John Allen Bagley
Missionary, Prominent Attorney, Civil Engineer, Family Man, Accidental Addict

John Allen Bagley, BYA Class of 1882
John Allen Bagley, Class of 1882

Brigham Young Academy High School
Class of 1882

John Allen Bagley, a native of Utah and honor graduate of the Brigham Young Academy high school Class of 1882, was elected Attorney General of the State of Idaho and City Attorney for Montpelier, Idaho.

He had been born in Draper, Utah, near Salt Lake City, on May 16, 1862. That was the day the State of Tennessee was officially admitted to the Confederate States of America.

John A. was a son of John Grant Bagley and Margaret Mary Jane Allen Bagley. John G. Bagley had been born April 30, 1836 in New Brunswick, Canada. His wife, Mary was born in Kentucky in 1844, and was reputed to be a descendant of Ethan Allan. Mary and President Ulysses S. Grant were cousins.

John Grant Bagley moved to Salt Lake City in 1852 and was engaged in the timber business most of his life. He continued in that line until 1864, when he moved to Bear Lake County, Idaho. There he acquired a tract of land which he improved, developed and operated.

On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate forces to General Ulysses S. Grant in the town of Appomattox, Virginia. John A. Bagley was almost 3 years old.

Timberman John G. Bagley was always active in the affairs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and warmly interested in all its good works. His wife, Mary, died in September 1916. John G. Bagley retired and lived in Montpelier. He died on February 10, 1923 in Dingle, Idaho, and was buried in Montpelier.

Montpelier, Idaho circa 1910
Montpelier, Idaho circa 1910

John A. Bagley, BYA Class of 1882, was educated in the district schools of Bear Lake County. When John A. was in his teen years, he went to Utah to continue his education, where he attended Brigham Young Academy in Provo. While attending school in Provo, he met Reed Smoot, Class of 1880, who would become a lifelong friend. In later years, John A. and Reed would serve in government together. One of John’s mentors at the Academy was Principal Karl G. Maeser, who encouraged him to study law. Then twenty years old, he graduated with honors in the BYA Class of 1882.

On August 2, 1883, John A. Bagley married Sarah E. Lawson, and they became the parents of one son, L. Loraine Bagley, born on May 7, 1884. Mrs. Sarah Bagley died in March, 1885.

In 1886 he went to Ann Arbor, Michigan and graduated in law and civil engineering in 1888 from the University of Michigan. He returned to Idaho and launched a career practicing law, while devoting some time to civil engineering.

On August 15, 1888, Mr. Bagley married a second wife, Nina Furrow, and they became the parents of nine children: Van Horn, Moretta, Almorean, Hawley, Lucille and Nina B.; and three children who died in infancy.

The Bagleys lived in a spacious home in Montpelier decorated with beautiful murals painted in the children's playroom. John A. spent seven years building the three-story home, including twenty-one rooms and a finished attic, all lighted by electricity and heated by furnaces, completing it in 1893. At the time, it was one of the largest and most imposing homes in the city. It is located at 155 North 5th Street in Montpelier, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

On August 13, 1896, one of the most infamous bank robberies in Idaho history took place at the Bank of Montpelier. It was masterminded by Butch Cassidy and some of his "wild bunch" -- Elzy Lay, Bob Meeks & Harvey Logan. Three of them on horseback rode into town. Their timing was good; the bank was cash rich. Most everyone in Bear Lake County was putting up hay when the cowboys tied their horses to a hitching post near the bank.

The outlaws got away with a thousand dollars in gold and silver coins, and $6,100 in greenbacks. In just 5 minutes the daring daylight robbery was over, and the outlaws disappeared into a cloud of dust.

Bank President G. C. Gray ran from the building yelling “Robbery! Robbery!” Deputy Sheriff Fred Cruikshank was first on the scene but there wasn’t a horse in sight so he took off on a bicycle.

City Prosecutor John A. Bagley grabbed his horse and followed the Deputy. They closed in the outlaws just enough to determine that they were trying to escape to Wyoming. Bob Meeks was arrested in Wyoming and transported to the Bear Lake County Jail where he stood trial and was convicted for the crime. Butch Cassidy, Elzy Lay and Harvey Logan were never arrested for the robbery.

John A. Bagley served as city attorney of Montpelier for a number of years, at a salary of twenty-five dollars per year. He was a partner of Judge Alfred Budge in Montpelier for several years, and also maintained offices in Paris, Idaho for a considerable time.

In 1903-05 Mr. Bagley was elected and served as Attorney General of Idaho, bringing his ability and legal knowledge to bear on the duties of that important office. He was the first member of the LDS Church to be elected to a state-wide office in Idaho.

His son, L. Loraine Bagley, was private secretary to his father while holding the office of Attorney General. Mrs. Nina Bagley died November 11, 1905.

In addition to carrying on his law practice in Montpelier, he also maintained an office at Salt Lake City, of which his son, Loraine, took charge.

John A. Bagley Home in Montpelier, Idaho
John A. Bagley Home in Montpelier, Idaho

In July of 1906, George W. Bartch, Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, resigned from that position and announced the formation of a new law firm, Bartch, Bagley & Leckie, in Salt Lake City. The other two prominent partners were John A. Bagley of Idaho, and A. E. L. Leckie of Washington, D.C. Their offices opened about August 15, 1906. Their clients included many large and successful corporations.

