The LeBaron Family and The Patriarchal Keys

“It is true that the LeBaron Brothers have committed a lot of crimes, but so did the sons of Jacob”, wrote Ross LeBaron a few years after the death of his brother Ervil [1]. In Ross LeBaron’s perspective, even in the worst actions taken by his brother, the LeBarons would fit the ancient Israelite narrative of a troubled but chosen family.

Ross Wesley LeBaron, on trial in the Salt Lake City district court on charges of conspiring to promote plural marriage, Sept. 29, 1944. | Image: AP Photo.

From his father Alma Dayer LeBaron, Ross learned the belief that his family was the recipient of a secret priesthood line coming from Joseph Smith through Benjamin F. Johnson (1818-1905) and kept secret from the world and even from Mormondom.

Johnson was close enough to Joseph Smith to administer him enemas in 1839 and to be given power of attorney by the Prophet in 1843. [2] As one of the youngest members of the original Council of Fifty, Johnson outlived all men chosen to be part of Joseph Smith’s theocratic kingdom, a fact some of the LeBarons interpreted as significant of Johnsons’s heirship of the Mormon Prophet.

More importantly, Ross LeBaron believed Benjamin F. Johnson was not only an adoptive son of Joseph Smith but had been sealed to the Prophet as his firstborn. [3] In the late 1980’s, Ross LeBaron would also state on his radio show that Benjamin F. Johnson was an Ephraimite who descended from John the Revelator, and that the LeBarons were descendants of Jesus through Mary Magdalene.

Joseph Smith had married Almira and Delcina Johnson, Benjamin F. Johnson’s sisters. When Smith asked Benjamin F. Johnson for his 16-year old sister Esther, Johnson replied that she was already engaged to David T. LeBaron (Johnson’s first wife’s brother). According to Johnson’s autobiography, Joseph Smith answered:

Well, let them marry. It will all come right. [4]

Joseph Smith allegedly instructed Benjamin F. Johnson to place in Esther’s lineage all authority he had or would yet receive. Through the adoption of Benjamin F. Johnson as the firstborn son of Joseph Smith, and the placing of priesthood keys into the offspring of Esther Johnson LeBaron, the LeBarons had become the chosen descendants of the Prophet.

Important in this theological puzzle of priesthood lineages was also the belief held by Ross LeBaron that Joseph Smith was the third member of the Godhead.

Alma Dayer LeBaron (1886-1951), Benjamin F. Johnson’s grandson, instructed Ross to obtain revelation about the priesthood line carried by his family. In 1908, 18-year old Alma Dayer had received from Johnson the promise of the patriarchal “mantle”. As recounted by his daughter Esther LeBaron Spencer, Dayer was told by Johnson that:

When I die, my mantle will fall upon you, even as the mantle of Elijah fell upon Elisha, when he ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire. [5]

Although Alma Dayer LeBaron left no first-hand account of his beliefs, Fundamentalist leader Margarito Bautista, stated that the LeBaron brothers’ priesthood claim was nothing new to him but that he had heard it from Dayer.

His sons Ervil and Joel LeBaron, while serving full-time missions in Mexico, fully embraced Mormon Fundamentalism and were excommunicated from the LDS Church in 1944. It took them several years to convert to their father’s views on a secret priesthood carried by the LeBaron family.

On 08 May 1950, “I told my father’, wrote Ross LeBaron, “that I knew he was the head patriarch of the earth”. He then requested a patriarchal blessing. Given by his father inside a car [6], the blessing also included an ordination:

In blessing me he said “And now I confer upon you all keys, rights and authority of the patriarchal order of priesthood”.

Later that month, Ross LeBaron received more instructions from Dayer:

He then instructed me not to lay anything I did to him, that it was to be independent of him. He also warned me not to spend all my time at it, lest I become like my brother Ben [who suffered from mental problems].

