A reader asks me to expand on a recent comment regarding historians and histories of Mormonism. I do so realizing that it may wrongly be interpreted as personal; my purpose is to illustrate the causes for my earlier evaluation and to demonstrate the value of questioning claims that don’t quite “feel” right.
Mormons entered the Great Basin in 1847, finding it occupied by multiple Indian tribes and bands. The early years of white settlement were a mixed record of wars and treaties, the Mormons sometimes feeding and sometimes fighting, making both firm friends and implacable enemies. Conditions stabilized by 1854 to a point that permitted preliminary missionary expeditions to the tribes in southern Utah (both to the Navajos in the San Juan region and to the Paiutes at Harmony and Santa Clara), and to the Shoshones near Fort Bridger (now in Wyoming). Dozens of missionaries were called at April Conference, 1855, to live among the Indians at Las Vegas (Nevada), Elk Mountain (Moab), Carson Valley (Nevada), Salmon River (Idaho), and Fort Supply (Wyoming), and with the Cherokees of the Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
Mormon sources, whether publicly proclaimed or in private diaries and correspondence, uniformly acknowledge that these missions were to bless the Indians with the benefits of civilization (cleanliness, health, better food production, literacy, a stable society through regular labor, and peace with their neighbors), and with a knowledge of the gospel and their status as members of the House of Israel.
Gentiles either did not understand or would not believe that Mormon intentions were so pacific and honorable — they insisted that the Mormons were “tampering” with the Indians, seeking to make war-time allies and to turn the Indians against non-Mormon Americans.
(Representative quotations by Mormons and Gentiles are available — this post was growing so long that I removed them.)
Complicating the picture — history is always messier and more complex than polemicists on either side want to admit — was the Mormon belief that sometime in the not-too-distant future, after the Indians learned of their place in the House of Israel, and as a result of sins committed against them, the Indians would rise in righteous anger, protecting the Saints and playing a violent role in breaking down the kingdoms of this world in preparation for the reign of Christ over the Kingdom of God.
Mormons understood that these events, like other eschatological prophecies, would come to pass with or without assistance — the choice was not whether they would happen, but whether righteousness would make an individual the beneficiary or victim of events. Nonbelieving historians usually do not acknowledge Mormon belief in the inevitability of prophecy; they sometimes cannot accept that 19th century Mormons were merely reading the signs of the times, but insist they were actively engaged in bringing about the end of the world: Mormons supposedly conspired to destroy the nations of the world, and sought Indian alliances to provoke bloody warfare.
With that lengthy prologue, we finally come to David L. Bigler, Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896. Spokane, Washington: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1998.
Bigler has much to say about Mormons and Indians, virtually all of it reflecting badly on Mormons, with at least some justification (although I think Bigler is too black and white in his assessment). I don’t dispute that Mormon settlement, as was true of white settlement everywhere in the Americas, dispossessed the natives, resulting in hunger, disease, and the destruction of their traditional way of life. When Mormon lives were taken or Mormon property stolen, Mormons sometimes reacted with an out-of-proportion fury, committing atrocities which receive detailed attention in Forgotten Kingdom. Mormon policy toward the Indians was ambiguous, and too often “feed” gave way to “fight.”
Bigler also devotes considerable space to numerous aspects of Mormon millenarianism, including the role of the Indians. For some Mormon readers, the idea of the Lamanites acting as a scourge against the Gentiles in the last days will be new; for such readers, Bigler’s explanation is inadequate: he cites a single verse in the Old Testament, repeated in the Book of Mormon, and reports a single 1846 patriarchal blessing using the same language. He cites no sermons or other Mormon sources to indicate how widespread the belief was or how often such a belief was emphasized, merely implying that it was a significant part of Mormon millenarianism. (It may have been; I haven’t researched the question. I merely note that Bigler provides next to no support for such assertions.)
In my hasty refresher of Forgotten Kingdom for this post, I could find no acknowledgment by Bigler that Mormons had any humane purpose in their missionary approaches to the Indians, but only that Mormons were burning with anxiety to shape Indians into their designated role as scourges for the Gentiles, in preparation — in provocation — for the Millennium.
It is in that context that Bigler speaks of the April 1855 conference calling missionaries to the Indians:
[Brigham Young] observed the twenty-fifth birthday of the territory’s dominant faith by making a momentous announcement:
“Pres[ident] Young said the day has come to turn the key of the Gospel against the Gentiles, and open it to the remnants of Israel,” reported one; “the people shouted, Amen, and the feeling was such that most present could realize, but few describe.” [citation for the report of the unnamed “one” is: Brooks, ed., Journal of the Southern Indian Mission, April 21, 1855.] The moment had arrived for the “remnant of Jacob,” believed by Mormons to be the American Indians, to hear the gospel of their fathers and return as foretold by Old Testament and Book of Mormon prophets to build up Zion before Christ came again [the allusion to scripture reflects Bigler’s earlier discussion of the single Old Testament verse, repeated in the Book of Mormon, alluding to the destructive future of the remnant of Jacob]. 
