“Stewards over This Ministry,” chapter 19 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 19: “Stewards over This Ministry”
As the Camp of Israel disbanded, a devastating outbreak of cholera attacked its ranks. Saints who had been healthy only hours before collapsed, unable to move. They vomited again and again and suffered intense stomach pains. The cries of the sick filled the camp, and many men were too weak for guard duty.
Nancy Holbrook was one of the first to get sick. Her sister-in-law Eunice soon joined her, overcome with excruciating muscle cramps.1 Wilford Woodruff spent much of the night and the next day tending to a sick man in his company.2 Joseph and the elders in camp gave blessings to the sick, but the disease soon struck many of them as well. Joseph fell ill after a few days and languished in his tent, unsure if he would survive.3
When people began to die, Heber Kimball, Brigham Young, and others wrapped the bodies in blankets and buried them along a nearby stream.4
The cholera ran its course after several days, clearing up in early July. By that time, more than sixty Saints had fallen sick. Joseph recovered, as did Nancy, Eunice, and most people in the camp. But more than a dozen Saints died during the outbreak, including Sidney Gilbert and Betsy Parrish, one of the few women in the camp. Joseph mourned for the victims and their families. The last person to die was Jesse Smith, his cousin.5
Joseph’s own brush with death was a reminder of how easily his life could be taken from him. At twenty-eight years old, he was becoming more worried about completing his divine mission.6 If he died now, what would happen to the church? Was it strong enough to outlast him?
Following the Lord’s direction, Joseph had already made changes in church leadership to share the burdens of administration. By this time, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick Williams were serving with him in the presidency of the church. He had also designated Kirtland to be a stake of Zion, or an official gathering place for the Saints.7
More recently, after receiving a vision of how Peter organized the Lord’s church anciently, Joseph had organized a high council of twelve high priests in Kirtland to help him govern the stake and lead it in his absence.8
Soon after the cholera subsided, Joseph organized the church further. Meeting with church leaders in Clay County in July 1834, he formed a high council in Missouri and appointed David Whitmer to preside over the church there with the help of two counselors, William Phelps and John Whitmer.9 He then set out for Kirtland, eager to finish the temple and obtain the endowment of power that would help the Saints redeem Zion.
Joseph knew major problems lay ahead. When he left Kirtland that spring, the temple’s sandstone walls were four feet high, and the arrival of several skilled workers in town had given him hope that the Saints would realize the Lord’s plan for His house. But the losses in and around Independence—the printing office, the store, and many acres of land—had hurt the Saints financially. Joseph, Sidney, and other church leaders had also gone deeply into debt, taking out heavy loans to purchase land for the Kirtland temple and finance the Camp of Israel.
With church businesses stalled or struggling, and no reliable system for collecting donations from the Saints, the church could not pay for the temple. If Joseph and the other leaders fell behind on their payments, they could lose the sacred building to creditors. And if they lost the temple, how could they receive the endowment of power and redeem Zion?10
Back in Kirtland, Sidney Rigdon shared Joseph’s anxiety about finishing the temple. “We should use every effort to accomplish this building by the time appointed,” he told the Saints. “On it depends the salvation of the church and also of the world.”11
Sidney had monitored the progress on the temple while Joseph was in Missouri. Lacking younger men to do the work, Artemus Millet, the superintendent of construction, had enlisted older men as well as women and children to work on the building. Many of the women took on jobs men usually filled, assisting the masons and driving wagons to and from the quarry site to haul stone for the temple. By the time Joseph and the Camp of Israel returned to Kirtland, the walls had risen several more feet above the foundation.
The return of the camp spurred construction in the summer and fall of 1834.12 The Saints quarried stone, hauled it to the temple lot, and built up the temple walls day by day. Joseph labored alongside workers as they cut stone blocks from a nearby creek. Some worked in the church’s sawmill preparing lumber for beams, ceilings, and floors. Others helped lift wood and rock up the scaffolding to where it was needed.13
Emma and other women, meanwhile, made clothes for the workers and kept them fed. Vilate Kimball, Heber’s wife, spun one hundred pounds of wool into thread, wove it into cloth, and sewed clothes for the workers, not keeping so much as an extra pair of stockings for herself.
