More Church Myths – Thomas B Marsh and Milk Strippings

The church wants us to leave the church alone. Do they leave “apostates” alone? Have they ever left apostates alone?

The church tells stories about those who leave to discredit them and instill fear into their congregations. They are seeking to control members and keep them “in”. Plugging holes in a leaking ship. They will tell whatever wild story they can to make those who leave seem petty and crazy. They seek to destroy their credibility. They don’t want their stories to be heard. The real stories cover the real story and people involved with slanderous musings. Thomas B Marsh is a perfect example, and this is still widely told today. It is a silly story to paint Thomas Marsh and his wife, Elizabeth Godkin Marsh, as being immature and easily offended. The church can use this as evidence that they didn’t have a firm foundation or didn’t “hold to the rod” and let silly things get in the way of following the truth. Much like how they dismiss those who leave today as “lazy learners” and petulant children complaining about stale crackers!

The church likes to tell stories about those who have to dismiss them as silly and easily offended. There’s a church myth that purports that Thomas B Marsh, the first president of the Quorum of the Twelve (along with his wife – among the first – 55th & 56th respectively to join the church), apostatized from the church because of something silly, then decades later returns as a poor old man and is accepted back into the fold. This is used as a story of warning to any others who are prideful enough to consider leaving.

The church tells the story of him leaving on account of his wife being in a dispute about milk creme. In reality, the reasons for leaving are the violence perpetrated on the citizens of Missouri at the hand of Mormons. The Danite band (a vigilante group supporting Mormon church leaders) violently opposed any who opposed the church. Then David W. Patten led a group in the looting and burning of non-Mormon settlements in Davis County Missouri. The next day Thomas B Marsh as well as Orson Hyde, both apostles, left the church in objection to these attacks and to the forming of the Danites. They filed an affidavit (now viewable as document folder 47 of the Mormon Wars in Missouri as Thomas B March) (view the affidavit transcription at the end of this post). It’s not the milk creme that made him leave, but that’s the story the church has told to explain his apostasy. The reality is he opposed violence.

Marsh drafted and signed a legal affidavit against Smith on October 24, 1838, which Hyde also signed. In addition to reporting on the organization of the Danites and on the events in Daviess County, Marsh reported rumors that the Danites had set up a “destroying company” and that “if the people of Clay & Ray made any movement against them, this destroying company was to burn Liberty & Richmond.” He further stated his belief that Smith planned “to take the State, & he professes to his people to intend taking the U.S. & ultimately the whole world”. The committee that received Marsh’s and Hyde’s affidavit noted that Marsh and Hyde left the church due to their “conviction of [the Mormons’] immorality and impiety.

Thomas B Marsh – 1838 Split with Smith, Wikipedia

The Milk Story Becomes Prominent

In the April General Conference of 1856, Apostle George A. Smith first states the now oft-repeated tale that Marsh left over a dispute between his wife and Sister Harris over skimming the creme from the milk from the cow they shared. The dispute escalated all the way up to the First Presidency. Although this tale has made its way into Mormon folklore, George A Smith’s story, and statements are not supported by any contemporary evidence.

Skimming the milk creme

Gordon B Hinckley even shared at length the church’s incorrect version of the story during a general conference. He makes a big show of how he wants to tell the complete story to explain how a man such as Thomas Marsh would fall so low and references the story (linked above) from George A Smith.

I wondered, as I read that story so filled with pathos, what had brought him to this sorry state. I discovered it, in the Journal of Discourses, in a talk given to the Saints in this same bowery the year before by George A. Smith. I think, if you’ll bear with me for a minute or two, it is worth the telling to illustrate to all of us the need to be careful in dealing with small matters which can lead to great consequences…

What a very small and trivial thing—a little cream over which two women quarreled. But it led to, or at least was a factor in, Governor Boggs’ cruel exterminating order which drove the Saints from the state of Missouri, with all of the terrible suffering and consequent death that followed. The man who should have settled this little quarrel, but who, rather, pursued it, troubling the officers of the Church, right up to the Presidency, literally went through hell for it. He lost his standing in the Church. He lost his testimony of the gospel. For nineteen years he walked in poverty and darkness and bitterness, experiencing illness, and loneliness. He grew old before his time…

Small Acts Lead to Great Consequences, General Conference April 1984, Gordon B Hinckley

