had some of her own. Now she could respond. She would never be fluent. Her tongue would never keep pace with her brain, but neither would it be halting.

Though the children would scatter like scared rabbits through the tall sage when their father approached, they adored their friend Mr. Finklestein. There was always candy in his pockets and his mouth was full of riddles and jokes. He taught the boys how to make kites and stilts. Henrietta always said they learned more from Mr. Finklestein’s tales than they ever learned from the Mendon school.

And even when Mr. Finklestein wasn’t there, he seemed to be, for he left books—glorious books—behind.

It was plain to Henrietta that Mr. Finklestein had been a father as well. He taught her sons to play a game that would go on through generations. “When you don’t have a book,” he said, “then you make one.” Then he’d tell a tale, making it up as he went along. As soon as he’d reach a nail-chewing crisis, he would pause and one of the boys would have to continue. At first they had to borrow stories, from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and later from Aesop’s Fables and Robinson Crusoe. After a time, their young minds were able to soar on their own.

Meanwhile, the babies kept on coming. By the time she was 36, she’d given birth to 11 children and suffered 3 miscarriages. It was then that her sons did what she had so longed to do: they gave Charles his walking papers.

The decision had been brought about by her four oldest children who had overheard their father while out at the corral one day. Charles, unaware that the boys were near, was at his bawdy best. Henrietta was the butt of his jokes, again.

“All I have to do is hang my pants on Hett’s bedpost and she’s in the family way,” Charles said, to the men’s amusement.

Instantly, Charles was surrounded by four boys ranging in age from 13 to 17, and all taller than himself.

“You shut up about Mama and don’t you ever come near her again,” said George, the eldest.

Though Henrietta was proud of her sons, she was also appalled. And for good reason. First, the best milker in her dairy herd went missing and turned up in the pasture of one of Charles’ other wives. The boys were on fire to reclaim it and Henrietta had a hard time holding them back. But when their only good riding horse disappeared from the corral one morning, without a word to her tinder-box sons, she grabbed a bridle and set off on foot for Charles’ place.

She was striding into Charles’ yard when he confronted her. Henrietta lifted her chin. “Either I will bring Cellem back or I will loose my boys on you.”

My sons. Not his. Never his.

This was the first time in her life that she’d spoken to Charles without a hint of a stammer.

Without waiting for a reply, she clumped out to the barn and reclaimed her horse.

Cutting Charles out of her life (or so she thought at the time) was the beginning of Chapter 2 of her life. Free to be herself, she poured herself into her boys and often told them how fortunate she felt to have them. She felt horribly guilty about the hard life they’d had. Due to their circumstances, she’d been forced to thrust tools into hands too small to hold them, set them to care for beasts which terrified them and demanded attention from minds too young to give it. Despite all of that and regardless of her face, which she said ‘would scare crows,’ they loved her all the same.

Henrietta had always filled her little cabin with song, but after the showdown with Charles, the music overflowed. She always whistled or hummed—too busy to bother with learning the words. Summer evenings she would sit on the stone steps of her cabin, surrounded by her boys, her humming an organ holding them to the melody.

During these times, all of Cache Valley seemed to float in a sea of sounds. It was Henrietta’s holy hour, her Sabbath, when all her problems were simplified and the hurts of the world healed a little. And her children were safe and close. Those sunset moments were so poignant with pain and beauty that her son, Hyte, could never see a summer sun go down without remembering his mother.

The hard times were behind them now. The older boys could do a man’s work on the farm, and year by year they had pushed the fields further back against the wooded area, doubling their acreage. They improved on the little one-room cabin, as well—adding two rooms and sleeping loft.

The boys pulled the axe and pitchfork from her hands, and they also hid her pants.

“Don’t you want to be a woman, Mama?” Hyte asked.

“I’m fine the way I am,” Henrietta said. But the boys wouldn’t budge.

Deciding that the boys were crying out for a more womanly touch, Henrietta got to work sewing blue calico curtains for the windows, making patchwork cushions for the chairs and braiding rugs for their plain, plank floors. She even bought a blue, checkered tablecloth and asked the boys to make window boxes and some bookshelves for her precious books.

It was about this time that Mr. Finklestein bought her a cookbook. It was another Rosetta Stone for Henrietta. She devoured the book and sent the boys into Logan to buy cooking supplies. That night she baked her first cake. When it turned out just as the recipe implied, she felt like she’d just accomplished a miracle!

