Sister Wives Series #12: Mary Larsen (the 11th—and final—wife)

Mary Larsen

Sidsie Marie “Mary” Larsen Gardner (1850–1921)

Part 12 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

To commemorate Pioneer Day this year, I am returning to the Sister Wives Series I began to commemorate Pioneer Day last year. Today I am writing about Archibald Gardner’s 11th and final wife, Mary Larsen from Denmark, who married 55-year-old Archibald Gardner when she was 19 years old and would have 8 children with him. Archie was possibly her second husband.

Mary was born in Askeby, Denmark, a small town tucked into the southwest corner of the island Møn, a place known today for its white chalk cliffs—the Møns Klint—and beaches. A far cry from the high deserts of Utah and Idaho where Mary would venture, Møn’s landscapes are so various and diverse (woodlands, grasslands, meadows, wetlands, coastal areas, ponds, and hills) that it has since been designated as a biosphere reserve. Bridges did not connect Møn and other Danish islands until the mid-20th century, so any traveling would have required boats.

Mary’s father, Hans Larsen, was (up until one fateful Christmas) a fortunate sea captain who traveled often to Iceland and Greenland in his small boat. Then, when Mary was four years old, Hans boarded his little vessel during a winter storm in order to go to London and replenish the family’s stock of coal. The Larsens left a candle burning in the window for weeks, waiting for his return. He never did.

A few years later, in 1857, Mary’s mother, Karen, and Mary’s grandfather were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Mos Jorgensen. In the spring of 1859, when Mary was 8 years old, her mother, grandfather, brother and herself departed for Zion. They took passage on the “William Tapscott,” a rickety old sailing ship whose mast caught fire and burned down in the middle of their long voyage, leaving the crew and passengers floating in the middle of the ocean for weeks. During this time, Mary’s mother would marry another Danish convert aboard the boat, Niels Christian Heiselt. Finally they landed in New York, three months after their passage began.

The family continued west; 8-year-old Mary and her 6-year-old brother, Andrew, would walk the entire way from the Missouri River to Pleasant Grove, Utah, a distance of over 1,000 miles. Their grandfather would tie a tin cup and a small sack of biscuits to his belt every day, holding hands with his grandchildren and leading the company on foot. When the children tired, Grandpa would sit them down by the roadside or a stream, and they would have a biscuit snack and water. Mary frequently gave Andrew piggyback rides, but because she had no shoes, her feet would swell, crack, and bleed. The family arrived in Pleasant Grove in just enough time to build a dug-out before the first snowfall. During the spring thaw, water came through the sod roof and puddled onto the dirt floor, and Mary would carry buckets of the water outside.

Some records say that, at age 17, Mary married Almerin Elander Root (and perhaps had two children with him). Almerin was only 21 years old himself and had come to Utah in the Heber C. Kimball wagon company when he was two years old. He would die in Montezuma County, Colorado, in 1892—making me wonder if perhaps he left the faith, as well as his wife. Aside from records that the two married, I have yet to find out any details about this union. Delilah Hughes Gardner does not mention that Mary was previously married in her biography of Archie and his family.

Regardless, 19-year-old Mary was single again and became Archibald’s 11th wife on December 20, 1869, ten years after she had crossed the plains and entered the valley. Archie had met her as she worked as a cook in his mills. Andrew Jenson—another Danish immigrant the same age as Mary, and who would later become the Assistant Church Historian who archived the records regarding the Mountain Meadows Massacre—remarked of the match,

“Mary was a very charming and popular young woman. She could have married any of us young fellows, and it was a mystery to me why she chose to marry an old man like Archibald Gardner.”

In December 1869:

  • my g-g-g grandmother Margaret, Archie’s 1st wife, had just turned 51 years old (she would live for another 24 years, largely without Archibald in her life);
  • Abigail (2nd wife), was 56 years old (she would live for another 10 years);
  • Mary Ann (3rd wife and Abigail’s daughter), had been dead for 5 years;
  • Big Liz (4th), was 37 years old, and would leave the family and Mormonism just 4 years later;
  • Laura Althea (5th), was 35 years old;
  • Jane (6th), was also 35 years old;
  • Serena (7th), was 47 years old;
  • Sarah Jane (8th), was 27 years old, but had divorced Archibald and married Samuel Howard, monogamously;
  • Harriet (9th), who had left Archie for a former husband, had died in 1866 at age 36;
  • Betsey (10th), was 18, but would leave Archie the following year and marry Allen Hall, monogamously;
  • Archibald had had, at this point, 38 children, 28 of whom were still living.

