A Missionary Experience and the ConsequencesBy President George Albert Smith President of the Church General Conference – April, 1950
When I was twenty-one years of age, I was sent on a mission to the southern states. I became secretary of the mission, and while there was called to Columbia, South Carolina, because some of our elders had become seriously ill. It was difficult to get word back and forth, so I got on a train and went down there. I found that they were improved and getting along all right.
MISSIONARY EXPERIENCE When I bade them good-bye, I boarded the train and started home, and we passed a little Indian settlement at the side of the track. I saw evidence that there were quite a number of Indians there, so I reached over and touched the man who was sitting in the seat in front of me, and I said, “Do you know what Indians these are?”
He said, “They are the Catawbas.” That is the tribe that Chief Blue represents, who has just spoken to us.
I asked, “Do you know where they come from?”
He said, “Do you mean the Catawbas?”
I replied, “Any Indians.”
He said, “Nobody knows where the Indians came from.”
“Oh,” I said, “yes they do.” I was talking then to a man about forty-five or fifty years old, and I was twenty-one.
He questioned, “Well, where did they come from?”
I answered, “They came from Jerusalem six hundred years before the birth of Christ.”
“Where did you get that information?” he asked.
I told him, “From the history of the Indians.”
“Why,” he said, “I didn’t know there was any history of the Indians.”
I said, “Yes, there is a history of the Indians. It tells all about them.” Then he looked at me as much as to say: My, you are trying to put one over on me.
But he said, “Where is this history?”
“Would you like to see one?” I asked. And he said that he certainly would. I reached down under the seat in my little log cabin grip and took out a Book of Mormon and handed it to him.
He exclaimed, “My goodness, what is this?”
I replied, “That is the history of the ancestry of the American Indian.”
He said, “I never heard of it before. May I see it?”
I said, “Yes” and after he had looked at it a few minutes, he turned around to me and asked, “Won’t you sell me this book? I don’t want to lose the privilege of reading it through.”
“Well,” I said, “I will be on the train for three hours. You can read it for that long, and it won’t cost you anything.” I had found that he was getting off farther on, but I had to get off in three hours.
In a little while he turned around again and said, “I don’t want to give up this book. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
I could see that he apparently was a refined and well-educated man. I didn’t tell him I really wanted him to read the book, but I said, “Well, I can’t sell it to you. It is the only one I have.” (I didn’t tell him I could get as many more as I wanted.)
He said, “I think you ought to sell it to me.”
I replied, “No, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You keep it for three weeks, and at the end of that time you send it to me at Chattanooga,” and I gave him my card with my address on, secretary of the mission.
So we bade one another good-bye, and in about two weeks he wrote me a letter saying, “I don’t want to give this book up. I am sure you can get another, and I will pay you any price you want for it.”
Then I had my opportunity. I wrote back, “If you really enjoy the book and have an idea it is truly worth while, accept it with my compliments.” I received a letter of thanks back from him.
I speak of that because that was the first time I had ever heard of the Catawba Indians, and there were only a few of them. I understand now from Chief Blue that ninety-seven percent of them are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
MEETING 15 YEARS LATER Coming back to this book again–Brother B. H. Roberts and I were sent some fifteen years later down into the southern states to visit the mission. When we arrived at the hotel at Columbia, we registered and went into our room, and soon after a knock came at the door and a colored man said, “There’s a man downstairs that wants to see George A. Smith.” That was the way I used to write my name, and I wrote it that way before I was married.
I said to Brother Roberts, “What will we do?” and he replied, “Send him up,” so the man went back, and pretty soon up came a man and knocked on the door, and we opened it.
He reached out his hand and said, “My, I am glad to see you.”
I said, “I am glad if you’re glad to see me; I am happy to see you, but who are you?” and he gave me his name.
I asked, “What can I do for you?”
He said, “Don’t you remember me?”
I told him, “Remember you? I don’t believe I ever saw you before.”
He said, “Isn’t your name George A. Smith?” and I said, “Yes.”
“Well, he replied, “I am sure you’re the man. I met George A. Smith years ago as he was doing missionary work here.”
I answered, “Oh, that is easily explained, there was another George A. Smith here doing missionary work, too.”
“Oh,” he said, “it wasn’t any other George A. Smith. It was you. Nobody that ever saw that face would forget it.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess I must be the man.”
Then he related this story. He said, “You were on a train, and we passed the Catawba Indian Reservation.”
I interrupted, “I remember all about it now.” It all came back in an instant.
He said, “I want to tell you something. I read that book, and I was so impressed with it that I made up my mind I would like to take a trip down into Central America and South America and I took that book with me in my bag when I went down there. As a result of reading it I knew more about those people than they knew about themselves.
“I lost your address; I didn’t know how to find you, and all these years I wanted to see you, and today after you registered downstairs I happened to be looking at the hotel register and I saw your name. That is how I found you.”
“I am a representative of the Associated Press for this part of the United States. I understand you are here in the interest of your people.”
And I answered, “Yes, Mr. Roberts and I both are here for that purpose.
“And he said, “If there is anything I can do for you while you are here, if you want anything put in the press, give it to me and it won’t cost you a cent. But,” he continued, “I want to tell you one other thing, I have kept your missionaries out of jail; I have got them free from mobs; I have helped them every way I could; but I have never been able to get your address until now.”
CHIEF BLUE AND CATAWBA INDIANS So you may be interested, brethren and sisters, in knowing that I am delighted in seeing Chief Blue here today, representing that tribe of fine Indians. I have seen some of them since. I have met one very fine young woman who is a schoolteacher, and others I have met of that race; in fact, I have some trinkets in my office that were sent to me by members of that tribe.
I am happy to have this good man here who represents one of the tribes that descended from Father Lehi as well as some of the others that are in our audience today. One good man that I am looking at here came to the temple during the week and was sealed to his wife. They are coming into the Church all around, and I am so grateful this morning to be here and hear this man who for sixty years has been a faithful leader among his people and now comes to this general conference and bears testimony to us.
It is a great work that We are identified with. Not the least of our responsibilities is to see that this message is carried to the descendants of Lehi, wherever they are, and give them an opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.
ADDITIONAL KNOWLEDGE How glorious it is to know that we have that information, and we have the knowledge that there were others resurrected, as recorded in the New Testament. And then we have the information in the Book of Mormon of the coming of the Savior to this western hemisphere, and we have the appearance of John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John, and the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith on these latter days. No other people have what we have. I don’t know of any people who ought to be so anxious and willing and grateful to be able to celebrate this day that is recognized in the world as the anniversary of the resurrection of the Redeemer of mankind, and that meant the opening of the grave for all humanity. George Albert Smith, Conference Report, April 1950, p.145 – p.146 I pray the Lord to bless us that we may be worthy because of our lives to keep this testimony, that not only we, but all we can reach may receive that witness and carry it to our brothers and sisters of all races and creeds, and particularly to the descendants of Lehi, until we have done our duty by them. I am sure that when the time comes for the resurrection, that all who are in their tombs and worthy shall be raised from their graves, and this earth shall become the celestial kingdom, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, will be our King and our Lawgiver — that we will rejoice that we have availed ourselves of the truth and applied it in our lives. That is what the gospel teaches us. That is what the gospel offers to us if we will accept it, and I pray that we may be worthy of it in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.