Mormons pride themselves for being a peculiar people. As a direct descendant of early pioneers, I accept my inheritance with ambivalence. There was hard work, faith and perseverance, fortitude and productive industry, grit and determination and success in the Mormon story of settling the West. There was also blind faith and unquestioned acceptance of (church) authority, violence to people and land, a sense of entitlement, and sometimes ignorant stubbornness. Not to mention polygamy. Judith Freeman’s story excerpted below is set in 19th century Utah and focuses on a bloody event known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre in which 120 emigrants from Arkansas, on a wagon train passing through Utah, were slaughtered by a group of Mormon settlers on Sept. 11, 1857. Only one Mormon was ever tried and convicted for the crimes, a polygamist named John D. Lee, and Red Water is told through the voices of three of Lee’s wives. -Mark Bailey
From Chapter 7
Red Water by Judith Freeman
Are you certain you can manage? He asked as I hefted the end of a large timber. I don’t want you hurting yourself.
But I could manage. I did manage. I was young and strong and I wanted him to see the strength in me. I wanted him to see that I wasn’t like Agatha, the wife of his youth who had grown feeble with age. Nor was I like Rachel, small and thin and constantly deferring to her older sister. And neither was I like Polly or Lavina, the pampered sisters, nor Leah who had grown even fatter and more useless with her swooning and talking in tongues. Nor was I a bitter, weak crone like Teressa, the most useless of them all. I was myself. His English bride. Strong and sure and there to assist him in all his labors.
When we had finished unloading the lumber, he insisted we take a rest before journeying on. He led me into the woods to lie down. But we did not rest. He seemed much heated by desire, and there before the crows and the magpies, beneath the cottonwoods that shaded us from the blistering sun, we lay down upon a bed of leaves. I remember the sound of the birds in my head. I remember the heat rising from the stony land and the smell of dust, dry and acrid. And I remember after ward thinking, I have conceived again. I have conceived another child, here in the open, beneath this wide blue sky.
Later we traveled on a distance of six miles before the hind axle broke and rendered the wagon immobile. It was then I offered to take one of the horses and ride to Toquerville, a distance of some eight miles, in order to bring back some augers. I set off riding bareback, without fear, taking joy in the landscape surrounding me. I descended the steep rim of the basin and caught sight of great mountains ablaze with color. The view was perpetually changing. Rocks on rocks confusedly hurled into great red loafs, the remnants of an earlier world. Everything grew red. The rock strata of sandstone and the peaks beyond the valleys that opened one upon another. The sunshine was so brilliant that the glare was almost unbearable, and the rocks appeared emblazoned by the sun, as if lit from within. There was no homelike scenery here, no green fields of England, no rolling hills. Here a scene painter’s nightmare would be tame compared to nature’s productions, with the blood-red land, the cliffs and the soil, all red, all red.. It had become my land, my home, my Zion, and I realized that day I preferred it to all others. Harsh, dry, and windy though it was, inhospitable in all manner of ways, it was mine, and I felt at that moment it had claimed my soul forever, and I rejoiced in the splendors of this new World. All this way hath the Lord thy God led thee, I thought, and to give thee peace in thy latter end.
When I returned with the augers, many hours, later, Father spliced the axle and we rolled on, but not before returning to the woods once more to satisfy our love.
He was always a man of great appetite, but, in those days, I preferred to believe that none could stir him as I did.