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Table of Contents:


Chapter One:
The Lorin Woolley Story

Chapter Two:
Letter About Confiscation

Chapter Three:
The Cannon Committee

Chapter Four:
The 1886 "Manifesto"

Chapter Five:
Nocturnal Events

Chapter Six:
The Eight-Hour Meeting

Chapter Seven:
Supernatural Events

Chapter Eight:
The 1886 Revelation

Chapter Nine:
The Woodruff Manifesto

Chapter Ten:
Joseph Smith Resurrected?

Chapter Eleven:
The Keys of Authority

Chapter Twelve:
Five Remain "Faithful"

Chapter Thirteen:
The Conclusion of the Whole Matter 


The Polygamy Story: Fiction and Fact
by J. Max Anderson
Copyright (c) 1979 by J. Max Anderson

(by permission of the author)

Chapter One


Mormon Fundamentalism (a term adopted to describe the beliefs of "Fundamentalists"1) has its basis in the pretensions of Lorin C. Woolley (1856-1934) of Centerville, Utah.  Woolley claimed that in 1886, during the heat of anti-polygamy persecution, he and others were secretly commissioned by LDS Church President John Taylor to perpetuate the practice of plural marriage irrespective of the eventual course of the Church.  In connection with this special commission, he also alleged that he and a select group were given irrevocable priesthood authority to administer this principle.  All present-day Fundamentalists enter plural marriage under sanction and authority from this alleged source through various claims of succession.  This alleged commission is the foundational claim on which Fundamentalism rests.  All other claims are either derivatives of or accessory to this primary allegation.  If this basic claim is untenable, then the entire doctrinal and functional superstructure of Fundamentalism stands without apparent foundation, it is of primary importance, therefore, to determine the historicity of this claim with its manifold ramifications.  We will first review the basic Lorin Woolley story and then compare it with available contemporary records.

The Lorin Woolley story comes in several heterogenous versions.  We will review the principal ones in this chapter.  Others will be noticed and pertinent elements reviewed in the detailed analysis that follows.

The earliest account of record was given by Lorin Woolley in 1912.  It follows verbatim:

1912 Account

In the latter part of September, 1886, the exact day being not now known to me, President John Taylor was staying at the home of my father, John W. Woolley, in Centerville, Davis County, Utah.

At the particular time herein referred to, President Taylor was in hiding (on the under-ground). Charles H. Bearrell and I were the "guardsmen" on watch for the protection of the President.  Two were usually selected each night, and they took turns standing guard to protect the President from trespass or approaching danger.  Exceptional activity was exercised by the U. S. Federal Officers in their prosecutions of the Mormon people on account of their family relations in supposed violation of the Federal Laws.

Soon after our watch began, Charles H. Bearrell reclined on a pallet and went to sleep.  President Taylor had entered the south room to retire for the night.  There was no door-way entrance to the room occupied by President Taylor, except the entrance from the room occupied by the guardsmen.  Soon after 9 o'clock, I heard the voice of another man engaged in conversation with President Taylor, and I observed that a very brilliant light was illuminating the room occupied by the President.  I wakened Bearrell and told him what I had heard and seen, and we both remained awake and on watch the balance of the night.  The conversation was carried on all night between President Taylor and the visitor, and never discontinued until the day began to dawn--when it ceased and the light disappeared.  We heard the voices in conversation while the conference continued and we saw the light.

My father came into the room where we were on watch, and was there when President Taylor came into the room that morning.  As the President entered the room he remarked, "I had a very pleasant conversation all night with the Prophet Joseph."  At the time President Taylor entered the room his countenance was very bright and could be seen for several hours after.  After observing that some one was in conversation with the President, I went out and examined all of the windows, and found them fastened as usual.

The brethren were considerably agitated about this time over the agitation about Plural Marriage, and some were insisting that the Church issue some kind of edict to be used in Congress, concerning the surrendering of Plural Marriage, and that if some policy were not adopted to relieve the strain the government would force the Church to surrender.  Much was said in their deliberations for and against some edict or manifesto that had been prepared, and at a meeting that afternoon, at which a number there were present and myself2, I heard President Taylor say; "Brethren, I will suffer my right hand to be cut off before I will sign such a document."

I, Lorin C. Woolley, of Centerville, Utah, do hereby certify, that I have carefully made and read the foregoing statement of facts and the same is true to the best of my knowledge.  Dated this 6th day of October, 1912.

