Mo: The Life and Times of Morris K. Udall

Mo: The Life and Times of Morris K. Udall

by Donald W. Carson, James W. Johnson

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Everybody liked Mo. Throughout his political life— and especially during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976— thousands of people were drawn to Arizona congressman Morris K. Udall by his humor, humanity, and courage. This biography traces the remarkable career of the candidate who was "too funny to be president" and introduces readers to Mo the politician, Mo the environmentalist, and Mo the man. Journalists Donald Carson and James Johnson interviewed more than one hundred of Udall's associates and family members to create an unusually rich portrait. They recall Udall's Mormon boyhood in Arizona when he lost an eye at age six, his service during World War II, his brief career in professional basketball, and his work as a lawyer and county prosecutor, which earned him a reputation for fairness and openness.

Mo provides the most complete record of Udall's thirty-year congressional career ever published. It reveals how he challenged the House seniority system and turned the House Interior Committee into a powerful panel that did as much to protect the environment as any organization in the twentieth century. It shows Udall to have been a consensus builder for environmental issues who paved the way for the Alaska Lands Act of 1980, helped set aside 2.4 million acres of wilderness in Arizona, and fought for the Central Arizona Project, one of the most ambitious water projects in U.S. history. Carson and Johnson record Udall's early opposition to the Vietnam War at a time when that conflict was largely perceived as a just cause, as well as his early advocacy of campaign finance reform. They also provide a behind-the-scenes account of his run for the presidency—the first House member to seek the office in nearly a century—which gained him an intensely loyal national following.

Mo explores the paradoxes that beset Udall: He was a man able to accomplish things politically because people genuinely liked and respected him, yet he was a loner and workaholic whose focus on politics overshadowed his personal life. Carson and Johnson devote a chapter to the famous Udall sense of humor. They also look sensitively at his role as a husband and father and at his proud and stubborn bout with Parkinson's disease. Mo Udall will long be remembered for his contributions to environmental legislation, for his unflagging efforts in behalf of Arizona, and for the gentle humor with which he conducted his life. This book secures his legacy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780816532964
Publisher: University of Arizona Press
Publication date: 10/19/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 331
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Donald W. Carson is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the University of Arizona. He covered Udall's career when he worked for the Associated Press in Phoenix and at the Arizona Daily Star. James W. Johnson is Professor of Journalism at the University of Arizona.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Mo Udall was exhausted. He was returning from a grueling weekend in California, traveling from Los Angeles, where he met with political backers, to Sacramento for the state Democratic Party Convention. The January 20, 1983, convention was seen as a major stop at the beginning of the campaign trail. He had received a warm welcome, perhaps better than any of the other hopefuls preparing for the 1984 presidential race. That reception gave him hope that he could make another run at the presidency, as his attempt in 1976 had come close to wresting the nomination from Jimmy Carter.

    He had made a masterful speech and in his jovial manner complained about having to limit himself to ten minutes. "A great orator, Cicero—or perhaps it was [former U.S. senator from California] Sam Hayakawa—once said, 'I can't even clear my throat in ten minutes,'" he joked with the 2,100 convention delegates. He had made the obligatory round of receptions to gauge his support, and at the end of the day he was physically fatigued. One political reporter described Udall's skin as waxy and his gait slowed by Parkinson's disease.

    Now he was flying to Washington, D.C., after meeting with friends and supporters in Phoenix and Tucson about whether he should seek the Democratic nomination. He was flying first class, but his lanky six-foot, five-inch frame made it difficult to stretch his achy arthritic back, and his Parkinson's disease was exacerbated by having to cram himself into his seat.

    Travelingwith Udall was Marvin S. Cohen, a friend dating back to their law years in the 1950s in Tucson. Udall had called in a favor with President Carter, who appointed Cohen to the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1978. Now Udall had asked Cohen to think about becoming his campaign manager if he decided to run.

    But, at age sixty, Udall knew he lacked the stamina for an eighteen-month presidential campaign. That weekend in California proved it to him. He looked over at Cohen and said, "I can't do it, can I?" Cohen replied, "No, you can't, Mo."

    Cohen later said, "This, to me, was the moment that he finally acknowledged that he could never be president."

