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Biography and Memories of Aunt Johanna, Our Other Mother

By Lucy S. Burnham

Since a short history has been written of our father and my mother, Lydia R. Young, it seems only fitting that one be written of Aunt Johanna, our father’s other wife. It is with loyalty and a great feeling of tenderness that I have set myself to the task of writing her short story. The memory of Aunt Johanna mingles with my very first recollections; father, mother, and Aunt Johanna, the three of them always around me, the three of them in our home working and sacrificing that we children might be fed and lovingly cared for. Father married Aunt Johanna in February 1882, just two years and two months after he married Lydia Young, my mother.

Johanna Elizabeth Covington was born in Paradise, Cache County, Utah, May 4, 1864. She was the eldest daughter of John T. Covington and Johanna Lundblad. Johanna’s family consisted of six girls and four boys and being the oldest girl naturally it fell to her lot to help her mother in the home as soon as she was old enough to assume a part of the responsibility of the children.

When but a child her parents moved to Southern Utah and when Johanna was ten years old, her father joined the United Order of Orderville. She was brought up under firm religious training both in her home and the rules of the Order. Of her my father said, “Johanna was a fine looking girl with a happy peace-loving disposition, and was always ready and willing to make any sacrifice for the gospel as she understood it.”

Aunt Johanna’s first child was born in Orderville on March 13, 1883. He was named John Thomas but died shortly after birth. I was born the same year in August and as my mother already had a little girl just past two years of age, Aunt Johanna took almost complete care of me. On February 10, 1884 another son, Edward Asael was born to her. He died soon after birth as the other son had done. Again the lonely young mother took me to her heart and went about her house in her quite, cheerful way. One June 24, 1885, a baby girl came to Aunt Johanna and was named Chastie Vilate. Chastie was born in Huntington, previously we had lived in Orderville, and of those days I will write not and only from memory or impressions. My main impression of Orderville and our life there was about the United Order. I formed my impressions by overhearing by mother and Aunt Johanna talk about their life in the Order. I heard them talk about working in the dining room and kitchen, helping prepare and serve the meals to the community there. I heard them talk about their weeks spent in the community kitchen washing great mounds of dishes. I heard them tell the jokes they played on the supervisor and each other and it seemed to be great fun for as they talked I heard their voices gay with laughter as they remembered. I learned from their talk of the dances they attended, each in a gay printed calico gown, and of the boys they danced with and how Aunt Johanna’s father fiddled out the music for their dancing. Young women they were who had grown old too soon because of the hardships of pioneering, having babies and losing them because of lack of medical aid and proper food, but good talk at that. And young as I was, I caught the spirit of those two girl-women, and absorbed the impression of live and unity in the Order, and an experience that was priceless. It was while living in this United Order that my father married both of his wives in the St. George Temple.

Of our life in Huntington impressions naturally give place to memory. I think Aunt Johanna went first with father to Huntington. Soon after father married her, the government took action against plural marriages and officers were sent out to hunt and punish those practicing it. According to Father’s own account, he left his families in Orderville after the discontinuation of the Order and got a job driving some cattle to Colorado. On his way back to Orderville he visited a new settlement called Huntington. I believe there were only four or five families there at that time. My father felt he might find peace and safety for his families and moved Aunt Johanna there at once. My memory is that mother and her children stayed with her mother, Lydia Young in Orderville until father had some sort of home for us. Our first home is like a dream to me now, but my impression is that it was a one room log house, and that this one room housed both of father’s families for some time. Father homesteaded a section of land about three miles south from the boundaries of the settlement of Huntington and began clearing the land of brush and fencing it as best he could but it was some years before a home was built on the farm.

I remember the poverty of those first lean years but against the memory of hunger and cold, the memory of love and peace that filled our home is warm and sweet. Palace walls could hold no greater love or loyalty.

October 23, 1887, another baby girl was born to Aunt Johanna and we named her Louie Elna. I remember Louie very well not as a baby but later when she was two years old for I was six years old by then. I remember so well the night she left us, she had been ill for a long time and would not eat anything at all. One night she seemed much better and Aunt Johanna held her on her lap at the supper table. She seemed hungry and my mother warmed some milk and gave it to her in a little pewter cup. She reached out for it and drank hungrily. When we children all laughed with joy to see her drinking milk she smiled at use and set her little teeth in the cup leaving the marks on the soft pewter edge. The next morning she was dead. Aunt Johanna cherished the cup as long as she lived. Louie was laid to rest at the side of sister Mamie who had died just a year before. Louie died January 25, 1889.

Gradually life became a bit easier for father in providing for his family. part of the farm was cleared and planted in crops and we had another cow, some chickens and a pig.

