Expulsion from Jackson County

Time Line



Significant Event

Summer 1833

School of the Elders was held

July 1833

“Secret constitution” distributed by Jackson County citizens

20 July 1833

Printing house destroyed

23 July 1833

Six elders offered their lives for the safety of the Saints

31 Oct. 1833

Whitmer settlement attacked by mobs

4 Nov. 1833

Became known as “bloody day” of conflict

Nov.–Dec. 1833

Saints expelled from Jackson County

The Prophet Joseph and those who accompanied him to Missouri in the summer of 1831 were joyful to learn that Jackson County was the location of the latter-day Zion. They did not realize that within two years the Saints would be driven from their homes in western Missouri. Although Church members were unaware of the persecutions that were before them, the Lord had told them that the glory of Zion would come only “after much tribulation” (D&C 58:4).

The year 1833 was one of tribulation for the Saints in Jackson County, Missouri. Irreconcilable conflicts developed with their neighbors over several issues, causing some citizens to take decisive action against the members of the Church. The conflict began during the summer, and in November organized mobs mercilessly drove the Saints from their homes and across the Missouri River under the worst of conditions.

mob destroying cabins, driving Saints

Expulsion from Jackson County by C.C.A. Christensen

A Need to Repent

By the end of 1832 there were over eight hundred Saints gathered into five branches in Jackson County. New people were arriving almost every week to establish their homes. Seven high priests—Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, John Whitmer, Sidney Gilbert, Edward Partridge, Isaac Morley, and John Corrill—were appointed by Joseph Smith to preside over the affairs of the rapidly expanding Church in Zion. These brethren called other elders to preside over individual branches.

Some members, however, tried to circumvent the Church leaders in Missouri by ignoring their authority to preside; therefore, making it difficult to set some of the branches in order. Others “sought to obtain inheritances in some other way than according to the laws of consecration and stewardship.”1 Elder Phelps wrote a letter to Joseph Smith in Kirtland about the dilemma and received a prompt reply containing revealed instructions. The Lord warned those who had evaded the revealed laws that they were not worthy to “have their names enrolled with the people of God” or “written in the book of the law of God” (D&C 85:3, 5). As Church historian, John Whitmer was directed to keep a record of those who received their inheritances “legally” from Bishop Edward Partridge as well as those who subsequently apostatized (see D&C 85:1–2).

Other difficulties arose in Zion. Petty jealousies, covetousness, light-mindedness, unbelief, and general neglect in keeping the commandments of God came to the attention of the Prophet. Some people in Zion even charged Joseph Smith with “seeking after monarchial power and authority” and said that he was purposely putting off settling in Zion.2

The Prophet wrote back in the spirit of peace and sent a copy of the “Olive Leaf” (D&C 88): “Though our brethren in Zion indulge in feelings towards us, which are not according to the requirements of the new covenant, yet, we have the satisfaction of knowing that the Lord approves of us, and has accepted us, and established His name in Kirtland for the salvation of the nations; . . . if Zion will not purify herself, He will seek another people. . . . Repent, repent, is the voice of God to Zion.”3

At the same time a council in Kirtland appointed Hyrum Smith and Orson Hyde to write a letter of reproof to the Church in Missouri. The letter was a stern warning to “repent, repent, or Zion must suffer, for the scourge and judgment must come upon her.” It went on to plead with the Saints to read and obey the scriptures and humble themselves before God. “They have not come up to Zion to sit down in idleness, neglecting the things of God, but they are to be diligent and faithful in obeying the new covenant.”4

Following receipt of the Olive Leaf revelation, a council of high priests met on 26 February 1833 and called for solemn assemblies to be held in each of the branches (see D&C 88:70). David Pettigrew wrote in his journal that Bishop Partridge appointed them “as a day of confession and repentance.”5 Elders Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, and John Corrill also wrote to the authorities in Kirtland in behalf of the Saints in Zion expressing their desire to keep the commandments in the future.6 The Lord was pleased with this new spirit and revealed to the Prophet that “the angels rejoice” over the Saints in Missouri (D&C 90:34).

Optimistic Outlook for the Future

The migration of new Saints to Missouri in the spring and early summer of 1833 exceeded that of the previous season. Parley P. Pratt remembered that as new arrivals purchased land, built homes, and cultivated the land, “peace and plenty had crowned their labors, and the wilderness became a fruitful field, and the solitary place began to bud and blossom as the rose.” The Saints assembled each Sunday in their branches to worship. Harmony prevailed among them during these early days in June. Parley said, “There has seldom, if ever, been a happier people upon the earth than the Church of the Saints now were.”7

plaque commemorating school in Zion

School in Zion monument at Troost Park in Kansas City, Missouri. It was dedicated 14 September 1963 by Joseph Fielding Smith. The monument commemorates the location of the school in Zion, established by the Church in Kaw township in 1831 and the first schoolhouse to be erected within the boundaries of Kansas City.

During the summer a school for the elders was organized in Zion that was modeled after the School of the Prophets in Kirtland. Parley P. Pratt was called to preside and to teach a class of about sixty elders, who met in shady groves. Elder Pratt fondly remembered: “Here great blessings were poured out, and many great and marvelous things were manifested and taught. The Lord gave me great wisdom, and enabled me to teach and edify the Elders.”9 Some of the brethren experienced the gift of tongues in these meetings. Meanwhile, W. W. Phelps continued to prepare the Book of Commandments for publication, and he also edited the Evening and Morning Star, which appeared monthly.

hand-drawn town plat

Edward Partridge purchased 63.43 acres from Jones Hoy Flournoy on 19 December 1831. This included the ground previously dedicated for the temple site. On 25 June 1833 the Prophet sent this plat to the brethren in Missouri.

The plat is one mile square with each square in the plat representing ten acres.8

Late in June 1833 the Prophet sent a plan for the building up of the city of Zion and its accompanying temple to the Saints in Missouri. The city was designed for fifteen to twenty thousand people and “was to be one mile square, with ten-acre blocks, divided into one-half-acre lots, one house to the lot.”10 A complex of twenty-four “temples” was to be built and used as houses of worship. The schools were to be located on two central city blocks. Lands on the north and south of the city were to be used for barns, stables, and farms. The farmer, as well as the merchant and mechanic, was to live in the city to enjoy all the social, cultural, and educational advantages.11 Unfortunately, mob interference prevented the implementation of this plan, although many of its basic ideas were later used by the Latter-day Saints in northern Missouri, Nauvoo, Illinois, and in hundreds of other settlements in the West.

Causes of the Conflict in Jackson County

The happy and favorable circumstances of the Saints in Jackson County ended suddenly in July of 1833. The original inhabitants of the area became increasingly suspicious as the number of Church members in Jackson County grew rapidly. Many people feared they would soon be outnumbered by the new religiously-motivated pilgrims from the East. The “old settlers” were from a different background than the incoming Latter-day Saints, and it was natural that cultural, political, religious, and economic differences arose.

Jackson County’s residents were a rough-and-ready group who had come from the mountainous regions of several southern states to the western edge of the United States to find freedom from societal restraints. Most of them were uneducated and lacked the cultural refinement that was more common in New England and the East. Many of them indulged in profanity, Sabbath-breaking, horse-racing, cock-fighting, idleness, drunkenness, gambling, and violence. Following his first visit to Jackson County, the Prophet Joseph Smith reflected on “how natural it was to observe the degradation, leanness of intellect, ferocity, and jealousy of a people that were nearly a century behind the times, and to feel for those who roamed about without the benefit of civilization, refinement, or religion.”12

The old settlers viewed the growing body of Saints as a political threat, even though members of the Church did not run for office or vote as a bloc during their short stay in Jackson County. By July 1833 the Mormon population in the county was almost twelve hundred, with more arriving each month. Some members boasted that thousands more were coming to live in the county. “By sheer arithmetic a few hundred additional Mormons could have wrested political control from those who had established the city and county.”13 Local citizens were naturally apprehensive of a religious zeal that predicted that all “Gentiles” (non-Mormons) would be cut off when the millennial kingdom was established in Jackson County.

Protestant ministers also resented the Mormon intrusion into the county. Latter-day Saints were labeled fanatics and knaves and were denounced as gullible and ignorant because they believed in and frequently experienced miracles, prophecy, healings, revelations, and speaking in tongues. Jealousy and fear of losing some from their flocks added to the antagonism of the ministers. The Reverend Finis Ewing of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church asserted, “The ‘Mormons’ are the common enemies of mankind and ought to be destroyed.” A reverend of the Missionary Society (sent to Christianize the American Indians) went “from house to house, seeking to destroy the Church by spreading slanderous falsehoods, to incite the people to acts of violence against the saints.”14

map of Missouri settlements

S. Kent Brown, ed., Historical Atlas of Mormonism, p. 39

Both the Santa Fe and Oregon trails began in Independence, Missouri. Here fur traders, pioneers, and adventurers of all types were outfitted for the trek west.

[click for scalable version]

In addition, Mormon merchants and tradesmen successfully took over a portion of the lucrative Santa Fe Trail trade previously dominated by the Missourians. Some of the old settlers feared that the Church members were determined to take over their lands and businesses. Moreover, the Saints “did not purchase goods from the local merchants, as they had no money, but traded among themselves at the Church storehouse. . . . Some of the old settlers were selling their property to the Mormons and moving away. This meant fewer and fewer customers in the stores, and future financial ruin” for the remaining old settlers.

To complicate matters, in the spring of 1833 the Missouri flooded, destroyed the landing at Independence, and shifted the channel of the river away from the community. A new town, Westport, with a better landing, was established farther upstream, and the business in Independence declined. Entrepreneurs in Independence blamed the Mormons for this situation.15 Foreseeing what the future might bring, some of the old settlers offered to sell out to the Saints. Members of the Church wanted to buy the farms and possessions, but did not have enough capital to do so. This exasperated the Missourians, and soon they were spreading tales of how poverty-stricken the Mormons were.

The Missouri frontiersmen feared and hated the Indians. Their antipathy increased in the 1830s as the government began to resettle eastern tribes on lands just west of Independence. After the 1832 Black Hawk War, citizens of western Missouri petitioned Congress to establish a line of military posts for their protection. The first Mormon missionaries came into this tense atmosphere declaring the prophetic destiny of the native Americans. The old settlers were afraid the Saints would use the Indians to help them conquer the area for their New Jerusalem. Matters were further complicated by Protestant ministers who were jealous of Latter-day Saint proselyting efforts among the Indians.

The conflict between the Saints and the old settlers came to a head over the slavery issue. Missouri had come into the Union as a slave state under the famous Compromise of 1820. Slaveholding was limited, however. The old settlers prized their right to hold slaves and despised abolitionism. Some of the Saints brought abolitionist sentiments from the North and East, and the possibility of a black rebellion was a fear throughout the South at this time. In 1831 Nat Turner’s slave uprising in Virginia had resulted in the death of over seventy whites and one hundred slaves. An irrational fear of revolts swept over the slave states. Therefore, Missourians were highly aroused early in 1832 by rumors that the Saints were trying to persuade slaves to disobey their masters or run away.

To squelch the rumors, the July 1833 Evening and Morning Star ran an article cautioning the missionaries about proselyting among slaves and among former slaves, known as “free people of color.” Unfortunately the local Missourians misinterpreted this advice to mean that Brother Phelps was inviting free blacks to join the Mormons in Jackson County. The article caused such a furor that Phelps issued an “Extra” explaining that the Church had no intention of inviting free blacks to Missouri, but his denials were to no avail.

During the summer of 1833, the many differences between the Saints and the old settlers combined to set the stage for violence. A mob atmosphere had been developing since April; in early July hundreds of people, including prominent citizens, signed a manifesto known as the “secret constitution,” denouncing the Mormons and calling for a meeting on 20 July. The manifesto accused the Mormons of tampering with slaves, encouraging sedition, and inviting free Negroes and mulattoes to join the Church and immigrate to Missouri. It declared the intent of the signers to remove the Mormons “peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must.”16

Mobs Threaten the Saints

On Saturday, 20 July, four or five hundred disgruntled citizens met at the Independence courthouse. They chose officers and selected a committee to draft a document outlining their demands of the Mormons. The officers and committee members were some of the leading citizens of Jackson County: “In the main they were the county officers—the county judge, the constables, clerks of the court and justices of the peace.”17 The lieutenant governor of Missouri, Lilburn W. Boggs, a resident and large landholder in the county, also attended the meeting and encouraged the anti-Mormon activity.

The “secret constitution” was read at the meeting, and the committee drafted the declaration that no Latter-day Saints would be allowed to move to or settle in Jackson County, and those that were already there must pledge to leave as soon as possible. The Church newspaper was also to cease publication. A committee of twelve was appointed to present these demands to the Saints. The brethren, startled by the request and realizing that they should not forsake Zion, asked for three months to consider the proposition and to consult with Church leaders in Ohio. This was denied them. They asked for ten days, but the committee allowed them only fifteen minutes and returned to the meeting at the courthouse.

Saints in wagons leaving Missouri

The Saints Leave Missouri, by C.C.A. Christensen

The meeting quickly turned into a mob that decided to destroy the printing office and the press. They surrounded the printing office and residence of W. W. Phelps, threw the furniture into the street and garden, broke the press, scattered the type, and destroyed nearly all the printed work, including most of the unbound sheets of the Book of Commandments. They soon leveled the two-story printing office. Next the mob decided to destroy the goods of the Gilbert and Whitney Store. Only when Sidney Gilbert promised that he would pack the goods in three days were they dissuaded.

With loud cursings, the mob then searched for the leading elders of the Church. Men, women, and children ran in all directions. The mob took Bishop Edward Partridge from his home and dragged him to the public square. Charles Allen, a twenty-seven-year-old convert from Pennsylvania, was also taken to the public square. The mob demanded that they renounce the Book of Mormon or leave the county. The two men refused to do either, so the mob prepared tar and feathers. Bishop Partridge calmly declared that he was willing to suffer for the sake of Christ as the Saints in former ages had done. The two bore the cruel indignity of tarring and feathering with so much resignation and meekness, that the crowd, which had been shouting vile oaths, dispersed in silence.18

Mary Elizabeth Rollins as an adult

In 1828, at the age of ten, Mary Elizabeth Rollins moved with her family to Kirtland. She was baptized in October 1830 after hearing the testimonies of Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, and Ziba Peterson.

She married Adam Lightner in August 1835, and they became the parents of ten children. She died in Minersville, Utah, on 17 December 1913 at the age of ninety-five.

A small number of copies of the Book of Commandments, which contained revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith, were providentially preserved. Two sisters, Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Rollins, ages fourteen and twelve, watched the mob throw the large, unbound sheets out onto the ground outside the printing office. Determined to save some of the copies, the girls grabbed as many sheets as they could carry in their arms and ran behind the building. Mobbers shouted at them to stop, but the girls escaped through a gap in a wooden fence and ran into a cornfield. For a long time they heard the men searching for them as they laid quietly on the ground.

When the mobbers left, Mary and Caroline found Sister Phelps and her family hidden in an old stable. Sister Phelps took charge of the sheets, and later the few preserved copies were bound. Each of the girls received a copy of the Book of Commandments, which they prized for the rest of their lives. A young man, twenty-year-old John Taylor (not the future President of the Church), risked his life by reaching between the logs of the print shop to retrieve a few sheets, and he also miraculously escaped from the mob as they tried to stone him.19

The mob appeared again on 23 July with rifles, pistols, whips, and clubs. They searched for Church leaders, cursing and profaning as they went. They set fire to haystacks and grain fields and destroyed several homes, barns, and businesses. The mob eventually confronted six leaders of the Church who, seeing the property and lives of the Saints in jeopardy, offered their lives as a ransom. Their names—Edward Partridge, Isaac Morley, John Corrill, John Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, and Sidney Gilbert—are held in honorable remembrance by the Church.

Isaac Morley

Isaac Morley (1786–1865) served as first counselor to Bishop Edward Partridge for nine years. During the last ten years of his life he was a patriarch in Sanpete County, Utah.

Rejecting this offer, the mob leaders threatened that every man, woman, and child would be whipped unless they consented to leave the county. Under duress the brethren signed an agreement to leave the county—the leaders by 1 January 1834 and the members themselves by 1 April. John Corrill and Sidney Gilbert were allowed to remain as agents to sell the property of the Saints. Corrill wrote that the members of the Church up to this time “had not so much as lifted a finger, even in their own defense, so tenacious were they for the precepts of the gospel,—‘turn the other cheek.’”20

Seeking Redress

After the agreement was signed, Oliver Cowdery was sent to Ohio to confer with Church authorities on the plight of the Saints in Missouri. A council in Kirtland met on 21 August and sent elders Orson Hyde and John Gould to Jackson County as special messengers. They instructed the Saints not to dispose of their lands or property nor to move from the county, unless they had specifically signed the agreement to do so. This message did not arrive in western Missouri until 28 September.

Meanwhile a few Church members attempted to settle in Van Buren County, but the citizens there also drew up an agreement to drive the Mormons out, so they returned again to their former homes. Throughout the summer, the mobs broke into the Mormon homes daily and continued their violence to the Jackson County inhabitants, even though they had agreed to refrain from harassing the Saints.

In August, the Western Monitor, a newspaper in Fayette, Missouri, ran a series of articles censuring the mob action in Jackson County and suggesting that the Saints seek redress from state authorities for the wrongs they had suffered. Thereupon Church leaders wrote up a petition detailing their grievances and denying the false accusations of the old settlers of Jackson County: “Influenced by the precepts of our beloved Savior when we have been smitten on the one cheek, we have turned the other also; . . . we have borne the above outrages without murmuring; but we cannot patiently bear them any longer; according to the laws of God and man, we have borne enough.”21 In early October, W. W. Phelps and the Church representative from Ohio, Orson Hyde, went to Jefferson City, the state capital, and presented the petition to Governor Daniel Dunklin. They asked him to raise troops to defend them in their rights, to give them permission to sue for damaged and lost property, and to bring the mob element to justice.

