Annals of the Early Settlers'
Assoc. of Cuyahoga Co., Ohio
Vol. IV No. 4 (1901)
(Cleveland: E.S.A. of C.C.O.)
"Mormon Episode at Kirtland"
THE MORMON EPISODE AT KIRTLAND.Impartial history will place upon Ohio the responsibility for the formation of the Mormon Church.
It might have existed, even if its young roots had never been set in this good buckeye soil, but would have been a scrubby growth at best. Joseph Smith planted; Martin Harris and David Whitmer watered, but the increase came only when Sidney Rigdon and those of his kind furnished a bit of congenial soil out of which came growth and fruition. The chosen spot was in our neighboring town of Kirtland, where the first stake of Zion was set, some seventy years ago.
As Joseph Smith was the foundation of Mormonism, and as Brigham Young was its business genius or material side, so was Rigdon its Evangel. There have been many stories told of the manner in which he and Smith first came together, but in the brief narrative of today we will hold ourselves closely to the accepted facts.
Joseph Smith had in some manner become possessed of that dreary and clumsy literary and theological contrivance called The Book of Mormon. Time is too short to permit a consideration of the theories advanced as to where he got it. Smith's personal story is simple enough. In the fall of 1823 he retired to his bed after a weary day upon the farm, and soon fell asleep. In the silence of the night an angel came to him, and told him of a book
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written upon golden plates, hidden in a hill there in western New York. When daylight came he had no trouble in locating the hill, and found the plates, but four years went by before he was permitted to carry them away.
After much labor, and some divine instruction, he translated them. By the aid of a credulous old farmer, named Martin Harris -- who mortaged his farm and lost it -- he was able to lay this third testament before the world in the cold reality of print.
Joseph had a brother, Hyrum, who was engaged, one evening, soon after the book was off the press, in driving home the cows, when he was approached by a young man, who asked where he could find the translator of the Book of Mormon. "You cannot see him at all," was the answer, "as he is down in Pennsylvania, a hundred miles away."
The stranger then declared himself. He was a preacher of the Word; had seen a copy of this wonderful Gospel; had read it through, unable to lay it down. The spirit of the Lord had come upon him, and his heart had been filled with joy.
This was an Ohio man, Parley P. Pratt. He had made for himself a home in the forest, thirty miles west of Cleveland. Had been stirred and then refreshed by a sermon of Sidney Rigdon's; had abandoned his farm for the work of the Lord: had fallen upon the Book of Mormon, and at last knew why he had been called forth.
The visitor was baptized and began to preach Mormonism. His younger brother, Orson, joined him, and also preached it.
It was at Fayette, New York, in September, 1830, that the first step was taken toward carrying the scheme bodily into Ohio. It was announced through the lips of Joseph, the new-born prophet, that the millenium was not far away, and a mission was laid upon Peter Whitmer, Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson and Oliver Cowdery, to go west and preach Mormonism to the Indians, who were declared to be the remnants of the tribe of Joseph. They were permitted to perform miracles, but for the present these were to be limited to the casting out of devils and the healing of the sick.
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You see they had their form of mental healing even in those days-- but they called it by another name.
For a full understanding of the things that came about so readily at Kirtland, we must lay our colors upon the background of that day.
The American people were filled with a religious unrest, a spiritual fervor, and swayed by forms of fanaticism the like of which had not been seen before.
The time was very close to those fierce revivals aroused by the preaching of Lorenzo Dow. It was the day of the "jerkings" the "rollings" and the "fallings" by which an emotional form of camp-meeting conversion expressed itself. John Jay Shipherd and Philo Penfield Stewart were even then formulating their Oberlin Covenant, that planted a great idea in the woods of Northern Ohio. Dylkes, the Leatherwood God, had but recently mysteriously appeared in a Southern Ohio camp-meeting; as God he had announced himself, and as such had been accepted and worshipped.
The Disciples had recently made a great commotion by their coming out of the older churches. Hosea Ballou had but recently dared orthodoxy by the declaration that all sin received its punishment in this world. The sons and daughters of Mother Ann Lee, the Shakers, were founding their many settlements. William Miller was preaching the Second Advent, and his followers were even then dreaming of an Ascension into heaven without death.
Revelations, dreams, prophecies, unrest, a looking for millenial days. All these wore astir in the land, and men were prepared to believe anything, were it only new.
Thus Joseph Smith and his Golden Bible had a fruitful field prepared for them. Twenty years earlier, or a decade later, and his seed might have fallen upon stony ground; there might never have been a Mormon Church.
When this commissioned quartette left Buffalo, where they had met a number of Indians and endeavored to persuade them that they had Jewish ancestors -- that they were the lost ten tribes of Israel, reddened in some way -- they pushed on to Kirtland.
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Their stop there was the critical period in the history of Mormonism, for there they met Sidney Rigdon and secured all that came by his influence and in the wake of his preaching.
He was a gifted man. He would have been a great one, if nature had given him a little less of self and a balance-wheel. He was now thirty-seven years of age. He had preached in Warren, where he had taken unto himself a wife. In Pittsburg, where he had met with great success. Then he retired from the ministry, because he said he did not feel free to accept the recognized theology of the day. For two years he worked in a tannery. Again took up his preaching at Bainbridge, where he adopted no formal creed, but leaned in the direction of Alexander Campbell, the father of the Disciples. He removed to Mentor. At Kirtland, a short distance away, a number of the members of his church had agreed to live together, and hold all their worldly goods in common.
