Martha Cragun Cox

A “Salt of the Earth” Lady

Lavina Fielding Anderson

Lavina Fielding Anderson, “A ‘Salt of the Earth’ Lady: Martha Cragun Cox,” in Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons, ed. Donald Q. Cannon and David J. Whittaker (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1985), 101–32.

Lavina Fielding Anderson was president of Editing, Incorporated when this was published. She received her BA and MA from Brigham Young University and her PhD from the University of Washington. She has published in the EnsignDialogueExponent IISunstone, and Utah Holiday. Her interest in Martha Cox stems from her long-term interest in LDS women’s history.

Martha James Cragun Cox was born into a Salt Lake family on 3 March 1852, married into a polygamous St. George family on 3 December 1869, had eight children, buried three, and died 30 November 1932. To support her family she taught school all over the southern end of the Mormon corridor in the small towns of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. She went to Mexico in time to be expelled by the Revolution. She loved history, and her narrative gift found expression in Church periodicals. She spent her last years in temple work in St. George, Manti, and Salt Lake City.

Why is she important? Because she left a handwritten autobiographical record just over three hundred pages long, written in 1928. It is because of this autobiography that she is more than a name on the family group records of her hundreds of Latter-day Saint descendants. She claims neither unusual beauty, power, intellect, wealth, nor influence, though she seems to have been above average in her hunger for knowledge, her energy, and her loyalty. But her autobiography, by its very existence, transcends the limitations of her time and place to show her struggling towards a sense of self, struggling to make sense of the world, and struggling to make sense of her life. In her autobiography, she performs the labor which is the distinctive work of that genre; and by so doing, she has stocked the toolshelf and provided cheerful companionship for scholars of first-generation Utah, of second-generation Mormonism, and of future generations. It is a record, quite simply, of a strong, uncomplicated woman, a lady who was the salt of the earth. Like salt, she both seasoned and preserved what she touched. And like salt, her influence was subtle, not compelling or dominating.

Her autobiography sets one goal for itself in the first two sentences: “There are few lives so uneventful that a true record of them would not be of some worth, in which there are no happenings that can serve as guide or warning to those that follow. It is to be hoped that in the pages that follow there will be some things found that may be taken as good lessons to those who read.” [1] Because she has perceived shape and direction in her own life, she is a reliable guide.

Martha’s record reveals three traits that were with her from her earliest memories and that shaped her last years: an insatiable curiosity, a spunky sense of independence, and a loyalty that, once given, did not waver. Her arena for the development of these traits was small and restricted by poverty: her family, her schoolroom, and, above all, her religion. Mormonism gave her the history of a people beyond her own family, a people who were yet her; it also gave her the very reason for her driving curiosity to know the generations behind her parents. Mormonism gave her a cosmology; it provided both the ground of her faith and the field in which that faith was exercised. It provided informal beliefs where doctrine was lacking. Its philosophy and prophecies were the rocks around which the current events of her time eddied. It gave her its temples with their doctrine of vicarious ordinances of salvation for the dead—both the reason for and the opportunity of binding herself to the past generations and an anchor from which she could cast securely and serenely into her own future after death.

Despite her undeniable commitment to the Church, her love of the gospel, and her willingness to serve, she never records holding an executive position. No doubt one reason was the demands school placed on her time. Another may have been the family’s poverty, limiting her availability. And certainly part of it must have been her mobility in a period when callings tended to be given for extremely long periods. Once she left St. George, she never taught in the same school longer than three years. In addition, Martha seems to have placed relatively little importance on callings herself. Apparently the only reason she mentions she was secretary of St. George’s Third Ward Relief Society is that the blessing in setting her apart to that calling contained a phrase she found prophetic. She taught children in Sunday School frequently from the time she was sixteen, and it seems to have been a natural extension of her school teaching. At the age of seventy-seven, for instance, she answered the plea of her Salt Lake ward’s Sunday School superintendent and taught the Old Testament class, commenting, “I cannot refuse to go to the aid of the children in our own ward” (209).

Still, it would be difficult to understand Martha’s autobiography without understanding her Mormonism. Even the shape of the document reflects her core beliefs. Because her history, her religion, and her family are all intertwined, the autobiography begins with an apparently discursive prologue about her ancestors, seemingly recording every story she can recall hearing her parents tell about themselves and their home states. As she begins to tell the story of her own life, the autobiography steadies into a fairly straightforward narrative designed to tell the reader the events of her life, particularly her spiritual growth and the story of the Church’s conflicts with the world as she observed them. But as she nears 1928, the year in which she is writing, her record becomes a list of quotations from the newspaper with her disapproving comments on the state of the nation, scraps of family news, and the weather reports suitable to a daily journal. Again, her framework is religious: these are the evils of her generation and God’s judgments on them.

Throughout, she was guided in her writing by family papers and her daily journals; but they were only a guide. She sometimes tells the same story twice, not always with the same details. Into her own narrative, she heaps the stories of others, sometimes commenting that their own families do not know these experiences. She records accounts of miraculous healings, prophetic experiences, and answered prayers—both her own and others’. Sometimes she makes no claims for their truth; at other times she meticulously records the source of her information. She sometimes records tales that we would question today—Jacob Hamblin, for instance, saying that Joseph Smith taught him the earth was convex at the north pole to receive a new planet, the impact of which will cause the mountains to melt, the seas to change positions, and the earth to reel to and fro, obviously prophecies of the last days (100). Because Martha has included such information, her autobiography becomes a valuable index to the ordinary member’s understanding of the gospel during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

One senses in her pages both the pleasure in recollection that is one of the joys of reminiscence and also an urgency to record, to make an island of permanence in an ocean of evanescence. Thus it is also a vivid and little-mined scrapbook of small-town life along the Mormon southern corridor—dances, courting, Indian relations, diet, and doctrinal understanding are all there. But in other ways, it is frustratingly sparse. Although she taught school for almost sixty years, she never describes her courses, her pedagogical philosophy, nor any of her teaching equipment, except for the kitchen breadboard that, painted, served as her blackboard. She is not deeply introspective, but her record is candid and honest, and the reader trusts her. And even though her overt purpose is to instruct, she never tells a story didactically. She has a narrative gift for highlighting drama, making the events of her physical autobiography mirror the meaning that was gradually taking shape and form beneath the surface of events. “All the dead are mine,” she once told an old man in the temple (213). Now she is dead, and she is ours.

Martha was born 3 March 1852 in Mill Creek Ward, then a settlement a little south and east of Salt Lake City. Though she never uses her middle name in her record, it was James, presumably after her father. He was second-generation American, his grandfather an Irish sailor who had left ship in Virginia at age thirteen. James’s father, Elisha, took his family to Indiana where “the gospel found them in 1843” (4). James had, by that time, married Eleanor Lane, the daughter of a well-to-do family that had moved before her birth from Susquehanna to Indiana; and several members of both families who accepted baptism from the Mormon missionaries moved to Nauvoo, arriving during the height of the confusion following the assassinations of the leader, Joseph Smith, and his brother Hyrum in June 1844. As the Church moved on—to Winter Quarters in 1845–46 and then to Utah—not all the brothers and sisters went with James and Eleanor. This weeding-out in her own family gave Martha a sense of selection but also fed her interest about her relatives back east.