Cheered on by her sons, she tried more magic and soon each day became an adventure in food. Only those who have endured the trial of poverty can really appreciate the difference between eating for pleasure and eating to satisfy hunger.

Before Mr. Finklestein left again, the boys huddled with him speaking in whispers and hushing up whenever Henrietta got too close. When he returned in the fall, the reason became clear. He brought with him several dresses and a riding habit—her first store-bought clothes! She was like a little girl, excitedly trying them all on. The years of peace and prosperity brought much-needed flesh to her bones and in the well-chosen clothes, she came close to being pretty.

It was the riding habit that she cherished the most, especially now that she could mount a horse without either being big with child or having tender, milk-filled breasts. But being the sole provider for her huge family left her with no options. Only someone who has been through her experience could understand the ecstasy she felt at having a body that belonged to only her.

She would ride out early in the dawn, when the boys and livestock were still sleeping—so she need not share the world with anyone but the birds. She talked of watching the clouds on these rides, enjoying the ting in the air rising off the dew-drenched alfalfa. When she returned to make breakfast, rosy-cheeked and glowing, her boys would exclaim, “Why, Mama, how pretty you are!”

She? Henrietta? The idea!

By that time, Henrietta and Mr. Finklestein were friends of long standing, and as close as two people could be. Both outsiders, both held at bay by the world. He was always begging her to relax and stop fighting.

“You’re lucky to live in this century,” he said. “Two hundred years ago and they’d have hung you for a witch in Salem. You were born with that most precious and perilous of all gifts—doubt. And men will never let an avowed doubter live in peace, so hold your tongue. You’re too outnumbered to fight. Give a little, listen and smile.”

Mr. Finklestein was almost as interested in the boys as she was—marveling at their differences and thrilled by the beauty of their singing. They spoke to Mr. Finklestein of the future, of schools beyond Mendon, of college. College. Henrietta spoke the word as if it was sacred.

For the past few years, Charles had rarely come to Mendon. He went up and down the territory, building saw and grist mills and even establishing a bank in Idaho. Now, the church and or perhaps his own wanderlust called him to southern Utah. It made more practical sense to have all his households under one roof, so without a word to Henrietta and her boys, he sold their farm.

Henrietta was so heartbroken she could barely speak of it.

Then, it got worse. Charles began to woo her sons, promising them a much brighter future and better farm in the Kanab area. At long last, Charles acted like the father they’d always longed for—gifting the boys with saddles, guns and knives and giving watches to the older ones. Henrietta was given a tent for the four hundred mile trek.

During her fifteen years in Mendon, Henrietta had changed from a terrified young woman into a self-possessed matron of property, whose opinions on crops and cattle were of value to her neighbors and whose fields and stock were held up as a model of industry to the countryside. This hard-earned position had given her a sliver of confidence, at long last, and even a sort of faith that each year would be better than the last. Now, not only had Charles sold the farm she’d worked so hard to build, he destroyed her cherished belief in the growing goodness of life.

How could she bear it?

That was a foolish question, she told herself grimly. Foolish for one who had borne babies in a one-room cabin in the dead of winter, with only some strung-up quilts to separate her from the children and with a slide of board in her mouth to bite on so that she wouldn’t cry out and frighten them. She could bear this. She learned long ago that she could bear anything.

Though her son’s siding against her wishes was unexpected and hurtful, she understood their hunger for their father’s approval. For them, it was as though God had suddenly noticed them. And so they headed south, with Henrietta looking backward.

Lot’s wife was lucky. She was turned to stone.

By the next morning, the green of Cache Valley had vanished and in a few days they were in Salt Lake City. She felt no joy at being back in the city and refused the boy’s invitation to go sightseeing She was mourning the loss of her home and her truest friend—for she knew she would never see Mr. Finklestein again.

They continued their journey south, passing through little Mormon villages with outlandish names. Then the scenery gave way to desert, which matched her mood quite well. The boys knew the depths of her grief and tried to point out objects of interest as they traveled. They even sang to her each night.

Charles behaved kindly toward her as well, complimenting her on how much better she looked now that she’d put on a little weight. Then, one night, his reason for gifting her with a tent became evident. After the singing, he ordered the boys to leave. They took one look at their stricken mother and refused.

