This event was first mentioned in 17 September letter for Cowdery to Wiliam W. Phelps. Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, October 1834, 153.
Nine close associates of Smith said the Melchizedek priesthood was not introduced into the Church until 1831, contradicting Cowdery’s 1834 claim that he and Smith received it in 1829. As noted by Van Wagoner (1994), p. 97:
“An array of Smith’s close associates testified that the higher Melchizedek Priesthood was not conferred until 3 June 1831. These include brothers Parley P. and Orson Pratt, Book of Mormon witnesses David and John Whitmer, plus Lyman Wight, William E. McLellin, John Corrill, J. C. Brewster, and Wiliam Smith, the prophet’s younger brother.”
Van Wagoner (1994) continues:
“Lyman Wight, later to become a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostels, recorded in his personal diary of this June conference: “here for the first time I saw the Melchizdek priesthood introduced into the Church of Jesus Christ, as anciently, whereunto I was ordained under the hands of Joseph Smith, and they ordained sixteen others, as they chose, unto the same priesthood.”
“Parley Pratt’s account is equally precise. He wrote that during the meeting, “Several were selected by revelation, through President Smith, and ordained to the High Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God, which is after the order of Melchizedek. This is the first occasion in which this priesthood had been revealed and conferred upon the Elders of this dispensation, although the office of an Elder is the same in a certain degree, but not in its fulness.”
“In September 1832, Smith received a revelation (D&C 84) which added significant detail to the understanding of priesthood authority. The high priesthood introduced in June 1831 had been associated with Melchizedek. In the new revelation, the office of the elder was linked for the firs time with the high priesthood. A “lesser priesthood” resembling that “confirmed” on Aaron, was mentioned (vv. 6-18). That office of elder was not originally included in the Melchizedek priesthood was pointed out by church president Brigham Young shortly before his death in 1877. In discussing the ordination of the original 1835 Quorum of Twelve Apostles he said that he and Heber C. Kimball “were elders”. The fact that we were not high priests and had never been ordained to the high priesthood was taken to Brother Joseph…[who said that] the apostleship holds all the keys of the priesthood upon the face of the earth. Elder Orson Pratt on 27 December 1847 had clarified that “there was a time when this Church was governed by the Lesser Priesthood.”
To his death, David Whitmer insisted the idea of a higher priesthood was an afterthought, an error introduced “at the instigation of S[i]dney [Rigdon]. “Authority is the word we used for the first two years of the church,” he added, “until S[i]dney Rigdon’s days in Ohio. This matter of the two orders of the priesthood in the Church of Christ, and lineal priesthood of the old law being in the church all originated in the mind of S[i]dney Rigdon. He explained these things to Brother Joseph in his way, out of the old Scriptures, and got Brother Joseph to inquitre, etc.”
From Wikipedia: The official church history, supervised or written by Smith, states that “the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders” during a General Conference in early June 1831. When Smith’s official history was published in 1902, the compiler B.H. Roberts thought that this was a mistake, because it would not be consistent with the common Mormon belief that the priesthood had been conferred prior to the church’s founding in 1830. Some recent Mormon historians accept Smith’s history as correct and consistent with other historical records showing that other Mormons present at the conference dated the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood to 1831.
[Peter, James and John] held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, [John] said, would in due time be conferred on us” (History of the Church, 1:40).
“What do we hear . . . the voice of Peter, James, and John . . . declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times” (D&C 128:19-20)
“With Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles” (D&C 27:12). COMPARE TO BC 30 (NO MENTION OF PETER, JAMES, AND JOHN).
The Savior, Moses and [Elijah] gave the keys to Peter, James and John on the mount, when they were transfigured before him (see Matt.17:1–5). The Priesthood is everlasting—without beginning of days or end of years. . . . The keys have to be brought from heaven whenever the Gospel is sent. . . . How have we come at the Priesthood in the latter days? It came down, down, in regular succession. Peter, James, and John had it given to them and they gave it to others.
History of the Church, 3:385–87.
“Missionaries in the early church before 1835 did not claim they held priesthood authority that was restored by the ancient apostles Peter, James and John.” http://www.xmission.com/~research/central/respri4.htm
Source: Oliver Cowdery to Phineas Young, Tiffin, Ohio, 23 Mar 1846, Church Archives.
“I have been sensitive on this subject [his character], I admit; but I ought to be so–you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood–and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and look down through time, and witness the effects these two must produce.–you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long length rest.”
Oliver Cowdery’s Testimony Given at Kanesville, Iowa:
“Friends and Brethren-My name is Cowdery, Oliver Cowdery. In the early history of this Church I stood identified with her, and one in her councils. True it is that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance; not because I was better then the rest of mankind was I called; but to fulfil the purposes of God, He called me to a high and holy calling.
“I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by that book, “holy interpreters”. I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was transcribed. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the “holy interpreters”. That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it; Mr. Spalding did not write it; I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet. It contains the Everlasting Gospel, and came forth to the children of men in fulfilment of the revelations of John, where he says he saw an angel come with the Everlasting Gospel to preach to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. It contains principles of salvation; and if you, my hearers, will walk by its light and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God on high. Brother Hyde has just said that it is very important that we keep and walk in the true channel, in order to avoid the sandbars. This is true. The channel is here. The holy Priesthood is here.
“I was present with Joseph when an holy angel from God came down from heaven and conferred on us, or restored, the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood, and said to us, at the same time, that it should remain upon the earth while the earth stands.
“I was also present with Joseph when the higher or Melchisedek Priesthood was conferred by holy angels from on high. This Priesthood we then conferred on each other, by the will and commandment of God. This Priesthood, as was then declared, is also to remain upon the earth until the last remnant of time. This holy Priesthood, or authority, we then conferred upon many, and is just as good and valid as though God had done it in person.
“I laid my hands upon that man-yes, I laid my right hand upon his head (pointing to Brother Hyde), and I conferred upon him this Priesthood, and he holds that Priesthood now. He was also called through me, by the prayer of faith, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992].
Book of Commandments Ch 24 states that Joseph Smith was called and ordained, and he then ordained Oliver Cowdery:
“The rise of the church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the flesh; It being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God in the fourth month and on the sixth day of the month, which is called April: Which commandments were given to Joseph, who was called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of this church; And also to Oliver, who was called of God an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of this church, and ordained under his hand: And this according to the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory both now and forever. Amen.”