In 1822 the United States government passed the Edmunds Law outlawing polygamy. Eight years later the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints withdrew its support of polygamy and threatened excommunication to any who practiced it. In spite of the Church's stance, some Mormons continued in the practice. Many polygamists moved to Mexico because of the relative liberality of Mexican law.

Polygamy experienced a revival in the 1930s following the publication of the claims of Lorin C. Woolley. Woolley claimed that on the evening of September 27, 1886, John Taylor, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, while staying at the Woolley home in Centerville, Utah, received a spirit visitation from Joseph Smith, Jr., the Church's founder. Smith's revelation concerned the continuance of plural marriage, and Taylor extracted a promise from all present that they would defend, sustain, and uphold the principle. The group covenanted together that no year would pass without children being born according to "the principle."

Later, according to Woolley, Taylor conferred the priesthood on five men, including Woolley and his father. At the time of the publication of the claim, all the men involved in the story except Lorin Woolley were dead. Only when he was the only one left, did Woolley assert any prerogatives based on Taylor's actions. He gathered followers and appointed a seven-member council to which he passed authority to govern the Church. Woolley died in 1934 and was succeeded by J. Leslie Broadbent. Broadbent lived only a short time before he was succeeded by John Y. Barlow.

Barlow began the polygamist colony at Short Creek on the Arizona-Utah border. An unsuccessful raid in 1935 failed to stamp out the colony, and by the 1940s it had reestablished communal living (the United Order) and reached a population of 36 men, 86 women, and 263 children. One member of the council, Joseph W. Musser, became the major defender of the polygamous tradition; he wrote several books and edited the group's periodical Truth.

Barlow's death in 1951 led to the first major split in the group. Joseph Musser succeeded Barlow; however, a paralytic stroke partially disabled him, causing many people to oppose his assuming an active leadership role. Opposition grew when he appointed Rulon C. Allred, his physician, and Mexican leader Margarito Bautista, to vacant positions on the council. Musser then disbanded the council and appointed a new one. He designated Allred as his successor. This action precipitated the schism.


In 1936 the leaders of the Short Creek community formed the United Trust, a corporate expression of the united order which they intended to live. In 1951 those who rejected the continued leadership of Joseph Musser, a Salt Lake City resident, lived in Short Creek and remained in control of the United Trust. They selected LeRoy Johnson to lead them. He accepted only after a vision of Christ confirmed his new role. His visions have guided the community through the years, and in the over thirty years of his leadership the community has grown and prospered. The United Trust now owns most of Colorado City, Arizona (the recently renamed Short Creek) and nearby Hilldale, Utah. It also owns businesses in St. George, Utah, and other towns in southern Utah.

The United Order Effort is the most conservative wing of the Fundamentalist Movement. It allows sexual relations only for the purpose of procreation and prohibits sexual contact altogether during pregnancy, lactation (nursing) and menses. As of 1985 there are an estimated 3,000 members of the group residing in the Colorado City-Hilldale area, with several thousand other adherents who accept Johnson's leadership of the polygamy-practicing Mormons. Johnson, in his nineties, was reportedly in ill health, but no successor had been named.


Approximately 1,000 Fundamentalists remained loyal to Musser and the new Council he appointed. He began a new periodical, the Star of Truth, which he edited until his death in 1954. After his death, Rulon Allred (1906-1977) reorganized his scattered following into the Apostolic United Order. Allred, the son of a former Speaker of the House in the State of Idaho, had joined the Fundamentalists in the 1930s. After his father's death in 1937, he moved to Salt Lake City and opened his practice of naturopathic medicine. His large suburban home became a regular gathering place of polygamists in the urban area.

Allred's real prominence in the Movement came after his arrest on March 7, 1944, during a massive anti-polygamy raid in Salt Lake City. He went to prison but was paroled on his word to refrain from either the practice or advocacy of plural marriage. In 1947 he violated his parole and fled to Mexico. He returned to Salt Lake City in 1948 but served only a few weeks for his parole violation.

