Mission to the western states — Visit to the Indians — Wonderful success in Kirtland, Ohio — Journey westward — Great excitement and anxiety to hear the fulness of the gospel — Imprisonment — Mock trial — Escape — Preaching — Success — Visit the Wyandots — Journey resumed — Great hardships — Arrival on the frontiers of Missouri.

October 1830–February 1831

It was now October, 1830. A revelation had been given through the mouth of this Prophet, Seer and Translator, in which Elders Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Ziba Peterson and myself were appointed to go into the wilderness, through the western States, and to the Indian territory. [1] Making arrangements for my wife in the family of the Whitmers, we took leave of our friends and the church late in October, and started on foot. [2]

After travelling for some days we called on an Indian nation at or near Buffalo; and spent part of a day with them, instructing them in the knowledge of the record of their forefathers. We were kindly received, and much interest was manifested by them on hearing this news. We made a present of two copies of the Book of Mormon to certain of them who could read, and repaired to Buffalo. Thence we continued our journey, for about two hundred miles, and at length called on Mr. Rigdon, my former friend and instructor, in the Reformed Baptist Society. [3] He received us cordially and entertained us with hospitality.

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We soon presented him with a Book of Mormon, and related to him the history of the same. He was much interested, and promised a thorough perusal of the book.

We tarried in this region for some time, and devoted our time to the ministry, and visiting from house to house.

At length Mr. Rigdon [4] and many others became convinced that they had no authority to minister in the ordinances of God; and that they had not been legally baptized and ordained. They, therefore, came forward and were baptized by us, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.

The news of our coming was soon noised abroad, and the news of the discovery of the Book of Mormon and the marvelous events connected with it. The interest and excitement now became general in Kirtland, and in all the region round about. The people thronged us night and day, insomuch that we had no time for rest and retirement. Meetings were convened in different neighborhoods, and multitudes came together soliciting our attendance; while thousands flocked about us daily; some to be taught, some for curiosity, some to obey the gospel, and some to dispute or resist it.

In two or three weeks from our arrival in the neighborhood with the news, we had baptized one hundred and twenty-seven souls, and this number soon increased to one thousand. The disciples were filled with joy and gladness; while rage and lying was abundantly manifested by gainsayers; faith was strong, joy was great, and persecution heavy.

We proceeded to ordain Sidney Rigdon, Isaac Morley, John Murdock, Lyman Wight, Edward Partridge and many others to the ministry; and, leaving them to take care of the churches and to minister the gospel, we took leave of the saints and continued our journey. [5]

Fifty miles west of Kirtland, we had occasion to pass through the neighborhood where I first settled in the wilderness, after my marriage. We found the people all excited with the news of the great work we had been the humble instruments of doing in Kirtland and vicinity. Some wished to learn and obey the fulness of the gospel — were ready to entertain us and hear us preach. Others were filled with envy, rage and lying.

We had stopped for the night at the house of Simeon Carter, by whom we were kindly received, and were in the act of reading to him and explaining the Book of Mormon, when there came a knock at the door, and an officer entered with a warrant from a magistrate by the name of Byington, to arrest me on a very frivolous charge. I dropped the Book of Mormon in Carter’s house, and went with him some two miles, in a dark, muddy road; one of the brethren accompanied me. [6]

We arrived at the place of trial late in the evening; found false witnesses in attendance, and a Judge who boasted of his intention to thrust us into prison, for the purpose of testing the powers of our apostleship, as he called it; although I was only an Elder in the Church. The Judge boasting thus, and the witnesses being entirely false in their testimony, I concluded to make no defense, but to treat the whole matter with contempt.

I was soon ordered to prison, or to pay a sum of money which I had not in the world. It was now a late hour, and I was still retained in court, tantalized, abused and urged to settle the matter, to all of which I made no reply for some time. This greatly exhausted their patience. It was near midnight. I now called on brother Petersen to sing a hymn in the court. We sung, “O how happy are they.” This exasperated them still more, and they pressed us greatly to settle the business, by paying the money.

I then observed as follows: “May it please the court, I have one proposal to make for a final settlement of the things that seem to trouble you. It is this: if the witnesses who have given testimony in the case will repent of their false swearing, and the magistrate of his unjust and wicked judgment and of his persecution, blackguardism and abuse, and all kneel down together, we will pray for you, that God might forgive you in these matters.”

“My big bull dog pray for me,” says that Judge.

