Sister Wives Series #7: Jane Park (the 6th wife)

jane park

Jane Park Gardner (1834–1916)

Part 7 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

Five months after marrying the schoolteacher Laura Althea, 38-year-old Archibald courted and married his sixth wife, 18-year-old Jane Park, for time and all eternity on August 24, 1852. Jane had known Archie since she was a girl; she was born in Kent County, Canada (like Archie’s first children), and her family had joined the LDS Church there. The Park family was in the same company of Saints as the Gardners when they left Canada for Winter Quarters. Jane’s family, however, stayed in Missouri for a few more years to earn money for the trek west and did not reach the Salt Lake Valley until 1850, three years after Archibald and Margaret had helped to settle Mill Creek, Utah. Jane was a masterful hand sewer; she made clothing and even helped shoemakers finish shoes for the family. Everyone went to “Aunt” Jane whenever they needed fine sewing; her delicate craftsmanship and elevated taste were often tasked with designing and creating wedding gowns, as well as temple and burial clothing. She also suffered from anxiety, and I like to imagine that this careful and attentive work with her hands helped her to feel calm and in control, while her artful stitches brought beauty and class to a desolate frontier.

Jane bore two children with Archibald: Reuben in 1853 and Ann Ammerrette in 1855 (both children would live long lives, well into the 1920s and ‘30s). For unknown reasons, Jane never bore any more children for Archibald after 1855, even though she was only 21 years old when Ann was born.

Jane stopped bearing children at around the same time Archibald’s two oldest wives stopped bearing children. Abigail, Archibald’s second wife, would give birth to her last child in 1850, when she was 37 years old. Margaret, Archibald’s first wife, would give birth to her ninth and final child in 1857, when she was 39 years old. Considering that Archibald’s 48th child was born in 1888 to his 11th wife (when his 11th wife, Mary, was 38 and Archibald himself was 74), it is mysterious to me why Jane only ever bore two children in the first three years of her marriage. There is no indication that Archibald favored her less than his other wives, although perhaps their relationship was just different.

In 1869, when Jane was 35 years old, something excited happened: the transcontinental railroad. The railroad was completed in Promontory, Utah, with a “wedding of the rails” between Central Pacific and the Union Pacific tracks (stretching from the Sacramento, California, through the formidable Sierra Nevada mountain range to Omaha, Nebraska). A golden spike[1], a silver spike, and a spike cast from gold, silver, and iron were driven into the final rails with a solid silver sledgehammer to commemorate the occasion. Before the railroad, the early Saints’ only connections with the outside world had to be brought by ox, horse, or mule teams. A trip across the country that would have cost $1,000 was suddenly as cheap as $150. Thanks to the railroad, Archibald was able to take twenty of his children to a circus in Salt Lake City one afternoon for a dollar apiece.[2]

In the spring of 1868, the year before the golden spike was driven in to complete the railroad, Archibald Gardner was helping to build the tracks by furnishing ties. He took Jane and her two children (who were 15 and 13 years old), Margaret’s son Neil (27 years old), and Abigail’s adopted Indian daughter, Fanny (20 years old) with his working men to Wyoming, where they intended to float railroad ties down the Green River to the men laying track. Unfortunately, Archie would not have the chance to complete this plan. Accompanying the party was a young woman named Jane Hillman; just as they reached Robinson’s Ferry and were heading toward the banks, another member of the party, John Rockhill, went to stow his gun in the rear of his wagon when it accidentally went off, shooting and killing Jane Hillman.[3] I imagine Jane Park Gardner wanting to cover the eyes of her teenage children and hold them close—or perhaps she felt it was better for them to steel their hearts with open eyes against these common hardships of frontier life. I’m sure she was devastated at the sudden and pointless death of the young woman who shared her name. Perhaps she also felt guilt from the disappointment that her opportunity to be the only wife traveling with Archibald was overcast with death and grief.

