Documentation or Illusion: A Review of Drew Briney’s, Silencing Mormon Polygamy

By Brian C. Hales

In 2008 Drew Briney, the author and editor of several books dealing with Mormon fundamentalist topics, issued a “volume 1” of what was describe to be a two volume set, entitled: Silencing Mormon Polygamy: Failed Persecutions, Divided Saints & the Rise of Mormon Fundamentalism ([print on demand]: Hindsight Publications, 2008, 377 pages, appendix, no bibliography, no index). [For a PDF version of this review click here.]

Briney’s ambitious project attempts to bring together historical documents dealing with the issue of priesthood authority attending the most popular claims of the various Mormon fundamentalist groups. Briney, who is trained as an attorney, could certainly provide an objective and analytic view of the evidence if that were his goal.

Stylistic Problems

One of the many weaknesses of Silencing Mormon Polygamy its visual presentation. It appears Briney’s primary goal was to get selective material into print, rather than offering it in a scholarly way that would enhance its effectiveness. Font choices, endnote formatting, and typesetting standards are wholly unconventional. Dates of often given with forward slashes, for example: “7/7/1886” (5) and text is sometimes printed in gray instead of black. This graying of words tends to make reading more difficult and it is unclear what the author was trying to achieve by this. It also seems obvious that the text was not exposed to the scrutiny of a content editor or copy editor, but went straight to a print-on-demand press, possibly from Briney’s own word processor.

Notwithstanding the formatting weaknesses of the text, the book promises to be an important contribution to the topic and indeed it is, but perhaps in ways the author did not intend. In the introduction, Briney makes a puzzling promise to his readers: “Given the daunting amount of previously uncovered material presented in this volume, it promises to be an invaluable resource to future historians” (VIII). It appears he meant that he is presenting “previously unavailable material” rather than “previously uncovered material.” Otherwise the promise has little meaning. It seems that Briney hoped to shed new light on a controversial topic, controversial among fundamentalists themselves and controversial as it relates to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And he intended to provide an “invaluable resource” to future researchers in doing so.

Gross Errors in Citations

Silencing Mormon Polygamy is divided into three sections.  Section one entitled:  “A Foundation of Prophecies” has three chapters. Here Briney has compiled a large number of quotations from Church leaders prior to 1890 reflecting their earnest devotion to the principle of plural marriage and their willingness to sacrifice in order to continue practicing it. Some of these citations might be new to readers who are otherwise unfamiliar with this documentary terrain.

When reading Chapter 2, I was initially impressed with the first two quotes. Attributed to “John Taylor 4/8/85” the first citation reads:

The Principle of plural marriage, against which the main force of the opposition is being hurled, has been a divine institution from before the foundation of the world.  There has been some talk about President Taylor issuing a revelation abolishing that system of marriage. When a revelation of that kind is given, it will be when the Lord has no use for the Latter-day Saints, and this will never transpire, for He has promised to give them the Kingdom and to sustain them. (Underlining in Briney.)

The source for this quotation is listed as “DN” in gray below the citation, but we are not told whether the underlining was in the original or not (I would assume not). The problem is that the speaker was not President John Taylor, but Apostle John W. Taylor. In light of his later excommunication for defying his file leader, his voice and opinion are much less authoritative than that of a sitting Church president.

The second quotation cited in Chapter 2 is also attributed to “John Taylor 10/28/1885.” It starts “The childish babble about another revelation is only an evidence of how half informed men can talk. . .” In fact, it is a quotation from Brigham Young from 10/28/1865. It has no relationship to the events of the 1880s.

I didn’t source check any other quotations in this section, but these types of errors generate legitimate questions regarding the scholarship of the whole. It seems less likely that Briney would purposefully misrepresent an historical document in order to make it support his overall thesis, but more egregious lapses occur later in the text (see below). Needless to say that a second edition would greatly benefit from source checking and any citation expressing a significant doctrinal point deserves specific verification.

The Most Important Chapter in the Book

The second section of Silencing Mormon Polygamy comprises chapters 4-9. Arguably, the most important chapter is the book is Chapter 7 entitled “Secret Ordinations,” comprising pages 168—213 or 45 pages in all and is divided into four parts with the following headings:

168-73             Secret Ordinations [chapter title]

173-77             Secret Ordinations to the Apostleship

177-79             Mormon Secrets & Commissions Extending Through New Presidents

180-91             Additional Accounts of the 8-Hour Meeting

191-213           Chapter endnotes

The reason that the “Secret Ordinations” chapter is so important is found in Joseph Smith’s revelation:

And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife, and make a covenant with her for time and for all eternity, if that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my law, and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, through him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power, then it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the world, because they are not joined by me, saith the Lord (D&C 132:18; italics added).

