Who is Lot Smith? Forgotten Folk Hero of the American West November 06 2018
WHO IS LOT SMITH?
LOT SMITH is a legendary folk hero of the American West whose adventurous life has been all but lost to the annals of time. Lot arrived in the West with the Mormon Batallion during the Mexican-American War. He remained in California during much the Gold Rush, and was later a participant in many significant Utah events, including the Utah-Mormon War, the Walker War, the rescue of the Willie & Martin Handcart Companies, and even joined the Union Army during the US Civil War. Significantly, Lot Smith was one of the early settlers of the Arizona territory and led the United Order efforts in the Little Colorado River settlements. What follows is a brief sketch of Lot's service in the Mormon Batallion and the experiences that shaped him.
Lot was reared by a hard-working Yankee father and a devoutly religious mother. His mother passed when he was fourteen. At the impressionable age of sixteen, Lot joined the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican-American War as one of its youngest members. His father passed before he returned to his family. Consequently, his experiences in the Mormon Battalion shaped his life significantly. The struggles of this heroic infantry march of two-thousand miles across the country embedded within him several valuable characteristics.
During most of the journey, his company marched with very scanty rations. Despite his teenage-boy-appetite, he learned that he could survive on almost nothing. At one point during the march, Smith and others were so hungry that they ate the bark from a pepper tree. It did not agree with Smith. Ever after, he never allowed pepper at his dining table. In later life, when he and the soldiers under his command suffered intense hunger during the Utah and Civil Wars, he knew how they felt and empathized. When neighboring Arizona colonists faced famine, he quickly came to their aid. When his own colonists had food shortages, he did not ration the provisions. He knew what near starvation felt like.
Lot Smith came to value the comfort of clothing and shoes in the absence thereof. As the battalion march continued, his clothing and shoes wore out. He had only a ragged shirt and an Indian blanket wrapped around his torso for pants. At the death of one of the soldiers, he gratefully inherited the man’s pants. His feet were shod with rawhide cut from the hocks of an ox. Ever after, he never took shoes for granted. It appears that he may have developed an obsession for them. Soon after his arrival in Utah Territory, he was known to have bought himself a pair of shoes that was outlandishly too large. He said that he wanted to get his money’s worth! Years later, he bought thirty pairs of shoes at a gentile shoe shop. When he saw the astonishment of the shopkeeper, he said, “If these give good service, I’ll be back and buy shoes for the rest of my family!” He frequently carried an extra pair of shoes. In at least two recorded instances, he gave an extra pair of shoes to grateful men who were in desperate need. He knew how feet with no shoes felt—sore, bruised and cut.
Several times the battalion marched miles and even days with no water. One of the more fortunate times, the soldiers found rainwater in wallows mixed with buffalo urine and dung. Only a few sickened. Once after marching two days without water, they were promised water at the end of their march, only to find that there had been water, but the officers and their mounts had finished it off. The troops crowded around the moist hollow and dipped with spoons and sucked through quills for a mouthful of water. Another time after a more than two-day waterless march, Smith helped dig for water. He was then asked to carry a keg of water back to the soldiers, who had been too weak to continue, with strict orders to start with the farthest soldier. He passed the first few but could no longer pass his pleading thirsty comrades. Compassion became one of his strong characteristics. Yet he also learned obedience—strict obedience. For his disobedience, he was tied to the back of a wagon to walk in trying and humiliating circumstances. Throughout his life, he expected firm obedience of himself and from those he led in war, those he led in colonizing, and those within his family.
Smith developed endurance during the Mormon Battalion march. He carried a shoulder load of paraphernalia, walked as many as twenty-five miles or more each day—sometimes dragging mules through the heavy sand. There was no stopping—and absolutely no pampering. When the going got rough, he had to keep going. He suffered extreme heat and freezing nights on the deserts. Through all of these challenges, he learned to laugh at the hardships and to maintain a happy optimistic view of life. He emerged from the Mormon Battalion as a young man who knew he could do hard things.
It is not known how skilled Smith became with a gun during his battalion march, but during his later years in Arizona, he was known to be an expert marksman who could shoot accurately even from the hip. Every morning he took a practice shot. Navajos and Hopis would come from miles around to challenge him. He gained a reputation of the most feared gunman in Arizona.
Smith faced many life-threatening ordeals throughout the rest of his life. Many different kinds of hardships would test his endurance. He faced them with courage, a trust in God, and an upbeat attitude. His example inspired those who followed him. As a significant and beloved military leader, he knew how to succor those under his command. One who served with him in the military said, “We loved him because he loved us first.”
Lot Smith learned many valuable life lessons on the Mormon Battalion march that served him well. Yes, he rid his table of hot pepper—and he should have done away with something else hot—his temper!
Talana S. Hooper is a native of Arizona’s Gila Valley. She attended both Eastern Arizona College and Arizona State University. She compiled and edited A Century in Central, 1883–1983 and has published numerous family histories. She and her husband Steve have six children and twenty-six grandchildren.
Lot Smith recounts the Mormon frontiersman’s adventures in the Mormon Battalion, the hazardous rescue of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, the Utah War, and the Mormon colonization of the Arizona Territory. True stories of tense relations with the Navajo and Hopi tribes, Mormon flight into Mexico during the US government's anti-polygamy crusades, narrow escapes from bandits and law enforcers, and even Western-style shoot-outs place Lot Smith: Mormon Pioneer and American Frontiersman into both Western Americana literature and Mormon biographical history.
Q&A Part 2 with the Editors of The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism & Sacred Texts September 11 2018
Hardcover $35.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-637-6)
Part 2: Q&A with Brian D. Birch (Part 1)
Q: When and how did the Mormon Studies program at UVU launch?
A: The UVU Mormon Studies Program began in 2000 with the arrival of Eugene England. Gene received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to explore how Mormon Studies could succeed at a state university. A year-long seminar resulted that included a stellar lineup of consultants and guest scholars. From that point forward, the Religious Studies Program has developed multiple courses complemented by our annual Mormon Studies Conference and Eugene England Lecture—to honor Gene’s tragic and untimely passing in 2001. The program also hosts and facilitates events for independent organizations and publications including the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, the Dialogue Foundation, the Interpreter Foundation, Mormon Scholars in the Humanities, Association for Mormon Letters, and others.
Q: How is the UVU Mormon Studies program distinguished from Mormon Studies programs that have emerged at other campuses?
A: Mormon Studies at UVU is distinguished by the explicitly comparative focus of our work. Given the strengths of our faculty, we have emphasized courses and programming that addresses engagement and dialogue across cultures, faith traditions, and theological perspectives. Permanent course offerings include Mormon Cultural Studies, Mormon Theology and the Christian Tradition, Mormon Anthropology, and Mormon Literature. Our strengths lie in areas other than Mormon history, which is well represented at other institutions—and appropriately so. Given the nature of our institution, our events are focused first and foremost on student learning, but all our events are free and open to the public and we welcome conversation between scholars and nonprofessionals.
Q: How long has the annual UVU Mormon Studies Conference been held, and what have been some of the topics of past conferences?
A: As mentioned above, the Mormon Studies Conference was first convened by Eugene England in 2000, and to date we have convened a total of nineteen conferences. Topics have ranged across a variety of issues including “Islam and Mormonism,” “Mormonism in the Public Mind,” “Mormonism and the Art of Boundary Maintenance,” “Mormonism and the Internet,” etc. We have been fortunate to host superb scholars and to bring them into conversation with each other and the broader public.
Q: Where did the material for the first volume, The Expanded Canon, come from?
A: The material in The Expanded Canon emerged came from our 2013 Mormon Studies Conference that shares the title of the volume. We drew from the work of conference presenters and added select essays to round out the collection. The volume is expressive of our broader approach to bring diverse scholars into conversation and to show a variety of perspectives and methodologies.
