This biographical sketch adapted ftom the LDS
Biographical Encyclopedia, compiled and edited by Andrew Jenson, Vol.
John Smith, the sixth [fifth by Grampa Bill's
count, even counting William B. Smith]
presiding Patriarch of the Church was the son of Hyrum
Smith and Jerusha Burden, and was born Sept. 22, 1832, in Kirtland,
Geuaga (now Lake) county, Ohio. His mother died Oct. 13, 1837. She had
six childrenótwo sons and four daughters, and she died when the youngest
was eight days old. His father was away from home at the time of her death.
Dec. 24, 1837, his father married Miss Mary Fielding,
who bore him two children, a son and a daughter. In the spring of 1838
John went with his father's family to Far West, Caldwell county, Missouri,
where he shared with the rest of the Saints in the persecutions. In the
fall of 1838 his father, his uncle Joseph
Smith, Jr. and others, were taken prisoners by a ruthless mob, and,
after being abused in many ways, threatened with death, etc., were finally
lodged in Liberty, Clay county jail. During the winter his father's family,
in connection with many others, were driven out of Missouri. Although small,
John suffered much from cold and hunger.
The family landed at Quincy, Illinois early in 1839,
where they remained a short time. Brother Hyrum Smith came home from Liberty
jail April 22, 1839. The family subsequently went up the Mississippi river
to a place called Commerce, afterwards the city of Nauvoo. Soon afterwards
they moved about two miles down the river, where they remained in comparative
peace for a short season.
His father and his uncle, Joseph the Prophet, were
martyred in Carthage jail by a bloodthirsty mob, June 27, 1844. In the
month of February, 1847, John left his father's folks and started west
with Heber C. Kimball's family. At
this time he did not know where the people were going, but he supposed
to California. This company crossed the Mississippi river on a ferryboat,
and encamped on Sugar creek, about nine miles out. After two or three days,
boy-like, he got homesick and went back to see his folks. During his stay
at home, which was only for a few days, the river froze over, and he crossed
back on skates, and joined the company.
During the journey he had to drive loose stock, drive
team, herd cattle and horses, and do any kind of work he could. Many times
he was drenched in the rain. On one occasion Brother Heber C. Kimball and
himself were driven by the force of the storm, stock and all, for a mile
or so, although they were on horseback. The company journeyed westward
through Iowa, stopping many times by the way in consequence of storms and
soft roads, or, to speak more correctly, no roads but soft prairie. They
finally landed on the hill where now stands Council Bluffs city, and crossed
over the Missouri river at a point near the present site of Omaha, called
at that time Sarpee's Trading Post, among the Pottawatamie Indians. They
then went up about six miles to the Little Pupillon, and remained a short
time. During his stay there he became acquainted with Col. Thomas L. Kane,
who was taken very sick, and John was his nurse for two weeks.
In or about the month of August they moved into Winter
Quarters, where the town of Florence now stands. In the fore part of September
he learned that his father's family were on the road, and he went, in company
with Brother Almon W. Babbitt, back about one hundred and fifty miles and
met them. They came to Winter Quarters, where they remained two winters.
John went to work with hired help, built a log house for the winter, and
during the summer of 1847 made fence, tilled the soil, and took a man's
place in the hay and harvest field, as he was the only male member of the
family who was able to work.
In April, 1848, the family started for Great Salt
Lake valley. It was rather a hard journey, as they did not have teams enough.
John had to drive a team composed of wild steers, cows and oxen, with two
wagons tied together, and, before they had traveled more than two miles,
a wagon tongue broke and they had to camp for the night. He had to
take a man's place, by standing guard at night, and in the day time to
be the boy who brought the wood and water, herded the cows and assisted
to double teams over bad places, up hills, etc.
On one occasion a circumstance occurred which he
never forgot. One day about sundown, while the party were encamped on the
Platte river, it was reported that a woman was lost. Without ceremony he
took his coat on his arm and a piece of corn bread in his hand and started
out up the road, to follow a party of the company which had left at noon.
