By Charles Elden Kingston
CHARLES ELDEN KINGSTON became interested in history while serving a mission in Salt Lake City at the Church History Library. He is the great-grandson of Charles William Kingston.
Or download the audio file here: The Excommunication of Charles William Kingston
The stories of church founders are never complete without the stories of their forebears, who often lay much of the groundwork for their children’s accomplishments. Such is certainly the case with Charles William Kingston,1 the father of Charles Elden Kingston who founded a Mormon polygamous group called “the Order” in 1935.
The group has recently become known in the popular media for its economic and social domination of its members, welfare fraud, physical and sexual abuse of females, underage marriages and incestual marriages. Rolling Stone magazine described the Order as: “America’s most twisted crime family” in its 15 June 2011 cover article.
The Kingston family’s ties to Mormonism begin with Charles William’s grandfather Frederic Kingston. According to family tales, Frederic’s first encounter with Mormonism was in England where he fought off a mob planning to tar and feather apostle Orson Pratt. Frederic later went to America where he joined the Church.2 Frederic’s son, Charles Kingston, immigrated to the United States from England in 1879, bringing with him a strong prejudice against Mormonism, but he was soon converted and baptized, later serving in several prominent ecclesiastical callings.
Charles William was the oldest of eleven children born to Charles Kingston and Mary Priscilla Tucker in the town of Croyden, Utah on 20 June 1884. His spiritual development was marked by dreams and visions he believed to be manifestations of divine guidance. The records he left of these visions, however, were written many years after the fact, often in pamphlets or personal histories as justification for his path toward excommunication from the LDS Church and as support for his son’s budding group.
His first recorded spiritual experience took place on the bank of the Weber River in Morgan, Utah, where he was being baptized and confirmed. While kneeling in the sand near the river, Charles William recorded: “The power of God came over me and I was tingling with joy from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet in every cell and fiber of my being . . . a great and fixed desire came with this power to be steadfast in keeping the commandments of God and to do all in my power to further the cause of Zion upon the earth.”3
However, the experience Charles William considered most influential in his spiritual development came in a dream that occurred a year after his baptism. He records finding himself in a large building accompanied by some of his neighbors who seemed “unconcerned and satisfied with their condition.” Charles William left the building but found that the only exit outside of the building was through a dark hole, which impressed him as being the entrance to hell leading down to the “river of destruction.” So he went to a corner of the room and began to pray for deliverance. After his prayer, Charles William saw a person dressed in white robes standing above him. The person lifted him out of the house and pointed to the east, saying, “Son get your feet on that path and never ever let your feet get off of it.” The path was a ribbon leading east—the same direction as the dark tunnel but tending upwards over a mountain. Charles William took up the path vigorously and encountered lucrative opportunities along the way, but the messenger’s “words of fire” dissolved any temptation to pursue them. Though Charles William ran along the path for miles, he eventually became overconfident and slipped, catching the edge of the path by his fingertips. After exerting all his energy, he pulled himself up. Fearing that he would fall again, Charles William crawled along on his hands and knees, maintaining a firm grip the rest of the way. “When I reached the other side, I stood up and walked on with a thankful heart to know the Lord had preserved my life to attain such heights: That I was safe after being so near to sure destruction.”4
“[T]his dream was outstanding,” Charles William reports, “in fact it was an experience that anchored my life to the gospel of Jesus Christ and cause me to watch my steps and be careful not to wander off the straight and narrow.”5 He interpreted it as a vision of his “future spiritual life upon the earth,” saying that the Lord had taken “me by the hand and raised me up out of a condition of being condemned . . . and placed me on the road to eternal life, which I reached in the dream because of my faithfulness in following the Lord’s instruction to me.”6
Dreams of redemption were common in Charles William’s family. After his own baptism, his father dreamed he was trapped in a large stone enclosure. After praying for deliverance from the “fearful darkness,” “a bright light appeared over his head, and he distinctly heard the air cut by what appeared the decent of seven heavenly beings, all dressed in flowing white raiment, reaching to their feet; these beings encircled him about, one of which had a two-edged sword in his hand which he held point upward, with his arm bent at the elbow; neither spoke, but as he continued to pray, the vision closed.”7
His stake patriarch explained it was a testimony “that the Lord had shown you there [through] His Holy Spirit how he had brought you out of darkness into light. The sword was the ‘sword of truth’ spoken of by [the apostle] Paul.” Charles William considered his own dream to be prophetic, but its interpretation would later become a matter of dispute between his parents and him.