In unambiguous language Joseph taught that marriages for “time and for all eternity” must be “through him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power” or they will not be “valid.” An earlier verse explains that “there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred” (v. 7). The message could not be clearer. One man controls all eternal marriages. God’s house is a house of order (vv. 8, 18).

Chapter 7 discusses Lorin Woolley’s claims to have received a secret ordination, in conjunction with four other men, in 1886. According to Woolley, that secret ordination gave authority to continue plural marriage independent of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several fundamentalist groups, including the FLDS and the Allred group (AUB) declare this line of authority as valid.

Analyzing the Quotations

The importance of the “Secret Ordinations” chapter stems from the observation that if they did not occur in 1886—or at any other time—then fundamentalist plural marriages are “not valid” and bring condemnation. Consequently, readers might have anticipated a rigorous examination of the evidences including those that support and contradict fundamentalist beliefs.  If Lorin Woolley’s claims to priesthood ordinations are true, they should withstand historical scrutiny. In light of Briney’s promise of providing previously unavailable historical sources, this chapter might be brimming with credible documentation of such an important event, if any are available.

Among the unorthodox formatting designs employed in the book is Briney’s approach to quotations. Apparently, quotes of significance have been typeset separate from the regular text with name of the reported source justified to the left and the date justified to the right, both in gray rather than black.  Then a gray line across the page separates the quote below. While unusual, it allows his quotations to stand out although the gray script is sometime difficult to read.

Examples of quotation formatting from Chapter 7.

Quotation formating examples


Mixed amidst the text of Chapter 7 are 57 of these quotations. As noted above, the chapter has four subheadings so we might not expect all of them to support the ordination of five men with special priesthood power on September 27, 1886. However, if any such quotations existed, we might reasonably expect those citations to be set out from the regular text and to be among the 57 quotations highlighted in the chapter. A review of the sources and the dates of the quotations is below.


From this chart several important observations can be made.

  1. Only one of the 57 quotations is a firsthand account of the ordinations, Lorin Woolley’s 1929 narrative (written by Joseph Musser). None of the other men reportedly involved, including Samuel Bateman, Charles Wilcken, George Q. Cannon, John W. Woolley, and John Taylor, left any reference to the event.
  2. Lorin Woolley’s testimony of 1886 ordinations was not mentioned by him until at least 35 years after the alleged event occurred.
  3. The dating of the 57 quotations can be divided into four groups. Six quotations are between 1830 and 1868 and have no direct relationship to 1886 ordinations. Three of the quotes are from the journals of George Q. Cannon, Samuel Bateman, and L. John Nuttall (for John Taylor) written the day that the ordinations were supposed to have occurred (reproduced below). They say nothing about a meeting, ordinations, or anything out of the ordinary that day. The third group is comprised of two quotations from 1912 and 1914. Similarly, they do not mention 1886 ordinations. Lastly, the final 44 quotations are dated between 1920 and 1996, but only one of these is a firsthand account of the ordinations (Lorin Woolley’s 1929 account mentioned above).
  4. Although Briney promised his audience new evidences, there is nothing in the 57 quotations that was previously unknown and the vast majority had been previously published.

In summary, despite 57 quotations in the chapter on “Secret Ordinations,” only one is a firsthand report and it exists as a single attestation first uttered over three decades after the alleged events occurred. The only secondhand quotations are from men repeating Lorin Woolley’s 1920s claims. No secondhand statements quoting any of the other reported participants are included.

Creating the Appearance of More Evidence than Really Exists?

In light of the number of quotations in this chapter entitled “Secret Ordinations,” a question arises whether the author sought to create the illusion of multiple documentary supports for the 1886 ordinations, when in fact Lorin Woolley’s lone voice is the only testimony available. Briney includes 56 additional quotations to support Woolley’s claim, but the vast majority to do not mention the ordinations. Of course other related topics were covered later in the chapter.  But only five of the 56 quotes actually refer to the ordinations (#12, #13, #14, #22, #23). Without exception, they are secondhand accounts quoting Lorin Woolley’s 1920s and 1930s conversations. They do not constitute a new witness, but rather an echo of Lorin C. Woolley.  Importantly, men like B. Harvey Allred (#12) and Charles W. Kingston (#13) had their own biases and their accounts contradict each other regarding the details of Lorin’s declarations.

