Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Christopher Merkley

Contributed by: Paul Brown

Christopher Merkley was born in Williamsburg, Dundas County, Ontario, Canada, 1808 December 18; baptized LDS 1837 July 27; helped build the Nauvoo, Salt Lake, and Logan temples; Indian War veteran, and missionary eight times; died in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1893.

The Testimony of Christopher Merkley

After the Prophet Joseph came out of prison in Missouri, he called a conference at Quincy, Illinois. While the people were gathering, I was standing near the Prophet when a brother approached him and dunned him for money. The Prophet asked him where he thought he could have money, as he had just gotten out of prison. The man, however, still importuned him. The debt was not the Prophet's, but another brother's who had bought land from this man in Missouri. The Prophet had endorsed for the man who bought. The Prophet told him that under the circumstances he thought he ought not to demand any pay. But the man was very obdurate, and insisted on having it.

Brother Joseph finally told him he had just five dollars in his pocket. If four dollars would do him any good, he could have them. These the man accepted.

Brother Joseph took five silver dollars out of his pocket and gave him four of them, returning one to his own pocket. While I was walking around with the Prophet, a man came and told him a sister wanted to see him. Brother Joseph went to see her. I followed him. The sister was sick, and her friends had written to her from the East telling her if she would come back they would take care of her. She asked him what she should do. Brother Joseph asked her what she would rather do. She said she would rather stay with the Saints, if she was not too burdensome. He said, "Then stay, sister, and God bless you." He put his hand in his pocket and gave her his last dollar. He then instructed the brethren not to let her suffer.

At the close of the conference the Prophet Joseph went to Commerce. On his way he stopped at Lima to take dinner. I met him there and asked him if he would like a little money.

He said, "Yes, Brother Merkley. I am now on a journey of fifty miles, and I have not a dime in my pocket." I gave him a sovereign. He took me by the hand and blessed me, and said, "Brother Merkley, may you never want."

I never have.

[Biography of Christopher Merkley, pp. 9-11. Quoted in _They Knew the Prophet_, compiled by Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, Bookcraft Inc. SLC 1974, p. 121, 198. "...Extraneous materials have been deleted, introductory and transitional phrases have been added, major spelling errors have been corrected, and punctuation has been altered where necessary for clarity. In all the statements, however, the original meaning and (as far as possible) wording have been preserved." - Andrus]

Pioneer Ancestors, Salt Lake City Chapter SUP
Christopher Merkley Born 18 December 1808 at Williamsburg, Dundas County, Upper Canada, Entered Salt Lake Valley 3 October 1849

Christopher Merkley; Born 18 December 1808 at Williamsburg, Dundas County, Upper Canada, Entered Salt Lake Valley 3 October 1849

Christopher Merkley was the third of eight children born to Jacob Merkley and Elizabeth Statta in Williamsburg, Dundas County, Upper Canada. Jacob was the fourth of six children born to Jacob Merckel and Maria Schaeffer in Isle of Carlton, Canada. Jacob was the first of two children born to Christopher Friedrich and Dorothea Merckel in Durlach, Karlsruhe, Baden.

Elder John E. Page baptized Christopher a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1837. Shortly thereafter he and his first wife, Sarah Davis, and their son, Nelson, moved to upper Missouri to be with the Saints. Severe hardship and persecution drove the Merkley's and other Church members north into Illinois during the winter of 1839.

While residing in Quincy, Illinois, Christopher had an interesting encounter with the prophet Joseph Smith. The prophet had just recently been extricated from Liberty jail and was enroute to visit the Saints in Commerce. Christopher met the prophet while having dinner in Lima and asked him if he would like a little money. Joseph replied, "Yes, Brother Merkley, I am now on a journey of fifty miles, and I have not a dime in my pocket." Christopher gave him a sovereign, whereupon the prophet took him by the hand and blessed him, and said, "Brother Merkley, may you never want." Christopher later wrote in regard to this blessing, "I never have."

While living in Nauvoo, Christopher was involved in numerous worthwhile endeavors. When the temple was begun, his team was the first to begin hauling earth from the basement. He was a member of the mounted company of the Nauvoo Legion. He also received his endowment in the Nauvoo temple.

It was during this period of his life that Christopher served the first of three proselytizing missions to eastern Canada. In serving the Lord, he had several remarkable spiritual experiences. While enroute to Canada he was invited to attend a conference in Great Bend, New York. It was after dark when he arrived in the town. Not knowing anyone, he depended on the impressions of the Spirit to guide him to the house of some of the brethren. He wrote in his autobiography: "While riding down the street I was impressed to stop at a house I was passing, but rode on. Not receiving any more impressions, I turned back and stopped at the house that the spirit had indicated. I found it to be the residence of Brother Day. Sister Day came out and made me welcome. She said she had seen me in a vision the night before, and said I was going to help Brother Day and another brother out of trouble, which I did."

