by Ken Driggs
Delivered at Dixie College
3 January 1990
Juanita Brooks was a professor at Dixie College for many years and is a well-known author.
She is recognized, by scholarly consent, to be one of Utah’s and Mormondom’s most eminent historians. Her total honesty, unwavering courage, and perceptive interpretation of fact set her fellow historians more stringent standards of scholarship to emulate. Dr. Obert C. and Grace Tanner had been life-long friends of Mrs. Brooks and it was their wish to perpetuate her name through this series. Dixie College and the Brooks family express their thanks to Dr. and Mrs. Tanner.
The Manifesto of 1890 did not bring an end to LDS Church approved plural marriages. It did begin almost a generation of confusion, ambiguity and equivocation in the Mormon community in spite of official Church denial.
After two generations of bitter struggle and the continued existence of thousands of plural families, one could hardly expect polygamy to melt away. With Utah statehood in 1896 federal laws such as the Poland Act,1 The Edmunds Act,2 and the Edmunds-Tucker Act,3 the sources of earlier legal pressure, no longer applied.4 Plural marriage was prohibited by the state constitution5 and by criminal statute,6 a condition imposed by congress for statehood,7 but enforcement was relaxed. Gradually Mormons began to slip back into new religiously based plural marriages and old families continued to live together. This was especially the case in the early presidency of Joseph F. Smith. Mexico again saw plural marriages solemnized. A majority of the Quorum of the Twelve during the period was not prepared to give unqualified support to the 1890 Manifesto, including Apostle Abraham O. Woodruff, a son of its author. Between 1890 and 1904 hundreds of such marriages—2,000 according to the Salt Lake Tribune—more or less approved by Church leaders, were solemnized. One scholar has estimated that today there are 50,000 living descendants of these marriages.8
All of this came to a head with the selection of Apostle Reed Smoot as a Republican United States Senator from Utah in 1903.9 Four years of senate hearings on the seating of Smoot brought the Second Manifesto of April 1904 by President Smith,10 the excommunication of Apostle John W. Taylor and disfellowshipping of Apostle Matthias Cowley in 1911,11 followed by the presidency of Heber J. Grant with Smith’s death in 1918. At this point you see the first determined efforts to purge the Church of diehards who continued to advocate religiously based plural marriage. Among the early excommunications were those of John W. Woolley, his son Lorin C. Woolley, Israel Barlow Jr., his son John Yates Barlow, Joseph W. Musser, and others who would later become significant figures in fundamentalism.
It would be a mistake to write off early fundamentalist leaders and sympathizers as a group of crackpots. Certainly LDS Apostles John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley were educated, well spoken, thoughtful men for their times.12 John W. Woolley was from an old, well connected LDS family, was a Salt Lake Temple Worker, and was a Salt Lake Stake Patriarch.13 His son Lorin C. Woolley had twice been a missionary in Indian Territory,14 a service which brought him into contact with other men who would become important to the fundamentalist movement.15 Israel Barlow Jr., was the son of a Zion’s Camp veteran16 and himself was a Patriarch at the time of his excommunication in 1921.17 His son John Y. Barlow served two missions for the LDS Church in West Virginia and Idaho.18
Joseph White Musser was the son of prominent Assistant Church Historian A. Milton Musser,19 which I believe explains the reproduction of so many LDS historical documents in the magazine Truth which he edited for about 15 years.20 Joseph Musser was also a Stake High Councilman in two stakes, serving for a time under John Y. Taylor, son of the Church President, first Granite Stake President, and one of the last holdouts in the Church on polygamy.21 Musser had also received the once very important but no longer administered Second Anointing in the temple.22
LeRoy S. Johnson who presided over Colorado City until his death in 1986,23 was the son of Warren Johnson who would replace John D. Lee as Church appointed ferry master at Lee’s Ferry in 1874.24 His brother, Price Johnson, was convicted of polygamy in Arizona in 1935, one of the first fundamentalists prosecuted in the twentieth century.25
For their times, these men were well placed, relatively well educated in religious matters, and enjoyed deep blood lines in the Latter-day Saint movement.
In 1918 Smith died and Grant became seventh President of the Church, serving longer than any but Brigham Young. His administration accelerated the changes begun under Smith, including greater public acceptance and tremendous growth in numbers.26
Though Grant had been convicted of a polygamy related offense as an apostle in 1899,27 he was determined to eradicate the practice in the Church community. As President he delivered stern messages denouncing the practice in 1925,28 1926,29 and 1931.30 Finally, in 1933 his counselor, J. Reuben Clark, a relative of the Woolleys,31 prepared a detailed, legalistic, sixteen-page “Final Manifesto.”32 The statement responded to and denounced fundamentalists, who were still handing out literature at Temple Square at General Conference. It was read aloud in every congregation in the Church.
