Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 327–337.
The Last Chapter of Scenes in Nauvoo
Another short chapter, consisting of only two articles published 1 November and 15 November 1883, tells the story of Helen Mar Whitney’s marriage to Horace K. Whitney in the Nauvoo Temple. In describing this period, Helen begins for the first time to quote from her husband’s journal. On 27 February 1846 Helen bade her “last adieu to our home and city” and crossed the Mississippi River for the wilderness of Iowa.
At early twilight on the 3rd of February a messenger was sent by my father, informing H. K. Whitney and myself that this day finished their work in the temple, and that we were to present ourselves there that evening. The weather being fine we preferred to walk; and as we passed through the little graveyard at the foot of the hill a solemn covenant we entered into—to cling to each other through time and, if permitted, throughout all eternity, and this vow was solemnized at the holy altar. Though gay and highminded in many other things we reverenced the principles taught us by our parents and held them sacred, also the covenants which we had previously made in that house, so much so that we would as soon have thought of committing suicide as to betray them; for in doing either we would have forfeited every right or claim to our eternal salvation.
On the morning of the 4th the sun shone brightly into the east windows of the temple, where a new scene was being enacted. A number of persons were busily engaged removing articles of furniture, stoves, carpets and pictures, etc., etc. President B. Young, and Bp. N. K. Whitney were invited with members of their families and a few of our most intimate friends to attend an infare given at my father’s house in honor of our marriage—reception is the more modern name, and perhaps the most proper as things are carried out in these days. At the wedding reception, which I have here casually mentioned, was our friend Sister Emmie, now Mrs. E. B. Wells, Editor of the EXPONENT. That evening was the first time she had ever danced, as she had been brought up to consider dancing very improper and wicked. We had no glittering surroundings, nor had we any use for rich and costly gifts, but we had what is better, warm and loving hearts, that were knitted together by past scenes of sorrow and suffering. It was the pure and genuine friendship that could neither be bought nor sold. The lively airs played on the violin and flute and the bass viol drove dull cares away, joined in the merry dance till the clock struck twelve, when the music ceased and the blessings of God were invoked upon us all and all of His people, of whatever nation they might be.
When I was married father told me to never drop my Kimball name, and for years I kept it up, but it made my name so lengthy that I have left it out, only when requested to add it, but I love the name, and I am oftener addressed by it than any other; I suppose it is owing to the striking resemblance between us.
Grandfather Whitney was in Nauvoo at the time. He had come from Kirtland to receive the holy ordinances in the temple, and his last words to me were, “I shall try and secure the old homestead, in Kirtland, for you and Horace; I want you to come and live there by us.” His wife was in Kirtland, and he was taken sick on his way back and died in a day or two after; and she survived him but a short time. Her maiden name was Kimball and her son, Bishop Whitney, thought so much of her that he adopted it as a middle name to his four eldest sons. After he and my father became acquainted in Kirtland they traced relationship. Both were natives of Vermont, and the Prophet Joseph afterwards told them that they were descendants from one and the same branch of the priesthood.
Bishop Whitney said that his father was a natural prophet, and he put a great deal of confidence in his words. He said to Mother Whitney before leaving Nauvoo for Kirtland: “I can only see N. K. till he gets to the mountains, but you, Ann, will live a great many years.”
This was a very hard thing for them to believe as she had always been a delicate woman and was subject to habitual spells of sick headache, when Bishop Whitney would nurse her, and he always treated her with the tenderest care, and had never placed any hardships or responsibilities upon her. But when on the 23rd of September, 1850, a little over three years after the arrival of the pioneers Bishop Whitney took sick and died, leaving his delicate wife to survive him for many years, the beginning of the prophecies’ fulfillment was made manifest.
My father had a number of fine boxes made to order; one he gave to me, and the morning after I was married he said, “Now, Helen, go to and pack up your things.” My wardrobe was not very extensive, but what I had was good, and I thought they were all that I would get unless we manufactured the goods ourselves, and that would be a long time hence. I had a very long riding habit of dark green merino, which father had brought me from the East; I had worn it but a few times when we learned that we were to leave for Mexico. So I put a deep tuck in the center of the skirt, which was then all the style, and wore it through the winter, and it was still a good dress, being a strong material. That with a warm hood, muff and boa made up my travelling suit. Few, I suppose, will understand the meaning of josie. It was made the same as are Mother Hubbard dresses, only pleated in folds instead of gathered, with a cape reaching nearly to the belt with batting laid between the outside and lining; these were considered very pretty, and they were also very comfortable.