Q: What are a few key points about this volume that would be of interest to readers?
A: Few things are more central to Mormon thought than the way the tradition approaches scripture. And many of their most closely held beliefs fly in the face of general Christianity’s conception of scriptural texts. An open or expanded canon of scripture is one example. Grant Underwood explores Joseph Smith’s revelatory capacities and illustrates that Smith consistently edited his revelations and felt that his revisions were done under the same Spirit by which the initial revelation was received. Hence, the revisions may be situated in the canon with the same gravitas that the original text enjoyed. Claudia Bushman directly addresses the lack of female voices in Mormon scripture. She recommends several key documents crafted by women in the spirit of revelation. Ultimately, she suggests several candidates for inclusion. As the Mormon canon expands it should include female voices. From a non-Mormon perspective, Ann Taves does not embrace a historical explanation of the Book of Mormon or the gold plates. However, she does not deny Joseph Smith as a religious genius and compelling creator of a dynamic mythos. In her chapter she uses Mormon scripture to suggest a way that the golden plates exist, are not historical, but still maintain divine connectivity. David Holland examines the boundaries and intricacies of the Mormon canon. Historically, what are the patterns and intricacies of the expanding canon and what is the inherent logic behind the related processes? Additionally, authors treat the status of the Pearl of Great Price, the historical milieu of the publication of the Book of Mormon, and the place of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. These are just a few of the important issues addressed in this volume.
Q: What is your thought process behind curating these volumes in terms of representation from both LDS and non-LDS scholars, gender, race, academic disciplines, etc?
A: Mormon Studies programing at UVU has always been centered on strong scholarship while also extending our reach to marginalized voices. To date, we have invited guests that span a broad spectrum of Mormon thought and practice. From Orthodox Judaism to Secular Humanists; from LGBTQ to opponents to same-sex marriage; from Feminists to staunch advocates of male hierarchies, all have had a voice in the UVU Mormon Studies Program. Each course, conference, and publication treating these dynamic dialogues in Mormonism are conducted in civility and the scholarly anchors of the academy. Given our disciplinary grounding, our work has expanded the conversation and opened a wide variety of ongoing cooperation between schools of thought that intersect with Mormon thought.
Q: What can readers expect to see coming from the UVU Comparative Mormon Studies series?
A: Our 2019 conference will be centered on the experience of women in and around the Mormon traditions. We have witnessed tremendous scholarship of late in this area and are anxious to assemble key authors and advocates. Other areas we plan to explore include comparative studies in Mormonism and Asian religions, theological approaches to religious diversity, and questions of Mormon identity.
Upcoming events for The Expanded Canon:
Q&A Part 1 with the Editors of The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism & Sacred Texts August 29 2018
Hardcover $35.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-637-6)
Part 1: Q&A with Blair G. Van Dyke (Part 2)
Q: How is the Mormon Studies program at Utah Valley University distinguished from Mormon Studies programs that have emerged at other universities?
A: The Mormon Studies program at UVU is distinguished by the comparative components of the work we do. At UVU we cast a broad net across the academy knowing that there are relevant points of exploration at the intersections of Mormonism and the arts, Mormonism and the sciences, Mormonism and literature, Mormonism and economics, Mormonism and feminism, Mormonism and world religions, and so forth. Additionally, the program is distinguished from other Mormon Studies by the academic events that we host. UVU initiated and maintains the most vibrant tradition of creating and hosting relevant and engaging conferences, symposia, and intra-campus events than any other program in the country. Further, a university-wide initiative is in place to engage the community in the work of the academy. Hence, the events held on campus are focused first and foremost for students but inviting the community to enjoy our work is very important. This facilitates understanding and builds bridges between scholars of Mormon Studies and Mormons and non-Mormons outside academic orbits.
Q: Where did the material for The Expanded Canon come from?
A: The material that constitutes volume one of the UVU Comparative Mormon Studies Series came from an annual Mormon Studies Conference that shares the title of the volume. We drew from the work of some of the scholars that presented at that conference to give their work and ours a broader audience. Generally, the contributors to the volume are not household names or prominent authors that regularly publish in the common commercial publishing houses directed at Mormon readership. As such, this volume introduces that audience to prominent personalities in the field of Mormon Studies. It is not uncommon for scholars in this field of study to look for venues where their work can reach a broader readership. This jointly published volume accomplishes that desire in a thoughtful way.
Q: What are a few key points about this volume that would be of interest to readers?
A: Few things are more central to Mormon thought than the way the tradition approaches scripture. And many of their most closely held beliefs fly in the face of general Christianity’s conception of scriptural texts. An open or expanded canon of scripture is one example. Grant Underwood explores Joseph Smith’s revelatory capacities and illustrates that Smith consistently edited his revelations and felt that his revisions were done under the same Spirit by which the initial revelation was received. Hence, the revisions may be situated in the canon with the same gravitas that the original text enjoyed. Claudia Bushman directly addresses the lack of female voices in Mormon scripture. She recommends several key documents crafted by women in the spirit of revelation. Ultimately, she suggests several candidates for inclusion. As the Mormon canon expands it should include female voices. From a non-Mormon perspective, Ann Taves does not embrace a historical explanation of the Book of Mormon or the gold plates. However, she does not deny Joseph Smith as a religious genius and compelling creator of a dynamic mythos. In her chapter she uses Mormon scripture to suggest a way that the golden plates exist, are not historical, but still maintain divine connectivity. David Holland examines the boundaries and intricacies of the Mormon canon. Historically, what are the patterns and intricacies of the expanding canon and what is the inherent logic behind the related processes? Additionally, authors treat the status of the Pearl of Great Price, the historical milieu of the publication of the Book of Mormon, and the place of The Family A Proclamation to the World. These are just a few of the important issues addressed in this volume.
Q: What is your thought process behind curating these volumes in terms of representation from both LDS and non-LDS scholars, gender, race, academic disciplines, etc?
A: Mormon Studies programing at UVU has always been centered on solid scholarship while simultaneously broadening tents of inclusivity. To date, we have invited guests that span spectrums of thought related to Mormonism. From Orthodox Judaism to Secular Humanists; from LGBTQ to opponents to same-sex marriage; from Feminists to staunch advocates of male hierarchies, all have had a voice in the UVU Mormon Studies Program. Each course, conference, and publication treating these dynamic dialogues in Mormonism are conducted in civility and the scholarly anchors of the academy. Given our disciplinary grounding, our work has expanded the conversation and opened a wide variety of ongoing cooperation between schools of thought that intersect with Mormon thought.
Author Spotlight: Blake T. Ostler July 16 2018
Conversation with Blake T. Ostler
We sat down with Blake Ostler for a short interview just in time for the paperback re-issue of Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol. 1: The Attributes of God. Blake is an attorney and independent scholar residing in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the author of the multi-volume Exploring Mormon Thought series along with over forty published articles.
Q: What began your interest in studying philosophy and theology?
A: I was a young whippersnapper when I ran into Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig who died earlier this year. Because I had raced motorcycles and often rode motorbikes with my Dad, it was the perfect intro to philosophy—and it is still the best-selling book related to philosophy of all time. I was only a Junior in High School student, but for some reason I thought I could tackle Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. I was foolish but did it anyway. I became fascinated with Kant's view that our consciousness depends on an organizational unity and categories that are not present in the things we experience, but that, in effect, we create the unity of consciousness and provide the categories to make sense of our experience and any concepts presented to us.
Q: In your course of studying some of the greatest thinkers who ever lived, what are some of the most important questions about existence that we can ask?
A: The first question to be asked is: How is it possible that questions can be asked? Implicit in this question is: Who or what is doing the asking? How is it possible to formulate questions for a response at all? Can I come up with these questions through insight and the creativity of imagination, or I am just a conduit for all of the causes that came before? Is there an "I" asking questions or is it just a mechanism with the appearance of unity of identity? And the ultimate question: How am I aware at all to ask questions and aware that questions need to be or can asked? Is it morally obligatory to ask questions and seek knowledge? Finally: Of whom am I asking questions? Does this other have a mind that can understand the question? How would I or could I know the answer to that question?
