Orson Hyde is best known for his dedication of the Holy Lands for the gathering of the Jews. He was born in 1805 in Oxford, Connecticut. Orson Hyde’s early years were very difficult. He was one of eleven children and his family became homeless when he was seven. Then his mother died during childbirth. His father sent the children to live with others, splitting them up as he left to fight in the War of 1812. Orson was sent to the home of Nathan Wheeler. His birth father died from drowning when he was twelve, leaving him orphaned. Despite the challenge of being sent to live away from home so young, the boy was apparently happy in his new home.
When he was fourteen, the family fell on hard times and Orson walked 600 miles on foot to take care of some property his foster father owned. This, while certainly challenging for a teenager, was excellent preparation for his future life as a Mormon pioneer.
Orson lived in Kirtland, Ohio, on this land for four years and then decided to leave home. He returned three years later, just in time to discover the town stirred up about religion. He began participating in the various meetings and soon became a Methodist. During this time he heard about a man named Joseph Smith and his “golden Bible,” but ignored the stories as being untrue. He met Sidney Rigdon, who was a Campbellite preacher, and joined his movement, impressed by their teachings about the importance of following the example of Jesus Christ in being baptized by immersion for the remission of sins. He moved to Mentor, Ohio, and boarded with Rigdon’s family. He began his first formal education at this time and was very successful as a student. He became a preacher and began preaching against the “golden Bible” he had learned about earlier. However, although he had read small portions of it, he had not read the Book of Mormon, which was the correct name for it. He felt a strong impression that it was immoral to preach against this book without having even read it, so he set out to read and study it correctly. He went to find Joseph Smith and learn about the book directly from him. To his surprise, when he arrived, he discovered that Sidney Rigdon had become a Mormon. He began to properly study the book and the young faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and soon joined the church.
The next spring, he was called to serve a mission and walked 2,000 miles to and through New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island. He was, by this time, becoming experienced at traveling on foot with very little to sustain him.
When trouble with mob violence broke out in Missouri, Orson Hyde was sent there to give instructions to church members and then to take a petition for help to the governor, who told him to take it to court, a process which did not turn out to be helpful at all. He became a member of Zion’s Camp, which worked to protect the Mormons from violence and also married during this time.
In 1835, Orson Hyde was chosen to be an apostle in the manner of the New Testament apostles—witnesses of Jesus Christ and leaders in the Church. He served a mission in Canada and began studying Hebrew. In 1837, he went to England to work in the Church’s first foreign mission, returning to the United States in 1838.
When Orson returned to the United States, he moved to Far West, Missouri, but things were very difficult there. Mobs were out of control in their attacks on the Church. As Orson watched the conflicts between the two groups, he began to feel uncomfortable. He became extremely ill and during this time of physical weakness, he left Far West and, with another church leader, signed a document attacking the church with false accusations. Unfortunately, these accusations were believed and led to the “Mormon War.” He was disfellowshipped, which means he did not have full standing but was not excommunicated and also lost his position as an apostle. However, they also invited him and William Smith, the other signer of the document, to come and explain their concerns about the church. When they arrived, they asked to be reinstated as church members, having repented of their actions.
“Few men pass through life without leaving some traces which they would gladly obliterate. Happy is he whose life is free from stain and blemish. In the month of October, 1838, with me it was a day of affliction and darkness. I sinned against God and my brethren; I acted foolishly. I will not allude to any causes for so doing save one, which was, that I did not possess the light of the Holy Ghost. I lost not my standing in the Church, however; yet, not because I was worthy to retain it, but because God and his servants were merciful. … Brothers Hyrum Smith and H. C. Kimball, men of noted kindness of heart, spake to me words of encouragement and comfort in the hour of my greatest sorrow” (Orson Hyde: Olive Branch of Israel, Howard H. Barron, New Era, April 1979)
This time in his life would remain in his heart as a great tragedy and he continued to agonize over his mistakes and the problems they caused for church members. He was reinstated in the Church and also as an apostle, although he lost his seniority and thus did not become the prophet when Brigham Young died.
A prophecy had been issued that said Orson Hyde would one day perform a great work among the Jews. It is believed this came through Joseph Smith. During one long and dangerous mission, he taught many Jewish people and even had an opportunity to serve in Palestine, where he stood on the Mount of Olives and dedicated Palestine for the gathering of the Jews.
When Joseph Smith was murdered, the Mormons fled for Iowa. Orson Hyde was asked to stay in Illinois, a dangerous thing, to supervise the completion of the temple. They had been instructed by prophecy to complete it even if they couldn’t stay to enjoy it.
Orson Pratt would continue to accept every call that came his way, no matter how dangerous. He never again strayed from his faith. He would help to lead people across the plains several times, organize new settlements, teach adult education classes, and serve on the state legislature. He died in 1878.
Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants by Lynn F. Price, Cedar Fort, 2007
Orson Hyde: Olive Branch of Israel, Howard H. Barron, New Era, April 1979
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.