Born in Ossian Township, New York, on November 5, 1839, to Cyrus Williams Card and Sarah Ann Tuttle, Charles Ora Card was the second of nine children.On April 12, 1856, when Charles was 16 years old, he was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That very summer he drove an ox team across the continent to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. After three years in Farmington, Utah, he helped pioneer Cache Valley and the city of Logan, Utah, going ahead of his parents to prepare a home for them.
On October 4, 1867, Charles married Sarah (Sallie) Jane Beirdneau in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. Two children were born to Charles and Sarah: Sarah Jane (Jenny) Card, April 2, 1870, and Charles Ora Card Jr., December 10, 1873.
To support his family, Charles taught school in the First Ward on Center Street in Logan in early 1871.He also farmed, joined his father and other relatives in a sawmilling operation, promoted general stores, and directed flour milling.
Church callings often kept Charles very busy and away from home. He served for fifteen years in the superintendency of the Sunday School, as a missionary in the eastern states (1871-1872), as superintendent of the construction of both the Logan Tabernacle (1873) and the Logan Temple (1877-1884), and as president of the Cache Stake of Zion (1884-1890).
On October 17, 1876, Charles married his second wife, Sarah Jane Painter, in the Endowment House. Two years later, on April 26, 1878, Sarah Jane gave birth to Charles’s third child, Matilda Francis. His fourth child and second son, George Cyrus, was born to Sarah Jane on January 26, 1880. Sarah Jane then gave birth to Lovantia Painter Card on November 6, 1881.
In the meantime, Charles’s first wife, Sallie, became restless and unhappy with plural marriage. In spite of Charles’s efforts to preserve the marriage, Sallie obtained a divorce in March 1884, after which she married Ben Ramsall. On April 20, 1884, Sarah Jane gave birth to daughter Pearl in Logan.On June 17, 1884, Charles married Zina Prescindia Young Williams, widow of Thomas Williams and daughter of Brigham Young and Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Young.
At that time, federal marshals were actively pursuing those involved in the practice of plural marriage. Charles's prominence in the community, his recent marriage to Zina, and the publicity surrounding his divorce from Sallie made his situation precarious, and he often had to hide out to evade arrest. He was arrested once and managed to escape,which made federal agents even more eager to catch him. On June 28, 1885, Zina gave birth to her first child by Charles, Joseph Young Card. When the baby was 3 weeks old, Zina was forced to flee in the middle of the night to a place of refuge.
Despite these trying circumstances, Charles’s commitment to the church and to the principle of plural marriage never wavered. In November 1885, he approached Lavinia Clarke Rigby and asked her to become his third wife.
As persecution intensified, the Card family was increasingly endangered and it became almost impossible for Charles to work to support his family or for him to fulfill his Church callings. Consequently, he approached John Taylor and asked for counsel as to whether to move his families to Mexico, where settlements by others practicing plural marriage had already been established. Taylor said, “No, I feel impressed to tell you to go to the British Northwest Territories. I have always found justice under the British flag.”
Charles soon left to explore Canada as suggested, accompanied by J. W. Hendricks and Isaac Zundel. They traveled with packhorses to British Columbia, but found no appropriate place to settle. However, a mountaineer they encountered spoke to Charles of the “buffalo plains” in Alberta. Charles reportedly said to his companions, “If the buffalo can live there, we can. Let us go and see it.”On October 25, 1886, they camped at Lee’s Creek and chose the site of the future town of Cardston.
Meanwhile, back in Logan, Sarah Jane Painter Card gave birth to another daughter, Abigail Jane, on April 3, 1886.In December, when he returned from Canada to recruit settlers for his new colony, Charles married Lavinia Clark Rigby.
Charles then returned to Canada to further prepare the land for settlement. The spot chosen for the new town was bordered on the north by the Blood Indian Reserve, and Charles “became a great friend of Red Crow the Indian Chief. He fed the Indians and never quarreled with them.”The first sod in the new settlement was broken on May 2, and Zina Young Card arrived in June in the company of a few other families, bringing the number of settlers to 41. Zina used her personal resources to invest heavily in many of the new settlement’s ventures.
Charles became the primary spiritual and temporal leader of the new community. On June 5, 1887, he organized the Sunday School there.
At first, the colonists lived in tents. In anticipation of the Canadian winters, however, the men set about to provide more substantial homes for their families. By September, Charles had finished the first portion of the log house that would be his family’s home for the next thirteen years.On Christmas Eve, the first of many parties was held in the log home.