“The devil help us,” exclaimed another.

They now urged me for some time to pay the money; but got no further answer.

The court adjourned, and I was conducted to a public house over the way, and locked in till morning; the prison being some miles distant.

In the morning the officer appeared and took me to breakfast; this over, we sat waiting in the inn for all things to be ready to conduct me to prison. In the meantime my fellow travellers came past on their journey, and called to see me. I told them in an undertone to pursue their journey and leave me to manage my own affairs, promising to overtake them soon. They did so.

After sitting awhile by the fire in charge of the officer, I requested to step out. I walked out into the public square accompanied by him. Said I, “Mr. Peabody, are you good at a race?” “No,” said he, “but my big bull dog is, and he has been trained to assist me in my office these several years; he will take any man down at my bidding.


 

” “Well, Mr. Peabody, you compelled me to go a mile, I have gone with you two miles. You have given me an opportunity to preach, sing, and have also entertained me with lodging and breakfast. I must now go on my journey; if you are good at a race you can accompany me. I thank you for all your kindness — good day, sir.”

I then started on my journey, while he stood amazed and not able to step one foot before the other. Seeing this, I halted, turned to him and again invited him to a race. He still stood amazed. I then renewed my exertions, and soon increased my speed to something like that of a deer. He did not awake from his astonishment sufficiently to start in pursuit till I had gained, perhaps, two hundred yards. I had already leaped a fence, and was making my way through a field to the forest on the right of the road.

He now came hallooing after me, and shouting to his dog to seize me. The dog, being one of the largest I ever saw, came close on my footsteps with all his fury; the officer behind still in pursuit, clapping his hands and hallooing, “stu-boy, stu-boy — take him — watch — lay hold of him, I say — down with him,” and pointing his finger in the direction I was running. The dog was fast overtaking me, and in the act of leaping upon me, when, quick as lightning, the thought struck me, [7] to assist the officer, in sending the dog with all fury to the forest a little distance before me. I pointed my finger in that direction, clapped my hands, and shouted in imitation of the officer. The dog hastened past me with redoubled speed towards the forest; being urged by the officer and myself, and both of us running in the same direction.

Gaining the forest, I soon lost sight of the officer and dog, and have not seen them since. I took a back course, crossed the road, took round into the wilderness, on the left, and made the road again in time to cross a bridge over Vermilion River, where I was hailed by half a dozen men, who had been anxiously waiting our arrival to that part of the country, and who urged me very earnestly to stop and preach. I told them that I could not then do it, for an officer was on my track. I passed on six miles further, through mud and rain, and overtook the brethren, and preached the same evening to a crowded audience, among whom we were well entertained.

The Book of Mormon, which I dropped at the house of Simeon Carter, when taken by the officer, was by these circumstances left with him. He read it with attention. It wrought deeply upon his mind, and he went fifty miles to the church we had left in Kirtland, and was there baptized and ordained an Elder. [8] He then returned to his home and commenced to preach and baptize. A church of about sixty members was soon organized in the place where I had played such a trick of deception on the dog.

We now pursued our journey for some days, and at length arrived in Sandusky, in the western part of Ohio. Here resided a tribe, or nation of Indians, called Wyandots, on whom we called, and with whom we spent several days. We were well received, and had an opportunity of laying before them the record of their forefathers, which we did. They rejoiced in the tidings, bid us God speed, and desired us to write to them in relation to our success among the tribes further west, who had already removed to the Indian territory, where these expected soon to go.

Taking an affectionate leave of this people, we continued our journey to Cincinnati. [9] In this city we spent several days, and preached to many of the people, but without much success. About the 20th of December we took passage on a steamer for St. Louis. In a few days we arrived at the mouth of the Ohio, and finding the river blocked with ice, the boat did not proceed further. [10] We therefore landed and pursued our journey on foot for two hundred miles, to the neighborhood of St. Louis. [11]

We halted for a few days in Illinois, about twenty miles from St. Louis, on account of a dreadful storm of rain and snow, which lasted for a week or more, during which the snow fell in some places near three feet deep. Although in the midst of strangers, we were kindly entertained, found many friends, and preached to large congregations in several neighborhoods.