Regrettably, Briney misrepresents two quotations in the text (#3 and #16), both from George E. Woolley, making them appear to be nearly contemporaneous when they are not. The citations are identified as “George E. Woolley Letter 9/22/1891” but the endnotes acknowledge their actual date is “May 20, 1921.” It is true that the letter includes a recollection of events that transpired in 1891, but secret ordinations are not mentioned. Is this a simple mistake (which every author makes) or an attempt to portray late materials (that are only peripherally related) as contemporaneous documentation supporting specific details like priesthood ordinations that are otherwise not documentable?

Secondhand Accounts?

Besides the volume of quotations included in the chapter, Briney attempts to buttress the illusion of documentation by declaring the existence of “secondhand accounts” that he does not quote in his text:  “There are more secondhand accounts that document the testimony of John W. Woolley and Samuel Bateman concerning their ordinations than there are for their testimonial of the Sunday events” (169). “Several secondhand testimonials [exist] stating that John W. Woolley and Samuel Bateman all testified that they had been set apart as Lorin Woolley claimed” (226). Briney provides no references and I am unaware of any specific declarations. Importantly, statements from individuals who lived close to Woolley and Bateman and might have naturally heard their testimonies, left statements saying explicitly they never heard them mention 1886 ordinations.

For example, John W. Woolley’s granddaughter Olive Woolley Coombs recalled in 1971:  “I can’t remember that Grandfather [John W. Woolley] ever actually came forward and said such and such, because I’m sure he knew that Dad came forward and spoke about it” (203).

The elder Woolley had numerous opportunities to declare the validity of an 1886 ordination to his family and Church leaders, but no such accounts have been found. Briney writes that John W. Woolley was extended a commission from Church President Joseph F. Smith in 1918 (182). This claim is poorly documented (and might be classified as dubious at best) and seems contradictory to plain facts. In 1914, Joseph F. Smith instigated the proceedings that resulted in John Woolley’s excommunication. Contemporaneous manuscripts demonstrate that John Woolley assumed authority through Matthias Cowley, who adamantly denied giving any such authorization. Importantly, according to all accounts, when meeting with the Church President and members of the Quorum of the Twelve, no mention of an 1886 ordination was made.

Moreover, in the years that immediately followed his excommunication, John Woolley desired to be reinstated.[1]  In 1918, he asked his half-brother, George E. Woolley,[2] to help him. Such actions are surprising if John held authority superior to the Quorum of the Twelve and even Church President.  George, an active member who was acquainted with several priesthood leaders, was recruited by John to approach them and use his “influence in getting him back into the Church.”[3]  He related how “he felt very keenly being on the outside of the Church” and that “he had suffered very much in his feelings” as a consequence of his excommunication.[4]

George Woolley described the situation to his brother Orson who lived in Magrath, Canada: “I told him my advice to him was to go personally to Bro. [Heber J.] Grant and tell him just how he felt etc.  That if he would go to Bro. Grant in the proper spirit personally that it would do more for his cause than having other people always bothering the authorities.  He did not take kindly to my suggestion, however, stating that they were responsible for his condition (they, meaning I took it, The Twelve) and they would have to take it up and make matters right.  I felt very little humility in his attitude, but he says he is humble and could only show it more by digging a hole and getting in it and pulling the ground in on him.  To me it is a pitiable condition.”[5] If John had told George of an 1886 ordination, it is probable that George would have shared than testimony with Orson, either to agree or disagree. However, there is no sign through several correspondences written by George after conversing with John that John was then making such claims.

Regarding possible secondhand statements from Samuel Bateman, on December 21, 1936 at a meeting of fundamentalists, his oldest son Daniel related that “His father, being one of the five set apart, did not tell him so, but did testify to Bro.  Finlayson of the fact, and the latter had written to him of the event Others of the five had told him.”[6] Daniel and his father were very close, living only a short distance from each other for many years after 1886.[7] If the elder Bateman held authority to seal eternal marriages, by his son’s own admission, he was very successful in hiding it from his own family. That Samuel could have fulfilled the described 1886 covenants without Daniel becoming aware of his activities is truly surprising. Clearly Daniel is not a “secondhand source” for his father’s alleged secret ordination.

