For those of you who have kept up with and continue to follow this series, we thank you for your diligence and patience. In part 1 we tracked the polygamist Underground and the discursive splitting it generated within Mormonism. From there, part 2 cast the issuance of Manifestos in light of the possibilities for reading capacitated by that discursive rupture and semiotic fragmenting. This led, eventually, to strategies for curtailing what was emerging as a kind of neo-Underground by Church leaders, and the Church courts wherein these things were (not particularly) sorted out were canvassed in part 3. The formal division between holdout polygamists and the newly monogamous Church only began to really take hold with the excommunication of recalcitrant apostles, most prominent among them John W. Taylor. Discussion of his excommunication comprised the bulk of part 4 in the series. Again, I heartily recommend that you read Daymon’s dissertation, available here. Now, to business…
Brad: We finished our last discussion by alluding to the significance of John Woolley’s son, Lorin Woolley. His chief contribution to the 1920s polygamist Underground is that he furnishes a new story.
Daymon: So Lorin Woolley starts to tell the story—John Woolley never really fully comes on board with all the details of the story and he dies pretty quickly after the story starts to really circulate—and in 1922 Lorin meets up with some of these excommunicated Mormons, among them Joseph Musser. This is a small group of people who had been meeting in the Sugarhouse area, at Musser’s house. They’re meeting in secret, they don’t want a lot of people involved. They’re trying to decide what to do. They have a factory—the Baldwin Radio Company—that they’ve opened and are running, Matthias Cowley is on the board of directors. Cowley shows up here and there throughout this story, but Woolley’s the one who really takes the reigns.
Brad: Lorin Woolley.
Daymon: Woolley attends this meeting and, really for the first time, tells the story of where his father got his authority and keys, and why he was still performing plural marriages in the Salt Lake temple, even up to 1914. And, of course, this is the story of the 1886 Revelation. So there was already a great deal known and understood about this 1886 revelation, at least in certain circles. And, again, Musser is not just a rank-and-file Mormon, so to speak. He’s, you might say, a second-tier leader, he had access to sensitive materials, his father was a Church historian, he was friends with many of the apostles as they were growing up. And, of course, the Woolleys were very close to both John Taylors. And at this meeting Dan Bateman stands up and bears testimony of the revelation. Bateman was another one of Taylor’s bodyguards. So now, at this point, you have a text—the 1886 revelation. And copies are now being made and circulating. And on top of the text Lorin Woolley positions his father’s authority and, by implication, his own authority.
Brad: There’s a story now, no longer just the story of a revelation, but a story that begins with the revelation and ends with what for them is the present day, the present moment, with themselves. The story involves a secret group of men who are basically cut off from the main Church, but have an independent, separate line of authority to continue to operate and live the fullness of the priesthood.
Daymon: And, interestingly, there’s no evidence of any plural marriages being performed from about 1914 to 1922. I don’t doubt that there were some, but at this point the movement really seems to be dying a quiet death. But Lorin Woolley rescues and resuscitates it, by providing a story. He describes a question put before John Taylor about whether they could, even temporarily, cease polygamy, as a political expedient. The question is put to Taylor by leading men, Woolley says, and of course this was true—this question had been put to John Taylor any number of times, and every time he returned the same answer: No. We can’t even think it.
Brad: We can’t budge an inch. We have to do it openly and proudly.
Daymon: Right. There were some, like Charles Penrose, who had the idea that they could insert language into the state constitution banning polygamy, but then claim “we don’t practice polygamy, we practice celestial marriage. This isn’t forbidding any of our marriages, just gentile polygamy.” They were very tricky with how they used these terms, sometimes very legalistic, sometimes very vague.
Brad: But Taylor would have none of it. No compromise, no evasiveness.
Daymon: Right. No shenanigans for Taylor. It was, you fold your collar up and you bear the brunt of the wind with patience and forbearance. There’s no reason to don the robes of the false priesthood just to keep Satan from coming after you. This remains throughout. There are plenty of unpublished revelations, addressed to Taylor, that say the same thing: polygamy cannot be taken away. If polygamy is taken away from God’s people, then they’re no longer His people. This goes all the way back to Joseph Smith. If the Saints don’t live celestial marriage, the Lord will raise up another people. And chop off Joseph’s head. So Lorin Woolley tells this story, and plenty of people bear testimony of either having been there or of having visions presented to them of this event, they almost have their own little Day of Pentecost, at Musser’s house. But Woolley is telling much more than anyone else had ever heard.