Here was the field white for the harvest; and Pratt and his mission band -- as the forerunners of Joseph -- lifted up their eyes in shrewd anticipation, and entered in.
Rigdon's preaching had been for some time along the lines which Mormonism afterwards followed.
He taught the literal interpretation of the prophecies of Scripture. That the Israelites were to gather, to receive the second coming. The use of miracles in the service of the Church. The literal reign of the saints on earth. We remember the resolution once passed by a lot of free and easy souls in the West:
"Resolved, That the saints shall inherit the earth.
Resolved, That we are the saints."
This was ever the claim of the Mormon Church.
The four missionaries met Rigdon and argued with him. He carried home a copy of the Book of Mormon with a promise to read it. At the end of two days he surrendered. He declared that he had asked for a sign and had received it; the testimony was from God; the Book of Mormon was of divine inspiration.
That settled it. The bell-wether had jumped the fence and
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the rest followed. Some twenty of Rigdon's spiritual flock, his wife, and himself, were baptized into the Mormon Church.
The life of that church was quickened. The new doctrine had been suddenly lifted into the light. From something utterly unknown it went before the world of Northern Ohio, with the full approval of a score and more of very respectable people.
Soon after, Rigdon went to Manchester, New York, and met Smith. Joseph discovered that Sidney was not a man who could be held in the background. He therefore took him into close partnership and received a special revelation from heaven, declaring that Rigdon had been accepted, would be blessed, and might accomplish great things.
Thus endorsed from the very headship of the Church, Sidney went back to Kirtland to prepare the way for Joseph and his family. They arrived in February, 1831. The once unknown village was thenceforward the center and headquarters of the new faith.
Joseph worked his new machinery with enthusiasm and frequency. He was not sparing in his revelations from on high. He had achieved 14 in 1829; 20 came in 1830; 37 in 1831; 13 in 1832. These are the larger ones -- those of sufficient importance for record in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, which began to be built up in that manner. There were many minor celestial orders received, that were for the day only; these served the purpose of the moment, and were not counted.
Among these greater revelations, there was one that abolished the community of goods, and another decreeing that a house should be built, at the general expense, for Joseph. There was, also, one that has been often quoted against the Church of Brigham Young in the later days -- "thou shalt love thy wife, cleaving unto her, and to none else." And later: "wherefore it is lawful that he should have one wife, and the twain shall be one flesh." You do not need to be told that Mormonism preached another Gospel at Salt Lake.
The temporal and spiritual Church grew rapidly. It would
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take a book to relate all that was done. Rigdon preached with fire before the footlights; Smith and his aged father and his brothers rattled the sheet-iron thunder and pulled the ropes behind the scenes. Elders were ordained and sent forth as missionaries. Those who were converted and came with goods were required to unload for the benefit of the Church. A set invasion of the far West was arranged.
After a time Smith removed to the town of Hiram -- perhaps because of the finer literary air to be found there; for he and Rigdon had now commenced an original translation of the Bible. In 1832, when opposition to the Mormons had become widespread, Hiram expressed its opinion of these visitors by taking them from their beds at night, and coating them with tar and feathers. That broke up the translation.
Rigdon hurried back to Kirtland but Joseph was afraid to be seen there. He went to Warren, where he was joined by Sidney, and the two traveled by way of Cincinnati, to Independence, Missouri, where a second Stake of Zion had been established. Joseph returned to Kirtland in June.
There was now a mill there, a store and a farm that belonged to the Church. In January, 1833, they introduced the Scriptural doctrine of the washing of feet, and practiced it. Each elder attended to himself first, and then Joseph would take a towel and give them all a final polishing off. Money was flowing in and in March they purchased three more farms. They commenced the building of the temple. They made bricks, and built a tannery. Established a school of the prophets, for the instruction of those who were to be sent forth as missionaries.
It was also at this time that our old friend E. D. Howe, the pioneer printer of Painesville, published his famous book "Mormonism Unveiled" which was an outspoken exposure of the things being said and done. A little book, that has been heard from and was, in itself and because if its effects, one of the most severe blows that Mormonism has ever received.
It was in this year 1832, that the Church received into membership
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the strongest and ablest man it has ever possessed --a painter and glazier, by the name of Brigham Young.
He was then but thirty-one years of age, was converted by Samuel H. Smith, a brother of the Prophet, and went to Kirtland to look at things for himself. He was a quiet observer, but he learned much, and made effective use of it when the troubled days fell upon Nauvoo.
Joseph looked the young man over; made him one of the twelve apostles, and sent him forth to preach.
In view of Brigham's many marriages, I may be permitted to refer here to his first and second. In March, 1834, he took unto himself his second wife, Mary Ann Angel, his first having died in 1832. I have seen the record at Chardon. Sidney Rigdon performed the ceremony. When Young applied for the license, he signed his name "BRICKHAM" and the word "Young" was laboriously commenced with a small "y."
When Young was sued for divorce and alimony by Mrs. Young the Nineteenth, he paid a Geauga County attorney fifty dollars for furnishing him with an official copy of this certificate. With it he cooly proceeded to show that, as he was already married to Mary Ann, he could not legally be the husband of Ann Eliza.
