Last Days At Kirtland

It is easy to understand that a church whose leaders had such

views of financial responsibility as Smith's and Rigdon's, and

whose members were ready to apostatize when they could not obtain

credit at the prophet's store, was anything but a harmonious

body. Smith was not a man to maintain his own dignity or to spare

the feelings of his associates. Wilford Woodruff, describing his

first sight of the prophet, at Kirtland, in 1834, said he found

him with his brother Hyrum, wearing a very old hat and engaged in

the sport of shooting at a mark. Woodruff accompanied him to his

house, where Smith at once brought out a wolfskin, and said,

"Brother Woodruff, I want you to help me tan this," and the two

took off their coats and went to work at the skin.* Smith's

contempt for Rigdon was never concealed. Writing of the situation

at Kirtland in 1833, he spoke of Rigdon as possessing "a

selfishness and independence of mind which too often manifestly

destroys the confidence of those who would lay down their lives

for him."** Smith was in the habit of announcing, from his lofty

pulpit in the Temple, "The truth is good enough without dressing

up, but brother Rigdon will now proceed to dress it up."*** Some

of the new converts backed out as soon as they got a close view

of the church. Elder G. A. Smith, a cousin of Joseph, in a sermon

in Salt Lake City, in 1855, mentioned some incidents of this

kind. One family, who had journeyed a long distance to join the

church in Kirtland, changed their minds because Joseph's wife

invited them to have a cup of tea "after the word of wisdom was

given." Another family withdrew after seeing Joseph begin playing

with his children as soon as he rested from the work of

translating the Scriptures for the day. A Canadian ex-Methodist

prayed so long at family worship at Father Johnson's that Joseph

told him flatly "not to bray so much like a jackass." The prayer

thereupon returned to Canada.

* Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1, p. 101.

** Millennial Star, Vol. XIV, pp. 584-585.

*** Lippincott's Magazine, August, 1880.

But the discontented were not confined to new-comers. Jealousy

and dissatisfaction were constantly manifesting themselves among

Smith's old standbys. Written charges made against Cowdery and

David Whitmer, when they were driven out of Far West, Missouri,

told them: "You commenced your wickedness by heading a party to

disturb the worship of the Saints in the first day of the week,

and made the house of the Lord in Kirtland to be a scene of abuse

and slander, to destroy the reputation of those whom the church

had appointed to be their teachers, and for no other cause only

that you were not the persons." In more exact terms, their

offence was opposition to the course pursued by Smith. During the

winter and spring of 1837, these rebels included in their list F.

G. Williams, of the First Presidency, Martin Harris, D. Whitmer,

Lyman E. Johnson, P. P. Pratt, and W. E. McLellin. In May, 1837,

a High Council was held in Kirtland to try these men. Pratt at

once objected to being tried by a body of which Smith and Rigdon

were members, as they had expressed opinions against him. Rigdon

confessed that he could not conscientiously try the case, Cowdery

did likewise, Williams very properly withdrew, and "the Council

dispersed in confusion."* It was never reassembled, but the

offenders were not forgotten, and their punishment came later.

* Millennial Star, Vol. XVI, p. 10.

Mother Smith attributes much of the discord among the members at

this time to "a certain young woman," an inmate of David

Whitmer's house, who began prophesying with the assistance of a

black stone. This seer predicted Smith's fall from office because

of his transgressions, and that David Whitmer or Martin Harris

would succeed him. Her proselytes became so numerous that a

written list of them showed that "a great proportion of the

church were decidedly in favor with the new party."*

* "Biographical Sketches," p. 221.

While Smith was thus fighting leading members of his own church,

he was called upon to defend himself against a serious charge in

court. A farmer near Kirtland, named Grandison Newell, received

information from a seceding Mormon that Smith had directed the

latter and another Mormon named Davis to kill Newell because he

was a particularly open opponent of the new sect. The affidavit

of this man set forth that he and Davis had twice gone to

Newell's house to carry out Smith's order, and were only

prevented by the absence of the intended victim. Smith was placed

under $500 bonds on this charge, but on the formal hearing he was

discharged on the ground of insufficient evidence.*

* Fanny Brewer of Boston, in an affidavit published in 1842,

declared, "I am personally acquainted with one of the employees,

Davis by name, and he frankly acknowledged to me that he was

prepared to do the deed under the direction of the prophet, and

was only prevented by the entreaties of his wife."

