excerpt – The Last Pioneer

The Last Pioneer: John Taylor, a Mormon ProphetThe story of the Great Basin is a vital segment of western Americana; yet it has never been told. The Great Basin is, of course, Mormon country. Rather amazingly, despite all that has been published about the Latter-day Saints, the complete saga of their pioneer period simply hasn’t been put between the covers of any one book.1 Works on the subject seem either to fragment the story or to mire it in the proselyting effort. As a result, we have three distinct concepts of pioneer Mormonism, none complete.

To the outside world, the pioneer story means Brigham Young, polygamy, and colonization of the Great Basin. To Mormons, the vital story is of Joseph Smith, founder and prophet of the faith (and the less said about polygamy the better).2 The third version is the proselyting concept so vigorously presented by the far-flung missionary system; it is a mixture of doctrine and mythology, only incidentally historical.

Unfortunately for biographers, neither the life of Joseph Smith nor Brigham Young spans the pioneer period. Joseph was killed when the Saints were still in Illinois. Brigham brought the faithful to Utah and for thirty years carried on the long war between the Mormons and the Gentile world. He died, however, on the very eve of the climactic struggle, which lasted another decade.

John Taylor, a contemporary of both Joseph and Brigham, played a leading role during fifty-one violent years of pioneer history. He became leader of the Saints upon Brigham’s death and was in command during the final decade of the long war. Taylor’s death marked the end of the original concept of Mormonism, the grand plan for the impossible ideal. Modern Mormonism began under new leadership. He was, quite literally, the last pioneer, the final man in authority to represent the old era.

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my collaborator, brother, and best friend, Raymond W. Taylor. This really should be his book, not mine. He had a lifelong ambition to write the biography of John Taylor. I agreed to act in an advisory capacity. Raymond’s literary style, however, was what he himself called “reformed Egyptian” (the language of the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated). Since I didn’t have Joseph Smith’s gift of translation, we decided on a collaboration, he to do the research, me to write. He certainly did his end of the bargain, flooding me with twice the material that was possible to use.

This, then, is not my book. It is our book. Except for circumstance, it would have been Raymond’s book.

Redwood City, California



1. I am speaking of trade books for general circulation in the “Gentile” world. Such works as Orson F. Whitney’s History of Utah, and B. H. Roberts’s Comprehensive History of the Church, are faith-promoting works for internal readership.

2. Mormon apologists have gone to astounding lengths to sweep plural marriage under the historical rug. Preston Nibley, for example, wrote a 552-page biography of Brigham Young without mentioning that the man had more than one wife.

* * * * *

Chapter 20

Gusts of rain shattered against the coach windows as the Utah Central rumbled north through the storm. The pot-bellied stove at the front of the car was cherry red, yet Taylor tucked his greatcoat around his knees against the chill wind worming through the cracks. From the train window he saw pools standing in sodden fields that couldn’t be harvested. Apples torn loose by the screaming wind lay thick in the orchards. Livestock huddled in the lee of barns and haystacks, tail to the gale. The long period of storm and raw cold during late September and early October was a disaster to farmers—”conference weather” with a vengeance.

In Ogden, a white-top awaited, with a grim-faced stake president at the reins. The local church organization was rent with dissention[sic], and John Taylor had arrived with two members of the Twelve to settle the difficulty. During luncheon at the stake president’s home, the man suggested that it would be well to review the situation before the meeting. Taylor, however, told him he’d rather wait until both sides were represented.

The meeting was at two o’clock. Taylor sat on the stand, facing angry men on both sides of the dispute. The stake presidency and high council were divided against themselves; bishops and their counselors of the various wards, leaders of the high priests, seventies, and elders quorums, were gathered for a confrontation, each side of the dispute determined to vanquish and humble the other. After the meeting was opened with prayer, Taylor arose and advised the gathering that he hadn’t come to hear bickering, nor was he going to arbitrate an argument. He then organized prayer circles for the purpose of seeking reciprocity, forgiveness, and a more complete reliance upon the Lord. When they obtained the spirit of God, he counseled, they could settle their own problems.

He adjourned the meeting, and took the next train back to Salt Lake.1 The grossly-handsome Governor Murray had returned from Washington, where he had performed valiant duty helping to frame and lobby for the Edmunds Bill. The five carpetbaggers of the Utah Commission arrived to oversee the replacement of every elected official of the Territory, and at this time of foul weather and dire forboding [sic], the heavens opened and the Lord spoke to John Taylor:

Thus saith the Lord to the Twelve, and to the priesthood and people of my church: . . .

George Teasdale and Heber J. Grant were appointed to vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve. Seymour B. Young was to be appointed to the presiding quorum of the seventies, “if he will conform to my law; for it is not meet that men who will not abide my law shall preside over my priesthood. . . .” The various church officials from top to bottom were to “purify themselves,” and organize “according to my law.” The unworthy were to be removed; for only those who “shall honor me and obey my laws” could hold office.

I call upon my priesthood, and upon all of my people, to repent of all their sins and shortcomings. . . and to seek with all humility to fulfill my law. . . . And I will bless and be with you, saith the Lord, . . . and I will hear your prayers, and my Spirit and power shall be with you, and my blessings shall rest upon you. . . and your enemies shall not have dominion over you, for I will preserve you and confound them. . . .