Briney further asserts that “the major participants all concurred in the recitation of substantive events as portrayed by [Lorin C. Woolley and [Daniel] Bateman” (170). This statement is unfortunate because it is so misleading. There are no other declarations from the major participants. Not one single person, besides Lorin, left a statement corroborating the ordinations.

Analysis of Evidence is Incomplete

One additional disappointment throughout Silencing Mormon Polygamy is that it does not provide a thorough examination of the evidence(s).  Briney frankly acknowledges the primary weakness of the evidence supporting 1886 ordinations stating: “There are also no firsthand accounts from John Woolley or Lorin Woolley clearly explaining their claims to priesthood authority” (169).  The ramifications of this admission are several.  First, the Lord explained to Joseph Smith:  “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (D&C 6:28; see also 2 Corinthians 13:1). While Briney briefly mentions this principle on page 227, he does not apply it to the lack of documentation of the 1886 ordinations. It is true although Lorin’s signed a 1929 statement that describes how they were supposedly ordained. But at best that is a single witness.

Some fundamentalist writers attempt to draw a parallel between the single witness of the First Vision (the witness being Joseph Smith) and a single witness of the 1886 ordinations (the witness being Lorin Woolley). However, at least six people were described as being present for the ordinations (John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, Charles Wilcken, Samuel Bateman, John W. Woolley, and Lorin C. Woolley) while only one person (Joseph Smith) received the First Vision experience. There is no parallel.

To explain the profound silences that existed for every participant for 35 years and then was broken only by Lorin Woolley in the 1920s, Briney affirms: “We are dealing with a group of people sworn to secrecy” (168), “These appointments were supposed to be secret” (170).  Understandably, Briney might wish to portray the participants as having been put under covenant to keep the proceedings secret. If that occurred, it would help to explain the lack of contemporaneous evidence supporting the described meeting and ordinations.  However, there is no such mandate listed in Lorin Woolley’s account. The attendees were put under covenant, but secrecy was not included. Neither did Lorin make the claim in the other narratives he left in the 1820s and 1830s referring to the events. From a documentary viewpoint, secrecy was not required.

Briney spends a total of ten pages (173-79, 194-98 endnotes 11-33) of Chapter 7 discussing the importance of “secret ordinations” concluding that “standard Church policy” (177) was to keep ordinations secret, rather than following D&C 42:11, which states: “Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.” Unfortunately, Briney fails to address how a man could fulfill his priesthood responsibilities if his ordination was secret. How would anyone know who presided and who had authority to effectuate valid ordinances?  The need for people to know who was ordained is obvious, otherwise people will be deceived. God’s house is a house of order, but secret ordinations create an instant potential for disorder and division. It might be argued that disorder and division are commonly found among individuals who cling to Lorin Woolley’s claims to priesthood authority.

Regardless, according to common fundamentalist belief, John and Lorin Woolley were, in their times, analogous to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young concerning the priesthood keys. Briney fails to evaluate how they could have functioned in their described roles without so much as a single person recording or remembering their counsel, their discourses, their marriage ceremonies, the ordinations they performed or directed, and their other activities as they fulfilled the lofty priesthood responsibilities that would have accompanied their described priesthood offices.

In his 1992 book Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage. (Urbana: University of Illinois) Carmon B. Hardy documents over 200 plural marriages performed after the 1890 Manifesto and before the 1904 Second Manifesto. Yet, Samuel Bateman, Charles Wilcken, John W. Woolley, and Lorin C. Woolley are not identified as officiating at any of them.  According to all known documents, the ordinations these men received in 1886 did not prompt any documented behavior until the 1920s and by then three of the five men were dead. This lapse deserved investigation, but Briney ignores its significance.

Briney writes: “It appears that John Woolley did not consider his appointment to begin until just before Joseph F. Smith’s death.” (170). Briney deftly suggests that John W. Woolley had no appointment until 1918, which conveniently explains the silence and lack of supportive evidence for the 1886 ordinations prior to the 1920s.  Unfortunately, he does not address the obvious plausibility problems with this theory.  Briney, who edited The Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, knows well that Lorin taught on March 6, 1932:

            Six have held Keys to the Kingdom: Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, John W. Woolley and now Lorin C. Woolley.

            Six have held Keys to Presidency of Church:  Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, never passed to Heber J. Grant.

