Spatial Dynamics and Polygamous Burial Practices

By February 26, 2014

Ironically, on Monday I concurred with Amanda that too much work is focused on the history of polygamy and today I am posting about polygamy.  Oh well…

In 1910, Hannah Adeline Hatch Savage recorded the details of the death of her father Lorenzo Hill Hatch in her journal:

My dear father departed this life April 20 1910 at Logan, Utah, had he lived four more day there would have been two months difference between my dear parents death….He is father of twenty four children, twelve sons and twelve daughters, one son having preseded(sic) him to the other side.  He is the husband of four wives who all departed this life before he did.  He is buried in the Logan Cemetary(sic) by the side of his second and third wives.  His first wife died and was buried on the road between Nauvoo and Salt Lake City [1]

lorenzo hill hatch grave II

(Headstones for Lorenzo Hill Hatch and wives Sylvia Savonia Eastman Hatch and Catherine Karren Hatch ? Logan City Cemetery)

When I read this passage, I was immediately reminded of an article written by her lyrical great-nephew, Levi Peterson who described her isolated burial place. He wrote,?Hannah Adeline Hatch lies in the red, wind-stirred soil of the Woodruff cemetery…The wilderness was not a fit habitation for Hannah Adeline Hatch. I am desolated by her lonely, barren grave in the Woodruff cemetery.? [2]

woodruff cemetery

(Woodruff Cemetery)

Adeline is buried by herself in Arizona while her husband and sister, who was also married to Levi Mathers Savage, are buried together in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.  I started wondering about polygamous burial practices, if there was such a thing.  Scholars like Thomas Carter have written about the architecture of polygamy.  He explores concepts such as spatial equality among polygamous wives as well as the gendering of space within multi-family dwellings.  The housing design of those who practiced plural marriage reveals a great deal about how polygamous families lived as well as notions of gender among 19th century Mormons.  Could the structuring of Mormon burial spaces be as equally instructive?  Yes and no.  Geographer Richard H. Jackson maintains that cemeteries provide a window into Mormon culture. Cemeteries need to be understood as more than a mere cluster of graves.  Landscaping, fencing, paths and other features are all cultural indicators.  Similarly, individual grave data such as epitaphs, religious symbols, decorations and spatial arrangements are good indicators of class structure, religious beliefs and familial dynamics.    In his article, ? ?Mormon Cemeteries: History in Stone? he notes that analysis of the platting, conditions and general location of burial places as well as the materiality of headstones allows scholars to better understand the ?voice? of Mormon cemeteries.  He notes:

Like the Mormon village, the Mormon cemetery reflects the Latter-day Saint belief that God is a god of order ? and Mormon cemeteries, like their cities, are platted in regular gridiron pattern oriented to their cardinal directions.  Literally ?cities of the dead,? their morphology not only reminds us of the Mormon penchant for order, but also tells us something of Mormon eschatology.  Cardinal orientation insures that the deceased can be laid to rest with their heads to the west ? when the dead come forth from their graves, they will face the east, from whence the Savior will come.?[3]


(Salt Lake Cemetery Map ? Tour of Prominent LDS Leaders. Note the platting of the cemetery. For the most part, prominent means being male on this map. Also see here.)

Going deeper, Samuel Brown describes early Mormon burial practices and underscores the importance of the necessity of community burial. He states that Joseph Smith, “appears to have taught his followers that their physical proximity in graves not only sweetened the resurrection, it made resurrection possible.  Many early Latter-day Saints believed that at Christ?s Second Coming they would lay hands on each other and raise each other from the dead? Having loved ones interred nearby was critical to the timely efficacy of the ordinance of resurrection ? mismanaged burials could impair the central miracle of Christ?s Second Coming.”[4]

Adeline?s isolation in death is particularly poignant when one considers that most of her life was characterized by familial dislocation due to poor health as well as the exigencies of plural marriage.

hannah adeline hatch savage grave

Hannah Adeline Hatch Savage Headstone ? Woodruff Cemetery

From the time she was a child until her death, she was separated from first her mother, then her husband and children while she convalesced, sought healing rituals in distant temples, was hospitalized or sought refuge from chronic illness in a friendlier climate.  Following Levi Savage?s legal prosecution for cohabitation in 1905, she endured another separation.  She wrote:

