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CRISIS AT KIRTLAND
Murderous Threats and Plots, 1835-1837
by Dale R. Broadhurst
---( March 2001 )---
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MURDEROUS THREATS & PLOTS
Section 6: Information Regarding
Elder Solomon W. Denton
SOLOMON WILBUR DENTONSolomon "Wilbur" Denton (1816-1864) was an LDS convert from Huron Co., Ohio. According to his own statement he first encountered Mormonism while visting New York State in 1830, at about age sixteen. Denton became a Mormon the next year and apparently lived in Jackson county, Missouri until about the time of the Mormon expulsion from that place in November 1833. He then came to live with the Joseph Smith, Jr. family in Kirtland at the end of 1833 and probably remained with them until his marriage in July 1835, at least he says that in "April or May, 1835, he lived with Smith. During this period Denton had ample time to become well acquainted with the Mormon leader. He occasionally acted as an armed guard at Joseph Smith, Jr.'s house, and he accompanied Smith, as a loyal member of the Zion's Camp military expedition, to Missouri in 1834. After returning to Kirtland from that failed campaign, Denton was "engaged in the printing business carried on by Davis, Rigdon, Cowdery and Smith." Marvel C. Davis' participation in managing the Church's Messenger & Advocate printing office is not elsewhere attested. Denton was probably employed as an apprentice printer in that same printing office as early as its establishment early in 1834 and he may have worked from Phelps and Cowdery at the same trade when he lived in Jackson county, Missouri.
Denton's Role in the 1835 Murder Conspiracy
According to Denton's sworn statement, he was solicited, through Davis, by Smith to murder Mentor resident Grandison Newell during the first half of 1835 but he and Davis did not succeed in that task. According to Sidney Rigdon, he and Joseph Smith, Jr. knew of the failed murder plans of Davis and Denton, but maintained fellowship with them, because the Church leaders "supposed they had desisted from their evil course." There is no record of Solomon W. Denton having been disciplined by the Church during 1836 for his role in the murder plot. The senior partner in the scheme, LDS Seventy Marvel C. Davis, became separated from the Church during the second half of 1835, perhaps in consequence of his role in the conspiracy. He was not received back into the Church until Jan. 3, 1836.
During the remaining months of 1835 Denton continued to work as a printer under the supervision of the Mormon President's brother, Don Carlos Smith, and Oliver Cowdery in the Church's printing business. At times those in authority over him resorted to calling in Joseph Smith, Jr. to reprimand Denton for "not obeying" what he considered to be their "unjust and tyrannical requirements." At that time Denton probably served the Church in the office of Priest. During the first weeks of 1836 he was ordained an Elder, or, at least the church newspaper says that Soloman W. Denton's Elder's license was "recorded" during the first quarter of that year. Perhaps Denton was ordained at the time of the Kirtland Temple dedication of March 27, 1836, for he testified of having seen "a great vision, during the time of the washings and anointings" associated with the event. The singing of the choir during that dedication was led by Denton's old partner in the murder plot, Marvel C. Davis. After receiving his license Denton took a break from the printing business to accompany his supervisor, Don Carlos Smith, on a mission to Pennsylvania and New York State. This mission took him away from Kirtland between about the first of April and the last of July of 1836.
Ebenezer Robinson, Denton's co-worker in the Church printing office, records the fact that Soloman W. Denton was a member of the High Priests Quorum at Kirtland, but does not say when he became a member; probably Denton was ordained to that office during the last months of 1836.
Denton's Alienation from Joseph Smith
By the end of 1836 Denton had likely partaken of the independent spirit evinced by prominent disaffected Mormons at Kirtland, such as President Frederick G. Williams, Apostle Parley P. Pratt, Apostle Orson Hyde, Apostle John F. Boynton, Apostle Luke S. Johnson, Apostle Lyman E. Johnson, Apostle William McLellin, High Priest Warren Parrish, High Priest David Whitmer, High Priest Oliver Cowdery, Elder Martin Harris, Elder Warren Cowdery, Elder Roger Orton, Elder Leonard Rich, Elder Sylvester Smith, Elder Cyrus Smalling, etc. Ebenezer Robinson, says that "S. Wilbur Denton, printer, a high priest" was numbered among those who "objected to the course being pursued by Brother Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Church."In February, 1837 Denton published an open letter to the young men of Kirtland in the Church newspaper, calling upon all to engage in "extending the operations of our own minds, and in acquiring that intelligence which can alone fit us for acting with honor to ourselves..." It is unlikely that his promoting intellectualism and personal freedom of thought made a good impression upon the top Church leaders during those days of waning trustworthiness and increasing critical thought among a goodly portion of Smith's old followers.
