Mormon History

Ezra Booth Letters #8 & 9 - 1831

The Ohio Star - December 8, 1831

MORMONISM -- Nos. VIII -- IX.     

                    Nelson, Portage Co. Nov. 29, 1831.


The origin of the aborigines of this country, and their history before the introduction of eastern literature into the western hemisphere, has afforded a subject for much speculation, and deep research among the learned; and has occasioned considerable curiosity among various classes of people. But the subject still remains in impenetrable obscurity; and will so remain, unless He who has the power to speak. "let there be light," "and light shall break forth out of obscurity." But as this is a subject better calculated to gratify the speculative inquirer, than to purify the heart, by rectifying wrong principles in the mind, or to increase that kind of knowledge intimately connected with, and essential to practical improvements, either in civil or religious society, we may reasonably doubt, whether the Great Jehovah will soon, if ever, condescend to clear away the darkness, by giving a revelation, merely to gratify the desires of persons, who delight to wander in the region of conjecture and speculation. But he has already done it, cries the Mormonite Herald. The Book of Mormon which I hold in my hands, is a Divine Revelation, and the very thing we need, to burst the cloud and remove the darkness, which has long surrounded the mysterious and degraded aborigines. We now know that the Natives who inhabit the forests of America, are a "branch of the House of Israel;" and by the means of this blessed book, they are soon, even in this generation, to be restored to the knowledge, and the true worship of the God of Israel. -- Among them is to be built, the "glorious City of the New-Jerusalem," in the midst of which is to stand, the splendid and magnificent Temple, dedicated to the Most High God, and "Oliver being called and commanded of the Lord God, to go forth among the Lamanites, to proclaim glad tidings of great joy unto them, by presenting unto them, the fulness of the Gospel of the only begotten son of God," &c. The grand enterprise of introducing this new dispensation, or the fulness of the Gospel, among the Indian tribes, who have recently received the appellation of Lamanites, was committed in charge to Oliver Cowdery, a young man of high fame among the Mormonites. -- His credentials, and the credentials of the three others associated with him in the mission, will be found in the following revelations, which I transcribe for your perusal, and also for some future remarks, which I design to offer.


Behold, I say unto you Oliver, that it shall be given thee, that thou shalt be heard by the Church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given. But verily, verily I say unto you, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in the Church, excepting my servant Joseph, for he receiveth them even as Moses, and thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the Church. And if thou art led at any time by the comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the Church, thou may'st do it; but shalt not write by the way of commandment, but by wisdom: and thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the Church; for I have given him the keys of the mysteries of the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto him another in his stead. -- And now behold I say unto you, that thou shalt go unto the Lamanites, and preach my Gospel unto them, and cause my Church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment. And now I say unto you, that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the City shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you, that it shall be among the Lamanites. Thou shalt not leave this place until after the Conference, and my servant Joseph shall be appointed to rule the Conference, by the voice of it: and what he saith unto thee that thou shalt tell. And again, thou shalt take thy brother Hiram between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me, and that Satan hath deceived him, for these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall any thing be appointed to any in this Church, contrary to the Church Covenant, for all things must be done in order, and by commandment, by the prayer of faith, and thou shalt settle all, these things, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites; and it shall be given from to time, to thee, that thou shalt go, until the time that thou shalt return, what thou shalt do; and thou must open thy mouth at all times, declaring my Gospel with the sound of rejoicing. -- Amen.
[bold emphasis added -- bold type not in original]


                                                                  MANCHESTER, Oct. 17, 1830.
I, Oliver, being commanded of the Lord God, to go forth unto the Lamanites, to proclaim glad tidings of great joy unto them, by presenting unto them the fulness of the Gospel, of the only begotten son of God; and also, to rear up a pillar as a witness where the Temple of God shall be built, in the glorious New-Jerusalem; and having certain brothers with me, who are called of God to assist me, whose names are Parley, Peter and Ziba, do therefore most solemnly covenant before God, that I will walk humbly before him, and do this business, and this glorious work according as he shall direct me by the Holy Ghost; ever praying for mine and their prosperity, and deliverance from bonds, and from imprisonments, and whatsoever may befal us, with all patience and faith. -- Amen.
                                                                  OLIVER COWDERY.

