True Blue, Depending on Who’s Telling the Tale: The Redacted Story of Joseph F. Smith and the “Ruffians”

By November 12, 2013

True Blue SceneIt’s a powerful story.  The young Joseph F. Smith, fresh off his mission to the Sandwich Islands, is traveling through Southern California on his way home to Utah in late 1857/early 1858.  The Mormons are viewed with mistrust and hostility:  rumors surrounding the Mountain Meadows Massacre are fresh on everyone’s lips as Johnston’s Army converges on Utah.  Joseph F.’s party is confronted by a band of rough and tumble men on horseback, looking to pick a fight with any Mormons they can find.  Joseph F.’s fellow travelers scatter, and when one burly ruffian pointedly asks Joseph F. if he is a Mormon, the young returned missionary responds, “Yes, siree, dyed-in-the-wool; true blue, through and through,” diffusing the tense confrontation by staying true to his identity.

But was he really “dyed-in-the-wool, true blue, through and through”?

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Mormon Navajo Youth at the Intermountain Indian Boarding School

By October 11, 2013

John C. Begay recalled the day when his branch president, Don C. Hunsaker, pulled him out of his class at the Intermountain Indian Boarding School to invite him to attend the Latter-day Saint Indian Seminary program. His mother had enrolled him in seminary, but Begay followed his peers to the Catholic and Nazarene activities until Hunsaker found him. He then started to attend the seminary class of a respected LDS leader and local of Brigham City, Elder Boyd K. Packer. Begay claims, “‘That’s where I was converted to the LDS Church. My mother had secretly signed me up for Seminary which became my favorite class….’” [1].

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Abstractions, Shadows, and Images of Christ

By September 18, 2013

Laura Allred Hurtado contributes this next installment in the JI’s material culture month, on Mormon attempts to represent Jesus. Laura is the Global Acquisitions Curator for Art in the Church History Department. She has an MA in Art History and Visual Studies from the University of  Utah and a BA in Art History and Curatorial Studies at BYU. Laura has presented papers at scholarly conferences and curated exhibits at the Utah Museum of Fine Art, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, and various other venues.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.–2 Chronicles 7:14

 All representations of divinity fail. Fail in that they are made of terrestrial materials, seen through non-celestial eyes. 

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A Touchstone of the Past: The Face Wheel from Haun’s Mill

By September 17, 2013

Tiffany T. Bowles offers this installment in the JI’s material culture month. Tiffany is a Curator of Education at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. A native of Orem, Utah, she received a BA degree in history from BYU and an MA in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. She has worked for the National Park Service at Natchez National Historical Park in Natchez, Mississippi, and Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. In addition, she has worked at the Illinois State Military Museum and volunteered for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

On a quiet fall day in October 1838, Amanda Barnes Smith and her family busily worked to prepare a campsite on the banks of Shoal Creek in the small community of Haun’s Mill, Missouri. After a grueling journey from Kirtland, Ohio, the Smiths were relieved at the prospect of settling near others of their Latter-day Saint faith on the unfamiliar frontier.

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Joseph Smith on the Jersey Shore: In Search of NJ’s Nauvoo

By August 21, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, my wife, kids, and I closed out our summer vacation with a quick trip “down the shore” (we’d been staying with my in-laws in northern New Jersey, and I’ve been assured that’s the preferred terminology of locals for what the rest of America calls “going to the beach.”) Thanks to the wonderfully helpful research of our own Steve Fleming, I knew that Mormonism’s history in the Garden State dated back to the late 1830s, but I wasn’t sure if there was much activity along the Jersey Shore. Re-reading Steve’s article, along with a short piece in the April 1973 issue of The Ensign by Stanley B. Kimball (hey, remember when The Ensign used to publish short historical essays by actual historians? That was awesome.), I learned that not only did Mormonism’s history there date back to the 1830s, but that Joseph Smith himself preached in the region. From Kimball’s article:

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Eliza R. Snow as Dorm Mother and Concert Master: Memorializing Mormon Women In Campus Spaces

By August 16, 2013

One trip through Rexburg, Idaho, or any amount of time spent there, reminds visitors of the methods of honoring the institutional, religious, and pioneering heritage of western settlements, in ways that often emphasize the prominence of male actors in that history, and the absence, or lesser importance, of female actors.

