Zion high council and bishopric, Minutes, , Caldwell Co., MO, 12 Apr. 1838. Featured version copied [between 1 Oct. 1842 and 14 Sept. 1843] in Minute Book 2, pp. 118–126; handwriting of ; CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for Minute Book 2.
On 12 April 1838, JS testified in the trial of in , Missouri. The rift between church leaders who were loyal to JS and those who were not had been widening for several months, beginning in , Ohio, in 1837 and extending into later that year. The 12 April trial as well as another trial on 13 April represented the culmination of ecclesiastical efforts to cull dissent and division within the church. At the 12 April trial, JS testified that prior to Cowdery’s dissension, he had been JS’s “bosom friend.” In 1829, Cowdery had served as JS’s principal scribe for the Book of Mormon translation, and since that time the two men had jointly experienced visions, witnessed angelic visitations, and served as the church’s first teachers and leading . Further, in 1834 JS designated Cowdery as first assistant in the church . Despite these experiences, by 1837 Cowdery began to express displeasure with JS’s leadership of the church. As Cowdery noted in a letter included in the 12 April minutes, a central issue for him and others who opposed JS was the extent that the church and its leaders were involved in the “temporal interests” of its members. As another factor contributing to Cowdery’s dissent, by summer 1837 he was deeply in debt, likely in part because he previously purchased wholesale goods for a mercantile firm he operated with JS and . In addition, as noted in his trial, Cowdery had insinuated since 1837 that JS was guilty of adultery. Nevertheless, in a 3 September 1837 conference of the church in Kirtland, Cowdery was accepted as one of the “assistant Councilors” in the First Presidency. The next day, JS wrote to church leaders in Missouri, warning them that although Cowdery had been “chosen as one of the Presidents or councilors” in the First Presidency, he had “been in transgression” and that if he did not “humble himself & magnify his calling . . . the church will soon be under the necessaty of raising their hands against him.” In October 1837, Cowdery moved to Missouri, where he evidently devoted much of his time to improving his dire financial situation. He sold personal property in , Missouri, and to bolster his emerging clerical and legal practice, he encouraged lawsuits against church members. Both of these activities were included in the ’s charges against Cowdery in the 12 April trial.
The sale of land by , , and was the impetus for some of the earlier charges against the members of the . John Whitmer and Phelps, who had served as counselors to Zion president , were removed from office in early February. Cowdery showed implicit support for the deposed Zion presidency by attesting a letter the former presidency members wrote to , protesting the trial of Phelps and John Whitmer. On 7 April, submitted nine charges against Cowdery, most relating to accusations of misconduct and disloyalty to JS and the church. Two days later, church leaders wrote letters to Cowdery, , and —an and frequent associate of the dissenters in and —informing them of their trials before the high council. Cowdery received his letter the day it was written. On 12 April, instead of attending his trial in person, Cowdery sent a letter to that underscored Cowdery’s opposition to the actions of the church and asked that he be allowed to withdraw his membership.
’s trial was held at ’s office in . The trial proceeded according to official instructions for trying “a ” before a “common council of the church,” which consisted of a bishop, acting as a “common judge,” and twelve . In this case, Partridge conducted the case with the assistance of his counselors in the and the twelve members of the high council. The letter in which Cowdery requested to withdraw from the church was read to the bishopric and high council, and the court proceeded to investigate the charges. Most of the testimony centered on Cowdery’s emerging legal practice, his accusations that JS had committed adultery, and his alleged connection to counterfeiters in . JS testified twice during the trial. As a result of the testimony JS and others offered, Partridge and his counselors decided to excommunicate Cowdery; the high council concurred. Minutes of the council meeting were taken by clerk . They were later copied into Minute Book 2 by .
Harper, Steven C. “Oliver Cowdery as Second Witness of Priesthood Restoration.” In Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, edited by Alexander Baugh, 73–89. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2009.
Whitmer, John. Letter, Far West, MO, to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, Kirtland Mills, OH, 29 Aug. 1837. Western Americana Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT.
5th For selling his lands in contrary to the Revelations.
6th For writing and sending an insulting letter to President while on the High Council, attending to the duties of his office, as President of the Council and by insulting the whole Council with the contents of said letter
7th., For leaving the calling, in which God had appointed him, by Revelation, for the sake of filthy lucre, and turning to the practice of the Law.