He had not gone far when he came up with a dead carcass, which was covered
with wolves fighting and howling. He walked past as fast and as quietly
as possible. He traveled six miles before he came up with any wagons. During
this distance he passed about twenty such frightful scenes, but he got
through safe, and he thinks he was unnoticed by the wolves. He stopped
for the balance of the night with an acquaintance, and at daybreak proceeded
on his journey, and found the lost woman, a little after sunrise, safe
with her mother, six miles from where he stayed for the night.
On Sept. 22, 1848, his sixteenth birthday, he drove
five wagons down the "Big Mountain," east of Salt Lake City; it was dark
long before he got into camp with the last wagon. On the way, one wheel
of his wagon ran into a tree which was about fifteen inches through. He
had to lie on his back and chop the tree down with a dull ax before he
could go any further. The next day he arrived in the Great Salt Lake valley.
In the spring of 1850 John was enrolled in a company of horsemen, called
the "Battalion of Life Guards," for the purpose of standing guard, or going
out at a minute's warning, to protect the settlements from the marauding
Indians, who were very angry at that time.
For about ten years he was compelled to keep on hand
a saddle horse and everything necessary for that purpose. Many times he
was called and got up in the night and started off at once; at other times
he had to leave in the heat of harvest, and then his wife was obliged to
take his place in the field. This he had to do in connection with working
in the canyon and attending to the farm to support the family.
Sept. 21, 1852, his stepmother died, leaving him
to provide for a family of eight, three of themóone man and two womenóbeing
old people, the youngest over sixty-three years old; also one brother and
three sisters younger than himself. He was at that time twenty years, less
one day, old.
Dec. 25, 1853, he married Miss Helen Maria Fisher,
who bore him nine children, five sons and four daughters. In the spring
of 1856 he went on horseback to Salmon river with Pres. Brigham
Young's party, a distance of 480 miles, and returned, which trip occupied
six weeks' time. Feb. 18, 1855, Brother Smith was ordained to the office
of Patriarch under the hands of Presidents Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball
and Jedediah M. Grant, and Apostles
Orson Hyde, Orson
Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, George
A. Smith and Lorenzo Snow, President
Young being mouth.
Sept. 16, 1859, John started for Florence with a
four-mule team, to bring his sister and her husband and family to Utah.
He traveled in company with Elder John Y. Greene across the plains, and
made the trip from Salt Lake City to Florence in thirty-two days, laying
over on the road two days of the timeódistance, 1011 miles. During his
stay in the East he took his sister and her two youngest children and traveled
across Iowa to Montrose, a distance of 350 miles, in eight days, with a
pair of mules and a light wagon, and visited Nauvoo and different places
in Illinois, reviewed many places of his boyhood, and found quite a number
of his connections. He returned to Florence in February, 1860, where he
spent considerable time in assisting to put wagons and handcarts together,
and in doing all he could to expedite the starting of the European emigrants
on the plains.
In the month of June he was appointed by Elder George
Q. Cannon, who had charge of the emigrants that season, to organize a company
and take charge of it across the plains. He went to work at once, got a
company of more than forty wagons in readiness, loaded his sister and family,
and started out. The trip was made in seventy days.
At the general conference, April, 1862, he was called
to take a mission to Scandinavia. On the 17th of May following he started
out on horseback, without purse or scrip, to cross the plains and the ocean.
He was invited by Elder John R. Murdock to go with him to the Missouri
river, as he had charge of a company of wagons and teams to bring out emigrants.
Brother Smith accepted the invitation, and Brother Murdock assisted him
with provisions. All went well until about noon one day, as the company
left the Sweetwater river, when Brother Smith was taken down with mountain
fever. During the night the fever was very severe, and the pain through
every joint was excruciating. Toward the latter part of the night he was
administered to by some of the Elders, and in the morning was able to pursue
his journey on horseback. He was very weak and had to get down often from
his horse to rest. At Fort Laramie he sold his horse, which was worth $90,
for $40, and at Florence his saddle, which was worth $20, for $10. He met
friends, who gave him money to assist him on his journey.