The weather broke. The storm cleared away and the late fall season became beautiful. John Taylor was at peace. There was no remnant of nagging doubt as to what his course as leader of the Saints would be.

The first act of the Utah Commission was to require a test oath of everyone registering to vote, a man to swear that he had never lived simultaneously with more than one woman “in the marriage relation,” the woman to swear that she never had entered into such relation. Taylor bitterly denounced the oath, which gave the vote to the roué, the libertine, the strumpet, the brothel-keeper, but excluded those who lived the Principle. He told of the venerable Feramorz Little, early mayor of Salt Lake City, whose two wives had died years previously.

He had a son who was appointed registrar, . . . and this son had the mortification of being compelled. . .to refuse his father permission to register. . . . Soon after. . .a well-known keeper of a bagnio and her associates presented themselves, and the son had the humiliation of having to permit them to register. These courtesans afterward voted.

Another case: A man came to the place of registration and remarked to the officer that he supposed he could not register, as he had a wife and also kept a mistress. . . . But the officer knew what was in the oath better than this man, and. . .[he:] was at once sworn and registered.2

The unseating of George Q. Cannon, the casting out of polygamists in the territorial legislature and prohibiting them from jury service, was supposed to break church power in Utah. However, John T. Caine, a Mormon candidate to succeed Cannon, received 23,039 votes to 4,884 for his Gentile opponent, Judge P. T. Van Zile. Monogamous Mormons in the local legislature showed identical attitudes to the polygamists they had replaced, as did non-polygamous juries.3 Frustrated, the Utah Commission reported that though the Edmunds Bill was designed to break the power of the Mormon church, we are in truth compelled to say that in its practical operation it has not effected [sic]and will not effect [sic] the desired reforms. The local government is still composed of the Mormon church as fully as before. The disfranchised portion dictates the course of those who are not disfranchised as completely and absolutely as before.

The laws already enacted have served only as a gentle irritant, having united the people, strengthened the control of the Mormon priests, and failed to diminish the celebration of polygamous marriages.

The Commission advocated as the “most feasible and effective plan” the appointment of a legislative council, “with power to legislate for the Territory in place of the present legislature.”

On receiving this report, Sen. George F. Edmunds began drafting new and stronger measures to settle the “Utah question.”

Failure of the Edmunds Bill to bring the church to its knees touched off a crusade against the “unholy hierarchy” in Utah. Missionaries were mobbed, particularly by southern rednecks. “The time is coming swiftly when there is going to be surrender,” the Trib fumed (February 18, 1883).

The political portions of the Mormon creed, together with polygamy, are going to surrender to the Republic, or the Republic is going to surrender to them.

But a few newspapers maintained a level head. The Omaha Bee said,

To disfranchise a Mormon today, because he is a Mormon, would simply mean that tomorrow you disfranchise a Roman Catholic because he is a Catholic.

Denouncing the Commission plan “that shall virtually abolish self-government in Utah, and the minority put in control,” the St. Paul Pioneer Press said,

Unfortunately for the hopes of those who desire the suppression, Congress will not waste time in discussing the demands of the Utah delegation of Gentiles.

Taylor, however, knew that the furor was only gathering momentum. New legislation in preparation in Washington would make it legal for wives to testify against husbands, and small children against parents.

“The days for the peaceful solution of this question are past,” thundered the Rev. DeWitt Talmage.

Mormonism is gathering momentum. A few batteries on the hill east of Salt Lake might once have put a quietus on this great outrage, but not now. God only knows by what national exhaustion the curse is to be extirpated. But go it must.

Meanwhile another petition for Utah statehood was denied by Congress. In the Senate there was furious debate over the new Edmunds Bill.

“This bill proposes to disfranchise a whole people,” Senator Call charged.

Why? Because it says they entertain opinions different from those which the Senator from Vermont entertains upon the subject of polygamy—without trial, without conviction, without hearing, and without evidence.

In reply, Senator Logan said, “Why not strike suffrage down completely in Utah? I am willing to go to any length within the constitution for the suppression of this crime.”

Call pointed out,

What is there in the constitution in regard to marriage, polygamy or monogamy, to authorize Congress to declare what shall be the domestic relations of the people of the several territories? No reason can be given for a proposition that congress has authority, exclusive and absolute, without limitation in regard to the subject of marriage in the territories.

The Deseret News thundered,

The truth is that the whole territorial system, which has grown up outside of constitutional powers, is not only unrepublican, but is anti-republican, despotic, tyrannical and oppressive; and, as exercised over Utah, is more than anything attempted by the British Government over the colonies which repudiated its authority.

There was jubilation in Utah when the newest Edmunds Bill was defeated in Congress. But this, Taylor knew, was premature. Smarting, the obsessed senator from Vermont began working on yet another measure. That he had full administration support was indicated by President Arthur’s message to Congress, December 1883:

I am convinced. . . that polygamy has become so strongly entrenched in the Territory of Utah, that it is profitless to attack it with any but the stoutest of weapons which constitutional legislation can make. I favor, therefore, the repeal of the act upon which the existing government depends, and the resumption by the National Legislature of the entire political control of the Territory. . . .

