In most respects William Wadley was typical of many other people who joined the LDS Church in the mid-1800s in England. Many of them migrated to the Utah Territory, many of them endured hardships during the trip, and many of them settled in difficult places. There are some details in William’s life, however, that shed interesting light on aspects of and on the pain caused by attempts to eliminate the practice.


William was born in the Parish of Newent, Gloucestershire, England. His family was poor and he was apprenticed to a nearby farmer at the tender age of 7. He worked on the farm until he was 19 and then took a job in the coal mines near Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, about 70 miles from his home. Four years later he met Mormon missionaries who converted him in 1848. Soon after, William became a part-time missionary and, among others, converted his parents and his brother Joseph.

With help from the , Joseph and William saved enough money to journey to Utah. They left home on January 5, 1853, joined 322 other saints in Liverpool, and sailed for America on The Ellen Maria, a square-rigger ship. James Farmer noted in his journal that he and William were in charge of cleaning “the places of convenience,” a reminder that the trip involved more than singing hymns and bearing testimonies. Farmer also notes that he and William washed themselves with seawater one day, perhaps lessening somewhat the pungent smells below deck. After a rough passage of 47 days they arrived in New Orleans on March 6th.

Church agents in New Orleans contracted with the owner of the steamship “James Noble” to haul William’s group up river to St. Louis. The steamer’s crew, unfortunately, was a rough lot and William and seven others were selected as watchmen to protect the saints from the rowdies. One night the watchman foiled an attempted rape by several crew members who may have been under the sway of “John Barleycorn.” All were happy to debark safely at St. Louis.

Most of the group continued on up the Mississippi River by steamer to Keokuk, Iowa where the church then had an outfitting base for converts going to Utah. William and Joseph, however, were called on a “cattle-buying mission” by the church agent in St. Louis, Horace S. Eldredge. Earlier, Eldredge had purchased two thousand head of cattle and four hundred wagons up and down the Mississippi Valley to transport immigrants to Utah. He could only find a large number of additional oxen for sale in the western part of Missouri, in the vicinity of St. Joseph, three hundred miles away. The Wadley brothers and eleven other young men walked to St. Joseph, bought with church money more than eight hundred oxen, and then drove them back more than three hundred miles to Keokuk, walking all the way. Family legend has it that most of the clothing of the 13 young men was so tattered by the time they reached the end of their journey, that they pooled their best clothing for one person to wear when he reported to church authorities.

During 1853 the church outfitted 13 companies that left from Keokuk. The Wadleys left in one of the latter groups led by Vincent Shurtliff. The company was comprised mostly of freight with only a small group of immigrants. Aside from lots of rain, and crossing a badly swollen Missouri River, the Company had an uneventful trip and arrived in Salt Lake on September 28th, nearly nine months after the Wadley brothers left their home in Newent. Almost immediately, Joseph went to Nephi to help build the town’s fort walls, and William was hired by Franklin D. Richards at the princely rate of $12 per month.

William was a mature man of 29 when he married Mary Chandler on July 1, 1854. She immigrated to Utah in 1853 so their paths might have crossed on the journey to Utah. Their nuptials provide insights into Mormon marriage practices at the time. Mary was 18 years older than William, and she also suffered from poor health. Given this, it’s a stretch to think their wedding was the culmination of a passionate love affair. More likely, social pressures – perhaps with some ecclesiastical encouragement – led to William assuming the responsibilities of caring for Mary.

A year later the couple moved to Ogden where William established a farm and orchard. Family legend has it that his trees bore the first peaches in . Drawing on his mining skills, William also helped build the road up Ogden Canyon to Huntsville. One of his contributions was blasting away a rock ledge that blocked the way. For sometime thereafter the remaining ledge was called Wadley Rock by the locals.

William’s brother Joseph settled in what is now Lindon, married Hannah Dorney, and had a son named Joseph Daniel Wadley. Unfortunately, Joseph’s wife died in early 1860 leaving him with a young son. Since they had no children of their own, William and Mary took young Joseph into their home for a year until his father remarried.

Soon after assuming responsibility for Joseph, William embraced polygamy by marrying a second wife, Isabella McKay, on April 8, 1860. In contrast to Mary, his first wife, Isabella was 17 years younger than William, thus making the average age of his wives about the same as his own vintage! In addition to religious pressures for polygamy, Mary may have acquiesced to having a sister wife because it gave William the opportunity to have children. Nonetheless, awkward may be too mild a term to describe relationships in the Wadley household for a time.