(signed) Lorin C. Woolley3

1929 Version

The next recorded mention of Lorin Woolley's claims comes from the journal of a contemporary, Joseph W. Musser. Musser reported attending several meetings in 1922 of "those in sympathy with plural marriage," where Lorin Woolley and a friend, Daniel Bateman, told with considerably expanded detail of President Taylor's purported experience.4  Elements of the story were eventually edited and compiled by Joseph Musser into a single narrative, which Lorin Woolley then sanctioned and signed as his own statement.5  A eulogy to Joseph Musser at his death stated:

He was instrumental in getting together many affidavits... . One of these affidavits is the Lorin C. Woolley statement which has many times before been printed in Truth.6

This version edited and compiled by Musser was dated 1929 and has come to be accepted as the "standard version" of the story.  It has been widely published in Fundamentalist literature as follows:

1929 Standard Version

While the brethren were at the Carlisle residence [in Murray] in May or June of 1886, letters began to come to President John Taylor from such men as John Sharp, Horace Eldredge, William Jennings, John T. Caine, Abraham Hatch, President Cluff and many other leading men from all over the Church, asking the leaders to do something, as the Gentiles were talking of confiscating their property in connection with the property of the Church.

These letters not only came from those who were living in the Plural Marriage relation, but also from prominent men who were presiding in various offices of the Church who were not living in that relation.  They all urged that something be done to satisfy the Gentiles so that their property would not be confiscated.

George Q. Cannon on his own initiative selected a committee comprising himself, Hyrum B. Clawson, Franklin S. Richards, John T. Caine and James Jack to get up a statement or Manifesto that would meet the objections urged by the brethren above named.  They met from time to time to discuss the situation.  From the White home, where President Taylor and companions stopped, after leaving the Carlisle home, they came out to father's.  George Q. Cannon would go and consult with the brethren of the committee, I taking him back and forth each day.

On September 26, 1886, George Q. Cannon, Hyrum B. Clawson, Franklin S. Richards, and others, met with President John Taylor at my father's residence at Centerville, Davis County, Utah, and presented a document for President Taylor's consideration.

I had just got back from a three days' trip, during most of which time I had been in the saddle, and being greatly fatigued, I had retired to rest.  Between one and two o'clock P. M., Brother Bateman came and woke me up and asked me to be at my father's home where a Manifesto was to be discussed.  I went there and found there were congregated Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, L. John Nuttall, Charles Birrell, George Q. Cannon, Franklin S. Richards and Hyrum B. Clawson.

We discussed the proposed Manifesto at length, but we were unable to become united in the discussion.  Finally George Q. Cannon suggested that President Taylor take the matter up with the Lord and decide the same the next day.

Brothers Clawson and Richards, were taken back to Salt Lake.  That evening I was called to act as guard during the first part of the night, notwithstanding the fact that I was greatly fatigued on account of the three days' trip I had just completed.

The brethren retired to bed soon after nine o'clock.  The sleeping rooms were inspected by the guard as was the custom.  President Taylor's room had no outside door.  The windows were heavily screened.

Sometime after the brethren retired and while I was reading the Doctrine and Covenants, I was suddenly attracted to a light appearing under the door leading to President Taylor's room, and was at once startled to hear the voices of men talking there.  There were three distinct voices.  I was bewildered because it was my duty to keep people out of that room and evidently someone had entered without my knowing it.  I made a hasty examination and found the door leading to the room bolted as usual.  I then examined the outside of the house and found all the window screens intact.  While examining the last window, and feeling greatly agitated, a voice spoke to me, saying, "Can't you feel the Spirit? Why should you worry?"

At this I returned to my post and continued to hear the voices in the room.  They were so audible that although I did not see the parties I could place their positions in the room from the sound of the voices.  The three voices continued until about midnight, when one of them left, and the other two continued.  One of them I recognized as President John Taylor's voice.  I called Charles Birrell7 and we both sat up until eight o'clock the next morning.

When President Taylor came out of his room about eight o'clock of the morning of September 27, 1886, we could scarcely look at him on account of the brightness of his personage.

He stated, "Brethren, I have had a very pleasant conversation all night with Brother Joseph." (Joseph Smith)  I said, "Boss, who is the man that was there until midnight?"  He asked, "What do you know about it, Lorin?" I told him all about my experience.  He said, "Brother Lorin, that was your Lord."

