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Wilford Woodruff-Zion's Camp

ZION'S CAMP, 1834.

His First Call.—Leaves for Kirtland.—His Neighbors' Warning.—First Meeting with Prophet.—A Remarkable Prophetic Gift.—Zion's Camp.—Zelph.—Escape Mob at Fishing River.—Epidemic of Cholera.—His Residence in Missouri.—Consecrations.

Perhaps no man in the Church ever felt more profoundly the truth of the words, "God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform," than Wilford Woodruff. He was so intensely spiritual, so completely devoted to the service of God, that all through his life the miraculous manifestations of God's purposes were abundantly given. He had never based his faith upon miracles, they merely confirmed what he believed with all his heart and supported his ideas of the teachings of Holy Writ.

Confirming the divine power which attended his baptism, the words of the Prophet Joseph contained in George Q Cannon's history are here given: "In view of all that has since occurred, it is a remarkable fact that the Prophet recorded in his journal of the 31st of December, 1833, the fact that 'Wilford Woodruff was baptized at Richland, Oswego County, New York, by Zera Pulsipher,' and this was before the Prophet and the future apostle and president had ever met in the flesh. This is not the only mention of Wilford Woodruff in Joseph's diary prior to their meeting. In one place the Prophet notices that Wilford had been ordained a teacher. It was the 25th day of April, 1834, when Wilford Woodruff visited the Prophet at Kirtland, and from that time on until Joseph's death they were intimately associated. It was clear that Joseph felt the staunch worthiness of his young brother, and in relying upon him, the Prophet was leaning upon no weak or broken reed; for Wilford Woodruff had then and has ever since shown the fidelity of a Saint, and the integrity and prophetic power of an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was one of the most faithful of all the men who were gathered near to the Prophet's person, to share his trials and his confidences. Wilford Woodruff never made any attempt to cultivate showy qualities, and yet he was always marked among his fellows; his characteristic humility and unswerving honesty being sufficient to attract the attention of all who have known him. His is another of the names to be recorded with that of Joseph, and it is worthy to stand side by side with the names of Brigham Young and John Taylor, for he was as loyal to them as he and they were to Joseph, the first prophet of this dispensation.

From the outset, the subject of this biography became a most ardent worker in the cause he had espoused. He was ordained a teacher and found immediate opportunity to give expression to his intense desire to declare his belief in the purposes of his Maker. He and the Brother Holton herein mentioned, shortly after their baptism, walked sixty-five miles to Fabius to hold a meeting.

Events of far-reaching importance were rapidly closing in upon him. On the 1st of April, Elders Parley P. Pratt and Harry Brown arrived at Richland. They were there on an important mission. They were in search of young and able-bodied men in the eastern branches of the Church—young men whose services were needed in Zion's Camp, and organization which at that time was being effected for the purpose of assisting in the redemption of Zion, and of carrying supplies to the suffering Saints who had been expelled by mob violence from their homes in Jackson County, Missouri.

This was the first time Wilford Woodruff had met Parley P. Pratt, to whose instructions he listened with great interest and attention, and says he was greatly edified by what he had to say. Elder Pratt informed him that it was his duty to prepare himself to go up to the land of Zion. He accordingly settled up his business affairs, and bade good-bye to his brother and kinsfolk in Richland.

On April 11th Wilford took Harry Brown and Warren Ingles in his wagon and started with them for Kirtland, Ohio. On the way he met for the first time Elders Orson Pratt and John Murdock. They all arrived in Kirtland April 25th, 1834. Before he left Richland, many of his friends and neighbors warned him not to go, and declared that if he did go, he would be killed. He replied that the Lord had commanded him, and that he would go; that he had no fears of any evil consequences as long as he obeyed the Lord.