Martha devotes about thirty pages of her record to narratives of her relatives in the East. An avid though vicarious participant in the trek across the plains for another twenty pages or so, she not only records the hardships faced by her parents but also the tales of others. She tells, for instance, of a woman who for fifteen years wore faded ribbons on her bonnet that her daughter had sewed there as she lay dying, and of a thirty-six hour blizzard sent expressly to punish those who wished to go at a more leisurely pace then the captain wished.

Throughout, she emphasizes her mother’s courage and her father’s obedience, traits she reemphasizes with dramatic vignettes about their settling, first in the Old Fort, then in Mill Creek. One such example came apparently in 1855–56 when a plague of crickets coupled with late-season drought and more than four thousand newly arrived emigrants strained the pioneers’ meager resources. Martha would have been four at most during this “starving time” when a brother came to their door, asking for a little flour for his children who had been without bread for three days. Eleanor replied truthfully that there was only enough flour left for “one small baking” and that they were already sharing with a widow and her four children. Martha remembers how sadly the man turned away. However, James called him back, commenting, “My children can suffer no more than yours, my brother, if starvation comes. If it comes we’ll starve together. You may have half of the flour we have.”

Their own half was soon gone. Breakfastless, her father went to plow and her mother to search for greens. When she returned, the empty sack behind the door was full. Excitedly she interrogated first the children, then her husband. Writes Martha, “I recall my father’s answer when she had run out of breath and questions. ‘I know of no one but God who could provide us with bread at this time’” (51–53).

Possibly a four-year-old, even witnessing these events, may not have remembered them in such vivid detail. However, less important than the factual accuracy is the fact of the story itself, ritualized through many retellings and embedded in her narrative as in her memory to anchor her belief in God’s benevolent watchcare.

In the fall of 1862, James Cragun was called to Utah’s Dixie where St. George had been settled just the year before. They left the following May 1863. Martha, now eleven, enjoyed the trip, noting landscape features with relish and retelling the version of the Mountain Meadows Massacre that she had heard. They spent the first summer in Pine Valley and, by November 1863, the family was installed in St. George in “a board shanty” with their three wagon boxes “opening into one side of it” for bedrooms (79).

Martha’s quick mind had seized upon reading with delight. She had learned her letters in a few days at a Salt Lake school with her sister, and she followed her mother around, spelling words she did not know so that her mother could pronounce them for her. At the age of eight, she had read Lucy Mack Smith’s biography of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and a single volume of the Journal of Discourses, with two histories too advanced for her to follow – all the books in her home—but “I am grateful to my heavenly father that those were the only books thrown in my way during those years” (69). “Now,” she writes of herself at age twelve, “I had . . . reached the period of romance,” and describes herself as “fascinated” by Jane Eyre and the stories of Henry Ward Beecher. She also read biographies of Daniel Boone, Lady Jane Grey, and George Washington, the New York Tribune, Fowler’s Phrenological Journal, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, thanks to the interest her brother-in-law, James McCarty, took in her education. She borrowed serials and story papers for herself and read voraciously (80).

She may have turned all the more eagerly to reading because of her need to escape. She remembers her teenage years as a continual conflict with her older brothers and sisters. When Martha was thirteen, an older sister, Mary Ellen, married, and Martha recalls that it “was a great relief to me. I was glad to have her go.” She is characteristically candid but also fair in her perception of their differences: “I looked upon her as a hard task master.” Mary Ellen dissolved into tears if her will were crossed; rather than see her weep, her parents would give in. Mary Ellen was meticulous in dress while Martha admits to “slovenly habits.” Worse, Mary Ellen considered Martha’s reading to be “idleness” (p. 83).

Martha’s conflicts with her brother James, whom she describes as a “surly domineering old bachelor” were even worse (84). In the fall of 1865, when Martha was thirteen, her parents went to Salt Lake City, leaving twenty-five-year-old James in charge. Martha had only one dress, “an old purple calico whose straight skirt had done good service right side and had now been inverted and brought to the required length by a row of pink around the bottom.” Humiliated by this violent color scheme below her “red face,” she planned to weave herself a new dress length. Furthermore, “there was to be school and books for the winter . . . . It dwelt as a halo around my day and night visions” (85). But James, apparently to be contrary, forbade any weaving, then carried her off to cook for him and another brother in Pine Valley until her parents returned in February. It was an embittering experience. Martha had nothing to do but clean house, the only neighbor family was unfriendly, her brothers were frequently gone, and she was terrified by the very real threat of Indian attack. “It was years before I ceased hating Jim,” she says simply (86).

The one benefit was her first recorded experience with answered prayer. She never prayed “as long as I could help myself,” but one night, angry, alone, in actual fear for her life, “I begun in earnest to tell my father my troubles and my request that He help me was answered and His peace fell over me” (91–92). Her prayer’s sturdy independence, directness, and unmistakable answer seem characteristic of the experiences she would have later as well.

She was fourteen the summer after her parents returned, and her longing for school was even more intense—yet the family’s poverty was still acute. By now she was doing most of the family weaving and “complained bitterly,” saying that her work should earn her more privileges. Her father informed her curtly that “if I had to earn my own living I would go naked and starve compared with what I was getting at home.” Surprised rather than wounded, Martha thought it over carefully and wrote a private injunction on the web beam of her loom: “Now Marth Cragun [earn] your own food and clothes or starve” (94–95).

She did not tell her parents of her resolve but bargained with her mother to share “the labor and profits” of the weaving. Adding cooking to her regular chores of washing and cleaning would, she figured, pay for her board and lodging. It was a discouraging first year. She had only two dresses by its end and worked barefoot and ragged at her loom. But she learned housekeeping. She learned discipline. She learned to appreciate her parents’ hard work. And she learned independence. No longer available to “promenade down town with the girls,” she learned to rely on her own resources; and when the teaching of her Sunday School class was given without warning to a “richly clad” newcomer, she was “hurt” but spent her Sundays reading undisturbed in an unfinished wardhouse nearby (96).

At age fifteen when her brother-in-law, James McCarty, offered her a chance to attend his school in nearby Santa Clara—at least partially to separate her from her brother—she accepted with delight but soon found “that meeting with friends three nights out of every week to read novels aloud had not made me acquainted with literature.” Her brother-in-law taught her more important lessons, too. “I was brought face to face with my own nature and saw much there that was bad . . . . I had a hard unyielding spirit . . . . that . . . . brooked no restraint. I had a fearful temper and my anger found free vent on every occasion. I never held words back for a second thought. These lessons were not easily learned and several times I contemplated leaving school and going home so great was the ordeal” (98). But she stuck to her school as she had stuck to her loom and returned ‘with a crown of Jewels on my head” (98).

