Steven Harper Interview

imageOctober 2, 2015. 

Interviewed Dr. Steven Harper on the subject of the Kirtland Temple dedication today. Among many other things, he said that the events of January 21, 1836 visions of Joseph Smith were some of the most momentous events of the entirety of the Restoration because of the doctrines revealed. This interview will be part of series of episodes about the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in the Spring of 1836. All of this will come in Season 6 of History of the Saints.

The Cyclone of 78

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The Cyclone of ‘78
June 1878, all was quiet and peaceful until suddenly from nowhere a tornado swept down on the unsuspecting village of Richmond, Missouri. It ripped through the community with a devastating swathe destroying one-third of the City. The Ray County Chronicle reported the news as follows,
‘Language is too poor to adequately describe the desolation and ruin of Richmond. Within a few moments a third of the town was made desolate. Five hundred persons made homeless with many of them left penniless. Richmond is in grief and mourning. We have buried twelve bodies of our good citizens” (The Ray Chronicle, June 3, 1878).
Another paper described the destruction this way.
“The havoc and desolation which then ensued are beyond our abilities to describe. Not a house is left to mark that once beautiful portion of the town. . . . Nor is there a single foundation that was not swept away” (“The Town of Richmond, Mo., visited by a Tornado,” Phelps County New Era, June 8, 1878).
Among those structures destroyed was the county courthouse. Witnesses later declared that books from the courthouse were found 40 miles away in the aftermath of the storm, (John Hart Interview 1883).
David and his family lived at 213 East Main Street and were among those affected by what they called “the cyclone.” The Ray Chronicle further reported that his home, a two-story, seven room structure, built in 1843, was “torn to atoms,” when the house across the street was blown through it. David himself, an elderly man, was injured by flying timbers. It was a fact noted throughout the community and spread far and wide that, through it all, one small room of David’s house was unaffected by the killer storm—nothing was disturbed—the room was intact—not even the windows were broken, while the rest of the house was destroyed.
For the rest of his life, David and his family would assert that it was divine providence that protected that room and its contents.
What was in that room?—The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, and David, was David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon.

John Hawley 1839

AD Shaw Rescues Canoes

John Hawley 1839
One cold February day, Wandle Mace and others discovered a group of people stranded on the west bank of the Mississippi River. They were exiles running for their lives. They had to get out of the state as soon as possible, but large floes of ice coming down the River made any attempt at crossing too dangerous. [They] “could not cross, and we could not reach them,” Wandle said.
The weather was bitterly cold and the company was camped in the snow. They had stuck poles in the ground and put up a sheet to shield them from the wind, but it was “poor protection.” The wind howled around the children huddled around a small fire ripping away whatever warmth it provided. They were suffering terribly.
Wandle and friends climbed the bluffs behind them and alerted the townspeople. They in turn “called a meeting for the purpose of relieving their most pressing wants. [The refugees] were out of provisions and poorly clad, and some were barefoot. The citizens responded to the call and donated liberally, the merchant’s vying (sp) with each other as to [who] could be the most liberal. They soon had the contributions together, which filled a large canoe with flour, pork, coffee, sugar, boots, shoes and clothing, everything these poor outcasts so much needed.”
“Now a question arose, who would volunteer to take this loaded canoe across the river. The ice was running and made it a very dangerous undertaking. Some time was lost in trying to find someone who would dare venture and who could handle a canoe. Finally one man, and only one, volunteered. This was John Hawley, and he could not swim.”
The canoe was towed some distance upstream and Hawley launched into the River and began to battle the ice. “Sometimes it seemed he would be swamped and all would be lost. He was calm and determined as he fought his way amid the running ice. Many a word of cheer was shouted to him and many a silent, earnest prayer ascended to heaven in his behalf. The Lord heard the prayers and strengthened him and after much hard labor he landed the canoe safely near the camp.
Wandle Mace characterized the event thus, [it] “was a perilous undertaking and no other than a brave man would have volunteered his services.”
John Hawley and Wandle Mace were two of many in Quincy, Illinois in the winter of 1839, that served and sacrificed to save a hated people called Mormons driven from their homes by the Extermination Order of Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs.

Source: The Autobiography of Wandle Mace, Chapter 6

The Visiting Teacher

The Visiting Teacher

In commemoration of the organization of the Relief Society March 17, 1842, I would like to share a story.

The year was 1973 and Susan was living in a cabin on a dirt road in the San Bernadino National Forest with three small sons and no visible means of support. She had no money, no prospects, no idea what to do next.

