Matthias F. Cowley
Matthias Foss Cowley was a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles from 1897 until 1905. He was the son of Matthias Cowley and Sarah Elizabeth Foss, and was born Aug. 25, 1858, in Salt Lake City, Utah. His father had immigrated from the Isle of Man with Elder Cowley's grandparents, to Nauvoo, in 1843. His mother was a native of the State of Maine. They, as well as Matthias F.'s grandparents on both sides of the house, embraced the gospel.
At the time of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, Matthias, the elder, then thirteen years of age, was a resident of Warsaw, Ill.; after the exodus, he went to St. Louis, Missouri to aid in earning means for the emigration of the family to the mountains. At the age of fifteen years, he learned the printer's trade in the office of the "Missouri Republican," subsequently laboring in the office of the "Frontier Guardian," Kanesville, under Elder Orson Hyde. He emigrated to Salt Lake City in 1852, where he married Miss Foss, in 1857. His wife, Apostle Matthew Cowley's mother, had taught school in her native State. She continued in this vocation until her parents and other members of the family, who with her had embraced the gospel through the missionary efforts of Apostle Wilford Woodruff and John F. Boynton, emigrated to Utah in 1850.
Apostle Cowley was the first child of four in the family. In 1864, the elder Cowley died. His wife, some years after, married the well-known early civil engineer Jesse W. Fox, who thus became the foster-father of the boy. The future Apostle assisted the noted surveyor in his labors on the Utah Southern Railway for seven summers. In the winter season, he attended the Deseret (later Utah) University; his early education was obtained from his mother, who, after the death of her first husband, devoted herself to her early profession to support her family. His education, therefore, was obtained piecemeal, for he never attended school an entire year successively. But notwithstanding his school years were thus broken into by work, he advanced to the study of algebra and geometry, achieving more than ordinary success in these and other studies.
His mother was desirous that he should learn a trade or profession, but circumstances stood in the way of the fulfillment of his mother's desires, and both trade and profession were abandoned. An inborn desire towards religion is characteristic of Apostle Cowley. It is natural for some men to make money, but he was endowed with the missionary spirit; his natural work was to make converts to the cause of God. While in the surveying field, he carried an old Bible which his father had used while on a mission to England. This he read at intervals, snatching a few minutes to scan a chapter, more or less, according to the time at his disposal.
He had a retentive memory which aided him greatly to interest his audiences, and he early placed it to the test by memorizing many Scripture passages. At the expiration of his second mission in the Southern States, he, with Elder John W. Taylor, had memorized well-nigh four hundred Bible verses, and that in a systematic way, all bearing upon the gospel and especially upon its first principles. Apostle Cowley grew naturally and steadily to the position he occupied in the Church. He was blessed when eight days old, by Apostle Orson Hyde, assisted by his own father; was baptized by Elder Samuel R. Turnbow Nov. 1, 1866, and confirmed by Bishop Abraham Hoagland. In October, 1874, he was ordained a Deacon and a Teacher, serving in these capacities for a number of years. On Dec. 28, 1874, he was ordained an Elder by Elder Oluf F. Due, and received his endowments. In April, 1875, he was chosen counselor to Edward W. Davis of the first quorum of Elders, serving in that office with Elder Russell and subsequently with Elder John W. Taylor, his youthful companion and bosom friend. He served as collector for his quorum, at the time when the quorums donated for the erection of the Salt Lake Temple, and acted as Ward Teacher almost continuously, from October, 1874, to February 24, 1878, at which time he was called upon his first mission to the Southern States.
Returning from his mission, in the course of six months, he was again called to the same field, and arrived home from his second mission in July, 1882. Prior to his departure on his second mission he was, on motion of Apostle Wilford Woodruff, ordained a Seventy by Pres. Joseph Young. In 1882 he became identified with the "Contributor," published by Elder Junius F. Wells in the interest of the M. I. A., and was called on a mission to travel for it, and to preach to the young people at home. He visited ten Stakes of Zion, holding meetings in nearly every Ward thereof. He increased the circulation of the magazine to over four thousand copies, revived the lagging interest in the associations, and practically introduced himself to the Latter-day Saints.
