Everyone has a story. That’s what makes history so interesting—the experiences of people. Some of those people are our ancestors, which gives added interest when their stories are found. In encouraging us to keep a record, President Spencer W. Kimball said:
Your private journal should record the way you face up to challenges that beset you. Do not suppose life changes so much that your experiences will not be interesting to your posterity. Experiences of work, relations with people, and an awareness of the rightness and wrongness of actions will always be relevant. Your journal, like most others, will tell of problems as old as the world and how you dealt with them. …
Your journal is your autobiography, so it should be kept carefully. You are unique, and there may be incidents in your experience that are more noble and praiseworthy in their way than those recorded in any other life.
What could you do better for your children and your children’s children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved? Some of what you write may be humdrum dates and places, but there will also be rich passages that will be quoted by your posterity” (Kimball, S. W., 1980).
While we take counsel from his words on what we should be doing—keeping records for ourselves and our posterity—we can learn to value our ancestors before us by looking into the records they have left behind for the exact same reasons he gave.
We hear much of the more famous Church members of the nineteenth century: Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, etc., but there is value in learning about lesser-known members of the Church who contributed to the rise of the Lord’s kingdom in our day—particularly our ancestors. Just as their leaders, these individuals had marvelous experiences, trials, times they didn’t act correctly, but moments that can inspire us today as well. I would like to share a few stories about one of my ancestors—Zera Pulsipher.
You might be familiar with Parley P. Pratt’s conversion story—his autobiography has become somewhat of a Church classic, the story was produced as a short film used in How Rare a Possession and a Church history DVD collection or two, and Gordon B. Hinckley retold it when he issued his challenge to read the Book of Mormon in 2005. Elder Pratt was “called upon by the Holy Ghost to forsake [his] house and home [in Ohio] for the gospel’s sake” and was led to New York, where he came across a Book of Mormon. An old Baptist preacher “began to tell of a book, a STRANGE BOOK, a VERY STRANGE BOOK!” He then “felt a strange interest in the book.” When Pratt got his hands on it, he “read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.”
As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists. My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices and toils of my life.
He recounted that when he had the opportunity to finish the Book of Mormon, he felt that:
I esteemed the Book, or the information it contained in it, more than all the riches of the world. Yes; I verily believe that I would not at that time have exchanged the knowledge I then possessed, for a legal title to all the beautiful farms, houses, villages and property which passed in review before me, on my journey through one of the most flourishing settlements of western New York. (Pratt, P. P., 2009, Kindle location 395-436).
When told in full, his story is truly one of the greatest conversion stories of our time.
Zera Pulsipher had quite the miraculous experience as well. Pulsipher was a man raised in New England around the turn of the nineteenth century. Like many of those around him, including Parley Pratt, Zera was a seeker and felt to say many times that “if the pure Church with its gifts and graces was not on the earth, if so I had not found it. But I should be happy enough to find it in my day” (Zera Pulsipher, “History of Zera Pulsipher” in Lund, 1953, p. 12). Still, he felt that he should practice Christianity as best as he could and built a Baptist meetinghouse for his community congregation in Onondaga County, New York where served as a minister.
Sometime in late 1830 or early 1831, Zera “heard a Minister say that [there was] an ancient record or Golden Bible in Manchester near Palmyra” and stated that this remark struck him “like a shock of electricity [and] at the same time [I] thought it might be something that would give light to my mind upon principles that I had been thinking about for years”. This minister, identified by one of Zera’s neighbors as Solomon Chamberlin, sparked considerable interest in the Book of Mormon in Spafford, but seems to have not left one in town (see Nielsen, Zerah Pulsipher Conversion). When a copy made its way into town later in 1831 Zera got a hold of it and “directly read through it twice, gave it a thorough investigation and believed it was true” (ibid). His oldest son recalled that his father would get together “with the neighbors Elijah Cheney, [Shadrach] Roundy and others would sit and read and talk day and night ’till they read it through and through. They believed… it was just what they were looking for” (“John Pulsipher’s History” in Lund, 1953, p. 47). His wife added that they “believed it, but did not know anything more about it. We were very anxious to know more about it” (“Autobiography of Mary Brown Pulsipher” in Lund, 1953, p. 29).
That winter, a Mormon missionary named Jared Carter came into town to preach about Mormonism. Zera recalled that
As soon as he came into town I, with two Methodists Preachers, went to see him. After a reasonable introduction I questioned him upon the Principles of the ancient gospel with all its gifts belonging to it. I asked him if he believed it, he answered in the affirmative. I asked him if he had ever laid hands on the sick and they had recovered. Yes, he said, he had in many instances.
