Living History: Mormon 'apostle' shoots mouth off, gun carriers shut up
The late James Kimball spent years collecting stories about his famous great-grandÂuncle, J. Golden Kimball. A favorite story tells of Mormonism's "Swearing Apostle" being dispatched by LDS Church President Heber J. Grant to deal with a gun problem.
The son of Heber C. Kimball, one of Mormonism's founding fathers, Golden enjoyed none of the perks of being born so close to power. Born to one of Kimball's lesser wives, Golden grew up poor around Bear Lake, making his living as a cowboy and teamster, where he acquired his salty vocabulary.
He admitted to being fluent in swearing because "you can't drive mules if you can't swear. It's the only language they understand."
When his mother asked him to go on a mission when he turned 30 still footloose and relishing his freedom he demurred. But he loved his mother and promised to see LDS Church President John Taylor on his next visit to Salt Lake City.
Golden had a plan. He would make such a disreputable show that no one would think to send him to represent the church. In cowboy boots, filthy chaps and a stained shirt Bowie knife and six-shooters stuffed prominently in his belt he swaggered into the Prophet, Seer and Revelator's office.
"Is there someone named 'Taylor' here?" he called.
Taylor jumped up from his desk and pumped the surprised cowboy's hand.
"I just read your mother's letter, and I know, just like your father, you will make a great ambassador for the church," he said.
Bushwacked by his mother and pedigree, Kimball sold his horse and kit to finance a mission to the South.
He probably regretted leaving the six-shooters.
The South in the 1880s was a pressure cooker of bigotry and wounded pride. And guns. Lots of guns. Mostly the guns were trained on newly freed slaves and Northern carpetbaggers, but there were still plenty left over for Mormon missionaries and their improbable religion.
"I spent five years in the Southern States, and filled my first mission in 1883, when they killed elders," Golden would say.
He was sometimes confronted by armed men, often wearing sheets. "Waste of a good sheet," he later mused.
Decades later, when Grant asked Golden to help a stake president in Wyoming, he knew he had the right man. The stake president had a problem with high-spirited young men firing off guns at dances and basketball games. There was going to be a killing if something wasn't done.
No LDS general authority had more experience with guns than Golden.
The youths could be made to go to a meeting featuring a church authority, but they didn't have to like it. The rowdies talked, laughed, launched paper airplanes and generally showed they weren't interested in whatever Golden had to say.
But Golden had faced far worse and knew what to do.
"Go to hell!"
The audience went instantly silent.
"Go. To. HELL!"
All eyes were riveted on the tall, skinny and exceedingly angry man at the podium.
"That's where you're all going to go if you don't change your ways. I hear some of you have been walking around town with pistols in your hip pockets. Better be careful might go off and blow your brains out!"
The stake president later wrote to say the youths were better behaved after Golden's gun-safety instruction.
James Kimball's stories about his famous great uncle are found in his one-man KUED broadcast, "Remembering Uncle Golden," and in the book J. Golden Kimball Stories.
Pat Bagley is the editorial cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune.