Southwestern States Mission: The Death of President Lorenzo Snow

By January 6, 2013

Before Christmas I wrote a few posts about the death of missionaries or their close relations and how those deaths were handled institutionally. In this post I will discuss how the missionaries reacted to the death of the President of the Church, Lorenzo Snow, on 1901 Oct 10.

From the perspective of the traveling-Elder diaries in this study, President Snow?s death was nearly a non-event. Elder Folkman was the only travelling Elder who recorded it, a week after the fact:

After dinner, we went to Sister Nichols at Spring Hill. Found them all well. Spent the evening in talking upon the Gospel. We seen in a Kansas City Star of the death of President Snow. We had got no papers for over a week and therefore we heard nothing of it until this time. [1]

Elder Jones gives two hints of possibilities that he noticed [2] but I otherwise find no mention in the travelling Elders? diaries of the death or change in leadership. [3] I am flummoxed by the silence: it seems to me that with possible feelings of bereavement, excitement for regime change, a sense of historical significance, and so on, someone in addition to Folkman would have dropped a line or two about the old prophet or the new.

President Duffin spent all of October 1901 in Utah as part of his routine obligation to attend the semi-annual general conferences of the church but made no journal entries for the month. [4] After his return to the mission he connected the change in Presidency to his own geographic responsibilities: ?Who can say but that the work of redeeming the land of Zion, in the State of Missouri, will be commenced under the presidency of Joseph F. Smith, the Prophet of the Lord!? [5] Part of Duffin?s enthusiasm came from the idea of having a blood relation of church-founder Joseph Smith as the leader. [6]

The ?Southwestern States Mission? series (homepage) examines mission life in (mostly) Texas around 1900.

[1] Folkman, 1901 Oct 19 Sat.

[2] The hints are that he read a newspaper and spoke on church officers: ?We then started for Gatesville after our mail. ? Found one letter from home bringing the good news that the folks were improving with the measles. ? We spent the remainder of the day in the woods reading the newspapers.? (Jones, 1901 Oct 18 Fri); ?At 2 p.m. we again drove to Hurst, where we held another meeting. ? I occupied all of the time, speaking upon The Holy Ghost and officers that were placed in the church.? (Jones, 1901 Nov 10 Sun).

[3] Many (most? all?) of the missionaries subscribed to Utah newspapers and magazines; their diary silence was not due to ignorance.

[4] Duffin attended the general conference a few days before Snow?s death; I think it likely that he attended the funeral. He was back in Kansas by time President Smith was formally presented as the new President and Prophet (on 1901 Nov 10).

[5] ?My visit to Utah and attending the general conference has been one of pleasure and profit to me. In looking back over the few weeks since I left the mission Oct. 1st to attend general conference, what great changes have taken place: A prophet of the Lord, and President of the Church, Lorenzo Snow, has passed away; A new Presidency organized; and the quorum of the twelve apostles filled up and a president of that quorum appointed. I feel that these changes are full of promise to the Latter-day Saints and for the progress of the work of the Lord. Who can say but that the work of redeeming the land of Zion, in the State of Missouri, will be commenced under the presidency of Joseph F. Smith, the Prophet of the Lord!, and many other wonderful works be accomplished of which the prophets have written. I pray that God will give me faith and strength to become a faithful servant in this great work, and an instrument in His hands of assisting in the accomplishment of His purposes; and I pray that my dear family will become instruments in His hands to the same end.? (Duffin, 1901 Nov 4 Mon). Duffin?s enthusiasm for President Smith continued at least until October conference the following year: ?It was one of the most enjoyable conferences I ever attended. Prest. Joseph F. Smith is a most wonderful man, full of the spirit of his high calling.? (Duffin, 1902 Oct 8 Wed).

[6] ?To-day, I regard as one of great importance, not only in my own life and the history of the mission, but also in the history of the Church, for it marks the signing of a deed to the purchase of the first property by the Church, in Jackson County, Mo. since the Saints were driven out under the Presidency of the Prophet Joseph. It seems to me, too, fitting, that inasmuch as the work of redeeming the land of Zion was stopped, by mob violence at the time Joseph the Prophet was President of the Church it should be re-commenced by one of, or under one of, his faithful relatives.? (Duffin, 1904 Apr 14 Thu). Two other possible reasons for Duffin?s enthusiasm for Smith are that, IIRC, Smith supported continued polygamy more that Snow had and Smith pursued the acquisition of lands formerly held by the church in Missouri and elsewhere, both issues important to Duffin.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Great post, Edje. I was similarly flummoxed by the dearth of reactions to the Woodruff Manifesto. Very few reactions, comparatively, anyway.

    Did President Duffin connect the return to Missouri with LS’s hope that the Saints would return en masse sooner rather than later? I think the Smith descendant angle is very interesting as well.

    Comment by J Stuart — January 6, 2013 @ 10:55 am

  2. My mother was on an Army post in Texas at the time of the roughly simultaneous deaths of US Pres. Roosevelt and LDS Pres. Grant. She heard all about FDR’s death through official channels, but it was many weeks before her family happened to mention HJG’s death in their regular letters. I don’t know what that’s all about, especially given our habits in the blogging world of racing to share the most miniscule bits of Church news.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 6, 2013 @ 11:16 am

  3. Perhaps it has to do with the short term of Pres Snow’s presidency. It did not give members much of a chance to experience him in the position. Kind of like when Pres Hunter died less than a year after becoming prophet, the response was much less than what we got with the deaths of Pres Kimball or Hinckley.

    Comment by Rameumptom — January 6, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

  4. Nice, Ed. The almost entire absence of Pres. Snow’s death being mentioned is fascinating.

    Comment by Christopher — January 6, 2013 @ 5:53 pm

  5. Thanks for the comments.

    J Stuart:

    “Did President Duffin connect the return to Missouri with LS?s hope that the Saints would return en masse sooner rather than later?”

    Yes. Duffin explicitly predicts the return within the 20th century.


    “I don?t know what that?s all about, especially given our habits in the blogging world of racing to share the most miniscule bits of Church news.”

    I agree: it’s not so much the silence as it is the contrast between then and now. I wonder if it was “hot news” but the missionaries were merely not writing about the change in their diaries or if it just wasn’t that big a deal. Perhaps the advent of satellite/televised conferences has changed how the members/missionaries relate to general leaders.


    “Perhaps it has to do with the short term of Pres Snow?s presidency.”

    Very likely. On the other hand, Snow had been prominent in the hierarchy for decades and was one of the handful of surviving leaders who had known Joseph Smith as an adult. (And… if the conference report on Snow’s funeral is to be believed, the mourning in Utah was deep and sincere.)

    Thanks, Christopher.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — January 6, 2013 @ 9:04 pm

  6. I know it is not the same relationship and circumstances, but I can’t help but compare this to Joseph F. Smith’s reaction to the death of George A. Smith while he was on a mission to Great Britain in 1875. However, I am glad that my grandfather was paying attention.

    Comment by kevinf — January 7, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  7. Harold B. Lee died about a month after I arrived in Japan as a missionary. Besides being in shock because of the absolute strangeness of everything about the country–its geography, food, language, customs, etc., etc.–I had the further shock of hearing of the death of the relatively young President Lee from a Japanese branch president who could have been the model for a World War II era anti-Japanese propaganda poster, and who learned about it while watching the TV news. So, my first reaction was disbelief. I’ll have to dig up my letters and see what I wrote about it.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 7, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

  8. Thanks for the comments, Kevin and Mark.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — January 8, 2013 @ 6:55 am


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