Mormon Horns 1/7: A Selected Chronology

By January 31, 2010

Last year I put up several posts about the construction and assignment of Mormon identity through the naming of animals, plants, places, etc. In the same vein, I hope to spend a few posts examining horns in a Mormon context.

Early church leaders used and reported horn language. William W Phelps provided the earliest (that I know) in 1836: “I am satisfied that our appearance, if nothing had been said, would have been productive if good-men saw that we did not wear horns, or any other monstrous thing, to distinguish ourselves from others” (ht: Justin, SC Taysom, et alia). [1] Joseph, Hyrum, and William Smith also used or recorded conversations involving horns or horn metaphors. [2]

In 1843, Samuel Prior reported his disappointment at meeting Joseph Smith “when, instead of the heads and horns of the beast, and false prophet, I beheld only the appearance of a common man….” [3] Prior focused on facial expressions and countenance (see footnote), not cryptozoology and alluded to John the Revelator’s poly-horned beasts. [4]

About the same time, a Times and Seasons report mixed sociality and corporeality: “they perceived that the Mormons were affable, courteous, and intelligent; and in looking at our heads and feet they discovered that we had neither horns nor hoofs.” [5]

Mid-century provides examples from prominent to anonymous Mormons. Heber C Kimball claimed that “many emigrants who came through our valley, thought we were moose, camels, or dromedaries. They …no doubt thought we had horns on our heads…. I have been in the world, and they cannot think that we are human!” [6] So far as I know, Kimball stands alone in reporting Mormon moose-/camel-ness but he used an oft-repeated logic: “for X to act as they do toward Y they must think Y are Z, because if they thought them human, they would never act thus.” [7]

The 1860s and 70s optimistically shrank horns. For example, RF Burton claimed in 1862 that “people no longer wonder that [Mormon] missionaries do not show horns and cloven feet.” [8] An RLDS missionary named Blair reported, however, that the news had not yet reached Wisconsin. [9] As of the early 1880s, though, President Cannon reported that visitors came to Utah “expecting to see monsters, as though you [Mormons] wore horns or were beings of a different species.” [10] Others encountered surprise/confusion at Mormon hornlessness, no doubt aided and abetted by Mormons who blamed smooth craniums on youth. [11]

The “archetypical” Mormon-horns story made it into (text-searchable) print in 1893:

In 1863, some California emigrants were passing through this city. …with some astonishment the girl exclaimed, “Ma, where are the Mormons?” The lady answered, “Why, my dear, these people you see on the street are all Mormons.” With surprise the girl replied, “Why, papa said that the Mormons had horns on them!” [12]

By 1900 They-Believe-We-Have-Horns (TBWHH) had reached its mature form, penetrated Mormondom from child to prophet, and established itself in Brighamite and Josephite branches.

As noted, the horn posts continue earlier efforts analyzing ways of describing Mormons or using Mormons to describe something else. These include: India, Cows, Bluebeard, Lice, Crickets, Flies, Happy Valley, and sundry other beasts.


[1] William W Phelps, Letter to editor, 1836 Aug 03, The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2:12 (Kirtland, OH: 1836 Sep): 373 [372-7]. Thanks to centerplace.org for the transcription. In specifying “appearance,” Phelps seems to exclude metaphor. His “to wear” and “to distinguish” could suggest volition rather than anatomy—he could have said, “we did not have horns…that distinguished us from others.” Read in this manner, Phelps’s report indicates the absence of a costume or, at the least, a talisman. His “monstrous” could mean “offensive to prevailing sensibilities in the manner that Native American costumes are” or “like unto the fellows working at Monsters, Inc.”

