KIMBALL, Heber Chase: Right-hand man to Brigham Young

KIMBALL, Heber Chase: Right-hand man to Brigham Young

by Orson F. Whitney, in History of Utah Vol.4 

KIMBALL, Heber Chase: Right-hand man to Brigham Young
Heber C. Kimball (1801-1868)

For more than two decades after the settlement of Salt Lake Valley, the right-hand man of —one with him in all things pertaining to the upbuilding of this intermountain empire—was his life-long friend and associate, Heber C. Kimball; rightly numbered among the greatest and foremost of Utah’s founders. One of the original Twelve Apostles of the Latter-day Church, and the father of its first and still most important foreign mission, he was a prominent actor as long as he lived in most of the leading events of its strange and stirring history. A tried and trusted friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith, he was equally true and steadfast to his successor, whose first counselor he was, in the Presidency of the Church, from the pioneer year 1847 up to the day of his death in 1868.

Respecting the personality of this remarkable man, the writer of this memoir has said elsewhere:

“Tall and powerful of frame, with piercing black eyes that seemed to read one through, and before whose searching gaze the guilty could not choose but quail, he moved with a stateliness and majesty all his own, as far removed from haughtiness and vain pride, as he from the sphere of the upstart who mistakes scorn for dignity and an overbearing manner as an evidence of gentle blood. Heber C- Kimball was a humble man, and in his humility, no less than his kingly stature, consisted his dignity, and no small share of his greatness. It was his intelligence, earnestness, simplicity, sublime faith and unwavering integrity to principle that made him great, not the apparel he wore, nor the mortal clay in which his spirit was clothed, Nevertheless, nature had given him a noble presence in the flesh, worthy the god-like stature of his spirit.

“He was a singular compound, in his nature, of courage and timidity, of weakness and strength; uniting a penchant for mirth with a proneness to melancholy, and blending the lion-like qualities of a leader among men, with the bashfulness and lamb-like simplicity of a child. He was not a coward; a braver man probably never lived than Heber C. Kimball. His courage, however, was not of that questionable kind which “knows no fear;” rather was it of that superior order, that Christ-like bravery, which feels danger and yet dares to face it. He had all the sensitiveness of the poet—for he was both a poet and a prophet from his mother’s womb—and inherited by birthright the power to feel pleasure or suffer pain in all its exquisiteness and intensity.”

In speaking of Heber C. Kimball as a poet, it is not meant that he was a writer of rhymes; he probably never made a verse in all his life; but he possessed a poetic soul, was a thinker of great thoughts, saw into the heart of things, and recognized the poetic symbolism everywhere pervading the universe. His sermons and sayings abound in similes, metaphors and comparisons, which came from him as naturally as sparks from a flaming forge. That he was a prophet, thousands who knew him still testify. Mormon history is interspersed with allusions to his prophetic gift and with incidents and illustrations of its exercise. It is conceded that with the single exception of Joseph Smith, the founder of the faith, no Latter-day Saint has ever possessed this power to a greater degree than Heber C. Kimball.

He was an original, even an eccentric character, but withal magnetic and wonderfully interesting. He could be as stern as fate, as severe as justice, and his tongue was as a whip to evil-doers; yet he had a large and benevolent heart, was a natural philanthropist, a friend to the poor, the oppressed and the unfortunate. While like the roused ocean in his righteous wrath, he was ever a peace-loving man, wielding a marvelous influence over the passions and feelings of his fellows. Because of this gift, the Prophet Joseph surnamed him “the peace-maker.” Of great force and energy, of mighty faith and invincible will, in the presence of rightful authority—which he always recognized—he was as obedient and submissive as a child.

