In a recent Latter-day Saint Images post for 1937, this photograph was captioned “David O. McKay, Wilford Wood, Joseph Fielding Smith Examining Recent Illinois Documents Purchase. kevinf wondered what the story was behind that photo, and Grant noted that Wilford Wood was the brother of Addie May Wood.
So here’s an article from the September 1937 Improvement Era that tells a bit about that documents purchase, and which documents they were. (Sort of. I’m sure the Joseph Smith Papers Project people have much better cataloguing descriptions than those given here!)
Illinois Yields Church Documents
Part of Pearl of Great Price Manuscript and Other Papers in Joseph Smith’s Own Handwriting
Included in Purchase of Wilford C. Wood from Charles E. Bidamon
By Richard L. Evans
Out of the scenes wherein were enacted some of the happiest and some of the most tragic events in the lives of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his people, have come now to the Church a rich store of highly valued documents, pertaining to the Church and its early leaders. Many of these papers are in the handwriting of the Prophet Joseph. All of them have historical as well as sentimental value.
The recent purchase was made personally by Wilford C. Wood on is own responsibility. However, through the interest of President David O. McKay and Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, they have now found their way into Church archives, to be permanently preserved. The possessor, until the recent exchange of title to Elder Wood, was Mr. Charles E. Bidamon, of Wilmette, Cook County, Illinois, son of Major L.C. Bidamon, husband of the Prophet’s widow, Emma Smith.
For some time past Wilford Wood has been running the following display notice in the Nauvoo Independent:
Joseph Smith, Mormon Prophet. Anyone having authentic deeds, abstracts, letters, documents, publications, relics, pertaining to Mormon Prophet, write Wilford C. Wood, Woods Cross, Utah.
In response to this advertisement, there came from Mr. Bidamon, dated June 28, 1937, at Wilmette, Illinois, a letter which read in part:
Wilmette, Ill., June 28, 1937.
Mr. Wilford Wood
Woods Cross, Utah
I saw your advertisement in the Nauvoo Independent in regard to deeds, documents, letters, etc., pertaining to Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet.
I have a number of documents, etc., in which the Prophet is involved.
I have also manuscript which has been identified by Elders of the Mormon Church as part of the original manuscript of the Pearl of Great Price. Also a silver pocket piece which was in the Prophet’s pocket at the time of his assassination.
These papers came into my possession through Emma Smith, the Prophet’s widow, whom my father, Major L.C. Bidamon, married. I have had numerous chances to dispose of these papers, but have not seen fit to do so.
The Mormon Church has a headquarters in Chicago of which Wilmette is a suburb, and easy of access.
If members of the Church care to come to my house and examine the documents they are welcome to do so, or I can take them to them for examination.
I do not feel inclined to put a price on them at the present time, but would consider an offer.
238 Catalpa Place
Accordingly Elder Wood, accompanied by Dr. and Mrs. W.M. Stookey, called at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Bidamon in Wilmette, Illinois, on July 10, 1937, for the purpose of examining and negotiating for the documents referred to. There was a considerable number of them, and these kindly and honorable people, who had cherished and treasured them for many years, were quite naturally reluctant to part with them, but they realized that the years were leaving them no younger and that with their eventual passing the fate of these valuable documents would be left in doubt. And so, with characteristic generosity and sound reasoning they agreed to yield possession for a very fair and modest consideration. The list of documents purchased, title to which was conveyed to Wilford C. Wood from Charles E. Bidamon by a notarized bill of sale, includes the following:
Part of the original manuscript from which the Pearl of Great Price was later compiled.
Deed of John Hatfield to Lorina Woods.
Inventory of Property of Joseph Smith, Jr.
Facsimile of “Book of Abraham.”
History of Joseph Smith’s incarceration in Liberty, Clay County, Jail, etc.
Two pages of poems.
Kirtland bank scrip.
Credit statement of Joseph Smith, Jr., Nov. 8, 1839.
Petition for writ of Habeas Corpus.
Joseph Smith Bankruptcy Paper.
Joseph Smith petition.
Bond for deed and deed to property from Isaac Hale to Joseph Smith, Jr.
Warranty deed from Willard Richards to Joseph Smith, Jr.
Objection to Joseph Smith’s discharge in bankruptcy.
And so there come back to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few more of the cherished possessions that were left fifteen hundred mils behind nearly a century ago when mob violence, lawlessness, and intolerance drove a people into the Western wilderness for their religious convictions – out of which wilderness they have since emerged, “mighty and strong.”