Note: The following biographical sketch of President John Rex Winder
is graciously provided to Grampa Bill by Brother Michael H. Winder, a descendant
of President Winder. Those wishing a more detailed biography of President
Winder are referred to Horizon Books which has published Brother Winder's
definitive reference book on the life of this unique man.
During the months following President [George
Q.] Cannon's death, Lorenzo Snow
sought to reorganize the First Presidency. He desired to have Joseph
F. Smith, now President of the Quorum of the Twelve, make the switch
to first counselor, and for the position of second counselor a more junior
apostle, Elder Rudger Clawson, 44, was
chosen. This new Presidency was sustained in the general conference
held on October 6, 1901, but before the counselors could be set apart in
their new assignments, Lorenzo Snow suddenly passed away. It was
only four days after the conference, October 10, 1901, when the 87 year-old
President was called home.
Merely one week after Snow's death,
on October 17, 1901, a new presidency was organized in the Salt Lake Temple.
President Joseph F. Smith was ordained the sixth president of the Church.
He called 79 year-old John R. Winder of the Presiding Bishopric as his
first counselor, and Anthon H. Lund,
a native of Denmark and apostle since 1889, as his second counselor.
Regarding the selection of his counselors, President Smith said, "I had
thought of others but whenever I came to the point of making a selection,
these brethren who were chosen came into my mind, and I could not get away
from them." He noted that he had "felt very warmly" towards Elder
Rudger Clawson, "but these my counselors were ever before me, and I feel
that they were chosen of the Lord."
John Rex Winder was born on December 11, 1821 in
Biddenden, Kent County, England to Richard and Sophia Collins Winder.
He was named after an elder brother who had died only two years prior at
the young age of four. The Winder family had been prominent in the
small village since John's great-grandfather, Sir William Winder,
had married into one of Biddenden's distinguished gentry families.
The family was taught to read and write, the children developed a good
farming work ethic, and they learned of God. It was here as a small
boy that John R. Winder first turned to his Father in Heaven:
I was sent out into the fields to keep
the birds off the grain, and it was a very lonely spot, surrounded with
woods. Being entirely alone, I was somewhat fearful, and I remember
that I was impressed to kneel down in the brush and pray to the Lord that
His angels might watch over and protect me from harm. I remember
now just as well as I see your faces, that that was the end of my fear.
I also think that that was the beginning of my success in life. Although
that spot is many thousand miles distant, and it is more than seventy years
ago, I could walk straight to that very spot where I knelt down, and where
I received that blessing.
At the age of twenty, young John R. Winder struck out
on his own in bustling Victorian London. He secured a position at
the West End Shoe and Grocery Store where he developed his vocation as
a shoe and leather man. He immediately made a good impression with
his energy and outgoing personality. "I kept steadily at work at
any and every honorable task that came my way," he noted. It was
here that he met Ellen Walters, whom he married in 1845. Shortly
thereafter, Winder was approached by a Mr. Collinson who recruited him
to manage his boot and shoe store in Liverpool. While working in
this bustling port city an incident occurred which would change his life:
I was in the store one day, and a person had torn up a letter
into very small fragments and thrown it on the floor. I was
impressed to pick up a small piece of it, and on that piece of paper were
the two words, "Latter-day Saint." I looked at it and wondered what
it meant. I never had heard of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, or
Smith, or anything of the kind. I was impressed to take it over
and ask the man who was at the desk what it meant. He happened to
be a Latter-day Saint, and he went on and told me what it meant and where
these people were meeting in Liverpool, and I attended their meetings.
After hearing the sermon of Elder Orson Spencer, John
R. Winder was convinced of the truth and desired baptism. Brother
Winder actively served in his branch, as a local missionary, and as secretary
in the Liverpool Conference.
The Winder family, like many British
Saints of the day, desired to gather to Zion and join the main body of
the Church in the Salt Lake Valley. The inheritance Ellen acquired
from the death of her father provided the means for the young family to
fulfill that dream. In February 1853 they boarded the packet ship
Elvira Owen and set sail across the stormy North Atlantic. Accompanying
them on the journey to America was their four-year old son, twin baby daughters,
and a young Irish girl whom they had practically adopted. On this
tumultuous voyage, John R. Winder only narrowly escaped a watery grave:
It was discovered that smallpox was on board,
a child infected with the malady being among the ship's passengers and
in the apartment next to mine. I was the first to discover it, and
one of the first among five who came down with the disease, and had to
be quarantined in a little house built on deck for that purpose.