But is this an accurate report of Brigham Young’s sermon, and, by extension, Mormon intentions toward the Indians in April 1855?
The passage from which Bigler extracted this soundbite reads in full as follows:
Saty. 21 April. Bror R.C. Allen started again for Parowan, to solicit some aid for the missionaries on the Santa Clara, most that had donated freely of their dried Beef, ham, pork, molasses, cheese, butter &c. with some more seeds which will render the brethren on that station still more confortable [sic], he heard a report of Conference from J.C.L. Smith, who stated, “when Prest. Young said the day has come to turn the key of the gospel against the gentiles, and open it to the remnants of Israel, the people shouted, Amen, and the feeling was such that most present could realize, but few could describe.” I agreed to give Indians shutcup & 2 shirts to help me cut pickets & put up fence for 10 days. 
Obvious from the full passage but absent from the soundbite is the fact that this is not a statement made by a witness to Brigham Young’s speech, but is at least a third-hand account: Thomas D. Brown recorded what R.C. Allen said he had heard from J.C.L. Smith, who may have heard Brigham Young speak or, possibly, was repeating what he had heard from yet another link in the word-of-mouth chain.
The “somebody told somebody who told somebody” trail of the statement doesn’t necessarily mean that the statement was inaccurate, of course. Members from outlying communities attended General Conference knowing they had a duty to bring back the messages of Conference to their wards. Still, without a verbatim written record immediately available, such reports were necessarily drastically abbreviated.
The Indian mission section of Brigham Young’s conference address — the presumably verbatim account of what he did say — is given in full below. Although you probably won’t read it all, note these points:
** Six paragraphs spoken by Brigham Young have been condensed to a single line in Thomas D. Brown’s journal, which necessarily eliminates all nuanced explanation.
** Noting that the Gentiles do not accept the gospel is in no way a temporal threat — missionaries continue to go to the Gentile nations, but they seek the scattered blood of Israel with no expectation that Gentiles will respond to the message.
** The language is rather mundane and even rambling. There is no fiery rhetoric, nothing sensational, nothing war-like.
… I expect the brethren who have been selected to go and preach the Gospel will meet this evening in the Seventies’ Hall, and the Twelve will meet with them, and the missionaries will there receive some instructions. I will give them one item of instruction now. I wish each man, who does not feel willing to seek unto the Lord his God, with all his heart, for preparation to magnify his mission and calling, but declines in his feelings to walk up to his duty in spirit, and is not anxious to cleave to righteousness and forsake iniquity, to keep away from the Hall this evening; or, if such a one comes there, let him ask us at once to be excused, and we will excuse him. We do not wish a man to enter on a mission, unless his soul is in it. Some of the brethren will say — “I do not know whether my feelings are upon my mission, or not, but I will do the best I can.” That is all we ask of you. I ahve known some of the Elders, when they thought they would be called out to preach, keep away from meeting lest they should be called upon, for they feel their littleness, their nothingness, their inability to rise up and preach to the people. They do not feel that they are anybody, and why should they expose their weaknesses? I have noticed one thing in regard to this — quite as many of these men become giants in the cause of truth, as there is of any other class; for when they get away they begin to lean on the Lord, and to seek unto Him, and feeling their weaknesses, they ask Him to give them wisdom to speak to the people as occasion may require. Others can rise up here and preach a flaming discourse, insomuch that you would think they were going to tear down the nations; but when they go out into the world they often accomplishy but little.
You used to hear brother Joseph tell about this people being crowded into the little end of the horn, and if they kept straight ahead they were sure to come out at the big end. It is so with some Elders who go on missions; while many who go into the big end of the horn, and are so full of fancied intelligence, preaching, counsel, knowledge, and power, when they go out into the world, either have to turn around and come back, or be crowded out at the little end of the horn.
On the other hand I do not wish any of the brethren to be discouraged, for if you feel that you cannot say a single word, no matter, if you will only be faithful to your God and to your religion, and be humble, and cleave unto righteousness, and forsake iniquity and sin, the Lord will guide you and give you words in due season.
Recollect that we are now calling upon the Elders to go and gather up Israel; this is the mission that is given to us. It was the first mission given to the Elders in the days of Joseph. The set time is come for God to gather Israel, and for His work to commence upon the face of the whole earth, and the Elders who have arisen in this Church and Kingdom are actually of Israel. Take the Elders who are now in this house, and you can scarcely find one out of a hundred but what is of the house of Israel. It has been remarked that the Gentilies have been cut off, and I doubt whether another Gentile ever comes into this Church.
Will we go to the Gentile nations to preach the Gospel? Yes, and gather out the Israelites, wherever they are mixed among the nations of the earth. What part or portion ofthem? The same part or portion that redeemed the house of Jacob, and saved them from perishing with famine in Egypt. When Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph, ‘guiding his hands wittingly,’ he palced his right hand upon Ephraim, ‘and he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads,’ etc. Joseph was about to remove the old man’s hands, and bringing his right hand upon the head of the oldest boy, saying — ‘Not so, my father; for this is the first born; put thy right hand upon his head. And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he,and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.’ Ephraim has become mixed with all the nations of the earth,and it is Ephraim that is gathering together.
