LDS Splinter Groups
Joseph Smiths death in June 1844 created a need for a new Church leader. Brigham Young led the main body of Church members and a majority of the Apostles to what became Utah. The diaspora from Nauvoo created would be leaders such as Sidney Rigdon in Pennsylvania, Lyman Wight in Texas, James J. Strang in Wisconsin and later in Michigan, William Smith in Illinois and Kentucky, Alpheus Cutler in Iowa, and Joseph Smith III in Illinois who later moved to Iowa and Missouri. Additional splinter groups of the LDS Church were led by Granville Hedrick and William Bickerton. One thing all those who did not go to Utah apparently had in common was a desire to avoid the long and difficult trip that involved burying family members, the sacrifices necessary to create a civilized society in a wilderness and the missionary services required after being settled. Some were even willing to declare Joseph Smith a fallen prophet to justify their decision although history shows there have been very few, if any, fallen prophets. Those who labeled Joseph Smith a fallen prophet did it so flippantly that they were seemingly unaware of the consequences to themselves and to their future generations. To call Joseph Smith a fallen prophet would imply God was negligent in calling someone who would fail at such an important task as opening the last dispensation and restoring the gospel prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ.
There was a great need for the influence of the Holy Ghost at this time because faith was severely tested. 1.) James J. Strang had been baptized in Nauvoo by Joseph Smith on 25 February 1844, ordained an Elder and instructed to create a Stake of the 15 Church in Voree Wisconsin located near present day Burlington in extreme southeastern Wisconsin. After Josephs death in June 1844 he claimed to be Josephs successor and continued leading his group in Voree until 1848 when he re-established the group on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. James J. Strang produced a letter supposedly written and signed by Joseph Smith designating him as Josephs successor after his death. One individual who thought the letter might be legitimate, for a time, was Josephs mother Lucy Mack Smith. Brigham Young ignored James J. Strang and his letter. James J. Strang was shot by dissidents of his group on 16 June 1856 and died 9 July 1856. At one time it was said he had as many as 12,000 followers. Some small remnants of this group still exist today (2008). 2.) Alpheus Cutler was the original leader of the Wisconsin Pineries project intended to supply wood during the construction boom in Nauvoo Illinois. He failed to recognize the leadership of Brigham Young and follow him to Utah. His group first settled in the area of Fremont County Iowa during 1852. Some of his followers then joined the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when it was organized 6 April 1860 in Amboy Illinois.
Cutlers plans to move his followers to Minnesota were derailed during 1864 when Cutler died. However his counselor Chauncey Whiting and Cutlers wife led a portion of the group to Otter Tail County in west central Minnesota during 1865. Some others of their group arrived the next year. This group believed in the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon but did not accept polygamy. By 1900 it had essentially disappeared. 3.) Joseph Smith III was born 6 November 1832 and died during 1914 while living in Independence Missouri. An initial meeting of those promoting Joseph III as the Church President was held during June 1852 but 19 years old Joseph refused to lead the group at that time. However during 1859 he accepted his calling as Prophet and President and the group that would later become the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formed on 6 April 1860 at Amboy Illinois. During 1882 Church headquarters was moved to Lamoni Iowa. Joseph III moved to Independence during 1904 but it was after his death that Church headquarters was officially moved to Independence, Jackson County Missouri during 1920. A major attempt was made by Joseph Smith III to obtain the New Jerusalem Temple Lot in Independence for the RLDS Church during the early 1890s. The RLDS group had obtained a quit claim for the entire 63 acres of land from Maria Louise Johnson who was Oliver Cowderys daughter. They also felt that they would be 16 recognized in any legal proceeding as the true successors to the original Church and filed for a legal hearing to justify their claims in August 1891 to take the property from a group that had obtained it earlier led by Granville Hedrick. Their legal attempt was denied by the courts. 4.) William Smith was born 13 March 1811 and died 13 November 1893 in Osterdock, Clayton County, Iowa. He had served the Church as an Apostle while his brother Joseph was alive but was disfellowshipped on 6 October 1845 and excommunicated on 19 October 1845.
