Testimonies for the Truth – Part Four
This is the fourth and final part of a series of posts about the amazing story of Brother Benjamin Brown. If you would like to catch up you can do so by clicking here. Enjoy this final installment, and let me know in the comments section how you’ve liked this little series.
THE AUTHOR RETURNS TO NAUVOO–IS SENT TO JEFFERSON COUNTY ON A TITHING MISSION–RETURNS WITH A THOUSAND DOLLARS–SELLS HIS PROPERTY, AND MOVES WEST WITH THE CHURCH–STAYS AT “WINTER QUARTERS”– IS ORDAINED BISHOP–SCURVY IN CAMP–HIRES HIMSELF IN MISSOURI– MOVES OUT OF “WINTER QUARTERS”–ARRIVES IN SALT LAKE VALLEY– DEARTH OF CLOTHES, GROCERIES, AND FARMING AND MECHANICAL IMPLEMENTS– UNEXPECTED SUPPLY BY THE CALIFORNIA GOLD DIGGERS– HE IS APPOINTED ON A MISSION TO ENGLAND– TRAVELS OVER THE PLAINS AND OCEAN–ARRIVES IN ENGLAND.
The work in New Brunswick rolled on prosperously, but the time came when we had calculated to be at home. We had heard too that our beloved Prophet had been murdered in Carthage Jail, and we naturally felt anxious to know how things were with our families and friends at Nauvoo. Our parting with the Saints in New Brunswick was not very pleasant, as may be supposed. As w were leaving the place, while stopping by some water, waiting to cross by means of the ferry, we were overtaken by two persons, who requested us to baptize them. This we did, and confirmed the on the spot–such was the spirit of the work in that region. We returned by way of Boston, where I left Brother Crosby.
I arrived at Nauvoo safely, but I had scarcely been there three weeks before I was again sent to Jefferson County, this time on a tithing mission. I got back in about four months, carrying with me about a thousand dollars which the Saints donated towards building the temple of the Lord.
While I was on my mission to New Brunswick, the Church agreed with the mobs to leave Nauvoo by the next grass time–spring, so that when I returned the second time, the city was all in excitement. All that could were selling out, some were disposing of their things by auction, for whatever could be got, while others would take cartloads of furniture out into the country, and as it was termed, “swap” it for money or cattle; for, ready or not ready, the mob meant to have the Saints out by the time stated.
My property was rather more pleasantly situated than many others, and I succeeded in getting the munificent sum of 250 dollars for my house and orchard, the nursery to which contained six thousand grafted young fruit trees, and was worth three thousand dollars, at least. Many of the Saints would have been glad to have got off with no greater sacrifice than myself, but as the time drew near, the prices offered for our property fell in proportion. Some of the Saints did not get half as much as I did, for property equally valuable. Others got nothing at all, but had to leave their houses just as they were, and those living in the outskirts of the city were saved the sacrifice of selling their houses for less than their worth, for the mob burned about three hundred of them down, and destroyed the property of the owners. The Saints were hard at work all the winter making wagons. The people that came into the city were astonished to see the hundreds and thousands of wagons that were turned out in a few months. In February, 1846, the authorities took the lead, crossed the river Mississippi with a large camp, and stopped some seven or eight miles from the water, on the other side, waiting for the snow to go off, which just then had fallen heavily. In consequence of this, they had no food for their cattle, and being at the end of regular settlements, had great difficulty in procuring any food, but as soon as possible they were on the move.
When the general emigration of the main body of the Church came on, it was pretty much all at once. On the Nauvoo side of the river, two or three hundred wagons were waiting at one time for the ferry. In these wagons the Saints had to sleep, cooking their food on the beach. Although all the boats and ferries that could be had were employed, this state of things continued for upwards of a month.