It is Ephraim that I have been searching for all the days of my preaching, and that is the blood which ran in my veins when I embraced the gospel. If there are any of the other tribes of Israel mixed with the Gentiles we are also searching for them. Though the Gentiles are cut off, do not suppose that we are not going to preach the Gospel among the Gentile nations, for they are mingled with the house of Israel, and when we send to the nations we do not seek for the Gentiles, because they are disobedient and rebellious. We want the blood of jacob, and that of his father Isaac and Abraham, which runs in the veins of the people. There is a particle of it here, and another there, blessing the nations as predicted. 
Reading Brigham Young’s full sermon, and believing as I do that 19th century Mormons were not fundamentally different from their 21st century counterparts, my interpretation of the scene is that Brigham Young gave a typical conference talk, one that addressed the familiar themes of missionary work and gathering Israel, reviewing already established duties toward the Lamanites, among several other themes. This was of particular interest to those who had just been called as Indian missionaries, and confirmed and reassured those missionaries who had already been working among the Indians for months. That is why, out of all the distinct ideas that could have been carried back to Harmony and Parowan and Santa Clara by J.C.L. Smith, passed on by R.C. Allen, and recorded by Thomas D. Brown, those Indian missionaries chose to discuss the one that endorsed their efforts. The indescribable feeling was a testimony that they were doing the will of the Lord in their difficult labors among the Indians.
A non-Mormon client working on one aspect of the Indian missions wrote to me recently seeking a primary source for Brigham Young’s cutting off of the Gentiles, to which his hearers had responded so enthusiastically. He had read the passage in Forgotten Kingdom and saw it as a declaration of war to which a fanatical congregation responded with such frenzy that the feeling could not be described. Strange as that interpretation may seem to believing Mormons, it is a perfectly reasonable idea for a novice to Mormon history to form from the account as given in Forgotten Kingdom, when taken in conjunction with FK‘s other assertions about Mormon plans for Indian subjects.
This is a small example, typical of others, which has led me to read Bigler’s and Quinn’s and some others’ works with a sense of wariness. Such authors delve usefully into many little known corners of Mormon history, but it has proven useful to me to re-search episodes that don’t seem quite right, to know whether quotations fully support the uses to which they are put, and whether assertions, accurate as they may be as far as they go, actually tell all that is relevant about an event. Too often they do not.
 David L. Bigler, Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896. Spokane, Washington: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1998, 93.
 Juanita Brooks, ed. Journal of the Southern Indian Mission: Diary of Thomas D. Brown. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1972, 123.
 Journal of Discourses, 2:267-268
29 Comments »
Very enlightening, Ardis. History is so often written from a certain angle and does not draw the whole, complex, nuanced picture. To use the rhetoric of the day – evangelical historians?
Comment by Wilfried — 1/15/2008 @ 1:34 pm | Edit This
One of my professors in college said, “There is no such thing as objective history – certainly not when it is written more than 50 years after the events it describes.”
Comment by Ray — 1/15/2008 @ 1:43 pm | Edit This
Premature submission – the rest:
We sometimes think distance adds objectivity (and sometimes it does, to a degree), but it also adds a completely different set of assumptions that color the interpretation. Often, although one-sided, the original accounts are the most “objective” – and combining two original but opposite views often can give the most “objective” account possible.
Comment by Ray — 1/15/2008 @ 1:45 pm | Edit This
Thanks Ardis. It’s always good to get a good primer in sound historical methodology and source criticism.
Comment by David Grua — 1/15/2008 @ 2:11 pm | Edit This
Ardis has made a fundamental point about the work required of readers of history. I would add that it is just as important a task when one reads history with which one agrees.
Comment by Costanza — 1/15/2008 @ 2:12 pm | Edit This
Great post, Ardis. It will be nice in the not-too-distant future when we can read books digitally, and have the option of seeing the annotations of people we trust in the margins, pointing out issues like you’ve done here.
Comment by Matt Evans — 1/15/2008 @ 2:12 pm | Edit This
it has proven useful to me to re-search episodes that don’t seem quite right
Indeed. Thank you for the illuminating post.
Comment by Peter LLC — 1/15/2008 @ 2:22 pm | Edit This
I may be reading it wrong, but isn’t the third-hand account what Thomas D. Brown recorded that R.C. Allen said he heard from J.C.L. Smith? Did you accidentally switch RC and JCL’s places?
Comment by Sideshow — 1/15/2008 @ 2:32 pm | Edit This
You’re right, Sideshow; thanks for catching that. I have corrected the post.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 1/15/2008 @ 2:39 pm | Edit This
Ardis, Bigler really quoted Brown without referencing the original sermon in the Journal of Discourses? That’s interesting. But reading the actual BY sermon is even more interesting. Talk about cultural change.
Oh well, we’ll just have to excuse Bigler, after all it’s so hard to find anything in the Journal of Discourses – – isn’t it one of those secret records kept in those locked vaults in the canyons above SLC?
