I was thumbing through Eliza R. Snow's biography of her brother Lorenzo for a quote about Brigham City when I hit upon a 15-page missionary report filed in 1875 in Brigham City by Eli H. Pierce.
His report seems to come out of nowhere in the book. In fact, the only reason I can see for including it was because Eliza Snow was a big fan of interesting people and clever writing. It's as if she didn't want the thing to get lost in the dustbin of history.
Johnston related Pierce's own description of his activities when the call came to him. His description of smoking, drinking, billiards and otherwise living a life of dissipation is not good preparation for a mission. Yet, he cleaned up his act and served an honorable and interesting mission. Johnston is right in saying that Pierce was "one of a kind."
I think I know why Eliza R. Snow included this report in her brother's biography. Eli H. Peirce/Pierce (both spellings were used) married Lydia May Snow, Lorenzo Snow's daughter by Mary Elizabeth Houtz. That would make Peirce her niece's husband. Also, Eli's sister, Mary Barr Peirce married Oliver Goddard Snow, Lorenzo Snow's son by Mary Adaline Peirce giving them another family connection.
Eli's father was also "Eli H." the first Bishop of Brigham City which suggests young Eli Jr. was raised right however much he strayed later. Jeffrey R. Holland, when President of Brigham Young University related the same story in 1980 that Johnston quoted in his column with an interesting addition. From, "For Times of Trouble"
During his missionary service, Brother Pierce was called in to administer to the infant child of a branch president whom he knew and loved. Unfortunately, the wife of the branch president had become embittered and now seriously objected to any religious activity within the home, including a blessing for this dying child. With the mother refusing to leave the bedside and the child too ill to move, this humble branch president with his missionary friend retired to a small upper room in the house to pray for the baby’s life. The mother, suspecting just such an act, sent one of the older children to observe and report back.
There in that secluded chamber the two knelt and prayed fervently until, in Brother Pierce’s own words, “we felt that the child would live and knew that our prayers had been heard.” Arising from their knees, they turned slowly only to see the young girl standing in the partially open doorway gazing intently into the room. She seemed, however, quite oblivious to the movements of the two men. She stood entranced for some seconds, her eyes immovable. Then she said, “Papa, who was that . . . man in there?”
Her father said, “That is Brother Pierce. You know him.”
“No,” she said, matter-of-factly, “I mean the other man.”
“There was no other, darling, except Brother Pierce and myself. We were praying for baby.”
“Oh, there was another man,” the child insisted, “for I saw him standing [above] you and Brother Pierce and he was dressed [all] in white.”
Now if God in his heavens will do that for a repentant old cigar-smoking, inactive, swearing pool player, don’t you think he’ll do it for you? He will if your resolve is as deep and permanent as Eli Pierce’s. In this Church we ask for faith, not infallibility. (See Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, pp. 407–13.)I'll simply close by reiterating the last line from President Holland's remarks:
In this Church we ask for faith, not infallibility.