Thomas B. Marsh’s Story: A More Accurate Version of Why He Left the Church

John Dehlin Mormon

In Richard Dutcher’s comments last week about leaving the LDS Church, he mentioned the traditional legend we hear in the church — that Thomas B. Marsh left over a milk dispute between his wife and some else’s.

In my Elder’s Quorum lesson for today, I was asked to teach on Elder Bednar’s recent talk entitled, “And Nothing Shall Offend Them.” (Incidentally, some of you may find it interesting to note that Elder Bednar perpetuates the same myth in this talk as well.)

Anyway, this made me want to read more on Brother Marsh, so I went to his Wikipedia article, and got a pretty good explanation on the events leading to his disaffection. I thought you might enjoy reading it, so here is the part about his falling away:

In April of 1838, Church President Joseph Smith and his first counselor Sidney Rigdon moved to Far West, which became the new church headquarters. Although disfellowshipped, David and John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, W.W. Phelps and other former leaders (who were known as the “dissenters”) continued to live in the County. By early June, some of the more zealous Mormons, led by Sampson Avard, formed a society which came to be known as the “Danites.” According to Marsh, these men swore oaths to “support the heads of the church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong” (Document, p. 57). According to Reed Peck, two of these Danites, Jared Carter and Dimick B. Huntington, proposed at a meeting that the society should kill the dissenters. Marsh and fellow moderate, John Corrill, spoke vigorously against the motion (Peck, pp. 22-23). On the following Sunday, however, Sidney Rigdon issued his “Salt Sermon” in which he likened the dissenters to salt that had lost its savor and was “good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Van Wagoner, p. 218). Within a week the dissenters had fled the county.

Although he may have been concerned about these events, Marsh remained in the church until late October. According to his sworn testimony, Marsh claimed that a Mormon invasion of Daviess County and the subsequent looting and burning of non-Mormon settlements, including Gallatin, the county seat, were the acts that caused him to leave. Marsh stated:

“A company of about eighty of the Mormons, commanded by a man fictitiously named Captain Fearnot [David W. Patten], marched to Gallatin. They returned and said they had run off from Gallatin twenty or thirty men and had taken Gallatin, had taken one prisoner and another had joined the company. I afterwards learned from the Mormons that they had burned Gallatin, and that it was done by the aforesaid company that marched there. The Mormons informed me that they had hauled away all the goods from the store in Gallatin, and deposited them at the Bishop’s storehouses at Adam-on-diahmon” (Document, p. 57).

On October 19, 1838, the day after Gallatin was burned, Thomas B. Marsh and fellow apostle Orson Hyde left the association of the Church. Marsh drafted and signed a legal affidavit against Joseph Smith on October 24, 1838, which Hyde also signed. In addition to reporting on the organization of the Danites and on the events in Daviess County, Marsh reported rumors that the Danites had set up a “destroying company” and that “if the people of Clay & Ray made any movement against them, this destroying company was to burn Liberty & Richmond.” He further stated his belief that Joseph Smith planned “to take the State, & he professes to his people to intend taking the U.S. & ultimately the whole world” (Document, p. 57). Marsh’s testimony added to the panic in northwestern Missouri and contributed to subsequent events in the Mormon War.

Because a Mormon attack was believed imminent, a unit of the state militia from Ray County was dispatched to patrol the border between Ray and Mormon Caldwell County to the north. On October 25, 1838, reports reached Mormons in Far West that this state militia unit was a “mob” and had kidnapped several Mormons. The Mormons formed an armed rescue party and attacked the militia in what became known as the Battle of Crooked River. Although only one Missourian was killed, initial reports held that half the unit had been wiped out. This attack on the state militia, coupled with the earlier expulsion of non-Mormons from Daviess County led Missouri’s governor Lilburn W. Boggs to respond with force. On 27 October he called out 2,500 state militia to put down what he perceived as a Mormon rebellion and signed what became known as the “Extermination Order” (Baugh, pp. 108–09).

Marsh was excommunicated from the Church in absentia on March 17, 1839 in Quincy, Illinois.

After Marsh moved to Utah and rejoined the Latter-day Saints, he looked back at his decision to leave the Church with regret. Concerning his actions in Missouri, he wrote:
“ About this time I got a beam in my eye and thought I could discover a mote in Joseph’s eye, though it was nothing but a beam in my eye; I was so completely darkened that I did not think on the Savior’s injunction: ‘Thou hypocrite, why beholdest thou the mote which is in thy brother’s eye, when a beam is in thine own eye; first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, then thou shalt see clearly to get the mote out of thy brother’s eye.’ ”

Years later, in 1864, George A. Smith claimed in a sermon that Marsh had left the church because of a dispute between his wife and other Mormon women over a milk cow.[2] Although this tale has made its way into Mormon folklore, Smith’s statements are not supported by any contemporary evidence.[3]