We, the undersigned, being called and commanded of the Lord God, to accompany our Brother Oliver Cowdery, to go to the Lamanites, and to assist in the above mentioned glorious work and business. We do, therefore, most solemnly covenant before God, that we will assist him faithfully in this thing, by giving heed unto all his words and advice, which is [sic], or shall be given him by the spirit of truth, ever praying with all prayer and supplication, for our and his prosperity, and our deliverance from bonds, and imprisonments, and whatsoever may come upon us, with all patience and faith. -- Amen.

Signed in presence of


In the preceding revelation, the principal thing which claims your attention, is the mission to the Indians; for with that mission many circumstances are connected, which clearly evince, that it originated from human imbecility, and diabolical depravity. -- There are also some other things, the meaning of which, you will not be likely to apprehend, without some explanation. In this, as well as several of the commandments, it is clearly and explicitly stated, that the right of delivering written commandments, and revelations, belong exclusively to Smith, and no other person can interfere, without being guilty of sacrilege. In this office he is to stand, until another is appointed in his place, and no other person can be appointed in his stead, unless he falls through transgression; and in such a case, he himself is authorized to appoint his successor. But how is he to be detected, should he become guilty of transgression. The commandment makes provision for this. His guilt will become manifest by his inability to utter any more revelations, and should he presume "to get another man's wife," and commit adultery; and "by the shedding of blood, seek to kill her husband," if he retains the use of his tongue, so as to be able to utter his jargon, he can continue as long as he pleases in the bed of adultery, and wrap himself with garments stained with blood, shed by his own hands, and still retain the spotless innocence of the holiest among mortals; and must be continued in the office of revelator, and head of the Church. Some others, and especially Cowdery, have earnestly desired to relieve Smith of some part of his burden. Cowdery's desires for this work were so keen and excessive, as, to use his own language, it "was unto me a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could forbear no longer;" and he did in fact, issue some productions, which he said bore the Divine impress; but Smith fixed upon them the stamp of devilish. But it seems, in order to compromise the matter, that Cowdery was permitted to "speak or to teach, at all times, by way of commandment unto the Church: but not to write them by way of commandment;" thus Cowdery is authorized to give verbal commandments to the Church by the inspiration of the spirit, which, if he afterwards writes, ceases to be inspiration; therefore, a commandment delivered orally, may be divinely inspired; but the same communicated, written verbatim, so far loses its former character, that it degenerates into a production of an infernal stamp. Here is a mystery, for aught I know, peculiar to Mormonism; and none but Mormonites, I presume, will attempt to unravel it. But it finds its parallel in the following. Smith assures his followers, that what he speaks by the spirit, and is written, is infallible in operation, but if it is not written, he may sometimes be mistaken. -- He tells them, that the right to deliver written revelations, belongs exclusively to himself, and no other person shall interfere in the business; and if he transgresses, he will graciously condescend to appoint another in his stead, and the only proof produced for the support of such assertions, is barely his word upon which they implicitly rely, and become entirely resigned to place their person and property under his control, and even to risk the salvation of their souls upon his say-so. Such glaring duplicity on the one hand, and unaccountable credulity on the other, seldom have a parallel in the annals of man.

Never was there a despot more jealous of his prerogatives than Smith; and never was a fortress guarded with more vigilance and ardor, against every invading foe, than he guards these. Smith apprehended a revival in the department of written inspiration, from another quarter, and hence Cowdery was commissioned to commence an attack, and suppress the enemy, before he had acquired sufficient stability and strength, so as to become formidable. "Thou shalt take thy brother Hiram between him and thee alone, and tell him the things he hath written from that stone," &c. Hiram Page, one of the eight witnesses, and also one of the "money diggers," found a smooth stone, upon which there appeared to be a writing, which when transcribed upon paper, disappeared from the stone, and another impression appeared in its place. This when copied, vanished as the former had done, and so it continued alternately appearing and disappearing; in the meanwhile, he continued to write, until he had written over considerable paper. It bore striking marks of a Mormonite revelation, and was received as an authentic document by most of the Mormonites, till Smith, by his superior sagacity, discovered it to be a Satanic fraud.

