[Part of a week-long series about Cyrus Hubbard Wheelock and the poetry of Hannah Last Cornaby. See index here.]
Although he was an important part of early Mormon history, Cyrus Wheelock is an underappreciated character, and he deserves a full-length biography. You won’t get that here, but you will get to read four short stories about his life.
Cyrus and the Pepperbox Pistol
It was raining that morning, so Cyrus Wheelock put on his overcoat. He slipped an Ethan Allen dragoon-style pepperbox pistol into his pocket. The pistol belonged to John Taylor, who was in jail at Carthage, Illinois, with Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and Dr. Willard Richards. The pistol was a six-shooter, the kind of weapon later used so frequently by the ’49ers in California.
Cyrus had been at the jail the evening before, and he needed to return in the morning for more legal business, so at 8:00 a.m., he went to Illinois Governor Thomas Ford to request a pass. Ford provided two passes: one for entry into the prison and one for safe travel between Carthage and Nauvoo.
Suffer Mr. C. H. Wheelock to pass in to visit General Joseph Smith and friends in Carthage jail unmolested.
Governor and Commander-in-Chief.
June, 27th, 1844.
Protect Mr. C. H. Wheelock in passing to and from Carthage and Nauvoo.
Governor and Commander-in-Chief.
June, 27th, 1844.
Cyrus had heard credible death threats against Joseph Smith from a man named John Hicks, and he repeated the threats to the governor, but Governor Ford refused to do anything.
Cyrus entered the prison, his pistol unnoticed. He spent an hour or two there, collecting a letter from Joseph to Emma Smith, gathering a list of witnesses for the upcoming trial, taking verbal messages from the four men to their families, and receiving instructions to tell the Nauvoo Legion to avoid any show of force. The messages were so numerous that Willard Richards suggested writing them down in case Cyrus forgot them, but Hyrum Smith looked Cyrus in the eye and said, “Brother Wheelock will remember all that we tell him, and he will never forget the occurrences of this day.”
As Cyrus got ready to leave, he took the pepperbox pistol out of his overcoat pocket and gave it to Joseph Smith, then walked down the stairs and out of the jail.
Cyrus Does Not Debate
Cyrus Wheelock served three missions in England between 1848 and 1856. Martin Harris, one of the original witnesses to the Book of Mormon, had also crossed the ocean to England to preach on behalf of James Strang, a contender for control of the Church after the death of Joseph Smith.
Martin Harris arrived in Birmingham and wanted to speak to a meeting of the Birmingham Conference of the Saints. Cyrus Wheelock explained to the conference “that it was Martin Harris, an apostate from the faith: that he had abused him and his brethren coming across the sea, and he would not allow him to speak, there being many people there who were opposed to the truth.”
The mission publication Millennial Star said, “On being rejected by the united voice of the conference, he went out into the street, and began to proclaim the corruption of the Twelve…”
Wheelock continued the story in his diary:
however he was not to be put of[f] so he must and would preach and Accordingly [Decamped] to the Street and Commenced holding forth to the annoyance of the people while thus engaged [two] policemen [Very] politely [waited upon] him Each affectionately taking an arm and thus the Curtain fell and the Drama Closed to the great amusement of the Spectators…”
Cyrus Smokes a Peace Pipe
Cyrus Wheelock led a wagon train of about 52 wagons and 400 people across the plains in the great migration of 1853. The wagon trains outfitted in Keokuk, Iowa. Cyrus had never crossed the plains before, but he was an energetic, intelligent man, ready to jump in and get to work and consequently the pioneers admired and respected him.
John Chambers told the following story:
As we passed into the Pawnee territory, these natives soon paid a visit to our camp. Early one morning a party of Pawnees visited us, and conversed with Mr. [George Parker] Dykes (who was returning from a Mormon mission to Denmark), as he had crossed the plains at other times, and was somewhat acquainted with the languages of the Indian tribes. A pipe of tobacco being produced and lighted, the party sat down with Mr. Dykes and Mr. Wheelock, forming a circle upon the grass. The pipe was passed from one to the other, each one puffing three or four times, first to the right and then to the left, and lastly upwards, which was a sign that they were at peace with all around, and with the Great Spirit. The chief was made to understand that Mr. Wheelock was our chief, and he immediately embraced him, saluting him with the Pawnee kiss. The party then separated, taking with them many presents in the shape of biscuits, &c….
Cyrus and the Cow
Cyrus was in charge of collecting donations to build the Manti Temple. It was a massive project for the immigrant farm community, so the stories of sacrifice are many and varied. Mary Ann Linton Morgan, about eighteen at the time, later wrote:
Just before the dedication of the Manti Temple Bro. Cyrus Wheellock [sic] was sent out to make a last appeal to the Saints for contributions to finish paying for the temple. He came over to the Juab Stake. He made a very impressive talk on the importance of temple work and urged the people to give of their means. He promised the sisters if they would sacrifice a coveted bonnet and give the price of it to this fund that it would come back to them in bonnets or what so ever they sacrificed. I did not take it literally, but had $5.00 put away to buy me a nice parasol. When the satin lined with shot silk, and a deep black lace ruffle was the style. I decided I could do without the parasol, and gave Bro. Wheellock [sic] the $5.00 the next morning. In about two weeks a traveling salesman of one of our leading department stores presented me with one of his sample parasols. A beautiful one which would have cost much more than $5.00 at wholesale. I felt the Lord had made good His promise to His children in my case anyway, for I had given freely not expecting it to come back in such a way.
Some of the donations were given in kind: lumber, chickens, butter, eggs, flour, quilts, clothing, tools. The story was told of a Mr. Jones from Emery County,
who, in his later years, with tears in his eyes, told how Cyrus Wheelock called on him for a donation to the building fund and how he had been impressed to give his only cow which was needed for his family. He relates that later an angel came in the form of a well-to-do bachelor who asked if they would take his cow and then he would eat with them every once-in-awhile.