William F. Cahoon (1813-1897)

William Farrington Cahoon, 1813-1897
Autobiography (1813-1878) in
Stella Shurtleff and Brent Farrington Cahoon
eds., Reynolds Cahoon and His Stalwart Sons
Salt Lake City, Utah
Paragon Press, 1960
Excerpts from autobiography (1813-1878)
My father, Reynolds Cahoon, was the son of William Cahoon Jr. and Mehitable Hodge. William Jr. was son of William Sr. whose forefathers came to America from Scotland and settled in Rhode Island and from thence scattered abroad in different parts of the land and I have no record of them. My father was born April 3, 1790 at Cambridge, Washington County, New York. He married December 11, 1810 in New Port, New York, to Thirza Stiles, daughter of Daniel Olds Stiles, son of John Stiles. They were married by Honorable John Stiles. Reynolds moved to Harpersfield, Ohio, then a new country and began farming in the year 1811. . . .

In the winter of 1812 my father Reynolds was called by the government of the United States to go to Buffalo, New York to assist in driving the British from Buffalo, who had crossed Lake Erie from Canada and burned the city. Upon arriving at Erie, they found that the British had crossed back over the lake and he was released and returned home. . . . Reynolds lived in Harpersfield about twelve years. Five children were born at this place.

In the year 1825 he moved about thirty miles farther west near the town of Kirtland and went into the business of tanning leather and making shoes. In this business, he was quite prosperous and accumulated considerable amounts of property.

During this time, a great stir was created over what was known as the “Golden Bible,” or Book of Mormon. He [Reynolds Cahoon] soon became satisfied that the book was of divine origin, and that God had commenced this great and marvelous work as was spoken of by the inspired men of former days. He soon went and was baptized, 12 October [probably November] 1830 and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was baptized by Parley P. Pratt, one of the four elders who had been appointed by revelation to go to the western boundaries of the United States, preaching by the way. He was ordained an elder by Sidney Rigdon and went on a mission calling the people to repent and be baptized. He was ordained a `High Priest’ by Lyman Wight. His missionary companion was Samuel Smith, Joseph’s brother.

In a short time he had used most of his property in preaching and assisting others to build up and establish the work of God in this dispensation of the fullness of time. He was soon ordained to go and preach the gospel of faith to all the world. In 1831 in company with Samuel H. Smith and twenty-four elders, he traveled to Missouri, preaching by the way. He returned in September and in December was ordained a counselor to Bishop Whitney. He was called by revelation [D&C 94:Intro.], one of the three committee men to build a House to the Lord [temple] in Kirtland in 1832. He and Hyrum Smith commenced their labors in May by counsel of the prophet Joseph. They had not a dollar to help them labor on the building but according to promise they soon had means to forward the building. They proceeded then until the temple was finished. In the autumn of 1837 he was ordained by President Marks as the president’s counselor in the stake of Kirtland and in month of March 1838 moved into Missouri and was with the Saints in their troubles there. In Nauvoo, he was appointed, in company of Brothers A. Cutler and E. Higbee, a committee to build a House to the Lord [temple] in Nauvoo.

My father’s calling, ordinations and a brief sketch of his labors in the Church up to 1845 are thus recorded. He was faithful and true. He labored with and for the Church and was driven with them from Nauvoo and came out to Utah with the people of God, having fought the good fight and won the prize, eternal life. . . .

I, William F. Cahoon, was the first born and oldest son of Reynolds Cahoon and Thirza Stiles. I was born in Harpersfield, Ashtabula County, Ohio on the 7th day of November, 1813. When I was about 17 years old, I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- days by Elder Parley P. Pratt, on 16th day of October 1830, and I was ordained a priest under the hands of Oliver Cowdery at a conference of elders held at the town of Orange, Ohio on the 25th October 1831. On 2nd February 1835 was selected as a seventy. . . .

From October 1831, during the next twelve months, I was occupied laboring with my hands making boots and shoes gratis for the elders who were starting out to preach and for the support of my father’s family, occasionally holding meetings and bearing my testimony to the truth of the work of God in the last days; also in visiting the churches exhorting the Saints to faithfulness and obedience to the commandments of God.

On the 19th of November I started on a mission to the east in company with Zebedee Coltrin and John Boynton with whom I traveled for a few days and then was appointed to travel with father (Reynolds) Cahoon and David Patten. With the last, I traveled as far east as Silver Creek in the state of New York, preaching and baptizing in several places. The Lord accepted our labors and we were greatly blessed laboring in God’s work.