A female, professing to be a prophetess, made her appearance in Kirtland, and so ingratiated herself into the esteem and favor of some of the Elders, that they received her, as a person commissioned to act a conspicuous part in Mormonizing the world. Rigdon, and some others, gave her the right hand of fellowship, and literally saluted her with what they called the kiss of charity. But Smith viewing her as encroaching upon his sacred premises, declared her an impostor, and she returned to the place from whence she came. Her visit, however, made a deep impression on the minds of many, and the barbed arrow which she left in the hearts of some, is not yet eradicated.   Yours affectionately,

REV. I. EDDY.                         EZRA BOOTH.

                       Nelson, Portage Co. Dec. 6, 1831.


In this letter the mission to the Indians will be brought into view, and with it, are connected circumstances and facts, sufficient, one would suppose, to convince every honest and unprejudiced Mormonite, of the fallacy and deception of Mormonism. But a Mormonite of the highest grade, is invulnerable by facts the most notorious, and evidence as glaring as the noon-day sun; for they affirm, they know by the spirit that Mormonism is what it pretends to be; and should Smith acknowledge it to be a fabrication, they would not believe him. This forms the highest climax in Mormonism, and but few have attained to it. After Cowdery, and his three associates had left the state of N. Y. while bending their course to the west, he was directed by the spirit to Kirtland, for the special purpose of enlisting Rigdon in the Mormonite cause. I have since learned, that the spirit which directed in this enterprize, was no other than Pratt, who had previously become acquainted with Rigdon, and had been proselyted by him into what is called the Campbellite faith. This new system appears to have been particularly suited to Rigdon's taste, and calculated to make an impression on his mind. But before he could fully embrace it, he must "receive a testimony from God." In order to [receive] this, he labored as he was directed by his Preceptor, almost incessantly and earnestly in praying, till at length, his mind was wrapped up in a vision; and to use his own language, "to my astonishment I saw the different orders of professing Christians passing before my eyes, with their hearts exposed to view, and they were as corrupt as corruption itself. That society to which I belonged also passed before my eyes, and to my astonishment, it was as corrupt as the others. Last of all that little man who brought me the Book of Mormon, passed before my eyes with his heart open, and it was as pure as an angel: and this was a testimony from God, that the Book of Mormon was a Divine Revelation." Rigdon is one who has ascended to the summit of Mormonism; and his vision stands as the foundation of his knowledge. He frequently affirms, that these things are not a matter of faith with him, but of absolute knowledge. He has been favored with many extraordinary visions, in some of which he saw Kirtland with the surrounding country, consecrated as the promised land, and the Churches in the state of N. Y. expected to receive their everlasting inheritance in the state of Ohio, and this expectation was grounded upon Rigdon's visions, while he was in the state of N. Y. These visions are considered by the Church as entitled to no credit, and laid aside as mere rubbish.

As it relates to the purity of the heart of "that little man," if a pure and pleasant fountain can send forth corrupt and bitter streams, then may the heart of that man be pure, who enters into a matrimonial contract with a young lady, and obtains the consent of her parents; but as soon as his back is turned upon her, he violates his engagements, and prostitutes his honor by becoming the gallant of another, and resolves in his heart, and expresses resolutions to marry her. But as the practice of a man will ever stand as a general criterion by which the principles of the heart are to be tested, we say, that the heart of such a man is the reverse of purity.