I even tried to intersperse my reading of his sermon with various “amens” and “hallelujahs” and still couldn’t decipher a secret message of training up the Indians to be a scourge to the Gentiles. Oh well.
Seriously, I agree that the actual history is much more nuanced. How about a look at the differences between how the American and Scandinavian settlers in Sanpete County regarded the Indians? How about a look at Seth Tanner who spent a good portion of his life among the Indians in Northern Arizona? How about this story from Mormon freighter Edwin Pettit?
“On one of my trips, when camping at noon, four or five Indians came to me asking for something to eat. After standing around for a few moments, they asked me if I was a Mormon. There were three or four other men with me at the time, and I said to the Indian “No, those fellows Mormons,” just in a joke. After a short time he said: “Are you Mormon?” I said, “No, those fellows Mormons.” He said, “You lie.” … The other men were very much afraid of having trouble with them at this time, but I fixed them a meal of my famous paste, made of one pint of flour and four gallons of water brought to a boil, which they all enjoyed very much. They then felt much more peaceable.”
Thanks for the post! Something interesting for a snowy afternoon.
Comment by East Coast — 1/15/2008 @ 2:44 pm | Edit This
Comment by just me — 1/15/2008 @ 3:29 pm | Edit This
Ardis, does indeed rock and I think Costanza’s point is very important. We can dial up the sarcasm, but finding similar abuses in history that is more sympathetic to Mormons is rather easy.
Ardis is a wise and astute historian.
Comment by J. Stapley — 1/15/2008 @ 3:38 pm | Edit This
This is a valuable thread for us all to consider in this difficult business of writing and reading history. I hope Dave Bigler will enrich it with his take on the subject, which I’m pretty sure is different than Ardis’s. I learn from both historians, but not always equally and in the same way, depending on the specific subject under discussion. Aside from the Lamanite/missionaries issue which started this thread, I like Ardis’s caution that context is important to interpreting small excepts from longer passages in letters, diaries, and discourses. Also, Ray’s comment about the perils of viewing events from the distance of time got my attention. Normally, I would have signed up for the proposition that the perspective brought about by the passage of time is a benefit, but Ray reminds us that [in some cases] such “distance” can bring a lack of understanding of the point of view contemporary to the event. One small example of Ray’s point that got me laughing at myself after a short period of embarrassment. In reading a Brigham Young discourse I came across a brief passage about hewing people down like ” ‘cumbers” or ” ‘cumberers.” My reaction was one of, gee, that’s pretty graphic — there’s B.Y. talking about wacking people up like vegetables, specifically (I thought) cucumbers. My mental image was that he was picking up where Bishop Edwin Woolley of Salt Lake’s 13th Ward left off with his discourse of a few years earlier — reported to D.C. by UT’s Chief Justice John F. Kinney — about beheading offending gentiles and leaving the remains to “manure” the fields of Utah. When I shared my “cucumber” interpretation with Ardis, she described for me a similar but yet quite different word — as I recall “encumberer” — and an Old Testament passage about pruning unproductive fruit trees that 19th-century Mormons would have easily understood. The point was still pretty graphic/violent but for me at least a bit softer than my initial 21st-century picture of hacking at people like ripe vegetables. Ditto for B.Y.’s very graphic discourse of about 8 February 1857 in which he discussed blood atonement. If one reads it closely, one sees that he was talking about the necessity of Mormons who have committed unredeemable sins saving their souls by shedding their own blood or asking someone else to do so. Today, critics of 19th-century Mormonism have come to discuss “blood atonement” as a phrase for discussing Mormon violence against non-Mormons and Mormons alike much like the phrase “pushed over the Rim” or “nepo” (”open” — as in eviscerate — spelled backwards) was used in the 1850s. There’s a difference between the 19th-century and modern interpretation of what blood atonement meant, but yet I’d add a still different perspective that is almost unheard of among Mormon and non-Mormon historians — the notion that one should seriously consider the implications of a church leader advocating the spillage of his parishoners’ blood under any circumstance when he is also the sworn governor of a U.S. territory with unmistakable law-enforcement responsibilities. This takes me to my final point about the difficult of interpreting the utterances of leaders like Brigham Young or U.S. Army General William S. Harney, the initial leader of the Utah Expedition — how much of what they say do you take literally? (This is a somewhat different issue than Ardis’s plea for context or Ray’s admonition about the side effects of time.) Some historians (the late Paul Peterson and Tom Alexander come to mind) have argued that one shouldn’t always take Brigham Young’s comments literally or too seriously, arguing that at times they were thrown out there by B.Y. for shock effect or, additionally, that many of his listeners paid little attention and went about doing what they wanted to do anyway. Other historians (Dave Bigler and Will Bagley come to mind) have commented that one should pay careful attention to what Brigham Young said because he indeed meant what he said and was serious about it. This issue adds an overlay of complexity to Ardis’s and Ray’s points and to understanding the history of Utah Territory and the Latter-day Saints of the mid-19th century. My contribution to this little debate is to argue that whether one is to take Brigham Young literally or not, what he DID say is important — that it had an impact on his effectiveness in leading simultaneously a relligious and civl community by setting its tone — especially when he spoke before thousands of people on Sunday and had the power of a printing press at his disposal. It’s fascinating to me that in the midst of a two-part, hours-long discourse in February 1855 dealing with Utah’s relationship to the U.S. government he, in effect, said that he would speak as he pleased, that words were as the wind but that he was more careful with what he wrote. Small wonder that on February 24, 1857, while Apostle John Taylor was in New York, he wrote President Young about a vexing hand cart matter and was driven out of frustration (and perhaps annoyance) to write: “When Brs. [Jedediah M.] Grant & [Heber C.] Kimball first came, I felt & said that I would give $500 for five minutes conversation with you. You must excuse me Br. Young, I may be obtuse and so may those who were with me; but however plain your words might be to yourself on this matter, neither I nor my associates could understand them.” This business of writing and reading history aint easy.