All the opposite shore was covered with wagons, in which the Saints were living, but multitudes were without any protection from the weather, except tents made with blankets, under one of which a whole family had to live. A scene of human suffering and endurance for the gospel’s sake, on so large a scale, has seldom, if ever, before, been seen on earth. The sufferings of the Saints during their expulsion from Missouri, and their entrance to Nauvoo, were perhaps more intense, but not so many Saints endured them. Picture, dear reader, to yourself, the case of thousands–they had been mobbed and plundered in Missouri, had escaped only as fugitives, and had arrived at a new location, Nauvoo, only to see their families die off around them by the fever and ague of that place. After surviving these troubles, cheering up, beginning life afresh, and seeing this abode of death converted, by incessant toil, into a garden of health and prosperity, fancy to yourself the feelings of the Saints when called upon to resign these blessings, made doubly valuable by being so dearly paid for, and to exchange them for a barren wilderness, a prospect of a thousand miles journey across untracked plains and mountains, and the probability of death on the journey, or of starvation afterwards.
Will the annals of history present a similar case? The exodus of Moses and his bands was not equal to it, for he had a goodly land to promise his hosts, a land flowing with milk and honey, to cheer their spirits up. They only had to enter upon the already cultivated land of their enemies. But here were twenty thousand people, starting to locate a thousand miles beyond the borders of civilized life, over what had always been considered impassable mountains. Reports had arrived of Colonel Freemont’s exploration, and the hardships he had suffered, but here were not only men, but thousands of women and children, starting on the same hazardous journey, not only temporarily to endure these difficulties, but proposing to make a settled home in those dreary wilds, and live where they were told not a spear of wheat could be raised. Notwithstanding all these things, the recollection of past hardships, and the prospect of those in the future, the Saints were not dispirited, but from their abodes ascended the sound of joy and of rejoicing, to think that they had at last a prospect of getting beyond the power of their enemies. For this deliverance, though at such a price, the Saints praised the Lord in the song and in the dance.
Shortly the first camp moved on, and the rest of the Saints came up to it in succession, but not until the first camp had crossed the Missouri River. Here the command was, “Stop and raise grain to go on with next year,” for we had a thousand miles journey ahead, and not a settlement on the road; besides, unless we had wished to starve, we must have had grain to sow our lands when we had got there. So, at the word, a spot was selected, and, before many weeks had passed, lands in all directions were fenced in, and a city, composed of roughly-built houses and wagons, and called “Winter Quarters,” sprung up into existence. As the winter was, however, just coming on, of course we could not put in any grain until the next spring. We began, then, more than ever, to feel the destitution of our position, for want of vegetables had brought on the scurvy, the provisions of many became exhausted, and our prospects of a fresh supply seemed rather distant. The city was laid out in wards, over each of which a bishop was appointed. One of these wards was committed to me, and this of course entailed upon me the care of the poor–no trifling matter under such circumstances. It would take no small space to describe all the expedients to which I was often driven in fulfillment of this duty, for the little stock I had of my own was soon gone, and still the poor had not done eating. What was to be done? I went to President Young, and very pathetically told him “that all my grain was gone, and I had not the first shilling in my possession with which to get any more grain.” All the consolation I got from him was some instruction to “feed them well, and take care they have enough to eat,” and it would not do for a Saint to say he could not. So I had to scheme. I borrowed ten dollars from a sister who possessed a small store. I then crossed the Missouri River, and laid the money out in meal and some meat. But when this was gone I had to borrow of someone else to pay her, and then of someone else to pay him. I borrowed until I made my debt up to fifty dollars, and no more chance of payment appeared than at the first. Who would not have been a bishop then? Fortunately, just at this juncture, the lost cattle of one who had died in my ward came into my hands, and I sold them for fifty dollars. I paid my debt, and I was just right, and ready to commence borrowing again, with a clear conscience.
In those times, the bishops had plenty of work, if no one else had, and some of it sorrowful enough, for our graveyards began to fill up rapidly. Here our situation much resembled that of our entrance into Nauvoo at the first, for stagnant waters, that had been left on the banks through an overflow of the river, combined with the rotting of an overluxurious vegetation, impregnated the air with death. After a time, the blackleg scurvy, one of the diseases by which we were afflicted, began to cease, for we had obtained vegetables from Missouri, and as the spring came on we procured fresh fish, which further varied our diet.
