Elijah F. Sheets

The Half-Century Bishop

D. Gene Pace

D. Gene Pace, “Elijah F. Sheets: The Half-Century Bishop,” in Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons, ed. Donald Q. Cannon and David J. Whittaker (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1985), 255–73.

D. Gene Pace taught history at Alice Lloyd College when this was published. He received his BS and MA from Brigham Young University and a PhD from Ohio State University. Gene has published articles related to Mormon history in the Journal of the West and BYU Studies. This article grew out of his doctoral dissertation on the roles of nineteenth-century Mormon bishops in selected communities.

Elijah F. Sheet’s forty-eight-year tenure as bishop exceeded that of any other bishop ever to serve in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served as bishop of the Salt Lake City Eighth Ward from 1856 to 1904. He also served at the central Church level as a traveling bishop, as the Church’s head livestock agent, and as an assistant trustee-in-trust.[1] Elijah Sheets became one of the most influential bishops in Mormon history.

Born on 22 March 1821, in Charlestown, Pennsylvania, Elijah was the son of Frederick Sheets and Hannah Page. Orphaned when only six years old, he resided with his grandparents; after approximately two years he moved in with the Edward Hunter family.[2] The Hunter-Sheets “father-son” relationship paralleled their subsequent interaction in Church administration. Edward Hunter rose to the position of Presiding Bishop and Elijah sheets emerged as one of Hunter’s most prominent subordinates. Appropriately, Presiding Bishop Hunter assisted in ordaining Sheets as a ward bishop in 1856.[3]

In 1840 nineteen-year-old Elijah entered the Church through baptism. He demonstrated his loyalty to the Church by moving to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1841 and becoming an elder in 1842. The Nauvoo years brought maturity to the Church in general and to Sheets personally. While in Nauvoo, Sheets performed a half-year of voluntary labor on the Nauvoo Temple without compensation. Prior to moving with the Saints to Utah in 1847, he served proselyting missions to Pennsylvania and Great Britain.[4] In 1850 Sheets took part in the settlement of Iron County, Utah.

After returning to Salt Lake City to live, Elijah F. Sheets became bishop of the Eighth Ward in 1856. During his tenure as bishop, however, Sheets did not reside continuously within the Eighth Ward boundaries or even in Salt Lake City. While still bishop, he moved to Provo where he became a counselor in the stake presidency, serving under Abraham O. Smoot.[5] Sheets later left the Provo area, but his stay there illustrates that in the nineteenth century a bishop was not necessarily released when residing in another city. Even when Sheets served a proselyting and genealogical mission to Pennsylvania in 1869 and 1870, he was not released as bishop. Perhaps it is appropriate that when he finally was released in 1904, Bishop Sheets did not reside in the ward he presided over.[6]

Elijah F. Sheets, like many other nineteenth-century bishops, practiced plural marriage. Although he married four wives, at no time was Sheets married to more than two living wives. His practice of plural marriage led to his imprisonment during the federal government’s anti-polygamy “raid” in the 1880s.[7] Imprisoned Mormons chose obedience to religious law over adherence to what they considered an unconstitutional violation of their religious freedom. As did other imprisoned Mormons, Bishop Sheets seemed to consider his incarceration as more of an honor than a condemnation. While in the penitentiary he posed for a photograph with other inmates in his prison apparel, and following his release from the “pen” his ward gave him a hero’s welcome at a social gathering they held in his honor.[8] Abraham A. Kimball, an imprisoned bishop who was in poor health, mentioned Bishop Sheets in his journal. In one entry reflecting Sheet’s concern for the ailing bishop, Bishop Kimball noted that “Bp E. F. Sheets gave me a Piece of homade cake.” In the same entry Bishop Kimball wrote:

I also received a nice piece of cheess which I was wishing for while at Supper. Bp E. F. Sheets called with Some grapes and asked me if I would like a piece of Cheess I Said yes he said his partner cell mate had Some he Came in a few minutes. he was the man Hansen who runs the Cache Valley Cheese factory.[9]

