Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » What Were They Thinking??! Again??!

What Were They Thinking??! Again??!

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 25, 2010

They did it again.

So your sweet young daughter or your tender-hearted grandson goes out to the mailbox one day and brings in the newly published Church magazine for children. She or he takes off the wrapper, and sees this cover –


In this cover and story, the Instructor returns to the theme of an article from 1885:  “A Barbarous Execution” describes this method of inflicting death as “driving a spear down through the shoulder of the condemned man until it strikes a vital part, and death ensues as an end to the sufferings of the poor wretch.” This is, she reads, “quite humane” compared to other forms of execution practiced in Africa, where “mutilation of the body in the most shocking manner” is the rule. This compassion, he reads, is due to the civilizing influence of the colonizing Europeans, “who, whatever their faults and their cruelty toward the savages whom they conquer and exact tribute from, are nevertheless averse to native barbarity” – so, these compassionate conquerors teach them more humane methods, such as the one pictured.

Other forms of execution, your child reads, include “flaying the victim alive or slowly roasting him to death … or shooting him into shreds before the mouth of a cannon … [and range from] the deadly electrical chair now used for condemned murders in New York State, to the simple but horrible practice of burying alive.”

The money quote, though, is in the concluding paragraph:

“The subject is a gruesome one in any aspect, and can have little interest for any proper-minded reader of the Instructor. We think the less said about it, therefore, the better for the feelings and imaginations of our little friends.”

Um, yeah …



  1. I hope this indicates that as a society we’ve come a long way.

    Another thought: If we were to depict such executions in movies today, what type of rating would it get from the MPAA? R?

    Comment by Steve C. — August 25, 2010 @ 7:22 am

  2. So why say anything at all?

    Comment by Mark B. — August 25, 2010 @ 7:30 am

  3. Steve,

    Another thought: If we were to depict such executions in movies today, what type of rating would it get from the MPAA? R?

    Actually many of the films that take place in ancient times include this form of death. For example, Troy, has Achilles do just that, thrusting his sword down a man’s neck. In the HBO series, Rome, that form of execution is displayed several times. In Gladiator, Maximus asks for that form of execution, however, in his case it was mostly to buy a little time and get himself in a position where he could escape from his executors. But yeah, those are all either R rated, or in the case of Rome, rated MA for TV.

    As far as a way to go, it’s not bad. The sword or spear is intended to break all the vital organs right down the middle. There’s no chance at all of living for more than a few seconds after the thrust. Of course they could miss all vital organs and you’re left with indelible pain… like with most other forms of execution.

    Comment by Dan — August 25, 2010 @ 7:50 am

  4. A far cry from this month’s friend with a cartoony picture of a boy in a pumpkin patch. (Of course who know what pain the boy will inflict on the pumpkin…)

    Comment by Paul — August 25, 2010 @ 8:10 am

  5. I think it was trendy at that time to have articles in magazines, circulars and encyclopedias cataloguing and describing forms of execution and torture. This was also true of publications for young adults and teenagers.

    Comment by john f. — August 25, 2010 @ 8:30 am

  6. We think the less said about it, therefore, the better for the feelings and imaginations of our little friends.

    Ardis, you’ve posted some doozies before, but this is priceless.

    Comment by Ray — August 25, 2010 @ 8:52 am

  7. I like how the title on the cover makes it clear that this isn’t just some harmless ritual being depicted. It’s, ahem, “MODE OF EXECUTION.”

    I should say that, if I were a boy in 1895, such a cover and title would absolutely ensure my ripping the magazine open to find out more.

    Comment by David Y. — August 25, 2010 @ 9:23 am

  8. David, I’ve noticed that all the commenters so far have been grown-up boys of 2010. Nothing has changed! :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 25, 2010 @ 9:29 am

  9. Yeah, I haven’t heard anybody commenting on the physique of the executioner.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 25, 2010 @ 9:45 am

  10. I snorted diet coke out my nose at this. As I scrolled down the screen, first you have the Juvenile Instructor logo with the sweet looking young girl on the right, followed immediately by “MODE OF EXECUTION”!

    The dime novels of the day had nothing on this cover. If I could get a copy of this cover, I’d have it framed, and hung in a place of honor. Perhaps we need a Keepa Lolcats captioning contest for this one!

    Comment by kevinf — August 25, 2010 @ 9:47 am

  11. My wife is starting up an Activity Day Girls program in one of our local branches. I sent her the link to this blog, in case she decides to have a class on this very important information with the girls.

    I’m tempted to share it in Scouts….We are, after all, encouraged to use the Church magazines in our teaching. Right?

    Comment by Rameumptom — August 25, 2010 @ 10:18 am

  12. This borders on bizarre. Wowza, as Ray said, this is a doozie.

    Comment by michelle — August 25, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  13. And in the background, the colonial regiment stands at the ready with rifles on their shoulders. In but a few years, the “civilizing Europeans” would teach the rebels how to make the process much more efficient with the Mauser, the Browning, and the Kalishnikov.

    Yup, it’s a great influence (the magazine and the colonizers).

    Comment by Clark — August 25, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  14. Unbelievable. Though I must say, as a young father, I remember buying a book of Grimm’s fairy tales off the bargain book shelf and bringing it home to read to my kids… Many of those stories are pretty horrific. I guess they had a different standard of sensitivity back then.

    Comment by Martin — August 26, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

  15. The “physique of the executioner “and the dip of his, er, ‘loincloth/lower covering?’ were the first things I noticed.

    My final thoughts were the unspoken ones I heard from the writer after his concluding sentence:

    “We think the less said about it, therefore, the better for the feelings and imaginations of our little friends, ‘now that I’ve been paid for the piece above.'”

    Comment by Diane Peel — August 28, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

  16. In 1895, there was no TV, no radio, no “www,” no movies, no home publishing, no copying machines, no “evening news,” no “60 Minutes,” and not very much photography. Typesetting was also a pain. So whatever media instruments there were were sought after for all kinds of information. Curiosity seeking had little other fulfillment than in these papers and periodicals of the time. LDS publications then were not just for the spiritual and doctrinal, but also served this purpose, for general news, “heart warming” as well “human interest” articles, as well as sensational news. All these things combined also to help the people at the time feel like they were fulfilling the commandment to be aware of “things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations” (D&C 88:79) and so forth. I also concur with one of the comments above regarding the sensitivities on some things then being different than now. But I also feel regarding the executioner . . . what a physique! Better than in the movie “Gladiator!”

    Comment by John Pratt — August 29, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

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