by Shaun Heaton
It had been 60 years since any Jesse N. Smith’s family member knew what had happened to the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith fondly gave to his 7-year-old youngest cousin Jesse. It was a treasured family heirloom and a symbol of Grandpa Jesse’s love for the restored Gospel. Had it been lost, stolen, or misplaced? Here is the incredible story.
In 1839, Grandpa had lost his father Silas Smith Sr., brother to Joseph Smith Sr., and his 6-year-old brother John, as a result of Missouri persecution. Joseph and Hyrum and Uncle John Smith took it upon themselves to take care of the tiny family of Mary Aiken, mother to young Silas Jr. and Jesse. In adult life, Silas Jr. is remembered for being called by Erastus Snow to lead the San Juan Saints to the San Juan as detailed in Gerald Lund’s book Undaunted.
In his April 1905 General Conference address in the tabernacle, President Jesse N. Smith, first leader of the Snowflake Stake, shared this striking and humorous experience he had in Nauvoo.
When I was enabled to go to school, there were no free schools then; contracts were made by the parents; and I had a very meagre supply of books, almost none at all. I had heard that they were using the Book of Mormon in the schools, so I took my father’s Book of Mormon with me. It was the first edition. Our honored Patriarch was in that class with his Book of Mormon: young Joseph Smith [the third], the son of Sidney Rigdon, the son of William Marks, and the son of Peter Haws were also in the class. I was in good company. But they all had books of the second edition, with new and beautiful binding, and I felt I was a little behind them. As I was going to school one morning, and passing the Prophet’s place, he was walking in the garden, and he answered my salutation. I think he would answer any child’s salutation just as readily as that of a grown person. He came up to the fence and spoke very kindly to me. He said, “You are going to school?”“Yes.”“What book do you read in?”“I read in the Book of Mormon.”“Come in here.”I passed in at the gate and he made a present of a Book of Mormon of the new edition, with beautiful binding. I could then hold up my head with the rest of the others in class. He gave me this injunction: “Read it in school and read it at home.” I have done so. I believe the Book of Mormon.
The Prophet wrote an inscription inside that said “Presented to Jesse Nathaniel Smith. My friend and kinsman. Joseph Smith March 1842.”
Grandpa Jesse went on to be a great leader in building the church in Parowan and Eastern Arizona, serving 54 years. These years were divided equally in each location under Prophets Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor, Lorenzo Snow, and Joseph F. Smith.
As a young 9 year old, he remembered seeing the martyred bodies of cousins Joseph and Hyrum and the sadness he felt in his heart.
In 1846 at winter quarters he was part of a mission to acquire food for the starving saints. As an 11 year old, he and Thomas Callister went to Missouri to acquire corn. On the return trip, the wagon tipped over and Jesse was almost impaled by a broken wagon bow and nearly died, being smothered in 100 bushels of corn. He received a blessing from Brother Callister and survived. He went on to be Mayor of Parowan, a member of the Utah Legislature, and a probate judge. He also served in the territorial legislature of Arizona. He faithfully served twice as a Mission President in Scandinavia helping more than 3,000 Saints immigrate to the United States and then on to Utah. When the saints settled the Snowflake and Woodruff area of Arizona, they purchased the land and raised crops only to find out many years later that the Aztec Land and Title Company owned the ground. President Lorenzo Snow relied upon Jesse Smith and Brigham Young, Jr., to lead the delicate negotiations in New York City and they reacquired the property through faithful prayer and keen diplomacy.
After finishing his mission to the Muddy, Jesse was transporting a load of cotton from St. George to Salt Lake City for Brigham Young, when he was caught in a flash flood destroying the load as well as his wagon and other personal prized effects. He didn’t feel responsible, but when he found out that President Young had opposite feelings, Jesse faithfully paid back the value of the load, though it took a few years and also involved selling personal stock in the Parowan Cooperative to do it.
In later years as Stake President in Snowflake, he prophesied that Gila Valley would have a temple.
Jesse’s greatest accomplishment was his posterity. He had 5 loving and faithful wives that bore 30 daughters and 14 sons. His wives were Emma West, Margaret West, Janet Mauretta Johnson, Augusta Outzen, and Emma Larson. As of 2001 Jesse had more than 27,000; the number is probably much higher now. The contributions in service and leadership of his family’s service to the church and public are incalculable.
Grandfather Jesse died June 5, 1905. The precious Book of Mormon given to him by the Prophet Joseph Smith was passed on to his seventh son Asael Smith and then passed on to seventh son Richard Smith, a current resident of Orem, Utah. It was then donated to the Mesa Arizona Temple at the suggestion of Emma Larson. It then disappeared. Family members had no idea what happened to it. Richard Smith who made the original donation thought it may have been taken by mischief. The Jesse Smith family had no clue as to the book’s whereabouts and was saddened by its loss. For years Richard shared the story with others hoping that someday it would be found.
Enter into the picture my aunt Jan Farr, granddaughter to Jesse N. through his wife Janet Mauretta Johnson. She was married to my very loving uncle Lee Shumway who passed away 2005. She met and then married her cousin Lamarr Farr, grandson of Augusta Outzen, He had recently lost his wife to cancer. She then tells this story in her own words.
