Previous chapter Table of Contents Next chapter
THE SAINTS RETURN TO THE GOODLY LAND
Almost with the inception of the Reorganized Church came the desire and longing to go back to Jackson County, Missouri, "the goodly land" so loved by the church fathers; and slowly the Saints began to drift back. Nothing untoward happened; they found the old enmities born of political and social antagonisms of half a century ago were long since dead and almost forgotten.
Since the exodus of the Saints, the people of that community had been torn asunder by fratricidal strife. Border warfare waged in and about Independence, loved ones were killed, slaves freed, property scattered. Men of wealth found themselves penniless. Order Number Eleven1 had forced the southern families from their comfortable homes, taking only what little property they could carry with them. Those who returned found their homes desolate; many of the fine old plantation houses were burned. Even as, many years ago, the despised Mormon women, with their children clinging to their skirts, had done, so southern women with their children and the few possessions they could carry in their hands, stepped from their doorways to count by half dozens on the hills about them the fires that they knew were the homes of their neighbors. Most of the women were alone; their husbands were soldiers. The exodus south of these fugitives in obedience to Order Number Eleven marked the cruelest episode in local history since 1833. True, there were but few who had taken part in causing the Saints' exodus; however, there were some.
"I did not know much about many people," said one of these citizens on the witness stand in the Temple Lot Suit. "My conceptions were [those] of Missourians and other southern people. Yankees were not allowed to come into this country before the war by anyone who knew anything about it, nor these Mormon people either, and those people who were here and supposed to be abolitionists and northern people kept that matter a secret and did not tell many people about it."
He declared that "people entertained opinions and animosities and prejudices against these people, which under circumstances dissimilar from those which followed the war, would have rendered it impossible for these people to have come into this community and live in peace and safety. . . . I did not participate in any such feelings as that, and there were a great many people who did not. Still there were a great many people, who, if it had not been for the experiences they had passed through in the war, would not have permitted this people to return here. . . . Now, after the war . . . we were in a condition not to have too much to do with resistance and rebellion; we might have a great many opinions on one thing and another, but we were very chary about expressing them."2
Whether this rather frank appraisal of conditions, or the additional reason expressed, that "people were only too glad to find a man with any kind of a religion who believed in it and who lived up to it" was the underlying cause or not, those who returned to Independence found little of the old feeling against them and their religion.
In 1877 Joseph Smith visited Independence and found a few Saints there. He wrote of his visit to Independence in the Herald:
At Independence, we found a few Saints in charge of Brother George Pilgrim, the husband of a niece of Elder John E. Page, one of the early apostles of the latter-day work. We found a welcome at the house of Brethren J. W. Brackenbury and -------Beagle, Saints lately from Kansas, the former an old schoolmate, when the Saints were happy in Nauvoo, the beautiful city. On the morning following our arrival, Brother Brackenbury . . . showed us a portion of the city and its vicinity. Of course, as our stay was short, we saw but little and can only judge by what we saw. The city is handsomely situated and sits not like Rome on seven hills, but on hundreds of hills, surrounded by hundreds more. A constant succession of vale, hill, farm valley, villa, dell, grove, plain, meadow, spring, wood, reaches in every way from this Jerusalem of modern Israel. Wood, water, and stone are everywhere to be had and beauty of prospects lies in every direction. We slept one night in the city, walked over the Temple Lot, sang and prayed with earnest souls there, and left them anxious, waiting, and willing. . . .
We found Brethren Parker and Clow with their families from Canada, at Independence, together with some of the Hedrickite, Brighamite, Whitmerite, Framptonite, Morrisite, and Strangite brethren, all with the Josephites indulging a hope that the time for favoring Zion, the land of Zion, had fully come.3
That John W. Brackenbury should be one of the first to return was a strange coincidence, for this man, then a child, had been one of the miserable campers in the willows by the river in November 1833, and with his widowed mother and brothers and sisters had gone through all the troubles of the church from that time on. He was a son of Joseph Blanchett Brackenbury, one of the very earliest missionaries of the church, who had died in his mission field in New York, leaving his wife with this family of little ones. Undismayed, she had followed the fortunes of the church, taking up her little farm in Zion with the rest.