Shortly afterwards Clark pushed a kind of ecclesiastical loyalty oath that suspected fundamentalist sympathizers were required to sign. Refusal resulted in excommunication.33 The individuals were required to pledge that they were not themselves practicing or advocating polygamy, nor were they adding to persistent rumors that general authorities secretly continued polygamy in their private circles.34 In 1935 the majority of the small dependent branch at Short Creek was excommunicated for refusing to sign the oath, among them LeRoy Johnson35 and others who would become important in the fundamentalist movement.36
The loyalty oath apparently backfired. Instead of putting a stop to fundamentalism, the excommunications only served to create a core membership upon which its leaders could build. Clark himself would come to reconsider his approach later in life.37
Many fundamentalists became associated in the 1920s with Utah inventor Nathanial Baldwin, working in his Salt Lake City radio factory or serving as officers in the business. Among them were defrocked Apostles Taylor and Cowley. Until his business floundered he was their most important financial patron.38
Up through the 1920s fundamentalists existed as a loose association of friends and sympathizers both inside and outside the LDS Church. They looked to a Priesthood Council for spiritual leadership. First John W. Woolley was recognized as its senior member and leader. With his death in 1928 his son Lorin C. Woolley became senior member, and with his death in 1934 the role fell briefly to J. Leslie Broadbent39 then John Yates Barlow.
With the 1934 and 1935 Short Creek excommunications Barlow and Joseph White Musser visited the community. A few years earlier members of the Johnson family had moved there from Lee’s Ferry where their polygamy had come to the attention of local authorities.40 Gradually Short Creek came to be a center of fundamentalism and an experiment in United Order life. There was always another center in Salt Lake City with other outposts in Canada, Mexico, and various points in the Great Basin.
Fundamentalism still lacked the kind of structured organization we have always known in the LDS Church. Many looked to the Priesthood Council for leadership while others were “independents,” opposed to any structure. With the first monthly issue of Truth magazine in June 1935, edited by Musser and later his son Guy Musser, the fundamentalists gained a unifying force.41
In 1949 Barlow, who most recognized as the leader of the Priesthood Council, died.42 Next in seniority was Musser who was greatly disabled by a series of strokes and under the care of Dr. Rulon Allred. Musser’s advancing Allred as his successor and other tensions over religious and policy differences brought a split in the council.43 With Musser’s death in 1954,44 Allred emerged as the leader of a Salt Lake City group now presided over by his brother, Owen Allred. Johnson emerged as the leader of the more traditional United Effort Trust group in what is now Colorado City. With his death in 1986,45 Rulon Jeffs, a Sandy accountant,46 succeeded him.
In 1935 the Utah Legislature made unlawful cohabitation, a polygamy-related crime, a felony for the first time.47 Even in the darkest days of the 1880s congress had left the offense a misdemeanor.48 That same year Arizona prosecuted a half dozen individuals in Short Creek with the assistance of the LDS Church who had earlier excommunicated them.49 Two men were convicted and sentenced to 18 to 24 months in the state prison.50 These were the first twentieth century convictions of fundamentalist Mormons.
Washington County, Utah, attempted more prosecutions in the late 1930s.51 In 1944 there was a major multi-state and federal government raid that saw the arrests of almost 50 people,52 as many as 22 men being sent to prison,53 and national publicity.54 Again, the LDS Church publicly applauded the raid55 and assisted in the prosecutions.56 Three appeals from those cases reached the United States Supreme Court,57 the first time religiously based polygamy had been considered there in this century.
Finally, the big Arizona raid of 1953 occurred. It saw almost 300 people being taken into custody and the widest national publicity ever afforded fundamentalists.58 As a result of the raid 27 Arizona men were placed on a short probation;59 over 160 children and their mothers remained in Arizona foster homes for almost two years;60 a United States Senate subcommittee came to Arizona in 1955 for largely unproductive investigative hearings;61 and the Utah Supreme Court decided the legally notorious case In Re Black62 denying parental rights to fundamentalists who practice or advocate polygamy.
The last organized polygamy hunt came in 1955 when five men, all of them “independents,” were arrested.63
I’ve been asked to share some impressions of the Fundamentalist Mormon community in Southern Utah today. This is primarily the United Effort Trust group at old Short Creek, now Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. There is a smaller community near Cedar City affiliated with the Allred group but I have not had the opportunity to visit them, though I hope to. In the interest of full disclosure I would say I am sympathetic to these people, though I have reservations about some aspects of their community life, as any outside observer might.
