Marlow, Oklahoma, Mar.-Apr., 2004
An Article In Dialogue:
The article, by Karl Kotter [sic - Keller?], a professor at San Diego State College, concerns a manuscript
lecture of Sidney Rigdon's son, John Wickliffe
Rigdon. This was delivered at Alfred University and other colleges and communities in the New York area around the
first of the 20th century.
Journal of Mormon Thought
Winter of 1966,
The son, after losing his holdings in the oil industry and having only small success as a lawyer, wrote this lecture
out of pride for his father.
He suggests that his father might have achieved fame and fortune if he had limited himself to one philosophy -- but
during his life he was a Baptist, then a Campbellite and a Mormon. Then he ceased to be either.
The son seems to be saying, "I was there, I saw the makings of things, I watched a great man rise and fall."
It appears that all-personal records of Sidney Rigdon and his family were destroyed.
Though it was reported that in his later years he wrote "novels and books" they were all destroyed by the family,
so states a granddaughter described as the only remaining descendant of the family. She preferred to remain
Wickliffe Rigdon, in the 1890's, after he had rejoined the Mormon Church, wrote a manuscript that he called "Life
Story of Sidney Rigdon."
Though never published, it is now in the LDS Church Historian's office in Salt Lake City.
Why was it never published?
(B. H. Roberts in his Comprehensive History of the Church (vol. 1, 234-5) includes two paragraphs, Joseph
Smith, in his History of the Church (I, 122-3).
In the quote by Roberts, John Wickliffe Rigdon related how he himself visited Utah in 1863 and that he "was not
favorably impressed with their religious life, and came to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon itself was a
He determined to ask his father more of what he knew about the origin of the Book of Mormon and concluded that
he was "suspicious" of the story.
Upon asking his father if the story about the Book of Mormon was true as Mormons told it, "Sidney Rigdon again
confirmed the story."
However, he did, in the 1890's re-join the Mormon Church.
The Dialogue article says that Wickliffe's Life Story "makes him appear much more favorable to the LDS
Church than in his many lectures."
In his lectures he often mentioned the Spaulding Theory and the RLDS movement.
In July 1965, Friendship, New York held a Sesqui-Centennial commemoration and celebrated Sidney Rigdon as one of
its most famous sons. Though the Dialogue article mentions that few in the area had ever heard of Rigdon.
The Rigdon family graves were referred to as points of interest.
During the celebration a "commemorative service was conducted by President H. Lester Peterson of the Mormon Cumorah
Mission and President H. H. Christenson of the Susquehanna District of the Mormon Church at the local Baptist Church,
a building that Rigdon was forbidden to enter all the days of his life in Friendship, New York." (Our Italics)
In the evidently heretofore unpublished manuscript Wickliffe refers to himself as the only surviving child of
Rigdon. Rigdon died there in 1876 at the
age of almost 83 years.
Wickliffe declared that he could not remember a time when he did not know Joseph Smith. He always lived close by.
Sidney was born, he says, 10 miles from Pittsburg
(PA) then a city of 10,000 inhabitants. He was the 4th child of his parents. His brother, Loami was sickly and thus
unable to do farm labor, was to be educated and became a physician never to return home.
Sidney too wanted to be educated. Thus, he pursued History, English, the Bible, even spelling and grammar were among
At length his father died, they sold the farm and his mother went to live with a daughter.
Sidney studied theology and wanted to become a Baptist minister. The young Rigdon says that he studied under a preacher
named Peters who was a "Straight Baptist." Wickliffe adds in parenthesis "(I do not know what a straight Baptist means,
unless it is those Baptists Who believe in infant damnation...)" (Author: In this he must have been grossly
Young Rigdon had already mentioned his dad's fine grammar, his precise language, and an eloquent preacher, now he
says that "Nature made him an orator...."
At length Rigdon married and became pastor of the Baptist Church in Pittsburg, the largest congregation in the city.
At length, according to the Dialogue account, an older preacher arrived and asked Sidney it he "taught the
Baptist confession of faith [regarding] infant, damnation?"
When Rigdon replied that he did not, the old preacher replied "that we would have to teach it as it was a part of
the Baptist Confession of faith."
(Only having been a Baptist minister for 65 years, and having spoken in a thousand Baptist Churches and dozens of
College and seminaries that is, new to me!)
