Morrisite Tidbits

Here are a few factoids relating to those wacky Morrisites:

 

-The character Euchrid in Nick Cave's southern gothic novel "And the Ass Saw the Angel" is based on Joseph Morris.

 

-Former Morrisites settled the Idaho town of Soda Springs in 1863. They didn't last long. They quickly abandoned the settlement, where its current descendants moved in.

 

-The cannon that sits in front of the old Farmington Courthouse bears a plaque claiming it was used during the Morrisite War. Farmington Historian Theda Judd produced evidence that the cannon is not the one used during the battle.

 

-Utah Territorial Governor Stephen Harding made the following claims in Bill Hickman's Brigham's Destroying Angel: "Early in 1862 the Morrisites left the Mormon settlements and "gathered in the name of the Lord" on the banks of Weber River, some forty miles north of the city. They took all their movable property with them, including a large amount of grain. Various charges were made against them, and legal executions followed... Morris was pointed out, when Burton rode up to him and emptied one chamber of his revolver, the shot taking effect in the prophet's neck. He sank to the earth, mortally wounded. Burton then shouted sneeringly: "There's your prophet--what do you think of him now?" He then turned and discharged a second shot at Joseph Banks, who fell dead. A woman named Bowman ran up and exclaimed: "Oh! you cruel murderer:" Burton fired his third shot, and she fell dead. Morris was meanwhile struggling in the agonies of death, when a Danish woman raised him in her arms, crying bitterly. Burton rode upon her and shot her through the heart, and the spirits of the two victims mingled in one company to that bourne "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are forever at rest."

 

- The Spirit Prevails by Joseph Morris is, at 668 pages, the longest collection of Mormon-based revelations ever published. One copy resides in the Weber State University special collections. Another copy is available from Ken Sanders Rare Books for $5,000.

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The Morrisite War: Part Two

Praying Joe and the Siege of Kingston Fort

 

 

The Mad Prophet of South Weber

Joseph Morris knew trouble was on its way. He had known for a long time. Heavenly Father sent him revelations detailing the holy war that would vault his religion to dominance and set the ungodly world on a righteous path. His break from the Mormon Church over the shameful practice of polygamy, among other things, didn't exactly endear him to the powers in Utah.

That old fraud Brigham Young, usurper of Joseph Smith's inspired vision, wouldn't sit peacefully on his throne at the head of the LDS church and let Morris preach the true gospel. Oh no, he wouldn't.

Praying Joe had enemies. He knew it all too well. Those in control of the LDS Church, those apostates that had deserted the true faith, and those living around him that just didn't cotton to revealed word of God as preached by Joseph Morris.

Realizing that a war was coming, Morris began packing the Morrisites into Kingston Fort in South Weber. He ordered his flock to seal holes in the crumbling walls of the abandoned fort. Morris and about five hundred of his followers hunkered down and waited.

He wasn't wrong. A posse under Marshal Robert T. Burton was winding its way towards South Weber. It had left Salt Lake City with five hundred armed men and on its march through Davis County kept gathering volunteers itching to get at the mad prophet in Uintah Valley. This rolling army even sported artillery: A legion of Satan ready to drop the hammer on the one true faith.

Burton and crew were on their way to free two apostates that Joseph Morris held captive. The Morrisites had refused to release the two men, who swiped a wagonload of grain, disobeying a federal judge's edict.

Praying Joe wasn't worried. Christ would save them. It had been divinely revealed to him that the Second Coming was imminent. Just 'cause Christ hadn't showed up before on dates that Morris had predicted didn't worry him. Surely, this time Jesus would appear and smite the wrathful host advancing on Kingston Fort. After all, Heavenly Father was on Joseph's side.

The Philistines Are Here

On Friday June 13, 1862, the posse arrived. They positioned themselves on bluffs looking down into Kingston Fort and prepared for battle. Burton was a faithful Mormon, loyal to Brigham Young. A territorial marshal and colonel in the territorial militia, Burton had done well for himself under the auspices of Mormon rule in Utah.

