Mormon History

Oliver Cowdery Apostasy - 1878

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune October 5, 1878


A Letter by Oliver Cowdery on Polygamy.

Oliver Cowdery, one of the early leaders of the Mormon church, apostatized in 1838, and settled in the practice of law in Tiffin, Ohio. He had had the dream of a perfect church, but the conduct of Smith as early as 1836 staggered the faith of Cowdery. Smith had sent him to New York, where he purchased for the church a large stock of goods on time, giving his note. When these goods reached the Mormon community the high priesthood reveled in fine things. Cowdery remonstrated with the prophet, who [scouted] the idea of ever paying for them, and openly declared the servants of God so much ahead of the Gentiles. The goods were never paid for, but Cowdery had to stand the odium of obtaining them under false pretences. This fact coupled with a knowledge of the circumstances under which Smith ruined an adopted daughter only fifteen years old, caused Cowdery to leave the church. His two sisters, Lucy and Phoebe, being married to Phineas H. Young, Brigham's brother, and Daniels Jackson, respectively, remained with the Mormons. Shortly prior to Smith's death the Mormons began to be charged with the practice of polygamy, which was denied by the elders through the press and from the pulpit. These rumors reached Cowdery, and he wrote his sister Lucy inquiring as to the truth of the reports. Young would not allow his wife to answer the letter, but Cowdery's other sister, Mrs. Jackson, wrote her brother giving full reports of the whole dirty system, and stating that the Church was about to emigrate in a body to California. In after years Brigham Young used to charge Cowdery with having first practiced polygamy in the Church, and that the Saints may see Brigham was an old vilifer, we produce Cowdery's letter.

Tiffin, Seneca County, Ohio,          
July 24, 1846.          

             Brother Daniel and Sister Phoebe
Phoebe's letter mailed at Montrose on the 2nd of this month was received in due time, and would have been replied to immediately, but it came in the midst of the toil and business of court, which has just closed; and I take the earliest moment to answer. It is needless to say that we had long looked for and long expected a letter from you or Sister Lucy.

Now, brother Daniel and Sister Phoebe, what will you do? Has Sister Phoebe written us the truth? and if so, will you venture with your little ones into the toil and fatigues of a long journey and that for the sake of finding a resting place when you know of miseries of such magnitude as have, as will and as must rend asunder the tenderest and holiest ties of domestic life? I can hardly think it possible, that you have written us the truth, that though there may be individuals who are guilty of the iniquities spoken of -- yet no such practice can be preached or adhered to, as a public doctrine. Such may do for the followers of Mahomet; it may have done some thousands of years ago; but no people, professing to be governed by the pure and holy principles of the Lord Jesus, can hold up their heads before the world at this distance of time, and be guilty of such folly, such wrong, such abomination. It will blast, like a milldew, their fairest prospects, and lay the axe\ at the root of the tree of their future happiness.

You would like to know whether we are calculating to come on and emigrate to California. On this subject everything depends upon circumstances not necessary for me here to speak of. We do not feel to say or do anything to discourage you from going if you think it best to do so. We know, in part, how you are situated. Out of the Church, you have few, or no friends, and very little or no society -- in it you have both.

So far as going West is concerned, I have thought it a wise move -- indeed I could see no other, and though the journey is long and attended with toil, yet a bright future has been seen in the distance if right counsels were given and a departure in no way from the original faith, in no instance, countenanced. Of what that doctrine and faith are and were I ought to know, and further it does not become me now to speak.

Here follows a page or more concerning family matters, and then the signature of Oliver Cowdery.

Note: See the Jan. 15, 1908 issue of the Lamoni, Iowa Saints Herald for a less abbreviated text of Cowdery's letter.