Eliza and Missouri

Eliza R. Snow, circa 1850BYU-I professor Andrea Radke-Moss has come forward with an account that Eliza R. Snow was gang-raped by eight Missouri men.

The original account was recorded in the 1930s by Alice Merrill [Horne] (b. 1868), grand-daughter of Bathsheba Wilson Bigler [Smith] (b. 1822) apparently based on discussions of former times shared in the 1880s, when Alice was a teen or pre-teen.

Alice’s account is given significant credence because Bathsheba was particularly close to Eliza R. Snow. Though Bathsheba didn’t ascend to the presidency of the Relief Society until the death of Eliza Snow, she had been the youngest member of the Relief Society at the first meeting, where Eliza R. Snow was installed as secretary.

The Reported Event

According to the story in the Salt Lake Tribune, Eliza was raped in Missouri circa 1838 by 8 men. Andrea Radke-Moss asserted that due to the rape, Eliza was subsequently infertile.

Why I Hesitate to Wholly Accept this Account as Reported

I have no doubt that someone was gang-raped by eight men from Missouri. And I don’t have any hesitation in considering that such violence could have been committed against Eliza R. Snow.

However, we are talking about a record made decades after both the primary subject (Eliza R. Snow) and the raconteuse (Bathsheba W. Bigler [Smith]) were dead and unable to clarify. The honored lady making the record had been a mere teenager at the time the confidence was shared.

Bathsheba [Smith] was herself an unmarried teen at the time of the reported rape. Thus Bathsheba’s awareness of the rape was likely based on oral history from Eliza R. Snow decades after the event.

Hence we have at least two opportunities for oral transmission of a late recollection to become corrupted.

Choosing One’s Stories

Regarding the assertion that Eliza R. Snow was necessarily infertile as a result of the rape, we must consider that Eliza’s window to conceive was limited. The earliest point (other than the reported rape) when Eliza might have become pregnant would be 1842, when Eliza was 38 years old. This is the year when she covenanted with Joseph Smith. 1842 is also the year when she wrote about innocence being taken side by side and face to face by a vile wretch, presumably referring to Dr. John Bennett or one of his strikers.

There are also the stories indicating that Eliza was pregnant and lost the child. The most credible is the account originating with Charles C. Rich, who reportedly saw the fall Eliza R. Snow suffered which precipitated the reported loss of her child.

Though many scholars have dismissed the possibility that Eliza could have been pregnant as indicated in the oral history traced back to Charles C. Rich, their reasons for dismissing the possibility are based on the fact that the reported event could not have occurred in February 1843 at either the Smith Homestead or the Mansion House. However Eliza R. Snow’s own contemporary poetry hints the fall and miscarriage, if they occurred, took place in November 1842.

Thus I am curious to know what Alice wrote that leads Andrea Radke-Moss to assert that Eliza was rendered infertile by the reported gang rape.

If Eliza was not the Victim, Who Was?

I absolutely don’t doubt that a gang rape occurred, perpetrated by eight men from Missouri. The question is why, if the victim wasn’t Eliza, might someone have misunderstood who was attacked.

Most people don’t know about Marietta Rosetta Carter [Holmes], a woman who died in August 1840 in Nauvoo. A band of men from Missouri came up the river to Nauvoo. In the intense storm that hit, they ended up at the cabin owned by Jonathan Harriman Holmes. When they departed, Marietta was fatally wounded and the house had been set on fire. Marietta died within hours of the attack. Marietta’s infant child also died, though the child lingered for a month after the attack.

In 1842 Jonathan and Eliza became close. In September 1842 a discussion of the resurrection prompted Eliza to write a poem dedicated to Jonathan. As originally formulated, the poem appears to have been celebrating the eventual union of Jonathan and the deceased Marietta. Celestial marriage at the time was a matter of great secrecy, suggesting that Eliza was in a privileged position. I have suggested that Jonathan Harriman Holmes may have been asked to serve as pretend husband to a possibly pregnant Eliza. We see in the case of Joseph C. Kingsbury that a man accepting the duty of sheltering a woman as a pretend husband was associated in that early period with the man being granted the privilege of being sealed in eternity to a deceased wife.