The Kimballs have long supposed themselves to be of Scotch descent, springing from the ancient clan of Campbell—a supposition entertained by the illustrious head of the family during the whole of his life. Recent genealogical research, however, has proved them to be of English origin, their earliest American ancestor being Richard Kemball, a Puritan, who emigrated from Ipswich, Suffolk, , in April, 1634, amidst the revolutionary agitation resulting in the execution of King Charles the First and the elevation of Cromwell to the Protectorate. Richard Kemball (whose family name was afterwards rendered Kimball) settled at Watertown, Massachusetts, from which place his descendants spread out over New England and the West.

Heber C. Kimball’s birthplace was Sheldon, Franklin County, Vermont; the date of his birth, June 14, 1801. He was the fourth child and second son in a family of seven. His father, Solomon Farnham Kimball, was born in Massachusetts, and his mother, whose maiden name was Anna Spaulding, was a native of Plainfield, New Hampshire. Heber derived his middle name from a Judge Chase, by whom his father was reared from a boy. In February, 1811, the Kimballs moved from Vermont and settled at West Bloomfield, Ontario County, New York, where Heber, at the age of fourteen, having quit school, was put work in his father’s blacksmith shop. At nineteen, his father having met with business reverses and lost his property, he was thrown entirely upon his own resources. Owing to his peculiar sensitiveness and extreme diffidence, he suffered much in his lonely hours and friendless situation. He relates that he often went two or three days without food, “being bashful and not daring to ask for it.’’ His brother Charles, hearing of his condition, sent for him and offered to teach him the potter’s trade; an offer that was gladly accepted. His masterful treatment in after years of his favorite text, “The clay in the hands of the potter,” doubtless owed something to his early intimacy with that trade, as well as to the lightning-like intuition with which he recognized a striking simile and aptly and forcibly applied it. Though unlettered and untaught, he could roll out graceful and beautiful phrases, and his thoughts and sentiments, if crudoly expressed, were frequently brilliant and profound. While living with his brother, tho latter removed to Mendon, Monroe County in the same State, and there Heber finished learning his trade and began working for wages. Six months later he purchased his brother’s business, and set up in the same line for himself, in which he prospered for upwards of ten years.

Meanwhile the sun of love dawned on his horizon. In one of his rides he chanced to pass, one warm summer day, through the little town of Victor, in the neighboring county of Ontario. Being thirsty, he drew rein near a house where an old gentleman was at work in the yard, whom he asked for a drink of water. As the one addressed went to the well for a fresh bucketful of the cooling liquid, he called to his daughter Vilato to bring from the house a glass, which he filled and sent by her to the young stranger. Heber was greatly struck with the beauty and refined modesty of the young girl, whose name he understood to be “Milatoy,” and who was the flower and pet of her father’s family. Lingering as long as propriety would permit, or the glass of water would hold out, he murmured his thanks and rode reluctantly away. It was not long before he again had “business” in Victor, and again became thirsty (?) just opposite the house where the young lady lived. Seeing the same old gentleman in the yard, he again hailed him and asked for a drink of water. This time the owner of the premises offered to wait upon him in person, but Heber would not have it so, and with the blunt candor for which he was noted, nearly took the old gentleman’s breath by saying, “I would rather “Milatey” would bring it to me.” “Latey,” as she was called in the household, accordingly appeared, did the honors as before, and returned blushing to meet the merriment and good-natured badinage of her sister and brothers. She, however, was quite as favorably impressed with the handsome young stranger as he with hor. More visits followed, acquaintance ripened into love, and on November 7, 1822, they were married.

Vilate Murray, for that was her name, was the youngest child of Roswell and Susannah Murray, and was a native of Florida, Montgomery, County, New York, born June 1, 1806. The Murrays were of Scotch descent. As a race they were gentle, kind-hearted, intelligent and refined. Through many of them ran a vein of poetry. Vilate herself wrote tender and beautiful verses. She was an ideal wife for a man like Heber C. Kimball, by whom she was ever cherished as the treasure that she was.