He preached the following evening to a crowded congregation, held up the Book of Mormon and declared it to be a revelation from God (in Lund, 1953, p. 12).
Apparently, Zera was watching intently to see if he could find fault with Brother Carter, but felt that he could not gainsay anything he said (see JD 8:38, Brigham Young, 6 April 1860; Lund, 1953, p. 12). In continuing to relate the meeting where Jared Carter preached and what happened afterwards Zera recorded that:
He sat down and gave liberty for remarks. The congregation seemed to be in a maze, not knowing what to think of what they had heard. I arose and said to the congregation that we had been hearing strange things and if they were the utmost importance to us. If not true, it was one of the greatest impositions and—as the preacher had said that he had got his knowledge from heaven and was nothing but a man and I the same—that I had just as good a right to obtain that blessing as he. Therefore, I was determined to have that knowledge for myself which I considered it my privilege, from that time I made it a matter of fervent prayer.
I think about the seventh day as I was thrashing in my barn with doors shut. All at once there seemed to be a ray of light from heaven which caused me to stop work for a short time, but soon began again. Then in a few minutes another light came over my head which caused me to look up. I thought I saw the angels with the Book of Mormon in their hands in the attitude of showing it to me and saying this is the great revelation of the last days in which all things spoken of by the prophets must be fulfilled. The vision was so open and plain that I began to rejoice exceedingly so that I walked the length of my barn crying ‘Glory Hallelujah to the God and the Lamb forever.’
For some time it seemed a little difficult to keep my mind in the proper state of reasonable order, I was so filled with the joys of heaven. But when my mind became calm I called the church together and informed them of what I had seen. I told them of my determination to join the Church of Latter-day Saints, which I did and a large body of my church went with me (in Lund, pp. 12-13).
The fact that that the Pulsiphers were baptized aroused a great deal of curiosity in their community. Mary Pulsipher recalled:
It was not long before the news went around that Brother and Sister Pulsipher were Mormons. Some would not believe it until they came to see us. We had plenty of visitors. Some came to try to convince us that it was all delusion. They thought they could reclaim us, but went away disconsolate. Others came to inquire. They said if we had got something better, they wanted to know it. They would be baptised and go home rejoicing (in Lund, 1953, p. 29).
For further reading on Zerah’s conversion story, click here.
Thus began Zera’s work of spreading the gospel. The missionary labors of Zera and Parley P. Pratt stand among the parallels that exist between these two leaders in the early Church. It is of even greater interest that both taught and baptized future presidents of the Church.
While serving a mission in Canada, Elder Pratt was led to visit a man named John Taylor in Toronto.
John Taylor commenced a thorough investigation of the doctrines of the Church. “I made a regular business of it for three weeks,” he said, “and followed Brother Parley from place to place.” He wrote down and studied Elder Pratt’s sermons and compared them with the scriptures. At length, the Holy Spirit bore witness of the truthfulness of Elder Pratt’s message, and John and Leonora Taylor were baptized on 9 May 1836. He later testified that he had “never doubted any principle of Mormonism since” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001, p. xiv).
John Taylor would later serve as the third president of the Church, leading the Church for almost ten years (three as president of the Quorum of the Twelve and seven as President of the Church).
Zera recorded that shortly after being baptized he “was ordained to the office of an Elder and went to preaching with considerable success at home and abroad.” He and another missionary, Elijah Cheney, traveled to the small town of Richland, New York. There, he records, “I had the privilege of baptizing Wilford Woodruff on the 31 Dec 1833” (in Lund, 1953, p. 13. See also Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996, p. 30). Wilford Woodruff would later become the fourth president of the Church, leading it for over eleven years (two as president of the Quorum of the Twelve and nine as President of the Church). It has even been stated that President Woodruff “is arguably the third most important figure in all of LDS church history after Joseph Smith, who began Mormonism, and Brigham Young, who led the Saints to Utah and supervised the early colonization of the intermountain west” (Alexander, 1991, p. 331).
The story of how the newly-converted missionaries were led to this future president is quite inspiring.
