Tracing Emily (updated)

This story begins at the bitter end, with suicide in a Butte brothel.

Yesterday, that is all I knew about it. This morning, I can introduce you to some stalwart Latter-day Saints of Calcutta, India. Here, step by step, is how the story was uncovered – 99% of it via the Internet. (Remember that the next time someone insists that the Internet is all evil all the time.)

Last week I came across the obituary of Inez Maybert, who died a suicide in that brothel in Butte. The obituary claimed that she had been raised in the family of Brigham Young, and thus we see, of course, the inevitable end of frail women who fall into the clutches of those degraded Mormons.

That’s a challenge I couldn’t resist, so on Monday morning I plugged the woman’s name into the census indexes at Sure enough there was a child of approximately the right name living with the family of Brigham Young in 1870. The same source showed her living with a non-member family in Salt Lake in 1880. (Did you know that the copy of the 1880 census retained in Utah was marked by the Church to indicate Latter-day Saints, Gentiles, apostates, and Josephites? Very handy.)

Armed with the child’s birthplace (India) and birth year (approximately 1863), I went to I found no one by the right name, but a little tinkering with the search criteria turned up a record that fit – birthplace, birth year, and a fuller form of the child’s name (the census enumerator had recorded her as Ina; her true name was Indiana). Her parents were also named: James Gordon Maybert and Agnes Leslie McMahon.

Some searching in the Utah Digital Newspapers Project, via Internet, turned up several interesting articles. Inez Maybert’s story was one of those that the newspapers, Mormon and non-Mormon, had batted about, each side claiming that the other was responsible for the girl’s bad end. Details in one paper contradicted details in the other, but there was enough new information for me to guess that Indiana had come to Utah with her grandmother (unnamed) after her mother (also unnamed) died in Calcutta, and that her grandmother died upon arrival in Utah, leaving the baby to be raised by Lucy Bigelow Young, one of Brigham Young’s wives.

I had already checked the Pioneer Overland Travel database at and knew there were no pioneers named Maybert, but maybe Indiana had come with her maternal grandmother. I checked for pioneers named McMahon, and there she was: a “sister McMahon and child” were listed in the 1865 company of Capt. Henson Walker. I could be fairly sure this was the right sister since she was accompanied by a man whose name I recognized as one of the early missionaries to India.

But that’s all! Just “Sister”! Having learned from Indiana’s obituary that Sister McMahon died very soon after arrival in Utah, I checked for death notices in the online Deseret News and Utah State History’s online database of burials, without finding what I needed. But some more searching of the online newspapers with “McMahon” and “India” as search terms turned up a letter from a missionary to India in 1853, who reported the baptism of Arthur McMahon, his wife and two daughters. Again, no name for Sister McMahon.

I then turned to Lanier Britsch’s history of early missionary work in India, Nothing More Heroic. That, I’m afraid, I had to find on paper, but I did use the computer catalog to find it. His index included several references to “Sister McMahon” – and one of those entries, a quotation from the diary of Amos Milton Musser, referred to “Sister E. McMahon.” Okay, I might have to wring her name out one letter at a time, but I would find it.

I also learned that Arthur McMahon had apostatized over the matter of plural marriage, but that Sister McMahon and her daughters remained faithful from the date of their 1853 baptism. Sister McMahon was a strong enough woman that despite her husband’s apostasy, she hosted the missionaries in Calcutta, and the small branch there met regularly in her home.

Back to I didn’t expect to find “E.” without knowing her maiden name, but I did — there was a record for Emily McMahon. The missionary who had accompanied Sister McMahon across the plains had had her sealed to him after her death, and somehow he knew both her birthdate and her parents’ names.

There is a lot more research to be done – I want to find the name of Sister McMahon’s other faithful daughter, and most of all I want to learn more of the short and sad life of Indiana Maybert. She was only 17 when she took her life, and everyone deserves to be remembered for something better than death. There are still plenty of sources to check at LDS Archives – maybe the McMahons are mentioned in other missionary letters. Maybe Susa Young Gates mentioned Indiana in the biography she wrote of Lucy Bigelow Young. Maybe a search of newspapers not yet put online will yield further details. That’s work for another day.

But in the meantime, brothers and sisters, may I introduce you to Emily Wittenbaker McMahon and her daughter Agnes Leslie McMahon Maybert – both of them faithful members of the Church in India for more than a decade, with little priesthood support, without regular contact with the Church, with the faith to leave home and trek to Zion.

And meet Indiana Mary Maybert, born in Calcutta, a Mormon pioneer of 1865, a child who, despite the care and comfort of her foster family, felt something so lacking in her life that she sought it in all the wrong places. She is our sister, too.

