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Q&A with David B. Ostler for Bridges: Ministering to Thos Who Question July 23 2019

 

 

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Q: Give us a brief background into who you are and why you decided to write this book.

A: I’m a retired father and husband, with six children and five, almost six, grandchildren. My children are wonderful and some no longer believe in basic principles and doctrines of the Church. I’ve been a leader in the Church and with my wife, served two full time and two church service missions. Our last mission was in our stake, working with leaders to better understand why people disaffiliate from the Church.

As we worked with our stake leaders, we research and studied the frequency and causes why people, particularly previously faithful adults, choose to disaffiliate. We found that Church-wide most leaders see disaffiliation as a very important concern in their ward, stake and particularly in their family. We also found that many leaders were not fully aware of the underlying reasons and didn’t feel they fully understood how to help. They probably feel the same in their homes.

So, after completing that calling, I decided that I could take what we learned and create a resource for members to better understand why people leave so that we could find common ground, build understanding and truly minister to those who no longer worship with us. I conducted some original research, interviewed leaders and disaffiliated members, and studied the words of our Church leaders as well as experts in the field. In this research, I learned that the pain of disaffiliation isn’t just felt by that person’s family or leaders, but also by the disaffiliating member. They often feel isolation, fear, anger and other hurtful emotions; often unintentionally caused by their family, friends, and leaders.

I hope this book can bridge that misunderstanding and give us a better understanding to build trusting and meaningful relationships with those who no longer believe as we do.

Q: Who is your intended audience for the book and how do you hope it will be used?

A: I think there will be two readers for the book. I wrote the book for fully believing members so that they can better understand their friends, ward member, or family member who no longer believes in the truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I hope it gives each reader understanding on how to build a trusted relationship with that person. With that understanding, I hope that some of the pain, fear, and hurt that is felt on both sides can be turned into love and acceptance. Perhaps in some cases, that understanding will create an opportunity for someone to “come back” or to have someone “stay.” For believing members, I hope that reading this book will help build a bridge with a better understanding as they minister to those who doubt.

I also realize readers will include some who no longer believe. I hope that this book will give them hope that we are trying to be more understanding and that their relationship with their families, friends and Church members can be strong and rich, even with differences in belief.

This isn’t a leadership book. But knowing that each leader is also a member and that we rotate in and out of ward and stake callings, I include some ideas that leaders can use with their callings. The principles are the same and can be applied in families, with friends, as church members, and when we serve in church callings.

Q: We hear numerous reports of religious disaffiliation in our modern age, particularly in Western society. How are these trends reflected in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

A: All churches and denominations are experiencing a drop in membership and participation. Younger Americans, particularly Millennials and Gen-Z, see little need to participate in organized religion. In fact, the fastest-growing group of religious identification is “spiritual, but non-religious.” As Latter-day Saints, we are experiencing these same trends. The underlying reasons include society’s broad acceptance of those who are non-religious, people being comfortable going it alone, less trust of institutions in general and of religions specifically, more opportunities to find friends and like-minded people through social media and other settings, and more. The reasons are many.

For the Church in the United States, data from social scientists show that disaffiliation for those born after 1970 is about 39% and, although the sample size is low, that 55% of millennials have disaffiliated. Most of those who disaffiliate remain on the rolls of the Church, but no longer think of themselves of Latter-day Saints. And they disaffiliate younger than previous generations. The average age of millennial disaffiliation is 18.4 years while for boomers it was 23.7 years.

Q: What are a few root causes for religious disaffiliation among Latter-day Saints?

A: Latter-day Saints experience all the same issues as other religions, but there are unique issues which we face. Some leave because they become aware of issues in our history which are controversial or seem inconsistent with our values. They may have concerns about particular Church policies, like our teachings about LGBTQ issues. They may disagree with the way in which women and men serve and experience the Church. Church culture and what they experience in their wards and classes may feel judgmental and perfectionistic. They may be different in some way, like being childless, or being single, experiencing mental illness, being politically liberal. Others just don’t feel the Church addresses the areas which are meaningful to them, including issues of social justice, poverty, racism, sexism or violence.

