The Danger of Having a Rebellious Spirit

Potential enemies notwithstanding, quarreling and contention within the camp became its most vexing problem. Several men feared possible dangers, some complained about changes in their life-style, and a few questioned the decisions of their leaders. For forty-five days they marched together, and the inevitable personality clashes were exacerbated by the harsh conditions they encountered. Grumblers often blamed Joseph Smith for their discomfort.

Sylvester Smith (no relation to the Prophet), a sharp-tongued group captain, frequently led the dissension. He complained that the food was poor, preparations for the journey were inadequate, and Joseph’s watchdog kept him awake at night. On the evening of 17 May, Joseph was called upon to settle a dispute among some of the brethren. He said that he found a “rebellious spirit in Sylvester Smith, and to some extent in others. I told them they would meet with misfortunes, difficulties and hindrances, and said, ‘and you will know it before you leave this place,’ exhorting them to humble themselves before the Lord and become united, that they might not be scourged.” 21 The following day the prophecy was fulfilled: nearly every horse was sick or lame. The Prophet promised if they would humble themselves and overcome their discord, their animals would immediately be restored to health. By noon the horses were nimble once again, with the exception of Sylvester Smith’s mount, which soon died.

Contention soon arose again when Sylvester Smith threatened to kill Joseph’s dog. On 3 June a frustrated Joseph Smith stood on a wagon wheel and scolded the men for their lack of humility, their murmuring and faultfinding: “I said the Lord had revealed to me that a scourge would come upon the camp in consequence of the fractious and unruly spirits that appeared among them, and they should die like sheep with the rot; still, if they would repent and humble themselves before the Lord, the scourge, in a great measure, might be turned away; but, as the Lord lives, the members of this camp will suffer for giving way to their unruly temper.” 22 This sad prophecy would be fulfilled within a few weeks. 23

For a few of the Saints, the Lord’s command not to do battle was the final trial of their faith. Disappointed and angry, they apostatized. As a result of their insurrection the Prophet again warned the camp that the Lord would send a devastating scourge upon them as a consequence of their unrighteous complaints. The day before the revelation was given two men contracted cholera. Three days later several more were struck with the dreaded disease, which was carried in contaminated water. The epidemic spread, causing severe diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps. Before it ended, about sixty-eight people, including Joseph Smith, were stricken by the disease, and fourteen members of the camp died, one of whom was a woman named Betsy Parrish. 38 On 2 July, Joseph Smith told the camp that “if they would humble themselves before the Lord and covenant to keep His commandments and obey my counsel, the plague should be stayed from that hour, and there should not be another case of the cholera among them. The brethren covenanted to that effect with uplifted hands, and the plague was stayed.” 39

[Church History in the Fulness of Times p.145-149]

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