LIFE HISTORY OF [MORRIS AND] LAURA CLARK [PHELPS]
by Morris Calvin Phelps
Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives
Source: Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Church Archives.
Grammar has been standardized.
Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 1
[page 1] Life history of Laura Clark, daughter of Timothy Baldwin Clark
and Polly Keeler, was born in Northampton, Hampshire County,
Massachusetts. Married Morris Charles Phelps 12 April 1825 (some records
and stories state 28 March 1828.) (See also photo of
journal page giving exact dates.) They had five children--Paulina Eliza,
Mary Ann, Harriet Wight, Joseph Morris, and Jacob Spencer, who died
March 13, 1843, when still a baby.
She, in connection, with her husband, joined the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints in August 1831, and was baptized in the Dupage
River, Cook County, Illinois.
Morris met Laura when he traveled to visit his Keneipp relatives. In
1871 Morris said, “There never was a woman on earth that I thought more
of, and that affection was never diminished.”
Their first baby was born in Laurence County, Illinois, in 1827. Morris
and Laura then moved to Tazewell County, Illinois, and then Chicago and
then to near the Dupage River. Laura’s father, Timothy Baldwin Clark,
built the first frame residence in the little lake port that later
became Chicago. In Tazewell County, Morris took up a farm and built a
sawmill on Willow Creek. Mary Ann was born here on 6 August 1829.
Laura first heard of the Book of Mormon while Morris was away on
business in Tazewell County, and she wrote him and he told Charles C.
Rich and others. After joining the Church, they followed the call of the
Church and removed to Jackson County, Missouri, in October 1831. They
arrived in Independence, Missouri, on March 6, 1831, and on April 7,
1832, their third baby girl was born in Lyman Wight’s tent, so they
named the baby Harriet Wight. She was the first Mormon girl born in
Independence. Laura and Morris bought their inheritance on Little
Prairie and settled down. John Murdock lost his wife after giving birth
to twins. The Prophet and his wife took the twins, and Laura and Morris
took his boy who was just older than Paulina and a great help to Laura.
Morris was ordained an elder by David Stanton in the summer of 1833.
In the fall of 1833, murderous mobs gathered and drove the Saints from
their homes under severe persecution. Morris and Laura gathered what
little they could and fled to Clay County in bitter weather. Morris
rented a farm and several attempts were made to go back to Jackson
County. During this time they became well acquainted with the Prophet
and grew to love him even more. Then on September 20, 1834, Morris left
his family and went on a mission with Apostle David Patten and others.
Laura worked hard and, by teaching school and acting as a midwife, was
able to support her family.
Morris built up two branches of the Church of Calhoun and Cook Counties,
Illinois. He baptized Laura’s parents and many more of her large family
and found her sister steadfast in their new faith. He and Charles C.
Rich also labored together.
Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 2
[page 2] Since Morris was a carpenter, he was called to work on the
temple at Kirtland. He was ordained a high priest on August 17, 1835, by
William W. Phelps and John W. Whitman. After receiving the holy
ordinances, Morris returned home and baptized his brother, Orrin, his
daughter, Paulina, and his foster son, John Murdock.
He bought a farm just outside of Far West on June 2, 1837, but trouble
was already brewing. One day the Prophet and his brother came running by
their house and Laura hid them in her house behind the clothes curtain.
When the mob rushed in and their leader said, “Where are they? We know
they are here, we saw them come,” she answered calmly and with apparent
unconcern, “No, gentlemen, they are not here, but you are welcome to
look all you want to.” She tried to look unconcerned while the mob made
a hasty search and left. Upon emerging from his hiding place, the
Prophet said, “Sister Laura, there are black lies and white lies and
that certainly was a white one that came from your lips.”
Then followed a series of incidents--the Battle of Crooked River,
October 1838, occurred when the Mormons tried to defend themselves. The
militia joined the mob and many Mormon leaders were taken prisoner.
Among them were the Prophet, his brother, Parley P. Pratt, Morris C.
Phelps, Timothy B. Clark and many others. Governor Boggs issued an
order to exterminate the Mormons and much destruction was done
culminating in the terrible Haun’s Mill Massacre.
The mob came into the Morris Phelps yard and shot the animals, and when
Harriet tried to protect her pet pig they were going to shoot her. Laura
ran out and said, ‘Shoot all the animals you desire but leave my little
Major General Lucas surrounded several hundred and got what they thought
were the leaders, and then he ordered Brigadier General Doniphan to take
Joseph Smith and others out and shoot them. He refused and, as a result,
Parley P. Pratt, Morris C. Phelps, and others were taken through Jackson
County to Ray County and put in prison at Richmond.
The men were fastened with irons and subjected to very harsh treatment.