Q: What are a few typical responses among families and congregations towards those who disaffiliate or become disaffected with the Church’s teachings?

A: As I interviewed members and read their comments and experiences in my surveys, I was frankly surprised by the disconnect between fully believing members and local leaders and those who doubt, question, or have left the Church. Many believing members feel the primary reasons why people leave is because they are offended, have sinned, or are lazy. They sometimes blame the disaffiliating member for having not studied scriptures, prayed, or attended the temple often enough. Those members who are struggling with their faith often have serious doctrinal, historical, or cultural concerns about the Church. When members or local leaders don’t have a true understanding of why these people leave or struggle to stay, their efforts are often ineffective, or worse, hurtful, and push members further away.

Sometimes it is because they don’t understand, but also, it causes fear when a family member learns their child, sibling, or spouse is struggling with belief. It threatens their hope for an eternal family as they worry about their spiritual welfare.

Without thinking about it, we make a snap judgment as to why they have left and assume that it is because they have been offended or because of secret sin. We may be afraid to ask them because we don’t want to offend them. We might keep them at arm’s length and be afraid that they will infect us with doubt. Some disaffiliated members feel that they are labeled as “anti-Mormon” or “apostates” and don’t feel that they are welcome. We may exclude them from our social life because we are uncomfortable with them or with having our children associate with them. Leaders may release them from their callings even though they are willing to serve.

Sometimes in our interactions with disaffiliated members, we seek to testify or explain away their concerns when they just want to keep their close relationship, friendship, or continue to worship even with their doubts.

Q: What are a few ways we can minister to disaffiliated and disaffected members, both individually and as congregations?

First and most important, we need to learn to listen to them individually and collectively. We really don’t know their concerns unless we take the time to listen. Listening is hard—it means that we suspend trying to explain their decision and instead really let them share with us what they are feeling and why. Our minds will naturally try and explain it away and find the fault in their logic or life that lead them to their new beliefs. As they are talking, our minds might be filled with how we can counter their concerns. We might be tempted to encourage them to read more scripture, pray harder, or go to the temple. But first, we need to just listen to understand their concern and why it is important to them. Giving unsolicited advice rarely works.

While listening, we need to take their concerns seriously. These issues are very real to them and we should never try and minimize their concerns. We need to validate, even if we disagree. Later, after they know that we really care about their concerns and how it impacts them, perhaps we can discuss ways to think about the issue or even more forward without a clear resolution.

Q: What brief message can you offer to family members or friends of individuals who have become disaffected with the Church’s teachings or who have chosen to disaffiliate?

A: As we listen and validate, we can answer some questions; and when we can’t, we can mourn and comfort our family or friend who has become disaffected. We can find common ground, even if we aren’t 100% united in the values we live and in our spiritual beliefs. Our relationships can be meaningful, close, and full of love, even with these differences.

If they come back, that’s wonderful. If they don’t, we can trust the Lord and enjoy every moment, even within our differences. I take great comfort from Elder Orson F. Whitney, who said, “Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable than even the best of his servants, and the everlasting gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.” Our Heavenly Parents love our family member or friend far more than we can comprehend. They want their happiness too, today and forever.

David B. Ostler
July 2019

 


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“Bleak’s annals are a lasting tribute to the early settlers of Southern Utah and will yet influence many thousand more in our day. The wonderful work in this volume makes that possible.” —Elder Steven E. Snow, LDS Church Historian and Recorder

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Q&A with Aaron McArthur and Reid L. Neilson for The Annals of the Southern Mission June 24 2019

 
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Q: When did this project begin and how did you two connect?

