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”:

I saw Uncle Joseph, Father, Brigham Heber and the Twelve, all dressed in their Robes of White, and they seemed to have an additional Robe of pure white, without a seam, coming down to their feet, and around the edge was a broad strip of pure white fur, like down, dotted here and there with beautiful spots–which gave a richness to them beyond description.  Uncle Joseph Scolded me for being late, but I had been to bathe, and I felt I was clean.  And his every word was life and Joy, tho’ spoken in reproff.  Uncle and Father blessed a child, taking it in their arms.  I took the child from Uncle Joseph to return it to its mother, and the backs of my hands tuched his bosom, which sent a thrill to my very heart that I cannot describe, nor ever shall forget.  The perfect order, the extream Joy and happiness that I saw and felt, is past my power of expression.  I can only write the words–the Joy and bliss can only be felt.[2]

This appears to be the actual Dream of Manhood—and yet it appears in Joseph F.’s journal over three years after the end of his Hawaiian mission, when Joseph F. was on the other side of the world and in completely different circumstances than those he recounted in 1918.  (Indeed, the greatest trial he seemed to be enduring at the time he recorded the dream, was a head cold).[3]

So why did Joseph F. Smith remember the Dream of Manhood occurring in Hawaii?  The answer seems simple, although it is at times a very frustrating problem for historians—the problem of memory.  It is likely that Joseph F. Smith meshed together the trials of his youthful missions—he certainly had opportunity to reflect on these trials, enduring many more in his declining years—and he also remembered having been “given” comforting dreams at certain times of trials past.  But at a distance of fifty-five or sixty years, not having looked over his journals in years (if not decades, with his own death half a year away), it is certainly explainable, if not excusable, that Joseph F. remembered the dream occurring in another time and place than it really did.

Of course, there is also the problem of the degree of detail that Joseph F. remembered.  In his journal account, he mentions nothing of his own mother, Mary Fielding Smith.  Yet the 1918 telling of the dream mentions her as being the mother of the child.  The later version expands greatly on Joseph F.’s desire to feel the reality of his uncle, the Prophet Joseph, as well as making more of the process of bathing and cleansing himself prior to coming into the presence of Joseph and the other leading brethren.  In fact, the only element of the dream that is recorded in greater detail in the 1862 journal account is the description of the leading brethren’s clothing.  Did Joseph F. Smith really remember more detail than he recorded—and that for 56 years?  It seems plausible that he simply imagined or projected additional details that gelled with the original dream.  And that does not necessarily make for a bad thing—he certainly found comfort in the memory of the dream, and many, many Church members have found inspiration from its remembered details.

Joseph F. was without doubt a storyteller, and prone to embellishment.  One story he often shared was that of his youthful “fight” with Native American cattle-rustlers at Winter Quarters.  As Joseph and another boy were herding the cattle one day, they were surprised by a band of Natives on horseback.  Painted and fierce-looking, it was apparent that they were out for the cattle.  Joseph F.’s companion immediately ran for help, leaving Joseph to try to herd the cattle back towards the settlement alone.  After some quick equestrian maneuvering on Joseph F.’s part, and aided by the thundering hooves of the Natives’ horses, the cattle began to stampede toward safety.  Joseph F. was cut off by several Natives before he could get away—in fact, as he told it, two rode up on either side of him, grabbed an arm and a leg, and lifted Joseph F.  right off his horse.  They threw him down in the dust and rode off, the boy’s mount in tow.  Joseph was fearful for the cattle and joined several men in searching for them.  After a fruitless afternoon of looking for his family’s livestock, he was rejoiced to return to the settlement and find them already corralled, having been returned by a boy who had left Joseph and his companion earlier in the day to gather hazelnuts.

Several different versions of this story appeared in manuscripts and publications throughout Joseph F.’s lifetime.  His “Recollections,” published in the Juvenile Instructor, make it sound like there were a dozen, total, in two groups; an autobiographical Journal, prepared as a draft of the “Recollections,” makes it appear that there were at least a dozen, and probably more; his “Boyhood Recollections” put the amount at “two posses of Indians numbering, twenty-five or thirty each, possibly.”  As the last telling was written forty-five years after the first two, the embellishment is understandable.  He probably fancied himself quite the Indian fighter at the ripe old age of eight or nine.[4]  Whatever the true number, he shared the story often.  One of his granddaughters recalled with fondness the times “When Grandpapa would tell us of his experience as a herd boy, when …they were attacked by the Indians, and the horse Grandpapa was riding was stolen.  Grandpapa would hold out the palm of his hand and point with his finger to show where the cattle were, where the Indians came from, and where they went and where they boys were.”[5]

