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Autobiography of Elder Charles Derry

Chapter 4

Elder Charles Derry
Elder Charles Derry
Elder Charles Derry
Elder Charles Derry

Making what preparation I could by way of getting fuel for my family, my wife having baked me some cakes, I committed my family to my Heavenly Father's care, and on the twenty-seventh day of February 1861, I started for Iowa in search of the Reorganized Church. For I had now learned that Joseph, the son of the Martyr, had been called of God to take his place as Prophet and President of the Church. The snow was about eighteen inches deep on the level when I left my cabin. I passed through Fremont and soon found the snow was melting rapidly, which made it very slushy—and soon it became mud mingled with slush. I reached Elkhorn Bridge that night and slept in a wagon, by permission of the owner. I was very weary, having walked about twenty-one miles. After walking a few miles the next day, the United States stagecoach overtook me and I was permitted to ride to Omaha, then but a small village. I wended my way to the Missouri River, hoping to be able to cross on the ice. I found at least four inches of water upon the ice, and still the ice was melting. I saw a man cutting wood on the riverbank and inquired of him if it would be safe to try to cross. He replied doubtfully, saying no one had crossed for a day or two. At this juncture, a man rode up on horseback and inquired if the river was safe? I told him I did not know. He put spurs to his horse and dashed onto the river as though reckless of his life. I followed, making all the speed I could over the treacherous river, trusting in God for my safety; and was very glad when I landed on the Iowa side. I was afterwards told that the ice floated down the river within about twenty-four hours after I crossed. I had now six or seven miles to travel through mud to Council Bluffs.

I had obtained the name of one Isaac Beebe, said to belong to the Reorganized Church. Council Bluffs was at that time, I believe, larger than Omaha—the Mormons having settled in and around there. I believe it was formerly called Kanesville by them. I walked into the village, up the main street, when I saw a man cutting wood. I inquired if he could tell me where Isaac Beebe lived. He straightened himself up to more than six feet in height, and in stentorian tones said, "Right here in this body!" I then told him my errand. This was now the twenty-eighth day of February. I had been two days on the journey and was very weary, having traveled as much as sixty miles through the snow, slush, and mud. I requested the privilege to stay with him for the night, telling him I had a few cakes left for supper and I would cut wood to pay for lodgings, for I had no money. He replied, "Come in; we are told to be careful to entertain strangers, for thereby we may entertain angels unawares." I assured him I was no angel, but simply Charlie Derry. He introduced me to his wife, who made me welcome to her home. It was in what is now called "Upper Broadway." Here I learned that Elders Blair and Briggs were about ten miles east.

Elder William Martindale, of the Brighamite Order, was preaching in Council Bluffs. Two of his admirers came into Beebe's after the meeting. One of them addressed Beebe thus, "I'll be damned, Beebe, if he didn't give them hell tonight." Beebe then introduced me as a man from Utah who was seeking after the Reorganized Church. This Brighamite, thinking he had a "soft snap," began in a dogmatic manner to interrogate me as to my reasons for leaving Utah, which I was not backward in giving. He soon found himself on the defensive and quickly discovered that he was not able to hold up his end of the debate, and abruptly broke off with, "I'll be damned if you haven't got tongue enough for twenty sets of teeth," and our interview closed.

