Here are some exerpts of descriptions of papers presented at the
Mormon History Association annual conference as posted on BCC -
Anyway, I thought I'd post a brief report of today's action. We
started at 8:00 a.m. with a plenary session, a panel discussion
examining the causes of the Willie and Martin handcart company
tragedy. The history is actually very complicated, and Bill Hartley,
who was chairing, passed out a sheet filled both front and back,
single spaced, with possible factors. But the overriding factor was
Franklin D. Richards' decision to send them too late from Liverpool,
and a lot of things dominoed from there.
At 10:00 a.m. was the first concurrent session. This is where you have
a half-dozen options, and have to pick your poison. I went to one with
three really interesting papers. The first, by Ardis Parshall, was
entitled "The Qmlbwpnygax Eujungec Have Not the Power to Kigjie the
Wzznlhmpygrg: Codes and Cipers in Mormon History." She started with
the famous code names in the D&C, then talked about codes and ciphers
used mainly in correspondence with the east (which was sort of like
the internet; it was a fair bet that others were reading the
correspondence along the way, unless it was hand delivered by an LDS
messenger.) Some were simple letter substitution ciphers (replace A
with Q, etc.), but some were more elaborate codes that would be very
difficult to break. Of course, they were often difficult to read, even
with the key. Some were not hard core codes, but the use of other
languages and scripts. One guy would write in Hawaian, knowing Joseph
F. Smith would be able to translate it. And Parley Pratt left some
letters using the Deseret Alphabet (not normally meant as a code),
which eventually were deciphered and instrumental in his murder.
Patrick Bishop then talked about his efforts to authenticate a
daugerrotype (sp?) of Oliver Cowdery. It's a good looking picture, and
I think he may have something there.
Then Blair Van Dyke talked about the 10 apostolic dedications of the
Holy Land after Orson Hyde's. I thought that was very interesting, so
I ordered the book he coauthored with LaMar Barret (sp?), Holy Lands:
A History of the LDS in the Near East.
Then we had a luncheon, where Richard Francaviglia talked about 19th
century Mormon cartography, with lots of interesting pictures of
For the next session, I attended the annual Rick, Ron and Glen show on
MMM. This is always packed to the rafters, so you've got to come early
to get a seat. I think these guys are really, really good, and I'm
looking forward to their book, which they now swear is nearing
completion and will come out in 2007. Ron Walker gave a preview of
some of their conclusions, which I tried to jot down quickly:
1. The Baker and Fancher parties were allied, but not a single group.
2. The conflicts were not unique, but common on both the southern and
northern trails. What is unique here is the massacre.
3. The southern Utah LDS conflated a half-dozen different events in
their accounts of what happened.
4. The Utah War was very important in the calculus. Both sides came to
see the other as an enemy.
5. The group psychology that led to the massacre similar to other
religious group atrocities committed in times of war.
6. In the 1850s and 1860s, Utah had the same kinds of extralegal
violence as existed elsewhere in the west.
7. Although Brigham helped to create a climate of violence, there is
no direct link between him and the massacre.
8. The immediate spark was when the Arkansas men came into town a week befo=
9. Isaac Haight bears the lion's share of the blame, then John D. Lee,
then another guy whose name I can't read in my notes. (There were a
few other conclusions, but I have to rush through this; I'm typing in
the hotel computer room, and other people want to get on).
I just now came from a session of three papers on the 1847 trek.
There are close to 600 people here (still no Ronan sightings though!).
This evening is the awards banquet. If I get a chance, I'll write more
later, but not promises.
just came from the awards banquet. Richard Bushman won the best book
award for RSR=96surprise, surprise. He said that it was an injustice
that the old guys win the big money ($2000) and the young guys win the
little money (the best first book award is $1200), and he said that he
wanted to formally suggest that it be reversed=85.starting next year. He
also graciously said that it is a great embarrassment since writing
this book for people to say that he knows more about JS than any one
alive. He says that's a manifest falsehood, that a lot of people,
including at least a dozen in the room, know more about Joseph than he
does. I thought it a very gracious speech.
Greg Prince and Gary Topping won an award for their article on DOM and
Duane Hunt, on a quarter century of Catholic-Mormon relations. As Greg
tells it, there was all of this great stuff about Duane Hunt in the
Middlemiss papers, but he could tell it wasn't the whole story. So he
made a copy of it and sent it off to the archivist at the Catholic
diocese; he didn't even know who it was. He was seeking the Catholic
side of this.
So Gary Topping ironically had just read a paper in a Catholic forum
on the Catholic side of their relationship. He gets back to his
office, and there's this wonderful packet of stuff from some guy he's
never heard of, Greg Prince. So they pooled their resources and
collaborated, and this was the resultant article.
Comment by Kevin Barney =97 May 26, 2006 @ 9:30 pm
I just came from the Tanner lecture, and he did a fine job. He talked
about eschatology, and he distinguished the historical future, which
is that future which is of the same type and has a continuity with the
past and present, with the eschatological future, which is the future
following some dramatic event (in our case, the Second Coming).
He put our views of eschatology in context with other 19th century
movements, such as the Shakers (on which he is the leading expert),
the Millerites, the SDAs and the JWs.