Some time in the fall or winter of 1831 five Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came from Pennsylvania to Victor, five miles from Mendon, and tarried at the house of Phineas H. Young. These Elders were Eleazer Miller, Elial Strong, Alpheus Gifford, Enos Curtis and Daniel Bowen. Heber and Vilate Kimball were then members of the Baptist Church. Having duly investigated the new religion, they embraced it, Heber being baptized April 15, 1832, by Elder Alpheus Gifford, and Vilate about two weeks later, by Elder Joseph Young. Brigham Young, Heber’s intimate friend, had been baptized on the 14th of April by Eleazer Miller. A branch was raised up at Mendon, numbering over thirty souls. Heber, having been ordained an Elder by Joseph Young, labored with him and his brother Brigham in the ministry.

In the fall of 1832, the threo friends visited Kirtland, Ohio, and there on the 8th of November met for the first time tho Prophet Joseph Smith. A year later Elder Kimball, haying sold his possessions and settled his affairs, moved with his family to Kirtland, arriving there about the first of November. Four children had been born to him up to this time, the eldest and youngest of whom were dead. The survivors were William Henry and Helen Mar. Heber was the only one of his father’s household to embrace Mormonism. He was accompanied to Ohio by Brigham Young and his two little daughters, who were motherless. In Kirtland, as in Mendon, the families of Brigham and Heber were as one.

Both these men were enrolled in the little band of heroes, about two hundred strong, who in May, 1834, under the leadership of the Prophet, set out for Jackson County, Missouri, to reinstate the Saints in that section upon the lands from which they had been driven. The story of “Zion’s Camp” need not be told here. Suffice it that from the survivors of that historic organization the Twelve Apostles of tho Church were chosen, at Kirtland, February 14, 1835. Heber C. Kimball was one of them. He accompanied his quorum on their first mission, preaching and baptizing through the Eastern States and Canada, counseling the Saints to gather westward and collecting means for the completion of the Kirtland Temple and for other purposes.

In June, 1837, he was placed at the head of a mission to England—the first foreign mission of the Church—and accompanied by Orson Hyde, Willard Richards, Joseph Fielding, John Goodson, Isaac Russell and John Snyder, sailed from New York, July 1st, landing at Liverpool on the 20th—a month after Queen Victoria was enthroned. Three days later, at Preston, Apostle Kimball preached the first Mormon discourse ever heard in alien lands. The first foreign baptisms in the Church took place in the river Ribble at Preston, on the 30th day of the same month. These baptisms, nine in number, were performed by him. The first person baptized was George D. Watt, afterwards a prominent Elder in the Church. Having thus gained a foothold, the missionaries separated, Elders Richards and Goodson going to the city of Bedford, Isaac Russell and John Snyder to Alston in Cumberland, while Apostles Kimball and Hyde, with Joseph Fielding, remained in and around Preston. Under their united labors tho work spread rapidly. In eight months they converted and baptized about two thousand souls, most of them gathered into the fold through the powerful preaching and zealous exertions of the unlettered but magnetic Apostle, Heber C. Kimball. On April 20,1838, he with Apostle Hyde and Elder Russell embarked at Liverpool for home, leaving Joseph Fielding and Willard Richards, with William Clayton, (a new convert) to preside over the mission thus founded.

Our Apostle rejoined the main body of his people at Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, on July 25th of the same year. He passed with them through the fiery ordeal of the ensuing autumn and winter, maintaining his integrity without flinching, while a number of the most prominent Elders weakened and fell away. One of these, William E. McLellin, who had been an Apostle, came to gloat over his former brethren in chains, surrounded by the mob forces, and practically under sentence of death, on the public square at Far West. The apostate inquired for Heber C. Kimball, and having found him, sneeringly asked if he was now satisfied with the “fallen prophet,” meaning Joseph Smith. The undaunted Apostle replied,

“Yes, I am more satisfied with him a hundred fold than I ever was before, for I see you in the very position he said you would be in, if you did not forsake your lying, fornication, adultery and abominations—a Judas to betray your brethren.”

