My Mother, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer–
And Mormon Polygamist Cults Unmasked — Parts 1–10
*Note to my readers: In this blog, I have done some editing and rewriting, then compiled Parts 1 through 10 of “My Mama.” You will Note the new comprehensive title.
My Mama, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer,
And her parents
My Maternal Grandparents:
Maud Lucinda McDonald & Alma Dayer LeBaron
“Mother! For love of thee it was begun;
In thy most honored name today ’tis done.
And though all earthly cares must cease
In that fair land of everlasting peace,
Love aye is one, and they who love are one;
Time cannot end what God in time begun;
And thou wilt joy e’en in thine endless rest,
To know thy child obeys thy last behest”
A Nameless Nobleman
Jane Goodwin Austin 1881*
*(I was told Jane Goodwin Austin is a great-grand-daughter-a-number-of-places-removed of Dr. Francis LeBaron and is my distant cousin.)
The world called her “Plyg.” We called her “Mother,” or “Mama” — Daddy called her “Esther,” “Mother,” or “Ma” — as in “Go ask yer Ma.”
My mama, Esther LeBaron Spencer, was born August 1, 1921, in Colonia Pacheco, Chihuahua, a small Mormon colony in Old Mexico. And died in 2013, at age 92, in Cancun, Mexico — I believe.
She was the middle child of thirteen children born to Mormon fundamentalist Americans Maud Lucinda McDonald and Alma Dayer LeBaron — my maternal grandparents.
Colonia Pacheco was colonized around the turn of the 20th century by American Mormon polygynists/ polygamists who crossed over the United States’ border to Mexico seeking refuge from prosecution when in 1862 the US government passed a law against polygamy.
When Brigham Young said, “This is the place,” the land of Utah belonged to Mexico. Polygamy was not prosecuted there unless the first wife filed a complaint.
But the Mormons’ new “safe haven” didn’t last long: The United States went to war with Mexico in 1846, won the battle in 1848, and the Utah Territory was ceded to the US in 1850 as part of the spoils.
This meant Brigham Young’s polygamist Mormon church, much to their dismay, was once again under US law! So once again under fire to discard the practice of polygamy.
In fact, by this date, the US Government was set to confiscate the Mormon church’s lands, property, money, and even their right to be called a church if they didn’t remove from their religious tenets this illegal, barbaric institution!
So Wilford Woodruff, the presiding President/Prophet of the The Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/ LDS church, was utterly forced to draw up “The Manifesto of 1890,” a mandate and “revelation from God” outlawing polygamy in the Mormon church.
This explains why, then, before Mother was born, her parents/ my grandparents had left the United States to raise their family in Mexico: They intended to live “the law of plural marriage.” So this required, for their safety, they leave the Victorian Americans and join other Mormon fundamentalists in Mexico.
My grandparents would not discontinue the practice of polygamy, despite the “Manifesto of 1890,” because they believed it was wrong for the Mormon church to have outlawed polygamy, no matter what, given their Prophet Joseph Smith had said that it must be lived to attain the highest degree of glory in the hereafter.
With this stance, Mother’s parents became outlaws/laws unto themselves because, they, along with a few other zealot Mormons, believed the Mormon church had fallen away from Joseph Smith’s true teachings.
Therefore, they didn’t intend to go along with the new “revelation” and mandates regarding plural marriage set in 1890 by the Mormon church Prophet, Wilford Woodruff, and his Quarm of Twelve Apostles.
NOTE: The following lyrics consist of a tongue-in-cheek song I wrote. It is posted on my Website, but I’ve included it in this blog because it has a couple of stanzas about Mama:
Dearest friends and fans: Please note:
This “sorta” silly song I wrote
Is but half-finished, so won’t gloat —
And pray my poem won’t get your goat;
But it’s late — my blog’s due “mañana;”
If you check this song later on … uh …
You may find it partly “re-wrote.”
For “Know it needs work,” is my last quote.
Even so, do enjoy what I wrote.
And now I humorously emote:
NOTE: The following is a tongue-in-cheek song I wrote:
Hi! I’m a Hack Who’s
Written a hit
Called “Pretty City-chick,”
A Hee-ha Comedy Song —
A Bit o’ Bio in Verse,
Fer Better or Worse —
With Truth ‘n’ Exaggeration
Hey, they say I’m a pretty City-chick
And Hillbilly music makes some sick;
But my Hillbilly ways are here to stick;
So you may as well get over it —
And join in ’n’ sing a bit,
‘Cause I’m a city-chick
And shit-kickin’ music is my shtick.
Born in Mexican sticks in 1946.
I’ve dual citizenship,
And I’m a city-chick.
I’m an all-American-mongrel,
Apple-pie girl —
A Hines-57 mixed-up mutt,
With apple pie stickin’ to my gut ’n’ butt;
But red-necked reactionary ignoramuses
Ain’t my thing.
I’m here for music and to sing!
Yeah, I’m an All-American-Mexican,
With Welch ’n’ English,
So sure, I’m a Brit;
With French, German,
And Mohawk Indian a bit.
If there’s no Tom Slick hidin’ in the pit,
Far as I know, that’s about it —
That‘s my story
And I’m “shitickin” to it!
My father was a proud Veteran
Of World War I.
Those Vets were well-appreciated
For what they’d done!
Pa was an artist, creative,
Master of a few —
Good at so many things,
There was little he couldn’t do.
Ma was a creative, author,
And artist, thru ’n’ thru;
Trained concert pianist — Whew!
She loved to discuss religious principles
And read religious Lit, old ’n’ new —
Long as it agreed with
What she already “knew.”
She graduated with a BA
In Journalism too;
Quite an accomplishment
‘Cause Ma was sixty-two!
She was runnin’ me competition then,
For I was still in College too,
Strugglin’ to make it up
From the cult she’d put me thru …
If she only knew!