According to family records, one day after his conversion, Zerah was plowing the field and felt impressed to leave his work to preach the gospel. The urge was so strong that about 11 am. he unyoked his oxen from the plow and led them to the pasture and returned home. Then he asked his wife, Mary, for a clean shirt and a pair socks.“Where on earth are you going?” she asked.“I don’t know, only that I am going to preach the gospel. The Lord will show me where to go. I am going where He guides me.”“How long will you be gone?”“I don’t know,” he responded.“Well, all I can say is that you are crazy.”“No, I am not crazy.” Zerah retorted, “I am obeying the call of the Lord.”Immediately after dinner, he left home and headed in the direction in which he felt the Lord wanted him to travel. As he walked from Vermont to Richland, New York (located in northern N.Y. near Lake Erie (near Pulaski) he met another missionary and the two united their efforts. When they arrived in Richland they arranged to speak in a school house (Hall, pp. 3-4).
On the other end of the story, Wilford Woodruff was exposed to many different denominations as a youth. From the teachings of an older friend, the whisperings of the spirit, and studying the scriptures he came to the conclusion that they lacked the spiritual gifts and authority that they ought to have. When he told that to the ministers, they said that he was foolish for believing it and that “these things were given to the children of men in the dark ages of the world, and they were given for the very purpose of enlightening the children of men in that age, that they might believe in Jesus Christ. Today we live in the blaze of the glorious gospel light, and we do not need those things.” In response, Wilford replied: “Then give me the dark ages of the world; give me those ages when men received these principles.” (Woodruff, 1889, p. 450; see also Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004, pp. 36-37.) He also related that:
In my early manhood I prayed day and night that I might live to see a prophet. I would have gone a thousand miles to have seen a prophet, or a man that could teach me the things that I read of in the Bible. I could not join any church, because I could not find any church at that time that advocated these principles. I spent many a midnight hour, by the river side, in the mountains, and in my mill . . . calling upon God that I might live to see a prophet or some man that would teach me of the things of the kingdom of God as I read them (Woodruff, 1895, p. 741; or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004, p., xx).
On December 29, 1833, Wilford Woodruff finally heard the gospel from authorized servants of God as the two stories intertwined. He recounted:
For the first time in my life, I saw an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That was Zera Pulsipher. He told me that he was inspired of the Lord. He was threshing grain in his barn when the voice of the Lord came to him and told him to arise and go to the north, the Lord had business for him there. He called upon Brother [Elijah] Cheney, his neighbor and a member of the Church. They traveled sixty miles on foot . . . in deep snow, and the first place they felt impressed to call upon was the house of my brother and myself. They went into the house and talked with my brother’s wife, and they told her who they were and what their business was. They told her that they were moved upon to go to the north, and they never felt impressed to stop anywhere until they came to that house. When they told her their principles, she said her husband and her brother-in-law both were men who believed those principles, and they had prayed for them for years. They appointed a meeting in the schoolhouse upon our farm.
I came home in the evening, and my sister-in-law told me of this meeting. I had been drawing logs from the shores of Lake Ontario (I was in the lumber business), and I turned out my horses, did not stop to eat anything, and went to the meeting. I found the house and the dooryard filled with people. I listened for the first time in my life to a Gospel sermon as taught by the Elders of this Church. It was what I had sought for from my boyhood up (Deseret Evening News, March 1, 1897, 1; or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004, p. 37).
President Woodruff recorded his response to the first sermon he heard from Zera Pulsipher:
He commenced the meeting with some introductory remarks and then prayed. I felt the Spirit of God to bear witness that he was the servant of God. He then commenced preaching, and that too as with authority, and when he had finished his discourse I truly felt that it was the first gospel sermon that I had ever heard. I thought it was what I had long been looking for. I could not feel it my duty to leave the house without bearing witness to the truth before the people. I opened my eyes to see, my ears to hear, my heart to understand, and my doors to entertain him who had administered unto us (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, introduction).
I invited the men home with me. I borrowed the Book of Mormon, and sat up all that night and read. In the morning I told Brother Pulsipher I wanted to be baptized. I had a testimony for myself that those principles were true. Myself and my brother . . . went forth and were baptized—the two first in that county” (Woodruff, 1897, p.1; or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004, pp. 37-38).
For further reading, click here.
Callings and Ancestry
To continue the comparisons, both Parley P. Pratt and Zera Pulsipher shared common ancestors with Joseph Smith and they were both called to high church callings by him.
