February 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 1
Discovering a giant in the family
Emerson wrote that “there is properly no history; only biography,” so my brother and sister and I knew that the revered collection of diaries and papers that had once belonged to our grandfather, which during most of our early lives was in a closet in an upstairs bedroom, contained some serious stuff. Our mother was a professional journalist, and it was always assumed that she would write her father’s story. But she intended instead to write a novel based on his life. Her father—our grandfather Rudger Clawson—was president of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Mormon Church at the time of his death, in 1943.
As we were growing up, in Washington, D.C., it was a little puzzling to us that this elderly, mild gentleman, who dressed mostly in black and wore black bowlers, top hats, and homburgs and starched white Herbert Hoover-style collars, looking like a bookkeeper (in fact, he was a bookkeeper), should warrant a big, romantic historical novel of the kind my mother planned to write. Despite Grandfather’s exalted position, it was always Grandma who commanded the most attention. She, too, always wore black, and in her seventies she was still a beautiful woman with a striking presence. Grandfather had a puckish wit and would often enter a room with a dramatic gesture and a Shakespearean quote, but then he would seem to fade into the furniture. Grandma entered a room and dominated it.
However, as we grew up, we began to hear the stories about Grandfather that invariably prompted guests to say, “Oh, that would make a great novel.” In 1980 Mother died without having written that novel. In fact, in her later years she had become reconciled to not writing it and often talked with her children about her desire that one of us write her father’s biography.
She also made it clear she did not want his diaries and papers to go to the church, because once they were in its archives, only church-approved scholars would have access to them. Before she died, my brother, David, wrote a detailed proposal for a biography, but he was unable to interest a publisher. The papers were transferred from Mother’s closet to my basement, where they began to gather dust—and attract some queries from interested buyers of historical papers. Then we had an idea: Why not sell the papers and use the proceeds to write the biography?
By this time I had written two biographies (of the novelist James M. Cain and the journalist Ralph M. Ingersoll) and David had done graduate work in the American West at Harvard and considerable research on Rudger Clawson. We seemed to make a good team. The papers were sold to the University of Utah, a public institution. David and I split the proceeds and used the money to help support us during the writing of the book. His wife made extensive editorial contributions to the project, my wife proofread galleys, and our sister, Linda, did work on the illustrations. So the publication this spring of our grandfather’s biography ( The Making of a Mormon Apostle , Madison Books) will definitely be a family affair, which would have pleased him.
There is probably no greater intellectual excitement than to take a trip into history in pursuit of a life that has some meaning for you. And it is a bonus to know that the life had historical significance.
Despite being the daughter of a president of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Mormon Church, my mother was never spiritually close to the church. However, after my immediate family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1926, she kept up relations through the column she wrote for the church paper, the Deseret News , and later for the independent Salt Lake City Tribune . My father, an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission, was not a practicing Mormon and never went to church, even when Grandfather was in town and the rest of the family dutifully heard him preside at services at the old Mormon church on Sixteenth Street in Washington.
At one time or another Linda and David were fairly close to the church, although both have since severed their ties. I was never close and had never been pressured by Mother or Dad to become a Mormon. So what would I find on my travels back through Mormon history into completely alien territory, tracing the life of an apostle in a church I had rejected? Would I rediscover Joseph Smith or find God? Or would I simply confirm what I felt I had known since my university days: that the pursuit of truth usually led away from religion, although for some it eventually led back to it?
One thing we found came as a total surprise. During my journalism career I had written a brief profile of Stewart Udall, a former U.S. representative and the Secretary of the Interior during the Kennedy administration, and had interviewed his brother Morris, also a U.S. representative from Arizona, who later ran for President. Little had 1 known that I was related to the Udalls, the result of a secret Mormon celestial marriage “through time and eternity.”
