Marietta Walker—A Devoted Laborer for the Lord

By Pamela Price

Marietta Walker by Nancy Harlacher

Marietta Walker
By Nancy Harlacher

This painting was based on a photograph of Marietta Walker taken about the time she was preparing the Inspired Version manuscript for its first printing—the 1867 Plano Edition. She is also known for a long list of accomplishments, which include the starting of a number of Church-wide programs and producing literature for Saints of all ages.

Curtis and Lucy Clark Hodges were converted to the Church in the early 1830s, and as a result moved from New York to Willoughby, Ohio. On April 10, 1834, not far from Kirtland Temple, which was then under construction, there was born to them a daughter whom they named Marietta. Marietta was one of the younger children in their large family. The Hodges moved with the Saints from Kirtland to Far West, Missouri, where they purchased a farm of three hundred and twenty acres. When war erupted between the Saints and other Missouri settlers, Marietta’s father and two of her older brothers helped defend the Saints in the Battle of Crooked River. Father Hodges was near Apostle David Patten when they were fired upon—both men were hit and fell. Brother Hodges was wounded in the side, but lived. Apostle Patten died from his wounds shortly thereafter. Marietta was only four and a half at the time. However, the wounding of her father and the death of Apostle Patten made a sad and melancholy impression upon her bright, young mind.

On October 27, 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs issued an order which stated, “The Mormons must be exterminated or driven from the state” (RLDS Church History 2:217). The Hodges family fled along with thousands of other Saints and settled at Nauvoo, where they continued to be active in the Church. Marietta’s brother, Amos, served as a traveling missionary for the Church. Marietta attended the church services and Sunday school classes, and was baptized. She knew and loved the Prophet, who endeared himself to all children. She and the Prophet’s son, Joseph III, were friends. Many years later Joseph III recalled, “I had had a childhood friendship with the daughter Marietta [Hodges] and others of the family” (Saints’ Herald, July 30, 1935, p. 976).

Marietta was ten when Joseph and Hyrum were murdered. Her father took her to the Mansion House to view their bodies. Marietta later described her experience that day in an article entitled, “A Picture from Memory’s Wall." She related:

Among those [mourners] . . . was the bent form of an aged man to whose band a little girl [Marietta], a child of some nine or ten summers, was clinging. As they came to the head of the coffins the man bent slowly down and tenderly raised the child in his arms that she might see more clearly the faces of the dead.” (Journal of Histoty 3:194, April 1910)

As they journeyed homeward Brother Hodges became so ill that he had to stop and rest. He talked of Joseph and Hyrum and said in an anguished voice:

“0, that I ever should have lived to see this day!”

“But, father [Marietta answered], it will not be for long. We shall have Brother Joseph and Brother Hyrum with us again. The grave could not hold Jesus and it cannot hold them. How beautiful they looked this morning, and once I was almost sure I saw a motion of Brother Joseph’s lips as though he were going to open them and speak to us."

“It was but imagination, child. His lips will never speak to us again and we shall see him no more until he comes with his Savior in the clouds of heaven to reign with him upon this earth. His work on earth is finished. Wicked men have taken his life. . . ."

“But he will [come to life] father, you will see!” and all the unchallenged faith of a child was in the dark and tearful eyes she raised to his face. (ibid.,195)

This tragedy was only the beginning of sorrows for Brother Hodges and his family. Three of Marietta’s adult brothers were dead by July of 1845. A fourth had disappeared while in the custody of the Nauvoo police, and it was feared that he had been killed. Rumors and warnings were rampant that every member of the Hodges family was in danger of being assassinated. Those warnings can be read today in newspapers for that year, including the Warsaw Signal for July 16, 23, and 25, 1845; the Alton Telegraph and Democratic Review, July 1845 (volume l0), page 3; and the Burlington Hawkeye, July 23, 1845. The threat of assassination came because they were going to expose Brigham Young’s involvement with a gang of robbers operating out of Nauvoo.