Joseph told Parley’s brother in a letter that he “had a vision in which he saw that [the Pratt’s] ancestral line and his had a common ancestor a few generations back” (in Madsen, 1989, p. 107). The Pratts were never able to find the connection, but it was discovered later on by a man named Archibald F. Bennett: they both descended from John Lathrop. Lathrop was also the ancestor of Wilford Woodruff, Oliver Cowdery, Frederick G. Williams, Zina Huntington Young, George Albert Smith, Harold B. Lee, Orson F. Whitney, M. Russell Ballard, Quentin L. Cook, and other Church leaders (Larsen). “In fact one estimate concludes that one-fourth of the early Church members in America were descended from John Lathrop” (Madsen, 1989, pp. 107-108). Zera was not among the group that shared that particular ancestor, but he and Joseph shared a common ancestry in Thomas and Susana Dutton—Zera’s third great-grandparents and Joseph’s fourth great-grandparents.
Elder Pratt was ordained to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1835 (see D&C 124:129) and Zera Pulsipher was ordained as one of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventies in 1838 (see D&C 124:138-39). A Seventy is an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood drawn from the idea of the seventy elders Moses took with him to the mount to see God and bear witness of Him to Israel and the seventy Christ called to serve as missionaries during His ministry (see Exodus 24:9-10; Luke 10:1). “The primary responsibility of the seventies in the early days of the Church was to preach the gospel as missionaries. They were presided over by seven presidents” (Millet, Olson, Skinner, Top, 2011, p. 584). While serving as one of those presidents, Zera had to exercise leadership under some interesting circumstances.
His son, Charles recorded that:
We moved to Kirtland in 1835…. [Later on] the mob violence became terrible and the leaders of the church had to leave Kirtland. They went to Missouri and sent for the rest of the people to come there.
During the winter of 1837-38, the Saints were left in charge of the Seventies at Kirtland, Ohio. All that had means had gone to Missouri, about five-hundred remaining. (“History of Charles Pulsipher,” in Lund, 1953, p. 64)
Zera related that:
I remained in Kirtland with about four of the First Presidency of the Seventies…. We counseled together from time to time on the subject [of leaving with everyone] and came to the conclusion that we could not effect the purpose [short] of the marvelous power of God by the power of the Priesthood. Therefore we concluded to best go into the Temple in attic story and pray that our Father would open the way and give us means to gather with the Saints in Missouri which was near a thousand miles away. Accordingly, one day while we were on our knees in prayer, I saw a messenger apparently like an old man with white hair down to his shoulders. He was a very large man near seven feet high, dressed in a white robe down to his ankles. He looked at me, then turned his eyes on the others and then to me and spoke and said, “Be One and you shall have enough.” This gave us great joy, we immediately advised the brothers to scatter and work for anything that they could get that would be useful in moving to a new country (in Lund, 1953, p. 14).
We had made a covenant that we would band together, and go up into Missouri together or die in the attempt. Our enemies heard of this and declared we should not roll out more than two wagons at a time.
Two days before we were to start, one of our worst enemies came to father, who was one of the councilmen and said, “I understand you are expecting to move in a few days.”
“Yes”, father said, “we are.”
He said, “I want you to come and camp in my pasture the last night, as there is plenty of feed for all your animals, and I will use all my influence to prevent you from being harmed” (in Lund, 1953, p. 64).
Zera related that the Methodist meeting house in town had been burned and the mob was blaming this tragedy on the Seventies as a pretext to destroy the Mormons. This man: “the great leader of the mob who had once been a Mormon” had a vision of the actual people who had fired the house and informed the mob that it wasn’t the Council. While they weren’t convinced, he was, and he felt to help them out. “Consequently, we accepted his kind offer and on the 6th of July, 1838, everything being ready, we rolled out…. We were not molested in the least by our enemies” (in Lund, 1953, p. 64).
This company of over 500 Saints–known as the Kirtland Camp–made the 866 mile journey to Missouri over the course of the next three months in difficult circumstances. They were organized in much the same way as future camps that traveled to Utah: divided into companies of tens, with captains over each, ultimately responding to the Presidents of the Seventy. The camp was generally awakened at 4:00 am each day. At 4:20 the families would join together for prayers. By seven or eight o’clock they were generally on their way, traveling from twelve to twenty miles a day, often fighting against muddy roads and lack of money. They earned income by performing odd jobs along the way. Discouragement was enough of a problem that by the time they reached Springfield, Illinois, the company had been reduced to 260 persons (see Allen, J.B., Leonard, G. M., 1992, p. 125; Anderson, K. R., 1989, 1996, pp. 240-241).