On 17 May 1906, Charles William married Vesta Minerva Stowell in the Logan Temple, and shortly thereafter was called to the Eastern States Mission where he proved to be very successful. He recorded, “I held the book record for the sale of the most Books of Mormon for three consecutive months. I also revived the practice of preaching the gospel without purse or scrip in New York and New Jersey country districts.”8
After his mission, Charles William spent many years doing agricultural work with his father in Grover, Wyoming and Ammon, Idaho. Multiple crop failures nearly broke him financially, so he considered it a blessing when the Oregon Short Line Railroad hired him in 1922. As was often the case with railroad employees at the time, he faced a tragic accident after only one month on the job. While jacking up one of the freight cars in Idaho Falls, “the jack slipped and the handle hit me under the right jaw, breaking the jaw bone on both the right and left side.” Recovery entailed ten weeks in the hospital.9
Despite this accident, Charles William was promoted after four years to acting mechanical foreman at Silver Bow, Montana, and three months later to acting car foreman at Idaho Falls.10 His new position required him to travel once a month to Salt Lake City. He was also given two days of paid time off each month, which he spent attending the Salt Lake Temple—feeling he owed his vacation time to the Lord for this blessing.
Charles William marks this period as a critical point in his spiritual journey. He spent much of his time in Salt Lake with childhood friend Charles Zitting, often sleeping in his office.11 Charles William recounts that Zitting’s father had been a Jack Mormon “who made fun of me because I drove a team nine miles regularly so my family and I could attend meetings and our duties in the Church.”12 But he writes that Zitting stayed committed to the gospel because of his own example. “I taught Charles [Zitting] many things about the Lord’s work. When Charles grew up, he in turn taught me the provisions for the fullness.”13
For two years, Charles William attended the temple with Zitting once a month and spent hours in discussion with him.14 “Brother Zitting taught me many things . . . ” Charles William recounts, “even the fullness of the Gospel . . . the fact that no Apostle could hold an office in the church unless he could prove to the heads of the Church that he had embraced the principles of Celestial or Plural Marriage as explained in the 132 section of the Doctrine and Covenants.”15 Zitting also introduced him to people who had rejected the 1890 Manifesto ending plural marriage and “went on the underground as a means of practicing their religion.”16
These fundamentalists drew their authority from an 1886 revelation given to John Taylor, witnessed by Lorin C. Woolley and John W. Woolley, saying that plural marriage should continue to be practiced regardless of opposition from state or federal government. Taylor set five individuals apart to “see to it that no year passed by without children being born in the principle of plural marriage.”17
One of these budding fundamentalists was Charles William’s own brother-in-law Charles Henry Owen who had married Charles William’s sister Bessie Kingston.18 Charles Owen and Bessie became acquainted with Charles Zitting near the same time Charles William began traveling to Salt Lake City. From some suspiciously addressed letters, Owen inferred that Zitting was either leading a “double life” or had involvement in plural marriage. Zitting introduced Owen to an inventor named Roy Wilson who spoke of meetings being held where certain individuals preached that the principle of plural marriage should still be lived. After attending the meetings with Bessie, Charles Owen told her, “If I ever live that principle, you will be the one to say we should live it, and you will name the girl.”19
That time came in the spring of 1927 when Charles Owen and Bessie moved to Salt Lake across the street from a girl about 17 years old named Earline Hull, who developed a friendship with their daughter Maurine. Earline’s parents alluded to their favor of the Principle when they hinted that Earline preferred the company of older men. Charles Owen was worried about her young age but Bessie told him that after praying about it, “she was sure we should live the law, and that Earline was the girl.” The marriage took place on 29 January 1928—the ceremony being performed by an elderly John W. Woolley.