The Saints’ enthusiasm for completing the temple encouraged Sidney, but the church’s debts were increasing by the day, and having signed his name to many of the heaviest loans, he knew he would be financially ruined if the church failed to repay them. When he saw the poverty of the Saints and the sacrifices they were making to finish the temple, Sidney also feared that they would never have the resources or resolve to complete it.
Overcome with worry, he would sometimes climb on top of the temple walls and plead with God to send the Saints the funds they needed to finish the temple. As he prayed, tears fell from his eyes to the stones beneath his feet.14
Five hundred miles northeast of Kirtland, twenty-one-year-old Caroline Tippets carefully stowed a large sum of money among the clothes and other items she was taking from New York to Missouri. She and her younger brother Harrison were moving west, hoping to settle somewhere near Jackson County. They had heard about the persecution of the Saints there, but they wanted to obey the Lord’s command to gather to Missouri and purchase land in Zion before enemies of the church snatched it up.15
The commandment had been part of the revelation Joseph received after he learned about the Saints’ expulsion from Zion. “Purchase all the lands,” it read, “which can be purchased in Jackson County, and the counties round about.” The funds were to come by donation. “Let all the churches gather together all their moneys,” the Lord directed, “and let honorable men be appointed, even wise men, and send them to purchase these lands.”16
When Caroline’s branch leaders learned about the revelation, they called on the small group of Saints to fast and pray for the Lord’s help in collecting money to purchase land in Missouri. Some members of the branch gave large donations of cash and property to the fund. Others gave a few dollars.
Caroline had about $250 she could place in the fund. It was more money than anyone else in the branch had donated and probably more than anyone expected her to give, but she knew it would help the Saints redeem the promised land. When she added her donation to the fund, the total came to about $850, a substantial amount of money.
Following the meeting, Harrison and his cousin John were selected to travel to Missouri to purchase the land. Caroline decided to go with them and safeguard her share of the donation. After John settled some business and family members prepared a team and wagon for them, the three were ready to set out for Missouri.
Climbing into the wagon, Caroline looked forward to starting a new life in the West. Since the Tippetses planned to stop at Kirtland along the way, their branch leaders gave them a letter of introduction to the prophet, explaining where their money came from and what they intended to do with it.17
All through the fall of 1834, Joseph and other church leaders slipped further and further behind in their payments on the temple land, and interest on the loans continued to accumulate. Some workers volunteered their time to labor on the temple, easing the church’s financial burden somewhat. When families had extra cash or goods, they sometimes offered it to the church for the temple project.18
Other people, both inside and outside the church, extended credit, loaning money to keep construction moving forward. The donations and loans, in turn, paid for materials and allowed people who might have otherwise been unemployed to work.19
These efforts kept the temple walls rising higher, and in the final months of the year, they were high enough for woodworkers to begin laying the beams for the upper floor. But money was always tight, and church leaders prayed constantly for more funds.20
In early December, the Tippets family arrived in Kirtland, and Harrison and John delivered their branch’s letter to the high council. With winter almost upon them, they asked the council if they should continue on to Missouri or spend the season in Kirtland. After some discussion, the high council recommended that the family stay in Ohio until the spring.
Desperate for funds, the council also asked the young men to loan the church some money, promising to repay it before their spring departure. Harrison and John agreed to loan the church part of the $850 from their branch. Since a large portion of that money was Caroline’s, the council called her into the meeting and explained the terms of the loan, which she willingly accepted.
The next day, Joseph and Oliver rejoiced as they thanked the Lord for the financial relief the Tippets family had brought.21
More loans and donations came to the church that winter, but Joseph knew they would still not be enough to cover the growing cost of the temple. Caroline Tippets and her family had shown, however, that many Saints in the far-flung branches of the church wanted to do their part in the work of the Lord. As a new year dawned, Joseph realized that he needed to find a way to strengthen these branches and seek their help in finishing the temple so the Saints could be endowed with power.
