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 â€“ 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.
Thatâ€™s a challenge I couldnâ€™t resist, so on Monday morning I plugged the womanâ€™s name into the census indexes at Ancestry.com. 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 childâ€™s birthplace (India) and birth year (approximately 1863), I went to FamilySearch.org. I found no one by the right name, but a little tinkering with the search criteria turned up a record that fit â€“ birthplace, birth year, and a fuller form of the childâ€™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 Maybertâ€™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 girlâ€™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 Youngâ€™s wives.
I had already checked the Pioneer Overland Travel database at lds.org 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 â€œsister McMahon and childâ€ 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 thatâ€™s all! Just â€œSisterâ€! 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 Historyâ€™s online database of burials, without finding what I needed. But some more searching of the online newspapers with â€œMcMahonâ€ and â€œIndiaâ€ 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 Britschâ€™s history of early missionary work in India, Nothing More Heroic. That, Iâ€™m afraid, I had to find on paper, but I did use the computer catalog to find it. His index included several references to â€œSister McMahonâ€ â€“ and one of those entries, a quotation from the diary of Amos Milton Musser, referred to â€œSister E. McMahon.â€ 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 husbandâ€™s apostasy, she hosted the missionaries in Calcutta, and the small branch there met regularly in her home.
Back to FamilySearch.org. I didnâ€™t expect to find â€œE.â€ 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 parentsâ€™ names.
There is a lot more research to be done â€“ I want to find the name of Sister McMahonâ€™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 â€“ 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. Thatâ€™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 â€“ 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.)