The Northwestern States Mission
By Elder Nephi Pratt, President of the Northwestern States Mission
The Northwestern States mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consists of the states of Montana, Washington and northern Idaho, and British Columbia. The principal cities of the mission are Butte, Montana with a population of 100,000; Seattle, Washington, with a population of 110,000, and Vancouver, British Columbia, with a population of 40,000. There are many towns of from 5,000 to 30,000 population. There are now branches of the Church at Boise, Idaho; Butte and Anaconda, Montana; Tacoma and Seattle, Washington, and the number of Church members in the entire mission is 536.
Less than two years ago there were only eight Elders in the field, now there are forty-two. Then there were only two branches of the Church within the present limits of the mission, now there are five; also a Sunday school in Helena, Montana, with a membership of twenty. At that time there were many Saints in a scattered and disorganized condition, without meetings, without the sacrament, without instructions, without social enjoyment with fellow Saints. Now they are organized into branches; have all these things; also Sunday schools, Relief societies, Mutual Improvement associations, and the society of the servants of God and of each other. At that time the voice of inspiration was seldom heard in any of the cities, towns and villages of these great states. Now our literature is carried to many thousands of homes, Gospel conversations are held with thousands; and, in the cities, the voices of the authorized and inspired servants of God is heard several nights of each week, calling their inhabitants to the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. The smaller towns and villages are also visited, and the people instructed and warned of the things that are coming on the earth.
In the cities, as well as the country towns, in our field of labor, we meet with almost universal indifference. The pursuit of money holds full away over the minds of the business people generally, while the laboring classes are bent on anything in the world, except things pertaining to the salvation of their souls. To these lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure, the sacred principles pertaining to eternal life seldom appeal, and have no abiding place their souls. Their hearts and minds are closed against revelation and almost all other principles of divine truth. To such as these our Elders lift up the warning voice in vain. We occasionally meet with intolerance and bigotry, such as resulted in the stoning of the ancient prophets, killing of the apostles and crucifixion of the Lord between two thieves. This class I am pleased to remark are in the minority.
We find in this mission hundreds of churches, thousands of ministers, tens of thousands of church members, any amount of theology, but very little religion. The message of a restored Gospel is generally rejected by ministers with great bitterness than it is by the unbeliever who makes no profession of religion. As a rule all classes join together to persecute, slander and abase us. We are generally “cast out” by them all, with here and there an honorable exception, or if they do occasionally give us a hearing, they look and act after doing so as if they are expected a vote of thanks for it.
Upon arriving in the mission, our Elders find it necessary to at once place themselves under strict disciplines in order to obtain that manly and dignified deportment that characterizes the true and cultivated gentleman. Of course coming as they do from the workshop, the plow, the carpenter’s bench, the smithy, the stock range, the store and the counting house; and generally speaking, never having traveled outside of their own state, it is perhaps natural that they should entertain somewhat narrow views of life, and of the great world upon which for the first time they are now about to enter. So, many of them come unpolished, perhaps uncouth and a trifle awkward. All these conditions are new to them. Heretofore they had dwelt among Saints, most of whom were warm personal friends. With these they were perfectly at home. No need of conventionality, or of dignity, hence no need of restraint. Knowing their integrity to principle, everyone at home loved and trusted them. Their peculiarities of deportment were unnoticed. It mattered nothing to the folks at home, whether they were well groomed, well dressed or otherwise. They were our boys, you know, with their good honest hearts, full of good and noble principles, believed in Mormonism, and so, they were perfect in our eyes, and we thought little of their manners, their dress, or their bearing. Well these young men come into a country where they have no friends; where the people are entirely out of sympathy with them; where they are looked upon with suspicion; where all their sayings and doings are watched only to be criticized, their faults magnified, their crudeness ridiculed, their motives misinterpreted, and their principles ignored. Hence the necessity of discipline. So, the young Elder when he arrives, finds himself up against some rules, which at first are very difficult for him to observe. He soon realizes, however, that they are for his best good and by degree he adapts himself to the new conditions.