She had had several visiting teachers but none had come to her backwoods location until there was Janice. She came faithfully, and even saved Susan and her family a place in Church. On one of those visits, Janice seemed distracted. Finally, Susan asked, “Janice, is something wrong?”

“You are the first person I’ve seen since my doctor’s visit this morning,” Janice said. “I’ve just learned that I can’t have any more children.”

Janice explained through her tears that yes, she already had nine children, but her goal in life was to have twelve. “Have you ever had something you wanted and you didn’t get,” She asked.

It crossed Susan’s mind that being a single parent living on a dirt road in the mountains with no plans for the future—there were some things she had wanted but didn’t get. But she was wise enough not to say anything. Instead, she said, “We need a new library in town. Our library is like a closet. I have read the books in the library. I’m sending for books via the inter-library loan, and I have to wait sometimes for weeks for the books to arrive.”

“Do you like books? Janice asked.

“I love books.”

“Why don’t you go back to school?”

She told Janice that she could probably pay California state tuition, but she couldn’t pay tuition and also pay for someone to watch her three sons.

By the time Janice left, she was still down-hearted, but now, so was Susan; her own woes having moved front and center in her mind.

That night about ten o’clock the phone rang. It was Janice. “Susan,” she said, “I’ve got the answer for you and I’ve got the answer for me. I want twelve children, and I only have nine. You’ve got three children. That makes twelve! Why don’t you go back to college one day a week and I’ll watch your children on that day. Then I’ll know what it is like to have twelve children and you’ll know what it is like to be immersed in books.”

And it was a deal. The boys went to Janice’s, and loved it. She had far more amenities than Susan’s forest pad. Susan went off to school, and notwithstanding she stuck out like Waldo, because she was the oldest one there, she discovered she enjoyed it and was good at it.

And from that humble service from a faithful visiting teacher, something wonderful happened. Susan, indeed, went back to school, and kept going until she had earned her doctorate, and then became a distinguished professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University–one of their most popular and widely published professors—Dr. Susan Easton Black. And the story doesn’t end there. Each of those three sons has also earned his doctorate and in each of their homes, and Susan’s, hangs a portrait of Janice Stehmeier, the visiting teacher.

The Traitor and the Lady

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The Traitor and the Lady

All other sins are not to be compared to sinning against the  Holy Ghost. & proving a traitor to  thy brethren. So said the Prophet Joseph Smith in July of 1839…and he would know.

George M. Hinkle joined the Church in Kentucky in 1832. By 1838 he was among the saints at Far West, Missouri where he owned a home. In June of 1838, he sold that home to Bishop Edward Partridge and with John Murdock bought land in Carroll County and moved there to begin a new settlement of Latter-day Saints called Dewitt. His Far West home was subsequently sold to another Latter-day Saint family settling in Far West.

Hinkle was commissioned a colonel in the Missouri State militia, and when the Mormon War broke out in October 1838, it was Hinkle who commanded the Mormon forces defending Far West. When thousands of Missouri state militia troops descended on Far West determined to conquer the Mormons, it was Hinkle who sent a message to General Samuel D. Lucas requesting a meeting to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Accordingly, on October 31, 1838, Lucas brought his troops to bear on the city and then rode out with a phalanx of men on approaching on three sides.

As requested by the General, the Prophet Joseph and several others rode to meet Lucas, believing they had the pledge of the State for peaceful negotiations and a safe return to their people. However, as Joseph approached Colonel Hinkle announced, “General, these are the prisoners I promised to deliver.” Lucas and his men surrounded Joseph and company and took them prisoner.

Hinkle then led state troops into Far West to the home of Hyrum Smith, called him out, and delivered him to the mob. Joseph, Hyrum, and scores of others would be arrested, and while most were subsequently released, Joseph and Hyrum, Parley Pratt and a number of others would spend the next several months in jail in Liberty and Richmond.

Hinkle knew the threats against Joseph, and understood that he was delivering the prophet to his death. Moreover, the next day, after the fall of Far West, Hinkle returned to the city and by whatever assumed right, evicted from the premises of the home he no longer owned, the wife and children of one of the prisoners. She was forced from the home, leaving all her possessions behind, and fled to a neighbor, Lucinda Harris, in tears. Sister Harris took her in, while Hinkle took the home, her food, clothing, and bedding—all she owned. He even laid claim to her husband’s horse, saddle, and bridle.

