A Book of Mormons
by Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker
Heber C. Kimball (1810-1868)
Member of the First Presidency
1801. June 14: Born Heber Chase Kimball in Shelton, Vermont. Economic hardships there drove the Kimball family to West Bloomfield, New York, where Heber apprenticed as a blacksmith with his father and as a potter with his brother Charles.
1822. Married Vilate Murray. He later wed forty-two plural wives, including nine widows of Joseph Smith, a widow of Hyrum Smith, the widow of Joseph’s counselor, Frederick G. Williams, and the divorced wife of deposed Apostle William Smith. Kimball married many of his wives to provide them a protector and benefactor; he fathered children by only seventeen. Sixteen of his forty-three wives eventually left him.
Kimball fathered sixty-five children; Christopher Layton, with ten wives, fathered sixty-four; John D. Lee fathered sixty with nineteen wives; and Brigham Young, with fifty-six wives, had fifty-six children.
[p.137]Kimball’s son J. Golden became a president of the First Council of Seventy; his stepson Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the Church; and his grandson Spencer W. Kimball, twelfth president of the Church.
To Heber Kimball, his colleagues in the First Presidency were family: “I love these men, God knows I do, better than I ever loved a woman; and I would not give a damn for a man that does not love them better than they love women.”
Unwilling to argue with his wives, Kimball declared, “If ever I am so foolish as to quarrel with a woman, I ought to be whipped; for you may always calculate that they will have the last word.”
1832. Three weeks after he and Vilate had joined the Baptist church, Kimball read a Book of Mormon left at an inn with Brigham Young’s brother Phineas. When Alpheus Gifford mentioned baptism to Kimball the following April, “I jumped up, pulled off my apron, washed my hands and started with him with my sleeves rolled up to my shoulders, and went the distance of one mile where he baptized me in a small stream in the woods.” He was sent almost immediately on a local mission with Brigham and Joseph Young. During the next twelve years he served eight missions and converted thousands to the Church.
1835. After serving in Zion’s Camp (1834), Kimball was the third elder chosen to be a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve. He and Brigham Young were the only original Quorum members never disfellowshipped or excommunicated, excepting David W. Patten, who was killed in 1838.
1837. In the midst of the Kirtland Safety Society banking crisis, Joseph Smith sent Kimball, Orson Hyde, Willard Richards, and four Canadian converts on a mission to England. It was the first European mission and a phenomenal success. Heber was instrumental in baptizing nearly 1500 people.
[p.138]1839. He and seven other apostles labored in England, eventually baptizing between seven and eight thousand converts. They “established branches in almost every noted town and city, printed 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon, 3,000 hymnals, 50,000 tracts, 2,500 of the Millenial Star, established a permanent shipping agency, and arranged for the emigration of about 1,000 Saints to Zion.”
1842. May 4: Kimball and eight others received the “holy order” (later known as the “temple endowment”) from Joseph Smith in the Prophet’s brick store. He wrote to Parley P. Pratt, “We have received some pressious things through the Prophet on the presthood that would cause your Soul to rejoice. … Bro. Joseph Ses Masonry was taken from presthood but has become degenerated. But menny things are perfect.” Kimball, who had been a Mason since 1825, was one of the founders of the Nauvoo Lodge.
In 1858 he explained, “We have the true Masonry. The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy which took place in the days of Solomon and David. They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing.”
[p.136 photo: Heber and Vilate Kimball with children.]
In Iowa a rattlesnake bit one of his horses. He laid his hands on the animal’s head, rebuked the poison, and declared to bystanders, “It is just as proper to lay hands on a horse or an ox and administer to them in the name of the Lord, and of such utility, as it is to a human being, both being creatures of His creations, both consequently having a claim to His attention.”
1847. Kimball entered the Salt Lake Valley with the rest of the pioneer company in July; he returned the following [p.139]month to Winter Quarters. In 1848 he led another wagon train of 66 family members and 556 others to Salt Lake. His company included 226 wagons, “1,253 horses, mules, and cattle, plus sheep, pigs, chickens, cats, dogs, goats, geese, doves, a squirrel, and some beehives.”
Throughout their Church careers, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball were virtually inseparable, and their close friendship intensified after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844.
1847. Brigham Young selected Kimball to be his second counselor in the First Presidency. Ever obedient to his president, Kimball told the Saints, “If brother Brigham tells me to do a thing it is the same as though the Lord told me to do it. This is the course for you and every other Saint to take, and by taking this course, I will tell you, brethren, you are on the top of the heap.”
