Home page Jews in the Wild West Fremont's 1846 Expedition Jews in the Civil War History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 24.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Grand Ball at Salt Lake City—Etiquette—Culinary Preparations—Cost of Entertainment—Author opens the Ball with one of the Wives of the Governor—Beautiful Women—Waltzing and Polkas Prohibited—Mrs. Wheelock—The "Three Graces"—Extraordinary Cotillion—Mormon Wedding—Spiritual Wives—Favorable Impression of the Public Social Life of the Mormons.


Towards the end of April, 1854, about ten days previous to the departure of Governor Brigham Young, on his annual visit to the southern settlement of Utah, tickets of invitation to a grand ball, were issued in his name. I had the honor to receive one of them.

If the etiquette of dress, which is a necessary preliminary to the "entre" of her Majesty's drawing-room, had been insisted on in the vestibule of Gov. Young's ballroom, the relation of the following incidents would never have emanated from my pen.

When I arrived at the great city of the Mormons, I was clad in the tattered garments that I had worn for six months, on the journey across the Rocky Mountains. In vain I applied to every store in Salt Lake City for suitable clothes; a pair of black pants or a broadcloth coat was not to be purchased. I, however, succeeded in having a pair of stout cassimere pants made for my intended journey to California; and a gentleman by the name of Addoms, a merchant from Cedar Street, N. Y. contributed a new coat from his wardrobe. I was indebted to him also for a great deal of kindness and attention during my illness.

With my striped cassimeres, black frock coat, and a white vest borrowed for the occasion from Capt. Morris, "en regle"—I was as fashionably attired as any one whom I met during the evening. My friend, Egloffstien, was also invited, but there were no clothes in the city of Salt Lake to fit him; he had grown so fat and corpulent, that ready-made clothes of his size, would have been unsaleable, consequently, he declined going.

During the day, extensive culinary preparations were being made at Mr. E. T. Benson's house, where we messed. Mr. Benson had four wives; they were, on this occasion, all engaged; one making pastry and cakes, another roasting and preparing wild geese and ducks, and garnishing fat hams, etc., while the others were selecting the garments which were to be worn by the ladies on this interesting occasion.

I could not exactly perceive why such extensive cooking preparations were making; on enquiry, I learned that in this isolated city, thousands of miles from civilization, and buried, as it were, in the mountains, it was a very expensive thing to prepare a supper for a large company, at the cost of a single individual. Sugar was worth 75 cents per pound, and very scarce; sperm candles, $1.50 per pound, and everything else in proportion. It was expected, and understood, that all families who were invited, should bring their own provisions, candles, etc., and contribute for the music. The Governor furnished the ball-room only.

Strangers, of course, were exceptions to the rule.

At the appointed hour I made my appearance, chaperoned by Gov. Young, who gave me a general introduction. A larger collection of fairer and more beautiful women I never saw in one room. All of them were dressed in white muslin; some with pink, and others with blue sashes. Flowers were the only ornaments in the hair. The utmost order and strictest decorum prevailed. Polkas and waltzing were not danced; country dances, cotillions, quadrilles, etc., were permitted.

At the invitation of Gov. Young, I opened the ball with one of his wives. The Governor, with a beautiful partner, stood vis-a-vis. An old fashioned cotillion was danced with much grace by the ladies, and the Governor acquitted himself very well on the "light fantastic toe."

I singled out from among the galaxy of beauty with which I was surrounded, a Mrs. Wheelock, a lady of great worth, and polished manners; she had volunteered her services as a tragedienne, at different times during my visit to Salt Lake, at the theatre, where she appeared in several difficult impersonations; I think she excels Miss Julia Dean in her histrionic talent. I had the pleasure of painting Mrs. Wheelock's portrait in the character of "Pauline," in "Claude Melnotte." She was the first wife of her husband, whom she married in England, about eight years before; her parents, who are estimable people, came over after they had embraced Mormonism. When this lady married, the spiritual wife system, had not yet been revealed.

Mr. Wheelock is a president of the seventies, and has travelled a great deal in the capacity of missionary; he had, at this time, three wives, the last one visited the ball as a bride; I was introduced by Mrs. Wheelock senior, to all of them; they looked like the three graces as they stood in the room, with their arms enfolding each other like sisters; they dwelt together in one house, and the most perfect harmony and affection seemed to exist between them. The last wife was a young girl of seventeen, well educated, and possessing great personal advantages; her parents and brothers reside in the city. I was invited to the wedding, but was prevented attending from the reason I have before assigned. I requested permission to dance with one of them; Mr. Wheelock took his new bride, and the cotillion was formed of his three wives and another lady, with their respective partners. It was a most unusual sight to see a man dancing in a cotillion with three wives, balancing first to one, then to the other; they all enjoyed themselves with the greatest good humor.

The particulars of the wedding, I had from a lady who was present. It seems that it is necessary before a man can take a second wife, that his first wife should give her consent; if she refuses, he is prohibited from taking another. In this case, the first wife's consent was obtained; I will not presume to say whether willingly or unwillingly; Mrs. W., the elder, possessed great good sense, and her mind was highly cultivated. It may be, she made a virtue of necessity, and yielded the assent on which her future domestic happiness depended, with a good grace.

She acted as godmother, and gave away the bride. I think on this occasion the Governor performed the ceremony. The second Mrs. Rose Wheelock is a transcendently beautiful woman. There is nothing prepossessing in the appearance of her husband, and it is a mystery to me, how he could have gained the affections of so many elegant women. Mr. W. was appointed to a mission to, Great Britain previous to his last "sealing,"* and left for the States the day after the ball, he only enjoyed his last wife's society about four days—a very short honeymoon!

* Sealing is the ceremony of spiritual marriage.

The lady could have married a more eligible man. She must return to her parents' house to reside, for the three years her husband would be absent; yet she preferred to be the third wife of a man she loved, and who bore a high character for morality, etc., to being the first, and only wife of an inconsiderate youth.

After several rounds of dancing, a march was played. by the band, and a procession formed. I conducted my first partner to the supper room, where I partook of a. fine entertainment at the Governor's table. There must, have been at least two hundred ladies present, and about. one hundred gentlemen. I returned to my quarters at, twelve o'clock, most favorably impressed with the exhibition of public society among the Mormons.

Go Back Contents Next Chapter