Yesterday the Church History Department made public the Prison Journal of Belle Harris. Harris spent approximately three months in prison in 1883, along with her baby, for refusing to testify about her plural marriage to her ex-husband, Clarence Merrill, during the time when the federal government was attempting to crack down on the practice of plural marriage in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While there, she was received visits and support from various leaders such as Eliza R. Snow, Emmeline B. Wells, Presendia Huntington Kimball, Zina Huntington Young, Mary Isabella Hales Horne, Romania Bunnell Pratt, Bathsheba Bigler Smith, George Reynolds, Charles W. Penrose, and A. Milton Musser.
In her journal, Harris is described multiple times as a “plucky” woman, and her personality and faith really come out. Here are a few examples:
Well another day has <passed> nothing of importance to record axcept that I had a visit from Marshal [John W.] Greenman and Mr Putman the latter expressed great sympathy for me and thought it a shame that I should be made to suffer because he said he knew that I was pursuaded to act as I was doing and that I never would go in to plurality again I told him I supposed he had a right to his own opinion regarding the matter and he talked for some time regarding the wick[ed]ness of the mormon system of marrig [marriage] said he would cut his right arm off before he would place a woman in such a situation said I ought to an[s]wer those question and get away from this place I spoke for some time and gave him a few ideas about afairs genealy [generally] regarding my what I thought to be my rights as well as the priveiledes [privileges] of the latter day saints. So <he> said he didnt come to try to pick any informat[i]on but simply as a friend. I could meet an avowed enimy but a wofl [wolf] in sheeps clothing I do despise. it is a perfect mystery to those who do not understand our faith how I can think of staying here when to an[s]wer 2 or three questions would insure my liberty [p. 5] and yet that abominable sheet the S. L. Tribune5 says I have not the courage to say that I am married while holdeing a babe in my arms I wonder who they think I am afraid of I should think I have proved that I dare am not so great a cowerd for rather than assist in giveing evidence which I know was calculated to mark [make] mischief I dared to brave the terrors of a fellons [felon’s] den. those who accuse me of cowerdice are in my extimation not worthy the notice of a woman who is not afraid to assert her wrights and the wrights of her people. (24 May 1883)
it is just a month to day since I was arrested but it seems much more than that to me Sister Jospehine smith [Josephine Groesbeck Smith] wife of John Henry smith visited me to day and I was so glad to se[e] her for I felt very lonely havent had mayy [many] visitors lately one of the guard told me that there was a letter on there table this morning requesting them to have nothing to say to me I suppose the Marshal thinks that this will make me feel so badly that I will surrender immediately though luckily I did not come here to be entertained by any of the guard and therefore shall not feel to lament a great deal (10 June 1883)
tomorrow I persume I will know how wheither I am to make this wreched place my home for the summer. S. A. Kenner visited me yesterday and said they had apointed friday to consider this case but I am afraid they will have to consider it a week or two before coming to a decision I had quite a conversation with the warden this evening he said I was to leave here at 9 o clock tomorrow morning he also expressed a hope that I would not have to return and said he, if your Lawyer dont get you out of here he ought to be shot he didnt say what he thought of the man that got me in here but said he thought it was a fearful thing that people would beleave in a religion that it was <could> possibly get them into this place he doesnt understand our religion nor the persecution we have to put up with. I asked him if he intended staying in utah if so he ought to visit among the mormons and become aquaint [acquainted] for himself he would then know how false a great ma[n]y statements were, which had been given him for facts [p. 20] he said he excepted that was true I told him he could not find <amore [a more]> industrious, honest upright people. he did not answer me for I persume he did not beleave all I said for he is terribly predigiced against us but he and his wife have been very kind to me and have repeatedly expressed their sentiments with regard to my being brought here though they do not place the blame where it ought to be. (21 June 1883)
July 16 To day Sister Musser and her daughter Flora [Stenhouse] came to see me they brought me callicoes and other materials for mysels [myself] and baby. they also brought many presents sent by different ones among which was half dozzen cans of suggar of lemonade Miss Musser [Flora Stenhouse] perposed making some lemonade which I heartly endorsed and she accordingly made a pi[t]cher full we all drank the gaurds joing [joining] us and so cheerfull and hapy were we that one not knowing would scarcely take me for a prisoner and the gentlemen who were so kind and court[e]ous for my jailors Sister Musser said my friends were joining togather to buy my baby a carri[a]ge How kind and generous they all are to me I often ask myself if I am worthy the friendship and esteem which has been universely expressed for me by all the Saints and many who are not have expressed decided admiration for my [p. 43] conduct I feell to give thanks to my Heavenly Father for thus surrounding me with so many friends in my hour of trial I know that the Lord will overrule for the benefit of those who seek to serve him and I know that he has blessed and sustained me and also enabled me <to> answer the inquisitive questions that have been asked me by non mormon reporters and others who were desirous to learn something about my affairs without giveing any information which I did not wish them to know (16 July 1883)
This journal adds to the available opportunities to see this turbulent time through the eyes of the people involved. It is valuable for historical purposes and is also an inspiring read. It is freely available to read at the Church Historians Press website at https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/belle-harris?lang=eng
Other recent projects that are freely available:
There will also be a symposium on “Women, Religion, and Records” held this weekend on Saturday, February 25. Admission is free and it will also be available via Zoom. More information here: https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/news/announcing-a-symposium-on-women-religion-and-records?lang=eng
Trevor Holyoak is the Vice President of FAIR. He has been actively involved with FAIR for many years and received the John Taylor Defender of the Faith Award in 2014. He graduated magna cum laude from Weber State University with a BS in computer science and now works as a programmer and systems administrator. He is currently serving as a stake emergency preparedness director and in the leadership of the Utah Valley Amateur Radio Club. He and his wife have five children and live in Cedar Hills, Utah.