A: [Aaron] The project began around 2004 when I was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While working on my master’s thesis on the significance of tabernacles in the development of LDS communities, I discovered the Annals. That exposure came at Special Collections at BYU, where they had essentially a photocopy of the record. Many of the copies were of very low quality. When you consider that there was no index, it made them very hard to work with. Despite the problems involved with accessing the record, I realized that it was a gold mine of information.

To support my research agenda for my dissertation, the UNLV History Department used a sizable portion of their yearly book budget to purchase a $1,000 collection of scanned documents from the Church archives, which included the Annals. Given what an incredible resource the Annals are, I was amazed that they were so hard to access and resolved to rectify that situation. While working on my dissertation, I undertook a detailed transcription from the scans the library purchased. When I needed a break from the dissertation, I relaxed by transcribing.

Reid contacted me in my last semester of graduate school about working together to bring the Annals to print. He brings a vast amount of experience and resources to the table, and I was very glad to work with him.

Q: What challenges (if any) did you face while compiling this volume?

A: [Aaron] The biggest challenge with this project has simply been time. I did the bulk of the transcription while writing my dissertation and working full-time at UNLV Special Collections. Once the transcription was complete, I knew that we needed two independent verifications and we would eventually need an index. Arkansas Tech approved a professional development grant to pay for students to assist in the process. One of these students helped finish one verification even after grant funds were exhausted. I was very grateful that Reid took care of the index.

Q: Who was James Bleak and what makes his annals so valuable for historical research?

A: James Bleak was the historian for the Southern Mission. What makes the Annals so amazing is how he went about fulfilling his duties as a historian. Firstly, he created a sizable archive of records as events happened. When he actually started writing the history, he had decades of records to work with instead of having to conduct research. Second, is when he was writing, he was careful to include an in-text citation whenever he quoted sources. As a practicing historian, I love that I can tell what text belongs to who. Third, he quoted huge numbers of records in their entirety, not just selections that promoted his narrative. As a concise narrative, it is a 2200+ page nightmare, but it is an absolute goldmine for historians, genealogists, etc.

Q: What do we learn from the Annals about Latter-day Saint pioneer relations with Native Americans?

A: There are some major things that the Annals have to offer in regard to relations with Native Americans. The first is that it covers such a long period of time. This allows us to see some longer-term interaction patterns. This is especially important because those interactions were complicated by the fact that the Saints in southern Utah were interacting with Southern Paiute, Navajo, Ute, and Hopi, each of which had their own internal politics that influenced those interactions.

Overall, Brigham Young’s attitude towards Native Americans was that it made more sense to “shoot them with biscuits” than fight with them. Compared to most groups of white settlers, the Saints had much better relations with Native Americans in general. The Annals, unfortunately, has some very good examples of how some of those interactions went wrong.

Q: What were some of the struggles that pioneers faced in settling southern Utah?

A: Any time people build communities from scratch, there are going to be lots of struggles. The one that stands out the most to me for the Saints in southern Utah is their fraught relationship with water. There is a saying in the West that “whiskey is for drinkin’, and water is for fightin’ over.” The Saints didn’t drink whiskey, so that only left water. This is not to say that they were always fighting about it, but it was clearly never far from their minds. All of the settlements in the Southern Mission were in the desert, and all were reliant on agriculture. Getting enough water for crops was a constant challenge, except for when there was too much water that was washing out those crops that the irrigation works that fed them.

Q: What role did spiritual matters play in the actions and decisions of the southern Utah pioneer settlers?

A: As far as the Annals are concerned, spiritual matters were the things that mattered. You need to recognize that Bleak's position as historian was in an ecclesiastical organization, so the kinds of records he collected and used were influenced by that. Evidence indicates, however, that the average settler was similarly motived by spiritual matters. What indicates that to me is that ecclesiastical leaders were consistently elected or chosen for secular leadership positions.

Q: For each of you, what was one of your big takeaways from the Annals?

