Church History
33 Until the Storm Blows Past

“Until the Storm Blows Past,” chapter 33 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)

Chapter 33: “Until the Storm Blows Past”

Chapter 33

Until the Storm Blows Past

Steamship on ocean

On the day before Christmas 1882, Māori chief Hare Teimana stood on the edge of a cliff beside his village near Cambridge, New Zealand. Below, he could see a man climbing resolutely up the cliff. But why was this stranger climbing to the village when he could more easily take a road? Why was he in such a hurry to reach the summit? Did he have something important to say?

As Hare watched the stranger climb, he realized that he knew him. One night a few months earlier, the apostle Peter, dressed in white, had appeared in Hare’s room. He told Hare that a man was coming to the Māori people with the same gospel Jesus Christ had preached while He was on the earth. Peter said Hare would know this man when he saw him.1

Protestant and Catholic missionaries had converted most Māori to Christianity by the 1850s, so Hare was familiar with Peter’s mission in Christ’s ancient Church. He also believed in the reality of visions and revelations. Māori looked to their matakite, or seers, to receive direct guidance from God. Even after converting to Christianity, some matakite, tribal chiefs, and family patriarchs had continued to see visions and receive divine directions for their people.2

The year before, in fact, Māori leaders had asked Pāora Te Pōtangaroa, a revered matakite, which church Māori should join. After fasting and praying for three days, Pāora had said the church they should join had not yet arrived. But he said it would come sometime in 1882 or 1883.3

Recognizing the man on the cliff as the person Peter spoke of in his vision, Hare was eager to hear what he had to say. The climber was exhausted when he reached the village, though, and Hare had to wait for him to catch his breath. When the man finally spoke, it was in Māori. He said his name was William McDonnel, and he was a missionary from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He gave Hare some religious tracts and testified that they contained the same gospel Christ had taught during His ministry. He also spoke of Christ commissioning Peter to proclaim the gospel after His Ascension.4

Hare’s interest was piqued, but William was anxious to rejoin his two mission companions, who had taken the road to the village. When William started to leave, Hare grabbed him by the collar of his coat. “You stop here and tell me all about the gospel,” he demanded.

William began sharing all he knew, and Hare continued to grip his collar tightly. Fifteen minutes passed, and William spotted his companions, mission president William Bromley and Thomas Cox, who had arrived at the village from the main road. He waved his hat high in the air to get their attention, and Hare finally let go of his collar. Then, with William acting as translator, the men spoke to Hare, expressing their desire to meet with Māori in that area.

Hare invited them to return later that day. “You can have a meeting in my house,” he said.5

That evening, William McDonnel sat down with President Bromley and Thomas Cox in Hare Teimana’s house. Irish by birth, William had moved to New Zealand after a ship’s captain told him it was a good country. He later settled among Māori for several years and learned their language. He then moved to the city of Auckland, New Zealand, where he was married in 1874 and joined the Church a few years later.6

Though missionaries had been called to preach in New Zealand and neighboring Australia since the early 1850s, the Church in New Zealand was small. Over the past three decades, at least 130 members had gathered to the Salt Lake Valley, thinning out the branches in New Zealand much as in other countries.

Most of the members were European immigrants like William. But soon after William’s baptism, President Bromley came to New Zealand with a charge from Joseph F. Smith, the new second counselor in the First Presidency, to take the gospel to Māori people.7 President Bromley prayed to find the right people to send, and he felt that William was one of the men to do it. William baptized the first Māori to receive the ordinance in New Zealand, a man named Ngataki, six months later.8

Now, sitting among Māori women and men in Hare’s house, the missionaries carried out Joseph F. Smith’s mandate. President Bromley would read a passage from the Bible in English, and William would turn to the same section in the Māori Bible and hand it to someone to read. The group listened attentively to the message, and William told the group that he would come back the following evening.

Before the missionaries left, Hare took William to see his daughter Mary. She had been ill for weeks, and the doctors said it was only a matter of time before she died. William had just taught that elders with the priesthood of God could perform healing blessings, and Hare wondered if they would bless his daughter.