The demands of the cort(sic)was that I live no more with my husband and also that I immediately leave the home.  We was obliged to comply with the requirements of the cort(sic) at that time? So I left my home about the middle of December, also husband and children and stayed at the home of my dear friend Medora Gardner.  They (her family) was very kind to me while there.  And I felt to rejoice that I was counted worthy to be persecuted for Christs? sake.  My leaving my family at this time entailed a hard ship on us. [5] 

levi leonora savage graves

(Headstones of Levi Mathers Savage and Lydia Leonora Hatch Savage ? Salt Lake City Cemetery. Lydia Leonora was Hannah Adeline Hatch?s sister and another wife of Levi Mathers Savage. Levi Savage?s wife Sarah Martha Marintha Althera Wright Savage who ultimately divorced him over his polygamous marriages to the Hatch sisters is buried Burley, Idaho.)

screenshot II

(The website is one way to discover the spatial dynamics of Mormon burial practices. It is an online repository of searchable cemetery maps that are designed to help researchers find and document cemetery records and grave locations ).

Hannah Adeline Hatch Savage died on June 14, 1916.  [6] Context is important and while the spatial burial arrangements of the Savage family might reveal something of the nature of plural marriage it also reveals the difficulties of Mormon life in small settlements during the late 19th century/early 20th century.  Levi and Nora moved to Salt Lake City in 1919 following Savage?s release as bishop of the Woodruff ward after 27 years of service.  Adeline died 19 years before her husband and 30 years before her older sister.  Sometimes the stark realities of death and poverty simply dictated where individuals were buried.

The arrangements of the remains of polygamous families who are buried in more immediate circumstances can also be revealing. The headstone of two of the wives of Cyrus Sanford presents a distinctly Mormon epitah.  Happylonia Sophronia Clark Sanford and Olive Pixley Sanford share a double arched white marble slab dating from the late 1870s or 1880s.

sanford wives headstone

(Original headstone for Happylonia Sophronia Clark Sanford and Olive Pixley Sanford who were both sealed to Cyrus Sanford in 1863 by Heber C. Kimball at the Endowment House).

Although it is difficult to read in the picture it states at the bottom, ?As wives devoted, as mothers affectionate, as friends ever true.?[7]   They are buried together, while Cyrus Sanford who died in 1900 and initially shared a large ornate obelisk with his first wife Sylvia Elmina Stockwell.   When carefully contextualized the markers and spatial arrangements all might provide clues to the dynamics of individual polygamous marriages.  In 1988, the Sanford Family Organization committee re-did the headstones and consolidated all of the names of husband and wives onto one memorial.

sanford headstone

(Headstone redone by Sanford Family Organization Committee 1988, Springville City Cemetery)

Both the original burial practices of the Sanford family including the nature of the headstones, the epitaphs and the funeral art as well as the revisions in the late 20th century are all indicators of how Mormons families lived, died and were buried.  I don’t know that I’ve answered my original question about polygamous burial practices, but I think that an investigation of the materiality of Mormon graves and their spatial orientation is another way to broaden our understanding of gender and marriage. Looking at smaller family cemeteries like the Kimball-Whitney Cemetery or the Brigham Young Cemetery or contrasting the headstones of men and women in both urban and  rural locations will undoubtedly provide new insights into the past. What I do know is that I’m headed to Salt Lake City on Sunday and there will definitely be some cemetery walks next week.


[1]Hannah Adeline Savage, Record of Hannah Adeline Savage,Woodruff Arizona, and Journal (Pinedale, Ariz.: Petersen Publishing, 1976), 41.

[2]Levi S. Peterson, ?A Mormon and Wilderness: A Saga of the Savages,?Sunstone, December 1979, p.71.