The Hodges Family’s Tragedy

On the night of May 12, 1845, across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo in Lee County, Iowa, three robbers forced their way into the home of John Miller, a Mennonite minister, where he and his wife, two daughters, and their husbands were sleeping (Warsaw Signal, June 9, 1845). Iowa authorities allegedly tracked the robbers to the Mississippi River and supposedly picked up the tracks again in Nauvoo. Feelings between the Saints and the residents in surrounding areas had escalated due to charges that a band of robbers was operating out of Nauvoo under Brigham Young’s direction. The blame for the murders in Iowa was quickly placed on two of Marietta’s brothers, William (twenty) and Stephen (eighteen). To alleviate the prejudice and quiet the rumors that the Mormons were robbing their Gentile neighbors, Nauvoo law officials quickly surrendered the two brothers to the Iowa officers. When they were taken to Iowa, the tension between the Saints and the neighbors was greatly relieved.

Nauvoo police chief, Hosea Stout, explained in his diary that “the matter turned in our favor and they instead of being our enemies as the mob intended became our friends” (Juanita Brooks, On the Mormon Frontier—The Diary of Hosea Stout [University of Utah Press, 1964], 44).

William and Stephen were tried and sentenced to be hanged. After the trial, their brother, Irvine, went to Nauvoo to ask Brigham Young to intervene in their behalf. That night as he neared Brigham’s home, which was heavily guarded by policemen, he was clubbed and stabbed to death. Marietta’s brother, Amos, was arrested and placed in the Nauvoo jail, from which he disappeared.

It was reported that before going to their deaths at Burlington, Iowa, Stephen and William were going to make statements which would expose Brigham’s connection with the gang of robbers. Between eight and ten thousand people gathered to hear their statements, but no such statements were made.

With Irvine dead and Amos presumed dead, William and Stephen apparently feared more reprisals against the family. They looked out upon the crowd and saw only one soul representing their family—their eighteen-year-old sister, Emeline. At their trial she had testified of their innocence, and at their deaths she stood bravely near the scaffold as they died. Emeline then took their bodies back to her sorrowing parents at Nauvoo, where they were buried.

In 1910, sixty-five years later, a Mrs. Mary Hines made a deposition that her husband, John P. Hines, had confessed to her before his death that he and George W. Martin and one other man had killed John Miller and his son-in-law, and that the Hodges brothers were not involved (Saints’ Herald, March 2, 1910, p. 230). So history proved that Marietta’s brothers were innocent—that they had been sacrificed!

Curtis and Lucy Hodges fled from Nauvoo, taking eleven-year-old Marietta, Emeline, and a son, who was perhaps a minor. This son was so guarded that his name and life’s history are yet to be discovered. Brother Hodges took the remnant of his family to somewhere in Pennsylvania. According to Marietta’s book, With the Church in an Early Day, another brother managed to reach them—but he was ill and died shortly. Soon Father Hodges, “broken and bowed with sorrow,” also died—still testifying to his lonely, outcast family that the gospel was true.

Sister Hodges and her children were living in Pittsburg when Emeline, who was then unmarried, met a young man named Elijah Banta. He had been baptized in the fall of 1844 after hearing George M. Hinkle preach the gospel. Emeline and Elijah were married December 6, 1846. Elijah tenderly cared for Emeline, and Mother Lucy, as if he were her own son. Elijah was blessed financially and he provided for the entire family, treating Marietta as his own sister.

Sister Hodges moved to St. Louis to live with another married daughter, taking Marietta with her and evidently the unidentified son. Marietta was placed in a school for girls, from which she graduated and later became an assistant teacher. During this period she joined the Methodist Church. Years afterward she wrote of her Methodist friends, “I was a stranger and ye took me in” (Saints’ Herald, November 6, 1907, p. 1029). Later she returned to Ohio and became a student at Oxford College for Women, graduating from there in 1859. When another sister, Elizabeth Lyons, died in San Antonio, Texas, leaving two little girls, Marietta went to Texas to care for them— and worked as the principal of the San Antonio Female College. In 1860 she married Robert Faulconer, a Confederate soldier, who died in 1862 leaving her with a baby girl named Lucy.