Reports from those who heard the tale directly from Jonathan Harriman Holmes suggest that his December 1842 marriage to Elvira Annie Cowles was initially a pretend marriage that was not consummated until after the death of Joseph Smith. In particular, the account of John Fish Wright (delivered to LDS Church headquarters by William Duggan Wright) indicates Jonathan was willing to serve as Elvira’s pretend husband if she would have him, suggesting that there was another who had not ultimately been willing to have him.

Whether Jonathan was mere friend or intended husband, Eliza would have become familiar with the conditions leading to Marietta’s death, conditions that almost certainly involved the same sort of gang rape Alice Merrill [Horne] reported against Eliza R. Snow.

Ultimately Jonathan Harriman Holmes ended up as the husband of Elvira Annie Cowles, and the poem, as modified, was published in December 1842 as a celebration of the union of Eliza R. Snow’s two friends. In February 1843 Eliza R. Snow moved from the Smith Homestead two blocks up Water Street to the home of Jonathan Harriman Holmes and Elvira Annie Cowles. Eliza would live in the Holmes household until her departure from Nauvoo circa September 1843.

Thus I see it as plausible that Eliza Snow might subsequently describe of a terrible rape of a woman who lived on the same property she lived at in terms that Bathsheba might have misunderstood as being a rape of Eliza. Or Bathsheba, in recounting the tale of the terrible rape, might have left young Alice with the impression that Eliza herself was the victim of the rape.

Summary

Ultimately, the tale recorded my Alice Merrill [Horne] indicates that there was an horrific rape perpetrated against either Eliza R. Snow or someone she cared about so deeply as to permit a second-hand reporter to identify Eliza R. Snow as the victim.

I reject the assertion that the reported rape rendered Eliza infertile due to conflicting testimony and lack of primary sources.

I am suspicious of the assertion that the rape was perpetrated against Eliza herself because there is a known attack likely involving gang rape that killed another woman, a woman close to Eliza through co-housing with the woman’s surviving widower. Some of Eliza’s 1842 poetry seems inconsistent with suffering an egregious rape in earlier years. However I consider the rape of Eliza R. Snow as reported by Alice Merrill [Horne] a possibility.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

34 thoughts on “Eliza and Missouri

  1. Hi Joyce,

    I know various individuals suffered tremendous violence in Missouri, including gang rape. However Heather does not cite the particular report that Eliza Snow was raped. One of the comments mentions that there is a tradition through the George Albert Smith family of Eliza being raped, but that would be Alice Merrill [Horne] and family. Alice was George Albert Smith’s grand-daughter.

    So I am left wondering whether Alice was correct in identifying Eliza as the victim of the gang rape perpetrated by the eight men from Missouri, or if there could have been some confusion given that Eliza was close to a woman who was killed in August 1840 by an attack (likely gang rape) perpetrated by several men from Missouri.

  2. There is no particular reason that both Marietta and Eliza could not have both been the victims of such an attack. In fact, surely Eliza would’ve been far more sympathetic with Marietta’s loss if she had herself been victimized in a similar fashion. I do agree with you that the attack would not have guaranteed infertility. If a woman lived through such a thing she would still have internal organs that would function normally even if her mind and spirit were battered. It is not surprising that Eliza never bore a child to Brigham Young, the one man indisputably married to her. Fertility begins to drop in the early 30s and few women give birth after 40.
    Just as records about the shenanigans of John Bennett and his cohort have been buried in obscurity, references to rape in Missouri and by those who came from Missouri to Nauvoo to wreak vengeance on the Mormons have been handled with discretion sometimes amounting to secrecy.
    Infertility is a tricky subject. I personally know several people who assumed they were infertile because the birth of a child was long-delayed. When they had given up, they found that they were pregnant.
    I believe you’re right in assuming that there are possible opportunities for error in the transmission of this information. The active imagination of a teenager operating on the whispered confidences two older women leaves a lot of room for fabrication and misunderstanding.
    Even so, if Eliza was attacked, it might have made her even more vulnerable to the machinations of Bennett. Sister Fuller’s victimization serves as an example of how this could happen. In any case I feel that all of us owe her our gratitude for her immense gifts of poetry and lyrics that have helped inform our understanding.