[2] In 1842 Dec Joseph Smith quoted General Wilson Law: “we had reason to think the Mormons were a peculiar people, different from other people, having horns or something of the kind; but I find they look like other people: indeed, I think Mr. Smith a very good-looking man.” [A] Note that even though Smith’s [and/or ghost-writer’s] narrative is in first person, the quote refers to Smith in third person rather than second. The word “peculiar” presents, of course, some difficulty. Presumably Law did not intend “peculiar” in the King James Bible’s sense of “special or chosen.” The present-day connotation of peculiar as weird had arisen by the nineteenth century but the KJV application of “peculiar” remained well known. [B]

At April conference in 1844, Hyrum defended a steam mill that had been the subject of “a great deal of bickering,” noting that “it has brought in thousands who would not have come here; but as they saw that the Mormons had got no horns, they came, and have got good by it.” [C] In a related metaphor, William complained that “some have thought… the city [Nauvoo] a barbarian—ugly, formal with head and horns, and stuck into the nethermost corner of the universe….” [D] I’m glossing “formal with” as “complete with.” The “head and horns” might reference some Barbarians’ war dress, which included horns and animal heads, or the “heads and horns” of the beast from Rev 13, which he had referenced earlier.

[A] Wilson Law, in conversation with Joseph Smith, Springfield, IL, 1842 Dec 31, as reported by Joseph Smith, HC 5:214. [B] For easily-multipliable example: “It does not mean…that they are to be a peculiar people in the sense that they are to be unlike others… but that they belong to the Saviour in contradistinction from belonging to themselves…..” Albert Barnes, comment for Titus 2:14, Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon, vols 16-17 of Barnes’ Notes on the Old and New Testaments (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1850), 317. [C] Hyrum Smith, “Conference Minutes: Continuation of last April’s Conference,” Times and Seasons 5:14 (Nauvoo, IL: 1844 Aug 01): 597 [596-8], transcription by CenterPlace.org. [D] William Smith, Letter to the editor, 1844 Nov 10, Times and Seasons 5:24 (Nauvoo, IL: 1844 Jan 01): 756 [-757].

[3] Prior described himself as having “had the misfortune to live always among that class of people who look upon a Mormon as being of quite another race….” He went on: “I fancied that I should behold a countenance sad and sorrowful, yet containing the fiery marks of rage and exasperation—I supposed that I should be enabled to discover in him some of those thoughtful and reserved features, those mystic and sarcastic glances which I had fancied the ancient sages to possess. I expected to see that fearful faltering look of conscious shame, which, from what I had heard of him, he might be expected to evince. He appeared at last—but how was I disappointed… [portion quoted in text]” Samuel Prior, “A Visit to Nauvoo,” Times and Seasons 4:13 (1843 May 15): 196-8, transcription by CenterPlace.org.

[4] Rev 13:1-15, 16:12-13, and 19:19-21. Some contemporaries linked Mormonism to these same figures. “[Satan] has at hand a whole host of isms and schisms: Armenianism, Universalism, …[18 more isms, including Mormonism]. …In all these are combined those three unclean spirits out of the mouth of the dragon, beast, and false prophet….” [A] “‘[M]any false prophets are gone out into the world. …and this is that spirit of Antichrist whereof ye have heard that it should come…’ [1 John 4:3]. …What is Mormonism, with all its monstrous absurdities and manifest lies, but one of these?” [B]

Even without the direct correlation to Mormonism, the idea of a false prophet went along with apocalyptic horned animals. “This two horned beast is described by John in another part of the prophecy under the character of the pseudo-teacher, or false prophet.” [C] “Expositors generally are agreed that the false prophet is identical with another beast…and the eighth head” [Rev 13:11]. [D] “…the false prophet, the beast with two horns like a lamb that cometh up out of the earth.” [E] My non-quantitative impression is that most texts linked the beasts to Catholicism rather than generic false prophets while a smaller number singled out particular individuals and/or nations.

Mormons tended to understand the beasts allegorically, though some usages were ambiguous. “I know very well that the people called “Mormons” are thought to be a very strange people. I come right from among them, and you can all judge whether or not they seem to have the appearance of a strange animal of seven beads and ten horns. You can all decide for yourselves whether, from the appearance I present, I should be numbered among outcasts, or be ranked among human beings.” [F] “‘The seven heads are seven mountains;’ perhaps this alludes to the various elevated parts upon which the city of Rome was built. ‘The ten horns are ten kings,’ or kingdoms….” [G] “Some of Mr. [William] Miller’s followers had said that the Mormons were the beast spoken of by John; if, indeed, they are, they have not got so many eyes, ears, horns and hoofs, as he has manifested….” [H]

