Moses Thatcher

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Moses Thatcher was a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles from 1879 to 1896. He was the sixth of the eight sons of Hezekiah Thatcher and Alley Kitchen and was born in Sangamon county, Illinois, February 2, 1842.


Childhood Memories

Pending the final expulsion of the Saints from Nauvoo, and while his father was constantly engaged in defending his leading brethren from the encroachments of persecuting and despoiling bands of unscrupulous men, the earliest reflections of the boy were rudely awakened by mobs repeatedly threatening to burn the house from over the head of his defenseless mother, who, with her children, was kept in constant dread, during those troublous times when many fled by the light of their burning dwellings. But relief was found, even at the tender age of four years, in contemplating the goodness of God, as in contrast with the wickedness of man.

Thus, early religious impressions were made in the heart of the child, who from a distance watched the sunlight play on the spire of the Nauvoo Temple and thought the brightness emanated from God's holy angels. His memory faintly grasps the misery, sickness and death that hung like a cloud over the wandering camps of an expelled people. But the hot sands that blistered his feet when walking the sun-scorched plains, while lolling cattle hauled their heavy loads towards the setting sun, as they wearily followed the trail of the pioneers, are still remembered. The snows and frosts of the winter of 1847-48 and the hunger that gnawed for a whole year as he herded sheep and digged roots, are not forgotten; nor are other early valley scenes, wherein Indians caught the bleating lambs of his flock with their rawhide ropes and enforced an exchange of their cricket-pies for the boy's corn-cakes.

With other members of his father's family, Moses was taken to California in the spring of 1849, reaching what is now Sacramento city in June of that year. It was then only a village of rude huts and tents. Going to the mining regions near Auburn, he became quite a capitalist, frequently receiving from travelers from one to five dollars for riding a horse to water. His father kept an eating house on the Auburn road, and silver dollars sewn up in gunny sacks and thrust under beds, unprotected from thieves, save by the walls of a canvas house, were common sights to him in those times, when "Judge Lynch" tried, convicted and hanged the robber, all in one day. No safes, vaults and iron boxes were needed when pork and beans were worth a dollar a pound and the forfeiture of life was the price for stealing.

Having followed close on the heels of the pioneers, he attended his first school when eleven years of age. Being large for his years and awkward, his bashfulness and the knowledge that boys much younger than he were educationally far in advance of him, became sources of daily annoyance and humiliation, but did not discourage him. Seeking learning earnestly he made rapid advancement and quickly laid a foundation for a good common school education.

During evenings he had often listened with rapt attention to religious discussions between traveling ministers of various sects and his mother. His father being a man of few words, seldom engaged in extended conversations on religious or other subjects; but the boy used to marvel at the ease with which his mother confused and silenced professed teachers, who frequently demonstrated their utter ignorance of the holy Scriptures, with which his mother was so familiar. The Elders on their way to missions often called upon and received aid from the father of Moses, who, when they held meetings, attended with delight; for the principles of the gospel sounded like sweet music to him, and often, when they portrayed the truth by the power of God, the spirit bore testimony, and he felt that he had known that before. Thus, the divine gospel message falling on his ears sunk into his heart, not as something new, but as something beautiful, priceless, eternal and known before.

Baptism and Mission

When, therefore, Elders Henry G. Boyle, David M. Stewart and William H. Shearman came with authority to baptize as well as preach, he embraced the truth, being baptized in the Rio Puta, Yolo county, Cal., Dec. 29, 1856, by Elder Boyle, who also confirmed him the evening of the same day, and on March 23rd following ordained him an Elder. One month later he was called to fill a mission and became the companion of Elder Boyle. He was then fifteen years of age — a beardless boy.