In the beginning of 1831 we renewed our journey; and, passing through St. Louis and St. Charles, we travelled on foot for three hundred miles through vast prairies and through trackless wilds of snow — no beaten road; houses few and far between; and the bleak northwest wind always blowing in our faces with a keenness which would almost take the skin off the face. We travelled for whole days, from morning till night, without a house or fire, wading in snow to the knees at every step, and the cold so intense that the snow did not melt on the south side of the houses, even in the mid-day sun, for nearly six weeks. [12] We carried on our backs our changes of clothing, several books, and corn bread and raw pork. We often ate our frozen bread and pork by the way, when the bread would be so frozen that we could not bite or penetrate any part of it but the outside crust.

After much fatigue and some suffering we all arrived in Independence, in the county of Jackson, on the extreme western frontiers of Missouri, and of the United States. [13]

This was about fifteen hundred miles from where we started, and we had performed most of the journey on foot, through a wilderness country, in the worst season of the year, occupying about four months, during which we had preached the gospel to tens of thousands of Gentiles and two nations of Indians; baptizing, confirming and organizing many hundreds of people into churches of Latter-day Saints.

This was the first mission performed by the Elders of the Church in any of the States west of New York, and we were the first members of the same which were ever on this frontier. [14]

Notes


[1] D&C Section 32.

[2] Around October 25, 1830.

[3] Sidney Rigdon was then living in Mentor, Ohio, located about four miles north of Kirtland, Ohio.

[4] The Prophet Joseph later recorded the great sacrifice Sidney and Phebe Rigdon made in joining the Church: “At present the honors and applause of the world were showered down upon him, his wants were abundantly supplied, and were anticipated. He was respected by the entire community, and his name was a tower of strength. His counsel was sought for, respected and esteemed.


— But if he should unite with the Church of Christ, his prospects of wealth and affluence would vanish; his family dependent upon him for support, must necessarily share his humiliation and poverty. He was aware that his character and his reputation must suffer in the estimation of the community.

Aware of all these things, there must have been feelings of no ordinary kind,
agitate his bosom at that particular crisis; but yet they did not deter him from the path of duty…   Although he felt great confidence in the Lord, yet he felt it a trial of some magnitude, when he avowed his determination to his beloved companion. …He informed her what the consequences would undoubtedly be respecting their worldly circumstances if they obeyed the gospel; and then said: ‘my dear, you have once followed me into poverty, are you willing to do the same?’ She then said: ‘I have weighed the matter, I have contemplated on the circumstances in which we may be placed; I have counted the cost, and I am perfectly satisfied to follow you; it is my desire to do the will of God, come life or come death’” (Times and Seasons 4 [September 1, 1843]: 304f).

[5] The four missionaries (Parley, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., and Ziba Peterson) were then joined on their mission by one of their Kirtland converts, Frederick G. Williams, who later became a member of the First Presidency.

[6] It appears this brother was Ziba Peterson.

[7] As evident in this dire circumstance, throughout his life Parley was especially adept at listening to the Holy Ghost. Concerning the attributes and workings of the Spirit of the Lord, he said, “It quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being” (Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 60).

[8] Simeon Carter (1794–1869) joined the Church in 1831, was called to the high council in Missouri, served a three-year mission to England (1846–49), arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1850, and settled in Brigham City, Utah, where he remained faithful and true to the gospel until he died. His younger brother, Gideon, was killed in the Battle of Crooked River in October 1838 (Smith, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:479).

[9] The walking distance from Sandusky to Cincinnati was about 225 miles. This would have taken the brethren between seven and ten days, making their arrival in Cincinnati likely between December 15 and 18, 1830.

[10] From Cincinnati to the mouth of the Ohio is approximately 595 river miles. The average speed of the steamer was about six miles per hour downstream, so the journey would have taken about four full days, making their arrival at the mouth of the Ohio probably on December 24, 1830.

[11] It appears they arrived in this area somewhere between December 30, 1830, and January 3, 1831.

[12] “Because of storms of rare severity, the winter of 1830–1831 is referred to in midwestern annals as ‘the winter of the deep snow’” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, s.v. “Lamanite Mission of 1830–31”).

[13] It appears that they arrived the first part of February 1831.

[14] “The mission to western Missouri in 1830–1831 was important for three reasons: it demonstrated the Church’s commitment to preach to the descendants of the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon; it helped establish a stronghold for the Church in Kirtland, Ohio, where the missionaries found numerous unexpected converts; and it ultimately brought Joseph Smith to Jackson County, Missouri, to lay the foundation of Zion, or the New Jerusalem” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, s.v. “Lamanite Mission of 1830–31”).