A crowd was gathered at the Federal Building on Main Street, Friday afternoon, October 17, 1884, as John Taylor alighted from his carriage, together with his secretary, L. John Nuttall. The president of the LDS Church had been subpoenaed as a witness.

The courtroom was stifling, every seat taken, people standing tightly packed around the walls. The trial of Rudger Clawson, accused of polygamy, was the first major case to be tried under the Edmunds Law. Clawson, now twenty-seven, had as a young missionary been mobbed in the south, and his companion, Joseph Standing, murdered. Clawson had received a hero’s welcome on bringing the body home for burial.

Rudger Clawson had married Florence Ann Dinwoodey, and the indictment charged that two years later he also had married Lydia Spencer. Preliminary testimony was entirely hearsay.

“I could not help thinking as I looked upon the scene,” Taylor reflected, “that there was no necessity for all this.”4

“Here was a young man blessed with more than ordinary intelligence, bearing amongst all who know him a most enviable reputation for virtue, honesty, sobriety, and all other desirable characteristics that we are in the habit of supposing go to make a man respected and beloved the civilized world over.” Rudger Clawson had shown his devotion to the gospel “by going forth without purse or scrip to preach in the midst of the unbelieving the doctrines of a most unpopular faith.” When his companion fell victim to mob violence, Clawson rescued the mangled body and brought it home.

This heroic young man is the one now arraigned before the courts of his country, for an alleged offense against the morality of the age. He from his earliest recollection had been taught to reverence the Bible as the word of God, to revere the lives and examples of the ancient worthies whom Jehovah honored by making them His confidents [sic];.. . yet all these men—the friends, associates, and confidents of the great Creator of heaven and earth—were men with more than one wife, some with many wives, yet they still possessed and rejoiced in the love and honor of the great judge of all the world, whose judgments are just, and whose words are all righteousness.

This young man is charged with following these worthy examples. It is asserted that he has taken to wife a beautiful and virtuous young lady, belonging, like himself, to one of our most respected families, and who also believes in the Bible, and in the example set her by those holy women of old, such as Rachel, Ruth, Hannah, and others, who honored God’s law, and became mothers of prophets, priests, and kings.

Taylor thought: “What need had these two to follow such examples of a by-gone age? Why not walk in the way of the world today, unite with our modern Christian civilization, and if passion guide their actions why call each other husband and wife? Why hallow their association by any sacred ceremony? Was there any need of such?”

Why not do as tens of thousands of others do, live in the condition of illicit love? And then if any child should be feared from this unsanctified union, why not still follow our Christian examplars, remove the foetal incumbrance, call in some. . .abortionist, male or female, that polute our land? That would have been, sub-rosa, genteel, fashionable, respectable, Christian-like, as Christianity goes in this generation. . .

Or, again, these two, in the event of a child being born, might consign it to the care of some degraded hag, some “baby farmer,” where gradually and quietly its innocent life would ebb out, and bye and bye the grief-stricken parents would receive the anticipated notice that their dear little offspring, notwithstanding every care, was dead and buried.

“This young man and woman could have done all this and no marshals with ready feet would have dogged their steps. No packed grand juries with unanimous alacrity would do the bidding of over-zealous prosecuting attorneys. No federal judge would overturn precedent, ignore law, disregard justice on purpose to convict. No, they might have been the friends, associates, companions of judge and prosecutor, governor and commissioner.” Instead, Rudger Clawson “stands in the felon’s dock,”

with every person who might possibly be his friend excluded from the jury, without the possibility of a fair trial by his peers; . . .by such people this unfortunate young gentleman has to be tried, judged, prosecuted, proscribed, and condemned because of his firm and unswerving faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. . . .

The placing of John Taylor on the witness stand provided the sensation of the day. The prosecution’s purpose was to establish the fact of Lydia Spencer’s marriage to Clawson, to prove it had taken place in the Endowment House, and to discover who had authorized the marriage and what record had been made of the ceremony. In turn, Taylor was determined not to give aid and comfort to the enemy.5

It quickly became apparent that Taylor was a reluctant witness. When the government prosecutor, William H. Dickson, asked how long he had been president of the church, Taylor replied, “Well, I cannot say precisely. The records will show.”

When Dickson attempted to question Taylor about marriages in the Endowment House, church lawyers immediately raised a cloud of objections. The judge, Chief Justice Charles S. Zane, overruled. Dickson pursued the subject, to establish “that plural marriages are required by the laws of the church to be celebrated in the Endowment House.”

Yet when Dickson asked Taylor where marriages took place, “in the Endowment House or elsewhere?” Taylor frankly admitted that sometimes they were performed there, “and sometimes elsewhere.”

Dickson was not prepared for such an answer. “Where else, if not in the Endowment House?”

“I do not know that I can say. There is no specific place appointed in which marriages occur.”

Dickson pursued the question, over many objections by church lawyers. “Are not the plural marriages entered into by the members of the church, so far as you know, performed in the Endowment House?”

“No, sir,” Taylor said.