[3] Jackson, Richard H., ?Mormon Cemeteries: History in Stone? in Walker, Ronald W. and Doris R. Dant, eds. Nearly Everything Imaginable:  The Everyday Life of Utah’s Mormon Pioneers.  Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1999, 406.  Also see, Edison, Carol, Mormon Gravestones: A Folk Expression of Identity and Belief  Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Volume 22, Winter 1989, p. 89-94

[4] Brown, Samuel Morris. In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death. New York: Oxford University Press. 2010, p.92.  The relatively recent rehabilitation of the Smith Family Cemetery in Nauvoo in 2002 illustrates how these ideas still exist among Mormons.  Russell M. Ballard invokes Joseph Smith by quoting “If tomorrow I shall be called to lie in yonder tomb, in the morning of the resurrection, let me strike hands with my father, and cry, `My father,’ and he will say, `My son, my son,’ as soon as the rock rends and before we come out of our graves. . . . And when the voice calls for the dead to arise, suppose I am laid by the side of my father, what would be the first joy of my heart? To meet my father, my mother, my brother, my sister; and when they are by my side, I embrace them and they me.” Ballard, the great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith noted, ?It’s a great privilege for family members to honor their forefathers and to prepare a garden spot for them to rise in the resurrection. That is the crowning accomplishment.?  In his article ?Last Rites and the Dynamics of Mormon Liturgy?, Jonathan Stapley notes that the ritual of grave dedication addressed concerns that sprang from the idea of resurrection as a communal event. The ability to create sacred space for bodies outside the realm of the family burial place would be a powerful antidote to anxieties that arose from separation caused by migration, colonization and other familial dislocations that resulted from the prosecution of polygamous families.

[5] Hannah Adeline Savage, Record of Hannah Adeline Savage,Woodruff Arizona, and Journal (Pinedale, Ariz.: Petersen Publishing, 1976), 32.

[6]  Levi Mathers Savage recorded, ?9:15 a.m. June 14, 1916 my wife Hannah Adeline Hatch Savage passed from this mortal existence on to a more blessed life in Eternity, where her reward and exaltation is sure and certain. In the afternoon of the 15th. we laid her mortal body away in grave 2 lot 3 Block 14 Woodruff Cemetery. Stake President and many relatives were present at funeral? Levi Mathers Savage, Journal of Levi Mathers Savage (Provo, Utah:  Mimeographed by the Brigham Young University Extension Division ca. 1955), 82.

[7]Jackson, Richard H., ?Mormon Cemeteries: History in Stone?, p. 418.


Article filed under Gender Material Culture Women's History


  1. This is really poignant. I am currently writing a chapter on Mary Fielding Smith. I find it fitting that she is buried next to Mercy and not next to Hyrum. She and Mercy created their own family unit after they joined the Mormon Church and it seems poignant that they remain together after death.

    And RE: polygamy – even more ironically, my dissertation is ALL about polygamy.

    Comment by Amanda HK — February 26, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

  2. Amanda, the graves are really interesting.On her headstone, Mary is described as the relict of Patriarch Hyrum Smith while Mercy is the wife of Robert B. Thompson.

    Comment by Kris — February 26, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

  3. This is fascinating, and I have some examples from my own family that fit the pattern in various ways. However, as a descendant of Lorenzo Hill Hatch cited above (through second wife Sylvia), let me explain that the reason his other two wives weren’t buried with him is that the first one died in Winter Quarters over 60 years earlier, and the other one in Arizona, where they were living twenty years before Lorenzo’s own death. It was a logistical choice at the time, not a slighting of the other wives with relationship or spiritual ramifications.

    Comment by anita — February 26, 2014 @ 3:04 pm

  4. Great post! I think such a study would be very revealing. Since I stumbled across the headstone of Elizabeth Ann Whitney in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, I have wondered why she wasn’t buried near her husband Newel K. Whitney in the family’s private cemetery shared with the Kimballs.

    Your post also made be chuckle because it reminded me of an old Scandinavian dialect story from Sanpete County. An old Scandinavian brother was dying and called for the bishop with a list of instructions. He had been a polygamist and had always treated his wives exactly the same. If one got a cow, the other got an identical cow. The two wives had predecessed him and he intended to be buried in between them to be absolutely fair in death as he had been in life. However, when he gave his final instructions concerning his burial to the bishop he whispered, “Please tilt me yoost a little bit toward Tillie.”

    The fact that this story exists and circulates in a folk narrative cycle reveals the cultural tensions concern polygamy and likely hints that the complications of who gets buried where in a polygamous marriage was a real concern.