Q: What are the differences between theology, philosophical theology, and what we do in Sunday School? How can members of the Church benefit from each?
A: Theology is the attempt of a person who has belief (and the faith that those beliefs are true) to make sense of those beliefs in the world circumstances in which that person resides. Philosophical theology is the critical assessment of religious beliefs and systems in the widest sense using the tools of philosophical inquiry. Sunday School is the participation in community interactions seeking to dialogue regarding various subjects of shared importance or imposed importance.
It is a mistake to think that these three must necessarily intersect. The communal sharing of inquiry within a Sunday School class need not involve either theology or philosophical theology. It could consist of just sharing news about each other’s lives. But Sunday School necessarily is done in a communal setting and usually by folks who share enough commonality in belief to make genuine sharing of our deeply held commitments possible and meaningful. To the extent that theology or philosophy may provide insights to enrich and edify, they are appropriate in Sunday School. To the extent that arguing for or elucidating a position using the categories and tools of theology or philosophy is done in good faith and with positive regard for others in the class, it seems to me to be valuable—because the immersion in these disciplines is given as a gift to others out of love. To the extent that it creates tension and contention, these disciplines can interfere with the communal purposes of sharing life together along a journey of exploration that only gets in the way of the very community that fosters the very endeavor in the first place.
It is a very serious mistake to think that what must happen in Sunday School is a high-level discussion of the philosophy of religion or Biblical scholarship. Like other disciplines, such learning can be used as a tool for self-aggrandizement or fostering a sense of superiority or just plain old snottiness. That is inimical to Christianity. Others may feel intimidated and unable to join the discussion. That can even happen unintentionally. Any Sunday School class that excludes in any way is something to be avoided.
Q: You have a fourth volume in the pipeline. Can you give us a sneak peek at what its focus will be?
A: The Fourth Volume (boy that seems pretentious) focuses on the problem of evil from three very different perspectives that are all live-options in Mormon thought. I elucidate a Naturalistic Finitist Theodicy that departs from the view that God is after the universe. That is, the universe existed before God became God fully divine and He grew up in an already fully-ordered cosmos and became divine by following the natural moral laws that lead to divinity. I also present a fully-developed Process Theodicy—that is the view that God is with the cosmos and in each moment of the cosmos' existence has provided an Initial Aim to lure the cosmos to reflect His desires for it. I also present a theodicy departing from the view that God is before the universe in the sense that God ordered the cosmos and all order depends on God's prior creative acts.
Thanks, Blake! We're looking forward to your next volume!
Don't miss our podcast interview with Blake on the Greg Kofford Books AuthorCast!
Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol 1: The Attributes of God
By Blake T. Ostler
Now available in paperback!
Part of the Exploring Mormon Thought series
Q&A with Charles Randall Paul for Converting the Saints: A Study of Religious Rivalry in America July 06 2018
Hardcover $49.99 (ISBN 978-1-58958-747-2)
Available August 7, 2018
Q: Give us some insight into your background, how you chose to write about this topic, and your involvement with religious diplomacy.
A: I was raised in northern New Jersey where my high school of 400 kids consisted of three major cliques: Jewish, Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant. There were four Mormons. I was surprised to find how solid and happy my friends’ families were. How could they be so good without The Truth? In mid life I became interested in how religious and secular societies faced unresolvable conflicts over truth and authority and right values. It seemed God had set up the world for pluralistic contestation, and I tried to figure out why. These issues led me to develop interreligious diplomacy as a mode of interaction that included persuasive contestation between trustworthy advocates.
Q: Tell us briefly about the three case studies in this book. Who are these individuals and how did they differ in their tactics from one another?
A: In the early twentieth century after Utah had been accepted as a state, the major Protestant churches wanted to assure that Mormonism was not accepted as another Christian denomination. John Nutting, a freelance pastor, evangelical/preacher came to Utah with young college age missionaries to save souls that, after hearing his revival teaching or door-to-door witnessing, simply confessed the true Jesus and stopped attending the Mormon church. William Paden, a Presbyterian, educator/activist, helped set up 1–12 grade schools that taught LDS students “true” Christianity along with math and English. He also tried to discredit the LDS leadership, close down the Mormon Church, and educate its youth in the right way. Franklin Spaulding was an Episcopal Bishop intellectual/diplomat that aimed to educate LDS college students in the inconsistences of some of the Mormon Church claims. He hoped to convert the Saints in their pews—urging church leaders that he befriended to change just a few doctrines and join the mainline churches.
Q: You state that ongoing debate between religious ideology is at the heart of what it means to be a pluralistic society. Can you elaborate on this?
A: Humans in societies live by stories that order their lives. Ideological or religious traditions provide the comprehensive order and hope for a better world. These religious stories can seriously challenge the veracity of their rival claimants to truth and authority—making for conflict. Contemporary social conflict theorists have focused almost exclusively on conflicting economic and security interests as the engines for conflict, neglecting the cultural driver that religious tradition provides. I am bringing into focus the potency of conflicting formational stories in any society.
Q: Why isn’t tolerance always the desired outcome? How can two opposing people or groups find meaningful ways of collaboration?
A: Tolerance is a weak social virtue (devoid of trust or good will) that collapses when economic and security crises lead societies to seek for scapegoats. We have found that ideological opponents who engage honestly by means of persuasion actually can come to trust and “enjoy” each other’s bothersome presence. People engage in collaborative co-resistance n many forms—sports being the most obvious—legal, legislative, scientific and commercial realms also absorb non-violent conflict managing procedures. When religion is involved, there is no room for compromise solutions, so some form of sustaining the ideological contest in a mode of persuasion is needed. This is healthy intolerance because it allows critics and rivals to be authentic and to have conversations that matter.
Q: For Latter-day Saints, contention is a particularly discomforting word. In your book, you say that you prefer the term “contestation.” Can you explain what you mean?
A: This is a key to understanding how the LDS can lead in the goal of peace-building in split families or societies. We rightly learn that Jesus and Joseph thought contention—a term based on a root of forcing, twisting, coercing others—was the devil’s work. It includes anger and contempt and resentment and revenge. On the other hand, those who stand for something as witnesses need to elevate the term contestation that means to witness with, for or against something—the root being the testimony of a witness. The design of heaven and Earth seems to include many intelligences with different experiences to which they can respectfully testify without fear or anger. They have different viewpoints and experiences that bring them to conflicting contestants; honestly speaking the truth they see. This is what the Holy Spirit prompts us to do. It is the opposite of contentiousness even though the conflict of interpretation and ultimate concern or story remains. Peaceful tension results from contestation—and that is enough for Zion to thrive. Oneness cannot be identical interpretation and understanding of everything that would make individual existence redundant.
Q: We live in an age of intense ideological polarization. What are you hoping that readers will learn from the case-studies presented in this book?
A: I want them to read the book in the broad context of the problem of pluralism that began, narratively speaking, when Eve was different than Adam. I trace the American system of managing religious conflict as a living aspect of society. As long as it remains in the persuasive mode, it allows free expression in the balancing of ideological drives for hegemony. America is based on a foundation of continually contested foundations. Our culture can thrive on pluralism, not because we follow laws of procedural conflict management, but because we have a deep belief in the value of a worthy rival in religion as well as any other aspect of life. The case studies I show will hopefully move a reader to understand how the desire for a trustworthy opponent is a precious thing that does not come naturally but is essential to the success of a pluralistic society.
Five Times Mormons Changed Their Position on Slavery March 28 2018
Mormonism and Black Slavery:
Changing Attitudes and Related Practices, 1830–1865
By Newell G. Bringhurst
Mormon attitudes and practices relative to black slavery shifted over the course of the first thirty-five years of the Latter-day Saint movement, evolving through five distinct phases.
