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Theodore Turley: A Biography
Richard E. Turley, Jr.

[This is another in a continuing series of newsletter articles that together will make up the first rough draft of a biography of Theodore Turley. The draft will undergo considerable revision before being published in book form. I invite all family members to read it critically, make suggestions, and offer additional information for possible inclusion. Feel free to e-mail me.]

7 Helping the Poor to Move, December 1838 to April 1839

On Wednesday, December 19, 1838, Theodore Turley attended a meeting of the High Council of Zion in Far West. The council was organized with Theodore as councilor number four. President Brigham Young of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles opened the meeting by prayer. During the course of the meeting, the council voted that John E. Page and John Taylor be ordained apostles to fill vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve. Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball then ordained the two men.1

Three days later in Far West, Theodore received an ordination to the office of seventy in the Church.2 Heber C. Kimball performed the ordination.3 This ordination reinforced the earlier prophecy that Theodore would go on a mission to his native England. Yet before that would happen, he would have to endure further challenges and see other prophecy fulfilled. Meanwhile, he was active in his priesthood calling, as evidenced by the fact that the seventies met at his home in Far West for their meetings on January 19 and 26, 1839.4

On January 17, 1839, Theodore’s friend William Law, who had been detained from gathering with the saints in Missouri, wrote to Isaac Russell. “We have heard of much trouble in Missouri,” William wrote, “which I suppose is true in part. The Missourians are determined to drive our people all out of the state, but I trust that the Lord will not suffer it to be so.” William missed his old friends. “Tell Father Scott to write me and tell Bros. Mulholland and Turley and all my old friends who are writers to write me. I can’t get letters enough.”5

For the Church members who had gathered to Missouri, the governor’s exterminating order and the subsequent command of the occupying militia general to leave the state continued to evoke fear. An early handwritten history of the Church’s expulsion from Missouri explains, “While many of the saints who were able to move away were departing and it being evident that if all such were to do so, that there would be many left behind without means, and in a destitute condition, who would not be able to get away and would be left to the cruelty of their oppressors . . .  some of the saints more philanthropic th[a]n the rest, saw the necessity of mutual assistance to enable the poor to make their escape, and resolved, to share their little all with those who had no means to assist them in moving away.” Theodore Turley was among these philanthropic saints.6

At a public meeting held in Far West on Saturday, January 26, 1839, members of the Church met “to devise and take into consideration such measures as might be thought necessary . . . to their complying with the orders of the Executive to remove from the state of Missouri immediately.” Several men expressed their feelings that it seemed impossible to comply with the governor’s order “in consequence of the extreme poverty of many, which had come upon them by being driven from place to place [and] deprived of their constitutional rights and privileges.” They recommended appealing to the citizens of Upper Missouri, “setting forth our condition and claiming their assistance towards furnishing means for the removal of the poor of this county out of the state.” The citizens then appointed a committee of seven to prepare a written document explaining their feelings. The seven included John Taylor, Alanson Ripley, Brigham Young, Theodore Turley, Heber C. Kimball, John Smith, and Don Carlos Smith.

The committee members were also asked to find out how many families lacked means to move from the state, as well as how much Church members could contribute to help them. Significantly, the gathering also concluded “that it is the duty of those who have to assist those who have not.” The committee agreed to meet again at noon the following Tuesday.7

Accordingly, a second meeting was held on January 29. The committee reported its progress to that point and was directed to finish its report and have it published. The committee members were directed also “to dwell minutely on the subject relating to our arms and the fiendlike conduct of the officers of the militia in sequestering all the best of them after their surrender on condition of being returned to us again.” This instruction would likely have been of special interest to Theodore, who was not only a committee member but also a gunsmith.

On motion of Brigham Young, the gathering resolved “that we this day enter into a covenant to stand by and assist each other to the utmost of our abilities in removing from this state and that we will never desert the poor who are worthy till they shall be out of the reach of the exterminating order.” The citizenry then appointed a different committee of seven “to superintend the business of our removal, and to provide for those who have not the means of moving till the work shall be completed.” Theodore Turley was one of two persons appointed to serve on both committees.

