Perry L. Porter



It seems that all my life I have been interested in the subject of polygamy. I once wrote a term paper on the Reorganized Church and part of my research came from the Journal of Anson Call. Since then I have written two term papers on parts of his life. I also married one of his descendants, Renee Call Porter. While rummaging through source material, in an attempt to find a subject for this history paper, I ran across a peculiar situation concerning one of Anson Call's sons who moved to Mexico to practice polygamy. Through further investigation I have developed a great respect for Anson Bowen Call and I hope it is properly reflected in this paper.

I would like to thank Eran Call for providing me with a copy of the life history of Anson Bowen Call and for allowing me to copy portions of his oral interview.

Also I would like to thank my wife for her patience with me during the many hours I spent preparing this paper and I am immensely thankful for her diligent work in typing this paper.

Most of all I would like to thank Dr. Eugene Campbell for his encouragement and advice when I got bogged down in my research.

I would also like to thank my darling new daughter for coming into the world at a convenient time and in so doing allowing me to finish this paper without extreme complications.



Polygamy after 1890 is a very complex subject about which few have been well informed. Because of religious and political entanglements much of the history of this period has not been properly represented in the one-volume histories of the Church. This situation has caused the interpretation history of the Church, regarding polygamy after the Manifesto, to be obscure. One of the most misrepresented documents in the Church is the Manifesto. According to some it was intended not to curtail polygamy, but to preserve it by saving the Church in the United States and expanding polygamy into Mexico and Canada. However, most historians of one-volume Church histories have written that those who took plural wives between 1890-1904 were out of harmony with the Church, diehards and apostates.

Anson Call is an example of one man who began practicing polygamy after the Manifesto and remained in full fellowship with the Church all his life. He was a bishop's counselor at the age of 36, a bishop for 29 years and a patriarch for 16 years. After considering the material presented in this paper it should be clear that at least one member of the Church, who began practicing polygamy after 1890, was neither out of harmony with the Church nor acting without sanction of the leaders of the Church at that time. Proving my "inspired loophole theory" will hopefully stimulate future


research into other "prophet sanctioned" plural marriages after 1890 and in so doing, laying the foundation for a new outlook in Church history books on the Manifesto as a tool for preserving polygamy rather than abolishing it.


Chapter 1


One such church history book, which did not properly present an accurate account of the polygamous marriage after 1890, is Essentials in Church History. The whole issue was almost completely ignored except for a brief mention of its "discovery" in connection with John W. Taylor's and Matthias F. Cowley's testifying at the Reed Smoot Hearings. It is written in such a way as to place the whole blame on these two apostles and make it look as if the authorities the Church had no knowledge of continuing polygamy until the "discovery" of this situation during the Smoot Trials. 1

Technically speaking, the Manifestoes, the official press statements and court testimonies did deny Church sanction of "marriages against the law of the land." However, this does not rule out the possibility of different interpretations of such releases so as to allow the authorities to say one thing to the world and say another in private.

Page 5

Another history of the Church, Ensign to The Nations, presents polygamy after the Manifesto in the same way as Essentials did, except that Russell Rich did not try to make the activities of these two apostles appear to be out of harmony with the Church. He just sidestepped the issue of Church sanction of these marriages by only mentioning the two apostle's interpretations of the Woodruff Manifesto and then implying that the 1904 Joseph F. Smith Manifesto resolved the problem caused by these apostles actions.

The problem with this rationale is that the 1904 Manifesto contains the same ambiguous language as the 1890 Manifesto. In General Conference, April 6, 1904, President Smith reiterated that the Wilford Woodruff official declaration "forbade any marriage violative of the law of the land" and then President Joseph F. Smith: "declare(d) that no such marriages have been solemnized with sanction ... all such marriages are prohibited." 3 Such Marriages could still be interpreted by John W. Taylor (or any one) the same way as it had been previously.

