On 20 May 1848, Samuel Whitney Richards and his brother, Franklin Dewey Richards, arrived at Winter Quarters, Nebraska after nearly two years spent on missions in England and Scotland. Franklin and his wife, Jane Snyder, were able to join Uncle Willard Richards’s company about to leave for Utah Territory. However, Samuel and his wife, Mary Haskin Parker, could not come up with money for a “fit-out.”
Instead, Samuel rented a thirty-acre farm about four miles from Hunsaker’s Ferry on the Nishnabotna River in what is now Fremont County, Iowa. At that time, though, the farm was in Atchison County, Missouri. This was the location of the Austin Post Office which served Winter Quarters between 1846 and 1848.
During 1848, Oliver Cowdery made his decision to return to full fellowship in the Church. He was rebaptized in Kanesville and began making plans to go west. In January 1849, he and his wife, Elizabeth Whitmer, set out from Kanesville to visit her brother, David Whitmer, in Richmond, Missouri. Bitter cold, stormy, weather and almost impassable conditions compelled them to stop at a farm house along the way. There, they discovered Samuel and Mary Richards. It was almost two weeks before Oliver and Elizabeth could continue on their journey, and the two couples held many gospel discussions while sitting by the warmth of the fireplace.
Samuel later recorded his delight in listening as Oliver described Joseph Smith, the personalities of heavenly messengers he said conversed with the prophet, and his extraordinary experience as scribe to Joseph during translation of the golden plates. As the weather eased and Oliver made plans to depart, Samuel asked him to write his testimony of the restoration through Joseph Smith of the priesthood of God. Oliver signed the document and dated it 13 January 1847. He and Elizabeth then continued on their way to Richmond. Because of ill health, they remained there until Oliver’s death on 3 March 1850. His account to Samuel may well have been his last written testimony.
The account of Oliver’s written and verbal testimonies to Samuel are found in the Deseret Evening News, December 21, 1901, p. 11; the Improvement Era 2 (December 1898): 90–96; Smith, History of the Church, 1:42: statement of Samuel Whitney Richards, May 21, 1907, in LDS Archives; and other places.
An undated booklet by Ramona Wilcox Cannon, Biographical Sketch of Samuel Whitney Richards, (p. 13), elaborates on these testimonies.
. . . Another interesting experience with Brother Cowdery occurred during this visit. Of it Elder B. H. Roberts, historian, and also senior president of the Seventies, wrote, addressing Elder Samuel W. Richards as one of the lions of the Lord in early missionary work:
Perhaps the most valuable and enduring single contribution that Elder Richards made to the great Latter-day work was obtaining and transmitting to the general knowledge of the Church, in a permanent form, the last written testimony of Oliver Cowdery respecting the Book of Mormon and its translation; and the restoration of the Priesthood, both Aaronic and Melchizedek.
Certainly that historical sense was at work again in the mind of Elder Richards when he seized this opportunity to request Brother Cowdery to write down and sign this important last testimony regarding the restoration of the Priesthood. It reads:
While darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the people; long after the authority to administer in holy things had been taken away, the Lord opened the heavens and sent forth His word to the salvation of Israel. In the fulfillment of the sacred Scriptures, the everlasting Gospel was proclaimed by the mighty Angel (Moroni), who, clothed with the authority of his mission, gave glory to God in the highest. John the Baptist, holding the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood; Peter, James, and John, holding the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, have also ministered for those who shall be heirs of salvation, and with these administrations ordained men to the same Priesthood. These Priesthoods, with their authority, are now, and must continue to be, in the body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Blessed is the Elder who has received the same, and thrice blessed and holy is he who shall endure to the end.
Accept assurances, dear brother, of the unfeigned prayer of him who, in connection with Joseph the Seer, was blessed with the above ministrations, and who earnestly and devotedly hopes to meet you in the celestial glory.
(Signed) Oliver Cowdery.
To Elder Samuel W. Richards
January 13, 1849.
There is a postscript to this account.
Several years ago I was contacted by someone from the LDS Church Archives. This was before I was doing extensive early church history research at the archives, so I did not know the person who phoned me, and I can’t recall his name now. He asked if I had Samuel’s journal where this account was written, or if I knew where it was. My aunt Dorothy told me once that some of Samuel’s journals had mysteriously disappeared. At one time she wrote to a shirt-tail relative in California, thinking someone in that family had taken the journals there. She never received an answer to her letter. I have never followed up on this, so I don’t know if the journal has been located and is in the church history library or not.