  3. Why would she make something like that up? Yes, it is a second hand report, but why would any woman make something like that up? And the fact that other women were victims of the same or similar crimes, makes me think that this is a real. The reason I shared Heather Farrell’s blog post was to illustrate that this was not outside of the realm of possibility.

  4. It might be helpful to have actually heard the paper. Of course this is a problematic source, Radke-Moss didn’t dispute that. But you haven’t seen the work she did. Suggesting a number of possibilities is not the same as saying this is exactly what happened. She focused on the problematic nature of pinning down the specifics when it comes to sexual violence in Missouri. She is trying to do that work and it is important.

  5. Meg,
    I’m disturbed by your assertion that such a violent attack would leave her more vulnerable and thus fit nicely into your Bennett narrative. That goes against almost all of psychology in the aftermath of trauma that we know about women who have been through such experiences.

    It is clear from lots of recorded accounts that many women and girls were raped. So I’m a bit baffled as to why this is outside the scope of possibility for you.

  6. Meg, I’m very curious about your sources. Can you share them? Particularly:

    1. Why is 1842 the first year Snow could have become pregnant? Are you referring to her marriage to Joseph Smith? She did have marriage proposals before Smith.
    2. Where did she write about lost innocence with John C. Bennett?
    3. Where does Snow talk about her own rape and miscarriage?
    4. Why would Snow have a “pretend marriage” to Holmes? What is your source?

    Thanks!

  7. Hi Joyce,

    I think I stated several times that it is entirely possible that Eliza was the victim of the reported rape. I am merely raising the possibility that there could have been confusion.

    Hi M Miles,

    I think you are reacting to Pat’s assertion. As to trauma being a possible factor leaving individuals to be more vulnerable to Bennett et al., we have the case of Catherine Fuller, who at the least had suffered through watching her husband murdered. Given the discussion, it seems likely that this audience would also be willing to credit the tale that the women of Haun’s Mill were also raped by some of the 250 Missouri men who killed the men.

    Jenny,

    1. Despite proposals, there is no indication that Eliza was in a marriage prior to 1842. Thus there would be no particular reason prior to 1842 for her to have explored whether she was fertile. It is not particularly credible that she was having sex and hoping to become pregnant prior to 1842. The nature of medicine circa 1840 would not have permitted a medical professional to positively determine whether or not she was fertile.

    2. The four poems Eliza wrote in November 1842 are contained in the excellent book on Eliza’s poetry written by Jill Mulvany Derr and Karen Lynn Anderson. The particular poem discussing innocence and the vile wretch was also included in Eliza’s autobiography. I have quoted extensive portions of the November poems in my post Eliza and the Stairs, if you don’t happen to have the Derr/Anderson book or Eliza’s autobiography.

    3. Analysis of the November 1842 poem discussing the wretch suggests that the “innocence” is referring to the author of the poem. Another of the November 1842 poems discusses conscious innocence, casting oneself upon the atonement of Christ even though “vile reproach” and friends withdrawing love be the social reality of the repentant sinner.

