The Memoir of Elizabeth Lee

My daughter has been on a major family history jag recently, and she’s turning into quite a little genealogist (better than her old man, anyway). She just sent me a wonderful treasure: a 21-page single-space typescript manuscript containing the first person memoir of Elizabeth Lee, which she wrote in January 1931 in Columbia. She was the older sister of my great grandmother Alice Lee. (This Lee family is related in some fashion to Harold B. Lee, but I haven’t tried to figure out exactly how.) I thought it was a wonderful window into what it was like to grow up as a girl in Utah in the 19th century, so I’m going to share a few excerpts with you here. (If she were alive today I suspect she’d be a perma at FMH.) Enjoy!

I was born Elizabeth Lee, in the village of Jovely (Tooele), Utah, 1856, eleven miles south of the Great Salt Lake. The Mormon Church (Properly speaking Brigham Young, who was the Church), gave forth the order to go forth, multiply, and replenish the earth–My parents were subjects of the church, and faithfully obeyed, so I was the fifth child in a family of seven sons and seven daughters.)

We had school only three months in each year, and the fee was three dollars per month. Consequently when I had attended from the age of six years until I was eleven years, my education was considered complete enough for a girl, who did not require much education. Any how, about this I do not remember the date, but it was after the Civil War ended. There was an influx of Confederate soldiers going to California passing through, and they fascinated me. I had begun reading novels and was full of the glamour of romance, deeds of valour for their ladies. Sh!! those beautiful boys! And there were so many of them. I liked them all. There was another drawback. Women were only allowed one husband and these Mormons could have as many wives as they could catch, which I thought was an unjust discrimination. That ended my dream, and I had to keep on with my candle making, soup boiling, knitting and all the multitude tasks that fall to the daughter of a large family who dig their living out of old mother Earth. I was called the “runaway,” as I took every chance of getting away out into the open. I was never so happy as when I could escape from the house before anyone else was awake, and go up a canyon, which had the only timber and running water within a radius of ten miles. How I loved the solitude, where there was no one to order me about, no one to find fault, and more especially I could be lazy to my heart’s content. The reason I was not allowed to roam at will–was that bears, wolves, and hostile indians were frequently seen and were a real danger. I scouted danger, through ignorance, because I had never seen either of these dangers. To me they did not exist. The birds, flowers, wild mind, and beautiful solitude satisfied, soothed and charmed me. All the running away was instinctive, the real bent of my mind from my earliest childhood, as my after life has proven. As soon as I was without ties to bind me, I did not hesitate one moment–like a Gretzel or a Zane–I took my gun, went to the woods, there to be free to decide for myself how to be happy and seek my fortune con el favor de Dios (with the favor of God).

My father who was Captain of local militia for defense against the Indian raids and was a notable hunter, a man cool headed, regardless of danger, tireless tracker whom the indians feared and respected. I remember that twenty years after the event, my father paid an old indian a horse for the blood money for having killed the brother of the indian in battle, and so peace was declared between them.

[Six paragraphs omitted, including the brutality of punishments at her school.]

I am writing all this uninteresting stuff to give an indication of what made me an Iconoctus or “breaker jumper[?]” I was taught that woman was a servant of man–she must be meek and patient, and above all obedient. I have been none of those things, and I have proven that a women can go out on her own and make her living and keep the respect and appreciation of her fellow men. I am blamed for my lack of reverence to the Supreme Being. To me my Father was the author of my being and I could not see as a child why I should be compelled to thank anyone else for anything. I was always asking “why, why?” and at last they said I was to be excused because I was not normal, and there was no word more damnable for a child than that. To not be of the same conventional pattern, look at life differentally, don’t walk so fast, don’t climb trees, don’t ride astride, or in other words I was not a Lady, nor did I want to be–I wanted to be myself. Little did I dream that i would one future day be emancipated to a glorious freedom where I could wear trousers, ride, row, swim, climb mountains, not so high as “Ians Peck [?]” of course, but more gracefully. In fact most of my achievements have been mediocre and notable only because I am a woman and old.

[Nine paragraphs omitted]

One day in my twentieth year, the husband of a friend of mine drove up to my door and invited me to go for a drive–he had some business at Fort Stockton and Belle was not well and did not want to go. I wanted to get out in the open as it was a beautiful spring morning. Stockton was only six miles away–so off we went, without a care in the world–and he with his plans.

He took the longest way in a roundabout way and when I asked him why he took the long road he said, “Oh, now that I have got you, I am going to keep you as long as I can.” “That don’t worry me, no man can keep me against my will.” He laughed and said, “Oh you will be willing before we get back.” “You’d better be careful what you say to me for I’ll tell Belle everything when we get back home.” “Why you silly little fool. You need not be afraid of me. You are Belle’s friend and that makes you just like my sister.”

We reached Stockton and stayed for lunch–then he left me in the hotel and was gone several hours. He said he was delayed by the absence of a man–but while he was gone the landlady, a fine motherly old lady said “Do you know this man well?” “No,” I replied, “But he is the husband of a friend of mine. Why do you ask?” “Because he is only too well known here, and is a gambler and an all around bad character.” “Don’t worry about me, I can take care of myself.” “How many girls have said that and finally come to grief?”

