Colorful Diaries of a Mormon Cowboy Published

Cowboy Apostle: The Diaries of Anthony W. Ivins, 1875-1932Salt Lake City—There are five Mormons in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. One of them is Anthony W. Ivins (1852-1934), an early Utah explorer and missionary who later became a member of the ruling Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He led an interesting, rugged life, outlined in his controversial diaries penned over the span of fifty-seven years. They are now available as Cowboy Apostle: The Diaries of Anthony W. Ivins, 1875-1932, published by Signature Books.

Utah editor Elizabeth O. Anderson is responsible for transcribing and annotating the diaries from Ivins’s small handwriting in tiny pocket books he used for that purpose. The originals are housed in the archives of the Utah State Historical Society in the old Rio Grande building in downtown Salt Lake City. Ivins offers an excellent glimpse into the struggle of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Utahns settling the Southwest, including Arizona and Mexico. He helped set up a refuge south of the U. S. border for polygamists who were on the run. His diaries also touch on his later years as a member of the church hierarchy in Salt Lake City.

Ivins grew up in St. George, loving horses, ranching, exploring, and hunting. He was drawn to politics as well: a twenty-something city councilman, county attorney, and eventually a proposed contender for the Utah governorship. What may be more historically significant was becoming president of the Juarez Stake in Mexico in 1895, where he was authorized by the Church’s First Presidency to perform secret plural marriages. Not only did he note these in his diary, he also kept a ledger which is included in his papers housed at the Historical Society archives.

These events occurred five years after Mormon Church president Wilford Woodruff declared the Church would no longer perform plural marriages. Ivins continued performing these marriages until the 1904 “second Manifesto.”

“These diaries tell a story that even seasoned Mormon historians will find interesting,” Anderson explains. “The diaries don’t exactly play into anyone’s expectations and there are interesting surprises.”

1875 ExpeditionBorn in New Jersey, Ivins experienced the western migration as a toddler. He grew up roping, fishing, and killing deer along the red cliffs of Utah’s Dixieland. By the time he was twenty-three, he was seasoned enough to take part in a dangerous 1875 horseback expedition to Mexico. This was a Church assignment to determine if possible colonies could be established there. The five-man expedition was led by Dan Jones, the hardscrabble author of Forty Years among the Indians who told Ivins that it didn’t matter if Jones rode drunk the whole way, he would expect the other missionaries to follow him without question, just as they would a military general.

Periodically along the trail, Ivins would pull out his little pocket diary to tally the fish he caught, the deer he killed, who they met, and who died. These early adventures led to subsequent church assignments in Mexico over a period of thirty years, all of which are also chronicled in his diaries. Between excursions, Ivins married a sister of one of his co-adventurers whose father was Mormon apostle Erastus F. Snow. Well-connected in other ways, Ivins had a cousin who became an apostle and eventually church president, Heber J. Grant.

Ivins was self-educated but politically liberal. As a monogamist, he was an attractive choice handling diplomatic chores in presiding over the church’s sixteen colonies in northern Mexico. He settled his family in Colonia Juárez, and as Mexico fell into civil war in 1908, Ivins found himself negotiating with revolutionaries as the Mormons attempted to retain their neutrality.

The editor has included, at the back of the volume, an essay by Ivins’s son, Grant, giving further eyewitness details about polygamy in the Mormon colonies. Church leaders would leave their young wives in Mexico and return to Utah. According to his son, Ivins concealed his frustration with the apostles who secretly married or hid their plural wives in the colonies. In one case he refused to marry Brigham Young University President Benjamin Cluff to a plural wife, but was trumped by a visiting apostle who performed the ceremony anyway.

Later, when Ivins was called as an apostle, he tried to quash the culture of plural marriage he previously helped enable. He was an altogether progressive influence in the Quorum of the Twelve from his time in Mexico which tempered his views. For instance, he witnessed the death of Apostle Abraham O. Woodruff, who died from small pox when he refused to take a vaccine to prevent infection, saying it would not be necessary because he was “on the Lord’s errand.”

Later in life, Ivins sneaked away from general conference to attend the state fair. Even though he and his wife lived mostly in an urban environment north of Temple Square, the barn in their expansive back yard quartered several horses.

Ivins diary page

The publication of Cowboy Apostle is a landmark endeavor. Long talked about in historical circles for detailing post-1890 plural marriages, they are now available in print for the first time, providing the fullest account yet of life in the Mormon Mexican colonies by a high-ranking Church officer. Spanning nearly six decades, they present the reader with several incarnations of a prominent man as his life and worldview evolved.


The other four Mormons in the Cowboy Hall of Fame are J. Reuben Clark, Jacob Hamblin, Jessie Knight, and Brigham Young.

A Kindle version is available for $20.00 on