Those who remained pressed on to Missouri despite warning that mobs were driving the Saints from the state and were directed by Joseph to settle in Adam-ondi-Ahman after being joyously received in Far West. The Pulsiphers lived there for a month, dealing with mob violence the whole time. When the mobs drove them out entirely, the family went to Illinois with the other Saints, suffering immensely along the way. Zera settled in Nauvoo, helped build the temple and received his endowments there before crossing the plains.
His family was among the Saints the left Nauvoo on 2 February 1846. As they crossed Iowa, Zera “frequently went ahead to pioneer the way” (In Lund, 1953, p. 20). He went with Parley and Orson Pratt to find the location for Garden Grove, a place where the poor could stop while the forward company went onward. He then settled in Winter Quarters, where the family suffered immensely again. Then, he traveled to Salt Lake during the year 1848, serving as a captain of 100 along the way under Brigham Young, and arrived in September of that year.
Obedience and Disobedience
People are people and are prone to mistakes. Parley Pratt and Zera both had theirs.
During the Kirtland era, there was a time where many leaders of the Church doubted Joseph Smith or totally apostatized.
Backbiting against Joseph Smith was common during the spring and summer of 1837 in Kirtland, particularly when he was away on business or on missions. Some men who held positions of trust in the Church rejected his leadership and declared that he was no longer a true prophet. When Elder Parley P. Pratt returned from a Canadian mission the apostasy was well under way. He was temporarily caught up in these difficulties and left a candid account of his involvement.
“There were also envyings, lyings, strifes and divisions, which caused much trouble and sorrow. By such spirits I was also accused, misrepresented and abused. And at one time, I also was overcome by the same spirit in a great measure, and it seemed as if the very powers of darkness which war against the Saints were let loose upon me” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003, p. 173).
From other accounts we learn that:
When Joseph, battered by creditors, tried to collect payment for three city lots he had sold Parley Pratt in the inflationary delirium a few months earlier, Pratt exploded in rage and frustration: ‘If you are still determined to pursue this wicked course, until yourself and the church shall sink down to hell, I beseech you at least, to have mercy on me and my family.’… It took months for the Pratts to recover their composure and return to the fold” (Bushman, 2005/2007, p. 337).
He charged the prophet with “covetousness, and taking advantage of his brothers by undue religious influence” and complained bitterly to others. “One Sunday, Parley Pratt preached that Joseph ‘had committed great sins.’ After Rigdon defended the Prophet, Pratt left in protest” (Bushman, 2005/2007, p., 338). When he approached John Taylor and told him some the things he thought Joseph was in error about, he was rebuked by his convert:
I am surprised to hear you speak so, Brother Parley. Before you left Canada you bore a strong testimony to Joseph Smith being a Prophet of God, and to the truth of the work he has inaugurated; and you said you knew these things by revelation, and the gift of the Holy Ghost…. If the work was true six months ago, it is true today; if Joseph Smith was then a prophet, he is now a prophet (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001, p. 77).
He repented not long afterwards:
The Lord knew my faith, my zeal, my integrity of purpose, and he gave me the victory.
I went to brother Joseph Smith in tears, and, with a broken heart and contrite spirit, confessed wherein I had erred in spirit, murmured, or done or said amiss. He frankly forgave me, prayed for me and blessed me. Thus, by experience, I learned more fully to discern and to contrast the two spirits, and to resist the one and cleave to the other (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003, p. 173).
As for Zera, once he arrived in Utah, he continued to do many great things and some things that weren’t so great. He built a grist mill in the Salt Lake Valley and sold meal at low rates or gave free to those who had little or nothing. He moved to the Jordan area and during the the 1850’s and he recorded that “there was nothing then of very extraordinary nature with exception of Bro. Brigham preaching continually to bring the Church to obedience, but they were growing rich and careless” (In Lund, 1953, p. 22).This was the Mormon reformation of 1856-1857:
Sparked by the preaching of Jedediah M. Grant, second counselor in the First Presidency, the reform was an effort to persuade the Saints to renew their dedication to righteous living. The leaders, deeply concerned about what appeared to be signs of moral and spiritual decay, traveled around the territory preaching repentance and rededicating themselves fully to the work of the Lord and to seal this rededication with rebaptism (Allen, Leonard, 1992, p. 287).