“Where are they performed?”

“I cannot say.”

“Do you know of any plural marriages,” Dickson persisted, “ever having been performed and entered into outside of any one of the Endowment Houses [i.e., the one at Salt Lake, and the temples at St. George and Logan] within the past three years?”

Taylor, under oath, either had to tell the truth or refuse to answer. He said, “I have recollections of many such.”

Dickson was unprepared for such an answer. He rephrased the question. Taylor replied, “There is no specific place set apart for the celebration of marriages.”6

Dickson asked who authorized plural marriages.

“I give that authority,” Taylor said.

“Have you conferred upon any person that authority within the past three years?”

“Yes, sir.” Taylor identified his counselors, Joseph F. Smith and George Q. Cannon. When Dickson pressed for other names, Taylor evaded the question, by giving a most astounding and unexpected reply: “There are,” he said flatly, “hundreds of people who have that authority.”

The air was electric in the courtroom. Both Saints and Gentiles were surprised at this sworn testimony by the one person who knew the full extent of hitherto secret practices. President John Taylor had taken the Principle underground again, and had appointed the organization for its Continuance.7

Dickson next tried to find out about the records of marriages. “I am not acquainted with the records,” Taylor replied, though he did admit he could find out.

“Will you be good enough to do so?”

“Well, I am not good enough to do so,” Taylor replied, and the packed courtroom exploded in laughter.

With order restored, Dickson asked, “Who is the custodian of the records?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“Did you ever know who the custodian of the records was?”

“I do not know that I ever did.”

“Do you know that you don’t?”

“Yes; I know that I don’t.”

When Dickson tried to elicit details of the ceremony of plural marriage, Taylor refused to answer, and the question was withdrawn.

Franklin S. Richards, church attorney, cross-examined: “President Taylor, in your direct examination you spoke of having appointed or authorized persons to celebrate plural marriages. State whether or not such authorization or appointments extended only to the plural marriages, or whether the appointees had the authority to celebrate first marriages also. In other words, was the authorization general as to marriage, or confined to plural marriage only?”

“It was general in all these matters, and things performed in the [Endowment] House,” Taylor said, whether first or plural marriages.

When Taylor left the witness stand, air in the stuffy courtroom became easier to breathe, for most of the jam-packed crowd followed him out.

Two days later in Ogden, Taylor told the congregation:

I was lately called upon as a witness. . . and I want to make some explanation: . . . I was required to divulge certain things. I did not know them to divulge. Perhaps some of you have had people come to you with their confidences. I have. But I don’t want to be a confidant. Why? Because if they made a confidant of me and I was called before a tribunal, I could nor, as an honorable man, reveal their confidences, yet it would be said I was a transgressor of the law. . . . Therefore I tell them to keep their own secrets, and remember what is called the Mormon creed: “Mind your own business.”. . . I have studiously avoided knowing any more than I could possibly help about such matters.

Regarding marriages outside the temples and Endowment House, he reiterated:

It is the authority of the Priesthood, not the place, that validates and sanctions the ordinance. I was asked if people could be sealed outside. Yes. I could have told them I was sealed outside, and lots of others.8

As Rudger Clawson’s trial continued, Lydia Spencer was placed on the witness stand. Accused of the crime of being Clawson’s wife, she still could be compelled to testify against him because the marriage was illegal. In this situation, other plural wives would, in effect, brand themselves loose women by swearing that they didn’t know the father of their children, or that they were never married. Lydia couldn’t do this. She simply refused to testify. Judge Zane cited her for contempt of court, and had her imprisoned until she would cooperate. Previous cases had shown the determination of the Utah courts to force testimony from plural wives. Annie Gallifant was released only to avoid giving birth to a baby in prison. Belle Harris, niece of the Book of Mormon witness, Martin Harris, was imprisoned more than two months. The most recent case was Nellie White, who was in the penitentiary from May 22 to July 7 of that year for refusing to testify.

After a night in prison Lydia Spencer, pale from lack of sleep, testified as her husband had requested: yes; she was married to Rudger Clawson.

Clawson was sentenced to four years[‘] imprisonment and a fine of $800, on the charges of polygamy and unlawful cohabitation.9

After a council meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, Taylor was alone in the office. Alice Schwartz brought afternoon tea on a tray. He was pouring a cup when L. John Nuttall came in with accumulated mail. He went through the letters as he sipped a steaming cup, making marginal notations regarding replies. He approved sending a handkerchief to a sick man in Brigham City who had faith it would cure him. Another letter wanted him to arbitrate a bitter feud over water rights. Irrigation was the lifeblood of the desert; the man at the end of the ditch might take his rifle along as well as shovel if the canal was dry when his water turn came. Taylor referred the case to the local ward bishop’s court, suggesting appeal to the stake high council if necessary. As a policy, he wanted people to settle their own problems, and do it “without going to law against a brother.” However, he did intercede in the case of land-jumping on the Portage Indian Farm, advising jumpers that they must decide if the land was worth more than membership in the church, for he couldn’t countenance defrauding the Lamanite brethren.

