Zenas H. Gurley Interview
14 January 1885, Richmond, Missouri
Questions asked of David Whitmer at his home in Richmond Ray County Mo – January 14 – 1885. relating to Book of Mormon, and the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of L D. S. by Elder Z H Gurley
1Q Do you know that the plates seen with the Angel (on the table) were real metal, did you touch them?
1A We did not touch nor handle the plates.
2Q Was the table literal wood; or was the whole a vision such as often occurs in dreams &c?
2A The table had the appearance of literal wood as shown in the vision, in the glory of God.
3Q Did you see the Urim and Thummim, what was it?
3A I saw the “Interpreters” in the holy vision, They looked like whitish stones put in the rim of a bow, looked like spectacles only much larger.
4Q Why did you stand aloof from the church after 1838?
4A I was appointed in charge of church affairs in Zion Missouri, but from my teachings disaffection grew, and Joseph and Sydney came out and visited the various branches of the church pledging them to themselves as against my teachings upon the word of wisdom and other matters, until for the establishment of their views they organized the Danites by which each member was sworn to sustain the Heads of the church whether right or wrong – the penalty of refusing so to do being death, “the throat cut” – I left because I could not accept it, being led out by the outstretched arm of God – promised life and blessing, and that my opponents would suffer that which they had tried to bring upon me. Being informed of these designs &c by W W Phelps – John Corrill, and Riggs.
5Q Why did Oliver Cowdery leave the church?
5A Oliver left the church for the same reasons I did, so also did my brother John Whitmer.
6Q Why did Martin Harris leave the Church?
6A I do not know. He never was at Far West.
7Q What caused several of the 1st quorum of Twelve to leave the church?
7A Cannot state positively.
8Q Why was Joseph Smith called Baruk Ale, and Sydney Rigdon, Baneemy?
8A Those names came through the “United Order” in the church. Why they came I cannot tell. I believe that Order, as also the mercantile and Kirtland Bank business, to have originated either with man or Devil, being no part of the Gospel of Christ, or of his Church.
9Q Who was the Angel that showed the plates to you and Cowdery and have these plates been seen since?
9A I do not know as no name was given. I have never seen the plates since.
10Q Was it understood in the early times of the church that the tongues spoken were mainly or all indian tongues?
10A My understanding was that all kind of languages was spoken.
11Q Do you know anything about Brewesters seeing and translating gifts while in Kirtland, Ohio. If so how do you account for the same?
11A I know nothing about it
12Q Do you repudiate the High Priests quorum or that order, and can you give its origin and occasion of it in the church?
12A Yes I do – as not an order in Christ. It originated in the church because of desire to obtain greater power than what had been given – over anxiety with the leaders, leading to it.
13Q Were you present when Joseph Smith received the revelation commanding him and Oliver Cowdery to ordain each other to the Melchisedek Priesthood, if so, where was it and how?
13A No I was not – neither did I ever hear of such a thing as an angel ordaining them until I got into Ohio about the year 1834 – or later.
14Q Can you tell why that Joseph and Oliver were ordained to the lesser Priesthood by the hand of an Angel but in receiving the Higher they ordained each other?
14A I moved Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to my fathers house in Fayette Seneca County New York, from Harmony, Penn. in the year 1829, on our way I conversed freely with them upon this great work they were bringing about, and Oliver stated to me in Joseph’s presence that they had baptized each other seeking by that to fulfill the command – And after our arrival at fathers sometime in June 1829, Joseph ordained Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder, and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an Elder in the church of Christ and during that year Joseph both baptized and ordained me an elder in the church of Christ. Also, during this year the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, and we preached preached, baptized and ordained some as Elders, And upon the Sixth day of April 1830, six Elders together with some fifty or sixty (as near as I recollect) of the members met together to effect an organization.
I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic priesthood until the year 1834, 5, or 6 – in Ohio. My information from Joseph and Oliver upon this matter being as I have stated, and that they were commanded so to do by revealment through Joseph. I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by some, I regard that as an error, a misconception.
15Q How did it happen that a 1st Presidency was established in the church, one of whom was to receive commands &c. and the church was to receive them, just the same as though they heard God speak, and where is the authority for this in the books?
15A I regard it as an assumption of power unauthorized by the books in the law of Christ.
16Q Was it understood in the beginning of the work that the Book of Mormon with the Bible was all that is necessary as a rule and guide to faith? if so why and by what right was the book of Doctrine and Covenants added?
16A The Book of Doctrine and Covenants, was added to satisfy the desire of some of the members and elders – The Bible and Book of Mormon was held to contain Gods law in its completeness, and we understood that they alone should be taught as doctrine, Revelations and visions would assist individuals but were not to be taught as doctrine in any case, such was Joseph’s teachings upon this point.
17Q If the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the Gospel with the New Testament, and they constitute the Law to the Church, what need is there for a 1st President to receive revelations to govern the church?
17A There is no need for such officers, I hold that all difficulties, all differences of opinion as to doctrine, should be settled by conferring one with the other, united wisdom of many guided by the Law, being the safest rule.
18Q Was or was not the revelations of Joseph Smith considered purely personal or local at the time they were received?
18A Yes they were, and they were not to be published until Christ should come. The Book of Mormon with the Bible being the whole law to the Church.
19Q Were the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated in Joseph Smiths possession while translating and seen and handled by several different persons, if not, where were they?
19A I do not know.
20Q Did Joseph use his “peep stone” to finish up the translation? if so why?
20A He used a stone called a “Seer stone,” the “Interpreters” having been taken away from him because of transgression.
21Q Had you seen the plates at anytime before the Angel showed them to you?
22Q Did Joseph Smith ordain you as his Successor?
22A Yes he did, in Clay county, Mo -1834. upon condition that he was killed or any mishap befell him. I regard my authority as an elder for Christ given me of God before that time as superior to any honor which Joseph could bestow upon me by any such ordination. This was done on or about the time when Joseph dismissed the “Camp” which he had brought up to deliver Zion a body of some 300 men who was armed and equipped for war.
23Q Do you know how the first Twelve was chosen?
23A Yes. Cowdery and myself were appointed a committee [to choose] the Twelve, but Joseph insisted that his brother William Smith should be put in as it was the only way which he could be saved, otherwise we would not have chosen him.
24Q What do you think of the Gathering as taught by Joseph Smith to the Church?
24A I regard it as an error, one that brought evil upon the church. I believe that God will finally gather his people, but not in the sense and way as taught by Joseph, before Gods gathering takes place He will perform a great and mighty work in the earth he will prepare the way, that way is not prepared, hence all attempts at Gathering will prove futile until the Day of the Lord comes.
25Q Were you present during any of the time of translation, if so, state how it was done.
25A The “Interpreters” were taken from Joseph after he allowed Martin Harris to carry away the 116 pages of MS – of the Book of Mormon as a punishment, but he was allowed to go on and translate by the use of a “Seer stone” which he had, and which he placed in a hat into which he buried his face, stating to me and others that the original Character[s] appeared upon parchment and under it the translation in english, which enabled him to read it readily.
While Brother Whitmer was too feeble to write much, being unable to write the answers to the foregoing 25 questions in person – Yet it was with his consent and in his presence that I wrote them and corrected them, as they appear here.
Jan. 21 – 1885, Z.H. Gurley
(Zenas Gurley Collection, LDS Church Archives; Zenas H. Gurley, “The Book of Mormon,” Autumn Leaves, Lamoni Iowa, October 1892, vol. 5, no. 10, pp. 451-453 [partial interview]; Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, pp. 152-158 [full interview]; Vogel, pp 135-138 [partial interview].)