Every four years, the Sunday School curriculum cycle hits D&C/Church History. It’s during this time that we’re reminded of the story of Thomas B. Marsh, first President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who left the church in 1838. According to Apostle George A. Smith, whose 1856 telling of this story became the basis of subsequent renditions, in 1838 Elizabeth Marsh got into a dispute with Lucinda Harris over a pint of milk skimmings . Believing that his wife’s good name was at stake, Marsh defended Elizabeth in a series of investigations held, according to Smith, by the Teachers Quorum, the Bishopric, the High Council, and the First Presidency. Smith indicated that, humiliated by each quorum’s decision against Elizabeth, Marsh left the church and swore in an affidavit that the Saints were “hostile towards the State of Missouri.” In Smith’s account, “That affidavit brought from the government of Missouri an exterminating order, which drove some 15,000 Saints from their homes and habitations, and some thousands perished through suffering the exposure consequent on this state of affairs.”
Back in 2009, friend of the JI John Hamer wrote a BCC post analyzing the facticity of George A. Smith’s 1856 telling. Hamer concluded that the story was a “fable,” pointing to the lack of contemporary documentation of a Marsh/Harris trial in the Far West High Council Minutes. Hamer acknowledged that Marsh had made an affidavit in 1838, in which he described the growing militarism manifested by Joseph Smith and other church leaders, although Hamer argued (correctly) that George A. Smith failed to acknowledge that Marsh’s charges were essentially true. In the context of 1838, with fresh memories of the 1833 Jackson County expulsion and subsequent persecutions, the Prophet and Sydney Rigdon had opted for self-defense over meekness in the face of a renewed round of violence, leading to the formation of the independent and secretive Danite militia organization. So whatever the truth of the milk strippings story, Marsh had larger concerns in 1838 that led him to leave the church.
On Hamer’s 2009 thread, a brash Mormon graduate student, who thought he knew a thing or two about Mormon memory and the study of ways that the milk strippings and similar stories function in LDS culture, declared that “George A. Smith likely just made up the story” in 1856 to illustrate a point. A few comments later, another LDS graduate student suggested that commenters were too readily dismissing the historicity of the strippings story (without defending George A. Smith’s later use of it), and called for additional research. I’m not sure if that new research was ever conducted or published, but the “brash Mormon graduate student” finally decided to poke around in some old research, and found that there is indeed some support (albeit ambiguous) for the strippings story. In a May 5, 1857 letter to Heber C. Kimball, Marsh expressed his desire to return to the church after eighteen years of “grooping in darkness.” He was already en route to Salt Lake City, where he was prepared to “throw [himself] at the feet of the apostles and implore their forgiveness” and petition for rebaptism. Interestingly, in the letter, Marsh indicates that he had “met with G. W. Harris and a reconsiliation has taken place between us, and when that was accomplished I was so overjoyed that I was constrained to say in my heart truely this is an evidence that the Lord loves me after all my rebellion & my sins.” Unfortunately, Marsh did not specify the nature of the initial rift between the two men, making this an intriguing, if obscure, reference that may confirm the strippings story.
 Lucinda Harris was the widow of William Morgan, the exposer of Masonic secrets who was mysteriously killed in 1826. She was later one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives.
 None of the above should be seen as defending the problematic way that George A. Smith and others have used the Marsh story. And I repeat my call for a scholarly analysis of ways that that story has functioned in Mormon culture.