Moses had pleaded with Elder Boyle not to call him to preach or pray in public, saying that if he could be excused from that, he would be Brother Boyle's obedient and willing servant, blacking his boots, waiting on him, caring for his horse and in every possible manner rendering himself useful to his friend. For several weeks his appeals were regarded mercifully, when, having attended a Methodist meeting, the Saints and especially the characters of the Prophets, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, were cruelly and unmercifully vilified by the minister, one Reverend Blythe. Being the only one of the faith present, Moses was profoundly moved and in humble, earnest inward prayer besought the Lord to manifest to him his duty and give him strength to perform it. In answer he was impressed to reply. Securing permission to speak, the spirit of God came upon him powerfully, and, without the least hesitation or manifestation of timidity, he disproved many of the assertions of the "reverend" vilifier and confounded and put him to shame; so much so, that swelling with wrath and high sounding words.

Blythe exclaimed, with a sneer, that he was grieved and astonished that one so young and apparently good, should admit himself to be a "Mormon."

Whereupon Moses replied: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe." And further said he, "Christ declared that those who believed on Him should do the works He did and greater works, because He went to the Father. Now our Reverend friend has declared that such works are done away, being no longer necessary, and that all who claim to do them or any part of them are impostors; does it not follow, therefore, that he is no believer in Christ.? Judge ye between the Lord and this Reverend gentleman claiming in His name to be a teacher. The sheep knowing the voice of their shepherd will not follow strangers seeking to lead them astray." Thus did the Almighty with the weak confound the mighty, vindicate truth and unmistakably demonstrate that, however inadequate the instrument, He was able to make truth triumph over error.

Thereafter Moses made the Lord the "rock of his refuge," and, as the boy-missionary, preached as earnestly, as fearlessly and as effectively as at any time since. Wrapt in the spirit he sometimes spoke for an hour, often correctly quoting Scripture he had never read, the words and sentences, as he declared, appearing before his spiritual eyes, were read, as from an open book.

The first mission was terminated by the "call home" pending the approach to Utah of the U. S. army. John B., Aaron D. and Moses Thatcher, using means left by their father, fitted up teams and wagons, provided themselves with arms and ammunition, and started from Yolo county Oct. 14, 1857, for Salt Lake City, via the coast route to San Bernardino, thence across the deserts; the season being too far advanced to undertake the journey via the Carson and Humboldt routes. The party reached Salt Lake City, Jan. 1, 1858. Joseph W. Thatcher, the eldest brother of Moses, had been sent on a mission to aid in establishing a settlement on Salmon river. John B., Aaron D. and Geo. W. Thatcher joined the Utah militia and served in Echo and other parts of the Territory, while Moses, not yet sixteen years of age, went to school, and, after the establishment of Camp Floyd, became a member of the special police force of Salt Lake City and did service as night street guard.

Education, Marriage, and Employment

He went south in the move as far as Payson, accompanied his father and others to Cache valley in the winter of 1860 and assisted in locating canal and mill sites and labored during the spring and summer of that year in getting out timber for the Union Mills. During the winter of 1860-61 he attended the University of Deseret, Prof. Orson Pratt, jun., and James Cobb, being his instructors. In April, 1861; he was married to Miss Lettie Farr by her uncle Lorin Farr and was sealed to her by Pres. Brigham Young, in the autumn of the same year. He had been previously ordained a Seventy by Pres. Brigham Young and was attached to the Second quorum.

He located in Cache valley shortly after his marriage, built the first frame house in Logan and was given a mission by Bishop Peter Maughan to herd cattle on the Promontory during the winter of 1861-62. He was one of the "minute men" under Captain Thos. E. Ricks, and for several years held himself ready day and night to protect the lives and property of citizens. In the discharge of that duty he frequently guarded horses all night, and assisted in apprehending some Indians who had killed several brethren at Smithfield. When the county was organized into Cache Military District he was elected captain of fifty cavalry men, was promoted subsequently and served on the staff of Col. Thos. E. Ricks, and later on that of Gen. Hyde.

He became second salesman in the firm of N. S. Ransohoff & Co., at Salt Lake City. Having made himself familiar with the details of a general mercantile business, he returned to Logan and engaged in that line with his father.