A long letter from a man in Soledad, California, told of receiving a vision commanding him to seek out John Taylor, the Lord’s prophet, and could Taylor advance him train fare to Utah? Taylor scrawled the notation, “Make our usual answer.” This, given to all who asked what Mormonism offered them, was that the church could promise nothing except persecution at the hands of the enemies of Christ.

This answer also went to the man who wanted the church to sponsor his invention of a secret cipher, and share the profits.

Sensitive to the need of sympathetic representation in the world press, Taylor approved the sending of contributions—generally of less than $100—for printing and distribution of articles by hardy Gentiles with courage to stand up for a highly unpopular minority.10

Plural marriage brought a host of complications. A widow with two children was to become a plural wife. Since she had been sealed for time and eternity as the only wife of her former husband, a good man, should she marry her new husband only “for time,” and thus sacrifice the special blessings given plural wives in the hereafter? And should her children be sealed to their father or step-father?

Taylor advised her, and the children, to make their own decision.

Not all who entered the Principle were prepared to meet its requirements. One man obediently took a second wife, but after eighteen months she complained to the bishop’s court that he had never “treated her as a wife.” Taylor approved the court’s decision that the husband give her a piece of land, a house, and a divorce so that she could marry someone willing to accept his marital responsibilities.

A man wrote asking permission to have his wife’s “aged mother,” sixty-two, sealed to him for time and eternity. She had had two previous husbands, but they were Gentiles who couldn’t give her glory in the hereafter. “We do not expect,” he wrote, “to cohabit as husband and wife.”

Nevertheless, Taylor advised against the appearance of evil.

A woman wrote of her worshipful love for a polygamist. She didn’t ask for his support, nor even his love; she just wanted to be his wife, if in name only. Taylor suggested that she talk with the man and see how he felt.

A widow of John D. Lee, mother of a dozen children, wanted to be sealed to another husband, not for support nor for love, but because Lee, having been excommunicated, “would not be able to save her” in the hereafter. Taylor advised that things might be adjusted in the realms beyond the grave.11

A woman with an abusive husband wanted to be rebaptized, but had been accused of “taking medicine to avoid having children” by him. Was she worthy? Taylor approved the baptism, noting that while “these things are unpleasant” they were beyond his control. It was her own business.

He canceled the amount due from a missionary’s family who had been unable to pay rent on the house—which Taylor owned—while the man was in the Lord’s vineyard. Another mission problem came from a widow in Philadelphia, who wrote that although her faith was firm, she simply was unable to keep on feeding, clothing, and housing the missionary who had stayed at her home for nine months. Taylor instructed the elder to go elsewhere.

Taylor had called the bishop at Montpelier, Idaho, to take a mission. Eighty-one members of the ward signed a request that he stay at home. Arrival of the railroad had brought a rough class of men; the ward needed the bishop’s counsel. Taylor canceled the mission call.

Reports from Lamanite missions indicated that some converts were Indians first and Mormons second. A missionary at Blackfoot, Idaho, took sick and asked an Indian elder to administer by the laying on of hands. The Lamanite refused, saying he wasn’t a medicine man.

When a man’s wife was seduced while he was away on a mission, the guilty man offered to let the husband kill him. But the husband wasn’t vindictive. He just wanted to know if the wife could be forgiven. Yes; and sin no more, Taylor advised.

A bishop’s counselor in Ogden created a scandal by going to an astrologer when sick, who gave him medicine that cured what the laying on of hands hadn’t. What to do? Smiling, Taylor made the notation to Nuttall: “A letter to his bishop should be sufficient.”

Lot Smith, leader of the colony at Sunset, Arizona, was at once one of the most capable and faithful men in the church, while possessed of a wild temper which constantly embroiled him in squabbles. A stream of complaints from Sunset reached Taylor’s desk. The situation was complicated by personal friendship; Lot Smith and John Taylor had worked together harassing Johnston’s Army during the Utah War; they shared mutual trust and respect from long association. And, Taylor realized, the complication of living the United Order at Sunset would have tried the patience of Job.

Brother Pipkin complained of the settlement received on leaving the Order at Sunset.

I had taken two good yoke of Oxen one good wagon & one horse beside many other things to numerous to mention for which he gave me three young steers & one little old ox not worth $20 the steers unbroke & so wild that I could not manage them. . . .& for the horse I never got anything at all and for a good wagon which could not have been bought anywhere in this country for less than $125 it was apprised in at $55 for which I got a wagon which is of no use only for the Old Iron & this is in keeping with the whole Settlement if it can be called a Settlement.

When Lot heard that Pipkin refused to sign a receipt before leaving, he run [sic] in before my horses with an Iron wagon Rod in his hand swinging around saying that I would sign it before I left I told him if force was his game to pop his whip.

After a wrangle Pipkin did sign, though “I do not consider I had anything like a fair Settlement,” he said, adding “but that has nothing to do with the Gospel.”

Taylor valued the faith of souls like Pipkin; he also appreciated Lot’s problems, colonizing virgin land, bringing water onto the desert, and at the same time living the communal ownership of the Order. He counseled Lot to give liberty and justice to all, and to keep accurate accounts to prevent misunderstandings and possible lawsuits.

