Finding a Father


Editor’s note: Abraham Kimball, son of Heber C. Kimball, one of the first apostles in this dispensation, was raised away from his father by relatives unfriendly to the Church. In 1862 he traveled to Salt Lake City where his father served as a counselor to President Brigham Young, and learned to love his family and their faith. The following story is based on Abraham’s own account as preserved in the Church Archives.

When we arrived at the Fort Hall Road, [Idaho], James Spicer, the man I was traveling with to California, was informed that several wagon trains had been attacked by Indians. He decided to change his plans and go through Utah.

“I’ll die brave,” I told him, naturally supposing the Mormons would kill me or worse.

Up to this time the members of our company were ignorant of my parentage. I decided I’d better tell Spicer.

“I have a father in Utah.”

“Who is it?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered. It was the truth. I didn’t know, but I knew there would be trouble.

“They’ll probably try to take me prisoner,” I said.

“We can’t take the Fort Hall Road,” he answered. “Too dangerous. We have to go through Utah.”

Spicer smiled. “You’ll be all right.” He climbed back into his wagon and started his team, turning them north toward the Utah trail.

It was a nightmare. We were too far out for me to turn back alone. The thing I had feared the most all of my life was coming true. I had grown up with a bitter prejudice and intense hatred toward the Mormons. The name was synonymous for me with that of an ugly and dangerous monster. Often in my dreams I had imagined I was captured by them, and in my waking moments I pictured to myself a life of captivity among them—caged like a wild beast.

I’d never seen a Mormon, and I couldn’t remember my father. What I knew about them I’d learned from my grandfather and his family. My father had left for Utah when I was only about 12 months old, leaving two wives (my mother, Clarissa, and her sister, Emily) and my brother Isaac and me with my grandfather, Alpheus Cutler. Only three women accompanied that first group. Most wives were left behind in the care of a trusted relative or friend and came to Utah during the next few years.

About two years later my mother died, and a few months afterward my Aunt Emily also died. My grandfather moved to Manti, Iowa, and established his own church there. He put himself in as its leader and called it “The True Church of Latter-day Saints.”

He denounced polygamy and the law of tithing. He taught his followers that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, but that Brigham Young was not his successor. He declared himself to be the true leader, holding the authority to carry on the latter-day work.

My brother Isaac and I were ill-treated by my grandfather’s family. We were persecuted and called names for being from a polygamist family. On even the slightest provocation they would threaten to send us to Utah, telling us the Mormons would soon settle [dispose of] us.

We were taught that if we stayed in the woods too long the Mormons would catch us and carry us off. More than once when gathering berries we were alarmed by some rustling noise in the underbrush. We would drop our baskets and run like frightened antelopes, never looking back until we were home.

In the spring of 1862 I was sent to Hamburg, Iowa, and stayed with my uncle Edwin Cutler for a week. While I was there he asked me if I would be interested in going to California with him. I told him I would be glad to go.

The trip went well until we passed the town of Julesburg, [Colorado] on the Platte River. I had slept a little longer than usual one morning and failed to get up before sunrise. My uncle shook me awake and told me he had not brought me along for him to wait on me, but for me to wait on him. He said he was glad to have me along as a servant.

A few days later my aunt asked me if I knew where my uncle was taking me.

“California,” I answered. “Where else?”

“He’s taking you to your father in Utah,” she said.

I decided to leave my uncle as soon as possible. When we reached Laramie, Wyoming, James Spicer, who had been traveling with our company for a short time, motioned me over to his wagon.

“I understand you don’t want to go to Utah,” he said.

I told him he was right. He said he was taking the Fort Hall Road that went around Utah and that he’d noticed my uncle had misused me on the trip. He told me I could travel with him if I wanted to.

Two days later my uncle came to me and said, “Abe, [Abraham] get the cattle together. There’s a company leaving this afternoon, and we can travel with them.” I told him I wasn’t going with him any farther, that I was going to California with Spicer.

After my uncle realized there was nothing he could do to keep me from going with Spicer, he told me he planned on telling every Mormon he saw that one of Heber C. Kimball’s lost boys was on the road behind him. I’d heard Heber C. Kimball was a Mormon leader, and this made me even more afraid to go to Utah.

Now I was traveling toward Utah. There was no turning back. I would meet my doom.

At the Green River Ferry, [Wyoming], there was more trouble. We met a Mormon, Lewis Robinson, and when he heard my story he asked me if I planned on seeing my father when I reached Salt Lake City.

“Not if I can help it,” I told him.

“Your father’s a good man,” he said. “He will be very pleased to see you. I’m leaving for Salt Lake City in the morning on horseback, and when I get there I’ll tell your father you’re coming.”

We didn’t encounter any more Mormons until we reached Silver Creek, near Parley’s Park, Utah. When we arrived there I learned that William H. Kimball lived at Parley’s Park. I was told that he was my half brother.

I was approaching a desperate situation. I decided to put on a bold front and to prepare for the worst. Feeling I might as well meet trouble head-on, I decided to pay my half brother a visit. I armed myself with a revolver and quid [a chewable sized piece] of tobacco and said my good-byes, believing it would be the last anyone would ever hear of me.

William recognized me from the description my uncle had given him.