Our methods of work may be interesting to Star readers. We abandon country work in the winter season. Then the Elders come into the larger cities. Usually there are four or six of them together in each town. These rent a room and keep “bachelor’s hall.” They take turns in doing the cooking. They arise not later than seven in the morning; breakfast as soon afterwards as possible; have their morning devotions and are ready for the work of the day by nine o’clock. At that hour they meet together for subject study; take up some principle of the Gospel; recite from memory some passages of scripture that bear upon it; speak in explanation of it; ask and answer questions in relation it, and thus enter into a thorough understanding of it from every standpoint. They study until about eleven o’clock. They then write short letters to friends and kindred; eat lunch, and at 1 p.m., with pockets full of Gospel tracts, go from door to door, delivering the message of life and salvation, and entering the Gospel conversations with whosoever will listen. About 5 p.m. they come strolling one by one into headquarters; cook and eat supper; exchange one with another the marvelous experiences of the afternoon; rest an hour, and then, altogether march up town, choose a street corner, step off the pavement into the street, sing, pray, preach, expound and testify. When the weather will permit they hold, on an average, four open-air meetings each week. When spring opens up, we again push out in pairs, and all summer long the country school-houses, and occasionally a village church resounds with the message of the Gospel of the kingdom. In the highways and in the byways, in the string towns and in the villages, all day long our Elders trudge, carrying the message of eternal life or eternal death to the inhabitants of this part of the earth.
In the summer the missionaries generally go without purse or scrip. These are seasons when valuable experiences, never to be forgotten, are frequently obtained. Sometimes they are warned, directed and instructed in dreams. At other times, when hungry, foot-sore, weary and discouraged, they are providentially provided with food, shelter, sweet rest, good bath and a general clean-up. At such times they frequently have a chance to hold deep and absorbing conversations with the good family to whose hospitable roof they were led by a wonderful and unexpected providence of our kind Heavenly Father.
Not long since, two of our Elders in to the town of Helena, Montana, were conversing with a poor, disconsolate woman, who had been dreadfully afflicted for twelve years. They earnestly besought her to hear their message, to which she hearkened with rapt attention. As she listened, faith sprang up in her heart, and she told the Elders she believed every principle they taught her, and begged them to administer to her, which they did. After they had performed the ordinance the landlady of the house came into the room, and with great fury drove them out of the house. Ten days afterwards, they met the woman to whom they had administered, in company with her landlady, as they were out marketing, and the good woman smiling through her tears, testified that she was healed the moment the Elders laid their hands upon her head, and had felt neither the former pain nor attendant weakness since. Be it said to the credit of the woman who had driven them out of the house, that she asked their forgiveness; testified that the woman had been healed under their hands, and made them welcome guests to her house thereafter. This is only out of many instances, of the marvelous power of God, that has been manifested in this mission.
Since the beginning of the investigation in the Smoot case at Washington, D.C., our halls have been filled as they never were before, and our street meetings have grown until multitudes come out to hear where there were few before. Reporters take down our discourses, and are running after us for interviews in every place we go, and generally report us correctly.
It has been my pleasure to have Apostle Matthias F. Cowley accompany me around the mission recently, and never before in its history has the mission been so roused up. His visit will not soon be forgotten by the Elders, Saints and the hundreds who had the privilege of listening to his inspired discourses. The press in the Northwest, is, in the main, sufficiently friendly to us to seek information about the Mormons and their principles from us, instead of from our enemies. This is a great departure from the way in which they have treated us in former days. The preachers, on the other hand, seem to be rising to such a pitch of rage and righteous (?) wrath, that there is no telling where their stupendous efforts will land them.
May our numbers multiply in every land; our Saints at home and abroad increase in faith and in righteousness; our enemies always be disappointed; the wicked cease to prosper and to rule; righteousness prevail; the earth be covered with the knowledge of God; His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and all things become subject to him whose right it is to rule.
[Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Apr. 21, 1904, 8-9]
[Millennial Star, Apr. 21, 1904]
[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, May 2006]