Having regained his liberty, Apostle Kimball visited the Prophet and others in prison, and assisted President Young to superintend the winter exodus of the Saints from Missouri. Ho was one of the party who on April 26, 1839, went back to Far West to fulfil the prediction made concerning them and their start from that place upon the second Apostolic mission to Europe.

It was September, however, when they left Nauvoo, Illinois, where the main body of the Saints wore settling. Heber and his friend Brigham were so sick they could hardly travel, and their families, loft behind, were ailing and almost destitute. But nobler women never lived than Vilate Murray Kimball and Mary Ann Angell Young. Heroically rising to the occasion—not for the first, nor for the last time—they urged their husbands to leave them, in order to honor the call made upon them and faithfully fulfil their mission.

The Apostles sailed from New York on the 9th of March and landed at-Liverpool on the 6th of April, 1840. After ordaining Willard Richards to the Apostleship, they spread out over Great Britain, preaching, baptizing, building up branches and organizing conferences. Their success was marvelous. The great London Conference was founded by Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith.

Heber returned to Nauvoo July 1st, 1841. About this time he accepted and obeyed the principle of plural marriage, taught to him by the Prophet Joseph, who also practiced it. His eldest daughter, Helen Mar Kimball, was sealed to the Prophet in that order. He took an active part in all leading events affecting the Church, performed various missions in the Eastern States, and was there with, most of the Apostles when Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered in Carthage jail.

In the trying scenes that ensued, beginning with Sidney Rigdon’s attempt to seize the leadership of tho Church, and eventuating in the Mormon exodus from Illinois, Heber C. Kimball stood stalwartly by Brigham Young, sustaining him as the Prophet’s rightful successor, and assisting him heart and hand in all tho arduous labors that followed. He left Nauvoo and joined the camp of the migrating Saints on Sugar Creek, Iowa, February 17, 1846. He helped President Young in the summer of that year to recruit the Mormon Battalion on the Missouri River, and accompanied him the next spring across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains as one of the Utah Pioneers. One of his wives, Ellen Sanders Kimball, came with him; the other two women in the company being the wives; respectively, of Brigham Young and his brother, Lorenzo D. Young.

At a Conference held at Winter Quarters, December 27, 1847, after the return of many of the Pioneers for their families, the First Presidency of the Church vacant since the death of the Prophet—was again organized, and Heber C. Kimball became first counselor to President Brigham Young; Willard Richards being the second counselor. Early in May, 1848 the First Presidency organized the main body of the Saints on the Elk Horn, preparatory to leading them to Salt Lake valley. They arrived here in September.

When the Provisional Government of Deseret was organized, Heber C. Kimball was elected Chief Justice, and was also Lieutenant-Governor of the State. At the October Conference of that year he introduced the subject of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, which was forthwith organized. At the legislative session in March, 1851 the State of Deseret still existing—he was president of the council branch of the assembly, and in September of the same year was president of the council in the first legislative assembly of the Territory of Utah. At the laying of the cornerstones of the Salt Lake Temple, April 6, 1853, he assisted President Young to lay the south-east corner stone, and offered thereon the prayer of consecration.

Mention has been made of President Kimball’s prophetic gift. His most famous prophecy is recorded in another volume of this history. It may here be condensed. The incident happened soon after his second arrival in “The Valley,’’ and during a season of famine, when the half-starved, half-clad settlers, isolated from the civilized world, “a thousand miles from anywhere,” were living on rations, eked out with wild roots dug from the earth or obtained from the Indians, scarcely knowing where to look for the next crust of bread or for rags to hide their nakedness. Under these circumstances Heber C. Kimball, in a public meeting, declared to his astonished hearers that within a very short time “States goods’’ would be sold in Salt Lake City cheaper than in St. Louis or New York. “I don’t believe a word of it,” said Charles C. Rich, voicing no doubt the opinion of nine-tenths of the congregation. “Well, I don’t believe it either,” said the Prophet Heber, with a characteristic smile, after he had sat down; “I am afraid I have missed it this time.’’