A: [Aaron] I have a few takeaways from the Annals project. The first is that you can accomplish some very cool things if you just keep plugging away on it. I worked on the project for nearly fifteen years. Second, you can never have too many friends. It is amazing how many people will jump in and help finish a worthy project if they are given the opportunity. Finally, Bleak’s work inspires me as a historian. I can only hope that more than a century from now that people will look at histories that I have written and find them as worthy as Bleak’s work is today.

[Reid] That James Bleak was so committed to getting the history of his people down in ink. That he was thinking generations ahead of his contemporaries who were barely eeking out a living and in survival mode. But he was looking to the future and appreciated that it was up to him as the designated historian to keep a record, just as the LDS scriptures commanded him to do (D&C 21:1). I marvel at his persistence and am grateful for his attention to detail.

Aaron McArthur and Reid L. Neilson


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Q&A with Melvin C. Johnson for Life and Times of John Pierce Hawley: A Mormon Ulysses of the American West February 08 2019

 

 

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Q: Give us a little information about your background and how you came to become a historian of Mormonism and the American West.

A: I was born in Northern California and grew up in Carlsbad California where I graduated from high school. Renowned historian Will Bagley and I attended the same LDS seminary in Oceanside in the mornings before high school. I pursued degrees at Dixie College in St George Utah and Utah State University in Logan Utah. Then I served twelve years in the military as an airborne infantryman and legal administrator. After being discharged from the military, I attended Stephen F. Austin State University and graduated with a Masters in both history and English. I taught at several universities and colleges and retired from Angelina College in Texas. Halli Wren Johnson, my wife, and I live in Salt Lake City Utah, although we maintain strong connections to eastern Texas. Let me say I loved Dixie College (the only junior college in America, it seemed, that would accept me). I met historian Juanita Brooks there and had no idea who she was, or that the massacre at Mountain Meadows had occurred just thirty-five miles up Highway 18. I had no idea what the massacre at Mountain Meadows even was at the time!

I came to be fascinated by the intersection of Mormonism in the American West at Texas Forestry Museum, Lufkin, Texas. Local forest industries funded my research position in Forest and Mill Town history. During my research, I came across references to the Mormon Millers (sawmills owned and operated by Mormons) of the Texas Hill Country before the American Civil War. I created a Mormon Miller database and began inserting research notes as I came across them in my other pursuits. Eventually, I entwined the Mormon Millers of the Hill Country into my interest in German Texans before the American Civil War and made more intersections. Beginning in 1996, I started researching and out of that came the award-winning Polygamy on the Pedernales: Lyman Wight’s Mormon Villages in Antebellum Texas 1845 to 1858, which won the John Whitmer Historical Association Best Book Award in 2006 funded by the Smith-Pettit Foundation.

During all of that, the life of John Pierce Hawley became a compelling narrative. The son of Sarah and Pierce Hawley, John came of age and the Latter-day Saint Black River Lumber colony in Wisconsin Territory in the early 1840s. Bishop George Miller and Apostle Lyman White directed this lumber mission. The colony's mission was to provide lumber and timber for the construction of the Nauvoo Temple and the Nauvoo House (a large-scale hotel project that never saw completion). Apostle Lyman Wight broke from the Quorum of The Twelve Apostles soon after the death of Joseph Smith Jr. Wight could not submit to Brigham Young's leadership of the Church. Instead, he carried out a mission that was given to him by Joseph Smith Jr. to the Republic of Texas to establish a colony for the Latter Day Saints. John Pierce Hawley help to build the first Mormon temple west of the Mississippi in Zodiac, Texas, in 1849. In it, he was sealed to Sylvia Johnson and was a witness and officiator in the rites and rituals of the Zodiac Temple.

Q: John Pierce Hawley left Wight’s colony, converted to Brigham Young’s Utah church, and became one of the early settlers in southern Utah’s “Dixie” area. What can you tell us about this period of his life?

