Table of Contents:
The Polygamy Story: Fiction and Fact
(by permission of the author)
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....
Contemporary Journal Accounts
The account of this purported meeting of Monday, September 27, 1886, can be controlled by the same evidence as the meeting claimed to have been held on the day previous. Samuel Bateman, one of the alleged participants, reported his activities for the day in question as follows:
The 27 All day at Do [John W. Woolley home in Centerville], reading, pitching quoits. Helped load two loads of barley. At night went with the mail. Called at Sister B's, met A. Burt, sheriff of Salt Lake County. Got back at two o'clock all right.1
George Q. Cannon reported the day's activities in the following terse but matter-of-fact entry: "Attended to our usual business. I am not well, but improving."2
The "business" of President Taylor and President Cannon is recorded by secretary L. John Nuttall as follows in President Taylor's daily journal for the same date:
Monday, September 27, 1886. President Cannon still improving in his health. The rest of the party all well.
President Taylor signed several recommends. A letter was received from Elder F. D. Richards, enclosing one from Bro. E. W. Davis of the 17th Ward, City, in regard to his call as a missionary and needing help. Also gave his views in regard to those of the brethren who are in jeopardy, being sought after and sent on missions, etc. This letter was answered.
A letter was received from Bro. A. Miner dated Sept. 20th stating that he had perfected the re-incorporation of the Tooele Stake Corporation. . . . [Financial matters discussed]
A letter was received from Bro. Wm. M. Palmer at Council Bluffs September 22, 1886, giving an account of his labors to that time.
A letter was received from Ellen Norwood Billingsly of Orderville. [Personal matters discussed]....
A letter was written to Elder Enoch Farr, President [of the] Sandwich Islands Mission in answer to his letter received September 7th.
A letter was also sent to Bro. Thos. G. Webber of Z. C.M .I. [Financial matters discussed]....
A letter was written to President W. Woodruff in reply to his letter received September 25th, etc.
President Taylor pitched quoits a while this morning, also in the afternoon.
President Cannon in the house most all day; he sat out of doors awhile in the after part of the day.
Brother Bateman carried in our mail matter.3
Corroboration of Journals
The typical Fundamentalist reaction to these contemporary journals is to claim that the men involved in the Woolley account were purposefully instructed to write falsehoods in their journals in order to conceal the real situation from unworthy, if not hostile, ears. To complete the subterfuge, Fundamentalists claim, all present were required to coordinate the information in their journals so that it might be mutually consistent. In light of such claims let us carefully examine the recorded business of the day and see if there is sufficient external evidence to confirm that the accounts of the time are indeed truthful and reflect exactly what did take place.
Nuttall reported: "A letter was received from Elder F. D. Richards, enclosing one from Bro. E. W. Davis." Franklin D. Richards's letter file contains this letter, and that file mentions the Davis letter as having been enclosed as stated. Nuttall reported: "A letter was received from Bro. Wm. M. Palmer at Council Bluffs." This letter is also preserved in William Palmer's letter file as stated. Nuttall reported: "A letter was written to Elder Enoch Farr... in answer to his letter received September 7th." Enoch Farr's letter file contains the letter, dated August 26, which President Taylor received on September 7. Nuttall reported: "A letter was also sent to Bro. Thos. G. Webber of Z.C.M.I." Thomas Webber's letter file contains a letter dated September 22, which also included a report to stockholders to be presented at their October 5 meeting. Nuttall reported: "A letter was written to President W. Woodruff in reply to his letter received September 25th." President Woodruff recorded in his journal for September 23: "I wrote to Presidents Taylor and Cannon."4 Thus, President Taylor's daily journal for the date of September 27, 1886, seems to be corroborated by sources too varied and remote to be considered collusive.
If President Taylor was up all night conversing with heavenly visitors, emerged from his room and went promptly into a meeting which continued all day (eight hours) without intermission, passed directly from that meeting into another meeting lasting five more hours (meetings lasting thirteen hours in all) in which he gave additional instruction and performed special ordinances, when was all of this routine "business" supposedly accomplished? It is evident from the reports in all extant accounts that President Taylor spent the day taking care of Church business as usual.
Quoits, a game similar to horseshoe pitching, was played almost every day, as all the journals testify, and September 27 appears to have been no exception. Samuel Bateman's account that he spent the day reading, pitching quoits, and loading barley; George Q. Cannon's report that "[we] attended to our usual business"; and L. John Nuttall's entry that President Taylor spent the day attending to business matters and pitching quoits--this is strong evidence against the credibility of the Woolley account.
