In June of 1844, the president, prophet, and leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church), Joseph Smith, was killed by a mob. When this happened, the leadership of the Church became the responsibility of the Twelve Apostles. At the time, Brigham Young was the President of the Twelve. Soon after Joseph Smith was killed, many of the Mormons were driven from their homes in Nauvoo and were settling in temporary homes in Iowa, so that they could prepare to migrate to Utah.In December of 1847, the apostles of the Mormon Church were directed to reorganize the leadership of the Church. By this time the Twelve Apostles had led the Church for three and a half years. They were inspired to have Brigham Young be the next president and prophet, with Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards as first and second counselors.
From its beginning, the Mormon Church had believed in getting the consent of its members when people were called to new positions. Because the Saints had been driven from their homes and they were now in only temporary settlements, they had no place to hold a large meeting. Henry W. Miller, who was a bishop and one of the first of the Saints to arrive in the area, was asked by the leaders of the Mormon Church to build a building in Council Bluffs, Iowa, that was large enough to hold about 1,000 people. With 200 men in the middle of winter, Miller finished the log building, which would be called the Kanesville Tabernacle, in just two and a half weeks. The building was 60 ft. by 40 ft. and was a marvel at the time, because it was one of the largest cabins ever built. The Tabernacle was dedicated on December 24, 1847.
On December 27, 1847, members of the Mormon Church crowded into the Tabernacle. Over 1,000 members were present. The newly organized First Presidency of the Mormon Church was presented to the members. Members were then asked to sustain them, or give their approval of the new First Presidency. This event is significant in the history of Mormonism because it was the first time that members sustained a new Prophet and First Presidency, and because it established the process that was to be followed when calling a new Prophet and First Presidency.
When spring arrived, it was discovered that the tabernacle had been built over an underground stream. The logs near the bottom of the cabin started to rot. The Kanesville Tabernacle was used for three more years, for various meetings, but it had served its purpose, and when it became obvious that the logs would continue to rot, the good logs were taken off and used for other buildings.
A replica of the Kanesville Tabernacle has been created, and is used by the Mormon Church as a Visitors’ Center. The replica was dedicated in July 1996. Inside, visitors can learn more about the Saints’ westward migration. It is an ideal place to house information about the Mormon pioneers, because Kanesville was a considered the starting point and major outfitting post for the trek.