A Polygamist In Peril – Susan Elizabeth Bench’s Escape to Mexico

Author’s Note: This is not an actual letter from Susan Elizabeth Bench to her grandchildren but a historical narrative based off facts from Susan’s life as noted in her biography.

My Dearest Grandchildren,

I write you this letter to clarify some of my life as you have asked. The stories of my life I would not want to repeat for any of you, but they have shaped me into who I am today.

Back in 1886, I met you grandfather, Francis George Wall in Glenwood, Utah while he was a Sunday School counselor and I was the Sunday School Secretary. Early the next year, in the snowy days of February I made my way by wagon to Nephi with Francis. Once when we arrived in Nephi, we left our horses and wagon and took a train to Salt Lake City.

Susan Elizabeth Bench
Susan Elizabeth Bench

When we arrived in Salt Lake, it was a blinding snow storm, but we were able to make it for my Grandmothers (Honor Hannah Watson) home at 647 South Main Street. Francis and I stayed with my family for just one day before taking the train to the People’s Hotel in Logan.

On the 18th of February 1887, Francis and I went to the Logan LDS Temple where we were married by a C.D. Felstead. We stayed three days in the People’s hotel before returning to my Grandmother Honor’s home in Salt Lake City.

The next few days were a flurry of activity as we made our ways back to our respective homes, I didn’t see Francis (or as I called him, Brother Wall) again until November of that same year (1887).

No one in town knew where I had gone for those few days, because polygamy had started to be looked upon with disdain by non-members and member of my church alike. In fact, I lived “underground” (as it was commonly called) for three years, without ever publicly declaring my marriage to Francis.

Francis George Wall
Francis George Wall

Our first son, John Edward Wall was born on the 13th of February of 1890 in Manti, Utah. When John was only a week old, I was arrested on charges of bigamy and put under a $2,500.00 bond and ordered to appear in court in Salina, Utah by the United States Deputy Marshall to answer the charges of five years.

On the 21st of March 1890, my brother John drove the team of oxen with me in the back of the wagon box after a deep and hard snow storm while I took my son, John Edward, with me.

As it goes with the court, dates change and the next morning after arriving in Salina, I was informed I was to appear in Spring City on the 1st of June in that year.  After that appearance, the court date was again pushed back until the 27th of September 1890, this time in Provo, Utah — before a grand jury.

I was quite worried that they were going to put me away and that my little son, John Edward would be without a mother. The night before I was supposed to be in court, I stayed with the Farr family and told the wife that if I never came back to retrieve my boy that she could have him.

During all this time, Francis was nowhere to be found, as he had already made his escape to Mexico on the advice of our Church President, John Taylor. At this point, Brother Wall had never even seen our son.

While at court, I could hear all the other women give their testimonies in court about their polygamist lives. In fact, there was one woman, Bell Harris who had her small child in her arms during the whole ordeal, and she was sentenced to five years.

When my turn came, they locked the door as if I would escape and asked me all the questions they could think — I told the truth as my husband had instructed me to do so. After all was said and done, I was released on bail. It probably helped that the prosecuting attorney was Aunt Jane’s (one of my father’s polygamous wives — Jane Nickland) brother.

Provo Utah Courthouse
Provo Utah Courthouse

Just the very next year, in June of 1891, I left my home in Manti, Utah for Mexico to escape the persecution for practicing polygamy, which was now officially declared unfit for members of my church. John Edward was only a year and a half when we left.

From Manti, we traveled by train to Deming, New Mexico — which took three days. From Deming, I had to try and find anyone that would take me and my baby to Mexico, as no trains were running into the country at that time. I was able to find two men (Charles Shumway and Henry Marteneau.) that would take me there.

We were set to leave the next day, but little Ted (John Edward) broke out with scarlet fever, and it took us more than three weeks to leave. By that time, Francis had heard we were there and came up to meet up with a team and wagon to take us to our new home.

And that my dear children, is how I had to escape to Mexico because I chose to marry a man who already had a wife. I pray that this letter finds you well.

Your grandmother,

Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall

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