Most polygamous groups and independent fundamentalists trace their lineage back to the men they say were “set apart” by Lorin Woolley in 1929, who in turn claims to have been secretly authorized by LDS Church President John Taylor to perform plural marriages. Taylor is believed by Mormon fundamentalists (but not by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) to have had a revelation in 1886 to continue the practice of plural marriage despite federal opposition (and an eventual LDS Church decision to stop the practice).
The names of Woolley’s “Council of Friends” can still be found in polygamous communities today: Broadbent, Barlow, Musser, Zitting, Woolley and Kelsch. John Y. Barlow, in turn, ordained men who would become key leaders: LeRoy Johnson and Marion Hammon, and later Rulon Jeffs, father of Warren Jeffs.
In 1940, Barlow started a United Order in Short Creek, the little out-of-the-way town on the Arizona-Utah border that eventually became the Fundamentalist LDS Church communities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. Not long after he died in 1949, next-in-line Joseph Musser had a series of debilitating strokes and was treated by a Salt Lake polygamist naturopath named Rulon Allred. That’s when the cohesive lineage started to fall apart.
Musser ordained Allred first elder, a move that angered the other council members and split the group. When Musser died, the Short Creek group went to Charles Zitting and then to LeRoy Johnson; the Musser line went to Allred, who organized legally under the name of the Apostolic United Brethren, headquartered in the south end of Salt Lake County.
Rulon Allred became well-known to mainstream Utah in 1977 when he was shot to death by order of rival polygamist leader Ervil LeBaron, head of the Church of the Lamb of God, which traced its fundamentalist lineage back to Benjamin Johnson, a contemporary of Joseph Smith.
To this day, says Anne Wilde of the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices, the main difference between various fundamentalist entities centers around “who has the priesthood authority.”
The Kingston Family, sometimes known as the Davis County Cooperative Society, claim its authority through Leslie Broadbent, one of the original group ordained by Lorin Woolley. Elden Kingston split off when he was not chosen to succeed Broadbent.
Many independents trace their authority through various other members. Still other polygamous leaders, such as Jim Harmston of the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days in Manti, say they receive their authority by “direct manifestation.”
Splinter fundamentalist groups include Centennial Park, started by Marion Hammon, who was in line to succeed LeRoy Johnson in Colorado City but got pushed aside in 1984; and Winston Blackmore’s group in Bountiful, British Columbia (the result of Rulon Jeffs’ dismissal of Blackmore in 2002.)
The Nielsen-Naylor Group split off from Centennial Park and moved to the Salt Lake Valley. Alex Joseph, a famed polygamist in Big Water until his death in 1998, split off from Rulon Allred, as did Gerald Peterson’s Righteous Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.