Charles William recounts that soon after this polygamous marriage, Bessie “was put on the black list in the Salt Lake Temple” leading Bessie’s parents and siblings to shun her. But Charles William was curious and questioned his sister about her decision. She said that “a patriarch of the church by the name of Homer M. Brown gave her a blessing in which he told her that the Lord was pleased with what she had done,”20 and then she told him about John W. Wooley, whom Charles William went to visit, bringing his wife, Vesta, along with him.21
During the visit, Charles William noticed Wooley’s patriarchal blessing hanging on the wall. At the end of the blessing were the words, “and thou shalt hold the keys.” When Charles William questioned Wooley about the phrase, Wooley replied that past Church Patriarch John Smith had conferred the “keys to the sealing ordinances” on him in hopes of his passing them on to one of Smith’s progeny. To qualify for this authority, Woolley explained, the individual would have to live the Patriarchal law of Marriage.22
Later, during a temple trip, Charles William “knelt in prayer before the Lord” in his hotel room “and told him I had always wanted to be one of his humble servants and that I was ready and anxious to do his bidding whatever that might be. From that time on I tried to keep my mind alert and heart ready for any and all of the instructions I fully expected to receive from the Lord.”23
During a later temple trip, Charles William received an impression he described as plain and clear. “You will meet a young woman this trip and will receive her name and address. She will help you in the thing the Lord has for you to do.” And indeed, while attending a temple session, he met a woman who handed him a card with her name and address. While sleeping on the train home to Pocatello, he suddenly woke, reached into his pocket, and pulled out the woman’s card. He seemed to hear someone say, “She is the one.”24
Charles William met with her several times, discovering that she was from a large polygamous family, and that she wanted to live the Principle, too. He began to feel she was “fishing for a proposal.” “I admired her very much in her Temple apparel,” Charles William writes, “but she seemed obnoxious to me when in street dress. Besides, I did not have any idea of marrying the girl since I had not received any such direction.”25
After realizing that he was not going to respond to her hints, the woman became angry and stopped meeting with him. So Charles William wrote her
A letter which I well knew would go straight to the heads of the Church as evidence they would use to bring action against me for my standing. So it was with a feeling of fear and dread that I carefully composed that letter. I held it three days after writing it, being afraid to send it to the post office suspecting well the after affects.
He gives no details about the letter’s content, but he assumes that the woman passed it on to Temple President George F. Richards (whose wife she was friends with), and then he on to higher authorities. “I soon found out . . . that she was to play the important role of getting me cut off from the Church; A very essential event in my career in the Gospel.”26
The following month, Charles William and Vesta went to Salt Lake to attend the temple together. After seeing his recommend, the assistant recorder asked Charles William to meet with the temple president. According to Charles William’s account, President Richards asked if he believed in plural marriage, to which Charles William replied, “Yes I do. I believe in it with all my heart.” When President Richards asked if he understood the Church’s policy against plural marriage, Charles William told Richards that he believed the policy came from the devil. President Richards admonished Charles William to renounce the principle of plural marriage and to discontinue his association with its adherents.27
By the end of the interview, Charles William had missed the beginning of the temple session, so he used the time to approach some friends for advice. The first was his recently polygamous brother-in-law, Charles Henry Owens, who advised him to agree to the temple president’s request but to not keep his word, referring to Joseph F. Smith who had “advised people to make certain denials to enemies of the truth.” By doing so, “you can save yourself and keep your family and friends,” he concluded. But Charles William refused to break any promises. Charles Zitting didn’t have any advice for him, but set up an appointment for him to meet J. Leslie Broadbent in the Hotel Utah who advised him to simply not return to the temple.28
Vesta’s reaction to Charles William after finishing her temple session suggests that someone had spoken with her about his situation. She lashed out, “Now what have you been doing? Chasing women, I suppose.” She continued,
Well I’m going back to Idaho Falls on the next train and am going to leave you. The children are all on my side. Your father and mother and all of your brothers and sisters will hate you. The Church people will be against you, and the law will be looking for you. All of these things and what are you doing to us? And all you would have to do is make one little promise—and you won’t even do that! That proves how much you think of us!29
That night Charles William was left alone to wander the streets of Salt Lake. “It seemed the world had dropped out from under my feet because I knew my wife well enough to know she never made no false threats: she was a woman that me[a]nt what she said.”30 Charles saw this event as a fulfillment of his dream. He was hanging by his fingertips about to fall to his death.