She learned another important lesson from a customer. Finishing a rough length, she apologized for its “nappy” yarn, and he responded with unexpected soberness: “ `Twill soon be worn out and then my nappy cloth and the weaver’s work will be forgotten – and the weaver too, though she becomes round shouldered over the loom in trying to serve people with good cloth.” Struck by a sense of futility, Martha wept. “If I could only do some undying thing I felt it would move my arm to action. But to write my name on nothing except that that bore the device ‘Passing Away,’ was not intended in my creation I was sure of that” (115). McCarty advised her, “ ‘Every wholesome thought you succeed in planting in the mind of a little child, even, will grow and bear eternal fruit that will give you such joy that you will not ask to be remembered.’ His words, though they enlightened brought to me an awful sadness of soul. I was so ignorant” (114–15).

It was her conviction of her own ignorance and compassion for those in a similar condition that triggered a final decision. She saw a group of boys playing truant. When they asked her to teach them, Martha lamented, “‘I wish I knew enough to teach you.’ . . . One bright little fellow spoke up and said, ‘I should think you’d teach us that that you do know’” (116). Surprised, Martha thought, “Why not give the little I had, if I could not give much. The bantering words of these rude boys in the street aroused a feeling hard to resist, and . . . I decided to become a teacher” (116).

She does not say when she wove with her nappy yarn or talked to the boys. These events may have been separated by months, then telescoped for dramatic effect. But apparently they occurred when she was sixteen or seventeen, for she became an assistant teacher in late December 1869 at age seventeen and opened her first school in the fall of 1871 when she was eighteen.

And before she launched on this new career, she made another decisive choice. She married Isaiah Cox, “one of the poorest men in Washington Co., and one who had already two wives and a family of seven children” (117). Her decision was not a popular one. A former friend sneered that she “had no need to lower herself” to marry a married man (122). Her family’s reaction was initially so negative that Martha calls it “hatred” (118).

But Martha herself “had studied out the matter. . . . If the Lord would have manifested . . . that the principle of plural marriage was wrong . . . I felt I should be happy. But it only made me miserable beyond endurance when I tried to recede from the decision I had made to enter it. My only relief was in prayer, and prayer only strengthened my resolve to leave father, mother and all for—I scarcely knew what. I was sorry sometimes that I had taken up the question at all,” she adds wryly, “but having assumed it I could not recede. . . . I had asked the Lord to lead me in the right way . . . and I must follow in the pathe He dictated and that was all there was to it” (pp. 117–18).

Martha and Isaiah were sealed in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City on 6 December 1869. She was seventeen. Isaiah was thirty. The son of Jehu and Sarah Cox, Isaiah had accompanied them to settle Union, where he met and married his first wife, Henrietta Janes, served in Lot Smith’s company during the campaign against Johnston’s Army in 1857, moved to Mount Pleasant and then to North Bend, then was called to the Dixie Mission in the first group of settlers. His profession is given as carpenter and wheelwright; and he reportedly worked on the St. George Temple from its beginning in 1871 until its completion in 1877.[2]

The shrewdest blow Martha’s family dealt her in their attempts to dissuade her from the marriage was the observation that “it was not a marriage of love.” She admits that it was not, “though I loved his wives and the spirit of their home” (118). Even though she is writing this reminiscence almost sixty years after that wedding and more than thirty after Isaiah’s death, there is a determined honesty in her account. There is no evidence that she ever loved Isaiah Cox “as lovers love’ (118). She never refers to him by his full name (not unusual in the nineteenth century), only rarely calls him “my husband,” sometimes “Brother Cox,” and more frequently, “the father of the house” or “our husband.” Although she had eight children, it is virtually impossible to tell from her record when Isaiah lived in the same house. She never seems to have relied on him financially—wisely, since he seems to have had no luck with money even though he was a “good workman” and faithfully worked long days (131). The only direct interaction she records between them was in telling of the anger she felt when, in about 1892, he returned from three years in Mexico with a fourth wife and decided to sell the family farm in the Muddy Valley settlement of Nevada that Martha had schemed and scraped to purchase for the children. In recording the event, almost thirty years after it happened, she gives her only direct opinion of her husband:

It is strange how woman, though the weaker sex, often in time of trouble, calamity, or persecution prove stronger, more courageous, more able to bear up under difficulties than does man. Here was Lizzie dragged two or three times with her children to the Beaver [federal] court to testify [in polygamy trials] . . . . Auntie had to give up her home and live with her children, while she saw her daughters exiled yet all were calm in spirit and finding happiness every day. While here the husband who had not borne half the trial they had endured, was so rattled under the situation he was literally giving away . . . good land.

Even though it was, for all practical purposes, her property, Martha does not dispute Isaiah’s legal right to dispose of it. “I had used the best of my reasoning power with Bro Cox to withhold a consummation of the bargain . . . to let his sons have a chance” (196–97). In that single sentence is the only record of any conversation she ever held with her husband on any subject—Martha, who recorded in loving and lavish detail conversations with total strangers. (She persuaded the son of another wife to buy property, incidentally.) When Isaiah died in 1896 of a heart attack, she mentions it only to explain why the bishop had felt reluctant to let her son go on a mission the next year (199).

However, though Isaiah Cox may have been neither companion nor provider as might have been desirable, by their marriage Martha wedded herself to his first two wives, Henrietta Janes (“Auntie”) and Elizabeth Ann Stout (“Lizzie”). As she admits from the beginning that she loved his wives, though not Isaiah, so the rewards she found in marriage came, after an initially difficult adjustment, from her association with those two women. Though she had grown up in a poor home, she was not in a poorer and learned “to eat a dinner without meat and salt-rising bread without salt.” Until she adjusted to her new schedule, she rose exhausted at 5:00 A.M. and dutifully retired at 9:00 P.M. “to toss sleeplessly there until the middle of the night” (123). Relentlessly, she schooled her “hot Irish temper” (122). She does not say what made her angry, but there is no indication that it was ever her sister wives, for she describes that relationship lovingly and happily, giving one of the most harmonious portraits we have of plural marriage.