But her motto was:
“Anything you can do,
I can do better;
I can do anything better ‘n you!”
(And she meant it, too!)
Hey, they say I’m a “pretty City-Chick,”
But Hillbilly music is my “shtick,”
And my Hillbilly ways are here to stick;
So you may as well “git” over it
And join in ‘n’ sing a bit
With this hip city-chick,
‘Cause shit-kickin’ music is my shtick.
Born in Mexican sticks in 1946,
I’ve dual citizenship
And that’s pretty hip.
Well, that’s my story
And I’m “shtickin’ ” to it:
I’m a pretty city-chick
(By Stephany Spencer 2016)
In the following video, I am performing the above song I wrote, “Pretty City-chick,” at the California Writers Club, March 2017 (before I recently re-edited it):
My Mama, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer,
And My Maternal Grandparents
“My mother was the source
from which I derived
the guiding principles of my life.”
I left off in Part One where Mama’s parents, Alma Dayer and Maud Lucinda McDonald LeBaron, didn’t agree with the mainline Mormon church’s new mandate regarding polygamy. Why?
Because the Prophet Joseph Smith had given a commandment from God (stated in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132) that the Saints must live Plural Marriage or be damned. In other words, Joseph Smith had set his followers up to suffer a life of hell — which, for most people, is all living polygamy is: A living hell.
Said Mama, in reference to my grandparents’ stance on the Mormon Manifestos of 1890 and 1904:
“Ma ‘n’ Pa didn’t believe it was right for the Mormon church to outlaw polygamy, given the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied it must be lived to attain the highest degree of glory in the Hereafter! So they joined ranks with a fledgling Mormon fundamentalist movement that insisted on followin’ the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelation commanding they live polygamy or be damned.
“They’d follow this commandment even if it meant they and the rest of their Mormon brethren would once more be driven from their homes and lands, tarred ‘n’ feathered, stripped of their financial assets, and thrown out of the country, jailed, or killed. You see, Ma ‘n’ Pa were stalwarts who’d lay down their lives for ‘the gospel’ … as would I,” proclaimed Mama.
As I said in last week’s blog, I only wish my self-righteous, stoic grandparents, parents, and the rest of the rebel Mormons who chose (and still choose) to continue living polygamy would’ve been/ would be half as strict about living Christian and other Scriptural doctrines taught by their self-proclaimed Prophet Joseph Smith as they were/are about living polygamy!
It makes me wonder what it was about the original many thousands of Mormon people who chose to follow such as Joseph Smith! In that same vein, I also wonder what it was/is about the zealot Mormon fundamentalists who believe they are “God’s chosen handful” and who were/are so determined, still, to continue to have more than one wife, come hell or high water!
Because most Mormons saw the wisdom and practicality of giving up plural marriage and abiding by US law. And they also saw the practicality of following their Prophet Wilford Woodruff’s new “revelation” that discontinued polygamy in the LDS church … for the time being, that is … unfortunately, however, not for the hereafter!!
Getting back to the main story, Mama told me: “My parents, left the US and moved to the Mormon colonies in Old Mexico before I was born ’cause they intended to live ‘the Holy and God-ordained law of Plural Marriage’.
“However, after I was born, in 1921, due to financial circumstances, they had to move back to ‘The States.’ There, Pa bought us a home in the small, southern, agrarian Mormon town of La Verkin, Utah, — one where we could plant our own orchard ‘n’ garden … and keep a goat too. I was still a baby then.
“While there, Pa found the plural wife he’d been lookin’ for — pretty eighteen-year-old Onie Jones. He married her soon after he convinced Ma of the righteousness of taking Onie as his plural wife. Though the three of them did their best to keep this plural marriage a secret, word soon got out in that small Utah town.
“Not long after that, a friend informed my father a Mormon mob was gatherin’ to lynch him! So he, Ma, ‘n’ Onie grabbed us kids in the dead of night ‘n’ fled back over the Mexican border to live in the Mormon colonies in Old Mexico again.
“It was 1923 by then. If my parents hadn’t fled when they did, it’s said the mainline Mormons would’ve done them in … because they felt my parents had done THEM in by ignorin’ their church’s mandate against polygamy.
“You see, in 1904, to please the US government and its citizens, and to show they respected the laws of the land, the LDS church had finally instigated a second Manifesto outlawing polygamy in their church: From ‘The Manifesto of 1890’ to ‘The Manifesto of 1904,’ there had been a moratorium on polygamy in the LDS church, which allowed Mormons to get used to the new anti-polygamy regulations.
“But,” continued Mama, “by 1904, those still livin’ polygamy had to either get rid of their plural wives or get out of the country; i.e., move to Old Mexico. Anyone takin’ a plural wife after 1904 would not only be excommunicated from the LDS church ‘n’ considered an apostate, but they’d also be jailed.
“My father was one of the first men to disregard the Mormon church’s new Manifesto of 1904: He took a plural wife in 1923 (because he believed God’s laws came ahead of the laws of the land). So Ma ‘n’ Pa were excommunicated and disfellowshipped from their beloved church.”
You see, by 1923, polygamy was more than ever frowned upon among the mainstream Mormons: It threatened the safety and solitude they had finally gained, among other things.
Therefore, they wanted Dayer LeBaron and his two wives OUT of their midst — if only to show other Mormons what would happen, should they choose to follow Dayer’s example — The insurrection wherein he continued to take plural wives despite the Mormon church’s modern, updated doctrinal revelation and mandate regarding Joseph Smith’s “Holy Principle of Plural Marriage.”
My Mama, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer,
And How She Got Here
“Mother is the bank where we deposit
all our hurts and worries.”
