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Emma Lee

Emma Lee

by Juanita Brooks

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Now in its eighth printing, Emma Lee is the classic biography of one of John D. Lee's plural wives. Emma experienced the best and worst of polygamy and came as near to the Mountain Meadows Massacre as anyone could without participating firsthand.


Now in its eighth printing, Emma Lee is the classic biography of one of John D. Lee's plural wives. Emma experienced the best and worst of polygamy and came as near to the Mountain Meadows Massacre as anyone could without participating firsthand.

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Utah State University Press
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Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

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Emma Lee

By Juanita Brooks

University Press of Colorado

Copyright © 1984 Utah State University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87421-121-4


Emma Batchelor of England

The carving on her headstone says that Emma Batchelor was born in Uckfield, Sussex County, England, April 21, 1836, and died November 16, 1897. From family records we learn that she was the daughter of Henry and Elizabeth Divel Batchelor and had a sister, Frances, and a brother, Henry, and very probably another sister who remained in England.

Of her early life we know little, but her writing gives evidence of a good education, while her skill in all the household arts and her immaculate cleanliness show careful training in the home. Strong-willed, she was sometimes sharp and positive in expressing her opinions. On the other hand, she was very tenderhearted and gentle, especially with anyone injured.

For the long period beginning in the 1830s, England was struggling with problems of overpopulation, unemployment, and poverty. The Queen was encouraging settlement in Canada, Australia, and other areas where there was space and opportunity, so that when the Mormon missionaries arrived in England they found a field literally "ripe unto the harvest." Their new gospel was not just an appeal to prepare for the second advent; it held out hope of free land, with a chosen people already gathering.

Best of all, ways were provided by which converts might go to Zion with a minimum of expenditure. Chartered ships would carry them across the ocean; a railroad would take them from the coast to the heart of the continent — the Mississippi River. From there they could walk the remainder of the way, pulling their belongings on a handcart furnished by the Church, while supply wagons attending the train would ration out their food. It sounded so simple, so easy! One mode of payment was to sign on the dotted line contracting to give one-year's labor to the Church in whatever way they could best serve.

Enthusiasm ran high. Over a period of three or four years, thousands were converted and waited their turn to come. They sang the songs of Zion, among them "The Handcart Song": "For some must push, and some must pull, as we go marching up the hill! So merrily on our way we go, until we reach the Valley, O!"

Two of the most eager of all the converts were Emma Batchelor and her friend Elizabeth Summers. They made their plans together, selected their clothing, and later, they shared the necessary cooking utensils and supplies. The record lists Emma as twenty-one years of age, Elizabeth as twenty-seven. They were passengers on the last ship to leave Liverpool that season, the Horizon. This ship, under the leadership of Captain Edward Martin, was carrying 856 Utah-bound passengers, and did not sail from port until May 25. Though they had a good voyage and adequate train connections after the landing, the passengers did not reach Iowa City until July 8.

Here they found the James G. Willie Company, which had sailed three weeks ahead of them, still waiting for their handcarts. Brother Levi Savage, looking over this crowd of more than 1,000 — among them many elderly, many children, a sprinkling of pregnant women — felt they should stop in Iowa City and set up winter quarters. Here it was the middle of July; the journey to Zion required 100 days under normal conditions. Some teams traveled it in three months but such companies could be over the mountains before winter set in. Under the best of conditions, the Martin and Willie companies could not make it — not even those who got on the road first.

The Saints were eager to reach their destination, of course; most of the Elders voted to go on. Only Brother Savage spoke out firmly against proceeding.

"Brothers and Sisters: What I have said, I know to be true; but seeing that you are determined to go forward, I will go with you, will help you all I can, will work with you, rest with you, will suffer with you, and, if necessary, I will die with you. May God in His mercy bless and preserve us."

Emma and Elizabeth had been among those who shouted:

"On to Zion! God will temper the wind to the shorn lamb! On to Zion! O ye of little faith!" Later Emma had plenty of time to regret this and in remorse doubled her efforts to help her companions.