A Falling Away

Within a few months, Marsh fell prey to a spirit of apostasy, as had many others. He was among several Latter-day Saints who became disturbed by the increasingly violent relationship between Church members and their Missouri neighbors. Also contributing to his deepening dissatisfaction was the infamous “cream strippings” incident, which occurred in August or September 1838, involving Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth, and Lucinda Harris, the wife of George W. Harris. According to George A. Smith, the women had agreed to exchange milk from their cows for making cheese. But counter to their agreement, Elizabeth allegedly kept the cream strippings—the richer part of the milk that rises to the top—before sending the rest of the milk to Lucinda. According to Smith, the matter went before the teachers quorum, then the bishop, and then the high council, all of whom found Elizabeth to be at fault. Marsh, not satisfied, appealed to the First Presidency, who agreed with the earlier decisions. Further hurt by this chain of events, the already frustrated Marsh was said to have declared “that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it.”

Doctrine and Covenants Study > Revelations in Context > Faith and Fall of Thomas Marsh


Some members are deceived because of their pride. The following story illustrates how pride led Thomas B. Marsh, who was President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Elizabeth, into apostasy.

Lesson 24: ‘Be Not Deceived, but Continue in Steadfastness’ Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (1999), 134–39

Thomas B. Marsh, the first President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in this dispensation, elected to take offense over an issue as inconsequential as milk strippings… In many instances, choosing to be offended is a symptom of a much deeper and more serious spiritual malady. Thomas B. Marsh allowed himself to be acted upon, and the eventual results were apostasy and misery.

And Nothing Shall Offend Them, David A Bednar, General Conference 2006 October

Marsh’s Prodigal Return

Almost twenty years after Marsh leaves the church he finds himself divorced and stricken with a disease that has aged him, and he eventually goes to Utah in return to mormon-dom. He is received by Brigham Young (who was once a junior apostle to him). Brigham publicly receives him but even here the story of this apostasy and suffering is conflated into one to tell of the prosperity gospel. Brigham is quick to brag about his many wives in this reception too:

He has told you that he is an old man. Do you think that I am an old man? I could prove to this congregation that I am young; for I could find more girls who would choose me for a husband than can any of the young men. Brother Thomas considers himself very aged and infirm, and you can see that he is, brethren and sisters. What is the cause of it? He left the Gospel of salvation…

When Brother Thomas thought of returning to the Church, the plurality of wives troubled him a good deal. Look at him. Do you think it need to? I do not; for I doubt whether he could get one wife. Why it should have troubled an infirm old man like him is not for me to say.

Brigham Young, Mormon Prophet and Polygamist
Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., 5: 210

What a humble leader Brigham was, bragging about how many more wives he can collect, while also doubting that Marsh could fetch even a single wife. There is nothing in this return though that references the milk strippings or the dispute about it. Why is it that he is only remembered as the apostate that was “easily offended” over such “trivial” and “inconsequential” things, the scapegoat is milk strippings but in reality, it is the violence that was stoked by Joseph Smith himself. The Mormon extermination order came soon after to remove the violent Mormons from the state of Missouri. There is a real pattern of those in the inner circle of Joseph Smith learning more and more of his actions and dealings and breaking away. They didn’t mince words, they left loud and told their story, but the church continues to tell the mythical versions of their leaving to discredit them still and aggrandize their own white-washed church history. Not too long after Marsh leaves, another church leader William Law (of the First Presidency) also left and published the Nauvoo Expositor which would lead to the arrest and killing of Joseph Smith.

The Affidavit

At the request of a committee of the citizens of Ray County, I make the following statement in relation to the recent movements, plans & intentions of the Mormons in the counties of Caldwell & Daviess.

Shortly after the settlement of the difficulties at De Witt in Carroll County, a call was made up by the Mormons at Far West in Caldwell County for volunteers to go to Daviess County, to disperse the mob as they said. On the day before this Joseph Smith the prophet in which he said that all the Mormons who refused to take up arms, if necessary in difficulties with the citizens, should be shot, or otherwise put to death. And as I was there with my family I thought it most prudent to go, and did go with my wagon, as the driver.

We marched to Adam-onde-oman and found no troops or mob in Daviess County. Scouting parties frequently went out & brought in intelligence that they had seen from three to five men. We got to Diamon on Tuesday evening, & on the next day a company of about eighty of the Mormons, commanded by a man fictictiously named Captain Fearnot, marched to Gallatin. They returned and said they had run off from Gallatin twenty or thirty men and had taken Gallatin, had taken one prisoner and another had joined the company. I afterwards learned from the Mormons that they had burned Gallatin, and that it was done by the aforesaid company that marched there. The Mormons informed me that they had hauled away all the goods from the store in Gallatin, and deposited them at the Bishop’s storehouses at Adam-on-diahmon. On the same day, Lyman Wight marched about eighty horsemen for Millport. He returned before night and called for Joseph Smith & Hiram Smith to report to them (said Hiram being counsellor of said Joseph the prophet) and said Wight reported that he had been in sight of Millport, saw no one to fight, but that the people generally had gone & left their houses & property. The prophet, on hearing the property was left, commenced a reply & said “We had better see to it.” When Wight stopped him by saying “Never mind, we will have a private counsel,” and Smith replied “Very well.” The private counsel I did not hear. The men were dismissed to go to their camps.

