Wednesday, June 24, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #4

Detail, Mural in St. John Kansas
Those who had not chosen to follow Rigdon to Greencastle in 1847 had gradually begun to look to William Bickerton for leadership, and by 1849 he had been accepted as their leader.  They flirted with the idea of  joining another group of Mormons, but in 1852 Bickerton was the recognized leader of  The Church of Christ.  By 1857 he had nearly 100 followers.  During this time Bickerton's belief in having been called to minister to the Native Americans, whom he called Lamanites, only grew.  He explained:  "No man could receive greater Authority than I had received, it was from God Himself, and that Angels nor men could give anymore; Therefore go forward and accomplish that which I have commanded and I will be with you always to the end."  Bickerton felt that Kansas was a good location for his mission, and while studying a Kansas map with his brother he "felt [moved] by the power of God when I touched the map that Stafford county was the place the Lord wanted me."

(For those interested in reading more about Bickerton and the experiences surrounding his mission in Kansas, two published articles available online by Gary R. Entz, "Zion Valley, The Mormon Origins of St. John, Kansas," and "The Bickertonities: Schism and Reunion in a Restoration Church, 1880-1905" can be consulted.)

Lewis Downing, principal chief, Cherokee Nation
In 1868 Bickerton had left Pennsylvania for the Cherokee Nation with the specific goal of meeting the newly elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Lewis Downing.  Downing had his hands full trying to reunite divided tribal factions, and he had little interest in Bickerton or his mission.  However, he did allow Bickerton and his fellow Mormon, William Cadman Sr., to preach among the Cherokees.  Although the success of his mission was questionable, Bickerton later wrote that he "had never spent a better day in the work of the Lord."

He proceeded with his plans to create a colony in Kansas, from which he and his followers could fulfill his dream of ministering to the Lamanites.  Of course, the financing of their mission and the recruiting of families willing to assume the hardships of creating a new life on the Kansas prairie had to be done before his dream could become a reality.  Even once they had arrived the first necessity would be conquering the challenges of carving farms and pastures out of the prairie to become self-sustaining before their mission work could begin.  All of that proved to be more difficult than Bickerton had anticipated.

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