After he took control of Musser's following, the Apostolic United Brethren prospered. It grew as did Allred's own family. His major losses came in Mexico, where Joel LeBaron left to form the Church of the First Born of the Fullness of Time in 1955.

The Apostolic United Order is the more liberal branch of the Fundamentalist Movement. It allows sexual relations apart from the strict purpose of procreation.

During the 1970s Allred became the target of his former follower Ervil LeBaron. Ervil, Joel's brother, had left the Church of the First Born and formed the Church of the Lamb of God. He claimed authority over all of the polygamous groups and the right to execute any who defied him. In 1972 he had Joel killed. On April 7,1975, he sent a pamphlet, A Response to an Act of War, and a handwritten note to Allred. Allred ignored him. Then on May 10, 1977, two female members of the Church of the Lamb of God murdered Allred in his office in Murray, Utah. The women and LeBaron were eventually tried and convicted. LeBaron died in prison.

Allred was succeeded by his brother Owen Allred. The Apostolic United Order has approximately 5,000 members, many of whom live in the community at Pineville, Montana, and the several Mexican colonies.


The Church of Jesus Christ in Solemn Assembly was formed by Alexander Joseph in 1974 after he left the Apostolic United Brethren in which he had been a prominent leader. Joseph has actively pressed the rights of polygamists in general and his Church in particular. Shortly after founding the Church, he attempted to homestead federal land but was denied access by court order. He moved to Glen Canyon, Kane county, Utah, and established a new town incorporated as Big Water, the current location of the Church's headquarters. Joseph became the first mayor of the town in 1983.

Joseph had 10 wives in 1983. He is the author of one book, Dry Bones, A Resurrection of Ancient Understandings, a commentary on the Pearl of Great Price, one of the Latter Day Saint scriptures.


The Church of the First Born is the most successful of several churches founded by the sons of Alma Dayer LeBaron, a polygamy-practicing Mormon who lived at Colonia Juarez, a Mexican Mormon settlement where many went to escape anti-polygamy laws in the United States. His children, Benjamin, Ross Wesley, Joel, Ervil, and Alma, each became founders of a new Church. First, in 1944 Benjamin declared himself a prophet. Several of the brother's supported his claim, most notably Ervil, but most of the family quickly recognized that his claims were mixed with some mental pathology. Few followed him and he spent much of his life in and out of mental institutions.

Next Ross Wesley proclaimed himself a prophet, specifically the "One Mighty and Strong" who would put the House of God in order as prophesied by Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants 85:7, and the heir to his father's patriarchal authority which the LeBarons believed had been passed through the family from Benjamin F. Johnson, A.D. LeBaron's grandfather. Ross Wesley still has a small following in Utah.

It was in the context of membership in a family within which two brothers had already claimed prophethood that Joel became the third. According to his account, in 1955 he was visited by two heavenly messengers and told that he was the "One Mighty and Strong." He incorporated the Church of the First Born of the Fullness of Times in September of that year in Salt Lake City and the next spring formally organized the new body. He appointed his brother Ervil secretary and head of the Mexican Mission.

Prior to the formation of the new Church, Joel was a member of the Apostolic United Brethren headed by Rulon C. Allred. He invited Allred to join his group, but Allred refused.

Joel propounded two unorthodox teachings. First, like his brother Wesley, he claimed a lineage of priesthood (and the office of First Grand Head) through his family from Benjamin F. Johnson to himself rather than through Lorin Woolley and Joseph Musser. He also believed that an hereditary patriarchal office existed and was held by Margarito Bautista, a Mexican leader also with Allred's group. When Bautista died, Joel appointed his brother Ervil to that post. Second, Joel taught that the law, i.e., the Ten Commandments, were the basis of political life and only when the Commandments were kept would Christ return to earth.