Charles William returned to Idaho Falls the following day and tried to talk with his wife. But according to his narrative, Vesta was still furious. “All you have to do is to make a promise. It won’t cost you a cent. Just that easy, and yet you are too stubborn to even do that and you expect me to give up all my people and my church and my friends just to go along with your stubbornness. Well I’m just not going to do any such thing.” Later she continued, “Why do you hold out when it would be so easy? Can’t you see what you are doing to yourself and us? Can’t you see what a light you are putting us in? Oh why can’t you understand?” But Charles William replied, “I promised the Lord . . . that if he would show me the truth, I would embrace it, whatever the cost. I have placed you and the children and every other single thing that I have on the alt[a]r . . . and asked the Lord to accept my offering. . . . now if you are determined to go; as bad as it hurts me there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I will have to take my medicine and let you go.”31
In time, the temple recorder contacted Charles William’s parents, who wrote a letter to him concerning his standing with the Church. They referred to his dream—specifically to the moment he had slipped and was hanging off the path by his fingertips. “They decided that if I left the Church that would prove that I had fallen to destruction and that if I remained with the Church I would be safe.”32 However, he disagreed with their interpretation.
Soon they paid him a visit in Idaho Falls. “My mother talked to me all night until I had to get ready for work the next day,” Charles Williams writes. “When I returned from work that afternoon she started again and kept it up until eleven o’clock that night.”33 It appears that at this stage, his parents were not necessarily opposed to the principle of polygamy but rather to their son’s opposition to Church leadership. Charles William’s father had been sealed to one of his previous girlfriends who had died before marrying, his wife standing as proxy.34
Charles William writes that he responded, “As much as I would like to please you I cannot go back on what the Lord has shown me to be the truth.”35
Charles William was next approached by his 19-year-old son, Charles Elden Kingston, whom he met with twice a week to discuss religion.36 His son said, “Father I have heard you were going to be cut off from the Church.” When Charles William confirmed the rumor, Elden said, “Well that’s terrible, it would be better for a person to loose [sic] his life than be cut off from the church.” Charles William agreed but for one exception, “turning your back on and denying what one knows to be the truth.” He then told his son about some of the things he had recently learned about the 1890 Manifesto and other Church history events. Shortly after, Elden had a dream Charles William recounted.
. . . he dreamed an Angel of the Lord came to him. He was on the sea coast looking out on the Harbor. A ship was ready to sail and the Angel said, “Listen son, your mother is on that ship. She will have one chance to get off. If she fails to get off she will be destroyed because this ship is going down and every one on it will be drowned.”37
Elden wrote a letter to his mother immediately and soon met with her to discuss his dream. “She said [the dream] meant she was on this ship because she was staying with me,” Charles William writes, “if she left me she would be getting off the ship.”38 He, however, felt that the ship represented the Church, as well as “every other situation people find themselves in who fail to find and embrace and hold to the truth.”39
On 10 February 1929 Charles William was summoned to appear before the council and body of the Quorum of the Seventy. At the meeting, Brigham H. Roberts, who was sent to Idaho Falls to preside over the meeting, charged him with “believing and teaching that the manifesto was a man-made document, that the Lord didn’t have anything to do with it.”40 Charles William openly acknowledged the charge, and then asked to speak with Roberts alone.