During the winter of 1865-66 Bishop Peter Maughan called him on a mission to Salt Lake City to acquire the art of telegraphy; but in the spring of the latter year Pres. Young notified him of his wish, that he should fill a mission to Europe. For that mission Pres. Young personally blessed and set him apart. He left home in April, 1866, and returned August, 1868. During his absence on that mission he presided first over the Cheltenham, then over the Birmingham conference. Owing to exposure his health was considerably impaired; but his work was successful.

On his return he again entered the mercantile field, his father and he forming the firm of "Thatcher & Son." Their business, with the counsel of Apostle Ezra T. Benson and Bishop Maughan, was consolidated with that of Wm. H. Shearman, and the Logan Co-operative Institution was incorporated, he becoming its general manager. Later the Logan Institution became a branch of the parent Z. C. M. I. of Salt Lake City, and he was its superintendent until 1879.

Upon the organization of the Utah Northern Railroad Company, in August, 1870, he was chosen a director and secretary and subsequently became superintendent as well. Immediately on his return from his British mission he was elected superintendent of the Cache Valley Sunday Schools, continuing in that calling until April, 1877. He served Cache and Rich counties ten years in the Territorial legislative council and was an active member of the Constitutional convention of 1872, and became one of the delegates authorized to present the State Constitution to Congress, praying that honorable body to pass an enabling act admitting the Territory of Utah into the Union as a State. When Pres. Young organized the Cache Valley Stake of Zion, May 21, 1877, he nominated Elder Thatcher for the presidency. Being unanimously sustained, Pres. Young set him apart and blessed him for that calling and office.

Church Leadership

He held that position until April, 1879, when he was called to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, occasioned by the death of Elder Orson Hyde. He was ordained to the Apostleship April 9, 1879, by Pres. John Taylor. During his business experience he organized the Cache Valley Board of Trade and successfully protected the interests of the people, directed the extension of the Utah and Northern Railway, northward from Franklin, Idaho, under its just and equitable co-operative provisions and was largely instrumental in forming Zion's Central Board of Trade, of which Elder John Taylor was president. The latter was organized with the view of harmonizing the business interests of the Territory, advancing the manufacturing, mercantile and agricultural pursuits of the citizens and enhancing their general prosperity by placing as far as possible, without the intervention of "middle men," the products of the country in the hands of consumers, and by securing for home consumption imported goods direct from the manufacturers. Zion's Central Board of Trade was designed to be the hub and the Stake Boards the spokes of a wheel, that in the future must become a positive protective necessity.

During the latter part of 1878 and the beginning of 1879 Pres. John Taylor called and authorized Moses Thatcher to organize Stake Boards of Trade in the southern counties of the Territory and to explain to the officers and members thereof the objects had in view. The work was promptly and thoroughly accomplished. Letters having been received by Pres. Taylor from a Dr. Rhodacanaty, residing in the City of Mexico, enquiring about the principles of the gospel, some of the Church publications were sent him as early as the autumn of 1878, and through these some fifteen or twenty Mexican citizens had come to believe the truths of the gospel, as far as they were informed, respecting them. Considering this matter the Council of Apostles called Elder Thatcher to proceed to Mexico and open the door of salvation to that nation. In company with Elder James Z. Stewart, who joined him at Chicago, and Milton G. Trejo, who joined him at New Orleans, he proceeded to the national capital, leaving Utah Oct. 26, 1879, and, taking steamer at New Orleans, crossed the Gulf of Mexico and reached Vera Cruz (City of the True Cross) Nov. 14th or the same year.

By the close of the year sixteen persons had been baptized, the Voice of Warning had been partially translated into the Spanish language, and several articles written and published in the newspapers of the capital, defending the faith and practices of the Saints. During January the Spanish translation of the Voice of Warning was completed and the manuscripts placed in the hands of the printer. On the 3rd of that month, while enjoying the grateful shades of the cypress groves of Chapultepec, Elder Thatcher wrote his "Tribute to the Memory of Montezuma," as published in Vol. I, p. 145, of the "Contributor," and which was subsequently dedicated to his friend, the honorable and learned Ygnacio M. Altamirano of pure Aztec blood, and then one of the judges of the supreme court of the Republic, an author of eminence, one of the greatest orators of the age, and in many respects a remarkable man. The New York "Sun" having published an article respecting Elder Thatcher's mission to Mexico, numerous papers of the capital made extracts therefrom and comments thereon, mostly favorable.

