Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
Marriner W. Merrill Marriner W. (Wood) Merrill

1835 - 1906

  • Born 1835 Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada (See text)
  • Baptized 1852
  • Ordained Priest 1852
  • Married Sarah A. Atkinson 1853; later practiced plural marriage; 45 children
  • Mission to Nova Scotia and New Bruswick 1870
  • Ordained Apostle 1889
  • Died 1906 Richmond, Utah

     Marriner Wood Merrill was a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles from 1889 until his death in 1906. He was the son of Nathan Merrill and Sarah Ann Reynolds, and was born Sept. 25, 1832, [Note: Two editions of the Church Almanac give Elder Merrill's birth year as 1835. The LDS Biographical Encyclopedia gives it as 1832.] in Sackville, Westmoreland county, New Brunswick. His father never came to the west, but devoted his life to farming and the cutting and hauling of timber in his native land. Apostle Merrill was one of a family of thirteen children, and was himself the fourth son.

    In early youth his life was not unlike that of the farmer of those regions of country in which he lived, but the spiritual influences of his life began early to manifest themselves and became prophetic of what his later years would be. At the age of nine years he received in an open vision a picture of his own future life and that of the people with whom he subsequently became identified.

    He recounted:: "When I was a boy of nine years my mother sent me to the hayfield where my father and brothers were at work, to call them to dinner. On the way I became unconscious and was clothed with a vision which I distinctly remembered when I gained my usual feelings and thoughts. After I became conscious I found myself in a log cabin located on the way to the field. In this cabin I was on my knees in the attitude of prayer. In the vision I saw the Church and the Prophets Joseph and Brigham. I saw the travels of the latter and of the Saints from Nauvoo and Winter Quarters to Utah. In the vision the sight of covered buggies and wagons was peculiar to me, for at that time I had never seen such vehicles, nor had I ever seen the mules which I beheld in my vision. I saw two and sometimes six mules to a wagon, and in the company of pioneers I beheld two men who had been boy friends of my youth, and each of them had more than one wife. In my vision at that time the divinity of plural marriage was revealed to me. I comprehended the doctrines and principles as they had been revealed. The progress and development of the Church were shown and the persecutions of the Saints were made clear to my understanding, and I heard a voice which told me that all I beheld was true, but I was cautioned to keep to myself what I had seen until I should have the opportunity of leaving my native country. Upon reaching home I was pale, and it was some time before I could speak distinctly. That incident of my life made a very strong impression upon my boyish mind, and one day I ventured to ask my mother a question about plural marriage, why it was not practiced now as in the days of God's ancient people. She answered in surprise by asking what I knew about such things. Fearing that I might betray that secret revealed, I made no more mention of the matter."

    The gospel was first preached to Apostle Merrill by a native Elder. Later, Elders John Skerry and Jesse W. Crosby came into the neighborhood of his home. In April, 1852, at the age of nineteen years, he was baptized by Elder Skerry, and on the 5th of September of the same year was ordained a Priest by Elder Crosby. About a year before this he had learned that his mother had been for a long time a member of the Church, she having been baptized as early as 1836. His father never joined the Church. One of his sisters joined the Church but subsequently married a non-Mormon and soon turned away from the faith. The other members of the family, though not willing to embrace the gospel, never manifested any hostile opposition to it.

    Feeling that there was work to accomplish which could not be done in New Brunswick, the spirit of gathering having taken possession of Bro. Merrill, he started about a year after his baptism for the west. He had gone no farther than Boston when his father died, and word came from his mother to return and settle the estate. After affairs had been settled at home, in 1853 he started out again and came direct to Boston. From there he went to Buffalo by rail and traveled on the lakes to Chicago. From Chicago he rode on the first railroad from Chicago to the head of the Illinois river. At the latter point he took a boat for St. Louis, which was then headquarters for supplies, and then came to Keokuk by steamboat. As he journeyed westward he stopped a week at Kanesville, but met no Saints there. The company with which he traveled crossed the river on ferryboats and pursued their way on to Salt Lake City. There were eleven wagons in the company. Jesse W. Crosby was captain, and was assisted by William Atkinson. The company arrived in Salt Lake City Sept. 11, 1853.