Brad: And he kind of throws a twist into the story, because Taylor in this rendering is no longer just stubborn and defiant. There’s a new dynamic, a new strategy whereby Taylor desires to keep polygamy alive.
Daymon: And over the course of the 1920s Woolley fleshes out the story, recalling new and interesting details, until by 1929…
Brad: It gets kind of standardized and canonized.
Daymon: Right. Joe Musser writes an official version of the story, which Lorin agrees is a true and accurate description of what happened. And Dan Bateman affirms, “it is true and correct in every detail, although I wasn’t there for some of the other stuff.” Well, what is the other stuff? Well, according to Woolley—and you can read this in all kinds of pamphlets, it’s really the founding story or Mormon Fundamentalism—John Taylor was asked this question, and Joseph Smith comes to him along with Brigham Young in some versions. And Jesus is there also. And they all tell Taylor, no way, no how can you ever give up polygamy. So John Taylor says the next morning that he would sooner suffer his right hand to be cut off than renounce polygamy, which is kind of significant since it’s with the right hand that you make many of these covenants. So the story assumes standardized character in 1928-29, and this is really significant because up until this time, it is left up to individual Mormons to figure out for themselves whether or not Church leaders were winking at polygamy. And while such stuff can sustain secret polygamy, it’s really not possible to sustain a stable movement when it requires everyone to question whatever anyone is saying publicly. How can you make a movement when every time a leader says something, the foundation of the movement dictates that you should probably read it as its opposite?
Brad: But now there’s a new history, grounded in firm and unquestioned facts, rather than in uncertainties, that builds itself on those facts in elaborate ways, accounting for the present in a way that both legitimates it but also establishes it on firm ground.
Daymon: So the key moment in the story is that John Taylor now ordains all the men present, the bodyguards and so on, with the sealing keys, which Taylor, by his own admission, had already given to all the patriarchs anyway.
Brad: Which led to so much of the earlier trouble, because nobody could figure out who was doing what because all these patriarchs, after John Taylor, were acting independently.
Daymon: Taylor had really sort of redistributed Mormonism into a thousand different places. But regardless of all those details, in 1928, there’s really only one person left, and that’s Lorin Woolley. And he says that he was ordained to hold the sealing power, by his father. Why? Because the Lord will not suffer that a single year pass without a child being born to polygamously sealed parents. He presents himself as saving not so much the Church as the world. The fate of the world rests upon that authority that he alone holds to perform plural marriages. Now, part of the real irony here is that there is no evidence that Lorin Woolley actually ever took a plural wife. He was excommunicated from the LDS Church in 1924 for “distributing falsehoods.” But of course, he also said that it was too sacred a thing to talk about. So at this point, 28-29, Musser really becomes one of the heads and key figures of this new movement. They’re meeting at his house, he’s very close to Woolley.
Brad: Woolley’s a guy with a story and a memory that, as people catch sight of his vision, makes him the point of origin.
Daymon: And Woolley lays his hands on Musser’s head and ordains him to the Council of Friends. This was really a new thing for Mormons. They’d heard of the Council of Fifty, the Council of the Twelve, any number of councils, but this Council of Friends Woolley said went back to this 1886 meeting in September.
Brad: Up to this point, people of course knew that John Taylor had been stubborn about plural marriage, resistant, uncompromising, but for him it had always been all-or-nothing. But they’re telling a story with an unexpected twist, where Taylor independently confers authorizing keys to certain individuals, this Council of Friends. The idea being that if the other Councils—the Q12, the C50, the FP—in the main body of the Church and the leadership of the Church were forced to officially and fully abandon polygamy, there would still now be this independent line of authority and keys that will enable its continuation in the wilderness.
Daymon: It’s seen as a backup measure, or a special dispensation—that’s Woolley’s terminology—but this Council of Friends held the keys of the Kingdom. He began to distinguish between the keys of the Kingdom, the keys of the Patriarchal Order, and the keys of the Presidency of the Church. And he said that Joseph F. Smith had the keys of the Presidency of the Church, but had given them back during his 1918 vision which later became a part of the D&C. So there were now no longer any keys to the Presidency of the Church on the earth. The Church was basically dead (as the Supreme Court had affirmed 40 years earlier).
Brad: But the Church being dead had no implications about priesthood or authority or other keys.