With the coming of civilization to Huntington came peril and the real hardship of Aunt Johanna’s life. Persecution of plural marriage was still going on and the United States officers came to Huntington to hunt out and bring to trial anyone practicing it. For the sake of safety Aunt Johanna had to leave our family and for months at a time live in strange places and often under a different name. For long periods of time mother’s children would not know where Aunt Johanna and Chastie were. It was a puzzle to us why she had to leave. It didn’t make sense to us. Father was so honest and good and our dearly loved Aunt and sister in so much trouble and worry. Our once happy home was saddened and lonely. Like a cloud, it hung over our childish minds and hearts.

In the year 1888 John R. Young was moving his plural wife and her family to Mancos, Colorado, and according to his history he write, “I had one four-horse team, two two-horse teams and fifteen head of cows. Bishop Joseph K. Wright and my son-in-law H.T. Stolworthy, each with a team and a plural family accompanied me. We left Huntington keeping the main traveling road for Green River until we reached Iron Springs. Then fearing that we might be arrested at Blake, we turned, crossing the San Rafael desert to Hanksville. We had to cross a forty mile stretch without water and while crossing that waterless sand waste we encountered the worst blizzard that I ever experienced. The sand drifted into the road so furiously that it was almost impossible to move; and at the close of a hard day’s labor, we had not made it over four miles. Just at night a short hail storm swept over us. We camped, blanketed our horses, cuddled into our wagons and rested the best we could. During the night it froze hard which proved a blessing to us. The next morning at three o’clock, keeping the women and children in bed we pulled out. For fifteen miles we sped merrily along, the sun’s rays melted the frost and the wagon wheels dropped into the sand five spokes deep. We rested during the day and broke camp again at midnight and by nine o’clock in the morning we reach Hanksville without any serious suffering. We struck the Colorado River at the Dandy crossing: swam our cattle and horses and ferried out wagons on a small boat, paying twenty dollars for the use of it.”

With this description of Aunt Johanna’s first trip to Mancos we know that she and her little girl endured much in the way of hardships and exposure. Whether father went all the way to Mancos with her I am not sure, but it is probable that he did and saw her safely settled in a one room house belonging to John R. Young before returned to Huntington. As far as we children knew Aunt Johanna and Chastie were in Mexico and John R. Young, who, by the way, was my mother’s father, did decide to take his families and left the next spring. Aunt Johanna was left in Mancos living in an old granary. How lonely she and her little girl felt as they waved a heartsick goodbye to their good friends who were leaving them practically with strangers. That very day Aunt Johanna received a letter from father telling her that he was under arrest and must go to Provo to stand trial for unlawful cohabitation and that he was unable to send her any money or help her in any way for a time. I am sure that it was a tender letter and full of encouragement and faith for father was like that, but it seemed to the lonely heartsick woman little comfort indeed.

Having no one to turn to, she and her little girl knelt down and asked her Heavenly Father to help them. A short time later a knock came at the door of her crude room and when she went to open it trembling with worry and fear, there stood Bishop George Halls of the Mancos Ward. He asked Aunt Johanna what she intended to do now that the Young family had left. “I must try to get some kind of employment,” she replied bravely. “you are just the person I’ve been looking for,” the bishop replied, “you see, we are adopting a little baby girl and my wife needs help in caring for the baby and the housework.” Was that an answer to prayer? Well, Aunt Johanna and Chastie always thought so, and so do I. A very kind and direct answer to a good faithful woman in sore need.

The baby’s name was Lelly Bess and was adopted by bishop Halls and his wife and grew to womanhood in their home. Aunt Johanna lived in the home of Bishop halls and a good home it was. She was treated with every respect and consideration. The Halls family profited by the contact too, for Aunt Johanna was a good housekeeper and cook so they were blessed all around.

I will state here that Father was acquitted at the trial and came home to Huntington. In 1890 Aunt Johanna returned to Utah with William L. young, a son of John R. Young. The raid against the Mormons had quieted some, but father with caution did not bring Johanna directly home. She stayed with friends in Lawrence a few miles away. I want to record in incident that left a lasting memory on my heart. In the days of which I write, the women wore wool shawls in winter instead of coats. Mother and Aunt Johanna had shawls alike. As I remember, they were brown and blue plaid. They were the only shawls alike in our small community. One day I went to the co-op store on an errand for mother. I knew she was home for I had just left her there but as I came out of the store I spied the shawl around the shoulders of a woman that certainly looked like Aunt Johanna. I tore out after her, my heart beating loudly with joy that she was home. “Aunt Johanna.” I cried, “wait for me,” but she disappeared and I went home heartbroken and half angry with her because she wouldn’t wait for me. When I got home and told mother of my experience she said, “You were mistaken my girl, Aunt Johanna isn’t in Huntington.” But it was small comfort to me. I knew I had seen her and that she had ignored me. Oh those uncertain days! How they took the very heart of women and children as well as the men.

