Joseph William McMurrin, one of the First Seven Presidents
of Seventies from 1896 until his death in 1932, was the son of Joseph McMurrin
and Margaret Leaing, and was born Sept. 5, 1858, in Tooele, Tooele county,
Utah. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to Salt Lake City, where
he spent his boyhood days. His opportunities for scholastic education were
but meager, and while quite a youth he was apprenticed to the stone-cutter's
trade, and worked for about two years on the Salt Lake Temple.
When only seventeen years old he was called upon
a colonizing mission to Arizona. He left his home to fulfill this call
Feb. 1, 1876, driving two yoke of cattle on the way. After two months of
hard travel he, with his companions, arrived near the present site of St.
Joseph, on the Little Colorado river. He spent two years in assisting to
establish that town. While upon this mission he gained considerable valuable
experience in constructing dams and canals, in getting out timber from
the forests, in building log houses, as well as in plowing and planting,
and all such work as is common to pioneer life.
A little incident that occurred while he was in Arizona
is worth relating, showing, as it does, that he at that time had learned
to put his trust in the Lord for guidance. It also furnishes an example
of the efficacy of prayer. On one occasion, while upon the mountains in
the midst of a dense forest, he lost his bearings and was unable to return
to the camp where his companions were located. He searched for hours for
the camp, but all in vain. His feelings at this time were most distressing,
as he knew there was little hope of finding any human beings or habitation
within a hundred miles if he missed his companions. As the shades of night
approached he knelt down and sought the Lord in prayer, asking that he
might be directed back to the camp. Immediately on arising from his knees
he felt strongly impressed to go in a direction exactly opposite to the
one he had previously supposed was the one to take. He followed this impression
and to his great joy was led in a direct line to the camp.
On being released from this Arizona mission he returned
to his home in Salt Lake City, and for some time afterwards was engaged
in hauling freight. Through this occupation he became familiar with the
various mining camps in the vicinity of Great Salt Lake valley.
On April 1, 1880, Joseph took Mary Ellen Hunter
to wife. The couple were blessed with seven children
In 1881, in connection with some friends, he secured
a contract to build a part of the Oregon Short Line grade near Granger,
Wyoming. While engaged in this work he received a call to take a mission
to Great Britain, and in October of that year he left home in compliance
with that call. Upon his arrival in Liverpool he was assigned to the Scottish
conference. This was much to his satisfaction, as his parents were natives
of Scotland and he had a strong desire to visit the land of his fathers.
He labored for twenty-five months in that land, the last seven months as
president of the conference. His labors upon this mission were very enjoyable
as well as profitable to him. He had the satisfaction of baptizing fifty
souls, and among this number were two of his father's sisters. Since
this his first mission abroad Elder McMurrin became an enthusiastic advocate
of missionary work, and he felt assured that no other experience or training
could have been of so much worth to him as that gained while a boy missionary
After his return from Great Britain he was called
as a home missionary, and was also active in the Ward in which he resided.
On the night of Nov. 28, 1885, a tragedy occurred which, were it not for
a miracle, would have terminated in the death of Elder McMurrin. This was
during the period known among our people as the "crusade"—when officers
of the law were raiding the settlements of the Saints in search of offenders
against the Edmunds acts, and when much unnecessary violence was resorted
to in order to capture those who were most eagerly sought.
Elder McMurrin, on the occasion above mentioned,
was attacked by a United States deputy marshal, who shot him twice in the
bowels. President Heber J. Grant wrote of the Incident:
In the days of the "underground" when more than a thousand of our men went to the penitentiary for living with their wives whom they had married in good faith, a man by the name of Joseph W. McMurrin was guarding the servants of the Lord.
Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards, p.310
The brethren were holding a meeting in the Social Hall. A deputy U. S. marshal came to the back door where Joseph W. McMurrin was standing, and Joseph put his arms around him to keep him from going through that door. The deputy finally got his hand loose and took his pistol and, pressing it against Brother McMurrin's body, fired two bullets clear through his vitals. Those bullets lodged just under the skin in his back. He was attended by Dr. Joseph Benedict who told Joseph W. McMurrin that no man could live after two bullets had passed through his vitals, and then added: "If you wish to make a dying statement you should do so immediately."
