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B.H. Roberts Goes River Rafting, 1879

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 12, 2011

There’s no better way than to let B.H. Roberts tell this story in his own words:

In the summer of 1879, I succeeded in opening up a field of labor in a neighborhood called West Fork, in Cerro Gordo county, Iowa. Sheffield, a railroad town, some ten or twelve miles distant, was the nearest post office.

After holding several meetings in the school house at West fork, I went to Sheffield to get the mail, and remained all night in town. During the night it rained – no, it more than rained, it poured down and there was no reserve to it; had such a rain occurred in the Southern States, the people would have called it a “stump piler.” In this particular part of Iowa, there were many unbelievers in the Bible. They were especially skeptical about Noah’s flood; but after that night’s rain, their doubts began to grow weaker. They admitted Noah’s flood was a possibility. On the flood question they stood about seven to eight after that storm.

The following day I had to return to West Fork, as there was an appointment to preach that night. All the creeks were swollen, and in every swale of the prairie I found a muddy view of Cedar River. It had overflowed its banks, but a portion of the bridge could be seen and I hoped the bridge was all right.I had to wade in back water knee-deep for several hundred yards before reaching that part of the approach above water. On getting to this point, I found the bridge had been torn away by the tumultuous flood, which now swept with angry rush between the bare abutments. what was to be done? was the question. Should I return to Sheffield and cross again all the streams I had waded during the day, and miss filling my appointment? Or should I attempt to cross the vicious looking stream, and hold the meeting? The latter course was decided upon.

On the lower side of the abutment on which I stood, I noticed three heavy, two-inch planks. It occurred to me if they were on the upper side of the abutment, I might stand on them, and by giving a vigorous push toward the opposite shore, the stream would drift them and me over to the other bank. I, therefore, carried the planks to the upper side of the approach, and moved two of them in the still back water.

To place the valise on them and then get on board myself was but the work of a moment. I then took the third plank, to use as a push oar, and worked the raft (?) along until the running water was reached – the point where I was to give the “mighty push” which was to carry me to the other side. I began to give it, but the planks commenced sinking under the pressure, and I had to drop the push-oar. Reaching the middle of the stream the planks headed down stream. We started for the Gulf of Mexico.

The banks of the stream were gliding by at a tremendous rate, I thought, but I had not time to take note of the beauty which doubtless adorned them. Wild flowers of every variety and in rich profusion may have clothed the rolling prairie in a garment of many colors, but I had no time to admire them. The sweet songsters of nature may have made the stillness glad with their melodies, but I had no time to listen.

The two planks on which I was standing manifested a disposition to separate, and it was all I could do to keep them together. They were awfully particular as to the amount of weight each should carry. If I happened to bear down al ittle more on one than on the other it would begin to sink – I can boast for once I was an evenly balanced boy.

The stream seemed made with delight in having me in its power; it played all manner of pranks with my hopes and fears – now drifting me towards its banks until I began to think I should soon reach terra firma, then whirling me out again to the middle of the current.

At last I came around a bend in the river. I saw a large part of the bridge, which had been carried away, lodged in a growth of willow saplings, and towards this the planks drifted. As soon as I was near enough, I threw my valise on the drift, and then jumped towards it myself; I missed it, but a few rapid strokes brought me within reach. It was an easy matter from this drift to reach the shore by wading several score yards through backwater which was not at least in any place I struck, more than neck deep.

I came out on the right side, that is, on the side opposite that from which I started.

After wringing the water out of my clothing, I continued the journey, feeling grateful that I had escaped so easily from my unpleasant situation.

As is usual where the Elders preach the Gospel, my meetings and the doctrines advanced became the all-absorbing theme of conversation throughout the neighborhood. It forced itself upon the attention of three ministers who resided in that district of country, and during my brief absence they had boasted that they would “tie that young Mormon up.” I had adopted the plan of giving my hearers an opportunity of propounding questions to me, at the close of each meeting, on the subjects treated in the discourse; and these ministers hearing of this, said that would be their opportunity to “tie up that young Mormon.” They would question him, cross him in his words, show the falsity of his teachings and “expose Mormonism generally.” Everywhere they went, they boasted what they would do and how they would do it.

My friends informed me of the plans of the ministers – so I knew what to expect.

That night the house was crowded – not even standing room for all who came. The ministers were there, and occupied the front seat facing the teacher’s desk which served me as a pulpit. I announced the subject for the evening as follows: “A man must be called of God, by prophecy, and the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.”

The ministers were ready with their pencils to take notes. I stepped from behind the desk and stood in front of them, addressing them as a lawyer would a jury. The Spirit of the Lord was with me, it loosened my tongue, and the ministers soon became tired of taking notes. it was proved from Holy Writ that God had always called men by prophecy and revelation to administer in the ordinances of salvation; and I then proclaimed to them that God had again spoken from heaven, had called men by His own voice to be prophets and apostles and to minister in things pertaining to God; that I was sent to them by that authority to call upon them to repent of their sins and turn unto the Lord.

The people arose and I dismissed them, after which all took their seats, and I announced the privilege that they now had to ask me questions. All eyes were turned upon the ministers; they moved uneasily in their seats; evidently they felt uncomfortable; they exchanged glances, and then settled back in their seats in a way which seemed to indicate that they had nothing to offer. Perfect silence was retained for fully ten minutes; then a person in the back part of the hall said, “I guess we can go home now?” “Yes,” I replied. “I am through for this evening, unless some persons have questions which they wish to ask.” As none were asked the people filed slowly out of the house – the ministers being among the first. They had changed their minds about “tying up the young Mormon.” Men do sometimes change their minds. But perhaps these boastful followers of the lowly Nazarene can only be charged with changing their mode of operation in “tying up the young Mormon,” as next day they were visiting the members of their respective flocks, advising them not to encourage the Mormon meetings by their presence; furthermore, by listening to the Mormons preach, they would become unsettled in their faith. Then followed the usual repetition of slanderous reports and blood-curdling stories.

My experience with these modern sectarian preachers has often brought to my mind the anecdote about the lawyer: A gentleman said to a lawyer friend, “What do you do for an argument before the jury when you have no case at all?” “Oh,” replied the legal gentleman, “I abuse the opposite counsel!”

Many ministers whose acquaintance I have found, act as if they received the command: “go thou and do likewise.” Sooner or later, however, it will occur to mankind that “persecution is not refutation, nor even triumph.”



4 Comments »

  1. What a great story, Ardis. Thanks.

    Comment by WVS — October 12, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  2. Marvelous. It goes without saying that we don’t recommend missionaries (or anyone else) try the same stunt.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — October 12, 2011 @ 1:27 pm

  3. Very interesting story, thanks Ardis.

    Comment by Cliff — October 12, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  4. Wow, what vivid writing! And a great sense of humor.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by lindberg — October 13, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

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