Many have theorized Burton acted as a lackey for Brigham Young. Though the upstart religion was a poisonous thorn in the side of the LDS President, there is no documentation that brother Brigham ordered the attack on the Morrisites.

Burton's boss, Territorial Marshal Henry Lawrence was of the view that an armed conflict with the religious cult holed up in South Weber was a major league boo boo. He bolted Utah rather than participate. Burton, on the other hand, possessed an uncommon zeal for his mission.

He had a thousand men looking down on Joseph Morris and company. He vowed to free the two prisoners, arrest the Morrisite leaders or blast the heathens clean out of Zion trying.

One can imagine the Morrisite reaction to this gun and artillery toting militia that occupied the high country surrounding them. Terror was the order of the day.

A rider from the posse arrived at the camp with an ultimatum from Burton. The Morrisites had just thirty minutes to surrender or there would be trouble.

Though the Morrisites were armed, their weaponry was of a sparse and ancient nature. It would take a miracle to save them from the posse, which possessed modern rifles and artillery.

Morris retired forthwith to pray up a miracle that would help him defeat this overwhelming host. He was not disappointed. He emerged from his supplication with yet another revelation.

"The enemies shall go so far, and then I will stop them they have almost gone far enough--I will stop them at the right time," Heavenly Father assured Morris.

Morris gathered his flock to spread the good news. Divine intervention would crush the posse. There was nothing to worry about. Really.

The Morrisite War Begins

Morris' lieutenant Richard Cook assured the gathering that Heavenly Father would never allow anything bad to happen to his true believers. His remark was punctuated by a blast from the hill. A cannonball careened into the Morrisites, killing two women and ripping the jaw off a third.

So much for divine protection. The thirty minutes, along with an hour-and-a-half to grow on, had expired. The Morrisite War was on in earnest.

Chaos reigned at Fort Kingston. The flock scattered. Cook ordered people to rush into their abodes and defend themselves as best they could. The few armed Morrisites manned the walls with their pathetic weapons and prepared to repel invaders.

Morris assured his cowering flock that Jesus was on his way. The cannon thing was only a minor set back.

So that is how it went for two days; the Morrisites clutching their dated weapons waiting for the Second Coming. Cannon and rifle fire from the posse intermittently razed the camp. To add to the gloom it rained both days and Jesus stubbornly refused to show up. Definitely not one of Praying Joe's better weekends.

Despite the inclement weather, sightseers from Ogden gathered on the north hill overlooking Kingston Fort. They wanted to get a gander at the war that had plopped down on their doorstep. As they gawked, Burton continued to harass the beleaguered Morrisites with artillery and rifle.

For some reason he never charged the poorly manned fort during the first two days. Maybe, as a former military man, he had a healthy respect for men with guns protected by embattlement walls. Morrisite gunfire already killed two of his posse and maybe he didn't want anymore to die in such a siege.

On Sunday the weather finally broke. It was a glorious morning, sunny and clear. If ever there was a time for the Second Coming this was the day.

The siege entered its third and final day.

The Morrisites felt hopeful. The infernal artillery barrage had stopped. Apparently the posse had exhausted their supply of cannonball during the previous days of battle. Now all they needed was Christ to make his appearance and blast the infidel hoard to smithereens.

By the afternoon, Burton had lost patience. Yells and rifle fire interrupted the quite. The Morrisites peered from their defenses and were greeted by an alarming site.   A wagonload of riflemen rolled towards the encampment pushed along by a gaggle of foot soldiers.

The writing was on the wall. Jesus wasn't going to save their bacon. The Morrisites raised the white flag.

Something Less than a Bloodless Win

Flush from victory, Burton rode into Fort Kingston at the head of a contingent from his posse. He intended to arrest Joseph Morris and was boiling mad about the Morrisites' resistance to his lawful edict.

Blood was spilled in the moments following his arrival. What caused this bloodshed is the subject of much dispute.

This much is known; Joseph Morris was felled by a gun blast from Burton. John Banks and two women were also killed during the altercation.

How the business end of Burton's revolver found Morris depends on who is telling the story.