The branch of the Church which had been established in Missouri was in trouble, and even engaged in physical warfare with the populace about it. In the spring of 1834, a little army was organized at Kirtland, for the purpose of marching westward to the aid of the brethren. They called it Zion's Camp. Its strength consisted of 150 young men, priests, elders, deacons and teachers. They started with twenty wagons, loaded with arms and supplies, with the Prophet Joseph in the lead.
They reached Missouri in June. There was much talk and many threats: and the outcome of Zion's Camp was like that of the King of Greece and his twice ten -- thousand men -- after he had marched them up the lull, he marched them down again.
A clear understanding of all that Mormonism was and implied, even in those days of beginning, could not be reached without
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an exposure of the supernatural claims that were advanced, the juggling that was introduced and the blind and fanatical obedience that faith and ignorance were willing to give.
We might hesitate in believing the things related by enemies of the outside world were not even wilder experiences claimed by leaders of the Mormon Church; miracles wrought, the sick made well, the dead brought back to life. Scores of these I could show you, in books officially issued from the Salt Lake press.
Let us take a paragraph from Howe's "Mormonism Unveiled :"
"On the conversion of Rigdon, scenes of wild * * * fanaticism ensued. They pretended that the power of miracles was about to be given to all who embraced the new faith, and commenced communicating the Holy Spirit by laying their hands upon the heads of converts, which operation at first produced an instantaneous prostration of the body and mind.
"Many would fall upon the floor, where they would lie for a long time, apparently lifeless. They thus continued these enthusiastic exhibitions for several weeks. The fits usually came on during or after their prayer meetings, which were held nearly every evening. The young men and women were most subject to this delirium. They would exhibit all the apish actions imaginable, creeping upon their hands and feet, rolling upon the frozen ground, go through all the modes of Indian warfare.
"At other times they would run through the fields, get upon the stumps, preach to imaginary congregations, enter the water, and perform the ceremony of baptizing. Many would have fits of speaking all the different Indian dialects, which none could understand. Again, at the dead hour of the night, the young men might be seen running over the fields and hills in pursuit, as they said, of balls of fire, lights, etc., which they saw moving through the atmosphere."
This much on the testimony of Howe.
The prophet Smith moved with due caution in his introduction of miracles. He did not know just how much his people would stand. When firm in one position, he advanced to another.
Having visible proof that his power for divine things was accepted,
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he added a new phase of belief in January, 1833, when the "Gift of Tongues" was made manifest It was of a nature to appeal with force to the most ignorant and insignificant of his followers, as it enabled any one of them to claim direct connection with the powers on high, and to deliver themselves of any jargon of nonsense to which the imagination might be moved, or might be able to compass.
The manner in which this "gift" was displayed was unique. A meeting would be called, and previous thereto announcement made that someone would be moved to "speak with tongues." Each believer who attended- carried with him the solemn possibility of being the chosen mouthpiece of the Most High.
Rigdon or Smith would be present and call upon some one to rise and deliver the message with which he was charged, saying: "If you will arise in the name of the Lord, you can speak in tongues."
The man indicated would stand up in a startled, half-scared mood, and perhaps say "My faith fails me -- I have not enough."
"Oh, yes, you have," from the leader, "speak in the name of the Lord, make some sound without further thought, and God will make it a language."
Then the poor, scared old fellow would mutter some unintelligible sound, and it would be called a tongue. Others would follow in the same strain, some talking, some singing, and others furnishing a mixture of the two.
All through these earlier days, Smith made a persistent endeavor to repeat the mysteries and even the miracles of Bible times, and many stories might be related of these. When he met with failure he dismissed the matter. When, through some happy accident, legerdemain, or the unconscious nervous co-operation of his subject, he was able to accomplish that which was out of the normal, he gave the credit to divine power, and saw that the fact was duly heralded to the world.
This reminds me of the manner in which Brigham Young once escaped from a close corner. He was approached by a believer who had lost a leg, and asked to be made whole.
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"I refuse to do it for your own sake/' said Brigham. "If I give you a new leg, both it and the one you have lost would be raised in the resurrection of the dead. How would you look going around through all eternity on three legs?"
The Mormons declare that many of these alleged incidents are the inventions of their enemies. Perhaps so. Let us turn to the Mormon books for happenings that are officially endorsed.
Wilford Woodruff was the successor of Brigham Young, as president and prophet of the Mormon Church. He received his primary instruction under Smiih at Kirtland, and was for years an earnest missionary. At a later date, he wrote a book for the instruction of the Mormon children -- a sort of Utah Sunday School primer.
He made a careful calculation in devils, for the benefit of these little ones.
Each person on this earth, he taught, is individually beset by one hundred devils, actual devils, whose purpose it is to hang close to him until he shall be betrayed into torment. It is a matter of simple arithmetic. One hundred billion devils fell to the earth with Lucifer. There are one billion people upon the earth, which gives one hundred to every man, woman and child.
Well might he add: "Now I want all our girls and boys to reflect upon this, and to see what danger they are in, and the warfare they are to pass through."
Reflect! The wonder is that the poor little Mormons could sleep at night.
Still, President Woodruff knew what he was talking about. He had seen them, and fought them to a finish. When he was in London he drove them out of several people, and saw them go.
