My Grandfather, The Mormon Apostle

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He did a good job in Brigham City, and he might have remained there for years, but Snow and the Lord intervened again. Snow was eighty-four and next in line to be president of the church when President Wilford Woodruff died. Snow was not sure what to do, but he received guidance from a distinguished visitor—the Savior. “He stood right there, about three feet above the floor,” he later told his granddaughter. “It looked as though he stood on a plate of solid gold.” The Savior’s advice: Do not wait, as past presidents had done, but assume the presidency at once.

The Lord also helped pick Snow’s replacement on the Council of Twelve. After taking suggestions from the apostles, Snow and his counselors withdrew, and when they returned, Snow announced, as Apostle Heber J. Grant would later tell Rudger, that he was “sure we would want the man whom the Lord had approved of and none of us desired that our own judgment shall prevail. The man we have chosen is Rudger Clawson.”

Rudger was now forty-one, and his place in the hereafter was assured—except perhaps for his celestial kingdom. During the period around the turn of the century, after the so-called First Church Manifesto banning polygamy but before the Second, which came in 1904, the hierarchy of the church was in turmoil over the polygamy issue. Even though President Woodruff had had a revelation from the Lord that inspired him to ban polygamy (the First Manifesto), Reed Smoot of Utah was very nearly denied admission to the U.S. Senate because of the polygamy issue. In fact, many prominent church officials still believed it was an essential part of the Mormon faith. Rudger noted several times in his diary being counseled by other apostles not to overlook opportunities to cement his kingdom.

In 1900 Clawson noted meeting in Arizona the very attractive family of the Mormon leader David K. Udall. Later another diary entry referred to a young Arizona Mormon girl who had said she and several of her companions “would much prefer to take a married man in the church who has proven his faithfulness and integrity than to marry a single young man who is untried.” He never mentions her by name in his diary, but her name was Pearl Udall. And Pearl’s attraction to Rudger is understandable. After his heroics in Georgia, his willingness to go to jail for his beliefs, and his leadership in prison, he was in the enviable position of being a martyr who was still alive. He was “one of the best known men in Utah,” according to the Salt Lake City Tribune.

Rudger was also the apostle who had put the chaotic books of the church in order, revealing that it was on the verge of bankruptcy and inspiring Snow’s critical decision to revive tithing, which eventually saved the church from financial disaster. And Pearl’s father would certainly not object to her polygamous marriage; David Udall was himself a well-known polygamist, who took a new wife at about this time.

At this point in his diary writing Rudger became uncharacteristically mysterious. He mentioned several discussions about polygamy with other church officials and even reported that “Lydia expressed a willingness for me to take another wife, provided that I should not take the step without her knowledge.” And through other sources, we confirmed that in August of 1904, in defiance of the Second Manifesto, Grandfather took his third wife, Pearl Udall, for time and eternity. The Hoopes family (and we would guess most of the Clawson family) knew nothing of this until we began to work on the book. The Udall family, it turns out, had known of the marriage for some time, and at least one Mormon historian, D. Michael Quinn, had also discovered it.

Lydia may have acquiesced in the taking of another wife, but there was an intense strain in their marriage during this period, caused in part by the one great tragedy in their lives. Two months after the secret third marriage, Lydia and Rudger’s nineteen-year-old firstborn son, Remus Rudger, died of typhoid fever. Lydia took it especially hard and in her emotional state blamed her husband. Earlier that year Remus Rudger had wanted to go to Paris to study art; his father insisted that he stay home, for reasons including his belief “that he is not sufficiently grounded in the faith of the gospel to go into the world.” Lydia believed that had her son been allowed to go to Paris he would have lived.

The early years of this century were trying ones for Rudger and his family. In addition to his son’s death and a new wife (who actually never moved in with the family—in fact, it is unlikely that his five children even knew of the marriage), Rudger felt the weight of the many years he had spent immersed in the financial affairs of the church. By 1910 he feared he was on the verge of a physical breakdown. He needed to get away, and the Lord provided his relief in the form of a tour of duty in England as head of the Mormon European Mission. Rudger noted in his diary that as soon as he felt the ocean breezes, “my drooping spirits were revived...the family was likewise benefitted.”