Finally he returned–and I was very anxious to start–but he said that we must have some refreshments before going. So, sandwiches and wine. I remembered how I had been taught that wine was a mocker and strong drink raging, as the old lady put the bottle on the table she stepped behind him and shook her head. I understood her and smiled back at her, full of self-confidence. He offered me a glass of wine–but I refused and as Pepys has said that “make him verry angry.” “You act as though I am trying some game with you. Would I harm my little sister?” “I don’t think you would, and I am sure if you harm the little sister of Alfred, or Tom, or Henry, or Sam Lee, my four big brothers, you would not have as much chance of escaping alive as a snowball in Hell. So just keep on being my good big brother.” I was nervous, but thought I was safe. When I said goodbye to the landlady she gave me a warning look–Be careful.

By the way, he had drank the wine himself, all of it. Driving away from the Fort, we passed over a hill and was soon lost to sight. Then he began to make love to me in earnest–he tried to kiss me, I hit him in the face. He threw his arms around me–I broke away. The horses got out of control while the scuffle was going on, and while he was quieting them, I jumped out of the buggy and he tied the reigns to the dash board and soon overtook me, threw me down and putting a hand on each arm, held me fast. He could not move–neither could I. He loosed one hand–I twisted my hand in his tight collar and held fast. I choked him until he released my other hand. I fought with him–kicked him below the belt and broke away. I found I was as strong as he. I ran to the team and snatched the whip and lashed the horses into a gallop and ran off–not toward the town we left. It was a livery team and means discovery if they got away and smashed up things. He chased after and caught them firmly. In the meantime I was safely hid in a little gully filled with tall growing sage brush.

He drove back and forth time and time again–calling my name promising to be good if I would come out of my hiding and when I would not answer threatening the horrible things he would do when he caught me, which he was sure to do.

I walked the 6 miles home, crept up to my room, and fell exhausted on my bed and slept the sleep of the victorious. The next morning I was ashamed to go down to breakfast, but it had to be faced. but not one word was ever said, no one ever could. “Bruce P—” abandoned his wife and left at daylight, for parts unknown, and the only word ever heard by his wife was that he had fallen dead in a gambling house in “Decota.” The only time in my life that I ever saw hellish passion unchained and rampant, before or since, for which “Dios, Gracias.”

[The above is just a taste of the memoir, which I found quite fascinating. She ended up marrying a man who already had six children and became a stepmother at age 22. She and her husband eventually moved to Mexico where they developed a coffee plantation. She had numerous trials and adventures trying to protect their land and property from those who would steal it. After her husband died she sold the plantation for $30,000. She was a free spirit who lived a life of great adventure. I’m very proud to claim her as my relative!]


  1. awesome

  2. Natalie B. says:

    I loved reading this.

  3. IdahoG-ma says:

    What an awesome lady.

  4. StillConfused says:

    Part of the memoir of my great grandmother:

    My first real beau was when I was 17 and I thought I was in love but my Mother and Dad always broke up my friendships. This man, John Omohundro, was a fine man until death but his father lost his mind and got a horse collar and put white rocks in it and sat behind the door and would blow like a goose, so they heard that and it was all off. He was an engineer on a railroad. Then I had a Mr. Willie D(L)awson, real good looking, but he drank too much. Then a Mr. Willie Johnson but he was too old, his hands felt cold and clammy like a frog foot. Then Charlie Hanson, went with him 6 years altogether and always had a good time, he had so much foolishness, could keep you laughing so much. One night we went to a Salvation Army meeting and one of their men came to us and asked him how was his soul. He told them it was pretty thin, his foot was almost on the ground. Then I had a Mr. Thomas Kidd, he was a school mate. Then I met the man I married (George Beauregard Miles)….and out of all my picking I would have been better off if I had married the first one but such is life.

  5. Stephanie says:

    Wow, what a treasure!

  6. Kevin,
    Thanks for sharing. A great read. I’m going to Columbia with my son on a field trip in a couple weeks. I’ll think of her while there.

    She reminds me of my namesake, my 3rd great-grandmother, who would get up early to run around in her bloomers in Davis County at 3 and 4 am-the only time she felt free was out of a dress.

  7. Researcher says:

    Very cool. The Gertrude Bell of Tooele.

    Samuel Chaffings Lee (1775-1859) was a Utah pioneer, born in North Carolina, died in Salt Lake City. The family is originally from Ireland.

    Your line comes through his son Alfred Gilham Lee (1805-1870) and Thomas Laflesh Lee (1828-1890). They seemed to stay in the Salt Lake City and Tooele areas.

    Harold B. Lee’s line comes through Samuel’s son Francis (1811-1866), Samuel Marion (1840-1890), and another Samuel Marion (1875-1947). It looks like this line of the family went south and settled in Panaca, Nevada, although Harold B. was born in Idaho.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Researcher. When I was like 9 or 10, T. Edgar Lyon took my family to see the land in Nauvoo that had been owned by Samuel Lee. (My father had been a student of his at the University of Utah institute, I believe, so we got the personal touch. Even as a young boy I grasped how cool it was to get that personal tour from Brother Lyon.)

  9. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    Poor Belle! Bruce P. was more dangerous than bears and wolves. What horrors did she have to endure at home?!

    Thank you for sharing this treasure with us! I love history!

  10. prometheus says:

    Very interesting. That taste certainly made me want to keep going! :D

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