    4. Why did Sarah Whitney have a pretend marriage? Joseph C. Kingsbury documented the nature of that situation, which allowed him to be sealed to his deceased wife. The poem Eliza wrote, which as currently extant is dedicated to Jonathan and Elvira, is contained in Eliza Snow’s Nauvoo journal, which has been digitized and is available for public review. Eliza (as it is her handwriting) modified the original poem. As anyone looking at the manuscript can see, the word Eliza scraped from the page started with an “a” and ended in a “s” and was the length of the word “angels.” A mark in the midst of the removed word can be seen to be ink bleeding through from the opposite side of the page. My post about the manuscript of the poem is at Manuscript of Eliza’s Journal, and the comment string contains analysis of the images. Looking at the rest of Eliza’s Nauvoo journal, she had not used scraping to remove errors prior to that poem, and would not use scraping again for several months afterwards. In none of the other cases of scraping (versus interlineal edits) does the edit fundamentally alter the interpretation of the text, as it does for the poem.

    The letter from Wright regarding Jonathan Holmes’ statement regarding the nature of his marriage to Elvira Cowles is described in Brian Hales’ book, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. The account from Jonathan’s children of the nature of his marriage to Elvira Cowles (their mother and a plural wife of Joseph Smith) is contained in the Welling Blue book. Jonathan and Elvira are my ancestors, so I have the Blue book and would be happy to provide the pertinent discussion to you. I’m sure I have discussed this in my Faithful Joseph series or on my blog at MegStout.com. Basically, Jonathan told his daughters that Elvira was Joseph’s wife, that Jonathan had not become her husband until after Joseph’s death at Joseph’s request. Yet the marriage between Jonathan and Elvira in December 1842 was documented in the newspaper (see Cook’s Nauvoo Death and Marriages).

    To reiterate, I am simply questioning whether such a late second hand report should be considered as reliable as a contemporary report (e.g., Eliza’s own poetry). As I know of a woman in Eliza’s circle of intimates who was killed as a result of violent attack by Missouri men (likely involving gang rape) in August 1840, it seems plausible the tale of rape told by Eliza might have been a tale in which Eliza herself was not the direct victim.

    At any rate, the report regarding the reported rape will be included in my book, Reluctant Polygamist, which comes out in April.

  8. for me, it makes sense that Eliza was the victim of the gang rape, as were other lds women at the time. Whether she was infertile is a side issue to the larger picture. Back then, a woman who had been raped would be deemed “unclean” to many men, “unworthy” of marriage, regardless of whether she could bare children or not. That Joseph Smith would offer her eternal marriage as one of his wives was a statement of mercy and God-like love to someone not at fault for the violent event. It may be that Bennett may have attempted to seduce what he thought would be a weakened female, due to her rape, but was rescued by Joseph.
    Imagine being a violated woman, feeling that no man would ever want to marry or touch her. That would possibly make her vulnerable to someone like Bennett.

    The story also gives us a new twist on plural marriage. Clearly this sealing was done out of mercy and kindness, not from lust.

  9. “Clearly this sealing was done out of mercy and kindness, not from lust.”

    I agree, and yet this reminds me of Mark Twain’s comment about Mormon polygamy, something about how the men should be commended rather than condemned for taking on such women.

    Let me put it this way, the reported gang rape is insufficient to explain Eliza’s actions and writings in 1842. Nor would the rape explain the other covenants Joseph entered into. Obviously “having been raped in Missouri” was not highly correlated with “agreed to enter into eternal covenant with Joseph Smith.”

    However let’s loop in another historical point – clearly understanding that such violence had been part of the Mormon experience in Missouri, it is perhaps easier to understand how Mountain Meadows occurred.

    Meanwhile, I also understand how the inhabitants of Missouri could come to revile Mormons to such a murderous level. For example, in the Battle of Crooked River, the uncle of Marietta Carter [Holmes] was killed, his face blown away. Roughly ten Missouri deaths were initially reported, though I believe careful history indicates no Missourians died in that conflict. I presume that several groups of men saw the dead and faceless body of Carter and believed him to have been one of their own. This would have been an “honest” mistake that would subsequently fuel vicious violence against Mormons in the subsequent interactions.

    Missouri circa 1838-1839 was a rat hole of nasty for Mormons. Eliza’s condemning poetry regarding Missouri is consistent with the reported rape, however is sufficiently explainable by other events or we would have already suspected the rape prior to hearing of Alice’s report.