Henrietta Janes, the first wife, was born in Mansfield, Connecticut, to Josiah and Asenath Slafter Janes. She accompanied them to Nauvoo and then, after her father died, came with her widowed mother to Utah where they settled in Union. She was twenty when she and the sixteen-year-old Isaiah were married and thirty-four when he married Martha. She had already borne him five children and was pregnant with a sixth; she would give birth to three more, two of whom would die in childhood. The second wife, Elizabeth Ann Stout, was just twenty-one when the seventeen-year-old Martha joined the household. Like Martha, she had married Isaiah at seventeen. She had borne him two children, was pregnant with a third, and would eventually give birth to an additional five. The daughter of Hosea and Louisa Taylor Stout, she and Auntie had already established a close relationship. According to family sources, Auntie had greeted Lizzie and Isaiah after their return from the Endowment House “with open arms” and “a very affectionate hug and a kiss” for each.[3]

Apparently the household work as managed by Auntie; and during the decade that the three women lived together, they were a smoothly functioning economic unit. They grew their own apples and grapes, preserving much of their own food. Martha leaves a warm and memorable picture:

We had our work so systematized and so well ordered that we could with ease do a great deal. One would for a period superintend the cooking and kitchen work with the help of the girls. Another make beds and sweep. Another comb and wash all the children. At 7.30 all would be ready to sit down and eat breakfast. Lizzie was the dress maker for the house and she was always ready to go to her work at eight or nine o’clock. She was also the best sales woman of the house. She generally did most of the buying, especially the shoes. She was a good judge of leather. Auntie did darning and repairing. I seldom patched anything. She did it all for me. She never ironed the clothes I did most of that. When wash day [came] all hands were employed except the cook. On that day we liked the boiled pudding. Noon saw our family wash on the line.

We usually bought cloth by the bolt and whoever needed most was served first. In fact we had in our home an almost perfect United Order. No one can tell the advantages of that system until he has lived it. We enjoyed many privileges that single wifery never knew. We did not often all go out together. One always stayed at home and took care of the children and the house. In that way we generally came home with a correct idea of what was given in the sermon.

Whenever one was indisposed she was not obliged to tie up her head and keep serving about the house but she could go to her room and lie down knowing that her children and all her share of the work would be attended to. No one was obliged to bend over the wash tub when she was delicate in health or condition. All stepped into the breach and helped each other.

We acted as nurses for each other during confinement. We were too poor to hire nurses. One suit or outfit for new babies and confined mothers did for us all, and when one piece wore out it was supplied by another. For many years we lived thus working together cooking over the same large stove with the same great kettles, eating at the same long table without a word of unpleasantness or a jar in our feeling portrayed. The children we bore while we lived together in that poor home love each other more than those that came to us after the raid on polygamists came on and we were obliged to separate and flee in different directions.

To me it is a joy to know that we laid the foundation of a life to come while we lived in that plural marriage, that we three who loved each other more than sisters, children of one mother, love, will go hand in hand together down through all eternity. That knowledge is worth more to me than gold and more than compensates for all the sorrow I have ever known (pp. 128–29).

Martha reiterates that feeling a few pages later in a paragraph that pays tribute to the first wife. After describing how tenderly Auntie loved her children and Lizzie’s, Martha records:

One day I ventured to say to her that I was sure that many times she had been grieved and even felt heart broken under her trials of plural marriage and poverty, though she had never shown to us by tear or word that she felt so. She looked me squarely in the face and said these words that I shall never forget. “Whenever my heart comes between me and my Father’s work it will have to break. And if you have not learned that lesson the sooner you learn it the better for you.” Glorious woman! No better ever lived. Israel never produced a better Latter Day Saint. She honored the Priesthood her husband held and preserved a perfect peace in his house. One of my sweetest thoughts on eternity has been that I shall be privileged through all eternity to go hand in hand with those two dear women with whom I served through hard work and poverty through so many years. They are more beloved by me than is any of my natural sisters: I mean the daughters of my mother. The Lord was good to leave us in our poverty that we might learn to cleave together (132).

Throughout the rest of her record, Martha speaks as often of the other wives’ children as of her own. Many of them lived with her as she moved from place to place. And finally, six months after Isaiah’s death, these three wives would take yet another step in concert and receive a cancellation of their sealings to Isaiah. Martha does not mention this event in her record. President Wilford Woodruff’s letter, addressed to Lorenzo Snow as president of the Salt Lake Temple, merely directs him to record the cancellation, without giving any reason. His correspondence file for that year contains no letter from any of the three women requesting such an action, and it thus remains puzzling. Although the first wife was sealed to Joseph Smith ten years later, not an uncommon practice, none of the three remarried. [4]

But this was far in the future for Martha, just back from her wedding trip. She began teaching within days, first as an assistant for a year and a half. Her first child, a daughter, was born 11 January 1871. The baby’s death, two days later, “was my first real sorrow and the bitterest disappointment I had ever known,” she recalls (124). She spent the spring of 1871 going to school at Richard Horne’s “at an expense and great sacrafice but I felt that I must get some training as a teacher if I ever succeeded in giving my ‘street boys’ instruction. I had those idle marble players ever on my mind” (124).

They had not forgotten, either; and one of them reminded her of her promise to teach them that summer. In September 1871, she began her teaching career with a humiliating series of rebuffs and failures, First, the trustees of the Third Ward School refused it to her on the grounds that her “rude boys” would destroy the property. When she began recruiting students, some refused politely, but one woman sneered that she was giving herself airs and another did not want “‘to trust my children in a class built up for the teacher’s test.’” Martha persisted anyway, began small, and within a month had overflowed her borrowed classroom. With the help of the children and her sister wives, she patched a floor into an unfinished room of her own house and kept teaching until her success prompted the ward school trustees to offer her a position. Her first full year of the ten she would reach in St. George closed in triumph in March 1872 and on 29 May a daughter, Rosannah, was born. “It was hard to secure teachers in St. Geo.,” she observes. “The pay was too poor—generally the produce of the country had to be collected by the teacher. . . . Yet still I know the idle boy obliged to be out of the school held my sympathy. I felt obliged to stay with it because there was so few that would” (129).

We see what she means by that when she volunteered to take widows’ children free and ended up with “few on the pay roll . . . But I was game” (130).

Her third child, Edward Isaiah, was born 9 June 1874 followed by Franklin Lane on 4 September 1876. Family finances took a turn for the worse when Isaiah cosigned a note to back the opening of a mine and was left holding one-third of the debts when the manager absconded with the funds. It took the combined efforts of the whole family more than a year to raise the seven hundred dollars he was liable for.

In 1877 Isaiah was on the school board and approved the principal’s plan to use all the experienced teachers in his school in the basement of the St. George Tabernacle. Martha resisted bitterly, feeling that experienced teachers were needed most in the ward schools; but since “the one to whom I was supposed to render obedience was then a trustee of the school,” she “could see no way but to yield.” Her children, cooped up in a narrow room between two others without fresh air, “turned savage,” and Martha’s sympathies were with them (134).

