Cemetourism: Alpheus Cutler (1784–1864)

To mark the passing of Stanley E. Whiting, the most recent president of the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), it seems appropriate in this installment of “Cemetourism” to remember the first, Alpheus Cutler.*

Alpheus Cutler’s grave is located at the site of Manti, Iowa, the first headquarters of the reorganized Cutlerite church.  Once a bustling town, Manti is all but abandoned today — a victim of brinkmanship with the railroad.  After Manti became an RLDS town, church leaders advised members to hold out for a good price for rail right-of-way.  Rather than pay, the railroad skipped over Manti and founded a new town called Shenandoah.  Over time, Manti’s residents moved to Shenandoah and even dragged many of Manti’s vacant buildings to the new town.

Now some of the last historic Cutlerite homes are falling into ruin and only the stagecoach station is in good repair. The most visible remains of the old Cutlerite town are a road, a memorial park, and a pioneer cemetery.  The site is in Freemont County in the extreme southwest of Iowa — where Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri meet.  The first generation of Mormons had been promised that the Second Coming of Christ would occur in their lifetimes and they knew that the Kingdom would be built in Jackson County, Missouri. Cutler saw little reason to trudge across the Great Plains to live in Utah Territory only to have to trudge back when the call came.  Missouri was unsafe for Mormon settlement, but Manti was just about as close as you could get: Jackson County was a quick steamboat ride down the Missouri River.

When we visited Manti, our guide was Lew Weigand, a local expert on the site who is also JWHA’s treasurer. From Interstate 29, take Exit 10 to Iowa Highway 2 heading east. After about five miles Highway 2 heads north, but you continue on the same road east, which becomes successively State Highway 42 and then County Road J46 (about fourteen miles total). When you hit US Highway 59 turn left (north) and follow it about two miles until you get to County Road J40.  Turn left (west) and you’ll drive into the heart of old Manti.  Near where County Road J40 intersects Manti Road is an old Culterite home, now falling into ruins.  If you turn left (south) onto Manti Road (which continues to be County Road J40), you’ll come to the old stagecoach station (now a private residence).  Just before that is the entrance to Manti Park.  Upon entering the park, follow the road to the end.  Then follow the hiking paths through the woods, making right turns until you come into a field that is the site of the Cutlerite Pioneer Cemetery.  Cutler’s grave is in the northwest corner of the cemetery.  Sadly, vandals have attacked the cemetery on more than one occasion, and many of the markers have been smashed.

The old Manti stagecoach station.

A Cutlerite house in Manti, falling into ruin.

The entrance to Manti Memorial Park, which includes the pioneer cemetery.

Historical marker, honoring Manti, Iowa.

A view of the tombstones in Manti’s pioneer cemetery.

A marker in the cemetery describing past vandalism.

Alpheus Cutler was an imposing man and an important leader in the early church.  He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and his sword from that war has been passed down in his family as an heirloom.  (I got to hold the sword last year when a friend of mine who is a direct descendant donated it to the Community of Christ Archives.  It now sits safely in the vault next to James J. Strang’s scepter and David Whitmer’s seer stones.  Hopefully these treasures will all make their way into a permanent museum collection at Independence or Nauvoo before too long.)

Cutler’s role as master mason of the Nauvoo temple[1] should not be minimized given the powerful and direct influence contemporary freemasonry was having on Mormonism in Nauvoo.  Cutler and his wife Lois were among the earliest members to receive their endowments and to join the Anointed Quorum,[2] and they were among of the earliest members to receive their “Second Anointings” — a ceremony which Lois recalled gave Alpheus “all the keys, powers, and authorities which belong to the priesthood.”[3]

