Three Witnesses Monument
Nestled in the city of Richmond, Missouri, is the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery, which holds a monument to the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Richmond is located approximately 40 miles east of Independence.
Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer were appointed to be three special witnesses of the Book of Mormon in June 1829, in fulfillment of the prophecy found in 2 Nephi 27:12, which reads “the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.” Every copy of the Book of Mormon includes the testimony of their experience in which the angel Moroni appeared and showed them the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Although each left the Church, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris eventually returning, they never denied their testimony of this experience and repeatedly affirmed their testimony.
The four-sided monument preserves each of their names on respective panels. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s name appears on the remaining side of the monument. He was with the Three Witnesses that day, also in fulfillment of the prophecy in 2 Nephi 27:12.
The monument is believed to be located over the burial site of Oliver Cowdery, who died in Richmond in 1850 while visiting his in-laws before his move to the Salt Lake Valley. His brother-in-law, David Whitmer, who lived in Richmond for the last four decades of his life, is buried nearby in the city cemetery. Martin Harris died in Clarkston, Utah, and is buried in the city cemetery. The monument was erected by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1911 to honor them.
In 1878, Church historian Orson Pratt and fellow apostle Joseph F. Smith went on a mission to identify Church history sites and to interview surviving first-generation Church members. In Richmond on September 7, 1878, they interviewed David Whitmer, the last surviving member of the Three Witnesses. When Joseph F. Smith became Church president, he directed that a stone monument be erected to honor the witnesses near Oliver’s grave. In August 1911, Junius F. Wells visited Richmond and located Oliver’s then-unmarked grave, the intended location for the monument. The monument was created from granite that came from the same Vermont quarry that supplied granite for the monument in Sharon, Vermont, marking the birthplace of Joseph Smith.
The monument was dedicated on November 27, 1911, in Richmond’s Ferris Opera House. The Church had hoped to unveil the monument on Oliver’s birthday, October 3, but weather delayed the dedication. After the cemetery fell into disrepair over many years, George Albert Smith, who had been to the Vermont quarry with Junius Wells, instigated the repairs of the cemetery in concert with city officials.
On November 19, 2011, the monument was rededicated for its centennial. Approximately 150 spectators assembled in Richmond to listen to Latter-day Saint scholars from Brigham Young University and officers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ discuss the emergence of the Book of Mormon in 1829 and events surrounding the placement of the monument in 1911.