Comment by Bill MacKinnon — 1/15/2008 @ 5:36 pm | Edit This
Ardis’s post made me think of a couple of letters from Lorenzo Snow in Brigham City (north of Salt Lake City for those of you who don’t know your Utah geography) to Brigham Young written in August 1857. They can be found in the Brigham Young collection at the LDS Archives.
In the first dated Aug 7, 1857, Snow wrote about a difficulty between Indians and emigrants in which an Indian was shot and killed. He continued, “Much excitement prevailed and we had much difficulty in protecting the company of emigrants from being masscred by the fury of the Indians. If emigrants would have one tenth part of the forbearance with the ignorant people of the forest that we have they would find it for their interest.”
In a later letter also written in August of 1857, Snow referred back to the incident. He stated, “I have acted as prudently as I know how between the Indians and emigrants and yet I am certain they will tell an awful tale of Brigham City being in league with the Indians. … When the Indian was killed at Willow Creek (Willard), Doctors, Lawyers, and Representatives came skulking into our city begging protection and we granted it to our own risk … the Indians were foaming with rage and in hot pursuit of emigrants and property and our people were feeding them, and talking, chatting, and laughing at their stories and every one seeming so highly interested in their success, etc. etc. Who can blame the poor Devils for speaking a little hard of us.”
I’ll let you great scholars decide what to do with these letters. I think it demonstrates the difficult position of Mormon leaders who tried to balance the demands of each side and win the sympathy of both Indians and emigrants. This is a single snapshot of a particular place at a particular time. Certainly other sources will paint an entirely different picture, which demonstrates the difficulty of organizing a simple Mormon Indian policy such as “feed ‘em rather than fight ‘em” or “Battle Ax of the Lord.”
Comment by Alan — 1/15/2008 @ 5:50 pm | Edit This
Ardis, does indeed rock and I think Costanza’s point is very important. We can dial up the sarcasm, but finding similar abuses in history that is more sympathetic to Mormons is rather easy.
There’s no doubt that is true. However the majority of problematic pro-Mormon history is simply bad history and a lot of apologetics quite often. Don’t get me wrong, one needn’t read much history to realize a lot of it is problematic. I sometimes shake my head at some of the books on Mormon history with huge egregious errors that get awards. Like Ardis says, people read these things and come to conclusions. The awards make people a little less credulous about the texts. We ought call attention to major errors whether the book is largely sympathetic to Mormons or antagonistic. The problem is that there’s a lot of bad history out there.
Comment by Clark — 1/15/2008 @ 8:30 pm | Edit This
Please forgive me if I am moving the thread away slightly, but if there is interest, I am willing to approach my uncle– who happens to be David Bigler– to respond to some inquiries, or even to offer his ‘take’ on the thread, as requested in #13.
Comment by Sonny — 1/16/2008 @ 12:10 am | Edit This
Ardis, thanks for the review of the sources and the reminder of the significance of the historian’s voice. For additional cultural situation, see Ronald Walker, “Seeking the ‘Remnant’: the Native American During the Joseph Smith Period,” Journal of Mormon History 19 (Spring 1993) 1: 1-33. (Though the article does not pass muster among historians of American Indians, it is a reasonable summary of earliest Mormon views of the remnant of Jacob and a pleasant read.)
More than anything, this post speaks to the centrality of “framing” and “attribution” to the construction of historical narratives. Framing is a term from Lakoff, who suggests that we bring to particular texts or situations interpretive frames that allow us to understand facts in particular ways. “Attribution” comes out of the conflict negotiation literature and describes what one assumes is the motivation behind particular statements or actions of the person with whom potential conflict exists. Both framing and attribution are defined long before we encounter any given text and most often reflect our personal beliefs about how the world works and how others behave. Mormons did believe that the “Gentiles” would be utterly destroyed, their cities leveled, their corpses riddled by maggots. In angry moments, when the memory of the Missouri War, the Illinois expulsion, and the murder of the Smith brothers burned the brightest, these apocalyptic predictions fueled Schadenfreude, the type of malevolence that underlay occasional and tragic outbursts of violence. In quieter moments, this was a story about the return of Christ and the conquest of a dehumanized evil, a hope that much of humanity could be spared the coming epoch of suffering. Which of these faces of Mormon eschatology we emphasize depends largely on how we feel personally about the early Saints. I am inclined to see their humanity, their yearning for a more perfect world free of strife, their fervent faith in the literal return of Christ to the earth, while Bigler and Bagley are inclined to see brokers of apocalyptic violence. All of us are responding to facts; we are also sharing a part of ourselves in these encounters.
