Juvenile Instructor » Southwestern States Mission: The Release of a Mission President
 


Southwestern States Mission: The Release of a Mission President

By: Edje Jeter - June 16, 2013

James G Duffin was released as Mission President of the Central States Mission (formerly the Southwestern States Mission) in 1906 after six-and-a-half years as President. Below are transcripts of the correspondence leading to his release. [1] The stated cause for the release was Duffin’s recurring malaria: his “constitution and temperament demand[ed] a cool climate.” Health was an imminently plausible cause for release in general and Duffin’s in particular. However, it was 1906, and Duffin was a (secret) polygamist, and a post-1890 polygamist at that. After the “Second Manifesto” (1904) and its fallout, many leaders who were polygamists were quietly released from their positions. I have zero documentary evidence to contradict the “medical release,” but I suspect Duffin’s polygamy might have been a silent factor in the decision.

The George Reynolds with whom Duffin corresponded was Secretary to the First Presidency.

Kansas City, Mo. July 7, 1906.
Elder George Reynolds,
Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dear Brother:

Replying to your inquiry concerning my health this summer, [I] will say: I get along pretty well when we have cool days, which we are having at the present time, but as soon as the weather changes to the heat that we experience here, I “wilt” under it. It seems that the many years spent in malarial states have filled my system with malarial poisons, and the heat of summer develops that tired, languid, feeling that is the invariable result of this condition. However, with this exception and the trouble I have had in my back for the last year and a half, my health is good. I had thought I would take a month in Canada this summer, had it been agreeable with the feelings of the Presidency, but my presence is so badly needed in the mission during these months that are so trying to all of the Elders, that I feel that I must put aside that which would be for my own good, so as to be with my brethren during the time I am most needed. My constitution and temperament demand a cool climate.

Brother Reynolds, I have always felt that I did not want anything to interfere with my service to my Master in the mission field, and that when I was released, it would be because my brethren of the priesthood had accepted our offering, not because of ill health, or for any other cause. My family all feel the same way, and should a release come in any other way it would be a great disappointment. We feel thankful for the blessings we receive from the Lord and for the good will and confidence of our brethren, and when we are released we hope to be of some service in building up some industries at home, as well as doing what we can in a spiritual way.

With kindest personal regards, I am,

Your Brother,

James G. Duffin.

 

Salt Lake City, Utah. 
July 14, 1906. 
Prest. J. G. Duffin, 
Kansas City, Mo.

Dear Brother.

The First Presidency have read with much interest, your form to me of the 7th inst., and they direct me to say that you have been long and faithful in the service, and if they can find a man capable of taking your place, they feel that it will be right to release you. And they wish me to ask you if there is any such a one in the mission at the present time, whom you could recommend to take charge of the mission, or if you know of any one who has labored there in the past who is competent to fill the place. If there is either of these, they would like you to let me know, so that they can give the matter their early attention, and if a brother is found who is suitable to appoint him in your stead, and give you an honorable release.

Sincerely your brother,

Geo Reynolds, Sec.

 

Kansas City, Mo. 
July 20, 1906. 
Elder George Reynolds, 
Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dear Brother,

Your letter of 14th inst. came to me in due course of mail and has received careful consideration. I was a little surprised to learn that the Presidency had decided to release me from my labors in the mission, but am very thankful, indeed, that inasmuch as this has been decided upon they feel that I have been faithful in my duties. My labors in the mission have been a source of satisfaction to me, for I have loved the work and my brethren among whom I have labored.

Now concerning those who, in my judgment would be suitable to take charge of the work when I am released: Elder Samuel O. Bennion, now acting as secretary of the mission is an Elder whom I can recommend with a full assurance that the work would be safe in his hands. As a traveling Elder, as president of a Conference, and later as secretary of the mission, he has been faithful, energetic and capable. He is true to the priesthood, loves the work and has never shrunk from any duty to be performed, nor complained at any requirement made of him since he has been in the mission.

Elder Jasper Newbold who recently came into the mission, I believe would make a capable presiding officer. I cannot say anything about his work for he has not been tried as yet. I have observed this, however, in Elder Newbold—he has manifested a willingness to do whatever is desired of him. He is now laboring in St. Louis. There are two other capable young men in the mission, Elders Osburn Richins, of Mesa, Arizona, and Henry J. Bodily, of Fairview, Idaho.

I would like to suggest a matter for the consideration of the Presidency in deciding on an Elder to take the presidency of the mission. There are two branches in Kansas, at which we have property interests, our colony in Texas, where we have secured property for the church, and there is the property at Independence. I have been working to get the titles to one piece of property in East Kansas and one in Texas completed. It is but recently that the way has been opened for this to be done, and I feel that this ought to be finished before I leave the mission.

Another thing, during this month and until the middle of next month is the most trying time of the year on the Elders. It is during this period that we have the most of our sickness. It would be very trying to one just coming in to have these conditions to meet. The suggestion I have to offer is this: that I continue in the mission until after the October conference, and then go through the mission with the new president, visiting the conferences, during with time I can get the property titles completed, and he will become a little better acquainted with the mission. However, if the Presidency feel otherwise it will be agreeable with me.