As a leader in the Kingdom, Zera was not exempt from the fiery preaching and calls to repentance of the reformation. At a meeting of the seventies, when volunteers were asked for assignments and few offered assistance, President Grant arose and stated:
I feel that there are some things that greeve [sic] me. President [Joseph] Young was asked if it would not be well to send the Presidents of seventies out. He said No they would Preach the people to sleep and then to Hell. Now this shows me that the Presidents of the seventies[,] the first seven Presidents[,] are asleep and there is sumthing [sic] wrong with them. If this is the case that they would preach the people to sleep & then to Hell Then this body of Counsellors [sic] are guilty of Great sins either of omission or Commission, & I would advise Joseph Young to cut off his council & drop them & appoint men in his stead who are full of the Holy Ghost & will act with him & assist him….
I think that Brother Joseph ought to Cut them off & prune the trees around him. How can the body be kept awake & Healthy when the head is asleep & dead? It has been with great reluctance that I have voted for the presidents of the seventies for a long time. And I will say to these seventies if your Presidents have gone to sleep dont you go to sleep, but keep awake. If your Presidency have committed Adultery & done wrong & committed great sins that will damn them dont you do it but wake up.
Is there any man that is in that Council that has been ordained a counselor to Joseph Young? If so, I do not know it. But each man was ordained a president & is under as much obligation as Joseph Young is to magnify his Calling & do his duty. But they never think of such a thing of taking any burden upon their shoulders but leave it all for Joseph Young to do & he has to drag them along…. Who has established the president to take men who were in the battallion to be presidents? I would take men who were full of the Holy Ghost. I do not care where the hell they come from. This is what I want. I say again, the Presidents of the Seventies are asleep, and if they do not wake up, they should be cut off.
He spoke of each of the presidents about neglecting their duties. To Zera, he stated: “And Zerah Pulsipher[,] if He would preach the people to sleep & [is] guilty of some abominable sins of commission or omission of committing Adultery or some great sins & ought to be dropped” (Wilford Woodruff Journal, October 7, 1856).
Two months later, the calls to repentance continued as Heber C. Kimball made similar statements about the Seventies, specifically noting Zera, in a public meeting (see JD 4:139-140, December 21, 1856). Zera later recalled:
I was not aware that I had become so dull and careless relative to my duty, till Bro. Kimball called on me in public to awake to my duty. I began to call more fervently on the Lord [and] I soon saw that Bro. Kimball was right and that I was holding a high and responsible station in the Church as asleep with many others.
… I with the associates of my Council went before Brother Brigham and informed him that if he knew of any others that would take our places better, magnify it for the interest of the Kingdom than we could, he was perfectly at liberty to do so, but he told us to go and magnify our calling ourselves (in Lund, 1953, pp. 22-23).
It seems that he made an effort to do so and live a life of obedience to the prophet and serving the Lord. He reported that “I had much labor too among the Seventies, remaining councilor. I was frequently out 4 or 5 evenings a week besides day meetings” (ibid. 23). He also practiced polygamy, as was taught by the prophets of the time.
At some point, however, reports show that he tried before the presidency for sealing men to women without proper authority. One record states that:
In some manner, he exceeded the bounds of his authority in exercizing the Sealing Power, and was subsequently released from the Presidency of the Seventy. He was then called before the First Presidency of the Church April 12, 1862. It was there voted, that he be rebaptized, reconfirmed and ordained to the office of a High Priest. Subsequently he was ordained a Patriarch. Elder John Van Cott was chosen as his successor in the First Council of Seventies (Jensen, 1901, p. 194).
Wilford Woodruff added that Zera was on trial for “sealing women to men without authority,” clarifying what the abuse was (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 12 April 1862). For further reading, click here.
In the fall of that same year, he moved to an area known as Shoal Creek in southern Utah. Previous to his moving there, his sons John, Charles, and William had settled in the region under assignment to find a place to herd the cattle and horses from St. George. Other families moved in in subsequent years due to being called to help and for protection during the Indian wars. During August of 1868 President Erastus Snow came with the county surveyor, George A. Burgon (who is my great-great grandfather on the other side of my family) from St. George, and surveyed the town site. It was named Hebron due to it being a herd ground, like the Hebron of the Bible. President Snow wanted to place the town across and further down the creek, where it would be easier to get water, but the people wanted it near the old fort where he predicted that: “It was to be very expensive and hard work to put the water up there and keep it.” This would turn out to be too true (Huntsman, 1929).
