BYU’s Thomas L. Kane Lecture Series

By September 11, 2008

This afternoon, halfway through a wonderful presentation by David Whittaker on the relationship between Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane, I realized that I probably should have brought my laptop so I could have taken notes to share. As a form of repentance, I figured I should post the remaining schedule on what should be a very interesting lecture series over the next six months:

Thomas L Kane

Exhibition Lecture Series

Thursday, September 11, 2pm: “‘My Dear Friend’: The Correspondence between Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane,” by David J. Whittaker.

Wednesday, October 8, 3pm:Thomas L. Kane and the Mormons at the Missouri, 1847-1852,” by Richard E. Bennett.

Wednesday, November 12, 3pm:Thomas L. Kane and the Utah War,” by William P. MacKinnon.

Wednesday, December 10, 3pm: Thomas L. Kane and the ‘Mormon Problem’ in National Politics,” by Thomas G. Alexander

Wednesday, January 14, 3pm:Twelve Mormon Homes: Touring Utah with Elizabeth & Thomas L. Kane in 1872-73,” by Lowell “Ben” Bennion and Thomas Carter.

Wednesday, February 11, 3pm:Tom and Bessie Kane & the Mormons,” by Edward A. Geary.

Thursday, March 12, 2pm: “Thomas L. Kane and Nineteenth-Century America,” by Matthew J. Grow.

All of the lectures will be held in the BYU Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium, and there is a corresponding exhibition in the Special Collections starting next month. Both the exhibition and the lecture series are co-sponsored by the L. Tom Perry Special Collections and BYU Studies, and BYU Studies plans to publish all the papers as a book. This is in honor of the Thomas L. Kane Papers Collection they have accumulated over the last couple decades, a collection that sounds very impressive.

A couple scattered notes on David Whittaker’s presentation today:

There are over 120 letters between Brigham Young and Thomas Kane. These letters were pretty consistent from 1846 until 1877, with a few busy years (including during the Utah War in 1857) and a few quiet years (while Kane fought in the Civil War). Some letters were as short as a few lines, while others are as long as nine pages. Almost all of them are very personable and informative. Dr. Whittaker read some longer sections, and they reminded me of BY’s letters to his sons: they present a much different man than we usually think of. He was very kind, sympathetic, and showed great love towards Kane. In one letter he expressed how much he wished Kane would join the Church, but then said something like, “it doesn’t matter, I’m sure you’ll join it in the spirit world.”

Since Kane was so kind to the Mormons, many non-Mormons believed that he was secretly baptized. Even Kane’s wife seemed to think so, writing in a letter after her husband’s death about how the Mormons performed some dunking ritual on him. However, Whittaker says it is pretty clear that Kane never became a member (Cannon was baptized for him a year after Kane’s death), and thinks the incident Kane’s wife is referring to was probably a baptism for health.[1] Whittaker went into Kane’s spirituality a little bit, but not in great detail.

Later on in their relationship, Kane decided he wanted to write Brigham’s biography, so he started gathering information on him and had BY write several almost autobiographical letters so he could get a better background.

Kane might have been the one to convince BY to start the Brigham Young Acadamy. During his stay with Young in St. George in the winter of 1872, it seems one of their most common conversations was on education. Then, their next few letters continued the discussion, with BY finally making the decision to start the school the next year. When Kane heard the news, he said he was thoroughly delighted by it.

BY didn’t tell Kane about polygamy for quite some time. Then, when Kane was helping Jedediah Grant formulate a letter concerning Utah’s “runaway judges,” and helping the Mormons refute the bad things being said about them, Grant finally informed him that the polygamy rumor was true. In Kane’s next letter, he boldly told Young that this practice was wrong, but since it was in such a bold and up-front way, they still respected each other and their friendship didn’t miss a beat. It seems that once Kane got it off his chest, all was ok.

Elizabeth had a hard time getting used to the Mormons. She was very hesitant when they went to live in St. George for the winter. Then, one day when Kane wasn’t feeling really well (he struggled with health all his life), Elizabeth returned from a walk to see BY kneeling at her husband’s bedside praying for him while Kane slept. This touched her so deeply that she wrote in her journal that night that she wanted to erase everything negative she ever said about the Mormons.