I arrived home from my mission February 27, 1833 and remained until March 21st, when I was then appointed to travel and preach the gospel in company with Elder A. Lyman. We traveled through the east of Ohio, through Pennsylvania and part of New York preaching and baptizing with great success. While with Elder Lyman, I was called by the voice of the Church and ordained an elder. The spirit of the living God was with us.

The last part of August I returned home and labored with my hands until May 5, 1834. I then enlisted to go to the land of Zion in Jackson County and started with the Volunteer Company under the Prophet Joseph Smith for the delivery of the brethren who had been driven from their homes by a ruthless band of mobocrats.

On May 5, 1834 the [Zion’s] camp left [for] Missouri. It was truly a solemn morning, we left our wives, children and friends, not knowing whether we would see them again as we were threatened by enemies that would destroy and exterminate us from the land. We were facing the “lion in his den.”

Joseph Smith had made this pledge to us, “If you will go with me to Missouri and keep my counsel, I pledge that I will lead you there and back and not a hair of your head shall be hurt.”

This [Zion’s] camp marched through a population of tens of thousands of people like lambs among wolves, but no man among them opened his mouth to say, “Why do you do so?” On we marched singing our favorite song, “Hark listen to the Trumpeters.”

[As told by William F. and father Cole]. While traveling across the vast prairie, treeless and waterless, they camped at night after a long and wearisome day’s march. They had been without water since early morning, and men and animals suffered greatly from thirst, for it had been one of the hottest days of June. Joseph sat at his tent looking out upon the scene. All at once he called for a spade. When it was brought, he looked about him and selected a spot, the most convenient in the camp for men and teams to get water. Then he dug a shallow well, and immediately the water came bubbling up into it and filled it, so that the horses and mules could stand and drink from it. While the camp stayed there, the well remained full, despite the fact that about two hundred men and scores of horses and mules were supplied from it.

[This incident was related to Elder O. B. Huntington by William F. Cahoon. It was also told to Elder Huntington by father Zera Cole while Elder Huntington and father Cole were working for the dead in the Logan Temple. Zera Cole was with the camp of Zion and when it went to Missouri in 1834, William F.’s brother-in-law, Harvey Stanley, also went with them. The autobiography continues:]

We journeyed, pitching our tents by the way, and arrived in Missouri in the latter part of June. We then numbered two hundred and five. A council was held to determine what steps to take when the word of the Lord came to the Prophet Joseph saying the time had not come to “take the sword in hand to redeem Zion.”

Many in the [Zion’s] camp murmured because we were not permitted at this time to restore our brethren at all hazards, which greatly displeased the Lord, who a few days afterwards sent a scourge amongst us; the cholera which took from us sixteen or more of our number. This caused great sorrow and mourning in our camp. It is a fearful thing to fall under the displeasure of the living God and to openly rebel against Him and murmur at the counsel of His servant, the Prophet.

Shortly after our camp broke up. Some returned to the churches in the east and some were required to tarry and aid in defending the new homes they had chosen. It fell my lot to remain until the fall. I labored with my hands until I was taken sick with the fever and ague.

In the latter part of October I received my discharge and in company with Elder H. Riggs, I started for home by way of the rivers for we were not able to travel by land. I arrived home, 17th day of November, 1834. This was a day of rejoicing for both parents and children and we felt to thank God for preserving our lives and bringing us together again. As soon as my health permitted I commenced going to school and I attended all the church meetings as far as I was able to.

On the 14th day of February 1835, a conference was called which lasted several days. On the 14th of the month, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was organized for the first time in this dispensation. At this conference, there was also organized the First Quorum of Seventies. I was called as a member of the First Quorum of Seventies and was ordained to this office, 28th February, 1835.

The next season, after I had been ordained a seventy, I went and labored on the Lord’s House and continued so to labor until the temple was finished and dedicated April 6, 1836. I received my washing and annointings and remained in Kirtland.

On January 17, 1836, I married Nancy Miranda Gibbs. We were married before a concourse of people. Several hundred witnessed the ceremony. It was done to establish precedent of public marriage by the Church instead of taking out a license from the County Court, marriage notice being published several times previously in the Church, which custom was allowed by the laws of the state. About three thousand assembled both inside and outside the Church when we were married. Nancy was only 17 years old when we were married.

[Form of Marriage Certificate: I hereby certify, that, agreeable to the rules and regulations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on matrimony, Mr. William F. Cahoon and Miss Nancy M. Gibbs, both of this place, were joined in marriage, on Sabbath, the 17th, instant. Kirtland, Ohio, January 19th, 1836–Joseph Smith, Jr.] . . .