1. Eschatology appeals to the desire to know the future.
2. Esch. texts have amazing elasticity, can be interpreted in myriad ways.
3. Esch. pronouncements usually not tentative, but characterized by
confidence, urgency, and some defensiveness.
4. Usually derivative and reliant on very old texts.
5. But new texts can also drive the eschatology (as in Mormonism).
In preparation for this, he spent time with Grant Underwood visiting
with profs at BYU and GAs in SLC. He noticed a differing perspective
between the two groups. The historians thought that eschatological
concerns had waned somewhat in contemporary Mormonism, which is more
focused on the here and now and driving the agenda of today. The
theologians and GAs, in contrast, seemed to be of the view that the
Church is just as much driven by eschatological interests and concerns
as it ever was. (Personally, I would agree with the historians.)
Comment by Kevin Barney =97 May 27, 2006 @ 9:39 am
While Stein is clearly quite intelligent and a wonderful scholar of
American religion, I think he was put in an odd situation by the
lecture, which was fine but not groundbreaking by any stretch. There
are eschatological elements even in contemporary Mormonism, which was
his point basically, and whether you choose to embrace them or not
defines in part how eschatological you think contemporary Mormonism
Re: Underwood's book, I don't know that I'd recommend it, though it's
a quick read. Millenarianism was clearly important to early Mormonism,
but I didn't find Underwood's book all that sophisticated
I have two favorite images of Mormon millenarianism:
1. Benjamin Johnson's almost sheepish statement that (in paraphrase)
"[we thought the end was a lot closer back then]".
2. An elderly Idahoan male slipping out from behind a shelf at a tiny
Mormon bookstore in Kaysville Utah and began to exclaim to me the
proximity of the end times, urging me to take greater interest in eg
"Brother Skouzen's inspired work" on the subject. I kept waiting for a
reptile to burst out of his head, Athena-like, and roast me with great
tongues of flame.
Comment by smb =97 May 27, 2006 @ 12:10 pm
This morning I went to the roundtable on RSR. It was tilted towards
more critical commentators. First was Bill Russell, who put notes in
his margin of the book, either an H for honest or a FH for "faithful
history." So he went through some of those, and was pretty balanced.
Although I found it incredibly odd that several times he said Richard
should have relied more on Grant Palmer's Insider's View (which is a
popularization of certain New Mormon History and a secondary and
Gary Topping gave the most negative critique. He felt that Richard
didn't engage the controversies (EG was the BoM authentic, and if not,
what was Joseph doing?)
Dan Vogel was somewhere inbetween Russell and Topping. He felt the
irenic approach has serious limitations. For instance, Richard
portrays the 1832 FV account as abbreviated, as opposed to later
accounts as expanded.
Marti Bradley-Evans gave a more sympathetic review. (I was amused that
on three occasions she lapsed into a Freudian slip: "Rough Rolling
Richard, again, was both funny and gracious in his response. (He got
up and said "Well, that wasn't so bad! When he won the book award last
night, he had quipped that he was going to be toasted that night and
roasted the next day.) He made the interesting point that in
retrospect, he should have made more of the fact that he was a
believer, and was clearly writing from that perspective, and indeed
really could do no other.
At the luncheon there were charming reminiscences of the early days of
MHA and of Leonard Arrington.
I just came from Ronan's paper on the Gadfield Elm, which BCC readers
got a glimpse of in a post here, and a paper on the repairs to the
Kirtland Temple in the late 19th and early 20th century. Ronan did BCC
proud; he was funny and charming, and I thought his paper was
Well, I need to run to the next session.
Comment by Kevin Barney =97 May 27, 2006 @ 3:19 pm
I just came from the last concurrent session.
Our own smb gave a paper on geonecromancy, suggesting that we
need to reexamine these sources (scrying, Indian relics and the like)
through the prism of Joseph's intense concern with and regard for
death, corpses, burial, entombment and so forth.
Then Philip Ellsworth gave a paper on the JS Papyri. This was a
deeply problematic paper, and I disagreed with almost everything he
said. (It's a bad sign when he is quoting James Clark and alluding to
Deveria instead of more recent scholarship.) He seemed to be of the
view that there were facsimiles penned by Abraham, and Joseph was
describing those, but what we have in the BoA are substitute
facsimiles, which is why the interpretations don't exactly match. He
championed the idea that the originals were literally autographic,
drawn by Abraham's own hand, etc. I will simply refer those interested
to my essay, which is in sharp contrast to these ideas, "The
Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources," in Papyrus,
Astronomy and Covenant, which is vol. 3 of the FARMS Studies in the
The third paper was on the "waters are cursed" idea from D&C 61.
The background on the idea was ok, but then the presenter lapsed into
what I thought a bizarre apologetic, focusing on steamboat accidents.
I don't feel the need to legitimate this as a broad doctrinal
principle that we should be paying more attention to today.
The commenter sort of rambled through these disparate papers. I
did learn that the original printing plates for one of the Facsimiles
has been found, and is in a private collection.
(They tried to put too many sessions together. There wasn't
enough time for each one to really breathe.)
Tonight is the presidential lecture and banquet. Then I'm off to
home tomorrow morning.
Comment by Kevin Barney =97 May 27, 2006 @ 5:29 pm