I agree with Clark that we have much to improve in the writing of Mormon history, from the ultra-apologists to the most polemical critics and those of us in between.
Comment by smb — 1/16/2008 @ 12:24 am | Edit This
Sonny, Dave Bigler is as welcome as anyone else to post a comment within our established guidelines, should he wish. Click on “Comment Policies” in our sidebar, just above “Notes from All Over,” if there are questions about what is acceptable.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 1/16/2008 @ 12:41 am | Edit This
A few comments about Alan’s post (#14) in which he refers to two letters from Brigham City written by Lorenzo Snow during August 1857. At face value the quotes from the letters present a story of emigrant (presumably non-Mormon) violence against a local Indian and the dilemma that it created for the settlers in protecting the emigrants involved while placating the tribe in whose midst they lived. I haven’t read these letters but in drawing conclusions from them, I’d invite Alan (and anyone else interested) to consider the following background factors and comments:
**Snow’s first letter (dated 7 August 1857) may have been written in response to the first wave of Utah War instructions that Brigham Young sent out to his military-religious leaders on 1 and 4 August 1857 immediately following the confirmation during the last week in July that B.Y. was indeed being replaced as governor with a large U.S. Army expedition to escort his successor. What, if anything, had B.Y. written to Lorenzo Snow that may have prompted what he wrote to Young on 7 August and again later that month? (The answer may lie in the same Brigham Young Collection in which the Snow letters reside.)
**Nine days after Snow’s first letter was written B.Y. delivered a discourse that has never been published in which he explicitly criticized emigrants for gratuitously shooting at Indians on the northern route recently while referring to his long-standing efforts to protect such emigrants from the wrath of the tribes. Were B.Y.’s 16 August comments prompted by Lorenzo Snow’s 7 August letter or by other inputs? Since B.Y. was then the federally-sworn/paid U.S. superintendent of Indian Affairs (as well as territorial governor) was it responsible of him in this public discourse of 16 August to twice say that the Indians “will do as they please” and to state that he no longer would protect emigrants (because of their own behavior)? Was it responsible of him a month later (the day after MMM) to say the same thing in simultaneous letters to William I. Appleby (Philadelphia), Jeter Clinton (New York), Orson Pratt (Liverpool), and James W. Denver (D.C.) and go beyond this thought to imply that he might even unleash the tribes on emigrants thereby bringing a halt to transcontinental migration to the Pacific Coast?
**Was Lorenzo Snow involved in the arrest and disarming near Brigham City two months after his August letters of the six-person Aiken party, a group of cash-flush Californians who arrived in northern UT under mysterious circumstances, held under extra-legal circumstances in Salt Lake City until 20 November and then assassinated and robbed — allegedly by Porter Rockwell, Bill Hickman and several other men — near Nephi? (See Dave Bigler’s article on the Aiken party assassinations in the current issue of “Western Historical Quarterly.”)
What’s the interconnection, if any, of all this violence to Alan’s question about the Lorenzo Snow letters? I’d invite Alan (not just his “great scholars”) to dig into this by first looking for any letters to which Snow was responding and then by reading the Bigler article in “WHQ.” They should provide some (but surely not all) of the context for the Snow letters and how we should view them today.
Comment by Bill MacKinnon — 1/16/2008 @ 9:58 am | Edit This
I like to pretend I’m Charlie Rose and I’m interviewing Bill, Ardis, David, and Will on my own late night talk show. My 10 questions:
Bill (Ardis…David…Will… lol):
1. What motives your interest in early Utah history?
2. What are the main things you working on right now?
3. Who are other players during your history writing careers: academics, institutional leaders, publishers, media folks? That is, what relationships driven “personal history” has gone into the making of your historical researches?
4. Who do you consider your audience? Whose opinions are you mostly trying just to “augment,” and whose are you moreso trying to “change”? Are there any societal factions you imagine yourself to be championing? Who have been your most and least enthusiastic audiences? Why?
5. What common understandings do you share with your main critics? What little known, misunderstood, or disputed information leads you to alternate views? On what authority or bases do you ground any controversial views and why?
6.With regard to what you hold as truths you have come across in your researches, truths that may well be hard to hear for some: what have you experienced in their transmission and what have you learned about the means chosen to do so? What have you learned from colleagues and/or what points have you conceded or do you concede to critics?
7. Are there things you criticize in your writings that may have redeeming aspects about them, upon further meditation?
8. What heroic actions or sympathetically poignant actors of your historical researches inspire you? Do you tend to highlight the same or rather seek to remain utterly objective or some combination of the two?
