Tanner, William Leroy
William Leroy Tanner, who went by the nickname Bill, lived a hardscrabble life on the economic margins of rural eastern Idaho. Bill farmed there, worked at a sawmill, did odd jobs as a day laborer, and raised a large family. He also lived on the racial margins of his faith. His father was a Black man from Missouri who homesteaded a farm in Fremont County, Idaho, after he met and married Bill’s white Latter-day Saint mother in Salt Lake City. Bill’s uncle baptized him into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age ten. Even though Bill’s mixed-racial parentage meant that he and his children would be barred from the Latter-day Saint lay priesthood and its temple rituals, Bill remained a committed member of his faith for the rest of his life.
Bill’s mother, Ellen Susannah Hathaway, had migrated with her family from Pennsylvania to Utah in 1862, when she was five years old. The Hathaways had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pennsylvania and migrated westward to unite with the main body of Saints in Salt Lake City. Ellen Susannah’s father, John, however died on the overland journey and her mother was sealed to him posthumously soon after she arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. A decade later, on July 8, 1872, Ellen Susannah’s mother married a man named Isaiah Campbell at the Endowment House in Salt Lake City and became his plural wife. On the same day, Ellen Susannah received her temple rituals and also married Isaiah Campbell alongside her mother. Ellen Susannah was fifteen at the time and Campbell was 52.
Ellen Susannah’s marriage to Campbell, however, did not last. It is not clear if she received a formal divorce or simply separated from Campbell and moved on. At some point Ellen Susannah met Thomas Franklin Tanner, a Black man who worked as a laborer, and the couple married in Salt Lake City, in 1877, when Ellen Susannah was 20 and Thomas was 22. Brigham Young had spoken stridently against race mixing on different occasions and an 1852 territorial law (no longer on the books by 1877) had criminalized sexual relations between Black and white people. Even still, Utah’s law banning marriages between the two races was not passed until 1888, making Ellen Susannah and Thomas’s marriage legal, but likely not socially acceptable. In 1866, another Black man, Thomas Coleman, was murdered and his body dumped on Arsenal Hill (now Capitol Hill) in Salt Lake City, with a placard attached to his mutilated body which read, “Notice to all Niggers. Take Warning. Leave white women alone.”
Whatever social consternation the new couple may have faced, they began their family together in Salt Lake City before they eventually moved to rural Idaho. On December 6, 1881, Ellen gave birth to William Leroy, the couple’s second child. Bill had one older brother and two younger sisters, but only one sister survived to adulthood. Bill later recalled that when he was eight years old, his family joined four other families in migrating to Fall River, a small farming community later known as Chester in Fremont County, Idaho. As Bill recalled, the family loaded everything they owned into horse and ox drawn wagons and traveled northeast until they reached their destination. Bill’s father filed for a homestead outside of Chester and eventually received title to the land in 1903. Bill thus grew up on his father’s farm, helping to clear the land and do other farm work.
There is no indication that Bill’s father, Thomas, was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or that his mother Ellen Susannah maintained a commitment to the faith of her youth. Thomas died in 1910 and was remembered as “a respected colored citizen” of Fremont County and Ellen passed away the following year with no evidence of a religious connection mentioned in either person’s obituary. Ellen may have maintained enough of an affiliation, nonetheless, to ensure that her three children were baptized into the faith. Or perhaps it was her brother John Hathaway, who had also moved to Idaho, who passed on the faith to his niece and nephews. In any case, Hathaway baptized both William and his sister Lucretia on May 31, 1892, while their older brother Thomas had been baptized three years earlier. Of the three siblings, only Bill remained committed to the Church for the rest of his life.
Bill eventually established his own farm and family. In 1906, the day after his twenty-fifth birthday, he wed Katherine M. Lauder, a white woman from Market Lake, Idaho. Bill was consistently identified on census and other public records as “Black,” “Negro” and sometimes “mulatto.” Idaho had passed a law in 1864 banning marriage between a white person and “any person of African descent, Indian, or Chinese.” It is not clear why the clerk in Bingham County who issued Bill and Katherine a marriage license did not enforce this prohibition. It may have been that Bill presented himself as being of mixed racial parentage and that was enough. In 1921, Idaho expanded the scope of its older anti-miscegenation law to prohibit marriages between white people and “mongolians, negroes, or mulattos” but that was still more than a decade in the future. Perhaps Bill’s status as a “mulatto” was enough for the Justice of the Peace of Bingham County to wed Bill and Katherine in 1906.
The couple raised a large family that grew to include one adopted daughter and ten biological children. Bill tried his hand at dry farming around Chester and later moved to Parker, another farming community in Fremont County. Eventually Bill gave up on farming and worked as a laborer on other farms in the region. He also harvested ice from frozen canals during the winter which he then stored in an icehouse until summer when he sold it. He and his sons built a wood saw which they hooked to an old Ford motor for power. They took it house to house and earned money sawing wood. During the Great Depression Bill traded produce from his garden for other necessities and found work at a local sawmill where he used his team of horses and an old truck to haul logs to the mill. After World War II brought war related jobs to the West, Bill found work helping to build Nellis Air Force Base on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada. He then moved to Mountain Home, Idaho, to work on the Air Force base there. Eventually, however, Bill returned to Parker where he spent the rest of his life.
