Another Account of James H. Moyle’s Interview
With David Whitmer
Source: Deseret News, 2 Aug 1944, cited in Nibley, Witnesses, pp. 92-97.
[page 92] [David Whitmer, the last surviving member of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, died at Richmond, Missouri, January 25, 1888, 58 years ago. As far as it is known there is only one member of the Church now living who met David Whitmer and held an interview with him.
This member is James H. Moyle, a resident of the Cottonwood district in Salt Lake County, former president of the Eastern States Mission, former Commissioner of Customs of the United States and a distinguished citizen of Utah. Elder Moyle, now in his eighty-seventh year, remembers with interest his visit to Richmond, Missouri, in July, 1885. Elder Moyle relates that he was on his way to Salt Lake City after his graduation from the University of Michigan, and stopped off at Richmond to have a personal interview with David Whitmer. Elder Moyle’s written account of this interview may be found in the Deseret News Church Section, August 2, 1944, and is as follows:]
(Editor’s Note: James H. Moyle died on February 19, 1946, while this volume was in course of publication.)]
I was always deeply interested in the Book of Mormon, and had been on a mission to the Southern States before I entered the University of Michigan. During my three years’ residence at the University, I learned that David Whitmer was still living and in good health. I concluded to visit him on the way [page 93] home to Salt Lake City. I graduated the latter part of June, 1885, and arrived in Richmond, Missouri, early in July.
Richmond is a small, rural town. I talked with the hack driver (that is what they called them) who took me to the hotel, and learned from him that David Whitmer was a highly-respected citizen of the city. I likewise questioned the clerk of the hotel, with the same results. I made such inquiry as I could concerning him during my visit of part of a day.
I found David Whitmer seated under a fruit tree in front of his home, which was located near the street and surrounded by an orchard. I understood that he had been bothered a good deal by curiosity seekers, and to make him feel more at home with me, I presented him with an appropriate book. I said that I had just graduated as a law student and was on my way home, and was extremely anxious to obtain from him whatever he would be good enough to tell me about the Book of Mormon, the plates from which it was translated and his testimony concerning the same which he had given to the world.
I entered in a little diary which I kept the mere fact that I had visited David Whitmer and that he had verified all that had been published to the world concerning the Book of Mormon by him in his testimony, and that was about all. In making that visit I had no thought of anything but my personal knowledge and did not contemplate publishing anything concerning it—it was purely an individual matter [page 94] with me at the time. I told my friends about it and spoke of it in the ward, but at that time it seemed to be common knowledge. David Whitmer died about three years after I saw him. My memory of the main facts is perfectly clear. I have always enjoyed good health, never better than at the present.
David Whitmer was a man above medium height, slender rather than stout and was in his shirt-sleeves.
His hair was white. As I remember, he was a man of fairly intellectual appearance, for the plain citizen that he was, and of good countenance. I am quite sure he was a serious-minded man.
I told him that I had been born in the Church, my mother also; that my father had joined the Church when he was a boy in his teens; that I had grown up believing implicitly in the Book of Mormon; that I was about to commence life’s activities as he was getting ready to lay them down, and pleaded with him to tell me the truth—not to permit me to go through life believing in a falsehood—that meant so much to me. I told him that he knew the facts and urged him to tell me just what had happened in connection with the introduction of the Book of Mormon. I seemed to gain his confidence and felt free to ask him questions, and in fact did everything that I could think of that would bring out the facts, particularly all of the circumstances and details of his seeing the angel, seeing and handling the plates and where the interview with the Angel Moroni took [page 95] place and the conditions and circumstances surrounding the same.
He said that they (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris) were out in the primitive woods in western New York; that there was nothing between them and the angel except a log that had fallen in the forest; that it was in the broad daylight with nothing to prevent either hearing or seeing all that took place. He then repeated to me that he did see and handle the plates; that he did see and hear the angel and heard the declaration that the plates had been correctly translated; that there was absolutely nothing to prevent his having a full, clear view of it all. I remember very distinctly asking him if there was anything unnatural or unusual about the surroundings or the atmosphere. He answered that question. I do not remember exactly the words he used, but he indicated that there was something of a haze or peculiarity about the atmosphere that surrounded them but nothing that would prevent his having a clear vision and knowledge of all that took place. He declared to me that the testimony which he had published to the world was true and that he had never denied any part of it.
I asked him why he had left the Church. He replied that he had never left the Church, that he had continued with the branch of the Church that was originally organized in Richmond and still presided over it. In answer to my questions, he said, in an unqualified, [page 96] emphatic way, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, but had become a fallen prophet through the influence which Sidney Rigdon exercised over him; that he accepted everything that was revealed to the Prophet down to the year 1835, but rejected everything thereafter because he did not know whether it came from the Lord or from Sidney Rigdon. He manifestly had become embittered against Sidney Rigdon due to his promotion to second place in the Church over men like himself who had been with the Prophet from the beginning and who had done so much for the Church. I then concluded, as I now believe, that jealousy and disappointment had soured his soul, but nothing could obliterate his testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon.
I asked him about the manuscript from which the Book of Mormon was published. He said that he had the original of the two copies that were made before the Book of Mormon was printed. I asked him if he would sell the manuscript. He said no. I then asked him if he wouldn’t sell it at any price. He said no, that he would not part with it. He also said, pointing to his home, that when a cyclone struck Richmond a few years before, every room in his house was destroyed except the one in which that manuscript was kept. He seemed to regard the manuscript sacredly. As he appeared to be a poor man, at least in very ordinary circumstances, I was greatly impressed by the fact that he would not even talk about selling it and with the fact that he seemed to [page 97] regard the care of the manuscript as being something of a sacred trust. Neither did he seek a reconciliation with the Church, although that would have inevitably increased his worldly comfort, and made him a highly-honored personage among Latter-day Saints.
President Joseph F. Smith had previously interviewed him and had seen the manuscript. He said to me that it was not the original, but a copy made by Oliver Cowdery.