A: John Pierce Hawley followed Wight for eleven years until he broke with him in 1854 and followed his father, Pierce Hawley, to the Indian nations in what is now Oklahoma. Two years later in the Cherokee Nation, John and Sylvia Hawley (and most of his family and kin) converted to the Utah church led by Brigham Young. That summer and fall the Hawley’s joined the Jacob Croft company and emigrated to Utah Territory. On the trail, they passed the ill-fated Martin and Willie handcart companies. In Utah, the Texans were interviewed and re-baptized, and the Hawleys were sent to Ogden in northern Utah. The following spring, John and his brother George were called, along with many other Texans, to Washington County in southern Utah to begin a mission on the Rio Virgin growing cotton and support a barrier “wall” of colonies that Young built in the Intermountain West to protect the stronghold of Zion.

John and Sylvia Hawley, as well as John’s brother George and his three plural wives, lived in Pine Valley, Utah for thirteen years—from 1857 to 1860. John worked as a road inspector, constable, public and religious school superintendent, and was the presiding elder from 1857 to 1867. However, because John was monogamous, William Snow, brother of Apostle Erastus F. Snow, was installed as the first bishop of Pine Valley. Apostle Snow did not think monogamous priesthood holders should obtain leadership positions in the Church.

Q: Some of John Pierce Hawley’s contemporaries accused him of being involved in the massacre at Mountain Meadows. What does the historical record tell us?

A: After a less than inspiring agricultural year in Washington, the Hawley brothers went to Spanish Fork, Utah, to pick up their wives and be sealed to them in Salt Lake City by Brigham Young. On the return to Dixie, they rode with the doomed Fancher-Baker wagon train that was massacred at Mountain Meadows by the Mormon militia from the Iron County Brigade, commanded by Colonel William Dame. John D. Lee, one of the other militia leaders, later accused John Hawley of being present at the massacre. John’s brothers, George and William, have been identified as being on the Meadows killing fields. John denied any participation in it and even condemned the atrocity in his local congregation. His public condemnation nearly got him killed, as members of his congregation included some of the murderers. A secret meeting resulted in a narrow vote to let him live.

Q: Eventually, John Pierce Hawley left Brigham Young’s church and joined the Reorganized church, led by Joseph Smith III. What can you tell us about the events that led to his conversion?

A: In 1868, several events change John’s life. He received his second endowment under the hands of Apostle Erastus Snow in Salt Lake City and assisted Apostle Snow in giving others their second endowments. John was then sent on a mission to Iowa to convert his RLDS family members to the Utah church. He spent five months there, and as he reported, neither he nor his relatives converted one another. However, John's mission to Iowa planted seeds in him. Over the next year-and-a-half, John struggled with the principles of polygamy, Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings, the harrowing threat of “blood atonement,” and overbearing priesthood leadership. In November of 1870, both John’s and George Hawley’s families converted to the Reorganized church. They left Salt Lake City on a train to western Iowa and never returned. All the Hawleys in Iowa remained participants in the Reorganized church until their deaths.

Q: In what ways do you think John Hawley’s story is significant within Mormon history?

A: John Pierce Hawley is important because he is a Mormon Ulysses of the American West. His interactions with Mormonism brought him through the interior of the Great American West from the Wisconsin Territory, to the Republic of Texas, to Indian territory, to Utah Territory, and back to Iowa. He crisscrossed the interior of western America five times because of his devotion to Mormonism. He served missions to eastern Texas, along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, to northern Utah, and western Iowa. He was fascinated with Mormonism and was a fervent disciple of Joseph Smith Jr. His life demonstrated that for him, there was “more than one way to Mormon.” He kept trying until he got it right for himself.

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Free ebook offer: The End of the World, Plan B: A Guide for the Future November 08 2018

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Environmental decline, political gridlock, war and rumors of war, decadence, and immorality. The End of the World, Plan B traces the idea of the end, or destruction, of the world through a number of spiritual traditions. It shows that our present understanding of the “end game” has been distorted by a modern emphasis and demand on justice as the ultimate good. As an alternative to this self-destructive approach, Charles Shirō Inouye shows that in these traditions, justice is not the isolated end in itself that we ought strive for; rather it is taught in tandem with its balancing companion: compassion. Plan B is a hopeful alternative to our fears about how things are going.