1848. Though not professing to be a prophet, Kimball could not help but notice, he said, that “people all the time are telling me I am.” Brigham Young promoted the image: “I am not a visionary man, neither am I given much to prophesying. When I want any of that done I call on brother Heber—he is my prophet, he loves to prophesy, and I love to hear him.”
President Spencer W. Kimball described his grandfather as “a prophet perhaps second only to Joseph Smith himself.”
Though many of Kimball’s dramatic prophecies came to pass, some did not. He predicted, for example, that President Buchanan, who initiated the Utah Expeditionary Force, would die an “untimely death,” but the ex-president was ten years older than Kimball when they both died in 1868.
Many of his scriptural quotes could not be found in the scriptures, J. Golden Kimball recalled. But when listeners pointed this out, he countered, “Well, if that isn’t in the Bible it ought to be in it.”
1850s. Kimball operated large ranches in Cache Valley and Grantsville, and on Antelope Island. On City Creek near Temple Square, he established a gristmill, an oil mill (extracting linseed oil from flax), a sugar cane mill, and a lumber mill.
Kimball’s estate was eventually valued at $100,580 (the 1980 equivalent of more than $2,000,000).
“He was erect, portly, full-chested, broad-shouldered, powerfully made, about six feet high, and weighed two hundred pounds. … His face was very striking; a compound of keen wit, finesse, insight into character. … His form of aldermanic rotundity, his face large, plethoric and lusterous with the stable red of stewed cranberries … small, twinkling black beads of eyes. … His chin was double and shiny, from the twin effect of good living and close-shaving.”
“An Old Horse that Has Lost His Teeth”
1865. Feeling intimidated by those who were better educated, especially Second Counselor Daniel H. Wells, Kimball was afraid of being supplanted. His insecurity was heightened when Brigham Young made important decisions about the First Presidency without consulting him. Heber’s son Solomon wrote, “Those were days of sorrow for father, and he became so heart broken towards the last that he prayed to the Lord to shorten his days.”
But, Kimball confided in a private memorandum book, “I was told by the Lord that I should not be removed from my place as first counselor to President Young.”
1868. Injured when thrown from a buggy in late May, he apparently recovered, but suffered a stroke on June 11 and died on June 22. Buried in the private cemetery near the rear of his home at 142 North Main Street in Salt Lake City.
Conference Reports, October 1910.
Deseret News, 31 March 1858.
Journal of Discourses 1:161; 4:138; 5:28, 154; 10:240.
Kimball, Stanlley B. Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1981.
McIntyre, Myron, and Barton, Noel R. Christopher Layton. Salt Lake City: Christopher Layton Family Organization, 1966.
Salt Lake City, Utah. LDS Church Archives. Heber C. Kimball Journal and Private Memorandum Book.
_____. Solomon F. Kimball, “Sacred History.”
Watson, Elden Jay, ed. Manuscript History of Brigham Young: 1801-1844. Salt Lake City: By the Author, 1968.
Whitney, Orson F. Life of heber C. Kimball, An Apostle: The Father and Founder of the British Mission. Salt Lake City: The Kimball Family, 1888.
Woman’s Exponent, January 1884, p. 127.
1853. Born Jonathan Golden Kimball in Salt Lake City to Heber C. Kimball and Christeen Golden. His father died when J. Golden was fifteen.
“For twelve years of my life, after my father’s death, I was free as the birds that fly in the air! There was no restraint further than the counsel from my mother. I took no active part in the Church. I was just as free as nonmembers of the Church feel that they are free. … I am sorry, oh how sorry! that there was no restraint or responsibility placed upon me, that I was not actively engaged in Church work during those twelve years.”
Young Golden set out to be a teamster, becoming “one of the early M.D.’s of the West, for he was as good a mule driver as could be found in these parts.” He also worked in logging camps and at other manual labor.
1875. Established a large ranch with eleven of his brothers in Meadowville, Rich County, Utah. He married Jeanette “Jane” Knowlton in 1887; they had six children.
1881. After hearing Karl G. Maeser lecture in Meadowville, Kimball decided to attend the Brigham Young Academy in Provo. But his education was interrupted in 1883 when he was called on a mission to the Southern States under President B.H. Roberts. There he contracted malaria and returned home in 1885.