In fact, some Mormon Elders got so caught up in allegorizing that church leaders urged caution: “[A]bide by that revelation which says, ‘preach nothing but repentance to this generation,’ and leave the further mysteries of the kingdom…. The horns of the beast, the toes of the image, the frogs and the beast mentioned by John are not going to save this generation….” [I] A decade earlier, Oliver Cowdery seemed a bit hesitant in responding to another journalist’s application of Revelation 13:11 to Mormonism—though perhaps he objected more to the particular interpretation rather than the idea of allegory. “In what shape the “Banner” would have us understand that the religion contained, or advocated in the book of mormon, represents this saying of John is unknown to us…. For us to say, that a book represents a beast with two horns, is advancing a stretch into the system of spiritualizing, beyond any thing we have yet attained to.” [J]

[A] Elisha Putnam, The Crisis, or, Last Trumpet: An Antidote for Popular Opinion Either in Church or State (Albany, NY: E Putnam, 1847), 74; [B] No author listed, “The Signs of the Times,” The Christian Advocate and Scotch Baptist Repository 2 (London: 1850 Apr): 78-9 [73-81; cont’d from previous]. [C] Alexander Campbell [signed as “Editor”], “Prophetic Personages—Historic Prophecy, No. II,” The Millennial Harbinger 3:5 (Bethany, VA: 1832 May 02): 218-9 [214-9]; [D] Studens, “Aspects of the World,” The Evangelical Repository, edited by Joseph T Cooper, 8:12 (Philadelphia: 1850 May): 567-8 [561-9]; [E] John S Waugh, Dissertations on the Prophecies of Sacred Scripture Which Relate to the Antichristian Powers (Annan, Scotland: Wm Cuthbertson, 1833), 94. [F] William Smith, speech before Illinois House of Representatives, Springfield, IL, 1842 Dec 09, HC 5:202. [G] No author listed, “Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream,” from The Gospel Reflector (Philadelphia), reprinted in Times and Seasons 3:3 (Nauvoo, IL: 1841 Dec 01): 610 [607-14]. (Both the Reflector and Times and Seasons were Mormon papers); [H] No author listed, “Millerism,” Times and Seasons 4:11 (1843 Apr 15): 171 [168-71]. [I] Brigham Young, Heber C Kimball, John E Page, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor, and George A Smith, open letter: “To the Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to the Churches Scattered Abroad, and to All the Saints,” Times and Seasons 1:1 (Commerce, IL: 1839 Nov): 13 [12-5]. [J] Oliver Cowdery [signed, “Editor of the Star”], no title, Evening and Morning Star 2:19 (1834 Apr): 151 [150-1].

[5] No author listed, “The Release of Gen. Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons 4:4 (Nauvoo, IL: 1843 Jan 02): 60 [59-61].

[6] Heber C Kimball, “Discourse by Heber C Kimball Delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, July 16, 1854,” Millennial Star 16:47 (1854 Nov 25): 740 [737-741].

In 1846 Warren Foote recorded meeting a man who, on learning Foote was Mormon, called his sons over and, “After looking at us he said to the boys ‘They havent [sic] got any horns have they! and they look like other folks don’t they.’ This he said laughing as he told us that the boys had thought that the ‘Mormons’ were terrible looking creatures.” Warren Foote, Diary entry, 1846 Jun 17, Autobiography of Warren Foote (typescript [np, nd] of his journals, Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT), 1.96-7, as quoted in Terryl L Givens, The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 136. Diary date provided by Paul Reeve, JI, 2008 Feb 12.

[7] The logic, “for X to act as they do toward Y they must think Y are Z, because if they thought them Q, they would never act thus,” has been and remains a staple of much political, social, and interpersonal discourse. Anecdotally, I observe that it often represents a false attribution caused by failure of imagination; there are usually several factors other than Z that could hypothetically influence X’s actions toward Y, some of which do not exclude Q, and few of which are amenable to proof.

An unidentified Mormon Elder preaching in New York in 1857 used similar logic: “I am a Mormon Elder, without horns or hoofs—although many people have such an idea of us that they think they must see a horn sticking out of us somewhere.” No author listed, “The Mormons. Their ‘Branch’ in New York,” New York Daily Times 1857 Jun 29, p4.

