The Mission Call
In the fall of 1830, just months after the church was organized, the Prophet Joseph Smith received revelations calling Oliver Cowdery, Parley Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr., and Ziba Peterson to serve a mission among the Lamanites. Their objective was to share the gospel of Jesus Christ as contained in the Book of Mormon with the Native Americans. (D&C 27:8; D&C 32:2-3)
The missionaries schlepped 1300 miles through winter snows and storms and finally arrived in Independence, Missouri. Then they entered Indian Territory.
Preaching to Shawnees and Delawares
They first preached to the Shawnees and then to the Delawares. Speaking through an interpreter, Oliver Cowdery shared the essential message of the Book of Mormon.
The Delaware Indians were receptive, and the Chief requested that the missionaries return in the spring when “you shall read to us and teach us more concerning the Book of our fathers and the will of the Great Spirit.”
Expelled from Indian Territory and Return Home
However, federal agents expelled the missionaries from Indian Territory. Soldiers were prepared to enforce the expulsion.
Discouraged, the missionaries eventually returned home. They didn’t baptize a single Native American. Many people considered this mission a failure, and questioned Joseph Smith’s inspiration.
Independence, Missouri – A Gathering Place
However, based on the missionaries’ report, Joseph Smith was inspired to designate Independence, Missouri as a gathering place for the saints.
Phenomenal Missionary Harvest, and Kirtland, Ohio – A Gathering Place
Moreover, on the way to Missouri, the missionaries took a detour to Mentor, Ohio to call on Sidney Rigdon, a Reformed Baptist Campbellite Minister, and former acquaintance Parley Pratt.
The four missionaries boldly asked Rigdon for permission to preach to his congregation. He agreed.
“The appointment was accordingly published, and a large and respectable congregation assembled. Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt addressed the meeting. At the conclusion, elder Rigdon arose and stated to the congregation that the information they had that evening received, was of an extraordinary character, and certainly demanded their most serious consideration: and as the apostle advised his brethren ‘to prove all things and hold fast that which is good,’ so he would exhort his brethren to do likewise, and give the matter a careful investigation; and not turn against it, without being fully convinced of its being an imposition, lest they should, possibly, resist the truth.” (History of the Church.)
After reading, pondering, and praying about the Book of Mormon Rigdon informed his congregation of his decision to convert. He declared “he had not been satisfied in his religious yearnings until now.”
His congregation followed, and 127 people joined the church. This doubled the number of saints.
Among the converts were: Sidney Rigdon (Counselor in the First Presidency, Scribe, Church Spokesman), Edward Partridge (First Bishop), Frederick G. Williams (Counselor in the First Presidency), Lyman Wight (Apostle), John Murdock (lifelong missionary), Isaac Morley (lifelong member and founder of Manti, Utah).
In conclusion, the 1830 mission to the Lamanites was not a failure after all. It was a resounding success.
(See: Susan Easton Black, “Oliver Cowdery,” “Parley Pratt,” “Sidney Rigdon,” Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants; Richard Dilworth Rust, “A Mission to the Lamanites,” Doctrine and Covenants Study, http://www.churchofjesuschrist.org)