1891. Kimball invested everything he had in a Canadian land scheme promoted by John W. Taylor. When the project fell through, Kimball was called to be a mission president: “And thus, we were prevented from chasing the golden calf. Moral: Don’t set your heart upon riches, don’t speculate, and don’t go in debt. After this, again the Lord came to my rescue and called me to succeed Elder William Spry as president of the Southern States Mission.”
1892. While serving as mission president, he was called to the First Council of Seventy. “The Lord knows I didn’t want the position; the Lord knows I balked and bitched when they called me; and I guess he knows I got the job. And now that I got it, he knows I’ll work like hell to do it the way he wants it done.”
“Some people say a person receives a position in this church through revelation, and others say they get it through inspiration, but I say they get it through relation. If I hadn’t been related to Heber C. Kimball, I wouldn’t have been a damn thing in this church.” In later years, he explained why he had not been advanced to the Quorum of the Twelve: “The main reason was that my father was dead and I was not popular with the brethren.”
“The Mark Twain of Mormonism”
When asked about his frequent use of damn and hell, Kimball responded, “Oh, I never intend to use them when I get up to speak, but they just come to me as naturally as singing to a bird. I’m not thinking about words; I’m concerned about the ideas and how to put them over. But those words you speak of are what’s left over from the cowboy days. They used to be my native language and I don’t seem to be able to shake them. Really, they come from a much larger vocabulary, only I’ve gotten rid of the others.”
On another occasion a good sister asked Kimball if he ever heard President Grant swear. “Just once,” he replied. “He and I were in Saint George together during the depression. It was summer, the crops were dying for want of water, the people were starving. We prayed with them for rain, but our prayers were not answered. I said, ‘It’s a damned shame!’ and President Grant said, ‘Yes, it is.'”
When it was suggested that the brethren might consider cutting him off, Kimball responded, “Guess maybe some of them would like to. But they can’t cut me off from the church, I repent too damn fast.”
Like Mark Twain, J. Golden Kimball was occasionally morose and even bitter. Perhaps he inherited his father’s [p.144]extreme sensitivity to slights from his colleagues. It is a high tribute to J. Golden Kimball that he was able to transcend his own personal struggles, bringing mirth to hundreds of thousands during his lifetime and to millions since.
1933. “Seventy-five inches in height; very slender, somewhat bent by the heavy physical work done in his teens and the burden of his fourscore years; a head unusually large and unlike any other, with a sizeable bump at the back; his complexion sandy; a few lonely hairs on top that have triumphantly weathered the storm; keen and penetrating eyes, black and beautiful, expressive of humor and sympathy; a very long perpendicular face, intensely interesting, with features regular; withal a serious countenance, expressive of sadness rather than of the humor for which he is noted. He seldom laughs, but is often seen to smile dryly as he speaks.”
1938. September 2: As the Kimballs returned from a vacation to California, their car went out of control and crashed into an embankment. Seventy-five-year-old Kimball, asleep in the back seat, was thrown from the car, suffering a fatal skull fracture. Buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Cheney, Thomas E. The Golden Legacy: A Folk History of J. Golden Kimball. Salt Lake City/Santa Barbara, California: Peregrine Smith Inc., 1974.
Deseret News, 3 September 1938.
Fife, Austin, and Fife, Alta. Saints of Sage & Saddle. Bloomington, Indiana: University of Indiana Press, 1956.
Richards, Claude J. J. Golden Kimball: The Story of a Unique Personality. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1934.
Salt Lake City, Utah. LDS Church Archives. J. Golden Kimball Journals.
1845. September 6: Born in Nauvoo, Illinois, to Newel Knight and Lydia Goldthwait. His parents’ wedding was the first marriage performed by Joseph Smith.
Jesse’s father died crossing the plains in 1847. Brigham Young appointed a family to care for one of Lydia’s wagons and ox teams, but when they arrived in Utah the family insisted that President Young had given them the wagon and oxen. Despite pleas to the Church president, the property was never returned, and Jesse remained disaffected from the Church for nearly forty years as a result.
The Knight family moved to Provo when Jesse was twelve. At the age of fifteen, he began working as a freighter in Nevada and Montana. In 1867 he fought in the Blackhawk War in Sanpete County, Utah. He married Amanda McEwan in 1869; they had six children.