A year later while returning to Nauvoo from his mission, Christopher was staying in the home of a Sister Wilcox. During the night he dreamed of cutting lumber. When he went to sell it, the merchant asked if the material had been rafted. Somewhat chagrined he said "no," but then proceeded with his little mare, ax, and chain to do the job. He had eighteen sticks of timber, two oars, two floats, and five traverses, making in all twenty-seven pieces. The next morning, this dream came to Christopher's mind, and the interpretation came also. While at breakfast, he told Sister Wilcox the dream, and asked her to give the interpretation. She said he was going to baptize twenty-seven persons before he went home. This was the same way it had been given to him, but he thought it impossible as his mission was completed. Shortly thereafter he was invited to preach in two or three places. He baptized several persons, then left appointments and went to visit his father. When he returned, he filled the appointments and baptized many more, altogether twenty-seven exactly. He ordained the officers necessary, and organized them into a branch called the Mountain Branch. Thus his dream was fulfilled to the letter--his raft completed.

At the time the prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, Christopher was returning from his second mission to Canada. His feelings upon hearing of the prophet's death are instructive with regard to the fervor of his testimony. He wrote: "This news filled my heart with an unspeakable grief, so much so that I made up my mind to go home and leave the Gentiles to go to the devil their own way, because I felt that they were not worthy of any better treatment from me, after they had imbued their hands in the blood of the best men that had ever been on the earth since the days of Jesus."

Early in 1848 Christopher procured an outfit consisting of two wagons, a span of French horses, one yoke of oxen and various other animals in preparation for his journey to the Great Salt Lake Valley. At Counsel Bluffs, Iowa, he obtained temporary employment running two ferryboats across the Missouri River. He remained there until the summer of 1849 when he joined the company of fifty over which Enoch Reese was captain. Christopher arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on October 3, 1849 and observed that in addition to the few provisions in his wagon, he had at the time only three and one-half dollars.

Over the next ten years Christopher was called on additional missions for the Church, but these were of a different type. In October 1853 he went to Green River, Wyoming to help build Fort Supply. In April 1855 he was called to Carson, Nevada to help civilize the Indians. Subsequently he was sent to Sacramento to assist the Surveyor General establish the boundary line between Utah and California.

In 1857, Christopher owned a house in the Thirteenth Ward, which he decided to enlarge. He made a contract with a man to do the work, but this was just at the time Johnson's army was approaching the Salt Lake Valley. The contractor came to him and asked if he wanted him to finish the house, or should he stop the work. Church members had received the order from President Young to prepare everything they possessed for burning, as they intended to destroy every vestige of their property rather than have it fall into the hands of their enemies. Christopher told the contractor to go on and finish his house, "as it would be so much more worth burning if finished."

Christopher married his third wife, Xarissa Fairbanks, by whom he had eight children, including my grandfather, Alva Marion Merkley. The pioneer spirit of my great grandfather was demonstrated on numerous occasions. One of my favorite excerpts from his life story occurred in 1864 when he was called to go on a mission to Dixie (southern Utah). He made all preparations to go, and sent some of his goods to Cedar City. When about ready to start, he went to see President Brigham Young, to know where he wanted him to go. President Young said he would let Christopher select his own location, for which he thanked him. While talking to him, President Young perceived that Christopher's arms were crippled. Christopher recorded: "He asked me if I could not use my arms any better than I did. I told him 'No.' He said I was in a poor fix to go to Dixie, and told me he would release me, for which I thanked him." Christopher appeared willing to serve regardless of the sacrifice.

When Christopher was nearly eighty years old, he concluded his story by observing: "I am still hale and hearty, and do not allow any young man to walk past me on the street. I have filled eight missions and baptized eighty-five persons. I have also served on several Indian campaigns with my company of minutemen. I have always paid my tithing from the days I was in Nauvoo. ... And now I am watching the events transpiring in these last days in fulfillment of ancient prophecy and of the words of the Savior, as well as the prophecies of the prophet Joseph Smith.

A more complete description of my great grandfather's life is found in Biography of Christopher Merkley, Written by Himself. Salt Lake City: J. H. Parry and Company, 1887.See also, Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. Edited by Frank Esshom. Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1966. Page 1032. Both of these sources are available at the Sons of Utah Pioneers Library.

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