During 1845 he declared Brigham to be a Pontius Pilate and himself as Church President. William also accused Brigham of poisoning his brother Samuel so it would be easier for Brigham to proclaim himself Church President. He called for a gathering of the Saints at Lee County Illinois where the RLDS Church would be founded on 6 April 1860. However during 1860 he wrote to Brigham Young and proposed coming to Utah and joining the Saints there. Shortly he became caught up in the Civil War and seemingly lost interest in going to Utah. His warming up to Brigham may have been a result of his not being called into a leadership position in the RLDS Church. He joined the RLDS Church during 1878. 5.) Sidney Rigdon was born 19 February 1793 and died in Friendship New York on 14 July 1876. At Josephs death he proclaimed that no one could take Josephs place as President and that he should become Protector or Guardian of the Church. He was supported in his stand by Nauvoo Stake President William Marks. Sidney Rigdon had been Josephs first Counselor at the time of Josephs death but was essentially uninvolved in Church leadership. After his proposal was not accepted by the membership of the Church he left Nauvoo for his safety and was excommunicated by the Church on 8 September 1844. He went back to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania where he had been living and reorganized the First Presidency and Apostles of the Church among his followers during April 1845. By 1847 most of his followers had deserted him likely because he seemed mentally unbalanced. As this group dissolved one of his followers named William Bickerton reorganized the Church into what became known as the Bickertonite group of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sidney Rigdon moved to Friendship New York and later started The Church of Jesus Christ of the Children of Zion after communicating with former James J. Strang followers and had spokesman Stephen Post read his messages to his followers but the Church soon dissolved after his death. 6.)
Granville Hedrick was baptized during 1843 and became Presiding Elder of the Branch at Crow Creek Illinois in April 1857. On 18 July 17 1863 under the direction of disaffected Apostle John E. Page he became leader of 4 Branches in Woodford County Illinois northeast of Peoria. John E. Page ordained him a Prophet, Seer and Revelator and joined the group himself. Thus they became known as the Hedrickites. The name of the Church was The Church of Christ and they consider themselves a continuation of the original restoration from 1830. Granville Hedrick declared Joseph Smith a fallen prophet and claimed revelation from God during 1864 to lead his group to Independence Missouri to reclaim the Temple Lot. There was also influence exerted by David Whitmers claim that Joseph was a fallen prophet. Approximately 60 members of the group arrived in Independence in 1867 and by 1877 had purchased 8 lots which included the northeast cornerstone of the Temple that was laid by Joseph Smith. In 1891-1894 they successfully defended their title to the property in a civil suit brought by the RLDS Church. During 1929 an attempt was made to construct the Temple but it was abandoned because of economic constraints. They now consider themselves custodians of the property awaiting instruction from God. Since its inception this group has had approximately 4 splinter groups break from it. 7.) William Bickerton took the lead of the Rigdon group as Sidney Rigdon relinquished it. Bickerton established a Branch of the Church during May 1851 at West Elizabeth Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh. At a conference on 9 July 1861 twelve members were called as Apostles of the Church. The Church was incorporated during June 1865 as the Church of Jesus Christ of Green Oak Pennsylvania. It is now incorporated in all of Pennsylvania as the Church of Christ. Membership today (2008) is claimed to be 12,136 with nearly 3,000 living in the United States. There is a publishing house in Bridgewater Michigan that publishes copies of the Book of Mormon.
The Church accepts the Book of Mormon and Bible as scripture but does not accept the Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price. There is no paid ministry. Joseph Smith is not thought to be the choice seer predicted to come in the Book of Mormon but that seer is thought to likely be a person of Native American heritage that will come later. The Church does not accept plural marriage, plural Gods or baptism of the dead. Deaconesses (women) in the Church may prepare the Sacrament and revelation may be received by any individual member. They believe Sidney Rigdon was the rightful heir to leadership of the Church and Restoration after Joseph Smiths death. The glaring irony of this organization is their basing their existence and priesthood authority on a man (Sidney Rigdon) whom they would not follow. 18 8.) Jason Briggs founded Branches of the Church in Eastern Wisconsin at Beloit and Waukesha. He initially followed James J. Strang but during the 1850s established his New Organization Church. 9.) Zenos Gurley did not follow the Saints to Utah and in 1850 established a church he called the Yellowstone Branch in Lafayette County Wisconsin.