9. What specific aspects of writing style or historical expertise have been most praised in general and by whom? Within what literary expressions or scholarly accomplishments have you found the most self-satisfaction? What, if any, experimental aspects of writing style do you imagine you might like to experiment more in? Or are there beckoning avenues of historical apparatus you might test and explore?
10. What motiffs/ conflicts from your upbringing/ your inner life are reflected in your writings/ influence what you tend to dwell on/ question? What values (truth? objectivity? reconciliations? democracy? justice?) and assumptions as to their relative importance infuse your work or do you hope it will exemplify or extol?
Comment by truebluethru\’n\’thru — 11/23/2007 @ 9:24 pm
No. 11 should be things you have criticized in your writings (not “are” criticized). Sorry
Comment by truebluethru\’n\’thru — 11/23/2007 @ 9:28 pm
While I’ll agree you haven’t always been treated fairly here, there are PLENTY of True Believers who have been treated far less fairly on the pages of T&S. And I’m not saying that to dog this blog. This is one of my absolute favorites. But some people just like to vent spleen. Look back at any discussion involving politics here and you’ll find far more aggressive haranguing than you’ve personally experienced here. You might think most of the readers here just have blinders on to certain things, but I promise you that if I were invited to guest post here and I made the argument that BY couldn’t have ever been responsible for any wrongdoing because he was a true prophet I’d be laughed out of here–and not likely invited to continue my guest-posting stint.
Some here might not agree with some of your conclusions, but it isn’t for any of the strawman reasons you appear to imbibe. You really want to feel really insulted by T&S readers, make a comment under a pseudonym wherein you suggest that good Mormons shouldn’t watch rated R movies, that Joseph Smith didn’t lie about polygamy, that all that Adam-God stuff was just a big misunderstanding that doesn’t mean anything, that all abortions should be illegal, or that Mike Quinn is an anti-Mormon.
Comment by Brad Kramer — 11/24/2007 @ 1:14 am
I hereby promise that if Will Bagley does a guest post or a Q&A series, all my comments will be rainbows and butterflies.
Comment by Ann — 11/24/2007 @ 1:36 am
I would give my oldest son to be able to see the kind of posts Ardis has requested with Will. (OK, many days that’s not much of a sacrifice, but I can’t bring myself to give up any of my daughters.)
Comment by Ray — 11/24/2007 @ 1:42 am
Re: # 30. This list reminds me of a page and a half list of questions I received from a BYU student considering attending the law school I currently attend. That list was too long and too detailed, and so is this. While I would be interested in anything Will Bagley would be interested in saying, I would not blame him for disregarding this list.
Comment by Ugly Mahana — 11/24/2007 @ 1:49 am
No, I was just reeling ‘em off. I don’t expect Will to respond to any off them, necessarily. (I’m tired so chances are these following won’t come off quite right, and also could well be even airy-fairy-er than the ones above, but here goes.)
Compound-question 13 (continued).
Comment by just me — 1/16/2008 @ 4:38 pm | Edit This
just me, thanks for taking the time to suggest the kinds of issues you are interested in hearing discussed by historians. Should any of those to whom they are addressed feel like following through with responses, however, those responses should be sent directly to me or to any other T&S perma as a potential (not guaranteed) guest post. If posted as comments here, they will be removed.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 1/16/2008 @ 5:26 pm | Edit This
Bill, Thank you for taking the time to recognize my post about the LS letters and comment. You’ve demonstrated that blogs can be used for purposes other than just beating up those with different views and proving that you’re right. I look forward to reading the sources you’ve mentioned and will continue to refine and work on my understanding of what was taking place during those critical years, and what it all means.
Comment by Alan — 1/16/2008 @ 5:31 pm | Edit This
Alan (re your #22 above), you’re welcome, and I appreciate your kind thoughts. For the sources behind my comments in my #19 (about your #14) and additional arguments/perspectives/context, I’d point you to my little-read article in “Journal of Mormon History” 33 (Spring 2007): 121-78 titled ” ‘Lonely Bones’: Violence and Utah War Leadership” as well as to the related Chapter 12 (of similar title) in “At Sword’s Point, Part I: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858″ (Norman, OK: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 2008) which is due out in mid-March.
Comment by Bill MacKinnon — 1/16/2008 @ 6:17 pm | Edit This
From Bill MacKinnon —
Clearly the creative juices are flowing … I’d love to respond to “just me”s ten (or is it eleven) questions, but I just don’t have the time. If “just me” is indeed serious in knowing the answers, I’d urge her/him to invest a little time in reading my article “Loose in the Stacks: A Half Century with the Utah War and its Legacy” in Dialogue 40 (Spring 2007): 43-82 which can be accessed here. This piece answers some (but not all) of the Charlie Rose questions. If not yet hopelessly bored, I’d then point “just me” to the Acknowledgements, Editorial Procedures, and Introduction sections of At Sword’s Point, Part I when it comes out in mid-March. All three sections touch on what I’ve been trying to do, with whom, and why. If that material still doesn’t do the trick, “just me” is free to contact me directly via MacKBP att msn dott com.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 1/16/2008 @ 8:57 pm | Edit This
I just loved “Loose in the Stacks” last spring and hope to check out At Swords Point, Part I, next year then, Bill. And, for your offer to correspond should I ever make it back up to the surface again from the depths of this ocean you’ve provided with Q’s about Utah history: thanks!