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Responses: Patrick Mason on David Pulsipher on Mormon Civil Disobedience

By August 14, 2013

This post continues the JI’s occasional “Responses” series and contributes to the August theme of 20th Century Mormonism. Semi-regular guest and friend of the JI Patrick Mason, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont, contributes this installment.

Review of David Pulsipher, “‘Prepared to Abide the Penalty’: Latter-day Saints and Civil Disobedience,” JMH 39:3 (Summer 2013): 131-162.

Pop quiz: Which group maintained the longest civil disobedience movement in American history, and the first such movement not to descend into violence? Since you’re reading a Mormon history blog, the question is a bit like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb. Yet even with the prodigious output of scholars working on Mormon related topics in recent years, there are relatively few offerings that not only give us new details but also really help us see Mormonism through a new perspective. David Pulsipher’s recent JMH article is one of those.

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Youth Trek, Public History, and Becoming “Pioneer Children” in the Digital Age

By August 7, 2013

In 2009 our stake organized its first trek for youth conference and put it into the regular rotation for youth conference planning. So 4 years later, we repeated the event this summer with roughly the same itinerary and logistics and presumably will keep it going in future years as well. Now, you may know that I live in New England, not in the Wasatch front region or along anything remotely resembling a traditional handcart route. Treks outside the historical landscape of the handcart companies have become commonplace: unusual enough to generate local news coverage, but frequent enough that a whole subculture has sprung up to support and celebrate it. With some similarities to Civil War reenactment in its emphasis on costuming, role play and historical storytelling, youth trek evokes and romanticizes selected aspects of the Mormon past to cement LDS identity and build youth testimony and unity. It is a unique (and, I’m arguing, actually very recent) form of LDS public history.

I’ve now attended and had a hand in planning both of the treks our stake conducted, so I’m of two minds about the whole experience. A double-consciousness, if you will.

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“Milk Strippings” Story Redux: Thomas B. Marsh’s Reconciliation with George W. Harris

By July 13, 2013

Every four years, the Sunday School curriculum cycle hits D&C/Church History. It’s during this time that we’re reminded of the story of Thomas B. Marsh, first President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who left the church in 1838. According to Apostle George A. Smith, whose 1856 telling of this story became the basis of subsequent renditions, in 1838 Elizabeth Marsh got into a dispute with Lucinda Harris over a pint of milk skimmings [1]. Believing that his wife’s good name was at stake, Marsh defended Elizabeth in a series of investigations held, according to Smith, by the Teachers Quorum, the Bishopric, the High Council, and the First Presidency. Smith indicated that, humiliated by each quorum’s decision against Elizabeth, Marsh left the church and swore in an affidavit that the Saints were “hostile towards the State of Missouri.”  In Smith’s account, “That affidavit brought from the government of Missouri an exterminating order, which drove some 15,000 Saints from their homes and habitations, and some thousands perished through suffering the exposure consequent on this state of affairs.”

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Women’s History Month at JI

By March 3, 2013

Rachel Emma Woolley SimmonsAlthough we may not be able to top black history month, which had a stellar lineup of contributors, posts, and CFPs and then ended with a major change to the LDS scriptures concerning the church’s conscious remembering (literally, re-membering) its early African American priesthood holders and rejecting any revelatory basis for the priesthood ban – and here, let me interject a hearty hallelujah! – we would like to begin (lamb-like) with some thoughts, questions, and considerations for women’s history month in March. My tongue-in-cheek hope would be that, if our mojo is similar, Joseph Smith’s 1842 revelation to the Relief Society recorded in Eliza R. Snow’s Minute Book becomes D&C 139. By April 1st.

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Bringing Jane Manning James into the 21st Century

By February 26, 2013

Note: It is a pleasure to have Margaret Blair Young contribute to JI’s monthlong series on issues of Race and Mormonism. Margaret Blair Young has written extensively on Blacks in the western USA and particilarly Black Latter-day Saints.  Much of her work has been co-authored with Darius Gray.  She authored I Am Jane.

