Church History Trip

In combination with our trip to the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting, we met up with Tenille’s parents to do a LDS Church history tour in the Iowa, Illinois, Missouri area. 

When the church was a year old in 1831, members of the church settled on the Western Frontier in Jackson County, MO.  Joseph Smith and 7 other church leaders dedicated a plot of land as the place where a temple will be built.  Even more interestingly, it is the place designated as the “New Jerusalem” and the place of Jesus return’s in the second coming.  The Mormons were kicked out of Jackson county in 1833 largely because of abolitionist sentiments and the shocking pace of their immigration.  As a result,  a temple was not built on the site and currently, there is no temple built on this temple lot.  Although I don’t think it is explicitly stated anywhere, most Mormons believe that a temple will first be built on this lot before the second coming.  So, no need to panic and make hasty arrangements for your pets.

The temple in the background is a temple built by the Community of Christ church (Formerly known as the RLDS church).  The original temple lot is actually in the foreground.  It is the 2 acres of lawn.    It is owned by another sect of the LDS church called the Hedrickites.  The Hedrickites are a group of scattered Mormons that decided not to follow Brigham Young to Utah in the 1850’s.  In 1863, a man name Granville Hedrick organized them into a church, came back to Independence, MO and purchased the original temple site.  In the 1930’s, they tried to build a temple there, but the Great Depression hit and they were unable to get beyond excavation.  Currently, their church number around 2400 members. 

A little more about the Community of Christ.  I had a chance to have a friendly conversation with one of their member volunteers in Nauvoo.  The LDS church split into several factions after Joseph Smith was killed.  The 2nd largest faction is the Community of Christ Church.  It was my understanding that they believed in hereditary succession.  However, when I spoke with the Community of Christ lady, she asserted that the split happened because of their objection to polygamy and that they believed in appointed succession – that Joseph Smith, Jr appointed his son to be his successor.  Perhaps she may have been referring to this document released in 1981 which ultimately ended up being a forgery.  Her insistence on appointed succession rather than hereditary succession may also have to do with the fact that  after Wallace B. Smith retired, a man name W. Grant McMurray was appointed as the President who is not in the line of Joseph Smith, Jr.  She did admit that the appointment story isn’t completely consistent either as President McMurray resigned without appointing a successor and the church leaders had to choose another leader… “much like your church,” she said with an ironic smirk.  She also noted a few differences between the LDS church and the Community of Christ.  “Your church is very conservative, ours is liberal…  Women hold the priesthood and we recently sanctioned same-sex marriages.” 

The Community of Christ church owns some very important historic sites such as the First LDS Temple in Kirtland, OH and Joseph Smith Jr’s home in Nauvoo, IL.  The LDS church recently purchased several historical sites from the Community of Christ including 6000 acres of farmland in Missouri, Haun’s Mill, and Joseph Smith, Sr’s home in Kirtland, OH.




We drove through miles and miles of farmland including a long stretch of dirt road to arrive at this temple lot site in Far West.  After the Mormons were expelled from Independence (Jackson County), they were given Caldwell county to settle in.  The Mormon population grew very quickly spilling over into other counties.  Tensions grew and it eventually led to the conflict referred to as the Mormon War of 1838 which resulted in the Extermination Order by Governor Boggs to drive all Mormons out of the state of Missouri.  It was a time when Mormons were asserting themselves and their right to defend their land, family, and faith.  Historians argue whether the assertion was perhaps too aggressive and the conflict may have been avoided.  Although it’s easy to second-guess how they should have acted, it’s also easy to sympathize with a people that have been forced to move out of multiple settlements and taking up arms to defend their homes.  Far West was where Joseph Smith received revelation on the name of the Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and also on the observance of tithing.


In the midst of the Mormon War, Joseph Smith and 5 of his associates were imprisoned in a small dungeon called Liberty Jail from December to April as they were awaiting a trial.  The dungeon was so cold, it is said to have housed ice blocks to keep them from melting.   The dungeon could be accessed only through a trap door from  on the first floor.  There was very little light coming through 2 small slits on the North and South walls.  It is said that the ceilings were so short that Alexander McRae (one of Joseph’s associates) who was 6 foot 6 inches could not stand up straight, and he could never again stand up straight after his imprisonment.  Liberty Jail is sometimes called the “prison temple” because of the spiritual experiences and revelations received here.  D&C 121, 122, and 123 were received here.  D&C 121 is often used as a scripture of comfort in times of adversity.  It also talks about using the Priesthood for good, and never wielding it unrighteously. 