I had some peculiar notions and ideas at that time concerning our future destiny, and the following were some of my reflections while busily engaged packing and tucking away this, that and the other—boxes containing letters, notes and cards and many little gifts and tokens of remembrance, as relics of my infantile and childhood days, which would have been of little value to anyone else, but were all of worth to me: I thought, womanlike, I will pack away all my little ribbons, collars and laces, etc., for we are going where we cannot purchase them. We are going out from the world to live Beyond the Rocky Mountains where none others will wish to go, and we are never again to mingle with Babylon, but remain a distinct and separate people, where all of our clothing will be manufactured, and all will be on an equality.
There will be neither rich nor poor among us, and we will have none but the honest and virtuous, and there will be no more snares and allurements to tempt and lead the youth wrong. Thus I meditated, but, alas, we found too soon that “Satan came also.” And I have seen more of Babylon on this side of the mountains than I had ever dreamed of or thought it possible to be in existence. But time and experience has taught us that these things were all necessary to prove us, whether or no we will cleave to the Lord, or to the Mammon of unrighteousness.
Being short of wagons and teams, in order to lighten the load we carried our change of apparel in bags made convenient for that purpose. We were assisted in our sewing by two or more of my father’s wives, as there were clothes to make for the boys and a great deal to do and a short time to do it in. Harriet Sanders Kimball came to live with us about a week previous to our starting. My mother first met her at Uncle Joseph Young’s, and it was by much interceding with Sister Young that she consented to part with her, she being not only a superior cook, but an excellent nurse, which Sister Young could appreciate, being then in feeble health from the hardships and privations that she had been obliged to endure, like hundreds of others who, like her, had been driven from state to state, and she was among those who witnessed the awful slaughter at Haun’s Mill, Missouri.
My mother’s health was then feeble, and she had three little boys with the whooping cough—the babe was thirteen months old, who, as soon as he commenced coughing, would lose his breath, and we would have to toss him out into the cold air, which seemed the only thing to bring him to. Bishop Whitney’s family, and a great many more were in a similar or even worse condition. But when they heard the cry, “To your tents, O Israel!” they left their comfortable homes and the graves of their loved ones and followed the voice of the one whom they knew the Lord had chosen to lead His people.
I see by my husband’s journal that it was Monday the 16th that “Heber C. Kimball and family left their home and repaired to the encampment on Sugar Creek,” and that President Young had gone the day before. The wagons father had sent ahead as fast as they were loaded, and he with mother and family were invited to stop and take dinner with Hiram Kimball and wife, our respected sister, Sarah M. Kimball. The day was pleasant, but the weather freezing. My husband returned and came over to camp next day.
The following extracts are from Sister Jane B. Taylor’s journal: “Monday, February 16th. I left the city of Joseph and crossed the Mississippi River, accompanied by my dear brother Richard (Ballan-tyne), Brother William Taylor and Joseph Knight. * * Being very cold, after crossing the river we stopped and took the use of a fire that had been built and made ourselves a cup of coffee. And as we had two cows along we had no lack of milk. * * While thus engaged Heber C. Kimball came across and expressed his satisfaction in seeing me on my way to California. Having got ourselves warmed with our hot coffee, William and I mounted the wagon * * * and started a little after sundown. Helen Kimball, daughter of H. C. Kimball, rode alongside of our wagon until she became so cold that she could not sit on her pony. She stopped and we gave her some wine, and Brother Dickson kindled a fire, and we sat around and warmed ourselves. We reached the camp at Sugar Creek about seven o’clock.” This, like a thousand other incidents, had passed from my memory till Sister Taylor reminded me.
The pony that I rode belonged to my brother Heber. It was first purchased for William from a lady in Illinois, who had named it “Happy go lucky,” but William having grown too large and heavy for it gave it to Heber. It was a gentle little animal and stood about three feet and a half high. Many a happy go lucky ride I had taken over the prairies, and when it paced or galloped it was as easy as a cradle. At Sugar Creek father’s men had pitched a tent and put up a sheet iron stove at one end, and great log fires were burning all through the camp. When we had warmed ourselves we made our beds upon the ground and laid down with grateful hearts for so comfortable a shelter, and slept soundly till morning. The snow was deep so that paths had to be made with spades between the wagons and tents. Camping out increased our appetites so that our picnic was very nearly consumed before the camp was ready to leave Sugar Creek. We had cooked up a great amount of provisions, consisting of roasted chicken, beef, boiled hams, pork and beans, bread, rusks and many other eatables, beside sea biscuits and crackers, which we could eat and eat and still be hungry. I remember the day that Brigham Young called the camp together for the purpose of organization. All the men came together at the sound of his voice as he stood up in a wagon and cried, “Attention, the whole camp of Israel.”
The same day, afternoon, he, with my father, returned to Nauvoo to assist Brother Joseph Kingsbury to procure teams. My husband returned the same day to help his father. On the 19th it began storming, and it was dismal enough to give even a saint the blues.
