Joseph Morris

Joseph Morris: and the Saga of the Morrisites Revisited

C. LeRoy Anderson
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 250
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    Joseph Morris
    Book Description:

    LeRoy Anderson in 1981 first published, under the title For Christ Will Come Tomorrow, his definitive study of a charismatic, millenarian prophet and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Most High. He told there of a Mormon posse's 1862 attack on the Morrisite compound, killing Joseph Morris, and of the continuing Morrisite movement, which survived into the mid-twentieth century. In this newly revised edition, Anderson revisits his subject by referring to more recently discovered documents, considering other scholars' continuing work on Morris's sect and related subjects, and examining a 1980s messianic sect that claimed a direct connection to the Morrisites. New documentary sources include a holograph "History of George Morris," written by Joseph Morris's brother, which Anderson quotes at length. What was once a little-studied subject has since received attention from a number of scholars. Anderson references such current work on Mormon schismatic movements and broader subjects, much of which drew on his work. Perhaps the book's most interesting and unintended influence was on that obscure 1980s messianic sect, in Montana, which learned of Morris through Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-788-9
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    C. LeRoy Anderson
  4. Introduction In Prospect
    (pp. 1-8)

    In his classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell describes an antiutopian society called Oceania.¹ One of the most important divisions within the government of Oceania is the Ministry of Truth, and in the Ministry of Truth is the Records Department. It is the business of the Records Department to see that reports of events are properly edited so as to appear congruent with governmental policy at any given time. Since Oceania’s governmental policy is anything but consistent, the Records Department is primarily occupied with deleting, adding, rewriting, or otherwise manipulating its documents. The department’s control over government records and the...

  5. Part I The Making of a Prophet
    • 1 Letters from Obscurity
      (pp. 11-15)

      In 1857, the tenth anniversary of the arrival of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in the Rocky Mountains, a series of events was about to unfold that would ultimately change the destiny of the church, the territory, and the Mormon people.

      The great Mormon “reformation” begun the year before had continued into the summer. And every Saint was expected to repent of his sins, be rebaptized, and renew his covenants to uphold and sustain the church and its leaders—to consecrate himself to the work and glory of the Kingdom of God.

      The Saints in the territory now numbered upwards of...

    • 2 Prophets of Pentecost
      (pp. 16-26)

      The spring of 1857 was one of great spiritual excitement in Zion. Although rumors of warlike preparations against Mormons in Utah had been heard as early as February, the threat was not imminent enough to cool the fire of the great reformation begun the previous year. In fact, the knowledge of growing anti-Mormon sentiment in the States and local difficulties with certain Gentile officials may well have served to fan the revivalistic flame, increasing the resolve of the Mormon people to separate the righteous from the unrighteous in preparation for the expected conflict. Earlier experiences in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois...

    • 3 The Seventh Angel Speaks
      (pp. 27-42)

      Joseph Morris waited ten months before writing a second letter to Brigham Young. It was dated October 11, 1858. By this time many of the serious differences between the Saints and the United States government had been largely settled. The “invading” troops were stationed at Camp Floyd, south of Salt Lake, and Brigham Young had relinquished the governorship to Alfred Cumming. Young was still the most potent religious and political force in Utah, but the sovereign power of the United States had been reaffirmed, and except for a brief time in 1862 the autonomy and independence of the Mormons were...

    • 4 Threats in Desperation
      (pp. 43-53)

      On June 15, 1859, Joseph Morris wrote to Brigham Young describing a visit he had recently made to Salt Lake City with the intention of visiting him. Apparently, this was by invitation or supposed invitation based upon some reference Brigham Young had made to Morris in the Deseret News, the local newspaper. Morris interpreted the article as an acknowledgment of his role as a prophet, although the reference was undoubtedly facetious. Whatever the case, Morris did not receive an audience with Young, and his subsequent letter contained sharp words of rebuke. The letter ended on a militant note: “a Commandment...

    • 5 The Millennial Hope
      (pp. 54-76)

      The number of groups that have held millennial expectations in America, or that have tried to usher in some form of collective utopia with millennial overtones is absolutely astounding. Donald Pitzer compiled a list of such organizations formed during and after the colonial period until 1965. This comprehensive list includes such well-known groups as the Shakers, the Harmony Society, New Harmony, the Oneida Perfectionists, the Bishop Hill Colony, the Hutterites, the Icarians, and hundreds of less-known groups. The total list exceeds fifteen hundred.¹ Arrington and his coauthors stated that communalism in America experienced a remarkable re-birth between 1965 and 1970...

  6. Part II Prelude to Battle
    • 6 The Gathering Storm
      (pp. 79-95)

      Although the Mormon church record reports that the apostles Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor had counseled the Mormons living in South Weber to be tolerant of the Morrisites and had rebuked Brother Watts for his extreme verbal attack upon them, it is clear that hostility between the two factions was present from the beginning and grew in intensity as time passed. Perhaps the Mormon apostles felt they could afford to be tolerant when Morris’s avowed followers numbered fewer than a score and his influence was expected to rapidly diminish. But they might have spoken less softly if the extraordinary growth...

    • 7 The Storm Descends
      (pp. 96-124)

      The several accounts describing events leading up to armed confrontation are extremely partisan and sometimes contradictory. Those who gave accounts represented various perspectives and seem to have been more interested in fixing blame than in providing accurate information. In any case, discerning the facts about the affair is a complex matter requiring careful comparison and assessment. For this reason all or part of several versions are presented here.

      As the weather began to warm in the spring of 1862, the Morrisites once more began to experience problems with the law as well as with some of their own dissatisfied fellows....