A rebellious spirit had manifested itself among the brethren in

Missouri soon after Smith returned from his first visit to that

state. W. W. Phelps questioned the prophet's "monarchical power

and authority," and an unpleasant correspondence sprung up

between them. As Smith did not succeed by his own pen in

silencing his accusers, a conference of twelve high priests was

called by him in Kirtland in January, 1833, which appointed Orson

Hyde and Smith's brother Hyrum to write to the Missouri brethren.

In this letter they were told plainly that, unless the rebellious

spirit ceased, the Lord would seek another Zion. To Phelps the

message was sent, "If you have fat beef and potatoes, eat them in

singleness of heart, and not boast yourself in these things." It

was, however, as a concession to this spirit of complaint,

according to Ferris, that Smith announced the "revelation" which

placed the church in the hands of a supreme governing body of


Smith himself furnishes a very complete picture of the disrupted

condition of the Mormons in 1838, in an editorial in the Elders'

journal, dated August, of that year. The tone of the article,

too, sheds further light on Smith's character. Referring to the

course of "a set of creatures" whom the church had excluded from

fellowship, he says they "had recourse to the foulest lying to

hide their iniquity...; and this gang of horse thieves and

drunkards were called upon immediately to write their lives on

paper." Smith then goes on to pay his respects to various

officers of the church, all of whom, it should be remembered,

held their positions through "revelation" and were therefore

professedly chosen directly by God.

Of a statement by Warren Parish, one of the Seventy and an

officer of the bank, Smith says: "Granny Parish made such an

awful fuss about what was conceived in him that, night after

night and day after day, he poured forth his agony before all

living, as they saw proper to assemble. For a rational being to

have looked at him and heard him groan and grunt, and saw him

sweat and struggle, would have supposed that his womb was as much

swollen as was Rebecca's when the angel told her there were two

nations there." He also accuses Parish of immorality and stealing


Here is a part of Smith's picture of Dr. W. A. Cowdery, a

presiding high priest: "This poor pitiful beggar came to Kirtland

a few years since with a large family, nearly naked and

destitute. It was really painful to see this pious Doctor's (for

such he professed to be) rags flying when he walked upon the

streets. He was taken in by us in this pitiful condition, and we

put him into the printing-office and gave him enormous wages, not

because he could earn it, but merely out of pity.... A truly

niggardly spirit manifested itself in all his meanness."

Smith's old friend Martin Harris, now a high priest, and Cyrus

Smalling, one of the Seventy, are lumped among Parish's

"lackeys,", of whom Smith says: "They are so far beneath contempt

that a notice of them would be too great a sacrifice for a

gentleman to make." Of Leonard Rich, one of the seven presidents

of the seventy elders, Smith says that he "was generally so drunk

that he had to support himself by something to keep from falling

down." J. F. Boynton and Luke Johnson, two of the Twelve, are

called "a pair of young blacklegs," and Stephen Burnett, an

elder, is styled "a little ignorant blockhead, whose heart was so

set on money that he would at any time sell his soul for $50, and

then think he had made an excellent bargain."

Smith's own personal character was freely attacked, and the

subject became so public that it received notice in the Elders'

Journal. One charge was improper conduct toward an orphan girl

whom Mrs. Smith had taken into her family. Smith's autobiography

contains an account of a council held in New Portage, Ohio, in

1834, at which Rigdon accused Martin Harris of telling A. C.

Russel that "Joseph drank too much liquor when he was translating

the Book of Mormon," and Harris set up as a defence that "this

thing occurred previous to the translating of the Book."*

* Millennial Star, Vol. XV, p. 12.