Who was the wife forced into the cold of oncoming winter—it was Emma Smith. While Hinkle further ingratiated himself with the ruthless mob, Emma and her children fled the state to Quincy, Illinois and safety. Because of Hinkle and traitors like him, countless lives were lost, property was stolen, horrible atrocities committed, and Joseph and others would languish in a dungeon called Liberty Jail for the next four months. It is no wonder Joseph would later say, all the world and God hates a traitor.

From the research of Jeffrey L. Walker

Image used with permission from the artist

Martin Harris and the Three Wise Men of the East


Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchill

February 1828, Martin Harris set out from Palmyra, New York carrying a copy of hieroglyphic characters from the gold plates. He was going east to present the characters and Joseph’s translation to the learned linguists of the day. Was he going to satisfy his own doubts or mollify his wife’s insistent opposition, or was it to fulfill a higher purpose? Probably all of the above.

Most of us commonly understand that he went to Dr. Charles Anthon who certified the characters were correct and then tore up that certification and demanded that Martin Harris bring the plates to him and he would translate them. Martin informed him that the plates were sealed and he could not bring them. “I cannot read a sealed book” was the response Martin said Anthon gave. It was recognized that this incident fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah, and thus it has come to be the most remembered of Martin’s experiences in the east. But Anthon was not the only learned man Martin visited with in February 1828.

On his way east, Martin stopped off in Albany and met with Luther Bradish, a New York state assemblyman, and a friend from Palmyra. We don’t know what was said, but Bradish has been described as the Indiana Jones of his day. This man had traveled the world, visited Egypt, and knew more about what was happening in the exploration of Egypt than any American alive. Bradish was also a lawyer and a publishing agent, representing the likes of such writers as James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving.

From Albany Martin went on to New York City where, of course, he met with Anthon. At that time, Anthon was only 32 years old and a junior member of the faculty at Columbia. By his own admission he could not translate the characters Martin presented to him, though he did certify that the characters looked authentic. Anthon, a brusque and bullish man, sent Martin to another Columbia professor, much older, and much wiser—Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchill.

Mitchill was an internationally renowned scientist, proficient in many fields and languages. The good professor received Martin warmly. When Martin presented his purposes, Mitchill compared the characters to those hieroglyphics published by scholars out of Europe and declared them “as the language of a people formerly of existence in the East but now no more.” This puzzling statement makes more sense when we consider that Mitchill was a scholar who had devoted much of his life to studying the Indian tribes of his day. His studies of their culture, language, customs, artifacts, and fossil record had led this humble Quaker to conclude in 1828, that the modern Native American was a remnant of two distinct groups of people from another part of the world, that had gone to war, and the one group had annihilated the other, and that their final battle had occurred centuries before in upstate New York at a place called Brighton’s hill about 60 miles southeast of Rochester, New York; not far from a hill that would come to be known as Cumorah.

Perhaps it is no wonder that Martin Harris returned from the east so eager to help Joseph with the translation of the Book of Mormon.

based on the research of Dr. Richard E. Bennett, Chair of the Department of Church History and Doctrine BYU

The School of the Prophets

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The School of the Prophets
Who could have known that out of such small beginnings would come forth such great things.
It began in December 1832. A revelation was received by the Prophet Joseph Smith that commanded, “I give unto you, who are the first laborers in this last kingdom, a commandment that you assemble yourselves together, and organize yourselves” DC 88:74.
Accordingly on January 22, 1833, the School of the Prophets was organized with 14 charter members, among whom were Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, and Levi W. Hancock. For the next three months these men met in a small room on the second floor of the Newel K. Whitney Store. They had been instructed by revelation to “teach one another the doctrine of the Kingdom” (DC 88:77) Their curriculum was “of things both in heaven and in the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass, things which are at home, things which are abroad” (DC 88:79). In short, they were to learn everything about everything, and why? The Lord said, “That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you” (DC 88:80).
The discipline expected of these men was extraordinary. They were to rise before dawn, and come to school fasting and praying. They were to love one another, cease from all laughter, light speeches, pride, and all wicked doings. They were to retire to their beds early and arise early, and above all things they were to clothe themselves with charity.
After a full day of fasting and instruction, they would partake of sacramental bread and wine around 4 pm, and the school would close for the day.
It was on February 27, 1833 that another revelation was received directed to those brethren—a revelation intended to purify them spiritually. We call it today the Word of Wisdom.
On March 18, 1833, the Prophet Joseph boldly announced to the brethren that those sufficiently pure would see visions. On that day, sometime around noon, John Murdock described,
“The visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened and I saw the form of a man most lovely. The visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver gray, curled in the most majestic form. His eyes a keen, penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white. And he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet, it slipped from me and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love for months that I never felt before to that degree.”
To have experienced such things, and to have spent three months, learning at the feet of the Prophet Joseph—can you imagine?
This was the first official Church School—the beginnings of the Church Educational System. For any of you who have attended a seminary class, a Church school, Sunday School—or any class, anywhere, sponsored by the Church—that little group of men coming to school on those cold Kirtland mornings and the principles they espoused are a standard and an example to us all.

