James J. Strang Faction
(RLDS History of the Church 3:36–53)
James J. Strang proved to be quite a skillful leader, and for a time had quite a following. He was comparatively unknown during the life of Joseph Smith, not having been baptized until February 25,1844, but claimed that he was appointed by Joseph Smith to succeed him, and pointed to the fact that the revelations provided that Joseph Smith should appoint his own successor; and as evidence that he was so appointed he produced a letter, which he claimed was written to him by Joseph Smith a short time before the martyrdom.
Nauvoo, June 18, 1844.
My Dear Son:—Your epistle of May 24, proposing the planting a stake of Zion in Wisconsin and the gathering the saints there was duly received, and I, with most of the brethren whose advice I called in, were of opinion that you were deceived by a spirit not of this world, great but not good. Brother Hyrum, however, thought otherwise, and favored the project, not doubting it was of God. I, however, determined to return you an unfavorable answer for the present. But oh, the littleness of man in his best earthly state! Not so the will of the Almighty. God hath ruled it otherwise, and a message from the throne of grace directed me as it hath inspired you, and the faith which thou hast in the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel, hath been repaid to thee a thousandfold, and thou shalt be like unto him; but the flock shall find rest with thee, and God shall reveal to thee his will concerning them.
I have long felt that my present work was almost done, and that I should soon be called to rule a mighty host, but something whispers me it will be in the land of spirits, where the wicked cease from troubling and the bands of the prisoner fall off. My heart yearns for my little ones, but I know God will be a father to them, and I can claim face to face the fulfillment of promises from him who is a covenant-keeping God, and who sweareth and performeth and faileth not to the uttermost.
The wolves are upon the scent, and I am waiting to be offered up, if such be the will of God, knowing that though my visage be more marred than that of any, it will be unscarred and fair when archangels shall place on my brow the double crown of martyr and king in a heavenly world.
In the midst of darkness and boding danger the spirit of Elijah came upon me, and I went away to inquire of God how the church should be saved.
I was upon the hill of the temple. The calm Father of Waters rolled below, changeless and eternal. I beheld a light in the heavens above, and streams of bright light illuminated the firmament varied and beautiful as the rainbow, gentle, yet rapid as the fierce lightning.
The Almighty came from his throne of rest. He clothed himself with light as with a garment. He appeared, and moon and stars went out. The earth dissolved in space. I trod on air and was borne on wings of cherubims. The sweetest strains of heavenly music thrilled in my ear, but the notes were low and sad as though they sounded the requiem of martyred prophets.
I bowed my head to the earth and asked only wisdom and strength for the church. The voice of God answered, My servant Joseph, thou hast been faithful over many things and thy reward is glorious: the crown and scepter are thine and they wait thee. But thou hast sinned in some things, and thy punishment is very bitter. The whirlwind goeth before and its clouds are dark, but rest followeth, and to its days there shall be no end. Study the words of the vision for it tarrieth not. And now behold my servant James J. Strang hath come to thee from far for truth when he knew it not, and hath not rejected it but had faith in thee, the Shepherd and Stone of Israel, and to him shall the gathering of the people be, for he shall plant a stake of Zion in Wisconsin and I will establish it; and there shall my people have peace and rest and shall not be moved, for it shall be established on the prairie on White River, in the lands of Racine and Walworth; and behold my servants James and Aaron shall plant it, for I have given them wisdom, and Daniel shall stand in his lot on the hill beside the river looking down on the prairie, and shall instruct my people and plead with them face to face.
Behold my servant James shall lengthen the cords and strengthen the stakes of Zion, and my servant Aaron shall be his counselor, for he hath wisdom in the gospel, and understsandeth the doctrines and erreth not therein.
And I will have a house built unto me there of stone, and there will I show myself to my people by many mighty works, and the name of the city shall be called Voree, which is, being interpreted, garden of peace; for there shall my people have peace and rest and wax fat and pleasant in the presence of their enemies.
