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Guest Post: Oliver Cowdery’s Last Testimony

By: Maurine - August 23, 2010

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.



17 Comments »

  1. Very interesting. I’ve been posting bunches of family history on line, so I’m contacted regularly by some of my “shirt-tail relatives.” It’s always a pleasure to interact with them and it’s been amazing what sorts of family photos and information turn up, although I’ve started to lose hope that we’ll locate one of these “lost” ancestor journals. I hope that yours turns up!

    Thanks for the interesting post, Maurine.

    Comment by Researcher — August 23, 2010 @ 7:21 am

  2. Hello, Maurine.
    I enjoyed your post this morning, especially in light of the recent post and discussion of Oliver Cowdery after he returned to church fellowship. It fills in some of the gaps.

    Comment by Steve C. — August 23, 2010 @ 7:40 am

  3. I tried to pull up the 1901 article in the Deseret News Archive but apparently they don’t have a digital image for that day. Too bad.

    Anyhow, thanks for this. I enjoyed reading it.

    Comment by David Y. — August 23, 2010 @ 8:33 am

  4. I tried to link to that for the OP, David, and discovered that the online database doesn’t include any issues for January or December that year. Just another reminder to people searching for family stuff that the database isn’t complete — just because a search doesn’t turn up an obituary, say, doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 23, 2010 @ 8:43 am

  5. Ardis and David Y. I do have a copy of the Deseret News article. I was going to scan it to include here and forgot. I will do that in a few minutes.

    Comment by Maurine — August 23, 2010 @ 9:17 am

  6. This shirt-tale relative enjoyed your post.

    My research indicates one line of my family comes through his daughter Alice Parker Richards, but I know virtually nothing about S.W. Richards or his family. Is that “Biographical Sketch” you mentioned in print, or do you know of a better source to start learning about the man?

    Comment by Clark — August 23, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  7. I’m really hoping that Samuel’s extant diaries get published soon. I’ve found what I have read of them to be excellent.

    Maurine, thank you so much for this write-up. I often dream of being in Samuel’s position when he asked for this document.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 23, 2010 @ 10:19 am

  8. Maurine has provided a scan of the 1901 article, which I have posted separately (linked in the original post, and also here). The type is a bit small, but in the next few days I’ll transcribe the article so that you won’t have trouble reading it, and I’ll send a copy of the scan to anybody who asks for it (you can enlarge it on your own computer beyond what I can display on Keepa).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 23, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  9. An interesting post, Maurine. Thanks.

    On the completely irrelevant “shirt-tail” relative front–can we have someone provide an etymology? My dad uses that term to describe, among others, children of his father’s second wife by her first marriage. That seems sufficiently attenuated to be a “shirt-tail” relationship–but for me it meant that I had an Aunt Marian (my mother’s sister) and an Uncle Marion (the husband of one of those shirt-tail relations)!

    Beat that!

    Comment by Mark B. — August 23, 2010 @ 10:35 am

  10. Thank you for the interesting post.

    [As an aside, the 1901 Deseret News article is available in the online database. The testimony was also published in March 1884.]

    Comment by Justin — August 23, 2010 @ 11:12 am

  11. I don’t know how you found that link, Justin. It didn’t search for me, and when I went the route of choosing a specific issue of the paper, nothing from December appeared in the list! You really are magical.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 23, 2010 @ 11:28 am

  12. Mark B.

    I come down through SWR and his first wife, Mary Haskin Parker, through their first child.

    Clark comes down through SWR and his second wife, Mary Ann Parker, through their second child.

    Mary Ann is the niece of Mary Haskin through her brother John Jr.. Mary Haskin’s father was John Sr. Let me tell you this has caused all sorts of problems in the old Ancestral File and more so in the NewFamilySearch. People have merged the two Marys and at one time in AF even deleted my Mary. They have their birth, baptism, marriage dates and places, etc. switched, as well as their children. I was contacted online one day by another relative who is working with NewFamilySearch (don’t get me and Ardis talking about this and don’t use this blog as a place to air frustrations or Ardis will put a stop to it). Anyway, that person said that she was a missionary who was assigned to clean up messes. She said that she cleaned up the Mary Haskin/Mary Ann family messes and put a block of some kind to keep people from messing things up again. Only, they still kept at it, so now she only has to spend one day a week instead of every day keeping the two families separate. UHGGGGG!

    Comment by Maurine — August 23, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  13. Clark, the little bio on SWR was written a long time ago. It might be located in some Family History Libraries or in the Church Library. I don’t think you will find any actual booklets around now.

    Comment by Maurine — August 23, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

  14. Justin, is the 1884 account in the Deseret News? When I edited the journals of Mary Haskin Parker Richards, i referenced all of the accounts that were in my aunt’s files (now my files) but she didn’t have that one, so I’m glad to find out about it.

    Comment by Maurine — August 23, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

  15. J. Stapley,
    All of Samuel’s diaries have been transcribed (poorly) years ago by BYU. J. Grant Stevenson of Provo has bound them into books, which he sells.

    Frederick Buchanan is working on editing Samuel’s diaries from his first mission to Great Britain, 1846-1848, as a companion book to my edited book on Mary Haskin Parker Richards’s journals and letters that she wrote to him while he was on his mission. Fred has worked on this for quite some time, as his health permits him.

    A descendant from the third wife, Helena Robinson, Chuck Richards of Oregon has been working for a long time on the journals which cover the years he and Helena lived at the Border Ranch in Wyoming.

    Fred has tried to talk me into editing the rest of the journals, but it is too big a project and I am already involved in about three big projects that I hope I live long enough to complete. Samuel really does need a good bio or edited journals. He was involved in so many things. He was mission president in England twice (inbetween Franklin’s three times) and a mission president to the Eastern States Mission once. He was a member of the first Salt Lake City Council and spent three years as a representative in the territorial legislature. He studied law and was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the US in 1858. He was a member of the board of regents of the University of Deseret and was involved in helping formulate the Deseret Alphabet.

    During his second mission to Great Britain, he worked to implement the Perpetual Emigration Fund (begun under Franklin’s term) and handle the emigration. He also published and edited the Millennial Star. He was a prolific writer. He wrote poems, acrostics, notes, letters, and contributed articles to most of the Utah magazines and papers.

    Comment by Maurine — August 23, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

  16. #13 Uggh. That’s what I was afraid of. Looks like I may have to settle for a poor journal transcription…

    Comment by Clark — August 23, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

  17. Maurine, yes, it was in the Deseret News.

    Comment by Justin — August 23, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

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