8th, For disgracing the Church by lieing being connected in the ‘Bogus’ buisness as common report says.
9th. For dishonestly Retaining notes after they had been paid and finally for leaving or forsaking the cause of God, and betaking himself to the beggerly elements of the world and neglecting his high and Holy Calling’ contrary to his profession.
April the 7th 1838. ”
It was not considered a difficult case, therefore, two <one> spake on a side viz on the part of the Church and on the part of the defendant.
A letter was then read by from which reads as follows:
Mo April 12th 1838
I received your note of the 9th inst on the day of its date, containing a copy of nine charges prefered against <before> yourself and Council, against me, by Elder .
I could have wished, that those charges might have been defered untill after my interview with President Smith; but as they are not, I must waive the anticipated pleasure with which I [p. 119]
Following the expulsion of the Saints from Jackson County in 1833, JS told Edward Partridge that “it is better that you should die in the ey[e]s of God, then that you should give up the Land of Zion.” In 1835 three of the church’s lots, held by Phelps and Cowdery, were seized by the county and sold at a sheriff’s auction, apparently to cover the costs of the church’s legal proceedings in that county. On 11 January 1838, Cowdery, Phelps, John Whitmer, and their wives signed a quitclaim deed to their remaining interest in those lots, for an amount Cowdery described as “a small sum.” (Letter to Edward Partridge, 5 Dec. 1833; Letter to Edward Partridge and Others, 10 Dec. 1833; Jackson Co., MO, Deed Records, vol. D, pp. 148–152, microfilm 1,017,979; Jackson Co., MO, Deed Records, vol. F, pp. 54–55, 11 Jan. 1838, microfilm 1,017,980, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; Oliver Cowdery, Far West, MO, to Warren Cowdery and Lyman Cowdery, [Kirtland, OH], 4 Feb. 1838, in Cowdery, Letterbook, 84.)
U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.
Cowdery, Oliver. Letterbook, 1833–1838. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.
On 10 March 1838, David Whitmer, William W. Phelps, and John Whitmer wrote a letter to Thomas B. Marsh complaining about the way he and the high council had treated the three men. Cowdery apparently served as the scribe and added an attestation to the letter. The letter was delivered by Cowdery’s nephew, Marcellus Cowdery, to the council at the trial for Phelps and John Whitmer. According to the minutes of the trial, “The letter was considered no more, nor less, than a direct insult, or contempt, cast upon the authorities of God, and the church of Jesus Christ.” (Minute Book 2, 10 Mar. 1838.)
Cowdery had expressed interest in law since at least 1836. In 1837 he was elected as a justice of the peace in Kirtland, and by the time he moved to Far West later that year, he had commenced studying law in preparation for becoming a licensed lawyer. In March 1838, Cowdery informed his brothers that he had given legal advice on several cases and planned to apply for a license to practice law later that summer. Despite his intentions, in June 1838 Cowdery noted that he still “had little or no law practice to test my skill or talent.” (Cowdery, Diary, 18 Jan. 1836; Kirtland Township Trustees’ Minutes and Poll Book, 153–154; Oliver Cowdery, Far West, MO, to Warren Cowdery, 21 Jan. 1838, in Cowdery, Letterbook, 82–83; Oliver Cowdery, Far West, MO, to Warren Cowdery and Lyman Cowdery, Kirtland, OH,  Mar. 1838, in Cowdery, Letterbook, 92; Oliver Cowdery, Far West, MO, to Warren Cowdery and Lyman Cowdery, Kirtland Mills, OH, 2 June 1838, Lyman Cowdery, Papers, CHL.)
Aside from these minutes, few extant documents mention the allegations regarding counterfeiting. In 1839 Reed Peck, who had left the church and had not witnessed events in Kirtland firsthand, claimed that “very many credible persons in the [Kirtland Safety] Society have asserted that while the mony fever raged in Kirtland the leaders of the church and others were, more or less, engaged in purchasing and circulating Bogus money or counterfeit coin.” Peck stated that JS and his followers traded accusations with Cowdery and other dissenters over who was responsible for the counterfeiting. (Reed Peck, Quincy, IL, to “Dear Friends,” 18 Sept. 1839, pp. 17–18, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.)
Peck, Reed. Letter, Quincy, IL, to “Dear Friends,” 18 Sept. 1839. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.