While LaMarr and I were on our Mission in Salt Lake City, we had discussed Grandpa’s book a few times, and wondered if it could be in the Church History Library. LaMarr prayed about it, and one day as we were walking by, decided to stop and ask if it could be there. We talked to the secretary, Marie Ericksen, and after we told her the story, she looked in the records on the computer couldn’t find out anything about it there, but she said she would make a few phone calls and get back to us. She discussed it with Glen Rowe who was the head of that department at that time, so he would be aware of it. One day he was looking in the Prophet’s safe for something else and he came across a Book of Mormon that said “presented to Jesse Nathaniel Smith from your Friend and kinsman, Joseph Smith, March 1842.” The date checked out because Jesse would have been 7 years old by then. Upon some research, we found out that the book had been given to Uncle Ashael Smith and later, Richard Smith, President of the Smith Organization, who decided that it should belong in the Mesa Temple where there were other artifacts displayed. Glen Rowe called us one day and invited us to come over and see the book he had found in the Prophet’s safe. We entered the room and there on the table was the Book. Brother Rowe said we could look at it and as I touched it, I felt a thrill go through me knowing that the Prophet Joseph Smith and Grandpa Smith had touched this book, and of course, I became quite emotional at that point.
A 3X5 card had been placed inside the Book of Mormon that said:
September 30, 1948 This copy of the Book of Mormon was presented to the Arizona Temple by the family of Jesse N. Smith. President Harry L. Payne of the Arizona Temple brought it to President George Albert Smith this morning saying that he thought it should be in his possession. President Smith felt that it should be turned over to the Historian’s Office.
As far as we can tell, it sat in special church vaults for a little over 60 years. The mystery was resolved but others ensued. One being was that the first 63 pages had gone missing.
My personal interest in my great-grandfather’s life started last summer when I developed a determination to read his journal. Many descendants had put forth thousands of hours in keeping a regular monthly newsletter called the Kinsman that kept the legacy of this great man and family alive. Extensive writings had already been done and published. His stories of faith and service in a world without electronics, technology, and automobiles fascinated me. A strong desire to add to the research followed.
My mother, Esther Ruth Heaton, had in her possession copies of the documents my aunt was allowed to copy and which she allowed me to study. After calling my aunt and hearing her special story, I was determined to view the Book of Mormon on my own. I found out that Menlo Smith, Scott Barker, and Jeff Adams (all descendants of Jesse N. and active board members) were meeting with administrators at the Family History Library west of Temple Square to discuss how to glean living descendants of Jesse N., which now number thousands, from their records.
I was able to meet briefly with them and told them of the Book of Mormon, but removed myself to the Church History Library to further the research. Having never been to the Church History Library, I found everyone helpful and kind. A young man named Tyson seemed fascinated by my story of the Book of Mormon which he quickly looked up on the massive church history library database, but couldn’t find any record of it. I remember thinking with a smile “Oh Great, it has disappeared again.” He did find some other documents of Jesse N’s that were a little unclear exactly what they were but did hint at copies of his diary. For some reason, the possibility that they had his original diary escaped me.
After filling out the proper requests, I was taken to another room secured for viewing valuable documents and was handled a file. As I opened the file, it appeared to be a handwritten document of about 30 pages. It became apparent that it was a summarized autobiographical sketch of his life in his own pen. Some emotion welled within me. After studying his life intently for 6 months, I was reading his original handwriting. The veil was thin. The emotion came a few minutes later when they brought his original journal. I remember thinking how large and heavy it was and how amazing it was to lug that around for the last 50 years of his life. I was amazed to read exact phrases in his pen that I had just read that day in published form. The library was closing soon and workers kindly reminded me I only had a few minutes left. I quickly wrapped things up determined to bring my mother, a granddaughter of Jesse, and other family back as soon as scheduling would permit. That opportunity came in one month.
I contacted the same person my aunt had gone through, Marie Erickson, and we set up a meeting time in one week to view the original documents. Through Facebook and personal emails, I invited my family and other descendants to participate in this special occasion.
The original donor, Richard Smith, just happened to live in the same ward that shared my building. I realized how important this would be to him, so I sought him out how the following Sunday and got his attention in the foyer after Sacrament meeting. There I told him the book had been found and had been in the church vaults for many years. Being elderly and stooped over in age, he straightened right up with delight and surprise at the news.
The day arrived and we and excitedly loaded the car with my wife and me, my parents, and Richard and his wife and headed to Salt Lake City from Orem. We knew other relatives were going to meet us there but were unsure how many. I had originally told Sister Erickson that perhaps 10–15 of us would be there, but in actuality there were around 30, many of whom I hadn’t met. There was a little difficulty getting us all in the same room. Normally research was done by individuals and all the workers and missionaries hadn’t remembered when they had an entire family come en masse like this. Graciously, they accommodated us.
After sharing the story of how Jesse had acquired the book as a child, we had an opportunity to hold it and to feel of its spirit. We were particularly excited to hear from Richard as he shared the background behind his donation. He was then handed the book and he just held it in awe and kept staring at the inscription inside the front cover which meant so much to him.