Page 6

The Mormon Experience,' the newest history of the Latter-day Saints, does not name high Church officials such as John W. Taylor or Matthias Cowley but states that it was "a small minority of Mormons who refused to accept the demise of a principle they had supported resolutely through years of criticism and prosecution. These few, thinking that the Manifesto must have been issued as a temporary political expedient, looked for loopholes such as the possibility of being married on the high seas or in other countries without violating the 'law of the land' in the United States." 4

By not placing the entire responsibility for the plural marriages between 1890-1904 upon Matthias Cowley and John W. Taylor, the author of The Mormon Experience avoided the pitfalls of previous Mormon Histories However, by not mentioning the involvement of high church officials and by name calling the small minority of Mormons "diehards" 5 this tends to paint the picture that no general authorities were involved in the plural marriages from 1890 1904 or in loopholes or in sanctioning marriages.

The intended successor of Essentials in Church History, The Story of The Latter-day Saints doesn't deny that the

Page 7

Church presidents ever sanctioned a plural marriage after the 1890 Manifesto, but it is implied that they did not, by twice referring 6 to President Woodruff (supposedly) making it clear that the prohibition of polygamy "would apply through the Church, even in places where the law did not forbid the practice." 7 This is an inadequate evaluation of history because if this was Wilford Woodruff's real intended interpretation of the Manifesto then why did he sanction Anson Bowen Call's 1890 plural marriage (including a letter of approval for the sealing).

The book further states "It was true that a few Church authorities had adopted a literal interpretation of the Manifesto, in spite of President Woodruff's statement that it applied everywhere. 118 If Woodruff's intended interpretation was as "clear" as this book insinuated, then why did it take fifteen years and a congressional hearing to find out that five of the twelve apostles had a different interpretation? 9 Could it be that the Wilford Woodruff's

Page 8

Manifesto was written with "inspired" loopholes?

If not, then it appears that all the plural marriages between 1890-1904 were invalid and all the stake presidents, bishops and other polygamists who lived in the Mormon colonies in Mexico were living in adultery with Church sanction.

It is difficult to briefly treat a complex issue like post-Manifesto polygamy in a one volume history; however, brevity is no excuse for misleading the uninformed public. Even a definitive study of Utah polygamy, politics and persecution, like The Americanization of Utah attributes post-Manifesto polygamy to John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley and does not attempt to tackle the issue of sanction. 10

One book that deals solely with the Manifesto and its aftermath, as far as the Church's position-on sanction of post-Manifesto polygamy, concludes: "anyone who tries to put the Church into the issue, or blame the Church for it, is undertaking a task that they are liable to find a little too much to handle. It can't be done.

Since public admission by high Church officials of sanction of 1890-1904 plural marriages is nonexistent, then the only recourse is to evaluate private sanction of these marriages. For this paper I have chosen to evaluate one man's reasons for entering polygamy after the Manifesto of 1890.

Page 9


1 Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr. , " Essentials In Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1972)

The text reads :

"Official Statement of President Smith. - This lead to the discovery that some plural marriages had been entered into contrary to the announcement of President Woodruff, and also a statement was made by President Lorenzo Snow.  Therefore, President Smith, at general conference, April 6, 1094, made the following official statement:"

(the 2nd manifesto followed).

2 Russell R. Rich, Ensign to The Nation (Provo: Brigham Young University Publication, 1972), p. 474.

3 Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 513. (underlining added for emphasis).

4 Leonard J. Arrington, The Mormon Experience (New York: Knopf, 1979), p. 245.

5 Arrington, p. 245.

6 At neither place where this statement is made is there any documentation of place, date or document which is essential in evaluating how far reaching this clarification was publicized.

7 James B. Allen, and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of The Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), p. 414.

8 Allen, p. 443.

9 i.e. Matthias Cowley, John W. Taylor, Abraham H. Cannon, George Teasdale and Possibly Marriner W. Merrill.

10 Gustive 0. Larson, The Americanization of Utah for Statehood (San Marino, California: Publishers Press, 1971), p. 275.

11 Gilbert A. Fulton, Jr., That Manifesto (Kearns, Utah: Deseret Publishing Company, 1974), p. 243.

This is part of a paper I wrote for a History class at BYU back in 1980.


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