AS mentioned in Part Two of “My Mama,” by the advent of the 1900s, the US government had resorted to extreme pressure to get the Mormon church to discontinue its institution of polygamy — a relic of barbarism and a threat to our country that was unfortunately and inadvertently introduced by Joseph Smith in the mid 1800s, as delineated in the “Doctrine and Covenants,” Section 132 (Mormon Scriptures).
In reference to this, Mama, years ago, explained to me: “To avert further travails, the LDS church had begun implementin’ stringent measures to wipe out plural marriage within its membership so as to protect its people, church, and Mormon church properties.
“Passin’ of the second Mormon Manifesto in 1904 meant Pa, ‘n’ his two wives, ‘n’ children, were no longer welcome in the Mormon colonies where my family had fled for refuge in 1923 — after barely outsmarting a mainstream Mormon mob, arrest, ‘n’ bein’ thrown into a Utah jail for havin’ entered into polygamy.
“My Ma, Pa, ‘n’ family had lived in various Mormon colonies in Mexico previously, goin’ back ‘n’ forth between them and the US a number of times, over the years.
“But this time, when we come back, my parents had gone against the Mormon Manifestos of both 1890 and 1904: They’d taken a plural wife, and thereby were considered by the church to be ‘In a state of apostasy.’
“That meant our family was now considered apostates. So we were disfellowshipped from our Church ‘n’ social activities in the Mormon colonies,” continued Mama.”
“Instead of bein’ accepted with open arms, as he was in the past when he was with his grandfather Benjamin F. Johnson [who was a key figure in developing the Mormon colonies in Mexico], Pa was now an enigma.
“So our family became persecuted and ostracized — The church’s way of discouraging other men from followin’ my father’s example of takin’ multiple wives.”
“In other words, since the Mormon moratorium on polygamy was over by 1904, my parents’ havin’ gone against the LDS church’s updated marriage law now meant their raisin’ us kids in a terrible atmosphere of mainstream Mormon scapegoatin’ ‘n’ rejection — wherever they chose to settle in ‘Mormonland.’
“It was during the Great Depression ‘n’ World War II era. Them two calamities affected our family, ‘n’ also Pa’s ability to get enough well-payin’ work in “The States.”
“So our family was endurin’ extreme poverty, ” Mama opined. “Ma ‘n’ Pa couldn’t afford to move their large family somewhere else, even if they’d decided to remove us kids from the terrible ostracization and persecution they found the small Mormon colonies now meted out on ‘specially my eldest siblings!”
So the Mormon colonies that had once been a place of refuge for Mormon polygamists had, by 1923, become the opposite: A place of persecution and ostracization for polygamists — if they had entered into polygamy after 1904, that is.
“Those who already had more than one wife BEFORE the Manifesto of 1904, were NOT rejected ‘n’ persecuted as my Pa, Dayer LeBaron, ‘n’ his family was!” Mother explained.
“We were ostracized ’cause my father was about the only man in the Mormon colonies,” she continued, “who went ahead ‘n’ took a plural wife after 1904, despite the church’s mandates.”
So that was the situation my grandparents found themselves in when they took their family back to Colonia Juarez, Mexico, thinking they were settling in the best place possible to raise their kids. As it turned out, it was the worst place possible!!
But at least, having moved to Old Mexico, their polygamous family was protected by tolerant Mexican marriage laws, when it came to polygamy — just not by tolerant LDS Mormon marriage laws.
That said, being “Plygs,” my grandparents simply should not have been bringing up their children in a mainstream Mormon colony where polygamy was no longer tolerated — if they knew what was best for them! But they didn’t.
My Mama: Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer
And Her Background
“God could not be everywhere,
so he made mothers.”
(old Jewish proverb)
As I related in the previous blog, Mama’s family returned to settle in the Mormon colonies in Mexico in 1924. Mama was around two-and-a-half years old at the time my grandparents and Aunt Onie fled the United States, barely outsmarting a mainline Mormon mob, arrest, and being thrown into a Utah jail for having broken the law by entering into polygamy.
“My family had lived in various Mormon colonies in Mexico previously,” Mama told me, “goin’ back and forth between them and the United States a number of times over the years.
“By our return in 1924, Pa had been able to buy a large fixer-upper home in the poorest section of Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. It was one of the homes abandoned by Mormon colonists who fled back to the United States to avoid the catastrophes of the Mexican Revolutionary War of 1910.
“Bein’ a pretty good handyman, Papa, along with the help of my three young brothers, Ben, Wesley, and Alma, and some cheap Mexican laborers, was able to soon fix the home up enough to live in.
“We were lucky we could afford even that piece of property to house Papa’s two wives and soon-to-be ten children — for your Grandma was expectin’ her ninth child, Ervil … and Aunt Onie was pregnant too.
“In 1929, five years after our family moved to Colonia Juarez, the United States’ Stock Market crashed. Many people lost all their money, and huge numbers of people were out of work. It was hard for Pa to find any payin’ jobs in the terrible economic depression that had set in.
“So our family was stuck livin’ in the Mormon colonies where we were excoriated and rejected. Every day, on the way home from school, mainstream Mormon kids would call us Mormon fundamentalist kids horrible names, throw rocks and sticks at us, and chase us home, tryin’ to beat us up.
We didn’t understand why they would do this because some of them, though not excommunicated from the Mormon church, were kids of polygamists, themselves! Or their grandparents had been polygamists — before The Manifesto of 1890 outlawed polygamy in the Mormon church.
“Most adults in town just looked the other way and let it happen … Let their kids beat us up and call us horrid names. Some adults even encouraged the children to harass and molest us.
But, despite all this, Mama and Papa had hoped their children would eventually be accepted back into the social setting in Colonia Juarez, thinkin’ it was still the best place to raise their kids.