  10. Meg,

    “… is sufficiently explainable by other events or we would have already suspected the rape prior to hearing of Alice’s report.”

    Not necessarily, IMO. Some things just aren’t mentioned in polite society. If one of JS’s and his faithful contemporaries’ goals was to spare repentent sinners from public shame and embarrasment, how much more would they have wanted to spare innocent victims from the shame of being known as a rape victim, or worse, as a gang rape victim. Rape literally was an “unspeakable thing” back then, wasn’t it?

    “Warts-and-all history” is a recent phenomenon. And we wouldn’t even be discussing the “knowin’ and begettin'” aspects of Nauvoo polygamy if the critics/antis hadn’t forced us too.

  11. We have known rape of Mormon women was occurring in Missouri. And I suppose, as suggested in the article, it helps modern victims to realize that even such an honored woman as Eliza R. Snow could have been a victim and yet gone on to accomplish all the good she did. Others such as Catherine Fuller or Marietta Holmes aren’t as helpful to the modern victim, since history has buried their heroism (Catherine for coming forward despite severe pressure to remain quiet, Marietta for keeping the men at her house rather than allowing them to suspect that they were only yards away from the Smith Homestead, which must have been their intended target).

    In private correspondence it has been suggested that perhaps Eliza realized that she had contracted an STD as a result of the reported gang rape, that this was a reason for claiming subsequent infertility. Alas, medicine circa 1840 didn’t allow for diagnosis or understanding of STDs in terms that would have prompted a conscientious person to refrain from subsequent sexual contact to avoid infecting others.

    Any claim about Eliza’s actions and motivations after the reported rape must account for (rather than ignore) her November 1842 poems, not to mention the themes of her powerful sacrament hymns.

  12. I was there during the presentation on Thursday. She had 20 minutes to give a summary of her paper during the panel on LDS Women in Danger. She gave a background and brief summary and mentioned the second half would be given at MHA in June. She was clear it wasn’t a perfect source, but that the context of it strengthens it’s reliability. I think until the full paper has been published we’ll have to withhold judgement.

  13. Hi Kristine,

    Thank you for chiming in. Obviously I was reacting to the certainty reflected by those reporting on what I’m sure Andrea Radke-Moss couched in proper professional subjunctive terms.

    For what it’s worth, I had e-mailed Andrea about Marietta before posting here. In that correspondence I also mentioned being a pre-teen and being allowed to listen as feminist women talked into the wee hours of a Christmas gathering about being raped.

    So to break things down, I am merely suggesting that there could have been confusion (which it appears Professor Radke-Moss had already acknowledged) and have provided a relatively unknown incident likely involving gang rape and fatality that would have been unusually close to Eliza’s circle. Lastly, I am questioning the assertion regarding infertility.

    I am not questioning that rapine against Mormon women occurred, nor am I saying that Eliza could not have been the victim of such a rape.

  14. Whether or not the rape occurred, I think it’s odd to suggest knowing ERS was a victim will be comforting to anyone. Further, I think it’s strange to suggest here that a famous woman as victim is more comforting than any other non-famous woman. Can someone please explain the logic in either case?

  15. Hi M Miles,

    If you review the original story in the Salt Lake Tribune, I believe you will see that the possibility that Eliza had been attacked is touted as something that would be helpful for modern women who have suffered sexual violence.

    From the Trib article:

    “Radke-Moss’ BYU presentation — ‘Beyond Petticoats and Poultices: Finding a Women’s History of the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838’ — left many women with ‘tears in their eyes and faces of disbelief,’ said Mormon blogger and writer Emily W. Jensen, who was in the audience. ‘As Radke-Moss described how understanding this part of Eliza Snow’s history can help women today process their own histories of sexual abuse and violence, I saw nodding heads.'”

