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J. Golden Kimball, in His Own Words

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 02, 2008

Jonathan Golden Kimball, son of Heber C. Kimball and Christeen Golden, grew up in that second generation of pioneers, those who had been born in the West and knew nothing else, who had not known Joseph Smith or chosen to make the sacrifices that loyalty to him demanded, who somehow succeeded in carrying the Church over the hump from primitive, charismatic fervor to enduring, sustaining faith. J. Golden embodies that transition.

He reminds us more of the earthy cowboy end of our religious heritage than of its visionary glory, mostly due to the myriad stories told about his swearing. I’m convinced that 99% of those stories are made up by tellers who think they can improve on the truth, or assume that J. Golden would have cracked those jokes had he thought of them.

I know he swore and that he spoke freely of barnyard behaviors, but I don’t believe the coarseness was as deliberate or calculated as it appears in most of the stories. I think J. Golden was a guileless man who was not successful in controlling his language precisely because he was unaware, most of the time, that he was about to say something earthy.

Here’s an example of his candor, of his innocent admission of his failures and his constant, sincere striving to be a better man. This page records the day of his ordination as a Seventy (an ordinary stake-level Seventy, not a general authority), on July 21, 1886, when he was 33 years old. (Ignore the 1885 date printed at the top of the page; he was frugally using an outdated notebook for his diary.) It sounds like a howling funny J. Golden story, but recognize that he wrote this for his private record, not as a public performance. He is simply being himself.

My thanks to J. Paul Soderborg, occasional Keepa commenter, who came across this journal entry this morning and shared it with me.



18 Comments »

  1. That is fabulous.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 2, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

  2. Thanks for this, Ardis.

    Eric Eliason’s recent book on Kimball does a great job exploring how this folkloric icon is used as a vehicle for our modern culture to express our rebelliousness. That he didn’t do all the things we place on him is probably true, but the fact that we place them on him reveals a lot about ourselves. However, in doing this, as you point out, we miss out on learning about the great, humble individual he really was.

    Comment by Ben — December 2, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  3. With the watermark, and the bleed-through of the other pages, I’m having a hard time making out any of the words in the journal. Anyone care to provide a transcription?

    Comment by Hunter — December 2, 2008 @ 3:33 pm

  4. July 21 1886 A meeting was called by Bro. Felstead, one of the seven Pres. of the Seventies, Bro. Alred and Haddock. In counsel with the Bishop I was appointed and set apart as a Seventy – and before the people agreed to keep and live up to the requirements made of Seventies.

    At once commenced keeping the Word of Wisdom and was sick all day.

    Was set apart as a Seventy, Bro. Alred acting as mouth.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 2, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  5. While researching for a client this morning I needed a particular disk which was being used by someone else. The librarian asked me, dryly, if I wanted another disk to look at so I grabbed J. Golden’s diary. Hooray for serendipity!

    Also, come on Ardis. More than a few of his stories have been documented. More than 1% anyway

    Comment by J. Paul — December 2, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

  6. I have an uncle that passed away this year that was what I imagine J. Golden was like. I (and I imagine the Church) will definitely miss him.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 2, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  7. […] J. Golden Kimball, in His Own Words […]

    Pingback by Shared Items - 2 December 2008 | A Soft Answer — December 2, 2008 @ 7:09 pm

  8. The line about commencing to keep the WofW and being sick all day is hilarious – and really does show the private side of the humor. I think I would have loved associating with that man.

    Comment by Ray — December 2, 2008 @ 8:40 pm

  9. Wonderful post, Ardis! I am a huge fan of J. Golden Kimball. I would that more GA’s were like Elder Kimball.

    Comment by Brian Duffin — December 2, 2008 @ 9:59 pm

  10. Thanks for transcribing it, Ardis. I had stopped at what I read as “Bro. Headcrab”… which would be awesome, if a little anachronistic.

    Comment by The Right Trousers — December 2, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

  11. I don’t know which is more fun — reading the words or seeing the handwriting. There is nothing quite like an original journal page.

    And the fact that he was frugally using an old journal is priceless as well.

    Comment by m&m — December 3, 2008 @ 12:18 am

  12. I commenced keeping the Word of Wisdom. So cool. :) This is why I’m studying diaries. They’re such a delightful honest insight into people.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — December 3, 2008 @ 1:47 am

  13. Wow that was perfectly awesome!

    Comment by Jon W. — December 3, 2008 @ 8:59 am

  14. This is a glimpse into the reality of WOW observance prior to HJG. Thanks for the look Ardis!!!

    Comment by bbell — December 3, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  15. J. Golden Kimball was a muleskinner as a young man, on the project of building the temple. He learned to use some terms of language as he learned to breath, and was as aware of his speech, sometimes, as he was breathing.

    Interesting how Spencer W. Kimball learned to think about profanity.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — December 3, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

  16. J. Golden’s personality seeps through pages now over 122 years old. The last lines read (the best I can discern):

    “At once commenced keeping the Word of Wisdom and was sick all day.
    Was set apart as a Seventy. Bro. Alred acting as mouth.”

    It is a blessing to have colorful people in this Church to whom the imperfect can relate. Hmmm, I guess that would be all of us.

    Comment by S.Faux — December 4, 2008 @ 4:34 am

  17. This is a glimpse into the reality of WOW observance prior to HJG.

    Makes you wonder if sometime in the future there will be other changes in how we observe the commandments. The current trend is to less specificity. But that could change. Any thoughts on what future changes might be?

    Comment by BruceC — December 4, 2008 @ 7:41 am

  18. J. Golden Kimball set my father apart as a missionary. He was a giant of a man. Whether or not he said all that he said is of no importance. He was a man of his times; he was a staunch member of the Church and loved it dearly. He would have fought for it. What does it matter if he said a few things. A speaker recently said he ‘apologized in advance for speaking of J. Golden Kimball’ and then went into something he said. I told him afterwards to never apologize for J. Golden Kimball. He is/was bigger than all of us…both then and now.

    Comment by Lucy — December 5, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

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