    Although he would withhold announcement of his plans for two weeks, it was clear he would abandon his long-held dream of residing in the White House. Nonetheless, he had come a long way, this whip-smart, witty liberal from hearty pioneer Mormon stock in Arizona's outback.

Chapter Two


The agricultural lifestyle in the arid highlands of northeastern Arizona played as much a role in shaping Morris King Udall as did the values of his parents and the Mormon church. He would say about his ancestral home: "Of the places the Mormons picked, this was probably as harsh and as unproductive a land as they tried. They were willing to try most anything, but the growing season was short, water was scarce, the soil wasn't all that good and your fruit trees would freeze; always had these late May freezes that would ruin your fruit trees. They stuck it out and made a pretty community out of it. Life was pretty good."

    It was in that climate that Mo Udall learned to love and cherish the land. If he appreciated the starkness of such land at 5,730 feet on an isolated plateau, he could all the more appreciate the wonders of Alaska's wilderness, the beauty of the Everglades, the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The land taught him to preserve and conserve. Every drop of water was precious, every tree was cherished, and everything had a use and reuse.

    The town is a day's wagon drive from the New Mexico border, lying 40 miles southeast of what is now the Petrified Forest National Park, and is tucked between the Navajo and the Apache reservations.

    The land is barren, dry, and huge. Apache County, of which St. Johns is the county seat, is bigger than Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, or Maryland and nearly twice as large as the combined states of Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.

    Udall remembered his mother's reaction when he took her up in a plane in 1946. Eight to twelve inches of rain had fallen during the previous two months, an unusual amount. "We cruised around. There were natural lakes all over, places where the water had settled. The grass was green. It looked something like a garden of Eden. And she said to me as we landed, 'Something comes clear to me now.' And I said, 'What do you mean?' She said, 'I always wondered why they started these settlements here in St. Johns with this rugged dry climate and cold winter, hot summer, with the wind blowing. Now I understand.'"

     Mo's sister Eloise noted that "the wind blows all year long and crops freeze but the Lord sent us there, so that's where we stayed. But it does grow good people."

    St. Johns rests a mile high and lies hard by the Little Colorado River. It was founded in 1873 as a way station by wagoners hauling supplies for the U.S. Cavalry from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Fort Apache, Arizona. Seven years later a group of settlers from Kanab, Utah, near the Arizona border, established the Mormon presence in St. Johns. They were led by Mo Udall's grandfather David King Udall, born on September 7, 1851, in St. Louis, Missouri, and when they first saw the hostile, barren landscape they called it "the land God forgot."

    David Udall had married Eliza Luella "Ella" Stewart, a "fair, slender girl with clear blue eyes [who] took my heart away," on February 1, 1875, six weeks before he was to go on his two-year mission to England. Ella had moved from Salt Lake City to Kanab, where her father was the bishop. Before she left Utah, Brigham Young asked that she learn Morse code so she could be a telegraph operator. Her first assignment, in December 1871, was at Pipe Springs, the first telegraph office in Arizona Territory, and now a national monument. It was there that Ella cabled reports of Major John Wesley Powell's Grand Canyon expedition to Washington, D.C.

    After Udall returned from England, he received a letter from Mormon president John Taylor in June 1880 telling him that he was to move to St. Johns, where he would become bishop of the Latter-day Saints ward. The Udalls left Kanab for St. Johns on Udall's twenty-ninth birthday in two wagons and with $100 in his pocket. The trip from Kanab to Glen Canyon was relatively easy, but crossing the Colorado River presented a foreboding obstacle. The travelers had to painstakingly lower their wagons down the sheer cliffs at Lee's Ferry, ford the treacherous Colorado, and then raise the wagons up the other side of the canyon, crossing the rocky ridge called "Lee's Backbone."

    When the settlers arrived in St. Johns to establish a Mormon stake, an ecclesiastical subdivision of the church—only the third in Arizona—on October 6, 1880, all they found were Indians and Mexican Americans. "The Mexicans resented us and we did not blame them very much," David Udall wrote in his memoirs. "Their 'squatters' rights had not been properly respected by those who [would sell] the land to our people." The Mexicans had founded the community as San Juan but when a post office was sought in 1880, an assistant postmaster general named it St. Johns, adding the letter s to make it more "euphonious."