She did not teach in 1878–79. Amelia was born 24 October and Martha taught the family’s children for a few months, helped with the housework, and launched a loving labor that would claim increasing amounts of her time and attention for the next fifty years. Her patriarchal blessing would, in 1880, promise her that in “the Temple of the Lord . . .you will accomplish a great and might work for your dead for they are crying for help to day to redeem them out of their prison” (144). But Martha had already begun. She had attended the St. George Temple dedication in 1877. The doctrine of temple work at the time permitted only the oldest member of the family to perform such vicarious ordinances as baptisms, washings, anointings, endowments, and sealings of spouses to each other and parents and children on behalf of the dead. Martha shared a concern that she “would never have the privilege again of experiencing the Temple ordinance”; but Wilford Woodruff, then an Apostle, felt inspired to call as proxies “his friends who had their hearts set on the work” for his own enormous file of names. Martha was in the first company of proxies in the St. George Temple, and afterwards “every spare day I had I spent there” (144–46).

She also began research efforts by contacting her mother’s relatives. One responded favorably, but the “saucy note” of another taught her “to not try to cram my religion down any body’s neck unless they asked for it or it was my mission to do so” (147).

Looking back on her life, Martha would call that summer of 1881 the close of a chapter. She was twenty-nine, had been a teacher for eleven years, borne six children, and buried two. Isaiah went to Arizona to look for work but also to avoid the harassment of federal deputies in search of polygamists. Auntie went to nearby Rockville to live with a married daughter. This separation was the beginning of Martha’s wanderings as a migratory schoolteacher on the Mormon frontier. Though she would return “home” to St. George periodically, she would not have a permanent residence until the last few years of her life in Salt Lake City.

The new chapter began with an invitation from two or three families who had moved from St. George to the Muddy Valley in southeastern Nevada. Brigham Young had sent colonists there in the 1860s, but conditions were so severe that he cancelled the mission in 1870. Most left, but others came to try again. As usual, the family finances were an important factor in Martha’s decision. The three wives had, through a son, borrowed enough money to purchase the lot next to theirs in St. George and had jointly decided that Martha’s teachings would help them “raise our debt” (141).

The story of her certification is one of the most dramatic in her narrative. She had resumed teaching in 1879; a daughter, Amy, had been born 28 October 1880 and died the next summer. The day after the funeral, she received the letter setting the date of the examination in Pioche, a town which was two days away in eastern Nevada—too far to reach in time. Furthermore, she could expect no concessions since “the very name of ‘Mormon’ was hated in Nev[ada].” Still, she went. The superintendent received her coldly, would not call the examining board together, refused to certify her on the strength of her Utah certificate, and indeed refused to look at it. But “as I turned to leave his office a spirit rose within me that I could hardly understand, a spirit of strength and peace.” She told him that she had had no control over the date, that the people of the Muddy Valley had appealed to her and that she had promised to do her best, which she had now done, and “furthermore I told him that I exonerated him from all blame in the matter” (141–42). His manner changed markedly. He offered her a seat, fetched another member of the examining committee, and refused to let him test Martha with such esoteric subjects as Latin grammar. She received her certificate.

She made the four days’ journey to the Muddy alone, leaving all of her children with her sister wives, and arrived to find the schoolhouse unfinished. She opened school “under the beautiful cottonwood trees by the side of the lovely clear stream” by stringing up her black-painted breadboard. “A good thing I brought it,” she observes (148–49).

She does not mention classroom activities, but there was activity enough outside it. One non-Mormon objected to the location of the schoolhouse and to having his children taught by a Mormon. Pluckily, Martha called on him, and he, in her presence, objected only to the location. She, for her part, was disgusted by “his tobacco drulling [drooling] from his mouth and his otherwise stinking person” (149). At a public meeting, each citizen was asked to vote on her, and only this non-Mormon withheld his support.

She was boarding with a previous resident of St. George, doing housework to pay for her room, milking for a share of the milk, and finally, after she ran out of supplies, picking cotton and cutting sunflowers to pay for her meals. Labor was one thing but propriety was another; and she moved out when the woman left for Salt Lake, expecting her to cook for the men. Her lodging thereafter was a bedroll in a cotton storage room while she cooked outside and either sat in the dark or visited a neighbor in the evenings (see 151). In November, she records a graphic picture of her poverty: “I cannot now take my crust in my hand and eat my supper as I walk on the hills a half mile distant—which I had formed the habit of doing to conquer the loneliness and yarning to be with my children. I had sold my shawl for six dollars which I used to keep up my necessities for a month and I could not withstand the rigor of the wind. The evenings without light or fire began to be unbearably long” (155–56). Still, it is a tribute to her generous spirit that, in such straitened circumstances, she sold an Indian one of her three dresses so that his wife could work in a family. She took what he offered her in exchange—one dollar (see 156).

Martha does not say whether this was her first experience with Indians after her fear of them as a teenager, but her admiration and respect are refreshing notes. She does not see them primarily as Book of Mormon peoples, a convenient stereotype for many Latter-day Saints. Instead she recalls her experience with individuals. Joe Mason, for instance, “worked hard all day and carried home the greater share of what was given him for meals to his little children” (156). Sent to the store for some change, another did not return until after a three-day spree in which he drank and gambled everything he owned down to his shoes—except for that money (see p. 170). Martha repaid them in her own coin years later by submitting their names for temple work so “they have all been endowed” (177).

Obviously, Martha was living on scanty resources; but when a good 160-acre farm came on the market in Overton, she consulted with her sister wives and decided to buy. Isaiah Cox brought down the wagon that was part of the bargain and “closed the deal,” but it was Martha who “promised to repay the borrowed money” (158).

But now she needed money more desperately than ever, and her school would close the last of February. The Pioche superintendent offered her the school in Panaca, a mining town only a few miles from Pioche from which the teacher had “fled . . . to save his life.” He warned her that she would succeed only if she taught “with a book in one hand a blackwhip in the other” (p. 158). Painfully Martha records driving away, leaving Rosannah standing in the doorway reminding her, “‘Mother you promised you would never leave us your children again,’” She adds, “Oh! The horrid phantom of debt . . . .Money loses its luster when you consider the sacrifice made to get it” (163).

That spring school in Panaca in 1882 was the scene of Martha’s greatest recorded triumph. “I don’t think a teacher ever met a more rebellious looking group of children than I greeted,” she recalls. Cannily, she began by complimenting them on the size and beauty of their town, then noticing “six or seven sticks, thick as clubs standing in the corner,” had the boys chop them up for kindling. By the time she let school out, the news was all over town. One woman said, “I hear you let John take those clubs Martin used to beat him with and chop them up.” Deliberately missing the point, Martha replied, “I think [it] was John who did it.” When a “sober-faced trustee” warned her the next morning, “‘You may need them before school is out,’” she deliberately misunderstood him as well: “‘Panaca is a rich little place. You may get here anything you need, from a tooth-pick to a wagon tongue’” (160–61).

Needless to say, she never needed the clubs, and “the people gave me more praise than was my due” (162).

