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 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
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
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."