For a time, Jane lived with Althea (the schoolteacher), Big Liz (the singer), and Archie’s young 8th wife, Sarah Jane (who married Archibald in 1857 just one week after her 15th birthday) in a shared home by the Big Cottonwood Mill. Jane and her sister wives cooked meals and skillet bread for Archie’s mill hands, and Jane’s little Ann was in charge of throwing rocks out of the road to smooth it for the ox teams. I wish I could go back in time and peek through a window at these women’s lives together. Althea would give birth to 11 children with Archibald, Jane would have two of his children, and Liz would have none. Sarah Jane (as we shall see in another post in this series) would only have one child with Archibald when she was 17[4]. It is perhaps because Jane, Liz, and Sarah Jane did not have many children that they were all placed in one big shared home with Althea, who is characterized as being very open and embracing of her sister-wives and their children. I’m not sure that Althea herself was received with similarly open arms, especially considering that Liz and Sarah Jane would both leave Archibald and polygamy in the following decade.

Jane, however, did not leave Archie or polygamy. When Archibald’s 9th wife, Harriet, left Archie and returned to her first husband in Moroni, Utah, she took their daughter, Lovina, with her. In 1866 Harriet died and 8-year-old Lovina returned to Archibald, where she was given to Aunt Jane to raise until, at age 16, Lovina married her first husband, Sidney Rigdon Savage in 1875.[5] When the late Mary Ann Bradford’s daughter Polly suddenly died in 1887 at 29-years-old from illness, she left behind four little children: Delos, Delila, Archie, and baby Clara Olive. By his mother’s request, Delos stayed with his father, his brother Archie went to live with another aunt, and the sisters Delila and Clara were given to Jane to raise.

In 1887 something else happened that drastically and permenantly changed Archibald’s family: the Edmunds-Tucker Anti-Plural Marriage Act.[6] The act disincorporated the LDS Church, allowing the government to seize Church property, imprison men practicing polygamy, and require citizens to take an anti-polygamy oath in order to vote, serve on juries, or become public officials. Illegitimate children were no longer eligible for inheritances—and all polygamists’ children save for those from the first wife were considered illegitimate. Although women’s suffrage in Utah was first granted 17 years earlier in 1870, the Edmunds-Tucker Act disenfranchised them (full suffrage in Utah would not return until 1896). The Act also required that women testify against their husbands, and Jane was one of Archie’s wives repeatedly brought before a grand jury while Archie (who was in his 70s by now) was in hiding. Jane’s house was repeatedly searched by deputy marshals who were scouring Utah to find underground polygamists. The family watched many of their close friends go to prison. I imagine that this only made it harder for Archibald’s wives to see their husband, and when Archie did come out of hiding to visit them, I’m sure the reunions were flavored with worry and guilt.[7] Archibald’s words depict the heartache that resulted from the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which ironically was partly put into place as a protection for women from the pains of a polygamous lifestyle:

“My business was all going to wreck, and I felt in duty bound to see my plural wives were supported and protected the same as my first wife. The children of my plural wives are as dear to me as Margaret’s and are equally as virtuous. Death or life, we polygamists will support and provide for our loved ones. They took us in good faith when there was no law in the land against plural marriage, and we will not fail them now.”

In 1890, Wilford Woodruff issued the Polygamy Manifesto that set in motion the end of LDS practices of polygamy. This made life for polygamous families even trickier. Although Woodruff’s manifesto mitigated the scrutiny of federal marshals trying to sniff out polygamists, it was still suspicious if men continued to cohabitate with multiple partners. Wilford Woodruff told the men in these situations, “I did not, could not and would not promise that you would desert your wives and children. . . . This you cannot do in honor.” However, it was also President Woodruff who counseled Archibald Gardner to take his 11th and youngest wife, Mary, and move with just her and her family to Star Valley, Wyoming, leaving the rest of his wives and children to keep up his mills, farms, and businesses in Utah. Archie would live out most of the rest of his life in Star Valley.[8][9]

Jane likely lived much of the rest of her life near her children but away from her husband. In the July of 1895, a group of Archie’s relatives, including Jane and her children, took a white-top buggy from West Jordan to Star Valley, where they found an aging Archie happy to see them and busy with several mills and a large herd of hogs. Then, Jane went back home.