The trustees, recognizing a good thing when they saw it, offered her the school for the next year. Interestingly enough, she refused, not only because “I could not leave my little children again” but because she also felt apprehensive: “I had stepped on too high a step in Panaca. I had let myself rise too high in the estimation of the people. I could not maintain my standard, I fear, so backed right out” (164–65). In another place, she refers to her Panaca experience again and terms her success “sailing under false colors” (195). But why should she mistrust her ability to maintain that success? Toward the end of her life, she quoted from her patriarchal blessing that she should “be a counsellor in Zion” and concluded, “I am not meant, I believe, to be the leader” (295). Clearly, she had the natural ability required. She thought fast, talked persuasively, was able to make decisions, and was willing to take risks. But in Panaca, where she was so indubitably a success, she retreated from her popularity. Certainly the opportunities for a woman – even one with Martha’s abilities – were limited on the Mormon frontier. But almost as certainly, Martha’s image of herself did not include a public role outside her classroom, and she seems not to have had the kinds of friends and supporters who could persuade her to change that image.

The next few months were plagued with illness and worry about her debts. Rachel Evelyn was born in St. George 23 November 1884. Martha did not teach that year, only the second year she had not stood before a class since her marriage fifteen years earlier. Back in Overton, Isaiah was made the newly organized ward’s first bishop but “felt his position as a great burden to him” and was released a year later (173). Martha’s eighth and last child, Geneva, was born on 15 July 1886. Her father died, she became ill again, and her depression over debt increased as the months passed.

Isaiah had now removed himself effectually by marrying Mary Jane Millett on 22 September 1888, and “to save himself from the law he had gone into Mexico.” Martha is fair: “We all had approved the action but it brought hardship upon us all . . . . I did not know how sad I was nor what effect my gloomy feelings were having upon me, until one day I happened to open my hymn book. I sat down with my baby on my lap and began to sing her to sleep. At the first notes she raised her head and gave me a frightened look. At this I laughed which frightened her the more. I then knew I was not used to singing or laughing” (178).

About this time, she had a dream which she considered to be divine intervention to free her from her “bitter hatred” of the federal marshals and her own depression. Rather like Dickens’s figure of Marley’s ghost, she saw herself with a chain around her neck so laden with heavy bundles that she could not lift her head to see the sky. Advised by an unnamed person to hang the bundles on the rod over her fireplace, she did so. Among them was a “large bundle” of “wicked words I had said about the Utah Marshalls,” another was debts she had not been able to collect, and another was baby clothes that she used to spread on her bed “on lonely stormy nights when there [was] no one . . . . to see or hear me weep over them.” Each parcel became miraculously light as she lifted it to the rod, and when the last was gone, “lo, the chain was gone and I was free.” She woke, resolved to be free indeed. When an Indian mother begged clothes for her child, Martha took out her box of baby clothes and dressed the child, feeling “shame for the tears I had shed over [them]” (178–79).

Freed of her depression, she looked to the future again and, after the years of scraping by at Overton, accepted an 1889 offer from Bunkerville, Nevada, a tiny hamlet originally founded as a Mormon communal order in 1877 by Edward Bunker, whom she had known in Santa Clara and for whom she had named her first son. “I rejoiced to be among my own people again,” she writes (p. 186).

In 1890, her daughter Amelia, who was suffering from diabetes, gradually weakened and, in October, died just a few weeks short of her twelfth birthday. That fall, Martha again opened her Bunkerville school with the only comment she ever makes on her curriculum: “history, astronomy and English laid out for the classes.” Edward, now sixteen, reluctantly came to her school—”afraid of his mother,” she dryly notes. “But he soon adjusted himself to the situation” (192).

By 1891 she began thinking of buying a home in Bunkerville, but when a midyear vacancy came up in the school at Beaver Dam in Arizona, Martha promptly took eighteen-year-old Rose to Kingman, Arizona, several days away on the other side of the Grand Canyon, for certification. She records, scandalized, the tipsy women in the boardinghouse parlor, another who was celebrating a successful abortion, and the open coal-stealing from the railroad. As the final proof of gentile wickedness, Rose passed the examination with 90 percent but received a certificate marked 80 percent, the superintendent ingenuously explaining that the highest Arizona applicant had only made 85 percent “and they couldn’t let a Mormon girl from Nevada come and put it over on them that way” (194).

Martha and Rose had spent the summer of 1891 in Provo at Brigham Young Academy’s summer school. The experience awakened not only her own unfed hunger for more education but a strong desire to see her children educated there. Both the bishop and a son-in-law counseled her so strongly against it, though, that she changed her mind.

The bp [Edward Bunker] was an old fashioned man and not afraid to put his hand into the collar of a boy and draw him into line. That fact had a great bearing and that I might not have influence to keep my boys at work while out of school was another thought. When I considered the whole situation I concluded to stay in Bunkerville. This blessing came from my later decision. My children married well there. [Three married into the Bunker family.] My sons both married . . . good housekeepers, good cooks, good mothers to as many children as our Heavenly Father has been pleased to send them, therefore good Latter Day Saints (196).

Of her own needs and desires, she says nothing and apparently resolved to spend the rest of her life in the Mormon southern corridor. It was about that time that Isaiah reemerged from Mexico and sold the farm she had painfully acquired and kept in Overton. With that loss, she seems to have cut a tie. “We”—apparently meaning her and the children—“bought a home in Bunkerville in 1893, a lot,” and her teenage sons put together a “shanty” (198). Bunkerville was building its first chapel, and the overextended people resisted the bishop’s house-to-house appeal for enough money to put in windows and buy nails. Recalls Martha:

When he called upon me, I could not see at first that I could advance anything, but his tired face touched my finer feelings, and I said, “I’ll give this month’s wages on it.” My own words lightened my soul. He seemed to doubt my words. And asked me to repeat them. I said again “I’ll put my month’s pay check all except the tithing on it . . ..” I had no thought of making sacrafice or offering. I felt it my duty to help lift the burden. The result was wonderful, and the Lord blessed the whole people through that gift made to Him. One man rather miserly, said, when found out what I had given “Well, if that poor widow with all those children can give her month’s wages I’ll give some work and a little money’ and so the spirit spread.

Proud of their building, the ward members made it the center of other projects, and “the little town soon became known as a town of thrift, culture, education etc. As I look at [it] now, though I had no such thought then, my gift was a pure offering before the Lord and the fact that so much good came from it shows to me that our Father accepted it as such” (278).

In this passage, possibly as much as anywhere, we see the savor in Martha’s salt. The details of the bishop’s “tired face” and her own forthright offer, even the reinforcing detail of the “miserly” man, demonstrate her ability to tell a good story. That the story involved sacrifice for her church is utterly characteristic of Martha. And as she reflects on the event, drawing from it meanings that she did not give it then, she finds it to be surrounded by a halo of blessedness, a goodly impulse that set off ripples of further goodness. And because both the deed and her retelling of it are an offering, freely and lovingly made to her Heavenly Father, there is a sweetness and purity about its telling that carries its own spirit to the reader.

