Table of Contents:
The Polygamy Story: Fiction and Fact
(by permission of the author)
That evening [September26, 1886] 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 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 Birrell and we both sat up until eight o'clock the next morning.
This account alleges that Lorin Woolley was called to act as President Taylor's personal bodyguard on September 26-27, 1886. He is further alleged to have been a regular guard for the sequestered President. The Allred version reported Lorin Woolley, in September 1886, as "a man who had served his shift almost constantly for many months in guarding President Taylor."1 Another Fundamentalist expanded Lorin Woolley's role as guard even further:
Between the years 1882 and 1889, the period known to Church history as the underground days, John W. Woolley was a member of John Taylor's personal body guard. Lorin C. was captain of the guard.2
Official Church history, contemporary journals of firsthand witnesses, and other available records show that when President Taylor went on the underground in 1885, Charles Wilcken went with him as his personal guard and driver. (Samuel Bateman later joined in a similar capacity.)
President John Taylor delivered his last discourse in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City. In the evening, he and President George Q. Cannon secreted themselves, in order to avoid the Federal Officials, who were carrying on their high handed judicial proceedings in the Territory. Elder L. John Nuttall accompanied them as private secretary, Charles H. Wilcken as (guard and) driver, and Charles H. Barrell as general aid.3
During the summer of 1886, President Taylor and party stayed intermittently at the home of Henry Day in Draper.
During the summer of 1886... President Taylor and his party came to Draper and lived at the home of Henry Day. Included in his party were: President John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, L. John Nuttall, their scribe Charles Burrell, President Taylor's valets--Samuel Bateman and Charles Wilkins, and body guards-Andrew Burt jr., Daniel Bateman and a man named [Levi] Pratt.4
It will be noticed that the guards mentioned were all members of the Salt Lake police force; Andrew Burt was the county sheriff. Neither John nor Lorin Woolley was included, nor was either on the police force.
The claim that Lorin Woolley guarded President Taylor and party "almost constantly for many months" is questionable. The journals of Samuel Bateman and George Q. Cannon, and President Taylor's daily journal do not list Lorin Woolley among the regular guards. Samuel Bateman's journal mentions Lorin Woolley only twice during the time that President Taylor and party were at the John Woolley residence, namely, October 21 and November 19, 1886; and in those references Woolley was carrying the mail, not guarding. According to contemporary records it seems that Lorin Woolley had no connection with President Taylor's party until after they arrived at John Woolley's home, and then his connection was in a very limited way. The claim, therefore, that he guarded President Taylor "almost constantly for many months" prior to September 1886 is without substantiation.
Guards for President Taylor's party were chosen for their physical qualifications as well as for their courage and faithfulness. Lorin Woolley had no qualifications of physical size or strength, nor did he have a reputation for courage and bravery--despite his personal claims. Woolley was actually a small, frail man, and perhaps many of his claims arose in compensation for his frailty. The following sketch gives expanded information on Charles Wilcken's and Samuel Bateman's backgrounds and qualifications:
In view of the above it appears doubtful that Lorin Woolley would have qualified as a regular guard during this precarious time, and his claims in this regard are dubious, to say the least.
The 1912 version speaks of only one visitor during the night--the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Soon after 9 o'clock, I heard the voice of another man engaged in conversation with Pres. 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 Pres. Taylor and the visitor, and never discontinued until the day began to dawn....
In order to meet the competitive claims of contemporaries, later versions all include the visit of the Savior as well.6 Daniel Bateman gave the following account in 1922:
The 1925 B. Harvey Allred account claimed:
The 1929 Musser version reported, however, that:
Some time after the brethren retired... [Lorin Woolley] was at once startled to hear... three distinct voices. . . the three voices continued until about midnight when one of them left and the other continued.., until eight o'clock the next morning.9
It is interesting to note that Lorin Woolley gave no report of the alleged discussion that extended all night. This would surely be the most important part of the whole story. If the voices "were so audible that although I did not see the parties I could place their positions in the room from the sound of their voices," surely he and Birrell overheard what was being said. Allred reported Lorin Woolley as stating that "he could distinctly hear the voices from within."
It is not difficult to hear a normal voice through a wood-paneled door in the stillness of the night. It might well be supposed from the tenor of the story that President Taylor would be instructed not to sign the manifesto being urged by "Cannon's committee." If so, the question arises as to the need for a direct visitation to convey the required message to him. Would not a revelation suffice? One also wonders why both Joseph Smith and the Savior would need to appear on this occasion? One heavenly visitor would obviously suffice, if indeed a heavenly visitor was needed at all. The Savior has only infrequently appeared to man to bring in person a revelation for his Church, and when he has appeared it has been for a consummately more important reason than this. The same reasoning would also apply to the Prophet Joseph Smith; this would be the only recorded instance of his appearing as a resurrected being following his martyrdom. It would be a singular occurrence indeed; but more on this later.
The number of witnesses who are supposed to have heard the heavenly visitors in conversation with President Taylor varies in the different versions. The 1929 Musser account mentions only two witnesses: "I called Charles Birrell and we both sat up until eight o'clock the next morning." The 1925 Allred account, however, reported additional witnesses of the visitation:
If such a singular event cannot be entirely disproved, neither can it be substantially vindicated. No account of this purported experience is given by Charles Birrell or any of the other men and women who are alleged to have witnessed the event. Why not? Surely such a singular event is worthy of preservation in written form by other eyewitnesses.
1. Allred, A Leaf in Review, p. 184.
2. Jessee Burke Stone, unpublished paper, "Jewish Influence on the Mormon Church," p. 2.
3. Andrew Jenson, Church Chronology, February 1, 1885, Church Archives, Salt Lake City; see also Gustive 0. Larson, The "Americanization" of Utah for Statehood (San Marino, Calif: The Huntington Library, 1971), p. 155.
4. Review of Draper History, p. 22.
5. Larson, The "Americanization" of Utah for Statehood, pp. 155-56.
6. In 1922, John T. Clark, who claimed to be the "One Mighty and Strong," was making claims in many of the same meetings as was Lorin Woolley. On May 24, 1922, Joseph Musser wrote in his journal: "Bro. Clark claims to have seen the Savior several times, also Joseph Smith and his successors in office. He claims to be the Indian Prophet spoken of in the Book of Mormon and the most literal descendant of Jesus Christ upon the earth today... . I am deeply impressed with his claims and am seeking further light."
7. Joseph Musser Journal, March 12, 1922.
8. Allred, A Leaf in Review, p. 185.
9. 1886 Revelation, p. 6.
10. Allred, A Leaf in Review, p. 185. Italics added.