This is not the place for a discourse on the Mormon theology, but briefly and to oversimplify, the Mormons believe that a very intense and charismatic young man named Joseph Smith discovered the true church when the Angel Moroni led him to a set of golden tablets on a hill near Manchester, New York, in the 1820s. Over the course of a few years, using magical glass stones, Smith translated the “reformed Egyptian” script on the plates, and he published his translations as the Book of Mormon in 1830. That same year he organized the Church of Latter-day Saints, which, among other things, proclaimed that Jesus would return to St. Joseph’s County, Missouri, to establish the millennium and that the Latter-day Saints would be the only followers he would acknowledge to have practiced the true faith.
Smith is believed to have pursued polygamy in the early years of the church, having had, he said, revelations in 1831 and 1843 that God intended him and all true Mormons to have more than one wife. But polygamy was not made official doctrine until 1852, after Smith had been murdered in Carthage, Illinois, and Brigham Young had led the Mormons across the plains to the promised land in Utah. A Mormon properly married would, after he had crossed the vale of death, preside forever at the head of his “celestial kingdom,” made up of his wives (preferably at least three) and all his children by all his wives.
It was an attractive doctrine not only for men but for women, of whom there were always many on the frontier. Having their own children and a shared husband was obviously better than no husband at all. And large families meant more men to build the new kingdom on earth and more women to help perpetuate the true religion and build celestial kingdoms in the hereafter.
One of the first things 1 learned in pursuit of our grandfather was that his father—our great-grandfather, about whom I had known virtually nothing—was a truly dashing character. He, in my opinion, was the proper protagonist for the historical novel.
Hiram Bradley Clawson and his widowed mother had joined the Mormons in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1841. H.B., as he was known, was fifteen and precocious, with a flair for dramatics. Encouraged by Joseph Smith, he became active in the theater, performing with, among others, Brigham Young. In 1847, when he was twenty-one, H.B. drove his mother and sisters across the plains in the second wave of Mormons to reach the Salt Lake Valley. Young, who had led the first wave, immediately put him to work, and ultimately H.B. became the manager of all Young’s personal affairs, which was no small job. Young’s household, with his twenty-seven wives, would eventually number seventy people. During the period when Utah was at war with the federal government, H.B. was also Young’s bodyguard, and he carried a derringer, which eventually was passed on to Rudger Clawson and is now one of my cherished possessions.
One of the most long-standing of American traditions is to marry the boss’s daughter. H.B. married two of them—Alice and Emily Young. His first wife, Ellen, recorded the arrival of Alice in a letter to a friend: “Just ten days ago, Hiram brought home a new wife, no more or less than Miss Alice Young, the governor’s daughter … you know a new wife is a new thing and I know it is impossible for him to feel any different towards her just at present. … I think perhaps Margaret feels worse than I do, for she was the last, and 1 suppose thought he would never get another.”
Our papers do not show precisely how the former Margaret Gay Judd, the “mother of drama” in Utah and our great-grandmother, felt about her husband’s bringing home the governor’s daughter, but we decided she was not too keen about it. It is known that in most, if not all, Mormon households, the arrival of a new wife was a time of tension and discord. And when H.B. brought Alice Young home, Margaret was four months pregnant with Rudger.
H.B. had met and courted Margaret during the period when he and John T. Caine brought theater to the Salt Lake Valley. Their efforts culminated in the building of the Salt Lake Theater in 1862. Rudger’s account of his father and mother’s courtship provides us with one of our first glimpses of Rudger’s charm and wit: “He wooed her not before the curtain on the mimic stage but behind the scenes and won her—won her over and above and in spite of the impetuous attentions of other loves. On the stage the love scenes were simply make-believe. Off the stage his lovemaking was in dead earnest and had he been less insistent, less determined, less attentive, less romantic in his courtship, he would have lost the prize, and in the last analysis where would I have been?”
Rudger, born in 1857, grew up in a family that eventually included four wives and forty-four children, although there were only about half that number around during his child- hood. And he became a young man with a firm belief in the Book of Mormon. “By careful study of that glorious book,” he wrote in his memoirs, “well defined ideas of right and wrong were firmly fixed in my youthful mind.”
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.”
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.
