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William Miller

Question: In 1845, what part did William Miller play in keeping Brigham Young from being arrested?

Answer: William Miller was the son of Seth and Martha Tilden Miller. He was born at Avon, Livingston county, New York, on January 8, 1814. His ancestors were English and among the first settlers of New England. Seth and Martha were the parents of nine children.

When William was about seventeen years of age, he heard a Mormon Elder preach the “new doctrine,” as it was called. He did not immediately embrace the faith of the Saints, but read the Book of Mormon, compared it with the Bible, and for a year attended all Mormon meetings held in his vicinity. In the fall of 1833, he set out for Kirtland, Ohio, where he met the Prophet Joseph Smith and was baptized a member of the Church on October 23, 1833.

On March 1st of 1833, he had married Phebe Scott, one of his early playmates, who was also a firm believer in the Church. They moved to Kirtland, where they rented a house, purchased seventy acres of land. There William was ordained an Elder and subsequently a Seventy of the Church. Then followed a preaching mission to his native state, where he organized several branches of the Church. In the spring of 1838, they moved to Far West, Missouri, and from the beginning to the end of the mob troubles in that State, William was in the very thick of it all. He was among those compelled to deed away their lands to defray the expenses of the war waged against them.

February 1839 found him at Quincy, Illinois, and then on to Nauvoo, his next place of residence. William assisted in all the public works and was present when the cornerstone and capstone of the Temple were laid. He officiated in the sacred house from its opening until the exodus. Here they mourned the loss of their Prophet Joseph and Hyrum.

In the latter part of December 1845, a remarkable episode occurred while he was laboring in the Nauvoo Temple. It was a time of great peril for the leaders of the Church, especially Brigham Young, who, as President of the Twelve Apostles had come to the front as successor to the martyred Prophet. The anti-Mormons, having accomplished the murder of Joseph and Hyrum, were anxious to get Brigham into their power, and repeatedly sent officers from Carthage to Nauvoo to arrest him.

One day a posse was detected lurking around the Temple, and President Young, within, was informed that they were waiting for him to come out. Seeing Elder Miller across the hall, the President asked William if he would go down and impersonate him. The latter promptly complied, throwing on Heber C. Kimball’s cloak, which was similar in size and color to the President’s and descending the stairs to the Temple door, where Brigham’s carriage stood in waiting. As he was about to enter the carriage, an officer stepped up to him and said, “You are my prisoner.” Miller made no resistance, but requested the officer to accompany him to the Mansion House, that he might consult his lawyer, a Mr. Edmunds. The officer consented.

Lawyer Edmunds agreed to go to Carthage with William. When within two or three miles of Carthage, the posse halted, and rising in their wagons, shouted, “We’ve got him! We’ve got him!” On entering the town, the supposed Brigham Young was put under a strong guard in an upper room of the hotel, and kept there until supper time, when he was taken to the dining hall. While eating, he was pointed out to curious callers as Brigham Young. Finally a man named Thatcher came in, and asked the landlord where Brigham Young was. “That is Mr. Young,” answered the landlord, pointing to the prisoner. “Where?” inquired Thatcher “I don’t see any one that looks like Brigham.” The landlord pointed to William. “Oh hell!” exclaimed Thatcher, “That ain’t Brigham Young; that’s Bill Miller.”

Upon hearing this the landlord informed the officer, who, much agitated, came and took Miller away. Having him alone he said, “Why in hell didn’t you tell me your name?”” “You didn’t ask me my name,” William calmly replied. “Well what is your name?” “My name is William Miller.” The officer left the room in a rage, followed by his prisoner, who walked off with Lawyer Edmunds, who subsequently saw him safely back to Nauvoo.

Garden Grove Marker

At the beginning of the exodus, William was sick and did not leave Nauvoo until May 1846. At Garden Grove he helped to fence, plow and put in crops, which he left for others to harvest, and continued on to Winter Quarters. He left for Utah on April 25, 1849. He joined a company of one hundred wagons organized by George A. Smith, and headed by Orson Spencer, and was made captain of the first fifty.

William arrived at Salt Lake City on the 20th of September 1849. About the middle of September 1850, having been appointed one of the judges of Utah county, he moved to that part in company with his father-in-law, Bishop Aaron Johnson. He settled first at Springville. In the spring of 1851, he built the first adobe house at that place, and assisted in fencing sixty acres of land, from which were raised that season four hundred bushels of wheat.

In the ensuing August, William was elected to the Territorial legislature. In the fall of 1852 he was called to Iron county to strengthen the new settlements in that section, which were threatened by Indians. He built a house and located a farm but returned early in 1853 to Springville. He now became first counselor to Bishop Johnson, and during the next three years was occupied in farming. From April, 1856, until the beginning of 1858, he went on a mission to England, and was afterwards one of the Presidency of the Welsh Mission. Called home with other Elders, in consequence of the war troubles of 1857, he returned with Apostles Orson Pratt, Ezra T. Benson and others, traveling incognito owing to the anti-Mormon bitterness that prevailed.

Provo Meetinghouse

William Miller was next made Bishop of Provo and also served as Mayor for several terms. During his administration, the Provo meeting house was completed and dedicated. He paid into the meeting house fund over a thousand dollars, and also donated liberally toward the establishment of the Deseret Telegraph line. He built the house afterwards occupied by President Young’s family in Provo.

Later he erected the Excelsior House in that town, and it was there that he died on August 7, 1875, in Provo and was buried in the Springville City Cemetery.

Source: Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, published 1913;;; Excerpts from History of Utah.

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