Cowboy Apostle


Cowboy Apostle: The Diaries of Anthony W. Ivins, 1875-1932

Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 13

The diaries of a rugged outdoors-man who served as first counselor to Heber J. Grant and served multiple foreign missions. An observer of the Mormonism on the western frontier, Ivins reveals the strange tension between LDS missionary zeal for and vigilante justice against Mexicans and American Indians.

Winner of the Best First Book Award, Mormon History Association and Best Biography Award, Utah State Historical Association

December, 2013


Anthony W. Ivins (1852-1934) migrated to St. George, Utah, at age nine where he later became an influential civic and ecclesiastical leader. He married Elizabeth A. Snow, daughter of apostle Erastus F. Snow. Ivins was a first cousin of Heber J. Grant, and served as his counselor while Grant was LDS president. Ivins filled several Mormon missions to Mexico and presided as the Juarez, Mexico stake president where he performed post-manifesto marriages. He was appointed by the U.S. government as an Indian agent, and was warmly acquainted with Porfirio Diaz, president of Mexico. Involved in politics in St. George, Ivins held aspirations of running as a Democrat for governor of Utah. In 1907, he was ordained an apostle and later advanced to the First Presidency. Tone, as he called himself, was an accomplished horseman who worked with, and invested in, livestock. He was a game-hunting cowboy who became a statesman for both his country and his expanding religious community.

Though in his correspondence Ivins expressed paramount concern for members of his family, he rarely mentions them in his journals. Rather, his diaries chronicle his business and religious observations including meetings with the Quorum of the Twelve and others. He records meetings of the apostles where decisions were made to remove Church leaders from office who had entered into polygamy after 1904, and details the Church’s dealings with the Mexican government to safeguard the Mormon colonists. There are also discussions where doctrinal principles were clarified. For example, in 1912, Ivins reported that President Joseph F. Smith addressed Brigham Young’s Adam God teachings and affirmed that it was “not a doctrine of the Church.” Ivins clearly loved the ruggedness of outdoor life, as evidenced in his passion for hunting, but was also intrigued with the curiosities at the Utah State Fair, the entertaining showmanship of Buffalo Bill, and the refinement of the theater. Tragedy became commonplace as he recorded vigilante-like justice against Indians and Mexicans who were killed for stealing food, and witnessing the execution of John D. Lee, a once favored son of Mormonism. Appendices of Cowboy Apostle include Ivins Record Book of Marriage and an essay by Ivins son, H. Grant Ivins titled “Polygamy in Mexico as Practiced by the Mormon Church, 1895-1905.”

Elizabeth Oberdick Anderson is a graduate of Brigham Young University, residing in Utah. A copy-editor, she has published an article on Howard and Martha Coray in the Journal of Mormon History where she is on the editorial staff. She is currently editing a book of missionary letters to Anthon H. Lund from his wife, Sarah Peterson Lund, in collaboration with Jennifer L. Lund. Elizabeth and her husband are the parents of seven children, and grandparents of fifteen.

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1 review for Cowboy Apostle

  1. Clair Barrus, Worlds Without End

    As part of a series of essays on controversial topics, the church recently published an article discussing plural marriages performed after the Manifesto. The article noted, “on an exceptional basis, some new plural marriages were performed between 1890 and 1904, especially in Mexico and Canada.” [1]

    The publication of Cowboy Apostle: The Diaries of Anthony W. Ivins, 1875-1932, is timely for those interested in further exploration of this topic. Anthony Ivins was involved in the initial LDS exploration of Mexico with instructions to locate a place where polygamists could hide. When U.S. efforts to stop plural marriage gained momentum in the 1880s, Mexico became a safe haven for Mormon polygamists. Ivins was called as a Mission President over the Mormon colonies in Mexico “to specifically enable the church” to continue to perform plural marriages, which were “still considered to be an essential, eternal principle.” [xxv] There he performed or oversaw more than 60 covert plural marriages after the 1890 manifesto. His son described his father’s involvement (included in Appendix B) noting Ivins had the full authority of the First Presidency to solemnize these marriages. [xxiv] Ironically Ivins, a monogamist, apparently did not embrace ‘The Principle’ himself. [xxvi]

    Signature Books new volume illuminates this episode of Mormon history, as well as other interesting topics such as Mormonism in Mexico, the execution of John D. Lee, the stalled BYU expedition to Columbia, expunging the Adam-God theory from LDS belief, the beginnings of Mormon fundamentalism and violence among Mormons, Indians, cowboys and Mexicans.

    The pages unfold the story and character of Ivins, who loved hunting and fishing, was an accomplished cowboy (winning an award from National Cowboy Museum and the Cowboy Hall of Fame) [xiii], an Indian agent, and one who considered running for governor. As an ardent democrat, he was a supporter of women’s suffrage. [xx]

    The diaries provide valuable insight into the operations of the Quorum of Twelve and First Presidency beginning with his description of being overcome with emotion when called to the apostleship. Despite concerns about the perception of three democrats in the First Presidency, Heber J. Grant went ahead and called his first cousin Anthony Ivins as his counselor. The diaries chronicle Ivins service in the Twelve and First Presidency from 1907 to 1934.

    Ivins was a prolific diarist, filling over 60 volumes, plus additional notes and records. Elizabeth O. Anderson has carefully edited the diaries and related materials into the latest volume of the Signature Books’ “Significant Mormon Diaries Series.” Particularly noteworthy are the prolific, detailed notes, bringing life and context to details that otherwise would have remained obscure. Anderson and the Signature Books team have provided a valuable contribution to Mormon studies.

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