After a few days of consultation with the attorney general, the governor replied that he felt force would not be necessary to carry out the laws. He advised the Church representatives to seek redress and protection under the laws through petitioning the circuit judge and justices of the peace in Jackson County. If this effort failed, he promised to use other means to enforce the law.22

His advice proved ineffective. Samuel D. Lucas, the county judge for Jackson County, and two of the justices of the peace in the county, were among those who were trying to drive the Mormons out. Nevertheless, following the governor’s instructions, Church leaders engaged the services of four prominent lawyers in Clay County. These lawyers became friends of the Saints and defended them against their oppressors throughout the rest of the decade in Missouri. Two of them, Alexander Doniphan and David Atchison, attained state and national prominence between 1845 and 1865.

In addition to seeking legal redress, Church leaders ended their policy of passive resistance and counseled the members to arm themselves for the defense of their families and homes. A delegation to Clay County purchased powder and lead, and Church officials announced on 20 October 1833 their intent to defend themselves against any physical attack.

Saints Driven from Jackson County

When the old settlers saw that the Saints’ intended to defend themselves, they renewed their acts of violence and circulated rumors about the blasphemy of the Mormons’ doctrines and their supposed intentions to take possession of Jackson County by force. Within a week the mood of the county was at a fever pitch. On the night of Thursday, 31 October, a mob of about fifty horsemen attacked the Whitmer Settlement on the Big Blue River, west of Independence. They unroofed thirteen houses and nearly whipped to death several men, including Hiram Page, one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon. These depredations continued for the next two nights in Independence, in Blue township, in Kaw township, and again in the Whitmer Settlement. Men were beaten, and women and children were terrorized. When Church leaders were unable to obtain a warrant against the raiders, the elders posted guards at each of their settlements to defend themselves.

Not all of the citizens of Jackson County were against the Saints. Some of those who were friendly toward the members of the Church had no sympathy with the rioters or with the lawlessness of the mob. Unfortunately little was done by these sympathizers to prevent the violence inflicted upon the religious newcomers.

Monday, 4 November, became known as the “bloody day” of the conflict. Several Missourians captured a Mormon ferry on the Big Blue River, and soon thirty or forty armed men from each side confronted each other in the corn fields.23 The mob fired first, wounding Philo Dibble in the stomach, but he was miraculously healed through a priesthood blessing by Newel Knight. Andrew Barber was mortally wounded. The Mormons returned fire and killed two Missourians and a few horses. That same day several Church leaders had been arrested in Independence and brought to trial. As their trial was in progress in the courthouse, altered news of the battle reached the town accusing the Mormons of entering the house of a citizen and shooting his son. This enraged the crowd, which threatened to kill the prisoners. The prisoners, however, were quickly taken to the jail and locked up for their safety. Throughout the night citizens collected arms and ammunition in preparation for a general massacre of the Saints the next day. Rumors also circulated that the Mormons were going to bring in Indians to fight with them. Meanwhile the jailed prisoners, hearing of these preparations, informed the sheriff that they intended to leave the county and to urge all other Church members to do the same.

At the instigation of Lieutenant Governor Boggs, a unit of the state militia, under the command of avowed anti-Mormon Colonel Thomas Pitcher, was called in to drive the Mormons out of the county. Meanwhile, Lyman Wight, hearing of the imprisonment of Church leaders, gathered about two hundred armed brethren and marched toward the jail. About a mile outside Independence, they learned that the militia had been called in. Boggs negotiated an agreement that both camps would give up their arms and that the Saints would leave the county within ten days. The Saints surrendered their weapons with the understanding that the weapons would be returned once the Saints had moved to Clay County. The militia retained their arms, however, and the Saints never saw theirs again.

True to their pledge, as soon as they were released, the prisoners made plans for a quick retreat of the Saints across the Missouri River. A number of marauders, however, rode through the countryside the next three days harassing the Mormon settlers, including a group of about 130 women and children who had been left alone while their men hunted for wagons. At least two women died while the Saints were fleeing the county.24

The shores of the Missouri near the ferry were lined with refugees on both sides. Some were fortunate enough to escape with their household goods, but many of them lost everything. Parley P. Pratt wrote: “When night again closed upon us the cottonwood bottom had much the appearance of a camp meeting. Hundreds of people were seen in every direction, some in tents and some in the open air around their fires, while the rain descended in torrents. Husbands were inquiring for their wives, wives for their husbands; parents for children, and children for parents. . . . The scene was indescribable, and, I am sure, would have melted the hearts of any people on the earth, except our blind oppressors.”25

The mob in Jackson County continued tormenting the few remaining members of the Church until all of them were driven out of the county. Lyman Wight reported, “I saw one hundred and ninety women and children driven thirty miles across the prairie, with three decrepit men only in their company, in the month of November, the ground thinly crusted with sleet; and I could easily follow on their trail by the blood that flowed from their lacerated feet on the stubble of the burnt prairie!”26 Early in the spring of 1834 the Missourians learned of the approach of Mormons from Ohio and burned the remainder of the houses belonging to the Saints in an attempt to discourage the return of the exiles.

Aftermath of the Expulsion

Most of the exiled Saints found temporary quarters in Clay County, although a few sought refuge in other nearby counties. The citizens of Liberty, the county seat of Clay County, charitably offered shelter, work, and provisions. The refugees moved into abandoned slave cabins, built crude huts, pitched tents, and lived on a meager subsistence until the arrival of spring. Some men found work splitting rails, building houses, and grubbing brush. Several of the sisters worked in the households of well-to-do farmers, while others taught school. In the spring some were able to rent land and plant crops. Although most of the citizens of Clay County were friendly, they considered the settlement of the Saints in their midst as only temporary. Hostile elements in Jackson County dubbed these sympathizers “Jack-Mormons,” a term applied in the nineteenth century to friendly non Mormons.

Meanwhile from Kirtland Joseph Smith followed the events in western Missouri. Upon hearing of the July troubles he wrote to the Church in Zion: “Brethren if I were with you I should take an active part in your sufferings, and although nature shrinks, yet my spirit would not let me forsake you unto death, God helping me.”27 In October 1833 the Lord revealed to Joseph that “Zion shall be redeemed, although she is chastened for a little season. . . . Let your hearts be comforted; for all things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly, and to the sanctification of the church” (D&C 100:13, 15).28

Elders Hyde and Gould, emissaries from Kirtland to Missouri, returned to Ohio on 25 November with “the melancholy intelligence of the mob in Jackson county persecuting the brethren.”29 This deeply distressed the Prophet. He wrote, “I cannot learn from any communication by the Spirit to me, that Zion has forfeited her claim to a celestial crown, notwithstanding the Lord has caused her to be thus afflicted. . . . I know that Zion, in the due time of the Lord, will be redeemed; but how many will be the days of her purification, tribulation, and affliction, the Lord has kept hid from my eyes; and when I inquire concerning this subject, the voice of the Lord is: Be still, and know that I am God! All those who suffer for my name shall reign with me, and he that layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again.”30

A few days later the Lord explained that the Saints in Missouri suffered affliction “in consequence of their transgressions. . . . There were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they pollute their inheritances.” (D&C 101:2, 6).

The Saints in Missouri wondered whether they should establish permanent or temporary settlements in Clay County since there was little hope of returning to their homes in Jackson County. At a conference on 1 January 1834 they decided to send two elders to Kirtland to counsel with the Prophet and arrange for relief for the Missouri Saints. Lyman Wight and Parley P. Pratt volunteered. They lacked the means to make the trip, however. Parley wrote, “I was at this time entirely destitute of proper clothing for the journey; and I had neither horse, saddle, bridle, money nor provisions to take with me; or to leave with my wife, who lay sick and helpless most of the time.”31 These noble brethren were outfitted with the aid of other members. They proceeded by horseback as rapidly as possible, but inclement weather delayed their arrival until the early spring.

While awaiting instructions from their Prophet, Church leaders in Missouri sought reparation from the Missouri state government. A court of inquiry held in Liberty in December called for the arrest of Colonel Thomas Pitcher of the state militia. It soon became evident, however, that public opinion in Jackson County against the Saints was so strong that criminal prosecution was impossible. Church leaders decided to abandon the effort. Governor Dunklin ordered the arms of the Church members to be returned, but his order was defied.

The Saints kept the subject of their wrongs constantly before the state authorities. At the same time they petitioned Andrew Jackson, president of the United States, and enclosed with their petition the reply of Governor Dunklin to their petition to him. The governor claimed that the law did not authorize him to keep a military force in Jackson County to protect the Mormons after they were returned to their homes. The Saints asked the president to restore them to their homes and possessions and to ensure their protection. Unfortunately this request came during one of the great debates in American history over the question of sovereign rights of states. The general feeling in America was that the federal government had no authority to intervene in a state’s internal affairs, such as those occurring in Jackson County, unless the governor declared a state of insurrection. In May 1834 the federal government denied the Saints’ petition, arguing that the offenses listed were violations of state, not federal, law. Meanwhile Governor Dunklin also hesitated to take action. Lawyers for the Church argued the Saints’ case before the state legislature, but that body also refused to help.

July 1833 to July 1834 was a period of the “refiner’s fire” for the Latter-day Saints in western Missouri. Members of the Church throughout the United States were profoundly disappointed that the land of Zion had to be abandoned. Their only recourse was to wait patiently upon the Lord for deliverance and direction.


1. B. H. Roberts, The Missouri Persecutions (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965), p. 61.

2. History of the Church, 1:318–19.

3. History of the Church, 1:316.

4. History of the Church, 1:320.

5. In Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983), p. 61n; see also History of the Church, 1:327.

6. See History of the Church, 1:327; Roberts, Missouri Persecutions, p. 68.

7. Parley P. Pratt, ed., Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Classics in Mormon Literature series (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985) p. 75; see also “The Season,” The Evening and the Morning Star, June 1833, p. 102.

8. For detailed information on the plat, see History of the Church, 1:357–59.

9. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 75–76.

10. James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), pp. 81–82.

11. See History of the Church, 1:357–58.

12. History of the Church, 1:189.

13. T. Edgar Lyon, “Independence, Missouri, and the Mormons, 1827–1833,” Brigham Young University Studies, Autumn 1972, p. 17.

14. In Roberts, Missouri Persecutions, pp. 73–74; the previous two paragraphs are derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 82–83.

15. Lyon, “Independence, Missouri, and the Mormons,” pp. 17–18.

16. History of the Church, 1:374; paragraph derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 85.

17. Roberts, Missouri Persecutions, p. 87.

18. See Roberts, Missouri Persecutions, pp. 84–86.

19. See Gerry Avant, “Book’s History: A Tale of Mobs, Heroic Rescues,” Church News, 30 Dec. 1984, p. 6.

20. John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints (St. Louis: John Corrill, 1839), p. 19; spelling standardized.

21. History of the Church, 1:414–15.

22. See History of the Church, 1:423–24.

23. See Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 87.

24. Paragraph derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 87.

25. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 82.

26. In History of the Church, 3:439.

27. In Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984), p. 283.

28. Previous two paragraphs derived from Warren A. Jennings, “Zion Is Fled: The Expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County Missouri,” Ph.D. diss., University of Florida, 1962, pp. 201–2; Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 88.

29. History of the Church, 1:446.

30. History of the Church, 1:453–54; capitalization standardized.

31. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 87.

Zion’s Camp

Zion’s Camp members, wagons, storm

Zion’s Camp by C.C.A. Christensen
Courtesy of BYU Fine Arts Collection

Time Line



Significant Event

Feb. 1834

High council in Kirtland sanctioned plan to organize army to help Missouri Saints

Mar.–May 1834

Members recruited for Zion’s Camp

May 1834

Zion’s Camp began march

8 June 1834

Zion’s Camp obtained maximum numerical strength of 207 people

9–15 June 1834

Governor Dunklin refused to cooperate with Zion’s Camp

19 June 1834

Violent storm protected Zion’s Camp from enemies

22 June 1834

The Lord set forth conditions for future redemption of Zion

21–29 June 1834

Cholera attacked Zion’s Camp

3 July 1834

Presidency and stake high council were created in Clay County

During the winter of 1833–34 the Saints still hoped that Governor Daniel Dunklin would assist them in regaining their homes in Jackson County. On 16 December 1833, however, Joseph Smith received a revelation that raised ominous possibilities. The Lord set forth various means by which the Saints were to settle the Missouri dispute, but they were warned that if all peaceful remedies failed they might have to occupy their rightful lands by force (see D&C 101). As events unfolded, the Lord instructed the brethren in Kirtland to raise an army and go to Missouri. What was called Zion’s Camp became a reality.

Zion’s Camp Organized

After an arduous journey, Parley P. Pratt and Lyman Wight arrived in Kirtland from Missouri on 22 February 1834. The high council in Kirtland, which had been organized less than a week (see D&C 102 section heading), assembled in Joseph Smith’s home two days afterward to hear the pair’s report and consider the Missouri brethren’s requests for help. At the conclusion of the meeting, Joseph Smith announced that he was going to Zion to help redeem it. He asked for a vote of the high council to sanction his decision. He was supported unanimously. The Prophet then asked for volunteers to go with him. Thirty to forty of the men present volunteered, and Joseph was selected to be the “commander-in-chief of the armies of Israel.”1

That same day Joseph Smith received a revelation concerning the recruitment and size of this army. Eight men, including the Prophet, were called to help gather young and middle-aged members for Zion’s Camp and to raise money to help the oppressed members in Missouri. They were to recruit a company of five hundred men if possible—but no fewer than one hundred—to march to Missouri to redeem and restore Zion (see D&C 103:11, 15, 22, 29–40).2

Beginning in late February these eight missionaries traveling two by two visited the branches of the Church throughout the eastern United States gathering contributions and recruiting for Zion’s Camp. The Prophet was not happy with the number of volunteers they recruited. In April he suggested that the brethren in the East volunteer to go to Missouri with Zion’s Camp, or lose the chance to “better themselves by obtaining so goodly a land, . . . and stand against that wicked mob. . . .

“. . . If this Church, which is essaying to be the Church of Christ will not help us, when they can do it without sacrifice, . . . God shall take away their talent, and give it to those who have no talent, and shall prevent them from ever obtaining a place of refuge, or an inheritance upon the land of Zion.”3

Wilford Woodruff

Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) was an avid student of the scriptures, a missionary, Apostle, Church historian, and President of the Church.

Nevertheless, few in the East volunteered for the camp. One who did was a recent convert, twenty-seven-year-old Wilford Woodruff of Connecticut. Wilford was impressed with Parley P. Pratt’s impassioned appeal for volunteers, but he was hesitant to go because of his business affairs. Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal, “I told Brother Parley our circumstances. He told me it was my duty to try to prepare myself and go up to Zion. And accordingly I used every exertion to settle my accounts, arrange my affairs, and prepare myself to join my brethren to go to Missouri.”4 By 25 April, Wilford was living at Joseph Smith’s home in Kirtland helping prepare others for the camp.

Hosea Stout

Hosea Stout (1810–89) joined the Church in 1838 while living in Far West, Missouri. He was a schoolteacher, an officer in the Nauvoo Legion, chief of the Nauvoo police force, a seventy, a lawyer, a missionary, and a colonizer.

On 21 April, Hyrum Smith and Lyman Wight went northwest from Kirtland to seek out more recruits. They were to lead those who joined them to meet Joseph’s company at the Salt River in eastern Missouri. They visited branches of the Church in northern Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, and eventually recruited more than twenty volunteers, over half of them from Pontiac, Michigan.5 Hosea Stout, who later played key roles in the Church, had not yet become a member in 1834 when Hyrum and Lyman went to his hometown in Michigan. Hosea later wrote, “The effect of their preaching was powerful on me, and when I considered that they were going up to Zion to fight for their lost inheritances under the special directions of God it was all that I could do to refrain from going.”6

Recruitment efforts in Kirtland were less disappointing. Many able-bodied priesthood holders in that community volunteered to march to Zion. Thirty-two-year-old Brigham Young stepped forward and tried to convince his older brother Joseph to go too. Joseph Smith declared to the two brothers, “Brother Brigham and brother Joseph, if you will go with me in the camp to Missouri and keep my counsel, I promise you, in the name of the Almighty, that I will lead you there and back again, and not a hair of your heads shall be harmed.” Hearing this Joseph Young agreed to participate, and the three men clasped hands in confirmation of this promise.7

Many of the men in Zion’s Camp left families with little or no money and no source of income. To prevent undue hardships, members of the Church planted gardens so the women and children could harvest corn and other crops during the army’s absence. The volunteers also gathered supplies and teams for their journey, as well as clothing, bedding, food, and arms for the Saints in Missouri. A few elders, including Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon, were left behind to supervise the ongoing construction of the temple and to direct the other affairs of the Church in Kirtland.8

The March toward Zion

On 1 May, the day appointed to begin the one-thousand-mile march, only twenty people were ready to go. Joseph Smith sent them fifty miles south to New Portage, where they were to wait for the others to join them. By Sunday, 4 May, over eighty volunteers assembled in Kirtland. Nearly all of them were young men. Some were fearful of what lay ahead. Heber C. Kimball said, “I took leave of my wife and children and friends, not knowing whether I would see them again in the flesh.”9 That day the Prophet spoke to the Kirtland Saints before departing. George A. Smith wrote: “He impressed upon them the necessity of being humble, exercising faith and patience and living in obedience to the commands of the Almighty. . . . He bore testimony of the truth of the work which God had revealed through him and promised the brethren that if they all would live as they should, before the Lord, keeping his commandments, . . . they should all safely return.”10

The next day Joseph Smith assumed his role as commander-in-chief of the army. The eighty men joined the twenty brethren in New Portage late Tuesday evening, 6 May 1834. There the Prophet organized the camp. He divided it into companies of tens and fifties and instructed each group to elect a captain, who was to assign each man his responsibilities. One recruit, Joseph Holbrook, reported that the camp was organized “according to the ancient order of Israel.”11 The men also consolidated their money into a general fund, which was managed by Frederick G. Williams, second counselor in the First Presidency, who was appointed paymaster. The average age of the recruits was twenty-nine, the age of their leader, Joseph Smith. George A. Smith, cousin of the Prophet, was the youngest at age sixteen, and Samuel Baker was the oldest at seventy-nine.