    To riff off Elder Bednar’s recent discussion, though, we are neither bond nor free, Jew nor gentile, homosexual nor disabled, rapist nor rape victim, but sons and daughters of God. We are agents empowered to act and protect, repent and forgive.

    Amongst Catholic Saints there is a strong tradition that the truly holy ones suffer some stigmata. These stigmata are rather celebrated, the way Saint Margaret of Scotland praised God with her dying breath for sending a great sorrow to purify her soul (a report had just confirmed her husband and son had been killed at Alnwick).

    Inasmuch as some might have felt that their suffering proved God didn’t love them, learning that an honored Saint had suffered similarly could provide a sense of schadenfreude that merely learning of the suffering of unknown individuals would be unable to inspire.

  16. M Miles, you commented: “I’m disturbed by your assertion that such a violent attack would leave her more vulnerable and thus fit nicely into your Bennett narrative. That goes against almost all of psychology in the aftermath of trauma that we know about women who have been through such experiences.”

    Are you trained in psychology? My informal observations and conversations have led me to conclude that sexual abuse/trauma generally causes lack of self-esteem in women (which in only a minority of cases is over-compensated for, but can still be observed in unguarded moments). An obvious lack of self-esteem not only makes a woman an easier target for later abuse, but actually attracts abusers. Somewhat similar to how the pathetic cry of a wounded rabbit attracts coyotes.

    I am not trained in psychology, but I’ve come across plenty of wounded souls among singles adults, both in and out of church. And that seems to be one of the patterns that I have observed.

    There’s a CDC report, google-able, about how obesity is related to “Adverse Childhood Experiences”, ACE. According to that report, At least 50% of obese (or maybe it was morbidly obese) adults have ACE. And in women, ACE is usually sexual abuse. My personal observations/surveys indicates more like 90% of morbidly (BMI over 40) women were sexually abused as minors. Food addiction, like many addictions, is not always, but often is, tied to low self-esteem.

    In obese men, there can be a handful of reasons for obesity. But for the majority of obese women, or morbidly obese women (I don’t know exactly where the dividing lines are on the emotional/psych side of the equation), at least nowadays, I don’t know about the 1800’s, the major root cause is sexual abuse, and then not healing emotionally/spiritually from it.

  17. Bookslinger:
    First, yes, I was trained and worked with abuse victims and am one myself.

    Second, what does food addiction have to do with being vulnerable to seduction? I’m not sure why you added that part, completely out of place to the discussion. Further, after a traumatic rape such as gang rape, likely a woman would be scared to be near any men at all. For a more recent example of victims’ feelings on the matter, after the film Thelma and Louise came out rape victims were furious because shortly after a scene where one of them is raped, she is seen being seduced and hopping in bed with Brad Pitt. Victims were outraged because that is so_out_of character for woman who has just been raped.

    {edited}

    Meg,
    I read the article, I just don’t follow the logic and was sincerely asking if someone had logic to it if they could please explain. However the Catholic saint thing is completely out of place. Heaven forbid we start valorizing being victimized.

  18. Hi M Miles,

    Perhaps the stigmata and schadenfreude comments didn’t help you understand.

    It wasn’t sexual abuse, but I remember feeling quite unhappy after my son died. I had started back to work and was on travel when my car broke down. Mourning my son, cold, alone, and with a broken car, I was reading the Reader’s Digest, which is unfailingly filled with stories about how good things happen. All of this had me feeling quite low. Then the radio came on with the report that an earthquake had hit Kobe.

    It was not that I was rejoicing in the terrible damage suffered in Kobe. But it was a relief to realize that I was not the only one suffering.

    On a related note, my sister was traumatized by the death of her infant son. It wasn’t until my son died that she was able to heal and consider having more children. As I understood it, her reasoning was along the lines that if my son could die, then it wasn’t her fault that her son had died. Not that anyone else had ever told her it was or could have been her fault, but when suffering such a loss, we are often not fully rational about how much guilt we feel for the fact that a bad thing has happened to us.

