Isabelle Maria Harris was born in Willard, Box Elder County, Utah Territory, to Charles and Louisa Hall Harris. She was their third child.
(“Berry, Isabelle Harris,” Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement, Cemeteries and Burials Database, accessed 21 Jan. 2023, http://cce.my.salesforce-sites.com/burials; “Harris, Charles,” Find a Grave Database, accessed 12 Jan. 2023, http://findagrave.com.)
Harris family called to the Cotton Mission
Belle’s father, Charles Harris, and grandfather Emer Harris were called to serve in the Cotton Mission in southern Utah. President Heber C. Kimball called two hundred families at a conference in the Bowery in Salt Lake City. The Harris family arrived in the mission the following month and lived in various parts of Washington County, Utah, until their release in 1864.
(Historical Department, Journal History, 19 Oct. 1862, Church History Library, Salt Lake City [hereafter CHL]; “President Young’s Trip North,” Deseret News, 22 Oct. 1862, 133; Martin H. Harris, Reminiscences and Journal, 12 Nov. 1862, CHL; Dallin H. Oaks, 50 Pioneers: The Pioneer Ancestors of Dallin Harris Oaks and June Dixon Oaks [Salt Lake City: By the author, 1997], 23–24.)
Relocated to Parowan
The Harris family settled in Parowan, Iron County, Utah.
(1870 U.S. Census, Parowan, Iron County, UT Territory, 19.)
Harris was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
(“Harris, Isabelle Maria,” FamilySearch, Compiled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed 14 Jan. 2023, https://familysearch.org.)
Relocated to City Creek
The Harris family purchased a ranch near City Creek, later known as Junction, Piute County, Utah.
(See Dortha B. Davenport, Junction, Utah: Its History and Its People, 1871–2004 [Publication place unidentified: By the author, 2005], 1, 9.)
Met Clarence Merrill
At age sixteen, Harris met thirty-six-year-old Clarence Merrill, a business associate of her brother Charles Elisha Harris.
(“Belle Harris Merrill Nelson Berry,” 4 Apr. 1935, Kimball Young Research Notes, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT [hereafter BYU], 1; Clarence Merrill, Autobiography, 1908, BYU, –.)
Harris and Merrill married in the temple in St. George, Washington County, Utah. Harris was Merrill’s third wife, after Bathsheba Kate Smith and Julia Felshaw.
(Clarence Merrill, Autobiography, 1908, BYU, , , .)
Relocated to Richfield
Harris moved to Richfield, Sevier County, Utah, to live with Merrill, Smith, and their eight children. Given the illegality of her plural marriage, Harris was listed as a “boarder” and “store clerk” on the 1880 census.
(1880 U.S. Census, Richfield, Sevier County, UT, 479B.)
Son Albert born
Harris gave birth to her first child, Albert Merrill, while living in Richfield. Clarence Merrill was not present.
(“Belle Harris Merrill Nelson Berry,” 4 Apr. 1935, Kimball Young Research Notes, BYU, 2, .)
Harris became pregnant with her second child. At the time Smith was about two months pregnant, causing increased strain on the family’s resources and Harris’s relationship with Merrill.
(See “Merrill, Horace G.,” Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement, Utah Division of State History, Cemeteries and Burials Database, accessed 7 Feb. 2023, http://cce.my.salesforce-sites.com/burials.)
Relocated to Monroe
Harris moved to a small home provided by Merrill in Monroe, Sevier County, Utah.
(Silas Albert Harris, History of Isabelle Maria Harris, 1861–1938 [Publication place unidentified: Dallin H. Oaks, 2005], 12.)
Counseled with John Henry Smith
Harris met with apostle John Henry Smith, brother of Bathsheba Kate Smith, about her financial concerns and her thoughts of leaving Merrill. The apostle counseled her to postpone her final decision until after the birth of her baby.
(John Henry Smith, Diaries, 1874–1911, CHL, 30 May 1882; “Belle Harris Merrill Nelson Berry,” 4 Apr. 1935, Kimball Young Research Notes, BYU, 3.)
Relocated to Junction
Concerned that Merrill would not be present for the birth of their second child, Harris relocated to her family home near Junction.
(“Belle Harris Merrill Nelson Berry,” 4 Apr. 1935, BYU, ; Harris, History of Isabelle Maria Harris, 13.)