General Alan G. Greenwood of Roanoke, Virginia, who fought in the War between the States on the side of the South, secured interviews for Elder Thatcher with Senor Sarate, minister of foreign affairs, M. Fernandez Leal, minister of Fomento (public works and of colonization), and Senor Don Carlos Pacheco, minister of war. They found Minister Sarate, a gentleman of about forty years of age, affable, polite and exceedingly graceful, a fine conversationalist, speaking with a slight French intonation, well informed on general topics as upon national governmental affairs. In sympathy with the expressed views of Elder Thatcher, respecting the Mexicans and their ancestors, he spoke feelingly about the high degree of civilization among the Indians of Mexico previous to the Spanish conquest.

In Minister Leal the Elders met a man of some fifty years, of commanding presence, strong character, marked features with large Roman nose, grey eyes and bald head, manners cordial, conversation frank. He had visited Utah and greatly admired the pluck of her enterprising and prosperous communities, regarded the "Mormons" as the most successful colonizers in the world; and as such said that Mexico would gladly welcome any of them choosing to make homes in the Republic.

Having thoroughly reflected upon and prayed about this matter, and feeling strongly impressed that the success of the mission must ultimately largely depend on "Mormon" colonization in Mexico and the careful, judicious gathering thereto of native Saints for care and instruction, it was finally determined that Elder Thatcher should return and, meeting Mr. Biebuyck on a given date, lay the whole matter, with all its bearings, before Pres. Taylor and the Council of Apostles and abide their decision.

Having arranged payment for publishing the Voice of Warning, he joined with Elders Stewart and Trejo in dedicating the land of Mexico to the end that the gospel might be spread among her people. They besought the Lord to rid the nation of revolutionary elements and the disposition to shed blood, to break the shackles from the bodies and minds of the poor Lamanites, that they might be free in the law of Christ. And that, as the coming of the Spanish conqueror foreshadowed their bondage, so might the gospel foreshadow their deliverance; that as the first overcame them with the sword, so might the proclamation of divine truth subdue and soften their hearts. To this end blessings upon the state and governmental officials and people were besought, that intrigues, plottings and rebellions might cease, and peace and prosperity reign instead thereof. This accomplished, Elder Thatcher, receiving many expressions of friendship and confidence, leading men assuring him that "Mormon" colonists would be welcome in the Republic, left for Utah Feb. 4, 1880, leaving Elder Stewart in charge of the mission.

Reaching Salt Lake City on the 22nd of the same month, he reported to Pres. Taylor, and having on the same day fully explained the causes leading to his return, his action was endorsed by unanimous vote of the Quorum of Apostles. Ten days later Mr. Biebuyck arrived and explained in detail the nature and advantage of his valuable concessions as embodied in his contract with the Mexican government. These being discussed and carefully considered and taken under advisement, the Council finally reached the conclusion that the colonization of Latter-day Saints in Mexico at that time, even under the generous concessions of the contract mentioned, would be premature. Mr. Biebuyck's offer was therefore rejected. He was disappointed and a few days later departed for San Francisco, thence to New York and Europe. During his stay in Salt Lake City, he was a part of the time the guest of Pres. Taylor, who was much pleased with his frank manners, unassuming deportment and general understanding of men and things.

During the summer of 1880 Elder Thatcher visited Chicago and New York on important business matters involving interests of the Church, of the people of Cache valley and of himself. During that trip he went to Virginia and visited relatives there.

