Barney v. Bagley: Historians Debate John V. Long Papers

By November 13, 2007

Ok, it probably won’t be a debate. But today at 11 am (MST) Ron Barney, of the Church Archives, and Will Bagley of Blood of the Prophets fame will be discussing the John V. Long Papers on KUER’s Radio West, with Doug Fabrizio. Rare documents dealer Ken Sanders will also weigh in on the discussion. Here’s the description:

SALT LAKE CITY, UT (2007-11-12) Tuesday on RadioWest – a real life murder mystery from the old West. John V Long was a confidant and scribe of Mormon leader Brigham Young, but he fell from grace, was excommunicated from the LDS Church, and finally found dead in a drainage ditch in 1869. Doug is joined by historian Will Bagley, rare book dealer Ken Sanders and church historian Ron Barney to explore what Long’s newly discovered papers tell us about life in the early days of the Utah territory.

I know Ron Barney personally and he’s a fine historian. He’s working on the Joseph Smith Papers. I don’t know Will Bagley personally, although I did see him at a SL Chinese restaurant a few weeks ago. [UPDATE: I’ve been informed by none other than Will himself that he does use chopsticks.] Anyway, we’ll try to get a writeup of the discussion posted on the site a little later on. And we promise, Will, that we’ll be nice. Bagley-bashing won’t be a sport here, even if we don’t agree with everything in your book.

Update: Here’s a writeup. Others that listened, please correct me or add pertinent information.

Provenance: The Long family approached Ken Sanders about a year ago about selling the collection. Sanders mentioned that he is intent on keeping the collection intact, but he also mentioned that he could make a lot more money by selling pieces of the collection separately.

Contents: Pitman shorthand specialist LaJean Carruth and Church Archives documents expert Christy Best evaluated the collection’s contents yesterday and found that there are journals, letters, and sermon transcriptions. There are also hundreds of pages of Long family genealogical materials. The collection does not have Long’s 1857-1858 diary, which would have covered the Utah War and Mountain Meadows period. Long mentions that there were 115 pitman diaries from the period, but only 11 remain, suggesting that many were destroyed for unknown reasons. There are in the collection transcriptions of a few Brigham Young sermons, including one where Young spoke about his boyhood. There are records describing Long’s High Council court, where he is charged with associating with the Young Men’s Social Club and other conduct unbecoming of a Latter-day Saint. He is also charged with associating with Gentiles that would seek to shed Mormon blood. There is also a document describing Long’s activities with sprititualism. There are two Eliza R. Snow poems that Sanders describes as being previously unknown and unpublished.

Long bio: Long was one of Brigham Young’s scribes and was very prominent in Utah territory. His wife Sarah was an important figure in the Utah arts scene, and painted “Brigham Young and His Friends,” which portrays her husband as being close to Young. After Long’s 1866 excommunication, she and her husband fell out of favor in social circles.

Intrigue surrounding death: Long’s daughter later said that her father was seen with one of Brigham’s B’Hoys, Bill Hickman, the night before his [Long’s] death. The accusation is that Hickman drowned Long for knowing too much. There was quite a bit of discussion concerning the different theories surrounding the death-was it a murder or was it an accidental death? Bagley hopes to publish an article with the Utah Historical Quarterly soon describing the different theories. One theory is that Long became too involved with Gentile mining interests, which challenged Young’s authority. An another possibility is that the Union Pacific Railroad hired Hickman for the hit. Another theory is that Long wrote Young’s alibi letter in the aftermath of Mountain Meadows.

Barney’s Response: Barney contested the idea that Long was a close confidant of Young’s. Long was one of fifteen scribes, and was not even the most trusted scribe, which was probably George D. Watt. Watt and other scribes also fell out of favor with Young, but they were not murdered. There is evidence to suggest that Long was actually coming back into favor in the months preceding his death: 1) he was reappointed as a regent in the University of Deseret 2) prominent Mormons such as Samuel W. Richards and Edwin Wooley spoke at Long’s death. Barney also mentioned that Hickman did not mention Long in his [Hickman’s] memoirs, which were written in 1871, just two years after Long’s death. Barney characterized Bagley’s claims as “creative advertisement,” “tabloid history,” and said that “Bagley lives a much more exciting life than I do.” Bagley responded that he never claimed that the Long collection contained accusations of murder, but that other sources do. Also that his [Bagley’s] article does not contain any speculation, to which Barney said that despite asking for a copy, Bagley has not yet sent one to him.

Notes on Eliza R. Snow poems: I’ve been informed by a reliable source that the two new poems are not “unknown,” but are simply new manuscript iterations of poems that are known from other sources. They have not, however, been published previously.

Article filed under Announcements and Events Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period Current Events


  1. Ron Barney doesn’t seem to be there. Barney will be on later in the show.

    Comment by David Grua — November 13, 2007 @ 12:24 pm

  2. Is a sale of these papers pending?

    Comment by Justin — November 13, 2007 @ 12:55 pm

  3. Justin: Unfortunately, they didn’t mention info on that. It got moderately heated during the discussion between Ron and Will. We’ll have a writeup up shortly.

