clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ancestors set example

An experience of my great-great grandfather provides a perspective on the debate over whether churches, schools and other institutions are appropriate places for carrying concealed weapons.

On the basis of his hunting skills and ability, Lewis Barney could have been a likely candidate for NRA membership today. As a member of the first Mormon party to emigrate to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, his hunting abilities were widely recognized and in great demand. He was chosen by Heber C. Kimball to be President Kimball's hunter on the trek, and Barney's journal recalls a hunting contest between himself and Porter Rockwell, which was prompted by trek participants who saw them as the two best hunters on the journey. When they arrived in the valley in July 1847, Lewis was one of 10 men assigned to hunting duties for the entire pioneer group.Barney converted to Mormonism in 1840 in Iowa. The members of his small Mormon branch wanted to sell their land and move to Nauvoo to be closer to the prophet.

The community was in such an uproar that the Mormons had been forbidden to hold any meetings. Alva Tippets called a Council of the Elders. They agreed to hold a meeting the next day at noon.

Meeting time arrived with a full house. As soon as Benjamin Leyland rose to speak someone called out that the mob was coming. Barney reports that perhaps 40 men, armed with "clubs, bowie knives and pistols" appeared at the church swearing, cursing Joseph Smith and Mormons in general and brandishing their weapons in the air. Women, children and men ran crying and screaming out the back door as the mob came in the front door. Alva Tippets and Lewis Barney were left to face the mob.

Barney jumped up on one of the benches and addressed the mob: "Gentlemen," he said, "don't be excited. I am an American citizen and presume you also are American citizens, and we enjoy the liberty and rights and privileges that our Fathers fought for in the Revolutionary War and many of them laid down their lives to secure to us the privilege we now enjoy of living on our farms and pleasant homes unmolested."

Barney noted his ancestors who had fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. He bore his witness of the Bible, of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost and asked the men in the church if they would have any objections to the Mormons holding a prayer meeting that evening. He promised that "as far as the Mormons are concerned, you will never be disturbed in the enjoyment of your homes and your rights and privileges and after our meeting we will return to our homes."

The church was packed for the prayer meeting that night, and the audience included both Mormons and mob members. Men and women spoke, sharing testimonies, speaking in tongues and prophesying. Lewis Barney spoke. He reports: "The meeting dismissed. The best of feeling enjoyed by all both Saints and Mob. The next day went home. Having restored peace in that Neighborhood for the time present."

My great-great grandfather was a skilled shooter and hunter. He used his expertise with guns to survive, to feed his family and his Mormon companions on the trek and in the valley. But face to face with armed and angry enemies, in his own church, he didn't resort to the use of the weapons he knew so well, and it is not clear he even carried a weapon. Standing in a house of worship, Lewis Barney knew how to rely upon his real source of strength.

Joel K. Briscoe

Salt Lake City