    The most important event on this journey associated with the life of Apostle Merrill occurred at Platte river, where he, with one other boy, decided to cross the river and get some cattle which had been left by other pioneers. They plunged into the river, but he soon became exhausted, as the current was strong. Brother Merrill was unable to keep his head out of water, and while floating down stream went under twice; whereupon the company became alarmed, and a Brother Reese was sent to his assistance. As he started to sink a third time he landed mysteriously on a sandbar, and was almost exhausted. The circumstance was peculiar, because the Brother Reese who had sought his rescue was unable to find the bar upon which Brother Merrill stood. The two now made their way to the opposite shore, where it was shallow enough to walk up stream until they reached a place where the current moved from one side to the other. Here they tied a comforter to their waists, plunged again into the water, in which they were borne safely across the river by the favorable current. They were both thankful to get back alive, and the cattle, which they found disabled, were left undisturbed.

    Brother Merrill's first effort on reaching the Valley was to secure work. His early efforts were a source of trial, as his employers sometimes proved to be unreliable. In Salt Lake City he agreed to work for $20 per month. After three weeks, some trouble arose and he was about to leave his employer, when the latter offered him $26 per month. He thereupon agreed to remain and work in the canyon getting out shingle timber, where he made as many as one thousand shingles in a day. He was then promised his board and a certain percentage of the shingles sold, but his employer did the selling and kept the money. After some controversy, however, payment was secured, and the experience no doubt did much to induce the habit which  subsequently become prominent in the life of Brother Merrill, a habit of working on his own account.

    In November, 1853, Brother Merrill was married to Sarah A. Atkinson, and immediately went to a place in Bingham canyon, seven miles above its mouth, where he passed the winter in making shingles. The new venture became a profitable one. The shingles then sold at $8 per thousand, and he was able to make five hundred a day. After staying in the canyon six weeks he ventured on a perilous journey home to see his wife. The snow was seven feet deep, and having no food with him when he began the journey, he was overborne by fatigue and weakness, and almost fainted before he reached a cabin where a woman gave him a small piece of bread to satisfy his craving. This was only a taste for a starving man, but in a few hours more food was given, and little by little he overcame the exhausted condition to which his physical system was brought. After his long walk and sufferings he was disappointed in not finding his wife at home, as she had gone off to work, so that he was obliged to return without seeing her.

    During Apostle Merrill's life in Salt Lake City he engaged in work in North Mill Creek canyon, and gave the following remarkable experience in an article printed in the "Juvenile Instructor" of October 15, 1892. The circumstances of the narration are so remarkable that I give it here in full: "In the winter of 1855, I worked in what was then called North Mill Creek canyon. The only team I had at that time was one yoke of oxen; with this I kept myself busy during the latter part of the fall of 1854 and the beginning of the winter of 1855, in hauling wood from the canyon to Salt Lake City, where I sold it for what I could. In January, 1855, the snow in the mountains was so deep that I was unable to procure firewood; and I decided to haul some pine house and stable logs. Myself and some brethren therefore shoveled and broke the road to a small red pine patch of timber on the side mountain, and when this road was completed, for two days we together hauled logs and timber to the city.

    Just at this time the weather became extremely cold and a dense winter fog hung over the valley, but high up in the mountains one could overlook the cloud of fog. This condition prevailed for several days, but exactly how cold it was I cannot say, as thermometers were very scarce in those days It was during one of the early days of this cold spell that the following incident occurred: I left home very early in the morning to obtain a load of logs. My wife remonstrated with me and tried to prevail upon me not to go, as the weather was so very cold. I did not, however, heed her kind entreaties, but started upon my journey; and on arriving at the timber, was surprised to find that I was the only one who had come for a load.

    I worked very rapidly for two reasons: one was that I might keep warm, and the other that I might return home early. I cut, trimmed and prepared five nice, red pine logs, about thirty feet long and ten inches thick at the butt-end, and about six inches at the top. These I succeeded in getting down to the place where I had left my bobsled and camp outfit, about a half mile distant. The place of loading was very slippery, it being rather on a side hill. I had my five logs arranged side by side below the sled, my oxen being chained to a stump where they were quietly eating their hay. I proceeded to load the logs, designing to place three on the bottom and two on the top of the three, which was my usual way of bauling timber of that kind. I succeeded in getting the first log on the sled without much difficulty.

    The bunk (canyon men will know what a bunk is, especially if they were born in New Brunswick) being icy, it was with some difficulty that I could make the log stay where I had placed it on the sled; but I finally succeeded in blocking it up, and thought it secure. Then I turned around to load the second log, and as I did so, the blocking gave way and the first log slid rapidly from the sled, catching me in the hollow of my legs and throwing me forward on my face across the logs lying there. In falling, the hand-spike in my hand, which I had been using in loading the logs, fell far from my reach; and I was thus pinioned completely across the timber. The log that had slipped from the sled lay across my legs, which were on the hard ice, and my body was lying across the four logs. I began to think that I was thus doomed to perish in the canyon. I struggled desperately to release myself, but every effort seemed to bind me the more firmly beneath the terrible load which seemed crushing my very bones.

