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
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
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
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.