- Historic Sites
My Grandfather, The Mormon Apostle
Discovering a giant in the family
February 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 1
In addition to his work for Young, H.B. was co-owner of a dry goods business, and Rudger naturally grew up interested in business, especially bookkeeping. In fact, he devoted twice as much space in his memoirs to how he learned bookkeeping and accounting as to the origins of his religious beliefs. At fourteen he entered the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah), which had a strong business orientation. After graduation Rudger worked in a variety of jobs, as a clerk, secretary, and bookkeeper, and one of them took him to New York for a brief period, during which he learned shorthand. Then came the turning point in his life. As is so often the case with turning points, it came unexpectedly.
He was attending a general conference of the church, at which it was customary to read off the names of young Mormons who had been called to serve on missions. Rudger recalled, “I was sitting there quietly when I heard my name called out for a mission to the southern states. You can very well believe that it was like a bolt from a clear sky. It...would have taken me off my feet had I been standing.”
He knew it was not a good time to go across the plains to the Southern states. But he knew he could not reject a call from the Prophet of God (the president of the Mormon Church), “so I interpreted this call to mean that it was from the Lord and that I was to go upon the Lord’s errand.”
Most Mormon missionaries go out in pairs. Rudger met his companion in Pickens County, Georgia, in June of 1879. He was Joseph Standing, a very intense young man, taller and stockier than Rudger, with blunt features that were softened somewhat by a head of thick, wavy brown hair. By contrast, Rudger, as later described by the Atlanta Constitution, was “an intelligent looking blonde with clean cut rather handsome features and bright blue eyes. He wore what college girls would call a ‘lovely’ moustache. When he smiled...he displayed white and perfectly formed teeth.”
Standing had been in the field for some time and had become intensely concerned about the anti-Mormon atmosphere in Georgia’s backcountry. Methodist and Baptist preachers were fanatical in their hatred of the Mormons; the Ku Klux Klan posted notices and rode out in the night to rout Mormons when they were in the neighborhood. Standing had even had a dream of foreboding, in which he approached the home of a Mormon over which hung a huge black cloud, and when the woman of the house saw him, she turned a deathly white and refused him entrance.
In July Clawson and Standing were on the road to a meeting in Rome, Georgia, when they arrived at the home of a Mormon woman who, just as in Standing’s dream, refused them admittance. A mob was said to be out after the missionaries. The next day the two were confronted by the mob, and Standing was shot when he seized one of the mob’s weapons. Then the mob leader, pointing at Rudger, shouted, “Shoot that man,” and every weapon in the crowd was leveled at him. “There was no avenue of escape,” Rudger wrote later. “I was looking down the gun barrels of the murderous mob. I folded my arms and said, ‘shoot!’ and almost persuaded myself that I was shot, so intense were my feelings.”
It was a courageous act even for a man who knew that he had the Lord on his side. The next moment someone yelled, “Don’t shoot.” Then Grandfather demonstrated even more courage and cool. He knelt to look at Standing, and although he knew he was dead, he rose and said to the mob leader: “It’s a burning shame that this man should be left here to die in the woods without any assistance. Either you go for help or let me go.”
Rudger was eager for the chance to become a martyr in the cause of polygamy.
When they indicated that he should go, he turned his back on the mob and walked slowly away. He was nearly a hundred yards off before he was out of sight of the mob. He felt that any sign of fear or haste on his part would bring a volley of bullets. But no one fired, and Clawson managed to get help, find a metal coffin for Standing’s body, and board a train at Dalton that took the two missionaries back to Utah. Three months later, although he had been warned that it would be dangerous to return to Georgia, Rudger went back to Dalton for the trial.
The murderers had been apprehended, but Clawson was to learn the truth of what one of the mob had said to him and Standing: There was no law in Georgia for the Mormons. The leader of the mob was acquitted; murder charges were dropped against two others, and the jury would not even convict them of rioting. Rudger was furious at the judge, who, he noted, had sentenced to a year in prison one poor black man who had been literally dragged into court for stealing a jug of whiskey. But Clawson was not inclined to stay and fight the verdict. Immediately after the trial a stranger stepped up to him and said, “Mr. Clawson, you do not know me...but if you have any regard for your life, permit me to say you had better get out of here just as quickly as you can.” Rudger also heard rumors that he would be arrested for perjury, and one defense attorney accused him of coming back to Georgia just to collect witness fees. “If this man succeeds in getting out of this town alive, he may thank his lucky stars,” the attorney warned.