“Unfortunately, not till I was in eighth grade did the Mormon colonies let up on some of their ostracization toward the LeBaron family … Partly ’cause they’d seen what this terrible persecution had done to my older siblings.
“But by then, my elder siblings had suffered from seven to eleven years of heavy rejection and intolerance — the treatment given the worst outcasts and scapegoats in Mormondom,” Mama moaned.
Really sad, I say! One of those things that should never happen to any child! And unfortunately, it only added to what Mother and her siblings already had suffered growing up in their stoic, fanatically religious Mormon orthodox family — with a crackpot father at the helm, besides.
But to top it all off, Grandpa Dayer was often absent months at a time, struggling to make a living working in the United States doing odd jobs, painting houses — and whatever else he could do to bring in money. (As I mentioned before, Mexican law does not allow Americans to earn a wage in Mexico, even though they have children born there!)
It was extremely hard for Grandpa Alma Dayer LeBaron to support his two huge, constantly expanding and growing young families, especially between the years of 1929 and 1946 — the years of the Great Depression in the United States and World War II.
Needless to say, what happens in the US also affects its neighbors south of the border. And so, against this backdrop of dire economic straitjacketing, Grandpa, his two wives, and their swarm of young children and teenagers were all living under the same roof for seven years.
I don’t know how many children the two wives ultimately had, during the seven years they lived in “the big house.” I only know that Grandmother already had eight children and another soon to be on the way when Grandfather married Onie as his plural wife in 1923.
Among Mormon fundamentalists, the practice of birth control was a mortal sin. So altogether, Grandma bore Grandpa thirteen children, and Aunt Onie bore him six — before she left him. (More on that later.)
I’ll leave you to a guesstimate of how many adults, children, and babies in diapers were housed altogether, under one roof, before Grandfather could finally afford to buy a separate “roof” for his second family!
My Mama: Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer,
And Her Background
Juarez Stake Academy
(Jr. High/High School of Colonia Juarez, México)
“My mama is so good to me,
She works for me each day,
So She can buy me food and clothes,
And many toys for play.
I love my mama,
Yes I do, my mama good and kind;
And if I looked and looked,
No better mama could I find.”
(Author unknown — Children’s song)
As a kid, I used to ask Mama what her life was like when she was a kid. Fundamentalist Mormon “Saints” believe they are/are supposed to be perfect. So Mama mostly only told me about the many good things in her life as she was growing up. But she sometimes would admit to some bad things that happened too.
For example: In answer to my questions about her childhood, Mama exclaimed: “I loved my life! It couldn’t have been more perfect! The persecution my older brothers ‘n’ sisters had to suffer had let up a lot by the time I was of school-age. And Pa only gave me one spankin’ in all my life — which I deserved! [She wouldn’t tell me what she did to deserve it.]
“However, I still experienced feelings of low self-worth and excruciating shame … which I always worked hard to try to overcome. Even though my siblings and I were top students at Juarez Stake Academy [Her High School’s name], it still really affected my self-esteem ’cause I grew up with my family bein’ looked down upon ‘n’ not bein’ accepted.
“The LDS Stake President ‘n’ Superintendent of our school system said my brother Ben was the brightest student ever to have gone through the Juarez Stake Academy!” [It was a very small-town High School, to be sure, in the early to mid-1900s, when Mother and her siblings attended this Mormon colony’s public schools. So not too much competition.]
Mother often talked about “The-best this” and “The-best that!” (This is how I was raised!) The jury is still out on whether Uncle Ben still holds that title — or if he ever held it at all! But I always heard about how brilliant he was — before he had the mental breakdown and schizophrenia/bipolar disease set in.
Mama continued: “So despite how well us LeBaron kids did in school, my parents were called ‘apostates.’ And people in the Mormon colonies were told to not associate with us, other than for doin’ business.
“Ma ‘n’ Pa didn’t, therefore, go to church, though they believed in Mormonism. Even so, us kids went to the Mormon colony’s only Church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There, we were taught the revisionist Mormon doctrines: That polygamy was now a sin, for example … ‘n’ they taught me my parents were sinners.
“Yet, since my parents were Mormon fundamentalists, at home we were taught the Orthodox Mormon doctrines — The Mormon beliefs lived before the Manifesto of 1890.
“It was confusing to have my ma ‘n’ pa pointin’ out how the Mormon church was now out of order … all the while at the LDS church I and my siblings was goin’ to, we were taught our parents were out of order and on the wrong path — and therefore goin’ against God ‘n’ God’s leaders — so headed for hell!
“But even though Pa had more than one wife, ‘n’ people of my same faith were makin’ fun of our family ‘n’ my father, they respected Mother’s piano teachin’ ‘n’ playin’ … And my own piano expertise, too … ’cause Ma was the best piano teacher … ‘n’ I was the best pianist in the colonies!”
[There was at least one other outstanding pianist back then in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico: The one who taught Mother to play the most difficult Piano Concertos, etc. (Ione Fenn?) — so Mother could accompany a Symphony Orchestra performing Piano Concertos. I don’t recall hearing much about this expert pianist and piano teacher … or whether she was, in actuality, “the best” piano teacher!]
But let’s let Mama continue: *”So I grew up with mixed feelings: On the one hand, I knew I was the best and most outstanding girl in town — And for that matter, in all of Mormondom.
*”How could I be sure of this? ‘Cause whenever church Apostles ‘n’ other church leaders visited our colony, they would tell us the Mormons of Colonia Juarez were the very best ‘n’ purest of all the Mormons they met in any other Mormon town or city.
“And I knew I was the best ‘n’ purest of all the girls and women in Colonia Juarez. So that’s how I knew I was the best ‘n’ most perfect woman in the whole world — given that Mormon women are better, to begin with, than women of the world … And, as I said before, I knew I was the best ‘n’ purest of all them Mormon women.”
