Elias Higbe was born in Galloway, New Jersey in 1795. He became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes nicknamed Mormons, in 1832. He was living in Cincinnati, Ohio at the time, but traveled to Jackson County, Missouri, where the Mormons then lived, to be baptized. He returned home following that event. The following year he and his family moved to Jackson County to be with the Saints.
Higbee served his first mission in 1835. He traveled to Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. While in Ohio, he helped to build the Kirtland Temple, remaining until it was finished. In 1836, he returned home and he and his family moved to Caldwell County, Missouri. Here, he would be appointed judge, a role that would allow him to accomplish many important tasks for the church.
In March of 1838, Joseph Smith answered questions about the book of Isaiah in the Bible. Elias’ question was answered and included in the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of modern revelations and an important source of church history. This is the only time he is mentioned in the book. He asked about the 52nd chapter, first and second verses, wanting to know what people were referred to in the first verse and what it meant that Zion was loosing her neck in the second verse. (See Section 113.)
On April 6 of that year, the Mormons held their first General Conference at Far West, Missouri. There, Elias Higbee was sustained as the Church historian, along with John Corrill.
By October, the Church members were in great danger. Mobs were increasingly threatening and harming Mormons. They kidnapped three Mormon men, threatening to kill them that same night. The Mormons had their own militia of necessity and Judge Higbee, after receiving the reports, instructed Colonel Hinkle to send men to rescue the kidnapped men. Seventy men prepared to go, hoping for a peaceful rescue, but things did not go as planned. Morning was breaking as they arrived and the enemy was hidden in the shadows, but the approaching Mormons showed clearly in the light. Many were harmed or killed in what came to be known as the Battle of Crooked River.
Soon after, the judge was driven from the state by the mobs. He next settled in Commerce, Illinois. As historian, he helped to gather affidavits about the losses the Mormons had experienced as a result of mob violence and lawlessness against the Church. When this project was complete, he traveled with Joseph Smith to Washington, DC to meet with the president of the United States. Martin Van Buren received them twice. The first time, although initially hostile, agreed in time they had a valid complaint. The second time, however, he was rude to them and told them that although their cause was just, he’d lose the state of Missouri if he tried to help them.
Faced with this political expediency, they then approached Congress. They submitted a petition and the affidavits and then Joseph Smith returned to Dayton, Ohio on church business while Judge Higbee remained behind to continue the battle. On March 4, 1840, Congress decided it had no jurisdiction over the matter. (The 14th amendment, allowing the federal government to enforce the Constitution at the state level, would not be passed until after the Civil War.)
Elias Higbee died three years later in Nauvoo, Illinois.
This article is adapted from Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants by Lynn F. Price, Cedar Fort, 2007
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.