Sheets was not simply an ordinary ward bishop. He became the senior ward bishop in the Church, in addition to playing prominent roles in central Church leadership. This chapter focuses on the administrative activities of Bishop Sheets in order to provide insights into his leadership abilities, his personality, and his character. It also seeks to broaden our understanding of LDS administrative practices in the nineteenth century. In dealing with his activities as a ward bishop, this chapter explores several themes: Sheets’s attempt to promote spiritual and temporal unity within his ward, his use of teachers to extend his influence, and his attitudes and practices regarding social welfare.

Spiritual and Temporal Unity

As bishop of the Eighth Ward, Elijah Sheets sought to promote both spiritual and temporal unity within his congregation. His desire for social homogeneity reflected his strong support for the central Church leadership. During the 1850s when Jedediah M. Grant and other General Authorities made a concerted effort to purify the Church spiritually, Bishop Sheets carried out this “reformation” on the ward level. Taking his cue from the upper-echelon Church leadership, Sheets stressed the reformation. At an 1856 Sunday evening service, Bishop Sheets told his ward “that President Grant . . . gave the bishops instructions to get up a reformation in their wards that they might reform and be honest, pay their debts and tithing, and live as Saints of the most high, . . . to be more faithful and keep all of the commandments.”[10] He continued to stress the reformation in subsequent church meetings.[11] In 1857 many of the members of his ward demonstrated their desire for personal reform by being rebaptized.[12]

Bishop Sheets also demonstrated his support for his ecclesiastical superiors by supporting their position regarding temporal self-sufficiency. In 1867 he stated that “he wished the teachers to encourage home manufactures.”[13]

Besides encouraging the Saints to produce their own goods, Sheets also gave strong backing to the Church’s policy of boycotting gentile merchants. Anticipating the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which reached Utah in 1869, Brigham Young advocated preserving Mormon independence from outside financial control by supporting Mormon businesses and avoiding those owned by Gentiles. As a part of this effort, Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (Z. C. M. I.) was established in Salt Lake City. Branches of this parent store sprang up in many other Mormon settlements.[14]

Advocating President Young’s stance on economic self-sufficiency, Bishop Sheets, at a Utah Stake bishops’ meeting on 23 March 1869, expressed support for the idea of limiting consumer patronage to a single store in order to “dry up all the retail trade.”[15] The following day at a meeting of bishops, their counselors, and the presiding Relief Society officers of Provo’s four wards, Bishop Sheets spoke concerning the blessings he felt would accompany adherence to the Church’s position. He felt that the Church’s plan would “unite the faithful” and expose those who refused to submit “to the control of the holy priesthood.”[16] And Bishop Sheets wanted to begin immediately. “We ought to go into business within one week from this. Such a society cannot fail, for we ought all to understand that it becomes our duty to invariably trade at our own store and in this manner build it up.” He suggested that the bishops and their counselors serve on the board of directors of the proposed retail store.[17]

At a Utah Stake bishops’ meeting held 31 August 1869, Bishop Sheets stated that he did not consider a certain merchant to be a friend of the Church. He recommended “that the teachers visit every man and warn them that their fellowship is in danger if they continue trading with [the merchant under consideration]”[18] Later, at a teachers’ meeting held in the Salt Lake Eighth Ward on 26 October 1869, Sheets stated that “cooperation to some seemed to be a bug bear, but he was satisfied that it was only a stepping stone to greater things that will come.”[19]

Sheets’s Use of Teachers

Bishop Sheets used his teachers, the nineteenth-century parallel of modern-day home teachers, to enable him to maintain contact with ward members. Sheets met with his teachers personally to hear their reports, to make recommendations to them, and to provide personal direction for solving the problems of the ward. He was convinced that the service which the teachers provided was fundamental to the well-being of the ward. “There was no more important position in the Church than that of a good faithful teacher,” he once remarked.[20] At a teachers’ meeting held in 1880, Bishop Sheets instructed his teachers to visit every member of the ward “at least once a month and as much oftener as possible.” To emphasize the importance of their service, he told the Eighth Ward teachers that they were “as much on a mission as if they were sent to the nations of the earth and God required as much diligence from them.”[21] And Bishop Sheets did not exempt himself from needing visits from the teachers. At an 1875 teachers’ meeting, Sheets notified the teachers that probably a year had elapsed since the last time teachers had visited his house. Because he felt that “the teachers had an influence that was good among the people both old and young,”[22] Sheets missed their visits and did not want the teachers to overlook visiting his house.