If you are from old Deseret or are Mormon it is awfully hard to be clear headed on this subject. Hard feelings or emotional reactions based on internal religious differences and, to be honest, embarrassment over polygamy, make it hard to be objective. I’ll start by asking you to put polygamy entirely out of your mind for a moment and think of the similarities of the Fundamentalist Mormon community with other very traditional, socially conservative and sincere religious communities. Recently I have been especially struck by their parallels with Old and New Order Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites and others in the the Anabaptist tradition.64
The Fundamentalist Mormons are very traditional. Families and children are extremely important to them, the primary focus of community life. Divorce, or in the case of plural families a “cancellation of sealings,” is frowned upon though it does exist. Community sexual mores are very restrictive, beginning with extreme modesty in dress and personal presentation of self. You see this in their distinct clothing which is not required by doctrine but by social expectation. Even the discussion of sexual topics is considered inappropriate. The roles of men and women are very traditional and gender based, though many women work out of the home and have acquired considerable competence in income producing skills. Hard, honest work is expected of everyone, especially physical labor. Children are expected to respect their parents and adopt the community’s shared values. As with any socially conservative community they have their portion of teenaged rebellion, and I expect they always will have.
With some reservations about subjects and their application, education is considered good and something that is encouraged. A college education in what are thought to be appropriate subjects, usually respected for their practical value, is thought to be a good thing. Many parents have proudly told me of their children’s college study. I wouldn’t say they are any more or less educated than other rural, modest-sized communities in the Great Basin. This includes women.
They are aware of the “world” around them and must debate the problem of being in the world but not of it. Crime, divorce, and a perceived erosion of respect for authority and patriotism, deviant sexuality, and declining honesty in our society are thought to be great threats to the nation as well as to their community. They want no part of these evils and are making conscious efforts to isolate themselves from what are thought to be moral cancers.
I can give two examples which I think are illustrative: I have heard some discussion about television which has only recently found its way into some homes in Colorado City. The few households that do have them tend to draw neighbors who also want to watch. Many are less than thrilled about this encroachment from the outside world. I suspect it isn’t a fear of the electronic portrayal of monogamous households, but rather they are offended by the sex, violence, disrespect, and rampant materialism that they feel is present there.
Another example: As you know, the community has recently been involved in considerable litigation over parental rights and other issues connected with their practice of religiously based polygamy.65 They have retained several very able outsiders to represent them and I suspect it was not accident that most of these are committed LDS. Lawyers working in the area appreciate that some of the leading cases that will support arguments on their behalf involve the rights of homosexuals, lesbians and other individuals whose conduct Fundamentalists object to very strongly. While lawyers see no reason not to utilize these cases, I have noticed a great reluctance on the part of the Fundamentalists because they so totally reject the conduct involved.
If all this sounds like what you might encounter in some outlying, extremely conservative LDS Stake Center, that should come as no surprise. We are all part of the same religious tradition with the same root values. We have much more in common than we have differences.
So how are they different from regular Mormons? What is the answer to the rather loaded question, “Are they Mormons?” There is no simple answer, certainly not as simple as, “They’re the ones who practice polygamy and they’re not really Mormons anyway.”
A 1963 Sociology Master’s Thesis by John Day that I found at the University of Utah characterized Fundamentalist Mormonism as a protest against adaptation.66 I think that’s pretty much on the mark. The LDS Church we know today is so different from that of the nineteenth century that Brigham Young and John Taylor would be hard pressed to recognize it. So much legal and social pressure was applied to the Mormons by the rest of the nation, joined by economic and demographic pressures that were the natural result of the Church’s great missionary success, that it was virtually impossible for the nineteenth century Church to survive unchanged. Adaptations to these new realities had to come. Wilford Woodruff’s 1890 Manifesto was only one of those adaptations. It was not the first, far from the last, and it was not even the greatest.67
While many within the Church had pushed for these changes, a significant minority found them very unsettling. The vast majority of the men and women on both sides of the debate were principled and sincere. Fundamentalism as we know it today has its roots among the conservatives who resisted these changes in both the Mormon community as well as changes in the nation as it became more urban and industrialized.
Which brings me to the theological constructs these divisions began to develop.68
Fundamentalists all see themselves as part of the LDS Church, but living within special priesthood organizations set apart to continue and preserve sacred ordinances. The priesthood groups are to be distinguished from the independent polygamists who, not surprisingly, are much less concerned with direct lines of priesthood authority.