Charles was enraged, but the odds were not in his favor. He had to abandon his plan to bed Henrietta.

For the remainder of the journey, Charles resumed his old attitude with his sons—finding every imaginable fault with the boys’ handling of the team and herding of the stock. When Jed, the 10-year-old, accidently knocked over his father’s liquor jug, Charles dealt the boy a blow that sent him sprawling. Long before they reached their destination, the boys had grown more than a little disenchanted with their father.

Kanab, Utah was a village of about four hundred settlers at the time. It was a sunken canyon on the desert floor, rimmed by red, sandstone cliffs. Johnson, about seven miles away, was another sinkhole in the earth, encircles by the same red sandstone barriers, with only three of four families there ahead of them.

The sluggish creek that meandered through town was marked by scraggly cottonwoods and willows. The farm, unfenced and uncleared, had never known a plow.

The only shelter was a deserted trapper’s cabin, so small that when all the beds were made, Henrietta could scarcely walk between them(.) But in the midst of this desolation, the boys had the grit to tell their father that they had no further need of him.

It was dangerously late in the year to be putting in crops, but they had to try if they were going to survive the winter unaided. It was another year of root-hog-or-die. Even the young boys toiled like men—digging out the rocks and lugging them away, building fences. The older boys tore out trees and brush, scrub and sage. Someone was always at the plow. They couldn’t afford to stop turning the soil from dawn to dusk, until the crops were in.

Their neighbors in Johnson were few, but kind. When they saw the new family’s plight, they came together and dug an irrigation ditch to the creek and the young ones even helped with the planting.

Meanwhile, Henrietta had been busy making adobes for the new home, but it was August before the boys could help. Her sons copied their home in Mendon—three rooms and a sleeping loft—hoping to please her. But adobe couldn’t take the place of logs. With earth on all sides, she felt like she was already in her grave.

Once the crops were harvested, the three older boys, George, Morm and Spence, left home in search of work, as the farm was too small to feed so many mouths. This left Hyte, a great lad of twenty, as man of the house.

It was not that she loved Hyte more than the other children. It was only that he reminded her so much of … well, herself. He’d inherited her ginger hair, had that same hesitancy when he spoke and the way he hurled himself, headlong, into any task that came his way, just as she’d always done. Of all the creatures on earth, Hyte was truly flesh of her flesh. What a miracle.

When the older three left, they never really came home again. They had to depend on their father for work and this caused a metamorphosis which turned them into strangers. Something too subtle to analyze, too intangible to grasp, was separating them now. Across this chasm, she could see herself becoming small in their estimations. Daughters-in-law too became a problem. Henrietta’s life hadn’t exposed her to women and these girls seemed like such helpless ninnies! But if she tried to give them advice, they’d complain to their husbands. She could see Charles’ caricatured image of her reflected in the eyes of these women.

Church teaching did not help. The girls evaluated her character with the Word of Wisdom. As was natural, the wives’ opinion affected the husbands and soon Henrietta’s own flesh and blood was admitting, “Well, mama was always contrary and heedless to council.” 

These wounds hurt her more than anything Charles had ever done to her.

More sons left home for marriage and they too underwent the cruel transformation. Instead of sons, they became judges.

But not Hyte.

Despite all his fervor, bond between mother and son remained strong. Hyte took on the world with wide open arms. To him, religion was high romance, not dismal doctrine or persnickety rules. And when Annie Johnson married Hyte, their bond only strengthened.

Like everyone in the Johnson family, Annie saw the world through a glint of laughter. She reminded Henrietta of the little daughter she’d lost so long ago on that winter night.

Annie was clever, too. Henrietta knew when she was being managed and outmaneuvered, but she didn’t mind. When Henrietta complained to Annie that she spent too much time babying her children and prettying up her home instead of being out in the fields, helping Hyte, Annie hadn’t bridled like her other daughters-in-law.

Remembering all that Hyte had told her about his mother, Annie only laughed and caught her mother-in-law in her arms. “Do you know why that is? Hyte recalls how you slaved and that, Granny, is why he takes such good care of me. It’s you I have to thank for it all. And I only hope when your children are grown that they will love and respect me as much as Hyte does you.”