Ross LeBaron received a revelation on 03 April 1951 to have his priesthood keys confirmed by Joseph Musser, who in precarious health presided over the Council of Friends:

Thus saith the Lord; Go unto my servant Joseph W. Musser and have your patriarchal keys which you received from your father confirmed: for he is the only man among the Fundamentalists that has sufficient authority to do so; for he has received his second anointings and holds the fullness of the priesthood. [7] [Emphasis added]

Although the revelation acknowledges Joseph Musser as God’s “servant” with “sufficient authority” for the work needed, Musser’s most important title within the Fundamentalist community is not mentioned at all. Musser was a “High Priest Apostle and Patriarch to all the world”, as per ordination by Lorin C. Wooley in 1929. What matters, according to the voice of the Lord received by LeBaron, was that Musser had had his second anointings, and therefore possessed “the fulness of the priesthood”. This aspect of the revelation might be telling of LeBaron’s criticism of the Fundamentalist Priesthood Council, as well as his own search of the Mormon temple rituals. [8]

On the same day the revelation was received, LeBaron was successful in scheduling a visit to Musser, who – as per LeBaron`s account – also wanted to meet him. LeBaron recounts:

As I entered the room he spoke first, saying, “You have had a revelation”.

“Yes”, I answered. “And I have come to honor you as Abraham honored Melchizedek”. [Emphasis added]

After LeBaron explained his claim to be the patriarchal heir of Joseph Smith, Musser said “That is a mighty high claim” to which LeBaron agreed.

Bro. Musser said in a firm voice that thrilled and penetrated my soul, “I confirm this”.

For LeBaron, the event meant the end of an era:

Thus ended the times of the Gentiles.

LeBaron would eventually see himself as the main actor at the end of the Times of the Gentiles, fulfilling a divine mission his family had been prepared to, as he foresaw the beginning of a new patriarchal age, the Times of Israel.


[1] Ross LeBaron. Priesthood Expounded, 1985.

Ervil LeBaron died in 1981.

[2] “Power of Attorney to Benjamin F. Johnson, 10 April 1843,” p. 359, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[3] Later in life, Ross LeBaron recounted that in the eighth grade, a woman told him that she “had seen the genealogy family group sheets for the family of the Prophet Joseph Smith” in the Salt Lake Temple and “they had indicat­ed that Benjamin F. Johnson was sealed to Joseph Smith as his Firstborn son”. Thomas A. Green. The History of Ross Wesley LeBaron, 1995, p. 4.

Records of ordinances performed in the Nauvoo temple in January 1846 show the practice of appointing birthright sons and daughters. See Anderson & Bergera. The Nauvoo Endowment Companies. Signature, 2005, pp. 410, 492 and 517. Later in LDS practice, an “heir” or “heiress” was the first person to have joined the Church and/or responsible for temple work on behalf of his/her family. See LDS Temple Records Genealogy – Family Search Wiki.

[4] Benjamin F. Johnson. My Life’s Review, p. 94.

[5] Esther L. Spencer. The Mormon Mystery: the 3rd Man. Peace Publishing, Chihuahua, 1992, p. viii.

[6] Thomas A. Green. The History of Ross Wesley LeBaron, 1995, p. 10.

[7] Ross Wesley LeBaron. “Behold, I say unto you: THE REDEMPTION OF ZION must needs come by power…” [The Yellow Book]. The Church of the First-born. [circa 1962], p. 10.

[8] On the Thanksgiving Day of 1899, Joseph Musser and his then only wife Rose Selms Borquist, by invitation of Church President Lorenzo Snow, received their “Higher Anointings” in the Salt Lake Temple. “We literally spent a few hours as in heaven mid the glorious  calm and quiet of our holy surroundings. We were near the Lord and Oh! How happy!”. Joseph W, Musser Journal, p. 32. Quoted by Martha Sontag Bradley. Kidnapped from that Land: the government raids on the Short Creek polygamist. University of Utah, 1993, p. 23.

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