On 8 May the army of Israel resumed its long march west. Throughout its journey the camp was gradually strengthened with additional volunteers, arms, supplies, and money. Officers continued to recruit help from Latter-day Saints living in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. By the time Zion’s Camp crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri, it numbered 185 individuals. On 8 June at the Salt River in Missouri, where Joseph Smith had arranged to meet Hyrum Smith’s company from Pontiac, Michigan, the army was at its largest: 207 men, 11 women, 11 children, and 25 baggage wagons.

In many respects the daily routine of Zion’s Camp was similar to that of other armies. Most able-bodied men walked beside the heavily loaded wagons along the muddy and dusty trails. Many of them carried knapsacks and held guns. It was not unusual for them to march thirty-five miles a day, despite blistered feet, oppressive heat, heavy rains, high humidity, hunger, and thirst. Armed guards were posted around the camp at night. At 4:00 A.M. the trumpeter roused the weary men with reveille on an old, battered French horn. Each company gathered for prayer, then went to work at their respective assignments. Some members of the company gathered firewood, others carried water, cooked breakfast, and took down tents. Wagon wheels had to be greased and horses fed and groomed before being hitched up for the day’s journey.12

map of Zion’s Camp journey

[click for enlarged version]
[Bitmap] [PDF]

The journey of Zion’s Camp

Feeding the camp was one of the most persistent problems. The men were often required to eat limited portions of coarse bread, rancid butter, cornmeal mush, strong honey, raw pork, rotten ham, and maggot-infested bacon and cheese.13 George A. Smith wrote that he was frequently hungry: “I was so weary, hungry and sleepy that I dreamed while walking along the road of seeing a beautiful stream of water by a pleasant shade and a nice loaf of bread and a bottle of milk laid out on a cloth by the side of the spring.”14

On occasion the men strained swamp water to remove wigglers (mosquito larvae), before drinking it.15 Milk and butter was often obtained from local farmers under unsanitary conditions, which raised fears among the camp of milk sickness, puking fever, or even death. But Joseph Smith advised them that unless they were told the milk was contaminated, “use all they could get from friend or enemy, it should do them good, and none be sick in consequence of it; and although we passed through neighborhoods where many of the people and cattle were infected with the sickness, yet my words were fulfilled.”16

On a number of occasions, Joseph Smith taught those in the camp to conserve natural resources and to avoid killing. One afternoon while preparing to pitch his tent Joseph and others discovered three rattlesnakes. As the men prepared to kill them, the Prophet said, “Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation.” The snakes were carefully carried across a creek on sticks and released. Joseph instructed the camp to refrain from killing any animal unless it was necessary to avoid starvation.17

Unlike most armies, Zion’s Camp placed great emphasis upon spirituality. Besides company prayers the men were admonished to pray privately morning and evening. On Sundays the camp rested, held meetings, and partook of the sacrament. They were often privileged to hear the Prophet teach the doctrines of the kingdom. Those in the camp had faith that the Lord was accompanying them. The Prophet recalled, “God was with us, and His angels went before us, and the faith of our little band was unwavering. We know that angels were our companions, for we saw them.”18

On 2 June 1834 the army crossed the Illinois River at Phillips Ferry. The Prophet and a few others walked along the bluffs and found a huge mound with human bones scattered about and what appeared to be the remains of three ancient altars. A hole was dug and a large human skeleton was discovered with a stone arrowhead between its ribs. As the brethren left the hill, the Prophet inquired of the Lord and learned in an open vision that the remains were those of a man named Zelph, a former Lamanite warrior chieftain who was killed “during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites.”19

The Lord also blessed the camp to travel safely through sometimes threatening circumstances. Members of the camp generally tried to conceal their identity and objectives as they marched. Occasionally the army appeared larger or smaller than it actually was to those who tried to determine its strength. Near Dayton, Ohio, a dozen men entered the camp and concluded there were six hundred soldiers. As the camp crossed the Illinois River, the ferryman thought there were five hundred in the company.20 When they faced opposition at Indianapolis, Joseph assured the brethren that they would pass through the city without anyone being aware of their doing so. He divided them into small groups which dispersed, taking different routes through the community undetected.

Potential enemies notwithstanding, quarreling and contention within the camp became its most vexing problem. Several men feared possible dangers, some complained about changes in their life-style, and a few questioned the decisions of their leaders. For forty-five days they marched together, and the inevitable personality clashes were exacerbated by the harsh conditions they encountered. Grumblers often blamed Joseph Smith for their discomfort.

Sylvester Smith (no relation to the Prophet), a sharp-tongued group captain, frequently led the dissension. He complained that the food was poor, preparations for the journey were inadequate, and Joseph’s watchdog kept him awake at night. On the evening of 17 May, Joseph was called upon to settle a dispute among some of the brethren. He said that he found a “rebellious spirit in Sylvester Smith, and to some extent in others. I told them they would meet with misfortunes, difficulties and hindrances, and said, ‘and you will know it before you leave this place,’ exhorting them to humble themselves before the Lord and become united, that they might not be scourged.”21 The following day the prophecy was fulfilled: nearly every horse was sick or lame. The Prophet promised if they would humble themselves and overcome their discord, their animals would immediately be restored to health. By noon the horses were nimble once again, with the exception of Sylvester Smith’s mount, which soon died.

Contention soon arose again when Sylvester Smith threatened to kill Joseph’s dog. On 3 June a frustrated Joseph Smith stood on a wagon wheel and scolded the men for their lack of humility, their murmuring and faultfinding: “I said the Lord had revealed to me that a scourge would come upon the camp in consequence of the fractious and unruly spirits that appeared among them, and they should die like sheep with the rot; still, if they would repent and humble themselves before the Lord, the scourge, in a great measure, might be turned away; but, as the Lord lives, the members of this camp will suffer for giving way to their unruly temper.”22 This sad prophecy would be fulfilled within a few weeks.23

“Hark! Listen to the Trumpeters” was a march hymn sung by those in Zion’s Camp as they traveled to Missouri. Occasionally Brigham Young and Joseph Young sang the hymn for the benefit of the camp.

Hark! Listen to the Trumpeters

Hark! listen to the trumpeters
   They call for volunteers;
On Zion’s bright and flow’ry mount
   Behold the officers.

Their horses white, their armours bright,
   With courage bold they stand,
Enlisting soldiers for their King,
   To march to Zion’s land.

It sets my heart all in a flame
   A soldier for to be;
I will enlist, gird on my arms,
   And fight for liberty.

We want no cowards in our bands
   That will our colours fly;
We call for valiant-hearted men,
   Who’re not afraid to die.

To see our armies on parade,
   How martial they appear;
All arm’d and drest in uniform,
   They look like men of war.

They follow their great General,
   The great eternal Lamb,
His garments stain’d in his own blood,
   King Jesus is his name.

The trumpets sound, the armies shout,
   They drive the hosts of hell:
How dreadful is our God t’adore!
   The great Emmanuel!

Sinners, enlist with Jesus Christ,
   The eternal Son of God;
And march with us to Zion’s land,
   Beyond the swelling flood.

There, on a green and flow’ry mount,
   Where fruits immortal grow,
With angels all arrayed in white,
   And our Redeemer know.

We’ll shout and sing for evermore
   In that eternal world;
While Satan and his army too
   Shall down to hell be hurl’d.

Lift up your heads, ye soldiers bold,
   Redemption’s drawing nigh;
We soon shall hear the trumpet sound
   That shakes the earth and sky.

In fiery chariots we shall rise,
   And leave the world on fire,
And all surround the throne of love,
   And join the heav’nly choir.25

Efforts to Achieve Peace

The anti-Mormons in Jackson County learned of the advancing army in June when the postmaster in Chagrin, Ohio, wrote to his counterpart in Independence: “The Mormons in this region are organizing an army to restore Zion, that is to take it by force of arms.”24 Believing that a Mormon invasion was imminent, Jackson County troops began to drill, and sentries were posted at all ferries along the Missouri River. In a vindictive spirit, hoping perhaps to discourage the return of the Saints, mobbers burned 150 homes belonging to the Mormons who lived in the county. Members of Zion’s Camp suspected that spies from Missouri had followed them for hundreds of miles. One night a Missourian went into camp and swore that he knew their destination was Jackson County and that they would never cross the Mississippi River alive.

At the same time, Church leaders in Clay County continued to petition Governor Daniel Dunklin for assurance that he would support the Saints in returning to their homes, regaining their property, and living in peace in Jackson County. The governor acknowledged that the Saints had been wronged by being driven from their homes, and he sought to have the arms returned that were taken from the Saints when they were expelled from Jackson County the previous November. Furthermore, he recognized that an armed force sent by the state would be necessary to restore the Mormons to their lands and protect them while the courts decided the legal issues involved.

Once Zion’s Camp was in Missouri, Joseph Smith sent Elders Orson Hyde and Parley P. Pratt to Jefferson City, the state capital, to ascertain whether Governor Dunklin was still willing to honor his promise to reinstate the Saints in Jackson County with the assistance of the state militia. The interview was a bitter disappointment. Dunklin claimed that calling out the militia would probably plunge the state into open war. He advised the brethren that they could avoid bloodshed by relinquishing their rights, selling their lands, and settling elsewhere. This was unacceptable to the Church. The governor then advised an appeal to the courts, but the brethren felt that he knew this was not practical. Officers of the court were among the anti-Mormons in the county, so it was like referring them to a band of thieves to sue for the recovery of stolen property.26 Parley was also convinced that the governor was a coward and was morally obligated to resign for failing to live up to the obligations of his office.

Elder Pratt and Elder Hyde rejoined the approaching Zion’s Camp. Their report dashed any hopes that the Missouri Saints would be allowed to return to their homes peacefully. The brethren also realized that the anti-Mormons were waiting to destroy all Mormons who attempted to settle in Jackson County. The Prophet called upon God to witness the justice of the Saints’ cause and the sincerity of their vows. Angered and frustrated by the governor’s decision, Zion’s Camp resumed marching.

Meanwhile Judge John J. Ryland of Clay County arranged a meeting for 16 June at the courthouse in Liberty. A committee of citizens from Jackson County and representatives of the Saints in Clay County were to meet in an effort to resolve the dispute. A large, unruly, belligerent crowd gathered at the meeting. The non-Mormons proposed to purchase within thirty days all property owned by the Saints in Jackson County at prices determined by three disinterested arbiters or to have the Mormons do likewise and buy all their property within the same time period. This proposal was unrealistic. The Saints did not have enough funds to purchase even a fraction of the land owned by the non-Mormons, and they could not sell their land in Zion because they had been commanded by the Lord to purchase and settle it.27 These facts, of course, were all known by the anti-Mormons. Tempers flared as Jackson County representative Samuel Owens swore that the Missourians would fight for every inch of ground rather than let the Saints return.

“A Baptist priest . . . said, ‘The Mormons have lived long enough in Clay county; and they must either clear out, or be cleared out.’

“Mr. Turnham, the moderator of the meeting, answered in a masterly manner; saying, ‘Let us be republicans; let us honor our country, and not disgrace it like Jackson county. For God’s sake don’t disfranchise or drive away the Mormons. They are better citizens than many of the old inhabitants.’”28

The Mormon committee prepared a statement specifying that the Saints would not commence hostilities, and they promised to respond to the Jackson County proposition within a week. Soon thereafter the Saints prepared a counterproposal suggesting that a neutral committee determine the value of the property of those in Jackson County who refused to live with the Latter-day Saints, and that the Saints buy that property within a year. Moreover, the Saints promised to stay out of Jackson County until full payment was made. These negotiations unfortunately proved futile.29

Events at Fishing River

By 18 June, Zion’s Camp arrived within a mile of Richmond, the county seat of Ray County. As the army encamped, the Prophet had a premonition of danger. He went into the woods and prayed for safety, and he was assured that the Lord would protect them. He had the camp roused in the early morning hours, and they left without prayers or breakfast. As they marched through Richmond, a black slave woman agitatedly told Luke Johnson, “There is a company of men lying in wait here, who are calculating to kill you this morning as you pass through.” They met no resistance, although they were able to make only nine miles, being slowed down by broken wagon wheels.

Instead of reaching their intended destination of Liberty, they camped just inside Clay County on a hill between two branches of the Fishing River. When Joseph learned that mobs were preparing to attack, he knelt and prayed again for divine protection. Joseph’s fears were confirmed when five armed Missourians rode into camp, cursing, and swore that the Mormons would “see hell before morning.”30 They boasted that nearly four hundred men had joined forces from Ray, Lafayette, Clay, and Jackson counties and were then preparing to cross the Missouri River at Williams Ferry and “utterly destroy the Mormons.”31 Sounds of gunfire were heard, and some of the men wanted to fight, but the Prophet promised that the Lord would protect them. He declared, “Stand still and see the salvation of God.”32

A few minutes after the Missourians left, a small black cloud appeared in the clear western sky. It moved eastward, unrolling like a scroll, filling the heavens with darkness. As the first ferry load of mobbers crossed the Missouri River to the south, a sudden squall made it nearly impossible for the boat to return to pick up another load. The storm was so intense that Zion’s Camp abandoned their tents and found shelter in an old Baptist meetinghouse nearby. When Joseph Smith came in, he exclaimed, “Boys, there is some meaning to this. God is in this storm.”33 It was impossible for anyone to sleep, so the group sang hymns and rested on the rough benches. One camp member recorded that “during this time the whole canopy of the wide horizen was in one complete blaze with terrifying claps of thunder.”34

Elsewhere the beleaguered mobbers sought any refuge they could. The furious storm broke branches from trees and destroyed crops. It soaked and made the mobbers’ ammunition useless, frightened and scattered their horses, and raised the level of the Fishing River, preventing them from attacking Zion’s Camp. The Prophet recalled, “It seemed as if the mandate of vengeance had gone forth from the God of battles, to protect His servants from the destruction of their enemies.”35

Two days later, on 21 June, Colonel John Sconce and two associates of the Ray County militia rode into Zion’s Camp to learn of the Mormons’ intentions. “I see that there is an Almighty power that protects this people,” Sconce admitted.36 The Prophet explained that the only purpose of Zion’s Camp was to help their brethren be reinstated on their lands and that their intent was not to injure anyone. He said, “The evil reports circulated about us were false, and got up by our enemies to procure our destruction.”37 Sconce and his companions were so affected by the stories of the unjust trials and suffering of the Saints that they promised to use their influence to offset feelings against the Mormons.

The next day, 22 June, Joseph received a revelation communicating the Lord’s dissatisfaction with the members of the Church for their disobedience and selfishness:

They “do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;

“And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom” (D&C 105:3–4).

This chastisement was directed specifically to members of the branches who were slow in sharing themselves and their means for the cause of Zion (see vv. 7–8). The Saints had to learn their duty and gain more experience before Zion could be redeemed (see vv. 9–10). Thus the Lord said, “it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season, for the redemption of Zion” (v. 13). He promised the obedient that they would receive an endowment from on high if they continued faithful (see vv. 11–12). If Zion’s Camp did not succeed in its military objectives, it did succeed in serving the purposes of the Lord. Speaking of the men in the camp he said, “I have heard their prayers, and will accept their offering; and it is expedient in me that they should be brought thus far for a trial of their faith” (v. 19).

For a few of the Saints, the Lord’s command not to do battle was the final trial of their faith. Disappointed and angry, they apostatized. As a result of their insurrection the Prophet again warned the camp that the Lord would send a devastating scourge upon them as a consequence of their unrighteous complaints. The day before the revelation was given two men contracted cholera. Three days later several more were struck with the dreaded disease, which was carried in contaminated water. The epidemic spread, causing severe diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps. Before it ended, about sixty-eight people, including Joseph Smith, were stricken by the disease, and fourteen members of the camp died, one of whom was a woman named Betsy Parrish.38 On 2 July, Joseph Smith told the camp that “if they would humble themselves before the Lord and covenant to keep His commandments and obey my counsel, the plague should be stayed from that hour, and there should not be another case of the cholera among them. The brethren covenanted to that effect with uplifted hands, and the plague was stayed.”39

Disbanding the Camp and Reorganizing the Saints

On 25 June, during the height of the cholera attack, Joseph Smith divided Zion’s Camp into several small groups to demonstrate the Saints’ peaceful intent to the Missourians. Ten days later formal written discharges were prepared for each faithful member of the camp. Lyman Wight reported that the Prophet “said that he was now willing to return home, that he was fully satisfied that he had done the will of God, and that the Lord had accepted our sacrifice and offering, even as he had Abraham’s when he offered his son Isaac; and in his benediction asked the heavenly Father to bless us with eternal life and salvation.”40

The camp dispersed after being released by the Prophet. Some people remained in Missouri in accordance with the Fishing River revelation (see D&C 105:20), and some returned to the mission field, but most of them returned to their families in the East. On that same day, 3 July, the Prophet organized a presidency and high council in Missouri to help Bishop Edward Partridge administer the affairs of the Church in that area. Joseph Smith discouraged the Missouri Saints from holding Church meetings, however, in an attempt to allay the fears of local citizens.

Life in Clay County was easier for the Saints throughout the rest of 1834 and during 1835. This period was relatively free from persecution, and the Saints enjoyed some prosperity. Most of the non-Mormons in Clay County were cordial. The spirit of good will, however, began to change when Saints continued to migrate to Missouri in anticipation of returning to Jackson County and when some members of the Church bought property in Clay County. Unfortunately, a few of the members had not learned from the persecutions of Jackson County, and they incited the old settlers with talk that their lands would eventually belong to the Saints. Collectively the members failed to observe the Lord’s counsel:

“Talk not of judgments, neither boast of faith nor of mighty works, but carefully gather together, as much in one region as can be, consistently with the feelings of the people;

“And behold, I will give unto you favor and grace in their eyes, that you may rest in peace and safety” (D&C 105:24–25).

Joseph Smith and a few other leaders of Zion’s Camp arrived back in Kirtland in early August, to the relief of the Saints in Kirtland who had worried about reports that the Prophet had been killed in Missouri. Later in the month a high council court heard the complaints of Sylvester Smith and others who were still bitter over Zion’s Camp. Ten men who had participated in Zion’s Camp disputed the charges of Sylvester Smith and testified that Joseph Smith was not guilty of improper conduct. After reviewing the evidence, Sylvester admitted that he was in error and had behaved improperly.