            Six have held the Keys to the Patriarchal Order:[8] Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum, “Uncle” John Smith, John Smith, John W. Woolley and Lorin C. Woolley.[9]

Musser recorded these teachings as Lorin spoke them. They are a very reliable source because Musser was highly motivated to be accurate since he was a sincere follower of Woolley. We see that according to Lorin, John W. Woolley held both the “Keys to the Kingdom” and “Keys to the Patriarchal Order,” which Joseph F. Smith did not hold.  Why John W. Woolley would have waited to exercise his “appointment” until Joseph F. Smith died deserves consideration in the text, but Briney passes it by. In fact, Briney might like to discuss Lorin’s claims that there are separate Keys of the Kingdom, Keys of the Presidency of the Church, and Keys to the Patriarchal Order. If such distinct keys were ever conferred, the ordinations were undeniably secret, since no one has heard of them before or after they were reportedly conveyed.

The 8-Hour Meeting

The final section of Chapter 7 deals with the 8-Hour meeting. Immediately prior to the secret ordinations, Lorin Woolley reported that 13 people attended an 8-Hour meeting in which John Taylor dictated a revelation and as he was speaking, he rose above the floor by 18 inches—a remarkable occurrence in Church history.  Only Lorin Woolley and Daniel Bateman ever mentioned the Monday, September 27th, 8-hour meeting and then after waiting several decades.

Regarding the 8-Hour meeting, Briney’s investigation of its probability is inadequate.  Although Lorin reported 13 possible witnesses, none mentioned it for 35 years and then only two recalled the incident. An exploration of this collective silence and the paucity of testimony seems warranted.  However, Briney’s scrutiny is minimal and brief. He instead marches on through the text accepting both the 8-Hour meeting and ordinations as essentially genuine historical occurrences. In doing so he implies validity that is not justified.  For example, on page 228 he provides this chart:

Briney 8 hour with marks

The solid check mark signifies “presence confirmed by contemporaneous journals.”  In fact, there is no mention of an eight hour meeting in any of the three journals for that date, September 27, 1886. The entries report other activities that would seemingly have prevented such a meeting from occurring:

Samuel Bateman:

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.

George Q. Cannon:

“Attended to our usual business.  I am not well, but improving.”

President Taylor (recorded by secretary L. John Nuttall):

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.

Perhaps Briney meant that the solid check mark meant “presence at John Woolley’s home that day confirmed by contemporaneous journals,” but the average reader would likely believe, after looking at the chart, that contemporaneous journals corroborated that an 8-hour meeting was held that day, which is false.

Regarding the 8-hour meeting, one investigative technique Briney does not employ is to look beyond the written word to discover supportive evidence. Specifically, the 13 individuals in attendance at the 8-Hour meeting were put “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.” Later, Woolley stated that, regarding him and the other four men who were ordained, John Taylor “set us apart and place[d] 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.” What does the historical record indicate regarding the compliance of the described covenant-makers to those sacred covenants? A review of the plural marrying and child-bearing of the thirteen individuals demonstrates little apparent effort to comply.

Chart of 13 individuals-1

Briney neither performed this research nor commented on these important observations.

Other Problematic Claims

Perhaps the most remarkable statement in Chapter 7 is: “Priesthood activity outside of the Church has a wealthy history as well. Joseph’s Quorum of Anointed, the Danites, and the Council of Fifty were all organizations that operated outside of the main body of the Church and none of these organization were ever recognized by the Church” (179). Apparently, in order to support 1886 ordinations, Briney adopts an extreme argument, comparing the alleged 1886 ordination recipients to the Danites. While Joseph Smith’s possible involvement with this vigilante group is controversial, drawing a parallel seems to require a remarkable stretch of the imagination. Similarly, the Council of Fifty, which was a non-ecclesiastical organization with unbaptized men serving as active members, seems to bear no resemblance. It is true that those who received their temple ordinances in Nauvoo under Joseph’s direction were initially kept secret, but they were never members of a functioning council or quorum. Joseph Smith taught plainly that such ordinances were eventually to be made available to the “weakest of the Saints.”[10] Secrecy regarding the identities of those who had received those important ordinances was temporary and was hardly a standard of the Church governing that group.

