Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Wilford Woodruff’s First Mission, part 1 (Graphic History)

Wilford Woodruff’s First Mission, part 1 (Graphic History)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 13, 2009

Adapted from Leaves from My Journal, by Wilford Woodruff; artwork by Douglas Johnson.







to be continued …

next installment

Text from Leaves from My Journal

… After Joseph, the Prophet, had led Zion’s Camp to Missouri, and we had passed through all the trials of that journey, and had buried a number of our brethren, as recorded in history, the Prophet called the Camp together, and organized the Church in Zion, and gave much good counsel to all. He advised all the young men, who had no families, to stay in Missouri and not return to Kirtland. Not having any family, I stopped with Lyman Wight, as did Milton Holmes and Heman Hyde. We spent the summer together, laboring hard, cutting wheat, quarrying rock, making brick, or anything else we could find to do.

In the fall I had a desire to go and preach the gospel. I knew the gospel which the Lord had revealed to Joseph Smith was true, and of such great value that I wanted to tell it to the people who had not heard it. It was so good and plain, it seemed to me I could make the people believe it. I was but a Teacher, and it is not a Teacher’s office to go abroad and preach.

I dared not tell any of the authorities of the Church that I wanted to preach, lest they might think I was seeking for an office. I went into the woods where no one could see me, and I prayed to the Lord to open my way so that I could go and preach the gospel. While I was praying, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, and told me my prayer was heard and that my request should be granted.

I felt very happy, and got up and walked out of the woods into the traveled road, and there I met a High Priest [Elias Higbee] who had lived in the same house with me some six months. He had not said a word to me about preaching the gospel; but now, as soon as I met him, he said, “The Lord has revealed to me that it is your privilege to be ordained, and to go and preach the gospel.” I told him I was willing to do whatever the Lord required of me. I did not tell him I had just asked the Lord to let me go and preach.

In a few days a council was called at Lyman Wight’s, and I was ordained a Priest and sent on a mission into Arkansas and Tennessee, in company with an Elder [Harry Brown]. This mission was given us by Elder Edward Partridge, who was the first Bishop ordained in the Church.

The law of God to us in those days was to go without purse or scrip. Our journey lay through Jackson County, from which the Saints had just been driven, and it was dangerous for a “Mormon” to be found in that part of the State. We put some Books of Mormon and some clothing into our valises, strapped them on our backs, and started on foot.

We crossed the ferry into Jackson County, and went through it. In some instances the Lord preserved us, as it were by miracle, from the mob. We dared not go to houses and get food, so we picked and ate raw corn, and slept on the ground, and did any way we could until we got out of the County.

We dared not preach while in that County, and we did but little preaching in the State of Missouri. The first time I attempted to preach was on Sunday, in a tavern, in the early part of December, 1834. It was snowing at the time, and the room was full of people. As I commenced to speak the landlord opened the door, and the snow blew on the people; and when I inquired the object of having the door opened in a snowstorm, he informed me that he wanted some light on the subject. I found that it was the custom of the country. How much good I did in that sermon I never knew, and probably never shall know until I meet that congregation in judgment.

In the southern portion of Missouri and the northern part of Arkansas, in 1834, there were but very few inhabitants. We visited a place called Harmony Mission, on the Osage river, one of the most crooked rivers in the west. This mission was kept by a Presbyterian minister and his family. We arrived there on Sunday night at sunset. We had walked all day with nothing to eat, and were very hungry and tired. Neither the minister nor his wife would give us anything to eat, nor let us stay over night, because we were “Mormons,” and the only chance we had was to go twelve miles farther down the river, to an Osage Indian trading post, kept by a Frenchman named Jereu.

And this wicked priest, who would not give us a piece of bread, lied to us about the road, and sent us across the swamp, and we wallowed knee deep in mud and water till ten o’clock at night in trying to follow this crooked river. …

Wilford Woodruff’s First Mission (Graphic History) part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11, part 12, part 13, part 14, part 15, part 16, part 17, part 18



  1. Lovely! I always enjoy reading Wilford Woodruff’s adventures. Kudos to him for keeping his marvelous journals over a period of many years.