This was a trying time both to me and my wife, who was left without my
assistance to care for her twin babies, which was no small task on shipboard.
To add to our anxiety, one of the patients, lying next to me, a young brother
named William Jones, died a few days later, about nine o'clock in the evening,
and soon the sailors came and took the body out and cast it into the sea.
I heard them say, 'We will have him next,' meaning me, but I had faith
that I would recover and get to Zion, and in due time my faith was confirmed.
There was but one death during the voyage.
After arriving in New Orleans, the immigrants boarded
the steamboat James Rob and journeyed up the Mississippi to St. Louis.
From there the party boarded another craft and continued on to Keokuk,
Iowa, where the Mormon wagon trains were outfitting that year. They
crossed the plains in the Joseph W. Young Company,
arriving in the Salt Lake Valley October 10, 1853. John R. Winder
served as a captain of fifty on that overland trek and helped his flock
navigate through dust storms, quick sand, mountain passes and Indian encounters.
Arriving in the "bootstrap economy" of pioneer Utah,
Winder was pleased to see that his vocation was in demand. "Being
an experienced shoe and leather man," he said, "I engaged, soon after my
arrival, in the manufacture of saddles, boots and shoes, and in the conduct
of a tannery." His first tannery was operated with Samuel Mulliner,
and later partners included money king and future Salt Lake mayor William
Jennings, another future mayor Feramorz Little, and President Brigham
Young. The tanneries all were quite prosperous and generated
a hefty return for the partners. "He was a very industrious man,"
said George Winder of his grandfather, "extremely thrifty, and a smart
John R. Winder eventually came to be regarded as
one of the most brilliant financial minds in the American West and contributed
his talents to dozens of corporate boards. "He succeeded as a butcher,"
explained Frank Y. Taylor, "attained prominence as a banker, and was interested
in the leading industrial, manufacturing, and mercantile institutions of
our state." John R. Winder helped to steer the Church out of debt, and
during the intense anti-polygamy raids, all of the Church's property was
placed in his name to protect it. "His good judgement was such that
people believed in and had confidence in him," it was said. The people
"felt that their money was safely invested as long as he had a voice in
the management of the business."
Heber J. Grant, himself an extraordinary businessman,
declared, "John R. Winder has done more for me in the hours of deep distress
and financial difficulty than any other man." Brother Winder was
a founder of several businesses, including Winder Dairy, which six generations
later still remains family owned and operated.
When Joseph F. Smith was praying about whom to select
as his first counselor, it was a time when the Church was struggling to
get back on their feet financially and buoy the confidence of the members
and the public. When Anthon Lund learned of John R. Winder's call
he replied to President Smith, "I thought he was a conservative man and
being as such he would help to continue the confidence of the people in
money matters." It was true, and tithing donations continued to increase
dramatically while President Winder was in the First Presidency, resulting
in the Church becoming debt-free at last in 1907.
John R. Winder never allowed his financial successes
to corrupt him with greed, but rather, he allowed his resources to bless
the less fortunate. "President Winder's charities were many," it
was said, "but were best known among the poor, the widow, and the orphan."
One anecdote is about a widow, who was sitting around the hearth with a
large family on Christmas Eve. Her anxious children were asking their poor
mother what they were to receive for Christmas. "I was almost in
despair," she said, "when in an answer to a knock at the door, in walked
Brother Winder loaded down with everything to make us happy... a veritable
Santa Claus." The kindness of this spiritual giant was legion, and
it was said that "those who most needed his sympathy and help, received
Brother Winder took an active interest in civic affairs.
"We count him among the strong and capable that have assisted in the upbuilding
and development of our great commonwealth," declared Apostle
Henry Smith. John R. Winder began to shine early on in his Utah
career through activity in the territorial militia, the Nauvoo Legion.
When Johnston's Army was sent to Ainvade" Utah in 1857, Captain Winder
was dispatched to participate in the guerilla warfare that ground the advancing
U.S. troops to a halt on the high plains of Wyoming. He was then
given the important assignment of guarding Echo Canyon throughout the winter
to keep the army out, sometimes with only a few troops at his disposal.
This often required some tremendous creativity:
Captain Winder seemed especially fearful that the
enemy would realize how few men actually guarded the canyon. One
night, when he perhaps sensed that they were being watched from a distance,
Winder ordered the small detachment to march around and around huge bonfires.