    While thus struggling for relief I also prayed earnestly to the Lord for assistance, and while doing so I lost consciousness. When I next regained my senses I was a half a mile down the canyon from the place where I began to load, and was seated upon the logs, which were loaded in the exact position that I had designed to put them—three on the bottom and two on the top of the three. All were nicely bound with chains: I was sitting upon my sheep-skin with the woolly side up; my whip was placed on the load carefully so it could not lose; my overcoat, home-made jeans, lay across the load in front of me, but within my reach. As I aroused from my stupor, I spoke to my oxen and they stopped; and I viewed my surroundings with feelings that cannot be described. I quickly took my bearings, as I was familiar with every point in the canyon. Being quite cold, I essayed to jump from the load, and put on my overcoat; but to my surprise my limbs refused to do my bidding, they were so sore and my body was so badly bruised. I sat there and reflected for a few moments upon my peculiar situation; looked around my load and found everything in place just as I would have put things myself; my ax was firmly bedded in the butt end of one of the logs, and everything else was in first-class condition. After making another unsuccessful effort to get from the load, I reached my coat, put it on as best I could in a sitting posture, and started my oxen for home.

    I arrived safely about an hour later than my usual time. My wife was very uneasy about me on account of the lateness of my arrival, and because of the fear ever present with her during the whole day, that something would happen to my injury. She met me at the corral and carried me in her arms to the house, which she was then quite able to do, I weighing but a little over a hundred pounds. I was placed in a comfortable position on the bed, and she then cared for my team. For some days she carefully nursed me before I was able to move around the house. I have hesitated to narrate this incident because of the skepticism which is so common at the present day, even among some who profess to be Saints, concerning things somewhat supernatural; but I can truthfully testify in all soberness, that some power which I did not see assisted me from the position which doubtless would have speedily cost me my life. As I was preserved for some purpose known to my Heavenly Father, so do I also believe that God will bless and preserve the lives of His faithful children, just as long as it is necessary for them to live to accomplish their missions upon the earth. The youth of Zion, and all who have made covenants with the Lord, should therefore exercise faith in Him, and He will, if necessary, send angelic visitors to sustain and preserve those who put their trust in him."

    In the early spring of 1854 Elder Merrill moved to Bountiful, where he engaged in shingle-making. At this time there were very few inhabitants in the town and the land was in process of distribution. Brother Merrill received a certificate from Pres. Young granting him one hundred acres, an unusually large amount at that time. Of this Bro. Merrill gave one-third to his father-in-law, and later divided what was left to him with a poor Scandinavian neighbor. A few months later, Pres. Young spoke to Bro. Merrill about the land and was pleased, though not surprised, to learn that he had divided it up among his brethren, Pres. Young then remarking that when the certificate was given he felt satisfied that Bro. Merrill would not keep it all.

    During the winter of 1859 and 1860 Elders Benson and Hyde called at the home of Bro. Merrill and advised him to move to Cache valley, where there was more land and were better prospects financially, and a good opening for the Saints. He made preparation, and in February, 1860, went to Richmond, but did not remain long. In March, of the same year, he made the journey again and found the snow still very deep. At this time there were but few people in Logan or Cache valley, the first settlers having come to that place in 1859. Journeying farther north, Elder Merrill made his way to Richmond, in company with others, and encamped for some time north of the town, and they were about to continue in a northerly direction their travels, when a voice came to Brother Merrill, saying, "Turn around and go south." The words were repeated, and without saying anything to his companions. Elder Merrill started southward and stopped when he reached the point where Richmond now stands, and there began work.

    It was during these early years that Brother Merrill established his reputation as a most indefatigable and ceaseless worker. From four in the morning till late at night he toiled in the canyons, making his two trips a day. Naturally a leader of the community in which he lived, he was selected in 1861 as the second Bishop in Richmond, which office he filled for eighteen years. It was during the years of his bishopric at Richmond that the Utah Northern railroad was under construction from Ogden to Idaho and Montana. Elder Merrill became a contractor in the construction of the new road, and in a sense a mediator between the people of Cache valley and the railroad company. During his relations with that road he distributed among the people for work done some $780,000. For his own work he received $150 per month. In addition to his personal services he also entered into contract with the company by which he used his own teams and gave employment to his family. This was the beginning of his financial progress. The relationship between the company and Brother Merrill became in time of the most cordial character. His judgment was relied upon, and the company was highly satisfied with the relation sustained between it and him.