But the fulfilment came. Not many months after the delivery of the prophecy, the hunters began passing through Salt Lake valley on their way to California; an event entirely unanticipated by the Mormon settlers. fn order to lighten their loads and expedite progress to the gold fields, they sold at enormous sacrifice the valuable merchandise with which they had stored their wagons to cross the plains. Their choice, blooded, but now jaded stock they eagerly exchanged for the fresh mules and horses of the Pioneers, and bartered off dry goods, groceries, provisions, clothing, tools, etc., for the most primitive outfits, with barely enough provisions to enable them to reach their journey’s end. Thus was the prophecy fulfilled. Scores of such incidents might be recounted, and many are recounted in the author’s published life of Heber C. Kimball.

In the famine of 1856, this great and good man, as provident as he was prophetic, played a part like unto that of Joseph of old, feeding from his own bins and store-houses —filled by his foresight in anticipation of the straitness of the times—the hungry multitude. His own family—a numerous flock—were put upon short rations to enable him to administer more effectually to the wants of others. Many are the acts of benevolence related of President Kimball and his family, especially his noble and unselfish partner, Vilate, during this season of distress. They kept an open house, feeding many poor people at their table daily, besides making presents innumerable of bread, flour and other necessaries that were literally worth their weight in gold.

The fall and winter of the same year witnessed the strenuous and successful exertions of the First Presidency to rescue the survivors of the belated handcart companies, caught in the early snows along the Platte and Sweetwater. President Kimball sent two of his sons, William H. and David P. with the relief corps that went out to meet the immigrants, taking with them wagon loads of bedding and provisions for the sufferers. President Young and others did likewise. This prompt action on the part of the Church authorities saved hundreds of souls from sharing the fate of their unfortunate companions who had perished.

Preaching, colonizing, traveling through the settlements, encouraging the Saints in their toils and sacrifices, sitting in council with the Church leaders, ministering in sacred places, and in various other ways playing the part of a public benefactor—so wore away the remaining earthly years of President Kimball. His name was a household word wherever his people dwelt, and “Brother Heber’’ was everywhere honored and beloved. Even the Gentiles esteemed him, admiring his high courage and outspoken candor.

President Kimball was the father of a numerous posterity, mostly sons. The more notable of these are General William H. Kimball, his deceased brothers, David P. and Heber P.; his living brothers, Charles S. and Solomon F.; Jonathan G., one of the First Seven Presidents of Seventies; Joseph, ex-Bishop of Meadowville; Newel W., Bishop’s counselor at Logan; Andrew, President of St. Joseph Stake; and Elias S., ex-President of the Southern States Mission. Ihe best known of his daughters up to the time of her death, was Helen Mar Kimball Whitney; the most prominent one at present is Mrs. Alice Kimball Smith.

President Kimball died at his home in Salt Lake City, Juno 22, 1808; his death being superinduced by a severe fall sustained several weeks previously. The accident occurred at Provo, to which place—where lived his wife Lucy and her family—he had driven from Salt Lake alone, arriving in the night. Near his residence the wheels of his buggy went suddenly into a ditch throwing him over the forward wheels violently upon the ground, where he lay for some time stunned and helpless, before being discovered and assisted into the house. This mishap, though he partly recovered from its effects, was the forerunner of his fatal illness. He had predicted his own death at the funeral of his wife Vilato, eight months before, saying sadly as he followed the remains of his beloved partner to the tomb, “I shall not be long after her.’’

His death was mourned by the whole Church and by many outside its pale, all realizing that “a prince and a great man had fallen in Israel.”

President Young said at his funeral,

“He was a man of as much integrity, I presume, as any man who ever lived on the earth. I have been personally acquainted with him forty-three years, and I can testify that he has been a man of truth, a man of benevolence, a man that was to be trusted.  We can say of him all that can be said of any good man.”

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