    Comment by David Grua — November 13, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

  4. Justin, Ken Sanders mentioned in the broadcast that he is attempting to sell the papers. He mentioned that he hopes to sell them as a whole, instead of resorting to “book-breaking” (dividing the documents up and selling each section seperately).

    Comment by Christopher — November 13, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

  5. Justin, Ken Sanders mentioned in the broadcast that he is attempting to sell the papers.

    I ask because Barney was suggesting that much more study of the papers was needed before conclusions could be drawn and that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, while the TV news shows are talking about undiscovered poems and murder mysteries. Will buyers wait until the dust settles here?

    Comment by Justin — November 13, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  6. I wasn’t able to listen in on it, I hope they podcast it. I’ll look forward to any cogent tidbits.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 13, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

  7. It was an interesting discussion, altho I would have preferred to have heard Barney’s comments throughout the hour, rather than toward the end.

    Comment by Justin — November 13, 2007 @ 1:22 pm

  8. Will buyers wait until the dust settles here?

    Good question. It puts Sanders in a tough situation. As an individual with an interest in history, it seems he would like to see more conclusive studies of the papers, but as a book seller, he mentioned the obligation he feels to get the papers sold.

    Comment by Christopher — November 13, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  9. It was an interesting discussion, altho I would have preferred to have heard Barney?s comments throughout the hour, rather than toward the end.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Comment by Christopher — November 13, 2007 @ 1:25 pm

  10. I got an email from KUER, it looks like they’ll have the audio download up at about 5 pm and a rebroadcast at 7 pm.

    Comment by Jared — November 13, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

  11. If I were a potential buyer of something that the seller was touting as worth a million bucks, I would want a very close look at what is there, including the opportunity to have a Pitman specialist make a more-or-less detailed reading and report. I would want the opportunity to run individual documents, like the poetry, past specialists to know whether I was getting something truly new, or merely new to Will and Ken. I would want my own people, not only the seller and his hired gun, to study the documents and do whatever research is called for.

    There would probably need to be some explicit agreement about evaluating the papers solely for purchase and not publishing anything provided for evaluation on my side, and an agreement from the seller that the results of my study belong to me and that he has no claim on them to make life easier for the next potential purchaser, if I didn’t buy them.

    But then I’d have difficulty raising a few thousand bucks, so admittedly I’m not the one to set the rules. 🙂

    Comment by Listener — November 13, 2007 @ 3:22 pm

  12. Did they really say they thought it would go for a million bucks?

    Sounds like they are trying to get the church to buy it…

    Comment by Matt W. — November 13, 2007 @ 3:30 pm

  13. He was too far away for me to see without it looking like I was staring. But he was wearing his western clothing.

    Comment by David Grua — November 13, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

  14. Bolo ties and chow mien?sounds like a good time.

    Comment by Stan — November 13, 2007 @ 7:09 pm

  15. Bagley at a Chinese restaurant, huh. Was he using chop sticks?

    Comment by stan — November 13, 2007 @ 6:46 pm

  16. Listener: It seems to me that Barney, Carruth, and Best are serving as independent experts on this collection.

    Comment by David Grua — November 13, 2007 @ 10:12 pm

  17. You can get the podcast on iTunes or listen here.

    Comment by a random John — November 14, 2007 @ 11:46 am

  18. Oops. I completely missed that the first link in the post now has the podcast.

    Comment by a random John — November 14, 2007 @ 11:49 am

  19. I like the design update. It’s much easier to read than your earlier version.

    Comment by Clark — November 14, 2007 @ 12:13 pm

  20. Thanks Clark.

    Comment by David Grua — November 14, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  21. […] and Ron described what he had seen and addressed some of the claims made earlier in the program. (Juvenile Instructor has a great summary of the radio […]

    Pingback by Times & Seasons » Going Long: Of Clubs and Conduct — November 14, 2007 @ 3:30 pm

  22. I saw the tag line “Barney v. Bagley” and thought maybe I had forgotten getting into a snit with Will, until I saw the full thread title. Thanks for the great notes.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — November 14, 2007 @ 7:17 pm

  23. Haha, that’s funny. Thanks for commenting, Kevin.

    Comment by David Grua — November 14, 2007 @ 7:23 pm

  24. I was in Ken Sanders’ store recently and was shown one of the “new” Eliza Snow poems. It was written in Eliza’s own hand in the journal/scrapbook of John V. Long’s wife, entitled “Friendship”. About 4 stanzas I believe, filling the page, signed and dated by Eliza Snow. Quite beautiful, actually.

    Comment by SwimRun — November 27, 2007 @ 11:25 pm

  25. SwimRun: Thanks for the report.

    Comment by David Grua — November 27, 2007 @ 11:37 pm


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