Annie Clark Tanner’s Underground Journey: “Years I Had Wandered”
When Annie became pregnant, masquerading as an unmarried woman became impossible. She put her teaching career on hold and went underground, moving more than twenty times in the span of two years.
In early 1888, Annie Clark Tanner was expecting her first child with Joseph Marion Tanner (see “Annie Clark Tanner’s ‘Wedding Supper’ and Early Marriage” for background). Motherhood made her feel “secure,” “thankful,” and “happy,” but contemporary circumstances cast a shadow over the pregnancy. Annie was Marion’s second wife, and for the last four years she had been masquerading as a single woman. Now pregnant, Annie could no longer pass as unmarried, and as a pregnant woman without an obvious husband, federal marshals would suspect she was a plural wife and might target her as a potential witness against her husband. To avoid subpoenas, Annie had to go underground.
Annie was familiar with plural wives going underground, as her father sometimes provided a safehouse to underground women. She remembered, “When a young woman with a little baby came to my father’s, the only question asked by any of the family was, ‘Is she on the “underground railway”?’ No one wanted to know more for fear of being questioned by some Deputy Marshal who may be looking for her.”
Latter-day Saints employed various underground strategies, including living far away or hiding on the outskirts of town. Annie’s strategy was to assume a false name—Mrs. Wilson—and live on the move, staying with family, friends, or willing strangers in any given town for as long as two months or as short as a day.
Annie began her underground journey on April 11, 1888. Three-months pregnant, Annie felt “happy at the prospect of being a mother,” but “sad to have to leave” Farmington.
Within five months, Annie moved seven times, moving back and forth to Logan, then Ogden, then Farmington with her family, then to Salt Lake City, then back to Farmington, then to Bountiful, and then finally to Centerville.
Although living with her family was risky, Annie found her stays in Farmington welcome respites. Her hosts and neighbors in other towns were friendly, but she felt lonely because she could not meaningfully converse without risking revealing her true identity. “I could not say, ‘I am Ezra Clark’s daughter,’ and I hated the name of Wilson,” she recalled. Living in Farmington was precarious, though. During one stay, a neighbor saw Annie in the backyard, and “she did not conceal her surprise at seeing me big in the family way.”
In Centerville, Annie stayed in the home of John Woolley and his wife. There on September 30, 1888, at around 2:00 AM, she gave birth to her daughter Jennie. Five days later, Marion made it to Centerville to visit.
When Jennie was three weeks old, Annie returned again to Farmington for a few weeks, but this time her stay was “somewhat unpleasant.” Keeping baby Jennie a secret was stressful, and Annie constantly worried someone might discover them. Like her pregnancy, Annie’s daughter made her a target for federal marshals.
In November, Annie moved to Ogden for a few days and then to Mendon. While she was in Mendon, both Marion and his first wife Jane “Jennie” Tanner visited. It was the first time Jennie saw Annie’s daughter, and Annie noticed Jennie start to cry, perhaps because she had no children of her own. Even so, Annie thought Jennie “loved the baby and manifested respect for me.”
Even with her baby, Annie stayed itinerant. Over the next year, she lived in Logan and Richmond, Utah and then in Franklin, Georgetown, Montpelier, Paris, and Thomas’ Fork, Idaho.
Marion visited Idaho in August, and on August 11 he and Annie joined a dinner in Paris, Idaho with Church apostles George Q. Cannon and Francis Lyman and Church president Wilford Woodruff also attended. While Annie “enjoyed the meetings splendidly,” one interaction became awkward. After dinner, they moved to the front room, where Jennie played on the floor while the adults talked. During the conversation, Woodruff asked Annie if she was the child’s mother. Annie said yes. Woodruff then inquired, with Marion still in the room, “And who is the happy father?”
Annie wrote in her diary,
I hesitated a little and Brother Cannon, who had married us, came to my rescue by saying, “That is hardly a fair question, is it, Brother Woodruff?”
Later, one of my brothers who was there said, “You wouldn’t even tell the President of the Church who your husband was, would you?” Those of us who knew who the father was, could see how proud Brother Tanner would be to acknowledge claim on that lovely little girl. But nothing further was said.
Annie’s whirlwind life continued. She left Paris the next day, and by August 16 she lived with her brother in Auburn, Wyoming. In December, she and Marion spent Christmas together in Auburn before moving to Liberty, Idaho for a week. By January 1890, Annie moved again to Montpelier for a night, then to Georgetown for a few days, and then to Franklin, arriving by January 20.
For her February 8, 1890 diary entry, Annie wrote, “Mr. Tanner came to see us. We talked that evening of a home for me and baby which made our visit very memorable to me.”
“Six years I had wandered,” Annie reminisced, including two years on the underground in which she moved more than twenty times and raised their daughter Jennie. Now, when she was a month pregnant with a second child, Marion finally provided Annie with a long-term home of her own in Franklin, Idaho.
Franklin was comfortable, and Annie was in good company as a plural wife. She noticed “dozens of polygamist women, under assumed names, had temporary homes there while their husbands had employment elsewhere. No one asked questions.”
Annie only lived in Franklin for a year before moving again, but she treasured her home while she had it. Decades later, after her relationship with Marion all but dissolved, Annie went on to build another home for herself in Farmington, Utah. The house was her “pride and security,” and she never sold it, living in Farmington for the rest of her life.