The solution came from a revelation Joseph had received several years earlier that commanded Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer to search out twelve apostles to preach the gospel to the world. Like the apostles in the New Testament, these men were to act as special witnesses of Christ, baptizing in His name and gathering converts to Zion and its branches.22
As a quorum, the twelve apostles were also to function as a traveling high council and minister to areas that fell outside the jurisdiction of the high councils in Ohio and Missouri.23 In this capacity, they could direct missionary work, oversee branches, and raise funds for Zion and the temple.
One Sunday in early February, Joseph invited Brigham and Joseph Young to his home. “I wish you to notify all the brethren living in the branches, within a reasonable distance from this place, to meet at a general conference on Saturday next,” he told the brothers. At that conference, he explained, twelve men would be appointed to the new quorum.
“And you,” Joseph said to Brigham, “will be one of them.”24
The next week, on February 14, 1835, the Saints in Kirtland assembled for the conference. Under Joseph’s direction, Oliver, David, and their fellow Book of Mormon witness, Martin Harris, announced the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Each of the men called had served preaching missions, and eight of them had marched in the Camp of Israel.25
Thomas Marsh and David Patten, both in their mid-thirties, were the oldest of the Twelve. Thomas was one of the earliest converts, having gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon while the first copies were still being printed. David had served mission after mission in the three years since his conversion.26
As Joseph had stated a week earlier, Brigham was also called to the quorum. So too was his best friend, Heber Kimball. Both men had served faithfully as captains in the Camp of Israel. Now Brigham would again leave his carpenter’s bench and Heber his potter’s wheel to go on the Lord’s errand.
Like the New Testament apostles Peter and Andrew and James and John, two pairs of brothers were called to the Twelve. Parley and Orson Pratt had spread the gospel to the east and the west and were now to dedicate themselves to serving the church branches everywhere. Luke and Lyman Johnson had preached to the south and the north and would go out again, now with apostolic authority.27
The Lord selected both the educated and the unschooled. Orson Hyde and William McLellin had taught in the School of the Prophets and brought their keen intellects to the quorum. Though only twenty-three years old, John Boynton had seen great success as a missionary and was the only one of the apostles who had attended a university. The prophet’s younger brother William did not have the same benefit of formal education, but he was a passionate speaker, fearless in the face of opposition, and quick to defend the needy.28
After calling the apostles, Oliver gave them a special charge. “Never cease striving until you have seen God, face to face,” he told them. “Strengthen your faith, cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief, and nothing can prevent you from coming to God.”
He promised them that they would preach the gospel in faraway nations and gather many of God’s children to the safety of Zion.
“You will be stewards over this ministry,” he testified. “We have a work to do that no other men can do. You must proclaim the gospel in its simplicity and purity, and we commend you to God and the word of His grace.”29
Two weeks after organizing the Twelve, Joseph formed another priesthood quorum to join the apostles in spreading the gospel, strengthening the branches, and collecting donations for the church. The members of this new quorum, called the Quorum of the Seventy, were all veterans of the Camp of Israel. They were to travel far and wide, following the New Testament example of seventy disciples journeying two by two into every city to preach Jesus’s word.30
The Lord selected seven men to preside over the quorum, including Joseph Young and Sylvester Smith, the company captain who had quarreled with the prophet during the march of the Camp of Israel. With the help of the Kirtland high council, the two men had resolved their differences that summer and made amends.31
Shortly after their call, the prophet spoke to the new quorums. “Some of you are angry with me because you did not fight in Missouri,” he said. “But let me tell you, God did not want you to fight.” Instead, Joseph explained, God had called them to Missouri to test their willingness to sacrifice and consecrate their lives to Zion, and to increase the power of their faith.
“He could not organize His kingdom with twelve men to open the gospel door to the nations of the earth, and with seventy men under their direction to follow in their tracks,” he taught, “unless He took them from a body of men who had offered their lives and who had made as great a sacrifice as did Abraham.”32