After a comfortable night's rest I was refreshed, and received instructions as to where I would be likely to find Elders Blair and Briggs. This was the first day of March—snow was going, but not all gone, and the roads were muddy. After traveling some ten miles I came to a log cabin by the wayside. Being tired, I requested the lady of the house to let me rest awhile, when she kindly invited me in. I then inquired how far it was to Mr. Campbell's. She answered, "This is the place." I then made known my mission—to find some elders of the Reorganized Church. The name Campbell had been given me by Mr. Beebe as the place where I would be likely to learn of the whereabouts of the elders, but I had not thought this was the place; hence I was greatly pleased when the lady told me Elders Blair and Briggs would be there in about fifteen minutes—and in about that length of time they came. Sister Campbell kindly invited me to stay all night and visit with the brethren, of which kindness I gladly availed myself. I made known the object of my mission to them, questioned them as to the coming forth of the son of the martyred Prophet, the doctrine accepted by the Church, but more especially I sought to know of the spirit that actuated them, for if it was like that manifested in Utah, I had no fellowship with it. I heard them preach and saw several baptized by them in Keg Creek. I became satisfied as to what manner of spirit they were led by, and that they were men of God and led by the Holy Spirit. I was also the guest of Brother Jarius M. Putney and his wife. The elders kindly invited me to accompany them to Farm Creek, about twenty miles east of there. I did so, and found a welcome with the elders at the home of Mr. Calvin Beebe, brother of the man I stayed with in Council Bluffs. Elder Blair preached in this house on Sunday, the third day of March, after which I requested baptism at his hands. I was baptized in Farm Creek, near Mr. Beebe's house, on the third day of March 1861, and was confirmed there and then. Brother Blair confirmed, and while his hands were on my head, he paused and inquired what office I held in the old Church. I replied, "I have not come for any office, but simply to be a member in the Kingdom of God." He rejoined, "It is my duty to ordain you an elder." Whereupon he proceeded to ordain me—when he had confirmed me. On the next day, the 4th, I went with the elders to Wheeler's Grove, where I found a good people organized into a branch. Father John Smith, I believe, was president. Brother Levi Graybill kindly offered me ten acres of land if I would bring my family and live among them. Providence had ordered otherwise; but I remained among the brethren until I could get the use of a team, and the Missouri River was safe to cross. Then Brother Philip Gatrost kindly went with me with his team and fetched my family into Iowa, and gave us a shelter until such time as I could find a place to ourselves. I worked for Brother Gatrost at splitting rails, at which I was by no means a Lincoln; and I am not sure that my work remunerated him for his trip—but he was satisfied.

On Sunday, the tenth day of March, I visited for the first time the North Star Branch. I was a perfect stranger to all except the Campbells and Putneys. Various rumors had gone abroad respecting a man who had come from Utah to join the Reorganized Church. Some were suspicious that he was an impostor, and various views were held. The meeting was held in the house of Brother and Sister Cook, on the prairies. Sister Cook had been greatly exercised about this stranger, fearing he was an impostor, and she had made it a matter of prayer in order that none might be deceived. While thus engaged she received evidence from God that silenced her fears, and was given to understand that the stranger was God's servant, and he should accomplish a good work in that region of country. To this she testified in this meeting. I ventured to give my experience in the Church, a sketch of my life in Utah, my reasons for returning from there, and how I had been led to seek the Reorganized Church. Several spoke in tongues, interpretations and prophecies were given, and the stranger seemed to be the subject of them all. It embarrassed me to find that their manifestations all tended to foretell the work to be done by so weak an instrument as myself. Though I was thankful that God acknowledged me as His servant, yet I felt my unworthiness. Over forty-one years have rolled away since that day, but the things spoken by those simple-hearted, God-loving people, under the Divine influence, have been fulfilled. For God has used me, unworthy as I am, to be His instrument in leading many out of darkness into the glorious light of the gospel.

On the eighteenth day of March, Brother Gatrost and I started with his team to fetch my family to Iowa. I could not get a letter to them or from them, so our coming was a glad surprise to them; and on the 20th, I loaded up my loved ones and bade farewell to Maple Creek. When we arrived at Brother Gatrost's, he gave us the use of a log cabin to live in, and gave me employment at rail-splitting. As before acknowledged, I was no such rail-splitter as the much-venerated Lincoln, but I mauled away at them with more strength than knowledge, and if I did not give satisfaction, he never complained to me. He was a kindhearted man.

One day while thus employed, Elder Briggs and Jarius M. Putney visited me and told me the Lord wanted me in the missionary field. I told them "the Lord could not have me there, as I was needed at home to provide for my family." They insisted God had called me to that work and if I would obey the call, my family would be provided for. I did not doubt the call, but my family had a just claim upon me for their support, and must be consulted on the subject. I consulted my wife. She informed me that she believed the call was from God, and if I would go she would trust in God for hers and the children's support. Neither wife nor children had clothing decent enough to attend meeting, and my wardrobe was far from respectable, to say nothing of ministerial, in appearance. Brother Edmund C. Briggs kindly gave me five dollars to buy clothing for wife. Brother Jarius M. Putney gave me twenty dollars to fit me out for the traveling ministry, and may the Eternal God reward their generosity with eternal life. Amen and Amen.