From Kirtland, Cowdery & Co. were directed by the spirit to Sandusky, where they contemplated opening their mission, and proselyting the Indians residing at that place. But neither Cowdery, nor the spirit which directed him, was able to open the way to, or make any impressions upon their minds. Being frustrated in this, his first attempt to convert the Natives, he turned his attention and course to Missouri, and when near the eastern line of that state, he halted for several days, for the purpose of obtaining, by inquiry, information respecting the Indians, still further to the West. It appears that he was fearful that his infallible guide, (the spirit,) was incapable to direct him, while proceeding further to the west; consequently, he applied to men more capable of giving instruction than the spirit, by which he was influenced. When he arrived at the western line of Missouri, he passed it into the Indian territory, where he continued but a short time, before he was notified by the U. S. agent, that he must either repass the line, or be compelled to take his residence in the garrison, forty miles up the Arkansas river. As there was no other alternative, the former seemed to him the most expedient; and he never possessed courage sufficient to pass the line, or visit the residence of the Indians since. Thus you behold a man, "called and commanded of the Lord God, to go forth unto the Lamanites," and establish his Church among them; but no sooner is he set down in the field of his mission, and surrounded by his anticipated converts, than he is driven by a comparative nothing, from the field, and obliged to relinquish his contemplated harvest. -- This is the person commissioned by the Lord to prostrate the western wilds, and as he himself stated, "to the place where the foot of a white man never trod," to rear up a pillar for a witness, where the Temple of God shall be built in the glorious "New-Jerusalem." But alas! he was arrested by man in his course, and by the breath of man the mighty undertaking was blown into the air, and Cowdery was thrown back among the Gentiles, to wait for the spirit to devise some new plans in the place of those which had been frustrated. But as a City and a Temple must be built, as every avenue leading to the Indians was closed against the Mormonites, it was thought that they should be built among the Gentiles, which is in direct opposition to the original plan -- as foreign from the design of the spirit, expressed in several commandments, as it would have been, had the Directors, who were appointed to build the Court-house in Ravenna, built it in Trumbull county, foreign from the design of those who entrusted them with the business.

Though their plans had hitherto failed, they were unwilling to abandon the Indian enterprize; and in a commandment it was stated, that Cowdery and others should receive a written recommendation, signed by the Elders, for the purpose of presenting it to the Indian agent, in order to obtain permission from him, to visit the Indians in their settlements. The recommendation was written according to commandment, and frequent opportunities occurred in which it might have been presented to the agent, but it never was presented, and of course was useless, he was censured by some for not presenting it, but I suppose the spirit directed him not to do it.

Another method has been invented, in order to remove obstacles which hitherto had proved insurmountable. "The Lord's store-house," is to be furnished with goods suited to the Indian trade, and persons are to obtain license from the government to dispose of them to the Indians in their own territory; at the same time they are to disseminate the principles of Mormonism among them. From this smug[g]ling method of preaching to the Indians, they anticipate a favorable result. In addition to this, and to co-operate with it, it has been made known by revelation, that it will be pleasing to the Lord, should they form a matrimonial alliance with the Natives; and by this means the Elders, who comply with the thing so pleasing to the Lord, and for which the Lord has promised to bless those who do it abundantly, gain a residence in the Indian territory, independent of the agent. It has been made known to one, who has left his wife in the State of N. Y. that he is entirely free from his wife, and he is at liberty to take him a wife from among the Lamanites. It was easily perceived that this permission, was perfectly suited to his desires. I have frequently heard him state, that the Lord has made it known to him, that he is as free from his wife as from any other woman; and the only crime that I have ever heard alleged against her is, she is violently opposed to Mormonism. But before this contemplated marriage can be carried into effect, he must return to the State of N. Y. and settle his business, for fear, should he return, after that affair had taken place, the civil authority would apprehend him as a criminal.

It is with pleasure I close this exposition, having in part accomplished, what I intended when I commenced it. The employment has been an unpleasant one to me, and from the first, I should have gladly avoided it, could I have done it, and maintained a conscience void of offence, towards God and man. -- But should an individual by this exposition, be extricated or prevented from falling into the delusion, which has been the subject of consideration, I shall be amply compensated, for the painful task which I have performed.   Yours affectionately,

REV. I. EDDY.                         EZRA BOOTH.

Note 1: Booth comments at length concerning the "mission to the Lamanites," providing much detail not elsewhere available. Unfortunately he is able to supply little useful information regarding the journey the four missionaries took from Manchester, New York to Mentor, Ohio. If Booth heard the rumors then in circulation, saying that Sidney Rigdon played a secretive role in the founding of Mormonism, he chose not to repeat the allegations in his letters. His remarks do, however, raise the question of just how and when the Mormon "mission to the Lamanites" was first decided upon. Presumably, had the Book of Mormon come forth a few years earlier, such a mission might have been directed to the Seneca Indians who had once inhabited Grand Island, along with much of western New York. Failing that, the mission might have been directed to the southeastern "civilized" tribes whom President Jackson later moved west of the Missouri. Since it is unlikely that the final draft of the Book of Mormon was written with the attainment of President Jackson's 1829 "Indian Removal" proposal certain to the book's author(s), the reader may reasonably presume that the decision of Cowdery and Pratt, to journey all the way westward to the Missouri, came as a relatively late development in the Mormon expansion agenda. Perhaps their final scheme -- to build the "New Jerusalem" west of the Missouri River, "among the Lamanites" -- was not agreed upon by the leadership until after the Book of Mormon manuscripts had already been delivered to the printer. When it became evident that it was not be feasible for them to build their millennial city west of the Missouri, the Mormon leaders' back-up plan (as Booth relates) was to amend the "divine commandment" and to build it "on the borders of the Lamanites," at the western edge of Independence, Missouri.

