This city is perhaps best remembered in the Latter-day as the location where Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were jailed in the winter of 1839 and where, in that jail, the revelations now recorded as Sections 121-123 of the Doctrine and Covenants were received. But it has other significance in Church history as well. Among other things, it is the final resting place of two members of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
Today, a granite monument on Campbell Road near the graves of those two witnesses, Christian and Peter Whitmer, honors the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
Dedicated Nov. 19 by Elder Donald D. Deshler, an Area Seventy, the monument is similar in appearance to the 100-year-old Three Witnesses Monument in Richmond (please see accompanying article in this issue about a commemorative service the same day in Richmond.)
As with the Three Witnesses, the testimony of these eight men appears in each copy of the Book of Mormon, declaring that they saw and hefted the Book of Mormon plates. Like the Three Witnesses, none of the eight ever denied his experience, though some became disaffected from the Church.
“What a wonderful day this has been,” said Elder Deshler, who had presided a few hours earlier in Richmond for the commemoration of the Three Witnesses Monument. “It’s been a day in which we have spoken about witnesses, and by virtue of the calling that I have in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I want to witness to you that all of our work today and the things that have led up to today have pointed to the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Savior.”
Located on Campbell Road about 3 1/2 miles south of Liberty, the new monument is on a farm that once belonged to prominent citizen Michael Arthur. He was an 1830s sympathizer of the Latter-day Saints, which drew for him the derisive label of “jack-Mormon” from mobbers who persecuted the Church members.
In remarks to the congregation, Alex Baugh, BYU professor of Church History and Doctrine, said Mr. Arthur purchased the 160-acre property in 1827, just a few years before the arrival of the Mormons. When they were expelled from Jackson County in November 1833, they came north to toward Liberty in Clay County and sought work in the area. Mr. Arthur was one of those who opened their hearts, homes and property to the Saints, Brother Baugh said.
“Michael Arthur employed a number of Mormons and they actually lived on his property,” he said. They included John and Christian Whitmer and Lyman Wight. In fact, Mr. Arthur contracted with Brother Wight to make 100,000 bricks for his home, and future Church President Wilford Woodruff, following the march of Zion’s Camp, stayed on the farm and helped make the bricks and build the house, Brother Baugh said.
“Significantly, the Arthur property appears to be the place where Mormon leaders came from throughout the region to hold council meetings and conferences during these years [of 1834-36],” he said, adding, “This is kind of the Church headquarters in Missouri, this property right here.”
In fact, he said, Joseph Smith officially discharged Zion’s Camp from that location. There, also, Joseph organized the Missouri presidency, with David Whitmer as president and W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer as counselors.
When Book of Mormon witness Christian Whitmer, a member of the high council in Missouri, died in 1835, he was buried on the Arthur property. Ten months later, Peter Whitmer Jr. died just as the Saints were leaving to go to Caldwell County. He was laid to rest on the Arthur farm beside his brother and fellow Book of Mormon witness, Brother Baugh recounted.
“We honor this spot as two of the Eight Witnesses are buried here and an appropriate place for this Eight Witnesses Monument,” he said.
He identified the burial locations of the six other witnesses as follows: Jacob Whitmer in the city cemetery at Richmond; John Whitmer in Kingston, Mo.; Hiram Page (a brother-in-law to the Whitmers) just east of Excelsior Springs, Mo.; and Joseph Smith’s father and brothers — Joseph Sr., Hyrum and Samuel — at the family homestead in Nauvoo, Ill. Thus, five of the eight witnesses are buried in western Missouri.
Brother Baugh mentioned that the granite that composes the new monument came from the same quarry in Barre, Vt., where the granite was obtained to construct the Three Witnesses Monument a century ago as well as the Joseph Smith Memorial near Sharon, Vt.
Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant Church historian, said Junius F. Wells, who erected the Three Witnesses Monument in Richmond and the Joseph Smith Memorial in Vermont, went on to erect other monuments, including one to Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses, at his burial site in Utah.
“It may, with good sense, be asked, ‘Why do we build such monuments?’ ” he said. “It is to remember important events in the history of the Church, events in God’s ongoing relationship with His children.”
God’s people are commanded to keep records, and those include not just books and manuscripts “but also art, artifacts and historic sites like this one.”
“The tradition of creating monuments and sacred places goes back almost to the beginning of the Bible,” Brother Turley noted, citing references in Genesis and Joshua.
He said he has been on every continent except Antarctica and has seen monuments around the world commemorating events of Church history.
“The purpose for which we erect this monument is ‘to remember the great things the Lord has done for His children,’ and that phrase appears again and again in the Book of Mormon,” Brother Turley observed. “It appears there because the Book of Mormon tells us that having monuments like this and recording the information about the history of the Church helps to build faith and pass it on from generation to generation.”
Also addressing the congregation was Michael Kennedy Jr., a direct descendant of the Prophet Joseph Smith. “My parents were found by the missionaries in Tonopah, Nev., and my dad got the Melchizedek Priesthood,” he said, testifying of the importance of temple sealings.