There was a good deal of talk concerning a confession "about a

girl," which Oliver Cowdery was reported to have said that Smith

made to him. Denials of this for Cowdery appeared in the Elders'

Journal of July, 1838, one man's statement ending thus, "Joseph

asked if he ever said to him (Oliver) that he (Joseph) confessed

to any one that he was guilty of the above crime; and Oliver,

after some hesitation, answered no."

The Elders' Journal of August, 1838, contains a retraction by

Parley P. Pratt of a letter he had written, in which he censured

both Smith and Rigdon, "using great severity and harshness in

regard to certain business transactions." In that letter Pratt

confessed that "the whole scheme of speculation" in which the

Mormon leaders were engaged was of the "devil," and he begged

Smith to make restitution for having sold him, for $2000, three

lots of land that did not cost Smith over $200.

Not only was the moral character of Smith and other individual

members of the church successfully attacked at this time, but the

charge was openly made that polygamy was practised and

sanctioned. In the "Book of Doctrine and Covenants," published in

Kirtland in 1835, Section 101 was devoted to the marriage rite.

It contained this declaration: "Inasmuch as this Church of Christ

has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy,

we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and

one woman one husband, except in case of death, when either is at

liberty to marry again." The value of such a denial is seen in

the ease with which this section was blotted out by Smith's later

"revelation" establishing polygamy.

An admission that even elders did practise polygamy at that time

is found in a minute of a meeting of the Presidents of the

Seventies, held on April 29, 1837, which made this declaration:

"First, that we will have no fellowship whatever with any elder

belonging to the Quorum of the Seventies, who is guilty of


* Messenger and Advocate, p. 511.

Again: The Elders' journal dated Far West, Missouri, 1838,

contained a list of answers by Smith to certain questions which,

in an earlier number, he had said were daily and hourly asked by

all classes of people. Among these was the following: "Q. Do the

Mormons believe in having more wives than one? A. No, not at the

same time." (He condemns the plan of marrying within a few weeks

or months of the death of the first wife.) The statement has been

made that polygamy first suggested itself to Smith in Ohio, while

he was translating the so-called "Book of Abraham" from the

papyri found on the Egyptian mummies. This so-called translation

required some study of the Old Testament, and it is not at all

improbable that Smith's natural inclination toward such a

doctrine as polygamy secured a foundation in his reading of the

Old Testament license to have a plurality of wives.

For the business troubles hanging over the community, Smith and

Rigdon were held especially accountable. The flock had seen the

funds confided by them to the Bishop invested partly in land that

was divided among some of the Mormon leaders. Smith and Rigdon

were provided with a house near the Temple, and a printing-office

was established there, which was under Smith's management.

Naturally, when the stock and notes of the bank became valueless,

its local victims held its organizers responsible for the

disaster. Mother Smith gives us an illustration of the depth of

this feeling. One Sunday evening, while her husband was preaching

at Kirtland, when Joseph was in Cleveland "on business pertaining

to the bank," the elder Smith reflected sharply upon Warren

Parish, on whom the Smiths tried to place the responsibility for

the bank failure. Parish, who was present, leaped forward and

tried to drag the old man out of the pulpit. Smith, Sr., appealed

to Oliver Cowdery for help, but Oliver retained his seat. Then

the prophet's brother William sprang to his father's assistance,

and carried Parish bodily out of the church. Thereupon John

Boynton, who was provided with a sword cane, drew his weapon and

threatened to run it through the younger Smith. "At this

juncture," says Mrs. Smith, "I left the house, not only terrified

at the scene, but likewise sick at heart to see the apostasy of

which Joseph had prophesied was so near at hand."*

* "Biographical Sketches," p. 221.

