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Lyman Wight, Early Latter-day Saint Apostle

Mark is from Utah and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Early Days of the Church

Lyman Wight, an early leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was born May 9th, 1796 in Fairfield New York. At the age of 17, he fought in the war of 1812. He married Harriet Benton in 1823. His oldest son, Orange Lysander Wight, is my direct ancestor. Orange was born November 1823 in Centerville, NY.

In 1829, Lyman was baptized as part of Sidney Rigdon’s congregation in Kirtland, Ohio, where the people hoped for a return to biblical Christianity. He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Parley P. Pratt and confirmed a member of the church by Oliver Cowdery in 1830. He was ordained a high priest by Joseph Smith in 1831. He went to Missouri in 1831, then to Cincinnati on a mission to preach the gospel. On his missions, he baptized dozens if not hundreds. Even the most hostile people were friendly with Lyman.

Lyman dressed in black broadcloth, highly polished boots, and a black hat. He was heavily armed with two navy pistols, one on each hip, and a mounted rifle in his carriage.

Defender of the Faith

In 1833, he encouraged the men in Jackson County to defend themselves against mob violence. Many that he baptized followed him through the persecutions. He became a terror to evil doers and his life was often sought after. Once he was chased by men about 6 miles on a horse without a saddle. In July 1833, he volunteered to journey to inform Joseph Smith about the members being driven from Jackson Country to Clay county (both in Missouri), despite his wife being ill.

In 1835, he once preached about 2 hours to men who wanted to tar and feather him. He received his endowment, a temple ordinance, in the winter of 1835-1836.

In June 1838, claims were made that he was the head of the Danite organization, a vigilante group of saints that would defend the Saints with violence, in Daviess County. In the summer of 1838, he was accused, along with Joseph Smith, of organizing an army and threatening and harassing various old settlers of Daviess County. In October of that year, he rounded up over 50 men to go to Far West to defend the people. He was then captured and was going to be shot. A General Moses Wilson tried to get him to betray Joseph Smith by testifying against him. The General said that they would spare him if he would do it. Lyman then defiantly refused and testified of Joseph Smith and his mission. Wilson reiterated that he would be shot if he did not accept his proposal the next morning. Lyman then responded, “Shoot and be damned.”

In the Face of Danger

Shoot and Be Damned.

— Lyman Wight

Apostle and Associate of the Prophet Joseph Smith

He was taken to Liberty Jail with Joseph and Hyrum Smith, among others. They were chained together and were malnourished, spending 4 and a half months in a 22-foot square prison. Having extreme hunger, Lyman was the only one that partook of human flesh that was fed to them. They were allowed to leave on April 16, 1839 while being transported to another jail.

He was ordained an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints April 6, 1841 to replace David W. Patten, who died at the battle of Crooked River.

In the spring of 1844, he went on a mission to the eastern states to help Joseph Smith run to be the President of the United States with the Reformed Party. He was a delegate until the death of Joseph Smith at the hands of a mob on June 27, 1844.

Exodus

In July 1844, all the twelve had joined up in Boston except for Lyman. It is theorized that Lyman was not present during the meeting of August 8th, 1844 during the “transfiguration” of Brigham Young that many had witnessed him appear to be as if he were Joseph Smith during the meeting of the Saints.


In March, 1845, Lyman and about 150-200 followers headed to Texas. He said he was told to settle the colony west of Austin as a possible site for settlement in case Joseph's presidential bid fell through. Initially, it was supported by the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve. It was a treacherous journey due to Indian attacks, disease and death. He was later joined by George Miller and other families. Lyman later had three more wives, with a total of 15 children. He was the first to settle five new counties.

Settler on the Frontier

In 1847, Brigham Young tried to gain information about Lyman’s situation and attitude. He sent two brethren down to Texas who returned and stated that Lyman was disinclined to affiliate with Young and the rest of the church. Wight made it clear he would go his own way. Lyman felt that with his special mission from Joseph Smith, none of the Twelve had the right to change the call.

In 1848, Brigham Young sent two more messengers to ask Lyman to join the Saints in Utah, but being stubborn, Lyman refused. Lyman refused to accept Brigham Young's authority. Brigham had accused Lyman of being a coward, which must have reached Lyman. Lyman was disfellowshipped and later excommunicated from Salt Lake City by early 1849 and was replaced as an apostle.

Near Fredericksburg, Texas, he founded Zodiac. Later, in 1851, he had a vision of where to find mill stones in Zodiac. He led men to where they should dig and found it. Zodiac is now under water, caused by a dam. Also, he had saved the town of Fredericksburg. The immigrants were aristocrats from Germany and didn’t know how to thrive in the harsh frontier.

In March 1857, Lyman wrote a nasty letter to Brigham Young that went unanswered. In 1857-1858, Wilford Woodruff and Lyman had exchanged letters. Elder Woodruff was warm and friendly in two letters. Elder Woodruff was concerned about Lyman’s alienation but respected his defense of his brethren against persecutors. Lyman questioned why Orson Hyde, William W. Phelps and Thomas B. Marsh were forgiven, yet he was cut off from the rest of the church.

