Sister Wives Series #11: Elizabeth Dowding (the 10th wife)


Elizabeth “Betsey” Dowding Gardner Hall (1851–1921)

Part 11 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

I had to take a break during my Sister Wives Series (a.k.a. my coming-to-grips-with-an-uncomfortable-polygamous-family-history series) in order to teach a fall semester, celebrate my kids’ birthdays, sew some Halloween costumes, survive an American election, eat a turkey, etc. But perhaps these excuses are just poor attempts to hide the greater struggle I have had writing about Elizabeth Dowding, another of Archie’s 15-year-old brides, a woman whose biographical details I have struggled to pin down. Even as I prepare this short bio to post on BCC, I feel that it is incomplete. I don’t feel like I am done searching for Betsey Dowding yet. But here is what I have found out so far.

Betsey Dowding became Archibald’s tenth wife in March 1867. She was 15 years old. Archibald, by this time, was 52.

On the day of Archie and Betsey’s sealing for time and all eternity, Betsey’s sister wives were the following ages:

  1. Margaret, my great-great-great grandmother, was 48
  2. Abigail, Mary Ann’s mother, was 53
  3. ***Mary Ann had passed away 3 years earlier, at 33 years old
  4. Big Liz, the beautiful singer, was 34 (and still around)
  5. Laura Althea, the schoolteacher, was 32
  6. Jane, the seamstress, was also 32
  7. Serena, the Norwegian, was 44
  8. ***Sarah Jane, 24, had since left Archie and married Samuel Howard
  9. ***Harriet had passed away the year before at 36 years old, after she had left Archie and reunited with her first husband, the gold miner

So while I say that Betsey was Archibald’s 10th wife, only 6 of his original 9 wives were still alive and/or married to him. From the ages of oldest to youngest, then, 52-year-old Archie’s remaining wives were 53, 48, 44, 34, 32, 32, and 15 years old.

I’m not sure how to appreciate the gravity of those numbers. After all, it wouldn’t really be fair to compare myself at 15—an X-Files-loving middle schooler in 1997, occupied with feeding tamagochis and making boondoggle keychains—with a 15-year-old pioneer girl of 1867 who had been born in England, emigrated to America only a year earlier, and had undertaken a journey that would introduce her to death and danger, religion and frontier life. The most noteworthy thing that I had accomplished at age 15, by comparison, was to get myself cast as the elderly crone, Emily Brent, in a school play based from Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, And Then There Were None. My closest experience to death was fake-sleeping in an arm chair next to a prop hypodermic needle on stage, and I wouldn’t be kissed for the first time for another year, maybe two. When I consider who I was at age 15, I can’t exactly blame Betsey for leaving Archibald at age 17 or 18, abandoning their young son.

Because notwithstanding our differences of time period and culture, becoming the 7th wife of a man older than her own father, whose existing six wives were all technically old enough to be her mother (four of the wives had children who were older than Betsey, and the other two had children who only a couple of years younger than Betsey), I can only imagine Betsey feeling very small and out of place in this plural marriage that had been functioning without her since before she was born.

In fact, Margaret had married Archibald in 1839—a full 12 years before Betsey Dowding was born. Even harder than it is to imagine what it must have been like for 15-year-old Betsey is putting myself into the shoes of 48-year-old Margaret, the oldest of her children being already 27 years old, her youngest 10 years old, her 52-year-old husband—her Archie—marrying a 15-year-old girl. I try to imagine Margaret attending this 10th sealing ceremony. I wonder if Margaret also felt small, or if there was a largeness to being the matriarch of the family. I wonder if she looked at Betsey with the eyes of a sister, or with the eyes of a mother looking upon a newly adopted daughter. I wonder if she looked upon Betsey at all, or if she occupied her eyes elsewhere.

So who was Betsey? According to Delila Gardner Hughes, Archibald’s granddaughter and biographer, all that is noteworthy about Betsey is that she was “born in England; died in August, 1921, married in 1867; divorced.” (So it goes with most of the wives who eventually divorced from Archibald—they were pruned from the family tree and forgotten.)

But here is what else I found out about Betsey.

