(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
[Editorial Note: Elder John W. Taylor (son of President John Taylor) and Matthias F. Cowley were close friends and were unfortunately unable to stop being involved with plural marriage after the second manifesto of 1904. Therefore, they had to resign from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Taylor became bitter and was eventually excommunicated, dying out of the faith. Elder Matthias Cowley, despite being dropped from the Quorum, stayed true and faithful to the church and gospel, raising his family to be loyal to the Brethren. Some historians have claimed that Elder Cowley was disfellowshipped, but the below information corrects that misconception. Little is known today about Matthias Cowley’s life, with the below information provided by Brother Rudd and Elder Matthew Cowley being much of what is known today (outside of the suspect information published by cultist polygamous groups). I once had the idea of writing a biography of Matthias, and Brother Rudd offered to help me with it, but I found the plural marriage issues such a mess that I dropped the notion. Elder Rudd incorporated the below quotations from four other cited sources into his own writings about Matthias Cowley:]
I thank God, my brothers and sisters and friends, that I was reared in a good home. I thank God that in that home I was taught that it was more important to be moral than to be careful, that I was taught from the days of my youth to honor the priesthood of Almighty God. I was frequently told, as were the rest of the members of my father's family, by our father, that if there ever came a time or an occasion to choose between loyalty to him and loyalty to the priesthood of God, always to choose loyalty to the priesthood of God. I thank God that such an occasion never arose. (Matthew Cowley, Matthew Cowley Speaks, p. 85)
I appreciate President Wilkinson’s reference to my father. You know, I was reared in a very unusual home. Because of certain conditions which arose, as he stated, my father was released from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was not disfellowshiped; he was not excommunicated; but he had to hold his priesthood in abeyance for a number of years, until the First Presidency again gave him the green light to go ahead. I suppose he was officially inactive for some twenty-seven or twenty-eight years. At the beginning of that period his children were mostly young. I was just seven or eight years of age. He couldn’t officiate in the priesthood in any way. But he still served as the patriarch in his own family, presiding in his own home. And I wouldn’t be here today, fellow students, if it had not been for the integrity and the devotion and the loyalty of my father to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During those years of his inactivity he kept his sons on missions for twenty-five years, three of us in the islands of the seas, one in Australia, and two in Europe, in Germany. (Matthew Cowley Speaks, p. 294)
During these years in our home when there was considerable darkness of disappointment, my father never hesitated to place his hand in the hand of God. And that indeed was to him better than a light and better than the known way. He taught us to pray. And that was his way, his medium of bearing his testimony to us and of instructing us while he was upon his knees in praying. Each of us took his or her turn, but it seemed that his turn came around oftener, and he was one of the longest prayers I have ever heard. I think more than once when he said, “Amen,” I wasn’t even in the room. I was pretty fast at crawling on my knees. But in his prayers he always poured out his heart to God and always pleaded with him, not necessarily for himself, but for his children, his family. And I think he never offered up a prayer, but what in that prayer there was this petition, “Holy Father, if there ever comes a time when my children have to choose between following me, their father, or being loyal and devoted to thy Holy Priesthood, please give them the courage and the fortitude to forsake their own father and be loyal to the priesthood which thou hast restored to the earth.” No sermon has ever impressed me more than those words in his prayer. My, how fathers can save their families by remaining true and loyal, regardless of circumstances and disappointments. (Matthew Cowley Speaks, p.295)
[Spencer W. Kimball:] In 1906, my father [Andrew Kimball] received a letter from his dear friend, Matthias F. Cowley, who had been greatly embarrassed by being dropped from the Council of the Twelve. His letter showed great courage and a sweet, un-embittered spirit: "In relation to the trial which has come to me, I will say that I accept it in all humility and meekness, with no fault to find against my brethren, but a strong desire to continue faithful and to devote my life and all my energies in the service of the Lord." (Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 298)
[Glen Rudd:] Matthew Cowley loved to tell me little incidences about his father. Once in a while, old Mathias would come to Matthew’s house for Sunday dinner. He told me that one time Mathias came in the middle of winter. He was all bundled up. He had on his galoshes, a scarf, a hat, gloves, a big coat, and a sweater. When Mathias arrived they helped the old fellow come in the front door. He took off his hat, then he took off his scarf, then he took off his big winter coat. Then they had to help him take off his galoshes and get him ready so he could stay and have dinner with them.
