Jonathan Golden Kimball, LDS Church general authority, is best known as one of the most colorful and humorous folk heroes in Mormon history. Born 26 June 1853 in Salt Lake City to Christeen Golden and Heber C. Kimball, J. Golden was part of the first generation of Mormons to be born in Utah after the move west in 1847, and as one of sixty-five children fathered by Heber C. Kimball, he knew the workings of pioneer Utah and Mormon polygamy firsthand.
That he was called to be an LDS Church general authority as a member of the First Council of Seventy in 1892 was, as he humorously admitted, because of his father: "Some people say a person receives a position in this church through revelation, and others say they get it through inspiration, but I say they get it through relation. If I hadn't been related to Heber C. Kimball I wouldn't have been a damn thing in this church." But J. Golden was only partially right. His father had died in 1868 and there were plenty of other sons who could have been selected.
After his father died, Golden, only fifteen but the oldest of three children, left school and became a mule driver while is mother sewed for ZCMI and kept boarders. As a mule skinner, Kimball perfected his famous swearing to an art. In 1876 he and his brother Elias took up a ranch in Meadowville in Rich County where, according to Golden, they had nine months winter and three months late fall. While living in Rich County, he helped cut timber during the winter for use in the construction of the Logan Temple and also worked for a time as superintendent of a lumber mill.
During the summer of 1881, the German-born educator Karl G. Maeser visited Meadowville and with an electrifying speech persuaded the twenty-eight-year-old Golden and his brother Elias to leave the ranch and attend Brigham Young Academy in Provo. That decision proved to be a turning point in Golden's life. After two years of school, he was called as a missionary to the southern states, where he served for two years, until 1885. Golden distinguished himself as a missionary and six years later, in 1892, he was called to return to the southern states, this time as president of the mission. While serving as mission president, he was called to the Council of Seventy.
During the six years between the two missions, Kimball returned to ranching in the Bear Lake Valley and married Jennie Knowlton, a daughter of John Q. and Ellen Smith Knowlton. Several months after their marriage in 1887, the Kimballs moved to Logan. They moved to Salt Lake City in 1895. They had six children, three boys and three girls.
During his forty-six years as a Mormon general authority, Kimball gave hundreds of sermons and visited practically every Mormon community in the Intermountain West. His humor, wit, sprinkling of "damns" and "hells" in his speeches, and unsanctimonious common touch made Kimball one of the most beloved leaders in the history of the Mormon Church. As Wallace Stegner recorded in Mormon Country: "J. Golden was the one high dignitary who could keep any audience from sleep. They called him the Will Rogers of the Church. That was a mistake. He should never have been compared with anyone, because J. Golden was an original. Throughout the Mormon Country he is already a legend. Anecdotes and stories float through every Mormon hamlet, and there is even a kind of fraternity of storytellers specializing in J. Golden stories. But like all originals, he defies transcription. He was himself, no less, no more, and nobody knew it better than he."
J. Golden Kimball died on 2 September 1938 at the age of seventy-five when he was thrown from the back seat of a car in which he was riding when it went out of control and crashed into an embankment in the Nevada desert fifty miles east of Reno.
See: Thomas E. Cheney, The Golden Legacy: A Folk History of J. Golden Kimball (1979); Claude Richards, J. Golden Kimball: The Story of a Unique Personality (1966); Wallace Stegner, Mormon Country (1942); and Austin and Alta Fife, Saints of Sage & Saddle (1956).
Allan Kent Powell