We had no breakfast, but assembled ourselves in a meeting.  I forget who opened the meeting.  I was called to offer the benediction.  I think my father, John W. Woolley, offered the opening prayer.  There were present, at this meeting, in addition to President Taylor, George Q. Cannon, L. John Nuttall, John W. Woolley, Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, Charles Birrell, Daniel R. Bateman, Bishop Samuel Sedden, George Earl, my mother, Julia E. Woolley, my sister, Amy Woolley, and myself.  The meeting was held from about nine o'clock in the morning until five in the afternoon without intermission, being about eight hours in all.

President Taylor called the meeting to order.  He had the Manifesto, that had been prepared under the direction of George Q. Cannon, read over again.  He then put each person under covenant that he or she would defend the principle of Celestial or Plural Marriage, and that they would consecrate their lives, liberty and property to this end, and that they personally would sustain and uphold that principle.

By that time we were all filled with the Holy Ghost.  President Taylor and those present occupied about three hours up to this time.  After placing us under covenant, he placed his finger on the document, his person rising from the floor about a foot or eighteen inches, and with countenance animated by the Spirit of the Lord, and raising his right hand to the square, he said, "Sign that document, -- never!  I would suffer my right hand to be severed from my body first.  Sanction it, -- never!  I would suffer my tongue to be torn from its roots in my mouth before I would sanction it!"

After that he talked for about an hour and then sat down and wrote the revelation which was given him by the Lord upon the question of Plural Marriage [the 1886 revelation to John Taylor].8  Then he talked to us for some time, and said, "Some of you will be handled and ostracized and cast out from the Church by your brethren because of your faithfulness and integrity to this principle, and some of you may have to surrender your lives because of the same, but woe, woe, unto those who shall bring these troubles upon you."  (Three of us were handled and ostracized for supporting and sustaining this principle.  There are only three left who were at the meeting mentioned--Daniel R. Bateman, George Earl and myself.  So far as I know those of them who have passed away all stood firm to the covenants entered into from that day to the day of their deaths.)

After the meeting referred to, President Taylor had L. John Nuttall write five copies of the revelation.  He called five of us together: Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, George Q. Cannon, John W. Woolley, and myself.

He then set us apart and placed us under covenant that while we lived we would see to it that no year passed by without children being born in the principle of plural marriage.  We were given authority to ordain others if necessary to carry this work on, they in turn to be given authority to ordain others when necessary, under the direction of the worthy senior (by ordination), so that there should be no cessation in the work.  He then gave each of us a copy of the Revelation.

I am the only one of the five now living, and so far as I know all five of the brethren remained true and faithful to the covenants they entered into, and to the responsibilities placed upon them at that time.

During the eight hours we were together, and while President Taylor was talking to us, he frequently arose and stood above the floor, and his countenance and being were so enveloped by light and glory that it was difficult for us to look upon him.

He stated that the document, referring to the Manifesto, was from the lower regions.  He stated that many of the things he had told us we would forget and they would be taken from us, but that they would return to us in due time as needed, and from this fact we would know that the same was from the Lord.  This has been literally fulfilled.  Many of the things I forgot, but they are coming to me gradually, and those things that come to me are as dear as on the day on which they were given.

President Taylor said that the time would come when many of the Saints would apostatize because of this principle. he said "one-half of this people will apostatize over the principle for which we are now in hiding, yea, and possibly one-half of the other half" (rising off the floor while making the statement).  He also said the day will come when a document similar to that (Manifesto) then under consideration would be adopted by the Church, following which "apostacy and whoredom would be rampant in the Church."

He said that in the time of the seventh president of this Church, the Church would go into bondage both temporally and spiritually and in that day (the day of bondage) the One Mighty and Strong spoken of in the 85th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants would come.

Among many other things stated by President Taylor on this occasion was this: "I would be surprised if ten per cent of those who claim to hold the Melchisedek Priesthood will remain true and faithful to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, at the time of the seventh president, and that there would be thousands that think they hold the Priesthood at that time, but would not have it properly conferred upon them."

John Taylor set the five mentioned apart and gave them authority to perform marriage ceremonies, and also to set others apart to do the same thing as long as they remained on the earth; and while doing so, the Prophet Joseph Smith stood by directing the proceedings.  Two of us had not met the Prophet Joseph Smith in his mortal lifetime, and we--Charles H. Wilkins and myself--were introduced to him and shook hands with him.

(signed) Lorin C. Woolley9

Other Accounts

Other versions also of the Lorin Woolley story have appeared in print.  They are merely mentioned here, and pertinent elements will be reviewed in the analysis that follows:

1931: Version of Charles W. Kingston and Jesse B. Stone published in a pamphlet, Laman Manasseh Victorious, pages 95-97.  This is the earliest published version of the story, preceding publication of the 1929 Standard Version by about a year.