On the fifth day of April 1861, I started on my mission, commencing in the North Star Branch. I labored there and at Wheeler's Grove, Keg Creek, Glenwood, Mills County; also Nephi in Fremont County. Wife attended meeting for the first time in the Reorganized Church on the fourteenth day of April and on the 29th, I had the blessed privilege of baptizing wife, our two children, with four other persons, in the Mosquito Creek. This was a proud day to me and I rejoiced that God had counted me worthy.

A few days before this, Father Samuel Waldo, president of the North Star Branch, kindly invited me to bring my family into his double log house, with himself and family. I did so. I visited the more northern country; preached at Crescent, Six-Mile Grove, Union Grove, Galland's Grove, Bigler's Grove, Raglan, and Little Sioux. Brethren Edmund C. Briggs and Jonathan Hayward were with me part of the time. I baptized sixteen precious souls near Glenwood in 1861 (or spring of 1862), and organized a branch near Glenwood (I do not remember exact date) [December 1, 1861, according to Heman C. Smith]. I also baptized three in Farm Creek and two in Indian Creek. But I am anticipating. I should have stated that in June 1861,1 attended a conference in Hyde Hollow at Council Bluffs, Elder Blair presiding; at which conference I preached twice and on the 9th, I was privileged to bury in baptism Sister Caroline Ellison and George Medlock. We had a conference. Excellent instructions were given by Elders Blair, Briggs, Mclntosh, Richard Kelley, and others. I felt it good to be there, and was greatly encouraged in the great cause.

I continued my labors in the foregoing places until August 30, 1861, when I attended a special conference held at Little Sioux, Harrison County, Iowa; William W. Blair presiding and I acted as clerk, assisted by Davis H. Bays, whom I had baptized sometime before. Elders Morey, John A. Mclntosh, Edmund C. Briggs, Charles Deny, and William W. Blair broke the bread of life. George Sweet, whom I had been privileged to baptize, bore testimony to the divinity of the work. During this conference, Elder Blair suggested that Charles Deny be ordained to the office of seventy in the First Quorum of Seventies. It was unanimously resolved that he be so ordained. Elder Edmund C. Briggs of the Twelve and Elder George Morey of the High Priests, ordained him to that office—Elder Briggs, the speaker, being filled with the Spirit of prophecy. It was unanimously resolved that Charles Derry take charge of the work in the counties of Pottawattamie, Mills, and Fremont in Iowa, and a portion of Nebraska contiguous to Pottawattamie.

I continued to labor in that field until a special conference was held April 6, 1862, at Galland's Grove. Elder Blair presided, Oliver E. Holcomb was clerk. I had been greatly blessed in my labors and was well received in all places—without exception. Of course, opposition from those who knew not the truth was everywhere manifest, but that was a natural consequence, as there can be no compromise between truth and error. The blessings of the gospel were made manifest in the branches, to the great joy of the Saints.

The difference between the conferences of the Reorganized Church and those of the Utah Order is very marked. In the latter, every matter brought before the people was "cut and dried" before being laid before the conference proper, and everyone was expected to raise his hand in favor of every measure presented by the authorities; and he would be a bold man who dared to cast his vote in opposition. By this means they secured a nominal unity. He who voted in the negative, or in opposition, would be a marked man. But in the Reorganized Church all things are done by "common consent," as the law of God directs. No man is questioned or snubbed for thinking and voting contrary to the majority.

During the conference in June 1861,1 formed the acquaintance of several prominent elders of the Church, among whom was Elder Richard Kelley, father of William H. Kelley. He preached an intelligent discourse, full of good, hard sense. He seemed to be a firm, straightforward man. But on his returning from conference to his home in Mills County, Iowa, he was suddenly taken ill and died, either before or directly after he was taken into his house. William H. Kelley was a promising young man, and took up the work where his father had rested from his labors.