    The Udalls noted waving fields of grama grass, called the best range grass, nurtured by several years of unusual rainfall. The fields would not remain bountiful without help. Mo's grandfather wrote: "As the years passed, it proved to be a land of extremes, with alternating periods of drouths [sic] and floods, undependable seasons, and devastating spring winds. Washes and gullies grew deeper and deeper from the forces of erosion."

The Mormons were less than welcome in St. Johns. They faced harassment at every turn. On May 30, 1884, for example, the anti-Mormon newspaper, the Apache Chief, editorialized, "How did Missouri and Illinois get rid of the Mormons? By use of the shotgun and rope. Apache County can rid herself of them also.... He has no rights and should be allowed none. Down with them. Grind out their very existence."

    A year and a half after their arrival, despite increasing hostility toward polygamous marriages, David King Udall married his second wife, Ida Hunt, the daughter of Lois and John Hunt, bishop of Snowflake Ward.

    David had hired Ida in the fall of 1881 as a clerk in the co-op and married her after John Taylor urged church leaders to take plural wives. He loved his first wife and apparently took Ida as his second wife only at Taylor's urging.

    David King Udall fathered fifteen children with two wives, nine by Ella (four died before the age of two) and six by Ida. Not widely known is that in March 1903 he married a third woman, the wife of a friend who had died, at the urging of the church's governing body. Council members told him it was his duty to raise and educate the widow's three sons. For fifty-eight years David Udall served as the religious leader of the region, and he labored hard to provide for his family in this dry, hard land.

    While David King Udall tended to three families and battled the harsh environment, hostilities arose between the Mormons and the Catholics over entitlement to land. In 1885 Udall and nine other Mormons were arrested for unlawful assembly but were acquitted. Later that year, Udall was charged with perjury by a federal grand jury for testimony he had given on a fellow Mormon's land claim. He was freed on bail while he awaited trial, the bond put up by Prescott merchant Michel Goldwater, the grandfather of 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry M. Goldwater.

    What the non-Mormon townspeople really wanted Udall prosecuted for was polygamy. But Ida, for most of her married life, lived in exile in remote areas of Apache County to avoid prosecution. She could not be subpoenaed for her testimony and instead Udall was tried for perjury on the land claim of Miles P. Romney, the grandfather of George W. Romney, who served from 1963 to 1969 as governor of Michigan and was a Republican presidential candidate in 1968.

    Udall was convicted on August 6, 1885. For four days he was held in a Prescott jail, 250 miles from St. Johns, and then was sentenced to three years in prison. On August 29 he was moved to the federal penitentiary in Detroit, Michigan. He was imprisoned until December 12 when he was pardoned by President Grover Cleveland, who, after being petitioned by Udall's attorney, decided that there had been a miscarriage of justice. Later Udall would name one of his sons Grover Cleveland Udall.

    Udall returned to St. Johns, declaring, "I was fired with carrying out the work of redeeming the desert," and he would admonish his kin, "Be good to the ground. It is holy. It is origin, possession, sustenance, destiny." No doubt Mo Udall recalled those words years later while he pressed his legislation in Congress to protect the environment.

    Over the years the Mormons purchased land, surveyed, and established a town site on which several small homes were built. They also surveyed and fenced an area of 820 acres, divided it into plots, and...


Excerpted from Mo by Donald W. Carson & James W. Johnson. Copyright © 2001 by Donald W. Carson and James W. Johnson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Contents List of Illustrations Foreword Acknowledgments Introduction 1. End of a Dream 2. Mormon Pioneers 3. They Stood on His Shoulders 4. Growing Up 5. Off to the Military 6. Seeing the World 7. The Tucson Years 8. The Out-of-Towners 9. A Rising Star 10. Caught on a Treadmill 11. The Reformer 12. Challenging the Leadership 13. The Central Arizona Project 14. Finishing the Job 15. The Humorous Mo 16. Mo's Audacity 17. Second-Place Mo 18. Keeping the Hopes Alive 19. Saving the Environment 20. Alaska's Crown Jewels 21. A Friend to the Indian 22. The Consensus Builder 23. The Price They Paid 24. Living with Parkinson's 25. The Legacy Notes Bibliography Index

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