Then when it was time to go home Mathias would say, “Well, I better get going.” Matthew then helped his father put on his galoshes, the big coat, and the scarf. Then they put the gloves on him and put his hat on and told him goodbye. The old fellow goes to the front door and says, “Oh, wait a minute we forgot to have prayer. We’ve got to have prayer.” So they brought him back in the house.
They took his hat off. They took his scarf off. They took his big coat off, and Matthew took his galoshes off him. Then they all went in, knelt down and had prayer. Mathias would look at Matthew, as he had so many times before, and said, “Matthew, is it okay if I do the praying?” Matthew said, “I always told him he could because that’s what he came for.”
They knelt down and then Mathias prayed. Matthew said it was wonderful to hear his father pray. He would pray for everybody and then he would pray for them. He asked the Lord to bless Matthew to keep the Sabbath day holy, to live the word of wisdom, to pay his tithing, and to pay a good fast offering. Then he would ask the Lord to bless Elva that she would pay her tithing. Mathias would teach each one of them and tell them what he wanted to tell them through prayer. Then when we got through this long prayer we’d stand him up. Matthew would put Mathias galoshes back on and his scarf around him. Then they’d put his coat, hat, and gloves on and send him on his way.
Now when Matthew told me that story he had a big smile on his face. He just wanted to tell me how his father was. Matthew said that every time his dad came he’d wait until he got to the front door and then he’d turn and say, “Oh, we haven’t had prayer.” Then we’d go through the same routine.
John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley were called before the Quorum of the Twelve to talk about what they had done about polygamy since the Manifesto. They were both guilty because they had both performed several marriages and one or both of them had taken an extra wife after the Manifesto. They were in real difficulty.
The investigation of Senator Smoot by the United States Congress brought the problem to a head. Senator Smoot had been properly elected to be a United States senator, but the Senate wouldn’t let him have his seat. There were a lot of senators, particularly the one from Idaho (who was vicious against the Church), who for a period of two or three years would not let Senator Smoot be accepted as a member of the Senate. There had been a long investigation during that two or three year period. During that time, all of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve were subpoenaed to appear before a senate committee in Washington D.C. that was investigating polygamy in Utah.
President Joseph F. Smith had agreed to go and testify, but some of the Twelve would not go. Elder Cowley, Elder Taylor, and two or three others refused to go. They were vocal and said that they would not be put on exhibition and be ridiculed in front of the people of America. This put them in a bad position with the president of the Church. They were now refusing to go along.
Things got bad and because of what they had done, Elders Cowley and Taylor were more or less given the opportunity to resign from the Twelve. Rather than go back to Washington and because of other sensitive reasons, they both resigned their membership in the Twelve.
There were four that had held out. One left the country and went down to Mexico, so he didn’t have to go; however, he got smallpox and died. The president of the Church said to him, “Don’t go to Mexico, you’ll never come back.” He went anyway and got smallpox. He got back as far as El Paso, Texas where he died and was buried. Many, many years later I went to a special meeting in his honor after his family had brought his body back to be buried in the Salt Lake Cemetery. The second man who wouldn’t go also died. Brother Taylor and Brother Cowley resigned.
Matthew told me that when Elders Taylor and Cowley came out of the temple, they were both depressed because of the situation, but John W. Taylor didn’t seem to care much. Matthias Cowley was hurt right to the bottom of his heart. He said, “I hate to see the newspaper when they announce that we’ve been expelled from the Twelve.” He said, “It will be the headlines. I can see it—Taylor and Cowley—in big black letters announcing that we’ve been kicked out.” John W. Taylor, according to Matthew, was the most prophetic man in the Church ever since Heber C. Kimball and the Prophet Joseph. Elder Taylor said to Matthias Cowley, “On the day they announce this, we will be lucky to get even a little two-inch square in the corner of the paper announcing what happened.” Of course, Brother Cowley didn’t believe him, but that is really what happened. The announcement wasn’t made for another ten days and ten days later the great San Francisco earthquake occurred. When the headlines came out, the announcement was in a very little bottom corner of the paper with a little article on their leaving the Twelve. It barely made the front page.