[8] Richard F Burton, City of the Saints, and Across the Rocky Mountains to California (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1862), 431; the cited text reprinted in Charles Carrington, ed, A Plea for Polygamy (Paris: Charles Carrington, 1898), 235-236 [224-238].

The Deseret Evening News agreed in 1868: “it is becoming tolerably well known that they [Mormons] do not wear horns, that they do not have cloven feet, that they are not ogres, and that they do not live by preying upon mankind.” No author listed, “Early Action in Favor of Railroad,” Deseret Evening News, reprinted in Millennial Star 30:29 (1868 Jul 18): 454 [454-5]. George Q Cannon went further afield for imagery: “There was a time in our history when people supposed that we were different from other men. I have travelled considerably, and when it was leaked out that I was a “Mormon,” they would gaze at me as though I was a creature from some other planet, or to see if I had horns or a cloven foot, or if there was not some distinguishing peculiarity about me different from other men. These ideas have passed away by contact.” George Q Cannon, speech printed as part of “The Mass Meeting,” Millennial Star 30:32 (1868 Aug 08): 501 [488-501].

[9] Blair reported meeting a man in 1875 that said “from what we had heard of your people, we thought they had horns….’” WW Blair, “Correspondence,” Sandwich, IL, 1875 Jun 21, True Latter Day Saints’ Herald 22:14 (1875 Jul 15): 439 [439-40]. Blair wrote the letter in Illinois after a mission in Wisconsin. The cited Dr continued: “but now, after hearing for ourselves, we are rather pleased with your doctrine.” Presumably, if he expected physical horns, he would have said something like “now, after seeing for ourselves, we know you do not have horns.”

[10] Continuing… “[visitors] fin[d] that [Mormons] have no horns; that they have no cloven feet; …and that if he had not been told these were ‘Mormons,’ he would not have discovered it by any outward sign.” George Q Cannon, “Revelation—The Privileges of the Saints, etc,” speech in Salt Lake City, 1881 Apr 24, JD 22.241; George Q Cannon, speech in Salt Lake City, 1884 Nov 23, transcribed by John Irvine, JD .284 [281-286].

[11] Charles Hemenway, in 1887 (while in prison for libel), claimed to have “heard a New England school mistress enquire, in all soberness, whether or not the polygamists had horns or looked at all like other people.” Charles W. Hemenway, Memoirs of My Day: In and Out of Mormondom (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Co, 1887), 134-5.

Sidney Weekes (in prison for polygamy) recorded the surprise of one visitor at Weekes’ hornless-ness. Weekes responded that “We have to wait until we get older”—despite his being nearly fifty. I have not examined the original document. I quote from a journal article: “Prison officials often introduced the Mormons to visitors, who viewed them as something of a curiosity. One woman expressed surprise that polygamist Sidney Weekes had no horns sprouting from his head, a reference to the medieval belief that a cuckolded man would grow horns. In jest he assured her, ‘We have to wait until we get older.’” The incident occurred in 1888. According to FamilySearch.org, the Sidney Weekes married to SE Pilgrim and A Bennett was born in 1842, making him 46/47 in 1888. I do not know if Weekes, the later compilers, or the article authors made the cuckoldry connection, which doesn’t quite fit since Weekes had not been cuckolded. The journal authors cite Karl E Young, who argued for a cuckoldry interpretation of Mormon horns. It is also not clear how much “surprise” the woman expressed. Melvin L. Bashore and Fred E. Woods, “Consigned to a Distant Prison: Idaho Mormons in the South Dakota Penitentiary,” South Dakota History 27:1-2 (1997 Spring/Summer): 32 [21-40]. The Weekes quote comes from Frank Weekes, compiler, “History of Sidney Weekes, Susan Elizabeth Pilgrim and Annie Bennett (Harris),” 1958, p 8, Bernice Weekes Collection, Rexburg, Idaho; Karl E. Young, “Why Mormons Were Said to Wear Horns,” in Lore of Faith and Folly, ed. Thomas E. Cheney (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1971), pp. 111-12.