    Comment by blueagleranch — February 26, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

  5. You might find this interesting regarding two of John D. Lee’s Wives – Mary Vance(Polly) Young and Lavina Young

    Lavina contracted an illness from which she never recovered. She died on July 4, 1884 and was buried two miles east of town in the Nutrioso cemetery. A few years later, many of the Lees and Clarks moved back to Utah. By that time they had built up large herds of cattle that they drove back with them.

    Polly, however, remained in Nutrioso until her death in 1893 at seventy-five years old. The two sisters who had stayed together their entire lives, even sharing the same husband, remained next to each other in death. Their individual headstones marking their graves in the remote Nutrioso cemetery were made from the same piece of granite.

    Comment by anon — February 26, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

  6. This is a lot to think about Kris, and really quite interesting. Thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 26, 2014 @ 3:29 pm

  7. A widow and widower marry and move 1,000 miles away from where their first spouses are buried and spend 25 happy years together. There’s an empty plot next to each prior deceased spouse. Do family bury each respective person next to prior, deceased spouse? Or do they get buried together? Moral of the story: If you want to land in a certain place you’d better leave a final will with clear instructions.

    Comment by IDIAT — February 26, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

  8. Thanks for all the stories.

    Anita, thanks for pointing this out. The next lines in Adeline’s journal state, “His first wife died and was buried on the road between Nauvoo and Salt Lake City”. I’ve amended the post to make that clearer.

    Comment by Kris — February 26, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

  9. Fantastic, Kris. Thanks.

    Comment by Christopher — February 26, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

  10. Kris, What a thought-provoking post. My great-grandmother was a second wife and wasn’t buried with her husband and first wife, but in a plot evidently purchased by one of her daughters in Provo. I understand there might’ve been some friction between the wives. But I also wonder to what extent longevity, immediate family relations, and also finances may have played a role in determining where a particular parent was buried.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — February 26, 2014 @ 5:32 pm

  11. Great, Kris.

    I’m intrigued by the language on the Mary and Mercy headstones. Clearly, they’re not the original headstones (and I’d always ignored them because of that). I just assumed that this was Mary Fielding’s original headstone, considering her lack of funds. I don’t think there is an equivalent for Mercy. The language is old, but the headstones are clearly new-ish (at least pre-1997). Does anyone know something more about Mary and Mercy’s headstones?

    Comment by JJohnson — February 26, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

  12. Thanks for all the comments and stories. Gary, I think you detail my concerns about context. History can’t be understood simply by an epitaph or a headstone, but it seems clear that a lot of theological concern was devoted into how people were buried. How did people experience this on the ground? More research will be needed to tease out Mormon beliefs about burial practices and the tensions within them.

    Comment by Kris — February 27, 2014 @ 8:59 am

  13. JJohnson,

    Thank you so much for this other picture. I don’t know much about these headstones but I’m sure there is a lot we can glean from the evolution of these grave markers about how MFS is situated within Mormon history as well as burial and memorializing practices.

    Comment by Kris — February 27, 2014 @ 9:40 am

  14. For what it is worth, the picture that JJohnson supplies is probably a footstone placed at the end of the grave to denote where it ends. These smaller stones typically had only the initials and a year placed on them. However, this stone probably gives you an idea of what the original headstone looked like, since it would be made out of the same material and usually replicated the shape.

    The headstones which are currently in place for the two sisters look to me like they date from the 1920s or later based on the style of the stone and the carving of the text. The text itself, however, seems to be from an earlier era. Note the use of the word “Relict,” arrangment of text, wording of life dates, and the eulogy at the bottome which had all gone out of fashion by the 1920s. Thus, I think the replacement stones replicated the text on the originals. It would be interesting to see if we could find a photograph of the original stones to see if my hypothesis is correct.

    Comment by blueagleranch — February 27, 2014 @ 11:32 am

  15. I’ve seen a variety of arrangements. Some of them seem to be, like Gary notes, more dependent on things like finances than anything else, but one I’ve always found to be an intriguing representation of the institution of polygamy comes from my husband’s family: James Hatch and wives Rhoana Henrie, Christena Schow, and Gedske Schow (Panguitch).

    Comment by Amy T — March 3, 2014 @ 11:47 am


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