Refuting charges of an unfair settlement, Lot charged, “He’s got that ass-end to.” Was the Order to be run for the benefit of malcontents who pulled out, or for those with the gumption and faith to stay and make it a success?

While Taylor loved Lot Smith, handling the wrangles at Sunset demanded too much of his time, so he assigned Lot’s problems to gentle Wilford Woodruff. Lot didn’t like dealing with a subordinate. He found it hard to believe, he wrote Woodruff, that Taylor was “too busy to read a letter.”12

The mail showed that a surprising number of intellectuals and liberals believed the Mormons should be allowed to practice their religion. Taylor was amused that the Edmunds Law even made converts. Ira C. Hillock wrote from Michigan that ever since the Edmunds Bill started through Congress,

I have been alarmed by a voice sounding in my ears seeming as the loudest thunder (Ira you must be a Mormon) Sometimes in the field—sometimes in the dead of night I leap out of my sleep at this cry (Ira you must be a Mormon) . . . at last I cried out like Samuel of old (What shall I do to be a Mormon) the answer came at once (Ask President Taylor).

John Whitaker of Ogden asked a difficult question: “In what year will the son of man make his appearance on the Earth to Reign?”

Taylor’s notation in reply was “Mart 24: 36.”13

From out of the past came a letter from John Goodson:

It is now about forty-five years since you and I, Isaac Russell, Joseph Fielding, and several others, were baptized into the church by the late P. P. Pratt at Charkon’s settlement near Toronto. . . .

Goodson had been a member of that great first mission to England, which had saved the infant church. Taylor remembered that after a quarrel with Heber C. Kimball, Goodson not only quit the mission and sailed home, but burned his entire stock of the badly-needed Book of Mormon.

Since that day, the divine providence has connected us by diverse roads, to bring to pass his strange acts. You have become president of the church, and I have become a classical organist and pianoforte teacher.

Having heard of the prosperity and culture of the Saints, Goodson asked “if there would be a reasonable chance of obtaining moderate employment in my profession” in Utah. Taylor welcomed the repentance of an old friend, but could offer him nothing but persecution by the enemies of Christ.

The final letter was from William Gustaveson, a bewildered convert newly arrived from Sweden. A man who owed him money gave him a ZCMI order in payment.14 However, the value of the order had been altered, and when Gustaveson tried to cash it he found himself arrested and cast into the county jail. Inasmuch as Gustaveson had a very sketchy command of English, a fellow inmate who admitted to being “a horse thief with a little bit of honest feeling for a fellow man,” explained the situation.

I have written this for Gustaveson (I am a Gentile myself) and I think it is a sin and a shame to have this man down here. . . .If ever there was an innocent man he is innocent, and fretting himself to death, and we rough characters do not make him feel any better by jeering and scoffing. I would not keep my brother’s dog in a hole like this.

Agnes came in for the tea tray. Taylor asked her to have Brother Greene get his carriage ready. He wanted to go to the county jail.

Taylor was working on an article, “Ecclesiastical Control in Utah,” at the request of the North American Review, when the traveling correspondent of the London Daily News arrived on the Overland Stage. Taylor readily granted his fellow Englishman an interview, and gave him what essentially was a preview of the manuscript in preparation. Some reporters twisted his words beyond recognition, but the Londoner was accurate, perceptive, and objective.15

Mr. John Taylor, president of the Mormon church and state, lives in a fine house within a few minutes walk of the tabernacle. . . .It is a building of somewhat florid style, but is roomy and convenient. The drawing room where the president received me is. . .very comfortable with a large coal fire burning in an open grate.

The president is about seventy years of age,16 but his tall powerful figure shows little sign of advancing years. His hair, snow white, sets off a strong, kindly, and still ruddy face. Like all officers of the church, the president has earned his living by the sweat of his brow. Since he was elected to the presidency he has, of course, given up his farm. . . .

Taylor “never used the word ‘polygamy,’ except with the rider, ‘as the world calls it,’ insisting that it was ‘the order of celestial marriage,'” the News reported. As for being married for time and all eternity, “It did not seem to occur to him that this was not a prospect that would recommend itself in all households.”

The intent of the Edmunds Act was, Taylor said,

to disfranchise Mormons and get the whole machinery of office in the Territory in the hands of the small minority of the Gentiles. After this Mormonism might be harried out of Utah as it was thirty-seven years ago hounded out of Illinois. . . .

“Their Edmunds Act,” the president said, “is ex post facto. . . . Here there are tens of thousands of men who entered into the state of celestial marriage years before this Act was passed. You can’t . . . find them guilty of doing what was not declared illegal at the time of the Act. The Commissioners have gone even farther. They have imposed an oath as a preliminary to. . . voting. But it is against the constitution . . . to impose a test oath in respect of the exercise of the franchise. Thus you have the Commissioners performing an illegal act under unconstitutional law. That’s a double plea we shall submit, if necessary, to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Despite the power and determination of the opposition, Taylor took a philosophical view as he talked “with quiet assurance and tone of simple confidence” of the future:

“But,” the president says, “we have always had trouble with the world, and things are not nearly so bad now as they were when the blood of Joseph Smith cried freshly from the ground, and we, driven out by Christians, went forth beyond the bounds of civilization to found a home and a nation.