The pioneers started for the mountains to seek out a resting place for the Saints, and the body of those that remained began to raise grain. I and many others left our families, went down into Missouri, and hired ourselves out to obtain means to buy teams, clothes, flour, etc., so that we might follow the pioneers’ camp when the time arrived.
At this time we had an indistinct idea that, some day or other, after arriving at our new home, we should do something in the way of manufacturing things for ourselves. But it looked almost like a forlorn hope. Articles of diet, such as tea, coffee, sugar, with every species of clothing, were eagerly stored up as possibly the last we should ever see. We were instructed to use none but our old clothes, and save the best, as it was firmly believed that we should be driven to adorn ourselves in deer and sheepskins for want of better attire. This did not shake our faith and resolution–such matters were light work for men who had tried and proved the Divinity of the Church on whose behalf they suffered.
When the time arrived, the Saints moved out promiscuously, and, after crossing the Elk Horn River, they were organized into two large divisions called Brigham and Heber’s companies. These were subdivided into smaller companies of hundreds, fifties, and tens, and in this way the Saints proceeded across the plains.
The particulars of this wonderful exodus are already in many forms before the public, therefore, it is only necessary to say that we travelled as above until we came to the last crossing of the Sweet Water River, where we waited for assistance from the pioneers and brethren already in the valley, by whose help we crossed the backbone of North America–the dividing ridge between the waters flowing to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and after passing through several canyons and over two large mountains, we were safely brought into the valley.
In September, 1847, we found that the pioneers, and others of the Saints that had gone into the valley shortly after them, had been hard at work, sowing all the winter, for every wagon had taken two bushels of grain, consequently most of the wheat that the crickets had not harvested on their own account, the inhabitants had, and they had raised a considerable quantity of vegetables to boot. And, as it is well known, after we had been in the valley about a fortnight they prepared a splendid feast, composed mostly of the fruits of their labor, to which feast all the Saints and strangers in the valley were invited.
Such numbers, however, had arrived in the valley that the vegetables raised by our brethren went but a little way, and after the feast at their expense, it was a rarity to get any vegetables until the following June, fourteen months from the time we left Winter Quarters, when we partook of vegetables raised by ourselves. Our bread also became scarce before the wheat put in by the Saints generally was ready to harvest. Some persons lived for three months on their cattle, which they had to kill for food, and on roots which they dug up. Of course, after a time, our clothes and farming implements began to wear out, and we had the delightful prospect of realizing the ideas we had entertained at Winter Quarters, of wearing sheepskins, etc. Those who had habituated themselves to such luxuries as tea and coffee, found their stock exhausted, and no chance of getting anymore from any quarter, for the first shop was a thousand miles off, and some began to doubt, and wonder what would be the issue of all this. There we were, completely shut out from the world, with scarcely any knowledge of its proceedings, and it equally ignorant of ours. Our boots, shoes, hats, coats, vests, and material to make them of, were either fast going or altogether gone through wear. Our picks, shovels, spades, and other farming implements were also getting used up, broken, or destroyed. Our wagons were becoming scarce, many had been broken in the canyons, and we had no timber suitable for making more, and if there had been, from where were we to get the ironwork necessary for making them, or for making plows, shovels, etc., for cultivating the ground, without which, of course, food would cease, and starvation ensue. In fact, naturally speaking, things looked alarming, and just calculated to dry up our hopes, and fill us with fears. Matters were at this crisis, when one day Elder Heber C. Kimball stood up in the congregation of the Saints, and prophesied that “in a short time” we should be able to buy articles of clothing, and utensils, cheaper in the valley than we could purchase them in the states. I was present on the occasion, and, with others there, only hoped the case might be so, for many of the Saints felt like the man spoken of in the scriptures, who heard Elisha prophesy at the time of a hard famine in Samaria, “that before tomorrow, a measure of fine flour should be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel.” We thought that “if the Lord would make windows in heaven, then might this thing be,” but without an absolute miracle there seemed no human probability of its fulfillment.
