The Wilson Story

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BIOGRAPHY OF JOHN TANNER

    The common ancestor of thousands of descendants that inhabit some 38 states of the union was John Tanner, son of Joshua and Thankful Tanner. He was born August 15, 1778, in the state of Rhode Island. At the age of thirteen years he moved with his parents to Greenwich, Washington County, New York, where his father, who had been a farmer, died. John took up the business of his father, settled his father’s estate and early in the year 1800 John married Tabitha Bentley, by whom he had one son, Elisha, born March 23, 1801. The mother died on the 9th day of April of the same year. Subsequently, John Tanner married Lydia Stuart, by whom he had twelve children, nine sons and three daughters. Lydia, the daughter of William and Amy (Hutton) Stuart, was said to have descended from the Stuart royal family of Scotland, and on her mother’s side from Miles Standish of Plymouth Colony. 

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    One evening in the year 1808, when he returned from his work, he found that two of his children had been bitten by his dog which had gone mad and he in his attempt to confine his dog was also bitten on the calf of the leg. Realizing immediately that he had no time to lose, he grasped a pair of sheep shears and cut out the affected parts and filled the wound with salt. He thus succeeded in saving his own life and was also successful in saving the lives of his children.

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    In the spring of 1818, John Tanner moved with his large family

to North West Bay, where a son and daughter were born. In 1823, he moved to the town of Bolton where in 1825 another son was born. In May of that year his wife Lydia Stuart died. He then married a third wife, Elizabeth Besswick, by whom he had six sons and two daughters. At this time at Bolton, notwithstanding his large family responsibilities, he had acquired wealth and had become a man of much influence and was extensively known and universally re- spected. His name was synonymous with benevolence, honesty and integrity.

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    In the mysterious dispensations of Providence, a terrible calamity overtook him in the form of a painful disease, which, according to the most consummate skill was incurable, indeed its character was unknown by the medical fraternity. His left leg from the thigh down was covered with black sores through which the muscles of the limb having formed into hollow pipes or tubes projected outward to the surface. From these tubes matter was continuously oozing.

    He employed seven of the most eminent physicians in the country but all their efforts were unavailing. The last one, Dr. Black, frankly told John Tanner that he could run up a bill for additional medical attendance, but, said he, “You are beyond the reach of medicine, and I can do you no good.”

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    For six months Mr. Tanner had neither let his diseased limb hang down nor his foot touch the floor. He was obliged to keep his leg at a right angle with his body and resting it on pillows placed on some object directly in front of him. Yet with all his bodily suffering his mind was active. Feeling he must soon die, Mr. Tanner sought opportunity for doing good. He had a vehicle so constructed that he could move himself from place to place without other assistance.

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    Early in September, 1832, notice was circulated in the community where he lived that two Latter-day Saint elders would preach on a certain evening at a specified place not far from Mr. Tanner’s residence. The announcement he hailed with delight. It afforded him an opportunity, he thought, of doing much good. He was con- versant with the Bible and felt himself amply qualified to discuss such heresy as he thought the Latter—day Saints were propounding in their efforts to spread Mormonism. Mr. Tanner also believed that he would confer a benefit upon his fellow men by showing up the falacies of the Mormon elders. When the hour for meeting arrived, he took his place in his wheel chair directly in front of the elders whom he sincerely believed were imposters. The elders to whom he listened were Simeon and Jared Carter. Long before their discourses were ended a wonderful change came over the mind of Mr. Tanner, and when they closed the evening services he invited them to his home. That evening a new light was shed on his conceptions of religious life and teachings. These men stopping at the home of Mr. Tanner engaged with him in conversation until the hour of eleven o’clock. He told the missionaries he was then ready to be baptized but that he would not be able to receive the ordinance'. They asked, “Why not?” He replied, “On account of my lameness.” He explained that he had not put his foot to the floor in the past six months and could not possibly do so.

