I’m excited to introduce historian Melvin Johnson. He’s written a biography on early Mormon pioneer John Pierce Hawley. Hawley traveled extensively among several Mormon groups from Nauvoo to Salt Lake to Texas. Johnson tells about some of the early Mormon persecutions, and this was one I hadn’t heard of!
GT : Okay, so what you’re saying is, as Joseph was building the city of Nauvoo, that he sent Lyman Wight on a mission to Wisconsin to get wood so that they could build all the buildings in Nauvoo.
Mel: Almost right. The earlier story is the Nauvoo House committee, with Apostle Wight, Bishop George Miller, Peter Hawes, Lucien Woodward, Alpheus Cutler and others were on the committee, and they were cast to go to the territory of Wisconsin to locate existing sawmills, purchase them, and then begin the program of making lumber and timber for the temple, house and other projects. That began in 1841. It was not a good start. George Miller was drafted because of his business ability. He could be a cranky, irritable person. The only two church authorities–religious authorities that he ever followed closely and trusted implicitly, was Joseph Smith Jr. and later, after his death, James Strang in Wisconsin and Michigan. He distrusted almost everybody else. [He was] not impressed with Brigham Young in the slightest and would quarrel with Lyman Wight in their five-year association in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Mel: Miller went up to the territory, in the winter, with James Emmett, his guide. Emmett was the great Mormon frontiersman. I think George Miller became almost as good as he [Emmett] was. Later on, we can talk about those exploits. Miller put the sawmills and the logging fronts on a good, sound financial basis. By 1843, the Spring, it was time to expand the logging and milling effort, so Lyman Wight went recruiting for people to go to Black River Falls in the area. He recruited The Hawleys, Curtis’s, Ballentines, Moncurs, and others who ended up in Wisconsin territory from Iowa. There they remained for more than a year, finishing the milling and the lumbering for the effort down in Nauvoo.
GT: So this is getting close to the time of the martyrdom, it sounds like, so how did how did Hawley react to that?
Mel: Early in the winter of 1843 and 1844, the federal agents for the Native Americans there, got involved and refused to let the Native Americans market their standing timber beyond the contracts they had already signed to the Mormons. In other words, by the Spring of 1844, the black pine mission was going to come to an end.
GT: So let me make sure I understand that. So it sounds like the Native Americans had some sort of a logging contract with the Mormons in Wisconsin.
Mel: That’s correct, and the federal agents…
GT: Put a kibosh on that.
Mel: That’s right. So the colony…..it was a typical frontier myth among the anti-Mormons that Joseph and the leadership, were going to ally with the Indian tribes, which would, as Will Bagley liked to call it, make them the war hammer, the Mormons and they would beat up on all the non-Mormons.
GT: So this was to not only stop the Indians, but to stop the Mormons, as well. It was basically to quash them both.
Mel: No, the Mormons.
GT: Just the Mormons.
Mel: Yeah. The Menominee were not going to go anywhere. They had no great power of Native Americans. Federal Indian agents just wanted to mess with the Mormons, and they were very effective at it.
Did you know Joseph Smith considered moving the Church to Texas? Melvin Johnson talks more about apostle Lyman Wight’s Texas colony.
Mel: So, in February, Wight, George Miller–and Miller was Bishop of the community–and his counselors, wrote a letter to Joseph Smith, saying, “We’re almost done here. We’re going to send our latest lumber rafts down the Mississippi River, and then we’re going to exchange them, we hope, with you for the steam ship Maid of Iowa, and then we want to go to–not state but Republic of Texas.” They wanted to create a Mormon colony outside of the United States. Of course, by that time, Joseph Smith knew the Mormons could not stay in Nauvoo.
Mel: The Council of Fifty, some of them like the idea of Texas. So they send the pagan prophet Lucien Woodworth on a mission down to Sam Houston, President of the Republic of Texas.
GT: Why do you call him a pagan prophet?
Mel: Well, that’s what Joseph called him.
But the most interesting part of the interview was to learn about the Zodiac Temple! Apostle Lyman Wight started a Mormon group!
Mel: They’ll also build the first diaspora Mormon temple, west of the Mississippi. It was not St. George, it was in Zodiac, Texas.
GT: So they have an endowment ceremony and everything?
Mel: Endowment, depending upon which definition you use, yes. They had a temple, and on the second floor, they had sealings, anointings, adoptions, the washing feet, the oiling in the head in the sealing of blessings. They did marriage for time and eternity. John and his wife, Sylvia, were married and endowed there.
What are your thoughts concerning this temple that was built by 1847 in Texas?