Verbal Statement of Bishop Dennison L. Harris to President Joseph F. Smith
Verbal Statement of Dennison Lott Harris with Annotations
Sunday, May 15:15 May 1881
VERBAL STATEMENT OF BP. DENNISON L. HARRIS
Of Monroe, Sevier Co., Utah, made by him to President Jos.
F. Smith in the presence of Elder Franklin Spencer, at the house of
Bp. Dorius of Ephraim, Sanpete Co., Utah, on Sun-
day Afternoon, May 15th, 1881.
Reported by George F. Gibbs.
Statement of Bishop Dennison L. Harris of Monroe, Sevier Co., as related by him in the presence of Presidents Jos. F. Smith and Franklin Spencer at Ephraim, Sanpete County, Sunday, May 15th, 1881, and reported by G. F. Gibbs.
In the spring of 1844 I was invited by Austin A. Cowles, who was at the time a member of the High Council, to attend a secret meeting; I was also asked to invite my father. The meeting was to be held on the following Sunday, at Wm. Law’s brick house. There was another young man by the name of Robt. Scott who was also invited by Wm. Law to attend the same meeting — being intimate friends we found out during the week that both of us had been invited to attend the same meeting. I told my father about this meeting, and he went immediately to Bro. Joseph, who lived some 2½ miles distant, and informed him of the same. Joseph told my father to send the boys to him, but for him (my father) not to go to the meeting nor to pay any attention to it. When Sunday morning came Robert Scott (the young man referred to as my intimate friend) and I went and saw Brother Joseph. After telling him about receiving the invitation, he instructed us to go to this meeting and pay strict attention and do the best we could to learn, and remember all the proceedings. We went. At that meeting they were counselling together and working up the system and planning how to get at things the best. They were opposed to the doctrine of plurality of wives, which was the cause of their conspiring against Joseph.” On being asked who were present, Bro. Harris said: “as near as I can recollect, Wm. and Wilson Law, Austin A. Cowles, the Higbees — Francis and Chauncey, Robt. Foster110 and Brother, and two of the Hickes [Hicks]. I am positive of those; and there were a great many others of a similar character. Marks was not present at all. I think Jason W. Briggs was there; also Finche [Finch] and Rollinson [Rollosson], merchants and enemies to the Church, were there. This was the first meeting. They were plotting how and what they could do against Joseph.
The next Sunday, we attended again, having received an invitation to come back. And when they told us to come again on the next Sabbath they told us to keep quiet what had passed at the meeting, and to say nothing to our fathers, or anybody else. We reported to Joseph the proceedings as far as they went. Joseph said: ‘Boys, come and see me next Sunday morning, and go on to the meeting. We did so. They went on with their arrangements, and agreed to make further arrangements during the week. They worked this up considerably that Sunday, and still gave us an invitation to attend the following week. Joseph told us to go again, this being the third Sunday, and was desirous that we should see and learn all that took place this day, for, said he, ‘this will be your last meeting, this will be the last time they will admit you into their council, and they will come to some determination; but be sure, he continued, that you make no covenants nor enter into any obligation whatever with that party: be strickly reserve [strictly reserved], and make no promise either to conspire against me or any portion of the community: be silent and do not take any part in their deliberations. That day we were received and welcomed by Wm. Law and Austin Cowles. We passed up the alley; on each side there were men with guns and bayonets on them; and when we got to the door there were men on guard armed in the same way. Before we went to this meeting Brother Joseph said to us: Boys, this day will be their last meeting, and they may shed your blood, but I hardly think they will as you are so young, but they may. If they do I will be a lion in their path. Don’t flinch, if you have to die, die like men, you will be martyrs to the cause, and your crown can be no greater. But, said he, again, I hardly think they will shed your blood.
We went, as I have said, to the house of meeting and passed the guards. There was a great deal of counselling going on with each other. And every little while Austin Cowles would come and sit by my side and put his arm around my neck to ascertain how I felt with regard to their proceedings; and at the same time Wm. Law would do the same thing with Robert Scott. They talked about Joseph denouncing him and accusing him. We told them that we did not know anything against Joseph or about the things they were charging him with, that we were only young men, and therefore had nothing to say. They would then try to convince us by relating things to us against him; but we told them that we knew nothing about them, and did not understand them; that
we had been reared in the Church and had always esteemed Bro. Joseph highly. Robert had been reared by Wm. Law, and I had been a neighbor of Austin Cowles and consequently they esteemed us as friends, and we did them. They continued to persuade us, we being the only ones who did not sympathize with their proceedings; but they failed to convert us.