For about 28 years Matthias Cowley was not able to go to the temple or exercise his priesthood outside of his own home. They always had their family home evenings; they had prayer; and, as far as I know, he was able to give his children blessings, but he couldn’t use his priesthood in any other way. He got all of his sons and some of his daughters on missions. They were all married in the Salt Lake Temple. Even though he didn’t have money or a decent job, he helped them all get to the temple. Matthew Cowley used to talk about that and what a sad deal it was for their father not to be there with them.
Matthew told me one day in 1935 about going to see President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. He knew President Clark well. He said, “How long do you think it will be before the Brethren are willing to let my father back into full fellowship in the priesthood.” President Clark said, “Well, I’ve heard President Grant several times say, ‘Why doesn’t Matthias ever come to us and ask us? I’d be glad to reinstate him, immediately, but he has never written a letter or anything.’” Matthew said, “I know he has written at least three letters, because I typed them and had my father sign them. Each one was asking if the time had come when he could receive his priesthood blessings back and go to the temple.” President Clark said, “Those letters may have been sent, but somehow they were never given to the President. Someone has held them up and deliberately kept them from the President.” President Clark said to Matthew, “You go get your father and have him write another letter. You bring it to me personally. If you give it to me, I will take it directly to President Grant and we will get some action.” Within a day or two that was all done and Matthew received word from President Clark, “Go get your father and bring him up to President Grant’s office; he’s waiting to see him.”
Matthew said, “I went and got my father and I went with him. We went into the big office of President Grant. When we opened the door, he stood up from behind his big desk, came around, and walked directly to my father. I stood off to the side. He and my father put their arms around each other and the both of them cried. He said, “I saw the President cry and him. They just hugged each other. President Grant finally said, ‘Matthias, all is forgiven—all is erased—all is well—you are now back in full fellowship. Use your priesthood and receive all of the blessings of the Church.’ I stood there and watched those two old men as they hugged each other and saw what happened.” He said, “It was an electrifying and interesting moment.”
Not long after that, Matthias Cowley’s daughter took him to England to do some genealogical research. President Grant heard that he was there and called him to stay and fulfill a mission. He would send letters to President Cowley in New Zealand and the president would read them to us at supper time. He said, “I got this letter from my father and he says, ‘We’ve got the most perfectly balanced mission in the entire Church.’ He says, ‘The missionaries are full-time playing basketball and I’m full-time preaching the gospel—perfect balance between me and the elders!’”
Just a short while after returning home from his mission in England, Matthias Cowley died. He was an ordained apostle. He never was put back into the Quorum of the Twelve, but he never lost the blessing [office] when he was ordained an apostle. Through all of those years of inactivity, he was an apostle of the Lord, but unable to function. He was true and faithful and never failed to sustain the Brethren. He told his family dozens of times, “If you ever have to choose between the priesthood of God and your father, always follow the priesthood.” He said that was the thing that kept his family strong in the Church.
When President Cowley got word that his father had died he went in his little office and closed the door and stayed for several hours. Finally, when he came out, he talked to us about his father. I think the next day he took me on a trip with him down into the south part of New Zealand. As we drove around he told me all about his dad. He really thought his father was one of the greatest men in the history of the Church.
His father was a most unusual man. When he went on his first mission, he was only eighteen years of age and he knew 485 passages of scripture by memory. According to Matthew, his father never forgot anything. He was a brilliant man.
After Matthew Cowley became an apostle, I said to him, “Did you ever think you would be made an apostle?” He said, “No, I always knew I wouldn’t because of the problem my father caused when he was a member. I knew that was the thing that would stand in the way of me ever getting a big Church calling.”
His father was an exceptionally brilliant man, but he did make some mistakes at the time of polygamy. It was hard to give it up, especially because they had some special instructions from John Taylor and Lorenzo Snow pertaining to polygamy. They were torn between whom to follow, the former presidents or Wilford Woodruff. He loved President Woodruff and he loved them, but the time came when something had to give and they were the ones. They were out in the cold.
[Editorial Note: Those interested in listening to Elder Matthew Cowley talk about his father will enjoy listing to his BYU Speeches address. Copy and paste this link into your browser: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/matthew-cowley/put-hand-hand-god/ ]