The Barnes and Noble in Saint George, Utah has an LDS section. Be still, my heart.
Let me get this out of the way right now. In no way, shape, or form am I Mormon. I am a happy Unitarian Universalist pagan-atheist who fully supports interfaith and inter-non-faith community and collaboration. Having said that, nothing gets my tingly parts tinglier than a little bit of Mormon history. I love everything about it – the religion, the culture, the underwear. I am a bit obsessed. I’m like a wanna-be Mormon (Wormon?). Luckily, my bestie, Ms. Crazypants, is Mormon and she indulges my fancies with only mild eye-rolls and barely-audible sighs.
Since my mama is in town, I decided to take her to my favorite place in the whole wide world – Bunkerville Cemetery. I could spend all day there. Srsly. My mom, on the other hand, gave me “the look” several times before loudly whispering that it was time to go. In general “the look” still works, even though I am almost 40 and arguably a grown-up myself. But I seem to be immune to it when I am immersed in the past.
When I’m at the B-Ville Cemetery, I always stop and say hi to Mary Ann Stucki Reber Hafen, author of “Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860: A Woman’s Life on the Mormon Frontier.” You can get the book on amazon here, and it’s a pretty good representation of life for a Mormon settler in Southern Utah/Eastern Nevada. Mary Ann’s family (among many others) was from Switzerland, and they were converted to Mormonism by missionaries who came to their hometown. They immigrated to the US in 1860, headed for Omaha, Nebraska. Upon reaching Nebraska, they were given a handcart (think giant freaking wheelbarrow) to push across the plains to Salt Lake with a bunch of other Mormon settlers. They were eventually directed by the church to settle in Saint George, Utah. She married another settler from her hometown, John Reber (her aunt was one of his first wives), but he died shortly after their wedding on an accident on their farm. Then she became one of John Hafen’s wives. She wrote the memoir with the help of her son, historian LeRoy Hafen (also buried in Bunkerville). If you are interested, the book is pretty short and utterly fascinating. History Matters also has a snippet of it on their website if reading books isn’t your thing (I will judge you for not liking books, just sayin’).
Mary Ann got a new gravestone, and I’m tickled purple about it. Last time I visited, about a year ago, it was a flat stone with her name, birth date, and death date. Now she has a fancy monument with a picture, the names of her husbands, and the names of her children. You can see LeRoy down at the bottom.
Her second child, also a Mary (and also buried in Bunkerville Cemetery) married Henry Leavitt. Henry was the son of Dudley Leavitt, and we will get to him in a minute. They had a daughter named Juanita Brooks. I have a HUGE history crush on
everyone Juanita Brooks because she is a BAMF. She is arguably the greatest female Mormon Historian. She wrote a book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre (google that shit, you won’t be disappointed), even though she was discouraged by the church from doing so. She was subject to a lot of disapproval from church leaders and even her local congregation because of her decision to write about Mountain Meadows. But that didn’t stop her, hence the designation of BAMF. Her papers are currently housed at the Utah State Historical Society in Salt Lake, and it’s one of my lifelong dreams to go there and see them (I know, I dream big). Some lovely photographs have been digitized and are available at the Utah Division of State History website.
Besides the book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Juanita also wrote a biography of her grandfather Dudley Leavitt, and his monument is the pièce de résistance of the Bunkerville Cemetery. I have to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about Dudley, but I am in love with him. Truly, madly, deeply. I would like to go back in time and be his sixth wife. My lifelong goal is to build a T.A.R.D.I.S., travel back in time, and marry Dudley. And stop and read the Juanita Brooks papers somewhere along the way. Dudley’s monument is monumental. There is even a bench in front of it because there is no way you can stand and ponder such a magnificent memorial. It’s not possible. Your legs will simply give out from the sheer orgasmic joy.
The front of the memorial lists biographies of Dudley and his five wives – Mary, Mariah (Mary’s sister), Thirza, Jeanette (a Native American), and Martha. Together, they had 49 children, if I counted correctly. Let’s have a moment of silence for that shit. Except that I have three kids and haven’t experienced a moment of silence in fourteen years. Can you imagine? I mean, seriously, can you imagine? I’m sure Dudley did some superawesomefantastic things in his life. He was an early leader of the Mormon church and one of the first Mormon settlers of the Southern Utah/Eastern Nevada area. But I’m pretty sure his most impressive achievement is having almost fifty kids and not going utterly and terrifyingly insane.
One of Dudley’s notable descendants (according to wikipedia) – Cliven Bundy. We also went to the scene of the Bundy showdown, but I’ll have to save that for another blog.