  19. Meg,
    I completely understand your sister’s healing through seeing someone nearby suffer. I understand you see others suffering and thus find comfort and solace seeing that others suffer too, that you are not alone. This I understand.

    I don’t understand, though it truly may be, how it would be comforting to people that ERS suffered. This makes little sense to me. Your sister, for instance, knew pioneer women lost children, including famous ones, but that was not what comforted her.

  20. Ah, I see your issue.

    However, I can imagine that for some it would be a comfort. Even though the reported rape occurred in the distant past, it is new to us. And so it will be for some victims as though a good friend has suffered a similar trauma, and therefore ease negative feelings they are experiencing.

    For others, this report might help them learn compassion, or might help them articulate that victims are often blameless for the harm that has befallen them.

    The power of the story to ease suffering or increase compassion will vary depending on how much people identify Eliza R. Snow as a role model and honored figure.

    One good thing I see arising from this story (even if I point out the problematic provenance) is helping people realize that Eliza was not the villain portrayed in Mormon Enigma.

    If Eliza did suffer, then she clearly felt that rape was not the worst thing that had happened to her prior to November 1842:

    To stand on virtue’s lofty pinnacle,
    Clad in the heav’nly robes of innocence,
    Amid that worse than every other blast–
    The blast that strikes at moral character
    With floods of falsehood foaming with abuse
    …–
    Thrown side by side and face to face with that
    Foul hearted spirit, blacker than the soul
    Of midnight’s darkest shade, the traitor,
    The vile wretch that feeds his sordid selfishness
    Upon the peace and blood of innocence–
    The faithless, rottenhearted wretch, whose tongue
    Speaks words of trust and fond fidelity,
    While treach’ry, like a viper, coils behind
    The smile that dances in his evil eye.–

  21. “The power of the story to ease suffering or increase compassion will vary depending on how much people identify Eliza R. Snow as a role model and honored figure.”

    Completely agree, or even more how much they relate to her. I just don’t think it will have the effect that is portrayed in the SLT. To me it felt a little jarring and out of touch.

    I don’t think many Mormons demonize her, though.

  22. I don’t think many active Mormons demonize Eliza R. Snow, but I have tumbled across comments from women who were severely critical of Eliza based on having read Mormon Enigma and coming to the conclusion that she was a deceitful seductress.

    I think the nature of the forum where this presentation was made makes it more likely the women in that audience look up to Eliza R. Snow. They were likely a self-selected group, bring willing to attend such a session in the first place. So the article was likely representative of the reaction of those in attendance, but would not be valid for a more general audience. And I think the headlines tend to make it even worse, transforming a nuanced talk about possibilities into absolute truth expressed in ten words or less.

    Or at least, it was expressed so pithily that my autistic daughter was able to read the headline in the brief second that I opened the tab to close it (the term “Shocking” had caught her eye, and I tried to close the tab to shut down that line of inquiry). This was followed by a discussion of what rape (and gang rape) is, that it can range from physical attack that happens to include private parts all the way to consensual sex where at least one party is not in a position to legally consent, and that it can be an attack on either a woman or a man.

    Sigh.

  23. Looking up to her and finding solace are so different. She’s somewhat a mythical figure. I think in reality people need someone less mythical to relate to when it comes to suffering and seeking solace. I suppose if you’re a historian and have sentimental attachment, somewhat maybe like I do my own great-grandmothers, then it could be comforting? Otherwise I don’t buy it. There’s not enough proximity.

  24. Perhaps, but I won’t tell a person who is able to find solace that they are wrong to do so.

    But I agree that this isn’t a story that would bring universal solace to all.