Morrisite follower Alexander Dow put forth the Morrisite side of Praying Joe's death:

"The Morrisites had surrendered, a white flag was flying, and the arms were all grounded and guarded by a large number of the posse. Robert T. Burton and Judson L. Stoddard rode in among the Morrisites. Burton was much excited. He said, 'Where is the man? I don't know him.' Stoddard replied, 'That's him,' pointing to Morris. Burton rode his horse upon Morris, and commanded him to give himself up, in the name of the Lord. Morris replied 'No, never, never!' Morris said he wanted to speak to the people. Burton said, 'Be damned quick about it.' Morris said, 'Brethren, I've taught you true principles.' He had scarcely got the words out of his mouth before Burton fired his revolver. The ball passed in his neck or shoulder. Burton exclaimed: 'There's your prophet.' He fired again, saying: 'What do you think of your prophet now?'"

"Burton then turned suddenly and shot Banks, who was standing five or six paces distant. Banks fell. Mrs. Bowman, wife of James Bowman, came running up crying, 'Oh! You blood-thirsty wretch.' Burton said, 'No one shall tell me that and live,' and shot her dead. A Danish woman then came running up to Morris, crying, and Burton shot her dead also. Burton could easily have taken Morris and Banks prisoners, if he had tried. I was standing but a few feet from Burton all this time."

Definitely not what modern cops would call a righteous shooting. Dow makes Burton out to be a murderous bastard.

Burton's own account of the shooting casts him in a somewhat better light. Surprise, surprise.

According to his own account, Burton told the defeated Morrisites that he intended to arrest any of the idiots that had dared armed resistance against his duly appointed posse. He then foolishly allowed Morris to speak to the assembled Morrisites, possibly in hopes the infidel leader would council peaceful capitulation. Burton did not know Praying Joe very well.

  Morris ordered his followers to pick up arms and fall upon their captors. The crowd charged towards their weapons. Being a peaceable man, Burton demanded that Morris stop his rebellious actions. When he refused Burton had no choice but to shoot the varmint, twice. Other posse members presumably gunned down Banks and the two women. Order was restored and all was right with the world.

"I did not see any women when I fired at Morris, and shot only at him," Burton said. "No woman addressed me, nor did I see one. Every shot I fired was aimed at Mr. Morris."

Whatever transpired, the Morrisites freaked. Men, Women and children bolted in a mad dash to escape the posse. Armageddon had come with no Jesus in sight. Burton restored order by threatening the distraught Morrisites with a cannon.

He arrested 90 malefactors and marched them, like Caesar at the head of the Gauls, back to Salt Lake City. The Morrisite War was over.

Life After Praying Joe

Fall out from the battle in South Weber continued for several years. In March 1963 seven Morrisites were convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of the two posse members. They were sentenced to five to fifteen years in prison. Territorial Governor Steven Harding would later pardon the seven

One hundred dollar fines were handed to sixty-six others for resisting arrest. Justice had been meted out in Zion. There were no more mad prophets wandering the wilds of Utah disrupting the peace. All was back to normal.  

The Morrisites headed to more hospitable climes. Many tried to hold on to Praying Joe's vision. But without his revelations and wild enthusiasm, his followers slowly began to disband.

An uproar concerning the Morrisites' treatment by the posse would come back to haunt Robert T. Burton. In the 1870s anti-Mormon sentiment swept the nation, fueled by several salacious "exposes" including the incendiary Brigham's Destroying Angel by Bill Hickman. In a bid for statehood, Mormons were trying to clean house and put on a more palatable face for the rest of the nation.

In 1879 the government tried Burton for the murder of Bella Bowman, one of the women killed during the final chaotic moments of the Morrisite War. The trial lasted two weeks. Burton was acquitted.

The incredible vision of Joseph Morris had its last gasp in the 1880s when George S. Dove, a loyal follower living in San Francisco, published several works praising Morrisite doctrine. Among those works was The Spirit Prevails, a collection of Morris' revelations. A copy of this book resides in the Weber State University Library special collections

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