“When I used to go out as a missionary and, tramping through some remote, unfriendly country, did not know where I should get a crust of bread for my supper or a covered corner in which to lay my head, I used to pray to God, and I always had enough to eat. That is what we do now in this time of trial. The world is against us, but we trust in God—and keep our powder dry.”

In his article for the North American Review, published January 1884, Taylor added material not contained in the London Daily News interview. He appreciated the plight of the Utah Commission, arriving in Utah “as the executors of the Edmunds Law, the passage of which had been procured by the influence of religious fanatics and political demagogues,” who were surprised to find conditions

so different from what they had anticipated, that it was impossible for them to meet the exorbitant demands of the country and at the same time comply with the requirements of the law. As one of their number expresses it, . . . they “stretched the legal tether to its utmost tension.” Yet, on the other hand, as honorable men and representatives of the government, it was incumbent on them to comply with the plain provisions of the law.

The church had been denounced for opposing a law, which by taking the vote from the Mormons and giving it to “the most depraved, the vilest of mankind,” meant that the Territory was “actually threatened with being governed by such an element.”

Yet we are charged with being a menace to the United States, with being inimical to the constitution and government, simply because we have undertaken to legitimately and legally test in the courts, as we have the most perfect right to do, the legality and constitutionality of the law and the commissioners’ rulings.

“Should we be worthy of the name of men, much less of freemen,” the Champion of Rights demanded, “if we permitted these grave encroachments on our rights without one effort in their defense?”

For if radicalism, imperialism, oligarchy, and despotism are to bear rule, and the rights of the franchise to be refused to citizens by the dictum of commissioners, without a hearing, without proof, and without trial; if test oaths are to take the place of courts and legal testimony, and one principle of liberty after another nullified; if our constitution, our laws, and the fundamental principles of our government are to be trampled underfoot, it would seem to be high time that all honorable men should stand up in defense of liberty and the rights of man.

He pointed out that a common misconception concerned “the illegality of plural marriage.”

Many persons suppose that there is some provision in the United States Constitution touching this subject. This is an error. The constitution leaves all matters relating to marriages to be regulated by the people of the various states; and hence it is that so many diversified marriage and divorce codes exist throughout the country. Congress claims the power to regulate these matters in the territories. We do not admit that this right belongs to the general government, but claim that in matters of local concern the territorial legislative assemblies are manifestly the proper parties to act.

Taylor excoriated those who “ignorantly or maliciously asserted that Mormonism is not a religion,” but actually was a gigantic conspiracy to dominate the world.

What presumption for one set of men to declare that the faith and religious tenets of others are not a religion! Farewell to religious liberty when this is admitted. Soon the dominant sects in the land would secure religious uniformity by declaring all other bodies of worshipers nonreligionists. When one man is permitted to decide what another s religion shall be, and to set metes and bounds beyond which he may not travel, then religious liberty is simply a misleading name, a delusion, and a snare.

The Gentile ring, scrutinizing the fine print of the first anti-polygamy law enacted twenty-two years previously, had complained that the LDS Church violated it by owning property in excess of $50,000. Taylor admitted that the half-finished Salt Lake temple alone “has already cost probably $2,500,000”;

but it would be going back to barbarism indeed to forbid by Act of Congress the erection of all but the most primitive structures in which to worship God or perform acts of charity. And again, the Latter-day Saints are not the only religious body that owns more than the prescribed $50,000 in the territories; others would be affected equally with us if this ill-considered law was enforced.

In conclusion, Taylor said:

The Mormon question today really resolves itself into the query whether a small and unscrupulous minority, for private ends and personal aggrandisement, shall prevail upon the government of this nation to destroy every vestige of republican liberty in Utah, or whether the grand and glorious principles upon which this great government is founded shall be extended to all people alike.

When the North American Review published the article, Taylor was surprised to find a rebuttal to it by Governor Murray, who obviously had been given access to Taylor’s manuscript. The governor took full advantage of the privilege.

The missionaries, traveling without purse or scrip to proclaim the gospel of Christ, became, in Murray’s eyes, evidence of the gigantic Mormon conspiracy to overwhelm the world: church leaders had kept “the country in ignorance of their designs and actions through the machinations of adroit and unscrupulous agents throughout the country.”

Far from being persecuted, Murray asserted, the Saints remained entirely untouched by legal restraints. He said that

there has been no remedial legislation ever passed by congress. The “Edmunds Bill” contained much that was effective, but does not provide the remedy.

What was needed was tougher laws, laws with teeth, to curb the “political power vested in its adherents,” and prevent the perpetuation of “an illegal and unrepublican government.”

Polygamous Mormonism “has made Utah a deformed child.”

The surgeon who takes in hand the case of a deformed child. . .must not be deterred from performing the necessary operation because of the protests and cries of the patient. To allow it to grow into manhood, helpless and a burden to its kindred, would be criminal. In this, congress is the surgeon, and must perform the operation.

Taylor was astounded to read that Mormonism was “a monster,” which “means mischief,” and to find the embattled Saints—virtually voiceless—described as

the most adroit and successful lobbyists our national capital has ever known. Besides, they readily spend thousands of dollars to mislead the country and to prolong their power from Congress to Congress.