Subterfuge and Code Words
When confronted with these journal entries that were unavailable for many years, Fundamentalists try to explain them away by declaring that the brethren were instructed not to mention the secret events in their journals, so they used special code words so that only one with the key might understand that something important was being withheld. One Fundamentalist claimed:
In Samuel Bateman's journal are many references to playing "quoits," "Fox and Geese, or Old Maid," or "checkers," etc. These entries are most probably coded messages.... Likely the brethren may at times have actually played checkers, etc., for relaxation, but when one considers the big job of running the Church and Kingdom, and the greater difficulty to do so from an "underground" position, then surely, to believe these brethren were really spending great amounts of their time playing checkers, quoits, "Fox and Geese, or Old Maid," is an insult to the priesthood.... The only reasonable explanation is that these terms were part of a code describing symbolically the efforts of the brethren in making and formulating plans and counter plans to defeat the enemy. .. .5
This explanation might be considered to have merit if only the assumptions were correct. The quoted statement that President Taylor and his party played "checkers, quoits, fox and geese, and old maid" comes from a book, Little Gold Pieces, authored by Samuel Bateman's daughter, Juliaetta Bateman Jensen. Here she wrote of things that occurred in her childhood which she but hazily recollected; the above quotation infers from this reminiscence about checkers, quoits, and the other games that "great amounts" of time were reportedly consumed in such activity.
A careful reading of the journals of George Q. Cannon, Samuel Bateman, and President Taylor's daily journal reveal that quoits was played almost daily by the brethren as a form of exercise and diversion. For example, one of the first things Samuel Bateman reported doing upon moving to the John Woolley farm was to clear and level a place to pitch quoits:
The 15. All day at Bro. John W. Woolley's. Got our things put to right, fixed quoit ground, pitched in the afternoon, boss and I beat C. H. Wilkin. Carried the mail.6
In the Samuel Bateman journal for this period, checkers was mentioned sporadically, fox and geese was mentioned but once; and old maid was not mentioned at all.
That such games were code words indicating secret meetings concerning plural marriage is pure speculation, to say the least. By their very nature, the records do not support any such hazy and far-fetched interpretation as is alleged by some Fundamentalists.
As to "the big job of running the Church and Kingdom, and the greater difficulty to do so from an underground position," it should be observed that a great share of the load was borne by the "visible" heads of the Church--Elder Franklin D. Richards, Secretary-Treasurer James Jack, and others. Those matters requiring action and decision by President Taylor were handled through the daily mail. Besides communicating by mail, President Cannon and L. John Nuttall frequently went to Salt Lake City at night, and some times stayed over several days to take care of business.
Daniel Bateman's Role
Following is an addendum to the story of the eight-hour meeting, an addendum that never found its way into the "standard versions" of the event:
On the morning of September 27th Brother "Dan" [Daniel R. Bateman] left Salt Lake City, under a guard, with important documents for the President, arriving at the Woolley home as the widely talked of eight-hour meeting was about to commence. He attended the meeting.7
It is interesting to note that Daniel Bateman's protracted 1938 account does not mention this bit of personal history. This additional "evidence" reinforces the conclusion that Daniel Bateman's accounts are a mere parroting of Lorin Woolley's claims and that he did not personally "remember" the story from his own perspective.
Samuel Bateman's journal, as well as other journals and correspondence of the time, reveals that all traffic between the "under ground" hideout and Salt Lake City took place under the cover of darkness. Those going on trips to Salt Lake City regularly left and returned after dark. It would have been foolhardy to travel in daylight, yet the above-cited account claims that Daniel Bateman left Salt Lake City during daylight, arriving just prior to the start of the meeting at nine that morning. Such a course of action is highly questionable. Surely any "important documents" would have been carried by the regular driver the night before or the night following.
There is no mention in any of the extant journals that Daniel Bateman arrived on Monday morning at the John Woolley home. He is not mentioned as being there in any of the available journals of the time. His father, Samuel Bateman, recorded in his journal that he and Charles Wilcken generally took turns in carrying the mail. It is evident that Daniel Bateman was not a regular driver at this time, but that he lived at his home, helping on request.
Samuel Bateman usually mentioned in his journal when some one other than he or Charles Wilcken was involved in the mail run. For instance, on Saturday, September 25, Wilcken stayed over in Salt Lake City one day, so "Alfred Solomon came very early, brought the mail." On Tuesday, September 28, Samuel Bateman recorded: "I wrote a letter to D. R. Bateman," evidently asking him to fill in the following night so that he could stop off to visit overnight with his family. On Wednesday Bateman reported:
D. R. Bateman went out in my place. G. Q. Cannon went with me. . . . Left G. Q. C. in the city. I went on home, arrived at half past 11 o'clock. Found all well. . . . I staid all night.8
The following day, Thursday, September 30, Bateman re ported stopping at his son Daniel's home and visiting. Samuel Bateman's Journal during this whole period shows him writing letters to his son Daniel and stopping off at Daniel's home to visit him frequently. Thus, it is evident that Daniel Bateman was not a regular driver at this time but lived at home helping on request.