Quincy: City of Refuge

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Quincy: City of Refuge
October 27, 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued an executive order decreeing that all Mormons in the State of Missouri must either leave the state or be exterminated. Thousands of State militiamen descended on the Mormons and forced them from their homes, raping, burning and pillaging. 10-15,000 Mormons, robbed of their property and means of support began fleeing for their lives beginning in December 1838, but where could they go? They could not go west—that was wilderness and there was no one there to take them in. Such was the same going north into Iowa territory. They could not go south into the lower counties of Missouri because of the Governor’s order. The shortest and only road open to them was due east the Mississippi River.
Across the cold windswept prairie slogged thousands of Mormons seeking refuge. The weather was cold and the snow was deep. They had not adequate food, clothing, or bedding for the 200 mile journey—some were barefoot. There are multiple accounts of women and children and their blood-stained footprints on the ice.
When they arrived at the Mississippi River they could not cross. The cold had filled with the River with ice floes; running so thick and heavy that it would swamp the rafts, barges, and canoes they would use to cross.
There, lining the banks of the Great River, north and south for miles, the Latter-day Saints huddled against the cold, waiting for the River to freeze over so they could cross. All the while, Missourians mocked and laughed at their plight or in some cases beat, tortured and tormented them. They could not cross and they could not stay.
Across the River in the small community of Quincy, Illinois, citizens looked anxiously across the River and saw the plight of the refugees. ‘We have to do something’ became the hue and cry of some. Canoes were loaded and men braved the huge chunks of ice to carry supplies to the helpless. Finally in February 1839, the River froze and the saints crossed into the open arms of the citizens of Quincy. 1600 Quincyans and their neighbors out in the county took in more than 5000 Mormons for 4 months. They gave them food, shelter, jobs—kindness!
When Joseph Smith escaped imprisonment, he found Emma in Quincy. It was May 4, 1839, at a late General Conference of the Church when Joseph rose to speak, but he could not. As he looked out over his people and their benefactors, he was so moved, that in quiet dignity, he wept!
He would never forget Quincy’s kindness. Nor should we. To this day the citizens of Quincy, Illinois remember with fondness and pride the time when their fathers took in our fathers. Had it not been for them, and only them, how many thousands of our people would have died searching for a good Samaritan? It is a story that ought to be engraven on the rock to endure forever.

The Conversion of Brigham Young

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The Conversion of Brigham Young

They were a typical large New England family–very poor—so poor in fact that the children were not afforded the luxury of an education. The only learning they received came in the form of hard work on the farm.

The parents were “some of the most strict religionists upon the earth.” To violate the family’s religious standards would bring forth swift paternal discipline. Mother was of a more gentle approach and revered by her children. She encouraged them to “do everything that is good; do nothing that is evil; and if you see any persons in distress administer to their wants.”

But then tuberculosis claimed Nabby Young resulting in the family being broken up and scattered. When he was only 16 years old Nabby and John Young’s ninth son, Brigham, left home to make his way in the world.

About this time that Brigham’s brother Lorenzo had a dream where he saw a gold carriage drawn by a beautiful pair of white horses. The Savior was in that carriage. When it stopped before Lorenzo, “the Savior inquired, ‘Where is your brother Brigham?’ After answering his question He inquired about my other brothers, and concerning my father….He stated that he wanted us all, but especially my brother Brigham.”

Brigham matured and became a skilled and conscientious craftsmen. When he was 23 years-old he married Miriam Works who was described as a “beautiful blond with blue eyes and wavy hair; gentle and lovable.” Together they had two children, Elizabeth and Vilate.

Brigham Young was fiercely independent. Though he never drank, when members of his family urged him to sign a temperance pledge, he refused, saying “I wish to do just right, without being bound to do it; I want my liberty. My independence is sacred to me.”