In the fall of 1862 William was called on a mission to settle in Utah’s Dixie.

Shortly after being called, William sold his property in Ogden and moved his family south to the fledgling community of Washington. The area around Washington is now a thriving vacation spot where snowbirds spend the winters, tourists enjoy the scenery, and retired people benefit from the mild climate. It was not a favorable place to live when the Wadleys arrived on the scene. Indian problems, grasshoppers, malaria, and continual water-control problems plagued the early settlers. There was too little water most of the time, with occasional devastating floods that ruined irrigation facilities. In 1863 William’s first wife Mary died, and about the same time William was laid low with the ague (malaria).

Unable to shake the ague, and following the advice of his bishop, William decided in 1865 to move his family to a higher altitude in Dammeron Valley, north of what is now St. George. His main crop there was potatoes, of which he harvested few the first year. He and several other men also attempted to start a farm in what was then called Beaver Dams, now known as Littlefield, Arizona. They put a lot of effort into clearing land, planting fruit trees, building dams and ditches, and planting crops. Subsequently, a flood erased their efforts and floated the remains to the mouth of the Colorado River.

After a couple of difficult years in Dameron Valley, but regaining his health, William uprooted his family still again and moved them further north to Pine Valley. Previously, lumber had been the main enterprise there, but the Wadleys soon developed a fruit farm, along with growing potatoes. About the time William moved to temperate Pine Valley, the locals built a combined church and school. It was uniquely designed as an upside-down ship by Ebenezer Bryce. Most likely William helped with the building. Some people claim that the edifice is the oldest continuously-used LDS church house anywhere.

Along the way in England, Salt Lake, Ogden, Washington, Dammeron Valley, Beaver Dams, and Pine Valley William became an astute farmer. He especially enjoyed working with fruit trees and grape vines where he excelled at cuttings and grafting. He also was quick to experiment with new crops. Someone, perhaps a returned missionary, introduced alfalfa seed in Utah’s Dixie and William eagerly gave it a try. Originating in Northern Iraq, it was an ideal crop for the Intermountain West. It fixed nitrogen in the soil, regenerated quickly after being cut, was tolerant of wide temperature swings, resisted drought, and was a hardy perennial. Later, after he moved to Pleasant Grove, William would also find that alfalfa was an ideal crop to lighten heavy clay soils.

Over the years William had occasionally communicated with friends in his hometown of Newent, one of them being Mary Byard. She joined the church in Newent about five years after William migrated to the United States. Via letter William invited her to come to Utah to be his plural wife. He met her in Salt Lake City, where she arrived by train, and they were married on November 8, 1869. Married at the same time was Edward Meridith, a friend of William’s from Pine Valley, and Mary Ann Eliza Williams. Ms. Williams had also just arrived from England and was Edward’s wife’s niece. The first Mrs. Meridith had invited her niece to come to Utah and to marry her husband. The plural marriage of Edward was preapproved by his first wife, but it is unclear if William’s wife, Isabella, was similarly informed. Informed or not informed, she most certainly had mixed feeling when William walked in the door with a new bride in tow, especially since Mary Ann was seven years her senior. Isabella swallowed whatever misgivings she might have had, and eventually bore a dozen children for William over a period of 17 years.

After only four years in Pine Valley, William packed up his family still again and moved to Pleasant Grove, where his brother Joseph had earlier settled. He brought with him alfalfa seeds and various fruit tree and grape vine cuttings. Joseph asked William to look after his farm while he was on a mission to England. By the time William arrive, most of the good land in and around Pleasant Grove had been claimed by earlier settlers. This forced him to look at less desirable land north of town that was covered with sagebrush, was hilly, had little water, and some locals thought the soils there were too heavy to farm. He located some land about two miles north of town with a small spring just above the property. Although his brother told him he was crazy to settle there, William soon built two homes for his wives, planted orchards and vineyards, and sowed alfalfa on his best land. After his friend Ed. Meridith dug an irrigation ditch from the mouth of American Fork Canyon to the vicinity of William’s farm, his farming prospects blossomed.