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    Thereupon one of the elders wanted to know if he did not think there was power enough in the gospel of Jesus Christ anciently to heal all manner of diseases to which he replied m' the affirmative. The elder then wanted to know if Mr. Tanner did not think that the same cause produced the same effect in all ages and if there were not power enough in the gospel to heal him. To these suggestions Mr. Tanner replied that such a thought had not occurred to him but he believed the Lord could heal him. Whereupon, Elder Jared Carter then arose and commanded John Tanner in the name of Jesus Christ to arise and walk. “I arose, threw down my crutches, walked the floor back and forth, praised God, and felt as light as a feather” was the explanation of the event which Mr. Tanner gave of this marvelous power. That night he walked three-quarters of a mile to Lake George and was baptized by Simeon Carter. Walking back he gave thanks to God for his complete restoration to health.

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    As soon as the Word of Wisdom was made known to him, he quit the use of tobacco, tea, coffee and liquor and never touched them again throughout the remainder of his life.

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    In the spring of 1834, Mr. Tanner fitted out his two sons, John J. and Nathan, and sent them up to Kirtland, where they joined Zion’s Camp and went to Missouri with their team and wagon and a first-class outfit. A little later John Tanner fitted out seven families and sent them, some to Kirtland and some to Missouri.

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    In the fall of the same year, he sold his two large farms and twenty-two hundredacres of timber land preparatory to moving to Missouri the coming spring. About the middle of December, he received an impression by dream or vision of the night, that he was needed and must go immediately to the Church in the West. He told his family of instructions he had received and forthwith made preparations for the journey. While his neighbors regarded what they considered an insane purpose on his part they did their utmost to dissuade him, but he knew the will of God in the present crisis and nothing could deter him from what he considered his duty. On Christmas day he commenced his journey, a distance of 500 miles, with all his earthly effects and in the dead of winter, he reached Kirtland about the 20th day of January, 1835. On his arrival there, he learned that at the time he received the impression that he must move immediately to the body of the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith and some of the other brethren met in prayer meeting and asked the Lord to send them a brother or some brethren with means to assist them in lifting the mortgage on the farm upon which the temple was then building. On the second day of his arrival in. Kirtland, by invitation of the Prophet, John Tanner and his son Sidney met with the High Council, when he was informed that the mortgage on the temple block was about to be foreclosed. Thereupon, he loaned the Prophet $2,000.00, and took the Prophet’s note at interest. With this amount, the block or farm was redeemed. Mr. Tanner also loaned to the Temple Committee, Hyrum Smith, Reynolds Cahoon and Jared Carter, $13,000.00 in merchandise at the cost price in New York, and took their note for the merchandise. This amount and that loaned the Prophet were not included in his liberal donations to the building of the temple. He also signed a note with the Prophet Joseph Smith and others for $30,000 of goods, in which he had no pecuniary interest purchased in New York. His openheartedness was a very striking proof of his confidence in the Prophet and in the validity and importance of the work he had embraced.

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    When the temple was finished, he participated in the dedication, took part in the “Solemn Assembly,” and the glorious gifts and manifestations of that memorable occasion. In this first temple builded in this dispensation, John Tanner received his temple anoint- ings.

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    With his characteristic energy, he put forth his best efforts to assist the Prophet in sustaining the Kirtland Bank and received much of this bank’s paper but there was a Judas under the counter and the bank went down in spite of all their efforts. Those who had struggled hardest and invested most were naturally the greatest losers and Mr. Tanner was one of the foremost. He was now completely crippled financially. About this time outside pressure in the form of religious persecution became so unendurable that the Saints had to leave Kirtland and seek homes in the West. John Tanner, who had now become an elder in the Church, set out on a journey of 1,000 miles to Far West. He found himself not only destitute of means but also in debt; yet his courage and ability were equal to the emergency. Through the blessings of God he acquired one large fortune and he knew that God lived and that he was His servant.