“Hello Abe [Abraham],” he said. “Where did you come from?”

He seemed very glad to see me and asked me to come up to his house with him. I suspected this would be a trap. Keeping my hand close to my revolver at all times I was ready for action. In that house William introduced me to his family and to two more of my brothers, Charles and Solomon. I was invited to dinner. It was the first civilized meal I’d had in months. My relatives in Parley’s Park left a favorable impression on me. The only thing even close to torture they came up with was an attempt at questioning me to death.

It took us two more days to reach Salt Lake City. We camped at Emigration Square that night, and in spite of the good impression my relatives had made, I was still terrified of the Mormons. I expected to fall into their hands in the morning. All of my old fears of captivity and torture came back to me. It was a long night.

At noon Spicer asked me what I was going to do. “I don’t think things with your father will be anything like you’ve been told they will be,” he said. “It’s important to have a family.” Spicer hesitated. We had become good friends. “I’ll be at Fort Floyd for the winter, and if you come there or if you find me in California you’ll always have a home.”

We said good-bye to each other, both of us shedding tears. I stayed at the square as long as I dared, alone, watching Spicer’s outfit move down the road.

If I’d been called to mount the gallows I would have done it with less reluctance than when I went to meet my father. I didn’t dare talk to anyone, so instead of going down the sidewalk I walked up the middle of the road. I still believed it was a trap, that the Mormons wanted to catch me.

I crossed City Creek and stopped at a house to ask directions. I had decided my father must live in the area, so I asked for my half brother, Charles Kimball, instead. The woman who answered the door was Charles’s wife. She told me her husband was at his father’s barn, not far from there.

As I crossed the yard people were staring at me from windows and doorways. I must have looked a little odd. The clothes I was wearing, though they were my best, were old and worn: a hickory-colored shirt, white ducking pants eight inches too short, a pair of shoes and no stockings, and an old rimmed hat.

My brother was hitching horses to a wagon. He was surprised to see me.

“Abe, [Abraham] I was just going to look for you. I’ll unhitch and take you to father.”

I wished then the earth would open and swallow me up. When we got close to the house I saw a man I supposed was my father. I was very much afraid of him.

“Here’s your boy,” Charles said.

My father stood six foot one, and he had keen, piercing eyes, eyes that seemed to penetrate my thoughts. He spoke to me in a kind, fatherly voice. He tried to embrace me, but I wouldn’t have any of that. He told me he was glad to see me and asked me if I knew he was my father.

I told him I didn’t know and didn’t care, and I hoped he would let me go as soon as possible. He said I was free to go if I wanted to and then invited me into his house. He looked at me for quite a while without saying anything.

“Do you have any good clothes?” he asked, breaking the silence.

I lived with my father and family that winter and even attended school. Because of the love they showed me, the prejudices and the hate for Mormons I had grown up with began to fade. Late in the winter my father asked me if I’d thought about being baptized. I told him I didn’t know. He said I could do what I wanted, but that if I believed in the gospel he would like to see me baptized.

He told me that before he had left my mother and Aunt Emily, he had given my brother Isaac and me a blessing. While his hands were on my head he prophesied I would come to the valley of the mountains and afterwards return with my brother. He told me he wanted me to go back in the spring and get my brother Isaac.

Nothing more was said on the subject of baptism for several months, and then I was asked again if I had thought about it. I had felt the healing warmth of the gospel and of members of the Church. I knew it was right. I told my father I wanted to be baptized.

We went up to City Creek. The water was cold, iced over, but I didn’t notice it much. After the baptism my father confirmed me and set me apart for the mission of bringing my brother back.

When I arrived at my old home in May of 1863, my grandparents, brother, and friends were happy to see me. A few days after my arrival, my grandmother and most of the family went to visit some friends for the day. My grandfather was ill and couldn’t go with them. He asked me to stay with him while they were away.

When we were alone he started to ask me questions about my trip to Utah. He asked me if I’d seen my father. I told him I had. He said he was glad I’d seen him. He asked me if I’d been baptized, and I told him I had. To my surprise he also said he was glad for that.

“I have suffered you to be prejudiced towards the Mormons and your father.” He closed his eyes while he talked. “And now I feel it is my duty to remove that prejudice.

“I knew Heber C. Kimball was your father, and I knew he was a good man; but I didn’t want you to know it. I wanted you and Isaac to be the means for my support while I lived. It’s a hard thing to be old and sick. You’ve been to your father now. That’s the way it should be. I’ve been wrong.

“I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and I know Brigham Young is his legal successor. I always did know it. The trouble with me was that I wanted to lead and could not be led. I’ve run my race and sealed my doom. I know what I’ve got to meet.”

My grandfather closed his eyes again and cleared his throat.

“I want you to go back to your father and take Isaac. I know that’s right. I want you to remain steadfast to the gospel, to Mormonism. Never, never yield that point; it will save and exhalt you in the kingdom of God.”

My grandfather wept like a child then.

After hearing the truth about our father, Isaac was willing to go back to Utah with me. We left just a few days after the talk I’d had with my grandfather. When we arrived in Salt Lake City, our father was very happy to see us. He welcomed us into his home, and we contentedly settled down there, feeling more loved and more at home than we had ever felt in our lives.

[illustration] Heber C. Kimball