“A Holy and Consecrated Land,” chapter 26 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 26: “A Holy and Consecrated Land”
The winter of 1838 was long and cold. As the families of Joseph and Sidney pushed west, Oliver Cowdery trudged through northern Missouri, battling rain and snow to scout locations for new stakes of Zion. The land was some of the choicest he had ever seen, and he surveyed dozens of spots where the Saints could go to establish towns and mills. Yet he had little to eat in the sparsely settled wilderness, and nothing but the damp earth to sleep on at night.
When he returned to Far West three weeks later, he was physically exhausted.1 As his health recovered, he learned that Thomas Marsh, David Patten, and the high council were investigating him and the presidency of the Missouri church—David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and William Phelps—for wrongdoing.2
The charges centered on their handling of land in the area. Some time ago, John and William had sold church property in Far West and kept the profits for themselves, and the matter had never been resolved. Oliver, John, and William, moreover, had recently sold some of their land in Jackson County. Although they had a legal right to sell the Jackson County land, which was their personal property, it had been consecrated to the Lord, and a revelation had forbidden them to sell it. Not only had the three men broken a sacred covenant, they had showed a lack of faith in Zion.
Oliver appeared before the Missouri high council and insisted that since he and the others had paid for the Jackson County land with their own money, they could sell it as they pleased. Privately, he also questioned the motives of some on the council. He mistrusted men like Thomas Marsh and others who seemed to covet position and authority. Oliver suspected that they had somehow turned Joseph against him, further straining his already troubled friendship with the prophet.3
“My soul is sick of such scrambling for power,” he confided to his brother. “I came to this country to enjoy peace. If I cannot, I shall go where I can.”
Because Oliver was in the First Presidency, he was outside the jurisdiction of the high council and retained his calling. David, John, and William, however, were removed from their positions.4
Four days later, Oliver met with the three men and several others who were eager to break away from the church. Many of them sympathized with Warren Parrish and his new church in Kirtland. Like Warren, they were determined to oppose the prophet.5
Day by day, as the Saints awaited Joseph’s return to Far West, Oliver’s disdain for church leaders grew. He doubted they would understand why he acted as he did. “With the unreasonable and ignorant,” he scoffed, “we do not expect to be applauded or approved.”6
He still had faith in the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel, and he could not forget or deny the sacred experiences he had shared with the prophet. They had been brothers and the best of friends, fellow servants of Jesus Christ.
But now those days were a distant memory.7
After Jennetta Richards returned to her home in Walkerfold, England, her parents, John and Ellin Richards, learned with interest about Heber Kimball and her baptism. Taking out a pen and paper, her father composed a short letter to the missionary, inviting him to preach at his chapel.
“You are expected to be here next Sunday,” he wrote. “Although we be strangers to one another, yet I hope we are not strangers to our blessed Redeemer.”
Heber arrived the following Saturday, and the reverend greeted him warmly. “I understand you are the minister lately from America,” he said. “God bless you.” He ushered Heber into his home and offered him something to eat.
The family visited with Heber late into the night.8 As Jennetta watched the men get acquainted, their differences were apparent. Her father was seventy-two years old and had preached from the pulpit in Walkerfold for more than forty years. He was a small man who wore a brown wig and read Greek and Latin.9 Heber, on the other hand, was tall and broad and had a bald head. He was not yet forty and had little education or social polish.
And yet they became fast friends. The next morning, the two men walked to the Walkerfold chapel together. Knowing an American missionary would be preaching, more people than usual had come to the meeting, and the tiny chapel was filled to overflowing. After the reverend opened the meeting with singing and prayer, he invited Heber to preach.
Heber took the stand and spoke to the congregation in the language of a common man. He talked about the importance of faith in Jesus Christ and sincere repentance. He said a person needed to be baptized by immersion and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by someone who had proper authority from God.