Grandfather did get back to Salt Lake City, and there he was a hero. He went to work as a bookkeeper for what can be considered the country’s first department store—the Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution—and soon married Florence Dinwoodey, daughter of a prominent Salt Lake merchant. Then, in March of 1883, with Florence at his side, he married another young woman, Lydia Spencer. She was the daughter of Daniel Spencer, a Mormon convert from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, who had been the mayor of Nauvoo at the time the Mormons were driven westward.
Grandfather’s marriage took place almost a year to the day after President Chester A. Arthur signed the Edmunds Act, which signified that the federal government was getting serious about eliminating polygamy in the Utah Territory. The mild little bookkeeper did not realize it, but this was another turning point on the road that would inevitably lead him to the top of the Mormon hierarchy and into history.
Although Grandfather had been told to be careful about publicizing his marriage to Lydia, at least one friend, Orson Whitney, didn’t think he was: “With his usual disregard for danger, he had allowed himself to be seen with her quite often, not only at her home, but upon the streets and in other public places. He did not propose [if apprehended] to plead guilty, however, and lose the opportunity in court of defending not only his own case but the general causes of which circumstances made him the champion.”
In other words, Rudger Clawson was eager for the chance to become a martyr in the cause of polygamy. And he got that chance when Florence’s pregnancy with their first child provided him with an excuse to move Lydia into the household, to be a companion for Florence. At about the same time, a new district attorney and a new district court judge arrived in Utah with a mandate to stamp out polygamy in Utah once and for all. If a few prominent Mormons had to serve time in prison, so be it.
In April of 1884 Rudger Clawson was arrested on charges of cohabitation (which carried a sentence of six months in jail) and polygamy (which carried one of up to five years). But he was almost denied his chance at martyrdom, for the trial produced a hung jury, primarily because Lydia had disappeared during the trial, “gone where the woodbine twineth,” said an exasperated district attorney in his summation.
However, on the night the trial ended, Lydia, for some reason, possibly because she had heard the trial was over and felt it was safe to come out of hiding, returned to the apartment she had been living in before going underground. She was served with a subpoena, and a new trial was scheduled for the next day.
Despite the judge’s threat to cite her for contempt of court, Lydia refused to be sworn in. The judge explained that a contempt citation meant a year in prison, which did not surprise Lydia; several Mormon women had gone to prison rather than implicate their husbands. But Lydia was going to have to serve her time at least a thousand miles away, because the Utah penitentiary did not have suitable quarters for pregnant women. This was too much for Rudger. The night before she was to be sentenced for contempt, he sent her a note (she was already in jail) urging her to testify the next morning. She did, much to the courtroom’s surprise, and Rudger got his chance. He rose to the occasion magnificently.
“Your Honor,” he said, when asked by Judge Charles Zane if he had any cause why judgment should not be pronounced, “I very much regret that the laws of my country should come in contact with the laws of God; but whenever they do I shall invariably choose the latter. If I did not so express myself I should feel unworthy of the cause I represent. The Constitution of the United States expressly states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. It cannot be denied, I think, that marriage, when attended and sanctioned by religious rites and ceremonies, is an establishment of religion. The law of 1862 and the Edmunds Act were expressly designed to operate against marriage as practiced and believed by the Latter-day Saints. They are therefore unconstitutional, and, of course, cannot command the respect that a constitutional law would. That is all I have to save, Your Honor.”
Newspaper accounts and the history books agree that it was a dramatic moment. But Judge Zane was not impressed. His reply reflects the conflict that has gone on between church and state since the beginning of democracy: “The Constitution of the United States … does not protect any person in the practice of polygamy. While all men have a right to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience and to entertain any religious beliefs that their conscience and judgment might reasonably dictate, they have not the right to engage in a practice which the American people, through the laws of their country, declare to be unlawful and injurious to society. I confess that I should have felt inclined to fix this punishment smaller than 1 shall, were it not for the fact that you openly declared that you believe it is right to violate the law.”