The town grew, but it faced trouble: Indian conflicts, drought, disease, internal conflict, and natural disaster combined to make the already uninviting land uninhabitable. Most residents moved away or moved to the neighboring community of Enterprise, especially after an earthquake in 1902 that ruined most of the homes in Hebron. By 1910, the town was abandoned. The locals blamed the town’s failure on the spirits of Gadianton Robbers that they believed haunted their town location, making it impossible to live there (and making it doubly a ghost town by the early twentieth century). One inhabitant recounted: “As a child I remember of hearing the older folks talking about how evil spirits seem to hover about that part of the country. It was the people’s belief that way back in history, that strip of country had once been the hideout of the notorious Gadianton Robbers that were so much talked about in history. They felt their spirits still haunted the country” (Hunt, 1968, p. 33).
In reality, it was probably the earthquake, floods, cool climate, lack of water, and disunity that caused the demise of their settlement. As another inhabitant related: “[it] wasn’t exactly a paradise,” and “it was so cold, too cold to raise fruit and garden stuff.” Her grandmother, Mary Huntsman Leavitt, also added: “that place was not intended to be for human beings, only cattle and sheep.” (Brooks, 1982/1992, p. 43).
One book records that there was a
perplexing degree of strife that disrupted their community-building efforts. The town failed miserably in its United Order attempt in 1874. Family feuds erupted on occasion, such as when William Pulsipher struck Jefferson Hunt with a rock in 1879, causing “a gash one-and-a-half inches long on his head, besides some bruises.” The Huntsmans and Callaways had disputes, as did the Laubs and Barnums. Power conflicts also caused contention: St. George authorities stripped Zera Pulsipher of his influence as presiding elder after he tangled with the school board; Bishop George Crosby moved away after being “burned out” by “an outlaw”; and Bishop Thomas S. Terry resigned after ward “busy bodies” began to “complain and ask for another Bishop.” When Terry’s replacement, George A. Holt, selected his counselors, one refused to serve, and the congregation voted not to sustain the other. In 1893, Zera P. Terry summarized the problem: God allowed “self willed men to direct [the town] and the people have had to suffer. Our place and people have become the subject of the scoffs and jeers of their outside brethren & sisters.” Battles over land, death by neglect, and the enticements of non-Mormon mining towns also exposed rifts (Reeve, 2011, pp. 62-63).
As we read in the paragraph above, Zera was a part of the conflicts at least once. Yet, at other points he helped restore unity to the divided community. When one of the Callaway children fell ill in 1866 and only “got worse” after being doctored and administered to, the elders gathered to take action. Zera, who was their leader at this point, instructed that: “We must exercise more than common faith to stop the destroyer—we must humble ourselves before God and covenant to keep all his commandments.” They covenanted to do so, uniting their faith, and “the child was restored to health” (Hebron Ward Historical Record, 1862-1867, 1:83-85).
From the writings they left behind, both Zera and his wife Mary Brown Pulsipher seemed to like Hebron, despite all its difficulties. Zera wrote that “I found it to be a very healthy section and I enjoyed myself very well, considering the obscurity of the place. We were a great distance from the abode of white men in the very midst of the roving red men” (in Lund, 1953, p. 24). Mary wrote that “I have been in Hebron from the beginning… have lived in [our house] about 15 years, and enjoyed myself wonderfully well in it. Have had much joy and comfort in it. Have seen the place grow and flourish…. I never expect to find any place I like as well” (in Lund, 1953, p 32).
It was at this remote location that Zera Pulsipher died on 1 January 1872. According to the journal of John, during 1870
Father had a severe fit of sickness which came very near taking him away. He saw a vision–Elder Kimball, who had died a few months before, in a carriage more beautiful than is known on Earth, called him to jump in and go along with them. He was informed that he had worked too hard and had not taken proper care of himself. He was about to go. But William’s faith, prayers and administrations prevailed with the Lord and father had permission to stay awhile longer. As soon as he had recovered, so he could be moved, William brought him back here to his better home, as he was aware it was not pleasing to us, for him to take father down to that hot country! So he would not consent to let him die there.
Then, on Sunday, 31 Dec 1871, John recorded that:
Father is sick–was taken last Wednesday with pain in his side, was annointed and administered to–which eased the pain, but he said he would not be with us long, had his children called from Pine Valley and St. George 30 and 50 miles away, to attend a family meeting Sunday Evening and when the time arrived the family was at Father’s house, which was the principal meeting of the town.… We had a very good meeting– singing, prayer and speeches by nearly all the brethren and some of the sisters, on the subject of Father’s history and his doing in life-the good counsel he has given, and the glory that awaits him in mansions that are prepared for him–where he is about to go.