Soon after the incident of the shawl Aunt Johanna came home to us. How happy we all were. Our sister Chastie seemed like a stranger at first and I expect we children seemed strange to her, but the strangeness soon passed and we were playing together in happiness. But out happiness was short and Aunt Johanna left for Orderville where her parents lived, making the trip with Jesse Washburn and Miller Black. She lived with her parents at the old Orderville dairy in the summertime and at the “Big House” as it was called in the winter. Here on September 18, 1892 her son Willard was born. I will never forget the joy that announcement gave the whole family, for we had never had a living brother yet. Distance did not count. We children spoke proudly of our brother to the other children and abided the day until we might see him.

The issuance of the law of the Manifesto was probably the most important act in the long career of President Woodruff. It brought relief from persecution to the faithful men who had taken plural wives in full faith and unmindful of breaking any law in so doing. It also brought relief to the faithful women who had been forced into obscurity and want.

In the spring of 1893 Aunt Johanna and her two children came home to take her place in the family again. Soon after she came father moved my mother to the ranch and Aunt Johanna took over the old home in Huntington. Now we children had two homes and we were as welcome in one home as we were in the other. I think these days were the happiest in Aunt Johanna’s short life. She had a home of her own and two fine children to care for. As I remember those years, she was a like a young girl again, singing as she went about her spotless house with an occasional stay at the farm while mother and she talked over problems or divided provisions and merchandise that father had traded wheat or corn for at the general store.

May 7, 1894, Charlotte May was born. We always called her Lottie for short. I was 11 years old and I remember so well the day she was born. Aunt Johanna was up as usual that morning and announced she was going to wash so Chastie and I filled the tubs with water to make the day easier for her. When we came home from school Aunt Johanna and surely been at work, the washing was out on the line, the floors scrubbed and clean and she was in bed. Smilingly she beckoned us near and putting back the bed covers she showed us our new baby sister. Grandma Stolworthy who was there calmly told us she had found the baby in the old flour bin. Believe it or not, her coming was rather a mystery to us. Children were rather dumb in those days.

Aunt Johanna was a very ambitious woman and of an indpendent nature and she liked to do odd jobs of work thereby helping herself and her neighbors as well. I remember that she liked to work with bees and in helping a neighbor, Will Marshall, with his bees she became the owner of a few hives of bees and always divided the honey withthe family. Bees were always a terror to me and I usually went home when I knew it was time to extract the honey. But she had a way with bees, calmness was the charm, I think. I remember seeing her with her bee veil on, her hands in gloves, going about with the bees so thick on her head and arms that they looked but a black mass. They hardly ever stung her and if they did she hardly noticed at all. Many a candy pull we children enjoyed and the sweetness that was so hard to get provided by her hard labor.

On the 13th of January, 1897, another son was born to Aunt Johanna in Huntington. She named him Carlos Joy. I will never forget Carlos as a baby. He had so much black hair and his little face was so old in looks that we all laughed whenever we looked at him. That year a strange disease spread among the babies in Huntington and out of the 13 baby boys born within a few months of Carlos, he was the only survivor. How happy we all were when the dreadful plague passed him by. Soon after Carlos was born, father sold the home in Huntington and moved Aunt Johanna near our farm. There she lived in a rented house until we left Huntington in 1899.

Because of mother’s failing health father decided to sell our farm in Huntington and move to Old Mexico or the Gila Valley, thinking perhaps a low climate might prove beneficial to her. He sold the farm in May and decided to send my mother and her children to her mother in Old Mexico until we were settled again. Accordingly, mother left with all her children but Matilda and me. In the meantime Matilda was married to Either Staker who lived in Lawrence and I stayed to help father with the moving.

We left Huntington June 1, 1899. Our outfit consisted of three wagons with strong teams of horses for we were taking some household goods and supplies with us. Father drove one team, Asael Palmer drove along for father while I but a girl of fifteen drove the other team. There was quite a company of use as Uncle Asael Palmer and his family decided to go with us. Uncle Asael had three teams, making six covered wagons in the caravan. Father had one wagon fixed very comfortably for Aunt Johanna for she was expecting and failing the past few months. A good pair of bed springs were fixed over the side of the wagon and she could sit in the spring seat beside me or lie down on the bed when tired, and she was very often tired. I noticed this for it was strange for her to lie down so often. Pioneers didn’t have much on us for all we owned was in our wagons or on them.

The jingle of tubs and buckets made music as we jolted along and underneath the bed reposed a large grub box and cooking utensils, wash board and whatnot. Aunt Johanna used to mix yeast bread in the morning before we left camp and by night it was ready for the large bake oven heated by coals from the campfire. Oh, the delicious flavor that wafted on the evening breeze when the covers were lifted. She always cooked the meals with Chastie’s help for I enjoyed the title of driver now. There would be newly baked bread and butter we had salted down in crocks while preparing for our trip, baked potatoes, bacon or cured pork we brought along and always a jar of golden honey.