Accomplishments of Zion’s Camp

Zion’s Camp failed to help the Missouri Saints regain their lands and was marred by some dissension, apostasy, and unfavorable publicity, but a number of positive results came from the journey. By volunteering, the members demonstrated their faith in the Lord and his prophet and their earnest desire to comply with latter-day revelation. They showed their concern for the exiled Saints in Missouri by their willingness to lay down their lives if necessary to assist them.

This rugged journey served as a test to determine who was worthy to serve in positions of leadership and trust and to receive an endowment in the Kirtland Temple. The Prophet later explained: “God did not want you to fight. He could not organize his kingdom with twelve men to open the gospel door to the nations of the earth, and with seventy men under their direction to follow in their tracks, unless he took them from a body of men who had offered their lives, and who had made as great a sacrifice as did Abraham.”41 In February 1835 the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Quorum of the Seventy were organized. Nine of the original Apostles, all seven presidents of the Seventy’s quorum, and all sixty-three other members of that quorum had served in the army of Israel that marched to western Missouri in 1834.

Zion’s Camp chastened, polished, and spiritually refined many of the Lord’s servants. The observant and dedicated received invaluable practical training and spiritual experience that served them well in later struggles for the Church. The hardships and challenges experienced over its thousand miles provided invaluable training for Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and others who led the exiled Saints from Missouri to Illinois and from Nauvoo across the plains to the Rocky Mountains. When a skeptic asked what he had gained from his journey, Brigham Young promptly replied, “I would not exchange the knowledge I have received this season for the whole of Geauga County.”42


1. In History of the Church, 2:39.

2. The previous two paragraphs are derived from Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983), pp. 173–75.

3. History of the Church, 2:48.

4. Wilford Woodruff Journals, 11 Apr. 1834, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City; spelling, punctuation, and capitalization standardized.

5. Derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, p. 179.

6. Reed A. Stout, ed., “Autobiography of Hosea Stout, 1810 to 1835,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 1962, pp. 259–60; spelling and punctuation standardized.

7. “History of Brigham Young,” Millennial Star, 18 July 1863, p. 455; or Elden Jay Watson, Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1801–1844 (Salt Lake City: Elden Jay Watson, 1968), p. 8.

8. Previous two paragraphs derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 178–79.

9. In Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 3d ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), p. 40.

10. George A. Smith, “Memoirs of George A. Smith,” 4 May 1834, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, p. 13.

11. Joseph Holbrook, “History of Joseph Holbrook, 1806–1885,” LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, p. 15.

12. Previous four paragraphs derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 180–85.

13. Derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, p. 188.

14. Smith, “Memoirs of George A. Smith,” p. 15.

15. See History of the Church, 2:71.

16. History of the Church, 2:66–67.

17. History of the Church, 2:71–72.

18. History of the Church, 2:73.

19. History of the Church, 2:80.

20. See History of the Church, 2:79.

21. History of the Church, 2:68; punctuation standardized.

22. History of the Church, 2:80.

23. Previous six paragraphs derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 186–89.

24. Letter from J. M. Henderson to Independence postmaster, cited in Pearl Wilcox, The Latter Day Saints on the Missouri Frontier (Independence, Mo.: Pearl G. Wilcox, 1972), p. 121.

25. Sacred Hymns, 1840, pp. 283–85.

26. See Parley P. Pratt, ed., Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Classics in Mormon Literature series (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), p. 94.

27. Previous three paragraphs derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 189–91.

28. History of the Church, 2:97–98.

29. Derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 191–92.

30. In History of the Church, 2:102–3.

31. Backman, Heavens Resound, p. 190.

32.History of Joseph Holbrook,” p. 17.

33. Wilford Woodruff, in History of the Church, 2:104n.

34. Journal of Moses Martin, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, n.p.; spelling standardized; see also History of the Church, 2:104–5.

35. History of the Church, 2:105.

36. In History of the Church, 2:106.

37. History of the Church, 2:106.

38. See History of the Church, 2:114; James L. Bradley, Zion’s Camp 1834: Prelude to the Civil War (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1990), p. 207.

39. History of the Church, 2:120; paragraph derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 192–94.

40. Lyman Wight, in The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Independence, Mo.: Herald Publishing House, 1896), 1:515–16.

41. Joseph Young, History of the Organization of the Seventies (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1878), p. 14; or History of the Church, 2:182n.

42. In Journal of Discourses, 2:10; previous four paragraphs derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 197–99.

Glorious Days in Kirtland, 1834–36

Time Line



Significant Event

Aug. 1834

Zion’s Camp returned

Nov. 1834

School of the Elders opened in Kirtland

5 Dec. 1834

Oliver Cowdery was set apart as Assistant President of the Church

Feb. 1835

Quorum of the Twelve and Quorum of the Seventy were called

28 Mar. 1835

Revelation on priesthood (D&C 107) was received

July 1835

Mummies and scrolls purchased from Michael Chandler

17 Aug. 1835

Special conference approved Doctrine and Covenants

Nov. 1835

Plastering on temple began

Nov. 1835

Emma Smith’s hymnal was published

21 Jan. 1836

Spiritual manifestations received in Kirtland Temple, including vision of celestial kingdom (D&C 137)

27 Mar. 1836

Kirtland Temple dedicated and spiritual outpourings received

3 Apr. 1836

Jesus Christ, Moses, Elias, and Elijah appeared to accept the temple and restore priesthood keys

May–June 1836

Two future Church presidents—John Taylor and Lorenzo Snow—were baptized

By August 1834 Joseph Smith and most of his associates in Zion’s Camp had returned home. With the attempt to help the Missouri Saints behind them, the members in Ohio again turned their attention to building the kingdom of God in their own area. The two years following the return of Zion’s Camp were a time of relative peace for these Ohio Saints. This period brought a number of significant and particularly far-reaching developments affecting Church organization, doctrine, scriptures, and temple activity.

Further Expansion of Church Organization

On 5 December 1834 the Prophet Joseph Smith ordained Oliver Cowdery as Assistant President of the Church.1 He had been with the Prophet when the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods were restored. When the Church of Jesus Christ was organized in 1830, Oliver as “second elder” stood next to Joseph in authority (see Joseph Smith—History 1:68–73; D&C 110).2 Thus, whenever priesthood authority or keys were restored, Oliver was with the Prophet Joseph. “It was necessary according to the divine law of witnesses for Joseph Smith to have a companion holding those keys.”3 Oliver Cowdery was not only to assist Joseph Smith in presiding over the Church, but he was also to stand with the Prophet as a second witness of the Restoration. By 1838 Oliver Cowdery had lost his office of Assistant President through apostasy and excommunication, but in 1841 the Lord called Hyrum Smith to fill this office (see D&C 124:94–96). The President and the Assistant President, or the first and second witnesses, would seal their testimonies with their blood at the Carthage Jail.

One of the most important events in the restoration of the Savior’s church was the formation of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Even before the Church was organized, the members had anticipated this significant step. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had received the authority of the apostleship (see D&C 20:2–3) probably as early as 1829. During that same year, a revelation directed Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer to search out the twelve who would be “called to go into all the world to preach my gospel unto every creature” (D&C 18:28). Later Martin Harris was also called to assist in this selection. This meant that the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, under the direction and consent of the First Presidency, would choose the Twelve Apostles who were to serve as special witnesses of the Savior in this dispensation. The Prophet Joseph Smith invited the veterans of Zion’s Camp and others to attend a special conference on Saturday, 14 February 1835. The minutes of the meeting reflect those events:4

“He then gave a relation of some of the circumstances attending us while journeying to Zion—our trials, sufferings: and said God had not designed all this for nothing, but He had it in remembrance yet; and it was the will of God that those who went to Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, should be ordained to the ministry, and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time, or the coming of the Lord, which was nigh. . . .

“. . . Even the smallest and weakest among us, shall be powerful and mighty, and great things shall be accomplished by you from this hour; and you shall begin to feel the whisperings of the Spirit of God; and the work of God shall begin to break forth from this time; and you shall be endowed with power from on high.” Following the Prophet’s remarks, the meeting was adjourned for an hour. As the meeting reconvened, the Three Witnesses prayed and were blessed by the First Presidency. The witnesses then proceeded to select the Twelve Apostles.5 Because they were all called at the same time, the Apostles’ seniority in the quorum was set according to age.

Seniority in the first Quorum of the Twelve


Age at Call

Thomas B. Marsh*


David W. Patten


Brigham Young


Heber C. Kimball


Orson Hyde


William E. McLellin


Parley P. Pratt


Luke S. Johnson


William B. Smith


Orson Pratt


John F. Boynton


Lyman E. Johnson


*Thomas was in his thirty-fifth year but did not turn thirty-five until 1 November 1835. At the time, David Patten did not know his age; however, subsequent records show he was actually older than Thomas, having been born 14 November 1799.

The Original Twelve of This Dispensation

One week after their selection, the Twelve received an apostolic charge from Oliver Cowdery similar to the one the Savior gave the New Testament Apostles (see Matthew 10; 28:19–20; Acts 1:8). He warned them:

“You will have to combat all the prejudices of all nations.

“He then read the revelation [D&C 18]. . . .

“. . . I therefore warn you to cultivate great humility; for I know the pride of the human heart. Beware, lest the flatterers of the world lift you up; beware, lest your affections be captivated by worldly objects. Let your ministry be first. . . .

“. . . It is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth. . . .

“. . . Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you. . . .

“. . . You are to bear this message to those who consider themselves wise; and such may persecute you—they may seek your life. The adversary has always sought the life of the servants of God; you are therefore to be prepared at all times to make a sacrifice of your lives, should God require them in the advancement and building up of His cause. . . .

“He then took them separately by the hand, and said, ‘Do you with full purpose of heart take part in this ministry, to proclaim the Gospel with all diligence, with these your brethren, according to the tenor and intent of the charge you have received?’ Each of them answered in the affirmative.”6

Two weeks later at a special conference, the Prophet organized another key priesthood quorum—the Seventy—from those who had been in Zion’s Camp (see D&C 107:93). To accommodate their unique role as a “traveling” quorum with responsibility to preach the gospel worldwide, they were presided over by seven presidents. This was according to a vision of Church organization given to the Prophet.7 Joseph Young, Hazen Aldrich, Levi Hancock, Leonard Rich, Zebedee Coltrin, Lyman Sherman, and Sylvester Smith were the original presidents of this quorum.

A month later the Lord revealed additional information concerning priesthood and Church government. The Twelve, who were preparing to depart on missions, felt they had not fully accepted the weighty responsibilities of their calling. In a spirit of repentance, they petitioned the Prophet to ask the Lord for further guidance. In response the Lord instructed the Twelve and the Seventy on their respective responsibilities. The Twelve were to be “special witnesses of the name of Christ” and serve under the direction of the First Presidency to “build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations” (D&C 107:23, 33). The Seventy were to serve under the direction of the Twelve and accomplish the same purpose. Together with the First Presidency, these quorums constituted the presiding councils of the Church. The revelation also outlined the duties of those who preside over the quorums of the priesthood, and it closed with this admonition:

“Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.

“He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand” (D&C 107:99–100). In compliance with instructions given in the revelation, the first Aaronic Priesthood quorums were formed in 1835 in Kirtland. They were made up of mature men. There were no set ages for worthy candidates to advance from one office to another.8

In the light of instructions in Doctrine and Covenants 107, the “standing” stake high councils assumed an increasingly important role during the mid-1830s, particularly in the capacity of Church courts. Questions soon arose concerning the status and jurisdiction of the high councils and of the Twelve who were referred to as “a Traveling Presiding High Council” (D&C 107:33). The Prophet responded that the authority of the standing high councils was limited to the stakes, while the Twelve had jurisdiction over the Church abroad.9 This raised the additional question about the jurisdiction of the Twelve in local matters. The Prophet assured them that since they stood next to the First Presidency in authority, they were not subject to any other body. Brigham Young later looked back on these months of discussion as a time of trial when the Twelve had to prove their willingness “‘to be everybody’s servant for Christ’s sake. . . .’ This was necessary, according to Young, for only ‘true servants’ may receive the power.”10

Reaching Out to Share the Gospel

Organized proselyting had been temporarily interrupted by Zion’s Camp in the summer of 1834. During the fall, however, missionary work resumed as Church leaders called more and more men to fill missions. Some of them labored for only a few weeks in nearby communities. Others had longer assignments to proclaim the gospel in distant areas. Many of the missionaries served more than one mission, often leaving home at times that were personally inconvenient. In 1835 William W. Phelps wrote, “The Elders are constantly coming and going.”11

handwritten missionary certificate

Missionary certificate of Edward Partridge and Isaac Morley

Formal missions were supplemented by the efforts of enthusiastic converts eager to share their newly-found treasure with family and friends. New convert Caroline Crosby exclaimed, “How often while listening to the voice of the prophet have I wished, Oh that my friends, parents, brothers, and sisters, could hear the things that I have heard, and their hearts be made to rejoice in them, as mine did.”12

Many leaders of the Church were also involved in missionary service. The Prophet Joseph Smith went to Michigan in 1834 and 1835. But perhaps the most important effort was the five-month mission of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to the East in 1835. From May to September they traveled hundreds of miles throughout New York, New England, and Canada. Besides doing missionary work and regulating and strengthening local congregations, their assignments included gathering funds for temple construction, for purchase of lands in Zion, and for the printing endeavors of the Church. Traveling without purse or scrip they experienced typical problems of persecution, rejection, fatigue, and hunger; however, at one large meeting they counted 144 carriages and estimated that from two to three thousand people attended.

This mission is significant in Church history because it is the only time that all twelve members of the Quorum undertook a mission together. Upon their return to Kirtland, Heber C. Kimball reported that they had felt God’s power and were able to heal the sick and cast out devils. In this same season the Quorum of the Seventy also filled missions, primarily in the eastern states.13

During the mid-1830s many Church leaders also served numerous individual missions. Elder Parley P. Pratt’s Canadian mission is a notable example. In April 1836 fellow Apostle Heber C. Kimball blessed Parley and prophesied that he would go to Toronto and there “find a people prepared for the fulness of the gospel, and they shall receive thee, . . . and it shall spread thence into the regions round about . . . ; and from the things growing out of this mission, shall the fulness of the gospel spread into England, and cause a great work to be done in that land.”14 While Parley was in Hamilton en route to Toronto, a stranger gave him a letter of introduction to John Taylor, a Methodist lay preacher in Toronto. Taylor was affiliated with a group who believed existing churches did not correspond with New Testament Christianity. For two years this group had met several times a week for the “purpose of seeking truth, independent of any sectarian organization.” In Toronto, Elder Pratt was courteously received by the Taylors, but they were not at first enthusiastic about his message.15

John Taylor

John Taylor (1808–87) was born in England and then emigrated to Canada, where he was converted to the gospel. A few of his many labors included serving as a publisher, missionary, Apostle, and President of the Church.

Discouraged at being unable to secure a place to preach, Parley decided to leave Toronto. Before going he stopped at the Taylors to get some of his luggage and to say goodbye. While he was there, Leonora Taylor told her friend Mrs. Isabella Walton about Parley’s problem and said she was sorry he was leaving. “He may be a man of God,” she said. Mrs. Walton replied that she had been inspired by the Spirit to visit the Taylors that morning because she was willing to let Elder Pratt stay at her home and preach. He did so and was eventually invited to attend a meeting of John Taylor’s group, in which John read the New Testament account of Philip’s preaching in Samaria. “‘Now,’ said he, ‘where is our Philip? Where is our receiving the Word with joy, and being baptized when we believed? Where is our Peter and John? Our apostles? Where is our Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands? . . .’”16 When Parley was invited to speak, he declared that he had answers to John Taylor’s questions.

For three weeks John Taylor attended Elder Pratt’s meetings making detailed notes of his sermons and carefully comparing them with the scriptures. Gradually he became convinced that the true gospel of Jesus Christ was restored. He and his wife, Leonora, were baptized on 9 May 1836. Soon thereafter John Taylor was ordained an elder and became an active missionary. The work spread so rapidly that Orson Hyde was sent from Kirtland to assist Parley, while Orson Pratt and Freeman Nickerson, who were already in Canada, joined Parley in Toronto. When the missionaries left Toronto, John Taylor was set apart to preside over the congregations these elders had established.

Mary Fielding Smith

Mary Fielding Smith (1801–52)

The Fielding family, who also became important in the history of the Church, was part of this Canadian harvest. Mary Fielding married Hyrum Smith and became the mother of the sixth and grandmother of the tenth Presidents of the Church—Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith, respectively. A year after his baptism, Mary’s brother Joseph joined the first missionaries to Britain and played a key role in establishing the work there.

elder’s certificate

elder’s certificate

Elder’s certificate (front and back) of Wilford Woodruff, signed by Joseph Smith in 1836

Missionaries in other areas also enjoyed rich spiritual experiences. Wilford Woodruff, for example, went to Missouri in 1834 at the age of twenty-seven. That fall he was ordained a priest and sent to Arkansas and Tennessee as one of the earliest missionaries to carry the gospel to those regions. In later years he frequently testified that “in all his life he never had enjoyed more of the spirit and power of God than when he was a priest doing missionary work in the Southern States.”17

Gradually congregations sprang up throughout the Northeast, the Midwest, and eastern Canada, and eventually the gospel spread into West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. At first local groups were called churches, but by 1835 the term branch was common. This designation symbolized how the members in one locality extended the good news to friends living nearby who formed a new congregation, which was literally a branch of the parent group. Customarily several branches joined together for periodic conferences, and in 1835 the Twelve organized them into districts, called conferences, each having definite boundaries like modern stakes.18

Developments in Scripture

In a tomb19 on the west bank of the Nile River across from the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes (now called Luxor), Antonio Lebolo, a French-speaking explorer from the Piedmont (a region of northwestern Italy), discovered several mummies and along with them some papyrus scrolls. Following the death of Lebolo in 1830, the mummies and papyri were shipped to the United States, where Michael H. Chandler, who identified himself as Lebolo’s nephew, came into possession of them in 1833. In 1835 Chandler displayed his artifacts in several eastern cities.