The first staged reading of I Am Jane was on the Nelke theater stage at BYU.  It was the climax of a playwriting class, and met some deserved criticism.  It was, as I recall, about 120 pages.  Too many words.  The first draft I wrote used a clichéd convention: rebellious teenager dreams about/ learns about/ re-enacts the life of a heroic ancestor and gains self-respect and courage.  But such a play is more about the teen than the character whose life I wanted to explore.  And I was researching it even as I was scripting the play.

After I had chiseled away at the script, I thought it ready for its debut, which happened on March 5th, 2000.  The play was that month’s Genesis meeting.  There was no stage, so we threw a blanket over a trellis to suggest a covered wagon, used the sacrament table for Jane’s death bed, and the clerk’s table for other scenes.

I knew there was more sculpting to do, and revised several times before our performances in Springville’s Villa Theater.  During that two-week run, I played Lucy Mack Smith, who let Jane handle a bundle purportedly containing the Urim and Thummin. (This is according to Jane’s life story, which she dictated near the end of her life.)

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Black History Month at the JI: “Nobody ever saw a Negro Mormon” (Reeve)

By February 11, 2013

By Paul Reeve

In May 2012, Susan Saulny, a reporter for the New York Times published a story, “Black Mormons and the Politics of Identity,” an investigation into how black Latter-day Saints grappled with their decision between a Mormon Republican and a black Democrat in the 2012 presidential election. The online version of the story featured a “TimesCast” four minute video which included a fellow reporter from the Times interviewing Saulny about her story. The conversation began with an expression of “surprise” that there were in fact black Mormons for Saulny to interview. The exchange then entertained a bit of speculation over how many black Mormons there are in the United States, with a “very small number,” a “couple of thousand max,” and “500 to 2,000” offered as possibilities. The “TimesCast” did rightly note that the LDS Church does not keep racial statistics on its membership, so that the number of black Mormons is difficult to know.

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“Manvotionals” and (Gentle)manly Nostalgia

By January 16, 2013

This Christmas we got a lovely gift under the tree from my sister that was especially appropriate for our family, and which we really liked. It was a gift set on the “Art of Manliness” with two books and a set of coasters in a self-described “classic cigar box.” One book was an etiquette and advice manual updating 19th and early 20th century counsel for the 21st century man dispensing “classic skills and manners,” and the other was a collection of readings described as Manvotionals, clustered around “the seven manly virtues” (in case you’re keeping track, those are: manliness – which, I have to say, seems a little redundant, plus courage, industry, resolution, self-reliance, discipline and honor). My teen sons have already devoured both books and the collection’s appeal is undeniable – the books come pre-scuffed in that new-but-looks-old-book way that is so popular these days, abundantly illustrated with graphic elements and engravings that look borrowed from Gilded Age business periodicals and 1920s Arrow collar ads.

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Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet–A Round Table

By October 14, 2012

The Juvenile Instructor is pleased to announce a round table discussion of one of the most important works to appear on Mormon history in recent memory–John G. Turner‘s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet. Turner’s biography, published by Harvard University Press, represents perhaps the apex of what I’ve called elsewhere a “Brigham Young Revival,” as historians have revisited the second Mormon prophet with renewed vigor after a long period of scholarly neglect. In the early twentieth century, historians found Brigham Young to be a far more interesting figure than Joseph Smith, since the former embodied scholars’ fascination with the frontier as the source of American culture and distinctiveness. Smith, by contrast, was usually cast as a womanizing deceiver who preyed upon credulous dupes, whose achievements paled in comparison to those of his successor. By the 1940s, however, scholars began to see Smith in a more positive light, producing several important studies and biographies, while the interest in Young waned. In the post-Civil Rights era, Young’s primary importance for historians lay in his racial policies and controversial theological teachings.  Only Leonard Arrington published a major work on Young during this period, whose 1985 Brigham Young: American Moses reflected an earlier era of frontier historiography.