The impoverished church, bled white by the long war, was in Murray’s words a wealthy conspiracy led by

scheming traders, who handle the vast revenues of their corporation from year to year. . .at the expense of their creditor—the country. The day of settlement must come.

The Perpetual Emigration Fund—perpetually in debt—became a wealthy octopus which “gathers the poor and deluded from all parts of the world.”

Designing men control ignorance which is joined with fanaticism, rob the poor of the results of honest toil, womanhood of its chief adornment, and inspire the souls of a confiding people in Utah with hate toward the people of the United States. These same men employ as counsel “wise men of the East,” fill newspapers with interviews which in the light of facts are laughable, deceive amiable people, and pose as martyrs about the lobbies of Washington.

Indeed this was, in light of the facts, laughable, and Taylor’s guffaw echoed throughout the Gardo House. The entire basis for Murray’s allegations regarding the great and sinister Mormon lobby in Washington rested on the employment of one man, the venerable Judge Black. Being old and infirm, however, Black had proved a disappointment.17

Although Murray claimed the Mormons monopolized natural resources through “exclusive grants of timber, water, canyons, etc.” granted church officials, he unblushingly admitted in the next paragraph that the Gentile minority possessed “to a great degree the wealth” of Utah.

They largely pay the taxes to carry on the government, both territorial and municipal, in which they have no voice.

“The remedy” to the Mormon question, Murray said, “is as follows”:

Abolish the legislature, and substitute in lieu of it a legislative council of not more than thirteen “of the most fit and discreet men of the Territory”;. . . they to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

All this meant, of course, Taylor commented as he handed the magazine to L. John Nuttall for filing, was absolute and complete carpetbag government.



1. Such incidents were typical of his method of handling local disputes. See Taylor to Cannon, December 30, 1880. “The condition of their entering these circles being that they should first be at peace and in full fellowship with each other and with their bishop and the members of their several wards; that the bishop and his counselors should be in fellowship with one another and with the presidency of the stake and with the presidency of the church and the general authorities, and that all should be in strict harmony and good fellowship with one another.”

2. North American Review, January 1884.

3. During debate on the Edmunds Bill, Taylor took action to circumvent its provisions. He mentioned one example in a letter to George Q. Cannon[,] March 9, 1882: “In view of the threatened legislation against those in polygamy, it has been deemed wise to make a change in the personnel of the Board of Regents of the University [of Deseret], so that if those in plural wedlock be ousted, a majority of monogamists would remain to carry on business, whoever else might be appointed.” After passage of the Edmunds Law March 22, 1882, Taylor issued an epistle, “On Marriage,” authorizing church marriages outside the temple or Endowment House. This was the first step toward taking polygamy underground again, as in Nauvoo days. He also sent Erastus Snow and Moses Thatcher to Mexico to scout colonization sites for refuges. (See letter to Snow, November 15, 1882.) By the end of the year, the Tribune called the Edmunds Law a failure: “We assert, without the slightest egotism, that as yet not one scratch has been made upon the imperious armor of church rule which this Territory wears,” the Trib declared December 21. “We assert that the disposition to never surrender polygamy was never more pronounced in Utah than at this time, and that the Edmunds law is simply what we said it was when it was framed, soothing syrum [sic] for a tiger.”

4. Related two days afterwards (JD, 25:356).

5. Full transcript of John Taylor’s testimony was published the following day in the Deseret News, October 18, 1884. It is significant in revealing that plural marriage had gone underground, very much as in Nauvoo days.

6. The plural marriage of the author’s mother and father took place during a carriage ride in Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.

7. Significance of this testimony regarding the underground organization for continuing the Principle has been either ignored or suppressed by internal historians. Whitney, in his History of Utah, gives the most complete account, but concludes with the identification of Smith and Cannon being authorized to perform plural marriages, thus indicating that they were the only two so authorized. Roberts makes the astounding statement that “President Taylor was subpoeonaed in his [Clawson’s] case, but the testimony he gave was not material” (Life of John Taylor, p. 371).

8. JD, 25:355. Taylor had prepared for this policy with his “Epistle on Marriage” two years previously, which authorized marriages outside the temples or Endowment House.

9. Clawson served more than three years of the sentence, before his mother went to Washington and secured a presidential pardon. At first Rudger was repelled by association with criminals at the prison. As the crusade continued, however, the best men of Utah became his companions there. Among others, his own father became an inmate, as did Lorenzo Snow, who was to become president of the church.

10. For originals of Taylor’s mail, see “John Taylor Letterbook,” Church Historical Department.

11. After a century it was finally admitted that Lee was merely a scapegoat for Mountain Meadows, and he was reinstated to church membership.

12. Lot Smith’s temper brought him to a violent end. He was shot in Tuba City, Arizona, June 21, 1892, in a squabble with Indians over grazing rights.

13. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man. . . .”

14. ZCMI scrip circulated as money.

15. Interview October 8, 1883; published November 2.

16. Taylor was in his seventy-sixth year.

l7. Black died a few months after being employed as Washington counsel for the Saints.