 “Authority to Seal Plural Marriage”

The third section of the book is made up of chapters 10-14. Chapter 10, “Authority to Seal Plural Marriage,” is probably the most useful chapter in Silencing Mormon Polygamy. Here Briney dives headlong into the confusion and controversy accompanying the level of authority the five men reportedly received. Having already accepted Lorin Woolley’s story about the ordinations, he asks: “How much authority did John Taylor confer upon him?”

The problem is that if these men received all priesthood keys and authorities, they also would have received all priesthood responsibilities. Joseph Smith explained:  “For him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living” (D&C 128:11). Frankly, none of the fundamentalist leaders have wanted to shoulder the responsibility to work about the salvation of “children of men” including the dead and living.  Leading the Church, preaching the gospel, and saving the dead were never a primary concern for John W. Woolley, Lorin, J. Leslie Broadbent, John Y. Barlow, Joseph Musser and their successors. More convenient was the belief that the authority given was just to keep plural marriage alive, leaving the heavy lifting of the gospel to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In order to diffuse the confusion, Briney quotes B. Harvey Allred, Charles W. Kingston, and Joseph Musser to determine what Lorin Woolley taught. Ironically, when attempting to understand the authority reported given to the five men, Briney can only appeal to Lorin Woolley’s teachings on the subject. Lorin taught that his priesthood office and council existed since the days of Nauvoo, but no one can quote Joseph Smith or later prophets to understand it. The collective memory of ordinations to priesthood outside of the Church ends with Lorin Woolley. Neither does Briney compare this confusion on such a crucial point to the orderly way God revealed the duties and authorities surrounding the offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood through Joseph Smith (see D&C 20, 84, 107, 124).


Chapter 11 entitled “Concubinage,” seemed at first to be a random chapter thrown in for completeness. But in fact, it contains argumentation that a man and a woman could be married, with the woman as a concubine, simply by making covenants with each other. This would obviate the need for the “one” man with the sealing keys and make moot questions of how much authority the five men received or whether the ordinations even happened.

Briney quotes ever popular statements from Wilford Woodruff and George Q. Cannon on April 5, 1894, in a meeting of the First Presidency and Twelve. Cannon, a counselor in the First Presidency, stated: “I believe in concubinage, or some plan whereby men and women can live together under sacred ordinances and vows until they can be married. Thus our surplus girls can be cared for, and the law of God to multiply and replenish the earth be fulfilled. There is the danger of wicked men taking license from such a condition.” In the same meeting Lorenzo Snow commented: “I have no doubt but concubinage will yet be practiced in this Church, but I had not thought of it in this connection. When the nations are troubled good women will come here for safety and blessing, and men will accept them as concubines.” Church President Wilford Woodruff seemingly agreed: “If men enter into some practice of this character to raise a righteous posterity, they will be justified in it.”[11]

As the one man holding the keys of sealing, Wilford Woodruff was the only person in the conversation that could definitively declare whether such behavior would have been proper during his tenure as the keyholder and Church President. However, none of these comments could be used to justify two individuals coming together without an official ceremony. Heber C. Kimball taught on December 21, 1847: “There has been a doctrine tau[gh]t–if a man & woman makes a Cov[enan]t. they have a right to connect themselves–[but] this is wrong…”[12]

Hidden Documents?

Briney takes a jab at the leaders of the Church by referring to the difficulties “of trying to overcome the LDS Church’s stringent policy of hiding controversial historical documents” and then blames the Church as the reason “why fundamentalist Mormon Priesthood claims have not be well articulated for the general public” (259). It is true that the September 27, 1886 revelation written by John Taylor (but not discovered until after his death) was not shared publicly. But to generalize this action to declare that a “stringent policy” exists in the Church to hide “controversial historical documents” is without support.

An alternate interpretation is that there are no hidden documents supporting the existence of 1886 ordinations or priesthood outside of the Church, but Briney and other fundamentalists must believe that such documents exist in order to bolster their beliefs. On June 7, 2014, I personally spoke with Rick Turley, Assistant Church Historian, and asked him if the Church has John Taylor’s personal diaries. A few weeks later he informed me that he had performed a formal search and such diaries, if they exist, are not in possession of the Church.