Sheets believed that the teachers must live sufficiently righteous lives to merit the responsibilities of their office. At a teachers’ meeting held in 1879, Sheets dealt with a teacher who previously had been “suspended as acting as a teacher because he was fighting.” Because of these actions Sheets and his counselors had called the teacher before the bishop’s court. The teacher had become offended at the proceedings of the court. Sheets maintained that the teacher’s behavior left the bishopric no other choice than to act as they had. Their action is not specified in the minutes of the teachers’ meeting. Sheets argued, “We would not be justified in receiving [the teacher] into our bosoms without some restitution.” The bishop stated that he was “willing to take [the teacher] in full fellowship if he will manifest a penitent Spirit and make suitable reparation.” The wayward teacher responded by apologizing for hurting the bishopric’s feelings, requesting they forgive him, and assuring them he would try to do better. Following his statement he “was restored to full fellowship.”[23]

Besides using his teachers to assist him in his general overseeing of the ward, Bishop Sheets called on them to fulfill specific assignments, such as enlisting their aid in carrying out his responsibilities regarding tithing. At an 1873 teachers’ meeting, Bishop Sheets’s counselor, Isaac Brockbank, explained that the meeting’s primary objective was to ask the teachers to visit the members of the Eighth Ward in order to learn what occupations they had, how much remuneration they had received for their work, and the amount and kind of tithing they had paid thus far in 1873. Following Brockbank’s introduction of the subject, Bishop Sheets and his other counselor, John McAllister, followed by addressing the same theme. The inquiry began in the meeting itself with Sheets and others reporting their income and tithing paid during the year. The following week the teachers returned to report their findings. Although not all of the desired information had been acquired, the status of twenty-five ward members was disclosed.[24]

Bishop Sheets also called upon his teachers to encourage political participation. At an 1874 teachers’ meeting, he “referred to election matters and wished the brethren to see that the folks were urged to go to the polls and vote.”[25] In 1885 the bishop told the teachers he appreciated the vigilance of the people at the previous school trustee election, and now that another election was at hand he “urged the teachers to be as vigilant as before in getting the people to vote.”[26] In 1889, prior to another school trustee election, he “urged the Brethren to see that all the voters turn out.”[27]

In addition, Bishop Sheets relied on his teachers to settle problems within the ward. The teachers were to be tolerant but not to the point of improperly condoning unrighteousness. However, Sheets displayed a sensitivity to different circumstances of persons within his ward. In 1883 he referred to an unspecified difficulty between two parties and stated that he wanted the teachers to attempt to settle the matter without resorting to a bishop’s court. Although willing to hold courts when he deemed it necessary, Sheets in this case advised the teachers “to be lenient toward them as they were very ignorant in the principles of the Gospel and like little children and needed more teaching than others of more experience.”[28]

But Sheets did not believe that the teachers could simply overlook serious transgression without becoming personally responsible before God for such neglect of duty. At an 1875 teachers’ meeting, Sheets remarked that “he thought that mercy ought not to rob justice.” In the case being considered, Sheets stated that “he wished the teachers to find out if the parties that had been reported wished to belong to the Church.” He then warned that “the responsibility was upon the teachers until they were brought before the bishop and council.”[29] In 1882 two teachers wrote Bishop Sheets a letter stating that they had been unable to resolve a difficulty with a brother in the ward and consequently desired to turn the matter over to the bishop “that sin may not be attached to [them] as teachers in longer tolerating such unchristianlike conduct.”[30] Elijah Sheets taught his teachers to balance tolerance with inquiry into unacceptable conduct and with the application of necessary religious sanctions.