The Priesthood Councils see that the temporal Church—the popularly accepted Church—is not the head of the priesthood. They see that the leadership of the LDS Church are not one in the same, but were divided sometime after the death of Pros. John Taylor. Under this model Ezra Taft Benson is the head of the corporate body but Rulon Jeffs or Owen Allred, depending on your Fundamentalist affiliation, is the head of the priesthood. The head of the priesthood is usually the senior member of the seven member Priesthood Council and as such enjoys the direct counsel and guidance of God for His people.
As a consequence of this, changes that came through the LDS Church were seen as not always proper and which did not bind them. The first and second manifestos and the suspension of plural marriage are therefore not recognized. They feel the LDS Church is “out of order,” to use their phrase, in other significant ways:
Changes in temple ceremonies and the design of garments since the administration of President Joseph F. Smith. You will hear them refer to “Priesthood garments,” not “temple garments” as most Mormons call them. This is more a concern of the Allred group. (By the way, many have stressed that they do not feel the need to sneak into LDS temples to perform their ordinances. They are concerned that things be done under proper priesthood authority, not in a specific place.)
They disagree with the Church’s suspension of a literal, physical gathering of Zion at the turn of the century. As part of this they disagree with the building of temples outside of the old Zion. (The first temple opened outside the Great Basin was the Hawaii Temple, dedicated in 1919 by President Heber J. Grant.)
They reject the discontinuation of religious communalism as in the United Order efforts. All of the priesthood groups attempt to continue some form of that, including the United Effort Plan in Colorado City.
They reject Blacks and the priesthood, or the Canaanite Revelation as I’ve heard them refer to it.
Other disagreements include:
The present, more worldly role of apostles in the Church;
The discontinuation of the Adam/God theory;
The decision to stop sending missionaries out without purse or script;
The infallibility of the Prophet, especially when he appears to modify doctrines introduced by Joseph Smith;
Advancing the Word of Wisdom from advisory counsel to a more strict law, a somewhat less tolerant position than they embrace;
There are also some small things, like the direct administration of the sacrament by members of the Melchizedek Priesthood only or meeting house prayer with the right arm raised to the square.
But even with these and other differences, when you attend a Fundamentalist religious meeting there isn’t the slightest doubt you are with Mormons. You will sing Mormon hymns from LDS hymnals. You will look around and see pictures of Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ. Sermons will quote from the four standard works, but with much from the Journal of Discourses and The Millennial Star as well. You might hear Ezra Taft Benson quoted approvingly on some point. You may see a copy of the Ensign in a meeting hall or home. Everywhere there is the comfortable sort of atmosphere we find with a lay clergy presiding over the meetings and delivering sermons. The language used will be peculiarly Mormon.
And then there is polygamy, though it certainly is not practiced by all fundamentalists and probably not even a majority.
Their preferred term is “plural marriage,” which implies a proper union under priesthood authority. For them polygamy is a pejorative term that implies there is not priesthood authority.
While romantic love is not necessarily the model for selection of spouses in Colorado City, I am told the wants of the parties involved are taken into account. Marriages are more likely to be arranged by parents and the community’s religious leadership. They believe that divine inspiration plays a substantial role in this process. Sometimes this amounts to being sure some priesthood holder is responsible for taking care of everyone in need of care. Not all such marriages work and you will see a cancellation of sealings, a kind of divorce, in those instances. Sometimes people marry before they reach majority with their parents’ permission. Sometimes there are relatively large age gaps between husbands and wives. Romance is the model with the Allred group.
One of the main reasons for these marriages is that children and large families are the norm. It is my understanding that sexual relationships between spouses are not considered proper unless children are possible.69 Some stereotypes that have developed about this life are accurate in a general way and many simply are untrue. My experience with friends in Colorado City suggests that women are often reserved when they first encounter strangers and they go through a stage of sizing you up. But the women can be very assertive and outspoken. I remember an interview I had with Vera Johnson Black some months ago where she struck me as an especially strong-willed woman who probably was not reluctant to speak her mind to anyone.
I think polygamy may also serve a similar function in Colorado City as it did for nineteenth century Mormons, that of a distinct marking that kept members in the group. It clearly identified you as a member of a distinct religious community making it psychologically and socially difficult to leave the group and blend into the world. Some religious historians believe this was on Joseph Smith’s mind when the doctrine was introduced.70 This is especially so when the marking is one that draws some persecution from the world, resulting in increased group solidarity.
In conclusion I would like to suggest that we can all benefit from religious tolerance. Mormons, because of our experience at the hands of great intolerance a century ago, should be prepared to set the standard for tolerance of the sincere religious views and practices of others, even when we strongly disagree with them. This shouldn’t mean that we accept practices that actually injure unwilling participants or that we accept another group’s ways without any question, but we shouldn’t be eager to condemn.