Charles William had been publishing pamphlets about revelations received by John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff sanctioning plural marriage. “At that time I had published three editions of these revelations. After arranging them with numbered verses with heading and explanations of their contents.” He would place copies of these pamphlets, along with others, on “the Church Literature tables that were outside on the Temple grounds at conference.” He distributed a thousand copies this way.41
He questioned Roberts about the revelations he had been publishing, and Roberts confirmed their authenticity but concluded that his action of publishing them was simply unwise. When the motion was called for, the vote to release Charles William from the 146th quorum of seventy was unanimous.
Charles William was next scheduled for a high council trial. But before that happened, he records that he was visited by his stake president, Fred A. Caine, who tried unsuccessfully to dissuade him from his position. Soon thereafter Caine became ill enough to be admitted to the Mayo Brothers Hospital and could not attend Charles William’s trial. He died a few months later.
At the beginning of the trial, Charles William was given a chance to speak. He took two hours “giving them the History of the Manifesto, the laws of the land passed against the Latter Day Saints, the four revelations, the history of their coming forth, the meeting of 1886 as told in the pamphlet ‘Underground Days,’ and appointment of the men to keep the principle alive.”42
It seems that the council was willing to give Charles William every benefit of a doubt. One member had known him from his highly successful missionary days, and others had been his neighbors for years. One of the high council went so far as to ask, “Do you think Brother Kingston, that the knock on the head you received when you had that accident on the Railroad had anything to do with what has happened to you?” Charles William replied, “Well if it did Brethren it would be a blessing if every one of you could get a knock on the head.” The council offered to give him six months to reconsider his stance but he “did not seek any special privileges but I wanted my stand to go on record so that all men might know that I had stood out for the principles of righteousness and truth.” Finally, the high council unanimously voted to excommunicate him.43
Charles William described the next seven days as being filled with pressure and prejudice from people who felt that he had committed an unpardonable sin. His own brother told him, “Charley, you have been a disgrace to the family; your name has gone out all over the church.”44 Some of his best friends from the railroad circulated a rumor that he had gotten a girl in trouble and had to quit his job and move out of the town.
“I began to feel so alone in the world. It seemed I did not have one friend left in the whole world. After this trial it seemed that all the forces of Hell were arrayed against me and that my very life was about to be crushed out of me.”45 Charles William began to wonder if the Lord approved of his course, and if he had been right to tell of the “secret acts” of the Church authorities whom he “loved and revered.”
But on 12 March 1929. Charles William had a dream:
Two men walked into my room. The one on my right took me by the right hand. I was tried no longer. Strength and power flowed from him through my right arm into my body. He began to talk to me and the words were powerful and sweet. Such words I had never heard so powerfully expressed before, and I wondered who this powerful stranger could be. He made it known to me that my action before the High Council was approved.