But I will again stretch out my arm over the river of waters, and on the banks thereof shall the house of my choice be. But now the city of Voree shall be a stronghold of safety to my people, and they that are faithful and obey me I will there give them great prosperity, and such as they have not had before; and unto Voree shall be the gathering of my people, and there shall the oppressed flee for safety, and none shall hurt or molest them.
And by this shall they know that I have spoken it; the people there and the owners of the land shall show kindness to them, for great calamities are coming on the church, and such as have not been, and if they scatter, the ungodly of the world shall swallow them up, but if they gather to my city of Voree, there will I keep them under the shadow of my wings, and the cities from whence my people have been driven shall be purged with a high hand, for I will do it, and my people shall be again restored to their possession; but dark clouds are gathering, for the church is not yet wholly purged.
And now I command my servants, the apostles and priests and elders of the church of the saints, that they communicate and proclaim this my word, to all the saints of God in all the world, that they may be gathered unto and round about the city of Voree and be saved from their enemies, for I will have a people to serve me.
And I command my servant Moses Smith that he go unto the saints with whom he is acquainted, and unto many people, and command them in my name to go unto my city of Voree and gain inheritances therein, and he shall have inheritance therein, for he hath left all for my sake and I will add unto him many fold if he is faithful, for he knows the land and can testify to them that it is very good.
So spake the Almighty God of heaven. Thy duty is made plain, and if thou lackest wisdom ask of God, in whose hands I trust thee and he shall give thee unsparingly, for if evil befall me thou shalt lead the flock to pleasant pastures. God sustain thee.
P. S.—Write me soon and keep me advised of your progress from time to time.
Certificate. I certify that the above is a true and compared copy of the original, now in my possession.
CHAS. J. STRANG.
LANSING, February 3, 1891.
I also testify that I, in company with Charles J. Strang, on the above date, compared the foregoing with the original letter purporting to have been written by Joseph Smith to James J. Strang, and that the foregoing is a verbatim copy. The original is not in the hand writing of Joseph Smith, but was printed with a pen.
DETROIT, Michigan, Oct. 30, 1896.
The genuineness of this letter was disputed by many, but strenuously maintained by Mr. Strang’s followers. Even now though the organization formed by him has ceased to exist, there are a few who maintain the genuineness of his appointment and the truth of his claims.
Mr. Strang made the further claim that an angel of God appeared unto him at half past five o’clock in the afternoon of June 27,1844, and ordained him to lead the people. This it will be observed was on the same day and about the time that Joseph Smith was killed.
He claimed further to have found by direction some plates known as the plates of Laban from which he translated what is known as the “Book of the Law.” This was published in book form and is still extant. Seven witnesses testify to having viewed these plates, and that the kingdom of God was established.
It was probably from this Book of the Law that Elder Strang received his teaching in favor of polygamy, and not, as many have supposed, from the teaching and practice of the church at Nauvoo prior to the death of Joseph Smith.
It is certain that Strang and his colleagues were emphatically opposed to polygamy for over three years after the death of Joseph Smith; nor was the practice known among them until about 1848 or 1849. At a conference held by them August 7-10, 1846, at Kirtland, Ohio, among other resolutions they adopted the following:—
Resolved unanimously. That we utterly disclaim the whole system of polygamy known as the spiritual wife system lately set up in Nauvoo, by the apostates who claim the authority there, and will neither practice such things nor hold any fellowship with those that teach or practice such things.—Voree Herald, September, 1846.
This was confirmed at a General Conference held at Voree, Wisconsin, October 6–19, as the following will show:—
The proceedings of the special conference, at Kirtland, of August 6, 7, 8, and 9, were presented by President Strang.
On motion of General Bennett, resolved unanimously, that this General Conference cordially approve of the reorganization of the stake of Kirtland, and of the proceedings of its special conference.—Voree Herald, October, 1846.
In Zion's Reveille for July 22,1847, is an article from the pen of the editor, James J. Strang, entitled: “Polygamy not Possible in a Free Government.”