In the spring of 1838, I with my family and my father, Reynolds and his family went from Kirtland to Missouri. My family consisted of wife and daughter we had named Nancy Ermina, born 23 February 1837. I left behind me a good lot all paid for, for which I labored very hard to get, also a good seven-room house well furnished and owned by myself. . . I could not dispose of it, so I turned the key and locked the door and left it, and from that day to this, I have not received anything for my property which is in the hands of strangers.

However, we left it and went on our journey, pitching tents for a house. After a long and tiresome journey we arrived at Far West, 5 May 1838, and we rejoiced to find the Saints prospering and in good spirits. I remained here until the fall of the year, laboring for the support of my family.

I then moved to Adam-ondi-Ahman where I commenced to build for myself, a log house but was compelled to stop on account of the mobbers who came upon us. This was a time of grief and trouble to us, the mob who infested this beautiful region of country, were constantly creating excitement after excitement adding rumor to rumor until we were forced to watch them by night, as well as by day. We were so harassed that we were not able to build houses or even spare time to procure food for our families and we lived in peril. Our fare was also poor as we could not get our corn ground and we had to punch holes in pieces of tin and take ears of corn and grate them on the tin to get or make meal for our bread, and we had to live on this kind of food for six months.

After a great deal of excitement and some skirmishing, the governor of the state of Missouri, Lilburn W. Boggs sent his blood-thirsty minions, who surrounded us, his ever-to-be-remembered and execrated inhuman order, for the extermination of the Latter-day Saints or their eternal banishment from their homes, their houses and land, and from the state. In pursuance of which order, all the surrounding branches of the Church, were either butchered in cold blood, old and young included in one indiscriminate slaughter or else they were driven into Far West. I and my family went into Far West and the mob at length concluded to strip us of all we possessed and then banish us from the state. . .

I was at Far West at the time of the arrival of the main body of Boggs cut-throat minions. It was like opening the gates of hell, for such creatures as they were, could come from no other place, or at least they were inspired by the fiends of hell to accomplish the devilish designs of the infamous scoundrel who sent them, Lilburn W. Boggs. I expect the Lord will reward him according to his works and give him his portion with his master, the devil, Amen.

I, in company with all the rest of the church there, was arrested and put under guard. We were forced to sign a deed of trust of all we possessed. I passed an examination of seven consecutive days, after which I was permitted to return to my family at Adam-ondi-Ahman. I found my wife in deep sorrow and weeping, for she knew not what had become of me or whether I was alive or dead. (AFFIDAVIT OF WILLIAM F. CAHOON: MISSOURI WRONGS).

I hereby certify that in the year 1838, I was residing in Daviess County, Missouri, and while from home I was taken a prisoner in Far West by the Militia, and kept under guard for six or eight days, in which time I was forced to sign a Deed of Trust, after which I was permitted to return home to my family in Daviess County, and found them surrounded by an armed force, with the rest of my neighbors, who were much frightened. The order from the militia was to leave the county within ten days, in which time my house was broken open and many goods taken out by the militia. We were not permitted to go from place to place without a pass from the general, and on leaving the county, I received a pass as follows: I permit William F. Cahoon to pass from Daviess to Caldwell County, and there remain during the winter, and thence to pass out of the state of Missouri. –Signed November 10, 1838–Reeves, a Brigadier General.

During this time, both myself and my family suffered much on account of cold and hunger because we were not permitted to go outside of the guard to obtain wood and provisions; and according to order, of the militia, in the spring following, I took my family and left the state with the loss of much property. (Signed, William F. Cahoon; Territory of Iowa, Lee County. Subscribed and Sworn Before D. W. Kilbourn, J. P. [See HC 4:52.]

My father (Reynolds), was also made prisoner at the same time and was under arrest several days. As soon as he gained his liberty, we and our families moved to Far West with many more families of the Saints and remained there until the 4th February, when the time was nearly up for us poor exiles to leave the state and seek other homes somewhere in the wide world.

We started and arrived at Quincy in the state of Illinois here we found a people who treated us with the greatest degree of hospitality and kindness, assisting the Saints with food and giving them houses to live in. After stopping at Quincy about five weeks, I went to live with a man by the name of Travis who gave me employment and towards whom my bosom burns with gratitude. May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob reward him and his family for their kindness to me and my family when we were poor and forlorn without a home and shelter. I remained with this man until the next fall. I then moved to Montrose in Lee County, Iowa.

