When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred in 1844 many people later claimed to have witnessed what some called the “transfiguration” of Brigham Young into Joseph Smith. Among those making the claims are some rather high profile early members of the Church and members of the Westover family.
This much debated chapter of LDS history comes under fire from even some LDS scholars if only because written accounts of the event happened years after it occurred. They take issue with the fact that someone didn’t write it down when it happened.
In my mind there are questions for the doubters. For example: we don’t question the spiritual manifestations that occurred at Kirtland — and yet, no journal entries survive describing those very public events from the very time that they transpired.
Likewise we don’t question the statement of the Eight Witnesses or even the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon even though no independent record of the spiritual manifestations of those events exist either.
I have no trouble accepting the word of those who recorded the event even decades after it occurred. With the rare exception of Albert Smith, I can think of no one in our family history that recorded a daily journal that has survived all these years. Like people now, keeping journals was not something most did then. That they made a record of it later is no different that what we mostly do today and we have cell phones, iPads and all manner of technology surrounding us that makes instant record keeping possible.
Historians say that more than 80 people later claimed to have witnessed the event when Brigham Young addressed the gathered Saints for the first time after the Martyrdom when he took on both the likeness and the voice of Joseph Smith.
The last member of the family to make record of that event was Eliza Ann Haven Westover in 1918, in a letter to her son. Eliza was the wife of Charles Westover, brother to Edwin Ruthven Westover and son of Electa Beal Westover. Eliza was just 15 years old when the “mantle experience” occurred. This is what she said:
The question was a general one what shall we do without our prophet? I was then 15 years of age and we all felt so sad. I was at the meeting when Sidney Rigdon arose and declared himself our true prophet and leader. Very few responded to his declaration. I am happy to say that not one of my father’s family felt he was the right one.
Soon after Pres Brigham Young came home from the east where he had been on a mission. I was at the meeting when the mantle of Bro Joseph’s encircled him. When he spoke it was in Bro Joseph’s voice. I arose to my feet and said to my mother our prophet has come to life, Mother. We have Bro Joseph back for there he stood as plain as I ever saw him in life and his voice and features were truly those of our beloved prophet. Shortly a mist seemed to pass from Bro Brigham’s face and there stood Brother Young talking in his natural voice but we knew he was to be our leader. Hundreds witnessed the same thing but not all that were there had that privilege.
Talitha Cumi Garlick Cheney (1824-1902), my fourth great grandmother, was 19 years of age when she too saw Brigham Young change when he addressed the body of the gathered Saints. Here is her report:
I was in Nauvoo when Sidney Rigdon came from the east after brother Joseph and Hyrum were killed to take lead of the church. There were none of the twelve apostles at home but Brother Taylor and Brother Richards.
Brother Taylor had been badly wounded so Sidney Rigdon thought he would have things his own way but he was mistaken he called a meeting and said the church was old enough to choose a guardian for itself it had been fourteen years since it was organized but Brother Brigham and the rest of the apostles got there in time to be at the meeting.
After Rigdon sat down Brother Brigham got up and said all who want Brother Rigdon to lead them can have him but I tell you the keys of the kingdom are in the hands of the Twelve Apostles they are the ones to lead this people.
As soon as Brother Brigham got up to speak I said to myself that is the man to take the lead of this people. He looked just like Brother Joseph and spoke like him I said surely the mantle of the Prophet Joseph has fallen on Brother Brigham.
I never had a doubt. I knew Brother Brigham was the man to fill the place of our beloved prophet I knew Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and was the mouthpiece of God to the people and that brother Brigham was his lawful successor and a man of God.
James Chauncey Snow, my third great grandfather, often testified of this event. From Valiant in the Faith, we are told:
He [James C. Snow] was present at the meeting August 8, when Brigham Young spoke with great power, reminding the people that the Church was the Church of Jesus Christ. . . . All the powers of the Priesthood were vested in the Twelve until a new Presidency should be nominated by them through the spirit of revelation and sustained by the vote of the people. Both James and Warren [brothers] saw the mantle of Joseph fall upon Brigham Young as he spoke, an event of which they both often testified afterwards, and they were convinced that Brigham Young was to be their leader.
Critics of the Church and historians will debate this all for eternity. For me, our family connection to this event gives us serious reason to ponder. Of all the records left behind by these individuals we must take into account that steps were taken to make sure that we in our day know what they said they saw.
That should mean something to us.
Reference: Mantle of Joseph