1835 D&C title page

Title page of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants

When he came to Kirtland at the end of June, the Saints showed great interest in the mummies and papyri. Chandler had heard that Joseph Smith claimed he could translate ancient records. He asked Joseph if he could translate the papyri. Orson Pratt recalled, “The Prophet took them and repaired to his room and inquired of the Lord concerning them. The Lord told him they were sacred records” and revealed the translation of some of the characters.20 Chandler had previously submitted a few characters from the records to scholars in order to determine their probable meaning. Upon receiving the Prophet’s translation, he provided a signed testimonial that it corresponded “in the most minute matters” with those of the scholars.21

Greatly interested in their content, the Saints purchased the mummies and scrolls for twenty-four hundred dollars. Joseph immediately began working with the scrolls and found that they contained the writings of Abraham and the writings of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. “Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.”22 During the rest of his time in Kirtland he maintained an active interest in working with these ancient writings. The fruit of his efforts, the book of Abraham, was not printed, however, until 1842 after more translating was completed in Nauvoo. In February 1843 the Prophet promised to supply more of the translation of the book of Abraham, but his demanding schedule did not allow him time to complete the work before he was assassinated.

In 1835 another standard work of the Church was published. The Missouri persecutions had disrupted the publication of the Book of Commandments in 1833. Steps were taken in Ohio to publish an expanded compilation of the revelations. In September 1834 the First Presidency was appointed to select the revelations to be published, and the Prophet revised some of them to correct printing errors and to add information revealed since 1833. The committee’s work was completed the following summer, and a solemn assembly was convened on 17 August 1835 to vote on the new book of scripture to be called the Doctrine and Covenants.

The book’s title referred to its two major divisions. The first part, designated “doctrine,” contained seven lectures on faith delivered in the School of the Elders the previous winter. The second section, entitled “Covenants and Commandments,” included one hundred and two sections, thirty-seven more than the Book of Commandments.23 The volume’s preface pointed out the differences between the theological lectures and the Lord’s revelations.24 This distinction became the basis for a decision in 1921 to publish the revelations without the Lectures on Faith to avoid confusing readers about the status of the lectures.

handwritten account book

Day book of the Gilbert and Whitney store in Kirtland, Ohio (November 1836–April 1837)
Courtesy of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Everyday Life in Kirtland

During the middle 1830s Kirtland increasingly became a Latter-day Saint community. While the number of nonmembers there remained relatively constant at about twelve to thirteen hundred, the number of Saints almost tripled, growing from nearly five hundred to about fifteen hundred between 1834 and 1837. Thus the Church and its activities gradually exerted more influence on community life. This sometimes led to tensions between the two ideologically different groups of people.25

While most of the Saints were grateful for such momentous events as the calling of the Twelve Apostles and the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants, their day-to-day life centered on earning a living on the farm or in town. Despite long hours of hard physical work, the Saints found time for recreation, education, and worship.

Although leisure time was limited, the Kirtland Saints enjoyed hunting, fishing, swimming, and horseback riding. Wintertime favorites included ice skating and sleigh riding. Family associations were especially important to the Saints. After a long day’s work, parents and children often enjoyed the evening together singing, playing, studying, and discussing topics of common interest. Holidays were infrequent and generally went almost unnoticed. Journals of the time seldom mention any special holiday activities, even on Christmas day. One Latter-day Saint girl was surprised during a trip to New York City to learn that other children received visits from Santa Claus, who filled their stockings with gifts and treats.26

The Saints considered education essential, and the home was the setting for most of the learning. Private tutors, such as Eliza R. Snow, who lived with Joseph Smith’s family tutoring his children, were common. Occasionally teachers offered their services for private classes in a home or community building.

Following the early efforts of the School of the Prophets in 1833, the School of the Elders met during the next two winters, when the men were not so busy with farming or missionary assignments. It convened in a thirty-by-thirty-eight-foot room on the main floor of the printing building just west of the temple. Its purpose was to prepare the men who were about to go forth as missionaries or to serve in other Church callings. The curriculum included English grammar, writing, philosophy, government, literature, geography, and ancient as well as modern history. Theology, however, received the major emphasis.

Hebrew Grammar book title page

Title page of Joshua Seixas’s Hebrew grammar book. Prior to being employed by the Prophet to teach Hebrew in Kirtland, Joshua Seixas had taught Hebrew at Oberlin College, where Lorenzo Snow was one of his students.

An important outgrowth of the School of the Elders was a Hebrew school conducted from January to April of 1836 under the direction of a young Hebrew instructor, Joshua Seixas. He was contracted for $320 to teach forty students for seven weeks. Interest was greater than expected, so two additional classes were organized. After Seixas left, interest in Hebrew continued. William W. Phelps, for example, often shared his translations from the Hebrew Bible with his friends. The Prophet Joseph Smith was particularly enthusiastic about his study of Hebrew. He declared, “My soul delights in reading the word of the Lord in the original.”27

One young nonmember, Lorenzo Snow from nearby Mantua, Ohio, attended the Hebrew school. One day, while on his way to Oberlin College, Lorenzo met Elder David W. Patten. Their conversation turned to religion, and Elder Patten’s sincerity and testimony made a lasting impression on Lorenzo. He was therefore receptive when his sister Eliza, a recent convert, invited him to attend the school. While there Lorenzo became acquainted with Joseph Smith and other Church leaders and was baptized in June 1836.

Sabbath worship was central in the lives of the early Latter-day Saints. Many people gathered enough firewood and completed other chores on Saturday so they could devote Sunday to spiritual matters. They met in homes and later in schools for their services, but during warm weather they gathered outdoors. Sunday meetings were simple. The morning meeting typically began at 10:00 with a hymn and prayer followed by one or two sermons. The afternoon service was similar, but usually included the administration of the sacrament. Occasionally confirmations and marriages were performed during these gatherings.

The first Thursday of each month was fast day. In meetings that often lasted six hours, the Saints sang, prayed, bore their testimonies describing divine manifestations in their lives, and exhorted each other to live the gospel. Eliza R. Snow fondly remembered these gatherings as “hallowed and interesting beyond the power of language to describe. Many, many were the pentecostal seasons of the outpouring of the spirit of God on those days, manifesting the gifts of the Gospel and the power of healing, prophesying, speaking in tongues, the interpretation of tongues, etc.”28 Weeknights were also filled with priesthood quorum meetings, preaching services, choir practices, or meetings where patriarchal blessings were given.

Music has always been an important part in the Saints’ worship. In July 1830 a revelation directed Emma Smith to compile a hymnbook for the Church. This small volume finally appeared in 1835. It included the words for ninety hymns, thirty-four that were written by Church members and bore testimony of the Restoration. The remainder of the hymns were drawn from popular contemporary hymnals. No music was printed in the hymnal. The Saints sang the hymns to popular tunes of the time, and frequently branches and choirs used different melodies for the same hymns. Several of the hymns selected by Emma Smith, with the assistance of William W. Phelps, are still in our present hymnbook.

Building the Lord’s House

For about three years the time and energies of the Kirtland Saints were devoted to building the first temple of this dispensation. This endeavor began in December 1832 when the Lord commanded them to “establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (D&C 88:119). Five months later the Lord chastised the Church for their delay and admonished them to move forward with the building of the temple (see D&C 95). The Saints then faithfully devoted themselves to the task.

The Prophet once asked a conference of high priests how the temple should be constructed. Some favored building it of logs. Others preferred a frame structure. “‘Shall we, brethren,’ said he, ‘build a house for our God, of logs? No, I have a better plan than that. I have a plan of the house of the Lord, given by himself; and you will soon see by this, the difference between our calculations and his idea of things.’”29 Truman O. Angell, one of the construction supervisors, testified that the Lord’s promise to show the Prophet the building’s design was literally fulfilled. He said that when the First Presidency knelt in prayer, “the Building appeared within viewing distance.” Later, while speaking in the completed temple, Frederick G. Williams said that the hall in which they met coincided in every detail with the vision given to them.30

Kirtland Temple

Architectural drawing of the Kirtland Temple
Courtesy of U. S. Department of the Interior

The temple’s exterior looked like a typical New England meetinghouse, but its interior was unique. The Lord had specified that the building should include two large rooms, one above the other, each measuring fifty-five by sixty-five feet. Each pulpit in the temple was to have four tiers. The lower hall was to be the chapel, for praying, preaching, and administering the sacrament. The upper hall was for educational purposes (see D&C 95:8, 13–17).

Construction on the temple began 6 June 1833. In response to the Lord’s admonition, a committee was directed to procure materials for the work. A stone quarry was located two miles south of the building site, and a wagon load of stone was immediately quarried. Hyrum Smith and Reynolds Cahoon started digging a trench for the foundation. But the Saints were so poor, an early member recalled, that “there was not a scraper and hardly a plow that could be obtained among the Saints.”31 Nevertheless, “unity, harmony and charity abounded to strengthen” them to fulfill the commandment to build the temple.32 On 23 July 1833, the cornerstones were laid “after the order of the Holy Priesthood.”33

Almost all able-bodied men who were not away on missions worked on the temple. Joseph Smith served as foreman in the quarry. On Saturdays men brought teams and wagons and hauled enough quarried rock to the site to keep the masons busy during the coming week. Under Emma Smith’s direction, the women “made stockings, pantaloons and jackets” for the temple workmen. Heber C. Kimball recalled, “Our wives were all the time knitting, spinning and sewing . . . ; they were just as busy as any of us.”34

The work on the temple was not without difficulty. Mobs threatened to destroy the temple, and those who worked on it by day guarded it at night. Night after night for weeks, Heber C. Kimball said, we “were not permitted to take off our clothes, and were obliged to lay with our fire locks in our arms.”35 With the Church in constant financial distress during this period, the Saints in the United States and Canada were invited to make contributions, and many did so at great personal sacrifice. Vienna Jaques was one of the first to donate, giving much of her material resources. John Tanner loaned money to pay for the temple site and then sold his twenty-two-hundred-acre farm in New York in order to give three thousand dollars to buy supplies. He continued to give until he had given almost all he owned.

Zion’s Camp also interrupted the work during the summer of 1834, since few workmen were available and funds were diverted to aid the distressed Missouri Saints. When the brethren returned from Zion’s Camp, work progressed more rapidly. That fall Joseph Smith wrote, “Great exertions were made to expedite the work of the Lord’s house, and notwithstanding it was commenced almost with nothing, as to means, yet the way opened as we proceeded, and the Saints rejoiced.”37 The walls were about four feet high in the fall of 1834, but rose quickly during the winter. By November 1835 the exterior plastering commenced. Under the direction of Artemus Millet, the master builder of the temple, crushed china and glassware were mixed with the plaster to make the walls glisten. Under Brigham Young’s direction, the interior was finished during February of 1836. The sisters made the curtains and carpets.

handwritten certificate

Certificate authorizing the solicitation of funds for the Kirtland Temple

When the Prophet Joseph Smith learned that Artemus Millet was not yet a member of the Church, he sent Brigham Young on a special mission to baptize him. Artemus Millet was a skilled mason in Canada who would be the right man to help build the Kirtland Temple. Brother Millet was baptized and accepted the call to be the master builder of the temple and to contribute a great deal of his own money to help pay for the sacred edifice. He went to Kirtland and selected the stone for the temple’s foundation. Later he sent workers to ask Saints in the area for precious china and glassware to grind into the plaster for the temple walls. Brother Millet would not reveal the formula for the plaster to anyone, explaining that it had been revealed to him by the Lord.

After the Kirtland Temple was completed, he received his endowment in the temple he had helped build. Brother Millet also contributed his time to the building of the Nauvoo Temple. He then went west with the Saints and helped build the St. George and Manti Temples in Utah. He died in the faith in Scipio, Utah, on 19 November 1874.36

A Pentecostal Season

In addition to their great personal efforts, the Saints spent from forty to sixty thousand dollars on the temple. Because they were so willing to sacrifice in building the temple, the Lord poured out great blessings upon them. From 21 January to 1 May 1836 probably more Latter-day Saints beheld visions and witnessed other unusual spiritual manifestations than during any other era in the history of the Church. Members of the Church saw heavenly messengers in at least ten different meetings, and at five of these gatherings different individuals testified that they had beheld the Savior himself. Many experienced visions, some prophesied, and others spoke in tongues.

One of the most important meetings held in the Kirtland Temple was on Thursday, 21 January 1836. The Prophet recorded the incident:

In the evening “at early candle-light I met with the presidency at the west school room, in the Temple, to attend to the ordinance of anointing our heads with holy oil. . . .

“We then laid our hands upon our aged Father Smith, and invoked the blessings of heaven. . . . The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof. . . . I saw . . . the blazing throne of God. . . . I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold.” Joseph Smith also saw many prophets in the celestial kingdom before the scene of his vision shifted (see D&C 137:1, 3–5). He then saw the recently appointed Twelve “standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, . . . and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. . . .

“Many of my brethren who received the ordinance [of washing and anointing] with me saw glorious visions also. Angels ministered unto them as well as to myself, and the power of the Highest rested upon us. The house was filled with the glory of God, and we shouted Hosanna to God and the Lamb. . . .

“. . . Some of them saw the face of the Savior, . . . for we all communed with the heavenly host.”38

Joseph Smith saw his brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom and marvelled because Alvin had died before the gospel was restored. Also with the vision the Lord revealed the principle of mercy: “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God” (D&C 137:7). The Prophet also learned that all children who die before the age of accountability “are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:10).

Some of the most memorable spiritual experiences occurred on the day the temple was dedicated—Sunday, 27 March 1836. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints came to Kirtland anticipating the great blessings the Lord had promised to bestow upon them. Early on the morning of the temple dedication, hundreds of people gathered outside the temple hoping to attend the dedicatory service. The doors were opened at 8:00 a.m., and the First Presidency assisted in seating the congregation of nearly a thousand people, but many were left outside. When the leaders of the Church were seated at the elevated pulpits and benches at each end of the hall and when all the available seats in the temple were filled, the doors were closed. This left hundreds of people still outside, including many who had sacrificed tremendously for the temple’s construction and had come long distances to attend the dedication. Sensing their disappointment, the Prophet directed them to hold an overflow meeting in the schoolhouse just to the west. The dedicatory service was repeated a second time the following Thursday for their benefit.

After the choir’s opening number, President Sidney Rigdon spoke for two and a half hours declaring that the temple was unique among all the buildings of the world because it was built by divine revelation. After a brief intermission, the officers of the Church were sustained. The climax of the day was the dedicatory prayer, which had previously been given to the Prophet by revelation. He expressed gratitude for God’s blessings and asked the Lord to accept the temple which was built “through great tribulation . . . that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people” (D&C 109:5). He petitioned that the blessings promised in the Lord’s initial command to build the temple (see D&C 88:117–21) might now be realized, and he prayed that Church leaders, members, and the leaders of nations would be blessed, and that the promised gathering of the scattered remnants of Israel would be accomplished (see D&C 109:60–67). This prayer became a pattern for other temple dedicatory prayers.

Kirtland Temple

Kirtland Temple

Following the prayer, the choir sang the hymn “The Spirit of God.” It had been written especially for the dedication by W. W. Phelps. The sacrament was then administered and passed to the congregation. Joseph Smith and others testified that they saw heavenly messengers at the service. The congregation concluded the seven-hour service by standing and rendering the sacred “Hosanna Shout”: “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb, amen, amen, and amen,” repeated three times. Eliza R. Snow said the shout was given “with such power as seemed almost sufficient to raise the roof from the building.”39

That evening over four hundred priesthood bearers met in the temple. While George A. Smith was speaking, “a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels.”40 “David Whitmer bore testimony that he saw three angels passing up the south aisle.”41 “The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple).” Others saw angels hovering over the temple and heard heavenly singing.42

The most transcendent spiritual manifestation of all occurred a week after the dedication. After the afternoon worship service, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery retired to the Melchizedek Priesthood pulpits in the west end of the lower room of the temple. The canvas partition, called a veil, was lowered so that they could pray in private. As they prayed, “the veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened” (D&C 110:1). They saw a series of remarkable visions. The Lord Jesus Christ appeared, accepted the temple, and promised to manifest himself therein “if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house” (D&C 110:8; see also vv. 2–9).

Moses next appeared and restored “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” (v. 11). Elias then conferred “the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham” (v. 12). Finally, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (see Malachi 4:5–6) and Moroni’s promise (see D&C 2) to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers” (D&C 110:15), Elijah appeared to the Prophet and Oliver testifying that “the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands” in preparation for “the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (v. 16). Through the sealing keys that were restored by Elijah, Latter-day Saints could now perform saving priesthood ordinances in behalf of their kindred dead as well as for the living. These sacred ordinances for the dead were not introduced to the members of the Church until the Nauvoo era.

This great day of visions and revelation occurred on Easter Sunday, 3 April 1836. What better day in the dispensation of the fulness of times to reconfirm the reality of the Resurrection? That weekend was also the Jewish Passover. For centuries Jewish families have left an empty chair at their Passover feasts, anticipating Elijah’s return. Elijah has returned—not to a Passover feast, but to the Lord’s temple in Kirtland.

The period from the fall of 1834 through the summer of 1836 was one of glorious progress for the Church, and it looked as if the momentum would continue. Dark and dreary days were still ahead for the Kirtland Saints, however, as forces from both within and without threatened the Church’s advancement.


1. See History of the Church, 2:176.

2. See History of the Church, 1:39–43.

3. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 1:211.

4. This paragraph is derived from Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983), p. 248.

5. In History of the Church, 2:182; see also pp. 181–89.

6. History of the Church, 2:195–96, 198.

7. See History of the Church, 2:181n., 201–2; Joseph Young, History of the Organization of the Seventies (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1878), pp. 1–2, 14.

8. Derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 254–55.

9. See History of the Church, 2:220.

10. In Ronald K. Esplin, “The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 1830–1841,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1981, p. 170; spelling and punctuation standardized; see also Ronald K. Esplin, “Joseph, Brigham and the Twelve: A Succession of Continuity,” Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1981, pp. 308–9.

11. Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2 June 1835, Historical Department, Salt Lake City; see also Backman, Heavens Resound, p. 112.

12. Caroline Crosby Journal, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City; spelling standardized; see also Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr, Women’s Voices (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982), pp. 49–50.

13. Previous two paragraphs derived from Esplin, “Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership,” pp. 161–66; see also History of the Church, 2:222–26.