Conclusion

Lyman sided with the claims of William Smith and became his counselor for a short time, which was prior to Joseph Smith III leading the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1860. Lyman insisted that young Joseph (Joseph Smith III) had been designated by his father to lead the church by the laying on of hands. His loyalty was to his prophet, Joseph Smith. Lyman was warned about his pride, which appears to be part of his downfall.

In March 1858, Lyman announced that he had a vision of God warning him about the war between the North and South. He was warned to move back to the North. Before Elder Woodruff’s second letter had arrived, Lyman had died. The second letter was delayed by the military when Johnston’s army invaded Utah to stop the “Mormons.” Lyman died March 31, 1858 near San Antonio. He had been taking laudnum for aches and pains, which had opium in it. He then had epilepsy brought on by the substance. Lyman’s movement quickly collapsed. Lyman’s followers joined up with the Reorganized Church after his death. Later, three of his sons fought for the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

After Joseph Smith’s death, Lyman was committed to follow Joseph’s direction given to him to find a haven for the Saints in the Republic of Texas. This was part of his character; he was true to Joseph Smith and would die for his friends. He had known Joseph since 1830 and was with him through thick and thin. Joseph had even corrected Lyman with a letter that said he was making the Missouri persecutions political but said that Lyman had good intentions and was steadfast in the cause of Christ. Few could get away with correcting Lyman. One thing to consider was that he was not part of the migration from Missouri to Illinois and the mission of the Twelve to England. These experiences forged unity with the rest of the twelve.

Brigham and Lyman clearly butted heads. Brigham was known for being firm. What if there was more encouragement and less criticism? The two strong egos clashed. During those difficult, crucial years, one should consider that Brigham had waited patiently. Lyman published a pamphlet where he bore his testimony, but it caused issues because he invited other saints to join him in Texas. He taught that if we do not give up everything to build up the Kingdom, we cannot be saved.

Elder Heber C. Kimball had defended Lyman. He gave him the benefit of the doubt, was patient with him and called him a “noble-minded man.”

He has since been baptized vicariously by proxy more than once, among other ordinances. In 1985, Elder James E. Faust proclaimed that Lyman had his blessings officially completely restored in 1976 in the Salt Lake City Temple.

Sources

Allen, James B., Esplin, Ronald K., and Whittaker, David J., Men with a Mission, 1837-1841: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992).

Banks, C. Stanley, "The Mormon Migration into Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 49 (October 1945).
Bitton, Davis ed., The Reminiscences and Civil War Letters of Levi Lamoni Wight (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1970).

Bitton, Davis, The Ram and the Lion: Lyman Wight and Brigham Young from The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, p. 37-60.
Booth, C. “Lyman Wight in Early Texas,” Improvement Era, LVii (January 1954), p.27.

Evans, John H., Joseph Smith, An American Prophet, (New York: The Macmillan Co. 1946) p. 136-137.

Gillespie County Historical Society, Pioneers in God's Hills (2 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1960, 1974).

History from Millennial Star 27 (1865), originally published in the Deseret News in 1858. MS 27, no. 29 (July 22, 1865): p.455-457.
History of the Reorganized Church, Volume V, p.58, 498.

Lyman Wight, Wikipedia.org.

Phelps to William Smith, 25 December 1844, in Times and Seasons 5 (1 January 1845): 761.

Raymond Wight to the Deseret News, Church Historian’s Office, February 24, 1941.

Roberts, B.H. Documentary History of the Church, vol.3. p.420.

Roberts, B.H. Documentary History of the Church, vol.4. p.139, 160.

Taylor, T.U., "Lyman Wight and the Mormons in Texas," Frontier Times, June 1941.

Times and Seasons, Nauvoo, Illinois, VI (April 15, 1845), 870.

Wilford Woodruff to Lyman Wight, 1 July 1857 & 30 June 1858, LDS Church Archives.

Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 5:298 (23 February 1859).

© 2020 Mark Richardson

Thoughts?

Rodric Anthony from Peoria, Arizona on February 14, 2020:

Yes, Mark. I was using my phone for voice recognition. I have not had my computer for a few weeks. I am using the back right now. What a blessing to know about your family history and your willingness to share with us..

Mark Richardson (author) from Utah on February 12, 2020:

Rodric-

Good to hear from you. (Probably some predictive text from your phone) Yes, Lyman was very stubborn. I admire his strength, convictions and testimony. He even admitted that no one could control him once Joseph Smith died.

As a post script, his son Orange left the group 2 years before Lyman died. He them met up with the saints when he was older and was rebaptized, so that was how that part of the family returned to the fold.

Rodric Anthony from Peoria, Arizona on February 12, 2020:

This article was a great article! I enjoyed the history that I learned about Lyman Wright. Blues Man Worsham strong-willed man back then. All of them was strong-willed man, which is why the Lord had to put them through an experience to bring them together. It is unfortunate that linemen had to wait so long for His blessings to be restored on Earth, but I believe that they were recognized in heaven and the church eventually caught up with what was decreed and changed the record to make sure that what is done on Heaven is done on Earth.

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