In fact the location of John Taylor’s diaries appears to have been with the Taylor family all along. In 1974, Samuel and Raymond Taylor published The John Taylor Paper: Records of the Last Utah Pioneer in two volumes.  These authors were comfortable portraying the LDS Church negatively and promoting fundamentalist historical interpretations. Importantly, within the text of the two volumes they quote from John Taylor’s diaries at various places but they do not quote anything to support the 1886 ordinations or 8-Hour meeting. Instead, when discussing that time period, the Taylor brothers refer the reader to fundamentalist writings that discuss it.  This is very curious behavior if John Taylor’s diaries contained any information supportive of the September 26-27, 1886, activities described by Lorin Woolley in the 1920s. Certainly if anyone had removed pages or otherwise redacted portions of the original, it seems Samuel and Raymond would not have hesitated to blame the Church publicly.

Priesthood Outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

Chapters 12 and 13 entitled “The Priesthood of Elijah” and “Quorums of Seven” respectively attempt to legitimize the existence of priesthood outside of the Church headed by a quorum of seven individuals. These individuals ostensibly hold a higher order of apostleship than members of the Quorum of the Twelve in the Church. Ultimately Briney concludes:

An intelligent, non-contortionist argument can be cohesively established in favor of Lorin C. Woolley’s priesthood claims that a group of men can be set apart as the presiding quorum of the kingdom of God and that this group of men can hold priesthood authority independent of the Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (279).

In fact, it might be argued that Lorin Woolley’s teachings do not stand up to even minimal historical and theological scrutiny. Joseph Smith explained that the “priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations” (D&C 84:17; italics added). He also counseled: “You will receive instructions through the order of the Priesthood which God has established, through the medium of those appointed to lead, guide and direct the affairs of the Church in this last dispensation.”[13]

The connection between the priesthood and God’s church can be illustrated by observing the Pacific Naval Fleet during World War II. Towards the end of the conflict, the fleet was led by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. At that time, the naval headquarters was not located permanently in Hawaii, San Francisco, or some other location. The headquarters for the entire Pacific Navy was wherever Admiral Nimitz was positioned. If he was on a ship, then the fleet headquarters was on the ship. If he was visiting Hawaii, then headquarters was in Hawaii.

Similarly, wherever the man holding the “keys” of the priesthood is located (D&C 132:7, 18, 19), there is God’s church. The keys cannot be in one place and the church in another. Also, it does not matter whether he has formally registered his organization with the government of that country. In God’s eyes, the followers of the keyholder constitute his church (see D&C 10:67–68).

Perhaps readers will believe that Briney has presented “An intelligent, non-contortionist argument. . . in favor of Lorin C. Woolley’s priesthood claims” (279). Another explanation for his assertions can be illustrated by a story. Many years ago, an episode of the TV western “Bonanza” involved an old settler named Charlie Parsons, who discovered that his cattle were disappearing into thin air. He made sure that all of his cows were branded with his own CP brand, so they might be easily identified, but the disappearances continued. Parsons would count his cattle in the evening, but by morning, a few would be missing. He recruited the help of everyone in the area including the Cartwrights, but no one could find any stray cattle with the CP brand.

Just a month before the problem started, a new neighbor Gilbert R. Ellison had moved in, setting up his ranch right next to Parsons. As it turned out, Gilbert R. Ellison was a crook. He had created his own GRE brand that could be easily superimposed on top of Parson’s CP brand. At night, Ellison would grab a few of Parson’s animals and then rebrand them with his own GRE symbol. In the morning, all the cattle in Ellison’s corrals were properly branded “GRE,” and Parson was left scratching his head trying to figure out what happened. Of course, with the help of the Cartwrights, the mystery was solved and justice was served—all by the final commercial.



It seems possible that Lorin C. Woolley may have treated the Joseph Smith’s plain teachings about priesthood like Gilbert R. Ellison treated Charlie Parson’s cattle. To legitimize his doctrines of two apostleships and authority outside of the Church, he superimposed his external priesthood offices and councils over the Church, offices and councils that were not part of the original organization established by the Prophet:

05-05 Superimposed Priesthood

Briney does not consider this possibility, but in light of the paucity of support for Woolley’s various priesthood keys and other authority teachings prior to the 1920s, perhaps it should be considered.


Silencing Mormon Polygamy is obviously an ambitious project and we anxiously await the publication of volume two. In the first volume, Drew Briney has undoubtedly provided a useful service to fundamentalist researchers by compiling such a large number of quotations that are sympathetic to priesthood claims.  However, readers should double-check the citations Briney provides in order to assure accuracy.