During this time, the Prophet Joseph had purchased a small location for the Saints to gather, which he laid off in squares and named Nauvoo. I remained in Montrose until the spring of 1842. I then moved to Nauvoo and commenced working on the temple of the Lord as a carpenter and joiner. The Lord prospered me in my labors so that I was enabled to build a small house for a home among the Saints. I was appointed timekeeper of the carpenters and joiners who worked on the [Nauvoo] temple.

Soon after I moved to Nauvoo, the Saints began to gather from all parts of the world and from the surrounding states in great numbers. Houses began to be built in all directions and the city of Nauvoo constantly increased in number and enlarged her boundaries and under the wisdom and direction of God’s Prophet Joseph Smith, Zion was greatly blessed and the Saints rejoiced in the truth and in seeing His purposes and plans carried out as they were revealed through His Servant Joseph.

At length the storm burst forth and it seemed as if the devil with all his forces was arrayed against the Saints of the Most High and he found plenty of help for the Prophet Joseph was harassed from all sides, from foes without and traitors within the Church. Those, at least some of those, whom he had blessed, turned and stung him; some under the “garb of sanctity,” but whose deeds were as black as hell, faithless, rotten-hearted wretches who would sell their father’s soul for filthy lucre. For they did sell him, who was a father to the people, the Prophet of God, the brave, true-hearted man among men; Joseph Smith and his noble and loving brother Hyrum, the Patriarch.

The same unrelenting, fiendish hatred that possessed the people in Missouri, followed the Church to Nauvoo and robbed the Church of God and the world at large, of two of the most God-like men who have ever lived in any age. On the 27th day of June at 5 p.m., Joseph Smith and Hyrum were brutally murdered. The particulars of this cruel and inhuman act are well-known and will have to be atoned for by this nation. The murder of the Prophet seemed for a time to quell the mob spirit of even the actors themselves and Nauvoo increased faster than ever.

In the spring of 1845, I was appointed to superintend the raising of all the timbers of the [Nauvoo] temple. We finished raising all the framing part August 23, 1845. When the temple was enclosed, the cowardly wretches again commenced the work of devastation, but the Lord, Himself, interposed in behalf of His people, manifested His power and filled the hearts of the wretches with such fear, that when a few horsemen appeared before them to give battle, they fled out of the state, and then we saw the fulfillment of the words written in the Book of Mormon, that a people who will strictly obey the revelations of God, He will bless and prosper them in the land. Again, on the 9th and 10th of September, the mob began to burn our houses and destroy our property, the property of the Saints, and kept up a continual scene of persecution from this time until we left Nauvoo.

I continued work on the [Nauvoo] temple and in the endowment rooms until the 3rd of February 1846. On the 4th of February, I began to repair wagons for our journey into the wilderness, for it was surely one. I worked on wagons 10 days and on the 15th, I and my family left with the Nauvoo Brass Band, and my brother Daniel S. was along with us. We bid farewell to the beautiful city of Nauvoo, the city of Joseph, and started for the camp of Israel which was Sugar Creek, Iowa. Here we joined Brigham Young’s camp.

We had a hard time. It was very cold weather, wet and snow and frost, but the Lord sustained us and we journeyed west, pitching tents by the way. We reached Garden Grove. I was appointed to oversee the house building and keep the roll of workmen.

We built houses and laid out farms. I remained at this place until the 13th of May. I left my family at this place, took my team and my brother Daniel’s family and traveled first in Brother Spencer’s company until the 19th and then went back for my family. They were well. We then started West and the 24th, we camped with Brother Charles C. Rich and others and on the 26th, we arrived at the main camp. I remained at this place until the 7th of June. I then started back with my team to meet my father’s family. On the 8th, I found them and father Cutler and family. I remained behind to get some wagons they had left behind a few days before, while they continued their journey.

On the 12th, we arrived at the main camp at Pisgah. I remained in camp two days and the 14th began to go back to trade for oxen and provisions for our journey. On the 15th, my Brother Andrew, myself and father Cutler and some others started back for the settlements. We were kept busy traveling and trading until 6th July. We then started for the camp in the wilderness. On the 12th Brother Daniel came back to help us. We traveled fast to get back as soon as possible. The camp had gone on.

The 23rd we overtook father Cutler’s camp, on 31st, we crossed the Missouri River and on Saturday, 1st August, we reached the main camp. On 5th, we traveled to a place afterwards called Cutler’s Park where I remained until 21st day March, 1849 when my brother Daniel and myself started for the Salt Lake Valley where the Church had found a resting place. The pioneers led by Brigham Young entered this valley after a very tiresome journey of 1000 miles from the Missouri River, on the 24th July 1847. They built a fort and put in seed as soon as they arrived and they laid out the city of Great Salt Lake.