A few years later Marietta received a disturbing letter from her sister, Emeline Banta, in Sandwich, Illinois, who wrote that their mother’s health was failing. Mother Lucy was living with the Bantas, so Marietta and her daughter journeyed to their home.

Marietta was astounded to find that her mother, Emeline, and Elijah were members of the Reorganized Church, were on fire with the gospel, and that her mother had been received into the Church on her original baptism (see RLDS History 3:290). Marietta was hurt, shocked, and indignant because she could not imagine being a part of the Church which had caused her family so much sorrow. There were lively discussions and sharp words on the part of Marietta, as the others sought to reclaim her to the Church. Her childhood friend, Joseph Smith III, who was now the Prophet, called at the Banta home and entered into the discussions. They told her that they had received a testimony of the truthfulness of the Church and that if she would move out in faith, she, too, would receive a testimony that the Reorganized Church was God’s true Church—the same as in the early days.

Seventy James W. Davis, who preached Marietta’s funeral sermon, stated of her:

She is reported to have said: “I will accept your proposition; I will be baptized; and if I receive a testimony of the truthfulness of this work, as you tell me I shall, I will do all in my power to further the interests of the church. But if, on the contrary, I do not receive it, I will work just as hard in opposition to it.”

She made the decision and took the step. At first she did not receive the testimony she had sought, but later it came to her with such a flood of light and assurance and convincing power, as had the effect to enlist her for all time in the service of the church. Accordingly, on July 30, 1865, at Amboy, Illinois, she was baptized into the Reorganization by Zenos H. Gurley, sr., and was confirmed under the hands of W. W. Blair. (Vision—A Magazine for Youth [Independence, Missouri: RLDS Church] July 1930, p. 329)

W. W. Blair recorded:

On the 30th Mrs. Faulkner [Faulconer, now Sister M. Walker] was baptized by Father Z. H. Gurley, and at her conflrmation in the afternoon it pleased God to bestow on her the baptism of his Holy Spirit, fully confirming her in the faith of the gospel of Christ. (Elder Frederick B. Blair, The Memoirs of President W. W. Blair, p. 119)

Joseph Smith III asserted:

Marietta, though at first a firm Methodist, became convinced of the truth of the Latter Day message, was baptized, and became one of its stanchest defenders. At her confirmation she received a marked administration of the Spirit. (Saints’ Herald, July 30, 1935, p. 976)

Marietta Helped Prepare the Inspired Version Manuscript

After receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, she made many contributions to the Church. One of the greatest was helping prepare the manuscript of the Inspired Version of the Holy Scriptures for its first printing. Marietta had been baptized for less than a year when the General Conference voted to have the Inspired Version printed. Joseph the Martyr had left the manuscript in the care of his wife, Emma, who had faithfully guarded it for over twenty years. At the Annual Conference of the Church held in Plano, Illinois, April 6–13, 1866, the following resolutions were passed.

Resolved, That Wm. Marks, I. L. Rogers and W. W. Blair be appointed a committee, to confer with Sister Emma [Smith] Bidamon, respecting the relinquishment of the manuscripts of the New Translation of the Scriptures, for the purpose of publishing the same to the church and to the world, and that said committee be empowered to enter into and fulfill the contract for the same.

Resolved, That the Manuscript of the Scriptures, be engrossed, and the engrossed copy be put into the hands of the printer, with a view to the preservation of the original copy.

Resolved, That President J. Smith, I. L. Rogers, and Ebenezer Robinson, be appointed a committee to publish the New Translation, and that they may be empowered to act in the name of the church, to take all necessary steps to secure its speedy completion. . . .

Resolved, That the committee named as the Publication Committee of the New Translation, employ no person in writing, rewriting, proofreading, &c, who is not in the faith of the truth of the Latter-Day work, and favors the coming forth of said translation. (True Latter-Day Saints’ Herald, April 15, 1866, pp. 125–126)

Emma Smith Bidamon was visited by the committee members and gladly gave the manuscript to be published. Joseph Smith III gave the following description of the committee’s work.