In spite of Archibald’s advancing age, Mary Larsen would have 8 children with him: Andrew Bruce, Clarence, Ernest Adelbert, Royal (who would die at six months old from pnemonia), Edwin Leroy, Lillian Elnora, Wilford Woodruff, and Franklin Richards. From 1877 to 1888, Archibald would only have children with Mary (after marrying Mary, Archibald would have three more children with Laura Althea, and no more children from his other wives). Interestingly, Mary’s first child would come in 1874, nearly five years after she married Archibald. Whether this was because Archibald was primarily living with Laura Althea at the time, or because he was waiting for Mary to be ready to bear [more?] children, or for some other reason, I am not sure. When Franklin Richards Gardner was born to Mary in 1888, Archibald was 74 years old (he would die when Frank was 14).

Mary lived in West Jordan first, in the house at Mill Creek, and here she gave birth to Bruce, Clarence, Adelbert, Royal, and Edwin. Lillian and Wilford were born in Jane’s adobe house, suggesting that the wives’ living arrangements changed from time time, perhaps depending on the ages of their children (Jane’s two children were about the same age as Mary herself, so Jane was perhaps living by herself). Even during her childbearing years, Mary worked hard at her own sewing crafts, making clothing with Jane for the children by rocking the cradle with one foot and running the sewing machine with the other.

It was clear, though, that Mary’s status as a wife was special to Archibald, and in 1886 he gave Mary a 45-acre farm where he had built her a white brick house of her own. This is where Frank was born. Lillian, one of Mary’s children, recalls that all of Archie’s children fawned over the littlest Gardner.

Lillian also recalls that the time of Frank’s birth was also a time of great fear for children in polygamous families:

“This was at the time of the raid when men with more than one family were in constant danger of being taken by the deputy marshal and thrust into prison, and even small children were frightened when they saw a black-top buggy in the neighborhood, for we knew they were the only ones who were able to travel in such fine style.”

Having lived in Pleasant Grove all through her teenage years, Mary would have known this danger of the lifestyle she was choosing. Not all of Archibald’s wives would have had this same foresight; if there is anything apparent about Archie’s last and youngest of wives, it’s that she seems to have entered into polygamy with her eyes open, and she was a defender of polygamy and of Archie until the end.

My first entry into this series mentions that my own g-g-g grandmother Margaret did not enter polygamy without a fight, and while she played the role as the family’s matriarch capably, she did not enjoy sharing Archibald and mourned the sacrifice of their pre-polygamous relationship. It’s hard for me to write this entry about how happy and full Mary Larsen’s life was with Archibald while acknowledging that Margaret’s own children were all several years older than her husband’s 11th wife. I can’t help but think that it must have stung to see her husband of 49 years building a new brick home on an enormous plot of land (with the money she had helped him earn over those many years) as a gift to his young and fertile new wife, still in her 20s.

However, I will try to compartmentalize.

A fun story: During one of the raids, a deputy named Franks was ransacking Mary’s brick house in search of Archibald. He stormed into a bedroom, opened a large chest in the corner of the room and starting pulling out the quilts Mary was storing inside. According to Delila, Mary angrily said, “Mr. Franks, you will never find Bishop Gardner hiding in a bedding box; you will find him on a canal or digging a mill race or at some public gathering.”

Franks sheepishly returned, “I know that, Mrs. Gardner. We have known where Mr. Gardner was many times but we have gone on and left him doing good, unmolested,” and then went back to pilfering through the blanket box. (When this scene plays out in my mind, Deputy Franks looks and sounds like Barney Fife.)

President Wilford Woodruff finally pulled Archibald aside and told him to take Mary and their children to Star Valley, Wyoming, where polygamists were not being rooted out with the same fervency as they were in Salt Lake Valley. In 1890, just a few years after the move to the white brick home, Mary, Archie, and the children took a one-seated topless buggy the 250-mile journey to Star Valley, where a two-room log cabin that they shared with another family was waiting for them. 2-year-old Frank sat on Mary’s lap the entire way, while Bruce, Clarence, Dell, Edwin, Lillian, and Wilford rode with the household goods in the wagon. When they reached Star Valley, they found a small and poor population of Latter-day Saints (who reported frost every month of the year). Star Valley had water and good soil, however, along with plenty of wild currants, gooseberries, and strawberries.

Mary Larsen Sis Cook

Mary Larsen Gardner and Johenna Cook, best friends. The two were inseparable in Star Valley, “looking very queenly” on Sunday afternoons in their best dress. I love this picture.