[I will enlarge upon this in a later blog. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether Mother was actually “the best and purest woman of all Women in the whole world.” LOL!]
“But on the other hand,” Mama continued, “I came to feel like my family ‘n’ I were the lowest people in town — due to how so many people talked ’bout us and shamed ‘n’ shunned us.
“Still, when my two older siblings, Ben ‘n’ Lucinda, went crazy, that added more ridicule, ostracization, and shame to our family. [In those backward days, especially in small towns, the mentally ill weren’t looked upon kindly. Many believed they had evil spirits in them.]
“Even so, and in spite of all our sorrows ‘n’ religious confusion, how I loved playin’ with and doin’ things with my half-sisters, Aunt Onie’s children — Barbara, Clara, Verla, and Ilene. And how I loved bein’ the only girl in the middle of my own seven brothers: Ben, Wesley, Alma, Joel, Ervil, Floren, and Verlan.
Please note: When I’m quoting things Mother said, way back when, please don’t think, by any means, that I agree with all her ideas or ways of thinking.
That’s but the way I was raised. However, it was a long time ago, and I have changed a lot since then (Let’s hope!) — not only in my values, but in my lack of prejudice, my education, rationality, and my understanding of things, also.
I’m sure Mother changed some in her outlook, beliefs, and values, too, over the years. Since I left her cult and moved away, I wasn’t around her a lot in her last forty-six years.
But the few times I had spoken to or seen her, during that time of estrangement, I could only wonder how she never saw through the numerous fallacies she preached and believed in so zealously: Things such as polygamy, for example — even though she was too jealous to live polygamy, herself (according to Daddy).
My Mama: Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer,
And Some of Her Family History
“People are what their mothers make them.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I left off in last week’s blog where Mama had exclaimed how, despite persecution and her own religious confusion, she had wonderful times doing things with her half-sisters, Aunt Onie’s children. And had also loved being not only the middle child but the only girl in the middle of seven brothers: Ben, Wesley, and Alma were born before Mama. After her came Joel, Ervil, Floren, and Verlan.
Mama explained to me, as I continued to question her about her early life:
“Ma had four girls. But my sister Jenny died at age six from eatin’ poison mistletoe berries. I’d just turned four. After we arrived home from Jenny’s burial site, some Mormon neighbors met us with food ‘n’ flowers. I told them, ‘We left Jenny up there on the hill!!’ “
“Ma couldn’t bear to discipline me after losin’ Jenny so I was spoiled rotten. Then I was pampered even more after Ma had twins, David ‘n’ Mary — who also died. I was eleven by then. They were the last kids she bore … they were ‘Blue babies:’ The cord was wrapped ’round their necks, so they strangled to death.
“Irene, my parents’ oldest child,” continued Mama, somberly: “was nine years my senior. She grew up ‘n’ left home by the time I was ten. And Lucinda, five years my senior, had a nervous breakdown at age seventeen. She was in a mental institution, off ‘n’ on, after that — till years later she had to be institutionalized for the remainder of her life.”
When I asked Mama why she went crazy, she was in one of her rare moments of utter honesty as she responded to my query:
“I was twelve when my gifted, artistic, and highly sensitive sister Lucinda had her first mental breakdown. What broke her was hearin’ one of her Mormon teachers (who was also the Mormon Stake President of Colonia Juarez) runnin’ her father down to her High School class.
“He didn’t know she was in the back of the room. Among other things, he told the class: ‘Lucinda’s father, Dayer LeBaron’s a crazy crackpot … a bad man … an apostate! He’s goin’ to hell … ‘n’ may even be a son of perdition.’ [The worst thing you can be in Mormondom!]
“But what also lead to your Aunt Lucinda’s emotional breakdown,” Mama added, “was she’d gone into the bathroom medicine cabinet and had secretly swallowed a bunch of pills in an effort to start her period. The pills made her deathly sick!
“Eventually, Ma ‘n’ Pa found she was pregnant. So Pa beat the livin’ daylights out of her. Why? Because she’d lost her virginity … and was now gunna have a bastard baby who was not only part Mexican, but its father wasn’t even Mormon! So Lucinda had brought even more shame on our despised and denigrated family!
“After Lucinda went crazy, Pa beat her relentlessly … tryin’ to beat the devil out of her. Evil spirits had taken her over: She’d been turned over to ‘the buffetings of Satan,’ due to her transgressions ‘n’ fornication.”
Mama never told me the rest of the story — Just one more story that was covered up so the iconoclastic “Mexico LeBarons” would look like “A godly family with a saintly mission.”
“Needless to say,” Mama continued, “When Lucinda went crazy, your grandma spoiled me more than ever. The loss of Jenny, then my oldest sister leavin’ home … ‘n’ now Lucinda goin’ out of her mind caused Ma to treat me with kid gloves ‘n’ coddle me like her treasure beyond measure!
“Besides, I was her only daughter left at home. Gettin’ top grades at school, along with my looks ‘n’ charms … ‘n’ playin’ difficult Piano Concertos like Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto in C Sharp Minor,” was helpin’ to make our family look better. Ma valued me for that too.
“I was like the Savior of the family, so to speak. So, though I was the middle child, I wasn’t insignificant the way a middle child often is … especially since I was the only girl ‘mongst all them boys!”
* Please note: Let me say it again, when I quote/ paraphrase things Mother said, way back when, please don’t think I agree, by any means, with all her ideas or ways of thinking and doing.
That’s the way I was raised. But that was a long time ago. Since then, I have routed out a lot of these backward beliefs, and ways of thinking, and behaving — Let’s hope! — Not only in my values but in my lack of prejudice, as well as in my rationality and understanding.
Perhaps Mama even changed a bit, in her outlook and values, too, before she died at age ninety-two. I wasn’t around to see.