Phase 1 – Opposition to Slavery in the Book of Mormon
Initially Joseph Smith expressed strong opposition to slavery through the pages of the Book of Mormon. While not specifically referring to black people, Mormonism’s foundational work asserted that “it was against [Nephite] law” to enslave those less favored than themselves, namely the dark Lamanites (Alma 27:9; Mosiah 2:13). In fact, the idolatrous Lamanites were the ones who practiced slavery, making repeated efforts to enslave the light-skinned, chosen Nephites. Lamanite slaveholding was cited as proof of this people’s “ferocious and wicked nature” (Alma 50:22). Nephite resistance to the Lamanites was described as a struggle for freedom from bondage and slavery.
Phase 2 –Detachment towards Slavery in Ohio and Missouri
Mormon attitudes toward slavery entered a second phase of deliberate detachment following the formal organization of the Church in 1830. Through the pages of the Church’s official newspaper, the Evening and Morning Star, Joseph Smith and others avoided discussion of this increasingly controversial topic. No mention was made of Book of Mormon verses condemning slavery. A major reason for such deliberate detachment was the establishment of Mormonism’s Zion in Missouri, a slave state. Church officials sought to disassociate themselves from the fledgling Abolitionist movement.
Despite this, the Church found itself compelled to speak out on the issue on two important occasions. The first involved Joseph Smith’s “Revelation and Prophecy on War” brought forth on 25 December 1832 and ultimately canonized as Section 87 in the Doctrine and Covenants. In this apocalyptic document, Smith prophesized that “wars…will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina [and]…poured out on all nations” (D&C 87:1–2). It further declared that the “slaves will rise up against their masters, who shall be marshalled and disciplined for war” (D&C 87:4). Given its explosive implications, this revelation was not disclosed to the general Church membership until two decades later.
By contrast, a second Mormon statement, “Free People of Color” written by W. W. Phelps and published in the July 1833 issue of the Evening and Morning Star, received immediate exposure resulting in dire consequences. Prompting Phelps’s statement was a dramatic four-fold increase in the number of Mormons settling in Jackson County. The article’s stated purpose was “to prevent any misunderstanding . . . respecting free people of color, who may think of coming to . . . Missouri as members of the Church.” However, it had the opposite effect, angering local non-Mormons who expelled the Latter-day Saints from Jackson County.
Phase 3 – Pro-slavery Sympathies in Missouri
By the mid 1830s, Church attitudes toward slavery shifted yet a third time, Church spokesmen affirming support for slavery. In August 1835, the Church issued an official declaration stating that it was not “right to interfere with bond-servants, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters” nor cause “them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life.” Ultimately this statement was incorporated into the Doctrine and Covenants as Section 134. Eight months later, in April 1836, Joseph Smith reaffirmed Mormon pro-slavery sympathies through a lengthy discourse published in the official Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate. Smith raised the specter of “racial miscegenation and possible race war” if abolitionism prevailed. He further stated that the people of the North have no “more right to say that the South shall not hold slaves, than the South have to say the North shall.” He referenced the Old Testament, specifically the “decree of Jehovah” that blacks were cursed with servitude. Other church spokesmen echoed Smith’s sentiments, in particular Oliver Cowdery and Warren Parrish. This Mormon shift reflected an increased Mormon presence in the slave state of Missouri during the late 1830s, along with a desire to carry the Mormon message to potential converts in the slaveholding South. But most importantly, it represented strong Mormon reaction against the establishment of a chapter of the American Anti-slavery society in the Mormon community of Kirtland Ohio.
Phase 4 – Anti-slavery Position in Nauvoo
By the early 1840s Smith and his followers shifted their position yet a fourth time, assuming a strong anti-slavery position, most evident during the Mormon leader’s 1844 campaign for U.S. president. In his “Views on the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States” Smith advocated the abolition of slavery through gradual emancipation and colonization of the freed blacks abroad. He called for the “break down [of] slavery” and removal of “the shackles from the poor black man” through a program of compensated emancipation financed through the sale of public lands. Smith predicted that his proposal could eliminate slavery by 1850. Motivating this changing position were two major factors: one was the Mormon’s forced expulsion from the slave state of Missouri in 1838-39. The second involved demographics, namely the fact that the majority of church members hailed from non-slaveholding regions north of the Mason-Dixon line and from Great Britain. By contrast, a relatively limited number of new converts were drawn from the slaveholding South.
Phase 5 – Pro-slavery Position in Utah Territory
Mormon attitudes and related practices relative to slavery shifted yet a fifth and final time following the death of Joseph Smith in 1844 with the emergence of Brigham Young as the principal leader of the Latter-day Saints who migrated west. Young’s evolving position represented “a bundle of contradictions.” Initially, he advocated a “free soil” stance in a June, 1851, sermon, rhetorically stating, “shall we lay a foundation for Negro slavery? No, God forbid!” Six months later in the wake of his appointment as Utah Territorial Governor, Young retreated from this position. Despite his assertion that “my own feelings are that no property can or should exist in slaves,” Young called on the territorial legislature adopt a form of benevolent indentured servitude to regulate Utah’s small but visible black population. Two weeks later, addressing that same body, he proclaimed himself “a firm believer in slavery,” urging legalization of the Peculiar Institution. On February 4, 1952, the Utah Territorial Legislature passed “An Act in Relation to Service” which Young signed into law, making Utah the only Western territory to allow black slavery. Justifying his action, Young delivered a lengthy discourse in which he promoted a direct link between black slavery and black priesthood denial—the latter practice which he announced publicly for the first time. He further asserted that the two proscriptions were both intertwined and divinely sanctioned.
Four factors prompted Young to promote “An Act in Relation to Service.” First, the measure represented a response to the presence of sixty to seventy black slaves in the territory belonging to twelve Mormon slave owners. Among the most prominent were Apostle Charles C. Rich, William H. Hooper (an important Mormon merchant who served as Utah’s Territorial delegate to Congress), and Abraham O. Smoot, Salt Lake City’s first mayor. Second, Young hoped to secure southern support for Utah statehood. Young noted that there were “many [brethren] in the South with a great amount [invested] in slaves” who might migrate to the Great Basin if their slavery property were protected by law.
Of crucial importance in motivating the Mormon leader was a third factor: his strong, unyielding belief that blacks were inherently inferior to whites in all respects and thus naturally fit for involuntary servitude. He accepted, uncritically, the traditional biblical genealogy that present-day Africans came through the so-called accursed lineage of Canaan and Ham back to Cain, thereby providing divine sanction to their servile condition. Further legitimizing black inferiority was the denial of priesthood ordination to black males, which Young affirmed as “a true eternal [principle] the Lord Almighty has ordained.” He stated: “If there never was a prophet or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain, I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the priesthood.”
A fourth, seemingly counterintuitive factor activated Young: his desire to discourage slaveholding in the territory. A careful reading of the statute’s provisions indicates that it consisted primarily of rules to control and restrict slaveholders, and only, incidentally, proscriptions on black slaves themselves. For example, the act required Utah slaveholders to prove that servile blacks had entered the territory “of their own free will and choice.” It also stated that slaveholders could not sell their slaves or remove them from the territory without the so-called servants explicit consent. In general, “An Act in Relation to Service” contrasted sharply with Southern slaveholding statutes in that it was more akin to the practice of indentured servitude. Later that same year, Young reflected on the act’s impact, claiming that it had “nearly freed the territory of the colored population.” Ultimately, Utah Territorial slavery was completely outlawed through a federal statute enacted in 1862, affecting not just the Mormon-dominated region but all other federal territories as well.