Somewhere around 1879 and 1880, Jane suffered from “a nervous disorder” that left her in ill health—enough that she needed to be moved into Margaret’s house to slowly recover. After this episode, she was “troubled with nervousness for years.” 19th-century America is notorious, of course, for not understanding mental health, particularly for female patients. I would imagine that someone prone to anxiety would find plenty of triggering episodes in the life of a sixth wife of eleven in a polygamous family. I would also imagine that Jane’s mental health might have had something to do with her intimate relationship with Archibald (or possible lack thereof?) and why they stopped having children. But, ultimately, these are just my own imaginings, because no one has left enough of a record of Jane for us to know for sure. What does seem to be clear is that, in spite of the demons that haunted her mind and heart from time to time, Jane was a woman who cared about Archibald and his family, and who loved her children and adopted children with a gentleness that must have softened an otherwise harsh and difficult life in the Utah desert.

Sources consulted:

[1] Fun fact: the golden spike was apparently made from 23 twenty-dollar gold pieces, worth $460.

[2] Another railroad story: in 1872, tracks came down to Bingham Canyon and passed right in front of Margaret’s (Archie’s first wife) front door, where trains “killed every chicken, pig, or dog that unluckily got in its way.” One day one of the dogs was drinking from a stream near the tracks when a train roared past. The dog had ducked down beneath the tracks, but his tail stuck out and got sliced under the wheels—“slit from end to end.” The dog survived, amazingly, with the only consequence being that he had two tails henceforth.

[3] That fall, Neil, John Rockhill, and a few other men took a sleigh back to Robinson’s Ferry to dig up Jane Hillman’s body and rebury it in Spanish Fork. As a Lonesome Dove fan, I can respect this. I am more closely related to Neil than to most of the Gardners in these stories, so I am touched that he was one to return and perform this sacred act of digging earth, retrieving the decomposing corpse of the young woman who had died so needlessly in front of him, wrapping her in sheets or blankets or perhaps a roughly hewn wooden casket, and traveling back through the cold to bury her at home among her family in Spanish Fork. What a silent and meditative trip that must have been.

[4] Sarah Jane later divorced Archibald and had eight more children with her second husband.

[5] Sidney Savage would later desert Lovina and their three small children. Reuben and Delila rescued the little fatherless family and brought them back to West Jordan, where Archibald supported them until Lovina became the plural wife of Levi Naylor (they kept the date and ceremony secret because of increased prosecution of polygamous activity).

[6] This was not the first time the U.S. Government had tried to stop the Mormons from practicing polygamy. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a federal law that banned bigamy, in the hopes that Utah Mormons would stop the practice of plural wives. However, Lincoln later silently allowed Brigham Young to ignore this law with the return favor that Brigham Young would stay out of the Civil War.

[7] Archibald at one point fled to Mexico in hiding, spending his 72nd birthday in southern Utah on his way home. When he returned to Utah, he was constantly hiding. On one occasion he hid underneath the Bingham Ditch bridge at the same moment that marshals passed over it, looking for him.

[8] I will eventually get back to my great-great-great grandmother Margaret, Archie’s first wife. But I feel like I should note here that she spent her long, slow decline toward death without Archie by her side, and the distance between them would prevent him from even coming to her funeral in 1893. He wrote to Jane’s son Reuben, “[Margaret] did not seem to recognize me when last we parted but I expect to meet her soon and I am sure she will know me then.”

[9] I should add that President Woodruff also warned him, “Don’t pass away and leave your bones in Star Valley,” which strikes me as an odd directive. Whatever the case, Archibald took this as prophetic instruction and returned to West Jordan just before he died.


  1. Karen H. says:

    This series has been fascinating. And very humanizing for the women you are talking about. Thanks for telling their stories.