The next day Sarah Lawrence Kimball and myself went back to Nauvoo where we remained a week, she with her sister, Marian Babbit, and I with my husband’s family.
Sunday, 22nd, my father and President Young returned to camp. The multitude of teams crossing on the ice caused it to crack and give way under them, and when we came there to recross the river there was a slow drizzling rain, and the ice was floating down so that we had to remain till towards night, and then we had some difficulty in getting across in a skiff. But in a few days the weather turned so cold that the river froze over in one night, and by the 28th the church teams were able to drive over in safety.
Woman’s Exponent, vol. 12, no. 11,
1 November 1883, p. 81
During the week that we remained in Nauvoo we called upon a few of our old neighbors, among them was Dr. Weld, one of the oldest settlers, where we spent one evening. My husband’s sister, Sarah Ann, accompanied us to Mr. Hibbard’s, who were also old settlers at Commerce, and they had received the gospel. The “Mormons” settling there speedily increased their wealth, so that instead of their old log row a large brick mansion was soon reared. But their worldly riches made a shipwreck of what little faith they possessed. We had been associated together from the first settling of Nauvoo, and the first party that my brother William and myself attended in that place was given on the first Christmas by their little son and daughter, and after we were grown up we were invited to several balls given in their new home. In fact the old lady had a number of times, when in a good natured mood, thrown out sly hints that I might be the wife of her son William, who would be the heir to their estate. Though their home was beautifully situated upon the banks of the Mississippi, with a lovely green lawn sloping down from the house to the river bank, with flowers and shrubbery, and the view from the water was most charming, neither my ambition nor my fancy would lead me in that direction; for he had neither education, polish or wit.
His father was what might be termed a fine old gentleman, and was very generous and hospitable, but his wife was quite the opposite, and sometimes nearly a shrew. They owned large orchards with a great variety of fruit, but to see other people eating of it without paying her caused her to feel very uncomfortable.
Her son and youngest daughter were her pets, and the latter had been lately married to a cousin who had come there from the east. We did not call out of any desire of our own, but went by the request of a friend, as we were riding around for pleasure. When we entered their door we met with so cold a reception that it was like being in the vicinity of an iceberg. Neither Mr. Hibbard nor his son were at home, but the son-in-law was, and his looks showed plainly how he felt towards “Mormons,” and that was the first time that we had met him. There was but one in the room who treated us with any degree of respect, and that was their daughter, Mrs. Amos Davis, who was the one we called to see. We only stopped a few minutes, and before the hall door was closed behind us we heard them roaring with laughter, which, of course, was intended for our ears. They thought, no doubt, that this would crush us, but we considered the source and felt as much relieved as though we had escaped from a hornet’s nest. A few years after we had settled in this valley we were told by good authority that William Hibbard was taken up with a gang of horse thieves somewhere in California and hung.
Friday, the 27th of February, I bade my last adieu to our home and city and recrossed the Mississippi with Bishop Whitney’s family, whom he sent to camp in charge of Father C. R. Lott, the bishop remaining behind to see his own and church teams over, and he came to the camp next day. Brother Joseph C. Kingsbury and Wm. Clayton stayed back in Nauvoo to assist in winding up the church business. During that time Wm. Clayton composed a parody on the song, “Dido and I,” and though I have forgotten the words, the burthen of it was that the chores had been left for the “bishop and I,” which was afterwards sung in camp with much gusto by the boys.
It seems only a little time since those scenes were transacted which I have been rehearsing. When memory is once aroused how many a forgotten incident comes up which has lain hidden for years among the dusty and smouldering cobwebs of the past. Just now my mind reverts back to a lovely evening in the summer of 1844, when strolling upon the hillside with a young gentleman (Mr. Hatch) and two of my girl companions who proposed, as we came to the brink of the hill, that we should seat ourselves upon some of the temple rocks nearby and watch the setting sun with its beautiful reflections on the river and our quiet city that rested in the valley below. We little dreamed, as we sat there enjoying the delightful scenery, more particularly the lovely landscape Beyond the Mississippi, until the sun had sank behind the western hills, how very soon our paths would be in separate directions, and our cities abandoned to wicked foes, and I be traveling with homeless exiles Beyond those hills towards the setting sun. Scarcely seven years had elapsed since the saints were driven from Missouri, and came there weary, homeless and destitute,—hundreds lying sick and dying with scarcely an earthly comfort, or well ones enough to hand them a drink of water or even to give a respectable burial to their dead. And in the midst of this scene my father and his brother apostles, who were sick, and their families, almost unto death, started for Great Britain to fulfil a revelation, and which the evil one was determined to frustrate. But the Lord blessed them and their families, as He had promised inasmuch as they were obedient. And by faith and perseverance, with the blessings of God, there in the place of forests and sickly swamps lay a beautiful and thriving city, with lovely farms and villages springing up around us as if by magic, and this had all been accomplished by the toil and sweat of an honest and energetic people, whose efforts and desires were centered in the building of a temple to the Lord. And in this they had proven their love and devotion to him; for with willing hands and tithes and offerings from their frugal store, and His assistance they had accomplished it, and been endowed with those blessings and keys which had been promised through His Prophet Joseph, which were the greater riches, and of these no man could rob them. Though the wicked and lawless could drive us into the barren wilderness to endure the pangs of hunger and death in many forms, and they could desecrate and demolish our temple, they could not turn us from our faith, nor break down the walls that preserved the virtue and chastity of “Mormon” women. We preferred to go among the wild savages and suffer, if need be, rather than forsake the only true religion or to dwell in the midst of alarm. All the crimes committed against the “Mormons” have been allowed to go unpunished, which is a lasting stain on our country, a boasted land of freedom and a refuge for the oppressed of every nation. What mockery! The following is from a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph: “I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land. And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than these cometh of evil. I, the Lord, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free; nevertheless when the wicked rule the people mourn.”