He gives an account of his first meeting with the Prophet as follows: "Here for the first time in my life I met and had an interview with our beloved Prophet Joseph Smith, the man whom God had chosen to bring forth His revelations in these last days. My first introduction was not of a kind to satisfy the preconceived notions of the sectarian mind as to what a prophet ought to be, and how he should appear. It might have shocked the faith of some men. I found him and his brother Hyrum out shooting at a mark with a brace of pistols. When they stopped shooting, I was introduced to Brother Joseph, and he shook hands with me most heartily. He invited me to make his habitation my home while I tarried in Kirtland. This invitation I most eagerly accepted, and was greatly edified and blest during my stay with him. He asked me to help him tan a wolfskin which he said he wished to use upon the seat of his wagon on the way to Missouri. I pulled off my coat, stretched the skin across the back of a chair, and soon had it tanned—although I had to smile at my first experience with the Prophet.

"That night we had a most enjoyable and profitable time in his home. In conversation, he smote his hand upon his breast and said, 'I would to God I could unbosom my feelings in the house of my friends.' He said in relation to Zion's Camp, 'Brethren, don't be discouraged about our not having means. The Lord will provide, and He will put it into the heart of somebody to send me some money.' The very next day he received a letter from Sister Vose, containing one hundred and fifty dollars. When he opened the letter and took out the money, he held it up and exclaimed: 'See here, did I not tell you the Lord would send me some money to help us on our journey? Here it is.' I felt satisfied that Joseph was a Prophet of God in very deed."

Prior to his departure with Zion's Camp, Wilford Woodruff became acquainted with many leading men and private members of the Church, some of whom were destined to be his co-laborers throughout subsequent years of his life. Besides the Prophet, the patriarch and their families, he became acquainted with Brigham Young, Orson Hyde, Milton Holmes, Sidney Rigdon, and many others whose names occur in the early history of the Church.

"I passed one Sabbath in Kirtland," he writes, "and heard many of the elders speak. I rejoiced before God because of the light and knowledge which were manifested to me during that day. The first day of May, 1834, was appointed for the Camp of Zion to start from Kirtland. Only a few of those composing the Camp were ready.

"The Prophet asked those who were ready, to go as far as New Portage and there await the arrival of those who would follow later. I left in company with about twenty men with baggage wagons. At night we pitched our tents. Climbing to the top of the hill, I looked down upon the Camp of Israel. There I knelt upon the ground and prayed. I rejoiced and praised the Lord that I had lived to see some of the tents of Israel pitched, and a company gathered by the commandment of God to go up and help to redeem Zion.

"We remained at New Portage until the 6th when we were joined by the Prophet and eighty-five more men. The day before their arrival, while passing through the village of Middlebury, the people tried to count them, but the Lord multiplied them in the eyes of those people so that those who counted them said there were four hundred.

"On the 7th, the Prophet Joseph organized the Camp which consisted of about one hundred and thirty men. The day following we continued our journey. We pitched our tents at night and had prayers night and morning. The Prophet gave us our instructions every day. We were nearly all young men brought together from all parts of the country, and were therefore strangers to each other. We soon became acquainted and had a happy time in each others association. It was a great school for us to be led by a Prophet of God a thousand miles through cities, towns, villages, and through the wilderness. When persons stood up to count us, they could not tell how many we numbered. Some said five hundred, others, a thousand. Many were astonished as we passed through their towns. One lady ran to the door, pushed her spectacles to the top of her head, raised her hands and exclaimed: 'What under heavens has broken loose.' She stood in that position the last I saw of her.

"During our travels we visited many mounds thrown up by the ancient inhabitants, the Nephites and Lamanites. This morning, June 3rd, we went on to a high mound near the river. From the summit we could overlook the tops of the trees as far as we could see. The scenery was truly beautiful. On the summit of the mound were stones which presented the appearance of three altars, they having been erected, one above the other, according to the ancient order of things. Human bones were seen upon the ground. Brother Joseph requested us to dig into the mound; we did so; and in about one foot we came to the skeleton of a man, almost entire, with an arrow sticking in his backbone. Elder Milton Holmes picked it out, and brought it into the Camp, with one of the leg bones, which had been broken. I brought the thigh bone to Missouri. I desired to bury it in the Temple Block in Jackson County; but not having this privilege, I buried it in Clay County, Missouri, near the house owned by Col. Arthur and occupied by Lyman Wight."

The arrowhead referred to is now in the possession of President Joseph F. Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah.

