“Our Mothers (and Grandmothers) Knew It”: The Testimony of Talitha Cumi Garlick

z-Garlick.bmpA controversial event in Church history occurred when Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon both presented their arguments to the Church regarding who should lead after the death of Joseph Smith. Many members of the Church have heard that when Brigham Young rose to speak, he seemed to sound like and even look like Joseph Smith, indicating to many witnesses that the mantle of the Prophet had fallen on Brother Brigham.

I had long wondered if this story was simply wishful thinking. But when I later found the brief autobiography of my ancestor, Talitha Cumi Garlick (after two marriages, it was Talitha Cumi Garlick Avery Cheney – I’m from the Cheney line) and read her testimony of that event, the story became more credible, closer to home.

I have just made her history available on my Website as “The Autobiography of Talitha Cumi Garlick Avery Cheney, Mormon Pioneer.”

Here is the portion of her words regarding the incident with Brigham Young:

I was in Nauvoo when Sidney Rigdon came from the East after Brothers Joseph and Hyrum were killed, to take the lead of the Church. There were none of the Twelve Apostles at home, but Brothers Taylor and Richards. Brother Taylor was badly wounded. Sidney Rigdon thought he would have everything his own way, but he found that he was mistaken. He called a meeting. He said the Church was old enough to choose a guardian, it being 14 years since it was organized.

Brother Brigham Young and the other apostles arrived in Nauvoo in time to be present at the meeting. Brother Brigham Young said, “The keys of the Kingdom are with the Twelve Apostles. They are the ones to lead the people.” He looked just like Brother Joseph and spoke like him. Surely the mantle of Brother Joseph has fallen on him. I never had a doubt. I knew Brother Brigham was the man to fill the place of our beloved Prophet. I knew that Brother Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God and was the mouthpiece of God to the people, and that Brigham Young was his lawful successor. He was a man of God.

When I read her words, it becomes difficult for me to simply dismiss the story. She was a rugged, spunky woman, one who as a teenager refused to be baptized with the rest of her family until she had seen and met Joseph Smith. I don’t think she was the victim of group hysteria or peer pressure to dress up the past.

Heber J. Grant had similar feelings about the testimony of his mother regarding this event, as he reported in the October 1898 General Conference:

There are those that know not God. There are those that think the Latter-day Saints are a mistaken people, that they are deluded and that they have no faith in the supernatural; but I say here today that I know the mantle of Joseph Smith fell upon the Prophet Brigham Young. I know it, and I am willing to meet the testimony that I bear. How do I know it? I know it because of my mother, a more honest woman than whom never lived, a more devoted Latter-day Saint can not be found; because she and scores of others have told me that they saw the Prophet Brigham Young when he spoke with the voice of Joseph Smith; when he looked like the prophet Joseph; and I know that these people are honest; and in addition to this I know by the inspiration of God to me that Brigham Young was a Prophet of God.
[emphasis added]

Today I learned that a collection of many other statements from witnesses to this (disputed) miraculous event is found in a publication prepared by Lynne W. Jorgensen and the BYU Studies Staff, “The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: A Collective Spiritual Witness,” BYU Studies, Vol. 36, No. 4, 1996-6, pp. 125-204. The abstract is available online, and the article can be downloaded for $2. Talitha’s witness is in there. The abstract of the article follows:
On August 8, 1844, six weeks after the Prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, a meeting of the Saints was held in Nauvoo, Illinois. Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and several other Apostles had just returned from missions. The purpose of the meeting was to determine by vote who had the right and responsibility to lead the Church–Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, or the Quorum of the Twelve with Brigham Young at their head. In the course of the two meetings held that day, many in attendance received a divine witness that Brigham Young was to be the next leader: some Saints specifically state that as Brigham Young addressed the congregation he sounded and appeared remarkably like Joseph Smith, others simply say that the “mantle of Joseph” or “of the prophets” rested on Brigham Young, and others state that they were given a witness “by the spirit” that Brigham was to lead the Church.

The incident is not one I base my testimony on, and it’s possible that it was all just a psychological aberration or wishful thinking that got dressed up in later years. But in my opinion (bias alert!), examination of the other testimonies and surrounding evidences does not support the idea that this was an urban legend that many folks adopted long after the fact, even though none of the hundreds of witnesses who claimed to have seen the miracle wrote a diary entry of the experience at the time it occurred (if nothing else, let that be a reminder to all of us to write down more of our spiritual experiences, even if the rush of daily events – and mob action – makes writing a low priority). Something happened on that day – and I am inclined to apply Alma 56:47 to this situation, affirming the faith of the “sons of Helaman,” the stripling Lamanite warriors who said, “We do not doubt our mothers [or great-great-grandmothers] knew it.”

