“We Are All Descended From Grandfathers!”


Shortly thereafter the newly enlarged Romney family was also sent to the Mormon south, where the hardships, not to mention the strains of plural marriage, proved too much for the new wife. After bearing two children, she left, married again outside the Church, and was replaced in 1873 by a good-looking, darkhaired girl named Catherine Cottam. Hannah, who was getting used to the experience, worked for many days to prepare rooms for the new bride. Soon afterward her husband was ordained a bishop and in 1877 took a fourth wife named Annie M. Woodbury, although back east the Congress of the United States was growing more determined to stamp out plural marriage. All three wives kept producing babies for some years, and Miles Romney’s progeny swelled to thirty. The total of his grandchildren, reckoned years later, comes to 207.

With his large and usually poverty-stricken tribe trailing behind him—travelling in sections for logistical reasons—the Bishop now undertook the harsh journey to settle St. Johns, in Arizona, where the Church was seeking to extend its influence. Presently he was publishing a newspaper and locked in combat about claim-jumping with the gentiles, which in his terminology included even the local Jews. But now Romney, along with Bishop David K. Udall and a few other polygamous Mormons, encountered a new problem, described by Romney’s hagiographer as “the constant harassments of unprincipled deputy United States Marshals” and “the profane and unhallowed actions of libertines and mountebanks under the guise of being upholders of the law.” Put from another standpoint, the territorial antipolygamy statute was being enforced.

Eventually Bishop Romney fled to old Mexico to join other polygamous Mormons who had established settlements in the wilds of Chihuahua and Sonora. The family, still growing relentlessly, followed in the usual brigades. Congress outlawed polygamy in 1882, and the Mormon Church itself banned any more plural marriages in 1890. The Mexican settlements lived on, however, and a generation was born there before Pancho Villa drove them back to the United States. They were model communities in many respects, somewhat resembling early Utopian experiments in the United States. There were no saloons and there was no crime; the towns were full of schools, temples, and other public buildings, many of them the work in some part of Miles P. Romney.

Since the writ of the United States did not run along the Casas Grandes River, where he was living in the late 1890’s, that individualist married one final time, choosing a relatively wealthy widow named Millie Eyring Snow. This match, however, produced no more children. In 1902 Romney, then fifty-nine, was ordained a patriarch and that same year suffered a heart attack and died—or, as he related the event afterward, he was conscious that his soul had left his body and was able to look down from above on his corpse, surrounded by sorrowing relatives. The scene touched him deeply. Since his soul was also distressed by certain tasks he had left unfinished, he pleaded with the Authorities and was permitted, with considerable discomfort, to re-enter his body. In this state, whether of resurrection or recovery, he lived two more active years, and took wing permanently on February 26, 1904—a great figure among his brethren; a puritan elder, in a sense, flourishing in a strange country and a stranger century; and, not least, a one-man population explosion.