An old Utah acquaintance of mine was also at the conference, in search of the truth. And he desired to know whether Joseph, the son of the Martyr, had assumed the Presidency of the Reorganized Church or not, as the Brighamites were circulating various reports about him. Some declared that he had not; other reports declared he had been bought by the "apostates," as they called the members of the Reorganization, and that he had given his name to be used for a large sum of money. I told Alien I had not seen Joseph, but I had no doubt he had accepted the position as President in good faith, and was giving his influence in favor of the work as the legal successor of his father. I wrote to Joseph direct, to obtain evidence from him as to the part he was taking in the latter-day work. I directly received the following letter:

Nauvoo, July 13,1861.

CHARLES DERRY, Esq.,

Dear Sir: Your letter of July 4, was received today; and that I may show to you that I appreciated a straightforward, honorable course and manly action, I answer you out of hand.

I thank our Heavenly Father that He has cast my lot in with those who dare to ask and who cannot take unsatisfactory say-so's for facts. Now, therefore, when anybody tells you that I am not in my place at the head of the New Organization, or of the Church, tell them that I wrote to you, and with my own hand, and said to you that as I said in the conference on April 6, 1860, so I say now. Say moreover to you, that inasmuch as my father's voice has been heard on earth, so shall mine be heard ere long, calling on the Saints in the name of Israel's God to come away from their transgressions and wickedness, and to turn to the right ways of the Lord. I have been called and I will be called again and again, for so is the promise to me until the people shall know that power, lust, and gold are not the gods that called me, nor the end at which I aim. I ask none to believe without investigation. I desire that none may take hold of this work who doubt; still, I do not want one to believe in my words alone, but ask each and every one to seek God in prayer for confirmation in his faith. Also, that I may be tried by the standard, "To the law and the testimony."

You and I may be brought together; then you may know what manner of man I am. Ask W. W. Blair, ask E. C. Briggs, ask any or all who have known me, and see if one (except enemies of God's gospel) will tell you that I would hazard my soul in holding a lie to the face of Jacob's and Joseph's God.

I am a believer in the gospel revealed in these last days; and I am thankful to my Heavenly Father that He is going to use me as an humble instrument in His hands of bringing the Saints back to a remembrance of their covenant. I do not wonder at the many stories that are in circulation in regard to my connection with the Church. According to report, I favored Brigham for years; so also Strang built on the same. So also Uncle William, and all who have undertaken to steady the Ark, held some claim on me.

Now, Brother Derry, the Lord works through whom He will. He has undertaken to do a certain amount through me, and He will accomplish it if I am humble and do not exalt myself. I hope by His assisting power to keep myself in the path of my duty, and I ask the people of this Church to sustain me only when I am right. When I am wrong, I shall be punished. But in the meantime, I do not want to be father of all the lies told about me. I am sincerely glad you wrote to me. I am anxious to form your acquaintance.

I should have been at the Bluffs, but circumstances prevented. We have very little money here at this time. Our banking institutions went down this spring with a rush, and there is no circulating medium. I have felt the want of this much. It kept me from the Bluffs; may keep me away again for aught I can see at this time. But God will rule all things for His good, and all will tend to glorify His name.

Show this letter to whom you will. I know in whom I trust; for "He doeth all things well." Give my regards to Elders Blair, Briggs, etc., when you see them.

May God bless you and all the honest in heart is my prayer.

Yours in all faith,
JOSEPH SMITH.

In the absence of Elder Blair, I was left in charge of the work in Pottawattamie, Mills, and Fremont Counties. I made Brother James X. Allen acquainted with the contents of Joseph's letter. He became satisfied that the Brighamite stories were false, and he united with the Church and was for a time a useful member. He told me that while on his way to Utah from England, he called at Nauvoo and saw Sister Lucy Smith, the mother of the Martyr, who told him she heard her son, Joseph, say that if Brigham Young ever led the Church, he would lead it to Hell. Others have testified that they heard the Martyr make a similar statement.

