Heroes and Heroines:
Wilford Woodruff—
A Future Prophet Is Baptized

By Susan Arrington Madsen

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(Based on the author’s book, The Lord Needed a Prophet, pages 59–71.)

Wilford Woodruff loved to fish. In fact, he and his brother, Azmon, were known as the two best fishermen in their hometown of Farmington, Connecticut. Wilford was one of the first in the area to make artificial flies out of birds’ feathers, with a hook concealed in each. The fish liked them so well, he once caught two fish on one hook!

When he was twenty-six years old, he moved to Richland, New York, where he and Azmon bought a farm. When they weren’t farming, they were, of course, fishing. One morning they caught five hundred salmon!

It was during one of these fishing trips, in late December, that Wilford’s life changed in an unexpected way. Azmon’s wife, Elizabeth, answered a knock on the door of their home. Two missionaries stood on the front step. Wilford and Azmon weren’t home, so the two elders asked Elizabeth to tell the brothers that they would love to have the Woodruffs come that night to the schoolhouse and listen to their message about a newly restored Church and gospel.

When Wilford arrived home and heard about the missionaries, he was eager to hear them preach. He had spent many hours as a boy reading the scriptures and praying, searching for the truth.

Without even waiting for supper, Wilford raced out to his horse and galloped to the schoolhouse. When he arrived, the room was already packed with people. He eased his way through the crowd and finally got a seat at a front desk.

What he saw and heard that night filled his soul with the Spirit of God. “I felt that I had just heard the first true gospel sermon in my life,” he later said. It was exactly what Wilford had been looking for—prophets, apostles, revelation, spiritual gifts. These were things Wilford knew about from studying the Bible, and he knew that they were important. He was so excited that he jumped to his feet at the end of the sermon, turned to the crowd, and said, “Friends and neighbors, I feel to tell you not to oppose these men. They are true servants of God. They have preached to us the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. I witness to you it is true!”

Two days later, on December 31, Wilford and Azmon were baptized. The day of their baptism, however, was not calm and peaceful. As Wilford was getting ready to leave, his horse kicked the hat right off his head. If the horse had kicked two inches lower, Wilford probably would have been killed.

Just ten minutes later, while he was driving this same horse and another hitched to a sled, several loose floorboards gave way! Wilford fell through them to the ground. He held on to the harnesses with all his might as the two frightened horses dragged him down the hill, where he was able to stop them without being seriously injured.

When he finally got to the lake where his baptism was to take place, the ground at the lake’s edge was covered with three feet of snow. Chunks of ice were floating in the water. Nevertheless, he eagerly stepped into the water, was baptized by immersion, and came up filled with joy and excitement. He didn’t care if the water was icy cold—he had found the Lord’s Church! He then and there made a promise to the Lord that he would do anything, go anywhere, and sacrifice everything, if need be, for Heavenly Father.

Wilford Woodruff kept that promise. In fact, he was so loyal, so dependable, that he was called Wilford the Faithful. He served several missions for the Church, was a devoted friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith, crossed the plains with President Brigham Young, and later became the fourth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He died in 1898 at the age of 92.

Upper left photo by Tamra Hamblin

[photo; illustrations] Other art courtesy of Visual Resource Library