Anyway, that's the way Young Rigdon told it'
Thus, the story goes, when he "referred to teach the Baptist confession of faith" there was quite a stir in the
To avoid a quarrel, he resigned!
For a time he worked as a tanner with his brother-in-law.
According to Wickliffe's son, Sidney Rigdon and Alexander Campbell immersed each other -- and thus the "Campbellites"
were born. (Their group is now called The Disciples and the Church of Christ.) Wickliffe said there was not much
to their confession of faith, "they believed in the Lord" and were "baptized for the remission of your sins" and
professed to take the Bible as their guide.
Rigdon moved to Mentor, Ohio and soon had "quite a large congregation." They bought him a little farm nearby and built
him a house. Before they could move in, Parley Pratt and two or three other fellows came by.
They brought a new book, the Book of Mormon. He had never seen it before.
(Here his story parts with the other stories of the event.)
Now Parley had been acquainted with Rigdon and they told him of Oliver Cowdery's cousin, Joseph Smith, and the story
of this new book. He allowed them to preach to his people that night. It appeared that he knew nothing of their
strange teachings prior to that night.
Rigdon stayed up most of the rest of the night talking to these fellows and reading the Book of Mormon.
Of course there are many, many reasons to believe that this was not Rigdon's first knowledge of the book or of
A few days later the guests returned and for the record at least, Sidney Rigdon became a Mormon.
Sidney Rigdon was never able to move into that new house in Mentor that the congregation had built for him. Even the
Campbellites refused further relationships with him.
He moved to Hiram, Ohio and one night a mob came after both men. They got Rigdon first. He weighed about 225 pounds.
They dragged him by his heels over the frozen ground, bumping the back of his head, then they tarred and feathered
him and pounded him until they thought that he was dead.
Then they found Joseph Smith and tarred and feathered him. Being younger, he was not seriously injured.
Then Wickliffe proceeded to tell how Joseph and Sidney started for Jackson County, Missouri.
The next years seemed to go rather rapidly according to Wickliffe's story. There was trouble in Jackson County so
they moved to Clay and Caldwell counties.
Then they moved to Kirtland, Ohio and built their temple there.
Still standing, the RLDS movement now owns this building. After only three years their temple there was finished.
Sidney Rigdon preached the dedication sermon there. A footnote in Dialogue, page 27 says, "Sidney Rigdon
preached two and a half hours!" It also states that the temple was not dedicated.
In less than two years after the completion of the temple they were forced to leave. This time over the starting of
Kirtland Bank. It failed, a footnote says because of a national financial panic in 1837 and the resulting depression,
but it was rather the result of "extravagant borrowing of church members in 1836-37." The footnote on page 28
mentions the real problem. When refused a charter (after the money had been printed), they inserted the words anti
and ing making the name of the bank not Kirtland Bank Co but Kirtland antibanking Co.
Therefore, after all kinds of subterfuge, the bank failed, and Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon (officials of the bank)
took "leg bail." They left in the night.
Young Wickliffe spoke quite eloquently of the episode of that trip that began in the night at Kirtland and ended day's
later (pg. 28-30).
His story of the "war of extermination" speech beginning on page 31, telling of David Patten and his death (pg. 32)
which proves the book could not be what it claims (D&C II 4:1). For after prophesying Patten's mission, to begin the
next spring, he was killed at Far West, Missouri and, of course, was unable to perform this prophetic mission.
After several pages Young Rigdon finally reports Smith's death in Carthage Jail (pg. 39) at the hands of the mob and
of his father's rejection by Brigham Young and of his leaving Nauvoo never to return.
Interestingly, Young Rigdon declares (pg. 40) "I do not think the church made any mistake in placing the leadership
(of the church) on Brigham Young. He, in my opinion was the best man for the place that the church could have selected.
Sidney Rigdon had no executive ability, was broken down in sickness, and could not have taken charge of the church
at this time."
Young Rigdon ended his book by telling about his visit to Salt Lake City years later! Though he seemed to profess
his faith in the Mormon Church and he reported that for the last 25 years of his father's life he said his father
denied knowledge of the Book of Mormon's being anything but what had always been claimed by faithful Mormons, and
his having had no part in the authorship. I thought it interesting that on page 41 of his report -- he said that while
living in Utah in 1863 (?) "I saw a great many things among the members (of the Mormon Church) that seemed so different
from what they were. They would swear, use tobacco, were vulgar in habits, drank whiskey and get drunk. They did not
preach the gospel when they went to church. They would tell about drawing wood, how to raise wheat and corn, and not
a word said about the gospel. (They) came to meetings in everyday clothes and did not seem to care anything about
religion. Mormonism seemed a humbug and I said when I got home I would find out from my father how the Book of
Mormon came into existence. I made up my mind he should tell me all he knew. He had not seen a Mormon in 25 years."
