Southern Methodist University

Topham family letters

A Guide to the Collection


Creator: Topham family
Title: Topham family letters
Dates: 1887-1908
Abstract: The Topham family collection contains 55 letters written to or from members of Simon Thornton and Mary Lucinda Robinson Topham’s family during the years 1887-1908. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the "Mormon Church," the Tophams formed a polygamous family consisting of Simon, Alice (his first wife), Lucinda (his second wife), and their children. Dated 1887-1888, 1893, 1899, and 1905-1908, the letters address a variety of topics, including the attempt of the United States government to arrest and imprison polygamists under the provisions of a series of anti-polygamy acts passed through Congress and, particularly, Simon’s effort to avoid prosecution under these acts. Other topics include rural life in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Southern Utah, facets of Mormon culture, school attendance, school teaching, and epidemic diseases.
Accession No: A2002.0058c
Extent: 5 folders (55 letters)
Language: Material is in English
Repository DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Biographical Note

Simon Thornton Topham (1857-1930) married Alice Robinson (1859-1947) in 1878. He subsequently took Alice’s sister, Mary Lucinda (1861-1936), as a plural wife, marrying her in 1884. All three grew up in Paragoonah (present-day Paragonah), Utah.

During 1887 and 1888, Lucinda Robinson Topham and her daughter Mary Jane stayed with Lucinda’s sister Sarah A. Holyoak, in Moab, Utah while Simon and his first wife, Alice, divided their time between Paragoonah and the family ranch in Bear Valley. During these years, the United States government strove to eradicate polygamy among the Mormons and, in February 1887, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act. Under the provisions of this Act, polygamy was vigorously prosecuted. Many U.S. marshals and deputies scoured Utah searching for polygamists. Indicted in December 1887 for practicing polygamy, Simon evaded capture. To prevent the marshals and judges from acquiring enough evidence to convict men of this crime, many plural wives and their children fled, hiding out with friends or relatives on "the underground." This is why Lucinda and her daughter were in Moab, Utah. Someone in Moab discovered that Lucinda was a plural wife and reported it to the U.S. Marshals, who took her to the territorial penitentiary. Her brother John traveled to Salt Lake City to pick up Lucinda and Mary Jane.

Deputies frequently intercepted mail in an effort to track down polygamous wives who were in hiding. Once located, these women could be forced to testify against their husbands in court (one of the provisions of the Edmunds-Tucker Act). This explains why Simon addressed letters to "M. L. Robinson" rather than to "M. L. Topham," and why he began them "Dear Sister" instead of "Dear Wife." It also explains why Mary Lucinda’s letter to Simon and Alice begins "Dear Brother and Sister."

Simon and Alice had eight children, one of whom, Mercy Josephine (1887-1907), appears in the collection as a frequent correspondent.

Simon and Lucinda had one child, Mary Jane Topham (1885-1968), who is a recipient of sixteen letters in the collection. (She is also the "baby" referred to in Simon’s 1887-1888 letters.) She attended high school at the Beaver Branch of Brigham Young University in Beaver City, Utah, graduating in 1905. Lucinda, who moved to Beaver with Mary when she started high school, lived with her only daughter for most of her remaining years, moving whenever she did. (This explains why several letters are addressed to both Lucinda and her daughter.) Mary taught school in Panguitch, Utah during the 1905-06 school year, after which she returned to the Beaver Branch of BYU to further her education. She was still there as of March 30, 1908, the date of the last letter in the collection. She married Walter Isaac Paxton (1883-1981) on October 9, 1907 in Salt Lake City. After Mary Jane earned her teaching certificate, they moved to Millard County, Utah, eventually relocating to Fillmore, the county seat, where they remained for the rest of their lives. They had nine children.

Many of the letters in the collection are from Mary Lucinda’s sisters: Eliza May Robinson (1872-1948) and Emma Josephine Robinson (1875-1955), who lived in Paragoonah. Other letter writers include Mary Jane’s cousin Albert D. Holyoak, her uncle "Joe" (Joseph Riley Topham [1870-1938]), and her friends Dyce Esplin and "Anna."