His fare from Florence to Liverpool was about $100.
When he arrived in Liverpool he had twenty-one shillings in his pocket.
This paid his fare to London, where he had to get a passport from the American
Minister before he could cross the continent of Europe. There he borrowed
money to take him through (which he afterwards paid) from Hull, England,
to Hamburg, Germany. The boat met headwinds and a rough sea, and all on
board were sick; even the captain had to get on deck for air.
At Hamburg he met his cousin, Elder Jesse N. Smith,
who had preceded him about eighteen months. Brother Jesse had with him
an interpreter, and all went well. They landed at Korsoer, Denmark, Sept.
6, 1862. Brother Smith remained on this mission until April 13, 1864, when
he sailed from Copenhagen, on his return home. While on this mission he
studied hard and obtained a good understanding of the Scandinavian languagesóDanish-Norwegian
and Swedish. On arriving at Grimsby, England, they found some emigrants
for Zion awaiting them, who had traveled by way of Lubeck, and they all,
about three hundred in number, continued their journey by rail to Liverpool.
There he was appointed president of the ship's company. He embarked in
the large sailing ship, "Monarch of the Sea," bound for New York, having
on board 973 souls of the SaintsóDanes, Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Scotch,
Welsh, Irish, English and Americansóthe largest company of Latter-day Saints
which, up to that time, had left the shores of Europe. They were over forty
days out at sea, with head winds a good deal of the time. On the banks
of Newfoundland they saw a number of very large icebergs.
On their arrival at Castle Gardens, New York, June
3, 1864, they went immediately on board the steamboat "St. Johns," and
sailed up the Hudson river to Albany; from there they traveled by rail
to St. Joseph, Missouri, and thence by steamboat up the Missouri river
to Wyoming, Nebraska. On Brother Smith's arrival at Wyoming, he was appointed
to take charge on the plains of a Scandinavian company of thirty wagons.
He was there joined by more wagons in charge of Captain Patterson, making
in all over sixty, for safety against the Indians, as the latter were very
hostile that season, many people having been killed, and horses, mules
and cattle stolen, and wagons burned. Many times on the journey ranchers,
traders, and also officers at government posts would use every argument
possible to induce them to stop for safety. The answer Brother Smith would
give them was, "We are used to Indian warfare, and we have only provisions
enough to take us home, even if we keep moving; and we would rather run
our risk of fighting Indians than starve on the plains." The company reached
Salt Lake City, Oct. 1, 1864.
After a few days the immigrants were distributed
among their respective friends in the various settlements, but for several
years Brother Smith was kept busy as an interpreter for the Scandinavians.
After that time he was engaged in the duties of his calling as a Patriarch,
traveling through the settlements of the Saints, and attending to other
business, and on the farm.
Elder John Smith continued his labors as a Patriarch
zealously and successfully for the remainder of his life. In December,
1905, he accompanied Pres. Joseph F. Smith and his party to Vermont, taking
part in the service when the monument in honor of the Prophet Joseph Smith
was dedicated Dec. 23, 1905.
Patriarch Smith died at his residence in Salt Lake
City, Nov. 6, 1911. From an article published in the "Deseret Evening News"
at the time of his demise we republish the following: "Again Israel has
been called upon to part with one of its beloved leaders, John Smith, presiding
Patriarch to the Church. His has been a long useful life. He has become
a familiar figure throughout the Church. Thousands of Latter-day Saints
value as most precious mementoes the blessings pronounced upon them by
the departed servant of the Lord, for they have found, in their fulfillment,
an unimpeachable testimony for the truth of the Great Latter-day Work.
Patriarch John Smith, like his saintly, martyred father, Hyrum Smith, was
faithful to the gospel and to his calling, through trials, persecutions,
and hardships of every kind. He never failed to respond to a call made
upon him, and he performed every task with due regard for the promptings
of conscience. In every position, public or private, military or civil,
religious or secular, he labored with zeal and fidelity."