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        John Y. Barlow was born 4 March 1874, the son of Israel Barlow, an ardent supporter of plural marriage both before and after the 1904 Second Manifesto.  John took his first plural wife in 1902, one more in 1918, and another in 1923.[1]  He served as a missionary in the Northwestern States Mission where Apostle Melvin J. Ballard presided, but secretly preached plural marriage to members and investigators.  In 1935, Ballard recalled: “Seventeen years ago, I discovered [John Y. Barlow] was teaching polygamy out there among my missionaries.  I asked him about it and he defended the idea so vigorously that I said to him: ‘If you are such a strong advocate of it, you must be practicing it.’  Barlow said, ‘That’s just what I’ve been doing.’“[2] Dishonorably released and sent home early from his mission, he was later excommunicated with Elder Ballard serving as a witness against him.[3]  Nathaniel Baldwin met John in 1921, recording: “came home from a little ride up the canyon...  Young [John Y.] Barlow sat in the back seat of the machine [car] with his two wives.  They seemed to be happy and contented.  Young Barlow seemed to be also full of faith and hope and seemed to be contented with his condition, being also cut off the Church.”[4]

         At Broadbent’s death, two men made claim to be his rightful successor.  Charles “Elden” Kingston, son of Charles W. Kingston, asserted that Leslie had designated him as the “Second Elder.”[5]  The Kingstons would eventually establish the Davis County Cooperative Society, remaining entirely separate from all other Mormon fundamentalist groups.

John Y. Barlow, who sat next in line in seniority of the Council of Friends, also asserted his position as the “Senior Member.”  Many also believed that Broadbent had designated him as “Second Elder.”  Regardless, the majority of polygamists followed Barlow’s leadership, believing him to be the presiding priesthood leader on earth.  It was a calling that he readily accepted.

“The spirit of leadership is resting upon John Y. Barlow, and he will ‘carry on’ under the direction of heaven,” wrote Joseph Musser in March of 1935 as Barlow took control of the PRIESTHOOD.[1]  Barlow accepted the leadership role without hesitation, reportedly saying: “Well, boys, from now on things will be run different.”[2] One believer recalled:  “One of the greatest mind and character readers was John Y. Barlow.  He would study a man or woman for a few moments and then tell me the character of that person.”[3]  Under his guidance, PRIESTHOOD leaders would expand their activities and their influence throughout the realm of Mormon fundamentalism.  Musser recorded in April 1935, “Conferred Melchisedek Priesthood on Ernest... and ordained him a Seventy; he believing his previous ordination by Church Officials to be not good.”[4] 

While neither Woolley nor Broadbent had encouraged organized religious meetings or the payment of tithes or the formation of united orders,[5] Barlow began duplicating many of the organizations and procedures previously found only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Many meetings were held, mostly at homes of men like Edmund Barlow where 93 were present on a Thursday a month after Broadbent’s death.[6] 

1936 - “Where are the Keys of Sealing?” 

On 8 November of 1935 fundamentalists from Short Creek traveled to Salt Lake City to visit Joseph Musser and gathered to share their convictions and testimonies:  “Held meeting with the Saints in the evening...  Elders Jessop, Bistline, Wayman and Mart Olsen spoke, all bearing record of knowing where the keys to Priesthood lay (with the brethren of the Seven).”[6]  Despite testimonies such as these, within a year problems arose in conjunction with the leadership of John Y. Barlow at Short Creek.  As the presiding member of the Council of Friends, Barlow directed the activities of the United Trust organization, being responsible for both the spiritual and temporal activities of all Short Creek fundamentalists.[7]  Disagreements occurred and as a result, some participants questioned Barlow’s priesthood calling and authority.