She was born in 1851 in Great Cheverell, a village in Wiltshire, England, positioned between Bath and Salisbury. When Betsey was 14 years old, on May 5, 1866, her family traveled with the Saints from London to New York on The Caroline, arriving on June 11. She took this journey with her parents, Thomas and Hannah Nash Dowding, and her seven siblings: David (age 16), William (11), Nephi (10), Louise (8), Mary (6), James (3), and baby Martha. Considering 10-year-old Nephi’s name, my guess is that the family had converted to Mormonism at least a decade earlier.

The Dowdings crossed the plains with the William Henry Chipman Company, a group consisting of 375 individuals and 60 wagons, from July to September that same year. Records show that the Dowdings relied on the Perpetual Emigrating Fund to finance their journey west. On July 24, the wagon train celebrated Pioneer Day by only traveling for half the day, spending the rest of the day singing, dancing, and celebrating. The day following the celebration, 35-year-old Caroline Hopkins Clark recorded in her journal that a “young Deaf and dumb girl” passed away in the camp. In the weeks that follow, Caroline records two more deaths: an elderly woman and a Saint who had come already afflicted with consumption. By the end of the journey, Caroline would record the deaths of three children and one young man, as well as the births of four babies.

Caroline Hopkins Clark conversationally records in her diary a rich list of dietary essentials, anticipating that readers like myself would wonder what the Saints ate as they walked, and walked, and walked, and walked:

“I guess you would like to know how we live on the Plains. We do not get any fresh meat or potatoes, but get plenty of flour and bacon. We have some sugar, a little tea, molasses, soap, carbonate of soda, and a few dried apples. We brought some peas, oatmeal, rice, tea and sugar, which we had left from the vessel. These came in very useful. We bought a skillet to bake our bread in. Sometimes we make pancakes for a change. We also make cakes in the pan, and often bran dumplings with baking powder. We use cream of tarter and soda to make our bread, and sometimes sour dough. It makes very good bread. At times Roland [her 14-year-old son who I imagine likely knew 14-year-old Betsy Dowding] goes to the river and catches us fish and sometimes John [her husband] shoots birds. We get wild currants and gooseberries to make puddings. So, altogether, we get along very well.”

Perhaps it is noteworthy that a month later Caroline recorded another food-related entry, one that I still can’t tell is laden with sarcasm or not: “Today we passed South Pass. The cold has been very severe. We dined on the leg of an antelope. It sure was a treat.”

Also in the company was a young 9-year-old Brigham Henry Roberts, who would grow up to be B. H. Roberts, Latter-day Saint historian and author of the six-volume history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ll record just a brief anecdote here, in his own (ethnocentric, to say the least) diction and details:

“On one occasion, just how many days out is not remembered, I and a boy about my own age had become interested in some ripening yellow currants along one of the banks of the stream and lingered until the train had passed over a distant hill. Before we realized it, we were breaking camp regulations, but still we lingered to fill our hats with the luscious currants we had discovered. The caps at last filled, we started to catch the train and were further behind it than we realized. Coming to the summit of a swale in which the wagon road passed, we saw to our horror three Indians on horse-back just beginning to come up out of the swale and along the road. Our contact with the Indians about the Wyoming encampment had not been sufficient to do away with the fear in which the red men were held by us, and it could be well imagined that the hair on our heads raised as we saw an inevitable meeting with these savages. Nevertheless, we moved on to the right and the other to the left with the hope that we could go around these Indians, but nothing doing. As soon as we separated to go around, the Indians also separated—the one to the right, the other to the left, and the third straight forward. There was trembling and fear that we were going to be captured. Many a time Captain Chipman had warned us of the possibility of such a thing, and indeed it was something that had happened in previous years along this route, that white children were captured from the trains and carried away. Some returned by ransom and some never returned. It was, therefore, with magnificent terror that we kept on slowly towards these Indians whose faces remained immobile and solemn with no indication of friendliness given out at all.

“I approached my savage knowing not what to do, but as I reached about the head of the horse, I gave one wild yell, the Scotch cap full of currants was dropped, and I made a wild dash to get by—and did—whereupon there was a peal of laughter from the three Indians. They say Indians never laugh, but I learned differently. As the race for the train continued with an occasional glance over the shoulder to see what the Indians were doing, I saw they were bending double over their horses with their screams of laughter. Finally we saw just over the swale of the prairie the last wagon of our train. The running continued until each of us had found his proper place beside the wagon to which we he was assigned. The fright was thought of for several days at least by strict adherence to camp rules about staying with your wagon.”