Daymon: Because there was already a continued Council of Friends, consisting of seven people, with John Woolley at the head of it. And when he died, he passed the keys to Lorin, his son. The original members were believed to include George Q. Cannon, John W. Taylor, John Taylor, Woolley, and a few others. But Lorin Woolley’s story really begins to expand. His own biography starts to take on some really fantastic story lines, for example, the claim that he was actually himself ordained an apostle at the age of eight by Brigham Young, which of course was something that Brigham Young was in fact famous for doing, though there’s no evidence that he ever ordained Woolley, but he did ordain his own sons at early ages. So there’s even this implicit hint that the old practice of adoption, that maybe Lorin Woolley is an adopted son of Brigham Young.
Brad: And adoptions didn’t completely cease until the mid 1890s, if I recall correctly, so the timeline would fit.
Daymon: Right. And since the storyline technically works, it’s possible that some of these things actually happened, though there’s really no way to recover this stuff from the materials we have currently. And Woolley also tells other stories, among them that he was a part of Teddy Roosevelt’s security detail, what we would now call the Secret Service, and that Roosevelt was, in fact, a member of the Council of Friends. Woolley also claimed a relationship with Bonaparte, with Disraeli, that he had moved in pretty important and powerful circles, and in fact that the Council of Friends was a kind of informal governing body of the entire world. And now, he’s the only one left living. But he finally reorganizes the Council of Friends by ordaining, among others, Leslie Broadbent, Joseph Musser, these figures who become the leaders of Mormon Fundamentalism in the next decade.
Brad: So we’ve got a new story, a narrative going possibly as far back as this secret child ordination by Young as an apostle, and maybe even as far back as Joseph’s experience with the angel wielding the sword commanding the necessity of plural marriage, and it’s a story in which you can see the groundwork being laid for the events of what was, at that time, the previous three chaotic decades. And this narrative provides an alternative source of explicit authority, an alternative route for the continued practice of plural marriage, independently of the Church which is going, in this narrative, to crumble under the pressure exerted upon it by the federal government and the imperatives of financial capitalism. Despite this, this narrative provides for the saving, in exile, of true priesthood, of the true patriarchal order of marriage, independently of the Church. The narrative shields the true priesthood from the awful fate of the now dead Church, and they write themselves into the story, making themselves in a certain sense the story’s apotheosis. The story literally culminates right then and there in Musser’s living room where Woolley is addressing and ordaining them, reconstituting them as a renewed Council of Friends.
Daymon: And the important part here is that it is organized in secret, which makes perfect sense both within the logic of the narrative but also in terms of the practical needs of the new movement. The way this story gets reproduced and transmitted, the pathways along which it is going to circulate, really position any given addressee, the person who’s ear you’re whispering in, at the next link of this saving chain, this saving remnant of the entire world.
Brad: You become corralled into the narrative and its logic simply by virtue of hearing the story told. And if you believe the story, it utterly changes your world. So by 1932-33, the Council of Friends have reorganized, they start calling themselves apostles, they start having prayer meetings on Thursdays, the same time that the LDS Church apostles have their weekly meeting, they turn and pray toward the temple. And now the question becomes, if they have the keys for sealing, which they were sure they did in fact have from Woolley, they’re still missing certain keys of authority to formally establish the priesthood and the kingdom. So they were very much concerned in these early years, from ’32 until Woolley’s death in ’34, with adding to their existing authority some kind of organizational authority. They had certain priesthood keys, but the believed this to be insufficient to organize a Church.
Brad: And they don’t just solve the problem by arrogating to themselves the authority to do it. They meet together for an extended, protracted period and they pray for a revelation, for a sign from God that they’re on the correct path, and that they have the authority to move forward. This is no power grab.
Daymon: No, not at all. These guys were pretty reasonable folks, regardless of what you think of some of the things they believe.
Brad: They were reasonable, they were sincere.
Daymon: Absolutely. And it was not all about s-e-x. These were the same kinds of accusations that the gentiles used to throw at Brigham Young, John Taylor, and the Mormons. Nowadays we can be pretty content to throw these kinds of things at Fundamentalists, but it just doesn’t seem that way to me. They were very serious about this, they would meet up every week and have a prayer circle, engage in the true order of prayer, as most of them had been raised to do either in their homes or at the temple with a group of friends. So they would meet and try to call down revelation, or messengers, at one point they end up in the canyons trying to do this.
Brad: This isn’t something that just lasts a couple of weeks.
Daymon: For more than a year they report in their meeting minutes “seeking for divine approval to start a church.”
Brad: And not receiving it.
Daymon: And not receiving it, but being persistent. But at the same time you have a group of people, of followers, who are asking these guys to do things like baptize them. And initially Lorin Woolley is pretty reluctant to do it. Joe Musser is reluctant because Woolley is reluctant. They say that they don’t know if they have the authority to baptize. And they are certainly reluctant to collect tithing.
