The Word of Wisdom, Distilleries and Brigham Young

23 November

D&C 89:1-2, 5-6, 8-9, 12-13,18-21;

“1 A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion—

2 To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint

5 That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.

6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make. 8 And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.

9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;

19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

21 And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.”

Temperance SocietyFor me, growing up in Utah Mormonism the memories of my grandmother sharing family secrets of her mother indulging in the sinful  practice of drinking tea still come to mind. I guess enough time had passed that she deemed it safe to “spill the beans” and would share the same story each time she took her own hidden stash out from behind the cans of vegetables in her pantry.

That’s what we’re doing here with the long forgotten history of the Church and their relationship with tobacco, alcohol and caffeine, also known as the Word of Wisdom. We’re taking it out from behind the hidden history and rumors. Light always permeates darkness!

The key phrase in the intro of this article is “for me” because that’s how the Word of Wisdom has always worked.  I’ve yet to find anyone who actually knows how to define the WoW or what exactly Smith’s true intentions were.

Some believe that hot drinks refer to coffee and tea only and for most Mormons those are defined as caffeine. Ironically, Mormons are known for serving hot chocolate at events and they even have a pretty nice chocolate truffle store at Trolley Square so there’s obviously a fair amount of confusion in the way this is dealt with.  In recent times the Church has come out to say that caffeinated sodas are okay.  How is a Pepsi or Mt. Dew okay when Starbucks is off limits?  Is an iced coffee okay? After all I am in Seattle!

D&C 89:9; “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.”

Barley…aka, beer

It’s also interesting when you read what it says in D&C 89:17 stating that barley is useful for all animals and for mild drinks.  The “mild drinks” meant hops for beer of course, so the idea of completely getting rid of alcohol really wasn’t in the cards for most members even though God clearly revealed they should abstain from such things.  Again the term “for most Mormons” comes into play because most Mormons look at the phrase strong drinks believing this refers to alcohol and that’s alcohol of any kind.

Why is it okay to drink wine for sacrament and barley for “mild drinks” and whiskey is off limits?

“Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.”


And then we have the “advisement” in the WoW telling us to eat meat sparingly.  We’re wondering how they square this up with all the cattle ranches the Church owns in America?  Last month the Church became the largest private land owner in Florida. Whenever they’ve purchased large plots of land like this in the past it’s done so for raising and selling cattle to the beef industry.

I’ve never heard of any bishop or any other Church leader telling members not to fire up the grill on the 4th of July or heaven forbid not to have a big ol’ ham on Easter.

D&C 89:12-13; “Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; 13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”

From all this chaos the first thing we need to look at is why the Mormon Church heeds a dietary law this side of the cross and for that we have to look no further than the founder himself.

Joseph Smith received a revelation from his god who told him members of the Church shouldn’t indulge in hot drinks. The true story of how he received the revelation on hot drinks was conveniently left out of Doctrine and Covenants, so to clear things up a bit here it is.

When Smith first gave the directive from God not to have hot drinks it came as advice, not a commandment, with the latter not taking place until well into the 20th Century.  However, even that viewpoint is shrouded with varying opinions.  Their ambiguity smells like the Masonic Lodge…

One thing for sure is known, there’s enough evidence to show that Smith’s revelation stemmed from two events taking place at the time in Hancock, Illinois so let’s take a look at those.

Signs of the Time

In 1826 a man by the name of Marcus Morton founded the American Temperance Society in Boston and in June of 1830 the Millennial Harbinger quoted Alexander Campbell’s endorsement of an article in the Philadelphia “Journal of Health” which also quoted a popular book at the time, “The Simplicity of Health”, who of course condemned alcohol, tobacco and the heavy use of meats.  Within five years there were over 8,000 chapters of the Temperance Society with more than 1.5 million members. 

Citizens of Hancock had been busy with their temperance society long before any word came from God that Mormons should abide in a new lifestyle. This chapter of the society, founded in 1830, was opposed to eating too much meat, drinking alcohol or using tobacco products of any kind and they pulled no punches with voicing their beliefs that distilled alcohol was bad news.