Perhaps Joseph F. Smith simply embellished the story of the Dream of Manhood—if not through sharing it with others, as he did with his Indian-fighter story, then perhaps in occasionally dwelling on it through the passage of time.  While it seems obvious that the dream actually occurred in 1862, in Britain, Joseph F. Smith somehow constructed the memory of it taking place during his first Hawaiian mission.  Whenever it happened, wherever it happened, Joseph F. remembered—and believed—that God was watching out for him as a young missionary struggling in the squalor of rural Hawaii.

Please share your insights on this story. I am no expert in memory theory, and I’m sure some of you can add additional perspective from that house of history.

Oh, and a teaser for a future post:  “Was Joseph F. Smith really ‘dyed-in-the-wool,’ or merely ‘true blue’?”


[1] Depending on your definition of mission, Joseph F. served three missions to Hawaii, three to Britain, two to Washington, D.C. (as a lobbyist), and also completed a brief Church history-gathering mission to the Eastern states in 1878 and a “peace-keeping” mission to raucous Provo, Utah in 1868-69.  See Nathaniel R. Ricks, “Joseph F. Smith:  Prophetic Leader, Man of God,” (unpublished essay, Education in Zion Exhibit Files, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2005), 75 (Appendix 5).  Copy in my possession.

[2] Joseph F. Smith Journal, 13 Jan. 1862.

[3] The morning after the dream he purchased some cough lozenges.  See Ibid.

[4] Joseph F. Smith, “Recollections,” Juvenile Instructor, vol. 6 (1871): 63; Joseph F. Smith, Journal, entry dated 13 Nov. 1838 [autobiographical manuscript], in Selected Collections; Joseph F. Smith, “Boyhood Recollections of President Joseph F. Smith,” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, vol. 7 (1916): 60.  See also Joseph F. Smith, “A Noble Woman’s Experience,” Heroines of Mormondom (Salt Lake City:  Juvenile Instructor’s Office, 1884).

[5] Ellen Miller Thiriot in “Some Recollections of Grandfather Joseph F. Smith,” 8, prepared by the Joseph F. Smith Family Association, available on the Internet at
http://www.josephfsmith.org/sites/default/files/recollections.pdf; viewed 9 Aug. 2012.

Article filed under Biography British Isles Memory


Comments

  1. Fascinating, Nate. Thanks.

    Comment by Christopher — August 16, 2012 @ 11:19 am

  2. absolutely fascinating.

    for a memory based approach to history of an earlier prophet, this book might be worth a comparative glance.

    http://www.amazon.com/Historical-Jesus-What-Can-Know/dp/0802865267

    careful, though. it cost the author his job.

    Comment by g.wesley — August 16, 2012 @ 11:36 am

  3. Awesome.

    Comment by Ben P — August 16, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

  4. Thanks for these interesting posts, Nate. Do you (or anyone else you know of, for that matter) have plans for further work on the life of Joseph F. Smith? Quite an interesting and important individual, but I can’t find a terrible amount on him. The Kenney Sunstone article was quite fascinating (and provocative) and I’d love to see more.

    Comment by Craig M. — August 16, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

  5. Craig, early next year BYU’s Religious Studies Center will be publishing the proceedings from March 2012’s Church History Symposium, which was themed around Joseph F. Smith’s life and times. Many of the speeches (including one from yours truly) dealt with aspects of his life and personality, while others dealt with his teachings, administration, or other aspects of his presidential years.

    There are several works in progress of which I am aware. Fellow JIer Amanda HK has been examining JFS letters to his wives and siblings; JIer Steve T. has been sifting through JFS sources for a while in preparation for a potential biography down the line. I myself have contemplated working on a full-length biography, perhaps to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Joseph F.’s death in 2018.

    Comment by Nate R. — August 16, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

  6. Nate, great story. The memory issue is interesting for various reasons, and I don’t think that Joseph F. would have taken the time to look up in his journals to verify the account of something that he remembered in such great detail. If he did, and was thinking it was from his first Hawaiian mission, when he did not find it, it would likely have prompted him to assume that the account was in one of the journals lost to the fire mentioned in the first post.

    Apart from suspecting that he may have remembered the details differently, I have little difficulty where so many of the main points agree. I would also assume from having read quite a bit of his journals that it is not a surprise that the dream is recorded there in less detail than in a subsequent direct retelling of the incident.