  7. Part III The Morrisite War
    • 8 The Last Revelation
      (pp. 127-141)

      When the cannonball landed in the Morrisite congregation, it not only threw the assembled worshippers into confusion, it instantly convinced them that the attacking force was bent upon their destruction and that they must now fight for their lives. Peter Anderson, son of the girl whose chin was struck by the cannonball, later wrote that “rumors of the Mountain Meadows Massacre were fresh in the minds of all the Morrisites. None of them were convinced that if they did surrender they might not be letting themselves and their families in for a similar fate.”¹ They were dazed by the sudden...

    • 9 Aftermath
      (pp. 142-152)

      The unexpected death of Joseph Morris, the destruction of Kington Fort, and the hasty separation of the men from their wives and children left the Morrisites in an untenable position. Although they were outcasts, they had no one aside from the Mormons to turn to. They were desperately in need of help, for nearly all of them were without adequate shelter, food, and clothing. More than half of them were absolutely destitute. Many Mormons came to their aid during this time, and Brigham Young himself sent a physician to the jail to dress the wounds of the Morrisite prisoners, yet...

  8. Part IV The Dispersion
    • 10 Exodus
      (pp. 155-158)

      By the time the imprisonment, trial, sentencing, pardoning, and other immediate consequences of the Morrisite War had culminated in the spring of 1863, the Morrisite movement was in disarray and near collapse. Faithful Morrisites still held many previous expectations about the imminent Second Advent, and they had successfully redefined the role of Joseph Morris as martyr and foreshadower instead of deliverer, but they lacked a cogent ideology and competent leadership to sustain them until the expected millennium should arrive.

      Joseph Morris had been so sure of his divine right to leadership and so convinced of his own role in personally...

    • 11 The Soda Springs Settlement
      (pp. 159-164)

      Although the issue of general leadership had not been settled when the two wagon trains left Salt Lake City in May 1863, it was necessary for someone to serve as spokesman for the emigrants. The Morrisite leadership of the Left Wing has not been recorded, but the spokesman selected for the Soda Springs group was Alexander Dow. Dow had joined the Morrisites in 1861 and had participated in the Morrisite War. No detailed record of his administration has survived, but Dow’s tenure appears to have been undistinguished. He had gained some fame by issuing his affidavit against Burton. Perhaps this...

    • 12 The Prophet Cainan
      (pp. 165-176)

      The vacuum of general leadership created by the death of the Prophet Joseph Morris soon began attracting candidates. The first to volunteer his services as prophet, seer, and revelator was one George Williams. Williams is something of an enigma, for his first association with the Morrisites is unknown. In fact, his name appears nowhere in the Morrisite record prior to the death of Joseph Morris. Almost certainly he was not associated with the Morrisites at South Weber and was not directly involved in the con-flict there.

      At the time of the Morrisite War, George Williams was forty-eight years old and...

    • 13 The Left Wing of the Great Eagle: Nevada and California
      (pp. 177-186)

      By autumn 1862 several Morrisite refugees from the Weber conflict could be found scattered among the mining camps of Nevada. Most of these had been active participants in the battle and had elected to skip bail rather than stand trial with their brethren the following spring. Several, in fact, had held high positions in Joseph Morris’s organization and were still deeply committed to his teachings. Nevertheless, the traumatic experiences of battle, lost leadership, and exile had for the time being rendered them virtually incapable of continuing the work Morris had begun. Therefore, early spring found them still disorganized but filled...

    • 14 The Walla Walla Jesus
      (pp. 187-192)

      In a letter written from Great Salt Lake City dated August 9, 1865, addressed to James Dove and John Eardley (then in Nevada), the Prophet Cainan wrote: “As Deer Lodge Valley, Montana, is the nucleus, let all others begin to turn their attention that way as they tire in the wings. Brother Wm. Davis [Davies] presides there over temporalities and if a High Priest could journey there whose desire was to tarry on the land and to serve the Lord by blessing the brothers and sisters, there with the good things of the Priesthood.” This is Cainan’s first mention of...

    • 15 Deer Lodge: The Heavenly City
      (pp. 193-213)

      In February 1868, the Prophet Cainan wrote from Salt Lake City to the Saints in Montana expressing his intention to move there and take up a claim as soon as possible. However, a few months later, probably because he realized that much of his Nevada and California support had diminished, he changed his mind and made preparations to return to his native land to preach the gospel. He departed in January 1869. Along the way he visited here and there with Morrisites, and in Council Bluffs Cainan held a meeting with a group from Iowa and Nebraska. There on January...

    • 16 The Deer Lodge Jesus
      (pp. 214-218)

      Although the Morrisite Movement actually ended with the death of George Johnson in 1954, the Deer Lodge prophecy of George Williams (Cainan), surfaced again several decades after Johnson’s death and a century after Williams’ demise. In 1979, an obscure messianic sect headquartered in Missoula, Montana, made a startling announcement. The sect’s name was Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant. Its leader was a local chiropractor named Leland Jensen, affectionately known as Doc. Using scriptural and circumstantial proofs, Jensen claimed that he was the returned Jesus Christ, and he predicted that nuclear bombs would be dropped on the United States...

  9. Conclusion In Retrospect
    (pp. 219-236)

    The preceding chapters have been an effort to accurately present the colorful saga of the Morrisites, but as so often happens in historic matters, a number of important questions still remain unanswered. The real complexity of the situation is belied by the simplistic answers given earlier by partisan observers who either tried to dismiss the Morrisites as deluded banditti fully deserving the justice meted out to them or saw them as innocent victims of religious persecution. The Morrisite drama was played on a stage constructed of social, cultural, political, religious, and geographic components— components far more diverse and colorful than...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-241)
  11. Index
    (pp. 242-249)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 250-250)