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Topham family collection contains 55 letters, a pressed flower (in an envelope filed with the letter from Anna to Mary Jane), and a small sample of cloth used in dressmaking (in the envelope accompanying Dyce Esplin’s December 17, 1905 letter).

Series one consists of 9 letters from Simon Thornton Topham to his wife Mary Lucinda Topham, whom he refers to as "Sinda," and 1 letter from Mary Lucinda to Simon and Alice Topham. These letters include information on Deputy U.S. Marshals ("Deps") raiding southern Utah towns searching for polygamists, and list several men who were caught and sent to the "pen" (the Utah Territorial Penitentiary in Sugarhouse, Utah). They also detail the deputies’ attempts to capture Simon.

Series 2 and 3 consist of 37 letters written to Mary Lucinda Robinson Topham and her daughter Mary Jane Topham by family members, including sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Topics include rural life – such as farming (including periodic "rabbit hunts" in which hundreds of rabbits were killed), ranching, and dressmaking – life in Utah towns (Paragoonah, Beaver, Panguitch, Orderville, Parowan, and Provo), school teaching, Brigham Young Academy/University, Beaver Branch of Brigham Young University, weather, health, a diphtheria epidemic, a scarlet fever epidemic, and Mormon cultural life (including attendance at Sunday school meetings and conferences, church organizations, church assignments, and missions).

Series 4 contains 7 letters to Mary Jane Topham from her friends Dyce Esplin and "Anna." These letters cover the period from June 1905 to August 1906. Mary Jane and Dyce apparently became acquainted while attending school. At the time the letters were written, Dyce taught school in Orderville while Mary Jane did so in Panguitch. Topics include school teaching, sewing, health, social activities, and courting boys.

Series 5 contains 1 letter from Mary Jane to The Columbia House in Chicago, Illinois, regarding a shipment of books. She informs the company that she has found a new line of work, and suggests that they hold on to the books until a new agent has been appointed.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is organized into 5 series:
Series 1: Simon Thornton Topham Correspondence, 1887-1888
Series 2: Letters to Mary Lucinda Robinson Topham, 1899-1908
Series 3: Letters to Mary Jane Topham, 1893-1907
Series 4: Letters from friends to Mary Jane Topham, 1905-1906
Series 5: Business Letter, 1906


Access to Collection:

Collection is open for research use.

Publication Rights:

Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.

Copyright Statement:

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following terms in the Southern Methodist University Libraries' online catalog. Researchers desiring related materials may search the catalog using these terms.
Topham family.
Frontier and pioneer life--Utah.
Utah--History--19th century.
Topham, Simon Thornton, 1857-1930.

Related Materials

This collection has been partially digitized and can be accessed online at

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Topham family letters, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.

Acquisition Information

Purchase, 2001.

Processing Information

Generally, the letters have been arranged according to recipient and time period. Letters between family members appear in series 1 through 3, while letters from friends or to businesses appear in series 4 and 5.

During the year that Mary Jane taught school in Panguitch, her mother stayed with her most of the time. Consequently, letters from Mary Jane’s half-sister Mercy are often addressed to "Dear sister and aunt," while letters from Mary Lucinda’s sisters Eliza and Emma are addressed to "Dear Sister and Niece," or "Dear Girls." The envelopes were all addressed to "Miss Mary Topham," whether they were intended for her, or for her mother. These letters with multiple recipients have been filed according to the primary recipient. Thus, Eliza and Emma’s letters form part of series 2 (letters to Mary Lucinda), while Mercy’s letters form part of series 3 (letters to Mary Jane).

Finding aid written by Dale F. Topham, 2007.

Processed by

Amy Eklund, 2006.

Encoded by

Lara Corazalla, 2007.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Simon Thornton Topham Correspondence, 1887-1888
One folder (10 letters)

1 Letters, 1887-1888

Series 2: Letters to Mary Lucinda Robinson Topham, 1899-1908
One Folder (22 letters)

2 Letters, 1899-1908

Series 3: Letters to Mary Jane Topham, 1893-1907
One Folder (15 letters)

3 Letters, 1893-1907

4 Letters, 1905-1906

Series 5: Business Letter, 1906
One folder (1 letter)

5 Letter, 1906