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Hair Wreaths: A Nineteenth-Century Mormon Treasure, Part One

By September 19, 2012

DUP: Cornelia Harriet Hales Horne Clayton

Your initial reaction may be one of disgust (one naturally thinks of hairballs!) or disdain (how often did they wash their hair anyway?). Intricate designs of human hair, fastidiously fashioned into flowers, trees, and abstract designs, came to represent a Victorian ideal of nostalgia, elaborate texture, and ostentatious ornamentation in the memory of ancient human relics of the Saints.

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Cough Lozenges and Indian Fighters: Joseph F. Smith’s “Dream of Manhood”, Part 2

By August 16, 2012

Continued from this previous post.

As I began perusing Joseph F. Smith’s other mission journals—he served ten “missions” during his lifetime, and kept extensive records of a number of them[1]—I stumbled across what appeared to be an account of the Dream of Manhood, found in Joseph F.’s record of his first British mission (1860 to 1863).  After Joseph F. went to bed on the night of 12 January 1862, he “had a most glorious dream”:

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Lost Diaries, Augmented Memories: Joseph F. Smith’s “Dream of Manhood”, Part 1

By August 12, 2012

In September 2005, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited the Brigham Young University campus to dedicate the new Joseph F. Smith building, which houses the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.  During his talk prior to the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley retold a story that has been shared numerous times in talks, articles, and biographies of Joseph F. Smith; and has come to be known as Joseph F. Smith’s “Dream of Manhood.”[i]  According to Joseph F. Smith, he had a dream while on his first mission to the Hawaiian Islands, a dream that he later affirmed “made me what I am….[and] helped me out in every trial and through every difficulty.”[ii]

As Joseph F. Smith recalled, his mission was not going well.  “I was almost naked and entirely friendless…. I felt as if I was so debased in my condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge, just a boy, that I hardly dared look a white man in the face.”  In these conditions, he was blessed with a glorious dream that makes little sense, but apparently offered him a great deal of comfort.

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“Linking One Generation to Another”: Dedicating the “This is the Place” Monument, 1947

By July 24, 2012

At 6 a.m. on July 24, 1947, the centennial of the Mormon Pioneers’ entrance into the Salt Lake Valley, the first spectators arrived at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, Utah. By mid-morning, perhaps ten thousand cars were parked over several square miles, with as many as fifty thousand attendees waiting for the festivities to begin. They had gathered to witness the dedication of the sixty-foot tall “This is the Place” Monument, which would honor not only the Latter-day Saint Pioneers, but also the Spanish, British, and American forerunners who had laid a foundation for the Mormon settlement of the Great Basin. At 9:30, the Boy Scouts raised the American and Utah state flags, while the U.S. Marines band from San Diego, California, began playing “America.” Church President George Albert Smith, as master of ceremonies, introduced the program and delivered the dedicatory prayer. Speakers included J. Rueben Clark and David O. McKay, Smith’s counselors in the First Presidency; the Most Rev. Duane G. Hunt, bishop of the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese; Rt. Rev. Arthur W. Moulton, retired Episcopalian bishop of Utah; and Rabbi Alvin S. Luchs of Temple B’Nai Israel, all of whom were members of the monument commission. The dedication marked an important occasion in what Laurie Maffly-Kipp has called the “Long Approach to the Mormon Moment,”as Latter-day Saints sought to claim a prominent place both in the present and the past of the American nation.

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The Sacred Parking Garage Effect

By June 5, 2012

I get dibs on this clunky coining, but I wanted to articulate something that I’ve noticed in the way many non-academy-trained Mormons approach history. You probably have recognized the same phenomenon under a different name (and I’d love to know what you call it).

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Conveying Joseph Smith: Brandon Flowers, Arthur Kane, and the Mormon Rock Star Image

By October 19, 2011

(cross-posted at Religion in American History)

While pundits and theologians continue the seemingly endless debate over whether or not Mormonism is Christian/Mormons are Christians/a Mormon can be a Christian, over at Slate, browbeat writer David Haglund weighs in on the Mormon church’s latest advertising campaign (the “I’m a Mormon” campaign) and the recent participation of The Killers frontman and international rockstar Brandon Flowers in that effort:

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