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Dear Brigham: The Propriety of Sending for One Jacob Barnum

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 28, 2011

Brigham Young got letters. Oh, the letters he got. Some are serious, some are pleading, some are insulting, some are helpful. Most are from church members and leaders either reporting on church business or asking for help and advice. Some are from non-Mormons, both friendly and otherwise.

Most historians have been more interested in the letters Brigham Young wrote, than in those he received. Some have scoured the collection for letters from important people on important topics. Me, I’ve been as tickled by the letters from the obscure, and the letters about the bizarre, as anything of more enduring value.

So, this post inaugurates a new series at Keepa where I’ll share with you some of my favorite letters. They’re favorites for various reasons.

This one, written in the early years following the Utah War, is — you have been warned — not safe for reading at family home evening. And no, I haven’t been able to identify the highly recommended Mr. Jacob Barnum. Enjoy.

Mr President

I presume you are a ware that a countries greatness depends upon the perseverance and bravery of its sons now, knowing as I do that you have between thirty and forty wives and that you are unable to get anymore children I would suggest to you the propriety of sending for one Jacob Barnum – a resident of Scotts Valley Township Siskiyou County, California for the purpose of sleeping with each of your wives one night – if you do this I will pledge my estate that your harems will have two children each that Salt Lake City will become famous for giving birth to a hardy race of people and that they will become numerous and powerful enough in a few years to annihilate all opposition

Yours



27 Comments »

  1. One question – was this letter written by Jacob Barnum, or was he being recommended by someone else?

    And, well, just, wow. Thanks for sharing. :)

    Comment by Frank Pellett — July 28, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

  2. You have to wonder how BY reacted to this, whether he laughed or sighed and or cursed.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 28, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

  3. The one thing I’m sure is that he didn’t respond.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

  4. Awesome. I already love this series.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 28, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

  5. It was written by another man, Frank, recommending the mighty Jacob Barnum.

    (I’m going to obscure the citations for some or all letters in this series to protect my investment in finding and transcribing them. That means the names of senders and the exact dates won’t usually be stated. If this raises relevant issues, like the one Frank asked, I’ll try to answer them any time.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

  6. Ardis, very cool. I wonder if Brigham Young splurted Brigham Tea (or other equivalent of Diet Pepsi) all over the letter. Does it show any tell tale spots?

    I’ve been looking through the letters BY sent in 1873 through the image file online at the CHL website, and have been tickled by some of the letters he sent (or were sent for him by his secretaries). I found the one advising some one to forget perpetual motion, and pursue farming or some other honorable occupation. Also, it turns out that apparently one of the participants in the 1873 Arizona mission may well have been fleeing from a contentious marriage, as a letter to a bishop recommended granting Sister M. a divorce, as her husband “had gone South” to Arizona, and had been away from home for over a year at that point.

    Comment by kevinf — July 28, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

  7. Maybe I’ll be able to post the incoming side of the correspondence in a few cases, kevinf — the correspondence files are a treasury of the sublime and the ridiculous.

    Thanks, Ben. I’ll try to keep the love affair alive!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

  8. This made my day. So funny! I’ll be waiting with great anticipation for the next installment.

    p.s. Any chance you’ll bring back your ‘Reasons Why I Love Brigham Young’ series? I loved that one.

    Comment by Meghan — July 28, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

  9. I wonder what Jacob Barnum thought of Frank advertising his ” services” to BY.

    Comment by Steve C. — July 28, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

  10. Meghan, I was thinking just this morning of two stories that could make a “Reasons” post. I’ll try to write that.

    Steve, I tried to find Barnum in the census, half hoping to find a couple of pairs of twins in his household. Alas, I couldn’t find him. Perhaps he the letterwriter’s wishful alter ego.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

  11. A letter sent to a bishop recommending the granting of a divorce may have been addressed to the bishop in his capacity as the local probate judge, empowered by the territorial legislature with an expanded jurisdiction, including granting divorces.

    Comment by Raymond Takashi Swenson — July 28, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

  12. Raymond, that could possibly be the situation in some cases, but it wouldn’t be safe to assume without exploring the specific case. It’s a common misperception that bishops were probate judges. Probate judges were not always bishops — not even often. Probate judges weren’t even always LDS.