  25. M. Miles, perhaps it would be better if you were to say, “I would not find this information to be comforting” rather than assuming that all others will feel the same way that you do. It is highly likely that you do not speak for every sexually abused person, and it is also likely that many people will have different ways of processing that sort of experience, whether you approve of the way they process or not. Some people will feel much more ‘proximate’ to a historical figure (or even a fictional one) than to someone they actually know. We are all different, and I am puzzled why you cannot imagine that someone might react differently than you would. Surely that is one of the first lessons we learn in life–my experience is not the same as everyone else’s (and I don’t get to tell others what they think about their own experiences). You need someone proximate–do not extrapolate your own preference to the rest of humanity.

  26. Kate,
    To the contrary, I do think people react differently, and am certain some people will find solace. I do think people who feel a closeness to ERS may find this comforting. I also don’t think it’s bad that they will. I simply think the SLT article made it sound like it would be a sweeping healing for women sexually abused. It may for some women, but it is not as if, “Oh, this is a great discovery, now women who could not heal will finally be able to.” That was the off-putting sentiment.

  27. I simply meant it’s strange this is seen as some kind of panacea, and most women need proximity. Cheers.

  28. I have seen the post at Juvenile Instructor. This is the comment I posted there:

    Hi Andrea,

    Thank you for bringing Alice Merrill Horne’s account to the fore.

    I agree that it is possible that Eliza R. Snow was raped as Alice reported. However if so, Eliza herself felt that was not the worst thing that could happen.

    As Eliza wrote in November 1842:

    To stand on virtue’s lofty pinnacle,
    Clad in the heav’nly robes of innocence,
    Amid that worse than every other blast–
    The blast that strikes at moral character
    With floods of falsehood foaming with abuse…–
    Thrown side by side and face to face with that
    Foul hearted spirit, blacker than the soul
    Of midnight’s darkest shade, the traitor,
    The vile wretch that feeds his sordid selfishness
    Upon the peace and blood of innocence–
    The faithless, rottenhearted wretch, whose tongue
    Speaks words of trust and fond fidelity,
    While treach’ry, like a viper, coils behind
    The smile that dances in his evil eye.–

    The man or men Eliza was calling vile wretch had not raped the innocent, but had seduced the innocent, for his “tongue speaks words of trust and fond fidelity…” This is not how one would describe a rapist.

    I am presuming the man Eliza characterizes as a “faithless, rotten hearted wretch” is amongst the men who seduced women in 1841-1842, as described in the 1842 victim testimonies of Catherine Laur Fuller, Margaret Nyman, Matilda Nyman, Sarah Searcy Miller, and Mary Clift. Mary’s testimony was recorded in the High Council Minutes. All the other victim testimonies were published, at least in part, in the newspaper in 1844, and the handwritten record of the 1842 testimonies is available for review.

    I see various possibilities for the stories Alice heard as a child.

    First, she understood correctly what the older women were whispering and hinting, and Eliza herself was raped by eight men in Missouri circa 1838.

    Second, she understood correctly that there had been a terrible rape but misunderstood when and where the rape occurred.

    Third, she correctly understood Eliza had been a victim of terrible perfidy, which violated women’s souls. This would have been co-mingled with stories of rapine. This could therefore be consistent with Eliza’s 1842 poetry and the reports that she was pregnant and fell, losing the unborn babe.

    Fourth, Alice could have incorrectly inferred Eliza was the victim of a rape that had actually been perpetrated against another woman. There are numerous possible victims, one of whom is Marietta Carter Holmes, who died in Nauvoo in August 1840 hours after being attacked by a band of men from Missouri. Eliza lived in the same households with Marietta’s widower from August 1842 through September 1843, suggesting why a rape of another woman might have been felt very closely. This last would be consistent with Eliza’s 1842 writings suggesting that seduction, rather than rape, was worse than every other blast.

    It is interesting to note that the death of Marietta Holmes is usually characterized as occurring during the flight from Missouri, though her death occurred in Nauvoo in 1840. Compton is one who perpetrated this error. In similar fashion, Alice would not have had a context for how vile abuse could have occurred outside of the Missouri troubles.

    Some day we shall know as we are known and will not have to look as through a glass darkly. I eagerly anticipate that day.

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