1891. Amanda was a faithful Latter-day Saint, but Jesse professed to “have no faith in the Church.” Then a dead rat contaminated the well at the Knight family home in Payson, Utah. The children became seriously ill, with high fever and chills—probably from typhoid fever. Jennie, the youngest, was given up to death by her attending physician, but the faithful Amanda pleaded with Jesse to call in the elders for administration. When he finally did, the child was healed.
Jesse records: “Soon after the miraculous healing of Jennie, our oldest girl, Minnie, was stricken, and a little later all the other children at once lay very sick. From the time she was taken ill, Minnie felt that she would not recover. When asked why she felt so, she answered that when Jennie was so bad she had asked God to take her if she would do as well as Jennie; so she counted the days, believing she would live but thirty days from the time she took sick.
“Every day she kept the count, and departed as she had said. Her going was peaceful, her breath leaving her as she said the prayer, ‘Oh God, bless our household.’ I [p.147]remembered now that when she was a baby she had diphtheria, and that then, almost seventeen years ago, I had promised the Lord that if he would spare her life I would not forget him. I had not kept that promise. How keenly I felt the justice of her being taken from us! I suffered in my feeling. I prayed for forgiveness and help. My prayer was answered and I received a testimony.”
1869. Prospecting on the east side of Godiva Mountain near Eureka, Utah, Knight sat down under a tree to rest. Suddenly he heard a voice: “This country is here for the Mormons.” A short time later, he dreamed about a rich vein of ore. The location was indelibly impressed on his mind, and when he went there, it was exactly as he had dreamed.
When he offered Jacob Roundy a partnership in the mine, the experienced Roundy replied, “I do not want an interest in a darned old humbug like this.” “Humbug” struck Knight’s fancy, and when a 150-foot shaft was completed, he christened it “Humbug Mine.”
Two months later Knight and his partners struck a fabulously rich vein of lead and silver ore. Removing the first wheelbarrow of ore himself, Knight declared, “I have done the last day’s work that I ever expect to do where I take another man’s job from him. I expect to give employment and make labor from now on for other people.”
“Uncle Jesse” then proceeded to make good a promise he had made to himself a few years before. He paid his back tithing, with compound interest. President Heber J. Grant later disclosed that Knight paid a lifetime tithe of $680,000—more than the entire Church tithes collected in 1893.
Knight became the largest owner of mining properties in the Intermountain West. In 1901 he purchased 226,000 [p.148]acres of land and built the second sugar factory in Canada at Raymond, a town named after his son. He also purchased 30,000 acres of land near Spring Coulee, Alberta, where he grazed over 4000 head of cattle.
Other ventures included the Tintic Smelting Company, Knight Consolidated Power, Mapleton Sugar, Layton Sugar, Bonneville Mining, Knight Woolen Mills, Ellison Ranching, Spring Canyon Coal, and Knight Trust and Savings, which eventually merged with the First Security Bank.
1896. The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 stripped the Church of its legal standing and confiscated all Church assets in excess of $50,000. The Church, over $300,000 in debt, found loans next to impossible to obtain. The panic of 1893 compounded financial difficulties: tithing dropped from $879,394 in 1890 to $576,584. Only secured loans from the Eastern financial giant H.B. Claflin Company prevented the Church from bankruptcy.
When the Claflin note came due in 1895, the Church was able to meet only the first principal payment. “Uncle Jesse” loaned $10,000 to save the Church’s credit. Eventually the Claflin note was paid off with Church stock in Saltair Beach and the Salt Lake and Los Angeles Railway.
Two years later Knight loaned the Church another $10,000 to protect the reputations of Joseph F. Smith, Francis M. Lyman, and Abraham H. Cannon, who were in an awkward position in the bankruptcy of the Utah Loan and Trust Company of Ogden.
Brigham Young University Benefactor
1901. After ten years on the board of trustees, Knight became vice-president of Brigham Young University. He donated $65,000 to help construct the Karl G. Maeser Memorial Building, and in 1914 he endowed BYU with an additional $100,000.
1921. March 14: Jesse Knight died in Provo, Utah, at the age of seventy-six. Buried in the Provo City Cemetery.
1960. The Jesse Knight Building at Brigham Young University was named in his honor.
Allen, James B., and Leonard, Glen M. The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976.
[p.427]Butterworth, Edwin, Jr. One Thousand Views of One Hundred Years. Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1975.
Knight, Jesse William. The Jesse Knight Family. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1940.