In the same publication for August 5, 1847, there is an article from the pen of John E. Page from which we extract the following:—
TO THE SAINTS; Greeting:—
Our eyes and ears are sometimes saluted with communications from abroad that there are persons who profess to be adherents to President J. J. Strang, who are privately teaching and some practicing what is called the "western camp doctrine," or, in other words, "spiritual wifery" or polygamy. We also hear that there are some persons who do President Strang the injustice to say that he justifies the principle above stated.
This is to say emphatically, and we mean just what we say, and if our course in the future does not prove us true in this matter then let that execration rest on us that is due to such a course of conduct, that we believe ourself to be as much ingratiated into the confidence of President Strang as any other man. (This we say without egotism, merely to discharge a moral duty.)
We have talked hours, yea, even days with President Strang on the subject of the temporal and moral condition and character of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and we find to our utmost satisfaction that he does not believe in or cherish the doctrine of polygamy in any manner, shape, or form imaginable whatever.—Zion's Reveille, Aug. 5, 1847, vol. 2, p. 83.
The same publication for August 12, 1847, contains a card from James J. Strang relating to the above, reading as follows:—
Elder John E. Page has referred me to an article in No. 20 addressed "To the Saints; Greeting." In the remarks he has there made he has justly and truly represented my sentiments. I am only astonished that it should be necessary to state them at all. Within three years I have, in the work of the ministry, traveled over sixteen thousand miles, visited all the States north of the Carolinas but three, most of them several times, preached to large congregations in all the principal cities and in most of the large branches in the country. And I have uniformly and most distinctly discarded and declared heretical the so called "spiritual wife system" and everything connected therewith. It is a well-known fact that several men of talent and influence have separated from me and from the Church of God, merely because I would not in any manner countenance such a doctrine. One of them, Reuben Miller, has, in a pamphlet extensively circulated, given as a reason for separating from the church and becoming a Brighamite that I did not believe in the "spiritual wife system." I have recently refused to ordain a man to a high and responsible office, although a warm personal friend, and after he had been sustained by the unanimous vote of a General Conference, for no other reason than that it was discovered that he believed in "spiritual wifery." I now say distinctly, and I defy contradiction, that the man or woman does not exist on earth or under the earth who ever heard me say one word, or saw me do one act, savoring in the least of spiritual wifery, or any of the attending abominations. My opinions on this subject are unchanged, and I regard them as unchangeable. They are established on a full consideration of ALL the Scriptures, both ancient and modern, and the discipline of the church SHALL conform thereto. But I do not profess to be omniscient, and if any are found in this fault, not in my presence, it is necessary that those who know the facts present them to the proper council and attend to it. If, like many I know of, when a brother finds others in this sin he renounces the prophet and denies the faith, or like others STANDS STILL, HIS damnation is sure. I know little difference between the heresy in the one case or the other.
JAMES J. STRANG, President of the Church.
“VOREE, August 6, 1847.”
—Zion’s Reveille, August 12, 1847, vol. 2, p. 88.
The October conference minutes for 1847 contain the following entries:—
James M. Adams, apostle, excommunicated for apostasy and believing the spiritual wife system. Delivered over to the buffetings of Satan till he repent. And the whole congregation lifted their hands against him.
Benjamin C. Ellsworth, excommunicated for teaching and practicing the spiritual wife system. Delivered over to the buffetings of Satan till the day of the Lord. And the whole congregation lifted their hands against him.—Gospel Herald, Oct. 14, 1847, vol. 2, p. 122.
On December 23, 1847, J. W. Crane was tried before the First Presidency, J. J. Strang being present, and convicted under nine counts, the third being:
Heresy; teaching that it is right to plunder unbelievers; three witnesses. Teaching that saints may have other women than one wife; five witnesses.—Gospel Herald, vol. 2, p. 192.
These extracts show conclusively that whatever Strang may have subsequently taught on this subject, he did not receive the doctrine until more than three and a half years after the death of Joseph Smith.
Mr. Strang was willing to publicly discuss the issues between himself and the Brighamites, but they declined to do so. On August 30, 1846, he very respectfully invited John Taylor and Orson Hyde to canvass the issues, but they very summarily dismissed the challenge. The original letter, with answer thereon, is now before us.
PHILADELPHIA, August 30, l846.
Messrs. J. Taylor and Orson Hyde:—Knowing from your published proceedings, as well as otherwise, that you and others associated with you, claim the right, and are attempting to use the power of dictating all the affairs of the Church of Jesus Christ, in all the world; not under the direction of the First Presidency thereof, but independently, I suggest to you the propriety of your publicly showing by what means you are authorized to act as leaders to said church, and offer to publicly discuss that question with you in this city or any other place that will suit your convenience. Your answer to this, left at the house of Jacob Gibson, N. E. corner of Third and Dock Street, near the Post Office, will receive immediate attention.
JAMES J. STRANG.
The following answer is written on the same sheet of paper:—
Sir:—After Lucifer was cut off, and thrust down to hell, we have no knowledge that God ever condescended to investigate the subject or right of authority with him. Your case has been disposed of by the authorities of the church. Being satisfied with our own power and calling, we have no disposition to ask from whence yours came.
Mr. Strang settled, according to the so-called letter of appointment, in Wisconsin, and built up a city which he called Voree, at a place now known as Spring Prairie, in Walworth County. He organized the church with himself as President. Aaron Smith and George J. Adams are mentioned at different times as his counselors, but we have not been able to obtain the names of all the leading officers.
At their General Conference held at Voree, Wisconsin, April 6,1846, the following action was taken regarding the Twelve:—
It was unanimously resolved:—
- That we sustain and uphold Elder John E. Page by our faith and prayers and confidence as one of the Twelve.
- That we cordially and affectionately invite Elder William Smith and Wilford Woodruff to take their places in the church as members of the Quorum of the Twelve.
- That Elder Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Orson Hyde, John Taylor, Willard Richards, George A. Smith, and Lyman Wight be left to the ordinary course of discipline.—Voree Herald, June, 1846.
At the same conference a High Council was formed for the trial of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, Willard Richards, and George A. Smith. For some reason, not stated, the names of Orson Pratt and Lyman Wight were not included in the charges. The seven tried were found guilty—Young, Kimball, and Hyde of all the charges, and the other four of “the principal part of them.” The charges were for “conspiracy to overthrow the order of the church,” “usurpation,” “tyrannous administration,” “teaching false doctrine,” and “blasphemy,” with a separate charge against Orson Hyde for “falsely pretending to a revelation from God.” The penalty was as follows:—
After a full hearing, and the remarks of six members of the council, President Strang pronounced the unanimous judgment of the council that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, Willard Richards, and George A. Smith, be excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and be delivered over to the buffetings of Satan in the flesh.
The proceedings of the High Council in the premises were submitted to the conference and unanimously approved.—Voree Herald, April, 1846.
John C. Bennett was prominently connected with Mr. Strang for a time, and it was claimed by some that Joseph Smith had intrusted to Mr. Bennett certain documents to be held in trust until after Joseph’s death. He was expelled from this organization October 8,1847, at a General Conference held at Voree.
In their records William Marks is mentioned at different times; first as one of the High Council, second as Bishop, and third as a member of the Presidency. Whether he accepted all these offices we do not know. If he did, of the extent to which he officiated in them we are not informed; but he evidently did not remain with Mr. Strang very long.
Quite a number of men were ordained to the office of apostle, but so many of them remained with Mr. Strang for so short a time that changes in this quorum were quite frequent. We notice in this capacity the names of William Smith, William E. McLellin, John E. Page, Ira J. Patten, Moses Smith, C. W. Appleton, A. N. Hosmer, Samuel Bennett, Samuel Graham, Phineas Wright, James Blakeslee, Ebenezer Page, Jehiel Savage, L. D. Hickey, Warren Post, Edward Preston, H. P. Brown, A. W. Prindle, Edward Chidister, L. D. Tubbs, Isaac Pierce, James Hutchins, James M. Adams, Lester Brooks, John Greenhow, B. C. Ellsworth.
William Smith for a time favored Mr. Strang, and was acknowledged as Patriarch, as well as one of the Twelve; but from what we can learn their association was not very intimate nor of long duration. He was expelled October 8, 1847.
Some of these men in accepting Mr. Strang evidently did not understand that his occupancy as President of the Church was to be permanent. Mr. Strang’s adherents must generally have expected that Joseph Smith, the son of the Martyr, would sometime fill an important place in the church, and that the revelations of God so taught. This is evident from the following resolution adopted at their Annual Conference held at Voree, Wisconsin, in April, 1849:—
On motion, resolved, unanimously, that we give our prayers daily for Joseph, the son of Joseph, that he may be raised up of God to fill the station to which he has been called by prophecy.—Gospel Herald, vol. 4, p. 16.
The Voree Herald was first issued at Voree, Wisconsin, January, 1846, as the official organ of Mr. J. J Strang. It was published under this title until November, 1846, when it assumed the name of Zion's Reveille and continued as such until September 23, 1847, when it appeared under the name of Gospel Herald, maintaining under all these titles its character as an organ of the church. It was continued at least until June 6,1850, which is the last number we have seen.
After being in Voree a few years Mr. Strang removed his headquarters to Beaver Island, one of the Manitou group, in Lake Michigan, where he built the city of St. James. Here a paper called the Northern Islander was published by Cooper and Chidister in the interest of Strang’s organization.
A portion of the vision furnishing authority for the move to Beaver Island is as follows:
- I, James J. Strang, was at Elizabeth, on the Monongahela River, on the twenty-fifth day of August, in the year eighteen hundred and forty-six, and had a vision, and lo, I beheld a land amidst wide waters, and covered with large timber, with a deep, broad bay on one side of it; and I wandered over it upon little hills, and among rich valleys where the air was pure and serene, and the unfolding foliage, with its fragrant shades, attracted me till I wandered to bright clear waters scarcely ruffled by the breeze. And Indians in canoes glided about, and caught fish and sat down to eat, and they gathered in assemblies and men taught words of truth and ways of holiness, and they harkened, and I beheld wonders there.
- And one came near unto me, and I said, What meaneth this? And he answered and said, Behold, here shall God establish his people, even the sons of Joseph, on an everlasting foundation; and from thence shall the gospel of the kingdom go unto the tribes, and they shall not any more be despised; for the nation that set their feet upon their necks will he cut off, that they be no more a people.—Revelations of James J. Strang, p. 11.
Mr. Strang made his home the remainder of his life at St. James. The following is from volume 17 of “Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections”:—
The community at Voree grew steadily under Strang’s energetic leadership, but in 1846 he determined to plant a colony on the Lake Michigan archipelago, and in the following year he visited Beaver Island at the head of a prospecting party. In the face of the resistance of the few traders already in possession, and amid many hardships, they thoroughly explored it and decided to settle there. This is the largest of the many islands scattered thickly through the northeastern extremity of Lake Michigan, divided into three groups, known by the names of Manitou, Fox, and Beaver, and organized into the county of Manitou by the State of Michigan. It is fifteen miles in length by six in width, contains several thousand acres of fertile and well watered lands, and has one of the finest natural harbors upon the chain of great lakes. These islands now contain an isolated community of small farmers, woodcutters, traders, and fishermen, are visited only irregularly by passing vessels, and are chiefly known as valuable fishing stations. Thirty-five years ago they were sparsely inhabited by Indians and Indian traders, and were camped upon occasionally by fishing parties; but little or nothing else was known of them even at the principal lake ports. Strang believed that there he could establish his church on a secure temporal foundation, and could escape that hostility of Gentile neighbors which had proved so fatal to Smith’s settlements at the far west and Nauvoo. Convenient visions, duly communicated to the faithful for their edification and guidance, then ordered him not merely to gather his people at Voree, but to also take them to "a land amid wide waters and covered with large timber, with a deep, broad bay on one side of it." There was accordingly some emigration from Wisconsin to Beaver Island in 