Brigham Young Monument - Temple Square
Brigham Young Statue near Temple Square

John A. Bagley had his Salt Lake City law office in a tall bank building. It was located on the same corner across from Temple Square from where a famous statue of Brigham Young stands. The statue stands facing away from the Temple, with his hand outstretched -- directly at his law office window. When his grandchildren would go to visit him, John A. would tell them, "You see, I can't do anything wrong because Brigham Young is watching me!"

According to family sources, John A. had taken another wife, Mary Matilda Peterson, in polygamy before Nina’s passing. After Nina died, they were legally married on January 10, 1907 in Chicago, Illinois. Mary Matilda Peterson was a resident of Bear Lake County, and to this union four children were born, namely: Grant, John A., Jr., Major, and Virginia. Mary Matilda Peterson Bagley died in October 1918, during the terrible influenza epidemic.

At some point, John married a woman named “Minnie” somewhere outside of Montpelier and when she arrived at his home there, she turned around and walked out! No one in the family knew anything more about her.

Finally, John married again, this time to Margaret Amanda Anderson, on July 27, 1927, in Denver, Colorado. She had been born on December 14, 1861 in Boone, Kentucky. She died on January 12, 1954 at the age of 93.

Politically Mr. Bagley was a lifelong Republican, and an intimate friend of Senator William E. Borah of Idaho and Senator Reed Smoot of Utah. He was an active worker on behalf of his party. In church affairs he was no less active, and filled a two-year mission in the Northwestern States Mission for the advancement of the work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He was the first man from Southeastern Idaho to enter an eastern university, and he was generally regarded as one of the most cultured and capable lawyers who practiced at the bar of Idaho and of Utah during his lifetime.

He died October 9, 1941 in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the age of 79. His obituary in the Salt Lake Telegram lists Margaret Amanda Bagley, as his surviving widow. John A. Bagley is buried in Montpelier, Idaho.

Thanks to History of Idaho: The Gem of the Mountains, James Henry Hawley, 1920, pp. 430-433, and to members of the Bagley family.

John Allen Bagley, Prominent Western Attorney

Viewing His Life With Perspective

Here is an excerpt from a chapter written by Marty Ann Halverson, a great grand-daughter of John Allen Bagley:

John Allen Bagley began drinking socially during his service as Attorney General of Idaho, in 1902. He was a big fish in a little pond, and keenly aware of it.

Although he was highly respected and admired in Idaho, Idaho was considered a primitive and rough place in the larger context of the United States. John was associating with educated and privileged society from the east, probably a little intimidating for a young man of humble, pioneer stock.

It is easy to imagine the temptations he faced as a naive Mormon boy from Montpelier. He could not have known that alcoholism is a disease and that for an alcoholic "social drinking" is impossible. He developed an addiction to wine.

Modern medicine indicates that the same gene is responsible for migraine headaches, motion sickness, depression and alcoholism. A person with that gene can suffer from any or all of these problems.

Descendants of John Allen Bagley should realize that a tendency to addiction could be genetic. Did John suffer from depression as well? The circumstances of tragic death and sorrow during his life suggest that possibility.

Some members of the family remember hearing rumors that John used Laudanum, as well. Laudanum was a popular drug at the time, recommended by doctors as a pain killer, sleeping medicine and anti-depressant.

Laudanum was self-administered, cut from a brick the size and texture of a pound of butter, and then diluted or "cut" with a small amount of alcohol.

Laudanum is a solution containing morphine, prepared from opium. Later, a milder but similar solution became Paregoric, a regulated medication.

If John did use this drug, perhaps for migraine headaches, it is likely he became addicted to it. Alcohol and Laudanum would actually contribute to the very conditions they supposedly cured.

John's grandchildren had a very different experience with him than those who knew him well as a younger man. Marie Bagley was afraid of him. Gerald Bagley recalled that "he smelled funny," and Melvin Bagley said his father, Hawley, had to "carry Grandpa home from bars when he was drunk. He seemed cold and uninterested in us kids."

Some of his grandchildren thought he was mean, and that he became frightening and angry when their father Hawley would not bring him wine. John's choices probably seemed justifiable to him in the beginning, yet the consequences of those choices may have rendered him unable to escape.

Alcohol and drug addiction, even if entered into innocently, could certainly have changed John's personality.

Marjorie Turner, another granddaughter, said her brothers Stuart and Ben had opposite memories of John Allen. His son Loraine gave him work in his Salt Lake law office. Loraine's son, Ben, remembered his grandfather as "almost a bum, begging clients for quarters."

The other son, Stuart, remembered John A. as always looking dapper in a starched white shirt and suspenders. John apparently struck people in very different ways.

John Allen Bagley has been described as poetic, brilliant, honorable, eloquent, warm, capable and loyal to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He has also been described as a boozer, womanizer, "scheming backroom politician," and "a damned drunk."

The real man was probably neither as good or as bad as he is portrayed. Like most of us, he was most likely somewhere in between.

His life should be viewed with perspective, balancing the admirable qualities with the objectionable details, tempering our judgment with our personal shortcomings, appreciating his worthy contributions and perhaps pondering his mistakes.

It's fun to play the devil's advocate. I think there's something heroic in just about everybody when you know get to know them, warts and all.


John Allen Bagley, BYA Class of 1882

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