One night while Morris lay next to the Prophet and [he] tried to sleep
and could not because of the terrible goings on of their guards, their
language being shocking and most abusive. All of a sudden the Prophet
arose to his feet, and spoke in a voice of thunder, or as the roar of a
lion, uttering as near as Morris could remember later the following
“Silence, ye fiends of the infernal pit, in the name of Jesus Christ I
rebuke you, and command you to be still. I will not live another minute
and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I will die this
instant!" The guards quailed and begged his pardon and remained quiet
the rest of the night.
After this Joseph and Hyrum and others were put in Liberty Jail while
Parley P. Pratt, Morris Phelps, and others remained in Richmond Jail.
There they remained suffering the untold hardships and deprivations in
their dungeon for six months. Laura visited Morris in jail in the hopes
they would release him, but she finally had to leave and go to Illinois
as Governor Boggs had issued an order expelling [page 3] Laura from
Missouri. She went to Quincy and then to Commerce, which later was
called Nauvoo, and finally crossed the river to settle near her father
seven miles west of Montrose in Iowa.
Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS
Archives, Pg. 3
On February 4, 1839, Laura received the following patriarchal blessing
from Joseph Smith, Senior, at Far West, Missouri.
O God, the Eternal Father, I ask thee to smile upon thy handmaiden, for
Thou hath seen all of her afflictions and have seen the integrity of her
heart and notwithstanding the afflictions she has gone through, she
holds her integrity and has not turned away from Thee. And therefore let
her be guarded and protected from evil. And let her companion be
returned to her bosom again, so that her heart will be comforted
concerning him. I ask Thee to loose her companion from his enemies and
also all those that are in prison and let the captured go free. And now
I lay my hands upon thy head to bless thee; and I say unto thee, dismiss
all of thy fears for thou art blessed. Yea, I bless thee with a father’s
blessing which shall do thee good. Be faithful then and thou shalt have
an inheritance in Zion, even in Jackson County. Thou shalt have thy
companion again, for his work is not finished and I pray for him. I say
unto thee thou must call upon God in faith, and if thou wilt thou shall
have all of the desires of thine heart. He shall escape to the land of
safety and there thou shalt have thy companion, for he shall be
liberated from his enemies.
On February 27, 1839, Laura’s mother died, so it was with heavy hearts
that the family settled in their new home. Laura’s home had been used to
stable horses, but they gave it a thorough cleaning, whitewashed it, and
it did make a shelter for them. They had arrived there on June 4, 1839,
and Laura and her brother wrote a letter to their family in Chicago
telling them of the happenings.
It is here that she tells of being in court on the 22 April  when
Morris was brought before it. They had one witness, Walter, who stated
that Morris had gone halfway to the battle (Crooked River). If Morris
would denounce the Mormon Bible, they would have let him go. Laura
states, “I left our home on the 26th (in Far West). I drove my wagon all
the way; turned over once with my children under the load, but hurt them
but little--I can safely say this day, I am not sorry I ever joined this
Church, for I recollect this company that John saw come up through great
tribulation. We have to be tried like gold seven times tried. I will
write as soon as get back from Columbia. Write as soon as you can.”
Laura got a letter from Morris comparing her to his star, and she had a
great desire to go to him and be there at his trial. It was a trip from
150 to 160 miles through hostile Missouri. She rode her good mare, Dove,
and her younger brother, John, accompanied her. The journey is fully
accounted in the book “Sweet Love Remembered.” They completed the
journey and found Morris and Parley Pratt both sick and near despair
after eight long months of confinement. Morris welcomed Laura and John,
and Parley’s brother, Orson, had also come to be at the trial. Since no
one appeared [page 4] against them, their case was continued again, and
they were returned to jail. The jailer and his wife bragged that they
had had several prisoners who died of old age because their cases were
continued indefinitely without a hearing to keep them in prison.
Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 4
“Previous to their arrival,” Parley P. Pratt said, “the Lord had shown
me a vision of the night, the manner, and means of escape... Mrs. Phelps
had the same thing shown to her previous to her arrival...”
Orson and John pretended to start for home and took Laura’s horse with
them. They explained to the jailer that she wished to stay with her
husband a little longer, but actually they were taking the horse for
Brother Follet. John gave his sister strict orders not to touch the
prisoners and not to assist in any way. The prisoners had to go through
the kitchen to get out. The time for escape had been set for when the
jailer brought their evening meal. Mr. Follet seized the door when the
jailer opened it and Parley and Morris got through and reached the
bottom of the stairs to the kitchen. Mr. Follet and Parley reached the
open air, but Morris was held by the jailer and his wife who cried so
loudly the town was alarmed. Laura thought she was praying silently, but
Morris said she shouted, “Oh Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
deliver they servant!” He said he felt as strong as a giant when he
heard those words and was able to just push the jailer and his wife off
as if they were babies and thus cleared himself.