1933: Version of B. Harvey Allred in the book, A Leaf in Review, pages 183-187.  This account was allegedly written in 1925, but was not published until 1933. (See Foreword, page 12.)  For an interesting but conflicting story regarding this version, see Lynn L. Bishop and Steven L. Bishop, Keys of the Priesthood Illustrated, Review and Preview Publishers, Draper, Utah, 1971, pages 185-186.

1938: Version of Daniel R. Bateman, a typewritten statement in possession of the family.  The version was edited and reproduced in Truth, volume 8, pages 44-46.  A photostatic copy of the original is in possession of the author.  Daniel Bateman also gave an additional version that was published in a book edited by J. Leslie Broadbent and Joseph Musser in 1934, Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, pages 26-27.

Historical Analysis

Many of the claims made in the Lorin Woolley statements may be subjected to historical and doctrinal evaluation.  By alleging specific events and by giving names, dates, places, and issues, Lorin Woolley leaves his story open to examination by a comparison with contemporary records.

A considerable amount of primary source material is available to bear on his contentions, including journals, diaries, letters, minutes, trials, histories, affidavits, discourses, and so on.  It is the purpose of this book to compare the different versions of the Lorin Woolley story with one another and with available documents of the period.  The story has been segmented into separate claims by chapter for easy comparison and review.  Thus each chapter (except the last) begins with an extract from the 1929 Lorin Woolley story, which is printed in italics.  Analysis and review then follows.

1. Throughout this book the term Fundamentalist will be applied in its conventional LDS usage--to designate those who claim the right to practice polygamy despite the opposition of contemporary Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It is recognized that among such people there are groups having opposing claims and that some current polygamists use the term Fundamentalist in a derogatory way to designate opposing groups of polygamists claiming divergent authority.

2. In the original statement, parts of this line were crossed out (presumably by Woolley himself) and the wording was altered.  The above account reflects the modified version.  The original (before alteration) read as follows: "Much was said in their deliberation for and against some edict or manifesto that had been prepared, and at a meeting that afternoon, at which there were present: George Q. Cannon, John T. Caine, Hiram B. Clawson, Charles H. Wilcken, John W. Woolley and myself, I heard President Taylor say ("Statement of Facts," statement on file in the Church Archives, Salt Lake City.  Photostatic copy in possession of the author.)

3. Lorin C. Woolley, "Statement of Facts."

4. See Joseph W. Musser Journal, entries under dates of March 12, 1922; April 9, 1922; June 14, 1922; July 5, 1922; and August 6, 7, 10, and 13, 1922, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.  See also Items from the Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, August 6 and 7, 1922.

5. Joseph Musser and J. Leslie Broadbent, Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage (n.p., 1934), pp. 55-61; Truth (a monthly magazine published by Joseph Musser from 1935 to 1951), vol. 2, no. 8 (January 1937), pp. 118-20.  Lorin Woolley refused to write the story when he was asked to write it by those who were interested in preserving it for posterity.  For example, Charles Kingston, an early Fundamentalist, related: "When I heard the story of the Eight-hour Meeting in Centerville, Utah, at the home of John W. Woolley, I knew that was one of the most wonderful things that had happened in the Church since the days of Joseph Smith.  So I went to Brother Lorin Woolley and told him that we ought to have a record of that.  I asked him if he would write it for me so that I could preserve it for future generations.  He said, 'No, I won't do that, but you write the story as you have heard it from me, then bring it to me and I'll correct it for you.' That I did and got him to correct it for me." (Mark, J. and Rhea A. Baird, vol. 3, Reminiscences ofJohn W. Woolley and Lorin C. Woolley, n.p., n.d., p. 2.)

6. Truth, vol. 20, no. 1 (June 1954), p. 29.  See also Joseph W. Musser Journal, September 22, 1929.  It is possible that Joseph Musser may have had something to do with writing the original 1912 statement.  A Fundamentalist wrote: "Joseph W. [Musser] met Lorin Woolley about 1907 at [the] Baldwin Radio Plant, who related the meeting of Sept. 27, 1886." (Joseph W. Musser Journal, cited on an undated mimeo graph sheet from the collection of a member of the Fundamentalist Priesthood hierarchy.)

7. Charles Birrell was also a bodyguard of the brethren and was to take the second shift in watching on the night of September 26, 1886.

8. See chapter 8.

9. Musser and Broadbent, Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. pp. 56-61.