Returning to Utah he went in company with Apostle Charles C. Rich, Wm. B. Preston, Lorin Farr, his Brother Joseph W. Thatcher and others, to Salt River valley, in Wyoming, where a few families of the Saints had settled. The supervision of settlement in that county having by vote of the Apostles been placed in the care of Elders Rich and Thatcher, the object of their trip was to organize those already settled in the valley. That was accomplished and the name of the valley was changed by vote from Salt River to Star Valley. It had been blessed and dedicated to the Lord for the Saints on August 29, 1878, by Apostles Brigham Young, Moses Thatcher and William B. Preston, Elder Young offering the prayer. It is one of the finest and most beautiful valleys in the mountains, and is now rapidly filling up with Saints.

Having assisted in the organization of the Quorum of the First Presidency of the Church in October, 1880, Elder Thatcher, accompanied by Elder Feramorz L. Young, who had been called on a mission to Mexico, again left Utah, Nov. 17th, and reached the Mexican capital on the evening of Dec. 5, 1880. On the 10th of the same month he presented to the Mexican Geographical Society, for its library, the following Church works in full gilt morocco: Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Key to Theology, Voice of Warning, Spencer's Letters, Hymn Book, Bound Book of Pamphlets, My First Mission, Catechism and String of Pearls. On the 18th he presented a similar set to the National Museum Library and received handsome acknowledgments from the officials of those library organizations. The Voice of Waning in Spanish had been extensively circulated, and 4,000 copies of Elder John Nicholson's Means of Escape had been translated, published and mostly distributed. During February, 1881, "El Abogado Christiano," the monthly illustrated organ of the Methodists north, and "Evangelista Mexicano," organ of the same sect south, published articles against the Saints. They were promptly replied to through the daily papers.

During February and January Elder Thatcher also wrote a 32 page pamphlet entitled Divine Origin of the Book of Mormon, which was translated into the Spanish and published. He also wrote a series on the same subject for publication in the Contributor, drawing evidence principally from historical works — mainly from the early Spanish historians and from Lord Kingsburne's Mexican Antiquities. During March, Elder Thatcher wrote Mormon Polygamy and Christian Monogamy Compared; treating the subject from a biblical, hygienic, Physiological and moral standpoint. It was published in the Spanish language and subsequently appeared in serial form in the Contributor. Quite a number had been added to the Church since the new year, and a branch was organized at Ozumba, at the base of Popocatepetl, 40 miles from the capital. On April 6, 1881, conference — the first Latter-day Saint gathering of the kind, in Mexico — was held on that mountain about seventeen thousand feet above sea level. It required a day and a half of great exertion to reach the point, but all were richly repaid. "The rich may find the Lord in temples, but the poor can find Him on the mountains." Elder Thatcher also published several thousand copies of Elder Stewart's Coming of the Messiah and widely distributed them. During the summer the Elders continued to add new members to the Church; on one occasion Elder Thatcher baptized eight persons.

Elder Thatcher was released from this mission in August, notice being received by telegraphic message on the 6th of that month. Sixty-one persons had been baptized. He reached home Oct. 8th, bringing with him Fernanda Lara, a young Mexican convert.

While in the council of the legislative assembly and pending the passage of the Edmunds bill, Elder Thatcher was called to Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., being accompanied by Elder John Henry Smith. They carried with them humorously signed petitions asking Congress to pass no further proscriptive laws against Utah's people before sending a commission of investigation. They reached Washington Feb. 23, 1882; returned and attended the April conference of the Church.

At the following October Conference Elder Thatcher was called, in connection with Elder Erastus Snow, to explore in Mexico with the view of finding and purchasing some place suitable for a settlement of our people in that republic. They explored the head-waters of the Rio San Pedro and examined the San Bernidun Ranch and one of the tributaries of the Bivispa and Yagine rivers in Sonora. Elder Snow, owing to illness, having returned home early in January, Elder Thatcher took a small company and a guide and explored the Santa Cruz, Cocosperu and Magdalina valleys. He expected to cross into Mexico at La Noria, near San Raphial, but finding no Mexican custom-house there, he had to go out of the way, nearly one hundred miles, to Nogales. The guide was greatly annoyed by reason thereof and desired the company to go in without the necessary official permit, but his wishes were not complied with. Later, the party learned that fifteen Mexican citizens had been killed by Apaches on the road, as near as could be calculated, at the point where the company would have been about the hour of the same day when the killing was done.