Social Welfare

Caring for the poor constituted one of the most important responsibilities Sheets assumed as bishop of the Eighth Ward. Consequently, understanding his attitudes toward social welfare is not only important in understanding Bishop Sheets but also in understanding nineteenth-century bishops in general, assuming that his thinking was representative. Because bishops held, to a significant extent, the purse strings in their wards, the social attitudes they espoused were of particular importance.

Elijah Sheets was personally charitable. He believed that “all that we have is the Lord’s and when he wishes it, to gather the poor from the nations or perform any work to build up the kingdom of God, it should be on hand.”[31] At an 1859 teachers’ meeting, Bishop Sheets and twelve others each donated one-half cord of wood for the benefit of the poor. At an 1859 teachers’ meeting, Bishop Sheets spoke regarding fulfilling the needs of the poor, and Sheets again donated one-half cord of wood for their benefit.[32] In 1863, Sheets spoke concerning “raising means to send to the Frontiers for the Poor” and then pledged a yoke of oxen, a wagon, and three hundred pounds of flour to that end.[33] In responding to the need for similar assistance in 1864, Sheets spoke on the subject at the teachers’ meeting and then followed by promising to furnish one yoke of cattle, one hundred pounds of flour, and a dried beef.[34] Following the arrival of a train of immigrants in 1865, the Deseret News reported that “Bishop Sheets, Elder Goddard and others of our citizens were busy with the new comers, finding them homes, looking to their welfare and otherwise having them properly cared for.”[35]

Besides being willing to part with his own means when he felt the occasion warranted, Sheets was also convinced that the Church should help provide for the legitimate needs of the poor. As a bishop he contributed Church funds to their welfare. In January 1882, the bishop spoke concerning “the many poor” which the Eighth Ward supported totally or partially and told the teachers “the poor must not be neglected.”[36] Also in April of that year, a report made at the teachers’ meeting indicated that the funds used to support the ward’s poor were low. The minutes stated, “At present we were in debt but still the poor never have suffered in this Ward.”[37] Sheets felt that the Latter-day Saints should be willing to produce not only for themselves but also for others. “The man who raises a bushel of wheat more than he needs for his own consumption has done so much for the general good,” he explained. “He must be a slothful servant who produces nothing more than he consumes.”[38]

Sheets’s brand of charity, however, did not include overgenerous giving. At a July 1882 teachers’ meeting, Sheets listened to a statement regarding a man whose wife had argued that her husband needed hospitalization, apparently to be funded by the ward. After several of those present disagreed with the woman’s request, Bishop Sheets remarked that this case was “peculiar” and had “two sides.” “In the first place,” he explained, “the man’s family had ought to care for him in his affliction.” Besides, he continued, “This Ward is out of funds and are now owing for the care of the poor already.”[39] In 1889, Bishop Sheets explained that he favored assisting “all worthy poor.” He did not favor helping persons who could work but were simply lazy.[40] Sheets advocated providing assistance for those who would otherwise suffer, but he opposed aiding those who could take care of their own needs. “The more we help some people,” he once said, “the more they need help.”[41] The bishop also believed that poverty involved not only actual conditions but also depended to some extent on one’s attitude concerning his circumstances. According to Sheets, “Those who feel poor always will be poor.”[42]