“Inouye reminds us that justice is not enough and that obedience is not the currency of salvation. He urges us to recognize the limits of the law, to see that, severed from a willingness to compassionately suffer with the world’s imperfection and evanescence, our righteous hunger for balancing life's books will destroy us all.” — Adam S. Miller 


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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.

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Q&A with Talana S. Hooper for Lot Smith: Mormon Pioneer and American Frontiersman November 01 2018

 

 

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 Q: Give us some background into this book. How did it come together?

A: My grandfather James M. "Jim" Smith was the youngest of Lot Smith's fifty-two children. Since Lot Smith was killed by a renegade Navajo six months before my grandfather's birth, my Grandpa James sought his entire life to learn all he could about the father he never knew. He soon discovered that his father had lived a life which generated myths and legends. He obtained many firsthand accounts which were most often tinged with admiration and love—yet not all were complimentary. Jim Smith's oldest son, my father Omer, recorded the stories and enlisted the help of my mother Carmen to more completely research Lot Smith's history in libraries around the country. When Omer unexpectedly passed, Carmen continued to research, interview, and compile for another thirty years. However, by her mid-nineties, her eyesight had failed enough so that even with her magnifying glass she could no longer see her computer screen well enough to continue. I knew that Lot Smith's life story was too compelling and valuable to be lost. With her blessing and help (while she was still able), I began working to bring the biography together for publication.

Q: For readers who are unfamiliar with Lot Smith, can you give us a basic background of who he was?

A: Lot Smith, a man with a fiery red beard and a temper to match it, experienced firsthand many of the significant events in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His life was one adventure after another. He joined the Mormon Battalion at the age of sixteen and participated in the California Gold Rush. The life lessons he learned during the Mormon Battalion prepared him for a life of service—many times grueling—for the Church and his fellowmen.

Smith continued his military career. His reputation of fearlessness became widely known as a member of the Minute Men Life Guards—the cavalry that defended the Latter-day Saints in the Rockies from Indians. He was a captain of the Life Guards who rescued the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies. Major Smith served a critical role in defending his fellow Saints from what seemed certain annihilation by the US Army by burning their supplies and wagons in the Utah War. For that act, he was hailed as a hero by the Saints, but indicted for treason in the US courts. After Smith fought in the Walker War, he was appointed as a captain in the US Army to guard telegraph lines and mail routes during the American Civil War. During that service, he and his men endured a harrowing, life-threatening chase after unknown Indians who had stolen two hundred horses. Readers will enjoy several interesting trips with Brigham Young when Smith served as an escort guard. Smith lastly served as Brigadier General in the Black Hawk War and then served a mission in the British Isles.

In 1876 Brigham Young called Smith to lead colonization in the Arizona Territory. Young charged Smith to establish the United Order and to befriend the Indian tribes. Both these directives brought more adventures as they struggled to secure a mere livelihood. Smith served as Arizona's first stake president, and his Sunset United Order provided a way station for others colonizing in New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. Smith also helped lead Church colonization in Mexico—another ordeal.

Smith was one of the most feared gunmen in Arizona. He several times drew his gun on men meaning harm but pulled the trigger only once. Besides defending his rights as a stockman, he vowed he would never be arrested for polygamy and narrowly escaped arrest many times. His untimely death came from a shot in the back by a renegade Navajo.

Q: Can you give us a scene from Lot Smith's life that you found particularly interesting?

A: It is difficult to choose just one scene from Lot Smith's life to share. I considered the incident when one of his men was accidentally shot during the Utah War or the rescue of the Martin Handcart Company. I remember the death-defying chase up the Snake River in the Civil War. And then I consider the time when he had a shootout with a man hired to kill him. All are incredible events! And yet, I choose simple episodes Smith shared with his sons.