Elder Thatcher returned to Utah in February, 1883, and in July following went on a mission to the northern Indians, having for missionary companions Elders Wm. B. Preston and others. They traveled via Beaver canyon, the Yellowstone National Park, down the Yellowstone river and across the Stillwater and Rosebud rivers, visiting the Crow Indians of the latter place, delivering to some of the chiefs the message of peace and advising obedience and industry. They crossed the country mainly on an Indian trail to the Wind river, Washakie Agency, where council was held and similar advice given to the leading men.

The party returned in September, having traveled some twelve hundred and fifty miles. In December 1883, Elder Thatcher was called to assist Delegate Caine at Washington, D.C., by soliciting the influence of personal friends and through them that of influential parties. He left home Jan. 4th, and returned early in April, 1884. In October of the same year he filled another mission to the Shoshones, who were disposed to be turbulent, sent presents and word, urging Washakie and his people to be at peace and not war. The advice was observed. In January, 1885, he accompanied Pres. Taylor and party to Arizona and Mexico, and again explored on the Magdalena river in Sonora.

He was appointed chairman of an exploring and purchasing committee of lands in Mexico, Pres. A. F. McDonald, Christopher Layton, Jesse N. Smith and Lot Smith being the other members of the committee. He reached home Jan. 27th, assisted in gathering funds, and ten days later, started again for Mexico, going into Chihuahua, reached Ascension, on the Rio Casas Grandes Feb. 20th, found several families of Saints there from Arizona, who, having received the impression that a purchase had been made in Chihuahua, came there by reason of the violent persecutions of courts, then prevailing in Arizona. He went to San Jose on the Mexican Central Railway, thence to El Paso, Texas. In company with Elder McDonald, Anton Andersen, and Mr. Glenn (surveyor), explored the upper Rio Janas, in the Sierra Madres, and visited the strongholds of the Apache chiefs, "Victoria" and "Ju" and saw their fortifications and caves, in which they felt and were secure. They ascended "Cook's Peak" and saw the Rio Virdie valleys and Corales Basin, since purchased. Elder Thatcher made himself familiar with Mexican land matters and gained knowledge respecting property for sale; located Saints and leased lands and returned. Under the influence of Americans at the City of Chihuahua the governor of the State issued, in April, an order of expulsion against the Saints on the Rio Casas Grandes. Through the efforts of Elders Teasdale and MacDonald the executive was appealed to and finally consented to have the matter referred to the national officials at the capital. Elders Brigham Young and Thatcher being called to confer with those officials on the subject, reached the national capital May 11, 1885. They had interviews with Minister Mariscal of foreign affairs, Carlos Pacheco of Forento, minister of the interior and colonization, and with Pres. Proferio Diaz. The order of the governor of Chihuahua was revoked. When under pressure of enemies he subsequently reaffirmed it, he was removed.

Elder Thatcher reached home in June, and in July, 1886, was again called into Mexico to assist Elder Erastus Snow, who had been given charge of the settlement of our colony there, and to help in adjusting titles of purchases already made and to purchase other lands. This work was promptly seen to.

For a number of years he acted as Pres. Wilford Woodruff's assistant in the superintendency of the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Associations, and was also an earnest writer for the "Contributor." Not being in harmony with his brethren of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Thatcher was not sustained in his position as one of the Twelve at the general conference of the Church held in April, 1896. The vacancy caused thereby in the Council of the Twelve Apostles was filled in October, 1898. Though deprived of his position in the [Quorum], Bro. Thatcher remained true to the gospel of Jesus Christ and frequently bore strong and faithful testimonies to the divinity of the great Latter-day Work.

After losing his position as one of the Twelve Apostles, Brother Thatcher retired to private life, but continued successful in financial affairs. He was summoned to Washington, D. C., to testify before the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections in the Smoot investigation case, and on that occasion, as on all others, he remained true to his former friends and associates in the Church. He died at his home in Logan, Cache county, Utah, Aug. 21, 1909.