As the final matter of business that day, the group’s secretary drafted a document expressing the covenant they had made and by vote of the group attached to it the names of those who were willing. Theodore Turley’s name was among those listed.8

That evening, the committee met at Theodore’s house to appoint officers and get organized for helping the poor move.9

On Friday, February 1, members of the Committee on Removal, as it became called, met again at Theodore’s house. The committee voted to appoint four additional members, bringing its total to eleven. According to the minutes, “Several of the committee addressed the meeting on the arduous task before them . . . exhorting all to exert themselves to relieve and assist them in the discharge of the duties of their office to the utmost of their abilities.” John Taylor and Brigham Young “in the most forcible manner addressed the assembly on the propriety of union in order to carry our resolutions into effect and exhorting the brethren to use wisdom in the sale of their property.”

That evening, the committee met again at Theodore’s to report their labors and transact business. The members decided, among other things, “to make exertions to remove the families of the Presidency [of the Church] & the other prisoners first.” The committee also sent one of its members toward the Mississippi River to “establish deposits of corn for the brethren on the road and make contracts for ferriage.”10

On Wednesday evening, February 6, the committee was again in session “to consult on some items of importance.”11 During the committee meeting the next evening, Theodore Turley reported on the misconduct of a member. As a result of his report, the committee resolved to send a letter to one of the elders in Quincy, Illinois, the principal destination of the Latter-day Saint refugees, “informing him of the conduct . . . and request[ing] the return of Elder Taylor[‘s] horse which he had in his possession.”12

The committee met again on February 12 to consider several applications for assistance.13 The next day, a Wednesday, it also met and “[v]oted that T. Turley be appointed to superintend the management of the teams provided for removing the poor and see that they are fixed for the journey.”14 The committee met on Tuesday, February 19 and again on Thursday, February 21. At the latter meeting, Theodore and two others were appointed to sell the home of Joseph Smith’s father to a man from Clay county to help defray the costs of sending him and Mother Smith out of the state.15 At the same meeting, “Theodore Turley mad[e] some complaint against [a Church member] concerning selling his part of the hors[e] mill in Far West.” Based on Theodore’s complaint, Elder Kimball was asked to visit the member and invite him to the committee’ s meeting the following Monday.16

The committee continued its work throughout the month. On Friday, March 8, its members met again at Theodore’s. Alanson Ripley had visited Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail and received counsel from him to sell all the property the saints held in the state in order to help facilitate their move. The committee members were feeling the heavy weight of their responsibilities and voted to record the names of those who had earlier covenanted to help out but had not done so. They also committed to make “an extra exertion . . . to procure money for removing the poor by visiting those who have money and laying the necessities of the committee in their business of removing the poor out of the State before them and solicit their assistance.”17

The following day during a meeting in Quincy, the meeting chairman “produced a power of attorney, sent . . . from the committee at Far West, to be executed by such of the brethren . . . who had lands in Caldwell county, and were willing to have them sold, to enable the families who are in distress at that place to get here, say about one hundred families.”18 Clearly the committee still had much work to do.

On Sunday, March 17, the members of the Church in Quincy held a conference. Brigham Young, who like many others had fled Missouri for his life, encouraged the assembled saints “to unite together as much as possible in extending the hand of charity for the relief of the poor, who were suffering for the Gospel’s sake, under the hand of persecution in Missouri.”19 Although many of the saints had reached Illinois, many more remained in Missouri, not the least of whom were the Church leaders in prison.

Meanwhile back in Missouri, the committee met the same sabbath and heard a report from one of the brethren who had come from Quincy. In addition to conducting other business, the committee reviewed and accepted a “bill of articles wanted by the prisoners in Liberty Jail” and also listened to one of its members read a petition to the Supreme Court of Missouri seeking a writ of habeas corpus for Joseph Smith.”20

On Monday, March 18, when the Committee on Removal met, its members “appointed Theodore Turley to go to Jefferson with Elder [Heber C.] Kimb[all] to carry the petitions of the prisoners in Clay and Richmond Jails.”21 A week later, they left Far West. Of their mission, the account in the History of the Church recites:

They called on the sheriff of Ray county and the jailer for a copy of the mittimus, by which the prisoners were held in custody, but they confessed they had none. They went to Judge King, and he made out a kind of mittimus. At this time we [Joseph Smith and others] had been in prison several months without even a mittimus; and that too for crimes said to have been committed in another county.

