John Doyle Lee
September 6, 1812 – March 23, 1877
I’ve studied countless stories of early Mormons in my lifetime. I’ve spent time listening to stories of gone-by eras from my own relatives and read diaries and history books of others. While each story is significant, there are a few that have stuck with me over the years and I would imagine the life of John Doyle Lee will be added to that list.
A sense of ominous doom and spiritual oppression, I feel, is the best way to describe this man’s life. His legacy is unparalleled in the annals of Mormon history and if ever there was a fit definition of blind faith, this man’s life should be the poster child for that.
No matter what the Church told him to do or how high to jump, Mr. Lee would ask how high. Giving up rich farm land with prosperous cattle ranches he moved his family to the almost God forsaken territory of southern Utah to appease his master, Brigham Young. When that wasn’t good enough he moved yet again and financed half of a wood mill project.
He became the lone scapegoat for the Mountain Meadows Massacre and was unceremoniously ex-communicated for his participation of that under the direction of Brigham Young. And even after all that he obeyed orders from Brigham to move to an even more desolate portion of Utah to fund and operate a ferry system for the Colorado River.
His behavior reminds me of a battered woman who just keeps going back for more even though she knows her life is in danger. The tragic part of this is how his actions testified to his numerous family members this false gospel was from God.
Lee was married to 19 women although many divorced him. The majority of the sites we retrieved info from repeat the same message that he fathered 52 kids, but we find when you add correctly the number hovers around 64.
If the Massacre wasn’t bad enough, his outlandish behavior of marrying so many wives rivals what happened at America’s first 9-11. He married the children of his converts in Tennessee and Kentucky; he married sets of sisters and their mother, the cousins of other wives in addition to the fact that many of his wives were very, very young. And when I say young I mean 12 to 14 year old little girls.
What always amazes me (and I don’t know why) is how the Church publishes information on all these people with no shame. They make searching for the whole story like a scavenger hunt by not reporting clear information on everyone, but they also don’t hide anyone’s background either. It reminds me of when someone tries to lie – they’re only going to give you a little bit of info and if you want more then it’s your responsibility to drag it out of them.
You can read a short bio on him in our ongoing series Polygamy and Mormon Church Leaders here.