14. Parley P. Pratt, ed., Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Classics in Mormon Literature series (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), p. 110.

15. See Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 113–19; B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1963), pp. 31–38.

16. Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 119.

17. In Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964), p. 62.

18. See Samuel George Ellsworth, “A History of Mormon Missions in the United States and Canada, 1830–1860,” Ph.D. diss., University of California, 1951, pp. 147–54.

19. Remainder of chapter derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 130, 139–59, 214–20, 262–83.

20. Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 20:65; see also History of the Church, 2:235.

21. In History of the Church, 2:235.

22. History of the Church, 2:236.

23. See Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 ed., pp. 5, 75.

24. See History of the Church, 2:250–51.

25. See Milton V. Backman, Jr., comp., A Profile of Latter-day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, and Members of Zion’s Camp, 1830–1839: Vital Statistics and Sources (Provo: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1983), p. 83.

26. See Mary Ann Stearns, “An Autobiographical Sketch of the Life of the Late Mary Ann Stearns Winters, Daughter of Mary Ann Stearns Pratt,” LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, p. 6.

27. History of the Church, 2:396.

28. Nicholas G. Morgan, comp., Eliza R. Snow, an Immortal: Selected Writings of Eliza R. Snow (Salt Lake City: Nicholas G. Morgan, Sr., Foundation, 1957), p. 63.

29. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), p. 230; see also History of the Church, 1:352.

30. Autobiography of Truman O. Angell, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City; Kate B. Carter, comp., Our Pioneer Heritage, 19 vols. (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1967–76), 10:198.

31. Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review (Independence, Mo.: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1947), p. 16.

32. History of the Church, 1:349.

33. History of the Church, 1:400.

34. Heber C. Kimball, in Journal of Discourses, 10:165.

35. “Elder Kimball’s Journal,” Times and Seasons, 15 Jan. 1845, p. 771; or History of the Church, 2:2.

36. See Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989), pp. 15–16.

37. History of the Church, 2:167.

38. History of the Church, 2:379–82; punctuation and capitalization standardized.

39. Morgan, Eliza R. Snow, p. 62.

40. History of the Church, 2:428.

41. George A. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 11:10.

42. History of the Church, 2:428; Backman, Heavens Resound, p. 300.

The Apostasy in Kirtland, 1836–38

Time Line



Significant Event

July–Aug. 1836

Mission to New York and Salem, Massachusetts, in search of funds

2 Jan. 1837

Kirtland Safety Society opened for business

May 1837

Panic of 1837 hit Ohio

July 1837

First missionaries preached the gospel in Great Britain

Aug. 1837

“Old Standard” apostates broke up a meeting in the Kirtland Temple

12 Jan. 1838

Joseph Smith fled from his enemies

July–Oct. 1838

Kirtland Camp journeyed to Missouri

On 6 July 1838 a mile-long wagon train moved slowly southward along the old Chillicothe Road in northern Ohio. Over five hundred disheartened Saints were leaving homes, businesses, and a beautiful temple to embark on an arduous three-month journey to join the Prophet and the Saints in northern Missouri. One of the Saints recalled, “We turned the key and locked the door of our homes, leaving our property and all we possessed in the hands of enemies and strangers, never receiving a cent for anything we owned.”1

It had only been two years since the Kirtland Temple dedication, and the Saints had enjoyed a great spiritual outpouring and had looked forward to a bright future. What crushed these hopes and forced the Saints to leave Kirtland?

Dealing with Poverty

The gathering of new converts to the Kirtland area continued unabated following the dedication of the temple in March of 1836. Most of these Saints were hard-working, committed people, but, as Benjamin F. Johnson observed, most were of the “poorer class.”2 Unfortunately some of them arrived hoping to be cared for by the funds of the Church or the generosity of the members. The increasing number of Mormons living in poverty alarmed the old-time citizens of Kirtland, who banded together as early as 1835 and warned the poor to leave the city. Acknowledging the problem, the Prophet Joseph Smith advised the branches not to send penniless families to Kirtland. “The Saints have neglected the necessary preparation beforehand; . . . the rich have generally stayed back and withheld their money, while the poor have gone first and without money. Under these circumstances what could be expected but the appalling scene that now presents itself?”3 Part of what contributed to the appalling scene was the many small and poorly-constructed homes that Church members built haphazardly along the Chagrin River and immediately south of the temple.

Regardless of these problems, a spirit of optimism began to fill Kirtland after the temple dedication, as ambitious Church members attempted to correct the impoverished conditions. The rapid influx of Saints into Kirtland, however, accelerated the demand for property, homes, and goods. Warren Cowdery observed in the Messenger and Advocate that “the noise and bustle of teams with lumber, brick, stone, lime or merchandise, were heard from the early dawn of morning till the grey twilight of evening. . . . The starting up, as if by magic, of buildings in every direction around us, [was] evincive to us of buoyant hope, lively anticipation, and a firm confidence that our days of pinching adversity had passed by, that the set time of the Lord to favor Zion had come.”4

Even though the Saints’ fortunes began to increase, the Church was still substantially in debt. Capital, such as gold and silver, remained in short supply. Furthermore, funds were needed to purchase property for settling the Saints in Kirtland and in northern Missouri. Church leaders sought anxiously for ways to relieve the debt and increase the amount of usable money.

In July of 1836 Brother William Burgess arrived in Kirtland and told Joseph Smith that he knew where a large sum of money was hidden in the cellar of a house in Salem, Massachusetts. He claimed to be the only person living who knew of the treasure and the location of the house. Salem was a prosperous seaport with a world trade, so it was plausible that treasure would be located there. Hunting for buried treasure, especially that left by Spanish pirates, was still widespread among Americans in that area. Persuaded by Burgess, the Prophet, with Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery, left Kirtland in late July for New York City. After arriving there they spent four days consulting with creditors about their debts. Oliver Cowdery also inquired about printing notes for a prospective Church-sponsored bank. From New York the party sailed to Boston and from there they traveled by rail to Salem to meet Burgess and to find out more about some money hidden in that city.

This was not Joseph Smith’s first visit to Salem. When he was seven years old he had gone there with his Uncle Jesse to recover from a serious leg operation. Even with the help of Burgess, the brethren searched in vain for the house with the supposed treasure. Burgess soon departed, explaining that Salem had changed so much since he was last there that he could not find the house. The brethren persisted in looking, however. They eventually rented a dwelling matching Burgess’s description, but they did not find any money.5

Erastus Snow

Erastus Snow was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve from 1849 until his death in 1888. In October 1849 he was appointed to go to Denmark to introduce the gospel there.

In a revelation given in Salem on 6 August 1836, the Lord said “I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey, notwithstanding your follies” (D&C 111:1). The Lord also told the brethren that in Salem he had “much treasure . . . and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion” (v. 2). Five years later in Philadelphia, Hyrum Smith gave elders Erastus Snow and Benjamin Winchester a copy of the revelation and asked them to go to Salem to fulfill it.6 At first Elder Snow was reluctant because he was anxious to return home, but he prayed for guidance and received the assurance that he should go. Benjamin Winchester also went but only remained a short time. Although progress was slow at first, in 1842 Elder Snow organized a branch in Salem with 120 members. After spending over a year there he left in February 1843. Thus Erastus Snow fulfilled the promise that “many people” would be gathered out of the city.7

The Kirtland Safety Society

The number of banks8 in the United States had nearly doubled during the 1830s as the demand for credit and money increased. Banks provided loans, paper currency, a medium of exchange, and a safe depository for money. In Kirtland, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders pursued the idea of establishing a bank. With legal assistance, an article of agreement was drafted to incorporate a bank in Kirtland, which would be called the Kirtland Safety Society. In November 1836, Orson Hyde went to the capital of Ohio with a petition to the legislature requesting that they approve the proposal to incorporate the bank. At the same time, Oliver Cowdery went to Philadelphia to purchase plates for printing currency. He succeeded, but Orson returned from Columbus with discouraging news. The timing of the request was bad, and the legislature, after listening to the petition, refused to grant a charter for the requested bank. “Hard-money” Democrats who opposed an expansion of banks in Ohio had gained control of the legislature and were turning down nearly all requests for new banks.

$100 bank note

A banking note of the Kirtland Safety Society

The brethren were disappointed, but they decided to create a private joint-stock company to be called the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company. Since other unchartered or unauthorized banks were organized in Ohio, they assumed that individuals had a legal right to organize a private company that engaged in banking activities. Many people in the Western Reserve, members of the Church and nonmembers alike, initially supported the formation of the society with Joseph Smith as its treasurer and Sidney Rigdon as secretary. The Kirtland Safety Society opened for business on 2 January 1837.

Serious problems soon arose to undermine the success of the bank. A lot of the other banks refused to accept the Safety Society’s notes as legal tender, and the anti-Mormon newspapers branded the currency as worthless. Furthermore, the society’s capital was primarily in the form of land; it did not possess much specie (hard currency, such as gold and silver) for satisfying any large demands for redemption of its paper currency. Enemies of the Church obtained enough notes to initiate a run on the bank, forcing the society to suspend payment in specie to its customers a few weeks after the first notes were issued. Lack of a charter also hindered the company’s credibility. As a result, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were charged with violating the banking statutes of Ohio and brought to trial.

In the spring of 1837 the Saints’ economic problems were compounded by a panic (later known as the Panic of 1837) that spread west from New York into other parts of the nation. By May there was a general suspension of payment in specie by all banks in Ohio. Money was scarce during the panic, and many creditors were unable to extend credit or postpone dates when debts were due. Joseph Smith did all he could to persuade investors to invest more funds to sustain the bank, but he finally turned its operation over to others. This failed to solve the problem, however, because of inept management and rumors that some of them were embezzling the society’s funds.

A growing spirit of speculation in Kirtland also added to the Church’s economic problems. With the availability of supposed money, which they borrowed from the bank, many people went into debt to purchase land for resale at a substantial profit. Warren Cowdery observed in the Messenger and Advocate that not a few members were “guilty of wild speculation and visionary dreams of wealth and worldly grandeur, as if gold and silver were their gods, and houses, farms and merchandize their only bliss or their passport to it.”9 In the fall of 1836, Heber C. Kimball returned from a mission and was amazed at the results of such speculation. He wrote, “When we left Kirtland a city lot was worth about $150; but on our return, to our astonishment, the same lot was said to be worth from $500 to $1000, according to location; and some men, who, when I left, could hardly get food to eat, I found on my return to be men of supposed great wealth; in fact everything in the place seemed to be moving in great prosperity, and all seemed determined to become rich.”10

As the Kirtland Safety Society overextended itself, it was finally forced to close its doors in November 1837. The two hundred individuals who invested in the bank lost nearly everything they had invested. Joseph Smith’s losses from the failure of the company were greater than anyone else’s. While seeking to achieve success with the bank and, at the same time, to purchase land in Kirtland and goods for his store, he accumulated debts amounting to approximately one hundred thousand dollars. Although he had assets in land and goods that were of greater value in some respects than his debts, he was unable to immediately transform these assets into a form that could be used to pay his creditors. The Prophet endured seventeen lawsuits during 1837 in Geauga County for debts involving claims of more than thirty thousand dollars. Unfortunately, few people correctly understood the causes of their economic difficulties. Many Saints spoke against the Prophet and accused him of being responsible for all of their problems.

The Spreading Apostasy

Many members of the Church apostatized during this dark period of economic distress. Eliza R. Snow observed that, following the temple dedication in 1836, a number of members of the Church felt that “prosperity was dawning upon them . . . , and many who had been humble and faithful . . . were getting haughty in their spirits, and lifted up in the pride of their hearts. As the Saints drank in the love and spirit of the world, the Spirit of the Lord withdrew from their hearts, and they were filled with pride and hatred toward those who maintained their integrity.”11

Wilford Woodruff also remembered that the members were warned by their leaders that unless they humbled themselves and repented of their pride, a scourge awaited them as in the days of the ancient Nephites.12 The Kirtland paper, the Messenger and Advocate, reported that some unscrupulous brethren were taking advantage of newcomers to the community by describing unusual investment opportunities to them, taking their money, and then deserting them.13

Backbiting against Joseph Smith was common during the spring and summer of 1837 in Kirtland, particularly when he was away on business or on missions. Some men who held positions of trust in the Church rejected his leadership and declared that he was no longer a true prophet. When Elder Parley P. Pratt returned from a Canadian mission the apostasy was well under way. He was temporarily caught up in these difficulties and left a candid account of his involvement.

“There were also envyings, lyings, strifes and divisions, which caused much trouble and sorrow. By such spirits I was also accused, misrepresented and abused. And at one time, I also was overcome by the same spirit in a great measure, and it seemed as if the very powers of darkness which war against the Saints were let loose upon me. But the Lord knew my faith, my zeal, my integrity of purpose, and he gave me the victory.

“I went to brother Joseph Smith in tears, and, with a broken heart and contrite spirit, confessed wherein I had erred in spirit, murmured, or done or said amiss. He frankly forgave me, prayed for me and blessed me. Thus, by experience, I learned more fully to discern and to contrast the two spirits, and to resist the one and cleave to the other.”14

On several occasions stalwarts such as Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball defended the Prophet in various meetings, even though they were endangered. In February 1837 several elders called a meeting in the temple for all those who considered Joseph Smith to be a fallen Prophet. They intended to appoint David Whitmer as the new Church leader. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and other faithful members attended the meeting. After listening to the arguments against the Prophet, Brigham arose and testified, “Joseph was a Prophet, and I knew it, and that they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased; they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God, they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God, and sink themselves to hell.”15 In the Kirtland Temple on 19 February the Prophet spoke for several hours with the power of God. The complainers were silenced and the Saints were strengthened in their support of the Lord’s chosen servant.16

Mission to Great Britain

During this period of grave crisis, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that “something new must be done for the salvation of His Church.”17 On Sunday, 4 June 1837, the Prophet approached Heber C. Kimball in the temple and whispered to him, “Brother Heber, the Spirit of the Lord has whispered to me: ‘Let my servant Heber go to England and proclaim my Gospel, and open the door of salvation to that nation.’” Heber was overwhelmed by his call to England because he lacked education and refinement. He prayed almost daily in an upper room of the temple for protection and power that he might fulfill an honorable mission. His family was near poverty, yet he was determined to serve. He said, “I felt that the cause of truth, the Gospel of Christ, outweighed every other consideration.”18

Heber C. Kimball wanted his close friend and fellow Apostle Brigham Young to be his companion, but the Prophet needed Brigham to help with matters in troubled Kirtland. While Heber was being set apart for his mission, Orson Hyde walked into the room. Upon hearing what was happening, Orson was moved to repent, for he had been among the leaders of the Church caught up in the spirit of speculation and criticism of Joseph Smith. He acknowledged his faults, asked forgiveness, and offered to accompany Heber on his mission. The Prophet accepted his repentance and also set him apart to go to England.19 Five others were also set apart to assist the two Apostles: Willard Richards, a Church member of only six months; Joseph Fielding, a native of Bedfordshire, England, who had emigrated to Canada in 1832; and three other Canadians, John Goodson, Isaac Russell, and John Snider, who all had relatives and friends in England they corresponded with. These last four had been converted to the gospel at the same time as John Taylor—during Parley P. Pratt’s mission to Canada the year before.

Joseph Fielding’s brother James, an Independent (formerly Methodist) minister in Preston, England, wrote to his brother in Canada and invited him to come and preach his new religion in his chapel. So, upon arriving in Britain the missionaries went to Preston, thirty miles north of the port city of Liverpool, to preach to James’s congregation. Some people in that congregation had exercised such great faith and prayer that they had seen these American missionaries in dreams before their arrival in England. Beginning 23 July the brethren preached before three overflow crowds in Reverend Fielding’s church, the Vauxhall Chapel. As soon as several parishioners requested baptism, however, Reverend Fielding denied the brethren the use of his chapel any longer. He later lamented, “Kimball bored the holes, Goodson drove the nails, and Hyde clinched them.”20

house in Preston, England

In this house, located on St. Wilfred Street in Preston, England, the missionaries were attacked by evil spirits who tried to stop the work from spreading in that land.

Undaunted, the elders soon gained audiences in private houses that had been licensed for preaching and on street corners. Aware of the poverty and illiteracy of most of their listeners, the missionaries spoke on the level of their audience, acted as common men, wore no distinguishing garb, and did not teach for hire. They quickly extended the hand of fellowship and brotherhood, making all the people feel equal before God. The obvious sincerity of the missionaries was a dramatic contrast to the lordly attitude of the English clerics of the day. Soon many people applied for baptism.

On the morning of 30 July, the day the first baptisms were to be performed, the missionaries were attacked by Satan and his hosts. Elder Russell came to Elder Kimball, seeking relief from the torment of evil spirits. As Elders Hyde and Kimball laid their hands on him to bless him, Elder Kimball was knocked senseless to the floor by an invisible power. As he regained consciousness, he saw his brethren praying for him.

“[Heber wrote:] ‘I then arose and sat up on the bed, when a vision was opened to our minds, and we could distinctly see the evil spirits, who foamed and gnashed their teeth at us. We gazed upon them about an hour and a half. . . . I shall never forget the vindictive malignity depicted on their countenances as they looked me in the eye; and any attempt to paint the scene which then presented itself, or portray their malice and enmity, would be vain.’ . . .

“Years later, narrating the experience of that awful morning to the Prophet Joseph, Heber asked him . . . whether there was anything wrong with him that he should have such a manifestation.

“‘No, Brother Heber,’ he replied, ‘at that time you were nigh unto the Lord; there was only a veil between you and Him, but you could not see Him. When I heard of it, it gave me great joy, for I then knew that the work of God had taken root in that land. It was this that caused the devil to make a struggle to kill you.’

