Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
John R. Winder John R. (Rex) Winder

1821 - 1910

  • Born 1821 Biddenden, England
  • Married Ellen Walters 1845; ten children
  • Second Counselor to Presiding Bishop 1887
  • First Counselor to Joseph F. Smith 1901-10
  • Died 1910 Salt Lake City, Utah

Note: The following biographical sketch of President John Rex Winder is graciously provided to Grampa Bill by Brother Michael H. Winder, a descendant of President Winder. Those wishing a more detailed biography of President Winder are referred to Horizon Books which has published Brother Winder's definitive reference book on the life of this unique man.

    During the months following President [George Q.] Cannon's death, Lorenzo Snow sought to reorganize the First Presidency.  He desired to have Joseph F. Smith, now President of the Quorum of the Twelve, make the switch to first counselor, and for the position of second counselor a more junior apostle, Elder Rudger Clawson, 44, was chosen. This new Presidency was sustained in the general conference held on October 6, 1901, but before the counselors could be set apart in their new assignments, Lorenzo Snow suddenly passed away. It was only four days after the conference, October 10, 1901, when the 87 year-old President was called home.

    Merely one week after Snow's death, on October 17, 1901, a new presidency was organized in the Salt Lake Temple. President Joseph F. Smith was ordained the sixth president of the Church.  He called 79 year-old John R. Winder of the Presiding Bishopric as his first counselor, and Anthon H. Lund, a native of Denmark and apostle since 1889, as his second counselor. Regarding the selection of his counselors, President Smith said, "I had thought of others but whenever I came to the point of making a selection, these brethren who were chosen came into my mind, and I could not get away from them." He noted that he had "felt very warmly" towards Elder Rudger Clawson, "but these my counselors were ever before me, and I feel that they were chosen of the Lord."

    John Rex Winder was born on December 11, 1821 in Biddenden, Kent County, England to Richard and Sophia Collins Winder.  He was named after an elder brother who had died only two years prior at the young age of four.  The Winder family had been prominent in the small village since John's great-grandfather, Sir William Winder, had married into one of Biddenden's distinguished gentry families. The family was taught to read and write, the children developed a good farming work ethic, and they learned of God. It was here as a small boy that John R. Winder first turned to his Father in Heaven:

    I was sent out into the fields to keep the birds off the grain, and it was a very lonely spot, surrounded with woods.  Being entirely alone, I was somewhat fearful, and I remember that I was impressed to kneel down in the brush and pray to the Lord that His angels might watch over and protect me from harm.  I remember now just as well as I see your faces, that that was the end of my fear. I also think that that was the beginning of my success in life. Although that spot is many thousand miles distant, and it is more than seventy years ago, I could walk straight to that very spot where I knelt down, and where I received that blessing.
    At the age of twenty, young John R. Winder struck out on his own in bustling Victorian London. He secured a position at the West End Shoe and Grocery Store where he developed his vocation as a shoe and leather man.  He immediately made a good impression with his energy and outgoing personality. "I kept steadily at work at any and every honorable task that came my way," he noted. It was here that he met Ellen Walters, whom he married in 1845. Shortly thereafter, Winder was approached by a Mr. Collinson who recruited him to manage his boot and shoe store in Liverpool. While working in this bustling port city an incident occurred which would change his life:
I was in the store one day, and a person had torn up a letter into very small fragments and thrown it on the floor. I was impressed to pick up a small piece of it, and on that piece of paper were the two words, "Latter-day Saint." I looked at it and wondered what it meant. I never had heard of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, or Joseph Smith, or anything of the kind. I was impressed to take it over and ask the man who was at the desk what it meant. He happened to be a Latter-day Saint, and he went on and told me what it meant and where these people were meeting in Liverpool, and I attended their meetings.
    After hearing the sermon of Elder Orson Spencer, John R. Winder was convinced of the truth and desired baptism.  Brother Winder actively served in his branch, as a local missionary, and as secretary in the Liverpool Conference.

