The Financier and Bishop Bunker


“Remember, just five minutes,” warned the attendant as he ushered Salt Lake businessman Nephi L. Morris into the plush Chicago office of important financier Thomas N. McCauley. Handing the tycoon the caller’s business card, the attendant posted himself by the door to be sure the five-minute limit would not be exceeded.

“From Salt Lake City I see,” remarked the busy executive. “Sit down Mr. Morris. Because you are a Utahn, I want to tell you about an experience I had years ago out in your part of the world.” Not waiting to find out Brother Morris’s business reason for the visit, Mr. McCauley disregarded his own tight business schedule—and his upset attendant—and for a full hour related to his visitor a singular experience cherished in his memory.

Mr. McCauley explained that while still a young man he had amassed a fortune in the East before the turn of the century. But the strain of business finally broke him physically. His doctor warned that the only hope for recovery was for the young executive to spend six months to a year in the West, living in the open. Reluctantly accepting this advice, Mr. McCauley turned his extensive business affairs over to associates and went west, accompanied by the doctor.

For months the two men camped in a covered wagon while leisurely traveling about the Rocky Mountain regions. Then, when recovery seemed near, McCauley suddenly developed a fever of 102 degrees and severe chills. The doctor, fearing for his patient’s life, hurried the wagon to the nearest settlement: Bunkerville, Nevada, a small Mormon settlement near the southwest corner of Utah. Having a deep dislike for Mormons, the doctor nevertheless swallowed his pride and appealed for help at the home of a local farmer, Edward Bunker, Jr., who turned out to be the town’s bishop and the son of the man for whom Bunkerville was named.

The strangers had not known that this man’s home often served as a hospital or hotel for people passing through those barren regions. While bishop from 1883 to 1908, Brother Bunker served as the local doctor, setting about 40 broken limbs, amputating fingers, lancing sores, and once even successfully sewing on a boy’s foot that had been amputated by a mowing machine. According to local tradition, the Bunker family rarely dined alone because of the good bishop’s hospitality. Travelers could stay at the Bunker home as long as they wanted, said the Bunker rule, but they would be treated like one of the family and could not disrupt the normal family life.

The Easterners were quickly made welcome and were promised every accommodation within the tiny community’s power to give. Their wagon and team were cared for. Food was provided. Bedding and supplies materialized, and the Bunker parlor was converted into a makeshift hospital ward.

Day after day the doctor and the Bunkers carefully nursed the critically ill patient. Weeks passed and McCauley made only slow progress. The doctor spent his time with the sick man or off by himself. While confined helplessly to his bed, however, the young man was in a unique position to witness the everyday activities of this humble Latter-day Saint family.

At times the parlor door was left ajar, and McCauley could look into the next room where, after a day of hard farm toil, the family blessed and then ate their evening meal. Many times at nightfall McCauley observed them kneeling in family prayer, the bishop himself often praying aloud.

At last the patient’s condition improved enough for the doctor to allow him to resume the journey. On the morning of the doctor and McCauley’s departure, the Bunker family arose early as usual. Unknowingly they had awakened their guests, who could not help but overhear the special family prayer offered in their behalf. The family gathered in the dining room where the sturdy bishop, kneeling beside his children and as humble as they were, reverently poured out his soul in supplication. Among other things he fervently thanked God for blessing their guest with a great recovery of health, and he invoked a special blessing for a full and complete healing.

During the prayer McCauley noticed his doctor friend slip quietly from the parlor with tears on his cheeks. McCauley, recognizing the faith being exercised in his behalf, could barely suppress his own tears as a deep feeling of gratitude welled up in his heart. As he confessed while telling the story to Brother Morris years later, “I have never heard such a prayer in all my life.”

Arising from prayer the family went about their daily chores while Bishop Bunker came into the parlor to say goodbye to his guests. Shaking hands with McCauley, he expressed to the Easterner his great pleasure at “having been favored with the privilege of rendering an act of kindness,” then wished him and the doctor a pleasant journey.

“I am greatly indebted to you, Bishop Bunker,” said McCauley, “and I desire to properly compensate you for your merciful kindness and care of me, which is responsible for saving my life. I am a man of ample means and to reward you generously would be a great pleasure to me.”

Knowing the Bunkers’ existence was hard and that they lacked many material things, he was amazed when the bishop kindly refused the offer. “No,” said the Mormon, “I can’t accept anything from you. I have only done what any man should do for his brother.”

“But I must do something to compensate you for what you bestowed upon me. I cannot let you go uncompensated. Please tell me what I can do for you in money or otherwise.”

To this earnest request the hospitable bishop replied: “I am already amply repaid for my helpfulness to you. The only way you can pay me is by doing for some other person who stands in like need of help as I have cheerfully done for you.”

And that closed the transaction as far as Bishop Bunker was concerned.

But McCauley never forgot the debt he felt he owed, and in following years he repaid it—mainly by helping Latter-day Saints. When donations were sought to build a monument in Utah to Brigham Young, McCauley’s name headed the donors’ list with a $1,000 contribution. During Utah Senator Reed Smoot’s membership trial in the United States Senate, the influential financier personally lobbied with Vice-president William Howard Taft in defense of the Mormons. He offered financial opportunities to various Utah and Church leaders. When two prominent Mormons suffered financial reverses during the panic of 1907, McCauley gave them back their notes and canceled their loan obligations to him.

And whenever opportunities presented themselves, even if it meant turning a five-minute appointment into an hour’s discussion, the financier felt an obligation to tell Utahns like Brother Morris about his struggle with death in the Nevada wastelands where a Mormon bishop, whom he had not seen before or since, had exercised faith in God to help a stranger recover. That was something, McCauley explained, which all his own wealth and power could not accomplish.

The story so impressed Brother Morris that he immediately noted it down. Twenty years later, in 1943, he wrote to Bishop Bunker’s descendants and shared the story with them, for whom it now is a source of family pride and inspiration.

[illustration] Illustrated by Ralph Reynolds