The LDS Church’s ever shifting encounter with the institution of black slavery during the thirty-five years from 1830 to 1865 represents a complex, often contradictory odyssey. This perplexing journey profoundly affected Mormonism’s relationship with black people in general. While the number of blacks that Latter-day Saints actually held in bondage was miniscule, the fact that Brigham Young sanctioned the practice of black slavery in conjunction with his imposition of black priesthood and temple denial underscores slavery’s seminal impact on the now-defunct proscription on black people—such practice viewed as Church doctrine for over one hundred and twenty-five years.
Available April 10, 2018
 Evening and Morning Star, July 1833.
 Joseph Smith, “Letter to the Editor,” Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate, April 1836
 Smith, “Letter to the Editor.”
 Smith, “Letter to the Editor.”
 Smith, “Views on the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States.”
 Peculiar Institution is another term for Black Slavery.
 “Speech [sic] by Gov. Young in Counsel on a Bill relating to the Affican [sic] Slavery.”
 Brigham Young, Discourse, February 5, 1852, Bx 1 Fd. 17, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Church Historical Department.
 “AN ACT in relation to Service,” Acts, Resolutions and Memorials of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah (Salt Lake City, 1855), 160–62.
 Brigham Young, “Message to the Joint Session of the Legislature,” 13 December 1852, Brigham Young papers.
by Newell G. Bringhurst
Available April 10, 2018
Q: When it was first published (1981), was Saints, Slaves and Blacks the first comprehensive book-length study published on the topic of race within Mormonism? Give us a timeline and little information behind your decision to write the book?
A: Yes, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks was the first comprehensive book-length study published on the topic of race within Mormonism. Although an earlier monograph, Stephen G. Taggart’s cursory Mormonism’s Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins published in 1970, postulated that Joseph Smith implemented the black priesthood ban during the 1830s in response to Mormon difficulties in the slave state of Missouri. My own work which rejected Taggert’s limited “Missouri Thesis” is much more comprehensive. It took eleven years to complete, going through a two-stage process. The first stage involved producing a doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Davis, with the research and writing taking five years to complete, from 1970 to 1975. The second stage involved transforming the dissertation into a publishable book. This process involving further research and extensive re-writing that took another six years, from 1975 to 1981. Prompting my 1970 choice of this topic for a dissertation was the intense controversy surrounding the LDS Church’s priesthood and temple ban on black members, during the turbulent decade of the 1960s.
Q: What was the initial reception of Saints, Slaves, and Blacks when it was first published? Did its reception change over time?
A: Initial reception of the book can be best described as “mixed.” It attracted limited notice both within and outside the Mormon community. The Mormon Church’s owned-and-operated Deseret News completely ignored it, as did all other official LDS publications, including the academically-oriented BYU Studies. The book was the victim of bad timing given its publication a mere three years following the Church’s 1978 revelation that reversed the policy on race-based priesthood and temple restrictions. Mormons of all stripes were anxious to forget the now-embarrassing practice of black priesthood and temple denial, previously promoted as essential doctrine.
Reviews of the book were also mixed. On the negative side, one scholar, an active Latter-day Saint, who had written on black slavery in Utah, excoriated the volume for what he perceived as its “extreme anti-Mormon bias” claiming that it “continually [berated] Mormonism for blatant racism.” By contrast other Mormon academics offered a more measured response. Stanford J. Layton, then-editor of the Utah Historical Quarterly, praised the volume’s “heft and feel of scholarship …apparent on every page,” and a second, Lester E. Bush, Jr., who had written extensively on blacks within Mormonism, affirmed the validity of its central thesis—i.e. that the priesthood ban was the product of an emerging sense of Mormon “whiteness,” as contrast to the blackness assigned Cain, Ham, and other so-called Biblical counterfigures. Non-Mormon scholars also weighed in with generally positive evaluations pointing to the work’s “wealth of primary research,” and its “full discussion” of the “origins and development of Mormon racial doctrines.”
More recently other scholars who have written on race within Mormonism have affirmed the validity of the volume’s central thesis that the black ban emerged largely as the byproduct of an emerging sense of Mormon ethnic whiteness, wherein Latter-day Saints viewed themselves as a divinely chosen lineage—the literal descendants of the House of Israel, while proclaiming blacks a divinely cursed race given their alleged descent from accursed Biblical counterfigures—Cain, Ham, and Canaan.
Q: Briefly explain Mormon shifts in views on slavery from the time of the of the Saints sojourn in Missouri in the 1830s down to early 1850s in the wake Mormons’ migration to Utah or the Great Basin?
A: Latter-day Saint views on slavery dramatically shifted over the period from the 1830s to the early 1850s. Initial views on slavery as manifested through the pages of the Book of Mormon were in opposition, specifically asserting that “it was against [Nephite] law…” to hold slaves, while it was the dark, idolatrous Lamanites who practiced slavery.
From the formation of the Church in 1830 until 1844, Mormon attitudes toward slavery went through three distinct phases. Initially Joseph Smith and other Church leaders avoided any and all direct discussion of this increasingly controversial topic during the early 1830s. No mention was made of those Book of Mormon verses condemning slavery and/or human bondage. By the mid-1830s, however, the Church affirmed support for slavery in an official 1835 statement. Such change reflected an increased Mormon presence in the slave state of Missouri, a desire to carry the Mormon message to potential converts in the slaveholding South, and also by a desire to avoid identifying with the fledgling abolitionist movement.
By the early 1840s Smith and his followers shifted their position yet a fourth time, assuming a strong anti-slavery position, most evident during the Mormon leader’s abortive 1844 campaign for president. Motivating this change were two major factors. First was the Mormon’s forced expulsion from the slave state of Missouri in 1838–39. Second, the vast majority of church members hailed from non-slaveholding regions north of the Mason-Dixon line and from Great Britain, whereas a relatively limited number of new converts were drawn from the slaveholding South.
After 1844, Mormon attitudes toward slavery changed yet a fifth time, assuming a pro-slavery stance. Following the Mormon migration to the Great Basin, the Mormon-dominated Utah territorial legislature legalized the practice of black slavery, doing so at the direction of Brigham Young in 1852. Young’s rationale was driven by his belief in black racial inferiority, further reflected in his fateful decision to implement a ban of black priesthood ordination and temple ordinances.
Q: What were the primary reasons behind Brigham Young’s decision to impose the priesthood/temple restrictions on black Latter-day Saints?
A: Two major factors drove Brigham Young to implement the Church’s black ban by 1852. Most important was a developing sense of Mormon “whiteness,” wherein the Latter-day Saints identified themselves as divinely chosen people, reaffirmed by a belief that they were of Abrahamic descent, specifically the favored linage of Ephraim. Conversely these same Saints viewed blacks to be a divinely cursed race due to their alleged descent from the accursed Biblical counterfigures of Cain, Ham, and Canaan. The second factor motivating Young was his embrace of black slavery, which he considered divinely sanctioned. Thus, as Utah Territorial governor he called for its legalization—this occurring in 1852, thereby making Utah the only western territory to legalize black slavery. Furthermore, Young in calling for this statute claimed a divinely-sanctioned link between black servitude and black priesthood denial.
Despite the abolition of black slavery following the Civil War, the Church continued to deny its black members priesthood ordination and access to temple ordinances, such practice continuing until 1978. Several factors enabled Church leaders to both justify and perpetuate the practice. First, and perhaps most important, was acceptance of the historical myth that Joseph Smith was the actual author of the ban—such process starting immediately following the death of Brigham Young. Second was the use of the Pearl of Great Price as a scriptural proof text to justify the practice, specifically the crucial Book of Abraham verse suggesting that blacks were “cursed as pertaining to the priesthood.” A third factor was an increased sense of the Mormons’ ethnic self-identity as an “Israelite people” most favored by God. These same Saints further believed that they stood at the top of a divinely sanctioned ranking of all the lineages of humankind. Whereas blacks, as the accursed “seed of Cain,” stood at the bottom.
