Saints without Halos
Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton

Chapter 9.
Edward Bunker: Living the United Order

[p.81]Edward Bunker, the youngest of Silas and Hannah Berry Bunker’s nine children, was born on 1 August 1822 in Atkinson, Maine. As a teenager, he later wrote, “a spirit of unrest [took] possession of me and I longed to get away.” With their parents’ permission, Edward and his brother Sabin visited their brothers, Nahum in Massachusetts, and Alfred in Connecticut, where they spent the summer of 1841.

“In the fall my brother-in-law John Berry came along and wanted me to go to Wisconsin with him to see the country. Alfred was away from home at the time, but I packed my trunk and left for the west without bidding him goodbye, and never saw him again.” When they reached Cleveland, Edward and John found the lakes had frozen over, blocking their passage to Wisconsin. Waiting for spring, they decided to visit friends in nearby Kirtland, where they chanced to meet Martin Harris. Though he had left the Church several years before, Martin still bore a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon. He “invited us to his house, where we went and heard him bear his testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon.”

Edward and John both read the book and Parley P. Pratt’s Voice of Warning. John went to Pittsburgh to work, while Edward found employment in Cleveland, attended meetings of [p.82]the Church, became converted and was baptized in April 1845. “Then I knew why it was that I had been led from my father’s house and left my dear old mother, whom I loved so dearly.”

That same spring, Edward and John visited friends in Wisconsin who had heard that the Mormons practiced polygamy. Edward, who like most Latter-day Saints at the time had not been instructed in the principle of plural marriage, told them “it was only a slur and a false statement.”

In July Edward arrived in Nauvoo with a letter of introduction to Elder George A. Smith, who suggested the young man might find employment working on the temple. This was the year after Joseph Smith’s death, and the Saints were still clinging to their city, desperately working to complete the sacred edifice. He made a dollar a week as a laborer, and paid tithing on every cent. “I paid my tithing from the day I was baptized—every tenth day and [even a] tenth of the worth of my clothes.” He also worked on the Nauvoo House, cut hay and threshed grain, made flour barrels, and served in the Nauvoo Legion.

During the final days before the evacuation of Nauvoo, Edward worked in Montrose, Iowa, where he met Emily Abbott. They were endowed and married in the Nauvoo Temple by John Taylor in February 1846, the day before Elder Taylor crossed the river to join the Saints at Sugar Creek. Edward and Emily soon followed with the main body of Saints and traveled halfway across Iowa to help settle Garden Grove.

“With the help of brother Steward, a young man who had just been married, I bought a log cabin of one room. We put a roof on it and chucked it, but it was minus doors, floors or windows. We moved our wives into it and I went to Missouri with the intention of earning money enough to buy a team and wagon.”

In Missouri, Edward heard that the government had requested the Mormons to raise 500 men for the war with Mexico. “I did not believe it, but the Spirit of the Lord directed me to go home. So the following Saturday, with [a] side of bacon slung over my shoulder, I started for home, thirty miles distant. As I neared my destination I met some brethren [p.83]hunting stock and they confirmed the report.” Brigham Young had called for “all the single men and those that could be spared to come to the bluffs, 140 miles distant.” At church the next day, Edward was one of the first to volunteer. On Tuesday he started out for Council Bluffs, where he joined the Mormon Battalion.

At Fort Leavenworth the men were issued weapons and provisions; then they marched through Pueblo to Santa Fe. “I was detailed as assistant teamster to Hyrum Judd,” Edward wrote. “By so doing I did not have to carry my gun and knapsack and was exempt from guard duty.” From Santa Fe, the battalion marched to Tucson, San Diego, and finally to Los Angeles, where Edward finished out the remaining six months of his hitch.

Discharged in July 1847, Edward and many other battalion members traveled north to Sutter’s Mill, and then east to the Salt Lake Valley, arriving on 16 October 1847. After a short rest, he and other battalion members whose families were still in Iowa resumed their journey.

It was late in the season when they reached the Platte River. Ice floes prevented their crossing and a heavy snowstorm soon commenced, forcing them to camp all day. Their food gone, they devoured a pair of rawhide saddle bags which Edward had brought from California. The next morning, with ten inches of snow on the ground, they searched for a passable crossing. When one of the mules fell into the icy water, it had to be killed “and was all eaten up except the lights [lungs].” Finally, on December 18, the weary men reached Winter Quarters. Edward spent the night with his companions, unaware that Emily and eleven-month-old Edward, Jr., had moved from Garden Grove to Winter Quarters and were living just a short distance away.

After a joyful reunion, Edward began preparations for the trek west. He found temporary work in Missouri, then moved his family, Emily’s mother, and her two small boys to the Mormon settlement on Mosquito Creek, Iowa. There he raised corn to purchase a yoke of oxen for his mother-in-law, who emigrated to Utah in 1849. Edward was finally able to outfit his own family for the trip the following year.

[p.84]In Ogden, Edward built a three-room log house at Canfield Creek and was set apart as a member of the first Weber Stake high council by Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. Edward also served on Ogden’s first city council.