This independence carried into religion. He developed his own ideas of God and the scriptures. Amidst the fervor of revivalism he remained skeptical of Churches. They were empty to him. He wanted to know God, and how to find Him, but none could answer his questions. Angry ministers called him an infidel.

Brigham became discouraged. His questions remained unanswered—his quest unfulfilled.

Then came the Book of Mormon into the family. Father, brothers, sisters, and relatives all embraced it quickly, but not Brigham. He was leery of being taken in. For 18 months he pondered the Book, compared its teachings to the Bible, and scrutinized those who believed in it. It was not enough to feel or believe it was true, he had to know. Then came the day when Eleazar Miller bore humble testimony to the truth of the Restoration and Brigham’s soul was filled with light and certainty. He was baptized April 14, 1832. Miriam would follow three weeks later.

Brigham was reborn. “I wanted to thunder and roar out the Gospel to the nations,” he said, “It burned in my bones like fire pent up.” And preach the gospel he did, but he could never go far from home. Miriam had contracted tuberculosis and was slipping away. Each day Brigham “got breakfast for his wife, himself, and the little girls, dressed the children, cleaned up the house, carried his wife to the rocking chair by the fireplace and left her there until he could return in the evening. When he came home he cooked his own and the family’s supper, put his wife back to bed and finished up the day’s domestic labors.”

In September 1832, Miriam Young passed away, she and Brigham confident they would be together again forever. With his wife gone and his daughters under the motherly watch-care of Vilate Kimball, Brigham Young closed his shop, gave away his earthly possessions, and set out to change the world.

Source: Ronald K. Esplin, Conversion and Transformation: Brigham Young’s New York Roots and the Search for Bible Religion, in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: 1992 (p. 165-201)

The Mobbing of Joseph Smith


The Mobbing of Joseph Smith

March 25, 1832, sometime in the wee hours of morning a mob of angry men crept towards the home of John and Elsa Johnson in Hiram, Ohio. They circled around the house to the summer kitchen. Creeping forward they peered through the window at the exhausted occupants sleeping beneath their blackened faces. Before them were Joseph and Emma Smith and their adopted twins, Joseph and Julia Murdock. The twins, only 11 months old, had the measles and Joseph and Emma in taking care of them had lost much sleep. Hence they either did not hear the tapping on the window or were too tired to notice. Suddenly, the men burst open the door, grabbed Joseph, and immediately began hauling him out the door. Emma screamed. Joseph came awake, conscious of going through the open door, and of men’s fingers tangled in his hair. He freed one leg and kicked one of the mobocrats in the face, sending him sprawling off the stoop. Moments later the man sprang to his feet, and with blood all over his face from his injured nose, pounced on Joseph and choked him until he lost consciousness.

They took him around the house and out to a secluded place. As they passed along, Joseph saw his friend and counselor, Sidney Rigdon, stretched out on the ground, seemingly unconscious or dead. He plead for his life, but they only threatened him further. Some wanted to kill him and others just beat him severely. One man in the group, a Dr. Denison, came with a vial of nitric acid which he attempted to pour down Joseph’s throat. The effect of the caustic chemical would have been to permanently injure if not kill him. However, Joseph clenched his teeth, the vial broke, and the acid spilled over his face, burning him severely.

In their frustration they beat him viciously, such that Joseph would later describe standing above his own body, looking down, and watching the wrath of these men poured out. They killed him. They then stripped off all his clothes and covered him with hot pine tar. Once again, they tried to force the tar paddle into his mouth, and again, Joseph resisted. This time they broke off one of his teeth, leaving his smile marred for years to come. Then, ripping open a pillow, they covered him with feathers. Perhaps they would have done more, but a sound was heard and the men scattered to the wind.

When Joseph regained consciousness and strength enough to stand, he made his way back to the house. Emma fainted at the sight of him. He called for a blanket and went into the house. That night before the fire, his friends and family scraped and peeled the tar from his body.

The next morning, Joseph, badly bruised and scarred, went to Church, and according to previous appointment, preached the Sabbath sermon. He spoke not in spite, nor uttered vengeful recriminations, but preached the pure gospel of Christ. Afterwards he baptized three people.

Six days later his little boy, Joseph Murdock, already weakened with measles, developed a high fever and died; the victim of exposure on the night of the attack.

Why? Emphatically—why would men be so hateful and brutal? There was one primary reason; Doctrine and Covenants 76. That Vision had come just weeks before and when people learned what it revealed they became so angry that they wanted to silence at least, or kill at most, the revelator. Light and truth stir up darkness—it always has and always will.