Brad: The authority to do these things vested in the authority to organize the Church. The authority that Joseph F. Smith had but relinquished during his vision. Nobody has it now.
Daymon: It would have been very easy for Lorin Woolley to just resolve it by saying that he held all these keys, that Joseph F. secretly gave them to him, or something. He never took that step. It seems to me that Lorin Woolley was never really about power and having a lot of women or money. There’s just no way you can reasonably read his biography that way. This introduces a real problem for them. How do they help out these people who are genuine and sincere and want to pay their tithing and get baptized with proper authority, who basically have all the trappings of Mormons today, and Mormons then. They just want to do things right.
Brad: And they want to be supported by and be a part of a religious community.
Daymon: So they start to accept their tithing. Musser collects it, though he’s hardly getting fat off their offerings. And they begin to organize as a group of people who want to live the law of consecration. So they go down to Short Creek, what is now Colorado City, and Woolley promises them that this land will be fruitful, even though back then, as now, it was a desert. Nevertheless, they leave the city and go out into the desert, a standard pattern going back to the Book of Mormon, and they try to live consecration. Musser and a few other leaders initially stay in Salt Lake City. Musser was a kind of Jack of all trades, and master of none. He was the head of some oil companies, some drilling companies, one called Diamond Drilling that never really had any success, there’s the Baldwin radio factory, but he renounces all his business interests. Woolley tells him that he should be devoting all his time to the Kindgom. So he gives up really any kind of personal financial security that he might have had at that time, and of course he also has a fairly large family to take care of. So these guys are willing to sacrifice a great deal, not just making a power grab.
Musser, at this time, before all this southern Utah stuff starts, has an exchange with Joseph Fielding Smith. They write letters to each other, back and forth, starting in 1929, just after the meeting at Musser’s where Woolley first tells the story, and these two had basically grown up together because they were about the same age and they had both spent so much time in the Church Historian’s office. And what starts it all is Joe Musser, in 1929, is sitting in a sacrament meeting, and he’s sitting in a seat of honor, up on the stand, and he takes the sacrament. The bishop doesn’t stop him, nobody stops him, nobody makes a big deal of it, except Joseph Fielding Smith, who was at the meeting, writes him a letter. He says, you’ve been excommunicated, you shouldn’t be taking the sacrament. Musser says, just because I’m excommunicated, doesn’t mean I can’t take the sacrament. So they begin this back and forth, and it gets pretty nasty. But this is really where Joe Musser and Joseph Fielding Smith start to work out the rival claims regarding the relationship between the “priesthood”—whatever that means, which gets worked out in the next decade or so—and the “Church.” Again, whatever that means, it too will get worked out over the next decade.
Brad: But the exchange itself brings all the important questions squarely onto the table, right to the surface. Musser’s claim is, sure I’m out of your Church, sure you’ve expelled me from this organization, but you don’t have the power to take away my priesthood.
Daymon: Nor does he have the power to forbid him to take the sacrament. This was something that people, like today, could administer on their own, in their homes. Again, Musser is not one of these guys who in just absolute rebellion against his church leaders because he wants power or sex or money. But this exchange with somebody who really was a friend was really a difficult experience for Musser personally. It becomes clear that he is not, he will never get back into the Church. Nor is he going to continue with the fiction that the Church is winking at what he’s doing and secretly wants him to continue.
Brad: He can’t even get Joseph Fielding to acknowledge that he still has the priesthood.
Daymon: And Smith won’t acknowledge that his father, Joseph F., had sanctioned any of these things in secret, which Musser knew he had. Joseph Fielding Smith says, well, here’s the public record. Here, for example, is what was said in general conference—that is all that matters. That is the Truth.
Brad: And of course that is a lot of what matters to polygamists too, it’s just that they’ve been reading this public record through a different lens.
Daymon: And hearing through other channels that these things are just for public consumption, and not to be taken as absolutely true. So Musser shows this exchange to Lorin Woolley, and at that point Woolley says, you’ve got to devote your time and talents to building the kingdom. He anoints Musser an apostle. And they need to sever all ties with the old Church and go out into the desert. And this is what they do over the next couple of years, they go out into the desert, Woolley dies in ’34, Musser stays in SLC as the kind of defacto head of the Council. And they’ve got this group trying to live consecration.
Brad: And plural marriage.
Daymon. Of course.
Brad: And if there had been any question in anybody’s mind about the relationship between the main LDS Church and polygamists, about the degree to which the main Church might be quietly tolerating continued polygamy in its ranks, turning a blind eye to it—if there was any question up to this point, we’re now at Short Creek.
