Austin Cowles was living in New York in 1830, when he and his family joined the church.  By 1839 the Cowles family, including Austin’s daughter Elvira, were living in Nauvoo, where Austin was soon selected to be a counselor in the Stake Presidency.

In the spring of 1840 Elvira secured work in the home of Joseph Smith, perhaps as a nanny and a maid.  There Elvira would become friends with several other women who would also become wives of Joseph: Emily and Eliza Partridge, Lucy Walker, Eliza R. Snow and Desmodona Fuller.  Elvira would also meet Jonathon Holmes, a long time friend of Joseph Smith’s.  In September 1842, Elvira and Jonathon became engaged.  Joseph Smith performed their wedding ceremony a few months later, and Elvira moved out of the Smith home.  In honor of the new couple, Eliza R. Snow penned:

Conjugal, To Jonathan & Elvira.

Like two streams, whose gentle forces
Mingling, in one current blend-
Like two waves, whose onward course
To the ocean’s bosom tend-

Like two rays that kiss each other
In the presence of the sun-
Like two drops that run together
And forever are but one,

May your mutual vows be plighted-
May your hearts, no longer twain
And your spirits be united
In an everlasting chain.

In June 1843, six months after her marriage to Jonathan, Elvira married Joseph Smith.  It is unclear if Jonathan was aware of the marriage, however he would know by 1846.  As the Nauvoo temple neared completion, Joseph’s wives would re-perform their marriages, or sealings, to him within its walls.  Since Joseph had been killed in 1844, Jonathan would stand proxy as Elvira was sealed to Joseph for eternity.  Jonathan would be Elvira’s earthly companion, eventually surrendering Elvira and their children to Joseph Smith in the eternities.  Many years later, as she lay sick and dying, Jonathan would ask Elvira, “what reports she would give to the Prophet Joseph. She replied, ‘Only the best report. You have always been a kind and devoted husband and father.’”

Elvira’s father, Austin, opposed polygamy and resigned as counselor in the Stake Presidency,  He also helped write the Nauvoo Expositor which revealed the secret practice, but Elvira continued to love him: “[He spent] a long life in making the world better, an example to all who knew him, with charity for all and malice toward none.”


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