Early in 1837 Denton was evidently accused by Smith loyalists of planning to waylay and murder Joseph Smith, Jr., with a set of pistols, at the time when Smith returned to Kirtland from Monroe Michigan. Smith's return was shortly before Feb. 19, so perhaps it was a day or two before that Brigham Young intercepted Joseph and Hyrum Smith on the road leading to Kirtland. Joseph's brother, William Smith, sat in the stagecoach in Joseph's place. If Denton were to attempt the murder the worst he might do was to kill and Apostle who resembled the Church President from a distance. But the three Smith brothers reached Kirtland without incident. It is doubtful that Solomon W. Denton was hiding along the roadside, preparing to assassinate the top leader of the Mormons.
According to Hyrum Smith he and Joseph arrived in town, found Denton in the Kirtland Bank, and confronted the LDS High Priest with the accusation that he was trying to murder Joseph Smith. Denton declared, in response, that the accusation "was an absolute falsehood: a lie as black as the depths of hell." At about this same time the Smith brothers heard that Denton "would swear" in some future prosecution of Joseph Smith, Jr., that "the defendant had threatened to destroy Mr. Newell." It is unclear whether the Smith brothers also confronted Denton with this allegation when they questioned him in the bank.
According to Bishop Whitney a "meeting" was held to investigate the accusations made against Solomon W. Denton. Whitney (and no doubt several other attendees) came away from that conclave convinced of Denton's guilt. The "meeting" was likely a late February session of the High Priests' Quorum, presided over by Don Carlos Smith. If so, Denton may have shown his "contempt of the quorum" by not appearing at what must have been essentially a Church court trial examining his loyality to the Mormon leadership.
Weeks later a letter written by Grandison Newell was published in the local paper, saying that two Mormons "under the express direction of their prophet" came to his house "with loaded rifles, and pistols, with a determination to kill me..." Although Denton's name was not printed in that article, Mormon leaders understood that he would be one of those two assassination conspirators pointed out by Newell. Perhaps as early as his return from Michigan, Joseph Smith was anticipating that he would be prosecuted in this matter and had heard that Denton was prepared testify against him in court. Hyrum Smith's statement seems to indicate this. Whether it was in the Kirtland Bank, just after the return of the Smith brothers, or perhaps shortly thereafter, Denton says that Joseph Smith met with him and pressed upon him "the necessity of favoring him and the [Mormon] society" in the upcoming court trial.
Excommunication of Solomon W. Denton
This meeting recalled by Whitney probably took place in late February or early March. Shortly afterwards, Denton was excommunicated for "lack of faith, non-observance of duties, and contempt of the quorum of High Priests." The probable sequence of events was: 1. The Smith brothers confronted Denton in the bank; 2. The "meeting" was held to determine Denton's innocence or guilt; 3. Smith attempted to secure Denton's favorable testimony but failed; 4. Denton was excommunicated. Rigdon places the excommunication "about two or three months" prior to June 3, 1837. Probably the anathema was pronounced in mid-March.
A number of LDS chieftains were able to voice opinions critical of Smith but also avoid excommunication during the first months of 1837, a period when Smith's authority was in decline, following the effective collapse of the Kirtland Bank. Denton, however, had not risen far enough in the LDS heirarchy retain his position in Church once he had crossed Joseph Smith. Within two or three weeks of his expulsion from that body he felt the need to depart Kirtland for a more welcoming residence among his family in Michigan. This move to Michigan probably occured shortly before Grandison Newell filed his complaint against Smith on April 13, 1837. Smith immediately fled Kirtland, but his loyal followers remained behind and witness for the prosecution Denton would not have felt very comfortable living in their midst.
June 1837 and After
Solomon W. Denton's testimony against Smith at the June 1837 hearing and trial was probably colored his desire to justify himself in the eyes of the public, as well as by his agreement to assist anti-Mormon Grandison Newell in legal battles against the Mormon leadership. Even so, Denton's testimony during those proceedings should not be dismissed lightly, and especially not in those particulars where it is corroborated by that of President Sidney Rigdon. Except for that portion of his statement where he speaks of meeting privately with Joseph Smith, Jr. in "the garden," to discuss the planned murder, most of Denton's testimony seems to be credible. And even in his relating the content of that suspect episode, Denton may not be entirely untruthworthy.