Daymon: Now before we proceed there is one earlier moment worth bringing up here. When they were seeking a revelation with the authority to organize a church, and they weren’t getting it, this is 1932-33, Woolley says that, alright we’ve got to go back and secretly mingle with the other members of the Church. In other words, go back and try to blend in. Go to sacrament meeting, go to your other meetings.
Brad: We can’t do anything, we don’t have the authority, so just go and attend church with the rest of the Mormons.
Daymon: And “leaven the loaf” is the phrase he uses. Be a saving remnant, basically. And this even though they had been ostracized, and were viewed as adulterers, treated with all of the indignities that nowadays polygamists suffer. So at this point, 1933, again, Fundamentalism seems basically dead. They’re advocating a move back into the organizational structure of the LDS Church, even if they still doubted the efficacy of the baptism, or the endowment, or any other performances. They would go back and just wait until they received approval from God to start their own thing. This is what they tell their followers to do, but they won’t listen. They don’t do it. They start to sort of throw money and offerings at the Council of Friends, and say, basically, baptize us. So these guys kind of have their hands forced, in large part because they lack any serious authoritarian impulse, into organizing a schismatic movement, into forming a new kind of church, which they are otherwise reluctant to do, not having received authority. And they all view consecration as really central and fundamental to this new church and movement. They’re going to live all of it.
Brad: Plural marriage, consecration, economic separatism, the works.
Daymon. Complete independence from the modern world. And if that includes the LDS Church, then so be it. But what you have by 1935 is Musser writing letters to these guys down at Short Creek, and Musser, at this point, takes an ironically very authoritarian stance. He begins to echo the arguments that Joseph Fielding Smith had made in letters, that the Priesthood will not lead you astray, the Brethren will not lead you astray, so get in line and follow.
Brad: But he’s pressing that logic into the service of the Council of Friends, not the LDS Church hierarchy.
Daymon: That’s the irony. NOW the priesthood won’t lead you astray. But of course from 1890 up until now…
Brad: The Priesthood had been doing nothing but leading you astray.
Daymon: So they have all the ingredients. A new founding document, this 1886 revelation with the story attached to it. They have a claim of direct priesthood lineage, through John Woolley to Lorin Woolley, now to the Council of Friends.
Brad: Basically a canonized origin story which inscribes the founding documents into this really compelling secret narrative.
Daymon: And they’ve got some resources behind them. They’ve got plenty of visions and testimonies, speaking in tongues.
Brad: They have an organizational structure in place, in the Council of Friends.
Daymon: And in 1935 Musser devotes himself full time to publishing their new periodical called Truth. It’s through subscription, it’s a dollar a year. And this is really where Fundamentalism grounds itself discursively as a Restoration of 19th-century Mormonism. And so Musser goes back and rereads the Journal of Discourses, he was a decent historian, and obviously very committed to this movement, willing to make lots of sacrifices. And the new magazine really becomes the foundation of claims that Fundamentalism really is a continuation of True Mormonism, Pioneer Mormonism. Old 19th-century turns of phrase start to get revived, they pick up on a lot of the modes of speaking, they start to replicate the same kinds of sermons from the pioneer era. And of course Joe Musser didn’t dress like Fundamentalists dress today, he wore regular, fashionable if modest clothing. As did all these other guys. But they start to really become reactionary against what they see as the decadence of the modern world. It starts as capitalism vs. consecration, but eventually moves into things like diet—what kinds of things should we be eating or avoiding, are canned foods okay—clothing is another thing that they start to focus on and design themselves and moving into things like makeup and hair. So the claim of independent authority was, in some sense, culturally insufficient to sustain an independent movement. Of course it was still the foundation, Lorin Woolley and the 1886 revelation. But they began to organize themselves as distinct cultural group, in reaction against the modern age, by picking up on things like long dresses, which at that point were clearly not modern.
Brad: Part of what they’re reacting against are these larger popular cultural developments that the mainstream LDS Church is, in a sense, marking itself by embracing.
Daymon: So they view the entire world through the window frame set by the LDS Church. Whatever the LDS Church is doing, that is modern.
Brad: But, again, any question of whether the main Church has some kind of don’t ask don’t tell policy when it comes to polygamists, these ideas will be firmly disabused by the Church’s participation, support of the federal raid on Short Creek.
Part 6 will focus primarily on the response within the LDS hierarchy and among LDS intellectuals to the emergent Fundamentalist movement and the claims upon which its legitimacy is premised.