On one occasion he and Elder George A. Smith had retired to rest upon cots about three feet apart. They had hardly stretched themselves out when a legion of devils made war upon them, seeking their destruction with venom and fury, until as Woodruff says, "we were nearly choked to death. But suddenly three angelic visitors, dressed in white, entered the room, and at that instant the evil spirits disappeared, and were seen no more."
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This little book is a mine of miracles -- I would like to take a day off and read it to you. He was on a mission in the West. A black bear came out of the forest, sat upon its haunches, saw that he was a real Mormon Elder, and then ran away. Wolves followed him all night, but kept their distance. When he was told by the spirit to go and warn a certain scoffer, he was ordered out of the house, and as the man of sin followed him to the road, he fell dead, and turned back. Woodruff went back, and preached his funeral sermon.
Miracles and spiritual power of the highest order were scattered all along his record. Dreams warned him to flee when mobs were upon his track. He healed many sick by the laying on of hands. A miraculous fish appeared on the coast of Maine, and by its wonderful power caused a doubter to be converted.
And finally power came upon the young missionary to raise from the dead. He was leading a handful of weary converts from Maine, in the dead of the winter, plowing in rude wagons through mud and snow. Many were sick, some had died, others lost heart and fallen out by the way. Woodruff's wife -- he had but one then -- was taken with brain fever, and while delirious was jolted onward in the rude cart that was her only home.
He was finally compelled to halt, and claim the hospitality of a farm house by the wayside. She sank gradually, and then -- "she was dead," says the Elder. "The sisters gathered around her body, weeping, while I stood looking at her in sorrow.
"The spirit and power of God began to rest upon me until, for the first time during her sickness, faith filled my soul. I had some oil that was consecrated for my anointing, while in Kirtland. I took and consecrated it again; then bowed and prayed for the life of my companion, and anointed her body with the oil. I laid my hands upon her, rebuked the power of death, and the destroyer, and commanded the same to depart from her and the spirit of life to enter the body.
"Her spirit returned to her body, and from that hour she was made whole."
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The wife afterward declared that her spirit had really departed from its tenement of clay, and had been accosted by a heavenly messenger who gave her the choice of continuing on to Paradise, or returning to the flesh. When she looked downward and saw her sorrowing husband and helpless child, her mother heart made the choice of earth, and with that she returned to her body.
There are other Mormon leaders who have written wonderful things in these books for the infant saints. Thus Elder Abel Evans tells of a woman who had lost her nose, and by faith he made her a new one -- "not a perfect one," he regretfully adds, "but a great improvement upon none at all." He also cured a broken leg, and in three minutes had his man dancing about the house; healed a boy into whose head an iron rod had been run; and broke up an epidemic upon shipboard with such celerity that the sailors hinted at witchcraft.
A piece of angel financiering is related by Heber Kimball, as befalling himself and Brigham Young, when on a mission tour.
They started with a purse containing but $13.50; traveled over four hundred miles by stage, for which they paid from eight to ten cents per mile, had three meals per day and lodging, for each of which they paid fifty cents, and at the end discovered that they had expended $87.00 out of that purse of $13.50, and Brigham still had one York shilling left.
"Brother Brigham," says Heber, "often suspected that I put money in his trunk or clothes, but this was not so. The money could only have been put in his trunk by some heavenly messenger, who thus administered to our necessities daily as he knew we needed."
I think these illustrations will be sufficient to describe the situation.
It was a great event for Kirtland when the temple was finished -- many of you have seen it, still standing on the brow of Kirtland hill. It was dedicated on the 27th of March, 1836.
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That occasion may be regarded as the culminating point of Mormon success and influence in Ohio.
Every possible effort was made to raise it above the level of temporal things, and to impress upon it an apparent stamp of divine acceptance and favor.
There were many ceremonies. The various quorums of the Church officially recognized Joseph Smith as their prophet and seer. If his word may be taken, there were august visitors in attendanceŚMoses, Elias and Elisha appeared unto him, and surrendered into his hands the Keys of the Priesthood. He saw angels, who came down and held converse with him. Brigham Young was favored with an eloquent outburst of tongues and made an address which neither he nor his hearers could understand. A pillar of fire was seen above the temple, and supernatural sounds were heard in the air. The brethren shut themselves in the temple and washed and anointed themselves.
The excitement continued until March 31st. During that time all business of a secular character was suspended and many spectators were drawn from the neighboring towns and farms.
No such season had been witnessed in Kirtland, even in the early days of spiritual riot; and none was ever again possible in the times of gloom and trouble that were now closing in from every side.
You will recall the abnormal speculative boom in lands, in banking, in canals, railroads, and everything, that culminated in the financial panic of 1837. Everybody was rich, on paper. A solid city was to be built on the lake front from Cleveland to Buffalo.
Our Mormon friends had their share in these speculations. Kirtland lay upon one of the roadways the pioneer had cut through the forests of Northern Ohio, and Lake Erie could be seen from the temple roof. The core of a large town seemed to have been formed in the settlement of so many strangers about the temple, and the limits to which it might grow could be defined only by the future.