Bill and Katherine raised their family as Latter-day Saints and were consistently counted in Church census records, an indication of their ongoing devotion. The couple’s children were baptized around the age of eight and the children were listed on the rolls of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement associations, the Church’s youth programs. Even still the Church’s racial policies must have also created barriers. Bill is not listed on Church priesthood quorum rolls and Church census records only define him as a “member” but do not designate a priesthood office for him as was typical for practicing men in the faith.
Bill and Katherine’s children likely also experienced a sense of belonging tempered by religious and social concern over what it might mean to date and marry them. For those who were willing to marry the couple’s children it could entail a life barred from temple rituals and/or priesthood ordination. Two of Bill and Katherine’s children, nonetheless, managed to escape the faith’s racial barriers and received priesthood ordination and temple rituals before a June 1978 revelation lifted the longstanding restrictions.
Bill died of stomach cancer in 1959 at the age of 77. Bishop Maurice Crapo of the Parker Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officiated at Bill's funeral service. Fellow Latter-day Saints spoke, shared musical numbers, and the ward Relief Society provided floral arrangements. Bill’s name was also entered in a Church record of “deaths” for that year, an indication of his devotion to the end. Even still, the death record included a column which asked for a deceased person’s father and mother’s names. Instead, in Bill’s record the local clerk scrawled the word “Negroes?” diagonally across that column, a suggestion that despite Bill’s lifelong dedication to his faith he could never fully escape the theological implications of his racial identity.
By W. Paul Reeve
 Parker Ward, Saint Anthony Idaho Stake, Parker Centennial Chronicles, 1884-1984 (1984), 259, LR 6756 24, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 “Farmers Preparing for Spring Planting,” Deseret Evening News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 1 April 1911, 30; “Mrs. Tanner of the Chester neighborhood,” Idaho Register (Idaho Falls, Idaho), 7 March 1911, 5; “Old Colored Citizen Dead,” The Teton Peak Chronicle (St. Anthony, Idaho) 10 March 1910, 1; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, North Ogden Ward, Microfilm 25652, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Chester Ward, Idaho, CR 375 8, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 “William Tanner, Parker Resident, Felled by Death,” Fremont County Chronicle News (St. Anthony, Idaho), 5 February 1959, 1; “Tanner Services Held February 5,” Fremont County Chronicle News (St. Anthony, Idaho), 12 February 1959, 10.
 W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 107-11, 128-39, 145, 158-59.
 Reeve, Religion of a Different Color, 191-92; Patrick Q. Mason, “The Prohibition of Interracial Marriage in Utah, 1888-1963,” Utah Historical Quarterly 76 (Spring 2008): 108-131.
 Parker Centennial Chronicles, 259.
 Idaho, Fremont County, Thomas Tanner, Homestead Deed, 6 April 1903, Microfilm 8,578,042, Family History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 “Old Colored Citizen Dead”; “Farmers Preparing for Spring Planting”; “Mrs. Tanner of the Chester neighborhood.”
 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Chester Ward, Idaho, CR 375 8, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Parker Ward, Idaho, Part 1 and 2, CR 375 8, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 United States, 1900 Census, Idaho, Fremont County, Fall River; United States, 1910 Census, Idaho, Fremont County, Upland; United States, 1920 Census, Idaho, Fremont County, Egin; United States, 1930 Census, Idaho, Fremont County, Parker; United States, 1940 Census, Idaho, Fremont County, Parker; United States, 1950 Census, Idaho, Fremont County, Parker; United States, Idaho, Fremont County, World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, William Leroy Tanner, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C; United States, Idaho, Fremont County, World War II Draft Registration Cards, William Leroy Tanner, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
 “On this Day, March 1, 1921, Idaho Broadens Ban on Interracial Marriage,” A History of Racial Injustice, Equal Justice Initiative; Idaho, Bingham County, Marriages, 1864-1962, William Tanner and Catherine Lauder, 7 December 1906, Microfilm 7548851, Family History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Parker Centennial Chronicles, 259.
 “Tanner, William Leroy,” Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1914-1960, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Parker Ward, Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, LR 6756 16, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; Parker Ward, Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association, LR 6756 17, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Saint Anthony Idaho Stake Melchizedek Priesthood minutes and records, LR 10316 13, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; “Tanner, William Leroy,” Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1914-1960.
 William Leroy Tanner Jr. and Susannah Pauline Tanner both received priesthood and temple rituals before June 1978. See William Leroy Tanner Jr. (L21G-5PG) FamilySearch. and Susannah Pauline Tanner (KWZG-5PG) FamilySearch.
 “William Tanner, Parker Resident, Felled by Death,” Fremont County Chronicle News (St. Anthony, Idaho), 5 February 1959, 1; “Tanner Services Held February 5,” Fremont County Chronicle News (St. Anthony, Idaho), 12 February 1959, 10; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Parker Ward, Idaho, Part 1 and 2, CR 375 8, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Idaho, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death, File No. 665, Local Registration No. 8, William Leroy Tanner, 2 February 1959, Idaho State Archives.
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