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After Musser’s Death: Charles Zitting, LeGrand Woolley, and Louis Kelsch 

          Incapacitated for several years prior to his death in 1954, Joseph Musser’s passing had little practical impact on either Priesthood Council at Short Creek or in Salt Lake City.  Ironically, the next senior member of the Priesthood Council, Charles Zitting was presiding in neither location.  In the north, Rulon Allred was presiding as a “counselor” and “Second Elder” to Musser, and also serving as the Senior Member of the new 1952 Priesthood Council.

          In the south, Leroy Johnson ruled the group.  On occasion he allowed Charles Zitting to speak to his followers, though none of Zitting’s sermons have been published.[1]  In 1974, Johnson related one of his teachings: “I believe it was Brother Zitting one time in one of his speeches said, ‘We are not waiting for the commencement of the Millennium, for it has already started.’  This, I believe.  I believed him then, and I believe him now.  We had better believe him, or we will be sloughed off and our identity will be forgotten.”[2]

          A few months after Musser’s death, Zitting succumbed on July 14, 1954.[3]  With Zitting’s death, only Legrand Woolley and Louis Kelsch were left from Lorin Woolley’s 1933 Council of Friends.[4]  Next to them in seniority were men called by John Y. Barlow, first LeRoy Johnson and second Marion Hammon, who were added to the Council in 1941, with Johnson being ordained first.  Reportedly, Leroy approached Legrand Woolley and asked him if he was going to assume the leadership of the fundamentalist “group.”  Legrand was preoccupied with his medical office – to lead the fundamentalists would have required him to abandon his patients.  He conversed with fellow Council member Louis Kelsch who told the doctor, “I wouldn’t have anything to do with it.”[5]  Dr. Woolley maintained his practice until his death 10 December 1965. 

          One fundamentalist leader would later claim that Legrand Woolley “was not faithful in his responsibilities to the Priesthood.”[6]  Despite his ordination as a High Priest Apostle, Legrand Woolley’s children remained active in the Church, with his sons serving LDS missions.  Reportedly, when “the burden rested on him to take over the leadership of the [polygamist] group, he had to turn it down because he was so deeply entrenched in the Church.”[7]

          Leroy Johnson also approached Louis Kelsch: 

          LeRoy Johnson came to Louis and asked him if he was going to lead the people.

          Louis said, “Roy, have you had a revelation that you should lead the people?”

          Roy said, “Well, no.”

          Louis said, “I haven’t either.”

          Roy said, “What shall I do?

          Louis said, “Roy, do what you want to do.”

          Roy Johnson went and told the people that Louis told him to take the leadership and that Louis had stepped down.[8] 

          Kelsch continued to perform plural marriages when requested, but he never asserted himself in the leadership of the fundamentalists.  His persistent cohabitation with his plural wives resulted in a second prison term beginning 17 December 1955.  He was released 4 December 1959 after almost four years and remained aloof from the fundamentalist “groups” until his death on 16 July 1974.  He has been considered the quintessential “independent” fundamentalist by some observers. 

          With the death of Zitting, and the refusal of both Legrand Woolley and Louis Kelsch to lead either fundamentalist group, Leroy Johnson stood as the unchallenged leader of the group of Short Creek fundamentalists.  To the north, Rulon Allred continued to preside over followers of the new Priesthood Council.

          Over the years since 1929, three separate Mormon fundamentalist Priesthood Councils can be identified.  Lorin Woolley called his seven member council from 1929-1933; John Y. Barlow called seven new members between 1941 and 1949; and ultimately, Joseph W. Musser called his own seven in 1952.  Ironically in 1954, all three Priesthood Councils existed (in some form)  simultaneously and independently of each other. 



[1]  It appears that transcripts of talks given by some fundamentalist leaders during the 1940-52 era were made (see The Sermons of Joseph W. Musser 1940-42 and Selections of the Sermons of John Y. Barlow 1940-1949).  If Zitting’s discourses were similarly transcribed, to date, none have been published.

[2]  Ibid., 3:855.

[3]  Zitting, Charles F. Zitting, 116.

[4]   His obituary published in Truth, 20:97-100 (August 1954) failed to mention his calling as a High Priest Apostle or member of the Priesthood Council.  Guy Musser was the editor at that time.

[5]    Kelsch, Louis Alma Keslch, 86.

[6]    Ormand F. Lavery, discourse given 1 February 1967, Gems 19.


[7]    Letter from Raymond Taylor to Samuel W. Taylor dated 28 November 1955.

[8]    Kelsch, Louis Alma Keslch, 86.