Upon his return, his father still remained (he said) a firm believer in the Mormon Church.
Would you have expected anything less from Sidney Rigdon?
Note: The full quote, from which John L. Smith took the excerpt provided above, reads: "In a Manuscript
History of his father's life, filed in the Historian's Office, Salt Lake City, John W. Rigdon, near the close of
that History makes final reference to the coming of Cowdery, Pratt et al to his father's home in Mentor with the
Book of Mormon. He relates how he himself visited the then territory of Utah in 1863, where he spent the winter
among the "Mormon" people. He was not favorably impressed with their religious life, and came to the conclusion
that the Book of Mormon itself was a fraud. He determined in his own heart that if ever he returned home and found
his father, Sidney Rigdon, alive, he would try and find out what he knew of the origin of the Book of Mormon.
'Although,' he adds. 'he had never told but one story about it, and that was that Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery
presented him with a bound volume of that book in the year 1830, while he (Sidney Rigdon) was preaching Campbellism
at Mentor, Ohio.' What John W. Rigdon claims to have seen in Utah, however, together with the fact that Sidney
Rigdon had been charged with writing the Book of Mormon, made him suspicious; 'and,' he remarks, 'I concluded I
would make an investigation for my own satisfaction and find out, if I could, if he had all these years been
deceiving his family and the world, by telling that which was not true, and I was in earnest about it. If Sidney
Rigdon, my father, had thrown his life away by telling a falsehood and bringing sorrow and disgrace upon his family,
I wanted to know it and was determined to find out the facts, no matter what the consequences might be. I reached
home in the fall of 1865, found my father in good health and (he) was very much pleased to see me. As he had not
heard anything from me for some time, he was afraid that I had been killed by the Indians. Shortly after I had
arrived home, I went to my father's room; he was there and alone, and now was the time for me to commence my
inquiries in regard to the origin of the Book of Mormon, and as to the truth of the Mormon religion. I told him
what I had seen at Salt Lake City, and I said to him that what I had seen at Salt Lake had not impressed me very
favorably toward the Mormon church, and as to the origin of the Book of Mormon I had some doubts. You have been
charged with writing that book and giving it to Joseph Smith to introduce to the world. You have always told me
one story; that you never saw the book until it was presented to you by Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery; and
all you ever knew of the origin of that book was what they told you and what Joseph Smith and the witnesses who
claimed to have seen the plates had told you. Is this true? If so, all right; if it is not, you owe it to me and
to your family to tell it. You are an old man and you will soon pass away, and I wish to know if Joseph Smith, in
your intimacy with him for fourteen years, has not said something to you that led you to believe he obtained that
book in some other way than what he had told you. Give me all you know about it, that I may know the truth. My
father, after I had finished saying what I have repeated above, looked at me a moment, raised his hand above his
head and slowly said, with tears glistening in his eyes: "My son, I can swear before high heaven that what I have
told you about the origin of that book is true. Your mother and sister, Mrs. Athalia Robinson, were present when
that book was handed to me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of that book was what Parley P.
Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me, and in all
of my intimacy with Joseph Smith he never told me but one story, and that was that he found it engraved upon gold
plates in a hill near Palmyra, New York, and that an angel had appeared to him and directed him where to find it;
and I have never, to you or to any one else, told but the one story, and that I now repeat to you." I believed him,
and now believe he told me the truth. He also said to me after that that Mormonism was true; that Joseph Smith was
a Prophet, and this world would find it out some day. -- After my father's death, my mother, who survived him
several years was in the enjoyment of good health up to the time of her last sickness, she being eighty-six years
old. A short time before her death I had a conversation with her about the origin of the Book of Mormon and wanted
to know what she remembered about its being presented to my father. She said to me in that conversation that what my
father had told me about the book being presented to him was true, for she was present at the time and knew that was
the first time he ever saw it, and that the stories told about my father writing the Book of Mormon were not true.
This she said to me in her old age and when the shadows of the grave were gathering around her; and I believed her.'"