    Nice drawings.

    It’s possible that the corn he mentioned was not sweet corn, in which case, eating it raw would be a more formidable task than eating some of the sugary product we purchase nowadays for human consumption.

    Comment by Researcher — September 13, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

  2. Thanks, Researcher. I haven’t been able to find out anything about Douglas Johnson other than that he was at work in the mid-20th century. I know it’s an awful name to try to research, but if you cared to turn your formidable internet skills in his direction, I would be awe-struck, but not surprised, if you found something I could not.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

  3. I know of a Douglas Johnson who worked in the BYU movie dept in the 1970s. He would have been a BYU student in the 1950s. He did graphic art work as well. Wouldn’t be the same Douglas Johnson would it?

    Comment by Steve C. — September 13, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

  4. He might be a little young for this series, drawn in 1950-51 — but I really don’t know. I’d like to find out who this one is, if I only could.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

  5. Did anyone notice that Wilford Woodruff traveled without purse or “script” in the drawn account? Actually, I think that most people in the church today think the word is “script” not “scrip.”

    I loved seeing this series.

    Comment by Maurine — September 13, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

  6. In a later installment the missionaries go about their “buisness.” Bro. Johnson needed a proofreader!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

  7. I like the visual representation in the second panel–light coming down from the heavens.

    Comment by Justin — September 14, 2009 @ 7:55 am

  8. Thanks for this. It was fun to see the images juxtaposed with the text.

    And this wicked priest, who would not give us a piece of bread, lied to us about the road, and sent us across the swamp

    Not nice! A “wicked” priest, indeed.

    I loved this:

    I dared not tell any of the authorities of the Church that I wanted to preach, lest they might think I was seeking for an office.

    Wilford Woodruff — he’s the man!

    Comment by Hunter — September 14, 2009 @ 8:46 am

  9. Being an adopted “Arkie”, I appreciate the ground work Wilford Woodruff laid for the Church in this neck of the woods. I like to think that WW’s mission to Arkansas was his training (MTC?) for the great missionary work he did later on in England.

    Comment by Steve C. — September 14, 2009 @ 9:28 am

  10. This is a fun post.

    Researcher, most likely it was field corn, not sweet. While sweet corn existed back then, unlike the sweet corn today, it didn’t stay sweet for very long after it has been picked. So planting large swaths of it wasn’t particularly feasible. Also, like today, the vast majority of all corn (over 99%) planted then was field corn. So unless it was really early in the season, it would have been very difficult to eat.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 14, 2009 @ 10:15 am

  11. If there were sweet corn, I suppose it would have been growing in kitchen gardens, and picking and eating that would have been harder to do–unless they sneaked in at night with the raccoons.

    (By the way, are we sure he meant maize or was he referring to what the British call “corn”–almost any grain. That kind of “corn” would have been harder to eat than maize, whatever the variety. Imagine “threshing” the grain between your molars, spitting out the chaff, and then chewing the kernels. That would be a lot of work for your supper.)

    Comment by Mark B. — September 14, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

  12. I wondered about the corn, too, and wondered if by chance it were ordinary grain that had formed heads but not yet ripened and hardened — a lousy supper, but something to chew on and fill the stomach. But Woodruff says he had the urge to go a-preachin’ “in the fall of the year” so green wheat is likely out of the question. I’ll bet it really was just a late patch of plain old field corn. Yum, yum.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 14, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  13. Great post, Ardis.

    I remember picking through bug-infested rice on my mission to find enough edible rice to eat. The stores were closed that day and we didn’t have a lot of food to eat. I remember how excited I was the following day to have P-day and stores that were open. I can only imagine the difficulty of eating raw corn.

    Comment by Brian Duffin — September 14, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

  14. Thanks, Brian. I plan on running all 18 parts of this “graphic history” over the next several months (Sunday mornings), and it would be really nice to see comments like this paralleling our own missions with Wilford Woodruff’s (at least before the novelty wears off).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 14, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

  15. A cartoon of my mission might not convince others to serve…

    Comment by queuno — September 14, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

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