College Columns May 2019 - Page 22


A Polygamist at the Hotel Del Coronado in 1896

Kenneth L. Cannon II, Durham, Jones & Pinegar P.C.

10th Circuit Regent

Recently, I found an 1896 photograph of my great-great grandfather, George Q. Cannon, sitting with one of his wives on a wharf in front of the Hotel Del Coronado. With thoughts of the College’s induction ceremony there this year in mind, it was fun to find the old photo. George Q., as his descendants call him, was a prominent Mormon church leader, editor, politician, and businessman who had six wives and 34 children. In the image, he is seated second from the right with his sixth wife, Caroline Young (a daughter of Brigham Young).

In 1896, Mormons’ practice of “plural marriage” was still very much in the public eye. George Q. Cannon was probably the most powerful man in Utah after Brigham Young’s death. The Eastern press called him the “Mormon premier” and the “Mormon Richelieu.” He was Utah’s territorial delegate to Congress for ten years, president of numerous businesses, including banks, mining companies, railroads, utilities, and a publishing house.

George Q. came to the attention of Brigham Young in the 1850s and by 1860 he was made one of the Mormon church’s twelve “apostles.”

In 1862, Brigham Young sent Cannon to Washington to lead Utah’s efforts for statehood. George Q. lobbied Congress and spent a pleasant afternoon with Abraham Lincoln, who, not surprisingly, was more focused on the Civil War than statehood for Utah. About the same time, however, Lincoln signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. Lincoln knew that his party’s 1856 platform had called slavery and polygamy the “twin relics of barbarism.”

Brigham Young brought his young protégé home to Salt Lake City to be a principal advisor, edit the church-owned newspaper, and run businesses. In 1872, he was elected Utah’s delegate to Congress. He spent ten years in Congress and, although reelected again by a landslide in 1882, the federally-appointed territorial governor refused to certify the election based on Cannon’s multiple marriages.

The Edmunds Act and Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887 made “cohabitation” between a man and his polygamous wives illegal, deprived Mormon men of the right to vote, rescinded women’s right to vote in Utah, disincorporated the church, and escheated most of the church’s liquid assets to the federal government.

Mormon leaders went into hiding as they (and other polygamists) were pursued by federal deputies (“Deps”) under these laws. Someone recognized George Q. on a train headed for California as he tried to flee the state and he was arrested in Humboldt, Nevada. The Salt Lake marshal and fifteen Army troops traveled to Humboldt to take charge of Cannon. The court released him on a $45,000 bond (about $1.2 million in today’s dollars) on a misdemeanor charge punishable by a six-month prison sentence and a $250 fine. He jumped bail but eventually surrendered to authorities and served almost six months in federal prison for unlawful cohabitation.

After the Supreme Court found the Edmunds and Edmunds-Tucker Acts constitutional in Late Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. U.S. in 1890, Cannon helped negotiate the cessation of polygamy and church President Wilford Woodruff formally announced the end of the practice.

By the time the Hotel Del photo of George Q. Cannon was taken in 1896, Utah had been made a state and Congress had returned (depleted) escheated property to the Mormon church and the forfeited $45,000 bond.

Seated from left to right: Wilford Woodruff, his 7th wife, Emma, George Q. Cannon and his 6th wife, Carlie (c. 1896)