Mormonism in the 1830s and 40s was a religion for young men and women.  When the Council of Twelve was organized in 1835, the youngest apostle (Lyman E. Johnson) was just twenty-three and the oldest apostle (Thomas B. Marsh) was only thirty-five.[4]  Born in 1784, Cutler was part of an earlier generation than the prophet Joseph Smith.  In the Nauvoo era, there were two presiding high councils — the traveling high council (the Twelve) and the standing high council.  Although the former group was filled with younger men, older leaders like Cutler found a place in the latter group.  When the members of the standing high council are listed in the minutes on May 20, 1842, Cutler was 58 years old. Three high councilors were even older (the oldest, Samuel Bent, was 63).  Adding in the headquarters stake presidency, we find that two men on the standing high council were in their 60s, five were in the 50s, two were in their 40s, and the remaining six were in their 30s.[5]

In addition, when Joseph Smith announced the restoration of the “Kingdom of God on Earth” and organized its ruling council (the Fifty), the council’s membership was ranked by age (not counting Smith himself, who assumed the first rank despite his youth). Michael Quinn estimates that at the time of Smith’s death, Cutler was the third most senior member of the Fifty, after Samuel Bent and Joseph Smith’s uncle, John Smith.[6]  Cutler’s high rank in the Kingdom and his status as a general authority[7] on the standing high council informed his thinking during the succession crisis in 1844 and beyond.  Initially, Cutler agreed with Emma Smith that William Marks, as head of the standing high council and president of the headquarters stake, should become president of the church.[8]

Cutler later acceded to the idea of Twelve acting as the First Presidency, but even this may have come with reservations.  George Miller, one of the Presiding Bishops, recalled that Brigham Young assured him that Joseph Smith III was his father’s successor and would “have his place” when he came of age.[9] Cutler, who witnessed the blessing that Joseph Jr. bestowed on his son’s head (naming him successor)[10] may have been given similar assurances by Young. Cutler and Miller had been associates on the church building committee and on the missions to acquire wood for the temple. In 1846, the two led the advance company of Mormons from Nauvoo across Iowa to Winter Quarters in the present-day Omaha/Council Bluffs metro area.  Both broke with Young after 1847, when the chief apostle decided to reorganize a First Presidency headed by himself rather than young Joseph.[11]  Miller took his family south, joining Lyman Wight’s colony in Texas, before breaking with Wight and crossing the country again to join James Strang on Beaver Island. (Wight, Cutler, and Strang all continued to teach that young Joseph would eventually succeed his father — a teaching that eventually resulted in most of their flocks joining with the Reorganization when Joseph III did claim his father’s mantle in 1860.)

Cutler’s break with the Twelve was less vocal than Miller’s, but as the bulk of Young’s followers migrated to the Great Basin, Cutler’s group remained in the vicinity of Winter Quarters, establishing Indian missions in what later became Kansas.[12]  The Council of Fifty had charged Cutler with establishing missions to the Lamanites (American Indians), and Cutler believed this charge superseded any subsequent directive. However, achieving little success among the Indians, Cutler and his followers returned to Iowa, where they founded Manti in 1851. Cutler’s final break with Brigham Young occurred two years later when Cutler formally reorganized the “Church of Jesus Christ” in Manti, with himself at its head.[13]  In 1854, after the death of Uncle John Smith (who had become Presiding Patriarch of Young’s church), Cutler revealed to his followers that he was the last member of an inner, ruling “Council of Seven” — presumably a steering committee of the Fifty. The death or apostasy of all the other members meant, in Cutler’s opinion, that he and his followers were unique heirs to the keys of the restored Kingdom.[14]  The distinction between the restoration of the Priesthood in 1829, the Church in 1830, and the Kingdom in 1844 is generally lost in the LDS and Community of Christ traditions today, but it is still much remembered by Cutlerites.[15]  In the 1850s, Cutler and his followers thrived in Iowa.  Manti grew to a respectable size and two additional Cutlerite colonies were planted nearby.[16]