I went with John Henry Smith to Brother McMurrin's home and saw where the flesh was burned away around those terrible gaping wounds. I saw where the bullets had gone clear through him. I heard John Henry Smith say, "By the authority of the Priesthood of the living God which we hold, and in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, we say that you shall be made absolutely whole, and that there shall be no physical weakness left upon your body because of these terrible wounds that you have received while guarding the servants of the living God."
Joseph W. McMurrin is alive and well, and has never had any physical weakness because of those terrible wounds. Tell me that sickness is not cured by spiritual power, by the power of God, in the Church of Jesus Christ! I know that it is as well as I know that I live
In 1886 Elder McMurrin was called a second time to
take a mission to Great Britain. This time he labored in various parts
of the mission. He was absent from home over four years, and during the
last two and a half years of this period he presided over the London conference.
He was accompanied on this mission by his wife and two children. While
in London he was suddenly seized with an illness that caused him great
pain for a considerable time. It appeared to be appendicitis that troubled
him. His missionary companions administered to him, and through the prayer
of faith he was instantly healed, and never again was troubled in the same
way. Again he had occasion to acknowledge the goodness and power of God
exercised in his behalf.
In July, 1896, he again took his leave of dear ones
at home and started upon another foreign mission. This time he went as
first counselor to Elder Rulon S. Wells, who
at the same time was called to preside over the European mission. He spent
two and a half years in the ministry while filling this position. During
this time he traveled extensively throughout Great Britain, Holland, Belgium,
Scandinavia, Germany, and Switzerland, and also visited France, Austria
At the general conference of the Church held in October,
1897, Brother McMurrin was sustained as one of the First Seven Presidents
of the Seventies, and was ordained to this position by Apostle Anthon
H. Lund, in Liverpool, England, Jan. 21, 1898. Brother Lund was then
on his way to the Holy Land.
After his return from his last foreign mission, Pres.
McMurrin was chosen a member of the General Board of the Young Men's Mutual
Improvement Associations, and was actively engaged in the ministry in the
Stakes of Zion, visiting the Mutual Improvement Associations, the quorums
of Seventies, attending Stake conferences, and performing other such duties
as pertain to his callings. In his travels he visited nearly all the Stakes
In company with Apostle Abraham
O. Woodruff he made an extended trip into what is known as the Big
Horn country, during the summer of 1899. On this journey they traveled
with team about twelve hundred miles, and in doing so were occupied about
six weeks. For about three hundred miles of the way they journeyed over
the old "Mormon" emigrant road, which was first marked out by the pioneers
of 1847. This to them was quite an interesting feature. The country along
parts of the Shoshone river was examined, and after the return of the brethren
it was decided to send a colony into the basin to locate there. On their
journey these visiting brethren found quite a number of Latter-day Saints
located at a town called Burlington. They had been there for a number of
years, and Elders Woodruff and McMurrin organized them into a Ward. In
1901 a Stake of Zion was formed in the basin, and the prospects increased
that many more Latter-day Saints would build homes in that section of Wyoming.
Brother McMurrin spent over ten years abroad as a
missionary, and traveled seventy-five thousand miles while engaged
in missionary work. As a minister of the gospel he was earnest, active
and enthusiastic, and his extensive experience in the ministry made him
highly capable in performing and directing missionary labors. He had a
good knowledge of the gospel and of Church government, was discerning and
discreet; and in his labors he enjoyed to a marked degree the spirit of
inspiration, not only in public speaking but also in directing the efforts
and movements of himself and others. His life was an example of what may
be accomplished by a willing obedience to those in authority. By ever seeking
to perform the duties required of him, and by his studious habits, he gained
an education in the practical matters of life that served him admirably
in the calling imposed upon him.
The development and knowledge received through his
missionary labors made him eminently qualified for the position he held
as one of the presidents in the First Council of Seventies.
President McMurrin continued to serve in the
First Council of the Seventy until his death on October 24, 1932 at Los
Angeles, California at the age of seventy-four.