In response, Musser visited the area and explained the process through which each follower of the PRIESTHOOD organization might come to know if John Y. Barlow was then the “one” man holding the sealing keys:  “I testified that John Y. Barlow at Short Creek was a servant of the Lord and was doing a good work. [I] told the Saints if they wanted to know who the one that held the keys to priesthood was, to put themselves in tune with the Spirit of the Lord, and ask the Lord for the information; that if He wanted them to know, they would find out.”[8]

However, questions persisted as some adherents chaffed under Barlow’s dictatorial attitudes as director of the Trust, which prompted Musser and fellow Council of Friends member Louis Kelsch to intervene.  Joseph wrote for 8 November 1936:


Thursday Lewis [Kelsch] and I had a personal talk with Bro. John Y. Barlow.  We pointed out our fears that under the present set-up the group could not prosper;  that there seemed a disposition toward a one man rule; that the present arrangement was not in accordance with the spirit of the action of the Priesthood recently taken, whereby it was advised that Bro. Barlow resign from the Management of the affairs of the group and confine his labors more particularly to the spiritual field; that our work was especially along the line of keeping faith in patriarchal marriage alive, and not in the directing of colonizing. 

Bro. Barlow was asked if he claimed to hold the keys of Priesthood, which he answered in the negative, saying, however, that he had dreamed of a personage coming to him and handing him a bunch of keys, and leaving without explanation.  He did not know that that had any special significance.[ix] 

Barlow’s admission regarding his lack of priesthood keys created doubt and confusion.  A few days passed and Musser attempted to assuage these concerns: 

The majority expressed the belief that Brother John Y. Barlow held the keys to Priesthood and was the mouth-piece of God on earth, and with some this was the only reason for accepting Bro. Barlow’s Management of affairs.  Elders Covington and I. W. Barlow expressed emphatic dissent, stating they did not believe Brother Barlow held the keys to Priesthood, but that he did have authority to seal and was the senior member in the Priesthood group, and as such presided at the meetings of the group, etc.

J. W. Musser explained his views on Priesthood matters:  That the special mission and labors of the Priesthood group was [sic] to keep plural marriage alive; that we were not called upon to colonize only as the Lord might dictate such a move...  That the time had not come for the establishing of the united order.... 

Stated the Lord had not revealed to him [Joseph Musser] who held the Keys to Priesthood, but that Bro. Barlow, by reason of his seniority in ordination presided over the group; that questions pertaining to the mission of the group, when acted upon by unanimous vote, were properly settled and such action became the word of the Lord upon the points thus involved....

That when the Lord wanted any man to know who holds the keys to Priesthood, and that man was prepared to receive the fact, He would reveal in a clear way.[x] 

During this episode, John Y. Barlow and Joseph Musser explained to their listeners that neither of them held the keys of the priesthood.  Notwithstanding, many fundamentalists have testified before and after that date that both men, Barlow and Musser, did in fact hold the priesthood keys, despite the leaders’ plain admittance that then they did not.[xi]   In the past decades, thousands have dismissed this paradox as they proclaim their personal testimonies, sustaining both men as the “one” man holding the priesthood keys in their respective times.[xii]  In 1942 a sister “related that some time ago in a testimony meeting held by the group, several bore their testimony that they knew the Priesthood Council was God’s Priesthood and mouth-piece on the earth”[xiii]  In a 1947 discourse John Y. Barlow would ask, “How many of you today know where the Priesthood is?”  Then he observed: “Some people get down on their knees and find out, and they know where the Priesthood is, and you can’t fool them.”[xiv]

Understandably, the issue of priesthood keys continued to be a concern to polygamists who followed the PRIESTHOOD Council after this 1936 episode.  Three years later, Musser admonished his listeners saying: “The mission of the Priesthood group at the present time is to teach the fulness.  Stop quibbling about who holds the ‘keys’ but each magnify his particular calling and see to it that no day passes that they are not engaged in advancing the cause of the Kingdom.”[xv]

Barlow’s admission has caused some fundamentalists to assume that Lorin C. Woolley’s priesthood keys passed directly from J. Leslie Broadbent to Joseph W. Musser, bypassing Barlow.[16]  This idea contrasts Musser’s teachings in June, 1935: “I explained the proper order of leadership B this at the request of President Barlow, and in response to a question from the brethren.  That Bro. Barlow is at the head no matter where he is.  That under his direction men may be appointed to take charge of certain work, as had been done, and that they will be respected in their positions, but always be subject to the head.”[17]

On 29 December 1949, John Yates Barlow died.  His Truth obituary cited:  “At the time of his passing he was the senior living member of what is known as the Priesthood Council...  President Barlow was called by direct revelation, through John W. Woolley, to be a High Priest Apostle..."[i]


[i]    .  Truth 15:229 (February 1950).  No evidence has yet been identified to support that Lorin’s father, John W. Woolley, taught of a Council of Friends or High Priest Apostles.  Neither has anything been found to this date to substantiate that the elder Woolley was involved with the “blessings” given to Broadbent, Barlow and Musser in 1929, John having died in 1928.