The girl looked as if she might die at any moment. William, President Bromley, and Thomas knelt beside her and placed their hands on her head. A good spirit enveloped the room, and Thomas blessed her with life.

That night, William was unable to sleep. He had faith that Mary could be healed. But what if it was not God’s will? How would it affect the faith of Hare and other Māori if she died?

Just after sunrise, William started for Hare’s house. In the distance, he saw a woman from the village coming toward him. When she reached him, she lifted him off the ground in an embrace. She then took him by the hand and pulled him to Hare’s house.

“How is the girl?” William asked.

“Plenty good!” the woman said.

When William entered the house, he found Mary sitting up in bed and looking around the room. He shook hands with her and asked her mother to get her some strawberries to eat.9

That evening, Hare and his wife, Pare, accepted baptism, as did one other person in the village. The group made their way to the Waikato River, where William waded into the current, raised his right arm to the square, and immersed each of them in the water. Afterward, he returned home to Auckland while Thomas Cox and his wife, Hannah, continued ministering to Māori in Cambridge.

Two months later, on February 25, 1883, the first Māori branch of the Church was organized.10

After her baptism, Anna Widtsoe was anxious to heed the Lord’s call to gather to Zion. Anthon Skanchy, one of the missionaries who had taught her the gospel, wrote often to encourage her and her young sons to join him and other Scandinavian Saints in Utah. Having already immigrated to Logan, Utah, where the Saints were finishing a temple similar in size and appearance to the temple in Manti, he understood her desire to leave Norway.

“Everything will work together for your good,” he assured her in a letter. “You and your little ones will not be forgotten.”11

As eager as Anna was to move to Utah, she knew she would miss her homeland. Her late husband was buried there, and she cared deeply about the other Church members in her town. Often, when European Saints left their branches to come to Zion, they left vacancies in local Church leadership, making it difficult for the tiny congregations to thrive. Anna was a counselor in her branch Relief Society, and if she decided to move to Utah, the small group of women would certainly feel her loss.

She also had her two sons to consider. Eleven-year-old John and five-year-old Osborne were smart, well-behaved boys. In Utah, they would have to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture, which would put them behind other children their age. And how would she support them? Since her baptism, Anna’s dressmaking business had flourished. If she left Norway, she would lose her husband’s pension and would have to reestablish her business in a new place.12

Anna had also become reacquainted with Hans, a former suitor, who seemed interested in rekindling their romance. He was not a member of the Church, but he seemed supportive of her faith. Anna did not have much hope that he would join the Saints, though, since he seemed more interested in worldly pursuits than in seeking the kingdom of God.13

As Anna turned these matters over in her mind, she realized that staying in Norway would only hold her and her sons back. The Norwegian government did not recognize the Church nor consider it Christian. Mobs hounded missionaries, and ministers frequently criticized the Church in sermons and pamphlets. Aside from her younger sister Petroline, who had taken an interest in the Church, Anna’s own family had also rejected her once she joined the Saints.

In the fall of 1883, Anna decided to leave Norway. “I am traveling home to Utah as soon as I can,” she wrote Petroline in September. “If we cannot leave everything, even our life if required, we are no disciples.”14

Money was an obstacle, however. Her family would never help her make the move, and Anna did not know how she would pay the cost of emigrating. Then two returned missionaries and a Norwegian Saint donated some money to her. Hans also gave her some money for the journey, and the Church permitted her to use some of her tithing to help pay for her family’s passage.

At her final meeting with her Relief Society, Anna expressed how happy she was that God’s kingdom was again on the earth—and that she had the opportunity to help build it. As she listened to the testimonies of her Relief Society sisters, she wished that she and they might always live so that the Spirit of God would be with and enlighten them.