“. . . ‘The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes.’”21

George D. Watt

George D. Watt was the first convert baptized in England. He was baptized 30 July 1837. Having learned shorthand, which at the time was called phonography, George recorded the sermons of the leaders of the Church from 1851 to 1870.
Courtesy of Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City

Despite the terrors presented by Satan and his host, the baptisms in the River Ribble went on as scheduled. George D. Watt won a foot race to the river, which determined the honor of being the first to be baptized in England. These baptisms began a flood of English converts. The missionaries went on to the villages of Chatburn and Downham, approximately twenty miles northeast of Preston in the Ribble Valley. In Chatburn Heber baptized twenty-five people the first night he preached there. During the next five days, with the assistance of his companion, Joseph Fielding, Heber baptized about one hundred and ten people and organized branches in Downham, Chatburn, Waddington, and Clitheroe.

map of England

Sites of early missionary work in England

[click for scalable version]

As Heber walked the streets of Chatburn one day, children went before him “singing the songs of Zion, while their parents gazed upon the scene with delight, and poured their blessings upon our heads, and praised the God of heaven for sending us to unfold the principles of truth and the plan of salvation to them.”22 Heber explained:

“I went through the streets of that town feeling as I never before felt in my life. My hair would rise on my head as I walked through the streets, and I did not then know what was the matter with me. I pulled off my hat, and felt that I wanted to pull off my shoes, and I did not know what to think of it.

“When I returned, I mentioned the circumstance to brother Joseph, who said, ‘. . . some of the old Prophets travelled and dedicated that land [England], and their blessing fell upon you.’”23

Within eight months two thousand individuals had joined the Church, and twenty-six branches had been organized. Heber C. Kimball remembered that when he was set apart he was promised “that God would make me mighty in that nation in winning souls unto Him; angels should accompany me and bear me up, that my feet should never slip; that I should be mightily blessed and prove a source of salvation to thousands, not only in England but America.”24 This first mission to England set the stage for an even greater effort between the years 1839 and 1841 by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and for a continuous missionary harvest in the British Isles throughout most of the nineteenth century. The success of the British mission served as an important counterbalance to the Ohio apostasy and the Missouri persecution. The thousands of British converts who emigrated to America immensely strengthened the Church during crucial periods. By the 1850s and 1860s the majority of the families in Utah were headed by parents who had come from Great Britain.

A “Great Apostasy”

As the British mission grew in numbers and strength, apostasy continued to weaken the Church in Kirtland. Caroline Barnes Crosby sadly noted:

“Many of our most intimate associates were among the apostates.

“. . . These were some of our nighest neighbors and friends. We had taken sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God as friends.”25

In August 1837, while Joseph Smith and most of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were away on missions, Warren Parrish, a former scribe for the Prophet and an officer of the Kirtland Safety Society, and John Boynton, a member of the Twelve, led a group armed with pistols and bowie knives in an attempted takeover of the temple. In panic and terror, several people jumped out of the temple windows. The police managed to quell the disturbance and eject the men. When the Prophet returned, these men were disfellowshipped for their actions. Those who showed sincere contrition were reinstated.

In the fall, however, when Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon left for Missouri, troubles flared up again. Warren Parrish, John F. Boynton, Luke Johnson, and thirty other leading citizens organized a group called the Old Standard, or the Church of Christ. They considered themselves reformers, insisting that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet who, with other Church authorities, had departed from the true faith. The group sought to overthrow the Church, take over the temple, and still teach most of the Church’s doctrines, while rejecting the Book of Mormon and discrediting Joseph Smith and the priesthood. They encountered opposition from Martin Harris, who, though in a state of apostasy himself, bore witness that the Book of Mormon was true and that those who rejected it would be damned.

As a result of this apostasy fifty leading members of the Church were excommunicated under the direction of Joseph Smith, but the problems continued to fester. Several apostates tormented the faithful members with lawsuits and threatened loss of property. Anti-Mormons added their part by boycotting, ostracizing, and denying employment to those who were true to the Prophet and the Church. Hepzibah Richards, sister to Willard Richards, wrote the following:

“For the last three months we as a people have been tempest tossed, and at times the waves have well nigh overwhelmed us. . . .

“A dreadful spirit reigns in the breasts of those who are opposed to this Church. They are above law and beneath whatever is laudable. Their leading object seems to be to get all the property of the Church for little or nothing, and drive them [the Saints] out of the place.”26

According to one historian, “Between November 1837 and June 1838, possibly two or three hundred Kirtland Saints withdrew from the Church, representing from 10 to 15 percent of the membership there.”27 The “great apostasy” also carried over somewhat to Missouri. In a nine month period, the Three Witnesses, a member of the First Presidency (Frederick G. Williams), four members of the Twelve Apostles, and several members of the First Quorum of the Seventy left the Church. Because he continued to boldly defend the Prophet, Brigham Young was threatened and forced to flee on horseback to Missouri.

In January 1838, Luke Johnson, an apostate himself but still sympathetic to Joseph Smith, warned the Prophet of an assassination plot. That night Joseph and Sidney Rigdon fled westward on horseback. Their enemies followed them for two hundred miles, even stopping at the same inn for the night. The rooms were adjoining and the brethren could hear cursing and threats through the walls. Emma Smith and their children joined Joseph en route, and after a severely trying journey, they were heartily welcomed by the Missouri Saints in March 1838. Sidney Rigdon arrived a few days later, having separated from the Prophet at Dublin, Indiana.

Kirtland Camp

In the same month that Joseph Smith fled from Kirtland, the lives of the members of the high council were also threatened, and most of the faithful decided to follow their leader to Missouri. Hepzibah Richards wrote of this drastic situation: “All our friends design leaving this place soon as possible. . . . The feeling seems to be that Kirtland must be trodden down by the wicked for a season. . . . Probably several hundred families will leave within a few weeks.”28 But before most of the faithful could leave Kirtland, enemies began ransacking homes of the Saints and starting fires in basements.

Kirtland Camp constitution  Kirtland Camp constitution

Under the direction of Hyrum Smith, Presidents of the Seventies formulated the Kirtland Camp constitution. The document included nine articles to help govern the camp in their move to Missouri in 1838.

Early in March the seventies began planning ways to help the poorest Saints move to Missouri. One of the presidents of the quorum, James Foster, had a vision of an orderly company of about five hundred Saints traveling to Missouri and camping by the way. Under the direction of Hyrum Smith, the Presidents of the Seventy drew up a constitution for such a camp according to vision and prophecy. They formed Kirtland Camp from those willing to abide by the constitution and then designated leaders to preside over the companies in the camp. Captains were to encourage their companies to keep the commandments and observe the Word of Wisdom.

The trek was delayed for several weeks as the Saints struggled to settle their debts, sell their property, and purchase wagons, teams, and equipment. They finally left Kirtland on 6 July 1838 with over five hundred Saints, 27 tents, 59 wagons, 97 horses, 22 oxen, 69 cows, and 1 bull.29 Benjamin Johnson wrote, “All means for defraying expenses were put together, and so all were to fare alike, and did so long as they remained in camp together.”30 Even so the travelers had to pause occasionally to earn money for supplies and equipment.

The Kirtland Camp was also dogged by persecution along the trail. Many people were suspicious of the bedraggled travelers who passed through towns and cities. “As we passed along the road in the morning, molesting no one, some of the company were saluted in modern style by having eggs thrown at them by some ruffians.”31 Ridicule was sometimes combined with threats of violence. In Missouri the citizens of one community placed “artillery” in the street to prevent the camp from passing through. They were only allowed to proceed when one of the seventies soothed the citizens’ anxious feelings, and even then several of the camp’s leaders were jailed overnight.

Many forces contributed to the suffering in the Kirtland Camp. “Accidents and illness constantly afflicted the pioneers. Some persons were crushed under wagon wheels; others succumbed to disease. . . . They perspired by day and slept on cold and sometimes damp terrain by night. They forded streams, climbed up and down inclines, and followed rutted roads and trails, continually weakened by fatigue, a meager and changing diet, and polluted drinking water.

“In the midst of their suffering and afflictions, they turned to their Heavenly Father for help. Throughout the journey, elders administered to the sick and the injured; and diarists reported that through the power of the priesthood, many of the afflicted were instantly healed.”32

When the camp arrived at the Mississippi River in September, “they were warned that a war had erupted in western Missouri between the Saints and non-Mormons, that all Mormons would soon be driven from the state, and that if they continued their journey, they would be attacked and would suffer a similar fate.”33 Several members of the camp refused to enter Missouri as a result of these threats. But most of them pressed on, finally joining the Prophet in Far West, Missouri, on 2 October 1838. Two days later they arrived at Adam-ondi-Ahman, where they were to settle.34 They would soon discover that their problems had not been left behind in Ohio. Within weeks they would face worse persecutions in Missouri.


1. Stella Cahoon Shurtleff and Brent Farrington Cahoon, comps., Reynolds Cahoon and His Stalwart Sons (n.p.: Stella Cahoon Shurtleff, 1960), p. 28.

2. Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review (Independence, Mo.: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1947), p. 15.

3. Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Sept. 1836, p. 379; spelling standardized.

4. Messenger and Advocate, June 1837, p. 520.

5. The previous three paragraphs are derived from Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture: Volume One, the Doctrine and Covenants (Sandy, Utah: Randall Book Co., 1984), pp. 432–36.

6. Derived from Millet and Jackson, Studies in Scripture: Volume One, p. 436.

7. See Andrew Karl Larson, Erastus Snow: The Life of a Missionary and Pioneer for the Early Mormon Church (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1971), pp. 67–74.

8. Section derived from Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983), pp. 315–23.

9. Messenger and Advocate, June 1837, p. 509.

10. In Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 3d ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), p. 99; see also Ronald K. Esplin, “The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 1830–1841,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1981, pp. 229–30.

11. Eliza R. Snow, comp., Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Co., 1884), p. 20.

12. Wilford Woodruff Journals, 17 Jan. 1837, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City.

13. Messenger and Advocate, May 1837, pp. 505–10; previous two paragraphs derived from Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 323–24.

14. Parley P. Pratt, ed., Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Classics in Mormon Literature series (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), p. 144.

15. “History of Brigham Young,” Deseret News, 10 Feb. 1858, p. 386.

16. See Dean C. Jessee, “The Kirtland Diary of Wilford Woodruff,” Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1972, p. 385.

17. History of the Church, 2:489.

18. In Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 104.

19. See History of the Church, 2:489–90.

20. In Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 125.

21. In Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, pp. 130–31.

22. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 172.

23. Heber C. Kimball, in Journal of Discourses, 5:22; see also Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, pp. 170–73.

24. In Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 105.

25. In Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr, Women’s Voices (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982), p. 56.

26. In Godfrey, Godfrey, and Derr, Women’s Voices, p. 76.

27. Backman, Heavens Resound, p. 328.

28. Typescript of letter from Hepzibah Richards to Willard Richards, 22 Jan. 1838, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City.

29. Backman, Heavens Resound, p. 355.

30. Johnson, My Life’s Review, pp. 32–33.

31. History of the Church, 3:112.

32. Backman, Heavens Resound, pp. 359–60.

33. Backman, Heavens Resound, p. 364.

34. See James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), p. 115.

The Church in Northern Missouri, 1836–38

Time Line



Significant Event

Summer 1836

Saints began settling Far West

26 Dec. 1836

Caldwell County was created

Nov. 1837

Joseph Smith briefly visited Far West

14 Mar. 1838

Prophet arrived to settle in Far West

May 1838

Adam-ondi-Ahman was founded

June 1838

Town of DeWitt was settled

19 June 1838

Sidney Rigdon gave his “Salt Sermon”

4 July 1838

Sidney Rigdon gave his Independence Day speech

8 July 1838

Four new Apostles were called, and the law of tithing was revealed

The Prophet and other leaders of the Church left Kirtland in January 1838. Most other members followed later in the year. There was no decision to abandon Kirtland, but clearly the focal point of the Church was switching to northern Missouri. Perhaps a few members recalled the revelation given in 1831: “I, the Lord, will to retain a strong hold in the land of Kirtland, for the space of five years” (D&C 64:21). By early 1838 the years of Kirtland’s glory had passed. The members in northern Missouri were already establishing new headquarters—Far West. Other scattered Saints in the United States and Canada were preparing to gather there. Latter-day Saints were eager to find a season of peace after the disastrous year of apostasy in 1837.

Request for Mormons to Leave Clay County

Following their expulsion from Jackson County in late 1833, the Missouri Saints lived in relative peace with the original inhabitants of Clay County. But the leaders of the Church never intended this arrangement to be permanent; they consistently petitioned government authorities for assistance to re-enter Jackson County and regain their property, but all their attempts proved futile. Meanwhile, Latter-day Saints continued to arrive, reinforcing the fear among Clay County residents that the Mormon settlements would become permanent.

Realizing these concerns, Bishop Edward Partridge and William W. Phelps went on two exploring expeditions in the spring of 1836 hoping to find potential sites for Mormon settlements in northern Missouri, a region commonly referred to as the “Far West.” Most of this territory was prairie, covered by tall grass, with timber only along the streams and rivers. At that time only forested land was considered good for settlement. W. W. Phelps reported that “nearly every skirt of timber to the state line on the north . . . has some one in it.” But the brethren found an uninhabited area in northern Ray County along Shoal Creek, although they feared there was not enough timber available to support a large population.1 Nevertheless, the brethren began purchasing land in the Shoal Creek area on 3 May.

On 29 June 1836 a mass meeting was held in the Clay County courthouse in Liberty to discuss objections to the Mormons remaining in the area. Some were concerned that the “crisis” would erupt into a civil war. Opponents gave five reasons for their objection to the Saints: (1) They were poor. (2) Their religious differences stirred up prejudice. (3) Their Eastern customs and dialect were alien to the Missourians. (4) They opposed slavery. (5) They believed the Indians were God’s chosen people destined to inherit the land of Missouri with them. The citizens also reminded the Mormons of their pledge to leave the county and suggested that they consider moving to Wisconsin in the slave-free North where there were many areas suitable for settlement. These Clay County leaders promised to control any violence toward the Mormons until they could leave the area.2

Confident that they would soon begin moving to Shoal Creek, Church leaders found no objection to the petition for a covenant of peace and called a public meeting on 1 July to draft a reply. Resolutions were passed expressing the Saints’ gratitude for the kindness the citizens of Clay County had extended to the Saints and their desire for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Leaders pledged to lead the Saints out of the county and to halt the tide of immigration. The following day Clay County leaders accepted the reply and began forming committees to help the Saints in their move.3

In Ohio, the First Presidency having learned of these developments, wrote separate letters to leaders of the Church and to the Clay County committee. They urged members of the Church to preserve the peace but not to settle in Wisconsin. They informed the Clay County committee that they had advised the Saints to avoid bloodshed and to move from the county.

On 7 July the Church leaders in Missouri wrote Governor Daniel Dunklin of their intentions to move to the sixteen hundred acres they had purchased in northern Ray County and requested his assistance in breaking up potential mobs. In 1836 the “Mormon problem” was not as prominent in Missouri politics as it had been in 1833–34; and since it was an election year the governor was less inclined to help the Saints. Moreover, many voters in Ray County opposed the move of the Saints into their county, even the uninhabited northern prairies. Governor Dunklin replied on 18 July that, while he sympathized with the plight of the Saints, “public sentiment may become paramount law; and when one man or society of men become so obnoxious to that sentiment as to determine the people to be rid of him or them, it is useless to run counter to it.

“. . . The consequences will be the same . . . unless you can, by your conduct and arguments, convince them [the people of Missouri] of your innocence. If you cannot do this, all I can say to you is that in this Republic the vox populi is the vox Dei [the voice of the people is the voice of God].”4

Creation of Caldwell County and Founding of Far West

Conditions for the Saints were critical. Without assurance of protection from the governor and with hostility in both Clay and Ray counties, the stake presidency and the high council met in an emergency session on 25 July. To complicate matters further, the brethren had just learned that approximately one hundred families of immigrating Saints were camped on the Crooked River in lower Ray County. Many of them were ill, and “destitute of means to purchase lands or provisions.” Citizens in Ray County threatened them with violence if they did not leave. Furthermore, another hundred impoverished families were en route from the Mississippi River. “To prevent mobbing and confusion, and pestilence and death,” Church leaders advised the immigrants to “scatter among the people” in the settlements and find temporary lodgings and work. Thomas B. Marsh and Elisha H. Groves, a convert from Kentucky, were sent to branches of the Church in other states to collect money to benefit “Poor Bleeding Zion,” while W. W. Phelps, John Whitmer, Edward Partridge, Isaac Morley, and John Corrill were assigned to locate more land for settlement.5

Church leaders also assured the citizens of Ray County that the Saints intended to settle only in the prairies to the north and to apply for a new county, which the citizens readily agreed to. A proposal was also accepted to establish a six-mile buffer zone, three miles on each side of the dividing line between the counties, as a “no-man’s land” where neither Mormon nor non-Mormon could settle.

Meanwhile, early in August, W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer located a site for a city, which they designated Far West, in northern Ray County. It was twelve miles west of Haun’s Mill, a small Mormon settlement established by Jacob Haun on Shoal Creek a year earlier. The Saints began gathering in the late summer and fall, and soon Far West and numerous smaller settlements sprang into existence.

Alexander W. Doniphan

Alexander W. Doniphan (1808–87) was born in Kentucky. At age eighteen he graduated from Augusta College in Kentucky. Later he studied law and passed the requirements to practice law in Ohio and Missouri.

He married Elizabeth Jane Thornton on 21 December 1837, and they had two sons, who both died in their youth. Alexander W. Doniphan died in Richmond, Missouri, and was buried in Liberty, which had been his home for many years.

Alexander W. Doniphan, friend to the Saints and a state legislator, introduced a bill into the December 1836 legislative session to create two small counties out of the sparsely settled regions of northern Ray County. Doniphan named the new counties Daviess and Caldwell after two famous Indian fighters from Kentucky, where he was also born and raised. Caldwell County, the location of the Far West and Shoal Creek settlements, was to be exclusively for Mormons, and they would be allowed to send representatives to the state legislature. This segregation of the Latter-day Saints was considered an excellent solution to the “Mormon problem.” Newly elected Governor Lilburn W. Boggs signed the bill creating the two new counties on 29 December 1836.

Internal difficulties were brewing as the Saints poured into Caldwell County, where they constructed log houses and prepared the soil for spring planting. Thomas Marsh and Elisha Groves returned early in 1837 from their fund-raising mission in Kentucky and Tennessee and turned $1450 over to W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer, counselors in the stake presidency, since President David Whitmer was in Ohio. The counselors used the money to buy more land, but they purchased it in their own names and then sold it to the Saints at a small profit, which they retained. Several members of the Church immediately protested, and some of the high council complained that the counselors were also making decisions regarding Far West without consulting them. At a series of meetings in Far West in April, these brethren acknowledged their wrongs, and reconciliation was achieved. It was decided that Bishop Edward Partridge, acting with the counsel of the stake presidency, the high council, and two Apostles who were in Missouri—Thomas B. Marsh and David Patten—would distribute the lands.