If they had not been friends at that point, that conversation sealed the deal. Henrietta stood—a little awkwardly, a little too stiffly. “You’re a good girl, Annie. It’s no wonder Hyte treats you like a queen.”

By now, Henrietta’s sight had deteriorated to the point that she couldn’t read without getting leaden headaches, so she gave Annie all the books that Mr. Finklestein had given them and which she had treasured like the Ark of the Covenant all those years.

Hyte was finally able to purchase the farmland he’d been renting. Since the land joined Henrietta’s, they only had to cross the creek to each other’s cabins. Many nights, Henrietta would quietly knit clothing for the children while their mother read aloud to them.

Now that Henrietta had, at long last, another woman to talk to, it was as though her once-halting tongue would never cease. Annie, who in her girlhood had wanted to be a writer, had the sense to know that she was not only listening to the tide of history, but also to a long pent-up woman stripping herself bare. Annie felt these stories so deeply and for the rest of her life was able to keep Henrietta’s memory green for their children and grandchildren.

The years in Johnson slowly turned Henrietta from an agile, plump, middle-aged woman into a clumsy, fat, old one—and oh, how she hated it. For a woman who had single-handedly run a farm, it was hell. Then, one day, while she was scything lucerne (alfalfa), she tripped over a tangle of roots and tore the ligaments of her knee, maiming her for the rest of her life. Even stumping about with a heavy cane, she still managed to direct the working of her farm.

When her husband, Charles, came by, after many years, he didn’t recognize her at first. When he did, he gave a hoot of laughter. “One of you was far too much, Hett. But two?”

He’d shown up in his fancy, new buggy—trimmed in black patent-leather with dangling fringes and brassbound lamps. Never had Henrietta seen such an intimidating contraption. His two wives were sitting with him, looking thin, cool and neat, despite driving through miles of dust.

The visitors likely never intended on dismounting from their resplendent rig, but Annie had rushed out of the house, dimples flashing in her winsome face and completely captivated Charles. They must stay to dinner! And Charles agreed, much to Henrietta’s discomfort.

At the heavy, noonday meal, Henrietta was her old silent, awkward self—much aware of her faded, brown calico in contrast to the pastel shades of the other two wives’ clothing. As for Hyte, he was even more ill-at-ease than his mother. The two men all but glowered at one another. Charles’ dislike of this big, fair son undoubtedly hinged on his resemblance to Henrietta, but even more so was the fact that Hyte had been the youngest of the four brothers who had given Charles his walking papers at that memorable corral fence gathering. Though only thirteen at the time, he’d called his father a “wicked, wicked man.”  Later, when Charles had been able to win over his other sons with jobs and land, Hyte had remained aloof.

As the group was loading back into their fancy buggy, Charles revealed the true reason for his visit. He was moving to Arizona with his other wives. Did Hett want to come along? He looked so relieved when she refused that Henrietta laughed heartily. At last, something truly amusing on a very dismal day!

Arizona was a lucky move for Charles, as only a year after his departure the polygamist hunters came to Utah. They swarmed over the land, ferretting out plural marriages. Most wives were eager to save their husbands from prison, so they swore to the federal government that they were not only unmarried, but they had no idea who had fathered their children. Being thought of as a ‘loose woman’ and having her children perceived as bastards was not the path that Henrietta chose. She simply told the truth. What allegiance did she owe to Charles at this point? She named him, much to the shock of all who knew him. Not for Charles would she turn her sons into bastards. She was quickly ostracized by all in Cane County. Her boys backed her. They were all she ever needed anyway.

Charles was safe, anyway. No one in Arizona was searching for polygamists. However, Henrietta’s declaration had made it risky for him to visit Kanab, unless he snuck in. Oh, how he was enraged. He wrote her letters of hellfire and damnation that sounded straight out of the Old Testament. All he could think about was vengeance. Henrietta would pay!

Meanwhile, the government agents were making such poor headway rounding up polygamists that they called off the program. Charles was able to return, after what had turned out to be nothing more than a slight inconvenience. His first priority was to see to the humbling of Henrietta. Who he found was a white-haired, obese, lame woman who was nearly blind. Though he was old enough to be her father, she looked years older than him. The sight of her did not stir his compassion in the least.
No woman could do what she did and get away with it.