Whittaker said many more fascinating things, but I’m sure this is enough to whet your whistle.


[1] I was privileged to have my wife with me at the lecture, and after Whittaker talked about baptisms for health, mentioning that when the tabernacle was originally built there was a night a week set apart for healt baptisms, my wife leaned over and we had the following conversation:

Her: So, they would take the sick people and baptize them all in the Tabernacle’s font to make them feel better?

Me: Yeah.

Her: So, your telling me that the way they came up with to heal the sick was to gather them all together, baptize them one by one, and thereby turn the commonly-used baptismal font into a sickness-filled pool?

Me: Um….yeah?

Article filed under Announcements and Events Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period Conference/Presentation Reports


  1. Thanks for the report, Ben. I didn’t find out about the lecture until about 3 this afternoon. Maybe I’ve been distracted with research, but it doesn’t seem they advertised this thing very well. How many people attended?

    Comment by Christopher — September 11, 2008 @ 6:23 pm

  2. Chris: The only way I knew about it was the library had a poster up in the main entrance; otherwise, I didn’t hear a word.

    There was a descent attendance. I would give a quick guess of about forty, including Tom Alexander, Ed Geary, Ben Bennion, Reid Neilson, Fred Woods, and some Kane descendents.

    Whittaker also said that Grow’s biography on Kane, published by Yale, should be out by Grow’s presentation in March and that they will have copies available.

    Comment by Ben — September 11, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

  3. RE: Baptism for health. Check out the next issue of JMH (grin). Would have loved to have had the reference though.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 11, 2008 @ 6:47 pm

  4. Repent, Ben.


    Comment by Jared T. — September 11, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

  5. I got an email on it from BYU at 1:10 pm this afternoon; had it come in the morning I’d have gone.

    Comment by Dan Knudsen — September 11, 2008 @ 7:41 pm

  6. Do you have the times for the other lectures?

    Comment by Dan Knudsen — September 11, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

  7. Thanks for the write-up. Like Stapley, I appreciated the baptism for health reference.

    Comment by kris — September 11, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

  8. Jared: Repenting.

    Dan: Sorry about the lack of times. I have gone back and added them.

    J & Kris: I am really looking forward to the article.

    Comment by Ben — September 11, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

  9. Very interesting. I’ll be looking forward to your reports of the upcoming lectures. 🙂

    Comment by Researcher — September 12, 2008 @ 8:21 am

  10. Ben (and others),

    I’m not sure if you are aware (from other blogs) that I just created a website called to help keep people notified of events just like this one. Thanks for letting me know about the future lectures, I’ll add them to the site immediately (and link people back to this page). Please let me know when you know of Calls for Papers and other scholarly presentations on Mormon Studies.

    If you find it a useful resource, please publicize it a little. It is only a resource if people know about it (and with almost 100 subscribers in the last week, I think it is catching on)!

    Comment by Kent (MC) — September 12, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  11. Kent: I actually had you in mind when I was posting this. I was going to send all the information your way, but I was waiting till I could find a website (couldn’t find one yet).

    Thanks for the important resource.

    Comment by Ben — September 12, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

  12. Your web site works just fine as a link! I link to blogs all the time for lectures.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — September 12, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  13. Thanks for the summary, Ben. That’s great news about Matt’s book coming out so soon.

    Comment by David G. — September 12, 2008 @ 1:12 pm

  14. Remember the next lecture in this series tomorrow (Wednesday).

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — November 11, 2008 @ 9:36 pm

  15. Thanks for the reminder, Ardis. I will not be able to make it (stupid class), but my wife will be there taking notes for me 🙂

    Comment by Ben — November 11, 2008 @ 11:24 pm

  16. Boy, I wish I could make it! I would love to meet Bill M and others in the history community, and see some of those I already know.

    Comment by Researcher — November 12, 2008 @ 9:26 am


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