In spite of his philosophical sympathies toward the poor, the reality of providing for their assistance seemed to temper Sheets’s idealism. The bishop’s statements at an 1884 teachers’ meeting illustrate this dualism in his attitudes toward the poor. The immediate matter at hand was a bill Bishop Sheets had received from the teacher of the “Day School” requesting payment for the schooling of poor children. Sheets counseled those present “that if they fetch people into the ward that are too poor to provide for themselves they should see that they are maintained and not burden the ward with them.” Sheets’s counselor, Joseph McMurrin, remarked that no ward should be burdened disproportionately for the care of the poor, although he realized that poor people had as much right to choose in which ward to reside as rich people did. He personally favored assisting any poor that he might bring into the Eighth Ward. Bishop Sheets then explained “the difficulties that arise by allowing too many poor people to crowd into any ward without a bishop’s knowledge or consent.” He thought that as bishop he had the right to make sure “that the ward was not imposed upon.” Sheets attempted to clarify his position concerning the poor by arguing that he was not unfair to them. He noted that he had instructed two brethren in the ward “never to deny anyone whenever they applied [for assistance] or it was known in any way that they needed help.”[43]

In 1889 Sheets told the teachers, perhaps with some sarcasm, “We must be doing better to the poor than others; hence the reason why they flock in.”[44] Sheets’s thinking reflected support of a safety-valve philosophy: overcrowded wards and the poor could benefit from relocating the poor into less settled areas, commonly referred to as “the country.” Several months after his ordination as bishop in 1856, Sheets recommended that the poor be counseled “to go into the country.” He did not want poor persons brought into the Eighth Ward by anyone who was unable to provide for their support, and he hoped to prevent the ward’s becoming overburdened with “more than [its] share of the poor.”[45] Sheets still seemed to be trying to implement this safety-valve philosophy in 1880 when he stated that provision for housing in the country had been made for a brother but that the man was unwilling to accept the arrangement.[46]

In the life of Bishop Sheets we see the paradox that he faced as an administrator of voluntary donations made to the Church. He walked a philosophical tightrope. On the one hand, because of personal charitable feelings and adherence to Mormon doctrine, which advocated proper care of the poor, he dared not neglect the poor. On the other hand, he was philosophically opposed to doing too much for the poor. The paradox he faced and the balance he attempted to maintain were reflected in his statements and actions while bishop. The charitable Sheets donated for the relief of the poor, yet wished he were not “blessed” with more than his due share of the needy in his ward. He continually stressed the need not to overlook the needs of the poor, but also wished more of them would move out into the country. Sheets apparently saw no inconsistency in his social welfare attitudes and practices. To him the overriding philosophy of doing what was best for the poor encompassed both the need for charitable donations and the obligation to act in the best interests of the poor by not providing too much, to their detriment.

Expanded Leadership Duties

Sheets was more than an ordinary bishop. He stood somewhere between the local ward bishops and the General Authorities over the entire Church. In 1871 Sheets became a traveling bishop, the last one to be called in the Church. With his appointment to this position, Sheets became one of a small group of men who served as traveling bishops in nineteenth-century Utah, including John Banks, Alfred Cordon, Nathaniel H. Felt, David Fullmer, Abraham Hogalend, A. Milton Musser, David Pettigrew, Daniel Spencer, and Seth Taft.[47] Sheets’s letter of appointment, written by the First Presidency, detailed the duties which presiding officers expected him to assume.

Salt Lake City U[tah] T[erritory]

28 April 1871

Elder Elijah F. Sheets

Dear Brother.

You are hereby authorized and appointed to act as a Traveling Bishop throughout the settlements in Utah, Juab, San Pete and Millard Counties, and such other places as the First Presidency shall direct to take a general supervision of all Tithing donated in the district to which you are or may be assigned, and to see that all tithing butter, eggs, cheese, cash &c, be forwarded to the General Tithing Store in kind as received as well as all grain, vegetables, stock, &c, unless otherwise directed by the First Presidency, you will also counsel and advise with the Elders and Saints where you are, or may be appointed to travel, in such manner as the Holy Spirit may inspire, and advice from us from time to time may direct in temporal matters pertaining to the well-being of the Saints and the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God upon the earth.