When he got to his horse, the enemy had retaken Brother Follet. Morris
was so exhausted that John had to help him onto his horse. They all
separated and went the way alone.
Orson and John finally arrived in Quincy after making the entire journey
on foot. Parley made his escape at first on foot, and then by his horse,
and then by foot again with no food and was in a greatly weakened
condition, but finally reached his family and safety.
Morris had proceeded but a few miles on his way when he was suddenly
surrounded by horsemen who were in pursuit of him. He had lost his hat
and was in a very sad looking shape. They immediately hailed him and
cried out, “Say, stranger, God damn you. What is your name?” He replied
in the same rough and careless manner, “You damn rascals, what is
yours?” On finding he could damn as well as themselves, they concluded
he could not be a Mormon, while his bald and fearless manner convinced
them that he was not a man who was fleeing for his life. He conversed
with them and thus found out that Brother Follet had been recaptured,
but that the pursuers were more interested in Parley and himself.
Morris went his own way and traveled all night. In the morning he
stopped at a farmhouse and begged a straw hat, for it would not do to be
seen traveling without a hat. He told this tale: “For I got such a power
of drink last evening at the big doings that I couldn’t ride straight,
and tumbled off my horse once or twice and finally lost my hat.” They
readily believed his tale and furnished him a hat.
Morris was a very athletic person, but was very weakened from chills and
fever and the long confinement and had to travel without food so that
when he finally [page 5] reached Quincy, friends cared for him as he lay
sick in bed. Morris’s big worry all this time though had been Laura,
because no one knew how she fared.
Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 5
When the prisoners had cleared away, the jailer and his wife began to
curse and rail at Laura and threaten her with instant death, and finally
turned her out of doors in the dusk of the evening to face the mob that
had gathered. The mob was quite abusive, and then when another crowd
approached and they proved to have recaptured one of the prisoners, the
abuse grew in volume. The prisoner turned out to be Mr. Follet on
Laura’s horse and side saddle.
The mob threatened to burn him alive, but finally he was thrust into the
lower dungeon until things quieted down. He was released after a few
months as he was elderly and not one of the Church leaders.
In the meantime the mob was very abusive of Laura. During this time a
little boy had seen all that was going on and ran home to tell his
mother. He told her about Laura and her plight and the good woman had
the boy get his father and then the three went down to the courthouse
yard, and when Mr. Richardson saw Laura, he said to his wife,
“Elizabeth, you take this lady to our home. If her husband was the
greatest murderer in the world, we could not see anyone in our town
treated with such cruelty as this.” Laura told them they were true
friends and went with them and stayed with them for ten days.
Mr. Richardson was able to recover her saddle and, as he was a saddler,
was able to fix it up better than new. He also was able to recover her
horse which had been taken to chase the prisoners. The poor animal was
more dead than alive, but it was soon in good shape again after good
Laura told these people about her religion and gave them a Book of
Mormon and sang them some hymns.
After 10 days of not hearing about her husband, Laura could stand it no
longer and started off for home. Mr. Richardson arranged for her to
travel with the mail boy. They left in the afternoon and travelled
thirty miles before night and then got up at daylight and travelled
thirty more miles before breakfast. She then left the mail boy and rode
by herself and soon struck the Mississippi River and traveled another
fifty miles and was starting into woods that were very thick... For the
first time her courage failed her; she had such a lonesome, dismal
feeling come over her, and there was six miles to travel before she
could reach a hotel, and she knew not what would accost her... She
looked into the woods and saw a man coming on horseback. As he
approached they looked at each other and he said, “1 wonder if you are
not the woman I am looking for?” She said, “I believe you are the man I
am looking for,” for he was Mr. Follet’s son and had a note from Morris
saying he was all right. They arrived safely at the hotel and the next
day they got to Quincy where Morris was.
The sisters took her in the bedroom before he knew she had come. Imagine
their thankfulness and joy. Although she was very weary, she was the
best medicine he could have and in two days time they were able to
travel the seven miles west of Montrose, Iowa, to be reunited with their
Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 6
[page 6] As there was some danger that an attempt might be made to
recapture the escaped prisoners, it was decided they should leave the
area for a while and, accordingly, they were called on missions. Parley
P. Pratt and his family left in August and Morris and Laura with little
Joseph left in August to visit Morris’ folks at Kirtland, Ohio. It was
arranged that Paulina would stay at Mr. Foote’s place. John Murdock,
Senior, would take Mary Ann and Harriet. Morris’s health was broken and
he needed the time to recuperate.
They arrived in Kirtland in October and were received by Morris’ family.