Far West plat

Plat of Far West on sheepskin
Courtesy of Mr. J. B. West, sheepskin owner, and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

A month later, however, Phelps and Whitmer again offended the high council and the Apostles with further attempts to profit from land deals. When the Prophet learned of this conflict, he sought and obtained guidance from the Lord and was told, “Verily thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph—my servants John Whitmer and William W. Phelps have done those things which are not pleasing in my sight, therefore if they repent not they shall be removed out of their places.”6 Nevertheless, this conflict continued until November 1837.

A conference in Kirtland on 17 September 1837 resolved to send Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to Missouri to seek other locations for stakes of Zion “so that the poor may have a place of refuge.”7 Also in response to the conference, Bishop Newel K. Whitney sent a letter on 18 September to branches of the Church scattered throughout the United States asking them to send tithing in gold and silver for the relief of Kirtland and the building of Zion in Missouri.

The Prophet and several other brethren arrived in Far West early in November and spent approximately ten days there holding meetings. It was determined that there were resources and space in northern Missouri for the gathering of the Saints, and a committee was chosen to locate sites for new stakes. Joseph decided to postpone the building of a temple in Far West until he received further direction from the Lord, but the size of Far West was enlarged from one square mile to two. The problems associated with the activities of the stake presidency in Missouri were temporarily resolved, and the stake presidency were sustained in their callings. At a conference of elders held 7 November 1837 in Far West, Frederick G. Williams was rejected as second counselor in the First Presidency and Hyrum Smith was sustained in his place.

During the winter new discord arose between the stake presidency and the high council in Missouri. Oliver Cowdery and Frederick G. Williams, who had been out of harmony with the Prophet in Kirtland, had now moved to Far West and, together with the stake presidency, decided to sell some Church lands in Jackson County held in their names. Selling lands in Zion violated the Lord’s direction that the Saints should continue to hold claim upon their lands in Jackson County (see D&C 101:99).

Early in February 1838 the high council tried John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps for misusing Church funds and David Whitmer for willfully breaking the Word of Wisdom. Despite some feeling that the high council was not authorized to try the presidency, a majority voted to reject them, and a resolution to this effect was sent to the branches and accepted by the Saints. When the presidency claimed that the trial was illegal and that they had not been present to defend themselves, the high council was convinced that they were “endeavoring to palm themselves off upon the Church, as her Presidents” after they had been properly removed.8 Therefore, on 10 February the high council, with the assistance of two Apostles, excommunicated W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer and sustained Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patten as acting presidents until the expected arrival of Joseph Smith. Additional action against David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Lyman Johnson, an Apostle who had joined the dissenters, was postponed pending the Prophet’s arrival.

In a letter to Joseph Smith, Elder Marsh explained, “Had we not taken the above measures, we think that nothing could have prevented a rebellion against the whole high council and bishop; so great was the disaffection against the presidents, that the people began to be jealous, that the whole authorities were inclined to uphold these men in wickedness, and in a little time the church, undoubtedly, would have gone, every man to his own way, like sheep without a shepherd.”9

The Prophet Settles in Far West

The Prophet Joseph was still in Ohio; news of persecution and the unsettled state of the Church in Missouri disheartened him. On 12 January 1838, he received a revelation explaining that only the First Presidency could form a stake.10 This revelation meant the creation of the Far West stake was invalid. Hence, he went to Missouri not only to escape his enemies, but to set the Church in Far West in order. The journey was difficult, but when Joseph and Emma, who was six months pregnant, arrived in Missouri in March, many Saints met them to accompany them to Far West. Eight miles from town another eager escort gladdened their hearts. After so many difficulties in the East, the Prophet was encouraged by the support of the Missouri Saints, and they were equally glad to have him settle among them.

While in Far West Joseph approved the removal of the stake presidency. By the end of March he was optimistic about the unity in Far West, despite the arrival of several letters from Kirtland apostates, which spread falsehood among a few. Joseph wrote back to Kirtland that “peace and love prevail throughout; in a word, heaven smiles upon the Saints in Caldwell.”11 Two days before April general conference they were heartened when Sidney Rigdon and his party arrived after a long and difficult journey.

At the conference the Prophet called the three senior members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles—Thomas B. Marsh, David W. Patten, and Brigham Young—as the new stake presidency in Missouri. This, however, was only a temporary solution. Nine days later he received a revelation instructing Elder Patten to arrange his affairs so that he and others of the Twelve could leave in the spring of 1839 for a new mission abroad (see D&C 114). In a later session David Patten reviewed the status of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, not all of whom were in Missouri. He commended six of his brethren as being “men of God. . . . He spoke somewhat doubtful of William Smith, . . . William E. McLellin, Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and John F. Boynton, as being men whom he could not recommend to the conference.”12 It became apparent that four of the men would have to be replaced. During the sessions on 7–8 April, additional action was taken to put the Church in Missouri in order.

After the conference the new stake presidency dealt with the cases of former leaders who had apostatized. They wrote to John Whitmer, who had been both the Church historian and a member of the stake presidency in Missouri, asking him to give his historical notes and writings to the Church. He did not comply. Only recently has his history been published in its entirety.

A much more serious matter was the case of Oliver Cowdery. He was charged by the high council for persecuting Church leaders with vexatious lawsuits, seeking to destroy the character of Joseph Smith, not abiding ecclesiastical authority in temporal affairs, selling lands in Jackson County, and leaving his calling as Assistant President of the Church and turning to the practice of law. Oliver refused to appear before the council, but he answered by letter. He denied the Church’s right to dictate how he should conduct his life and asked that his fellowship with the Church be ended. The high council excommunicated him 12 April 1838. He spent a decade outside the Church, but later humbly submitted himself for rebaptism in October 1848 in Kanesville, Iowa.

The high council also excommunicated David Whitmer, another of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, on charges of usurping too much authority, writing letters of dissension to apostates, and breaking the Word of Wisdom. David never returned to the Church, although to his death he maintained his testimony that he saw the angel and the gold plates. Lyman Johnson of the Twelve was also excommunicated at the same time. Even though excommunicating such former stalwarts was painful, Church leaders felt it was necessary to cleanse the Church.

In the latter part of April 1838 the Prophet received a revelation regarding the building up of Far West. It first designated the correct name of the Church as “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4). This settled confusion on the issue; the Church had been called the Church of Christ, the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Lord also commanded the building of a temple. “Let the city, Far West, be a holy and consecrated land unto me; and it shall be called most holy, for the ground upon which thou standest is holy” (v. 7). But the First Presidency was told not to incur debt for this temple as had been done in Kirtland. The Lord also directed the brethren to establish stakes in the surrounding regions. This was to be done so “that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth” (v. 6).

The Prophet spent the next three weeks visiting with the Saints in Caldwell County and teaching them principles of the gospel. Then, with the assistance of Sidney Rigdon, he embarked on the ambitious project of writing the history of the Church from its beginning. The history written by John Whitmer, the first Church historian, had been incomplete and, in any event, was now unavailable. The history of Joseph Smith and the early events of the Restoration now found in the Pearl of Great Price were a product of this project begun in April 1838.

Expansion in Northern Missouri

Having set the affairs of the Church in order in Caldwell County, the Prophet Joseph Smith turned his attention to locating places of settlement for the Saints in Ohio and other eastern states who would come to Missouri in the spring and summer of 1838. In 1837 a few Latter-day Saints had settled north of Caldwell County in the newly-created county of Daviess. They did so in accordance with the gentleman’s agreement that they obtain permission from the “Gentile” inhabitants to settle. The most prominent Mormon to settle in Daviess County was Lyman Wight, who founded Wight’s Settlement on a beautiful hillside overlooking the Grand River.

In mid-May 1838, Joseph Smith and others headed northward on an exploring expedition. When they reached Wight’s Ferry on the Grand River, the Prophet directed the laying out of a city at that location. He also received a revelation that this was the site of Adam-ondi-Ahman. In 1835 the Lord revealed that three years before Adam died he had called his righteous posterity together “into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing” (D&C 107:53; see also 78:15–16). Orson Pratt said the name means “Valley of God, where Adam dwelt. It is in the original language spoken by Adam.”13 Adam-ondi-Ahman will yet be the location of a very important meeting for selected righteous people to greet the Savior. In the words of the revelation, “It is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people, or the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the prophet” (D&C 116:1). This knowledge so thrilled the brethren that plans were discussed to create a stake at Adam-ondi-Ahman.

Lyman Wight cabin

Lyman Wight’s second cabin in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman. Lyman Wight was born 9 May 1796 in Fairfield, New York. He fought in the War of 1812.

He was baptized by Oliver Cowdery in 1830. Lyman served as a counselor to John Smith, president of the stake at Adam-ondi-Ahman. Lyman was ordained an Apostle in 1841, but through disobedience he lost his Church membership in 1848.

The explorers sought out other sites for settlement along the heavily timbered and navigable Grand River. With the explorations finished, Joseph Smith returned to Far West, realizing that Emma was soon to deliver another child. She gave birth to a son on 2 June 1838. They named him Alexander Hale Smith.

Before long Joseph was back in Adam-ondi-Ahman surveying the new city and building houses. He designated the community as a gathering place for the Kirtland Saints still in Ohio or en route to Missouri. When his uncle John Smith and family arrived in Far West, the Prophet counseled him to settle in Adam-ondi-Ahman.14 A conference was held on 28 June in the community, affectionately nicknamed “Di-Ahman,”15 and John Smith was sustained as the president of the stake, with Reynolds Cahoon and Lyman Wight as his counselors. A high council was also organized. Vinson Knight was called as acting bishop until the arrival of Bishop Newel K. Whitney from Kirtland (see D&C 117:11).

Elders’ Journal

Due to persecution the Elders’ Journal was published only twice in 1837 in Kirtland, Ohio. It was then moved to Far West, Missouri, where it was also published twice. The last issue was August 1838.

Latter-day Saint immigrants poured into Adam-ondi-Ahman throughout the summer of 1838. They considered themselves greatly blessed to live in the land where Adam dwelt. An article in the August issue of the Elders’ Journal portrays their excitement:

“The immense immigration . . . encourages the Saints, and induces us to believe that God is about to bring to pass his strange acts, of which he has spoken by his ancient Prophets.

“The immense growth of corn and other produce, this season . . . has not to our knowledge, had a parallel in this generation; and if the Lord should continue to bless, as he has now set his hand to do, there must soon be a surplus.”16 Indeed, a plentiful harvest that fall helped provide for the impoverished members of the Kirtland Camp when they arrived in Missouri and settled in Adam-ondi-Ahman in early October.

Elders’ Journal

About the time Adam-ondi-Ahman was being settled the Saints also began to establish themselves in DeWitt, located in Carroll County near where the Grand River entered the Missouri River. This benefited the Church because the members established a steamboat landing that immigrants could move to from the other LDS settlements. John Murdock and George M. Hinkle, members of the Far West high council, were authorized to purchase property in DeWitt and begin a settlement. DeWitt grew rapidly. A housing shortage developed in the fall when a large group of Saints from Canada arrived, making the Mormon city of DeWitt largely a tent city.

By far the most prosperous of the Latter-day Saint communities was Far West. By the summer of 1838 the population of Caldwell County approached five thousand, and over half of them lived in Far West proper. The Saints built “150 homes, four dry goods stores, three family grocery stores, several blacksmith shops, two hotels, a printing shop, and a large schoolhouse that doubled as a church and courthouse.”17

The Saints were busy planting crops and building log houses, but they paused to worship and study the gospel. Twenty-four-year-old Sarah Rich was a new bride when she and her husband, Charles, settled in a “cozy and happy” log house four miles from Far West, “religion being first with us in all things,” she declared. Each Sunday they rode horseback to town to attend meetings, “often listening to the Prophet Joseph Smith preach and instruct the people, a privilege we both appreciated very much.”18

During the summer of 1838 the Prophet turned to the important matters of filling the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He reaffirmed their responsibilities and counseled the Saints on the financing of the Lord’s kingdom. There was great sadness in the Church over the loss of four of the original Twelve. Elizabeth Barlow reflected, “We all felt more sorrowful at seeing Apostles leave the Church than we did over our trials and persecutions.”19

Despite the grief, Joseph Smith began replacing these four Apostles and preparing the Twelve for their assignment to take the gospel to the world. In the fall of 1837, prior to his visit to Far West, he sent word to John Taylor, a stalwart convert from Toronto, of his future call to the apostleship.20 At the time Elder Taylor was not presented before the membership of the Church for a sustaining vote. The following July the Prophet prayed, “Show unto us thy will O Lord concerning the Twelve.”21 The revelation that followed had a profound impact on the history of the Church. First the Lord directed that “men be appointed to supply the place of those who are fallen” (D&C 118:1). John Taylor, John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff, and Willard Richards were called.

As a missionary in Canada for two years, Elder John E. Page had traveled more than five thousand miles and baptized over six hundred converts. When this revelation was given, he was en route to Missouri with a company of Canadian Saints. They arrived in DeWitt in October. Elders Taylor and Page were ordained Apostles 19 December 1838 in Far West by Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. Elder Woodruff was a missionary in Maine when he received his call in a letter. He led a group of New England converts toward Missouri, but the Saints were driven from the state before they arrived, so he settled them in Illinois. Wilford Woodruff was ordained an Apostle in Far West on 26 April 1839 when he accompanied other members of the Twelve there to fulfill the commandment that the Twelve were to take up their mission to England from Far West (see D&C 118:4–5). Elder Richards was serving as a missionary and priesthood leader in Great Britain and was not ordained until members of the Twelve arrived there in 1840.

The revelation concerning the Twelve also instructed Thomas B. Marsh to continue publishing the Lord’s word (in the Elders’ Journal) in Far West and directed the others to preach “in all lowliness of heart, in meekness and humility, and long-suffering” (v. 3). The Lord further charged the Twelve to prepare to depart 26 April 1839 from Far West “to go over the great waters, and there promulgate my gospel” (v. 4).

On the day the revelation to the Twelve was given, Joseph Smith also read two revelations concerning Church revenue to the Saints. With the Church deeply mired in economic difficulties, the Prophet had sought clarification on how the law of consecration should be applied. The Lord modified the original law given in 1831 when he replied:

“I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,

“For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

“And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.

“And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest [income] annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever” (D&C 119:1–4). The second revelation assigned a committee of General Authorities the responsibility of expending the tithes (see D&C 120).

Although the Saints in northern Missouri were optimistic, there was reason for apprehension. The Saints, having endured persecution and malcontent for seven years, were understandably impatient with dissenters who resided in Far West. These dissenters harassed them with lawsuits and condemned Church leaders. In June, Sidney Rigdon burst forth in a heated oration commonly referred to as the Salt Sermon. He drew his text from the scripture, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, . . . it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13). The implication was that the dissenters should be cast out from among the Saints.

Soon afterward an unauthorized document appeared, addressed to Oliver Cowdery, David and John Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, and Lyman E. Johnson, the leading dissenters. The document was signed by eighty-four Church members, and it pointedly ordered the apostates to leave the county or face serious consequences. The sermon and letter had the desired effect; the dissenters fled in haste and were soon followed by their families. This extreme behavior on the part of a few horrified some people in the Church, and murmuring arose. Most unfortunately, it also reinforced the growing anti-Mormon hostility in northern Missouri.

Also contributing to the conflict with the Gentiles was Sampson Avard’s formation of an underground society called the Danites. This was an oath-bound group with secret identification and warning signs. Avard convinced his followers that they operated with the approval of the Presidency of the Church and that they were authorized to avenge themselves against the Church’s enemies by robbery, lying, and murder if necessary. Danite depredations, both real and imagined, intensified hostilities and gave Missouri officials a reason to indict Joseph Smith and other leaders for crimes against the state.

Sidney Rigdon’s Independence Day speech in 1838 added more fuel to the Mormon-Gentile conflict. As the Saints in Far West celebrated the nation’s birthday and laid the cornerstones of the temple, Sidney Rigdon’s oratory whipped them into high emotion. He thundered out the Saints’ own declaration of independence from any further mob violence or illegal activity. He warned potential mobs that the Church would no longer meekly bear persecution but would defend itself to the death. “It shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them, till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us.”22 Copies of this inflammatory speech were imprudently published and circulated. Some copies reached the hands of Missouri officials and eventually provided the basis for charges of treason and violence against the Saints.23

Thus the stage was set for the frightful conflict and terrible loss of life and property that followed. The Saints would have to pass through still more of the “refiner’s fire” before they could find peace.


1. In History of the Church, 2:445.

2. This paragraph is derived from James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), p. 105.

3. See History of the Church, 2:452–54.

4. In History of the Church, 2:462.

5. Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983), pp. 104–5.

6. History of the Church, 2:511.

7. In History of the Church, 2:516.

8. In History of the Church, 3:7.

9. Elders’ Journal, July 1838, p. 45.

10. See “The Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith,” LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, pp. 52–53.

11. History of the Church, 3:11.

12. In History of the Church, 3:14.

13. In Journal of Discourses, 18:343; see also Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), pp. 19–21.

14. See History of the Church, 3:38.

15. See Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 107.

16. Elders’ Journal, Aug. 1838, p. 52; spelling and capitalization standardized.

17. Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 107.

18. Sarah DeArmon Pea Rich, holograph autobiography, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, p. 36; spelling, punctuation, and capitalization standardized; or Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr, Women’s Voices (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982), p. 98.

19. Elizabeth Haven Barlow, “Mother of Eight,” in Kate B. Carter, comp., Our Pioneer Heritage, 19 vols. (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1967–76), 19:321; or Leonard J. Arrington and Susan Arrington Madsen, Sunbonnet Sisters (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), p. 24.

20. See B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1963), p. 47.

21. History of the Church, 3:46.

22. Oration Delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon on the 4th of July 1838 (Far West: Journal Office, 1838), LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, p. 12.

23. Previous four paragraphs derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 121–24.