With their shadows cast upon the steep canyon walls and a seemingly continuous
stream of soldiers appearing, an illusion was made that there were many
more soldiers in the canyon than there actually were. Army scouts
reported to their leaders that thousands of soldiers guarded the narrow
passage way. This report, combined with deep snows that soon fell,
caused the army to remain in place throughout the winter.
Captain Winder later became Lieutenant-Colonel Winder,
and then Adjutant General Winder during the Black Hawk Indian War of 1865-67.
He served as the chief aid to General Daniel H. Wells, and after the war's
conclusion, Winder made up the accounts of the expenses of the war and
submitted the report to Congress. "He was unselfish in his devotion
to the people," it was said, and he was rewarded by becoming a bodyguard
and traveling companion to President Brigham Young. Governor Heber
M. Wells remarked:
Although in rank as an officer in the Territorial Militia
he was designated as Colonel, in reality in that greater service to which
he devoted his life... the service of God... he was a General, and in my
opinion there are few greater in all the armies of the Lord.
Elder Winder quickly rose to prominence in the community
after his notable military service. The famed dairyman was the "Father
of the Utah State Fair," producing excellent crops and breeding prize-winning
livestock at his beloved Poplar Farm, which was located a few miles south
of the city. He worked for many years with Wilford Woodruff as a
director of the Utah Agricultural and Manufacturing Society and was one
of the first in the West to import Jersey cattle. He served Salt
Lake City as a city councilman, assessor and collector, and as city watermaster.
On one occasion, a poor but worthy widow saved up
her money to pay her taxes, but to her surprise she did not receive her
tax notice. After inquiring about the missing notice, she discovered
that her taxes had been paid. "This was while Brother Winder was
assessor and collector," it was remembered, "and instead of sending the
poor widow her notice, he paid the taxes himself."
Joseph F. Smith became acquainted with John R. Winder
in the militia, and later when both served on the city council together.
The future Church president received some very positive impressions of
Speaking of his civil service and business connections,
I have only to say this, that President John R. Winder never, to my knowledge,
ever sought honors, or office, or business. He was so endowed, so
talented and gifted that business, and office, and honors were ever in
search of him. . . . Heaven itself could scarcely be truer to anything
than President Winder was true to his convictions, to his friends, and
to the discharge of the duty that was imposed upon him.
John R. Winder served as the territorial chairman of
the Mormon People's Party and was a pivotal figure in the process that
ended Utah's "unique" political arrangement, bringing about the "Americanization"
of political parties in Utah. He served as a delegate to several
state constitutional conventions and rejoiced when the Beehive State was
finally admitted into the Union. "I know no better man than John
R. Winder," exclaimed long-time friend and Utah's first governor, Heber
Such energies did not escape the notice of President
John Taylor and the other leading Church leaders, who soon invited Brother
Winder to join the ranks of the general authorities. By 1887, Winder
had served as the president of his seventies quorum, acting bishop of the
Salt Lake Fourteenth Ward, and for the prior fourteen years as a member
of the Salt Lake Stake High Council. His record in each of these
capacities was sterling: "I have loved him because of his integrity," declared
stake president Angus M. Cannon, "his unswerving integrity in maintaining
the right, and his anxiety to have everything go for the glory of the Lord."
On April 8, 1887, 65 year-old John R. Winder was called to serve as the
second counselor to Presiding Bishop William B. Preston. He would
serve as a faithful counselor to Bishop Preston from 1887-1901.
During this time, Bishop Winder helped the Church
through "the Raid," a time of intense persecution brought on by the Edmunds-Tucker
Act of 1887 and other federal legislation which imposed harsh punishments
on plural families and the Church. He heroically saved Joseph F.
Smith from persistent federal marshals on one occasion, generously posted
bail for leaders arrested for "unlawful cohabitation," and at many meetings
was the only member of the Presiding Bishopric in attendance due to the
others being in hiding. Bishop Winder's Poplar Farm, conveniently
located several miles south of the city, was a frequent asylum for John
Taylor, who used it as a temporary "Church headquarters" at times.
"During the dark days of persecution it was my pleasure to assist in shielding
him when pursued by his enemies," Winder later wrote. President Taylor
later died in hiding in Kaysville, and was succeeded by Wilford Woodruff.
"One morning during the dark days of persecution,"
related Bishop Winder, "I met Pres. Woodruff and asked him how he was feeling.
'Pretty well,' he said, 'only I did not get much rest during the past night.