By January 1888, the colonists had built a log schoolhouse and shelter for their stock.On June 12, Zina gave birth to her only daughter, Zina Young Card (Brown), and on October 14, back in Cache County, Lavinia also gave birth to a daughter, Mary.
On October 30, Charles, in the company of Apostles Francis M. Lyman and John W. Taylor, began a trip to Ottawa, 4,000 miles away, to speak to Canadian officials about establishing the settlement. On November 14, they went to Montreal and visited McKenzie Bowell, a minister of customs who would later become prime minister.Ten days later, Charles was back in Lee’s Creek (later Cardston), building an addition to his log home.
In the early days of the new settlement, Charles opened a store that he operated out of his granary. He also created a cheese factory, erected the first flour mill and the first sawmill, brought in the first steam threshing machine, and started a butcher shop. Joseph Young Card wrote, “Practically all of these were cooperative efforts and cooperatively owned. Mr. and Mrs. Card put many thousands of dollars into these pioneer enterprises but seldom did they see any dividends.”
Charles made trips back to Logan to visit his other wives and children, and he kept up an active correspondence with them, remaining as involved as possible in their daily affairs through letters. He was also still officially the stake president of Cache Stake, and he conducted much Church business by letter.
An additional responsibility devolved upon Charles in 1889, when “he induced the Mormon Church to buy cattle and land, so five hundred head of cattle were brought here and eighteen thousand acres of land purchased in the Woolford District just East of the St. Mary’s River. He ran this ranch for the church until November, 1891, when the management was turned over to Richard Pilling.”
In 1890, Charles was released as president of the Cache Stake, allowing him to turn his attention more fully to the affairs of the Church in Canada. Charles bought a home for Lavinia and her children in Rexburg, Idaho,and on November 15, Lavinia gave birth to a daughter, also named Lavinia. At that point, Charles had a family in Canada, one in Logan, Utah, and one in Rexburg, Idaho.
On June 9, 1891, Zina gave birth to her third and last child by Charles, Orson Rega Card, in Cardston.The following year, on January 3, Franklin Almon Card was born to Charles and Sarah Jane Painter in Logan, and Charles moved Lavinia and her children from Rexburg to a new home in the Teton Basin. She would remain there until 1895, when she returned to Logan. Charles was also appointed president of the Alberta Stake — covering territory that reached from the U.S. border all the way to Calgary.
Little is said in the Card family’s letters and diaries about the 1890 Manifesto that would end plural marriage. In spite of this monumental change, the lives of Charles and his families appear to have continued in much the same way they had previously: The children and wives continued to get along as best they could, and Charles continued to provide support. On November 28, 1896, Lavinia gave birth to Charles Rigby Card in Logan.
Charles and Zina played host to numerous church authorities during their years in Alberta, including LDS Church President Lorenzo Snow and Apostle John W. Taylor.During his visit, President Snow advised Charles to construct a large house. Charles gave Zina some land, and at her own expense she built a large, nine-room home with running water and other conveniences. The family moved into the new home in 1900.
Sterling Rigby Card was born to Charles and Lavinia in Logan on December 18, 1900. Charles visited when the baby was 5 days old.In 1902, Charles was released as Alberta Stake President and ordained a patriarch, his last calling before the end of his many years of service to the Church.
By 1903, Charles’s health had deteriorated to the point that he was released from his responsibilities as colonizer and church leader, and the Card family returned to Logan, where Charles could be cared for during the next three years by his wives and children. By the time they left Canada, “Aunt Zina” had become a familiar name in “every province in Canada,”and Charles had accomplished enough as a colonizer that one historian has referred to him as “Canada’s Brigham Young.”
A brief summary of his achievements in Canada includes serving as land agent for Dominion Lands, the Calgary and Edmonton Land Company, the Hudson Bay Company, and the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company; handling the sale of practically all the land in the Cardston area; and founding the towns of Cardston and Magrath and the villages of Aetna, Mountain View, Stirling, and other smaller settlements.
On January 17, 1904, Charles’s last child was born — William LaVoir, born to Lavinia.He would know his father for less than two years.
Charles passed away September 9, 1906, in Logan. He was the father of sixteen children — eight sons and eight daughters — born to four wives over a period of thirty-four years. Sarah Painter Card and Lavinia Rigby Card were with Charles when he died; Zina joined them the next morning and all three selected his casket together.