I continued my labors as appointed, and until the following trouble occurred, all had gone pleasantly. The president of the North Star Branch had shown more zeal than wisdom in ordaining men to the ministry, ignoring, as I believed, the Divine injunction that men must be ordained "according to the callings and gifts of God unto men." He was ordaining young men to the eldership without respect to their qualification. I kindly remonstrated with him and suggested the propriety of only ordaining such as were called in harmony with the law. He felt insulted and his rights infringed upon by me. He sought occasion against me, and I am sorry to say his course toward me aroused my impetuous nature, which gave him an opportunity to hatch up the following charges against me: "unchristian conduct," "slander," and "usurpation of authority." The case was tried before Brother Blair, who, upon hearing both sides, decided the charges were groundless; but he reproved me for bringing the matter up after there had been an apparent settlement. In this I was wrong, but I had followed the advice of one of the seventies, who declared the brother had insulted the authority that placed me in charge; and he urged I had no right to accept a settlement until he had made restitution to such authority. Elder Blair, in summing up, said, "Brother Deny is a man of this kind: If he is traveling along a road and obstacles are placed in his way, instead of his going around to avoid them, he would pick them up and remove them." My accuser and his witnesses were confounded, and so far as the charges were concerned, I was justified. But I saw the necessity of a greater degree of wisdom and patience, and with this feeling in my soul I penned the following lines:

My father and my God, I pray
For thy inspiring love,
To fill my soul from day to day,
And be my everlasting stay,
And lead my mind above.

Lord, I am weak and frail indeed,
And sore beset with snares,
O let His merits for me plead!
Who on the cross did intercede,
And echoes now my prayers.

Reveal thyself unto me Lord,
Disperse this darkening cloud,
And let thy grace one glimpse afford
That I may know the great Adored,
And by thee be endowed.

I never had further trouble with the parties, but their efforts to impress me with their esteem seemed more like fawning, which was always distasteful to my soul. However, I was always treated with respect by them, and I can truly say I held no hardness against them; and hasty ordinations ceased, and the law of God was more closely followed.

I continued my labors and the Lord blessed me in the same. But in the summer of 1862, I was taken down with bilious fever and was nigh unto death for several weeks, and it seemed to me if it had not been for the kind and tender care that was rendered by my wife, I must have died. She was incessant in her efforts to aid and comfort me, and to her, under God, I owe my recovery, or rather partial recovery; so that when the time for the General Conference arrived, I determined to go. The Saints told me the journey would be too great for me, as the distance was at least seventy miles and there was no chance of conveyance, only by lumber wagon. Buggies and carriages were scarce then in this western country. Still I was determined to go, if I died in the attempt. Mr. William Brittain offered to take me and wife to Brother Putney's. So we left the children with the Brittain family, where we knew they would be cared for; and as they were attending school, they would pass the few days pleasantly.

When we arrived at Brother Putney's, he and his wife received us gladly, and with them we went to conference at Galland's Grove. My health improved some each day. We were very hospitably entertained in the log cabin of Brother John Swain and wife. At this conference I first saw Joseph Smith, the eldest son of the martyred Prophet. His appearance was more like that of a farmer than a church president. When I was introduced to him he was standing under the shade of a spreading tree, and as quick as he heard my name, his right hand struck out and grasped my hand as though he had met an old friend, and he said in cheery tones, "Is this Brother Charles Deny? God bless you, Brother Derry! I am glad to see you." I felt at home in his presence; in fact, no man could feel otherwise. There was that noble but plain and meekly bearing, without affectation, that wins at once the confidence and esteem of all lovers of true nobility. There was no toadyism in his makeup; but there was a free, open, and independent air in all his words and ways, that is always characteristic of God's noblemen— and I love him.

At this conference I formed the acquaintance of Jason W. Briggs, Samuel Powers, James Blakeslee, and John Shippy, of the Twelve Apostles; and Bishop Israel L. Rogers, George Rarick, and William Aldrich. October 6, 1862, conference opened by singing and prayer. Joseph Smith was called to preside, James W. Gillen and myself to act as clerks. I was very weak, yet improving each day. Jason W. Briggs and Samuel Powers, of the Twelve, had previously been appointed to open the work of the Reorganization in England, but had never gone.