When grass was good we made long camps and out came the tubs and washboard and soon clean clothes were hanging on the bushes drying in the sun, while the horses grazed greedily on the tender forage. For the children the trip was lark. We played games at night and then crept into bed tired and sleepy but for the women it was a long and tiresome trip and they looked forward to quite peaceful homes again in settled county.

I was not a tomboy by nature and driving the team over rough roads was a nerve wracking job to me and I soon saw why father had set me to drive the wagon Aunt Johanna road in. When the going was rough she was sit in the spring seat beside me and talk to me in her quite cheerful way as if I were a grown-up and I would find new confidence and strength in trying to live up to her encouragement. Sometimes Willard rode beside me busy with young boy’s chatter and other time Chastie rode near me handling the brake on difficult road. Ferrying across Green River and the Colorado was a new experience for all of us. Aunt Johanna watched anxiously at this crossing. I remember I went over with the first load and when Aunt Johanna and the other joined us she put her arms about me and said, “Lucy, I wanted to cry as loud as Willard did when he went floating off. Now we are together again.” Strange how the memory of her very words comes to me as I write this 50 years later, strange how the memory of her smile warms my heart, bringing her near to me again.

I shall never forget the first day out of Mob, the long rocky dugway road was almost impassable. Fear tore at my heart and wakened my arms as I tugged at the lines while Chastie faithfully held the brake and her mother encouraged from her bed in the wagon. It took us all day to reach the bottom and find a camping place. I was so tired that night that I laid down on a quilt and gave way to girlish tears saying I didn’t want any supper. Aunt Johanna whom I had seen weeping silently as we stopped for camp was again her cheerful self and I changed my mind about eating when she later brought me a dish of her delicious stew that I loved so well.

After we left Moab the roads were better and we all enjoyed the trip more. We arrived in Fruitland June 21, just 21 days after we left our home in Huntington. We stopped at Grandpa Young’s place for a few days, then we found a one room house and rented it for Grandpa was wanting us to look around in Fruitland and vicinity before moving on. Father and Uncle Asael set the two cook stoves up we had brought along and with tables and dishes Aunt Johanna and Aunt Lucity began to make things comfortable for everyone. We all slept in our wagons; mosquitoes were so bad that we had to build smudges to scare them away until we could get to sleep.

Father and Uncle Asael found a farm they like very well at Olio, now called Kirtland, and were undecided what to do. Aunt Johanna said, “Let’s fast and pray about it, Tom, before you make a decisions. After all Lydia may be disappointed if we don’t go on to Mexico.” Father took her suggestion and we all fasted one whole day and prayed earnestly about it.

The result was that they bought the John Moss ranch in Olio. It was large enough for both men. It had one adobe house with three rooms which housed both families while Uncle Asael made adobes and built a new house for his family. It was while Aunt Johanna and Aunt Lucity lived in this three room house that we noticed Aunt Johanna’s health failing. Chastie or I had to stay home and help her with the children and work. We worked for Bishop Ashcroft that summer, taking it a week at a time. It was my week to be gone when Aunt Johanna gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. The birth was a long hard siege and proved too much for the midwife Della Allen, and Dr. Rozenthall of Farmington was sent for and came by team. The baby was dead when it arrived and Aunt Johanna was exhausted. Days went by and grew into weeks but she did not gain any strength and fear for her life made us all very sad. She seemed to dread the nights when all were asleep so Chastie and I changed off with father sitting up with her. One night I was alone with her and decided to write to my mother to pass the time away. I thought Aunt Johanna was sleeping but she spoke my name softly, I went to her bed and she said, “Don’t tell your mother I am so sick, Lucy, I don’t want to worry her.”

Aunt Johanna’s condition did not improve and Della Allen took her in her own home and gave her the best care possible but she passed away at the age of 35 years.

In writing this story of Aunt Johanna’s life in this reminiscent manner I hope will not detract from its purpose of giving an insight to a noble woman’s character. It is the only way I feel I could justly record this story, hoping that in the small incidents I have pointed our her unselfishness and goodness and her loyalty to her husband’s other family. Nor it this story written in defense of polygamy as practiced by the Mormon people for it needs no defense. “By their fruits you shall know them.” The children of this good woman bear this silent witness. Both of her sons have been Bishops and one is now a Stake President. Her daughters are both faithful women and have both held responsible positions in the Church. Her purity and goodness have been handed on to her children in her teachings and example of righteousness. Her life was short in comparison to the general life of man but rich and full in experience. of her, her husband said, “Johanna died a martyr to the principle of plural marriage. Her reward is sure in the Celestial Kingdom of God.”