My Mama: Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer,
And Her Early History
“The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.”
Harriet Ward Beecher
We left off last week where I was questioning Mama about her childhood. Let’s continue with her telling me the following unbelievable coincidence:
“Because I had so much fun with my seven brothers when I was growin’ up,” she exclaimed, “I wanted to have seven boys in a row when I got married. Instead, I got seven girls in a row! [Doris, Beulah/Stephany, Sharon, Judith, Mary, Pauline, and Nola]. That just ‘shows-to-go-ya’: Be careful what you wish for!”
Then she continued, “Aunt Onie [Mama’s father’s plural wife] and her daughters and my two older sisters, Irene ‘n’ Lucinda, did most of the upkeep of the home and the care of the kids, while your Grandma was busy spoilin’ me … And teachin’ piano lessons to help your Grandpa feed ‘n’ support his two wives and all his kids.
“Besides teachin’ piano lessons there in Colonia Juarez where I was raised,” Mama continued, “Mama/ your grandma was oft’ times gone one or two days at a time, twice a week (up to five days a week sometimes!) teachin’ piano lessons in the nearby Mormon colonies.
“Even so, she let me out of all the housework and other chores ‘n’ responsibilities about the home ‘n’ yard — long as I studied hard to get top grades, went to my piano lessons, and practiced the piano long hours — so I could perform outstanding piano solos in public to impress our Mormon oppressors, and make our family look better in the eyes of the town’s people who always gossiped about us ‘n’ put us down.
“Consequently,” Mama laughed, “much to your Pa’s aggravation ‘n’ disappointment, once he married me, he discovered I didn’t know how to be a homemaker!
All I knew how to do was be a pianist ‘n’ scholar … and artist, ‘n’ poet, and writer. At twenty-two, when I married your Pa, I could barely make a bed, let alone bake bread!
“When your Pa complained to your grandma that I didn’t know how to boil water, let alone bake beans, she merely retorted, ‘Ah, well … She’s got plenty of years ahead to learn them things!’ “
But the upside is Mama was the top student in her small, mostly Mormon 8th-grade graduating class. Thus she got to give the Valedictory Address!
“And, as part of our graduating program, I also played a difficult piano solo, “The Fawns,” Mama proudly informed me. “Plus I harmonized in a duet I sang with another student — while my mama accompanied us on the piano … I was only thirteen years old!
“But my gettin’ so many important parts in our graduation program, ‘n’ outdoin’ all the other Mormon kids that were supposed to be so much better than me and my polygamist family, created envy and aggravation ‘mongst the Mormon colonists who’d been so busy runnin’ us LeBarons down all them years.
“But at least they saw Dayer’s family had excelled in spite of bein’ made the scapegoats of the town … ‘n’ treated so low down … like untouchables … though my older siblings (Irene, Ben, Lucinda, Wesley, ‘n’ Alma) got it lots worse than I did,” she ruefully reiterated.
“By the time I, my family’s seventh child, reached my teens, the Mormons had decided to start treatin’ ‘apostate’ Dayer LeBaron’s family better. They finally begun lettin’ us participate in their Mormon Social’s, for example — especially after they saw what their persecution and ostracization had done to my older siblings:
“For example, Ben ‘n’ Lucinda had nervous breakdowns in their late teens. Then eventually went completely crazy … never to recover! Spent most of their life in a mental institution,” she said, tearfully wiping her eyes.
Then Mama continued, “Since it was a Mormon colony, all the school ‘n’ church socials were always combined. That meant we were always left out of everything — especially my first six older siblings!! It was devastatin’ … so hard on my talented ‘n’ gifted older brothers ‘n’ sisters … So very painful for them and my whole family!!”
My Mama: Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer …
And the Perils of Polygamy
“It is not our exalted feelings,
it is our sentiments that build the necessary home.”
We left off where I was querying Mama about her past, present, parents … and the perils of polygamy:
“Sadly,” Mama told me, “Pa ‘n’ Ma failed miserably in their all-out efforts to follow Joseph Smith’s commandment to live polygamy or be damned to hell. Aunt Onie* ultimately left Papa, taking with her, her six children she’d borne him.
Actually, what happened is, while Grandpa Dayer was away on one of his long trips painting houses in the United States, Aunt Onie fell for and had an affair with a handsome and charming young Mexican man. When she became pregnant with his child, her affair was discovered. So Grandpa “put her aside.“
But, personally, I don’t blame Aunt Onie for being attracted to another man: She was around thirty years old. Her fifty-year-old husband was gone much of the time. And when home, Onie had to share him with Grandmother Maud (thirteen years Onie’s senior), and a household full of children and chores … plus all the jobs her husband had to do around home, yard, and town.
But even if none of that mattered, it’s hard to resist temptation when you’re young, attractive, lonely, lovelorn, forlorn … and your husband is generally off “sowin’ his wild “corn”/oats.” And what’s worse, when he is home, sex is only for having children:
[Grandpa Believed and held fervently to the Mormon fundamentalist doctrine, “The Law of Chastity,” that commands (among other things) that once a woman is pregnant (and also while she is nursing) her husband is to leave her alone, sexually! Sex was only for procreation, in other words]
But note the oxymoron: Aunt Onie’s husband could have a plural wife, but God forbid Aunt Onie had a plural husband — though if anyone ever needed a plural husband, it was she!
Aunt Onie finally solved her love-“n”-loneliness dilemmas by leaving Grandfather Dayer and polygamy altogether. She simply went to visit her family of origin in Hurricane, Utah, settled near them — and never returned.
But poor, grief-stricken, and emotionally abandoned Aunt Onie was shunned till she was forced, though totally heart-broken about it, to adopt out her beautiful illegitimate brown baby: Adultery and bearing a baby out of wedlock — especially a “half-breed” — was simply unacceptable among 1930’s Mormons!
