SHATTERED DREAMS: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife
Illegal in the U.S. and prohibited by the mainline Mormon church in 1890, the practice of polygamy still survives today and in fact may be on the verge of a resurgence. Those still practicing plural marriage, termed fundamentalists, believe in attaining God-like status based on the number of wives and children a man possesses.
At 16 years old Irene Spencer became the second wife of her brother-in-law Verlan LeBaron in 1953. From a fourth generation polygamous family, it had been drilled into the young girl that plural marriage was required to enter Heaven. A few months later, the government raided one of the polygamists’ camps at Short Creek, Arizona and the LeBarons fled to Mexico, joining Verlan’s fundamentalist brothers Joel and Ervil.
Some fifty-four years later, Spencer, now in a monogamous marriage, reveals the trials and tribulations of being a polygamist’s wife. “I wanted to be able to tell it like it is,” says Spencer in SHATTERED DREAMS. “All the books I had read on Mormon polygamy were vivid accounts of sacrificing women who upheld and emphatically stated they loved ‘the Principle.’ Yet, I was convinced that these committed women had done as I’d been taught to do --- to…stubbornly maintain its advantages over monogamy. They had been forbidden to give way to their true feelings, so they smothered their own agony and wrenching pain, as I too had been emphatically instructed to do.”
Irene’s obedience, intended to guarantee her a place in Heaven, landed her in Hell on earth for the next twenty-five years, moving to and from various encampments in the Mexican deserts, mountains, Nicaragua and later, California. On the run from LeBaron’s brother, Ervil, a psychotic who with his cult followers butchered twenty-five to thirty people including former wives, a daughter, and rival members of polygamous clans including brother Joel, the family --- or at least Verlan --- moved frequently. Most of their dwellings were simple shacks with no electricity, running water, heat or the most minimal of necessities all the while housing a growing community of children and an expanding number of wives.
During her twenty-eight year marriage to Verlan LeBaron, who later became President of The Church of The Firstborn, a cult group within the fundamentalist Mormon movement, Spencer bore thirteen of LeBaron’s fifty-eight children while sharing her husband with nine other women. Sharing communal chores, moving often, living in sub-standard conditions in remote villages, mass child-rearing --- for a time caring for twenty-six children on her own --- Spencer’s toughest cross to bear was sharing her husband’s love.
Spencer finally made good on repeated threats by leaving Verlan after twenty-four years of marriage. However, she would be pulled back into the situation to live another year with her husband after receiving an ominous prediction, which turned out to finally release her completely from Verlan’s spell. He was killed in a car wreck in 1981.
Now, the favorite and only wife, Spencer has been happily --- and monogamously --- married for nineteen years. Recovering from the emotional damage polygamy dealt, Spencer believes SHATTERED DREAMS will provide the closure she needs and, she hopes, will help other plural wives to find their own freedom.
SHATTERED DREAMS: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife © Copyright 2017 by Irene Spencer. Reprinted with permission by Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group USA. All rights reserved.
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