1847–48, but it acquired considerable proportions in 1849–50, and in the latter year the headquarters of the Primitive Mormons were removed from Voree to the new village at Beaver Harbor, to which the name of St. James had been given in honor of its founder. The Voree Herald was then succeeded by the Northern Islander, an exceedingly creditable specimen of backwoods journalism. The communistic principle was abandoned, and the saints became the owners of their own homesteads. In July, 1850, the government of the church was thoroughly reorganized "by the union of church and state," and the formation of a kingdom, with Strang as king. Precisely the nature of his claim to the royal title is thus stated by one of the most. intelligent of his followers, Wingfield Watson, who still lives at Boyne, Charlevoix County, Michigan:—
Mr. Strang did claim to be a king only to the Mormon people, and upon the same principles, and the same only, upon which Moses, Melchisedec, Elijah, Elisha, Noah, Enoch, Peter, Joseph Smith, [(We have seen no evidence that these parties claimed the title of king.)] and all the great and leading prophets of God claimed that office since the world began; namely, by an appointment by revelation and an ordination under the hands of angels; and as none of those persons ever proposed in any way to be king only to those who, after a proper investigation of his claims and character, chose to receive him as such, so it was with Mr. Strang. By virtue of this ordination he claimed to hold the conjoint, kingly, prophetic and apostolic office held by all the above-mentioned personages.—Sketch of James Jesse Strang and the Mormon Kingdom on Beaver Island, pp. 6, 7.
In the fall of 1854 Mr. Strang was elected to the Michigan Legislature to represent the organized counties of Newaygo, Emmet, Oceana, Cheboygan, and Grand Traverse, and the unorganized counties of Antrim, Wexford, Kalkaska, Missaukee, Leelanaw, Presque Isle, Crawford, Alpena, Oscoda, Motormen, Alcona, Otsego, Ogemaw, Roscommon, and Iosco. He took the oath of office on January 3, 1855, and made quite a good record for ability. Of his election and incidents connected therewith and of his subsequent election, the work quoted above states:—
In 1852 the king became a legislator. The score of new counties of the northwestern quarter of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan formed at that time what was known as the Newaygo district. It was of immense extent, and its few centers of settlement were widely scattered. The result was that five legislative candidates were voted for, the Mormons solidly supporting Strang, who received a very decided plurality. An attempt was made to arrest him on some charge and thus keep him away from Lansing, but he used his privilege as a legislator to escape that snare. Next his seat was contested on constitutional and other grounds. He showed skill in the management of his own case in this instance, made a forcible speech before the House, and was admitted by a vote of 49 to 11. In 1854 he was reëlected, and this time he took his seat without resistance, thus serving two terms as a member of the State House of Representatives. King Strang also dabbled in politics a little, coöperating in the main with the Democrats, who were at that time in power in Michigan. "The Mormon vote" he controlled absolutely, and used it to secure advantages for his community and to make bargains that would help on his schemes of personal or church advancement. In one or two doubtful State contests the action of the islanders under his leadership became a matter of solicitude to party managers, and one or two trips were made to St. James on political errands by that now veteran negotiator, John E. Harmon. Strang did not lack for political ambition. While at Lansing he broached a scheme for subdividing Michigan, which embodied a plan for the erection of a new Mormon territory. This, of course, received no encouragement, and then he applied to Robert McClelland, of Michigan, who was then Secretary of the Interior in the cabinet of President Pierce, for an appointment as Governor of Utah, promising that his administration should be attended by the uprooting of Brighamite Mormonism in the Salt Lake Valley.—Sketch of James Jesse Strang and the Mormon Kingdom on Beaver Island, pp. 10, 11.
On June 16,1856, he received wounds which culminated in his death. It is thought by some that he was the victim of a conspiracy. A United States vessel landed at St. James, and one of the officers went to Mr. Strang’s house and invited him to visit the vessel. As they approached the vessel two of Strang’s followers, Alexander Wentworth and Thomas Bedford, stepped up behind him and shot him. The assassins were taken on board the vessel and escaped. They were never punished. Mr. Strang was removed to Voree, Wisconsin, where he died on July 9,1856.