[1]    .  Musser Journals, 19 March 1935.

[2]    .  Morris Q. Kunz, Reminiscences on Priesthood, 21.

[3]    .  LSJ Sermons 1:61.  In contrast, a 1955 letter to his brother Raymond, Samuel W. Taylor wrote uncomplimentary: “John Y. Barlow, given to much prophecy and without the common sense to pour urine from a boot...  Musser was a fine man, one of the best.”

[4]    .  Musser Journals, 5 April 1935.

[5]    .  Kelsch, Louis Alma Kelsch, 46-47.  Hammon, Betrayal of the Godhead, 10, 29.

[6]    .  Musser Journals, 25 April 1935.

[1]    .   Bradley, Raids on Short Creek Polygamists, 221, en. 53.

[2]    .  Truth 15:230.  See also discourse of John Y. Barlow in LSJ Sermons 7:11.

[3]  Sermons of John Y. Barlow, 6 February 1944.

[4]    .  Baldwin Journals, 14 August 1921.

[5]    .  Wright, “Origins and Development,” 58.  The paragraph that discusses this issue has a footnote with sources listed as a Joseph Thompson interview 17 July 1962 and a Rulon C. Allred interview 29 June 1962.  Other sources have not been identified to independently verify this assertion.

[6]    .  Musser Journals, 8 November 1935.


[7]    .  Rulon Allred remembered: “John Y. Barlow was the senior member of the Council.  But like Jared turned to his brother, Mahonri Moriancumr, to get the word of the Lord, John turned to Joseph to get the word of the Lord, because Joseph could get the word of the Lord.”  Rulon C. Allred, Treasures of Knowledge, 1:220-21.  See also 2:120.

[8]    .  Musser Journals, 2 November 1936.

[ix]    .  Ibid., 8 November 1936.  Emphasis added.  Also quoted in Kelsch, Louis Alma Kelsch, 34.

[x]    .  Musser Journals, 13 November 1936; italics added.  Also quoted in Kelsch, Louis Alma Kelsch, 35.

[xi]   Joseph Smith cautioned:  “It is necessary to know who holds the keys of power, and who does not, or we may be likely to be deceived” (TPJS 336).

[xii]    .  Both Barlow and Musser would later claim to hold the priesthood keys. See Musser Journals, 28 February 1941.  Precisely when and how they obtained priesthood keys they did not hold in 1936 is unclear.

[xiii]    .  Musser Journals, 30 May 1942; Musser, Joseph W. Musser, 78.

[xiv]    .  In LSJ Sermons 1:11 (first section - discourse given 8 August 1947).  Leroy Johnson taught on 19 April 1970: “Many times I have heard men say that the Lord had revealed to them that this order of the Priesthood is true.”  Ibid.,1:173.

[xv]    .  Musser Journals, 12 August 1938.  Three years earlier Musser justified his course saying: “those of us who feel the need of more definite direction from the Lord should take courage in the feeling that since we have dedicated all unto God, and are executing all our energies to keep his commandments, the Lord must be pleased with our course, else he would set us right; no good father will permit his children who want to do right to go far astray...”  (Ibid. 11March 1935.)

[16]    .  Openshaw, (The Notes, 394) lists John Y. Barlow as a “President of the Priesthood” but has his name in parenthesis.  The significance of the parenthesis is not explained.  See also “The Succession of the Keys of the Priesthood,” an article printed in The Branch, a magazine published by Christ’s Church, June, 1981.  The article was republished in Restoration, 1:3 (July 1982), 11-14.  This article contains useful copyrighted diagrams of the fundamentalist priesthood organization and the line of authority.  John Y. Barlow is not listed as a President of the Priesthood between J. Leslie Broadbent and Joseph W. Musser.

[17]    .  Musser Journals, 13 June 1935.  See also Zitting, Charles F. Zitting, 61-62, 66, 70.