The Sixth of Seven Wives: Escape from Modern Day Polygamy
Mary Mackert, The Sixth of Seven Wives: Escape from Modern Day Polygamy, xpolygamist.com, 2001.
In order for Utah to become a state, in 1890, the LDS Church issued “The Manifesto” which officially put an end to the practice of polygamy amongst its members. But the practice of “the principle” did not end, and today there are some 65,000+ people within the United States living this lifestyle. Mary Mackert was born into one of the larger groups of “fundamental Mormons”. With this book, she provides significant insight into her life as a teenager in a polygamous family, and then as the sixth wife of a man more than thirty years her senior, where she stayed for sixteen years.
Growing up with “the principle”
Unlike most practicing polygamists, Mary Mackert’s father grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church. He converted to fundamental Mormonism when his first wife, Midge, insisted that he either join the group with her, or be divorced. After joining the group, they moved to Salt Lake City, where Clyde Mackert met his second wife, Donna. Donna’s younger sister became his third wife, and was the mother of Mary Mackert.
When Mary was fifteen, Clyde Mackert took a fourth wife – Maurine – ignoring the guidelines for taking a new wife. He didn’t seek the prophet’s approval. He only followed his desire for this beautiful and worldly woman. Maurine was raised LDS, but was not a faithful member (a “Jack Mormon”). She also was divorced, and had four children.
Continual “cover ups”
Polygamy is illegal in the United States, so those who live “the principle” use a myriad of deceptive devices to prevent detection of their illegal lifestyle. Mary’s birth certificate says that her father is Roy Mackert, a man who does not exist. Children are not allowed to call their father “Daddy” when outsiders are present, and they must call each of the mothers in their family, “Aunt”, and the other men in the group, “Uncle”. Some men place their wives in separate homes that are some distance apart – even in separate cities, allowing each “family” to look legitimate to the neighbors. But even with these widely separated family units, the children are discouraged from associating with children “in the world” for fear they might slip and reveal the truth about their families. The result is a very lonely life for the children.
In other instances, when the man cannot afford separate homes, all of his wives and children live in the same house. In those cases, he only allows “the world” to see him with one wife. The others must have their private time with him either within the confines of the house, or after dark when no one can see. Young women who marry into this type of arrangement are referred to as “poofers”. The announcement is made that they are getting married, and then “poof”, they are gone, rarely if ever to be seen again by those who know and love them.
Love vs. the “Law of Placing”
Up until Mary was about nine years old, young people were allowed to court, fall in love and get married, just like young people “in the world”. But then “Uncle Roy” (Leroy S. Johnson), who was the “prophet” at that time, revealed the “Law of Placing”. From that time forward, when a young woman reached marriageable age, she was taken to the prophet for a “revelation” as to whom she would marry.
After Clyde’s marriage to Maurine, her son, Johnny, became the love of Mary Mackert’s life. They did everything possible to keep their love for each other secret, but to no avail. Once their love was discovered, the family tried to keep the two apart. Finally, Johnny was sent away on a “work mission”, leaving Mary to pine for his love, having promised to wait for him to return. But Mary also wanted to be held in high esteem by the group. So, at the age of seventeen, just a few months before she would be considered an “old maid”, Mary submitted to the leadership of the prophet, married Bill Draper and became a “poofer”. None of her brothers and sisters knew whom she had married; she simply dropped out of sight. And she would not have to face Johnny when he returned from his mission and explain to him why she had broken her promise to wait for him.
Unlike the normal “Law of Placing” process, Mary was told to select the man she would marry. This confused her. She thought the “revelation” was supposed to be given to the prophet, not to her. But, since she was told to do so, Mary selected Bill Draper because of his position in the church, and also because he was apparently still producing children. Above all, Mary wanted children.
Living “the Principle”
Their wedding day – after the ceremony and during the ride home – was the first time that Mary and Bill Draper ever talked. He took her to the house, showed her which room was hers (the living room, converted to a bedroom), and then left her alone on her wedding night, sleeping instead with his fifth wife, Elizabeth. Draper had married Elizabeth just two months earlier, and they were “still on their honeymoon”.