One thing further, should the Presidency see fit to adopt the above suggestion, if it is agreeable with their feelings, I should like to go to my home the latter part of August, to assist the boys in shipping our crop of fruit. During that time we employ between forty and fifty hands and some one is needed there to look after the business.

With kindest personal regards,

I am Your Brother,

James G. Duffin.

 

Salt Lake City, Utah, 
July 23, 1906. 
President J. G. Duffin, 
Kansas City, Mo.

Dear Brother;

Your letter of the 20th inst. has received the considerate attention of the First Presidency, and they entirely agree with you that the conditions are such in the Central States Mission that it will be well for you to remain at their head until next October. They most cordially grant your request regarding paying home a visit at the time of the shipping of your fruit crop. While you are away you could leave Bro. Samuel O Bennion in charge, to accustom him to such duties, but without saying anything to him as to the possibility of his succeeding you in the Presidency. There are reasons why I cannot write more definitely at this time, but that can be done when you see the brethren at the time you make your visit. Trusting your health remains good,

I remain, as ever,

Sincerely your brother,

George Reynolds, Secy.

 

Duffin went back to Utah, as scheduled, in August, and took care of his crop. He then visited the First Presidency at the end of September, where he learned that Bennion would, in fact, become the new president. [2] Bennion went on to serve for more than two decades. After General Conference Duffin returned to the mission for the final tour and hand-off. Along the way, members and acquaintances gave him gifts: a gold ring in St John, a watch chain in Kansas City, a ring and buttons in Kelsey. [3]

Duffin seems to have continued a successful career as a fruit-grower and politician. He was outed as a polygamist in the early 1910s by the Salt Lake Tribune and died in 1921, aged 60.

 


The post above is the fifty-second of the “Southwestern States Mission” series, which seems like a nice time for a change. Going forward, I will post on the SWSM “occasionally” rather than weekly.

The “Southwestern States Mission” series (homepage) examines mission life in (mostly) Texas around 1900.

[1] Almost all of the information presented here appeared in an earlier post: “Calling a Mission President.” All of the letters were transcribed in the entry for 1906 Jul 17. These are, of course, twice transcribed: first, by Duffin from the originals into his diary, and then by the Mormon Missionary Diaries staff/volunteers at BYU. The paragraphing is mine. These letters contain more “sensitive” information than I have typically dealt with in the SWSM. However, since the letters do not contain any information that directly presents anyone in a negative light, I have presented them as they are in the diary.

[2] “To-day I went up to Salt Lake City, according to appointment, and met the Presidency. Prest. Smith had returned from Europe a few days previously. Had a talk with the Presidency with regard to the appointment of someone to succeed me in the Presidency of the mission. Of the names I had suggested, they decided to appoint Elder Samuel O. Bennion, of Taylorsville, who has been acting as secretary of the mission and he was so appointed. I also spoke to the Presidency concerning business that I am thinking of going into at Provo. Prest. Smith said: ‘Bro. Duffin, anything you wish to go into, that you think will be profitable, go right ahead and we will pray for your success. Be careful, however and not get to speculating unwisely.’” (Duffin, 1906 Sep 24).

[3] “[St. John KS] Have met with the saints and elders in conference here, having a very enjoyable time. The saints and elders of this Conference presented me with a beautiful gold ring at a nice reception tendered me at the meeting house night of the 13th. I deeply appreciate their kindness.” (Duffin, 1906 Oct 14 Sun). “[Kansas City, MO] To-day… a jeweler with whom I have done considerable business, presented me with a fine watch chain as a token of remembrance.” (Duffin, 1906 Oct 17 Wed). “[Kelsey, TX] A very pleasing thing to me, and one that I very much appreciated as showing the good will of the people, was their presentation to me of a gold ring, set of gold cuff buttons and collar buttons.” (Duffin, 1906 Oct 28 Sun).



4 Comments

  1. Fifty-two posts with analysis and creative reporting — that has to be some sort of Bloggernacle record. Hail, Edje!

    I have enthusiastically enjoyed this series and will look forward to occasional additions. It is fitting to end now with the release of James Duffin. It’s a reminder that all is not always the way it seems, and that understanding the broader story can affect how we see even the most straightforward of documents.

    But nobody gave me gold cuff buttons when I was released. *sniff*

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 17, 2013 @ 7:51 am

  2. A great series, sad to see it end as a regular feature. Of course, I had a personal connection to it, but it has been fascinating to follow even without that.

    Comment by kevinf — June 17, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

  3. It’s great stuff, Edje. Enjoy it much.

    Comment by WVS — June 18, 2013 @ 12:19 am

  4. Thanks, very much, Ardis, kevinf, and WVS, for commenting, for your friendship, and your support.

    And… I confess that this morning I started thinking about what next Sunday’s SWSM post would be. I resisted the urge. I’ll post about nineteenth-century Mormons and cuttlefish instead.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — June 18, 2013 @ 12:38 am