Like the converts in Canada a year earlier, the people in Walkerfold responded readily to the message, which fit with their understanding of the Bible. That afternoon, more people came to the chapel to hear Heber preach again. When he finished, the congregation was in tears and Jennetta’s father invited him to preach the next day.
Soon Jennetta was not the only believer in Walkerfold. After Heber’s Monday sermon, the people in the congregation begged him to preach again on Wednesday. By the end of the week, he had baptized six members of the congregation—and the people of Walkerfold were pleading to hear more.10
On March 14, 1838, Joseph, Emma, and their three children arrived in Far West after nearly two months on the road. Eager to welcome the prophet to Zion, the Saints greeted the family with a joyful reception. Their friendly words and kind embraces were a happy change from the dissent and hostility Joseph had left in Kirtland. The Saints that crowded around him had a spirit of unity, and love abounded among them.11
Joseph wanted to make a fresh start in Missouri. Saints from Kirtland and from branches of the church in the eastern United States and Canada would soon arrive. To accommodate them, the church needed to establish stakes of Zion where they could gather in peace and have the chance to prosper.
Oliver had already scouted the area for new gathering places, and his report was promising. But Joseph knew he had to address the growing dissent in Far West before the Saints could begin any new settlements. It grieved him to see friends like Oliver falling away from the church, but he could not allow discord to flourish in Missouri as it had in Kirtland.
Joseph credited the leadership of Thomas Marsh and the high council for the relative peace in Far West. Since removing William Phelps and John Whitmer from office, the high council had excommunicated both men, and Joseph approved their decision. Now he believed it was time to address Oliver’s apostasy.12
On April 12, Edward Partridge convened a bishop’s council to review Oliver’s standing in the church. His defiance was well known. He had stopped attending his church meetings, ignored the counsel of other church leaders, and written insulting letters to Thomas and the high council. He was also charged with selling his lands in Jackson County contrary to revelation, falsely accusing Joseph of adultery, and forsaking the cause of God.13
Oliver chose not to attend the hearing, but he sent a letter for Bishop Partridge to read in his defense. In the letter, Oliver did not deny selling his Jackson County land or opposing church leaders. Rather, he once more insisted that he had a legal right to sell the lands, regardless of any revelation, covenant, or commandment. He also resigned his membership in the church.14
For the rest of the day, the council reviewed evidence and heard several Saints testify of Oliver’s actions. Joseph stood, spoke of his former trust in Oliver, and explained his relationship with Fanny Alger in response to Oliver’s accusations.15
After hearing more testimonies, the council discussed Oliver’s case. Like him, they cherished the principles of individual agency and liberty. Yet for nearly a decade, the Lord had also urged the Saints to be united, setting aside individual desires to consecrate what they had to building the kingdom of God.
Oliver had turned away from these principles and relied instead on his own judgment, treating the church, its leaders, and the commandments of the Lord with contempt. After reviewing the charges one more time, Bishop Partridge and his council made the painful decision to remove Oliver from the church.16
In England’s River Ribble Valley, spring weather brought an end to winter’s bitter cold.17 Traveling through green pastureland near a town close to Walkerfold, Willard Richards plucked a tiny white flower from the hedges that lined the road.18 He was on a tour of branches of the church in the area and planned to listen to Heber Kimball and Orson Hyde preach that afternoon at a meeting five miles away.
Since arriving in England eight months earlier, Willard and his companions had baptized more than a thousand people in towns and villages throughout the valley. Many of the new Saints were young, working-class laborers who were drawn to the message of hope and peace found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Heber’s plain manners put them at ease and quickly won their trust.19
Better educated than Heber and trained in herbal medicine, Willard lacked the plainspoken appeal of his fellow missionary, who sometimes had to remind Willard to keep his message simple and focus on the first principles of the gospel. But Willard had established a strong branch of the church south of Preston, near the city of Manchester, despite opposition. Many people he baptized worked long hours in factories where the air was bad and they were paid a pittance. When they heard the restored gospel, they felt the Spirit and found joy in its promise that the day of the Lord’s coming was near.20
Arriving at the home of a church member, Willard entered the kitchen and hung up the white flower just before two young women entered the room. One of them, he discovered, was Jennetta Richards.