Isaiah died in 1896. Her twenty-three-year-old son Edward was called on a mission in 1897, and “I was rejoiced that he had been honored by this call.” Although the bishop wanted to have him wait to earn more money, Martha spunkily replied, “‘While I have a roof to cover my head I can send my boy on a mission when he is called,’ and I felt strengthened by my answer” (199).

In 1900 Martha, teaching school in Mesquite close to Bunkerville, began to think about Mexico where the Mormon colonies had been established in 1885. She was forty-eight and after leaving St. George had never lived more than three years in the same place. Perhaps her curiosity was aroused. Perhaps she hoped that the family fortunes would improve. Certainly she was anxious to be in a place where polygamy was not against the law. Although the 1890 Manifesto had greatly curtailed United States plural marriages, it would not be until 1904 that Latter-day Saints stopped forming such marriages, rather openly in Canada and especially in Mexico. When Francis M. Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve “gave full permission” in conference for migration to Mexico (201), Martha’s last question was answered, and she left in May 1901 with a large family caravan by team and wagon.

That abortive Mexican venture took ten years of Martha’s life and it repaid her ill, but she does not complain. Her record comes alive with pleasure as they began to trek across Arizona. She rambled after wildflowers, gained a new appreciation for the “bitter waters of the Virgin river” in this utterly dry desert, was an eager sightseer among the “Nephite” ruins en route, and inquisitively interviewed inhabitants of Phoenix (220–21).

At Naco, on the border, they bogged down completely, first in paper work, then in inspections. Members of the party sought work. Geneva began a Sunday School class. Fellow Saints from the Mormon colonies brought the discouraging word that there was no work to be had there that season. Storms were followed by hoof-and-mouth disease among the stock and violent fevers among the party. When a resident of Diaz offered to take them there, Martha seized upon it (224–25). They arrived 24 August 1901 and a week later she was teaching one class in its academy and another in Sunday School. The rest of the family straggled in slowly. Five of the children among the family had either died en route or in the first few months. A prophetic dream on Christmas Eve, later confirmed, warned Martha of her mother’s death.

In 1902 Martha taught in Morelos. Her children were scattered throughout the colonies, and she lengthened the distance by returning to Arizona in 1904 to teach at Beaver Dam, then at Cane Springs. Her curiosity burned as bright as ever; and on her way out of Mexico, she spent on a Spanish-English dictionary the four dollars earmarked for a shawl, warming herself with thoughts of “the treasured book” as she shivered through the mountains near Prescott, Arizona (232). Her interest in learning made her unusually open-minded, and she found “the faces of Hidalgo and Benito Juarez . . . just as beautiful to me as that of George Washington” (233). In Salt Lake City at the age of seventy-seven, she would briefly teach English in the Pioneer Stake’s Mexican branch, pleased she could still manage the Spanish language after twelve years and observing, “I find them, the Mexicans, a splendid people” (295).

Worried about her children and the political situation in Mexico, she returned to Mexico in the summer of 1906. Martha, teaching in Juarez in 1907 when the first skirmishes began, found “the smell of wounded horses and wounded men . . . unbearably obnoxious” by summer (239) and tells the story of the battle of Casas Grandes as though it happened the same year even though Raoul Madero’s forces did not fight over the town until 6 March 1911. Her twelve-year-old grandson was given a gun and went eagerly off to the battle lines. Martha “asked him if he realized that he might be shot and killed before noon,” and he responded bloodthirstily, “‘If I’m killed I’ll bet I get a few Mexicans first.’ I could not try to describe my feelings as I looked upon that accoutred boy and heard the guns of that battle” (243). Her sorrow and fear did not quench her curiosity, however, and she found a large window in a top story from which to watch the battle (243–44).

In 1911 she left Mexico and joined her daughter Geneva, then teaching school in Richfield, Utah. There Martha helped her with her papers, taught her history class (and Sunday School again), and watched as the Saints in Mexico wavered between trying to defend their property and obeying instructions from both political and religious leaders to leave the dangerous zone. Among those who escaped in the summer of 1912 was her daughter Evelyn. Seven months pregnant, Evelyn sat on a bench in a coal car for a day and most of a night, holding her other two children on her lap, because there was no room on the floor (248). She took temporary refuge with Martha and Geneva who had married George M. Cope on 29 May 1912. He was also sealed to Amelia on the same day (248).

Martha took up teaching again, first in Richfield in 1912–13, then in Burrville in the nearby mountains, where she adapted easily to six-foot snowdrifts as “a kind of novelty” (p. 255). Her spare time went to collecting genealogical information, and her summers were partially spent in the Manti Temple.

For two years she taught at Aurora, about fifteen miles from Richfield, but she didn’t care for the principal (“a man of little or no faith”) and further resisted the superintendent’s demands for Saturday work (256). Her contract was not renewed, but she was not sorry to leave. The genealogical promise of her patriarchal blessing was much on her mind. Frustrated at not having ancestral records, she made it a matter of prayer: “one day as I was walking home to dinner . . . I saw in a vacant lot on my right a piece of newspaper. A thought came into my mind, ‘Perhaps there is something on that paper you’d like to read.’” She tore her dress on the barbed wire fence and walked over the muddy furrows to discover on “the old sunburnt scrap” a notice that a Boston genealogist had passed through Salt Lake City. She wrote to him and heard in return that she could get four volumes of family names for thirteen dollars. “I felt that the Lord had heard my prayers, and had answered them in wonderful way” (257).

Then World War I struck, bringing changes that horrified Martha. One grandson enlisted, then he added “another . . . sorrow” by marrying a non-Mormon Californian (262). The influenza pandemic of 1918 prostrated them. Martha herself was spared but agonized over her children and grandchildren, “too helpless to lift a cup of water to their lips” (261). Even though scientists had rejected the idea that the disease was born by prevailing winds, Martha’s description reflects the older belief, now embedded in the fold mind: “The currents of air that sweep the earth in its revolutions now had the time required to bring the miasma from the slightly buried dead, mingled with the poison gas used in life’s destruction to the shores of our country” (260). Amazingly, none of her family died of the disease that killed an estimated twenty million worldwide.

Even though she was sixty-five in 1917, “all who had ever taught were requested to again occupy the pedagogical chair” (260). She taught in Enterprise, Utah; St. Thomas, Nevada; and Gunlock, Utah, which, in 1920, marked the end of her formal teaching.