Since the Willie Company was not as large as the Martin Company, a few were permitted to transfer into it as the handcarts were finished. Emma and Elizabeth were among those transferred. By the time the carts had been a few weeks on the road, they began to show wear; many had to be repaired. By the time the Willie Company reached Fort Laramie, the Captain ordered all members to lighten their loads. Specifically, Sister Emma was ordered to leave behind a brass kettle in which she was carrying her belongings. This she refused outright to do. Instead she set it by the side of the road, and remained sitting on it, while Elizabeth doubled with a family whose cart was broken down and went on.

Emma knew that the Martin Company was only about ten days behind, so she sought shelter at the fort and did laundry and mending for the commander's wife to pay for her food and bed. When the Martin Company came up, she joined her friends and neighbors, the Paul Gourley family.

"Here we were joined by Sister Emma Batchelor," wrote the young son years later. "We were glad to have her, because she was young and strong, and it meant more flour for our mess."

At Fort Laramie Sister Gourley gave birth to a child; Emma acted as midwife and afterward helped pull the mother on the cart for two days. Emma also carried young Paul over the streams to keep his feet dry.

We cannot detail the horrors of this trip, when the storms came early and death stalked everywhere, when the ground was so frozen tent pegs could not be driven into it, when the dead could not be buried. No definite figure has ever been published of the number of deaths in the Martin Company; an estimate, probably too low, sets it at 150.

Almost as tragic as the deaths were those left maimed for life with frozen feet, ears, noses, or fingers. Though the casualties in the Willie Company were less than half those in the Martin Company, Emma's friend Elizabeth was one who lost most of her toes.

A year later, when Emma was introduced to Brigham Young and he was surprised that she had come through the ordeal whole, she told him:

"Brother Brigham, I had no one to care for me or to look out for me, so I decided that I must look out for myself. I was one who called out to go when Brother Savage warned us. I was at fault in that, but I tried to make up for it. I pulled my full share at the cart every day. When we came to a stream, I stopped and took off my shoes and stockings and outer skirt and put them on top of the cart. Then, after I got the cart across, I came back and carried little Paul over on my back. Then I sat down and scrubbed my feet hard with my woolen neckerchief and put on dry shoes and stockings."

On their arrival in the valley, people were taken into different homes to recover from the effects of the journey. Emma was placed in the home of a Brother Kippen, where she worked as a servant to his wife. The paper she signed promised that she would serve one year, and the implication was that after the year she would become his plural wife. Emma did not see it that way at all. She did not like the woman who treated her as a servant and ordered her about and criticized her; she had less than admiration for her husband, repulsing firmly every advance he made. So at the end of the year, she sought employment elsewhere.

She was ready to get married, but as yet she had not seen a man who appealed to her. Sooner or later he would come, she told herself.

Courtship and Marriage

It was Sunday, December 27, 1857, and Emma was attending the afternoon meeting in the Thirteenth Ward. Bishop Edwin D. Woolley was presiding. From early times, this ward had been noted for its good choir and for its excellent services, so that out-of-town visitors often attended here.

Bishop Woolley came forward to call the meeting to order.

"Brothers and Sisters," he said. "It is time to begin our meeting. The opening prayer will be offered by Brother John D. Lee, who is here attending the legislature from Washington County. Brother Lee."

Emma was instantly impressed. She liked his voice; she liked the way he turned his sentences, she liked his looks in general. Here now was a man a girl could look up to.

Lee's diary says only, "We had quite [ a ] good Meeting." Early in the meeting, Lee became conscious of an attractive young lady facing him in the audience about four rows back. Their eyes met. Emma smiled and dropped her eyes and toyed with her handkerchief. He never caught her glance again, though he knew that she knew he was trying to get her attention.