Elders Kimball and Turley took all the papers by which we were held, or which were then made out for them, with our petition to the supreme judges, and went to Jefferson City.

The governor was absent. The secretary of state treated them very kindly; and when he saw the papers, could hardly believe those were all the documents by which the prisoners were held in custody, for they were illegal.

Lawyer Doniphan had also deceived them in his papers and sent them off with such documents, that a change of venue could not be effected in time. The secretary was astonished at Judge King acting as he did, but said he could do nothing in the premises, and if the governor were present, he could do nothing. But the secretary wrote a letter to Judge King.

The brethren then started to find the supreme judges, and get writs of habeas corpus; and after riding hundreds of miles to effect this object, returned to Liberty on the 30th of March, having seen Matthias McGirk, George Thompkins and John C. Edwards, the supreme judges, but did not obtain the writ of habeas corpus in consequence of a lack in the order of commitment, although the judges seemed to be friendly.22

Returning from Jefferson City, Theodore and his traveling companion, Heber C. Kimball, visited Judge King, who became upset at them for taking the matter to the governor. “I could have done all the business for you properly, if you had come to me,” he said, “and I would have signed the petition for all except Joe, and he is not fit to live.” Theodore and Heber visited Joseph Smith and the other prisoners in Liberty Jail but were not allowed to go inside and so had to communicate through the prison’s iron grate. Joseph told them to cheer up, “for we shall be delivered; but no arm but God’s can deliver us now. Tell the brethren to be of good cheer and get the Saints away as fast as possible.”23

Having received their charge, they left for Far West to help move the remaining poor out of the state as quickly as they could. They arrived in Far West the following day, April 5, 1839, and soon found the situation more desperate than ever.24

[Next issue: “Fleeing Far West, 5-18 April 1839”]

Draft of 24 August 1997
© 1997 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the September 1997 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. History of the Church, 3:240-41.
  2. Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 22 December 1838, citing Seventies Record A, p. 62, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  3. Theodore Turley, Autobiography (ca. 1840), MS 13176, fd. 1, Historical Department.
  4. Journal History, 19, 26 Jan. 1839.
  5. William Law to Isaac Russell, 17 January 1839, Historical Department. This letter has been published in “Isaac Russell Letters Given to Church,” Deseret News, 11 September 1937, Church Section, p. 6.
  6. “Record of Events connected with the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from their expulsion from the state of Missouri in the winter of 1838-9,” MS 778, Historical Department.
  7. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 26 Jan. 1839, MS 2564, Historical Department; cf. History of the Church, 3:249-50.
  8. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 29 Jan. 1839; cf. History of the Church, 3:250. In order to allow several members to obtain signatures to the covenant, multiple copies of the document were produced and circulated. These copies, which vary slightly from each other, are filed with the minutes. A consolidated version of these documents appears in History of the Church, 3:251-54.
  9. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 29 Jan. 1839; cf. History of the Church, 3:254.
  10. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 1 Feb. 1839; cf. History of the Church, 3:254-55.
  11. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 6 Feb. 1839; cf. History of the Church, 3:256.
  12. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 7 Feb. 1839; cf. History of the Church, 3:256.
  13. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 12 Feb. 1839.
  14. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 13 Feb. 1839; cf. History of the Church, 3:261.
  15. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 19, 21 Feb. 1839; cf. History of the Church, 3:261, 263.
  16. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 21 Feb. 1839.
  17. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 8 Mar. 1839; cf. History of the Church, 3:274.
  18. History of the Church, 3:275-76.
  19. History of the Church, 3:283.
  20. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 17 Mar. 1839.
  21. Minutes of the Committee on Removal, 18 Mar. 1839; cf. History of the Church, 3:285.
  22. History of the Church, 3:288-89.
  23. History of the Church, 3:306.
  24. History of the Church, 3:306.