Q: What factors led to the rescinding of the priesthood/temple ban for black Mormons in 1978?
A: Several factors led to the lifting of the priesthood/temple ban in 1978. First of all, the ban was undermined by the Civil Rights movement, which gained momentum following World War II, reaching its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Civil Rights activists assailed the ban in protests during the 1960s. A second factor involved the emergence of prominent critics within the Church who raised their voices in opposition to the ban. Particularly prominent were sociologist Lowry Nelson and Sterling M. McMurren, a University of Utah Professor and U. S. Commissioner of Education under John F. Kennedy. Thirdly, the increasingly offensive ban came under intense scrutiny thanks to the prominence of three Latter-day Saints as national political figures. They were Michigan Governor George Romney—a Republican Presidential contender in 1968, Stewart Udall, who served as Secretary of Interior from 1961 to 1969, and US Congressman Morris Udall, a major Democratic Presidential candidate in 1976.
Of primary importance in ending to the ban was a fourth development—the dramatic growth of Mormonism abroad, particularly in non-white regions of Asia, the South Pacific, and Latin America. The diversification of Mormonism’s racial ethnic composition undermined traditional Mormon white ethnocentric ideas and concepts used to justify the ban. The final push for change arrived with the emergence of Spencer W. Kimball as LDS Church President. Kimball was increasingly concerned about the Church’s limited ability to expand into those parts of the world with large non-white populations, most especially Brazil with its large bi-racial population and sub-Sahara Africa, overwhelmingly black. Thus, all the elements facilitating the lifting of the ban were in place by June 1978.
Q: How have Mormon attitudes on this topic changed over the past few years? How is this reflected in contemporary scholarship?
A: In recent years, Latter-day Saints of all stripes, from the Church’s top leaders all the way down to rank-and-file members have become increasingly willing to confront various aspects of Mormonism’s problematic racial past. The Church’s official “Race and the Priesthood” Gospel Topics essay issued in December 2013 reflects such openness. The essay ascribed the priesthood/temple ban to racism rather than divine revelation. It singles out Brigham Young as the primary author of the ban, motivated by the “racial discriminations and prejudice” of his day. The essay further repudiates the Church’s decades old teachings of divine curses placed on black people, and white racial superiority, and condemnation of interracial marriages.
Such openness has been further reflected in the flood of books and articles dealing with varied aspects of Mormonism’s problematic racial past; such works produced by a corps of outstanding scholars both within and outside of the Church. Most notable is a continuing stream of seminal studies produced over the past forty years. Among the most outstanding are those written individuals both within and outside the Church, most especially: Jessie Embry, Armand Mauss, Russell Stevenson, Angela Pulley Hudson, W. Paul Reeve, and Max Muller. The outpouring of significant scholarship on this topic shows little signs of abating any time soon.
5 Things We Learned About the Jesus of Nazareth January 22 2018
Consider the many different ways Jesus has been portrayed over the centuries or the ways his name has been employed in support of this or that cause. N. T. Wright, a prominent Jesus scholar and Anglican Bishop, observes that he is “almost universally approved of” but for “very different and indeed often incompatible reasons.” If this is the case, then we wondered what Jesus were we worshiping and whether that Jesus was one of our own making?
During the past half-century historians have made significant strides examining the most recently discovered source materials in order to think once again about existing documents like the four Gospels. The aim was to reconstruct the Jesus who the men and women in first-century Palestine would recognize and follow. Jesus was born into an ancient society constrained by millennia of social, theological, and political practices perpetuated by the minority ruling elite and facilitated by a vast majority of souls who knew of no other way. Periodically prophets would rail against the system in the name of God. But the great, colossus of ancient Rome remained sustained through the oppression of individuals, the very individuals that Jesus came to invite into a new, righteous Kingdom.
The Jesus of history and the Gospels largely displaced the conventions of his day with regard to women and the family, as well as the social standing of the poor, the wealthy, and the outcast.
In the twenty-first century, when issues regarding the roles of men and women in religious environments are alive and controversial, Jesus’s treatment of women was prescient. His example and the privileges afforded the first female Christians provide important perspectives. The subject takes on added significance as we appreciate the meaning of the priestly roles that women play in Latter-day Saint temples. Echoing what N. T. Wright suggests in his recent book Surprised by Scripture, we must “think carefully about where our own cultures, prejudices, and angers are taking us, and make sure we conform not to the stereotypes the world offers but to the healing, liberating, humanizing message of the gospel.” He continues, “[we live in a time when] we need to radically change our traditional pictures of what men and women are and of how they relate to one another within the church, and indeed of what the Bible says on this subject.”
On the Family:
What little Jesus had to say about the family is jarring to modern ears. He replaced the household of his day with a new universal family called the Kingdom of God where all were brothers and sisters. All were welcome: the poor and the rich, men and women, bond and free, high and low, Jew and Gentile. Members were asked to live in a communal order where everyone had what they needed.
On the Poor:
At the end of Jesus’s ministry, his priorities had not shifted from those he announced by way of the Isaiah text he read as he stood in the synagogue in Nazareth. Prior to his betrayal, Jesus spoke about the Final Judgment. He reminded those who heard him then, as well as those who hear him today, that when our lives are weighed in the balance, we will be judged not on what we know, or how many things we owned, or on how many church meetings we attended; rather, we will be judged on the basis of how well we loved our neighbors, and how well we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited those in need (Matt. 25:31–46).
On the Wealthy:
Matthew’s Gospel records that Jesus spoke to a “rich young man” who, by his own report, kept all the commandments in Torah, the Mishnah, and the Oral Traditions. Jesus asked him to go one step further and distribute all his wealth equally amongst the poor in order to be a part of God’s kingdom (Matt. 19:21-22). The apocryphal Gospel of Hebrews records that when the young man could not take that step, he “began to scratch his head because he did not like that command.” But then, Mark’s Gospel says, “Jesus felt genuine love for [this man]” (Mark 10:21 NLT).
Father James Martin, in a memoir on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2014, writes about his encounter with the story, standing on the supposed spot where Jesus told it: “Jesus ‘loved him’? Where did that come from? I had heard this Gospel story dozens of times. How had I missed that line? . . . Those three words . . . altered the familiar story and thus altered how I saw Jesus. No longer was it the exacting Jesus demanding perfection; it was the loving Jesus offering [agency]. Now I [and we] could hear him utter those words with infinite compassion for the man. . . . Jesus explicitly offers a promise of abundance to everyone” (Jesus: a Pilgrimage, 271).
Jesus invited all to be bound to him by the “covenant of salt.”
The Covenant of Salt is a three-part obligation. The meaning of the name of the covenant would have been obvious to the men and women who followed him: salt was and is the root word of salvation and it was an enormously valuable commodity in their day. At the end of our study, we came to understand a little better what N. T. Wright observes – that what mattered most to Jesus was that his true disciples were “the kind of people through whom the kingdom will be launched on earth.” Being like Jesus meant that each of us qualified for heaven through serving his “lambs.” Being like Jesus was about loving others and thereby transforming the earth, making it a Godlike place. It was what Jesus earnestly prayed for and by example asked us to pray for: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10 KJV; emphasis added). God’s ultimate rule on earth will come about because we, as true disciples of Jesus Christ, are the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matt.5:13, 14 KJV). We have covenanted. We have come away from this pilgrimage with a resolve to “have salt in ourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:50 KJV).
James and Judith McConkie will be speaking and signing books at Writ & Vision in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, January 30 at 7 pm, and at Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, February 7 at 5:30 pm..These events are free to the public.
James W. McConkie has JD from the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. His practice has focused in the area of torts and civil rights for more than four decades. He has been an adjunct professor at Westminster College teaching Constitutional law for non-lawyers. He has taught Church History and New Testament courses for BYU’s Division of Continuing Education for over 15 years with his wife Judith and is the author of Looking at the Doctrine and Covenants for the Very First Time. In 2017 he and his law partner Bradley Parker created the Refugee Justice League, a non-profit organization of attorneys and other professionals offering pro-bono help to refugees who have been discriminated against on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, or national origin.