The return to Independence presents a different picture from that of the expulsion. It is true that when the first family returned in 1867, they were threatened in some quarters, but this did not represent the disposition of the community. That attitude is better shown by the fact that meetings were held in the courthouse in 1870 and afterwards. In 1873 a church, or branch, was organized in the courthouse and met there for a time. The minister in charge of the Baptist Church permitted the use of their font for baptism.
The return was very slow at first. By 1878, when the district was formed, there were only thirty-five members. A year later, though this number was only thirty-eight, they resolved to build a brick chapel on East Lexington, forty by sixty feet, which it was thought would do them for years. This building was sufficiently finished to be used by the first of February, 1881, so they removed from the hall in the Chrisman-Sawyer Bank Building. When this church was dedicated, July 1, 1884, the membership had increased to about three hundred and fifty, and by 1887 to four hundred and eighty, and the need for larger quarters was seen.
The usual question of location came up for discussion. Some wanted the new church to stand near the Brick Chapel on East Lexington, stating that the town would never grow to the west, but Joseph Luff favored a lot proffered by one of the Saints, Daniel Bowen, which stood directly north from the Temple Lot, and upon this piece of ground the final choice rested. Here was erected the,"Stone Church," which was dedicated April 6, 1888, and which still houses the central congregation of the church, although there are over thirty other churches in the Independence and Kansas City areas.
General Conference of the church was held in Independence, April 6 to 13, 1882, and also April 6 to 15, 1885. Both of these conferences appear to have been held at the opera house on the east side of the square where Bundschu's building now stands. April 6, 1888, the basement having been completed, the cornerstone of the Stone Church was laid, and the Conference assembled in the basement. Before the year was out the upper auditorium was ready for use.
At the Conference that year President Smith said:
The circumstances under which we are gathered are pleasant. The ground upon which we meet is historic, and it should be sacred to us. I am pleased to note that there has been a striking improvement among our people. . . . If we shall patiently wait and quietly move along we shall succeed without disruption. Only that which is honest and straight will be permitted to abide. I feel to congratulate the brethren upon the thought that the constant endeavor of the great majority who have been preaching has been to maintain righteousness and truth, both in word and in conduct. We can afford to be patient with those who differ from us, and more so with those who are of us.4
W. W. Blair of the First Presidency said:
To me the whole outlook of the work is very promising. What a contrast this day is with our situation in 1856 to 1860, so great that we can hardly imagine the change. Then our number was few indeed, and there were foes everywhere. The only source we could look to for aid was above. Old Saints said that the efforts of the Reorganized Church would be a failure, and, indeed, it had to face all the factions and their antagonism. But we were conscious that we were in the right and that all would work out well, for we looked above and trusted in God. The inspiration of the Spirit was with us, and we were comforted by the testimony that the standard should not be permitted to fall, for God, had lifted it up and it should triumph gloriously. Now the work stands higher than it ever did before, though we are largely misunderstood by the world and a good deal misrepresented. Still there are many who begin to think that there is some truth with us.5
Many Saints had moved into Independence, including the family of Alexander H. Smith. Frederick G. Pitt was pastor of the congregation.
The headquarters of the church were still at Lamoni, but the number of Latter Day Saints in Independence increased slowly as the years passed. Church activity was continued much as usual. It was a period of intense missionary activity.
1 Order No. 11, page 212.
2 John T. Crisp in Temple Lot Suit.
3 Saints' Herald, Volume 24, page 264.
4 Church History, Volume 4, pages 588, 589.
5 Church History, Volume 4, page 589.
Previous chapter Table of Contents Next chapter