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PIONEERING FOR THE GOSPEL IN THE WEST
The conference of 1866 had appointed Alexander H. Smith to take charge of the California mission, with power to choose his associates. He chose William Anderson and William H. Kelley, but for some reason William H. Kelley did not go. Leaving Nauvoo on foot on the twentieth of May, 1866 for this mission, Alexander Smith bade farewell to his family and started westward with exactly a quarter of a dollar in his pocket. The Mississippi rolled almost in front of his door. He knew very well that it would cost him twenty-five cents to cross that river, therefore he had compromised with the scriptural provision by retaining just twenty-five cents for boat fare, but as he walked along the street he began to think about it and decided that his faith was small and that he must at least start in the right way. He went back to the old Mansion House and gave the quarter to his wife and went on his way with a lighter heart. On the way down the street he met an acquaintance, and when Alexander told him he was going to California, the friend immediately offered to ferry him across the river, as he had a skiff!
James W. Gillen accompanied the two missionaries as far as Utah, and Charles Derry went with them to Columbus, Nebraska, where all four preached for awhile. The Bishop had done his best, but when Henry J. Hudson of Columbus saw the outfit and the team, he said in his characteristic way to Alexander, "What! Are you going to cross the plains with those rats?" There were fifteen members of the church in Columbus, and among them they raised sixty dollars and purchased a strong team of mules. Then, finding the two missionaries still short of comforts, two buffalo robes at a cost of twenty dollars each, and many other supplies were added to the outfit, until they had spent a hundred and twenty dollars. And those fifteen Saints were not rich except in faith and kindness of heart!
When all was ready, Brothers Derry, Hudson, and Galley crossed with the missionaries to the west side of the Loup Fork, where all knelt on the bank of the stream and with earnest hearts and tearful eyes dedicated the three missionaries to the keeping of their Heavenly Father, gave them a hand in parting, and watched the missionaries disappear towards the setting sun.
Soon after, forty wagons of Saints, converts from Utah, returning to the States, came up in fine spirits and full of faith, reporting an excellent trip with the loss of only two mules and one ox! A fine record for an emigration train.
Gillen remained in Utah, but the two others, after preaching awhile and greeting old friends, particularly Doctor John Bernhisel, continued on their way west. While in Salt Lake City, Alexander spoke in Independence Hall, September, 1866. It always had been difficult to get a place to speak in Utah, but Mark Forscutt, another veteran of the Morrisite massacre, hired the hall that night at a cost of five dollars, paid from his own pocket. On Wednesday night Alexander spoke again by invitation in Fox's Gardens. For over a year the missionaries were away on this mission and met with their usual success. A call for missionary help had come also from Oregon, to meet which, in time, Joseph C. Clapp was sent.
Many years before, on their memorable mission to Kentucky, Wilford Woodruff and David Patten had converted a young man by the name of Benjamin Clapp, and his wife Mary. Wilford Woodruff baptized young Clapp, and Patten ordained him at the time or soon after. Clapp was a prominent pioneer missionary in the days of the Martyr, and was the man who "opened" many a southern mission field. The young couple went to Missouri and here on August 24, 1837, was born a son, who was blessed and named by the Prophet at Far west. In that blessing, the child received the name Joseph Carlos (after Joseph Smith and his brother Don Carlos) and the promise that he would "bear the gospel banner and even upon the islands of the sea lift up the standard of truth."
As the years passed, and the scenes of Far West, Nauvoo, Winter Quarters, and Salt Lake City came and went, something happened to young Joseph Carlos. He became the bold independent frontiersman of the day, but in place of his once loved religious faith, he saw a sinister, creeping thing that sought his life. He left Utah, then ventured back at peril of his life, and rescued his mother and sisters and took them to California. Had his hand not been so quick on the trigger he would never have lived to open the mission in the Northwest for the Reorganization. Not once, but many times his life was saved from assassins by a seeming miracle. No one but his mother remembered the prophecy back in Far West, and least of all did Joseph Clapp himself like to think of it; for, he says when at length he heard of the Reorganized Church, "Before I united with the Reorganization, I had concluded that all that was good in 'Mormonism' was slain and buried with the Prophet, but not so now, for light and truth shone out in every sermon, and was manifest in every prayer, and seemed to be the inspiration of every hymn....I wished for the pinions of an eagle, that I might fly to every hamlet and tell of the rich treasures that I had found." And so Joseph Clapp received the gospel anew, and while the hands of the elders were still upon his head in confirmation, he was ordained to the office of an elder.
The ordination, baptism, and confirmation took place at a conference in California. That night the newly made elder returned heartsick to his abiding place. Doubts assailed him. True, his mother had often told him of the promise made by the Martyr. "You will yet preach this gospel," she affirmed stoutly, even in the days of his wild youth. "There is not enough power in earth or in hell to prevent it, for the voice of the Lord was that you should lift up the standard of truth upon the islands of the sea," and the words of the elders when they ordained him were almost exactly the same that he had heard from his mother so often; on the other hand, it seemed he had not a single qualification for an elder. "I had never written a line in school; I had never done an example in mathematics, I had never had a lesson in English grammar, and could not parse a sentence; and then I imagined myself standing before the people to preach." And yet he said, "I wanted to get into the fight, and I wanted to get into the very worst of it, so that I might show a little valor and love for the Master who had shown so much for me." In this mood he retired to a little closet, where his bed had been made on the floor (because of the press of conference guests), but he could not sleep for the thoughts that assailed him. Lighting the candle that sat on the floor at the head of his bed, he drew his Doctrine and Covenants out from under his pillow and read, although it was very late. The words seemed like a personal revelation; dropping to sleep he had an experience that he never forgot, convincing him of his call. And although doubts often assailed him, doubts that had only to do with his own unworthiness, he yet lived to fulfill the prophecy made when he was blessed as a babe, a humble, consecrated man of God.