On February 1, 1833 just twenty six days before Smith received his revelation, the Kirtland Temperance Society succeeded at closing the operations of a distillery in Mentor which was a nearby town. 

The Kirtland Temperance Society was unique for another reason. Not only were they very vocal in the community at the time Smith lived there, the membership role of 239 also serves as an interesting part of the scenario.  Amongst the many people listed just for that chapter you can find the names of George Smith, Morley, Wells, Coe, and Lyman which of course are all names associated with Mormonism.

Joseph, Emma & the School of the Prophets

On February 27, 1833 Smith received directions from God to put a halt to smoking at the request of Emma telling him to ask God for a revelation after having to clean up the mess his friends kept making on her floors from the nasty habit of spitting tobacco. Alas, Smith’s new revelation didn’t come without some snide comments from those she had to clean up after.

Apparently the good ol’ boys club joked around telling Smith that God should tell Emma to stop drinking hot tea as well. David Whitmer’s writings concur with Brigham Young’s statement in Journal of Discourses 12:158, when he said;

“Some of the men were excessive chewers of the filthy weed, and their disgusting slobbering and spitting caused Mrs. Smith … to make the ironical remark that ‘It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding it’s suppression.’ The matter was taken up and joked about, one of the brethren suggested that the revelation should also provide for a total abstinence from tea and coffee drinking, intending this as a counter ‘dig’ at the sisters.” Sure enough the subject was afterward taken up in dead earnest, and the ‘Word of Wisdom’ was the result.” – David Whitmer, Des Moines Daily News, 16 Oct 1886:20 c. in: Newell & Avery 1994:47.

Journal of Discourses 12:158; “I think I am as well acquainted with the circumstances which led to the giving of the Word of Wisdom as any man in the Church, although I was not present at the time to witness them. The first school of the prophets was held in a small room situated over the Prophet Joseph’s kitchen, in a house which belonged to Bishop Whitney, and which was attached to his store, which store probably might be about fifteen feet square. In the rear of this building was a kitchen, probably ten by fourteen feet, containing rooms and pantries. Over this kitchen was situated the room in which the Prophet received revelations and in which he instructed his brethren. The brethren came to that place for hundreds of miles to attend school in a little room probably no larger than eleven by fourteen. When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry. You know what it is, and can read it at your leisure.” – Brigham Young, Provo, February 8, 1858

So once again we see another “coincidence” that’s been buried deep in Mormon history books of why things are the way they are in the Church.

The irony in this revelation shouldn’t take a back seat to the reality of how people have perceived Smith’s revelation and that goes for Joseph himself.  After he gave a sermon on the need for members to obey the WoW, people commented seeing him riding through town on his horse and smoking a cigar. Joseph Smith as an Administrator, Gary Dean Guthrie, M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, May 1969:161. So much for obeying God.

We also have to ask why Smith owned a tavern over the Nauvoo House where he and the family resided. One time when Emma returned home she found Porter Rockwell tending bar and went directly to Joseph to let him know that either the bar goes or she would. Smith shut it down immediately. The Saints’ Herald V. 80 Jan 1935:110.

Facts are Stubborn Things

No matter how the Church or its members try to whitewash its past, it is what it is.

There’s a plethora of written accounts of Smith and others drinking wine or spirits littered throughout early Mormon historical documents. For the sake of space we’re not posting them all here, but if you’d like to do further research on this you can be read about it in the following examples:

History of the Church 2:369

History of the Church 3:18-19

The Kirtland High Council Minute Book for 20 February 1834

Joseph Smith’s Diary, March 11, 1843

History of the Church 7:101

On the Mormon Frontier, The Diary of Hosea Stout, 1844-1861, V.1:259

Journal of Discourses 2:240 – George A. Smith 18 Mar 1855

False Revelation based on Faulty Information

If this WoW revelation about dietary laws was truly from the Lord then why didn’t God tell them to boil their water?

When Smith gave the orders for members to march from Kirtland, Ohio to Clay County, Missouri people started the deadly trek that ended in disaster. Sixty eight people from the 150+ that made up Zion’s Camp died in June 1834 alone. Many of the deaths they suffered in traipsing from one state to the other were incurred from cholera which could have easily been prevented by the simple task of boiling the water.