That you may be constantly guided by the Spirit of the Lord to be as a father to the people, that your labors may prove a blessing to them, and to yourself, and that you may be an instrument in the hands of the Lord in doing a good work in the mission to which you are assigned

Is the Prayer of your Brethren

Brigham Young

Geo. A Smith

Daniel H. Wells[48]

As noted in his letter of appointment, Sheets became an agent designated to service under the direction of the First Presidency. Traveling Bishop Sheets, like local ward bishops, received an assignment regarding tithing administration. Unlike ward bishops, however, Sheets served as a traveling representative to the General Tithing Storehouse in Salt Lake City. As such, he was not subject to the geographical limitations on his authority which he faced as bishop of the Eighth Ward. An example of his service as a traveling bishop comes from Sheets’s brief account of his life. In 1871 he wrote, “Prest B. Young Invited me to take a trip with him and his company to Cache Valley & Bare Lake & Soda Springs, Which I did & seen to the Tithing &c.”[49] Following his service as traveling bishop, Sheets maintained the conviction that the First Presidency and others under whom he had served were pleased with his performance.[50]

Present information concerning Sheets’s activities as a traveling bishop is scanty. Presumably, he carried out the duties assigned him in his letter of appointment. Sheets does not state clearly when he ceased to be a traveling bishop, or even if he were ever released, although his service as a traveling bishop did not continue past 1880. In that year, Orson Pratt stated that there were no traveling bishops currently serving in the Church.[51] The difficulty of discovering what Sheets did as a traveling bishop is increased because of two additional calls he received during the same period. Several months after his call to be a traveling bishop, Sheets replaced Briant Stringham as the Church’s livestock agent. He continued in this second position until 1887.[52] Sheets also assumed the prestigious position of assistant trustee-in-trust in April 1873 and continued to act in this central-leadership capacity until September 1875.[53] Because all three callings related to the temporal affairs of the Church, his activities may well have merged and overlapped. Conceivably, Sheets could have dealt with the livestock of the Church, for example, because of his authority as a traveling bishop, livestock agent, or assistant trustee-in-trust.

During the presidencies of Brigham Young and John Taylor, a relatively small number of men served as assistant trustees-in-trust. Elijah Sheets was one of an even smaller number of non-General Authorities to hold that position.[54]

In reflecting on his service to the Church during the administration of President Young, Sheets seemed most proud of his accomplishments with the Church livestock. He recalled, “Our cattle and sheep increased to the thousands during this time [1871–1877] and the blessing of the Lord was upon them.”[55] Following President Young’s death, John Taylor retained Sheets as Church livestock agent. From 1878 onward, Sheets was responsible for all the Church’s livestock in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, as well as on all Church farms.[56]

In 1877 an administrative system involving a network of regional bishops, called bishop’s agents, was introduced in the Church. This may have alleviated the need for traveling bishops.[57] Nevertheless, on at least one occasion, Sheets received an assignment which resembled his previous calling as a traveling bishop. In a letter written 1 March 1881, President Taylor and Presiding Bishop Hunter wrote to Sheets: “You are hereby requested to proceed to Utah and other Stakes, and in connexion with the Bishops Agents and Bishops to Ascertain the condition of the Tithing hay, Potatoes and other vegetables, and so far as possible make such disposition of the same as will be the most beneficial in the interest of the church.”[58] While the reassignment did not call him as a traveling bishop on a permanent basis, it seems to have demonstrated the confidence which the General Authorities placed in this experienced bishop and their desire to utilize his talents and experience.

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Church’s governing body during the interim period between the death of President Young and the ordination of John Taylor as Church President, also continued to take advantage of Sheets’s abilities. In 1878 they appointed him to serve on a special committee to study the wages being paid to employees of the trustee-in-trust, including “all Clerks, Laborers, Carpenters, Blacksmiths, Teamsters, and other employees of the Trustee in Trust of the Church . . . in Salt Lake City and vicinity.” Following their investigation, the committee was to report to the Quorum of the Twelve.[59] Within a week of the first instructions written to the committee, Sheets and his fellow committee members received expanded responsibilities. The Apostles “unanimously decided to extend the scope of the labors of the Committee on wages.” The committee was now also to consider needed changes in the number of employees and in the “mode of doing Church business.”[60] The members of the committee, “Bishops L. W. Hardy, Robert T. Burton, E. F. Sheets and John Sharp and Elder A. M. Musser,”[61] ranked among the most prominent men in the Church. The appointment of Sheets to this committee, as well as his continued work as Church livestock agent, demonstrates the confidence which Elder Taylor and the other Apostles placed in him.