Over the next few years the Wadleys developed a thriving orchard and vineyard known for high quality products. He also planted a large number of other trees around his farm, and the community in general, as part of the Timber Culture Act of 1873. The Wadley place was a popular spot for those who enjoyed fresh fruit and a glass of wine (Deseret News, September 5, 1886). To complement his orchard, William maintained a large apiary. A long letter to the editor of the Deseret News presented a flattering description of William’s fruit farm and apiary (June 27, 1888). William and his wife also experimented unsuccessfully with raising silk worms.

In addition to farming, William sustained an interest in mining. He developed a profitable clay pit on the edge of his property, prospected for coal, and dug various tunnels and wells searching for water. One of his sons, Isaac (Ike), assisted in the mining effort and later dug numerous holes and tunnels around the base of Mahogany Mountain. Lamentably, Ike and several other men stripped and sold the onyx that once adorned one of the rooms in what later became Timpanogos Cave National Monument.

About the time that William finally felt he was in a comfortable place, disaster struck, and he suffered the low point in his life. Before dawn on the morning of Monday, June 14, 1886 a posse of deputy U.S. Marshals descended on Pleasant Grove to arrest polygamists. Several deputies barged into William’s two homes while the family was still in bed and arrested him and his two wives (Deseret Evening News, June 15, 1886, p. 3). At the time William had 13 children living in his two adjacent homes, including 6 who were less than 9 years old, and Isabella’s baby who was only 4 months old.

The three families arrested for unlawful cohabitation in Pleasant Grove, including William and his two wives, were hauled to Salt Lake City on the D. & R.G.W train that afternoon. There they joined three other families arrested in Tooele the same day. All six families then appeared before Commissioner McKay that afternoon and evening, with Assistant District Attorney Varian representing the prosecution. William’s case was the next-to-the-last heard, starting at about 7:30 p.m., after an intermission for supper. A newspaper account describes the proceedings (Deseret News, June 15, 1886, p.3):

“When proceedings were resumed, William Wadley was called and listened to the complaint charging him with cohabitating with his wives Isabella McKay Wadley and Mary Byard Wadley, from July 1, 1883 to June 1, 1886.

Mr. Dickson called the two ladies named in the complaint; and both testified that they were the defendant’s wives, and had lived with him in that relation since the date of their marriage.

Mr. Wadley gave $1,000 bail for himself, and $200 for each of his wives who were subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury in Provo on the 23d of September [1886].”

One wonders how William arranged for these substantial bails, paid for lodging in Salt Lake, and then paid for transport back to Pleasant Grove. One also wonders who took care of the Wadley children, especially the baby, while their parents were in custody for two days.

On September 23, 1886 Judge Henry P. Henderson opened the September term of the First District Court in Provo by empanelling a grand jury. A reporter for the local newspaper provided interesting details on those selected for the jury (Territorial Examiner, September 24, 1886, p. 2). This jury was likely representative of other juries selected at the time. Of the sixteen men interviewed, all stated they felt polygamy was illegal, 5 were excommunicated Mormons, and only one, a non-Mormon, expressed reservations about prosecuting someone for their religious beliefs. One of those included in the grand jury had been a polygamist, but one of his wives had died and he was later excommunicated. None of the 15 men selected appears to have been an active member of the Church. Given the way juries were selected at the time, it is little wonder that most men charged with polygamy were indicted by grand juries.

William did not appear before this grand jury. His appearance was rescheduled to the spring 1887 term in Provo. This likely resulted from the large number of cases that were thrust upon grand juries and the difficulty judges had in finding eligible individuals to serve on juries. Court records show William was indicted by the grand jury for unlawful cohabitation on 11 March 1887 (“First Territorial Court Records,’ microfilm No. 1,616,325, Family History Center, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah). A person was indicted when the grand jury made its report to the presiding judge. William was formally arraigned on the charges of unlawful cohabitation on 29 April 1887 and pleaded not guilty to the charge (The Deseret Evening News, April 30, 1887, p. 2).

