Question: Was Thomas Lewis castrated because he wanted to marry a young woman who was desired by an older man as a plural wife?

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Question: Was Thomas Lewis castrated because he wanted to marry a young woman who was desired by an older man as a plural wife?

The claim comes from a notoriously unreliable source, which gets many other details of the castration incident wrong as well

There is no evidence to support this. The claim comes from a notoriously unreliable source, Mormonism unveiled; or, The life and confessions of the late Mormon bishop, John D. Lee, whose author claimed that the incident was the result of a fight over a girl between Snow and Lewis, and that the castration occurred occurred before the entire congregation, after which Snow "allegedly took the portion severed from his victim and hung it up on a nail on the Manti ward house wall so that it could be seen by all who visited the house afterwards." [1] This is not a correct description of the incident, which actually occurred at night and involved a group of men intercepting Lewis as he was being transported to Salt Lake City.

Thus it was that sometime during the winter of 1856-1857, during the height of the Reformation, Warren and a handful of Manti’s most influential Mormon leaders committed what appears to have been a ritualistic act of Mosaic retribution. On a cold winter night, Warren, the entire Manti bishopric, and a few others secreted themselves in some willows near a creek by which the road to Salt Lake City passed. Thomas Lewis, a young member of the Church from Ephraim (a town located seven miles north of Manti) was being taken by night to the penitentiary in Salt Lake to serve a sentence for what appears to have been a sexual crime.

When Lewis and his escort reached the creek, Warren and the others stepped out of the willows, and pulling Lewis from his horse, they dragged him into the brush and emasculated him “in a brutal manner.” The prisoner’s escort seems to have been an accomplice (hence the night trip), and soon the entire group fled, leaving their victim lying on the snow-covered ground on what was described as “a bitter cold night.” Lewis laid there in a near senseless condition for forty-eight hours before being found by someone who took him in and saved his life. (Samuel Pitchforth, "Diary of Samuel Pitchforth, 1857-1858). [2]

The bishop did NOT castrate a young man because he would not give up his fiancé to another man as a plural wife

The rumor that Lewis was being punished for competing against an older polygamist is likely false. Lewis was being transported to the penitentiary in Salt Lake City at the time that he was attacked. He was not attacked simply for desiring a marriage. While being transported at night, Bishop Snow and his gang secretly intercepted Lewis and carried out the castration.

Brigham Young once advised a young woman to marry a single young man despite her parents wishes that she marry an older polygamist

Leonard Arrington gives another example where Brigham Young advised a young woman to marry a single, young man instead of a older polygamist. Arrington says,

Many letters were addressed to Brigham asking his approval for a marriage, whether plural or single. One young woman asked whether she should marry an older man as a plural wife or a younger man closer to her own age as his first wife. Brigham recommended that she should marry the younger man, cautioning her to maintain her womanly reserve in any case-that should the young man "not reciprocate your feelings and wishes in this matter, of course your good judgement and natural womanly feelings will at once suggest to you the impropriety of urging the subject." [3]

Notes

  1. John A. Peterson, "Warren Stone Snow, a man in between: the biography of a Mormon defender," Master's Thesis, BYU (1985) 203-2-4 n17.
  2. John A. Peterson, "Warren Stone Snow, a man in between: the biography of a Mormon defender," Master's Thesis, BYU (1985) 114.
  3. Leonard J Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, p. 315, citing "Brigham Young to Miss A. B. C.," 9 April 1862, Letterbook 6:196.