There were just three of her boys left on the farm now: Jed, Brad and Bill. They were in the hayfield when Charles arrived with his hired hand. They burst into the cabin as Henrietta prepared the noonday meal. Without a word to her, they began moving her furniture into the yard. When the boys heard their mother’s cries, they came running to see what the ruckus was about only to find all their possessions piled up in front of the cabin. Too young to buck Charles’ parental authority, all they could think to do was to run for their big brothers, Hyte and Charles Bird, who were running a sawmill in the mountains.

By the next afternoon, when the older boys arrived, they found their mother crowded into the old trapper’s hut they’d been crammed into when they first arrived. Their father and the hired man had taken over Henrietta’s home. Charles plan was to sell the place and leave Henrietta homeless. The argument that broke out between father and sons was fierce and ugly. Hyte parted with his father as an enemy and never spoke to him again.

At the time Trek Fever was stirring through Kane County. It was 1901 and, especially among the young folk, there was an urging to head north—to Big Horn County, Wyoming. There was plenty of land there and terrific growing conditions for crops. At first Hyte and Annie were determined to stay put, but their three children wore them down.

Hyte was not the only son that Henrietta was losing to the Big Horns, for wherever Hyte went, Charles Bird was sure to follow. It had always been so. They had even married sisters, which strengthened their bond. Charles and Hyte were an odd pair, because they were the least alike of all her boys. Hyte was like his mother. Charlie resembled his father in his lean, wiry body and his beaked nose. He also had Charles’ wit and clever tongue, only in Charlie Bird these qualities were only mischievous and devoid of malice.

The boys insisted that Henrietta accompany them on this journey to Wyoming. When she protested, a smiling Charlie Bird told her that he would hold her on his lap for the whole trip. How Mr. Finklestein would have approved of that! But she knew she was too old for such a journey. Five hundred miles in a covered wagon! It was foolishness to even consider such a thing.

The night before the boys embarked on their journey, they had a big party at Henrietta’s, for they all knew the odds were great against ever seeing Hyte or Charlie Bird again. They gathered in the yard, beneath the red sandstone cliffs and sang, as they always did when they came together. Henrietta sat in her rocker and Hyte sat on the ground at her feed, just as he used to as a little boy whenever she was ill or bowed with worry.

“Mom, be our organ, as you used to,” Hyte urged.

She was afraid to hum. Any sound she might make would come out as a croak of grief.

The boys and their families sang the sun down. Then, as the moon moved across the sky, they just kept singing. Whenever the mood turned too sad, Charlie would tease his brothers, challenging their masculinity for remaining behind. This resulted in several good-hearted wrestling matches.

When the boys were distracted with Charlie’s teasing, Hyte drew close to his mom.
“It’s still not too late, Mom,” he said. “We could all pitch in and get you ready for tomorrow.”

She even agreed, only to quickly change her mind. “Wait until you and Charlie Bird are settled. By then I should be able to come most of the way by train.” But she knew, deep in her bones, she would never see him again.

All night she’d lain awake, dreading what would be the worst of days for her. Hyte had been her mainstay, yet she had to force her hand to let him go. Nick, her big red dog that had been her comfort for years, had recently been poisoned with coyote bait. As a going-away present, Hyte had given her another dog like Nick—only the new dog was slow to make friends. He growled and showed his teeth whenever she approached him.

It was then that she spoke words so devastating that if Hyte had not already sold his farm and sawmill, he would have cancelled the Big Horn venture. “I must really be the ugly witch your father always claimed,” she said, “for children and dogs are afraid of me.”

Now that farm that had begun with nine boys was down to one: Brad. Jed, and even her baby, Bill, were now married. Brad was a good boy, earnest and willing, but he didn’t have a head that could make plans or decisions. She wore herself out plodding after him, telling him what to do. So, it was much better that Jed would take over the farm so that Henrietta and Brad could move into Kanab where he could work in the mills.

They settled down, just the two of them, in a little log cabin that had a few fruit trees and room enough for a vegetable garden. But it was a lonely existence and a boring one for a woman who was used to directing all the activity on a busy farm.

Brad was a shy, backwards boy, who was always worried about other’s opinions of him. He was hopeless around females and Henrietta only hoped his brothers could find a wife for him, as he’d never manage it on his own.

