, Letter, , Lake Co., OH, to [?], intended for JS, [, Hancock Co., IL], 28 Aug. 1840. Featured version copied [probably ca. late Aug. 1840] in JS Letterbook 2, pp. 174–176; handwriting of ; JS Collection, CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for JS Letterbook 2.
On 28 August 1840, , a member of the in , Ohio, addressed a letter to an unidentified individual and asked the recipient to share the letter with JS. Burdick was likely writing to , a member of the church’s . Smith, with whom Burdick had recently corresponded, had served as the point of contact for the church in , Illinois, in late 1839 and early 1840 when JS was in . Burdick requested that this 28 August letter be shown to JS so that it could be answered according to the Lord’s “mind and will.”
expressed concern about the actions of , a church member who had passed through and had taught in public and in private what Burdick considered strange doctrine. In 1837 Dunham received a blessing that he was “to do a great work a mongst the ” and that he would “preach to the Lamonites, to the Indians.” After proselytizing in in late 1839 and early 1840, Dunham traveled to . He stayed there for just a few days and then set out for Indian Territory west of , spending several days there in May and June 1840 before traveling to the eastern , where he hoped to proselytize among Native Americans in . Although there is no record of Dunham receiving a specific assignment to preach to American Indian groups, JS may have authorized him to undertake this mission as part of a larger effort to proselytize among Native Americans. In May 1840, Phebe Carter Woodruff wrote her husband, , that “an Indian and his wife and daughter”—likely and Mary Dana and their daughter—had been in . The man had declared that he was an interpreter for six tribes, all of which “will receive the work.” She added that and had “gone out among the Indians on a mission,” which considered to be “the first commencement of the work among the Lamanites.” Dunham apparently left Nauvoo for Indian Territory with Dana just a few days after Phebe Woodruff wrote her letter.
When —who referred to himself as a “Lamanite”—reached , he worked to recruit missionaries to accompany him to . Although other religious groups in the also tried to convert Indians to Christianity through preaching, some of what Latter-day Saints believed about Indians troubled non-Mormons and raised concerns about church members’ contact with Native Americans. According to passages in the Book of Mormon, Lamanites—believed by the Saints to be the ancestors of Native Americans—would join with European-American converts to build the , or city of , on the American continent. Church members also interpreted passages in the Book of Mormon to mean that Indian groups would wreak vengeance on the inhabitants of the United States if they rejected the Book of Mormon. Accordingly, allegations that the Saints were conspiring with Indians to attack non-Mormons dogged the church. JS and other church leaders issued a statement in 1838 declaring that they had not “had any communication with the Indians on any subject,” but fears of a Mormon-Indian alliance persisted and were apparently troubling to individuals who heard about Dunham’s plans to preach to Indian groups.
While in , also preached on topics that JS had expounded upon in but that had apparently not yet been discussed in Kirtland. requested in his letter more information from church leaders about who Dunham was and whether he was authorized to speak publicly about the teachings in question. No response from JS or other church leaders has been located, but JS evidently received the letter, the original of which is not extant, because , one of JS’s clerks, copied it into JS Letterbook 2.
Phebe Carter Woodruff, Montrose, Iowa Territory, to Wilford Woodruff, Burslem, England, 9 May 1840, digital scan, Wilford Woodruff, Collection, CHL; Woodruff, Journal, 13 July 1840; see also Hartley, My Best for the Kingdom, 98–99.
Woodruff, Wilford. Collection, 1831–1905. CHL. MS 19509.
Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.
Hartley, William G. My Best for the Kingdom: History and Autobiography of John Lowe Butler, a Mormon Frontiersman. Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1993.
Pratt, Parley P. Mormonism Unveiled: Zion’s Watchman Unmasked, and its Editor, Mr. L. R. Sunderland, Exposed: Truth Vindicated: The Devil Mad, and Priestcraft in Danger! New York: O. Pratt & E. Fordham, 1838.