On 26 June 1852 Edward entered the principle he once considered “a slur and a false statement.” He acted as proxy for the husband as his neighbor, Sarah Ann Browning Lang, was sealed for eternity to her deceased husband. Edward then married Sarah Ann “for time.” Sarah Ann, who had two daughters by William Lang, eventually bore seven children to Edward

In August 1852 Orson Pratt delivered the first public discourse on the principle of plural marriage, defending it as ordained by God and protected by the U.S. Constitution. In October approximately seventy men were called on missions. Edward was assigned to Great Britain. He and his companions started immediately, “and took with us the first publication of the Revelation on Celestial Marriage which was sent to the nations of the earth.” In England Edward was appointed to preside over the Bristol Conference. Three months later he was appointed to preside over the Sheffield, Bradford, and Lincolnshire conferences. Then followed a year of presiding in Scotland before he was released in 1856 to return with 500 emigrants and missionaries.

Landing in New York, the company boarded trains for Saint Louis, then took river boats up the Mississippi to Iowa City, where Edward was appointed to lead a handcart company of Welsh converts across the plains. “Very few of the Welsh could speak English,” he observed, adding in understatement, “This made my burden very heavy. … We were short of provisions all the way and would have suffered for food had not supplies reached us from the valley.”

Other companies that had started a little later were not so fortunate. Edward and his company reached the valley on 2 October 1856. Three days later Brigham Young addressed the Saints in general conference and called for volunteers to rush to the aid of a thousand handcart pioneers stranded in snowstorms on the plains. Before they could be rescued, two hundred perished.

[p.85]Exhausted and suffering from rheumatism, Edward returned to his family in Ogden. For his wives and children, it was none too soon. Grasshoppers had ravaged the crops, and in the course of the hard winter forty of their cattle died.

Edward was called as bishop of the Ogden Second Ward, a position he occupied for five years.

In the spring of 1861, Edward married Mary M. McQuarrie and in the fall responded to a call to help colonize southwestern Utah. Emily, pregnant with her seventh child, and Mary accompanied Edward and the children to Toquerville. Sarah, expecting her third child by Edward, joined them the following year, and then Edward settled her on a farm in Clover Valley, Nevada. In the fall of 1862, Edward was called to preside as bishop of the Santa Clara, Utah, Ward.

A small, hard-working man with a mild, pleasant face, who believed in practical Christianity, Edward Bunker was well-suited for the office of bishop; but presiding over the Santa Clara Ward was a difficult assignment. The hot, dry climate, coupled with periodic droughts and flash floods, discouraged colonists and impeded growth. “We endured many privations and hardships on account of dry seasons and loss of crops,” he wrote. “I was obliged to haul my breadstuffs from the north for several years. … Had it not been for the liberality of our brethren in the north our southern settlement would have suffered severely.”

When the Panic of 1873 struck, nearby Nevada mines were shut down, throwing Santa Clara miners out of work and cutting off a major market for southern Utah produce. Edward relocated Mary and her family in Panguitch, Utah.

When Brigham Young arrived in Saint George to spend the winter, he found the region in serious need of economic revitalization. The resources of the communities had been depleted, and the settlers were nearly destitute. He suggested a United Order be formed to organize the work force more productively and to distribute the proceeds equitably. Under such an arrangement, he said, they “would never have to buy anything; they would make and raise all they would eat, drink, and wear, and always have something to sell and bring in money, to help to increase their comfort and pleasure.”

[p.86]On the President’s recommendation, Bishop Bunker organized the Santa Clara United Order. He dedicated all he had to the Order and worked energetically to make it successful, but some members failed to adhere to the Order’s principles, and it was discontinued after one year. Bishop Bunker received back his teams and wagons but “not … a pound of hay, grain, flour or cotton, with twenty in the family. Be assured this was a dark day for myself and family.” After twelve years as bishop of the Santa Clara Ward, Edward “resigned on account of poor health, not having sufficient resources to keep my family together.”

But Edward Bunker was committed to the idea of a community based on economic cooperation, equality, and justice. “We had seen in Santa Clara,” he wrote, “the necessity and blessings of the United Order.” By the blessing of “the Spirit of the Lord,” he declared, “we will found a community fully committed to its principles.”

So in January 1877, with Brigham Young’s permission, Edward, his wives Emily and Sarah Ann, their children, and a few close friends set out for a new site on the Virgin River, fifty miles southwest of Saint George. Reaching the area previously known as Mesquite Flat, the pioneers gathered together in a circle with arms interlocked and bowed their heads as Bishop Bunker dedicated the land to the Lord. As he prayed, he let wheat fall through the fingers of one hand and soil from their new land through the other. Thus, the community of Bunkerville (so named at Brigham Young’s suggestion) was established.

The next day, the colonists began digging a four-foot-wide canal to carry water two miles from the Virgin River to the farm lands. Two weeks later the ditch was complete. The land was cleared of mesquite, rabbit brush, arrow weed and creosote, and over twenty acres of sandy soil were leveled and planted in wheat.