Finally they went on to administer the oath to those present. Each man was required to come to the table and hold up the Bible in his right hand, when Bro. Higbee would say: Are you ready? When the man being sworn answered yes, he would say: You solemnly swear before God and all holy angels and these your brethren, by whom you are surrounded, that you will give your life, your liberty, your influence, your all for the destruction of Joseph Smith and his party, so help you God’. Each one was sworn in that way, numbering in the neighborhood of 200 persons; and they were all sworn before we were called upon. There were also three women brought in who testified that Joseph Smith and others – Hyrum among them, had tried to seduce them into this spiritual marriage and wanted them for their wives and also wanted to lie with them. They also made oath before this justice; after which they were escorted out of the room, by way of the back door. After all in the room had taken the oath but Robert and me, we were labored with by those two brethren William Law, and Austin Cowles. They sat us together side by side, with Bro. Cowles on one side and Bro. Law on the other. Their arguments were to try to convince us that Joseph was wrong; that he was in transgression, that he was a fallen prophet, and that the Church would be destroyed except action be taken at once against him — a strong one, one that would tell, ect. We told them that we were young, that we were not members of the High Council, and that we knew nothing at all about their charges. They then told us that Joseph had read the revelation on celestial marriage to the High Council and that Joseph had instructed them in this revelation, and that he had tried to make them believe it. After laboring with us in this way with a view of trying to get us to take the oath, we told them we could not do it. They then told us that they were combining and entering into a conspiracy for the protection and salvation of the Church, and that if we refused to take the oath they would have to kill us; they could not they said, let us go out with the information that we had gained, because it would not be safe to do so. And some one spoke up and said, ‘Dead men tell no tales.” They gathered around us and after threatening they perceived that we could not be
that we could not be frightened into it, they again commenced to persuade and advise us in this way: Boys, do as we have done; you are young, you will not have anything to do in this affair, but we want that you should keep it a secret and act with us. We then told them that we positively could not. They then said that if we did not yield to their requirement that they would have to shed our blood; and they went so far as to start us down stairs in charge of two men armed with guns with bayonets, and Wm. and Wilson Law, Austin Cowles and one of the Fosters started down stairs into the cellar, and there they said they would cut our throats if we refused to take the oath. We told them positively that we would have to die then because we could not receive the oath, but that we desired to be turned loose. They said they could not turn us loose with the information that we had received, because it would not be safe to do it. They then walked us off with one man on each side of us armed with sword and bowie knife and two men behind us with loaded guns, cocked, with bayonets on them; we were started to the cellar, but we had not gone more than about 15 feet when some one cried out, ‘hold on’, let us talk this matter over. We were stopped, when they commenced to counsel among themselves; and I distinctly remember one of them saying, that our fathers knew where we were, and that if we never returned it would at once cause suspicion and lead to trouble. They became very uneasy about it, for if they shed our blood it would be dangerous for them, as it was known where we were. Finally they concluded to let us go if we would keep our mouths shut. We were escorted out and then they hated to let us go; they took us toward the river, and still cautioned us about being silent and keeping secret everything we had seen and heard, for, said they, if we opened our mouths about it, they would kill us anywhere, that they would consider it their duty to kill us when ever or wherever the opportunity afforded either by night or by day. I told them it would be to our interest and to our peace and safety never to mention it to anybody. They said they were glad we could see that, and after warning us in strong terms, and before the guard left us, I saw Brother Joseph’s hand from under the bank of the river, he was beckoning us to him. They turned back but were yet watching us and listening to us, and one of us said, Let us go toward the river. The guard made answer and said, Yes, you better go to the river. With this we starked [started] off on the run, and we ran past where Bro. Joseph was, and Bro. John Scott was with him; he was one of his body guard. They slipped
around the bank and came down to the same point where we were; and these men, the guard went back. We all walked down the river quite a piece, nearly a quarter [of a mile], nearly opposite Joseph’s store under the bank near Joseph’s residence (it was in the afternoon); We got in a little kind of wash, and were inside Joseph’s inclosure where the board fence came into the river. Joseph said, Let us sit down here. We sat down. Joseph said, Boys, we saw the danger you were in; we were afraid you would not get out alive, but we are thankful that you got off. He then asked us to relate the results of the meeting. We told him all that had happened. We also told him the names of those who were there. After Joseph heard us he looked very solemn indeed, and he said, O Brethren, you do not know what this will terminate in. He looked very solemn, and not being able to control himself he broke right out. Bro. Scott rose and putting his arms around Bro. Joseph ‘s neck, said, O Brother Joseph, Brother Joseph, do you think they are going to kill you; and they fell on each others neck end wept bitterly for sometime; and we all wept. After Joseph recovered himself, Brother John repeated the same question; Bro. Joseph lifted Bro. John’s arms from off his neck and said, I fully comprehend it. But he would not say that he was going to be killed. But he said in the conversation, Brethren, I am going to leave you, I shall not be with you long; it will not be many months until I shall have to go. Bro. John said, Brother Joseph, are you going to be slain. He never answered; but he still felt very sorrowful. After considerable conversation Joseph said that he would go away and would not be known among the people for 20 years or upwards. Finally he said, I shall go to rest; but he did not say a word about dying.