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    Elder Tanner had a large family depending upon him and the long journey was before him. In April, 1838, his equippage for the journey consisted of a turnpike cart, a borrowed wagon, one horse of his own, three borrowed ones, twenty dollars in cash and a keg of powder. With this meager equipment, he started with his family, eleven children in all, for Missouri. When the money and powder were gone, his family was under the necessity of' appealing to the benevolence of inhabitants along the road for buttermilk and some other food to sustain life. He had two children, a son and a daughter, born to him in Kirtland. One of these, the daughter, died on this tedious journey. On his arrival in Missouri, he narrated, in conver- sation with a friend, his hardships and privations. In conclusion,  expression was characteristic of Elder Tanner’s resignation to his sacrifices. He had a happy faculty of acknowledging the hand of God 'in all things.

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    He arrived in Far West on the 3rd day of July, and there his sons went to work. He paid up his debts and had sufficient means on hand to meet the demands of the exigencies of life.

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    In the autumn of 1838, he and his son Myron went to a mill about nine miles from the town and when started for home the State militia, an organized mob, came upon them. The father told his boy Myron to run and take care of himself, which the boy did by crawling under a large pile of clearing brush. Here he was not discovered by the mob, which, however, came upon Elder Tanner and one of them snapped his gun at the fearless man and it refused to go off. He then took hold of the muzzle and struck Elder Tanner over the head with the breech of the gun, cutting a large, ugly gash. This blow would probably have killed him had it not been for his heavy felt hat, the double thickness of which saved his life. This attempt at murder was made by Captain Myer Odell.

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    Elder Tanner was taken prisoner and held for two or three days. He wore his bloody clothes and he refused to wash the blood from himself. He was allowed to keep his team and wagon. The mob allowed him to go on his word of honor to take a wounded man to his family. He returned to the custody of the mob and redeemed his word..

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    At this time the Prophet Joseph Smith was sentenced to be shot, but General Doniphan protested and withdrew his men. On the day when the execution was to take place, the Saints laid down their arms and some . 'of the prisoners, among whom was Elder Tanner, were released.

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    During this raid by the mob, Elder Tanner lost heavily, as quite a number of his stock were stolen. As soon as he was set at liberty, he began preparations to get his things together and leave the State in obedience to the gubernatorial order, and on the 3rd of March, 1839, he started with his family and his sons’ families for Illinois. He arrived in New Liberty about the first of April. Here he stopped for one year to recruit and during that time was much prospered in his efforts. About the middle of March, 1840, he again gathered his effects and moved within four miles of Montrose, Iowa, where his daughter Sariah was born July, 1840. Here he opened a large farm, plowed 250 acres and used about 200 acres for pasture. He enclosed this new farm by a good fence and continued to live there for six years. Here he was greatly prospered.

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    At the April conference in 1844, he was called on a mission to the Eastern States; before starting, he went to Nau'voo where he saw the Prophet Joseph. Meeting him on the street, Elder Tanner gave the Prophet Joseph his note of hand for the $2,000 loaned him in

Kirtland in January, 1835, for the purpose of redeeming the temple land. The Prophet asked him what he wanted done with the note. Elder Tanner replied, “Brother Joseph, you are welcome to it.” The Prophet then laid his hands heavily on Elder Tanner’s shoulders, saying, “God bless you, Father Tanner, your children shall never beg for bread.” Elder Tanner further aided in the building of the. Nauvoo temple and received his second anointing there.

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    In the spring of 1846, John Tanner sold his farm at a nominal price and set out upon his journey with the Saints to the Rocky Mountains. He thus left Nauvoo, the “City of Joseph,” and started about the middle of May so as to join the westward bound stream of Latter-day Saints in their memorable exodus from Illinois. He also paid the expenses for the removal of two families besides his own, to Council Bluffs.

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    On the 16th of July, two of his sons, Albert and Myron, went with the Mormon Battalion into Mexico to fight the battle of our country. On the herd grounds of the Saints at a point northwest of Winter Quarters, he herded the stock for the whole camp of Israel for three months.

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    In addition to the trials of his journeys and his losses and hard- ships in various forms, he was also tried by fire. About the middle of January, 1847, his house and three wagons with covers, used for sleeping rooms, supplies of provisions and groceries, and most of the family wearing apparel were destroyed by fire, nothing was saved but a portion of his bedding. His noble mind and persevering energies showed themselves superior to these misfortunes. In the spring he assisted in fitting out the pioneers to the Rocky Mountains. He also opened up another farm and raised a good crop.