To make matters worse Joseph threatened the Saints with God’s doom if they didn’t start behaving, insinuating the disease was stemming from their behavior. After Joseph climbed up on a wagon wheel he declared that God had told him to prophesy that if they weren’t more obedient the Lord would strike them with a scourge – History of the Church 2:80.  Also see Comprehensive History of the Church 4:79 and History of the Church 1:113-114.

We also see this false prophecy manifested again in the words of another prophet George Cannon (Journal of Discourses 12:223) when he told members they should keep their kids away from hot drinks and hot soups.

Financial Rewards in Selling Spirits

After the Church had established itself in Utah, Brigham Young recognized if they were to succeed financially and survive independently they would have to accommodate the needs of those who used Utah as a thoroughfare to get to their destinations from back east.

In this light Young recommended they should grow tobacco and develop vineyards, but that was two full years after he had already built and was running his own whiskey distillery.

Journal of Discourses 10:206; “When there was no whisky to be had here, and we needed it for rational purposes, I built a house to make it in. When the distillery was almost completed and in good working order, an army was heard of in our vicinity and I shut up the works I did not make a gallon of whisky at my works, because it came here in great quantities, more than was needed. I could have made thousands of dollars from my still, which has ever since been as dead property. Have others followed my example in this? They have not, but there was a whisky shop established here and another there. Some have even told me that they would starve if they did not make whisky. I said to them, make it then, and be damned, for they will be damned anyhow. Am not I able to make whisky? Yes; there stands the still and the still-house to this day, which I have never used and from which I might make thousands of dollars. Have I made whisky and sold it in what some call whisky street? No. Had I done so how many would have hailed me with, “You are a good man, brother Brigham, and you are the right man to lead Israel; thank God for such a man: he keeps a whiskey shop, drinks liquor, trades with our enemies and hugs them to his heart as long as there is any money in their pockets, and takes them to his house and introduces them to his wives and daughters; what a blessed man brother Brigham is.” – June 7, 1863

Journal of Discourses 11:113-114; “I do not think that another community can be found anywhere more capable of taking care of themselves than are the Latter-day Saints. It is true that we do not raise our own tobacco: we might raise it if we would. We do not raise our tea; but we might raise it if we would, for tea-raising, this is as good a country as China; and the coffee bean can be raised a short distance south of us. …[discussion of silk production]… We can sustain ourselves; and as for such so-called luxuries as tea, coffee, tobacco and whiskey, we can produce them or do without them.” – Brigham Young, Juab and San Pete Counties, June & July 1865.

Following in the Footsteps of Joseph…

One of the first laws passed in the newly formed territory of Utah was the Organic Act which went into effect in September 1850 prohibiting the manufacturing of spirits. This isn’t to say they couldn’t ship the intoxicants into the territory, rather, no one was legally allowed to operate a distillery without the express permission of the governor who just so happened to be none other than Brigham Young.  Theodore Schroeder, The American Historical Magazine, Vol. 3, pg 248. 

It should also be noted that Brigham owned not just one, but several distilleries throughout Utah and even sent one of his competitors who was also LDS on a mission.  Just like Joseph Smith sent men out on missions so he could marry their wives, Brigham did the same thing with a member of the Church over what can only be seen as coveting another man’s property. After closing Howard’s business and while out on his mission, Young took it upon himself to open it back up and ran it under the auspices of a Mormon owned store ZCMI. Tell it All, pg 501-502. 

One historian noted:

“The first bar-room in S. L. City, and the only one for years, was in the Salt Lake House, owned by President Young and Feramorz Little. It was opened for the accommodation of travellers, whose requirements would be supplied by some one, and it was thought by the brethren that they had better control the trade than have outsiders do so.” – Hurbert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah, p. 540, footnote 44

You can read stories about the saucy streets of early Salt Lake City in books likeBrigham Young and His Mormon Empire, pg 315 and other written reports disclosing the secrets of Salt Lake’s sordid past with prostitution and whiskey, all of which Brigham personally profited from.  Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City used to be called Whiskey Street and the reason why is because the entire street was made up of saloons, distilleries, houses of prostitution and boarding houses for overnight visitors passing through the area. 