Morris said, “I have preached to all of my family faithfully, according
to the best of my knowledge, and I never heard a railing accusation from
one of them. They never joined any church, but rather believed in a
universal salvation for all man. The family always maintained a moral,
good character. My mother said to me, “I do believe the gospel you
preach, but I have not the fortitude and moral courage to endure the
persecution that will come upon me if I am baptized.”
After preaching to their relatives and visiting all around, they bade
them goodbye in the month of May and started homewards. They stopped
with the William and Sally Coles, Laura’s oldest sister in Ripley,
Pulaski County, Indiana. Here little Jacob Spencer Phelps was born June
8, 1840. They reached Nauvoo in July.
The family was reunited with much rejoicing and they moved to Macedonia,
which was about twenty miles east of Nauvoo, and Morris began to build a
fine home. Mary Ann said, “The privilege of common, peaceful living was
enjoyed to the utmost.”
Laura saw a vision in the latter part of 1841 when all was peaceful and
friendly. She saw the Saints being driven from Nauvoo. She beheld many
killed in battle and by the mob, and the entire expulsion of the Saints
from Nauvoo. She saw them traveling in great bodies and there was great
suffering, and the way was blotted out and she could not see where they
Because of their tragic experiences, Laura had worked and traveled day
and night in all kinds of weather as an efficient midwife and practical
doctor in order to get necessities for them. This overexertion and
exposure had taken a terrible toll on her. Severe sickness came--likely
pneumonia, and she died February 2, 1841, only 34 years, 8 months of
age. Their “heaven on earth” had suddenly ended.
The family took her to Nauvoo to be buried in the old graveyard
southwest[?southeast] of the city. Their dear Prophet Joseph Smith and
their kind friend, Heber C. Kimball, preached her funeral sermons.
Joseph in comforting words told of her life that had been short in
years, but full of noble accomplishments. He said her exaltation was
assured. Heber C. Kimball wrote her obituary in the “Times and Seasons”
in March 1, 1842, and Church history tells that Joseph Smith entered her
passing in his diary.
Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 7
[page 7] Paulina was nearly fifteen, Mary twelve, Harriet not yet ten,
lively Joseph coming five, and Jacob just a baby of twenty-one months.
Mob trouble was beginning to stir again and Morris had to be away
earning a living.
Among their friends were the family of Leah Lewis Tompson, whose
daughter, Sarah, had been teaching school and was a faithful Latter-day
Saint. She and Morris were married March 27, 1842.
Baby Jacob was accidentally scalded to death the next year, and then mob
violence caused Morris to move his family to Nauvoo. There Paulina and
Mary went away to work, for they were experts in spinning and weaving
cloth. Morris began a new home, but their beloved prophet, Joseph Smith,
was killed before he finished it; they were rushing to finish the
Morris and Sarah were able to receive their endowments in January 1846
and Morris was able to have Laura sealed to him. At this time Paulina
married Amasa M. Lyman and Mary married Charles C. Rich.
Sarah lost an eleven-month-old baby, Laura Ann, and later her baby,
Sarah Diantha, lived but three days. When most of the Saints left Nauvoo
in February 1846, Morris and his family were unable to go as Sarah’s
first son, Hyrum Smith Phelps, was born February 26, 1846. In June they
crossed the Mississippi and reached Winter Quarters in November.
Morris married Martha Barker Holmes on February 26, 1848. Her son,
James, and Harriet were married on his twentieth birthday, December 25,
Morris worked repairing wagons and James ferried the Saints across the
river until 1851 when they left for the valley of the Salt Lake. Morris
was called to be captain of a company of about 63 wagons. Joseph drove a
wagon and walked barefoot all the way. They arrived in the valley of the
Salt Lake in September 25-28, 1851, and located at Alpine, Utah County.
Morris, James, and two others built a saw mill and all the men got farms
started. Morris was chosen a counselor to Bishop Houston when the ward
was organized in 1852. Morris went to the legislature and was also a
selectman or mayor in Alpine.
On Christmas Day, 1857, Morris’ son, Joseph, married Melissa Stevens,
but she later died in childbirth. There was living in Alpine a poor
widow, and Morris, with Sarah’s consent, married Maria and she and
Martha were sealed to him in 1857.
When Charles C. Rich was called to head a settlement of Bear Lake
Valley, Morris joined the venture in 1864 and reached there in May. They
had many hardships, but the group survived and prospered.
In August 1, 1869, Eliza R. Snow organized the Relief Society and Sarah
was named president, and in 1873 Charles C. Rich called her to be a
midwife. She delivered 580 women without a loss. Morris was appointed
postmaster in April 2, 1869, and Brigham Young ordained him a patriarch
in August 1873. Morris went to Saint George to work on the temple there
and became ill while there. He was able to get home after staying at
Parowan with Paulina for a few days, but died soon after his return on
May 22, 1876.