Grandfather was sentenced to four years in prison—three and a half for polygamy and six months for unlawful cohabitation. Lydia wept in the arms of Rudger’s father; the courtroom was silent, and Rudger was as unruffled as rock when he returned to his seat after hearing his sentence.
If I was impressed by Rudger’s courage during the trial, 1 was even more impressed by his strength and stoicism during his imprisonment. Four years is a long time, and he had some unpleasant moments, both in solitary confinement and when he was thrown in with the prison “toughs,” in addition to being denied a normal life with his family.
The prison was located near Parley’s Canyon, on the outskirts of Salt Lake City in what is today Sugar House Park. Rudger entered his confinement with a flourish that should endear him to anyone with a literary bent. After his first week in prison, he returned briefly to Salt Lake City to hear his appeal on bail (it was denied again), and when a reporter from the Salt Lake City Herald asked him how he spent his time in prison, he replied: “Mostly by reading. 1 started Milton’s Paradise Lost just before I went in and I am now concluding it. The surroundings out there make it somewhat applicable, I can assure you.”
The first two years were especially hard, but gradually Rudger emerged as a tower of strength, the leader of the prison’s rapidly increasing Mormon population. He taught the inmates bookkeeping, became tutor of the warden’s children, and was occasionally able to see Lydia, sometimes even in private, enabling them to conceive a second child.
Meanwhile, Florence delivered an ultimatum: that he renounce polygamy and choose either her or Lydia as his only wife. When he refused, Florence divorced him—in a civil court, which had no legality in his eyes. Florence remained the first wife in his celestial kingdom.
Despite their physical separation, Lydia and Rudger grew closer. During periods when Lydia’s visits were denied or the two were not permitted to be alone together, Rudger wrote her revealing and charming love letters, which were folded into tight little wads and smuggled out in clothing that needed washing or mending. One example: “I looked upon thee Thursday afternoon in that neat white dress and stylish hat and loved thee. … Was I content to sit as I did and simply converse with you about the common topics of the day? No, a thousand times no. Do I not read your heart rightly when I say that a woman is by no means satisfied with a love that is tame and insipid, a love that manifests itself in polite and studied gestures, a lover that lacks feeling and spirit?”
And then came the most charming touch of all. After several paragraphs describing in detail what he would do when they were next alone, he added a postscript: “On the second day after I return home, just after dinner, place this letter in my hand. … Do this and you will have no occasion to regret it.” After Lydia died, her children found her strongbox, which she had kept in her bedroom all her life. In it they found photographs of her babies who had died young and Rudger’s love letters from prison, still wadded up as when they had been smuggled out.
Rudger’s term in prison played almost as important a part in his emergence in the church as did his fateful mission to the South and his staunch defense of his faith at his trial. Many prominent Mormons, including his father, went to prison to serve their six months for cohabitation while Rudger was there, and they all went home impressed by his leadership, strength, and dedication to the faith.
One prisoner who was especially impressed was the seventy-two-year-old Lorenzo Snow, who had been a Mormon apostle for thirty-six years when he arrived in prison. Snow was one of the most imposing apostles in the hierarchy: a tall man with wavy white hair, a long white beard, and wide-open, intense eyes. He was famous for having put into words Joseph Smith’s concept of a living God: “As man is, God once was; and as God is, man may become.”
Apostle Snow knew he was on the way to becoming a god, and he must have thought Clawson was too, for by the time Snow left prison, Rudger Clawson was his protégé. A few months later, after a little more than three years in prison, Rudger received a pardon from President Cleveland. His plan, as he noted in a diary he kept (seventeen years of which were among those papers in the closet), was to settle down in Salt Lake City and “engage in some business pursuit and move along in life pretty much as before.”
But his mentor, Apostle Snow, had other plans. One night in 1888 he told Rudger he wanted him to leave immediately for Brigham City, Utah, north of Salt Lake City; the Twelve Apostles had appointed Rudger president of the Box Elder Stake. It was an important (nonpaying) job in the church, and Rudger felt he was not qualified. But he decided “the Lord was abundantly able to qualify me,” and he knew the Lord would “provide for me.”
