Lamanite Mission of 1830-1831
Author: Parkin, Max H.
The mission to western Missouri in 1830-1831 was important for three reasons: it demonstrated the Church's commitment to preach to the descendants of the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon; it helped establish a stronghold for the Church in Kirtland, Ohio, where the missionaries found numerous unexpected converts; and it ultimately brought Joseph Smith to Jackson County, Missouri, to lay the foundation of Zion, or the New Jerusalem.
This mission, one of the Church's earliest missionary expeditions, commenced in October 1830 in New York State with the call of Oliver Cowdery, "second elder" in the Church; Peter Whitmer, Jr.; Parley P. Pratt; and Ziba Peterson (D&C 28:8;32:1-3). It initiated the long continuing Church practice of taking the gospel to Native Americans. The Book of Mormon, in part a record of American Indian origins, prophesies that the Lamanites will assist in building the millennial New Jerusalem (3 Ne. 20-21), to be located in the Western Hemisphere (Ether 13:3-6; cf. D&C 28:9).
In the early 1800s the U.S. government began removing eastern Indians to the American frontier west of all existing states. In May 1830 the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Law, further ensuring that the missionaries' ultimate destination was just west of Independence, Missouri, the last American outpost before "Indian country." To arrive there, the elders traveled on foot from New York, a distance of fifteen hundred miles, in midwinter.
These brethren soon found audiences of white settlers and some Indians. First, at nearby Buffalo, New York, they taught the Catteraugus Indians, who accepted two copies of the Book of Mormon. In northeastern Ohio they preached widely, and their message excited public curiosity. While visiting Mentor, Ohio, Cowdery and Pratt contacted Sidney Rigdon, a dynamic Reformed Baptist minister who was promoting New Testament restorationist beliefs in his congregation and was Pratt's friend and former pastor. They challenged Rigdon to read the Book of Mormon, which he promised to do. Rigdon also allowed the elders to speak in his Mentor church and to his congregation in Kirtland. Positive response to their message was almost immediate. Many members of the congregation, including Rigdon, were baptized. News of their success spread rapidly, sparking intense public feelings and leading to more conversions.
In four weeks in northeastern Ohio, the elders baptized approximately 130 converts, 50 of them from Kirtland. These new members made Kirtland their headquarters. Among the converts were men who would become leaders in the Church: Sidney Rigdon, Frederick G. Williams, Lyman Wight, Newel K. Whitney, Levi Hancock, and John Murdock. Two other prominent men, Edward Partridge and Orson Hyde, joined the Church soon after the missionaries departed. By the end of 1830, membership in Ohio had reached 300, nearly triple the number of members in New York. In December, after learning of the great Ohio harvest, Joseph Smith received a revelation directing the New York Saints to gather to the Kirtland area (D&C 37:1, 3), which most did in 1831.
Joined by Frederick G. Williams, a Kirtland physician, the four missionaries continued west in late November 1830, preaching as they traveled. They visited the Wyandot Indians at Sandusky, Ohio, where their hearers rejoiced over their message. However, during several days at Cincinnati, they were unable to interest other audiences. In late December, the elders took passage down the Ohio River toward St. Louis until encountering ice near Cairo, Illinois, which forced them to walk overland. Thereafter, their journey became increasingly arduous. Because of storms of rare severity, the winter of 1830-1831 is referred to in midwestern annals as "the winter of the deep snow." Food was scarce, and the missionaries were forced to survive on meager rations of frozen bread and pork.
In late January 1831, still in the midst of intense cold, the missionaries arrived at Jackson County (see Missouri: LDS Communities in Jackson and Clay Counties). Independence, the county seat, was a ragged and undisciplined frontier village twelve miles from the state's western border. Here the missionaries separated. Whitmer and Peterson set up a tailor shop to earn needed funds, while Cowdery, Pratt, and Williams crossed the state boundary, called by them "the border of the Lamanites," into Indian country. After first contacting the Shawnees, the elders crossed the frozen Kansas River and walked to the Delaware Indian village located about twelve miles west of the Missouri state line.
The Delaware Indians had arrived there only the previous November after a toilsome journey of their own. Because of their present poverty and mistreatment at the hands of whites, the aged Delaware chief, known to the white man as William Anderson Kithtilhund, viewed any Christian missionaries with suspicion. After his initial hesitation, however, Kithtilhund summoned his chiefs into council. For several days, through an interpreter, Cowdery shared with the receptive Delawares the Book of Mormon account of their ancestors.
Plans to establish a permanent school among the Delawares and to baptize converts were soon interrupted by an order to desist from the federal Indian agent, Richard W. Cummins. After issuing a second warning, he threatened to arrest the elders if they did not leave Indian lands. Pratt believed that the jealousy of the missionaries of other churches and Indian agents precipitated the order. In a letter to William Clark, superintendent of Indian affairs in St. Louis, Cummins indicated that the elders did not possess a certificate authorizing their presence on government Indian lands. Later in Independence, Cowdery wrote the superintendent requesting a license to return to Indian lands, but the request was never granted, and that effectively ended the Lamanite mission.
From Independence, Oliver Cowdery dispatched Parley P. Pratt to the East to report on the mission while the remaining four missionaries preached to white settlers in Jackson County. In the summer of 1831, Joseph Smith led a group from Kirtland to Jackson County to meet the missionaries. Through revelation the Prophet identified a site a half mile from Independence as the temple lot for the New Jerusalem (D&C 57:1-3).
Backman, Milton V., Jr. The Heavens Resound, pp. 1-12. Salt Lake City, 1983.
Pratt, Parley P. Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, pp. 47-58. Salt Lake City, 1938.
MAX H. PARKIN