On July 26, 1887, Elder Wilford Woodruff was in Sanpete County, Utah, hiding from federal agents seeking him on anti-polygamy warrants when he learned of President John Taylor’s death in Kaysville, Utah. He returned to Salt Lake City in secret to take charge of the church but was not seen in any public meetings. Two years later, when he was 82 years old, Woodruff was ordained as the church’s president.
The following is his journal entry where he shared his feelings about President Taylor’s death:
“Thus another President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has passed away. President John Taylor is twice a martyr. At the death of the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage Jail he was shot with four balls and mingled his blood with the martyred Prophet. This was in 1844. Now in 1887 … he is driven into exile by the United States officers for his religion until through his confinement and suffering he lays down his life and suffers death. …
“President John Taylor died today at 5 minutes to 8 o’clock, which lays the responsibility of the care of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upon my shoulders as President of the Church or President of the Twelve Apostles, which is the presiding authority of the Church in the absence of the First Presidency. This places me in a very peculiar situation, a position I have never looked for during my life. But in the providence of God it is laid upon me, and I pray God my Heavenly Father to give me grace equal to my day. It is a high and responsible position for any man to occupy and a position that needs great wisdom. I never expected to outlive President Taylor … but it has come to pass. … I can only say marvelous are thy ways O Lord God Almighty, for thou has certainly chosen the weak thing of this world to perform thy work on the earth. May thy servant Wilford be prepared for whatever awaits him on earth and have power to perform whatever is required at his hands by the God of Heaven. I ask this blessing of my Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, July 26, 1887).
THE MANTLE OF THE PROPHET
John Bushman’s testimony
This is most likely written by Silas A. Bushman, son of Homer F. Bushman, son of John Bushman:
“While with him (Grandfather John Bushman) I told him I read about Brigham Young having the mantle of Joseph Smith fall upon him. Then he told me,”I saw the mantle of the Prophet John Taylor fall upon Wilford Woodruff when at the Conference. Wilford Woodruff was sustained to succeed John Taylor. He looked just like President Taylor and his voice sounded (was) like his.”
President Woodruff was in Salt Lake City during the funeral of John Taylor but did not attend for fear of being arrested. Immediately after the services he met with the Twelve and began leading the Church, but continued to avoid any public appearances. On 9 October 1887, however, President Woodruff entered the Tabernacle for the afternoon session of general conference in company with Lorenzo Snow and Franklin D. Richards. As the Saints recognized their leader, they greeted him with applause. President Woodruff addressed them and then left before the singing, again to avoid arrest.
Two years after the death of John Taylor, the First Presidency was again reorganized. At a solemn assembly held during the April general conference of 1889 [7 April], President Woodruff was sustained as the fourth President of the Church. George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith, who had served as counselors to President Taylor, were once again sustained as counselors in the First Presidency. (Derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 402, 404.)