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Prologue to healing Letter

Written by Gracia JonesCreated: 28 April 2011

In the wake of the assassination of Joseph Smith, there were many difficult times for the surviving Smith family; and also for the leaders who remained to preserve The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its mission to the world.   Weighing heavily upon Brigham Young, who, as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was facing the need to protect the Church itself from disintegrating into fragments; and weighing upon the Prophet’s widow, Emma Hale Smith was the need to provide for and protect her five fatherless children.

It was probably inevitable, given the fact that Smith died without a will, that conflicts would arise over ownership of property (almost all heavily mortgaged), and held in Smith’s name as Trustee-in Trust for the Church, and over possession of documents of importance to both the entire Church and to Emma.

Emma’s holding onto the unpublished manuscript of Joseph’s translation of the Bible, and her attempt to obtain papers held by Young, which she considered hers by right, opened a fissure which widened despite the amicable resolution of most property issues.

When Brigham Young led the bulk of the Latter-day Saints west to the Rocky Mountains in 1846-47, Emma elected not to go.   The Church leaders felt they had left Emma well-off with a hotel, houses, lots to sell, and a farm.  They expressed hope that she would change her mind and follow them later.  This might have eventually happened except for the actions of agents placed in charge of attending to settling the Smith estate.  Emma was deeply hurt, both emotionally, and financially, by unscrupulous actions of some, after Brigham and the rest of the Apostles had left.

In the hearing of Emma’s teenaged son, Joseph III, one agent told Emma he was determined to take her west; he said he would ‘make her so poor she would have to go.’  As soon as the majority of Latter-day Saints left Illinois, Emma’s property became nearly worthless and subject to litigation over title issues; she was reduced to poverty level.  Her son would remember the strong-arm tactic to try force his mother out of Nauvoo, and in later years he blamed Brigham for the bondage of debt she carried most of the rest of her life.

Emma remarried in 1847, and raised her children in Nauvoo, far apart from the LDS Church influence, avoiding as much as possible any discussion of the troubled times which had robbed her of her beloved Joseph. According to their own testimony, she did not discuss Church doctrine, or attempt to influence her children for or against church work.

Dissenters against Brigham Young’s leadership eventually established a group called the Reorganization; they prevailed upon Joseph III to become their leader.  After refusing to lead their church for several years, he later took leadership in 1860.  In subsequent years, Joseph III’s brothers, Alexander and David, became ministers in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  In the 1870s, Alexander and David went to Salt Lake City where they met face-to-face with Brigham Young and other church leaders who had known their father.  They asked to use the Tabernacle for preaching; when asked what they would preach, Alexander told them he would preach against the doctrines and practices of the Utah Church. Of course they were denied use of the Tabernacle.

The conflict which occurred between Brigham Young and Alexander was reported publicly by both Salt Lake newspapers and by the Smith’s in the RLDS publication, The Saints’ Herald.   In Utah, Emma was denounced publicly as ‘a wicked woman’ and the Smith boys returned to the Mid-west filled with indignation for her sake.  Thereafter, in many of their sermons, Brigham Young was denounced as a usurper and false leader.  Alexander’s bitter feelings against Brigham Young included a belief that he had in some way contrived to have their father killed so he could take over leadership of the Church.  This terrible falsehood had been promoted by the dissenters since 1845; although Joseph III stops short of expressing such certainty, Alexander, in his journal entries and letters bequeathed an unspeakable prejudice into many generations of the Smith posterity, thus instilling a feeling of antagonism toward the name of Brigham Young and an irrational fear of having anything to do with the ‘Mormon Church.’

At the western end of the issue, in LDS folklore, and tradition, Emma was either ignored, or branded as a wicked apostate.  Generations of Latter-day Saints knew next to nothing of her, though some went so far as to blame her for Joseph’s death.

It is important to realize that there were ‘false witnesses’ born by individuals from both followers of Brigham Young and Joseph Smith III, each in defense of the position the particular side had taken.  Thus, Brigham Young and Emma Hale Smith Bidamon, Joseph’s two most devoted and loyal friends, were made to appear to be mortal enemies and used to support a vicious prejudice for far too many generations.