    This assumption is one of the accusations that non-Mormons often charged as one way the church interfered with the civil process, and has been repeated so long and so often that it’s taken for true. JEFF JOHNSON, when are you going to publish your study showing what an inaccurate charge it really was, huh? Nag, nag, nag.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  13. Evidently the reproductive status of the Young household was national news. (For shame.)

    And if by chance Keepa is being run by parliamentary procedure, I’ll second Meghan’s motion for more Brigham Young posts. : )

    Comment by Researcher — July 28, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

  14. This series is going to be so much fun to read. I can only imagine the assortment of… curiosities… that would appear in the First Presidency’s inbox!

    I don’t suppose we have any data indicating whether or not the sender was himself from the area where Jacob Barnum is said in the letter to have lived?

    Comment by JB — July 29, 2011 @ 2:16 am

  15. I couldn’t find either man in California or Oregon in the census year nearest the letter, and the names aren’t distinctive to identify them without that confirming geographical clue, JB.

    And yeah, there are some, um, curiosities. :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 29, 2011 @ 3:22 am

  16. It kind of makes me wonder what letters they get now.

    But, on second thought, perhaps it is better not to know.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 29, 2011 @ 5:14 am

  17. I have an insight into that, SilverRain …

    There’s an … interesting … gentlemen who frequently emails my Salt Lake Tribune history columns to President Uchtdorf and Glenn Beck, kindly copying me, so that I have the benefit of his own commentary on how my writing reveals the hidden truth of the universe.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 29, 2011 @ 6:51 am

  18. I know this is drifting from the OP a bit, but #16 & 17 have been things I’ve wondered about. There was a family in my wife’s home ward in CA who wrote the First Presidency every other week. The weeks they didn’t write the FP, they usually were on their way to Salt Lake to deliver the message in person! My wife said they always had some sort of complaint about this or that program or wanted to correct the Church on this or that doctrine. My guess is that, in addition to the typical hate and anti-Mormon stuff, the FP also gets its fair share of letters from members trying to correct them on doctrine. Anyway, I hope I’m not threadjacking this.

    Comment by Steve C. — July 29, 2011 @ 8:21 am

  19. Ah, Jacob, you stud you!

    Maybe he’s a distant cousin of P.T., and was hoping that Brigham Young was the sucker born that minute in 1801.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 29, 2011 @ 8:34 am

  20. No threadjack, Steve — if this series is to have any value beyond snickering, it will be wondering what prompts people to send some of the letters we’ll see, as well as wondering what the modern equivalent might be.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 29, 2011 @ 8:49 am

  21. The only Barnum in Siskiyou County in 1860 is one M. C. Barnum, miner, born in New York in 1816.

    …there is also a J. W. in Nevada county…

    Comment by Tertium Squid — July 29, 2011 @ 10:50 am

  22. The history of Siskiyou county says that it experienced a mining boom in 1851 that led to the creation of the county. Since mining towns are rather transient places, finding Jacob Barnum may be very, very difficult.

    Perhaps the County Historical Society might be able to point to sources of information (http://www.siskiyoucountyhistoricalsociety.org/). If someone would be willing to pay the $20 fee for the 1/2 hour initial search, its possible Barnum is in one of the indexes they would search.

    OR, if someone is in that area (extreme northern California, Oregon), many local libraries have copies of the Siskiyou Pioneer, the historical society’s journal, which is indexed

    Comment by Kent Larsen — July 29, 2011 @ 11:48 am

  23. I am so glad to learn that I’m not the only one who thinks that Ardis’s writing reveals the hidden truth of the universe. I thought it was just me!

    Comment by middle-aged Mormon Man — July 29, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

  24. So, have you heard back from President Uchtdorf or Glenn Beck offering suggestions for further columns? That is one way to gain “fame,” although I’m sure “not fortune.”

    I’m interested to see where this series will take us, also.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — July 29, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

  25. Thanks for the reminder, Ardis. I really need your nagging.

    If anyone is interested sixteen of Brigham’s wives produced 56 cildren. There were plenty sons.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — July 29, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

  26. Looking forward to this series! Also, count me as another voice in favor of continuing the original BY series.

    Comment by The Other Clark — July 31, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

  27. Wonderful, Ardis, just wonderful. I’ll wait anxiously for more posts in this series. I also add my vote to those who have asked for more in the “reasons I like BY” series. Thank you for sharing your work!

    Comment by Joey — August 1, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

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