For the Cutlerite church, disaster struck on April 6, 1860, when Joseph Smith III was ordained prophet of a “New Organization” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in meeting at a general conference in Amboy, Illinois. Already older than other Nauvoo leaders, by this time Cutler was seventy-six years old and infirm.  Joseph III, who visited Cutler in 1863, recalled that the old man “had become partially paralyzed, had fleshened up a great deal, and was weighing something like three hundred pounds.”[17]  Joseph III and his missionaries succeeded in gathering most of Cutler’s followers into their Reorganization, including many of Cutler’s children and even his designated successor. When Cutler died on June 10, 1864, only a small remnant of 125 members remained in the Cutlerite church. This group, led by Chancey Whiting, followed Cutler’s last instructions and relocated north, founding a new colony in Clitherall, Minnesota.[18]  After some respite, the Minnesota Cutlerites were again found by RLDS missionaries in 1875, decimating their ranks a second time.  (RLDS converts in the second round included Cutler’s aged widow, Lois.)[19]

Generations later in the 1920s, Emory Fletcher became president of the Cutlerite church and announced a return to Zion. In 1924, two church elders located property on South Cottage Avenue in Independence, Missouri, and the membership began to relocate soon after.[20] The centennial of the restoration of the Priesthood (1929) was a cause of great excitement among members from traditions across the Restoration, many of whom again assumed the Second Coming was imminent.  The RLDS Church announced plans to build an enormous temple-like Auditorium in Independence and members of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) excavated a foundation for their own temple across the street.  However, of these three groups, the Cutlerites were only church to complete a House of the Lord in advance of the 1929 deadline.[21]  Their frame church (sometimes called a temple), constructed on South Cottage Avenue, is still in use and the sacred Kingdom ordinances taught by Cutler are still performed in its upper floor, unseen by profane eyes.  Thus Cutler’s legacy in the Restoration continues, both in his own organization, and also in the Community of Christ where so many descendants of Cutler and his followers have found their spiritual home.


Note: This is the second installment of “Cemetourism.” The first, visiting the grave of William B. Smith can be found here.

*That is, the first after Cutler’s reorganization of the church.  The first president of the all churches of the Restoration was, of course, Joseph Smith Jr.
[1] Biloine Whiting Young, Obscure Believers: The Mormon Schism of Alpheus Cutler (Minneapolis: Pogo Press, 2002) 44.
[2] D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 203, and Young, 44.
[3] Quinn, 205.
[4] Marsh was born Nov. 1, 1799 and Johnson was born Oct. 24, 1811.
[5] The dates of the men in question are William Marks (15 Nov 1792 – 1872) age 49, Austin A. Cowles (3 May 1792 – 1892) age 50, Charles C. Rich (21 Aug 1809 – 1883)  age 32, Samuel Bent (19 Jul 1778 – 1846) age 63, James Allred (22 Jan 1784 – 1876) age 58, Lewis D. Wilson Sr. (2 June 1805 – 1856) age 38, Alpheus Cutler (29 Feb 1784 – 1864) age 58, David Fullmer (7 July 1803 – 1879) age 38, George W. Harris (1 Apr 1780 – 1845) age 62, Thomas Grover (22 July 1807 – 1886) age 34, Aaron Johnson (22 June 1806 – 1877) age 35, Newel Knight (13 Sept 1800 – 1847) age 41, William Huntington (28 Mar 1784 – 1846) age 58, Leonard Soby (1810 – 1893) age approx. 32, and Henry Garlick Sherwood (20 Apr 1785 – 1867) age 57.
[6] Quinn, 521-22.
[7] Members of the standing high council were general officers of the early church, similar in rank to those of the traveling high council (the Twelve). In the LDS Church, Brigham Young extinguished the last vestiges of the standing high council in 1877.  Members of the standing high council continue to be general officers of the Community of Christ.
[8] Quinn, 203.
[9] Miller recalled, “I had frequent attempts at conversation with Brigham Young and H.C. Kimball in regard to Joseph’s leaving one to succeed him in the prophetic office, and in all my attempts to ascertain the truth as to that personage, I was invariably met with the innuendo, ‘stop,’ or ‘hush,’ brother Miller, let there be nothing said in regard to this matter, or we will have little Joseph killed as his father was, inferring indirectly that Joseph Smith had appointed his son Joseph to succeed him in the prophetic office, and I believe this impression was not alone left on my mind, but on the brethren in general, and remains with many to this day.” See Correspondence of Bishop George Miller with the Northern Islander, (Voree, Wisconsin: Wingfield Watson Trust, 1977), 23.
[10] Roger D. Launius, Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 15.
[11] Correspondence of George Miller, 36. Miller recalled, “I must confess that I was broken down in spirit on account of the usurpation of these arrogant apostles.”  When presented with Young’s revelation that foreshadowed a reorganization of the First Presidency, Miller was “greatly disgusted at the bad composition and folly of this revelation, as also the intimation that a First Presidency would be organized; that I was from this time determined to go with him [Brigham Young] no longer.”
[12] Danny L. Jorgensen, “Back to Zion: The Emergence of the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite) and Its Return to Independence, Missouri,” in Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism, Newell G. Bringhurst and John C. Hamer, eds., (Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, 2007), 163-64.
[13] Ibid., 165-67.
[14] Rupert J. Fletcher and Daisy Whiting Fletcher, Alpheus Cutler and the Church of Jesus Christ (Independence, Missouri: Church of Jesus Christ, 1974), 51-55.
[15] The distinction is also critical in the fundamentalist Mormon tradition and in the Strangite tradition. In general, what LDS members think of as “temple” ordinances are viewed as “kingdom” ordinances in these traditions.
[16] Jorgensen, 166-67.
[17] Young, 61.
[18] Jorgensen, 167.
[19] Young, 158.
[20] Ibid., 186.
[21] The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) eventually ceased their efforts and allowed the city to fill their excavation.  The RLDS Auditorium was not completed until 1958.