Years later as Emma's teenage son waited with her to give birth to her last child, he said, "I think Father should be here." Emma spoke sharply, "He would be here if he could get here," she told him. "Your father is a man of God. I knew it the instant I heard him speak. I loved him from the minute I saw him and would have married him right then, if he'd asked me. And I've never been sorry — not once — that I am his wife."

She might say this years later, but on that Sunday in 1857, Emma quickly lost herself in the crowd. She did not know that Brother Rollins (with whom Emma was staying) and John D. Lee had crossed the plains in the same company; she didn't know that Rollins had invited Lee to dinner after the meeting.

When John and Emma were introduced, he told her that she was even more attractive in her white apron and later that her biscuits were like none he had ever tasted before, and the roast had new and teasing flavor also. And did she have a partner for the dance tomorrow night? Would she care to go with him?

So they went on their first date in a fancy buggy drawn by a fine team, all borrowed from Brother Judson Stoddard. How Brother Lee could dance! He acted as if he really enjoyed the quadrilles and polkas, some of which Emma had never tried. As they drove home and he tucked the robe about her, he asked, "Happy?" After a pause she answered, "Very."

Instead of taking Emma back to Brother Rollins's house for the night, John took her to the home of his oldest daughter, Sarah Jane Dalton. It was closer; he could put up the horses there, feed them, and have them to use the next day.

Sarah Jane was about Emma's age, and they liked each other at once. After breakfast and the morning duties, Lee took them to town. He let them each select a pretty "fascinator," a fine shawl to cover the head, and a fancy handkerchief. Sarah Jane and Emma had their pictures taken together. John had his taken alone, in his tall silk hat.

They visited several stores, and ate cookies and ice cream. They passed the Salt Lake Theater, and Lee made a date to go to the play next Friday.

Sarah Jane was taken back home in the early afternoon to allow John and Emma time for getting acquainted by themselves. Emma did not record their conversation, but John entered in his diary: "Emma expressed an attachment for me & Said that I on first site was the object of her Choice." He went on to tell her he would consult Brother Brigham about it and let her know his decision.

"Why not do it right now?" Emma said. "If he has time, it will be better to talk it out now, and if he wants to put it off a while, well, we can appoint the time."

Lee, flattered by her willingness and forthright readiness to meet the President, left her sitting in the buggy while he went alone to see if this would be a good time to present Sister Batchelor. And John was pleased at Emma's composure. She acted as though talking to the Prophet was an everyday occurrence. Brother Brigham listened to her story of the handcart experiences and her reaction to the first man into whose home she was sent, and he seemed impressed. He told her to make preparations and come next Thursday morning, when he would perform the ceremony.

At noon, January 7, 1858, President Brigham Young pronounced John D. Lee and Emma Batchelor husband and wife, united for time and eternity. This was done in his own private Sealing Room, with a few members of the legislature and Lee's daughter Sarah Jane Dalton as witnesses. Ezra T. Benson ran a boarding house for the traveling public and for members of the legislature who came from distant parts of the territory. Having heard of the wedding, Sister Benson baked and decorated a beautiful cake, while Lee provided drinks for the crowd, and they had a celebration.

In the meantime, Bishop Isaac C. Haight of Cedar City had married Emma's friend Elizabeth Summers. At the close of the legislature, the two couples started south in the same large wagon, heavily loaded. Emma and Elizabeth had plenty to talk about since that day when Emma so stubbornly sat on her brass kettle and watched the company go on without her. Still, she felt that God's hand had truly been over her — the help she had been able to give to the Gourley family had saved the life of the mother, and little Paul was probably spared his feet. After all, it seemed that things would work out for the best.

A strange honeymoon trip this, in a wagon, in the dead of winter. But they did not have to camp out at all; each night they spent in a home with a warm evening meal and a comfortable bed. In regular trips over this road the pattern had been set: they paid for their accommodations and the feed for their animals. Lee's diary lists each stop from the day they left Salt Lake City on Monday, January 25, 1858, to their arrival at the fort at Harmony. For Emma this trip had been a true honeymoon; John D. had also become convinced that this wife would stand by him.