I picture 14-year-old Betsey considering these cautionary stories of kidnapped children, and I wonder if they frightened her. I wonder if she was more or less frightened the following year in the Salt Lake Valley, when she was married to Archibald Gardner as his 10th plural wife.

Hughes records that Betsey had one child with Archibald, born the winter of 1869, just shy of their second wedding anniversary: William Henry, named after Betsey’s 12-year-old brother who had recently died.

In spite of her little boy, Betsey decided to depart from Archibald and the polygamous lifestyle not long afterward, leaving William, at that time a toddler, in Margaret’s care. Hughes writes that after Betsey left, the entire family saw little “Willie” as the family pet—he was “loved by all.”

Tragically, when Willie was four years old, he and several other little boys in the family were playing in the road by the Jordan Mill (where Archibald’s Village and Restaurant still exists today) and was run over by a heavily laden wagon, a devastating shock for Margaret, who was tending the children, and Archibald, who was several hours north working at Mill Creek. I’m not sure when or how Betsey learned this news, or what guilt she may have harbored over her lost son.

After Betsey left Archibald sometime after 1870[1], she married 40-year-old Allen Hall on January 29, 1875, when she was 24 years old. She was Allen’s only wife. Together they had three children: Allen, Arthur Garfield, and Clyde Austin. She is buried next to Allen Hall in the Sandy City Cemetery.

And maybe the reason I’ve had such a hard time with this one is because in my heart of hearts I wonder if Betsey isn’t well enough off pruned away from the Gardner family tree, that she might be released more cleanly into the family she created with Allen, and the three boys they raised. Still, I feel as if I want to claim her, too, as a way of validating the part she played in my great-great-great-grandfather’s and great-great-great-grandmother’s lives, the little baby boy she brought into their lives, and the joy and tragedy little Willie would add to their life stories, and my own.


Sources Consulted

“Allen Hall.”, created by SMSmith, 2 Feb 2000,

“Clark, Caroline Hopkins, Diary, in Utah State Historical Society Cache Valley Chapter, Historical resource materials for Cache Valley, Utah-Idaho, 1955-1956, reel 1, item 10.” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1 Sept 2016,

Crandell, Jill N. “Elizabeth Dowding: Censuses, 1880–1910.” Archibald Gardner Family, 1 Apr 2011,

—. “Elizabeth Dowding Gardner Hall: Photo,” Archibald Gardner Family, 16 Oct 2011,

“Dowding, Elizabeth—Gardner, Hall.” FamilySearch, posted on behalf of Paul Petersen,

“Elizabeth ‘Betsey’ Dowding Hall.”, created by SMSmith, 27 Feb 2009,

“Elizabeth Dowding.” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1 Sept 2016,

Hughes, Delila Gardner. The Life of Archibald Gardner. 2nd ed. Draper, UT: Review and Preview Publishers, 1970.

Mormon Migration, 2000,

Roberts, Brigham Henry, The Autobiography of B. H. Roberts, ed. Gary James Bergera, 1990, pp. 21–43.

[1] One record notes that her sealing to Archie was cancelled on January 26, 1872.


  1. Marvelous. So glad you found your way back to this series.

  2. Greatly appreciated. Continues to feel important.

  3. I’m glad you started this up again. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for resuming the series. This was indeed a difficult entry; I’m glad you’ve chosen to grapple with the messiness of it.

  5. A Happy Hubby says:

    Thank you for your efforts in this series. To me it represents a few more brushstroke filling out the best we can a painting of our history. I think you are courageous to take this on.

  6. Mary Lythgoe Bradfford says:

    My husband descends from the Bradford women—this is great–How about a book? Would one be more permanent than this?

  7. Thank you. My heart is heavy for these women.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    Really interesting write-up, G.

    “One record notes that her sealing to Archie was cancelled on January 26, 1872.”

    Can you say what type of record that is?

  9. Hi J., the record that gave the specific date was found from Family Search. It’s one of those tricky sources that I’m not sure where it came from, or who compiled it, or how I can confirm the information it provides:

    Sometime, though, after my dissertation is complete, I’d like to really put some legwork into researching these women and finding existing descendants who maybe have better primary documents to work with than what have been scanned and published online.

  10. The document I linked above has her son’s birth year wrong, I’m now noticing, so that’s probably a red flag that the other dates might be questionable, too.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Such a great series.