In October 1883, Anna, John, and Osborne boarded a ship in Oslo and headed for England. On shore, their fellow Norwegian Saints waved farewell with handkerchiefs. Norway’s majestic coastline had never looked so beautiful to Anna. For all she knew, she would never see it again.15

During the early summer of 1884, Ida Hunt Udall was serving as the president of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association of the Eastern Arizona Stake, a position that required her to watch over and teach the young women in Snowflake, St. Johns, and other settlements in the area. Though she was not able to visit every association in the stake very often, she found joy when they met together for quarterly conferences.16

Since her marriage to David Udall, Ida had moved back to St. Johns, where the Saints were facing strong opposition. The town was run by powerful citizens who did not want Saints settling in the county. Known as the Ring, the group harassed Church members and tried to prevent them from voting. They also published a newspaper that encouraged readers to terrorize the Saints.

“How did Missouri and Illinois get rid of the Mormons?” one article asked. “By the use of the shotgun and rope.”17

At home with David and Ella, though, Ida had found peace. For a while, Ella had struggled to get used to Ida’s new status in the home, but the two women had grown closer as they helped each other through sicknesses and other day-to-day challenges. Since joining the family, Ida had assisted Ella during the births of two daughters, Erma and Mary. Ida herself was still childless.

On July 10, 1884, five days after Mary was born, Ida was cleaning up dinner when David’s brother-in-law Ammon Tenney appeared at the door. He had been indicted for polygamy, and his wife Eliza, David’s sister, had been subpoenaed to testify against him. Rather than submit to the law and be a key witness at her husband’s trial, Eliza had decided to hide from the marshals.18

“The next call might be for you,” Ammon warned Ida. As the bishop of St. Johns—and a known polygamist—her husband would be a prime target for prosecution. If a marshal with a subpoena caught Ida, she could be forced to testify against David in court. Under the Edmunds Act, he could be fined $300 and sentenced to six months in prison for unlawful cohabitation. And the punishment for polygamy was even harsher. If convicted, David could be fined $500 and sentenced to five years in prison.19

Ida’s first thought was of Ella, who was recovering from the birth of her daughter. Ella still needed her help, and Ida did not want to leave her. But staying in the house only put the family in more danger.

Ida hastily threw a shawl over her head and silently slipped outside. Eliza and other women were hiding from the marshals in a neighbor’s house, and Ida joined them. Most of the women had left children behind, with no choice but to trust their little ones to the care of others.

Day after day they kept a watchful eye on the road, ducking beneath a bed or behind curtains whenever a stranger came near the house.

After Ida had been at the neighbor’s house for six days, a friend offered to secretly transport her and the other women to Snowflake. Before leaving town, Ida returned home and quickly packed a few items for her journey. As she kissed Ella and the children goodbye, she had the impression that many long days would pass before she saw them again.20

Ida spoke to the young women organization in the Snowflake Ward soon after her arrival, her ordeal in St. Johns still fresh in her mind. “Those who suffer persecution for the gospel’s sake have a peace and contentment which they could scarcely expect,” she testified. “We cannot expect to glide along in this Church without trials. Our lives will no doubt be placed in jeopardy.”21

By the end of summer, several Saints in Utah Territory had been arrested under the Edmunds Act, but no one had been prosecuted and imprisoned. Among the Saints arrested was Rudger Clawson, who had witnessed the murder of his mission companion, Joseph Standing, five years earlier. Rudger was married to two women, Florence Dinwoody and Lydia Spencer. After his arrest, Lydia went into hiding, leaving the prosecution without a key witness.22

Rudger’s trial began in October. At the hearing, Latter-day Saint witnesses, including President John Taylor, tried to be as unhelpful to the court as possible. When prosecutors asked the prophet where the Church’s marriage records could be located, his answers were vague.

“If you wanted to see it,” one lawyer asked him, “is there any means of ascertaining where it is?”

“I could find out by inquiry,” President Taylor said.

“Will you be good enough to do so?” asked the lawyer.

“Well,” said the prophet wryly, “I am not good enough to do so.” The courtroom then erupted in laughter.23

After a week of hearing similar testimonies, the twelve-man jury failed to come to a decision on the case, and the judge adjourned the court. But that same night, a deputy marshal tracked down Lydia Clawson and subpoenaed her to testify against Rudger in court.