When the Mormons were finally expelled from the entire state of Missouri, they eventually settled across the Mississippi River in Nauvoo, IL.  The city when they first arrived there was swamp land and many became sick from Mosquito diseases.  They eventually drained the swamp and Saints swarmed into the city.  The city became even bigger than Chicago for a time.  We started off our tour of Nauvoo in a horse-drawn wagon ride around the 70 acre town.   As we drove through town, senior missionary couples would step out of their assigned stores and wave to us dressed in time-period clothes.  This seemed like just about the most fun mission you could be assigned to.  I don’t know what kind of skills you need to put on the missionary application to land a gig in Nauvoo, but I hope software engineering is one of them…



In the background is the Nauvoo temple.  It was commissioned by Joseph Smith who was killed before its completion in 1846.  Tenille and I had a chance to go through it.  In the 1830s, it was built by faithful members volunteering their time and resources – some in destitute circumstances.


We visited some of the shops that used to be in Nauvoo.  Pictured is Jonathon Browning’s gun shop.  We also visited a brickyard, school, blacksmith,printing press, and wheelwright. We also went to a workshop where we learned candle-making, rope-making, barrel-making, and bread-making. The best shop in my mind was the tin shop.  In it, the missionaries showed us how they used to make tin pie plates.  But, the deeper message was about using patterns in our lives.  We use patterns or recipes so that we can get consistent outcomes.  There are patterns that we can use for our lives.  Patterns of time-tested principles put forth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that we may live fulfilling and joyful lives.   I’m sure there are other ways to get there, but if you have the recipe…



We got to ride an ox cart.  Probably the most questionable activity in Nauvoo.  The fencing in the picture was built after it was found that one of the oxen doesn’t like women or children.  In the past, it has taken its horn and ran it up a woman’s side and arm.  Not comforting.  Apparently, in general, the oxen are gentle.  In the pioneer days, the children often drove the oxen.  They also didn’t spook like horses.



This is a statue of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum riding toward Carthage jail.  This statue is right outside of the Nauvoo temple.  As we drove the 30 minutes to Carthage, we imagined that the horse ride probably took all day.  We wondered what Joseph and Hyrum spoke about on their last ride together as they rode into their death.


This is a statue of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage jail.  It was said of them, “In life they were not divided, in death they were not separated.”   Hopefully, the first part will be said of Caleb and Andrew as well. 



The door in Carthage Prison.  The mob shot through the door killing Hyrum.  The bullet hole is about a foot above Andrew’s head.


The window (on left) that Joseph Smith fell through after he was shot.


The final resting place of Emma Smith, Joseph Smith, and Hyrum Smith.  The Smith cemetery is owned by the Community of Christ.  They gave a tour explaining that Joseph and Hyrum’s bodies were hidden for a long time for fear of desecration.  The bodies were finally found after Emma’s death on the Smith property.  They were all moved to a central location and markers were erected.


This picture was taken on the Trail of Hope.  It is the main street that the Saints lined up their wagons as they started their Exodus to the West as pressures were building for them to leave the city.  Many looked back to the temple on the Hill and the pleasant life they had built over the few short years they were in Nauvoo.  The temple was burnt to the ground by an arsonist in 1837, then the remains were destroyed by a tornado the following year.  It was rebuilt in 2002.  The Trail of Hope was lined with plaques with quotes from journal entries by men and women leaving Nauvoo.  Interestingly, the Mormon Exodus also started with a miraculous water crossing.  Thousands of saints were anxious to cross the Mississippi river, but it was done slowly with a ferry.  On February 24th, the river froze over allowing the Saints to walk over the ice.  After wandering through wilderness, they finally decide to settle near a dead lake in a desert with high salt content (Salt Lake). 

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s