Presumably Solomon W. Denton left Geauga county, Ohio for a permanent residence in Michigan almost immediately after the conclusion of the June 9 trial. At least his wife was in New York City at the beginning of 1850, because his son, Solomon Wibur Denton, Jr. was born there. In later years Denton was co-editor of a newspaper in Pontiac, Michigan. He died there in 1864.
Solomon Wilbur [Wilber] DENTON, Sr.
Born: 1814 Fitchville, Huron, OH
Married: July 30, 1835, Geauga Co., OH
Fanny M. STANLEY
Died: 1864, Pontiac, Oakland, MI
Solomon Wilber DENTON, Jr.
Born: Jan 1850, Jamaica, Queens, NY
Joseph Smith, Jr.
History of the Church Vol. 2
February 28, 1835
After sacrament the council continued the ordination and blessing of those previously called; also John Murdock and S. W. Denton were ordained and blessed; Benjamin Winchester, Hyrum Smith, and Frederick G. Williams were blessed; and Joseph Young and Sylvester Smith were ordained presidents of Seventies.
Sunday, 10. [Jan 1836]
Attended meeting at the usual hour. Elder Wilbur Denton and Wilkins J. Salisbury preached in the forenoon, and Brothers Samuel and Don Carlos Smith in the afternoon. They all did well, considering their youth....
Joseph Smith, Jr.
History of the Church, Vol. 4
Chapter XXIII: The Death of Don Carlos Smith, etc.
Saturday, August 7. 
My youngest brother, Don Carlos Smith, died at his residence in Nauvoo this morning, at twenty minutes past two o'clock, in the 26th year of his age... In the fall of 1833, he entered the office of Oliver Cowdery to learn the art of printing. On the 30th July, 1835, he married Agnes Coolbrith, in Kirtland, Ohio. On the 15th January, 1836, he was ordained President of the High Priests' quorum. He took a mission with Wilber Denton in the spring and summer of 1836, in Pennsylvania and New York...
The Return #1
(IA: August 1889)
"Items of Personal History"
When at home we worked in the printing office as usual. The hands in the office were the same as formerly, to wit: James Carrell, foreman, Don Carlos Smith (Joseph Smith's youngest brother, who was president of the quorum of high priests), Solomon Wilber Denton, who was a member of the high priest's quorum, and Samuel Brannan, who has since figured so extensively in San Francisco, California. We may have occasion to make mention of each of these hereafter....
A brother in the Church, by the name of Burgess, had come to Kirtland and stated that a large amount of money had been secreted in the cellar of a certain house in Salem, Massachusetts... Don Carlos Smith told us with regard to the hidden treasure. His statement was credited by the Brethren, and steps were taken to try and secure the treasure...
During the winter and spring of 1837, a great split occurred between a number of the leading elders of the Church. Frederick G. Williams, one of the First Presidency, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Luke and Lyman E. Johnson, Parley P. Pratt, Wm. [William] E. McLellin, John F. Boynton (the last five named were members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), Roger Orton, one of the Seventy, and a number of others, including S. Wilbur Denton, printer, a high priest, who testified of having seen a great vision, during the time of the washings and anointings the preceding March; these all objected to the course being pursued by Brother Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Church....
The Latter-day Saints' Messenger and Advocate
Vol.2, No. 9 (June 1836)
Kirtland, Ohio, June 3, 1836.
The following is a List containing the name of Ministers of the Gospel, belonging to the church of the Latter Day Saints, whose Licenses were recorded, the preceding Quarter, in the License Records, in Kirtland, Ohio.
Thomas Burdick, Recording Clerk
First, names of the Elders:
... Solomon W Denton
The Latter-day Saints' Messenger and Advocate
Vol. 2, No.11 (August 1836)
Elders D. C. Smith & S. W. Denton returned a few weaks since from a mission to the East. They state to us that they went as far as Waterloo Seneca Co. N.Y. and then returned to Naples Ontario Co. where they labored a while in company with Elder Jedediah Grant, whom they found there. They all labored there a short time, established a small branch of a church consisting of seven members, and then Messrs. Smith and Denton returned home, leaving Elder Jedediah and Joshua Grant still in charge, to instruct the saints more perfectly....