"Brother Joseph," continues Wilford, "feeling anxious to learn something of this man, asked the Lord, and received an open vision. The man's name was Zelph. He was a white Lamanite, the curse having been removed because of his righteousness. He was a great warrior, and fought for the Nephites under the direction of the Prophet Onandagus. The latter had charge of the Nephite armies from the Eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains. Although the Book of Mormon does not mention Onandagus, he was a great warrior, leader, general, and prophet. Zelph had his thigh bone broken by a stone thrown from a sling, but was killed by the arrow found sticking in his backbone. There was a great slaughter at that time. The bodies were heaped upon the earth, and buried in the mound, which is nearly three hundred feet in height.

"The Lord delivered Israel in the days of Moses by dividing the Red Sea, so they went over dry shod. When their enemies tried to do the same, the water closed upon the latter and they were drowned. The Lord delivered Zion's Camp from their enemies on the 19th of June, 1834, by piling up the waters in Fishing River forty feet in one night, so our enemies could not cross. He also sent a great hailstorm, which broke them up and sent them seeking for shelter. James Campbell, who had threatened the life of the Prophet and his brethren, was drowned, with six others, the same night, after his threat. His body was washed down the stream, and was eaten by eagles and turkey-buzzards."

The people of Richmond, Missouri, declared the Camp should not pass through that city; but on the morning of the 19th, before the people were up, the brethren passed through unmolested. "We intended to enter Clay County that day, but the Lord knew best what was for our good," says Wilford, "and so began to hinder our progress. One wheel broke down, another ran off, and one thing after another hindered us so that we had to camp between two forks of Fishing River. Five armed men soon rode up, and told us that large companies of men from Jackson and Clay Counties, and other parts, would be upon us before morning, and were sworn to encompass our descruction.

"Shortly after these five men left us, a small croud arose, and spread with great rapidity, until the whole heavens gathered blackness, and a mighty storm burst forth with fury upon our enemies. If the Camp had not been hindered, they would have crossed into Clay County, and would have been at the mercy of the mob. Thus the Lord, in a marvelous manner, preserved the lives of His servants. Colonel Sconce, who came into the Camp the next day, with several leading men, said that surely Jehovah fought the battles of Joseph and his followers."

The Prophet addressed the visitors at some length, and recounted the wrongs heaped upon the Saints in Missouri. His address touched the hearts of the visitors, bringing tears to their eyes. They promised to do all they could to allay the prejudice of the people. It appears from Wilford Woodruff's journal that they kept their word, and rode through the country endeavoring to allay the excitement.

"Previous to this event," says Wilford, "Elders Hyrum Smith and Lyman Wight had joined the Camp with a company of volunteers from Michigan. The Camp now consisted of two hundred and five men and twenty-five baggage wagons. Lyman Wight was made commander-in-chief. Joseph appointed twenty men to be his body-guard; Hyrum Smith was captain, and George A. Smith armor-bearer.

"The Camp of Zion arrived at Brother Burk's, in Clay County, Missouri on the 24th of June, 1834. We pitched our tents on his premises. He told some of the brethren of my company that he had a spare room which some of us might occupy if we would clean it. Our company accepted the offer; and, fearing that some other company would get it first, we left all other business and went to work, cleaned out the room, and immediately spread down our blankets, so as to hold a right to the room. It was but a short time afterwards that our brethren who were attacked by cholera were brought in and laid upon our beds. None of us ever used blankets again, for they were buried with the dead; so we gained nothing but experience by our selfishness, and we lost our bedding.

"When the cholera broke out in Camp, Joseph attempted to rebuke it, but was shown by the Lord that when He sends a judgment man must not attempt to stay it. (Joseph returned to me the sword which I had given him, and it still remains in my family as a relic of that expedition.) Those who died in Zion's Camp were A. S. Gilbert, John S. Carter, Eber Wilcox, Seth Hitchcock, Erastus Rudd, Alfred Frisk, Edward Jones, Noah Johnson, Jesse B. Lawson, Robert McCord, Eliel Strong, Jesse Smith, Betsey Parrish, and Warren Ingles.