      The Winder family, like many British Saints of the day, desired to gather to Zion and join the main body of the Church in the Salt Lake Valley.  The inheritance Ellen acquired from the death of her father provided the means for the young family to fulfill that dream.  In February 1853 they boarded the packet ship Elvira Owen and set sail across the stormy North Atlantic. Accompanying them on the journey to America was their four-year old son, twin baby daughters, and a young Irish girl whom they had practically adopted.  On this tumultuous voyage, John R. Winder only narrowly escaped a watery grave:

    It was discovered that smallpox was on board, a child infected with the malady being among the ship's passengers and in the apartment next to mine. I was the first to discover it, and one of the first among five who came down with the disease, and had to be quarantined in a little house built on deck for that purpose. This was a trying time both to me and my wife, who was left without my assistance to care for her twin babies, which was no small task on shipboard. To add to our anxiety, one of the patients, lying next to me, a young brother named William Jones, died a few days later, about nine o'clock in the evening, and soon the sailors came and took the body out and cast it into the sea. I heard them say, 'We will have him next,' meaning me, but I had faith that I would recover and get to Zion, and in due time my faith was confirmed. There was but one death during the voyage.

    After arriving in New Orleans, the immigrants boarded the steamboat James Rob and journeyed up the Mississippi to St. Louis. From there the party boarded another craft and continued on to Keokuk, Iowa, where the Mormon wagon trains were outfitting that year. They crossed the plains in the Joseph W. Young Company, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley October 10, 1853.  John R. Winder served as a captain of fifty on that overland trek and helped his flock navigate through dust storms, quick sand, mountain passes and Indian encounters.

    Arriving in the "bootstrap economy" of pioneer Utah, Winder was pleased to see that his vocation was in demand. "Being an experienced shoe and leather man," he said, "I engaged, soon after my arrival, in the manufacture of saddles, boots and shoes, and in the conduct of a tannery." His first tannery was operated with Samuel Mulliner, and later partners included money king and future Salt Lake mayor William Jennings, another future mayor Feramorz Little, and President Brigham Young. The tanneries all were quite prosperous and generated a hefty return for the partners. "He was a very industrious man," said George Winder of his grandfather, "extremely thrifty, and a smart investor."

    John R. Winder eventually came to be regarded as one of the most brilliant financial minds in the American West and contributed his talents to dozens of corporate boards. "He succeeded as a butcher," explained Frank Y. Taylor, "attained prominence as a banker, and was interested in the leading industrial, manufacturing, and mercantile institutions of our state." John R. Winder helped to steer the Church out of debt, and during the intense anti-polygamy raids, all of the Church's property was placed in his name to protect it. "His good judgement was such that people believed in and had confidence in him," it was said. The people "felt that their money was safely invested as long as he had a voice in the management of the business."

    Heber J. Grant, himself an extraordinary businessman, declared, "John R. Winder has done more for me in the hours of deep distress and financial difficulty than any other man." Brother Winder was a founder of several businesses, including Winder Dairy, which six generations later still remains family owned and operated.

    When Joseph F. Smith was praying about whom to select as his first counselor, it was a time when the Church was struggling to get back on their feet financially and buoy the confidence of the members and the public. When Anthon Lund learned of John R. Winder's call he replied to President Smith, "I thought he was a conservative man and being as such he would help to continue the confidence of the people in money matters." It was true, and tithing donations continued to increase dramatically while President Winder was in the First Presidency, resulting in the Church becoming debt-free at last in 1907.

    John R. Winder never allowed his financial successes to corrupt him with greed, but rather, he allowed his resources to bless the less fortunate. "President Winder's charities were many," it was said, "but were best known among the poor, the widow, and the orphan." One anecdote is about a widow, who was sitting around the hearth with a large family on Christmas Eve. Her anxious children were asking their poor mother what they were to receive for Christmas. "I was almost in despair," she said, "when in an answer to a knock at the door, in walked Brother Winder loaded down with everything to make us happy... a veritable Santa Claus." The kindness of this spiritual giant was legion, and it was said that "those who most needed his sympathy and help, received it."

    Brother Winder took an active interest in civic affairs. "We count him among the strong and capable that have assisted in the upbuilding and development of our great commonwealth," declared Apostle John Henry Smith.  John R. Winder began to shine early on in his Utah career through activity in the territorial militia, the Nauvoo Legion. When Johnston's Army was sent to Ainvade" Utah in 1857, Captain Winder was dispatched to participate in the guerilla warfare that ground the advancing U.S. troops to a halt on the high plains of Wyoming.  He was then given the important assignment of guarding Echo Canyon throughout the winter to keep the army out, sometimes with only a few troops at his disposal.  This often required some tremendous creativity:

    Captain Winder seemed especially fearful that the enemy would realize how few men actually guarded the canyon. One night, when he perhaps sensed that they were being watched from a distance, Winder ordered the small detachment to march around and around huge bonfires. With their shadows cast upon the steep canyon walls and a seemingly continuous stream of soldiers appearing, an illusion was made that there were many more soldiers in the canyon than there actually were. Army scouts reported to their leaders that thousands of soldiers guarded the narrow passage way. This report, combined with deep snows that soon fell, caused the army to remain in place throughout the winter.