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I have also seen upon the books at Chardon, which was then Kirtland's county seat, the proposed plot of a great city, of which the temple was to be the center. Kirtland City they called it. Thirty-two streets were laid out at right angles, each four rods wide. The new and the old dispensations were both remembered in the naming of these thoroughfares. Peter, John and Luke had the first three. One went to Oliver Cowdery, one to Joseph, one to Parley Pratt, while the rest of the saints, ancient and modern, straggled along in the rear.
They speculated in other things. Bought lands at high prices, and let the mortgages eat them up. Bought merchandise in New York and elsewhere in excess of their inability to pay. Started a bank, and when Ohio would not give them a charter, went ahead without it, and issued a cartload of paper money that was never redeemed. As one chronicler quaintly states it: "They suffered pride to arise in their hearts, and became desirous of fine houses and fine clothes, and indulged too much in these things, supposing for a few months they were very rich."
Then came the smash. There is a Mormon record in which it is summed up in a few words: "Upon the failure of the bank, in 1838, Smith and Rigdon went to Missouri, leaving the business in the hands of others to wind up." This is brief, for the reason that the Mormon chroniclers did not care to say more.
From the mouth of a living witness I have received an account of the final public appearance of these two men in the temple which their influence and energy had created. It was on a Sabbath in December. Rebellion, malice and secret enemies confronted them from within the Church, while debt, revenge, arrest, prosecution, and even physical assault threatened them from without. The faithful many had been sent to the settlements of the west, while here remained the hostile few.
A demand had been made by the prophet that condemnation and excommunication should be pronounced upon several who were in rebellion, but it soon became apparent that the votes by which the behest was to be obeyed were not forthcoming.
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Never in his life did Joseph Smith make a better, manlier showing than on this day. He came into the gathering with the resolution and courage that the situation demanded, and carried himself as one who felt that his feet had been set upon a rock. The wonderful experiences of nearly a decade of spiritual and material command had given power and play to every faculty and carried him far outward from the uncouth and flimsy experiences and assertions of the early days.
He had a natural grain of greatness -- without it, he never could have become what he was. It had been smoothed and polished by contact with the world, and he was no longer the ungainly boy who looked into the white stone for lost money or straying flocks; he was the clear-sighted and ambitious man, who now aspired to a place with Mohammed as the founder of a vast religious empire.
There could be no show of weakness now that was not fraught with danger -- and he played his game with boldness and courage clear on to his tragic end.
Rigdon had been sick, and was aided to his seat by the steadying arms of friends. The debate was long and stormy. Three hours of the Sabbath passed, and no decision was reached. Rigdon's address was not soon forgotten by those who heard it Physical weakness was upon him, but the pathos of his plea, and the power of his denunciations, swayed their feelings and shook their judgments, as never in the old days of prosperous peace.
When he had finished, and was led out, a tense silence reigned in the temple, until its door had closed upon him forever.
Smith made a resolute and determined battle. False reports had been circulated, he declared, and those by whom the offense had come, must repent and acknowledge their sin, or be cut off from fellowship in this world and from honor and power in that to come. He made his demands as head of the church, and for the church, and he would abate not one jot therefrom.
The accused pleaded their case; one of them gave the prophet the lie to his face, and fire did not come from heaven to consume
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him. The day was lost for Smith. The matter was postponed for a few days, and that ended it, so far as he was concerned. He never entered the temple again.
There came to his ears the rumor that an old enemy had gone to Chardon to secure a warrant for his arrest for fraud in connection with the defunct bank. It was not true, but he did not wait to investigate. He made hurried and secret arrangements for flight. Fleet horses were secured, and late in the evening of January 12, 1838, Smith and Rigdon bade farewell to a few devoted friends and galloped over the frozen roads and through the snow, toward the west. There was an outcry, but no legal action was taken, and in due season they were hailed as heroes and welcomed as martyrs by that portion of the Mormon world to which their coming was a blessed surprise.
The sheriff was now an almost daily visitor at Kirtland. The dream of a city was gone, and those who were left thought only of how they might save something from the wreck.
After years of silence, emptiness and long disuse, the old temple was declared by the courts of Ohio to belong rightfully to the Anti-polygamy Mormons of Iowa, the reorganized branch of the Church. In late years they have returned to Kirtland, for the purpose of holding their annual conferences within its walls.
The leader of this branch is Joseph Smith, the only son of Joseph, the prophet: He was born at Kirtland in the early days of prosperity, and has a dim recollection of the exciting scenes amid which his boyhood was passed. It was intended by his father that he should become the spiritual and temporal heir. When he reached the proper age he was chosen as the leader of those Mormons who followed not after Young, and it was his happy lot to send missionaries to Utah, for the conversion of his misguided brethren from the error of their ways.
Joseph Smith, after his flight from Kirtland, founded two other Mormon strongholds in the valley of the Mississippi, one at Far West and the other at Nauvoo. In the latter place a second temple was erected. The Mormons raised and equipped a small
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standing army. Joseph Smith became richer and more powerful than he had ever dreamed of being. He took an active part in Illinois politics, and for a time the Mormon vote was a considerable factor in the public affairs. With power and recognition came arrogance and ambition, and Smith even talked in public of himself as a possible candidate for the president of the United States.
All this and much that went with it, made enemies. They arose on all sides in wrath and bitterness. We have not time to go into details, or contributory causes. The culmination came in June, 1844, when a writ was issued against Joseph and Hyrum Smith and others on the charge of destroying a printing press without authority of law. They were lodged in Carthage jail.