I was wrestling with the Lord all night.'" Winder continues his narrative,
"Handing me some sheets of paper, he said, 'And this is the result of my
wrestling' " John R. Winder, Charles W. Penrose, and George Reynolds were
then asked to review and edit the 510-word manuscript of the vision and
arrange it for publication. The result was the Manifesto of 1890,
which announced the end of the official practice of plural marriage.
Later that decade, Bishop Winder greatly impressed
fellow Church authorities when he was able to complete the interior of
the Salt Lake Temple within one year of laying the capstone. Wilford
Woodruff had called him to oversee this "herculean task," one the architects
and experts predicted could not be done. Yet Bishop Winder insisted,
"It can be done; it shall be done." He later recalled one occasion
where these feelings of determination were particularly strong:
I had heard that some of the brethren
at work here said it could not be done; so I called them together in that
room. There were 250 men. I was standing in there talking to
them and telling them that if there was a man among them that felt that
this work could not be accomplished, let him please get his pay and go
to work somewhere else. I did not know that President Woodruff was in the
house, but it appears that he stood right behind a curtain that was up
there, and heard what I said, and throwing aside the curtain he said, "That's
right; the work has got to be done, and if there is anybody here that thinks
it can't be done, let him leave."
At the dedication of the Temple, President Joseph F.
Smith remarked that "no other person could there be more praise and credit
attached than to John R. Winder, for his faith and indomitable will in
pressing forward this work." Lorenzo Snow was soon called as temple
president and John R. Winder was asked to be his first assistant.
Upon receiving the call from President Woodruff, Bishop Winder remarked
that he did not feel qualified for such an honor. "Never mind," said
the President, "I will appoint you and the Lord will qualify you."
He would serve in the temple presidency for the remainder of his life.
John Rex Winder was the patriarch of a large family.
As was mentioned, he married Ellen Walters in London in 1845. Once in Salt
Lake, he observed the doctrine of plural marriage by wedding Hannah Thompson
(1855) and Elizabeth Parker (1857). Years later, after becoming a
widower, he married Maria Burnham (1893). These faithful women bore
him twenty children, which has resulted in a numerous posterity.
When the call came to John R. Winder to serve as
President Smith's first counselor, there was initial surprise expressed
because he was not one of the apostles. This had not been done since
1856, when Brigham Young called Daniel
H. Wells to be a counselor. "President Joseph F. Smith sprung
upon this people one of the greatest surprises they ever had," said George
Taylor, "but it was met with the heartiest response of anything, I
think, that was ever presented to this people." The members of the
Church had long been aware of President Winder's faithfulness, industry,
and integrity. In all fronts... domestic, military, civic,
business, political and ecclesiastical... John R. Winder had earned the
confidence of the people.
The First Presidency of Presidents Smith, Winder,
and Lund was an active one. They fought vigorously for the reputation
of the Church when the U.S. Senate refused to seat Apostle-Senator Reed
Smoot. President Winder answered the accusations of critics in a
stirring eight-page article printed in The National Magazine. Entitled
"Mormonism Not A Menace," Winder forcibly sets forth the patriotism, doctrines,
purposes, and achievements of the Latter-day Saints.
This important First Presidency also answered the
rising issue of Darwinism by issuing an official proclamation in 1909 entitled
"The Origin of Man." They remind the Saints that ideas of the original
human having been developed from lower orders of animal creations are simply
"the theories of men," and boldly reaffirm that "man is the child of God."
John R. Winder, being significantly older than his
brethren, was often the one to oversee affairs at home while President
Joseph F. Smith was away. During this time, President Smith became
the first sitting president of the Church to visit the Saints in Europe,
and also visited many Church history sites, including dedicating the monument
at Joseph Smith's birthplace in Vermont.
"It is a glorious work that we are engaged in;" President
Winder reminded the Saints, "may we never tire of it, but always be willing
and faithful in the discharge of every duty that is required of us."
President Winder bore a strong testimony: "This is His work, and His hand
is stretched forth, and He will control all these matters to bring about
the best results."
John R. Winder worked tirelessly for the Kingdom
until the day he died. "My life has been a very busy one, a fact
to which I believe I owe much of my longevity and present good health,
and spirits," he told the Saints. "It is far better to wear out than
to rust out, and my experiences and observation teach me that those who
work, if they avoid excesses and live temperately, will outlive those who
shirk." He passed away on March 27, 1910 at the venerable age of
88. At President Winder's funeral, Joseph F. Smith mourned the loss
of his dear friend, confidant, and beloved first counselor. "If there is
any man of his acquaintance who loves him more than I do," said President
Smith, "God bless that man."