Eliza Snow gives a slightly different version of the same

outbreak, describing its wind-up as follows:--

John Boynton and others drew their pistols and bowie knives and

rushed down from the stand into a congregation, Boynton saying he

would blow out the brains of the first man who dared lay hands on

him.... Amid screams and shrieks, the policemen in ejecting the

belligerents knocked down a stove pipe, which fell helter-skelter

among the people; but, although bowie knives and pistols were

wrested from their owners and thrown hither and thither to

prevent disastrous results, no one was hurt, and after a short

but terrible scene to be enacted in a Temple of God, order was

restored and the services of the day proceeded as usual."*

* "Biography of Lorenzo Snow," p. 20.

Smith made a stubborn defence of his business conduct. He

attributed the disaster to the bank to Parish's peculation, and

the general troubles of the church to "the spirit of speculation

in lands and property of all kinds," as he puts it in his

autobiography, wherein he alleges that "the evils were actually

brought about by the brethren not giving heed to my counsel." If

Smith gave any such counsel, it is unfortunate for his reputation

that neither the church records nor his "revelations" contain any

mention of it.

The final struggle came in December, 1837, when Smith and Rigdon

made their last public appearance in the Kirtland Temple. Smith

was as bold and aggressive as ever, but Rigdon, weak from

illness, had to be supported to his seat. An eye-witness of the

day's proceedings says* that "the pathos of Rigdon's plea, and

the power of his denunciation, swayed the feelings and shook the

judgments of his hearers as never in the old days of peace, and,

when he had finished and was led out, a perfect 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, and those by whom the offence 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 not only

maintained his right to speak as the head of the church, but,

after the accused had partly presented their case, and one of

them had given him the lie openly, he proposed a vote on their

excommunication at once and a hearing of their further pleas at a

later date. This extraordinary proposal led one of the accused to

cry out, "You would cut a man's head off and hear him afterward."

Finally it was voted to postpone the whole subject for a few


* "Early Days of Mormonism," Kennedy, p. 169.

But the two leaders of the church did not attend this adjourned

session. Alarmed by rumors that Grandison Newell had secured a

warrant for their arrest on a charge of fraud in connection with

the affairs of the bank (unfounded rumors, as it later appeared),

they fled from Kirtland on horseback on the evening of January

12, 1838, and Smith never revisited that town. In his description

of their flight, Smith explained that they merely followed the

direction of Jesus, who said, "When they persecute you in one

city, flee ye to another." He describes the weather as extremely

cold, and says, "We were obliged to secrete ourselves sometimes

to elude the grasp of our pursuers, who continued their race more

than two hundred miles from Kirtland, armed with pistols, etc.,

seeking our lives." There is no other authority for this story of

an armed pursuit, and the fact seems to be that the non-Mormon

community were perfectly satisfied with the removal of the mock

prophet from their neighborhood.

Although Kirtland continued to remain a Stake of the church, the

real estate scheme of making it a big city vanished with the

prophet. Foreclosures of mortgages now began; the church

printing-office was first sold out by the sheriff and then

destroyed by fire, and the so-called reform element took

possession of the Temple. Rigdon had placed his property out of

his own hands, one acre of land in Kirtland being deeded by him

and his wife to their daughter.

The Temple with about two acres of land adjoining was deeded by

the prophet to William Marks in 1837, and in 1841 was redeeded to

Smith as trustee in trust for the church. In 1862 it was sold

under an order of the probate court by Joseph Smith's

administrator, and conveyed the same day to one Russel Huntley,

who, in 1873, conveyed it to the prophet's grandson, Joseph

Smith, and another representative of the Reorganized Church

(nonpolygamist). The title of the latter organization was

sustained in 1880 by judge L. S. Sherman, of the Lake County

Court of Common Pleas, who held that, "The church in Utah has

materially and largely departed from the faith, doctrines, laws,

ordinances and usages of said original Church of Jesus Christ of

Latter-Day Saints, and has incorporated into its system of faith

the doctrines of celestial marriage and a plurality of wives, and

the doctrine of Adam-God worship, contrary to the laws and

constitution of said original church," and that the Reorganized

Church was the true and lawful successor to the original

organization. At the general conference of the Reorganized

Church, held at Lamoni, Iowa, in April, 1901, the Kirtland

district reported a membership of 423 members.

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