And it was while there that the prophet and his brother were attacked and murdered by a cruel and cowardly mob. This act -- outside of justice and the law -- did more for Joseph and Mormonism than all their friends could have done. The halo of martyrdom had descended upon him, and of all the works performed by Joseph for the system of which he was the foundation and the head, none could reach the power, the influence and the vitalizing force that lay in the legacy of his bloody death.
With this event the initial era of Mormonism came to an end.
Then arose Brigham Young -- well had he bided his time -- and with a strong hand, standing on the vantage ground of his chiefship of the twelve apostles, put aside all claimants for the succession, relegated the dead prophet's brothers to inferior places in the Church, set altogether aside the son of Joseph, gave Sidney Rigdon over to excommunication and the buffetings of Satan, took matters into his own strong hands, and saved the Church from disintegration and possible extinction.
A word as to Rigdon. He saw that there was no future for him under Young. He had boldly played for Joseph's place and lost.
He gathered a faithful few about him, went east to Pennsylvania, attempted to build a Church upon the foundation of
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Joseph the Prophet and Sidney the successor, failed utterly, retired into obscurity, and died the death of a broken, disappointed old man. But he held his counsel to the last, and no word came from his lips or pen to show that fraud and falsehood had any part in the founding or upbuilding of the Mormon Church.
After the murder of Joseph, there came, for a time, peace upon Nauvoo. But it was the calm that forges the bolt for the storm. Other and greater troubles arose. The Church was ordered to leave Illinois, and Young knew that it was the better part of wisdom to go. Then came the long journey through the wilderness, the founding of an empire in Utah, the promulgation of the doctrine of spiritual wifehood, and all the things that have followed in its train...
The Homiletic Review
Vol. XLVII No. 2 (Feb. 1904)
(NYC: Funk & Wagnalls)
"Mormonism... First Appearance"
Social Thought and Movement
About ten years since, i.e., about 1872, while a brother, some twelve years my superior, was spending a season with me talking over early and youthful days, and calling to mind one and another whose lives had left an impression upon our minds, my thoughts prompted me to speak of Joseph Smith, the founder, leader, and promoter of Mormonism. When quite a lad I had seen Smith, who occasionally worked for my father, who had a large farm, flour-mill, saw-mill, etc., in Harpersville, Broome County, N. Y.
I well remember the time when the discovery of the "Golden Bible" was the great topic of conversation, also when the first company (composed of a few girls of the humbler class) started for the West.
The trial of Smith for blasphemy was held at the hotel of Samuel [sic - Lemuel?] Badger in Harpersville. As my brother, at that time some eighteen years of age, was conversant with many facts and incidents beyond my personal knowledge, I requested him to write down some particulars which occurred about that time, as it might be valuable for future reference. The next day he handed me a paper saying: "This is from the best of my recollection. The impressions of our youth are not easily forgotten."
The Birth of Mormonism.I first remember Mr. Smith when he lived with Mr. Isaiah [sic - Josiah?] Stowell in South Bainbridge, Broome County, N. Y. He had the name of being a lazy, idle, mischief-making young man. His time was mostly spent in forming plans to procure a living without work.
I recollect very distinctly the neighborhood where Smith dwelt or circulated, and tho I am now over sixty years of age, I can look back over forty years ago when I saw the first Mormon believer baptized by Smith. He pretended that he had a revelation from heaven, and had found a certain quantity of gold plates accompanied by a white stone through which he looked and was thus enabled to translate the characters on the gold plates, making thereby the book of Mormon, or, as it was then called, the "Gold Bible." The better part of the community, however, knew as soon as the book appeared that it was written by one Spaulding as a sort of religious novel, and fell into the hands of Smith after Spaulding's decease. Every intelligent man also knew that Smith and two young law students, Cowdry and Rigdon, translated or manipulated the novel into its present form.
By the time the book was ready for circulation Smith had procured a number of followers from the lowest class, irreligious in belief with the exception of one or two Universalists and one Stowell, Deacon he was called, who had been expelled from the Presbyterian Church for becoming a convert to Smith's Church, as it was termed. This Stowell was engaged in peddling the "Gold Bible." I distinctly remember the appearance of the deacon and the old one-horse wagon as it made its first appearance in our town. The following fact, which I can vouch for, was the means of convincing many persons of Smith's cunning deceptions.
One Wilkins, a blacksmith in my father's employ, was bitter against Smith because he had well-nigh converted his wife to Mormonism. Wilkins was a man of determination, and as Stowell put up with his Gold Bible near him, he hit upon a plan to wean his wife not only, but to convince every reasonable person of Smith's deception and falsehoods.
In the evening after all had become still
* The account printed below was written by the late A. M. Badger, of Elmira, N, Y.. at the request of his younger brother, the late L. M. Badger, formerly of Newark, N. Y., a member of the New York Stock Exchange, and an active Christian man, and furnished to the Editors by the family of the latter.