She seldom saw her other sons. With the passage of years, they all seemed to have the same face, all formed in the Mormon mold. To think she’d once rejoiced in each son’s uniqueness. Now they came and sat, stiff and awkward in her parlor, while they bore their parrot-like testimonies. Even in her old age, she wasn’t free from ‘botheration.’ And, worse, they always came alone—as though she was unworthy of knowing their children. That she might contaminate them. She couldn’t beg. She had her pride. But it was galling to see her boys turn into bigots.

At first, cheerful letters came from Hyte’s wife, Annie, who wrote of comic incidents and told about their favorite activity around the campfire—making books. But after they reached the Big Horns, the letters grew fewer and shorter. All the fun and gusto was gone. Then, even cheerful Annie, made a bitter confession. “Oh Granny, how we wish we were back in Johnson with you.”

She should have gone with them. She could have shown Hyte and Charlie how to scratch out a living in any land. No matter what they were living through in the Big Horns, she’d lived through it twice over in her life. She’d be useful again!

Henrietta couldn’t turn toward her beloved books. Her eyesight was far too gone for that. Sometimes she would stare at an open book with determined concentration, trying to force some meaning from the blurred pages. How she missed her friend, Mr. Finklestein, that kindly skeptic who had lived through even more hell than her.

Since the present was unbearable, her mind fled to the past. She spent her days wrapped in her memories.

She thought things couldn’t get worse, but she was wrong. Her son Brad died suddenly. The circumstances of his death were puzzling. He’d been found dead at the foot of the red sandstone cliffs. The ‘joke’ around town was that Brad was so absent-minded that while out looking for firewood, he’d climbed on the limb of a tree that was stretched over the bluff and hacked himself off. He may have been climbing and slipped or—perish the thought—he may have jumped. Whichever it was, her Brad was dead and she was alone.

The boys decided amongst themselves that their mother could no longer live by herself and the lot of giving her shelter fell to Bill. Henrietta balked. She just wanted to be in her place, surrounded by her things. She told her boys that she wasn’t afraid to die alone; the dog would let them know of her passing soon enough. Her boys didn’t listen.

She moved into Bill’s small house, which wasn’t even large enough for his growing family. She was constantly in the way, looming vast at the kitchen table, her rocking chair tripping children in the parlor. There was no room for her and, most resentfully, she knew it.

Lily, the wife, was neat and nervous and heroically noble—valiantly telling all that she didn’t mind giving up her bedroom to her grossly overweight, lame and almost blind mother-in-law. Lily lived in dire apprehension that Henrietta’s blackened old coffee pot on the polished kitchen range might be glimpsed by a Mormon neighbor. Worse was the pipe which Henrietta clenched between her teeth, even when she wasn’t smoking. Oh, to think what the Word of Wisdom would say of this. Lily hoped that God knew she was doing her best.

The children, fresh from Sunday School chants of “tea and coffee and tobacco we despise,” looked at Henrietta as a monster of iniquity. It wasn’t that they didn’t care for her as much as they saw her as evil personified.

The idea that her ‘bad habits’ could cause shame to children tickled Henrietta. It was her sole amusement. Even if coffee and tobacco hadn’t been her chief comforts, she wouldn’t have stopped using them. They were her battle flags—which she’d unfurled in many skirmishes. They proved that she hadn’t conformed, hadn’t given up and that two and two still made four. That had been her biggest contention with her husband. He could make two and two make five or even a dozen where Mormonism was concerned.

One day it came to light that Henrietta was not wearing her temple garments. A family conference was called and all the daughters-in-law were of one mind. Since Henrietta was obviously not right in the head, Heavenly Father would want them to clothe Henrietta in the garments themselves. Then, without so much as a by-your-leave, they proceeded to do so.

Henrietta fought. With her last bit of strength, she swung and kicked against this final indignity, but there were too many hands holding her down. After this wrestling match, she faded quickly. As she grew more helpless, her well-meaning sons brought in the Priesthood to bless her and pray over her. She protested, and loudly. Her boys assured the elders that she was ‘out of her mind.’ It was much easier on their consciences to take their mom’s panicked protests for delirium. They knew better. They’d known her all their lives and knew she’d always fought against this.

Nothing in life had ever come easy for Henrietta and death was no exception.

Henrietta Bird Shumway remained unbowed and unbroken. She never compromised what she knew to be true. May we all learn by her example.