J. Stapley needs no introduction. He’s been kind enough to join in on the seer stone/”magic” fe[a]st we’ve had here at JI this week.
Stan’s recent post on the use of seer stones by young women, reminded me of some sources relating to Brigham Young. Young is on record as saying that he was not a “natural seer” (see discussion in this post). I’m currently of the position that Brigham Young believed that he did not have the ability to use seer stones. As illustrated in comments while discussing some of his more controversial beliefs with the Salt Lake School of the Prophets, Young “said there were many revelations given to him that he did not receive from the Prophet Joseph. He did not receive them through the Urim and Thummim as Joseph did but when he did received them he knew of their truth as much as it was possible for them him to do of any truth.” 
I think that Young was consequently somewhat wary of divination and natural seership . For example, when the First Presidency received a question about the use of seer stones from a mission president in 1911, the Secretary, George F. Gibbs wrote back, stating that he had lived in Brigham Young’s household for a time and that one of Young’s daughters had found a seer stone. She “could see persons and animals and things in it at will, and could tell the whereabouts of lost property. Brigham Young had the stone carefully kept until she would be a responsible woman.” 
Young’s office journal in 1860 also recorded several description of seeric objects, e.g.:
[March 17, 1860] Bro Jas. W. Cummings told the President the circumstances attending the discovery of a Seer Stone by a Danish brother; this brother informed him [that] a personage appeared to him in a dream and took him away to a cave in the mountains and shewed him the Stone; the next day he searched for the Seer Stone and found it in the same place described in the dream–he can tell where cattle are that have strayed away; usually he can see hieroglyphic characters; he made a promise that he would not show it to any body for the space of three years, which time Expires next May. Bro Jas. Cummings further observed that he had questioned often about the Stone and he always told the Same story; he looked in the stone to discover a bed of Coal and the glass presented a coal bed. 
This excerpt does not indicate Young’s response. However, it is clear that Young believed in the use of seer stones, and that their use was relatively common to those close to him during the Utah period. He himself didn’t use them and not long after Young’s death we see a fairly quick turn in the acceptability of seer stone usage in favor of an emphasis on priesthood hierarchy.
In recent work with Kris and in other work, I frame Mormon liturgy within a two overlapping regions: the folk and the formal. In the nineteenth century, there were no written instructions for any rituals and people learned to participate by example or by oral instruction. During this period it is very difficult to identify what formal Church practice was, because the Church leaders are engaged in the folk system just like everyone else, it being the primary pedagogy in the church. It isn’t until the reforms under the Grant administration that a clear cut codified formality is introduced across the general church.
Perhaps we can view the use of seer stones within the broader framework of the evolution of Mormon liturgy. Whereas in early Utah, all seer stone usage is “authorized” (with certain caveats, e.g., Hirum Page) as there is no real formal structure to manage it, with Young as Church President there was a growing perception that the chief hierarch and chief revelator of the Church (the individual with ultimate divinatory authority) not only didn’t use seer stones, but couldn’t use them. Consequently Brigham Young created a rift in the liturgical landscape, effectually establishing a formal and superior alternative to seer stone use. As this trend progressed, the rift only expanded with priesthood hierarchy naturally becoming the formal channel for authorized revelation. Seer stones then become clearly the realm of folk practice.
- Salt School of the Prophets, Minutes, June 9, 1873, photocopy in Kenny Papers, MSS 2022 Box 10, Folder 1; typescript in Arrington Papers.
- See link in first paragraph. Also when James Henry Martineau asked him whether it was acceptable to engage in astrology, Young responded somewhat ambivalently but ultimately said it was fine as long as Martineau “did no hurt.” Donald G. Godfrey and Rebecca S. Martineau-McCarty, eds., An Uncommon Common Pioneer: The Journals of James Henry Martineau, 1828-1918 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008), 29. Cf., Fred C. Collier, The Office Journal of President Brigham Young, 1858-1863, Book D, (Hannah: Collier’s Publishing Co., 2006), 83
- First Presidency Letterpress, p. 355 [no date, 43 6-6-6-6, surrounded by letters dated 1911], Abbreviated typescript, Scott Kenny Papers, Box 2, abreviations normalized.
- Collier, The Office Journal of President Brigham Young, 57-58. See also p. 83, May 7, 1860.