In February thirty-two acres of alfalfa and corn were planted. In March the canal was extended another mile and grapevines and vegetables were set out. In April they planted fourteen acres of cotton, and in June, seven acres of sorghum [p.87]cane. A dam was constructed to store precious irrigation water, but disaster struck in August when a flash flood broke through. Only quick action by the colonists, who hastily repaired the dam, saved the crops.

The Virgin River water was alkaline, silty, hard, and foul. Occasionally it went on a rampage. As one of Bishop Bunker’s daughters wrote, it “gave us no end of trouble, washing out our dams, filling up our ditches, and washing away the land. To cross it, the teams must rest before starting across, then by whipping across quickly to prevent going down in the quicksand.”

The women worked in the fields as well as keeping house and gardening. According to one resident, Juanita Brooks, grain was reaped with a cradle, threshed with a flail and by driving cattle over it on a clay floor, and chaffed “by taking the grain in pans, holding it high, and letting it fall on canvas. A breeze would blow the chaff away.” In 1878 the harvest was made more efficient when a thresher arrived from California.

The yield was good in 1877 and 1878, and by the end of the second year Bunkerville had a cotton gin, a molasses mill, and a flour mill, all hydro-powered. When a ward was organized, Edward was appointed bishop, with Edward, Jr., and Myron Abbott as counselors. Bishop Bunker reported to a conference in Saint George that the fifteen families of his settlement had produced 450 bushels of wheat, 600 gallons of molasses, and 12,000 pounds of cotton in 1877; and that in 1878 they had produced 1,600 bushels of wheat, 30,000 pounds of cotton, and 1,600 gallons of molasses, and had also raised melons, squash, and other vegetables.

Each family contributed its cattle, teams and wagons, tools, and other supplies to the Order. The land was owned and farmed collectively. Residents ate at a common dining table and gathered together for prayer morning and evening. The women rotated the chores of cooking, washing, ironing, and mending. All drew on the community storehouse according to their particular needs.

The settlers’ sense of community was heightened by their common poverty. For although their fields were mercifully [p.88]productive the first years, much of the produce had to be bartered for clothing, and other supplies. The first houses were temporary shelters with dirt floors and constructed with light lumber.

Infestations of flies and mosquitoes brought malaria; and the heat, said Juanita Brooks, was “the kind that thickens the whites of eggs left in the coop and that makes lizards, scurrying from the shelter of one little bush to another, flip over on their backs and blow their toes.” Life in Bunkerville was an unending struggle for survival.

After survival, however, construction of a schoolhouse-meetinghouse had top priority. Completed in 1879, the adobe structure had two glass windows—the first in the village—and a flagstone roof. For twenty years it was the center of community life, housing education, worship, recreation, and civic gatherings.

In a few years the regional economy recovered, and Bunkerville stabilized. Bishop Bunker appraised the United Order as “highly crowned with success.” It was remarkably self-sustaining, and united its fifteen families in mutual helpfulness.

But to some, growth and progress seemed more compatible with individual enterprise. So in 1879 the Order was revised to include only those willing to put all they owned into the Order, “that there may be no conflicting interest outside the order.” Detailed “By Laws of the Bunkerville United Order” were instituted to implement the law of consecration and stewardship. All property of participating members was turned over to the Order, appraised, entered as capital stock, and then redistributed as stewardships. All “increase” was brought to the communal storehouse for distribution according to need, as determined by a committee of four. But according to Saint George stake records, it soon became apparent that “some stewardships … were gathering and laying up in abundance, while others, through carelessness and bad management, were wasting the means of the Company, each year being increasing in debt. This was very unsatisfactory to those whose ambition was to accumulate, at least, the necessaries of life.”

[p.89]Dissatisfaction grew during the harvest of 1880, and Bishop Bunker became increasingly irritated. One member noted that “there was a bad spirit manifested by the Bishop” at council meeting. “He felt like cursing everybody but his own family. At meeting today he felt the same though gave some good instruction on the Word of Wisdom.”

Apparently in an effort to adjust the program to reward the industrious and strengthen the economy, the bishop proposed that each steward be entitled to draw up to 80 percent of his labor; the rest would be retained for the common good. But the proposal proved divisive and it was decided to disband the Order.

Still, for many years new homes were built, crops harvested, and cheese manufactured communally.

There was something grand and enduring about the Bunkerville United Order. Some of Nevada’s most distinguished citizens grew up there. Leavitts, Pulsiphers, Bunkers, Abbotts, Earls, Coxs, and other Bunkerville families continue to contribute to the religious, economic, and political life of Nevada. Two of the West’s finest historians, LeRoy Hafen and Juanita Brooks, grew up in Bunkerville. With only limited employment opportunities, Bunkerville exported many of its talented young people to towns like Moapa, Glendale, and Logandale in nearby valleys.

In 1901 white-haired Bishop Bunker set out with Emily and three children to help found the Mormon colony at Colonia Morelos, Mexico. Within a month of his arrival there, he died, leaving behind a spiritual monument of idealism and practical Christianity.