Though our people have long been oppressed we have not lost any of that spirit and love of freedom which inspired our fathers—the daring sons of liberty, to stand in their own defense—but we shall not turn traitors to our beloved country nor its institutions, which we know were formed by inspired men; but we shall continue to sue for our rights, and leave the rest in the hands of the Almighty, who is already vexing them as he said He should do if they would not cease their wickedness and persecution of His people.
The testimony of the servants of God has gone forth unto the condemnation of this generation, because the majority have hardened their hearts against them, and in a revelation to Joseph the Lord said, “Verily, I say unto you, that woe shall come unto the inhabitants of the earth if they will not hearken unto my words. O! this unbelieving and stiffnecked generation, mine anger is kindled against them. * * * * *
“For a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming. Behold, I tell you of these things, even as I told the people of the destruction of Jerusalem, and my word shall be verified at this time as it hath hitherto been verified.” The Lord also said, “Whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal: Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy. For if ye will not abide in my covenant, ye are not worthy of me.” Concerning those who have been afflicted and persecuted and cast out from the land of their inheritance, He said, “I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions; yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels. Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son: * * * Verily I say unto you, notwithstanding their sins, my bowels are filled with compassion towards them: I will not utterly cast them off; and in the day of wrath I will remember mercy.
“I have sworn, and the decree hath gone forth by a former commandment which I have given unto you, that I would let fall the sword of mine indignation in the behalf of my people; and even as I have said, it shall come to pass.”
It may not be out of place here to repeat a few of the prophetic words spoken in the temple at Kirtland, much of which has come to pass, and therefore our faith should be strengthened to believe that the whole will be as literally fulfilled. They were related to me by Father Butterfield, of Santaquin, where I visited this summer. And Brother Charles Hyde, the patriarch, being at Father Butterfield’s, bore witness that he was present in that temple, and heard the same things. The former was doorkeeper there for two years. The patriarch, Father Smith, said, “It is a time of peace now, but there will be a great apostasy here among us. The judgments will commence right here, and they will try to burn this temple, but they cannot do it, for it will stand as a monument for this generation to look at. There will be men that you little think of who will seek Joseph’s life—then we shall be driven from city to city—we shall go Beyond the Rocky Mountains into the valleys of Ephraim. Then there’ll be great excitement for Mexico and Oregon, for the Lord will contrive a way to call out the honest in heart.” The Prophet Joseph said, “Thus saith the Lord, the government will send an army far away in the west Beyond the Rocky Mountains, and it will be just before the North and South go to war, and I will give it to you as a sign, as the Savior gave the disciples, ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded with armies they may know that their desolation is at hand.’” They heard the mother of the patriarch, Charles Hyde, give the interpretation of tongues in that temple. Among the things spoken was that “this people would be driven from city to city, and many would shed their blood for a testimony to the truth of this work, Joseph would be cast into prison, and the people would say ‘Mormonism is down.’ The trials would be so great that it would seem as if the Saints could never go through them. Then there would be another that would be more severe than the first, and it would appear as though they could never go through it. Then the power of the Lord would be made manifest, and their enemies confounded, and Joseph’s name would then be sacred among all nations.” He said that some of the Saints felt very sad over these things, believing that the Prophet would have to die before they could be fulfilled. We have witnessed his death and the fulfillment of the most of these predictions, and we know that the blood of our martyrs is still crying from the dust, and that He who has promised to avenge His people of their wrongs will repay our enemies fourfold, and that all they have taken from us will have to be restored with interest; and let the faithless ones mark it down, that day is nearer than many of us have imagined.
Woman’s Exponent, vol. 12, no. 12,
15 November 1883, pp. 89–90