and the Saga of the Morrisites Revisited
Publication Year: 2010
LeRoy Anderson in 1981 first published, under the title For Christ Will Come Tomorrow, his definitive study of a charismatic, millenarian prophet and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Most High. He told there of a Mormon posse’s 1862 attack on the Morrisite compound, killing Joseph Morris, and of the continuing Morrisite movement, which survived into the mid-twentieth century. In this newly revised edition, Anderson revisits his subject by referring to more recently discovered documents, considering other scholars’ continuing work on Morris’s sect and related subjects, and examining a 1980s messianic sect that claimed a direct connection to the Morrisites.
New documentary sources include a holograph “History of George Morris,” written by Joseph Morris’s brother, which Anderson quotes at length. What was once a little-studied subject has since received attention from a number of scholars. Anderson references such current work on Mormon schismatic movements and broader subjects, much of which drew on his work. Perhaps the book’s most interesting and unintended influence was on that obscure 1980s messianic sect, in Montana, which learned of Morris through Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites.
Published by: Utah State University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Nineteenth-century America witnessed a great revival of interest, at times fervent, in Christ’s Second Advent. Although the Christian movement had been built on millennial eschatology, many Christian sects developed a wide variety of specific expectations about the nature, time, and place of the Second Advent. Dozens, if not hundreds, of sects announced their own particular...
Introduction: In Prospect
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In his classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell describes an antiutopian society called Oceania.1 One of the most important divisions within the government of Oceania is the Ministry of Truth, and in the Ministry of Truth is the Records Department. It is the business of the Records Department to see that reports of events are properly edited so as to appear
Part I. The Making of a Prophet
1. Letters from Obscurity
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In 1857, the tenth anniversary of the arrival of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in the Rocky Mountains, a series of events was about to unfold that would ultimately change the destiny of the church, the territory, and the Mormon people....
2. Prophets of Pentecost
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The spring of 1857 was one of great spiritual excitement in Zion. Although rumors of warlike preparations against Mormons in Utah had been heard as early as February, the threat was not imminent enough to cool the fire of the great reformation begun the previous year. In fact, the knowledge of growing anti-Mormon sentiment in the States and local difficulties with...
3. The Seventh Angel Speaks
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Joseph Morris waited ten months before writing a second letter to Brigham Young. It was dated October 11, 1858. By this time many of the serious differences between the Saints and the United States government had been largely settled. The “invading” troops were stationed at Camp Floyd, south of...
4. Threats in Desperation
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On June 15, 1859, Joseph Morris wrote to Brigham Young describing a visit he had recently made to Salt Lake City with the intention of visiting him. Apparently, this was by invitation or supposed invitation based upon some reference Brigham Young had made to Morris in the Deseret News, the...
5. The Millennial Hope
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The number of groups that have held millennial expectations in America, or that have tried to usher in some form of collective utopia with millennial overtones is absolutely astounding. Donald Pitzer compiled a list of such organizations formed during and after the colonial period until 1965....
Part II. Prelude to Battle
6. The Gathering Storm
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Although the Mormon church record reports that the apostles Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor had counseled the Mormons living in South Weber to be tolerant of the Morrisites and had rebuked Brother Watts for his extreme verbal attack upon them, it is clear that hostility between the...
7. The Storm Descends
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The several accounts describing events leading up to armed confrontation are extremely partisan and sometimes contradictory. Those who gave accounts represented various perspectives and seem to have been more interested in fixing blame than in providing accurate information. In any...
Part III. The Morrisite War
8. The Last Revelation
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When the cannonball landed in the Morrisite congregation, it not only threw the assembled worshippers into confusion, it instantly convinced them that the attacking force was bent upon their destruction and that they must now fight for their lives. Peter Anderson, son of the girl whose chin was struck by the cannonball, later wrote that “rumors of the Mountain...
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The unexpected death of Joseph Morris, the destruction of Kington Fort, and the hasty separation of the men from their wives and children left the Morrisites in an untenable position. Although they were outcasts, they had no one aside from the Mormons to turn to. They were desperately in need...
Part IV. The Dispersion
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By the time the imprisonment, trial, sentencing, pardoning, and other immediate consequences of the Morrisite War had culminated in the spring of 1863, the Morrisite movement was in disarray and near collapse. Faithful Morrisites still held many previous expectations about the imminent Second Advent, and they had successfully redefined the role of Joseph Morris as...
11. The Soda Springs Settlement
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Although the issue of general leadership had not been settled when the two wagon trains left Salt Lake City in May 1863, it was necessary for someone to serve as spokesman for the emigrants. The Morrisite leadership of the Left Wing has not been recorded, but the spokesman selected for the Soda Springs group was Alexander Dow. Dow had joined the Morrisites in...
12. The Prophet Cainan
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The vacuum of general leadership created by the death of the Prophet Joseph Morris soon began attracting candidates. The first to volunteer his services as prophet, seer, and revelator was one George Williams. Williams is something of an enigma, for his first association with the Morrisites is unknown. In fact, his name appears nowhere in the Morrisite record prior...
13. The Left Wing of the Great Eagle: Nevada and California
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By autumn 1862 several Morrisite refugees from the Weber conflict could be found scattered among the mining camps of Nevada. Most of these had been active participants in the battle and had elected to skip bail rather than stand trial with their brethren the following spring. Several, in fact, had held high positions in Joseph Morris’s organization and were still deeply committed...
14. The Walla Walla Jesus
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In a letter written from Great Salt Lake City dated August 9, 1865, addressed to James Dove and John Eardley (then in Nevada), the Prophet Cainan wrote: “As Deer Lodge Valley, Montana, is the nucleus, let all others begin to turn their attention that way as they tire in the wings. Brother Wm. Davis [Davies] presides there over temporalities and if a High Priest...
15. Deer Lodge: The Heavenly City
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In February 1868, the Prophet Cainan wrote from Salt Lake City to the Saints in Montana expressing his intention to move there and take up a claim as soon as possible. However, a few months later, probably because he realized that much of his Nevada and California support had diminished, he changed his mind and made preparations to return to his native land to...
16. The Deer Lodge Jesus
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Although the Morrisite Movement actually ended with the death of George Johnson in 1954, the Deer Lodge prophecy of George Williams (Cainan), surfaced again several decades after Johnson’s death and a century after Williams’ demise. In 1979, an obscure messianic sect headquartered in Missoula, Montana, made a startling announcement. The sect’s name was...
Conclusion: In Retrospect
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The preceding chapters have been an effort to accurately present the colorful saga of the Morrisites, but as so often happens in historic matters, a number of important questions still remain unanswered. The real complexity of the situation is belied by the simplistic answers given earlier by partisan observers who either tried to dismiss the Morrisites as deluded...
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About the Author
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Page Count: 262
Publication Year: 2010