Pratt, Parley P. A Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People, Containing a Declaration of the Faith and Doctrine of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Commonly Called Mormons. New York: W. Sanford, 1837.
is a place of safety preparing for them away towards the Rockey mountains they may have a long and crooked Road to go to get there” and says but few will be preserved to arrive there, he suggests that twelve may be built up & again thrown down—that the ten tribes are somewhere on a Planet taken from this Plannet which when it comes back will cause this earth to reel to and fro like two Boats meeting— that Adam had 15 or 16 sons before Cain &c. We acknowledge that men of God ought to have enough of this his spirit to enable them to understand all things as they come along; but such teachings are not all understood in this place, they are calculated to make excitement & what the consequences may be I am not able to say. We are not only willing but greatly desire to receive all necessary instructions and information in the order and own due time of the Lord, and whatever and whatever the consequences may be to try to bear up under them as well as we can.
was somewhat indulged in this place & although we were not fully satisfied as to the propriety and truth of all his teachings, yet, we did not take up against him for fear of doing wrong: but since he went away being left rather in the dark with regard to his authority, reflecting on the nature of his mission, & looking at all his proceedings and teachings, I for one cannot help but doubt more and more his being authorized & sent to teach all these things in this place at this time, therefore of my own accord I have written this letter for information: I have directed it to you expecting that, probably Joseph might not be at home, I want the letter put into his hands to be examined and answered according to the mind and will of the Lord. If he is not at home I want it submitted to the and as many of the as are at home that we may receive true information and instruction or none as the Lord will. will probably be back through here in Oct. [p. 175]
Church members apparently regarded the Rocky Mountains as a place of possible gathering as early as 1831. Richard W. Cummins, the government agent in Indian Territory, informed superintendent of Indian affairs William Clark that Mormon missionaries preaching to Native Americans in Indian Territory had told him that if they were not allowed to proselytize there, they would “go to the Rocky Mountains” to “be with the Indians.” Similarly, church members Thomas B. Marsh and Elizabeth Godkin Marsh informed Thomas’s sister and brother-in-law in 1831 that they did not know where God would tell them to settle next: “Perhaps it will be to take our march to the Grand preraras [prairies] in the Missouri teretori [territory] or to the shining mountains which is 1500 or 2000 miles west frrom us.” (Richard W. Cummins, Delaware and Shawnee Agency, to William Clark, [St. Louis, MO], 15 Feb. 1831, U.S. Office of Indian Affairs, Central Superintendency, Records, vol. 6, p. 114; Thomas B. Marsh and Elizabeth Godkin Marsh to Lewis Abbott and Ann Marsh Abbott, [ca. 11 Apr. 1831], Abbott Family Collection, CHL.)
U.S. Office of Indian Affairs, Central Superintendency. Records, 1807–1855. Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Also available at kansasmemory.org.
Abbott Family Collection, 1831–2000. CHL. MS 23457.
Dunham may have been referring to teachings JS delivered in July 1840 in Nauvoo. Explaining a parable from an 1833 revelation, JS declared, “The redemption of Zion is the redemption of all N & S America and those 12 stake[s] must be built up before the redemption of Zion can take place.” JS added that “the seed of these 12 Olive trees” would be “scattered abroad.” (Discourse, ca. 19 July 1840.)
According to Phebe Carter Woodruff, JS had similarly instructed the Saints in Nauvoo in summer 1840. In a letter to her husband, Wilford Woodruff, Phebe stated that JS had “been advanceing new things to the church and publick of late says that this earth was the largest panat [planet] that ever was made and that there has been parts taken from it several times and at the time the 10 tribes were lost there was a part taken from it and that they would all come back and be joined to it again and that would be the realing to & fro like a drunken man &c &c.” (Phebe Carter Woodruff, Montrose, Iowa Territory, to Wilford Woodruff, Liverpool, England, 2 July 1840, digital scan, Wilford Woodruff, Collection, CHL; see also Walker, Diary, 10 Mar. 1881, in Larson and Larson, Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, 540; and “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, 1 June 1892, 344.)
Woodruff, Wilford. Collection, 1831–1905. Digital scans. CHL. Originals in private possession.
Larson, A. Karl, and Katharine Miles Larson, eds. Diary of Charles Lowell Walker. Vol. 2. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1980.
Noble, Joseph B. “Early Scenes in Church History.” Juvenile Instructor, 15 May 1880, 112.
Dunham had previously acted without official sanction. In 1839 he was rebuked for calling an unauthorized conference in Springfield, Illinois, and for transacting church business there. (“Extracts of the Minutes of Conferences,” Times and Seasons, Nov. 1839, 1:15.)
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.