The Latter-day Saints' Messenger and Advocate
Vol. 3, No. 5 (Feburary, 1837)
YOUNG MEN OF KIRTLAND.
Permit me, through the medium of the Messenger and Advocate, to address you in a familiar and friendly manner, upon a subject, which, however much you may think to the contrary, -- demands your most serious, candid and undivided attention; I mean the cultivation of the mind.
Kirtland Council Minute Book
Kirtland February 14 1835
This day a meeting was called of those who journeyed to Zion for ... its redemption last season... President Joseph Smith Junr. presided over the meeting...
After an appropriate, and affecting prayer was made the Brethern who went to Zion, were requested to take their seats together in one part of the house by themselves. President Smith arose and stated the reason why this meeting was called. It was this. God had commanded it and it was made known to him by vision and by the Holy Spirit. He then gave a relation of some of the circumstances attending us while journeying to Zion, our trials, sufferings &c. &c. He said God had not designed all this for nothing, but he had it in remembrance yet, and those who went to Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, it was the Will of God, that they should be ordained to the ministry and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last times, for the coming of the Lord which was nigh, even fifty six years, should wind up the scene. He said... you should begin to feel the whisperings of the Spirit of God, and the works of God shall begin to break forth from this time. You shall be endowed with power from on high.
President Smith then called upon all those who went to Zion to know if they were agreed with him... They all raised the right hand. The names of those who went to Zion are as follows.
... S. W. Denton ...
Dean C. Jessee, editor
The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith
Note 50. Solomon Wilber Denton was employed in the Kirtland printing office until his disaffection in 1837. (Ebenezer Robinson, The Return 1 [August 1889].)
Dean C. Jessee, editor.
The Papers of Joseph Smith
Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989
Denton, Solomon Wilbur [1816-1864], born at Fitchville, Huron County, Ohio. Participated in the march of Zion's Camp, 1834. Married Fanny M. Stanley in 1835. Proselyting with Don Carlos Smith in New York, 1836. He was employed in the Kirtland printing office, until he left the Church in 1837. Co-editor of the Pontiac [Michigan] Jacksonian, 1838-1844. Postmaster at Pontiac, 1844-1848, 1853-1860. Discharged from Civil War service, 1862. Died at Pontiac, Oakland County, Michigan. (International Genealogical Index, Robinson,"Items of Personal History," [August 1889]; Backman, Profiles, 21; History of Oakland County, Michigan Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1877 , xvii, 86, 702.
Scott H. Faulring
An American Prophet's Record
Salt Lake City: n.d., 1987
On the 9[th] of Dec[ember, 1833] Bro[ther] Phi[neas] Young came to board with me to board rent and Lodge at one dollar and twenty five cents p[er] week.
Bro[ther] Wilbor Denton came to board [on] 11 Dec[ember] at one Dollar and twenty five cents per week...
Sunday, 10th [Jan. 1836] Went to the meeting at the us[u]al hour. Elder Wilber Denton and Elder J[enkins] Salisbury preached in the fore noon. In the after noon Br[other] Samuel [Smith] and Br[other] Carloss Smith [preached]. They all did well concidering their youth and bid fair to make useful men in the vin[e]yard of the Lord. Administered the Sacrament and dismissed...
Letters of Oliver Cowdery
Copy of a letter to L. [S] W. Denton, Florence, Ohio.
Kirtland Mills, Ohio, Feb. 10, 1834,
Dear brother Wilbur:
We are all well, and doing as usual, the Lord is with us yet, and I may say, we enjoy as we have in time past, a sufficient portion of his spirit that we are restrained from acts of gross sin. I received a long circular, or hand bill, this evening from Zion, written by our brethren in that country and printed; I shall have it set out, and sent, Extra Star, and I want you to come soon. Stop to Kellogg's and pay him ten dollars and four cents if you have it, & take his receipt for the same; but if you have not the amt. you need not call - come quickly - we are in a hurry - God be with, and keep you safely; Amen. I am as ever, Your brother in the Lord.
Brother John writes that Elizabeth is well, and the brethren in general, as far as he knows.
No particular news than when you left
Brother Morris Daily.
I direct this to you, and wish you to convey to bro. Wilber as soon as convenient, as I wish he may have it put into his hands immediately: He will pay you back the postage.
I am yours, Respectfully