But Aunt Onie lived near and visited regularly her darling “bastard baby,” as they were called back then. How do I know all this? Because Mama told me. And because, between the years of 1955 and 1960, my family lived near Aunt Onie in Hurricane, Utah.
One day Aunt Onie actually came to my school and gave a speech to our Jr. High/High School student body, as part of a Community Outreach Program. The theme of her speech centered on how she, as a young adult, had made some egregious errors she hoped we would not fall into, ourselves.
Among the many things she told us was: “I ignored my parents’ and the church’s advice, ‘n’ married into polygamy. My rebellion ‘n’ goin’ against the leaders of the church led me into a life of sin, misery, ‘n’ shame.
“After unbearable sufferin’ and loneliness — which sin always leads to — I eventually saw the error of my ways, repented of my sins, and returned to the LDS Church. Then I got rebaptized for the remission of my sins.”
Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she related her painful misgivings, mistakes, and miserable story. What an amazingly strong woman she was to open up and share, honestly, her experiences and lessons with us young people. I was and still am impressed with her show of humility and integrity. Aunt Onie was a wonderful example to us students, that day … and a wonderful public speaker!
Now let’s get back to where Mama was telling me about when she and her siblings lost Aunt Onie and their half-siblings who had been so much a part of their life for around fourteen years — including the two years or so when Onie babysat them and helped care for them before she married Grandpa Dayer as his plural wife:
“Words cannot express the sorrow I felt … our whole family felt,” reminisced Mama –– “upon losing Aunt Onie and our playmates — our six half-brothers ‘n’ sisters we’d grown up with.
“We’d shared the same house with them for seven years. And Aunt Onie had taken care of us like a second mother, while Mama was often gone — busy teachin’ piano lessons to help support the family.”
Mother and her siblings never got over having lost their “other mother,” and six half-siblings. But during the years my family lived in Hurricane, Utah, Mama and Aunt Onie visited regularly. This helped Mama not miss so much her mother and family in Mexico.
*Note: They called Grandpa’s plural/second wife, “Aunt,” as a show of affection, respect, and kinship. Though in some polygamous families, the plural wife might have been called “Mama Onie,” or other such.
Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer…
And the Perils of Polygamy, Cont.
“The mother-child relationship
and in a sense, tragic.
It requires the most intense love
on the mother’s side,
yet this very love must help the child
grow away from the mother,
and to become fully independent.”
Mother never told me much about how she was affected growing up in the polygamous love-triangle that existed between her parents and her father’s plural wife, Onie.
She was two years old when her parents, who had already been married fourteen years, brought naïve and the trusting, pretty, sexy, eighteen-year-old Onie (thirteen years younger than Mama’s mother, and twenty years younger than her father) into their already well-established family.
Then they lived in the same house altogether (happily ever after?) the first seven years after her pa took his beloved, gorgeous, nubile Onie as a plural wife! Having, myself, been given away, at age sixteen, as a child bride in a prearranged polygamous marriage to a man ten years my senior, his first wife fifteen years my senior … and so on … I have a very good idea what bedlam innocent Onie found herself in!
No fairy tales or beans about it: You can imagine there were plenty of troubles and extenuating circumstances that reigned in Mama’s immediate polygamous family-of-origin — a salt-of-the-earth family of scrabble farmers, house-painting handymen — and a piano-teaching Mommie (who was pregnant and bearing babies, besides, a good part of the time she was off teaching piano lessons).
Especially must this polygamous arrangement have been difficult, given the triangulated (strangulated?) love affair of three adults all housed together under one crowded roof … a roof falling in on them … figuratively speaking, if not literally.
Add to this hillbilly, barbarous, and backward combination the herd of babies, adolescents, and cantankerous teenagers — And one “priesthood-holding patriarch” — who reigned religiously, ruling the roost with a Mormon fundamentalist’s fanatic, foot-washing, and zealous iron hand:
In orthodox Mormonism, the man has the first, last, and every word in between. So you can imagine, then, there was probably turmoil the likes of which you don’t want to imagine! (I’m just imagining!)
I’m certain it was especially burdensome and difficult when, periodically, Mother’s father, Dayer, returned home after working in the United States for months on end. His frequent absenteeisms naturally heightened pressures between the two lonely, overworked housewives who had to share him. But it also made it difficult for Grandpa Dayer to discipline his children who regarded their father as somewhat a stranger and only a visitor.
Add to this hot-to-trot pot the deprivation and strain dire poverty presents in the lives of polygamous households and their large, deprived families of children — usually born within a year or two of each other. In such a situation, you have a volcanic and miserable stew abrew whose loose lid could blow off at any moment. And sometimes it did.
So it had to be a pressure relief — and a welcome relief –– for Grandpa to be gone. At least, he wasn’t torn between trying to spread himself around amongst two wives and his umpteen children — each vying for a part of this X factor’s energies, time, help, money, and affection. (“Everything you own owns a part of you!”)
In the polygamy brew, let’s not overlook, too, polygamist husbands are free to court and hang out with more than a few “Broads” — while away from their lonely wives … And one reason men seek sex is to relieve pressure.
This philandering lifestyle is participated in by polygamist men with gusto and a narcissistic sense of entitlement — all the while their abandoned, put-upon, loving wives are home alone struggling to keep a meal on the table and clothes on the kids!
Not only that: Polygamous wives are left to be mother and father of their womanizing husband’s broods of babies — children basically abandoned by their father and left to the equally abandoned wives to singlehandedly, dedicatedly, and religiously raise … And most likely in deprivation and poverty! It’s truly slave labor — even if a labor of love. And all in the name of religion (or slavery?)!
Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer …
And The Perils of Polygamy, Cont.
Out of all the Mothers in the world,
So thanks, Mom!