Unfortunately, Silencing Mormon Polygamy suffers from several weaknesses. The book is the latest contribution to fundamentalist apologetics where authors sift through thousands of quotations of early leaders and cite specific statements, often changing their meanings. The process is called “proof-texting” and is common with antagonists as well. Briney’s volume two would benefit from a more balanced approach that includes providing contradictory evidences and then demonstrating how those sources are not valid (if that is possible). Transparency in historical documentation could be very helpful in helping all observers understand Lorin Woolley’s motives and teachings.

Drew Briney is a defender of Lorin Woolley and his claims. That he can produce a 377 page book about Lorin Woolley’s priesthood claims from a single signed document is a remarkable feat. That he would believe Lorin’s teachings (at least some of them) is also telling and represents a belief pattern embraced by other fundamentalists today.

As illustrated above, the whole substantiation of 1886 ordinations can be reduced to Lorin Woolley’s memory. Readers may wonder if Briney sought to create a mirage of additional supportive evidences by referring to unknown secondhand accounts and padding the discussion with dozens of unrelated citations.  His argument would have been much stronger if he would have openly acknowledged the lack of contemporaneous supportive evidences, the absence of additional testimony from described participants, and undetectable behavior changes in individuals who supposedly were put under sacred covenants to support plural marriage and the birth of children into plural marriages. Then after these plain admissions, he might have simply stated reasons for believing Lorin Woolley’s story despite the lack of supportive evidence.  Had this been done, Silencing Mormon Polygamy might have had fewer pages, but the transparency would have benefitted all readers irrespective of their prior beliefs concerning the practice of polygamy.


[1] Granddaughter Olive Woolley Coombs, remembered in 1971 that sometime after her grandfather’s excommunication, they met President Joseph F. Smith at a stake conference.  “President Smith put his arm around Grandfather’s arm and said, ‘John, I’m very sorry about what has been done.  I want you to know it wasn’t my will.  It was voted.  But I have the assurance that if you will come back into the Church secretly we are ready and willing.’  And he (Grandfather) said, ‘ I appreciate that very much, but since I was taken out publicly, the way you must take me back is publicly, because I feel I have done no wrong…”  (Reminiscences, 2nd ed., 1:14.)

[2] John Wickersham Woolley was the eighth child of Edwin Dilworth Woolley and Mary Wickersham Woolley.  George Edwin Woolley and Orson Alpin Woolley were third and fourth children of Edwin Dilworth Woolley and Mary Ann Olpin.

[3] Letter from George E. Woolley to Alvira Woolley, 26 July 1918.  CHD.  I am indebted to Don Bradley for bringing these letters to my attention.

[4] Letter from George E. Woolley to Orson A. Woolley, Magrath, Canada, 27 July 1918.  CHD.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Musser Journal for date.

[7] Samuel Bateman recorded meetings with his son on the following dates during the first year after the proposed September 27, 1886 ordinations: (for the remainder of 1886) September 30; October 8,11,12,16,17,25; November 3,11,13,22,24,27,29; December 5,6,8,13,15,16,17,22,23,25. For 1887: January 1,2,4,5,6,7,8,12,14,18,20,29,30; February 4,7,10,18,19,20,26; March 2,5,7,8,9,10,12,13, 21,24,27,28,29; April 2,5,7,8,9,11,13,19,23,25,30; May 1,3,4,7,9,14,16,20,21,31; June 2,11,12, 14,16,17,28; July 4,5,10,25,26,27,28; August 2,3,4,5,7,8,15,16,18,20; September 6,8,14,16,18,19, 20,23,26. Letters were sent to or received from Daniel Bateman on the following dates (1886) September 28; October 1,10,22,23,25; November 10. For 1887: January 22,25; February 1,7,18,23; April 16; May 2,4,25; June 7,8,30; July 2,13,15,22,28,31; August 1.

[8] Woolley also taught: “Keys of the Patriarchal Order of the Priesthood, are not necessarily held by the Presiding Patriarch of Church.”  (25 August 1932, BOR, 34.)  No fundamentalist has provided any additional details on the significance of these keys or how they relate to current priesthood leaders.

[9] 6 March 1932, Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser 15; italics added.  Names were abbreviated in original.

[10] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Five 1842–43, p.237

[11] Abraham H. Cannon, Diary, April 5, 1894, in Dennis B. Horne, An Apostle’s Record: The Journals of Abraham H. Cannon, 314-15.

[12] Minutes of the Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1835-1893, 157.

[13] Joseph Fielding Smith ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 228.