Thousands remembered with what force and spirit he proclaimed to the young people the first principles of the gospel. For a short interval he was engaged as clerk in the city recorder's office at Salt Lake City, under Hon. John T. Caine and Gov. Heber M. Wells, and in the winter of 1883-4, he acted as chaplain in the House of the Utah legislature. On the day the Logan Temple was opened for endowments, May 21, 1884, Elder Cowley was married to Miss Abbie Hyde.
He was ordained a High Priest Oct. 25, 1884, by Apostle Francis M. Lyman, and chosen and sustained as the superintendent of the Y. M. M. I. A. of Oneida Stake, Idaho. He traveled extensively among the seventeen Wards of the Stake, laboring with zeal in the cause for three years. When Pres. George C. Parkinson, in 1887, was chosen Stake president, Elder Cowley was made his second counselor, in which position he served for ten years, until called to the Apostleship. It was while he was still acting in this capacity that he was called to accompany Elder Edward Stevenson to open the Northwestern States Mission, comprising Montana, Washington, Northern Idaho and Oregon. He spent about four months in this field, visiting the States named, but spending most of the time in the first named, where thirty-nine souls were baptized. Within three weeks of his ordination as an Apostle, he was called to accompany Apostle Francis M. Lyman to the Southern States Mission, in which, with Pres. Elias S. Kimball, they visited every conference, giving choice instructions to the people and to five hundred Elders from Zion then in the field.
From thence, they proceeded to Brooklyn, preaching in the Eastern States Mission, and visiting points of historic interest in Philadelphia, New York and Washington. While in the latter place, they were introduced by Hon. Wm. H. King to President McKinley, who received them very cordially and mentioned with pleasure his visit to Salt Lake City. Apostle Cowley was constantly traveling in the interest of the Church, having visited all the Stakes of Zion, having also lifted his voice in testifying to the mission of Christ, and borne testimony to the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, in thirty-three States and Territories of the Union Apostle Cowley was unpretentious in his demeanor, and the spirit of humility that accompanies his administrations draws the hearts of the people to him. He laid a foundation upon which the strength of his growing manhood, aided by the Lord, found no trouble in building a superstructure of finished excellence and worth. His sermons, deliberate, sound and spoken from the heart, were full of force and effectiveness. Simplicity and earnestness made him a strong advocate with the Father, and endeared him in the hearts of the people. He was naturally and wholly spiritualminded, and found pleasure in the contemplation of those higher principles of man's being that lift the soul from the material to things divine.
On July 5, 1876, a patriarchal blessing was bestowed upon Elder Cowley by William Mcbride, in which it was predicted that he would soon be called into the ministry, and would "travel much for the gospel's sake, both by sea and by land, even unto the ends of the earth." This prediction was further corroborated in a blessing given him by Patriarch John Smith prior to Elder Cowley's departure for his mission to the Southern States, in which blessing were also many other predictions concerning his life which were literally fulfilled. In a meeting of the Aaronic Priesthood, held in the Fourteenth Ward of Salt Lake City, also prior to his departure for the South on a mission, Elder Cowley was blessed by Bishop Thomas Taylor, who prophesied that since he had been faithful at home, the Lord would exceedingly bless him abroad. People would have dreams of his coming, and be prepared to receive him.
When set apart for his mission to Montana, Apostle Francis M. Lyman promised him that with his companion, he should have influence with prominent men whom they would meet in their travels. In Elder Cowley's call to the Apostleship, a prophecy was fulfilled uttered by Elder John W. Taylor, in a letter written to St. Louis to the former from Kentucky, March 19, 1882, in which Elder Taylor wrote: "If you are faithful, you will yet become one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in all the world." Pres. Joseph Young, when ordaining him to the office of Seventy, said: "Your name corresponds to that of an Apostle of old, and you shall perform a similar mission." Apostle Cowley lived to prove worthy of the fulfillment of all of these predictions in his life. During his first mission, Bishop Taylor's prediction that he should find a people prepared to receive him, was literally fulfilled. He was appointed to labor in Virginia, and it was in Tazewell, Bland and Smith counties where he found such a people, chiefly young men and women whose parents and grandparents had heard the gospel preached by Elder Jedediah M. Grant, in 1840. Some had embraced it, many others had become life-long friends, and the seeds sown by Elder Grant had borne fruits in the hearts of children and grandchildren one and two generations later. In two years, Elders Cowley and Barnett, and four other Elders, who were present only a short time of the two years, performed one hundred and fourteen baptisms in that field. Many children were blessed, and hundreds of people heard the testimony that the gospel is again restored to earth by holy angels.