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and darkness had settled over the place, Wilkins sought the deacon's wagon, and taking therefrom one of the "Gold Bibles," returned with it to his own house and laid it on his door-sill. In the morning it was discovered by the servant-maid, and all were astonished at the strange circumstance. Wilkins himself pretending to be seriously wrought upon by the strange phenomenon, a council of friends who were witnesses of the scene decided that it would be proper to call in Smith and have the matter explained. Smith came, the maid stated that as she opened the door the "Gold Bible" fell toward her into the house, and no one was in the yard or near the house. Smith, as was his custom in all cases of doubt, leaned back in his chair, covering his face to receive the divine revelation to enable him to reveal the facts in the case. After some thirty minutes of dead silence and serious anxiety among the spectators, Smith uncovered his face and declared that the angel had told him all. Wilkins, by this time in deep solemnity, almost in tears, asked for the revelation, and as near as my recollection serves me, Smith answered thus:
"Well, Wilkins, you know how I have talked to you for opposing your wife's joining our church. You have been a bitter opposer of our new system revealed to me directly from heaven, and it is now specially revealed to me that God sent His angel during the night, placing that book so that on the opening of the door it fell into your house, giving you to understand that you must fall before its truths and be converted, and with your wife join the true and holy church, Amen."
Wilkins said, "Smith is that all?" Smith replied, "Yes, that is all." Wilkins answered Smith by saying: "I also have had a revelation, and I want you and all to hear it (rising and going to the door). I want to say to you, sir, and to all present, that, loving my wife and family, I was anxious to wean her from, her foolish notions, and to show her that you are a base deceiver. I stole that book, placing it with my own hands so that the maid would find it as she did; and now, sir, this is my revelation, that you are a base deceiver and a d---d rascal (opening the door). Now leave my bouse, and if ever you enter it again or speak to my wife you are a dead man." Smith left in a hurry, and Mrs. Wilkins never expressed any further wish to become a Mormon.
Smith, however, continued his foolish proceedings, looking with his stone in his hat (this was done by placing the stone in his hat and covering his face, or putting his face into his hat), making wonderful discoveries of fortunes hid in the earth. Several holes were dug, one on the edge of Pennsylvania, south of the town of Windsor, but as nothing was ever found, Smith pretended that it was enchanted by evil spirits, and report said that as the men raised the stone supposed to be the lid of the money vault, smoke and the smell of brimstone drove them out of the pit.
Smith, while still living with Deacon Stowell, went to my father's mill with several bags of wheat to be ground. On arriving at the mill he discovered that he had lost a bag out of his wagon. This bag was delivered to and hidden by one Bridgeman, for the purpose of further testing Smith's power to see in his magic stone which he pretended was found with the gold plates.
In due time Smith was circulating through the town looking for the lost bag of wheat, which was lost near Bridgeman's house and picked up by Major Samuel Badger and his son-in-law, Elijah Smith, whom Smith had passed without recognizing them. Bridgeman hid the bag of wheat under his bed for two weeks, during which time Smith, Stowell, and some of Smith's followers were daily looking for it. At last, and for the purpose of showing the absurdity of Smith's pretentious, Smith was taken into Bridgeman's house, and after looking and failing to obtain any revelation, Bridgeman pulled the bag from under his bed, saying: "Here, I can find your wheat without any glass, you fool."
Another case of digging occurs to my particular recollection, as it was the crime for which Deacon Stowell was excommunicated. Smith had discovered somewhere near Palmyra, in the region where it was pretended the gold plates were found, another chest of money and valuables; but being enchanted by evil spirits, the enchantment must be broken. To do this Smith, with some of his followers attended by the deacon, built an altar and offered a burnt sacrifice, offering thereon two black slut dogs and two black ewe lumbs, the deacon sprinkling the blood and calling upon God to take away the evil spirits.
No better success attended the digging than before; no money or other valuables were ever found, proving Smith to be an imposter,
1904] Living Issues for Pulpit Treatment 153
followed by the lazy, thieving part of the community, all things being common among them, and Smith, like Judas, carrying the purse.
By this time Smith's conduct had become so disgusting to many respectable people whose friends had been duped by him, that they thought it advisable to test the matter in court, and, as he had in some instances pretended to cast out devils, he was arrested and charged with blasphemy. A trial before two magistrates was had, which lasted all night, the writer spending the entire night as a spectator. Smith stood his ground, asserting that he had power to cast out devils, which he was ready to prove. I distinctly recollect that one Newell Knight, a young man of no standing and who was never accused of having a good moral character, was called to the stand and related, by the aid of Smith, his conversion to Mormonism, asserting that Smith had cast the devil out of him. On the cross-examination he afforded no little amusement to the spectators.
So vivid are these things that I can now see in my mind the position of counsel and witness, and hear reiterated the questions and answers, one or two of which I will give:
Wit. "Yes, on the night of the day I was converted to Mormonism."
Att'y. "How did the devil look, and how big was he?"
Wit. "He was black, about the size of a woodchuck or groundhog."
A state warrant was procured, but before it could be served Smith had fled to the State of Pennsylvania, and subsequently removed with his followers to Kirtland, Ohio. The people thereabouts rejoiced in his exit and that he had taken some of the dregs of the town with him, firmly believing that the sect would soon disappear.