During the 1960s trouble developed between Joel and Ervil. Joel was attempting to develop a group that practiced the Ten Commandments. Ervil came to believe that this new order should be established by force. This disagreement and other problems led Joel to excommunicate Ervil in 1971. Ervil asserted his right to lead because of his patriarchal office and founded the Church of the Lamb of God. The next few years became ones of bitter strife as Ervil attempted to force his will upon the polygamy-practicing groups in both Mexico and the United States.

On August 20, 1972, on orders from Ervil, some members of his Church shot and killed Joel. Joel's brother Verlan succeeded him as head of the Church of the First Born.

Ervil was arrested and tried for killing Joel, but served only 12 months of a 12-year sentence. A few days after he was released, on December 14, 1973, his followers attacked and burned Los Molinos, a town in Baja, California where many members of the Church of the First Born resided. Two were killed. Again Ervil was tried and convicted but served only eight months. Then on May 10, 1977, several members of Ervil's Church murdered Rulon C. Allred in his office in Salt Lake City. After a lengthy and extensive manhunt, Ervil was arrested in 1979. On May 28, 1980 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. On August 16, 1981, he was found dead in his prison cell, apparently of natural causes. On that same day, Verlan LeBaron, who had succeeded Joel as head of the Church of the First Born was killed in an automobile accident in Mexico City.

In the midst of the troubles, Alma LeBaron, The presiding bishop of the Church of the First Born, asserted his authority to control the economic affairs of the Church in ways that were disapproved by the majority of members. Alma left and founded his own Church which he now heads.

Of the several Churches to grow out of the LeBaron family, three, the Church of the First Born of the Fullness of Times and the small bodies headed by Ross Wesley and Alma, seem to still be in existence. The Church of the Lamb of God disintegrated after Ervil's death.


Besides the several larger and more well-known groups discussed here, numerous small independent polygamy-practicing churches exist throughout the Rocky Mountain area from Montana and Idaho to Mexico. Most are confined to a single community (frequently communal in structure). Some have a lineage that can be traced to Lorin Woolley, but others have established their authority on divergent bases.


Polygamy has produced numerous defenders and critics on both the theoretical and practical level since its widespread practice was advocated by Brigham Young in the mid-nineteenth century. Critics charge practitioners with degrading and even enslaving women. Mormons, however, claim polygamy is the answer to prostitution and lascivious behavior and provides a family context for all.

Since the rise of Fundamentalism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been at pains to refute the claims of Lorin C. Woolley. Most recently, J. Max Anderson has examined the Fundamentalist story and found it impossible, as the journals and other records of the movement of President Taylor and those who claimed to have been present in Centerville in 1886 show conclusively that they could not have assembled at the same place on the day in question. Anderson's research adds substance to the long-standing criticism of Woolley, namely, that no account of the Taylor revelation appears until twenty-four years after the event and no published account for almost a half-century.

  • Rulon C. Allred, Treasures of Knowledge (Hamilton, MT: Bitteroot Publishing Company, 1981, 2 Vols).
  • Rulon C. Allred, The Most Holy Principle (Murray, UT: Gems Publishing Company, 1970-75, 4 Vols.).
  • Joseph W. Musser, Celestial or Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City:Truth Publishing Company, 1944)
  • Robert R. Openshaw, The Notes (Pinesdale, MT: Bitteroot Publishing Company, 1980).
  • Stephen M. Silver, "Priesthood or Presidency," Ensign 2, 11 (January 1963) 1-127.
  • J. Max Anderson, The Polygamy Story: Fact or Fiction (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1979).
  • Ben Bradlee, Jr., and Dale Van Atta, Prophet of Blood (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1981).
  • Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984).
  • Henry W. Richards, A Reply to "The Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times" (Salt Lake City: The Author, 1965).
  • Kimball Young, Isn't One Wife Enough (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1954).



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This page was last updated on 6/16/1997.