David W. Patten, a man absolutely fearless in defending the restored gospel, became the first apostolic martyr of this dispensation when he was killed at the Battle of Crooked River in Missouri, 150 years ago on Oct. 25, 1838.
Records indicate that Patten was born in 1799 or 1800 in the village of Theresa near Indian River Falls, N.Y. From his early youth he exhibited a serious religious nature.For a time, however, he lost his zeal for religious things and, according to his biographer Lycugus Wilson, "became neglectful in conduct for about six years." In 1828, Patten married Phoebe Ann Babcock. Shortly afterward he again made a great effort to spiritually attune himself through prayer and scripture study.
In 1831, he saw his first copy of the Book of Mormon, but he did not take time to study it carefully.
A year later, Patten's elder brother, John, wrote him and said that he was now a member of Jesus Christ's restored Church. David was extremely excited at the news and hurried to John's home in Fairplay, Ind. There John taught David the gospel and baptized him on June 15, 1832. Two days later David was ordained an elder by Elisha R. Groves. Then he and another recent convert, Joseph Woods, set out on a mission to the Michigan territory.
Patten's harvest of souls was remarkable. On his first missionary venture he baptized 16 persons. Later, in Orleans, N.Y., he raised up a branch comprised of 18 persons, and in nearby Henderson he baptized eight more. On May 20, 1833, many of his family were baptized including his mother, a sister, two brothers and two brothers-in-law. (His father had died in 1832 and his wife had apparently joined the Church shortly after David did.)
Patten was blessed with two great abilities. First, he was able to preach the gospel with plainness and conviction. Second, he had the gift of healing to a remarkable degree. His healing gift was so pervasive that Abraham Smoot and Wilford Woodruff both declared they never knew of an instance in which David's petition for the sick was not answered.
While Patten was generally a quiet, well-mannered man, he would not tolerate anyone who made fun of the gospel. Once when the 6-foot, 1-inch, 200-pound missionary was preaching to a gathering in Avon, Ohio, a heckler began calling out irreverent suggestions and asking for signs. Patten told the man to be quiet or he would have to eject him from the meeting. The burly malcontent continued his harassment. Finally, Patten went over to the man, picked him up bodily, carried him to the door and threw him about 10 feet onto a woodpile. From that incident the humorous saying went abroad: "David Patten cast out one devil soul and body."
Though he had a great gift for healing others, Patten was at times quite ill and the ministrations of others brought no relief. On one occasion he was very sick for seven weeks at his home in Florence, Ohio. But he continued to press forward in spite of his illness. Though he was still weak and feverish, he went out to preach again.
Later, in company with William D. Pratt, he made the 1,000-mile trek to Missouri in the winter, arriving in Clay County on March 4, 1834. There he fearlessly defended the Church against the anti-Mormon element. On one occasion a violent persecutor stepped up to Patten with a drawn bowie knife and threatened to cut his throat. Patten looked him in the face and calmly said, "My friend, do nothing rashly." The craven mobber, mistaking Patten's simultaneous movement of his hand to his left breast pocket as a move toward a hidden gun shouted, "Don't shoot!" He quickly pulled back his knife, sheathed it and beat a hasty retreat, leaving the unarmed Patten unharmed.
After filling a mission to Tennessee (where he and his brother-in-law Warren Parrish baptized 20 people in three months), Patten returned to Kirtland, Ohio. On Feb. 15, 1835, he was ordained one of the original Twelve Apostles in this dispensation, under the hands of Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris, the three Book of Mormon witnesses.
The apostle had many experiences that were rich and spiritually rewarding. Lorenzo Snow credited his conversion to the gospel to David Patten, though he met him only once. Wrote President Snow: "We traveled together on horseback from my father's home at Mantua, Ohio, to Kirtland, a distance of perhaps 25 miles, he on his return from some missionary labor, I to commence a course of studies at Oberlin College."
Though first inclined to reject Patten's claims "especially (because) they were not always clothed in grammatical language," the future president of the Church later came around. Patten "proceeded in his earnest and humble way to open up before my mind the plan of salvation, (and) I seemed unable to resist the knowledge that he was a man of God and that his testimony was true."
When Elder Patten returned to Kirtland in 1837, he was dumbfounded to find the city in the throes of apostasy. Warren Parrish, his brother-in-law and fond associate, was a ringleader in that uprising and Parrish labored mightily to draw the apostle away from the Church. Patten held firm, however, and was sent to Missouri to preside jointly with Elder Thomas B. Marsh over the Church there until Joseph Smith arrived.
Mob action intensified. On Oct. 24, 1838, news came to Far West, Mo., that a band of followers was burning and pillaging Latter-day Saint homes in the surrounding area. Elder Patten, who was also a militia captain, led about 75 men to engage the mobbers. He did not fear death. In fact, some time earlier he had confided to Joseph Smith and Wilford Woodruff that he wanted to die the death of a martyr. Elder Woodruff later reported that Joseph was greatly moved and expressed extreme sorrow at David's request, "For," he said to Patten, "when a man of your faith asks the Lord for anything, he generally gets it."
The battle of Crooked River ensued. Though Elder Patten lost several men, his troops forced the mob to retreat. But, as Joseph Smith later reported, "In the pursuit, one of the mob fled from behind a tree, wheeled, and shot Captain Patten, who instantly fell, mortally wounded, having received a large ball in his bowels."
His men moved him from the battle field as gently as possible but even slight movement caused Elder Patten such anguish that he begged to be left by the wayside. His troops could not bring themselves to abandon him and they finally made their way to the home of a Brother Winchester, some three miles from Far West. There the dying man was joined by his grieving wife.
As his life ebbed away, the apostle turned to his wife and implored her: "Whatever you do else, do not deny the faith." A short time later, he died peacefully.
On Saturday, Oct. 27, 1838, Joseph Smith wrote: "Brother Patten was buried this day at Far West, and before the funeral I called at Brother Patten's house, and while meditating on the scene before me . . . I could not help pointing to his lifeless body and testifying, `There lies a man that has done just what he said he would - he has laid down his life for his friends.' "
David Patten was taken to the Lord, a fact verified by revelation. The Lord urged Lyman Wight, via a revelation through Joseph Smith, to be faithful to the end. If he would do that, the Lord promised to " . . . receive him unto myself, even as I did my servant David Patten, who is with me at this time. . . . " (D&C 124:19)
-Calvin N. Smith is professor of speech-communications at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill., and gospel doctrine teacher in Mattoon Ward, Champaign Illinois Stake.
1. Joseph Smith, History of the Church III, pp.170-175.
2. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, I, pp. 76-80.
3. Lycurgus A. Wilson, The Life of David W. Patten.