On September 22, 1887 a deputy U.S. Marshall served a subpoena on William that required him, his wives, and his 14-year-old daughter Emily to appear for trial in Provo. They appeared before Judge Henry P. Henderson on Thursday, November 17th, the last day the court met in Provo before Judge Henderson returned to Ogden. A newspaper article the next day described William’s appearance as follows:

“William Wadley appeared yesterday before his Honor and by his counsel, Judge [Warren Newton] Dusenberry, asked to change his plea of not guilty to that of guilty. The order was so made and Judge Dusenberry [Willliam’s lawyer] stated that Mr. Wadley’s case called for some consideration on the part of the court, and then stated certain facts, one of which was that he [William] intended to obey the law. Defendant was asked if that was the case, and he answered it was.

Mr. Evans [the prosecutor] thought that the ends of justice would be fully satisfied if the court only imposed a fine. Mr. Evans understood that it was Wadley’s intention not to live with his second wife as a wife hereafter. The Court then imposed a fine of $200 (The Territorial Enquirer, November 18, 1887, p. 2).

The transcript of William’s trial dated November 17, 1887 — the last day of the court’s fall term — does not clarify the special considerations mentioned by his lawyer:

“In this cause the defendant William Wadley now comes into Court and withdraws his former plea of not guilty and enters a plea of guilty to said indictment and promising to obey said law and all laws in the future. Thereupon the court renders the judgment that whereas said defendant William Wadley having been duly convicted in this court by his plea of guilty of the crime of unlawful cohabitation, it is therefore ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the said William Wadley pay a fine of Two Hundred dollars or in default of said fine to be imprisoned in the Penitentiary of the Territory of Utah at the county of Salt Lake until all fine is paid” (Provo Court Minutes, May 1886 to October 1890,” Microfilm No. 482,922, p. 362 LDS Family History Center, Salt Lake City, Utah).

The wording of Dusenberry’s statement to Judge Henderson on William’s behalf, suggests that more than William’s willingness to renounce polygamy swayed Judge Henderson to impose a modest punishment, with the acquiescence of the prosecutor. The poor health of William’s wife, Mary Byard, may have been a factor in the lenient judgment.

Two aspects of William’s court experience are noteworthy. The first is the terror and personal agony endured by the families enmeshed in these prosecutions. This is typically not exposed in family histories. In addition to the obvious, this involved the moral dilemma of giving up a religious practice that the faithful thought was necessary for eternal salvation. Was William less valiant than others who refused to renounce polygamy, who paid larger fines, and who spent time in jail? Did he accomplish more, or less, for example, than his friend in Pleasant Grove, O. F. Herron, who refused to submit and went to jail three times for defending polygamy?

From a broader perspective, what did the war on polygamy during the 1880s accomplish? The anti-polygamy fervor of the 1880s is in sharp contrast to the current tolerance for most any “family” arrangement. Although there is likely more polygamy in the Inter-Mountain West now than there was in 1885, authorities now mostly ignore the practice, unless child abuse or welfare fraud occurs. In retrospect, the war on polygamy forced the Church to submit to federal authority, to officially renounce plural marriages, but did little to eliminate “unlawful cohabitation.”

After going through the legal grinder, the Wadleys resumed their normal lives. Perhaps to give him a chance to rehabilitate, William was called on a church mission to England in 1888. By this time his parents were dead but he did enjoy visiting his few relatives who remained in England. He also made contact with an elderly couple named the Cliffords who were old friends. They decided to accompany William when he returned to Utah, where he later built them a home. William returned to Utah with the Cliffords, and also paid the expenses of three other friends and relatives who moved to Utah later. He was undoubtedly glad to return to his grafting, pruning, and family.

After a prolonged illness, and years of nursing by Isabella, Mary Bayard died in 1893. Good hearted Isabella took Mary’s children under her wing and treated them as her own, in addition to caring for various immigrants from England.

Long after William’s death in 1912 family members recalled two of this endearing traits. The first was that he always walked to church on Sundays. He told his family that his horses also deserved a day of rest. William had a rough exterior but a soft and tender core. The other trait was that he always weeded his ample garden with a short-handled hoe. This meant that he spent a lot of time bent over with his nose close to the ground looking for weeds. He hated weeds because they wasted ground.

In some ways the short-handled hoe was a symbol for his life. He was never given or chose the easy way. Being a farm apprentice at the age of seven, mining coal, emptying chamber pots on the ship, walking all over Missouri, suffering with malaria, trying to survive in the desert in Southern Utah, scratching out a fine farm in Pleasant Grove, and enduring the persecution of polygamists were weeds he hoed in his interesting life.

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