Elijah F. Sheets is unique in the history of the Church because of his forty-eight-year tenure as bishop of the Eighth Ward. Sheets may also be seen as a symbol of an age in which bishops differed from present-day bishops in several notable respects. Sheets typified an era in which a ward bishop could play an important role in Church administration outside his immediate ward. At a time when a number of ward bishops doubled as regional presiding bishops, Sheets rendered significant administrative service on the central Church level without being released as head of his ward.[62]

Elijah Sheets differed from modern bishops in his personal contact with the President of the Church and other General Authorities. Sheets valued the praise of his leaders and prided himself on his close association with them.[63] In 1897 he spoke to the members of the Eighth Ward “of his intimate acquaintance with the prophets from Joseph Smith to Wilford Woodruff.”[64] Sheets’s proximity to Church headquarters, his high-level responsibilities, and the relatively small size of the Church in his day gave him opportunities for personal association with the General Authorities that modern-day bishops do not commonly enjoy.

Remaining in office for an indefinite, extended period of time, Bishop Sheets could bring more personal influence to his position than if he had been called to serve for a definite, short term as are modern bishops. Sheets’s long tenure provided more opportunity for ward members to develop loyalty and emotional attachment to him as a man, and not simply as a bishop, than if he had served for a predetermined short tenure. Under present practices a ward would see about ten bishops called and released with clocklike regularity during the same period of time in which the Eighth Ward came under the leadership of a single personality. Bishop Sheets retained his position for an era, not a brief interval; for a half-century, not a half-decade.

Bishop Sheets expanded his influence in his ward by meeting personally with his representatives, the teachers. He heard their reports and gave suggestions directly rather than communicating through intermediary administrative officers. The less bureaucratic nineteenth-century Mormon ward allowed the bishop an opportunity to personally train his teachers. Elijah F. Sheets could thus impose his personal mode of thinking—his desires for spiritual and temporal unity, his view of the place of teachers in the Church, his social welfare attitudes—on his personal representatives. Elijah Sheets’s release as bishop in 1904 resulted not merely in a routine leadership change; it symbolized the end of an era in which a single bishop had personally influenced the nature of the Eighth Ward for decades and had filled key roles in Church administration outside his ward as well.


[1] Elijah F. Sheets, Journal, Elijah F. Sheets Collection, Library Archives, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City (hereafter cited as LDS Church Archives); Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901–36) 1:614–16. For additional information concerning Bishop Sheets and the Eighth Ward, see D. Gene Pace, “Community Leadership on the Mormon Frontier: Mormon Bishops and the Political, Economic, and Social Development of Utah before Statehood” (PhD diss., Ohio State University, 1983).

[2] Sheets, Journal; Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:614.

[3] Sheets, Journal.

[4] Sheets, Journal; Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:614.

[5] Sheets, Journal; Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:615.

[6] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 12 June 1904, LDS Church Archives.

[7] Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:615; Elijah F. Sheets, Family Group Records Collection, Genealogical Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: Sheets, Journal.

[8] Sheets, Journal; photograph, Utah State Historical Society. For general background on the government’s anti-polygamy efforts, see Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958), chap. 12, “The Raid,” 353–79.

[9] Abraham A. Kimball, Journal, 3 December 1888, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

[10] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 27 September 1856; punctuation and capitalization edited.

[11] For example, see Eighth Ward Historical Record, 1 October 1856, 4 October 1856.

[12] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 7 March 1857.

[13] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 28 February 1867; capitalization edited.