5 comments for ““Our Mothers (and Grandmothers) Knew It”: The Testimony of Talitha Cumi Garlick

  1. John H
    August 23, 2004 at 1:42 am

    Thanks for sharing this Jeff. Very interesting stuff.

    I’ll confess I find Richard Van Wagoner’s Dialogue article to be a pretty compelling argument against the event occuring in the way we’re usually told. Imagine if President Hinckley died in a few weeks and President Monson arose at General Conference and took on President Hinckley’s appearance and voice. You’d think at least a few people would record the event in diaries or letters (or online at blogs everywhere!) at the time it happened, and not several years down the road. The total lack of contemporary evidence makes the Young transfiguration suspect in my mind.

    On the other hand, I’m extremely wary of psychoanalyzing the testimonies or spiritual experiences of others – especially those long since passed. While I do find discussions of hypnosis or other naturalistic explanations for experiences shared by groups to be interesting, I think such discussions should be treated with plenty of skepticism.

    As a side note, it is interesting that there are contemporary sources from Church members who attended a meeting and witnessed the transfiguration of Heber J. Grant shortly after the death of Joseph F. Smith.

  2. Frank McIntyre
    August 23, 2004 at 11:08 am


    I’d never heard about the experience with Joseph F. Smith. What happened?

  3. John H
    August 23, 2004 at 1:01 pm

    Frank, the following is from Anthon H. Lund’s diary:

    [May 25, 1919; Sunday.] I attended fast-meeting in the Temple. This meeting will be a historical one of a similar to the meeting held in Nauvoo when Prest. Brigham Young was transfigured to look like Joseph Smith and the people took it as a sign that he was the true successor to the martyred prophet. The following spoke in our fast-meeting and bore testimony that Prest. [Grant] had looked exactly like Prest. Joseph F. Smith. Bro. Theodor Tobiason said that at our last fast-meeting he saw Prest. Grant look both in form and expression as Prest. Joseph F. Smith. Last Sunday when Prest Grant addressed the Granite Stake conference, there was a man present who was so astonished to know it was Bro. Grant speaking and yet to him it was Prest. Joseph F. Smith preaching. When the meeting was dismissed he came up to Bro. Tobiasen and told him what a remarkable thing he had witnessed and related the same that Tobiasen himself had witnessed on Fast day in the Temple May 4, 1919. Mrs. Steed, brother [blank] Wilson 17th Ward both bore the same testimony. Edward Anderson said that in looking at Prest. Grant he saw also the figure of Prest. Jos. F. Smith and that they melted together and as Prest kept speaking he saw only Prest. Joseph F. Smith. Miss Ship said My mother told me that she had had the wonderful experience to hear Prest. Grant speak but he looked just like Prest. Jos. F. Smith.
    Prest. Grant made a few closing remarks, and said the Testimonies in regard to his looking like Prest Smith made him feel very humble. The first who mentioned it to him was his own brother B. F. Grant Who said Heber, you were Prest Joseph F. Smith as I looked upon you. Tobiasen said that when that man told him what he saw last Sunday at the Granite Stake conference, he could not keep back his tears of joy. Miss Babcock said “I have always looked up[on] Prest. B. Youngs transfiguration as a wonderful event; hearing the testimonies today are just as wonderful and fills me with joy that I have been here today.”

    I haven’t taken the time to check Brigham Frederick Grant’s diary to see if he recorded the incident as reported by Anthon Lund.

  4. Frank McIntyre
    August 23, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    Thanks for that entry, John. It would be interesting to know if BF Grant recorded it in his journal. If he didn’t, this might weaken the case that Anthon Lund was correct, but strengthen the case that people fail to record even very important spiritual events.

  5. Geoff B
    August 23, 2004 at 4:35 pm

    Very interesting subject. Truman Madsen in his series of lectures on the prophet Joseph Smith pointed out Joseph’s testimony that the Father and the Son looked exactly like each other. His point was that as we progress we begin to look more and more like the Father, a perfect being. Joseph’s demeanor also changed as he became a mature prophet figure, and he began to talk exactly as Jesus did, his speech filled with references to the Scriptures. So, prophets become more like the Son, who has become like the Father. These transfigurations (prophets talking like their predecessors) may be part of that pattern — the new prophet as he progresses will begin to look like the old one, who looks like the Son who looks like the Father.

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