(Update: Indiana Mary Maybert’s aunt was … Indiana Mary McMahon. The temple work for Indiana (2nd generation) was done by Indiana (3rd generation). She did not, however, do the temple work for her own mother and grandmother, for whatever reason, so my missionary friend will take care of that before Christmas. And Emily and Indiana now appear on the pioneer database.)

22 comments for “Tracing Emily (updated)

  1. Ardis, you do amazing work. I feel so bad for this young girl. How old was she when she arrived in Utah? And please, what is a Josephite?

  2. mmiles, thanks. Indiana was just under two and a half years old when she arrived in Utah. And a Josephite was a follower of Joseph Smith III, a member of the Reorganized LDS Church — I don’t normally use that term (seen as pejorative as calling us Brighamites), but the 1880 census is marked with “J” to indicate converts to that group.

  3. Thank you, Ardis, for both the desire to find this person and for sharing the search with us. Truly, Indiana is our sister, too.

    I had an amazing experience while performing baptisms for the dead a few months ago. One of the female records only had a first name recorded. Immediately following the pronouncing of her name, I had an impression that might as well have been a voice. It simply was, “Now she can be known. She will be nameless no longer.” I thought of that experience again as I read your post. Thanks for bringing it back to my memory.

  4. Thanks, Ray. Tomorrow I’m submitting the evidence necessary to have Emily and Indiana added to the pioneer database, where, even if they appear only as names, they will have some kind of memorial, and one of the senior missionaries working in the Archives has asked if she can be the one to take care of the missing temple ordinances for all three women, which will straighten out their names and relationships on the records of the Church. There is something powerful in having a name again, isn’t there?

    And I always want to recognize Wilfried Decoo for giving me that extra incentive to watch for opportunities to learn something, even if it’s as little as this about Emily and Agnes and Indiana, about Latter-day Saints outside the usual trails of church history.

  5. 17-year old Saint kills herself in a brothel in Butte. You totally just harshed my vibe.

  6. Will you post the rest of the story, if you ever come across it. I’m so glad you found out more about her life.

    Ray, that was a very beautiful to share with me today.

  7. I came across a discussion of, and citations to, several letters exchanged between a McMahon and Brigham Young in Richard L. Jensen, “Brigham Young and the Gathering To Zion,” in Lion of the Lord: Essays on the Life and Service of Brigham Young (SLC: Deseret Book, 1995), 220-21. Jensen describes her as a “British-born divorcee, converted in India, who immigrated in 1865.”

  8. How come all my searches end up with 1000 offers to take my money and obscure details about things I care nothing about. What are your secrets?

  9. Edje, Tiffany, thanks for taking the time to comment — I love to know that a post has been enjoyed.

    William, I’m glad to share superhero status with Justin, but Justin, which one of us gets to be Batman and which one Robin? What terrific additional sources!

  10. As always, a pleasure. I think it is so very important to claim individuals such as Indiana as our own. Perhaps it is made easier with so much temporal distance but I find it easy to see her as part of our family, and mourn her tragedy.

    Great work, Ardis.

  11. It was fun to have you actually take us along on your journey of discovery, to see the historian’s thought processes into what sources to check next.

  12. Loved it, Ardis. It’s genealogy, Sherlock Holmes and testimony building all in one packet. We want more!

  13. I know I’ve already commented, but I really do have one more comment to make. Sorry for taking up space. I think it is interesting that you’ve been inspired to look up more about this girl and discover her life and what happened to her. I have a good friend, an art historian, that has been chasing pieces of a very perplexing puzzle about a woman in Finland in the 1700’s. The history around this Finnish woman were very sketchy, but the woman has been “demonized” so to speak in history. My friend has felt so compelled to find out the true story of this woman. What she has uncovered has been amazing and will clear up a lot of misconceptions. She told me that she felt very led to the sources she has found clearing up the mystery. Perhaps there are spirits who long to have truth uncovered about their lives.
    Anyhow, its hard to feel apathetic in the temple when you realize that you are doing work for people who really lived with all of life’s joys and sorrows. It makes the experience much more poignant and spiritual when we feel a connection to them.

  14. Justin, which one of us gets to be Batman and which one Robin?

    I’m happy to tag along once in a while. I enjoyed reading your post.

  15. Ardis, you are going to write a book about all these women, right? Isn’t that one of your projects? (I’m forgetful, but also hopeful!). I’m also back in town after a month’s absence, and look forward to seeing you soon!

  16. FYI, my missionary friend rounded up enough people — some of them strangers she just walked up to in the temple to ask for their help — to complete the temple work last night for Indiana, her parents, her father’s second wife, a half-brother, her aunt, and two grandparents. In the meantime, I’ve identified the other set of grandparents and some great-grandparents, two uncles, another aunt, and a few cousins. Look what Indiana started …

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