Comment by just me — 1/16/2008 @ 11:05 pm | Edit This
not “next.” THIS year :^)
Comment by just me — 1/16/2008 @ 11:09 pm | Edit This
Ardis, I have been hesitant to respond to your post. I feel like an outsider and realize this is your realm, but I have been troubled by the post and decided I would make some comments. As you know I respect you as a writer, historian, author, and friend. Your UHQ article “Pursue, Retake and Punish” is a great piece of research, writing and history. I have always appreciated your help and knowledge.
I found this post to be uncharacteristic of you and to be honest I was a bit shocked. To single out David Bigler and Mike Quinn seemed to be exactly what you are criticizing. To have added balance I would have thought you would have sited Davis Bittons “George Q. Cannon” or Glen Leonard’s “Nauvoo’ as two classic examples of the slanting of history for the author’s agenda. I still have trouble seeing the issue that you raise in Bigler’s piece after reading Bigler, Brown and Young’s words and not finding them to be that much different in tone or thought. I realize that we all take our own baggage with us as we read, just as each author takes their own baggage as they write and I am willing to concede that you find a big difference in the words and meaning. Brigham himself said that editing was done to his words before they were published. With this in mind we have to be cautious of throwing out what others recorded him to have said and not matching the JofD or DN. These recordings could in fact be more accurate even if they are third hand. I also think it is important for the historian to know and analyze what the followers understood their leader to say such as Brigham. This is just as important as what was said and could be argued it is more important because these understandings cause action.
I think any leader of people can be exalted or vilified. I know my employees hate me at times and think I am a pretty nice guy on other occasions. I sympathize with Brigham Young. He was in a horrible situation most times and rose to the task many times. He was also human and made mistakes. We can think of his comments toward the U.S. government, his sugar processing, his handcart experiment, many of the scouting and settling adventures, his Indian relations were just as much a disaster as any other groups attempt, his relations with Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, John Taylor and Parley Pratt, and his marital relations with Lucy Bigelow, Anna Eliza Webb, and 9 others who divorced or separated from him as examples of his being human and fallible. None of these, and I am sure we could come up with many more, lessen the fact that he was a great leader and prophet. His doctrinal ideas are wonderful and the ability to move so many people to such a remote place and do it successfully can never be over appreciated. We have the Donner Party as an example of what could have happened. The love that the saints felt for him was genuine and the love he felt for them was equal.
I appreciate Quinn’s and Bigler’s books, it gives my life balance after I have read Eugene Campbell’s early Utah history of the saints “Establishing Zion” and Leonard Arrington’s “American Moses” where both only mention the handcarts one time. Bigler gives them 10 pages of coverage. I think we have to give Bigler his due when he speaks for the common saint and remembers the price they paid for building Zion.
Comment by Joe Geisner — 1/18/2008 @ 7:05 pm | Edit This
Joe, I think you must not have clicked on the link taking you back to an earlier comment on another thread. This post fleshes out that earlier comment, where someone asked me specifically about Bigler’s work, not about Mormon historiography in general. I needed to illustrate what I meant by checking for the context of quotations and for the untold parts of the story. In this post I provide a single example to explain what I meant by that too brief and too ambiguous comment, with enough background on the particular illustration to explain why I mistrusted and verified.
Slanted history in general was not my topic, although my references to other named historians and to “polemicists on either side” — language used to soften the perception of attacking a single author — probably blurred the topic. It’s a single example. One illustration, and therefore necessarily traceable to one author.
I regret your shock, appreciate the gentleness with which you took me to task, and repeat my premise: experience teaches that with some historians, including Bigler — but certainly not limited to him — I must check the context of quotations and suspect that the Mormon side of the story has not been fairly told.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 1/18/2008 @ 7:53 pm | Edit This
I also think it is important for the historian to know and analyze what the followers understood their leader to say such as Brigham. This is just as important as what was said and could be argued it is more important because these understandings cause action.
And Joe, you said this much better than I did. It’s exactly what I had in mind when I wrote that it was natural for the missionaries to focus on the part of the message that reinforced their commitment to the mission they were already filling. That’s what they thought was important; that’s what they shared with fellow missionaries; that’s what they acted on. In some ways the rest of the sermon didn’t matter, since this is what they heard and responded to.
But the quotation isn’t identified as the missionary’s impression of what he heard. It is presented as though this is actually what Brigham Young said. That’s misleading. JCLSmith isn’t the only one listening. To suggest that everybody heard what JCLSmith heard, or that Brigham Young intended what JCLSmith heard, is one heckuva giant leap. The words need to be attributed to the one(s) responsible, not to somebody who didn’t say them.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 1/18/2008 @ 8:03 pm | Edit This