Judith E. McConkie has an MFA in printmaking from BYU and a PhD in philosophy of art history and museum theory from the University of Utah. She has taught art history at the secondary and then university levels for over 40 years. She was the Senior Educator at BYU’s Museum of Art and Curator of the Utah State Capital during its major renovation project from 2004–2010. During that time she authored With Anxious Care: the Restoration of the Utah Capital. She continues to teach in BYU’s Division of Continuing Education with her husband James. She has published in Sunstone and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Though and has presented at Sunstone’s annual symposium. Her prints and watercolors have been exhibited nationally and in the Henry Moore Gallery in London, England. She and James are the parents of three children and 12 grandchildren.
Whom Say Ye that I Am? Lessons from the Jesus of Nazareth
Available Jan 30, 2018
Preview Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics June 23 2017
This volume in the Perspectives on Mormon Theology series is an exploration of Mormon apologetics—or the defense of faith. Since its very beginning, various Latter-day Saints have sought to utilize evidence and reason to actively promote or defend beliefs and claims within the Mormon tradition. Mormon apologetics reached new levels of sophistication as believers trained in fields such as history, Near-Eastern languages and culture, and philosophy began to utilize their knowledge and skills to defend their beliefs.
The contributors to this volume seek to explore the textures and contours of apologetics from multiple perspectives, revealing deep theological and ideological fissures within the Mormon scholarly community concerning apologetics. However, in spite of pressing differences, what each author has in common is a passion for Mormonism and how it is presented and defended. This volume captures that reality and allows readers to encounter the terrain of Mormon apologetics at close range.
Preorder the volume here.
For those who are not familiar with the Mormon Image in Literature series, can you explain its purpose and scope?
Mike: The Mormon Image in Literature series is a collaboration between an archival researcher and a literary critic that seeks to reprint the books that shaped the public perceptions of Mormonism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We will include books by Mormons and books about Mormons, but will focus on works that are hard to find and virtually unknown in the twenty-first century (as opposed to books like A Study in Scarlet and Riders of the Purple Sage, which have been continuously in print since their first publication). Along with faithful reproductions of the texts that scholars can use as primary research texts, each of these volumes contains an introduction and notes that set the works, and their authors, in a context that relates both to the way Mormons were understood by the author and the way the publishing industry in the United States was changing and demanding different kinds of works.
Ardis: These novels have next to nothing to teach me about Mormon history directly—they're too wildly inaccurate to be data sources. What they do give me is a chance to enter the Mormon past, in a sense. I read the words, knowing that readers of a hundred or more years ago read the same words. This is what people thought of us. If I were a missionary, this is what would be in the minds of people behind the doors I knocked on and in the minds of listeners at street meetings. If I were a Mormon mother sending my boy out as a missionary, this is what he would have to face, this is why I might be afraid for him, this is why I would be proud of him. This is what is behind the sneer on the conductor's face when he takes my ticket; this is what brings a curl to the lip of the government employee I appeal to for assistance. I know how I feel and what I think when I read news accounts today, or watch current TV, with caricatures of my behaviors and beliefs; when I read a sensational novel like those in our series, I know what it meant and felt like to a Mormon of the era to read these. We can dress up like pioneers and we can put on pageants about episodes in Mormon history—but that is superficial playacting. Watching the stories of these novels playing out in my imagination, just as they played out in the imaginations of their original readers, seems to me to be much closer to replicating historical reality.
If you ran a bookstore, what section do you think these books would fit best in?
Ardis: Fiction, or historical fiction. I would keep the series together, rather than breaking it up by genre. (The genre mix will be more and more evident as the series continues.)
Mike: I would put them in the fiction section. Or in the Mormon Studies section if I owned one of the handful of bookstores in the world with a Mormon Studies section. And, like Ardis, I would keep the series together.
Granted that the four titles collected in Dime Novel Mormons are not considered “highbrow” literature, can you give me a passage or scene that stood out to you in illustrating how public perception of Mormons may have been influenced by popular media tropes?
Ardis: When the villain Mercer Aldrich/John Leigh is introduced in Dolores, the Danite's Daughter, he is portrayed as handsome and intelligent and well-mannered and well-dressed—everything a woman might want, seemingly. But, of course, his civilized exterior is a mask hiding what he really is: a Mormon! a Danite! a threat! The fact that he can present himself so attractively only underscores the danger by warning readers that they cannot trust their judgment where a Mormon is concerned. That is a trope repeated in many of these novels, whenever a Mormon agent or missionary is among civilized society in the East or in England—it is only when he is among his own evil kind that the character's true nature shows itself.
A flesh-and-blood Mormon missionary who was kind and articulate had two strikes against him when the people he approached had that stock Mormon villain in mind. The more polite an elder was, the more effort he put into personal cleanliness, the more cheerful he was, the more carefully he presented his gospel message, the more at a disadvantage he could be: Isn't he just like the novels portray Mormons? Why, the nicer he is, the more rotten his heart must be, and the more clever he is at concealing his evil intent! There really isn't much a man can do to dispel the expectations of a public primed to expect the worst exactly when he is on his best behavior. In some cases, novelists who are most familiar with the Mormon message have also worked bits of standard missionary presentations into their stories, so that when an elder taught a bit of doctrine, it must have set off alarm bells in the minds of readers—here is a Mormon who not only acts the way these novels have depicted Mormons, he's actually saying what they warned me he would say! He must be just as bad as they say, too!
Mike: In the beginning of The Bradys Among the Mormons, Old King Brady, the nation's most accomplished private detective, is summoned to Washington, DC, to meet with a senator. Utah has become a state, and a candidate for its congressional seat has proposed to the senator's daughter. The senator will allow the marriage, but only if the Mormon, Joseph Smith Podmore, proves to be single and not secretly practicing polygamy.
This book came out right at the start of the Reed Smoot hearings, so it refers to a major public concern of the time. But it also shows a popular dime novel publisher trying to get as much life as possible out of the Mormon stereotypes that had existed for about thirty-five years in this kind of fiction. Brady will travel to Utah and discover a beautiful and modern Salt Lake City, but beneath that city, in a series of tunnels and caverns accessible only to Mormon elders, things go on just as they always have: polygamy, Danites, blood atonement, and all the rest.
I think that the new generation of dime novels that came out at the turn of the twentieth century created modern frames for the previous century's sensational stereotypes of Mormons, which had a lot to do with the perpetuation of those stereotypes and the assumption of many Americans that nothing really changed after the Manifesto.
Was there anything in this collection of stories that surprised you in its depiction of Mormons, whether positive or negative? Anything that did not follow the standard villain tropes of secrecy, sexual deviancy, and violence?
Mike: In Frank Merriwell Among the Mormons, the author takes care to depict the standard Mormon villain—an aging patriarch trying to force a beautiful young maiden to marry him—as a member of a breakaway group of Mormons who are defying the Church. One of the heroes of the story is a young, monogamous, mainstream Mormon who wants to marry the beautiful young maiden in question. Frank Merriwell points out that the rising generation of Mormons are good citizens who are opposed to polygamy. In 1897, in a dime novel, this amounts to something like high praise.
Ardis: Hmm. This one is harder. Nothing comes to mind as surprising in the depiction of Mormons—the maidens are all fair and helpless; the Mormon villains are uniformly despicable; the Gentile heroes are unfailingly perfect specimens of stalwart American manhood.