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    In the summer of 1848, Elder Tanner had a thrilling adventure with Indians. The following account of this marvelous circumstance is from the journal of Jane Grover, afterwards Sister Stewart. She writes:

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    “One morning we thought we would go and gather gooseberries. Father Tanner (as we familiarly called the good, patriarchal John Tanner) harnessed a span of horses to a light wagon and with two sisters by the name of Lyman, his little granddaughter and me, started out. When we reached the woods we told the old gentleman to go to a house which was in sight and and rest while we picked the berries. It was not long before the little girl and I strayed some distance from the others, when we suddenly heard shouts. The little girl thought it was her grandfather, and she was going to answer, but I prevented her, thinking it might be Indians. We walked until within sight of Father Tanner, when we saw he was running his team around. ‘We thought nothing strange at first, but as we approached we saw Indians gathering around the wagon, whooping and yelling as others came and joined them. We got into the wagon to start, when four of the Indians took hold of the wagon, and twoothers held the horses by the bits, and another came to take me out of the wagon. I then began to be afraid as well as vexed, and asked Father Tanner to let me get out of the wagon and run for assistance. He said, ‘No poor child, it is too late! ’ I told him they should not take me alive. Father Tanner’s face was white as a sheet. The Indians commenced to strip him'. They had taken his watch and handkerchief, and while stripping him, were trying to pull me out of the wagon. I began silently praying to my Heavenly Father. While praying and strugglm'g, the Spirit of the Almighty fell upon me and I spoke with great power, and no tongue can tell my feelings. I was as happy as could be. A few moments before, I saw worse than death staring me in the face, and now my hand was raised by the power of God, and I talked with those Indians in their own language. They let go the horses and wagon, and stood in front of me while I talked to them of the power of God. They bowed their heads and answered yes in a way that made me know what they meant. Father Tanner and the little girl looked on in amazement. I realiz'ed our situation. Their calculation was to kill Father Tanner, burn the wagon, and take us women prisoners. This was plainly shown to me. When I stopped talking, they shook hands with all of us and returned all they had taken from Father Tanner, who gave them back the handkerchief, and I gave them berries and crackers. By this time the other women came up and we hastened home.

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    “The Lord gave me a portion of the interpretation of what I said which is as follows: ‘I suppose you Indian warriors think you are gom'g to klll' us. Don’t you know that the Great Spirit is watching you, and knows everything in your hearts? We have come out here to gather some of our Father’s fruit. We have not come to injure you; and if you harm us, or injure one hair of our heads, the Great Spirit will smite you to the earth, and you will not have power to breathe another breath. We have been driven from our homes and so have you. We have come out here to do you good and not to injure you. We are the Lord’s people and so are you, but you must cease your murders and wickedness. The Lord is displeased with it and will not prosper you if you continue it. You think you own all this’ land, this timber, this water and all these horses. You do not own one thing on earth, not even the air you breathe. It all belongs to the Great Spirit.’ ”

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    In the latter part of June, 1848, Elder Tanner fitted up five teams and wagons, and with 18 months’ provisions started for Salt Lake, celebrating the 4th of July on the Elk Horn between Wood River and Laramie. A six-year-old grandson fell from the tongue of a wagon loaded with about 3,500 pounds. both wheels of the wagon passed obliquely over his bowels and he died in twenty minutes. With the exception of this sad accident. the journey was prosperous and he arrived in Salt Lake Valley on the 13th of October, 1848, and located in South Cottonwood. In the autumn of 1849, he was afflicted with rheumatism which continued to increase until the first of January, 1850, when he was confined to his bed from this sickness. He suffered severely until the 13th day of April, when he died “The Death of the Righteous.” He was the father of twenty-one children and has left a reputation worthy of imitation by his numerous posterity and by the youth of Zion.

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This sketch was written by Nathan Tanner, Jr., son of Nathan Tanner, who was the son of John Tanner, the subject of this sketch.