Mary would spend the next sixteen years vying for Bill Draper’s attention, time and affections. During that entire time, he only told her he loved her once – when she was eight months pregnant with her first child. Although she and Bill had some happy times together during the short time she was living away from the main house at “the ranch” and helping to restore the place, in the end, Mary learned that Bill only spent time with her because she was where he needed to be at those times.
Like any normal woman, Mary craved the affection – and the love – of her husband. But she was also a peacemaker. When jealousy and infighting erupted between her sister wives, Mary sought ways to smooth things over, to protect the weaker sister wives, and to make the home a peaceful one. It was only when she finally rebelled after sixteen years of marriage that Mary refused to be the peacemaker any longer. All she wanted was to be out, and to have her children with her.
Mary’s place in the family was established. Since she was so young and had no education that would allow her to earn good money outside of the home, she became the “work horse”, carrying the load of cleaning and cooking for her sister wives and their children. The women and children wore “pioneer” clothing, making them stand out in any crowd, so Mary rarely left the house, and never when she was pregnant. The sight of several pregnant women coming and going in the same house would be a dead giveaway to the felony being committed therein.
In keeping with the other secretive measures, all babies were delivered at home by the group’s midwives. If a woman went into labor at an inconvenient time for Aunt Minnie to come deliver the baby, every effort was made to stop the woman’s labor, endangering both her and the baby.
During her sixteen years with Bill Draper, Mary suffered several bouts of severe depression. During these times, she would sleep more than she would be awake, because sleep allowed her to ignore her feelings. One of these bouts of depression occurred in the months following her wedding during which she remained a virgin. Even though Bill slept with her on her nights in the “rotation”, he refused to make love to her. He had yet to make love to his fifth wife, Elizabeth, and was still “courting” her. Finally, desperate to have the one thing she truly wanted – a child – Mary seduced Bill Draper. The next morning, she regretted it. As she says, “Bill had taken my most precious gift, my virginity, without first winning my heart, and I felt robbed.”
Many times, Mary thought about running away, but always lost her courage. Two years into the marriage, when she had finally summoned enough courage to leave, she found that she was finally pregnant. Eventually, Mary would have five boys, and miscarry the one little girl that she carried.
After sixteen years, when Mary finally summoned the courage to run away, she was caught and brought back. While she was being held prisoner in her own room, Bill came in and threatened her with the doctrine of blood atonement. Then, after forcing her to have a meeting with Rulon Jeffs, who had taken the role of prophet when Leroy Johnston died, Bill Draper set Mary free.
After her escape, Mary pressed charges. However, the scales of justice failed her. Even though polygamy is a felony, the judge and the prosecutor in the case chose only to charge Bill with domestic dispute, warn him of the consequences of future improprieties, fine him fifty dollars, and set him free.
Bill Draper died on February 21, 1992, seven years after Mary left him. He was survived by thirty-five children. Four of his seven wives were still with him at this death. During the last few years of his life, because of his failing health and inability to support them, his family required public assistance to survive
Fundamental Mormonism – the way Mormonism used to be
Even though the LDS Church vehemently denies that the fundamentalist groups are Mormons, the vast majority of all fundamental Mormons come directly from the Mormon Church. They are either third or fourth generation fundamentalists (descendants of early polygamists who fled to Mexico after the Manifesto), or they are recent converts who have begun to study the doctrines of the LDS Church that are no longer taught. Polygamy is the most obvious of these old doctrines, but blood atonement, the “United Order”, and others are also taught and practiced.
Fundamental Mormons believe that one day they will be granted access to the LDS temples. While they wait and hope for this eventuality, temple endowments are performed and marriages are “sealed for time and eternity” by the prophet of the group. Polygamous “marriages” between men in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s to young girls of fourteen and fifteen years of age are common. In most families, children are home schooled, and their education is limited in attempts to prevent any curiosity that might arise about the outside world. Recently, the leadership has forbidden things like access to the internet, watching television, listening to the radio, and associating with “apostates” (those who have left the polygamous group).
Although the style of this book is somewhat unwieldy, it contains an invaluable look inside the mind of a woman who has lived through the horrors of polygamy and escaped. Throughout the book, we are given continual insight into the wide range of emotions that filled not only Mary, but her sister wives, as they struggled with this unnatural and illegal lifestyle.
Overall, the book provides a broad-spectrum look at how the teachings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the other early Mormon leaders continue to dictate the lifestyle of thousands of fundamentalist Mormons today.