‘It can’t be the Lord,’ I said to myself. ‘He could not find time to come to a man like me.’ So, with my left hand I opened His handclasp far enough to see the palm of His right hand, and there I saw the scar between the bones of His first two fingers—the scar that was made by the nail that pinned His right hand to the cross. It was enough—I knew now who He was!46
And then his 9-year-old son, John Ortell Kingston, had a dream. Charles William recorded,
He dreamed he saw a lot of people gather together against one family. We were standing in a group and these people were men and women from the waist up and snakes from their waists down. In the snake tail there was a pouch filled with poisoned arrows. They were throwing these arrows at us as they closed in on our little group. They were unable to hit us, but we knew if ever a poisoned arrow touched us it would be sure death. Finally as the snake people came nearer he noticed that one after the other they wilted and died as if shot with a gun. He looked behind him to see where this sudden death was coming from and saw a great and powerful man, dressed in white robes. This man would raise his right hand and let it fall; each time it fell one of the snake people withered up and died. The sun was just coming over the hills to the East and to the back of the Powerful stranger; He saw; as the hand was raised and it came up between his eyes and the sun; he saw the scar in the hand where the nail had been driven to nail him to the cross. So many of these snake people died that they began to beg for mercy and promised the Lord that they would let us alone if he would spare their lives.47
However, Ortell’s written version doesn’t mention the identifying scars or many of the other details Charles William recounts.48
By this time, Charles William’s “children had all been blessed with a testimony that what I was doing was right and my wife had gone a long way in our direction.”
With these two incidents to sustain him, Charles William spent the next seven years printing literature and holding meetings about plural marriage. His efforts would eventually be followed by his son Charles Elden Kingston founding a polygamous community later known as the Davis County Cooperative Society—a group that persists to this day, now known as The Latter Day Church of Christ.
- Charles William Kingston shares the same first name with both his father, Charles Kingston, and son, Charles Elden Kingston. To avoid confusion this paper will refer to Charles William using his first and middle name. His son Charles Elden Kingston is generally referred to as Elden or by his full name. Charles William’s father, having no middle name, will be referred to as Charles Kingston. I share the same name as Charles William’s son Charles Elden Kingston.
- Charles W. Kingston, My Life’s History, (n.p., n.d.), 1.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 3.; Charles W. Kingston, Autobiography of Charles W. Kingston, (n.p., n.d.), 2.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 4–6.
- Charles W. Kingston, Autobiography, 168.
- Ibid, 2–3.
- Clarence D. Kingston and Charles W. Kingston, Charles Kingston (1856–1944), (n.p., n.d.), 9.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 8.
- C. W. Kingston, “Is a 100 Per Cent Workman Possible?” The Union Pacific Magazine, (October 1929): 11.
- Charles W. Kingston, Autobiography, 137.
- Mark J. Baird and Rhea A. Kunz Baird, eds., Reminiscences of John W. Woolley and Lorin C. Woolley, 5 vols., 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Lynn L. Bishop, n.d.), 3:2.
- Charles W. Kingston, Autobiography, 137.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 9.
- “An Event of The Underground Days,” (Salt Lake City: n.p. [Shephard Book Co.], n.d.), 5.
- Bessie’s legal name was Betsy.
- “Barbara Owen Kelsch Ancestry,” (n.p., n.d.), 11.
- Charles W. Kingston, Autobiography, 111.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 18-A.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 18-A–18-B.; The wording given in a separate account is a little different. See Mark J. Baird and Rhea A. Kunz Baird, Reminiscences, 3:3–4.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 10.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 10–11.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 11; see Mark J. Baird and Rhea A. Kunz Baird, Reminiscences, 3:11.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 12.
- Mark J. Baird and Rhea A. Kunz Baird, Reminiscences, 3:12.
- Charles W. Kingston, Autobiography, 177.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 12–13.
- Charles W. Kingston, Autobiography, 168–69.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 13.
- “Barbara Owen Kelsch Ancestry,” (n.p., n.d.), 24.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 13.
- Charles W. Kingston, Reminiscences of Brother Charles Kingston, (n.p., n.d.), 1.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 13.
- Charles W. Kingston, Reminiscences, 2.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 14.
- Charles W. Kingston, Autobiography, 26–27.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 15.
- Charles W. Kingston, Autobiography, 184.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 15–16.
- Mark J. Baird and Rhea A. Kunz Baird, Reminiscences, 3:13.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 16.
- Mark J. Baird and Rhea A. Kunz Baird, Reminiscences, 3:14.
- Charles W. Kingston, History, 16.