Downtown SLC, Wikipedia

Mapping Salt Lake City

While Young preached abstinence from the wicked evils of the world he also told members they could donate money they would’ve spent on tea or booze to the Church. At one sermon he told members that starving Europeans were waiting to come to America but couldn’t afford it so if they donated money they’d be saving people from starvation instead of disobeying the WoW. The truth is that Brigham was pocketing the monies made from the distilleries and prostitution houses.

Because he was “trustee in trust” he had an open ended account to borrow money at whim or write it off as expenses paid for services rendered as prophet.

Estimates of Brigham’s worth at the time of his death range anywhere from $600K to $1.6 million depending on whom you read and believe.  According to the 1870 Census Young declared the worth of his personal property as $102,000 and real estate valued at $1,010,600. The Lion of the Lord by Stanley Hirshson, Knopf Pub., 1969, pg 247 and Utah History to Go.

What’s disturbing about all this is how the Church would repeatedly punish those who broke the WoW while they in turn were doing the very same. This wasn’t just taking place in the early years of Mormonism, but throughout its history.

From Joseph to Brigham and Joseph Fielding Smith to the bishop of every ward today, they all sit in the judge’s seat withholding temple recommends or kicking people out of the Church for something as mundane as drinking a hot toddy or Pepsi. In June 1835 the Kirtland High Council Minute Book records the following info;

“Elder Aaron Smith preferred a charge against Elder Milo Hays for not obeying the Word of Wisdom and covenant breaking. Both charges were amply sustained by testimony and the council unanimously decided that the said Hays be excluded from the Church. (Collier & Harwell 2002:117).”

Furthermore, while simultaneously making money off the Gentiles Brigham saw no problem preaching that everyone who does business with outsiders would be cut off from the Church.

Journal of Discourses 7:338; “As I have already requested, I now again request the authorities of this Church in their various localities to sever from this society those who will not cease getting drunk.

“Brigham Young was generally involved in any project where money was to be made. He owned his own distillery which the Salt Lake City Council rented from him for $2000 a year from 1861 to 1867. After that time the city bought liquor from the Howard Distillery, which was jointly owned by Brigham Young and Daniel H. Wells. That Young was a member of the City Council from 1872-1877 and Wells was Mayor from 1866-1876 should come as no surprise. On 3 June 1876, the Deseret News published a Grand Jury audit of the Salt Lake Corporation’s financial records which included substantial purchases of liquor. City funds paid for liquor for Pioneer Day and also for a party of veterans of the Mormon Battalion. The Deseret News report stated: “After completion of the railroad, the city continued to buy liquor from Brigham Young at $4.00 per gallon, although they could have gotten better ‘States’ liquor at $1.25 per gallon.”” – MormonThink 

These types of things were and still are par for the course in the world of Mormonism. Everywhere you look you’ll find examples of people being disfellowshipped or severely reprimanded for not following the WoW, but the powers that be lived as if they were made of Teflon.

While the majority of Mormons only know what they’re told, they’d probably be shocked to learn that ZCMI used to have the all-seeing-eye atop their building with another sign advertising the sale of liquor. The 6th prophet Joseph F. Smith justified the sale of coffee and booze at a General Conference – April 1898, pg 11.

Even George A. Smith, member of the First Presidency admitted they were “doing a great business” selling prohibited substances at Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution – Journal of Discourses 16:238.

If you’ve been watching recent news in Utah you may have seen that the small town of Hyde Park near the Idaho border just voted to allow beer to be sold at the local convenience store, Maverick. The vote to allow 3.2 beer to be sold didn’t come without a fight because as we all know in a town of 3,900, some things take longer to change than in other places. 

The bottom line in all this is confusion. There’s no set directives, things keep changing and the longer you try to figure it out the more troubling facts you’re sure to find.

As always we’re asking that you as a Christian come alongside us in prayer for these dear people. While we’re very aware there are a host of other things going on in this world, we appreciate any time you spend in witnessing to or praying for the Mormon people.

With Love in Christ;


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