He was weak not able to say much, but was intense in the object and prospect before him, and in the welfare of the family and friends he was about to leave behind. He wished us to sing: ‘This Earth was once a Garden Place’., which we did and meeting closed; yet most of us stayed with him.
He was not able to talk much more after he had finished on business and encouraged us to do our duty to those he was leaving with us and be firm and faithful in the Kingdom of God.
His breath grew shorter and shorter until he stopped breathing 20 minutes to eleven next night, he died!” (“A Short Sketch of the History of John Pulsipher, written by himself”).
On one family history forum, one descendant of Zera Pulsipher stated that: “it is my understanding that he passed away holding the Priesthood of a Patriarch…. I know he died in full fellowship in the church. He did a GREAT work and was a great influence for good in the church. He has one of the largest families in the lds church today” (kmblake, 2011).
One thing I noticed from the records is that how he was with his family came up relatively often. Because of that, and because, as David O. McKay would say: “no other success can compensate for failure in the home” I would like to close by mentioning a few things that were said about him as a father and husband.
He recorded that: “I… have raised a large family” (in Lund, 1953, p. 2), and indeed he did. He married Polly or Mary Randall when he was about twenty one. They had one daughter before she died about a year after they were wed. He then married Mary Ann Brown during the year 1815, when he was about twenty-seven. He wrote that she was “a very agreeable companion by whom I have a large family of kind children” (ibid, p. 12). Together they had eleven children, seven of which lived to adulthood. By 1879, Mary said that “I have 56 grandchildren and 75 great grandchildren…. And increasing at a wonderful rate.” (ibid., pp. 31-32) In Utah, he obeyed the principle of polygamy, marrying Prudence McNanamy in 1854 and Martha Hughes in 1857, who bore him five children (see Cook, 1981). On the subject of polygamy, he stated that
Some women think that if their husbands get another wife they cannot love them any more, but they are under great mistake for he can love one hundred as well as the sun can shine upon each of them in a clear day, if God requires you to get them. Such idle thought should be banished from their minds forever. Why it is so, because it is God’s order, a man may love his wives just in proportion to their acts of kindness to him (ibid, 24).
Concerning his father John Pulsipher recorded in 1842 that:
Nothing of importance transpired with me, only that I had a good father who never failed to keep plenty of work laid out to keep boys busy, or as he said, “to keep boys out of mischief.” I sometimes thought he was rather hard with the children, but when I became older, I was thankful that he never let me go as some of our neighbors boys did, who lived without steady work, for they were soon taken to a steady home—the State’s prison (“A Short Sketch of the History of John Pulsipher, written by himself).
Zera made a point to gather his family together on at least an annual basis to strengthen them in unity and in the gospel. He wrote: “The first was on February 1855, I called my children together at my house in Salt Lake. At the meeting I said, ‘I want to instruct you a little and give such advice, which I hope you will remember.” He would then teach them such things as: “get the Spirit of the Lord and keep it… When a man has a number of good children he loves all of them…. Never speak till you know what you are going to say. Never whip a child in anger, be sure that the spirit of the Lord dictates you when you groom your children.” He would then let the other members of the family speak, and “each child would bear their testimonies.” It was written that “These meetings were held regular once a year and recorded until his death” (in Lund, 1953, p. 24).
It was noted in a patriarchal blessing given to Mary in 1875 that: “Thou shalt… go down to they grave… rejoicing that thy sons and daughters are mighty in Zion. Thou shalt reign Queen in company with thy companion over thy posterity to all eternity” (Smith, J. S., 1875, p. 1). As to how his children turned out, Mary recorded that:
I used to say when my children were small if I could live to see my children grow up and be honorable men and women, it would be all I could ask for. I have lived to see them settled with good families, all trying to do what good they can do to build up the Kingdom of God. I feel very thankful and much pleasure with my children (in Lund, 1953, p. 28).
So, you see, Zera Pulsipher is one of the lesser-known men of the early Church who left a good example and influence on his descendants and others. He has an amazing conversion experience and helped many others to have their own, including Wilford Woodruff. He provided leadership to a group of saints during a time of trial, and continued to lead throughout his life. He wasn’t perfect, but did a great many good things. Foremost among these things was raising up a righteous posterity to pass his legacy on—a posterity that includes myself. Whether or not I’m righteous will be something to see at judgment day, but I do bless the name of my fourth-great-grandpa Pulsipher.
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