  1. Really enjoyed this, John.

  2. Great write-up, John. Thanks. A favorite vignette involving Cutler comes from Mary Rollins Lightner’s autobiography. She was very poor and lived outside of Nauvoo some distance. She became very ill (and sorry for the length):

    I dreamed that an Angel came to me, and said if I would go to Nauvoo, and call for Mr Cutler that worked on the Temple to administer to me I should be healed. But we could get no Team to go. I was in despair; however my Brother was impressed to send for me, he felt that something was wrong. so he sent a Boy with an Ox Team after me. I was so glad, that for a few moments, I felt new life. But the People said I would not get a mile from Town, when he would have to bring back my dead Body. But I said I wanted to be buried in Nauvoo, and plead with them to take me there dead, or alive. So after fixing my bed, in the Wagon, they placed me on it, the neighbors bid me good by as they supposed for the last time (they were not of our faith) we went a mile, and stopped the Team; they thought me dieing, as a green liquid was running out of my mouth, and the hue of death was on my countenance all the children were crying. I had my senses, and motioned for them to go on. we went a few miles further; stopped at a House and asked to stay all night, the Woman was willing until she saw me She said I would die before morning; and she did not want me to die in her House_ Mr Lightner told her that I would certainly die if I was left in an open wagon all night. She finaly let us in, made us as comfortable as she could_ fixed me some light food, after drinking some tea I felt better, and had a good nights rest_ but she was glad when When we left, for she thought I would never see Nauvoo. after traveling a few miles further, the same green liquid began runing runing from my mouth, and continued for some time. finaly we reached Nauvoo_ they stil thought me dying_ Mr L asked Mr Burk if there was an Old man by the name of Cutler working on the Temple? he said Yes. Mr L then told him my dream, Soon they brought him, he administered to me, and I got up, and walked to the fire alone. in 2 weeks I was able to take care of my children.

  3. Oh, and cemetery vadalism: boo. Who does that?

  4. Great story, J, thanks! As far as cemetery vandals go, I always personally imagine drunk high school boys are responsible, but I have nothing to back that idea up.

    Thanks, Ben. :)

  5. Wow. Thanks for this. And the maps and photos are superb, as always.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Totally awesome, John.

  7. Mark Brown says:

    Many thanks.

    I’ve driven on Hwy. 2 through Shenandoah probably 7 or 8 times and never known how close I was to a place named Manti. Next time I’m going to stop and visit the graveyard.