No better mama could I find!
and Stephany Spencer-LeBaron
Continuing where I left off in the previous blog discussing “The Perils of Polygamy,” let’s add to this perilous Mormon-fundamentalist doctrine discussion one of its greatest oxymorons:
Child brides and young women are thrown into idealistic polygamous relationships without the least training or preparation for such difficult liaisons! This is one of the worst ingredients in this stressful and volatile plural-marriage-mess.
And once thrown to the pernicious “polygamy wolves,” it’s “Stink, sink, or swim:” They’re eaten alive, then expected to automatically know how to spit up and live polygamy like a saint … though it’s an altogether unfair and unnatural way to live.
Now add to this perilous, presumptuous, and preposterous plural-marriage pot the ever-abiding and overriding following foul-smelling, fallacious, and insidious ingredients: These unfortunate “plygs” believe they are Saints –– but they’re not. Now stir!
A mature couple in a monogamous marriage generally has enough trouble making a go of it. When you throw into a nubile polygamous marriage all the ingredients included in the plural-marriage kit (a kit filled with kinks and sticks that wedge themselves into the spokes of the vehicle’s fine tuning) it’s a wonder the volatile wheel can turn at all!
And a wonder the fire of love isn’t put out altogether. Sometimes it is. But often times there was no love, to begin with — just an arranged marriage participated in out of obligation and the brainwashed belief that’s what God wants.
Add to this boiling brew that Mormon fundamentalists consider themselves “God’s chosen handful.” So they take for granted they,” God’s perfect Saints,” should automatically know how to cook it all up — the polygamous soup recipe, that is — perfectly — even though they got no training in the matter of how to be a “polygamist cook” — and ain’t no saints!
Now add to this stew that there are no manuals — no recipes written on the subject of how to live the dastardly, difficult life of polygamy — let alone a Dr. Phil to contact for counseling and guidance — no matter how badly a wife, husband, child, and family needs help and advice.
The end result? You have a cesspool — a living hell — not harmony. People have to shut off their emotions to survive! To be sure, it’s a life only true Saints could endure or traverse. Yet, fools wade in up to their nose where angels fear to tread. I know! I’ve been there, done that … and never want to do it again!
So, I feel for my zealous grandmother, grandfather, and his plural wife, Aunt Onie (discussed in previous blogs). They tried so hard to live their Prophet Joseph Smith’s commandment: “Live polygamy or be damned to hell.“
Hell?! They were already in hell! They just didn’t know it! Or couldn’t admit it … because it ran against the grain of their religion to think, let alone dare believe such a thing.
Poor miserable Mama! But as in all things in this world, amidst the bad, there’s always some good. And she attests that her childhood “had many wonderful times.” Nonetheless, she grew up in the polygamists’ barbarous, backward lifestyle laden with deprivation and unnecessary dilemmas.
Monogamous mothers and fathers don’t have enough time, money, and attention to give to their children when they have from five to twenty-five babies — or more! — all born within a year or two of each other — as in the case of Mormon fundamentalist families.
So you know the polygamist father of a huge herd of kids ain’t got the wherewithal to give to his flock — including all his wives. Therefore, Mama and her nineteen siblings and half-siblings, plus her mother, father, and his plural wife suffered a lot of needless hell … and they didn’t have to wait “till death do us part.”
Only it’s considered blasphemous, among Mormon fundamentalists, to think this way. They generally wouldn’t dream of thinking the way I now think — though, let me tell you, it’s far from the way I was brought up to think!
Mormon fundamentalists believe they are doing a glorious and blessed thing when they bring all the children they possibly can into “good Mormon fundamentalist families — and harems.” (I mean, it’s literally quantity, not quality!)
After they’ve produced all the kids and wives they possibly can, they all then swim in their surreal soup, surviving only by living in a dream world where they’re cut off from their real feelings and individuality.
This surreal, sanctimonious soup they manage to sip only by keeping a smile on their face, a prayer in their heart … and a tale in their head that they’re “very, very happy, mightily blessed ... and better/ better off than everyone else.”
It’s a rather ridiculous but rewarding tale; one that assures them they’re going to “The highest degree of glory,” once they die (the women on their husband’s shirt tails, no less!) … because they lived polygamy and also had all the kids they possibly could.”
(All that matters to most Mormon fundamentalists is how many wives and children they have! And whether the woman has a husband so she can go to heaven “on his shirt tails.”)
They’re so misled … and reason even less. The truth is pretty much the opposite of what they believe. But they’re taught to follow their patriarchal leaders … not to use their head nor heart.
They’re commonly told: “When your leader speaks, your thinking has been done.” And they’re admonished to sacrifice in this life … and live for the hereafter. (Life’s too miserable to live for the here-‘n’-now!)
Living in this illusion — this delusion — they have no idea what real attention and love is. Nor are they prepared to do as well nor have as good a life as they might have had were they raised normally; i.e., if they were raised to fit into our modern world … not a fastidious foot-washing fundamentalist fantasy.
Sadly, in their religious fanaticism, they pass their masochistic, ignorant, depraved, deprived lifestyle on, generation after generation — a secluded, backward, and lawless lifestyle that perpetrates and perpetuates polygamy and huge progenies of neglected and abused children.
What’s worse, in the name of religious freedom, these children born in the United States to one man and his multiple wives are children born without the protection and rights the rest of American children are born with. (That’s another story, but I’ve discussed it, somewhat, in earlier blogs.)
Suffice it to say, “Plural marriage” is nothing but an illegal, insensitive, narcissistic, and irresponsible lifestyle generated by Joe Smith, an uneducated, sense-of-entitlement, self-proclaimed prophet … a “prophet” there for the “profit,” power, and prestige!
“My Memoir: My Mother, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer — And Mormon Polygamist Cults Unmasked — Parts 11–18