When chosen for the Oregon mission, he had but a few years of experience in California, traveling with older men, but he was the type of pioneer who knew the West and could "rough it" with the best of them. He understood the various Indian dialects well enough to converse with them; he knew their habits and customs well enciugh to live with them and earn their respect; he was a skilled horseman, "could ride anything that could stand up"; and if there was any one thing he could do better than another it was to drive a "line team," four or six horses, in an immigrant or baggage train. A poor equipment for a preacher? If the introduction of the gospel into Oregon had waited for a more refined and cultured set of qualifications, it might have waited for years, and literally hundreds of Saints would have died without hearing the glad news! Missionaries of that time went without purse or scrip, and to tell the truth, if they had not gone that way, they would not have gone at all, for there was no money to send them. Young Joseph Clapp started off on foot. An old man, Hervey Greene, a veteran missionary of the days of the Martyr, went a little way with him, and when he was about to turn back, they withdrew into a small clump of willows and had prayer. Never did Joseph Clapp forget that Godspeed on his missionary life. That eloquent prayer "rang in his ears" even down to old age; that patient old face with the tears coursing down it as he gave his parting blessing stood between him and temptation and discouragement many times.
In Oregon, that fall, he picked apples, he pitched hay, he walked for miles in the wet and the rain, but in the spring he was able to report thirty-one baptisms, ordination of three elders, the organization of the Sweet Home Branch, and other church work. Once when he wished to get to a certain place, he joined an immigration train and drove a line team (as he often had in crossing the western plains). Every night on the way, a big fire was built, and the preacher-teamster told the story of the gospel, while the entire company gathered around the crackling pine flames to listen. By the time the train arrived at its destination "quite a number were converted," so he baptized several, organized a branch, helped them all stake out their claims and went his way. One night, riding an unbroken young horse, through the winter rain from one place to another, he felt the need of rest and shelter, more for the horse than for himself, he said, but he was turned down at every door, although he was in a settlement of religious people. Night was lowering; he knew not what to do. Then out of the past, his father's missionary experiences rose to mind. How often he had heard that father say, that although often turned away from a Christian's door, he had never failed to be made welcome at an infidel's. An idea presented itself, and he acted upon it promptly. At the very next place, he dismounted and asked politely if they knew where any infidels lived. The lady who answered the call was a little surprised, but answered, there was one, only one, in the neighborhood--an old infidel by the name of Cogswell living about six miles away on the Mohawk River. Clapp thanked his informant, left her staring in astonishment while he made off in the direction indicated.
Surely enough, here he found welcome, intelligent conversation, an urgent invitation to stay several days and preach, money and a ferry ticket for the morrow, and a lunch when he started on his way!
One astounding experience that almost precludes the notion of coincidence is typical. A dilemma presented itself to the young missionary while going through the small town of Lebanon. His clothing was dilapidated; he had urgent need of a pair of trousers; his were wom out. He was possessed of only $3.50 and that was Herald subscription money. Well, he would have to spend it, and repay it later. He would get a pair of cheap cotton trousers, and go home! When he got there, if he ever did, he would stay! There were three stores in town; but only one pair of trousers that Brother Clapp could wear--a fine black pair at $8.
He wandered out in the street, and for lack of anything else to do he went into the post office and inquired for a letter. He did not know why he did so. He never had received mail at Lebanon, Oregon; he never expected to, but there was a letter--a letter from a stranger in southern Oregon, by the name of Buell, and in the letter was a five dollar greenback! A year later, by arduous journey, he reached the part of the country from whence the letter came and paid the man Buell a visit, and learned the sequel.
Mr. Buell was an old Latter Day Saint. He had gone north to Strang, been ordained an apostle; and later, disappointed, left for the West in disgust and sought to forget it all. He was succeeding fairly well; was an ardent member of the Methodist Church; a "class leader." No one suspected his past life, and he was glad of that. But one day he opened his Methodist paper to read a letter from a fellow Methodist preacher in northern Oregon. The letter said that the writer had met a young "ignoramus" by the name of Joseph Clapp who told them "the gospel had been lost to the world; that it had been restored by angels, and with it came the gifts of the gospel as in former days"--the last seen, went on the writer, "this young ignoramus (using the expression again) was making his way towards Lebanon." As he read, the embers of a fire Brother Buell had long thought smouldered and gone out, flared again. He wrote a letter, and addressed it to Lebanon, asking where he could get some literature. When his boy was already started with the letter, he called him back, and impelled by some mysterious impulse inserted therein a five-dollar bill, sealed it again and sent it on its way. Brother Buell was soon a member and an elder in the Reorganization. Thus the gospel story was first told in the northwest attended by suffering, sacrifice, and mysterious evidences of providential blessing--to an extent almost incredible to the church of today.
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