While Smith lived in Arizona, the federal marshals increased their efforts to arrest any polygamists. Smith had four wives in Arizona, so he was a target. He was always on the alert and evaded arrest many times by riding a fast horse and carrying a fast gun. One time when Lot and his sons were shucking corn in the field, a marshal appeared some distance away. Smith told his boys to shock him up in the corn. When the officer rode up, the boys greeted him cordially. The officer never did figure out how Smith escaped the area!

On another occasion, Smith was traveling with his son Al in a wagon. Lot looked up the road to see a man on horseback and said to Al that it looked like a U.S. Marshal. Since Lot was convinced that no deceit could enter the Kingdom of God, he wanted all his posterity to be honest and truthful at all times—even in the face of danger. So when he saw the marshal, he told his son to stay in the wagon and not to lie, or he'd skin him alive. Lot took his gun and hid behind a bush. The officer approached and asked Al if he were Lot Smith's son. Al replied that he was. Then the officer asked where his father was. Al replied, "Right behind that bush beside you." The officer didn't look; he feared Smith's gun. He merely said, "Well, you tell him that I passed the time of day with him," and said good-bye.

Q: There are a lot of myths and legends that surround Lot Smith. Can you talk about a couple and set the record straight?

A: Several preposterous stories have been attributed to Lot Smith—probably because of his reputation as a rough character with a strong personality, and an expert gunman which caused people to fear him. One widespread myth was that he was involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. How could Smith, the hero of the Utah War, be in Wyoming and southern Utah at the same time? Yet the myth persisted, and newspapers printed at his death that he was involved in the massacre.

One of the most oft-repeated myths of Lot Smith was that he branded his wives. It was so widely believed that at the death of his wife Jane in 1912, people still speculated if she had been branded.

The myth followed Smith to Arizona. Children of his last wife, Diantha, were told that their mother had been branded. The real story of Smith "branding his wife" involved his second wife Jane after his first wife Lydia had left. While Lot and two of his friends were branding near his home in Farmington, Jane was preparing dinner for her husband and the guests. Jane needed eggs. She went out and spied some eggs in the manger where she couldn't reach without entering the corral. Jane knew that Lot's stallion chased and bit anyone but Lot, but the stallion seemed to be dozing in the far corner of the corral. She reasoned that she could sneak in unnoticed. However, the stallion was not as drowsy as she has assumed. He jerked up his head, shrieked, and charged Jane. Without dropping his branding iron, Lot jumped and ran between his wife and the stallion. When she ducked to go under the fence, he pushed her through with the branding iron. The men at the branding fire watched as Jane twisted to check her nice skirt that she wore for company. The branding iron had cooled enough that it didn't even scorch it. One of the men laughed and said, "That's one that won't get away from you; she's branded!"

Lot, who loved to entertain and enjoyed a sense of humor, was partially responsible for starting the myth. In church meetings after this incident, he arose to bear his sincere testimony. Along with recounting his blessings, he was heard to say on more than one occasion, "And anything I own, I brand—including my wife!"

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?

A: Most of all, I want readers of the Lot Smith biography to enjoy the incredible and fascinating life of Lot Smith. His life was one thrilling adventure after another! Since his life entwined significant events in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I hope that readers get an up-close perspective of some of these events.

I hope readers learn through Lot's experiences that trials and hard circumstances can refine us. When Lot was in the Mormon Battalion, he experienced periods of no food, no water, no shoes, and scanty clothing. His compassion for others in similar situations was born. He was always generous to the poor and could never turn away anyone who was hungry even when food was scarce. It seems he often carried an extra pair of shoes to give away freely.

Lot's strong leadership in the colonization of the destitute Arizona Territory in the United Order was phenomenal. Through hard work and wise leadership, the colonists avoided starvation and established homes. I want readers to more fully realize and understand some of the sacrifices our forefathers made to settle the frontier land for future generations.

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