Note 2: If the "missionaries to the Lamanites" really were still in Manchester, New York on Oct. 17th, then they must have traveled westward rather quickly after that. The four men reportedly arrived in Painesville, Ohio on or about Oct. 25, 1830. If they truly stopped along the way to try and convert English-speaking, Christianized Seneca Indians from Cattaraugus Reservation, (where the Presbyterians operated Thayer's Indian school), then their departure from Cattaraugus village must have been on or about the 21st of October. Probably the pedestrian missionaries could not have made it all the way from Manchester to Painesville, in only a week's time, unless they "hitched a ride" along the way. Parley P. Pratt relates that the company went to Buffalo after visiting with the Indians. This mention, along with one supplied in an 1830 Oliver Cowdery letter, indicates that the Mormons' encounter with the Seneca was on their lands west of Buffalo, where the Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation had been previously located, and where Rev. Harris operated a Presbyterian mission and school. Possibly the four Mormons took a lake steamer from Buffalo to the port of Erie. By the time John Corrill encountered the company, at Harpersfield, Ohio, the four must have been journeying afoot -- a mode of travel they evidently maintained until they reached Cincinnati and boarded a steamboat for Missouri.

Note 3: Ezra Booth provides the earliest published version of Section XXX of the Book of Commandments, which was re-worked from that book to provide the modified Section 51 version of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Whether or not Booth's transcript is a trustworthy rendering of the 1830 text cannot be determined at this late date. However his major differences (given in bold text above) with the Book of Commandments version do appear to form some interesting doctrinal patterns. The 1831 Booth version says that Joseph Smith has been given "the keys of the mysteries of the revelations which are sealed," while the 1833 BoC says he was given "the keys of the mysteries" and "the revelations which are sealed." This change appears to increase Smith's powers of seership or the degree of divine confidence entrusted to him. A portion of the "Nephite record" was reportedly sealed, to come forth at a later time. What other purportedly divine communications might have been "sealed," even to Smith's inner circle, during this period remains unknown -- but perhaps the tenets of plural marriage, the political kingdom of God, etc., are implied here. The Booth version of the text says that the promised New Jerusalem shall be "among the Lamanites," while the BoC says it will be "on the borders by the Lamanites." This change appears to absolve the Mormon leaders from converting the Indians west of the Missouri and establishing the "gathering of Israel" beyond the dominions of the corrupt Gentiles.

Note 4: The 1831 Ezra Booth text speaks of "the Church Covenant," while the 1833 BoC speaks of "church covenants," and adds the term "covenants of the church." The Booth transcript says that important activities among the church members will be done "by commandment," while the BoC says "by common consent." These textual alterations were perhaps intended to clarify the Mormon teaching that individual, situational "commandments" form the doctrinal basis for universal "covenants," which apply generally to all members and to diverse situations. The transformation implied here became explicit in the Mormon leadership's choice of the title "Doctrine and Covenants," rather than "Doctrine and Commandments," for their 1835 scriptural book. In this paradigm, Divinity commands; the prophet relays that message; and the people obey, thus establishing the covenant environment necessary for the building of the kingdom. There is also a hint here that truly divine instructions/covenants must be accepted by the entire body and do not become dogma merely upon the expostulations of a single, self-proclaimed oracle, like Hiram Page. Such a clarification in church doctrine helped solidify the administrative control of Joseph Smith, jr., while at the same time satisfying the participatory desires of less despotic-minded Mormon leaders, like Oliver Cowdery. The text published in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants implies additional prophetic forbearance for what H. Michael Marquardt calls the "failed mission to the Lamanites;" see pp. 85-6 of his 1999 book, The Joseph Smith Revelations, for more comments regarding that failure and the relevant textual changes.