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.”
But his three years in England were hardly a vacation. A measure of the British attitude toward Mormons then can be seen in the popularity at the time of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet , which centered on two Mormons who would do anything—including murder—to steal another man’s bride, all of which had the approval of Doyle’s fictional Brigham Young. The British were convinced that Mormons were kidnapping innocent young British girls and shipping them back to their Utah harems. Home Secretary Winston Churchill was being besieged to do something, and the papers in our bedroom closet contained considerable correspondence between Grandfather and Churchill concerning the “Mormon question” as well as dozens of letters between Rudger and various British editors and articles he wrote for the mission paper, the Millennial Star .
It was obviously a difficult time for Rudger. Mission headquarters at Durham House in Liverpool, where the family lived, was often stoned, as were Mormon meetings in various English towns. At a gathering in Sunderland, the word spread that the mob knew that the Mormon leader from Liverpool would be the one in the black silk top hat, and one Mormon offered to exchange hats so Rudger would not be identified. “Let every man wear his own hat, I’ll wear mine,” said Grandfather. Not exactly Henry V’s speech on St. Crispin’s Day, but words that will live in the Clawson-Hoopes history book. The silk top hat, incidentally, survived three years of stoning in England and is today, along with the derringer, in my possession.
Rudger’s European mission was also marked by personal stress. He wanted Pearl to come, but they decided against it because of his fear that the secret marriage would be discovered—a very serious consideration in that his primary challenge in England was to convince the British that the Mormon Church no longer sanctioned or practiced polygamy. Rudger’s mother and father both died while he was in England, and about halfway through his three-year stint, Lydia and the family returned to Utah, in part, I suspect, out of concern for the children’s safety.
After Lydia returned home, Pearl decided to go to England, apparently not to perpetuate their marriage but to annul it. She was a handsome woman in her thirties and had be- gun to realize that being secretly married to a Mormon apostle was not an easy life. Men were attracted to her, and she did not know what to tell them. She was in turmoil, and as near as we can tell, she broke off the marriage on her brief trip to England in 1912; seven years later she married Joseph Nelson (after President Heber J. Grant assured Mr. Nelson that the church had canceled Rudger and Pearl’s seal for time and eternity). Pearl Nelson settled down to a normal life and eventually became the biographer of David K. Udall.
Rudger Clawson returned from Europe in 1913, and although he lived another thirty years—twenty-two of them as president of the Twelve Apostles (to which position he was appointed in 1921)—it is apparent that even he considered the rest of his life an epilogue. We certainly did. Rudger had stopped writing about church affairs in his diary in 1905, and although our mother ended up with the diaries and other important personal letters and papers, the official papers of his presidency went into the church archives, to which even approved scholars have limited access.
As our research progressed, it became increasingly obvious why Mother had wanted to write “that novel.” Grandfather had indeed led a life of which romantic historical novels might be made. But more important, he was the quintessential Mormon. He not only lived through but played a significant part in the transition of the Mormon Church from a unique nineteenth-century frontier community to an equally unique twentieth-century corporate entity. And he was of the stuff that apostles and saints are made of. “He lives and reacts to men and events as if he had lived forever and will live forever,” his son Sam (who made a little history himself as part of the legal team that put Al Capone behind bars) said. “He does not see time as most men see it; he sees it as Eternity. He does not live in time as it is measured by all of our various inventions and mechanical formulas. Father actually lives in Eternity.”
Although my years of research did not bring me back to the church in search of immortality, I did feel satisfaction in having contributed to Rudger Clawson’s immortality. He may or may not have found his celestial kingdom in the hereafter—and we all hope avidly that he did—but a biography is a form of immortality too. It is a good feeling to have helped Grandfather cement that immortality, whether or not it is the only kind he can know.
But then that possibility would not have existed for Grandfather. As Sam concluded, “Religion to him is a living, eternal thing and he, as an integral part of it, will live eternally.”