"The Prophet called the brethren together at Lyman Wight's and told them the cholera had been sent in fulfillment of his prediction. Nearly all had suffered from it, and fourteen had died. Joseph said that if we would now humble ourselves, the cholera would be stayed. We covenanted with uplifted hands to keep the commandments of God, and the cholera was stayed from that hour; not another case appeared among the Saints.

"The journay of Zion's Camp to Missouri was necessarily one of trial and hardship. Several of the brethren murmured, and found fault. Joseph prophesied that a scourge would come upon the Camp, and it came in the form of cholera, thirteen of the brethren being stricken in death. During the journey, when brethren would have killed the serpents which at times came into the tents and coiled up near the beds, the Prophet taught his brethren the beautiful principle that men themselves must become harmless before they can expect the brute creation to be so. When man shall lose his own vicious disposition and cease to destroy the inferior animals, the lion and the lamb may dwell together, and the suckling child play with the serpent in safety."

In all the trials incident to the journey, Wilford Woodruff never murmured. He was a staunch supporter of the Prophet Joseph in all the latter's counsels and desires, and was so wrapt in the spirit of his calling and labor that it is doubtful if a thought of trial or hardship ever entered his mind. This was characteristic of his entire life. He never undertook a labor assigned him by the Lord and wished he had not undertaken it. When he put his hand to the plough, he never turned back.

After the disbanding of Zion's Camp a great trial came to him. He was a devoted lover of his parents, brothers, and sisters, and had a deep interest in their salvation. Since he left New York, his brother Azmon had become disaffected, and wrote a long letter finding fault with the proceedings of the Church, endeavoring to turn Wilford from his course. The effect upon Wilford, however, was a deep sorrow for his brother, and a stronger determination on his own part to live the life of a Latter-day Saint. He answered his brother's letter, explained the fallacy of the latter's arguments and complaints, warned him against opposing the Church, exhorted him to repent, and bore a solemn and unswerving testimony to the divinity of the calling and the upright, honorable course of life of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

The Prophet advised all the young men with Zion's Camp who had no families to stay in Missouri, and not return to Kirtland. "Not having any family," says Wilford, "I stopped with Lyman Wight, as did also Milton Holmes and Heman Hyde. We spent the summer together, laboring hard, cutting wheat, quarrying rock, making brick, or at anything else we could find to do. The Prophet organized the Saints in Zion, with a presidency of three, and a high council. On the 17th of July, 1834, he met the authorities of the Church at Lyman Wight's, where he gave us many glorious instructions, he being clothed with the power of God. He ordained the presidency and the twelve high councilors. All present voted, with uplifted hands, to sustain the Prophet and the authorities of Zion. We had a glorious time. This was the last meeting I ever attended with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the State of Missouri."

Wilford Woodruff continued to attend faithfully to all of his religious duties. Illustrative of his zeal and earnestness is his action relative to what property he possessed. Notwithstanding the Saints had been dispossessed of their homes in their central city of Zion, where they had endeavored to carry out the principle of consecration, and were now in a broken and scattered condition, Wilford desired to comply with every law relative to Zion. On December 31, 1834, he consecrated to the Lord all his earthly possessions. "Believing it to be the duty of the Latter-day Saints," he writes, "to consecrate and dedicate all their property, with themselves, unto God in order to become lawful heirs to the celestial Kingdom of God, I therefore, with this view, consecrated all I had (though but little) before Edward Partridge, the Presiding Bishop of the Church, in Clay County, Missouri, in this form: 'Be it known that I, Wilford Woodruff, do freely covenant with my God, that I freely consecrate and dedicate myself, together with all my properties and effects, unto the Lord, for the purpose of assisting in the building up of His Kingdom and His Zion upon the earth, that I may keep His law. I lay all before the Bishop of His Church, that I may be a lawful heir to the celestial Kingdom of God.'"

The whole life of Wilford Woodruff shows that he would have been willing to do the same thing at any time, for the same purpose, even though his possessions could have been counted by the millions. He was whole-souled, and wholly given up to the service of his God and the welfare of His people.

Wilford Woodruff, His Life and Labors Matthias F. Cowley