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B.H. Roberts Meets “The Fair Minded Infidel”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 18, 2013

It’s been a while since we had a good B.H. Roberts story. Here’s one he told of his 1880 mission in Iowa, shortly before he was transferred to the Southern States Mission:

For a few weeks after leaving Sioux City, Iowa, I traveled in Wright county of the same state. Opportunities for preaching became very limited, and I was anxious to go elsewhere.

Making my way to the nearest railway station, I took up a map of the state, and felt impressed to go to the town of Rockwell, represented on the map as being perhaps 25 miles north of Sioux City. the fare to this place was eighty-five cents, and as I had ninety cents, only five cents was left me on reaching my destination, with which I bought a few crackers.

Rockwell is a town of some fifteen or eighteen hundred inhabitants. Quite a number of stores of ordinary dimensions do a pretty good business. There are also huge corn cribs strung along the side of the railroad track, such as are always to be found in these prairie towns. The public buildings consisted of a fine two story school house, and a “union church house” built by the three Christian denominations represented in the place – Methodist, Baptist and Congregational.

My first experience had taught me that it was almost useless to apply for these sectarian church houses, so I applied to Mr. Howard, the director of the school house, for the use of that building. After explaining my business, he willingly gave his consent, but stated that he would not attend the meeting as he was not a religious character, and did not care to attend religious meetings.

School being in session, I gave out my appointment there, and also went to all the stores, and asked the clerks to inform their customers of the meeting.

Just at dark I went to the hall, but found it locked. I afterwards learned that the school teacher, who was a Methodist, had taken the key away with him, as he did not want a “Mormon” to preach in his school room. A party of young men waited upon Mr. Howard, and asked to take the door off its hinges, as quite a crowd had gathered, and desired to hear the “Mormon.”

Mr. Howard said that if the key could not be found they were at liberty to take the door down; but by the time this party had returned someone found another key, which was in possession of one of the janitors of the school.

The room was crowded, and I had good liberty of the Spirit. Before dismissing the meeting I gave out an appointment for the next evening, and told the people I was there without purse or scrip, and would regard it as a great kindness if someone present would give me food and lodging.

The people filed out of the hall – until all had gone, save one old man whom I had met during the afternoon, and with whom I had some conversation. He stopped to ask me some questions and we continued our conversation until eleven o’clock. he then said:

“Where are you going to stop tonight?”

To which I replied, “I don’t know. Didn’t you hear me tell the people that I was without purse or scrip? that means without money.”

“Then you won’t stop at a hotel?”

“I guess not; it generally takes money to stop at a hotel.”

“Well, that’s too bad – but it’s late. I must be going home; good night.”

After this man’s departure, I put out the lights; and after committing myself to God, made of my valise a pillow, and lay down to pleasant dreams.

At early dawn I left the school house, and wandered out of town a short distance behind a swell of prairie. Here I asked the Lord to open the way before me, and direct me to a place where I could obtain lodging during my stay in the neighborhood. On the way back to town, I noticed a large, white house, nearly surrounded by poplar tress. the Spirit said that was the place, and I started for it.

Entering the premises at a double gate, I overtook some men wheeling a large dressed hog towards the house. Upon asking the name of the person owning the place and where he could be found, one of them said:

“I own this place and my name is Trapp; what can I do for you?”

“Mr. Trapp, I am a servant of the Lord; I want to stay here and preach the gospel to the people of this town. Will you give me food and lodging for about two weeks?”

He appeared astonished at my request. I was, too; no such thought had entered my mind. I was still more surprised when he bade me welcome, and he lodged and fed me throughout the time, and never wavered. All kinds of slanderous reports were circulated about me, but his mind could not be poisoned. He had a very beautiful and intelligent daughter, and it was darkly hinted that he would regret his folly in keeping that Mormon” around, when he found his daughter ruined by running off with me to Utah, etc. But none of these things appeared to move him.

Although I talked with many of the people of Rockwell and endeavored to come in contact with them I was not successful in making many friends, Mr. Trap’s being the only place where I could get a meal or a bed at night.

The day after holding my first meeting, Mr. Coleman, the Methodist preacher, with a committee of his leading members, called upon Mr. Howard, the director of the school house, and asked him to close the hall against me. “No,” said the latter, “if you preachers can’t meet that boy’s arguments, and show to the people that he is wrong, and get rid of him in that way, he can remain and use the house so long as I am director of it.”

They tried to prove that the people I represented were not respectable, but all in vain.

The day after the second meeting a committee from the Baptist church waited upon Mr. Howard, but they were no more successful than the other party.

After my third meeting the Congregational church sent a delegation to Mr. Howard, asking him to close the house against me, but they were met with the same answer which had been given to the others. So I continued on with my meetings until I had held seven.

By this time someone had hatched up a statement which was attributed to me, and which was unfriendly towards the United States government. this was taken to Mr. Howard, and on meeting him he requested me to stop holding meetings in the school house, and gave as a reason for his action the statements he believed had been made about the government. I informed him that I had made use of no such language as had been attributed to me, and on explaining to him our views respecting this government, he consented to allow the meetings to continue.

The people, however, appeared determined not to hear the truth; so, after staying there two weeks and holding nine meetings, I left the village.

It was with feelings of deep regret that I took my departure; and a feeling of sadness settled over my heart like a pall, as the town passed out of sight while I journeyed across the prairie.

I shall always remember Mr. Howard and the brave stand he took in letting me have the school house. It was not because he believed our doctrine, but he believed the time had come in the history of the world, when all parties desiring a hearing on any religious subject should be granted it.



9 Comments »

  1. Three cheers for Mr. Howard!

    Comment by Gary Bergera — October 18, 2013 @ 8:54 am

  2. Good man.

    Comment by Carol — October 18, 2013 @ 9:11 am

  3. And a few more cheers for Mr. Trapp.

    Comment by LauraN — October 18, 2013 @ 9:17 am

  4. We’re so quick to jump on those who give us a hard time — it’s nice to see Brig give credit to men like these.

    I have a file on instances when ministers of other churches allowed the missionaries to preach in their buildings or use their baptismal fonts or otherwise break the stereotype. It’s my version of Yad Vashem. Mr. Howard and Mr. Trapp should be inscribed along with them.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 18, 2013 @ 9:45 am

  5. I wonder how charitable Mormons were at the time in sharing their pulpits and fonts with those of other denominations. I know non-LDS speakers were invited to the tabernacle from time to time.

    Comment by The Other Clark — October 18, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

  6. Quite a bit, actually — the only cases of refusal that I’m aware of in this era is from schismatic preachers. There is/was a difference between those who had inherited apostasy and those who had chosen it with their eyes open (I know some will object to this characterization, but you know what I mean). This was true not only in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, although that was obviously the most requested space, but also in some rural community churches. That probably wasn’t universal, but common.

    Brigham Young attended a Protestant tent revival in Salt Lake, and encouraged the Mormons as a whole to attend, too.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 18, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

  7. You’re going to leave it at that?! No interesting tidbits– not even a reference to a newspaper article about it?

    Comment by S — October 18, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

  8. It’s good to have another B.H. Roberts account. It has been awhile since you have posted any.

    Comment by Maurine — October 18, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

  9. I sent this one to my missionary son. He liked it, of course.

    Comment by Carol — October 21, 2013 @ 9:00 pm

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