A second-hand report of horns appeared in 1893: “[I] asked [an employee] if he was a Mormon, [he] said that he was, indeed, and why did I ask? Was it because I did not see his horns? Well, as to his horns, he was sorry to say he had none. He supposed they would begin to grow out when he got older. “I told a man once,” he added, “that I was a Mormon, and he said, ‘You don’t say so! I thought Mormons were queer-looking people and had horns.'” Julian Ralph, Our Great West: A Study of the Present Conditions and Future Possibilities of the New Commonwealths and Capit

President Wilford Woodruff used the “I’m too young for horns” quip (in the mouth of a “young Elder”) in an 1890 sermon. Wilford Woodruff, journalist’s report on a sermon, Salt Lake City, 1890 Nov 16, “Sunday Services,” Deseret Weekly 41:23 (1890 Nov 29): 753-4.als of the United States (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893), 395.

[12] For example: “I do not know how the people who are persuaded the ‘Mormons have horns’ would feel, could they see and hear such choirs as render the musical portions of the services in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and at Logan, Ogden, Provo, Manti, St. George, Beaver and many other places.” WG Bickley, “Letter from England,” dated 1891 Jun 25, Deseret Weekly 43:4 (1891 Jul 18): 126.

See also: “While our train lay at Ogden a bevy of small girls with inquiring minds, and, as we afterwards learned, very intelligent, came into our car to see the porter make up the berths or ‘beds,’ as the girls called them. Their running fire of questions and conversation with the occupants of the car showed them to be very well informed concerning their Mormon religion, and one of the girls in expressing her amazement at the opinions entertained by the Eastern people concerning the Mormons said, ‘the Eastern folks come out here expecting to find us with horns and hoofs.’” TE Davis, ed, From New Jersey to California, ’97 (Somerville, NJ: CH Bateman, 1897), 116.

The 1893 “California immigrants”: ES Lovesy, “Something About Utah and Her People,” American Bee Journal 32:12 (1893 Sep 21): 369-70. Compare the “horn” story to the earlier anecdote related by EW Tullidge about President USS Grant:  “When President Grant, on his entrance to our city…passed the multitude of Sunday School children who, under their teachers, had gathered, arrayed in white to welcome him… he turned to Governor Emery and enquired, ‘whose children are these?’ He was answered by the Governor, ‘Mormon children.’ For several moments the President was silent, and then he murmured, in a tone of self-reproach, ‘I have been deceived!’” (Edward W Tullidge, History of Salt Lake City (Salt Lake City: Star Printing Co, 1886), 623; Grant visited SLC in 1875 Oct; italics in original).

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Awesome, as always, Ed. And the footnotes did not disappoint. Well done.

    Comment by Christopher — February 1, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  2. Thanks, Ed. Indeed, awesome.

    Comment by David G. — February 1, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

  3. You never cease you amaze me, ed.

    Comment by Ben — February 1, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

  4. Edje,

    What about the apocryphal story of the missionary, when asked about the lack of horns, invited the questioner to feel his head through his hair. After a few moments, the missionary asked “Don’t you feel anything? Not even silly?”

    Great stuff as usual.

    Comment by kevinf — February 1, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

  5. Thanks. Artwork is always a favorite.

    Comment by Ryan T — February 1, 2010 @ 10:18 pm

  6. Great post, Ed. Thanks!

    Comment by Jared T — February 1, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

  7. Thanks, all.

    [PS I am, as usual, without consistent internet access and will only be checking in once or twice per day].

    Comment by Edje Jeter — February 1, 2010 @ 11:21 pm

  8. […] M (Ethesis): Edward L. Kimball LectureBen Pratt: Edward L. Kimball LectureEdje Jeter: Mormon Horns 1/7: AJared T: Mormon Horns 1/7: ARyan T: Mormon Horns 1/7: Akevinf: Mormon Horns 1/7: ABen: Mormon Horns […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Mormon Horns 2-4/7: Meanings, Correlations, and Comparisons — February 2, 2010 @ 10:52 am

  9. […] A Selected Chronology […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Mormon Horns 5-7/7: Civil War, Isms, and Miscellanea — February 6, 2010 @ 7:25 am

  10. Sorry for the late reply, but my wife has several times told me that when she was growing up in Southern Louisiana many of her classmates asked, in a very serious manner, to see her horns.

    Apparently as late as the 1980s, some preachers were still making silly claims like this.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — February 19, 2010 @ 2:34 pm


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