A new trial soon began. After hearing the testimonies of several witnesses who had appeared at the previous trial, the prosecuting attorney called Lydia to the witness stand. She looked pale but determined. When the clerk tried to swear her in, she refused to take the oath.24

“Don’t you know it is wrong for you not to be sworn?” the judge asked Lydia.

“It may be,” she replied.

“You may have to be imprisoned,” the judge warned.

“That depends on you,” said Lydia.

“You take a fearful responsibility in undertaking to defy the government,” the judge said. He then committed her into the custody of the marshal and adjourned the court.

That night, after being transported to the state penitentiary, Lydia received a message from Rudger. He begged her to testify against him. She was pregnant, and if she refused to cooperate with the court, she might end up delivering her baby in a federal prison, hundreds of miles from home and family.25

The next morning the marshal accompanied Lydia to the packed courthouse, where prosecutors once again called her to the witness stand. This time, she did not resist when the clerk administered the oath. Then the prosecuting attorney asked her if she was married.

Almost whispering, Lydia said that she was.

“To whom?” he pressed.

“Rudger Clawson,” she said.

Members of the jury took less than twenty minutes to deliver a guilty verdict—the first under the Edmunds Act.26 Nine days later, Rudger appeared before the judge for sentencing. Before giving his ruling, the judge asked Rudger if he had anything to say.

“I very much regret that the laws of my country should come in contact with the laws of God,” Rudger said, “but whenever they do, I shall invariably choose the latter.”

The judge sat back in his chair. He had been prepared to be lenient with Rudger, but the young man’s defiance had changed his mind. With a solemn look, he sentenced Rudger to four years in prison and fined him $500 for polygamy and $300 for unlawful cohabitation.

The courtroom was silent. A marshal ushered Rudger out of the room, allowed him to say goodbye to friends and relatives, and then took him to the penitentiary. Rudger spent his first night in prison confined with about fifty of the territory’s hardened inmates.27

That winter, in settlements across Utah Territory, marshals continued to harass Saints at their homes, hoping to catch plural families off guard. Day and night, fathers and mothers watched in horror as lawmen ransacked their homes and turned children out of their beds. Some marshals sneaked through windows or threatened to break down doors. If they found a plural wife, they might arrest her if she refused to testify against her husband.

As much as John Taylor wanted to encourage the Saints to continue living their religion, he could see that families were being torn apart, and he felt responsible for their welfare.28 Soon he began counseling with Church leaders about moving Saints outside the United States to avoid arrest and seek greater freedom.29

In January 1885, he and Joseph F. Smith left Salt Lake City with a few apostles and trusted friends to visit the Saints in Arizona Territory, just north of Mexico. Many Saints were living in fear there, and some had already fled to Mexico to escape the marshals.30

Anxious to see for themselves whether more Saints could find refuge in that country, John, Joseph, and their companions crossed the border into Mexico. There they located a few promising sites near enough water to support settlement.31 When the company returned to Arizona a few days later, John and his companions counseled about what to do next.

In the end, they decided to buy land and establish settlements in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. John asked a few men to begin raising money. He and the others then proceeded by train to San Francisco.32 Once there, John received an urgent telegram from George Q. Cannon. Enemies at home were active, George warned, and a plan had been laid to arrest the First Presidency.

Several men pressed John to stay in California until the danger passed. Unsure of what to do, the prophet prayed for guidance. He then announced he was returning to Salt Lake City and sending Joseph F. Smith to Hawaii on another mission. A few men protested, certain that John and others would be arrested if they returned home. But John’s mind was clear—his place was in Utah.

John arrived home a few days later and called a special council with Church leaders. He told them his plan to buy land in Mexico, and he stated his intention to avoid capture by going into hiding. He had advised the Saints to do everything in their power, short of violence, to avoid prosecution. Now he would do the same.33

That Sunday, John spoke publicly to the Saints in the tabernacle, despite the threat of arrest. He reminded the congregation that they had faced oppression before. “Pull up the collar of your coat and button yourself up and keep the cold out until the storm blows past,” he counseled them. “This storm will blow past as others have done.”34

Having encouraged the Saints the best he could, John left the tabernacle, climbed into a carriage, and rode out into the night.35