Emma proved her commitment to him. It was only a trifling thing, but to Lee it seemed significant. At Beaver they had picked up the two Woolsey boys, nephews of his wives Aggatha and Rachel. As they were already overloaded, the team began to fail. At noon they were overtaken by Richard Benson, driving a fresh team on a new wagon. He stopped and invited them to ride with him to Parowan. They would get there earlier and all would ride more comfortably. Isaac and Elizabeth accepted his offer gladly, as did the two Woolsey boys, who took their bedrolls and sacks with them also.

They urged Emma to come along, too; she would get in out of the cold, they said. But Emma preferred to stay along with her husband; this wasn't cold at all, she told them. "No, thank you very much, but I am very happy right here," she insisted. The night was cold but Emma was warm in her new marriage. For this moment she had endured the handcart experience. She did not know then that John's involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre just a few months before would haunt their life together for twenty years, bringing hardship, pain, and tragedy. For now, the future seemed bright; she was Emma Batchelor Lee, a young bride on her way to her new home.

Lee was so impressed that he wrote in his diary for that day: "(Reflections) Emma is the 1st English girl that [has been] Given me in the covenant of the P.H., & a more kindhearted, industrious, & affectionate wife I never had. She covenanted to follow me through Poverty, privation, or affliction to the end of her days & I believe that her intntions real & integrity true."

At Parowan, they all had dinner with President William H. Dame, and both he and Bishop Haight spoke at a night meeting, especially called because they were in town. After having spent two weeks in Great Salt Lake attending the legislature and being in the company of President Brigham Young every day, they should have plenty to report to the people of Parowan.

As they left town the next morning, Lee's wagon broke through the ice at Coal Creek, and in the struggle to get it out, the tongue was broken, which delayed them almost another day.

"About nine o'clock at Night I reached home," he wrote in his diary on Friday, February 5, 1858. "Myself & Emma was kindly recieved with a cordial welcome by my Family...."

Emma Lee of Harmony

Emma knew in general the extent of John D. Lee's family — the early wives, Aggatha and Rachel Woolsey, sisters; Lavina and Polly Young, also sisters; and Sarah Caroline Williams — all of whom were with him before the move west. Of other wives who deserted after they left Nauvoo, she knew nothing, nor needed to know, for living conditions were hard. A husband absent for months on trips for food and supplies, then gone again on a long trek to Santa Fe to secure money from the Mormon Battalion, might expect beautiful young girls to find other companions.

Martha Berry and Mary Leah Groves had been married to John D. Lee after they all arrived in Zion, but Martha had left him to marry another man, her two living daughters choosing to live with their Grandmother Berry and her only son, Orson, remaining with his father. Mary Leah Groves spent a great deal of time with her parents, and at last made her home with them, as they needed her help. Then there was the girl-wife, Mary Ann Williams, who had been "sealed" to Lee when she was only fourteen with the understanding that she should not become his wife in fact until after she was eighteen unless she herself desired it. Emma and Mary Ann would share the room left vacant by Martha Berry.

Emma at once entered into the business of cooking and kitchen work, for this was her specialty. She took hold with a cheerful efficiency, which they all appreciated. Not until breakfast was over and the kitchen in order did she venture outside. She and Mary Ann had shared the dishwashing and together they went out to look over the area in general.

The double gates of the fort were on the north, and straight through across from them was the Meeting House; the Lee family quarters were all on the west side; the well was in the center of the fort; and the outhouses were outside the enclosure. Across the road were the stockyards and corrals, all picketed in by upright cedar posts, and the farmland stretched far to the north and east in a great expanse.


Excerpted from Emma Lee by Juanita Brooks. Copyright © 1984 Utah State University Press. Excerpted by permission of University Press of Colorado.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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