One element that I hadn't been aware was so prevalent in these books is that the Mormon landscape is shown to be as malevolent as the Mormon soul. There is that vast underground network of dimly-lit caverns beneath Salt Lake City, all interconnected by natural tunnels, their walls sometimes dripping with lake water, their dead-ends dropping off suddenly into bottomless pits, their acoustics so perfect that our heroes can eavesdrop on secret Danite conversations without their own voices or footsteps betraying their presence to those Danites. The natural twists and turns in those tunnels and caverns somehow magically line up with the geometric regularity of the surface, so that the house of every prominent Mormon, built on Salt Lake's straight streets and right-angled blocks, has easy access to the subterranean world. Even the mountain hideouts have magical qualities. Danites, and eventually our heroes, can pass into and out of valleys by means of caves and secret passages.
I understand that readers of dime novels were probably not familiar with the legitimate writings of naturalists and army surveyors and the great Western explorers who report no trace of such geographic features, but it's still a bit surprising to me that readers of these stories could suspend their disbelief in such weird and abnormal landscapes in order to enter into the story. So, you have no faith in the basic humanity of tens of thousands of Mormons? Okay, but how does that translate into your lack of faith in the integrity of the natural world? That, in some ways, surprises me.
This has already been addressed in passing, but I’d like to make it an explicit focus: How would you address readers who may be concerned that the books collected in this volume are often stigmatized as being “anti-Mormon” literature?
Mike: Oh, there is no question that these are anti-Mormons books—much more so than anything being produced today. But these portrayals are not unrelated to depictions of Mormons in some kinds of contemporary literature—the modern mystery novel, for example, where there are still Danites and blood atonement in some places. It is important for Latter-day Saints to understand the history of how we have been portrayed because that history has had consequences that we are still living with. It is always worth our time to learn the history of ideas and perceptions that are still with us today.
Ardis: They are anti-Mormon books—they falsify Mormon doctrine and character and intent; they shaped and promoted anti-Mormon feeling that extended from the novels into the real world and persists to the present. The question for me is, “Granted that these are anti-Mormon books, is there any good purpose in reprinting them, in reading them?” And I would answer that with a shouted “Yes!”
You won't learn anything about Mormonism here, but you will learn—in a sometimes delightful way, if you can turn off the natural tendency to take offense—quite a bit about the world that Mormons lived in or confronted whenever they looked outside Mormondom. You'll better understand where these warped views come from when you hear them repeated in some form today.
And I wouldn't hesitate to recommend that anybody, young or old, Mormon or not, read these stories, recognizing them for what they are. I agree with something Boyd K. Packer said in 1976 in a fireside address about the arts: “Teachers [readers in this case] would do well to learn the difference between studying some things, as compared to studying about them. There is a great difference.” Readers aren't reading anti-Mormonism in these novels to adopt that view themselves; they're reading about it, to understand and face it.
Can you give us a glimpse as to what is yet in store for the Mormon Image in Literature series?
Mike: The next few volumes will focus on some of the literature produced by Mormons in the nineteenth century. We are working on a critical edition of Orson F. Whitney's Elias, for example, and on the collected works of Josephine Spencer, which have never been published before.
Ardis: I'm especially excited for two books written by Mormon women, which are as different as can be from the dime novels. The first is one or more volumes of the collected short stories of Josephine Spencer who saw well beyond her own time, and the other is the novel Venna Hastings by Julia Farr (the pseudonym of a woman I had been chasing through history before realizing she was a novelist). Both of these present a Mormon image that is positive, generally not preachy, and which Mormons at the turn of the twentieth century could read with interest—and maybe a sigh of relief that for once they could see themselves, not caricatures, on the printed page.
Along with these, you can look forward to mysteries, love stories, comedies, an outrageous depiction of missionaries that sparked a national investigation, high-minded or well-intentioned religious prose—just about every genre imaginable, except perhaps science fiction.
Q&A with Scott Hales for The Garden of Enid, Part 2 February 02 2017
What are some of the themes that pop up in part 2?
As I was writing The Garden of Enid, I was interested in unpacking ideas about faith, history, human connection, and truth. Part two is especially interested in truth—one of the slipperiest words in language and Mormonism. For much of the book, Enid is trying to anchor herself to some kind of monolithic notion of truth. She wants to finds something stable in the universe, but she finds that the closer she thinks she gets to monolithic truth, the less monolithic it appears.
I think her journey encourages readers to reflect on the value of truth and how they want it to function in their own lives.
Cameos played a big role in part 1. Who are some of the cameos that we can expect in part 2?
Joseph Smith continues to make cameos in part two, as do Eliza R. Snow, Evan Stephens, and the Book of Abraham mummy. Enid also talks with people like Jane Austen, Karl Maeser, Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, Charles Anthon, George A. Smith, and Juanita Brooks. The lost 116 pages and Joanna Brooks’ Book of Mormon Girl also make appearances.
Some of my favorite cameos in part two involve fictional or mythological figures from pop culture. Enid talks with Matt and Mandy from The Friend magazine, Big Foot, and Charlie Brown.
The most significant cameo in the book, however, is the late Mormon scholar Eugene England, who dresses like the Angel Moroni and acts like Virgil in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Unlike other cameo characters, who always show up in simple four-panel comics, Eugene takes Enid on a five-page odyssey through space and time, belief and doubt.
How does her relationship with her mother develop in part 2?
The relationship becomes much rockier in part two. Enid looks to her mother’s past for answers about her own identity, but she often goes about it the wrong way. She and her mother have a traumatic falling out, and much of the book is about what happens after their relationship hits the fan. In both books, Enid struggles to see her mother as a real person, which causes her to say and do hurtful things to her mother. In part two, things go from bad to worse, but they also get better in unforeseen ways.
What do you think Enid learns about herself in part 2?
At the end of part one, Enid begins to see herself as someone who is capable of having meaningful relationships with other people. In part two, she learns that cultivating such relationships makes her vulnerable to the raw emotions that define human experience. This make her a much more awkward and vulnerable character than the weird Mormon girl we saw in part one, but it also makes her more endearing and relatable. Her heart gets much bigger in part two.
What are some of the challenges you have felt in writing this story?
Writing Enid’s story rarely felt like a challenge. Perhaps my biggest challenge was never letting my natural reserve get in the way of her audacity. Enid and I share many of the same interests, but we have different temperaments. Maybe that’s why I found her story so easy to write.
Of course, many of the comics touch on controversies within Mormonism, and addressing them with sensitivity was sometimes a challenge. Some satirists like to aggravate wounds, but my satire is meant to sting like antiseptic.
What do you hope readers will take away from Enid’s life?
I hope people will read Enid and decide to stop being sucky to each other. In other words, I hope Enid’s life brings about world peace and better music on the radio.
I also hope people will read Enid and be inspired to tell stories of their own. Mormonism is an inexhaustible landscape for creative people. I hope better writers and artists than me will read Enid and want to draw on their own experiences with Mormonism to tell stories that enrich our understanding of and appreciation for the Mormon landscape.
Will there be a part 3? There has to be a part 3. I mean, there really, really has to be a part 3.
Part three is always a possibility. I have an idea for a comic about Enid’s last summer before she goes to college. The Garden of Enid has always unfolded in real time, however, and I don’t know if I have the time this summer to do that with this story. I’ll probably start drawing it anyway to see where it goes. If I end up showing Enid as a freshman in college, so be it. I’m sure it will be awkward.
But I don’t plan to start a part three until I finish my current serial comic, Chronicles of Wyler, which is a kind of spin-off prequel to The Garden of Enid. Readers of The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Girl, Part One know Wyler from Enid’s EFY experience. Chronicles of Wyler tells the story, more or less, of how Wyler got to EFY. I’m almost finished with it, but one Wyler comic takes about three times longer to draw than an Enid comic—and I have much less time to devote to it than I had when I was drawing Enid comics all the time.
Chronicles of Wyler is a different reading experience than The Garden of Enid, and has a much smaller fan base, but I think readers who like Enid will like Wyler’s story as well.
Preview Dime Novel Mormons January 20 2017
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