However, Elder Kimball’s prophecy was fulfilled in a few months. Information of the great discovery of gold in California had reached the states, and large companies were formed for the purpose of supplying the gold diggers with food and clothing, and implements of every kind for digging, etc. As these companies expected a most tremendous profit on their goods, no expense or outlay of any kind was spared. Numbers of substantial wagons were prepared, stored with wholesale quantities of clothing of every kind; spades, picks, shovels, and chests of carpenters’ tools, were also provided to overflowing, and, to complete the list, tea, coffee, sugar, flour, fruits, etc., on the same scale. In fact, these persons procured just the things they would have done, had they been forming companies purposely for relieving the Saints, and had they determined to do it as handsomely as unlimited wealth would allow.
When these companies, after crossing the plains, arrived within a short distance of Salt Lake City, news reached them that ships had been despatched from many parts of the world, fitted out with goods for California. This threatened to flood the market. The companies feared that the sale of their goods would not repay the expense of conveyance. Here was a “fix”–the companies were too far from the states to take their goods back, and they would not pay to carry them through, and when to this was added the fact, that the companies were half crazy to leave trading, and turn gold diggers themselves, it will easily be seen how naturally the difficulty solved itself into the decision which they actually came to–“Oh here are these Mormons, let us sell the goods to them.” Accordingly they brought them into the valley, and disposed of them for just what could be got–provisions, wagons, clothes, tools, almost for the taking away, at least half the price for which the goods could have been purchased in the states.
Many disposed of their wagons, because the teams gave out, and could not get on any further. Such sold almost all they had to purchase a mule or a horse to pack through with. Thus were the Saints amply provided, even to overflowing, with every one of the necessaries and many of the luxuries of which they had been so destitute, and thus was the prediction of the servant of the Lord fulfilled.
One of the worst deficiencies we had experienced was with respect to iron to manufacture or repair with, but as many of the “diggers” left their wagons on the other side of the ferries, or sold them to the ferrymen to burn up as fuel, or had done so themselves, tons and tons of iron, used in the manufacture of wagons, were brought into the valley, and used up for every variety of purpose.
This was a miraculous providence, but not more so than those which it has been my lot to see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints experience ever since my connection with it. In short, and, of necessity, compressed history of some of the testimonies I have witnessed and received, the reader, if his mind is open to conviction, may see that I have had much to establish me in the belief of the truths of “Mormonism.” A review of its pretensions when I first joined the Church, placed side by side with some items of its subsequent career, will, I think, show most clearly that I have had enough to convince me that the Latter-day Saints are the people of God, and that Joseph Smith was His Prophet, even were I destitute of the first-mentioned proofs.
When the individual whose history is briefly sketched in the foregoing pages, first joined the Church, its numbers were very few, just a stray elder here and there, and those that had obeyed its principles were living just where the gospel found them, for as yet there was no place of gathering appointed. The elders carried about the Book of Mormon, containing a prophecy of a gathering of the Saints upon the continent of America, they could show that the Bible also spoke of a time when the “kingdoms should be gathered together, and the nations, “to serve the Lord;” that the Lord had caused it to be written that at some time or other he would “gather” all nations and tongues, and they should come and see his glory;” and could refer to a wondrous prophecy which had been given, apparently to stamp it with force, in similar words to two different prophets, declaring that it should come to pass in the last days that the Lord’s house should be built upon the tops of the mountains, and all nations should flow unto it; and, after producing David’s words that the Lord should utter his voice to the heavens above and to the earth beneath, saying, “Gather my Saints together, those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice,” could bring, by way of a climax, the testimony of St. John the Revelator, that the people of the Lord would have to come out of Babylon, lest they should partake of her plagues.
In connection with the stupendous gathering, spoken of in the foregoing scriptures, other great movements were associated–an ensign was to be set up on the mountains, to which the Gentiles were to seek. The Lord’s house was also to be built on the same elevated position, and there also a feast of fat things was to be made for all people, preparatory to the “facts of the covering being destroyed from off all people,” and “death being swallowed up in victory.”