The promise to him by Apostle Lyman was literally fulfilled, but notably in Montana where he and his companion were received by Governor Richards with the utmost hospitality. Before their leaving Helena, the governor gave them a letter of commendation to the people of the State, affirming their sincerity and honesty. In one of those lonely nights that come to all missionaries, Elder Cowley on his first mission dreamed twice of being home before the right time. He said that the horrors which he experienced in these dreams were such as to keep him ever after constantly contented in the missionary field. It was in one of these dreams, that he met Pres. John Taylor, who said to him: "Well, you are home, are you? You may prepare to go to Georgia now." Here, also, was a prophecy, for, strange to say, although Elder Cowley did not return until after the expiration of his mission of twenty-seven months, he was soon called, as we have seen, to return to the south, and this time was appointed by Pres. John Morgan to travel with Elder John W. Taylor in Georgia.
Prior to his journey to Georgia, he was appointed to conduct a company of Saints from the Southern States to southern Colorado. Several bodies of the Saints came together from Virginia, Georgia and Alabama, at Chattanooga, Tenn., which was the central starting point. At Huntington, Tenn., the company was joined by fifty-seven souls, men, women and children, from Henderson county, of the same State. These were the converts of the mysterious preacher, Robert Edge, who preached the first principles of the gospel, healing, the millennium, etc., as taught by the Saints, but who would not officiate in any of the ordinances. He said this authority, however, to officiate was upon the earth. The similarity between his teachings and those of the Elders, led his converts, whom he denied baptism, to send for the Elders. The people investigated, were convinced of the truths of the gospel, and were subsequently baptized by Elders George Carver and Hyrum Belnap. The company numbered, with additions from Mississippi, brought to Columbus, Kentucky, by Elder John M. Gibson, one hundred and seventeen souls, and arrived in Manassa in November, 1880.
Returning eastward, he was met in St. Louis by Elder John W. Taylor, whence they proceeded to west Georgia, laboring four months in a new district. Thence they went to the northern Part of the State, laboring afterwards in St. Louis with Elder George C. Parkinson. Here they hired a hall, and held regular meetings which were advertised in the papers, among which was the St. Louis "Republican," in the office of which his father had labored some thirty years before to obtain means to help himself and parents to emigrate to Utah. While in this city, Elder Cowley wrote several articles for the papers, defending the Saints and explaining the principles of the gospel.
He led a company of Saints to Manaasa, Colo., in the spring of 1882, and it was on his return east with Pres. John Morgan, that he called on David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and heard that man's testimony that he had seen an angel and the plates upon which were the sacred writings, which testimony David Whitmer maintained without variation or modification to the end of his days. Apostle Cowley was an energetic worker in the mission field, and the Saints where he has labored were greatly attached to him because of his plain manner, his simplicity and open-heartedness. The gifts of the gospel were enjoyed by him, while the power of the Spirit of God was richly manifest in his administrations among the people. With short, well-knit frame, indicating physical strength; with robust health, a clear spiritual discernment, abiding love for the people, an Israelite without guile, Apostle Cowley stood upon the threshold of a career which gave promise of great activity and results for good, for the glory and advancement of the kingdom of God.
However it appears that Elder Cowley was unable to accept continuing revelation. Matthias F. Cowley resigned from the Quorum of the Twelve on October 28, 1905 because he "maintained that the Manifesto applied to the United States only. However, the attitude of the Church was that it applied to the entire world."
His priesthood was suspended May 11, 1911.
Happily, he received a restoration of blessings April 3, 1936 He died four years later June 16, 1940 in full fellowship with the Church at Salt Lake City, Utah.