When you're searching and you come across something totally unexpected, it can shock you for a moment. Even when you think you have the whole picture all figured out, it can still surprise you. That happened to me the other night. I was sitting here looking through some old military records on the website fold3.com when I checked the name of someone who served in the Mormon Battalion back during the Mexican War.
It's a great great grandfather of my husband. I've done tons of reading and research about him and I thought I had the whole picture of his life. I should start by saying that he was an important part of the movement of the Mormons westward when they were basically run out of Nauvoo back in the 1800's. The reason I find him so fascinating is because there is tons of information about his life because people documented his role in the Mormon Church and in his helping to settle portions of Eastern Arizona. An interesting fact about him is that he practiced the old Mormon custom of polygamy.
Before anyone freaks out, this was an old custom that was previously approved by the Church, but they have since stopped recognizing it as a way of life for Latter Day Saints. The FLDS that we all hear about on the news is something completely different and not at all what I'm referring to. He had as many as 10 wives, although I've only been able to prove about 8 of the 10 that I know about.
When I was searching through the military records the other day, I came across a pension record for him. I thought it was cool and definitely something I would want to add to the information I already had, as there were scanned pictures of the records. When I opened the viewer, I saw that there were multiple images. There were actually 217 to be exact. I thought this was weird because it seemed like a lot for pension payments to his widow.
Then I started reading. This wasn't in reference to normal pension payments. What I found is that his 2nd wife, Sarah Barnes Layton had filed for his pension payments after his death. As did his last wife, Elizabeth Layton. His first wife had died some time prior to him, so technically, Sarah Barnes Layton was actually his legal wife at that point. Going through the information proved to be educational to say the least.
Apparently these two women were fighting over which one of them was more entitled to receive his pension payments after his death. There were numerous depositions from them and from neighbors who had known them for years. There were letters from attorneys and even from the Department of the Treasury. They had a special examiner assigned to the case and there were copies of correspondence from him as well.
In the end, it was determined that Sarah Barnes Layton was his legal wife and that she would receive all of the payments. They sent her a check for $317 to cover the back payments. She took it to the bank and had them cash it, with half going to her attorney and the other half being deposited into her account. Funnily enough, the story doesn't stop there.
The person at the bank who was responsible for taking care of her money and making sure that her attorney was paid decided to embezzle the money instead. In his deposition, he swears that he did exactly as she asked but could not recall any of the details. The special examiner in the case said in a letter that perhaps a look at his books would help improve his memory. In another letter, they notified the Pension Board that he was being indicted on the charges.
Reading through the depositions gives me a deeper understanding of what these people were like. These are their own words, put on paper, for me to read over 100 years later. I found it fascinating to "hear" what they were saying and the turmoil that they were going through at the time. It's obvious from the information I read that these two women did not like one another. I just assumed, like anyone might if they've seen the show Sister Wives, that plural relationships are entered into with consent of all parties and that the wives get along. I now see that isn't the case.