In the meantime, during the time I remained behind; I was busy all the time, cutting and hauling logs, building houses and sheds, barns, fencing, shoemaking; in fact, I was jack-of-all trades, nothing came amiss. I was always on hand either to work on a farm, haul wood, build a mill or attend meeting. During this time, I went back into Missouri to work for provisions for my family and preparing myself for my journey across the mountains into Salt Lake Valley.

As stated above, I in company with my Brother Daniel and our families, started on the 21st March and camped the first day at Brother Burgess’, six miles out. At length, we were on the way leaving civilization behind us and glad to get away from it, and as we journeyed across the great plains in the wage of the pioneers, we felt as if the “God of Joseph” was with us and blessed us and preserved us. On our way we had the usual vicissitudes of the early travelers across the plains, such as fording rivers, and when we could not ford, making rafts and building bridges, killing snakes, burying our dead, guarding our cattle and traveling under difficulties.

We traveled day after day, for six months and on 24th day September 1849, we entered the valley in company with my father and Andrew’s family who came to meet us. Was it not a joyful meeting! Only those separated from their families for a long time, can tell. From the time I entered the valley, most of my time has been spent working on public works and the Church in different capacities. I worked as foreman over the carpenters of the tabernacle that was pulled down in 1877 to make room for the present rock tabernacle that was being built in the year 1878. I worked on the woolen mills in Canyon Creek, what is now the paper mill. In fact, my life has been spent generally in the service of the Church.

I rejoice still in the truths of the gospel of Christ. I am happy in doing the will of my Father in Heaven. I thank God for preserving me in the truth and for watchful providence that has been over us, a people. We were driven out from Nauvoo at the point of a bayonet, into the wilderness in the extreme cold weather, homeless and friendless. Yes, God was our friend; He led us by His Almighty power, and with an outstretched arm, He has delivered us; our sorrow, He has turned into joy. He has sanctified our tribulations to our good and has blessed and multiplied us as a people until we have become a great people. He has made the wilderness we came to inhabit to blossom as the rose, and Utah Territory is prospered, and the city of Salt Lake is one of the most beautiful cities on the face of the earth, and the wonder of the nation who drove us forth from their midst. . . .

[At age seventeen, William F. Cahoon was appointed a ward teacher. His duty like all ward teachers was to visit the members of the Church, ask them certain designated questions and report back to the officers of his quorum. The following was related by William F. upon the occasion of bearing his testimony. He is speaking of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This incident, entitled, “A Humble Ward Teacher,” was published in the Deseret News (Church Section), Juvenile Instructor 27:492, and in Reynolds Cahoon and His Stalwart Sons. Pagination is according to the latter work.] Before I close my testimony concerning this good man (Joseph Smith), I wish to mention one circumstance which I shall never forget. I was called and ordained to act as a ward teacher to visit the families of the Saints. I got along very well until I was obliged to pay a visit to the Prophet. Being young, only 17 years of age, I felt my weakness in the capacity of a teacher. I almost felt like shrinking from my duty.

Finally, I went to the door and knocked and in a minute the Prophet came to the door. I stood there trembling and said to him; “Brother Joseph, I have come to visit you in the capacity of a ward teacher, if it is convenient for you. He said, “Brother William, come right in. I am glad to see you. Sit down in that chair there and I will go and call my family in.” They soon came in and took seats. The Prophet said, “Brother William, I submit myself and family into your hands,” and took his seat. “Now, Brother William, said he, “Ask all the questions you feel like.”

By this time my fears and trembling had ceased and I said, “Brother Joseph, are you trying to live your religion?” He answered, “Yes.” I then said, “Do you pray in your family?” He answered “Yes.” “Do you teach your family the principles of the gospel?” He replied, “Yes, I am trying to do it.” “Do you ask a blessing on your food?” He said he did. “Are you trying to live in peace and harmony with all your family?” He said that he was.

I turned to Sister Emma, his wife, and said, “Sister Emma, are you trying to live your religion? Do you teach your children to obey their parents? Do you try to teach them to pray?” To all these questions she answered, “Yes, I am trying to do so.” I then turned to Joseph and said, “I am now through with my questions as a teacher and now if you have any instructions to give, I shall be happy to receive them.” He said, “God bless you Brother William, and if you are humble and faithful you shall have power to settle all difficulties that may come before you in the capacity of a teacher.” I then left my parting blessing upon him and his family, as a teacher, and departed.