It seems to be a common assumption that the use of folk magic objects like peep stones and divining rods had pretty well died out by the time the Saints arrived in the Great Basin. At least, we don’t talk much about them being used after that. When we speak of seer stones in a Mormon context Joseph Smith’s early treasure digging days, Book of Mormon translation, and Hiram Page are typically the topic of discussion. Such instruments were used for finding treasure, translating ancient texts, for revelation, and, in a few cases, for locating lost objects.
A while ago I came across a few references to the use of a “peep stone” that surprised me for several reasons. The date was later than I would have expected: 1856. And the peeper was younger than I expected: about 14 or 15. And the object of peeping was rather unusual.
The references come from a few letters written to Joseph F. Smith during his first mission to the Hawaiian Islands, one from his younger sister, Martha Ann Smith, and two from Martha’s close friend Jane Fisher (who may have, as other letters seem to suggest, had romantic feelings toward her friend’s older brother). JFS was 15 at the time he left on this mission, in 1854. The first reference is in a letter from Martha Ann. On July 18, 1856, she wrote, “Ma[r]y Jane has been looking is [sic] the peap stone for you and she seen you[.]” The Mary Jane referred to was JFS’s cousin Mary Jane Thompson.
The other references are from letters by Jane Fisher, also referring to Mary Jane Thompson’s use of a peep stone. Referring to the same event Martha Ann wrote of, Jane wrote: “Mary Jane saw you only last Friday, Martha will tell you how” (Jane Fisher to JFS, Great Salt Lake City, July 20, 1856). Jane again wrote to Joseph F. Smith, again mentioning the peepstone, on May 11, 1857: “I think you have stayed long enough, away, and if you do not come home soon, more than mary, Jane, will take a look in the peepstone. I should like to see you, in little grass House.”
So in the days before webcams, there were other media for communication–something faster than mail, and even more virtual than photography: a peep stone.