Son Horace born
Harris gave birth to Horace Merrill while living with her parents near Junction. Clarence Merrill was not present.
(“Belle Harris Merrill Nelson Berry,” 4 Apr. 1935, Kimball Young Research Notes, BYU, 3–4; Harris, History of Isabelle Maria Harris, 14.)
Kingston, Piute County, Utah, bishop William King and his counselors met with Harris, Merrill, and Charles Harris at the Harris ranch to discuss a reconciliation between the couple. The attempted reconciliation was unsuccessful, and Belle Harris moved forward with divorce.
(Kingston Ward, Panguitch Stake, Kingston United Order Journals, 1877–1883, CHL, vol. 2, 16–17 Sept. 1882; William King to John Taylor, 16 Sept. 1882, First Presidency, Divorce Case Files, 1877–1918, CHL.)
Summoned to court
A grand jury of the Second District Court summoned Harris to appear as a witness in the investigation of Merrill’s marriages. Harris requested and was granted a postponement of her appearance on account of Horace’s poor health. Merrill went into hiding for two weeks to evade federal officials.
(Belle Harris to John Taylor, 12 Dec. 1882, First Presidency, Divorce Case Files, 1877–1918, CHL; Clarence Merrill, Autobiography, 1908, BYU, .)
Merrill finalized the divorce from Harris.
(Clarence Merrill, Autobiography, 1908, BYU, –.)
Appeared in court at Beaver
Harris appeared before Second District judge Stephen P. Twiss and a grand jury. She refused to testify against Merrill, and the jury found her guilty of contempt of court.
(Beaver County District Court [Second District] Minute Book, Series 5319, Utah Division of Archives and Records Service, Utah State Archives, Salt Lake City, vol. 6, 14–17, 24–25.)
Began incarceration at the Utah Territorial Penitentiary
Harris arrived at the territorial penitentiary in Salt Lake City with her son Horace.
(Belle Harris, Journal, 18 May 1883.)
Appeal denied by the Utah Territorial Supreme Court
Utah’s territorial supreme court denied Harris’s application for a writ of habeas corpus, in which she had challenged the legality of her imprisonment for contempt of court.
(In re Belle Harris, 4 Utah 5, 5 P. 129 ; “The Closing Scene,” Salt Lake Daily Herald, 26 June 1883, 8; Belle Harris, Diary, 22 and 26 June 1883; “Belle Harris,” Salt Lake Daily Herald, 23 June 1883, 8.)
Released from the penitentiary
After 106 days, the grand jury in Beaver disbanded, ending Harris’s confinement.
(Belle Harris, Journal, 31 Aug. 1883; “Belle Harris Merrill Nelson Berry,” 4 Apr. 1935, Kimball Young Research Notes, BYU, 5; “Belle Harris Released,” Deseret News, 5 Sept. 1883, 12.)
Attended Brigham Young Academy
Hoping to better provide for her children, Harris began attending Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah.
(Brigham Young Academy Term Record, 28 Jan. 1884, BYU, 80.)
Married Nels Lars Nelson
Harris entered a monogamous marriage with Nels Lars Nelson, an instructor at Brigham Young Academy.
(Cache Co., UT, Marriage Records, 1871–1941, Certificates A–C 1887–1915, p. 64, microfilm 430,301, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FamilySearch Library, Salt Lake City [hereafter FSL]; Harris, History of Isabelle Maria Harris, 61.)
Daughters Estella and Jessie born
Harris gave birth to twins, Estella Jean Nelson and Jessie Belle Nelson.
Son Sterling born
Harris gave birth to Sterling Harris Nelson.
Son Milo born
Harris gave birth to Milo Alva Nelson.
(Harris, History of Isabelle Maria Harris, 68–69.)
After twelve years of marriage, Harris and Nelson legally separated.
(Utah District Court, Fourth Judicial District, Court Proceedings, 1899, CHL.)
Married Robert Albert Berry
Harris and Robert Albert Berry entered a monogamous marriage in the Salt Lake City temple.
(Salt Lake Co., UT, Marriage Records, vol. 22, p. 482, no. 21963, microfilm 429,307, FSL.)
Harris died at her home in Provo.
(“Noted Woman Dies Unexpectedly at Provo Residence,” Evening Herald [Provo, UT], 31 May 1938, 1.)