You know Brother Joseph, (here the speaker addressed himself to Bro. Jos. F. Smith) that the Prophet started over the river, just before he gave himself up, to go away; it might be that he intended or meant that he would leave the place, and it might be that he knew that his life would be taken. I could not say as to that.
Before leaving Joseph put a seal upon our mouths, and told us to tell nobody not even our fathers for 20 years. He cautioned us very seriously, and I did as he told me.
There was one thing that Joseph said which I have not related. He said: they accuse me of polygamy, and of being a false prophet and many other things which I do not now remember; but, said he, I am
no false prophet, I am no impostor; I have had no dark revelations, I have had no revelations from the devil. I have made no revelations; I have not got anything up myself. The same God that has thus far dictated and directed me, and inspired me and strengthened me in this work, gave me this revelation and Commandment on Celestial and Plural marriage; and the same God Commanded me to obey it. He said to me that unless I accept it and introduce it and practise it, I together with my people should be damned and cut off from this time henceforth. And they say if I do so and so they will kill me. What shall I do! What shall I do! If I do not practise it I shall be damned with all my people; if I do teach it and practise it and urge it, they say they will kill me, and I know they will. But said he, we have got to observe it, that it was an eternal principle, and that it was given to him by way of Commandment and not by way of instruction.” That is about all.
Bro. Harris then related the following circumstance in connection with Joseph’s giving the Twelve their endowments:
“This little circumstance took place a few months after the thing I have related – perhaps it was two or three weeks, I do not now remember, I did not rivet dates on my mind. I was passing Joseph’s brick building which was used for a store,130 when Bro. Willard Richards came out and beckoned me. As we approached each other he said, Good morning Brother Harris! And shook hands with me. I was on my wagon, and I thought as though he wanted to chat. He walked along, and I drove on, he walking alongside of my wagon. It was an ox team I had but I asked him if he was going my way, and if he would ride. He said, Yes, if you please. He got up and rode. As soon as he was seated in the wagon he said, I have a message for you: Bro. Joseph wanted me to come and see you. As soon as he saw you coming he remarked – There, brethren, we are alright now; the time has come; —
— there is the man I want;131
/there’s the boy I can depend upon and trust. Brother Richards, will you go and see him and tell him what I want.” Then Bro. Richards told me that Brother Joseph had met in that building with most of the Twelve,132 and they had been waiting for some one that Joseph could depend upon to assist them. He then told me that Joseph desired me to drive around to the river where he (Bro. Richards) would meet me with barrels and buckets133 to assist him to get some water up to the
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house in which the brethren had gathered,134 that Brother Joseph wanted to give them (the Twelve) their endowments.135 I went to the river according to request, and found Bro. Richards there with barrels and buckets. We loaded up the wagon, and drove up to the house the back way. The Twelve were on the poarch136 above with block and tackle with which they drew the barrels of water up. Bro. Joseph was with them and assisted. Bro. Joseph said to me: – This day I am going to roll this kingdom off my shoulders on to the shoulders of these my brethren, for them to preach the Gospel and gather Israel and build up the Kingdom upon the foundation which I have laid; for I shall not be known among the people for many years, or for 20 years; I am going to rest, and these, my Brethren the Twelve have got to preach the Gospel and gather Israel, etc.137 In answer to a question, Bro. Harris, said “Joseph was then addressing himself to me, while the Twelve stood around him, on the poarch. “He then said to me, You are the only witness on the earth138 to what I am about to do; I wanted you as a witness, and I have been waiting for you. Then turning to Bro. Brigham, he said, Brother Brigham when this Temple (the Nauvoo Temple) is finished will you see to the giving of this young man his endowments as I will give them to you today? Bro. Brigham answered: I will, Brother Joseph. Bro. Joseph remarked again I request you to do it. Bro. Brigham promised in his firm way that he would do it. Brother Joseph then told me that was all I could do for him, and I drove off. Bro. Young fulfilled his promise. When he was ready for me he sent Bro. Milo Andrus139 to inform me that Bro. Brigham would give me my endowments if I would go to the Temple.140 I went and received them.
This statement was made under the following circumstances: Bro. Harris spoke to Bro. Jos. F. immediately before the forenoon meeting of Sunday saying that he would like to relate the foregoing to him; consequently an appointment was made, and Bro. Jos. F. asked me to be present to take what Bro. Harris might say in short hand. The time appointed was after the morning meeting. As the afternoon meeting had been announced to commence half an hour earlier than usual (so as to give Prest. Taylor and party an opportunity to make Moroni and Fountain Green that evening on their [way] home) the time at our disposal to hear Bro. H. also to eat dinner was not sufficient to enable
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him to do justice to it. He told it in his own way and had to hurry at that. G. F. Gibbs, Reporter.