The following published account is perhaps correct:—
The end of King Strang’s reign came in 1856. Externally the affairs of the "kingdom" were then at their zenith, but serious internal troubles had arisen. Polygamy had proved a source of discontent, and gave excuse for revolt against Strang’s rigid discipline in small matters. Jealousies also sprang up at times between him and the more intelligent of his disciples. Soon after the occupation of Beaver Island, the most effective of his preachers, a strolling actor named George J. Adams, became insubordinate and was excommunicated. He failed in an attempt to organize a revolt and joined the Gentiles: he made several futile attempts to break up the new settlement, but finally gave up the contest. Later, the most capable of Strang’s followers, an educated Baltimorean named Dr. H. D. McCulloch, became disaffected, and he successfully stimulated the hostility to the King both on Beaver Island and along the shore, until it bore tragic fruit. Two men named Bedford and Wentworth had been subjected to public discipline. One of them had been severely whipped, and, as he believed, by Strang’s orders, although this was denied. They were eager for revenge, and determined to kill the Mormon leader whenever it could be done with any hope of escaping the fury of his followers. The result was thus narrated in the columns of the Northern Islander of June 20, 1856:—
Murderous Assault.—On Monday last the United States steamer Michigan entered this harbor at about one o’clock p. m. and was visited by the inhabitants promiscuously during the afternoon. About seven o’clock Capt. McBlair sent a messenger (Alex. St. Barnard, the pilot), to Mr. Strang requesting him to visit him on board. Mr. Strang immediately accompanied the messenger, and just as they were stepping on the bridge leading to the pier, in front of F. Johnson and Company’s store, two assassins approached in the rear, unobserved by either of them, and fired upon Mr. Strang with pistols. The first shot took effect upon the left side of the head, entering a little back of the top of the ear, and, rebounding, passed out near the top of the head. This shot, fired from a horse pistol, brought him down, and he fell on the left side so that he saw the assassins as they fired the second and third shots from a revolver, both taking effect upon his person; one just below the temple, on the right side of the face, and lodged in the cheek bone; the other on the left side of the spine, near the tenth rib, followed the rib about two inches and a half and lodged. Mr. Strang recognized in the persons of the assassins Thomas Bedford and Alexander Wentworth. Wentworth had a revolver and Bedford a horse pistol, with which he struck him over the head and face while lying on the ground. The assassins immediately fled on board the United States steamer, with pistols in hand, claiming her protection. The assault was committed in view of several of the officers and crew from the deck of the steamer, also of Dr. H. D. McCulloch, F. Johnson, and others, and no effort was made to stop it. Mr. Strang was taken up by a few friends and some of the officers of the boat and carried to the house of Messrs. Prindles, where the surgeon of the steamer made an examination of his wounds and declared recovery hopeless. Process was taken out for the apprehension of the assassins, and the sheriff of the county called on Captain McBlair for their delivery. The Captain refused to give them up, saying that he would take them to Mackinac and deliver them into the hands of the civil authorities of the State there. The steamer left the next day, carrying off all the persons supposed to be implicated in the affair, thus affording military protection to murderers and overthrowing the sovereignty of civil law.
All the parties suspected of any share in the homicide were taken to Mackinac on the Michigan, and were there enthusiastically received by the people and speedily discharged from nominal custody. Strang was removed in a few days to Voree, where he died on July 9. He was buried at Spring Prairie, Wisconsin, and his family, which consisted of five wives and twelve children, lived in that neighborhood for a short time, but finally scattered. Shortly after his removal from St. James a mob of angry fishermen and others descended upon the Mormon settlement, burned the temple, sacked the "royal palace," and drove the subjects of the fallen monarch from the islands in hot haste. The dispersion of the Beaver Island Mormons was complete and they have since ceased to profess any organized existence. The men (or their successors) who expelled the saints are still in possession of the fruits of conquest. They dwell in the abandoned homes, substantial cabins of hewn logs, vine-clad and surrounded by little gardens. The office of the Northern Islander has become a boarding house, and is now the "best hotel" in St. James. The island nomenclature alone preserves the traditions of the fallen kingdom. The village on Beaver Harbor is still St. James. The excellent road which leads into the interior is the King’s highway. The largest of the inland lakes is called Galilee, and a trout brook which winds through a ravine near the eastern shore is the Jordan. The Mormon tabernacle is a mere mound of charred ruins; Catholicism has become the dominant religion of the island, and is represented by a handsome chapel.—Sketch of James Jesse Strang and the Mormon Kingdom on Beaver Island, pp. 11–13.