All this was very true, but where were the Saints to gather to? If they left Babylon where were they to go? At that time there was no place appointed, but still it was taught that the dispensation of the fullness of times, which should usher in and complete these glorious prophecies, was about to commence. But with what a prospect of fulfillment–a few poor countrymen preaching the gathering of all nations, without being able to tell them where to gather to! Yes, even under these circumstances, it was preached by Joseph and his associates, believed, and known to be true.
Under these strong appearances of improbability were the “pretensions” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched upon the world. Not as speculative theories, nor after the fashion that doctors of divinity publish their impressions that certain portions of the prophecies of Daniel, or the Book of Revelations [Revelation], are about to receive their fulfillment, but based on the authority of the word of the Lord, given to His servant in this identical age.
It must be allowed on every hand, that to undertake the fulfillment of such grand and comprehensive prophecies as those quoted in the foregoing, was a most sublime conception, and worthy of a prophet’s mission. Surely none but one who knew that Jehovah had sent him, unless deranged, would have put his hand to such an Almighty task, for without the concurrence and assistance of the providence of God, the work would most assuredly prove a failure and a disgrace, and exposure would follow at every step.
Such a work, however, did Joseph and his brethren undertake, with all the world crying delusion! delusion! before and behind. And it remains for us to see whether God has by his providence approbated or discountenanced these “pretensions,” for he most assuredly would have discountenanced them if Joseph had been a false prophet, for it is written, he “frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad.”–Isaiah, xliv, 25.
As a first step in fulfillment of the prophecies of Joseph, of the Bible, and of the Book of Mormon, a place was selected to commence the work, and the Kirtland Saints, and other scattered ones, began to assemble there. The thing looked a little more reasonable then, but still Jackson County, Missouri, the place selected, was on the plains, and the Bible distinctly depicted a great portion of the work of the last days as being on the mountains, so that the Saints were still not in a position to fully carry out their work, and fulfill the scriptures. But how were the Saints put in a proper position?” Why, the mobs, in fulfillment of another prophecy of Joseph Smith, drove them from that part of Missouri to another, then to Nauvoo, and also from that place, until the Saints, satisfied that there was no home for them within the borders of “civilization,” determined to retreat beyond it, and found for themselves a home, four thousand feet above the level of the sea, in the bosom of the Rocky Mountains, to which spot the gathering of the righteous among all nations is now going on, where an ensign is being lifted to the nations, that the Lord’s house may be built on the top of the mountains, and all nations flow unto it, that they may learn the ways of the God of Jacob, and walk in His paths.
There, as Isaiah says, the “munition of rocks” is the defense of the Saints, there they “dwell on high, and are preparing for the coming of the “King in His beauty.” God has blessed them abundantly in all their operations, and caused “the wilderness and the solitary place to be glad for them, and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose.”
Thus heaven and earth conspired to prove Joseph a true prophet, and the very attempts of the powers of hell to hinder his work were subverted, and brought to bear in pushing along the work they hated most.
After reviewing the foregoing facts, I ask did God “frustrate” Joseph Smith’s “tokens,” or “drive him mad;” by upsetting his endeavours to gather the Saints? Has not God, on the contrary, rolled that gathering gloriously along, and honored and approbated him by fulfilling, in the career of the Church he raised up, great and notable prophecies of scripture, and in causing the opposition of his enemies to result in demonstrating to the world that he was a servant of God, and that the great work of the last days was committed to his hands?
Remember the circumstances under which Joseph the plowboy came forth–friendless, and opposed on every hand, yet declaring that the Lord had sent him to gather his elect. Behold this young man, and the people he raised up, driven, scourged, mobbed, plundered, and himself and many of his adherents murdered, and see, after his body is laid in the dust, the work he commenced, rolling along, waxing stronger and mightier still, and every turn and move of Providence causing it to display some new point of resemblance, both in general features and detail, to prophetic declarations of the ancient seers; and, whilst bearing in mind Moses’ rule if a man’s words come to pass, know that the Lord has sent him, judge ye whether Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the Lord.
