Diaries of the ‘cowboy apostle’ Ivins include secret Mormon plural marriages, political intrigue

Anthony I. Ivins

On Sept. 12, 1932, Mormon apostle Anthony W. Ivins, first counselor to LDS President Heber J. Grant, made this diary entry. “On this date Prest. [Heber J.] Grant, who has been unwell for some time with prostrate gland trouble went to Chicago, for the purpose of undergoing an operation. He remained there for several weeks, during which time I was again alone in the office. [D]uring this time the October General Conference was held. I directed the [blank].” … According to editor, Elizabeth O. Anderson, Ivins stopped keeping a diary at this time, and died in 1934, at the then-very old age of 82.

Most of the entries in the latest Signature Books publication of early LDS leaders’ diaries are of the home, travel and work life “mundane.” Nevertheless, like other diaries, such as the 19th century Mormon apostle Abraham H. Cannon, “Cowboy Apostle: The Diaries of Anthony W. Ivins, 1875-1932,” it is fascinating reading for history buffs as well as scholars (Link). A day-to-day glimpse into the leaders who shaped the LDS Church in the first century of its existence. Ivins, called the “Cowboy Apostle” because he was an impressive physical specimen for most of his life, was a contrast to a typical LDS leader 100 to 120 years ago. He was a monogamist who was nevertheless sent to head the church’s Mexican mission, and conduct secret polygamous marriages years after the first Manifesto was issued. He was an active liberal Democrat who mulled a run for Utah governor and also clashed with another Mormon apostle/monogamist, Sen. Reed Smoot, a Republican.

Ivins arrived in Utah as an infant and his family settled in St. George. A cousin of Heber J. Grant, Ivins married a daughter of Mormon apostle Erastus Snow. In his early years, he was both a lawman and a district attorney in Southern Utah. He also helped on church exploration trips to Arizona and New Mexico.

There are a lot of “sexy” parts (think controversial) in the diaries, and I’ll get to some, but I prefer the “mundane” duties, the experiences, a mission president or apostle conducts during his life. Even today, the LDS Church hierarchy live lives cloistered even from the most active of members. That obscurity provides them a type of celebrity status in the church. Reading Ivins’ accounts of bargaining with a Mexican general to get land for suitable mission quarters, or taking in a “cockfight,” of all things, or resolving a dispute between two subordinates in the mission, or reading, “… went to Tecalco where we held meetings, I met a number of my old converts all of who I was glad to see & they seemed to reciprocate my feelings … (1902)” This is the wheat that provides nourishment for history to be recalled and taught.

As mentioned, Ivins was involved in expeditions as a young man, often under the supervision of his father in law, the apostle Erastus Snow. This entry from January 1878 is typical of Ivins’ life at the time: “This morning Bro. [Erastus] Snow started on with our team to camp at Navajo Springs and wait for us there. There being no forge at the ferry we could not weld the broken tire. We took a piece of heavy iron an[d] riveted it on the outside and I took the wheel back to bring up the wagons while Bro. Hatch made an axle for the one he had broken.”

Ivins witnessed the execution of John D. Lee for the massacre at Mountain Meadows. “… their guns resting on the spokes, the posse fired and Lee sank back upon the coffin, without a struggle, dead.

A fascinating part of the diaries deals with an expedition, associated with Brigham Young Academy, to try to find Book of Mormon history. The late novelist Samuel Taylor has described this unsuccessful journey, but Ivins provides first-hand diary recollections, detailing the anguish some of the missionaries felt as the expedition stalled long before it could move beyond Mexico and into South America. As Ivins relates in his diaries from 1900, LDS President Lorenzo Snow and other church leaders urged the expedition leaders to disband and return, adding the promise that they would be honorably discharged from their “mission attempt.” The leader of the expedition, Brother Benjamin Cluff Jr., at one point, writes Ivins, “… said he greatly desired to go forward,” (adding) “… if he returned now the expedition would be a failure & his reputation was worth [more] to him than his life.” Ivins relates how church leadership gently tried to reassure Cluff and others that the mission could be ceased.

An interesting tidbit from the diaries is Ivins’ recording a speech from Church President Joseph F. Smith which specifically denounced the already-old “Adam-God” doctrine that Brigham Young had preached with enthusiasm. Ivins’ writes on April 8, 1912 “… Prest. [Charles W.] Penrose spoke on tithing. Adam God theory. Prest [Joseph F.] Smith. Adam God doctrine not a doctrine of the Church. …

In the appendix of the diaries, there is a list of marriages that Ivins performed in Mexico, including many plural marriages after the First Manifesto. However, after the Second Manifesto, from President Joseph F. Smith at the time of Smoot’s efforts to become a U.S. senator, the ban on polygamy was finally taken seriously. Ivins’ diaries record the discussions between leadership in dealing with these post 1900 marriages. He writes in 1910, “... I have been in council with my quorum. … The question of plural marriages were discussed & it was decided that cases … where plural marriages were entered into prior to 1904 the parties to such marriages should not be molested unless they be cases where the interests of the church are involved. Where men are in prominence in the Church who have taken plural wives since Prest. [Wilford] Woodruff manifesto be removed where it can be done without giving unnecessary offence.” Prominent apostles disciplined for late plural marriages were John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley.

Ivins lived a fascinating life; the diaries support that statement. Late in his life he disagreed with a statement that political rival Senator Smoot had done more for Mormonism than “all the missionaries,” countering that “he {Smoot] was not the only man in the church.”

These Signature diaries are very expensive but a treasures for those who love delving through history. Hopefully, they are in libraries for those with smaller wallets and purses to enjoy as well.


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7 Responses to Diaries of the ‘cowboy apostle’ Ivins include secret Mormon plural marriages, political intrigue

  1. It sounds like the history of the Mormon church only goes back so far. With modern technology and faster travel, has the Mormon church commissioned other groups to go to South America to verify the accuracy of the Book of Mormon? If so, have they verified it? Perhaps they have found ancient manuscripts verifying the Book of Mormon, or South American cities or civilizations mentioned in the Book of Mormon.


    • Zion's Tribe says:

      Scholars and researchers from as far back as the December
      1945 “unearthing” of the [Nag Hammadi] text(s) have
      only “brought to light” one possible scribe worth noting on
      [Book of Mormon] times, at the era of [Jesus Christ].
      That one is set in India/Indio, from the Revolutionary
      teachings, in diatribe from the mouth of whom Christ
      admired the most: Primitive disciplined disciple [Adidyus
      Judus Thomas]…AKA: “The Double”.

      Info see: Brigham Young University- FARMS

  2. andrew h says:

    By no means do I wish to steal Doug’s thunder, but I reviewed this book for the Association of Mormon Letters and I have to say that is a fantastic book about a very remarkable man. Here is a link to my review:


  3. andrew h says:

    BY the Way, FANTASTIC review Doug

  4. Doug Gibson says:

    Thanks Andrew, and I appreciate you sharing your review with the blog. I’m off to read it now.

  5. Pingback: Signature Books » Cowboy Apostle

  6. Pingback: Signature Books » Mormon News, Week 13, March 24–28

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