  2. Villate says:

    I know several people who had two or three children young and then didn’t have any more. It’s not that they were trying not to, they just didn’t. Sometimes it happens. It’s too bad you have to rely so much on speculation about these women. You are so fortunate to have so many pictures! When researching my family history some years ago, I would get ridiculously excited about even the tiniest mention of an ancestor in an obituary or family note and there were only a few photographs. I felt like I knew so little about them that any revelation was like gold. And yet I feel that in some cases that I will recognize these people immediately when I see them in the next life. Can you relate to that, too?

  3. A Happy Hubby says:

    I have the same comment as Karen H. This series is turning out more interesting (and heartbreaking) than I expected. Thanks for taking the time.

  4. Thank you so much for these. So much heartbreak between the lines. And even though I knew that in most polygamous families the wives stayed around 18 while the husband aged, looking at each one individually like this is really making that point stand out for me. The biggest question for me right now is what was appeal for a teenager to marry a man she would hardly see or have a relationship with? Was it seen as more honorable than being the first wife of someone her own age?

  5. Love these posts, SG.

  6. Mandy, my assumption is attraction is cultural – From plump women to super skinny, small penises to large ones. Is it so hard to see that a mature and established man could be attractive to a young woman/adult? It’s not unfathomable that a group that revers old testament-like prophets would see much to be attracted to in that type.

    And considering biology alone, would you rather your daughter marry an established older man with a track record of caring for his wives and children, or a younger man with a vivacious libido? It’s really an awkward choice, but ironically the older seems safer. Strangely enough, just thinking it through, the probability of marrying a good man might increase if you are aware of his years a success as a husband and father.

  7. Emily U says:

    I’m startled by footnote 6. I’d never heard that there was a tacit agreement between Lincoln and Brigham Young.

    I’m impressed with your research, Grover, and I think your spare but insightful editorial comments seem right on the money. I appreciate the value of remembering these people. The real and complicated lives they had. These are my ancestors, too, or could be.

    That said, I’m really feeling the polygamy revulsion here. Feeling it hard.

  8. Villate, thanks for your comment. I think you hit a lot of my feelings on the head. It is unfortunate that I don’t have more access to the details of these women’s lives, because speculation is dangerous (because inaccurate) and yet seemingly necessary in order to try to empathize with these women. I feel like I am trying on various shoes, hoping that one of the pairs is close to fitting the shoes these women really wore. I do hope that I if I met them, I would know them (and that they wouldn’t mind where I am getting things slanted or straight up wrong in my telling of their stories).

    GSO, I really don’t think that for most of these young women the attraction to Archibald was sexual. I plan to bring this up in a post later in the series, but it seems as if the age of polygamous wives was so low because there just wasn’t enough of a population of surplus women to satisfy the needs of a polygamous community—in some parts of early Utah settlements, men actually outnumbered the women. So I don’t think that Archie went after these women because he had a thing for young girls (or because these girls had a thing for older men), but rather because it was a commandment needing to be fulfilled and they were the available Saints capable of fulfilling said commandment. Or that is my own limited perspective, at least.

    Emily U, thanks for reading! I was surprised by Lincoln’s agreement with Brigham Young, too, and I would actually like to do more research on this because it is interesting and complicated. The Church’s relationship with the U.S. Government during the Civil War is strange and fascinating and anything but clear cut. I didn’t cite this source because I didn’t pull direct information from it, but I found John Turner’s somewhat recent article on Mormons and the Civil War a pretty cool read:

  9. Thanks, GSO. That is I’m sure the right way of understanding it. I am just where Emily U is, filled with polygamy revulsion and sorrow from this in depth look at these women.

  10. When people say how sad it was for the wives to share a husband, I wonder if the wives were relieved to have their space from him. If the marriage was not about love or attraction, maybe the time apart was desired, the time with him a duty.

    How sad.

  11. wreddyornot says:

    Thanks for posting these. I just bought Carol Lynn Pearson’s *The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men* after listening to her speak in Salt Lake yesterday.

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