On January 2, 1867, the second committee, to which Brother William W. Blair had been added by action of the committee itself, met at the house of Brother [Bishop Israel] Rogers and began the work of examining the manuscript and preparing it for publication. The task of copying and engrossing, provided for in the resolution of conference, was entrusted to Sister Marietta Faulconer (later known to the church as Sister M. Walker) and Brother Mark H. Forscutt. Both of these individuals were accomplished penmen, and their work was done faithfully and well.

We found our work very interesting in spite of its being brain-wearing and heart-tiring as well. It was necessary to apply ourselves intensely in order to avoid mistakes that might vitiate the result. Soon after we began, Brother Robinson became ill and had to return home. This interrupted our work for a time, and other interruptions occurred through the necessity for me to attend to the editorial work of the Herald and to supervise the task of securing the finances needed for the publication of the book.

Notwithstanding the work we did was truly laborious, we took great delight in it, and, as I look back now after the passage of nearly fifty years, I feel no hesitation in saying that our task was just as faithfully and conscientiously performed as that done by the translators who at the command of King James gathered in Westminster Abbey for the purpose of perfecting an earlier version of the Bible. We believed we were doing a work instituted of God for the benefit of mankind and felt that we could not afford to be indifferent, careless, or unwise. Therefore we did not attempt to labor when greatly fatigued or when the powers of mind or body were overtaxed, which was another reason why the work of editing and preparing went slowly. It took longer than some had anticipated and we were subjected to some criticism therefore. . . . In this particular responsibility I had good help. Brother Robinson was a practical printer who, as I have said, was with the church from its days in Kirtland. Brother Blair, while not a printer, was a fairly good scholar, having been a school teacher besides a successful business man before coming into the church work.

Our labors continued until all was ready. Then Brethren Robinson and Blair were commissioned to select a publishing firm and arrange for the publication. They secured a contract with Wescott and Thomson, stereotypers of Philadelphia. One or another of us remained in close touch with these people during the progress of the work and until the last proof sheets had been read and the book printed and bound. (Saints’ Herald, June 25, l935, p. 818)

Marietta Faulconer and Mark Forscutt came from very different backgrounds. Yet they had much in common, for both had suffered tremendously because of the apostasy of Brigham Young and his supporters. Elder Forscutt had been a secretary to Brigham Young in Salt Lake City before escaping from there. Marietta and Brother Forscutt worked long, tedious hours at copying the entire manuscript in longhand (there were no typewriters nor computers in those days, and kerosene and gas lamps gave poor light by which to study at night or on cloudy days).

Marietta was thirty-three years old when she helped copy the manuscript. It was the first of many manuscripts which she would prepare for the Church. She became a prolific writer and editor who consecrated her talents to the Lord and His Church. On November 7, 1869, she married Samuel Frye Walker of Austin, Nevada. He was a student, philosopher, writer, and rancher. They moved to Nevada, where daughters Francis and Lois were born. In 1877 they moved to Iowa to participate in the Order of Enoch, which was organized to build a Church community of righteousness. The Walkers were the first Church members to live in what became Lamoni (see Inez Smith Davis, The Story of the Church, page 549).

Marietta is known as the “Mother of Graceland” because she looked from her farm home to a hill and envisioned a college upon it. She worked for the fulfillment of that dream until a college was established upon the hill and given the name of “Graceland.” She envisioned an administration building for the college, and donated twenty-five acres of land upon which it now stands.

She remembered the Sunday school she had attended at Nauvoo under the direction of the Prophet Joseph, and believing Sunday schools to be a means of teaching the gospel, she worked tirelessly to establish them throughout the Church. She wrote scriptural lessons for children and adults, and encouraged the publishing of Sunday school quarterlies. She also wrote leaflets for the women of the Church, and missionary tracts.