The journals of Samuel Bateman and George Q. Cannon and President Taylor's daily journal make no mention of "important documents" being delivered by Daniel Bateman on September 27, 1886, nor do their journals during the ensuing days reveal any "important documents" being considered or acted upon in their daily business. The assertion is of dubious authenticity, therefore, that Daniel Bateman "left S.L.C. under a guard with important documents for the President, arriving at the Woolley home" on Monday morning, September 27, 1886.
Who did Joseph Musser claim comprised the guard that accompanied Daniel R. Bateman on the morning of September 27, 1886? Lorin Woolley and Charles Birrell were purportedly guarding President Taylor in Centerville. Charles Wilcken and John Woolley were also alleged to be in Centerville. If the guards were others than those mentioned, were they invited to stay and take part in the eight-hour meeting? According to Woolley's claims, Samuel Seddon, bishop of the Salt Lake City Fifth Ward was the only one mentioned in Lorin Woolley's account who could possibly have attended Daniel Bateman as a guard. A late account states:
Bishop Seddon... oftentimes secretly transported them [various leading brethren] back and forth. Likely this is the reason Bishop Seddon was there on the 27th of September, prepared to take some of the brethren back to Salt Lake with him when he returned.9
Since Seddon is not mentioned in President Cannon's journal as attending the Sunday afternoon meeting, he would of necessity have arrived later on Sunday night. There is no mention in any of the contemporary accounts of Bishop Seddon being at John Woolley's home on Monday, September 27, 1886. Nor is there any mention of any "leading brethren" returning to Salt Lake City on the night of Monday, September 27. Samuel Bateman reported in his journal that he went to Salt Lake City that night with the mail, but he makes no mention of Seddon either accompanying him or returning by himself.
President Taylor Credited with Unlikely Stamina
It is interesting to note the stamina attributed in the Lorin Woolley accounts to President Taylor, who was nearing his seventy-eighth birthday. The accounts say that, after spending all day Sunday discussing business and attending meetings, and after staying up all night conversing with the Savior and the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Taylor conducted another all-day meeting without recess or nourishment, in which he spoke fervently for eight hours, and then went directly into another meeting which lasted an additional five hours.10
President Taylor was not in good health, and being on the "underground" for more than eighteen months had exacted its toll on his condition. Compare Woolley's account of the aged President Taylor with an account of a similar experience of the Prophet Joseph Smith as a vigorous young lad of seventeen. After receiving three visits from the angel Moroni which lasted all through the night of September 22-23, 1823, the Prophet recorded:
I shortly after arose from my bed, and, as usual, went to the necessary labors of the day; but in attempting to work as at other times, I found my strength so exhausted as to render me entirely unable. My father, who was laboring along with me, discovered something to be wrong with me, and told me to go home. I started with the intention of going to the house; but, in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me, and I fell helpless on the ground, and for a time was quite unconscious of anything.11
Consider also the case of Sidney Rigdon. After witnessing the vision of the three degrees of glory as recorded in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants--a vision that lasted less than two hours--he was reported by those present to be "limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag."12
If an all-night visitation affected the seventeen-year-old Prophet Joseph Smith and a two-hour vision affected the thirty-nine-year-old Sidney Rigdon in this manner, what would one expect of the seventy-seven-year-old John Taylor who would die ten months later of causes incident to a lingering illness from which he was already beginning to suffer? It is most difficult to imagine his undergoing the tremendous stresses he purportedly experienced during those long, physically and spiritually exhausting two days and one night, while he of necessity took care of the routine "business" as well.
1. Diary of Samuel Bateman, 1886-1909, September 27, 1886.
2. George Q. Cannon Journal, September 27, 1886.
3. The President's Office Journal, September 27, 1886.
4. Wilford Woodruff Journal, September 23, 1886, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
5. Lynn L. Bishop and Steven L. Bishop, The Keys of the Priesthood Illustrated (Draper, Utah: Review and Preview Publishers, 1971), pp. 173-74.
6. Diary of Samuel Bateman, 1886-1909, September 15, 1886.
7. Truth, vol. 8, no. I (June 1942), p. 14.
8. Diary of Samuel Bateman, 1886-1909, September 29, 1886.
9. Bishop and Bishop, The Keys of the Priesthood Illustrated, p. 170.
10. Baird and Baird, Reminiscences of John W. Woolley and Lorin C. Woolley, vol. 2, p. 8; see also vol. 3, appendix E footnote; and vol. 4, p. 2.
11. B.H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church, vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book. 1961), pp. 14-15 (hereafter referred to as Documentary History of the Church).
12. Juvenile Instructor 27:303.