They were now reappointed, or sustained, and Charles Derry was associated with them on the English mission. Many elders were given missions to various parts. Elder Wheeler Baldwin, formerly of the Cutlerite faction, united with the Church. Excellent instruction was given by the President and the other leading men of the Church. The gifts of the gospel, as promised were abundantly poured out upon the Saints in our social meetings. The honest in heart in every faction were remembered before the Lord, that they might be led to see the truth in its purity. There I learned a lesson that I trust I shall never forget. One brother seemed to have "an ax to grind," a selfish motive to carry out, and he was constantly working to that end. He obstructed the business of the conference with his persistent effort to carry out his pet scheme. I felt indignant and was almost led to write him down an ass, but Joseph bore with him very patiently, until he saw it was necessary to stop him. Then he arose, not in anger; he spoke, but uttered no threat; he did not even sharply rebuke him, but in a mild, patient, yet firm manner, said, "Let us exorcise this spirit." Then he called upon the assembly to unite with him in prayer. That prayer was full of love and meekness. He invoked no curse, he prayed God to rebuke the evil spirit that was actuating our brother and disturbing the peace of the assembly. From the moment that prayer was uttered and the assembly arose from their knees, it was evident the spirit that had troubled us was dead, so far as any influence for evil was concerned; and a calm and peace-loving spirit prevailed throughout the remainder of the conference. At this scene my mind flashed back to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, where I had seen Brigham stand in his proud but assumed authority, uttering his terrible menaces against those who dared to oppose his views, and pointing out such with his tyrannical finger, to the minions who stood ready to do his bidding. But here was a young man with limited experience, but full of good sense and the love of God, and inspired by the spirit of goodness, he invokes the Spirit of the Holy One to rule in each heart in that audience, and the spirit of evil stands rebuked and abashed before him. God is honored, His saints are strengthened, and the victim of error has seen his folly, while a grand and glorious lesson has been taught to all.

At the close of the conference, wife and I returned home; but my duties as clerk of the conference, and also of the Quorum of Twelve and Presidency in their councils, had wearied me, not having the needed rest, and I lingered in a very weak state for about eight weeks. In my sickness I received many evidences of kindness from the western Iowa Saints, and I would like to record their names, but lack of space forbids. Nor were the Saints in Nebraska lacking in their manifestations of love for me and mine. It was at the conference above named that Brother Joseph Gilbert, the young man I met on the plains going to Utah, came and greeted me with expressions of gratitude, telling me he had proved my words true in every particular. He cast his lot with the Reorganized Church, and from his hand and mine received many kindnesses in afterdays. He became an elder in the branch at Omaha, Nebraska. This conference resulted in great good to the work at large. The Saints were greatly strengthened and their minds set at ease respecting the Gathering. Joseph told them to drive down their stakes and establish their homes, as though they were to abide there forever; and when it became needful to go to Zion, they would be prepared—having wherewith to build up Zion. Some heeded this advice, others neglected it and suffered in consequence— while those who heeded prospered. From this time on the General fall conferences were held in the western part of Iowa, until the fall conferences were dispensed with.

During the interval between my uniting with the Reorganized Church and this conference, I had formed the acquaintance of many noble Saints and their families, among whom were: William W. Blair, Edmund C. Briggs, Jarius M. Putney, Calvin Beebe and Calvin A. Beebe, Isaac Beebe, George Sweet, John A. Mclntosh, Cornelius Mclntosh, Silas W. Condit, Hugh Lytle, David M. Garnet, Thomas Dobson, Oliver E. Holcomb, Gideon Hawley, John Swain, Alexander McCord, Samuel Wood, John Leeka, Elijah Gaylord, Noah Green, Edward W. Briggs, Daniel Harrington, Rufus Pack, Reuben Hartwell, Jonathan Hayward, Samuel Waldo, Richard Kelley, Lyman Campbell, Joseph Gilbert, George Hatt, Zachariah Martin, James C. Crabb, Amos Chase, John Mackland, Elizabeth Bardsley, Isaac Ellison, Uriah Roundy, James Stuart, and Thomas Revell. These were prominent in their efforts to spread the truth, some locally and some in the missionary field; with whom it has always been a pleasure to associate. Many of these have now passed to their reward, but the memory of them is blessed. I was unable to resume my labors for some time after we returned home, for my sickness continued and it did not seem as though I should be able to fill my mission to England. I received no news from Brethren Briggs and Powers as to the readiness to go, but I felt that it was my duty to go whether they did or not. I thought their neglect would not excuse me, so I determined to go if I had to go alone, and I made what preparations I could.

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