He had heard about Jennetta. Although they shared the same last name, they were not related. After she had joined the church, Heber had written Willard about her. “I baptized your wife today,” he noted.
Willard was thirty-three years old, far older than most unmarried men in the church. He did not know what—if anything—Heber had told Jennetta about him.
Since the young women were headed to the same meeting he was, Willard walked with them, giving them plenty of time to talk.
“Richards is a good name,” Willard said as they walked. “I never want to change it.” Then he added boldly, “Do you, Jennetta?”
“No, I do not,” she replied. “And I think I never will.”21
Willard saw more of Jennetta after that. Both were in Preston a few weeks later when Heber and Orson announced that they were returning to the United States.
As they prepared to depart, the apostles held an all-day conference in a large building where the Preston Saints often met.22 In between preaching and singing hymns, the missionaries confirmed forty people, blessed more than a hundred children, and ordained several men to the priesthood.
Before saying goodbye to the Saints, Heber and Orson set Joseph Fielding apart as the new president of the mission and called Willard and a young factory clerk named William Clayton to be his counselors. They then shook hands with the new presidency as a token of oneness between the Saints in England and America.23
That spring, a revelation came to the prophet in Far West. “Arise and shine forth,” the Lord told the Saints, “that thy light may be a standard for the nations.” He proclaimed the name of the church to be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and affirmed that Far West was a holy and consecrated land.
“It is my will that the city of Far West should be built up speedily by the gathering of my saints,” He declared, “and also that other places should be appointed for stakes in the regions round about.” He commanded the Saints to build a temple in Far West, appointing July 4, 1838, as the day to lay its foundation.24
Not long after, Joseph and several men traveled to Daviess County, just north of Caldwell County, to visit a settlement of church members at a place called Spring Hill. Joseph hoped the area would be a suitable gathering place for Saints coming to Missouri.25
Although Caldwell County had been created specifically for the Latter-day Saints, the government had already surveyed most of its land, making it too expensive for poorer Saints to purchase. In Daviess County, however, vast tracts of unsettled land had not yet been surveyed. Church members could settle there for free, and by the time the government surveyed the area, they would have already worked the land and acquired enough money to buy it.26
There was some risk in moving Saints to the neighboring county, however. Believing the Saints had promised to settle only in Caldwell County, some Daviess County men had warned the Saints in the area to stay away, but since no laws restricted the Saints from settling there, the protests soon ended.27
As he traveled north, Joseph marveled at the beauty of the country around him. From what he could see, Daviess County offered unbounded freedom and provided everything the Saints needed to establish new settlements.
Although the prairie had few trees, it seemed to have plenty of wild game. Joseph saw wild turkeys, hens, deer, and elk. Creeks and rivers kept the land lush and fertile. The Grand River, the largest in the county, was wide and deep enough to allow a steamboat to pass through, which could make travel and commerce easier for gathering Saints.
Pushing on, Joseph and his companions rode their horses along the banks of the river for ten miles until they arrived at Spring Hill. The small settlement was situated at the base of a bluff overlooking a spacious green valley. Lyman Wight, the leader of the outpost, earned a small living operating a ferry across the Grand River.28
The men climbed the bluff and set up camp, then rode back down to the ferry. Joseph said he wanted to claim the area for the Saints and build a city near the river. The Lord revealed to him that this was the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, where Adam, the first man, had blessed his children before he died.29 In this valley, Joseph explained, Adam would come to visit his people when the Savior returned to earth, as foretold by the prophet Daniel.30
The settlement was everything Joseph had hoped it would be. On June 28, 1838, in a grove near Lyman’s home, he organized a new stake of Zion on the sacred ground—and bid the Saints to gather.31