To resume. From the time of my entering the valley, I resided there four years, or until the August conference, 1852. At this conference, I and over a hundred others were called upon at a week’s notice to leave our homes in the valley, and visit the nations of the earth, and preach the gospel to them. England was appointed to me as the place of my mission. Before starting, we were blessed by the Twelve Apostles and others of the authorities, who prophesied over our heads concerning many events that should happen on our journey. Amongst many other things, they told us that great blessings should accompany us, that the Spirit of the Lord should be greatly poured out, and that the elements should be controlled in our favor.
These promises we richly realized whilst journeying over the plains. Through the spirit of revelation, great intelligence and knowledge of the principles of eternity were bestowed upon us, such as we had never before received. At our evening meetings all had a privilege of speaking, and by the power of the Spirit many glorious truths were taught–the same things during the day having been frequently revealed to different brethren. As was promised, the elements were in our favor. There were storms before and behind, as we learned by meeting and overtaking parties that had suffered through their violence, but the weather was perfectly fine with us.
During our voyage from America to England, the winds were generally fair, and several times, when they were contrary, they were rebuked instantly, and changed right round, in answer to prayer, as many of my brethren, who were on board, and who are now in England, can testify. We arrived in England, January 5th, 1853, rejoicing in the mercies of our Heavenly Father.
Thus finishes, to the present time, this brief history of the principal features of my experience as an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Had the whole of my experience been given, it would have filled a volume many times the size of this; but this brief sketch has been drawn up as a selection of the main features, which must stand as representatives of the whole.
As an humble “testimony for the truth” as it is in Christ, this sketch is sent forth to the world, and it is humbly hoped that it may pioneer some to `faith in `the eternal attributes of Jehovah, and thus help to expedite the march of truth, whose mission is to disperse the gloom of nations, lift up the canopy of death that overhangs the world, and bring in endless life.
THE RAYS OF TRUTH
To Elder Benjamin Brown
By Elder W. G. Mills.
“He will send His Angel before thee.”
When God designs to bless mankind,
And future purposes fulfil,
A light beams o’er the honest mind
That loves to learn and do His will,
And seems a holy barbinger
Sent for the great work to prepare.
As when yon glorious orb of day,
When night’s dark veil enfolds the earth,
Sheds round his mild and dawning ray,
Ere he in majesty comes forth,
So beams the Truth on many a soul
In error’s mazy dark control.
Thus Simeon caught the living fire
That issued from th’ eternal throne;
And Anna’s soul it did inspire,
When God sent here His only Son;
And many in that favored land
Felt then some great event at hand!
And thus, “in these the latter days,”
When Zion’s ensign is unfurled,
And God doth holy Prophets raise,
To publish Truth to all the world,
Thousands the Spirit has prepared,
To hail the message now declared.
When night had shed its calm repose,
Sweet visions passed the dreamy sight,
Or in the sacred Book disclosed
Decrees that must be brought to light,
The inklings of the Spirit told
God would His purpose soon unfold.
And thou, dear brother Brown, has, felt
The signal favor of the Lord,
When at the “throne of grace” thou’st knelt,
Or pondered o’er the sacred word;
The striving Spirit, from thy youth
Has led thee to obey the Truth.
Through persecution’s trying hour,
Though death was near, thou stood’st unswerved
God manifested thee His power,
For nobler purposes preserved–
Thou dost, far from thy native land,
A heald in His cause, now stand.
The faith and zeal of sanguine youth,
T’ ensure its fervent hope and vow,
Thou dost display to spread the Truth,
Though age is seated on thy brow:
And dost fulfil what Prophet said
In earlier years upon thy head.
Long mayst thou, then, a father move
Among the Saints within thy charge,
God’s dealings in thy writings prove
A blessing to the world at large,
And may that light in thee begun
Darkness dispel like morning sun.
Newbury, Berks, July 28, 1853.
Printed by R. James, 39, South Castle Street, Liverpool.
End of Chapter IV
End of Pamphlet