[14] For general background on the Mormon response to the coming of the transcontinental railroad, see Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, “Part Three: The Kingdom Threatened (1869–1884),” 233–349.

[15] Meetings of Bishops and Lesser Priesthood, Utah Stake, 23 March 1869, LDS Church Archives.

[16] Meetings of Bishops, 24 March 1869; spelling edited.

[17] Meetings of Bishops, punctuation edited.

[18] Meetings of Bishops, 31 August 1869.

[19] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 26 October 1869; spelling and punctuation edited. For excellent background on the priesthood office of teacher, see William G. Hartley, “Ordained and Acting Teachers in the Lesser Priesthood, 1851–1883,” Brigham Young University Studies 16 (Spring 1976): 375–98.

[20] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 14 November 1872; punctuation and capitalization edited.

[21] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 20 May 1880; spelling edited.

[22] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 24 June 1875; capitalization edited.

[23] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 24 April 1879.

[24] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 7 July 1873.

[25] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 31 July 1874; punctuation and capitalization edited.

[26] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 25 June 1885.

[27] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 5 July 1889.

[28] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 8 March 1883; capitalization edited.

[29] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 29 April 1875; punctuation and capitalization edited; italics in original.

[30] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 9 August 1882; capitalization edited.

[31] Journal History, 9 February 1868, 2.

[32] Eighth Ward Historical Record, September 1859, 27 October 1864.

[33] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 8 March 1863.

[34] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 3 March 1864.

[35] Journal History, 15 November 1865.

[36] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 12 January 1882.

[37] Ibid., 5 April 1882.

[38] Journal History, 9 February 1868, 2.

[39] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 27 July 1882.

[40] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 3 January 1889.

[41] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 10 December 1885.

[42] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 5 July 1866.

[43] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 26 June 1884; spelling and capitalization edited.

[44] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 3 January 1889; punctuation and spelling edited.

[45] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 29 September 1856; capitalization edited.

[46] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 20 May 1880.

[47] For a discussion of traveling bishops, see D. Gene Pace, “Changing Patterns of Mormon Financial Administration: Traveling Bishops, Regional Bishops and Bishop’s Agents, 1851–88,” BYU Studies 23 (Spring 1983): 184–86.

[48] Brigham Young, George A. Smith, Daniel H. Wells to Elijah F. Sheets, 28 April 1871, Brigham Young Letterbooks, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Church Archives.

[49] Sheets, Journal.

[50] Sheets, Journal.

[51] Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool, England: 1854–86), 22:34–35. Pratt made his statement on 10 October 1880.

[52] Sheets, Journal; Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:614–16.

[53] Sheets, Journal; Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:42, 614–16.

[54] See D. Gene Pace, “The LDS Presiding Bishopric, 1851–1888: An Administrative Study” (Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1978), appendix E, 189, for a list of trustees-in-trust sustained at general conferences from April 1851 to October 1891. This list was derived from reports of the conferences found in the Deseret Weekly News, the Deseret Evening News, and the Journal History, all available at the LDS Church Archives.

[55] Sheets, Journal.

[56] Sheets, Journal.

[57] For a discussion of bishop’s agents, see Pace, “Changing Patterns of Mormon Financial Administration,” 187–90.

[58] John Taylor and Edward Hunter to Elijah F. Sheets, 1 March 1881, Edward Hunter Letterbooks, Presiding Bishopric Collection, LDS Church Archives.

[59] John Taylor to Bishop L. W. Hardy and Associates, 28 January 1878, Council of the Twelve Apostles, LDS Church Archives; hereafter cited as John Taylor to Bishop L.W. Hardy.

[60] John Taylor to Bishop L.W. Hardy., 2 February 1878.

[61] John Taylor to Bishop L.W. Hardy., 28 January 1878.

[62] The use of regional presiding bishops is discussed in Pace, “Changing Patterns of Mormon Financial Administration,” 186–87.

[63] Sheets, Journal.

[64] Eighth Ward Historical Record, 19 September 1897; spelling and capitalization edited.