In Star Valley, Mary and Archie lived almost monogamously. They served the poor, and Mary traveled by herself with a team of horses all through the Salt River valleys, attending to her Relief Society business and bringing aid to other families. She always sat the family in the front seats of the chapel for sacrament meeting, and she was called by her fellow congregants the “Israelite without guile.” She helped fund missions for her three sons: Clarence to New England, Dell to Samoa, and Frank to South Africa. Every spring and fall she would help her children make the journey to Logan, Utah, where they attended school at what was then an agricultural college.

IMG_0895.jpg

Paying my regards to the Gardner monument in Star Valley last October after touring the new temple there.

Although he was in his 70s, Archibald built a grist mill and a saw mill to support the growing community. I can picture my g-g-g grandfather standing in a dusty suit and boots, considering this new project in his graying years, his large Gardner hand fingering the coin in his pocket, chewing his lips as he made up a plan. Apparently, he pulled a five-dollar piece out of his pocket and announced to the town, “This is all the cash I have to begin with but if you people will help me, I will pay you back every cent and the mill will be ready to turn flour out for you by Christmas.” To his word, both mills were running before the year’s end. Archie would also commission a dance hall and an opera house to give Star Valley some culture. Noticing all the sheep on the hills and the lack of clothing on the people, he next sought money to finance a wool factory.

Considering that, in the wintertime, the mail was delivered by people on snowshoes, it is unlikely that Archibald had much contact with his wives living in Salt Lake and West Jordan. When Margaret died in 1893, after ten years of paralysis, Archibald would not be able to make it to the funeral. He wrote: “She 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.”

IMG_4415Before leaving for Star Valley, President Woodruff had told Archie, somewhat ominously, “Don’t pass away and leave your bones in Star Valley.” As he felt his own death nearing, he prepared to make one final trek back to Spanish Fork. Afton, Wyoming, held a farewell party for Archie, about which he remarked, “I have attended my own funeral.”

When Archibald died at 88 years old, Mary was 52. Mary would live another 20 years, but she would not remarry. After her son Frank’s wife either died or left him, Mary helped raise her grandchildren. In 1904, she received a patriarchal blessing which promised, in part: “Thou has been called to pass through trials, but they shall be over-ruled for thy good, For thy sacrifice thou shalt receive an hundred fold in this world, and Eternal life in the world to come.” When Mary died, her body was transported from Star Valley to West Jordan for her funeral, and she is interred next to Archibald in the Salt Lake Cemetery.

Apostle Melvin J. Ballard sang at Mary’s funeral and called her “a woman of the Lord.” Sister Lottie Owens Sackett sang Charles Wesley’s 18th-century hymn (you can continue your Pioneer Day observations by reading more about Lottie’s own fascinating story over at Keepapitchinin):

“Who are these arrayed in white,
Brighter than the noon-day sun?
Foremost of the sons of light;
Nearest the eternal throne?
These are they that bore the cross,
Nobly for their Master stood;
Sufferers in His righteous cause,
Followers of the dying God.”

 

Sources Consulted

“Almerin Root.” Pioneer Overland Travel, 2017, https://history.lds.org/overlandtravel/pioneers/3146/almerin-root
“Almerin Elander Root.” Nauvoo Community Project, 2015, http://nauvoo.byu.edu/ViewPerson.aspx?ID=89333
Crandell, Jill N. “Mary Larsen Gardner: Photo.” Archibald Gardner Family, 16 Oct 2011, http://archibaldgardnerfamily.blogspot.com/2011/10/mary-larsen-root-gardner-photo.html
—. “Mary Larsen Gardner: Photo 1921.” Archibald Gardner Family, 16 Oct 2011, http://archibaldgardnerfamily.blogspot.com/2011/10/mary-larsen-gardner-photo-1921.html
“Mary Larsen Gardner.” FindAGrave.com, created by SMSmith, 27 Feb 2009, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=34252299
“Mary Larsen (Sidse Marie Hansen),” compiled by Marian Gardner Fluckiger, Family Search, 13 March 2013, https://familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/338557
“Møn,” Wikipedia, 11 July 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Møn
Hughes, Delila Gardner. The Life of Archibald Gardner. 2nd ed. Draper, UT: Review and Preview Publishers, 1970.

Comments

  1. This is so wonderful. Thank you for returning to finish the series. And if you want to turn it into a book, let’s talk.

  2. Dancer_Esquire says:

    Thank you for completing this series, Emily. Following these posts has been a gift. I have thoroughly enjoyed your telling of these stories. So messy, heartbreaking, infuriating, inspiring, and beautiful all at once.

  3. Thanks for the series. Thanks for this entry.

  4. Jason K. says:

    This has been a magnificent series. What a labor of love!

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Such a great series; thank you.

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