Fig. 1. William Flake here appears in prison garb during his six-month sentence at the Yuma Territorial Prison for illegal cohabitation (polygamy). Photo courtesy of the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, Yuma, Arizona and http://www.common-place.org
MITT ROMNEY OWES ME money. Not a lot of money by his standards, but a fair little chunk of change by mine. It’s an old debt, in fact a family matter, and I’d like to say right here and now that I think it’s high time it was repaid.
Here is the story of that indebtedness:
In the 1870s, Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather, Miles P. Romney, and my great-grandfather, William Jordan Flake, were patriarchs of adjoining Mormon communities in the high, cold, hard country of northern Arizona, a region known as Apache County. They had been sent to northern Arizona by the prophet Brigham Young to settle new communities and expand the kingdom of Deseret, which was the name the Mormons liked to use for their fiefdom in the West (it’s the word for honey bees and meant to evoke their ceaseless industry).
Both Romney and Flake were descendants of early English converts to the Mormon Church: their fathers had made the great trek westward in the late 1840s and settled in Utah, where Miles Romney became known for his roles in amateur theatricals while Flake was celebrated for his horsemanship and frontier skills. A few years before they were called to become part of Brigham Young’s plan to establish a corridor from Utah to Mexico, both Romney and Flake had been told to take additional wives, much to the chagrin of their original spouses. But because polygamy was considered to be the “Divine Principle,” a commandment revealed by God, and because one did not disobey the Prophet Brigham Young, both Romney and Flake added wives to their households. As it turned out, Flake married, as his second wife, a young family friend, 16-year-old Prudence Kartchner, my great-grandmother.
Shortly after William Jordan Flake arrived in Arizona, he bought up a very large tract of land from a white settler named Stinson – the first white settler, in fact, in that part of Arizona – and founded a new town, called Snowflake, named after himself and an apostle of the church, Erastus Snow. Miles P. Romney landed in a community not far away called St. Johns, a settlement on the Little Colorado River described by one writer as a “wild amalgamation of gun-toting immigrant farmers, Native Americans, and Mexicans, many of whom despised the Mormons.”
There were complaints about the newcomers, not only over whether they actually owned title to their land (Flake could prove he did, Romney was less lucky) but also about their scandalous practice of polygamy. A new anti-polygamy law, much tougher than an older one that had rarely been enforced, had been enacted by the U.S. government in 1882 and federal marshals were under orders to make it stick this time. The marshals began rounding up the Arizona polygamists and arresting them. Both Romney and Flake became targets. But Flake, as it turned out, had become a deeply respected man, much more so than Miles Romney. One newspaper editor wrote of Romney, who had a well-known fondness for w...read more