No one who has followed the career of Smith and been familiar with his conduct at Kirtland, his attempt to convince the world of his power by walking across the river upon the water, his narrow escape from drowning, his Kirtland safety-fund bank, his deception and robberies, his removal to Nauvoo, Ill., his proceedings there, the circumstances of his death, etc., can feel otherwise than that he richly merited the death he received. And who that is familiar with Brigham Young's career does not know that he was sent by the Government to Utah, that seeing the opportunity to step to the head of the Mormon people and thereby becoming rich, by strategy he changed from governor of the Territory to the governor of a tribe made up of the most ignorant and sensual of all nations, carrying out a sentiment once uttered by Smith, viz., that "he found it so much easier to make fools of his followers than he expected, he was going to see how far he could proceed with them."
The Old Tavern, at junction of Colesville and Watrous roads
Amasa M. Badger Recollections
The account given of Joseph Smith's early days in the Colesville area, which appeared in the Feb. 1904 issue of the Homiletic Review is similar to the anonymous report published in the 1869 Gazetter and Business Directory of Chenango County (see EMD IV "Hamilton Child Account," pp. 219-221 -- Vogel does not credit Amasa M. Badger as Child's source, but the same writer obviously furnished the 1869 report and the 1904 recollections).
Lucius Morgan Badger supplied the Homiletic Review editors with his older brother's written account from the early 1870s -- but this submittal was evidently carried out through some indirect process. Perhaps Lucius prepared the article for some forgotten newspaper publication in the 1880s. By 1904 both Amasa and Lucius were deceased. They were the sons of Samuel Badger, an early pioneer in the Colesville area of Broome County, New York. In another place Amasa provided this introduction:
"Amasa Mason Badger was born in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred & eleven on the 22 day of May -- on or near the east bank of the Susquehanna river in the town of Colesville, Broome county & State of New York.
July 1830 Joseph Smith Trials
In the 1904 article Amasa is quoted as saying: "The trial of Smith for blasphemy was held at the hotel of Samuel Badger in Harpersville." This is almost certainly a printer's error -- for all other accounts identify the local innkeeper as Lemuel W. Badger, a first cousin of Amasa's father, Samuel Badger. Lemuel and Sanuel were both the grandsons of Nathaniel Badger, Sr., of Massachusetts.
Lemuel W. Badger does not appear to have been the owner of the inn, however. It was built by Nathaniel Cole, the ostensible founder of Colesville and was generally known as "Cole's Tavern." The large building served at various times as the Colesville post office and the site for court hearings and trials. In his 1884 statement, William Riley Hine, a former member of the Mormon Colesville branch, recalled seeing Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery "translating the plates in Badger's Tavern." This was the same Colesville hotel where Amasa says that, "The trial of Smith for blasphemy was held."
Joseph Smith's 1830 "South Bainbridge trial" was not conducted to try him on a charge of "blasphemy," however. He was tried as a "disorderly person" on July 1, 1830 at South Bainbridge (now Afton), but was discharged on the technicality of his alleged crimes having occurred beyond the time restraints set by the New York State statute of limitations. Immediately thereafter, Smith was re-arrested and conveyed to Harpursville in Broome County. The trial conducted there (before Justice Joel K. Noble and some other, unidentified Justice of the Peace), also ended with Smith's dismissal. Again, the charge could not have been "blasphemy," and probably was the same accusation as had been leveled against Smith at at South Bainbridge: his having been a "disorderly person."
The "Woodchuck" Devil
Numerous historical accounts credit Joseph Smith with having cast "a devil" out of Joseph Knight's son, Newel. No two stories agree precisely as to what happened, but it appears that the local Mormons (and the Knight family) believed that a black colored malignant entity had left the young man's body -- a creature about the size of "a cat" or "a woodchuck." The 1869 Gazetter story mentions the "woodchuck,"as does the 1884 Hine statement. Amasa M. Badger's account is the only source that purports to recall Newel Knight's testimony about the "woodchuck" demon.
Preston T. Wilkins
Amasa provides a unique recollection of "a blacksmith" in his "father's employ" who made an attempt to expose Joseph Smith as "a base deceiver." The blacksmith is identified in the 1904 publication only as "one Wilkins,"but the 1869 Gazetter account calls him "Preston T. Wilkins, of Ashtabula County, Ohio, lived in Broome County, near the line of Afton, at the time of the Mormon excitement." Neither the 1869 version nor the 1904 version of Amasa's recollections provides the name of Wilkins' wife -- whom he reportedly saved from Mormonism. A tabulation of Colesville branch members posted at the Knight Family Web-site lists her name as "Wilkins, Nancy Coburn -- wife of Preston T. Wilkins and sister of Sally and Emily Coburn." Various genealogical records confirm that Nancy Jane Colburn (1807-1856) was married to Preston Tucker Wilkins (1801-1873), but these same sources record her father as being Morris Colburn (or Coburn), while Sarah "Sally" Colburn Knight (Newel Knight's wife) is listed as being the daughter of Amasa Colburn. Possibly the two women were cousins, raised as sisters. Emily Colburn (in her 1882 book Life Among the Mormons,) calls Sally Colburn Knight her "sister," and "P-- T--" Wilkins her "brother-in-law; but she makes no mention of a sister or a cousin named "Nancy." See Vogel's EMD IV p. 221 for more on Mr. Wilkins. Austin E. Fife re-told the Wilkins story in his 1966 Saints of Sage & Saddle, p. 117, relying upon the 1869 Child publication. The Utah State University "Fife Mormon Collection" catalog lists the 1869 Child source, but not the 1904 publication.