    I also would applaud a new biography of Joseph F. Smith. Joseph Fielding Smith’s bio of his father is regrettably inadequate, and the Gibbons bio, while well written, is more devotional than a full examination of all the complexity of Joseph F’s real personality. More of a project that I have time or resources to devote to, Nate, but I am gathering more information on his adopted son Edward Arthur beyond my presentation at the March Church History symposium, and looking into the whole concept of adoption as practiced by Joseph F. I would love to see more about him, so go JI peeps!

    Comment by kevinf — August 16, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

  7. Thanks for the info Nate, I’m hopeful that all of these efforts will bear fruit!

    Comment by Craig M. — August 16, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

  8. Nate– Two questions: I’m curious where Joseph F. Smith ranks in the spectrum of visionary dreams (and in the telling and retelling of them) among 19th-century Church leaders. What interesting context you have provided, especially considering that one of his dreams actually became canonized. Also, how much did he embellish (or add to) other dreams along the way?

    Comment by Andrea R-M — August 16, 2012 @ 7:18 pm

  9. Andrea, you raise excellent questions. Although many other Church Presidents beside Joseph Smith have had “visionary” experiences (a la Wilford Woodruff prior to the Manifesto, Lorenzo Snow in St. George re: tithing), Joseph F. Smith’s is the only one (save BY’s instructions on the westward journey) to be canonized. I’m not well versed in visionary experiences among the general Church population during the time, but perhaps another reader is.

    And, to my knowledge, the “Dream of Manhood” was the only one recorded that JFS recounted in later life, even though he recorded several other dreams in his mission and home diaries. Thus there’s no real other opportunity to compare original and embellished accounts.

    There’s another quasi-revelatory experience (Robert Millet called it a vision) that JFS recorded in 1898 at the death of his daughter Ruth. After lamenting her passing and the other siblings that had gone before, JFS writes,

    O my soul! I see my own sweet mother’s arms extended welcoming to her embrace the ransomed glorious spirit of my own sweet babe! O my God! For this glorious vision, I thank Thee! And there too are gathered to my Father’s mansion all my darling lovely ones; not in infantile helplessness, but in all the power and glory and majesty of sanctified spirits! (Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 463)

    Comment by Nate R. — August 16, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

  10. BY had many dreams which he found important, Turner hits on many. WW also recorded many. Not sure about Taylor or Snow.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 16, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

  11. Fantastic, Nate. Thanks.

    Comment by WVS — August 16, 2012 @ 9:53 pm

  12. This is great detective work, Nate. And I like how you’ve contextualized it with JFS’s other dreams and story-telling practices.

    As for what is happening cognitively, in his later retelling, JFS may have committed what psychologists call an error of “source attribution,” where a detail that originated in one context gets assimilated into a memory from another context. In this case, there’s no direct reference to a Hawaiian context in the 1862 written record (although it’s possible that that element was in the original dream, but JFS neglected to record that in writing). However, in later years as he told this story, he connected the notion of cleanliness in the dream to his feelings of dirtiness in Hawaii, to the point that he remembered experiencing the dream in Hawaii.

    Comment by David G. — August 17, 2012 @ 9:21 am

  13. Thanks for adding that perspective, David.

    Comment by Nate R. — August 17, 2012 @ 10:25 am

  14. Wowskies, Nate. This is incredibly interesting.

    Comment by Max — August 17, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

  15. Great writeup, Nate. The vagaries of memory do vastly complicate the task of piecing together the historical narrative.

    Also find it fascinating that we have no record (that I am aware of) of JS having significant, revelatory nighttime dreams–they all seem to have been waking visions. Moroni’s nighttime visit, even, entailed his waking up.

    The visionary experiences of his father JS, Sr. though, and those of most all subsequent Church leaders have been dreams in the night. The break seems pretty sharp with Brigham Young’s feverish “dream” (his label) of Joseph in Winter Quarters in 1847.

    Waking visions seem to be eligible for canonization; nighttime dreams do not.

    Comment by Ryan T. — August 19, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

  16. I’ve been doing some work on JFS and wives this year. I find an account by Susa Young Gates of a dream JFS purportedly had regarding the death of her children in Hawaii in 1887. It’s secondhand, but still very interesting and suggests that he may have shared such things with others contemporaneously at times.

    Comment by LisaT — August 21, 2012 @ 11:59 am


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