Below is a biography of a Mormon woman who married at the age of 12. In the light of what was reportedly going on in the FLDS church, I thought this would be interesting. This post represents the first in a series that is designed to allow me to practice my research skills. I will be taking existing family biographies and attempting to verify and flesh out details using records from other sources.
Mary Lucy Curtis was born 15 November 1832 in Highland, Michigan. Her parents, Jeremiah Curtis and Ruth Stratton, along with their extended family, moved to Michigan from Pennsylvania about 10 years earlier. Once there, they met with Mormon missionaries and joined the church. They became part of the Pontiac Michigan Branch.
In 1835 the she moved to Missouri (not Nauvoo in 1836 as recorded in Charlotta Crow’s account). She lived with her sister, Aurelia, who had married Ornan Houghton in Michigan in 1834. Ornan had been part of Zions camp.
Mr. Houghton and his wife had lost their oldest child [in Missouri in 1835] and they felt so lonely and bad that they took Mary to live with them. Aurelia wanted Sarah, who was two years old, but Ornan wanted Mary, who was four years old, as while traveling she had hung to him so close he had become very much attached to her. Crow
There are few details about their life in Missouri. There are birth and death records for Aurelia’s other children in Missouri. Her parents names (Jeremiah & Ruth Curtis) show up in the petition sent to congress for redress for what happened there. Documents list their residence as Clay and Caldwell counties. No accounts of the hardships they faced in Missouri have been found yet.
Following the expulsion from Missouri in 1838, the Houghtons moved to Nauvoo. Ornan purchased same land in Nauvoo. There, Mary grew up in the Houghton household. Her personal history starts up in the events following the death of Joseph Smith.
She was among the mourners who stood by the roadside as the bodies of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith were brought back to Nauvoo after being murdered in Carthage Jail. Crow
On 8 August 1844 she … heard and [saw] Brigham Young when the mantle of Joseph Smith fell upon him and heard his voice as of Joseph's. She often testified of this as she was present at the meeting when the question was presented as to whether the saints should follow the twelve apostles or Sidney Rigdon. Crow
A few months later, on 21 February 1845, Mary’s sister, Aurelia, died of “quick consumption” (now known as galloping or miliary TB) when Mary was 12. Aurelia's last wish was that Ornan take her sister, Mary, as his wife, knowing how well her children would be cared for.
In March of 1845 her father's family went with Lyman Wight's company to Texas. They tried hard to persude her to join them. But she strongly believed that she should remain with the saints who followed Brigham Young. She would never see her parents again.
On 11 July 1845, while still only 12 years old, she married Mr. Houghton (who was 38). Family accounts record her age as 14 in more than one place. But the birth date and marriage date are clearly 12 years apart. One must suppose that Mary claimed to be 14 at one point, perhaps to get around the legal age limit, and never corrected the lie. There are some records that indicate her birth was in 1831, but only when recorded next to Ornan Houghton.
Mary went through the Nauvoo Temple January 29, 1846, at age 13, and had her own endowments along with her husband Ornan. There marriage was not sealed during his lifetime. They ran out of time as the ordiance room was closed on Feb 8th 1846. That day they crossed the Mississippi, nearly drowning in an ferry accident. On the far side Ornan took ill due to exposure. Because of his health, Brigham Young advised him to stay and travel with a later company when hi shealth returned. While waiting Mary had one son, Edgar, born on 10 October 1846. But Ornans health never improved. On 18 of August 1847, when Mary was 14, her husband died, leaving her a widow with three children.
After the death of her husband and while still a widow her oldest brother Meacham came from Texas, where all her brothers and sisters lived with their parents, but his only conveyance was a mule to take her and her three children to join the rest of the family. He sold everything he could belonging to her, even a strand of gold beads which had been handed down in the family for a number of generations. These beads were to be handed down to Louisa for which she never forgave him in all her eighty [actually 67] years of life. Still, Mary would not consent to go with him, as she had heard Brigham Young speak and she knew he was chosen by God to lead his people. Her brother went back to Texas very mad at her as was all the rest of the family. Crow
Her parents’ family never rejoined the saints. According to one account, they are buried in the Zodiac cemetery near Fredricksburg, Texas. Another account places them in Oklahoma, dying from salt poisoning. After the death of Wight, her siblings scattered across the western US.
At some point she went back to Nauvoo or at least close enought to witness that awful sight [of] the temple burning down. Her step-daughter Louisa remembers seeing the temple burn in 1848, and seeing an old Catholic woman waving her arms and shouting "Glory Hallelujah" as she watched it burn. Crow
Somehow she made it to Council Bluffs, Iowa. There she joined her cousins in the spring of 1850
…She joined her cousins of the Curtis family who had wagons and cows and one horse which they hitched up together and they started for the west. Mary and Francis Houghton, her step son nine [actually 12] years old, drove the team across the plains. She helped cook for the company of the Curtis family. Crow
Since she raised the other two children, Edgar and Louisa, I have assumed there travelled with her as well, even though they are not mentioned in Charlotta's account.
Stephen Markham was Captain of the company. They arrived in the Salt Lake valley the first of October 1850, and on the fifth of October she married Stephen Markham in Brigham Young's office as the Endowment House had not yet been built. Crow
Heber C Kimbal performed the ceremony.
In 1851 her husband was called to settle the Spanish Fork area. He served as Bishop and she went with him as one of several wives. In her biography, she was regarded well because of her superior domestic skills, her hospitality and her integrity.
Mary had thirteen children by Mr. Markham and raised four other children. She was again widowed on 10 March 1878 when Mr. Markham died. She died in Spanish Fork the 6 of October, 1900. Crow
Family folklore states Stephen was truely in love with her (I'll bet he said that all his wives) and that he asked her to have her sealing to her first husband cancelled so she could be sealed to him, and that she refused to do so. The implication was that she was truely in love with her first husband regardless of how young she was when she married him.
[Addendum: Descendents of her children through Stephen Markham believe her relationship with Ornan was more like that of a father. They contend that because she did not get sealed to either one during their lifetime, that in the eternities she will have to choose one. Because of her lifetime with Stephen and their many children, they believe she will choose to be with Stephen.]