    Captain Winder later became Lieutenant-Colonel Winder, and then Adjutant General Winder during the Black Hawk Indian War of 1865-67. He served as the chief aid to General Daniel H. Wells, and after the war's conclusion, Winder made up the accounts of the expenses of the war and submitted the report to Congress. "He was unselfish in his devotion to the people," it was said, and he was rewarded by becoming a bodyguard and traveling companion to President Brigham Young. Governor Heber M. Wells remarked:

Although in rank as an officer in the Territorial Militia he was designated as Colonel, in reality in that greater service to which he devoted his life... the service of God... he was a General, and in my opinion there are few greater in all the armies of the Lord.
    Elder Winder quickly rose to prominence in the community after his notable military service. The famed dairyman was the "Father of the Utah State Fair," producing excellent crops and breeding prize-winning livestock at his beloved Poplar Farm, which was located a few miles south of the city. He worked for many years with Wilford Woodruff as a director of the Utah Agricultural and Manufacturing Society and was one of the first in the West to import Jersey cattle. He served Salt Lake City as a city councilman, assessor and collector, and as city watermaster.

    On one occasion, a poor but worthy widow saved up her money to pay her taxes, but to her surprise she did not receive her tax notice. After inquiring about the missing notice, she discovered that her taxes had been paid. "This was while Brother Winder was assessor and collector," it was remembered, "and instead of sending the poor widow her notice, he paid the taxes himself."

    Joseph F. Smith became acquainted with John R. Winder in the militia, and later when both served on the city council together. The future Church president received some very positive impressions of his colleague:

Speaking of his civil service and business connections, I have only to say this, that President John R. Winder never, to my knowledge, ever sought honors, or office, or business.  He was so endowed, so talented and gifted that business, and office, and honors were ever in search of him. . . . Heaven itself could scarcely be truer to anything than President Winder was true to his convictions, to his friends, and to the discharge of the duty that was imposed upon him.
    John R. Winder served as the territorial chairman of the Mormon People's Party and was a pivotal figure in the process that ended Utah's "unique" political arrangement, bringing about the "Americanization" of political parties in Utah.  He served as a delegate to several state constitutional conventions and rejoiced when the Beehive State was finally admitted into the Union.  "I know no better man than John R. Winder," exclaimed long-time friend and Utah's first governor, Heber M. Wells.

    Such energies did not escape the notice of President John Taylor and the other leading Church leaders, who soon invited Brother Winder to join the ranks of the general authorities. By 1887, Winder had served as the president of his seventies quorum, acting bishop of the Salt Lake Fourteenth Ward, and for the prior fourteen years as a member of the Salt Lake Stake High Council. His record in each of these capacities was sterling: "I have loved him because of his integrity," declared stake president Angus M. Cannon, "his unswerving integrity in maintaining the right, and his anxiety to have everything go for the glory of the Lord."  On April 8, 1887, 65 year-old John R. Winder was called to serve as the second counselor to Presiding Bishop William B. Preston. He would serve as a faithful counselor to Bishop Preston from 1887-1901.

    During this time, Bishop Winder helped the Church through "the Raid," a time of intense persecution brought on by the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 and other federal legislation which imposed harsh punishments on plural families and the Church.  He heroically saved Joseph F. Smith from persistent federal marshals on one occasion, generously posted bail for leaders arrested for "unlawful cohabitation," and at many meetings was the only member of the Presiding Bishopric in attendance due to the others being in hiding. Bishop Winder's Poplar Farm, conveniently located several miles south of the city, was a frequent asylum for John Taylor, who used it as a temporary "Church headquarters" at times. "During the dark days of persecution it was my pleasure to assist in shielding him when pursued by his enemies," Winder later wrote. President Taylor later died in hiding in Kaysville, and was succeeded by Wilford Woodruff.

    "One morning during the dark days of persecution," related Bishop Winder, "I met Pres. Woodruff and asked him how he was feeling. 'Pretty well,' he said, 'only I did not get much rest during the past night. I was wrestling with the Lord all night.'" Winder continues his narrative, "Handing me some sheets of paper, he said, 'And this is the result of my wrestling' " John R. Winder, Charles W. Penrose, and George Reynolds were then asked to review and edit the 510-word manuscript of the vision and arrange it for publication. The result was the Manifesto of 1890, which announced the end of the official practice of plural marriage.