    In some places, as in Beaver canyon, the work was taken at such a low figure by the contracts into which he entered that he himself made nothing, but the people did well. The company, learning of this and aware of the money and time he had saved them, gave him as a souvenir a gold watch. On his return to Richmond after the construction of the road, he invested his money in three hundred and twenty acres of land and a grist mill. The latter brought in very little income, but proved of very great value to the people. It was now the natural bent of his inclinations, and his time has became devoted to stock raising and agriculture. His large farms and the enormous products which they yield, attested to his splendid success in advanced agriculture, a profession for which he possessed the strongest inclinations.

    In 1870 he was given a three months' leave of absence to take a short mission to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but in two months was recalled. In 1879 he was called to act as a counselor to Stake President Wm. B. Preston, an office which he held for ten years. In 1884 he was counselor in the Stake to President Charles O. Card, and in the same year was appointed  President of the Logan Temple, with Apostle Moses Thatcher and Elder N. C. Edlefsen as his counselors. In 1889 he was ordained an Apostle by President Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith and eight of the Apostles being present. The following year he went east to get the genealogy and record of his family. In October, 1899, he was appointed president of the Cache Stake of Zion.

    During his residence in Cache valley he was prominent in the civil affairs of the county and State. In 1876 and 1878 he served two terms in the legislature, one in the house and one in the council. He was a member of the county court for more than ten years. The position of postmaster in Richmond he held for twenty years. In 1896 he was appointed a member of the Agricultural College board, which office he held for nearly four years. He served as a member of the Brigham Young College (now Brigham Young University) board.

    Perhaps one of the greatest characteristics of Apostle Merrill's life, and the one for which he will be most noted among generations to come, is the large and honorable family which will ever characterize his name. His family was not only one of the largest in the Church, but one of the most exemplary to be found anywhere. He was the father of forty-five children and grandfather of one hundred and twenty-seven.  Apostle Merrill was one of those positive characters who did not yield to floating opinions and momentary prejudices. His convictions grew by experience and observation, and when once formed were not easily removed. His life was always characterized by the greatest earnestness and sincerity, and the simple and unaffected manner  He is further a man of strong attachments, and his friendship when once bestowed is of the most enduring quality.

    His great sympathies and generous nature made his advice frequently sought by his brethren, and he was perhaps nowhere stronger in the Church than in the capacity of a private adviser and counselor to those in misfortune as well as to those who needed guidance in the affairs of life.

    His life in Cache valley and its far-reaching influence throughout northern Utah and southern Idaho made him a leading character among men. His great farms, his beautiful homes, his industrial enterprises in dairying and milling all indicated a high degree of thrift and enterprise which show up strongly the life and character of the man. His powers of organization, his personal and family discipline, his persistent effort and indomitable will, made his life a study of value to all young men who undertake to grasp and deal with the material conditions of life and bring the forces of nature to their aid and use. The Apostle's broad form and the set features of his face, indicate superior strength, and his whole bearing indicates, above all things, power.

    He was not a man of many words, but was prone to feel the silent forces of life and observe the feelings and thoughts of others. Little given to speculative philosophy and poetical imaginations, he was nevertheless a man of strong and abiding faith, of faith that had to do with the practical affairs of life, and which served the present needs of those who had strong convictions.

    Apostle Merrill continued his labors in the Logan Temple and traveling in the different Stakes of Zion until Feb. 6, 1906, when he died peaceably at his home in Logan, Cache county, Utah. The "Deseret Evening News" commented editorially upon his demise as follows: "The announcement of the death of Marriner W. Merrill, president of the Logan Temple and one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will not occasion as much surprise as regret. Brother Merrill has been a sufferer from ill health for a long time. If he had not been blessed with a strong constitution, he would doubtless have succumbed much sooner. But through his faith and that of his family and numerous friends, his life has been prolonged. Elder Merrill has been a prominent character, particularly in the northern part of this State, for many years. He was a Cache Valley pioneer. Of a practical turn of mind and a vigorous worker with the gift of a leader among men, he was a striking figure in movements for the development of that region, and in things spiritual as well as temporal, exhibited qualities that gained for him the respect and regard of the people with whom he associated. As Bishop of Richmond, as president of the Cache Stake before it was divided, as one of the Twelve Apostles and as president of the Logan Temple, he exhibited those qualities that fitted him for the position he was called to fill, and he will be remembered as one of the stalwarts of Israel, always true and steadfast and reliable, and one who could be looked up to and trusted by the Latter-day Saints."

   Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p.156
   Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p.764
   Lawrence R. Flake, Prophets and Apostles of the Last Dispensation, p.411
   2005 Church Almanac, p.64

Hosted by The Dimension's Edge