Since their expulsion most of them have lost faith in Strang’s theories and united with other organizations, but a few yet retain confidence in his claims. The following conclusions of his son, Charles J. Strang, we commend to a careful consideration:—
“LANSING Michigan, July 18, 1882.
Editor Herald:—Concerning James J. Strang’s claim as successor to Joseph Smith, which is urged from time to time by certain of the faithful, permit me to give through your paper a brief statement of the matter as it looks to me.
Some time ago I was permitted to see what purported to be the original letter of appointment, and there is written below the signature a postscript which is not given in any printed copy of the letter I ever saw. I carefully compared the whole letter with the copy printed in the Diamond, a gospel tract, and found it a true copy except the postscript, which was as follows: "P. S.—Write me soon and keep me advised of your progress from time to time." Without this the letter may be easily construed to mean just what was claimed for it, but this, it seems to me, puts the whole matter in a different light. In the very first sentence of the letter I would understand that Strang had written to Smith "proposing the planting a stake of Zion in Wisconsin;" and this letter was a reply to that proposal. And it is equally clear to me that Smith would not have made a request for reports of progress from time to time if he had known he was going to be martyred and the appointment was not to go into effect until his death.
The point I wish to make is this: Strang was appointed just as the letter reads as a whole, to establish a ‘stake of Zion,’ or a branch of the main church, to which he was subject and must make report, and with his death or removal that branch would be without a head until a new one could be appointed by the President of the central or mother church. But Smith’s death occurring so suddenly, and before the letter had been made public, gave Strang an opportunity, which he was shrewd enough to grasp, to undertake to lead the whole church. How well he succeeded is a matter of history.
His removal from Voree was one of the primary causes of his fall, for in the words of the vision, "There shall my people have peace and rest, and shall not be moved." So far as I have been able to learn the history of the church at Voree, before any other scheme was advanced, it had peace, and rest, and prosperity. But with the removal to Beaver Island, Strang and his followers passed from the dominion of primitive Mormonism into a little kingdom of their own, and thereby Strang became supreme ruler of the whole kingdom, instead of head of simply a branch.
Bearing indirectly on this subject is another item of some importance. In 1846, at Voree, Strang pronounced a curse upon certain ministers, a portion of which I here quote:
As for those who, as gospel ministers, have assumed to teach such damning, soul destroying doctrines (that deceit, fraud, lying, perjury, plundering unbelievers, polygamy, fornication, and adultery are required by the command of God in the upbuilding of his kingdom) in the name of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, may their bones rot in the living tomb of their flesh; may their flesh generate from its own corruptions a loathesome life for others; may their blood swarm a leprous life of motelike ghastly corruption, feeding on flowing life, generating chilling agues and burning fevers.... And I prayed unto God, saying, Oh, God, curse them not, and let me not raise my voice against my fellows! But he said, Curse, curse, curse! I will altogether curse, until they return to me, for they have perverted my law and deceived my servants; unto the Destroyer shalt thou deliver them, for their prayer is sin.
Yet later on Strang fell under this very curse—in the matter of polygamy if nothing else.
Permit me also to say in this connection that all that has been said to his credit as a shrewd, intelligent, capable man, can be multiplied a hundred times without flattery; for all who knew him personally have only the highest praise of his extraordinary ability, and his perseverance and success in whatever he undertook to accomplish. The press notices published in your paper for June 1 could be multiplied many times without exhausting the number or quality.
CHAS. J. STRANG.
—The Saints’ Herald, vol. 29, pp. 237, 238.