She believed very young children should be taught the gospel, so she developed Zion’s Hope for the little ones. She founded, financed, and edited Autumn Leaves for the young people of the Church. She founded the Children’s Home at Lamoni for orphans and children whose parents could not care for them, and arranged for the former home of Bishop Elijah Banta, where she had lived, to be used for that purpose.

Marietta wrote several books—the most famous being With the Church in an Early Day, which is the story of her family’s joys and sorrows in the Church. She also wrote The Indian Maiden, Fireside Chats With Our Girls, Joan of Arc, Our Boys, and Afterglow. She assisted Elder H. A. Stebbins in compiling A Compendium of Faith, and wrote many articles for Church publications, using both her own name and her pen name, “Frances.”

Sister Marietta started the Students’ Society (which broadened into the Religio-Literary Society), and contributed much toward the spiritual growth of young people in the Church. She started the Daughters of Zion for young women and the Women’s Auxiliary for Social Service. Marietta originated the idea of the Christmas offering to be used for missionary work. Through the “Home Column” which she edited in the Saints’ Herald, she raised funds to purchase the Evanelia—a gospel boat used for missionary travel in the South Sea Islands.

Many young people benefited from her love and guidance. Among them was Elbert A. Smith, son of David Smith and grandson of Joseph the Martyr. He had very little formal education, but by following Marietta’s wise council Elbert became editor of Autumn Leaves and the Saints’ Herald. He also served twenty-nine years in the First Presidency as a counselor to Joseph Smith III and Frederick M. Smith. He was presiding patriarch of the Church at the time he penned these words of tribute to Marietta.

Sister Marietta Walker [was an] old-time friend of my father [David H. Smith] and mother [Clara Charlotte Smith]. . . . I was fortunate to inherit the friendship of Marietta Walker. . . . Very soon after my arrival in Lamoni, Sister Walker took me in hand. With her very black and penetrating eyes upon me and her sparkling personality at its best, she reminded me that my education had been all too limited. I was to do a work in the church, I must study and study hard to prepare myself. She put it bluntly, I should foreswear a lot of pleasant things—parties and dances and loafing—and study, study, and then study some more.

Next to Emma Smith, “the elect lady,” I consider Marietta Walker the most distinguished woman in our history. Her works still live after her in the many movements that she sponsored. I was only one of many young people that she inspired and helped by actual personal contact, and many thousands have been helped by her indirectly—perhaps some who have never even given her a thought.

Someone said to me, “If we were Catholics we would canonize Sister Walker—she would be ‘Saint Marietta.’” We would canonize her for her piety, her many good works for the church, her saintly character. Come to think of it, she is and was “Saint Marietta”—Latter Day Saint, one hundred percent. Her singleness of purpose and vision, her complete conversion to the Latter Day Restoration, plus her remarkable personality, made her outstanding and unforgettable.

I took Sister Walker’s advice rather seriously. . . . My hours of work were ten a day, six days a week, and there was always work at home . . . a big garden, a cow to milk. . . . But for long hours at nights and on Sundays I studied—when not engaged in church work. (Elbert A. Smith, On Memory’s Beam [lndependence, Missouri: Herald Publishing House, 1946], 92, 104–105)

Marietta passed away on April 12, 1930, at the age of ninety-six, and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery at Lamoni beside her husband, who died in 1885. These words by Vida E. Smith summarize Marietta’s life.

Her association with the church had been of a character to make its memory undesirable. Her heritage so far had been a sad one. Upon her parents had fallen the glory of the Restoration, and they followed its light until the shadows fell. The youth and beauty and strength of their home went out, and dead sea ashes lay upon the altar of their faith. And yet she drew from eternity many blessings for the church and withheld not her hand. A favorite motto with her was: “Get thy spindle and thy distaff ready and God will send thee flax,” and she was a living example of its truth. (Journal of History, July 1920, pp. 314–315)

Prints of this painting are available in various sizes for purchase at the Restoration Bookstore or from our online store.