    Later that decade, Bishop Winder greatly impressed fellow Church authorities when he was able to complete the interior of the Salt Lake Temple within one year of laying the capstone. Wilford Woodruff had called him to oversee this "herculean task," one the architects and experts predicted could not be done. Yet Bishop Winder insisted, "It can be done; it shall be done." He later recalled one occasion where these feelings of determination were particularly strong:

    I had heard that some of the brethren at work here said it could not be done; so I called them together in that room. There were 250 men. I was standing in there talking to them and telling them that if there was a man among them that felt that this work could not be accomplished, let him please get his pay and go to work somewhere else. I did not know that President Woodruff was in the house, but it appears that he stood right behind a curtain that was up there, and heard what I said, and throwing aside the curtain he said, "That's right; the work has got to be done, and if there is anybody here that thinks it can't be done, let him leave."
    At the dedication of the Temple, President Joseph F. Smith remarked that "no other person could there be more praise and credit attached than to John R. Winder, for his faith and indomitable will in pressing forward this work." Lorenzo Snow was soon called as temple president and John R. Winder was asked to be his first assistant. Upon receiving the call from President Woodruff, Bishop Winder remarked that he did not feel qualified for such an honor. "Never mind," said the President, "I will appoint you and the Lord will qualify you." He would serve in the temple presidency for the remainder of his life.

    John Rex Winder was the patriarch of a large family. As was mentioned, he married Ellen Walters in London in 1845. Once in Salt Lake, he observed the doctrine of plural marriage by wedding Hannah Thompson (1855) and Elizabeth Parker (1857). Years later, after becoming a widower, he married Maria Burnham (1893). These faithful women bore him twenty children, which has resulted in a numerous posterity.

    When the call came to John R. Winder to serve as President Smith's first counselor, there was initial surprise expressed because he was not one of the apostles. This had not been done since 1856, when Brigham Young called Daniel H. Wells to be a counselor. "President Joseph F. Smith sprung upon this people one of the greatest surprises they ever had," said George Taylor, "but it was met with the heartiest response of anything, I think, that was ever presented to this people." The members of the Church had long been aware of President Winder's faithfulness, industry, and integrity. In all fronts... domestic, military, civic, business, political and ecclesiastical... John R. Winder had earned the confidence of the people.

    The First Presidency of Presidents Smith, Winder, and Lund was an active one. They fought vigorously for the reputation of the Church when the U.S. Senate refused to seat Apostle-Senator Reed Smoot. President Winder answered the accusations of critics in a stirring eight-page article printed in The National Magazine.  Entitled "Mormonism Not A Menace," Winder forcibly sets forth the patriotism, doctrines, purposes, and achievements of the Latter-day Saints.

    This important First Presidency also answered the rising issue of Darwinism by issuing an official proclamation in 1909 entitled "The Origin of Man." They remind the Saints that ideas of the original human having been developed from lower orders of animal creations are simply "the theories of men," and boldly reaffirm that "man is the child of God."

    John R. Winder, being significantly older than his brethren, was often the one to oversee affairs at home while President Joseph F. Smith was away. During this time, President Smith became the first sitting president of the Church to visit the Saints in Europe, and also visited many Church history sites, including dedicating the monument at Joseph Smith's birthplace in Vermont.

    "It is a glorious work that we are engaged in;" President Winder reminded the Saints, "may we never tire of it, but always be willing and faithful in the discharge of every duty that is required of us." President Winder bore a strong testimony: "This is His work, and His hand is stretched forth, and He will control all these matters to bring about the best results."

    John R. Winder worked tirelessly for the Kingdom until the day he died.  "My life has been a very busy one, a fact to which I believe I owe much of my longevity and present good health, and spirits," he told the Saints.  "It is far better to wear out than to rust out, and my experiences and observation teach me that those who work, if they avoid excesses and live temperately, will outlive those who shirk." He passed away on March 27, 1910 at the venerable age of 88. At President Winder's funeral, Joseph F. Smith mourned the loss of his dear friend, confidant, and beloved first counselor. "If there is any man of his acquaintance who loves him more than I do," said President Smith, "God bless that man."

    Winder, Michael K., John R. Winder: Member of the First Presidency, Pioneer, Temple Builder, Dairyman, (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 1999)
    Riter, W. W., et. al., Birthday Reception In Honor of President John R. Winder on the Eighty- second Anniversary of His Birth, (Salt Lake City: 1903) LDS Church Archives
    Clark, James R., ed., Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 6 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75).

Hosted by The Dimension's Edge