  8. Loved the write up John. I wish I could follow you on all your tourist outings. I always learn interesting things.

  9. Home run, John.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    Clitherall, Minnesota! I suppose Hoth was unavailable to the Cutlerites. Great stories here, John.

  11. Mom in Utah says:

    [9] “let there be nothing said in regard to this matter, or we will have little Joseph killed as his father was…” What? I have never heard this before. What do y’all make of it?

  12. Thanks, John. Do we have any rough ideas in terms of numbers what Cutler’s following was at its peak?

  13. Mom in Utah (#11): I think that’s pretty consonant with other things Brigham Young said concerning Joseph III prior to the latter’s ordination at the head of a rival church organization — in this case Miller may have read more into the innuendo than other leaders, since he already believed that Joseph III was to be the successor.

    David G (#12): I don’t know that we have good numbers for the Iowa period. Billie Young’s book is the only professional volume that’s been published so far and she concentrates on the Minnesota period. There’s lots of people working on the Cutlerites and it would be nice if one of them finishes up something comprehensive one of these days.

  14. reed russell says:

    Thanks for the wonderful history, John. I attended Brother Whiting’s funeral this morning. It was an open casket service and was well attended. Steve Shields officiated the entire service – he gave the eulogy, scripture readings, personal remarks and the closing prayer. He had some lovely counsel to the family on “letting go.” The interment was at Mound Grove Cemetery.

  15. Mel Johnson says:

    Thank you, John, for your great article. Truly outstanding!

  16. Bill Shepard says:

    I loved John’s work on Alpheus Cutler. There is a special bond between many latter-day historians that causes rejoicing when we enlarge our understanding of our Mormon predecessors. This is one such occasion.

  17. John’s presentation is highly informative, interesting, and useful. He does not cite most of my work dealing with most of the questions and issues raised here: See Danny L. Jorgensen, 1) “The Cutlerites of Southwestern Iowa: A Latter-day Saint Schism, 1846-1865,” The Annals of Iowa 58 (2, Spring 1999): 131-161, a discussion of the Iowa Cutlerites, particularly the settlements at Silver Creek, Manti, Farm Creek, and Mormontown; 2) “Cutler’s Camp at the Big Grove on Silver Creek: A Mormon Settlement in Iowa, 1847-1853,” The Nauvoo Journal 9 (2, Fall 1997): 39-51, a brief description of what little is known about the Silver Creek site and settlement (a PDF copy of this essay is available and may be downloaded from http://www.mormonhistoricsitesfoundation.org/publications/nj_fall1997/Jorgensen.pdf); 3) “Conflict in the Camps of Israel: The Emergence of the 1853 Cutlerite Schism,” Journal of Mormon History 21 (1, Spring 1995):24-62, a comprehensive treatment of how and why the Cutlerite schism happened; 4) “The Old Fox: Alpheus Cutler,” pp. 312-358 (Chapter 7) in Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher (eds.), Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994, an early efforts to provide a general overview of Cutler and his movement; 5) “The Scattered Saints of Southwestern Iowa: Cutlerite-Josephite Conflict and Rivalry, 1855 1865,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 13 (1993):80-97, a discussion of Cutlerite-Josephite (RLDS) relations in Iowa; 6) “Building the Kingdom of God: Alpheus Cutler and the Second Mormon Mission to the Indians, 1847-1853,” Kansas History 15(3, 1992):192 209, description and interpretation of Cutler’s Kansas Indian mission and related events,a PDF copy of this essay is or will be available shortly on the Kansas History website; and 7) “The Fiery Darts of the Adversary: An Interpretation of Early Cutlerism,” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 10 (1990):67 83, a very early efforts to describe the Cutlerites with special attention to doctrines, beliefs, practices and the role of women. I’ve also done a number of conference paper presentations that do not have corresponding published versions (some of them currently under revision and review). Biloine’s book provides a version of what generally is known about the Cutlerites of Minnesota (and she uses my work on the early period without adequate citations). Mike Riggs and Christopher James Blythe, among others, have done some excellent work on the Cutlerites, some of it published and some of it in the form of conference papers/presentatiopns.

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