A visit to Salt Lake City and a conference with another ardent genealogist launched her, at the age of sixty-nine, on another “career”—that of temple work. She spent the summer of 1920 and parts of 1921–22 in the Salt Lake Temple, a diligently performing three proxy endowments a day – a full day’s work with each session lasting three or four hours. She refused two offers to become an assigned temple worker because she felt so responsible for her own dead. But when a woman who frequented the temple told her of a vision in which she had seen Martha performing those very duties, Martha reconsidered and thus saw that her prayers had been answered, for names from her file were given out to other proxies—sometimes ten or twenty of both sexes in a day compared to her maximum of three women. And, ever practical, she noted that she would receive her lunch every day, “which is not a small item,” although she refused the modest stipend which was also offered.

An unusual spiritual experience confirmed her decision. During that same summer of 1922, her mother, who had been dead since 1901, appeared in a dream to Geneva and showed her a list containing about a hundred names. Martha interpreted the dream to mean that she should find the names in Genealogical Library records. As she worked, a man overheard her mention Lane, her mother’s maiden name, and gave her a letter from her mother’s nephew that had been written almost exactly a year earlier and forwarded through four hands. “Circumstances like [this] strengthens my belief . . . that those who have gone to the other side are active in behalf of their own work and often have permission to aid their friends on this side who are earnestly working for their redemption” (270–71).

This conclusion touches a chord of memory, and Martha records an outpouring of similar experiences. One involved her dead daughter, Amelia. Martha’s sister wife, Lizzie, told her she had dreamed of seeing Amelia standing by her bed, requesting her to “give her a white dress that she might join a company that were going to a place higher up” and explaining that she was asking Aunt Lizzie because “‘I can’t make [mother] understand.’” Both women interpreted the dream to mean that the child was requesting a proxy endowment. This must have occurred when Martha was teaching away from St. George, for she asked Lizzie to see that Amelia’s work was done (271–72). There is a singular earnestness and a ringing sincerity about Martha’s recital of this and other experiences. No one can read them and question whether Martha believed they had actually happened.

In 1924, Martha’s health took a turn for the worse. The next year, Geneva, after giving birth to her eighth child, died. Her husband, remarrying both to prove “a mother to his brood” and to release Martha to return to the temple, died suddenly of typhoid fever in 1926. That same month, a granddaughter died of complications resulting from premature childbirth.

This spate of family disasters brought Martha’s record up to the time of writing; and she continues a journal, recording family events—visits, births, missions, deaths, marriages—and some of her most outspoken longings for money to help Geneva’s children and George’s posthumous daughter then being gallantly reared by his second wife. Twice Martha wonders helplessly, “Is it wrong to wish for money?” (276, 283). Her sense of helplessness finds vent in recording and denouncing current conditions: the narcotics industry, the scanty dress of the women, the droughts of Europe, the judgments of God in the forms of floods and wars, and the desire for luxuries among the Saints. One chastisement is worth mentioning: her disgust at “young women” who “love to fill offices and prefer to earn money rather [than] keep house and raise a family” (289). This may sound odd from Martha who taught every year but two between age seventeen and age sixty-nine; but despite her independence and financial self-reliance, she was not a feminist ahead of her time. Nothing she says about teaching indicates that she saw it as a “career” as we would understand the term today.

This section of her episodic and largely unreflective record continues up to the last paragraph in the book, where she sums up hastily, “This volume now closed. I wish I had written it better. I could have made a better record. I have tried to tell the truth but it was awkwardly done. May my second book be clearer and better” (305). Characteristically, she was forward-looking, though not much time remained. On 30 November 1932 she died. Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency and a friend from Mexican days spoke at her funeral, and she was buried in Salt Lake City Cemetery. [5]

She left thirty-six grandchildren, seventeen great-grandchildren—and her autobiography. As a consequence, she left a vital breath of her own personality. She was the salt of the earth, and she seasoned it.


[1] Martha James Cragun Cox, “Biographical Record of Martha Cox: Written for My Children and My Children’s Children, and All Who May Care to Read It.” Library-Archives, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, (hereafter cited as LDS Church Archives) 1. Grateful thanks are due to Leonard J. Arrington, director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History, for encouraging this project, not only with his enthusiasm but also with the very material aid of making time available for his secretary, Kathy Stephens, who completed a definitive typescript July 1979. A second typescript is available in the LDS Church Archives, but it is an edited version of this volume, as are typescripts in the Utah Historical Society and the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University. All citations are from the Stephens typescript and will be cited hereafter parenthetically in the text. Terminal punctuation and initial capitals have been added where necessary. The author’s frequent use of the short dash has been regularized into commas or semicolons as appropriate, and inadvertent repetitions have been silently omitted. When she has added material in the margins without indicating where it should be inserted, I have included it in what seems to be the most logical place. In May 1985, the Francis N. Bunker family organization and the Isaiah Cox family organizations, Martha Cragun branch, published this reminiscence as Face Toward Zion: Pioneer Reminiscences and Journal of Martha Cragun Cox. No editor is identified, Standardizing of spelling, punctuation, and grammar has been done silently. There is no index, although a useful chart of Isaiah Cox’s wives and children has been included. Martha’ second volume, which brings her life up to date and then becomes a daily journal, has not been published and is in the possession of a granddaughter.

[2] Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 19 October 1862, 6, LDS Church Archives; and Wayne D. Stout, Our Pioneer Ancestors: Genealogical and Biographical Histories of the Cox-Stout Families (privately printed, 1944), 72–77, 82.

[3] Family group sheet of Isaiah Cox and Henrietta Janes submitted by Brent Foutz, family group sheet of Isaiah Cox and Elizabeth Ann Stout submitted by H. Reed Black, and family group sheet of Isaiah Cox and Martha James Cragun submitted by Martha M. Judkins in the Genealogical Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, and Stout, Our Pioneer Ancestors, 77.

[4] Wilford Woodruff to President Lorenzo Snow, 13 October 1896, First Presidency Letterpress Copybooks, 1877–1949, LDS Church Archives; family group sheet of Isaiah Cox and Henrietta Janes, and family group sheet of Isaiah Cox and Elizabeth Ann Stout. The unanimity of cancellation followed by divergence of action afterwards is particularly mystifying. According to one interpretation of the sealing doctrine at the time, women sealed to an “unworthy” man could not inherit celestial glory. The fact that only one wife had herself sealed to an indubitably “worthy” personage, Joseph Smith, seems to rule out any question of Isaiah’s moral standing. The fact that the wives did not remarry other men also seems to rule out suppressed dissatisfaction with the marriage that surfaced only after Isaiah was dead. Wayne Stout, after recording Isaiah’s brief marriage on 29 November 1888 to Sophie Annie Morris and its subsequent annulment on 10 January 1892, observes: “This unfortunate incident did not cause Isaiah’s first three wives to ask for an annulment as some people believe”; but he does not elaborate further (Stout, Our Pioneer Ancestors, 83–84). A granddaughter in the early 1980s who pursued the matter with officials of the Genealogical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints waited while someone checked the records, which are not available to the public, and was reassured that the sealing was in force.

[5] “Martha Cragun Cox,” Salt Lake Tribune, 4 December 1932, B-9.