The same evening a number of footmen came up from the direction of Millport, laden with property which, I was informed, consisted of beds, clocks & other household furniture. The same night, I think, about three wagons were dispatched for about forty bee gums, and the next day saw several gums where they were splitting them up & taking the honey & burning the gums, in which business of taking out the honey, but few were engaged for fear, as they said, they would be called on as witnesses against them. When Wight returned from Millport & informed Smith that the people were gone & the property left, Smith asked him if they had left any of the Negroes for them, & Wight replied no. Upon which someone laughed and said to Smith, “You have lost your Negro, then.”

During the same time, a company called the fur company was sent out to bring in fat hogs & cattle, calling the hogs “bears” and the cattle “buffaloe.” They brought in at one time seven cattle and at another time, four or five belonging to the people of Daviess. Hogs were brought in dead, but I know not how many. I saw only two.

They have among them a company consisting of all that are considered true Mormons, called the Danites, who have taken an oath to support the heads of the church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong. Many, however, of this band are much dissatisfied with this oath as being against moral and religious principles. On Saturday last, I am informed by the Mormons, they had a meeting at Far West at which they appointed a company of twelve, by the name of the destruction company, for the purpose of burning & destroying, and that if the people of Buncombe came to do mischief upon the people of Caldwell & committed depredations on the Mormons, they were to burn Buncombe & if the people of Clay & Ray made any movement against them, this destroying company was to burn Liberty & Richmond. This burning was to be done secretly by going as incendiaries. At the same meeting I was informed they passed a decree that no Mormon dissenter should leave Caldwell County alive, & that such as attempted to do it should be shot down & sent to tell their tale in eternity. In a conversation between Doct. Avard & other Mormons, said Avard proposed to start a pestilence among the gentiles, as he called them, by poisoning their corn, fruit &c and saying it was the work of the Lord. And said Avard advocated lying for the support of their religion, & said it was no harm to lie for the Lord.

The plan of said Smith, the prophet, is to take the State, & he professes to his people to intend taking the U.S. & ultimately the whole world. This is the belief of the Church & my own opinion of the prophet’s plans & intentions.

It is my opinion that neither said Joseph Smith, the prophet, nor any one of the principal men who is firm in the faith could be indicted for any offense in the county of Caldwell. The prophet inculcates the notion, & it is believed by every true Mormon, that Smith’s prophecies are superior to the law of the land. I have heard the prophet say that he should yet tread down his enemies & walk over their dead bodies; that if he was not let alone he would be a second Mahamet to the generations, & that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic ocean. That like Mahamet, whose motto in treating for peace was the Alcoran or the sword, so should it be eventually with us – Jo Smith or the sword.

These last statements were made during the last summer. The number of armed men at Adamondiamon was between three & four hundred.

Thomas B. Marsh

Richmond, Mo.
October the 24th 1838
Sworn & subscribed before me the day hereon written
Henry Jacobs, J.P., Ray County, Mo.

The most of the statements in the foregoing disclosed of Thomas B. Marsh I know to be true. The remainder I believe to be true.

Orson Hyde

Richmond, Oct 24th 1838
Sworn to & subscribed before me on the day above written
Henry Jacobs, J.P.

The undersigned committee on the part of the citizens of Ray County have no doubt but that Thomas B. Marsh & Orson Hyde, whose names are signed to the foregoing certificates, have been members of the Mormon Church in full fellowship until very recently when they voluntarily abandoned the Mormon Church & faith. And that said Marsh was, at the time of his dissenting, the President of the Twelve Apostles & President of the Church at Far West, and that said Hyde was, at that time, one of the Twelve Apostles. And that they left the church & abandoned the faith of the Mormons from a conviction of their immorality & impiety.

Richmond, Oct 24th 1838

Thomas C. Burch
William Hudgins
Geo. Woodward
J. R. Hindley
C. R. Morehead
O. H. Learcey
Henry Jacobs

Further reading:

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply