Joseph Smith and Money-Digging
In the Salt Lake City Messenger for August, 1971, we announced one of the most important discoveries since Joseph Smith founded the Mormon church in 1830. This is the discovery by Wesley P. Walters of an original document which is more than 140 years old. This document, found in Norwich, New York, proves that Joseph Smith was a "glass looker" and that he was arrested, tried and found guilty by a justice of the peace in Bainbridge, New York, in 1826. (See photograph of this document on p. 68 of this book.) The importance of this document cannot be overstated, for it establishes the historicity of the account of the trial which was first published in Fraser's Magazine in 1873. We quote the following from that publication:
STATE OF NEW YORK v. JOSEPH SMITH.
Warrant issued upon written complaint upon oath of Peter G. Bridgeman, who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter. Prisoner brought before Court March 20, 1826.
Prisoner examined: says that he came from the town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowel in Bainbridge most of time since; had small part of time been employed by said Stowel on his farm, and going to school. That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowel several times, and had informed him where he could find these treasures, and Mr. Stowel had been engaged in digging for them. That at Palmyra he pretended to tell by looking at this stone where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was of various kinds; that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account of its injuring his health, especially
A photograph of Justice Albert Neely's bill showing the costs involved in several trials in 1826. The fifth item from the top mentions the trial of "Joseph Smith the Glass Looker." When the letter "S" was repeated in documents of Joseph Smith's time, as in the word "Glass" the two letters appeared as a "P" (see the word "Assault" in items 1, 4, 7 and 9).
We have typed out the portion of the bill which mentions Joseph Smith. This bill proves that the published court record is authentic.
The Glass looker
March 20, 1826
To my fees in examination
of the above cause 2.68
[Web-editor: Larger photos below.]
his eyes making them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had always rather declined having anything to do with this business.
Josiah Stowel sworn: says that prisoner had been at his house something like five months; had been employed by him to work on farm part of time; that he pretended to have skill of telling where hidden treasures in the earth were by means of looking through a certain stone; that prisoner had looked for him sometimes; once to tell him about money buried in Bend Mountain in Pennsylvania, once for gold on Monument Hill, and once for a salt spring; and that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and did possess the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone; that he found the (word illegible) at Bend and Monument Hill as prisoner represented it; that prisoner had looked through said stone for Deacon Attleton for a mine, did not exactly find it, but got a p--- (word unfinished) of ore which resembled gold, he thinks; that prisoner had told by means of this stone where a Mr. Bacon had buried money; that he and prisoner had been in search of it; that prisoner had said it was in a certain root of a stump five feet from surface of the earth, and with it would be found a tail feather; that said Stowel and prisoner thereupon commenced digging, found a tail feather, but money was gone; that he supposed the money moved down. That prisoner did offer his services; that he never deceived him; that prisoner looked through stone and described Josiah Stowel's house and outhouses, while at Palmyra at Simpson Stowel's, correctly; that he had told about a painted tree, with a man's head painted upon it, by means of said stone. That he had been in company with prisoner digging for gold, and had the most implicit faith in prisoner's skill.
Arad Stowel sworn: says that he went to see whether prisoner could convince him that he possessed the skill he professed to have, upon which prisoner laid a book upon a white cloth, and proposed looking through another stone which was white and transparent, hold the stone to the candle, turn his head to book, and read. The deception appeared so palpable that witness went off disgusted.
McMaster sworn: says he went with Arad Stowel, and likewise came away disgusted. Prisoner pretended to him that he could discover objects at a distance by holding this white stone to the sun or candle; that prisoner rather declined looking into a hat at his dark coloured stone, as he said that it hurt his eyes.
Jonathan Thompson says that prisoner was requested to look for chest of money; did look, and pretended to know where it was; and prisoner, Thompson, and Yeomans went in search of it; that Smith arrived at spot first; was at night; that Smith looked in hat while there, and when very dark, and told how the chest was
situated. After digging several feet, struck upon something sounding like a board or plank. Prisoner would not look again, pretending that he was alarmed on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried, [which], came all fresh to his mind. That the last time he looked he discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk, that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed. Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner's professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but on account of an enchantment the trunk kept settling away from under them when digging; that notwithstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them. Says prisoner said that it appeared to him that salt might be found at Bainbridge, and that he is certain that prisoner can divine things by means of said stone. That as evidence of the fact prisoner looked into his hat to tell him about some money witness lost sixteen years ago, and that he described the man that witness supposed had taken it, and the disposition of the money:
And therefore the Court find[s] the Defendant guilty. Costs: Warrant, l9c. Complaint upon oath, 251/2 c. Seven witnesses, 871/2 c. Recongnisances, 25 c. Mittimus, 19 c. Recongnisances of witnesses, 75 c. Suboena, 18 c.—$2.68" (Fraser's Magazine, February, 1873, pp. 229-30).
Although the Bainbridge court record was printed a few times it did not become too well known until Fawn Brodie printed it in her book No Man Knows My History. Immediately after her book appeared, Mormon leaders declared that the record was a forgery (see Deseret News, Church Section, May 11, 1946). Apostle John A. Widtsoe stated: "This alleged court record...seems to be a literary attempt of an enemy to ridicule Joseph Smith....There is no existing proof that such a trial was ever held" (Joseph Smith—Seeker After Truth, Salt Lake City, 1951, p. 78).
Mormon scholars continued to deny the authenticity of the court record until Mr. Walters made his discovery in 1971. The document which Walters found is Justice Albert Neely's bill showing the costs involved in several trials in 1826. The fifth item from the top mentions the trial of "Joseph Smith The Glass Looker" (see photograph on page 68 of this book).
The fact that the document says that Joseph Smith was a "Glass Looker" fits very well with the published version of the trial. In fact, this statement alone seems to show that the published account of the trial is authentic. Besides this, however, Neely's bill provides additional evidence. It states that the trial
took place on "March 20, 1826," and this is precisely the date found in the published account of the trial: "Prisoner brought before Court March 20, 1826" (Fraser's Magazine, February, 1873, p. 229). In Albert Neely's bill the fee for this trial is listed as "2.68," and this is the exact figure found in the printed record: "Costs: ...$2.68." In the face of this evidence it is impossible to continue to deny the authenticity of the court record.
In addition to Justice Neely's bill for the trial of "Joseph Smith The Glass Looker," Mr. Walters discovered the bill of Constable Philip M. DeZeng, which tells of "Serving Warrant on Joseph Smith." We have included a photograph of this document in Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? (p. 35). Mr. Walters has given an account of the discovery of these bills in an affidavit. We extract the following from that document:
REVEREND WESLEY P. WALTERS, being first duly sworn upon his oath, deposes and states:
On Saturday, May 22, 1971, while in Norwich, New York, I, ...was shown by the County Historian, Mrs. Mae Smith, where Chenango County kept their dead storage, which was in a back, poorly-lit room in the basement of the County Jail....
On July 28, 1971, I was able to return to Norwich and in the late afternoon I went back to the County Jail accompanied by Mr. Fred Poffarl ...Mr. Poffarl discovered two cardboard boxes in the darkest area of the room, containing more bundles of bills, all mixed up as to date, and some badly watersoaked and mildewed.... It was in Mr. Poffarl's box that the 1826 bills were soon found.... When I opened the 1826 bundle and got part way through the pile of Bainbridge bills, all of which were very damp and mildewed, I came upon, first, the J. P. bill of Albert Neeley and then upon the Constable's bill of Philip M. DeZeng. On Mr. Neely's bill was the item of the trial of "Joseph Smith The Glass Looker" ....On the bill of Mr. DeZeng were the charges for arresting and keeping Joseph Smith, notifying two justices, subpoenaing 12 witnesses, as well as a mittimus charge for 10 miles travel "to take him," with no specification as to where he was taken on the Mittimus....
In my opinion, the bills are authentic, of the same paper quality and ink quality as the other 1826 and 1830 bills and appeared to me to have remained tied up and untouched since the day they were bound up and placed away in storage by the Board of Supervisors of Chenango County, New York ...(Affidavit by Wesley P. Walters, dated Oct. 28, 1971).
Before Mr. Walters made his discovery of the bills, Mormon scholars were willing to admit that if the 1826 trial were authentic,
it would disprove Mormonism. Dr. Francis W Kirkham made these statements:
A careful study of all facts regarding this alleged confession of Joseph Smith in a court of law that he had used a seer stone to find hidden treasure for purposes of fraud, must come to the conclusion that no such record was ever made, and therefore, is not in existence.... If any evidence had been in existence that Joseph Smith had used a seer stone for fraud and deception, and especially had he made this confession in a court of law as early as 1826, or four years before the Book of Mormon was printed, and this confession was in a court record, it would have been impossible for him to have organized the restored Church (A New Witness For Christ In America, vol. 1, pp. 385-87).
If a court record could be identified, and if it contained a confession by Joseph Smith which revealed him to be a poor, ignorant, deluded, and superstitious person—unable himself to write a book of any consequence, and whose church could not endure because it attracted only similar persons of low mentality—if such a court record confession could be identified and proved, then it follows that his believers must deny his claimed divine guidance which led them to follow him.... How could he be a prophet of God, the leader of the Restored Church to these tens of thousands, if he had been the superstitious fraud which 'the pages from a book' declared he confessed to be? (Ibid., pp. 486-87).
In his book The Myth Makers, Dr. Hugh Nibley has written almost twenty pages in an attempt to discredit the "Bainbridge court record." On page 142 of Dr. Nibley's book we find this statement: "...if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith." Dr. Nibley's book also states that if the authenticity of the court record could be established it would be "the most devastating blow to Smith ever delivered" (Ibid.)
Since Wesley Walters' discovery verified the authenticity of the court record, Dr. Nibley has been strangely silent about the matter. The first Mormon scholar to attempt to deal with this issue since Walter's discovery is Marvin S. Hill, Assistant Professor of History at Brigham Young University. Dr. Hill differs with both Kirkham and Nibley by stating that even if Joseph Smith was guilty of "glass looking" this does not prove that he was a religious fraud:
...Reverend Wesley R Walters ... discovered some records in the basement of the sheriff's office in Norwich, New York, which he maintains demonstrate the actuality of the 1826 trial and go far to substantiate that Joseph Smith spent part of his early
career in southern New York as a money digger and seer of hidden treasures....
A preliminary investigation by the writer at the sheriff's office in Norwich, New York, confirmed that Walters had searched thoroughly the bills of local officials dated in the 1820s, many of which were similar to the two bills in question. The originals, however, were not at the sheriff's office but in Walter's possession. Presumably they will be available for study at a later date. Until then the final question of their authenticity must remain open. If a study of the handwriting and paper of the originals demonstrates their authenticity, it will confirm that there was a trial in 1826 and that glass looking was an issue at the trial.... if the bills should prove authentic and demonstrate that Joseph Smith was tried as a "Glass Looker," what shall we make of him? Nearly everybody seems to have conceded that if Joseph Smith was indeed a gold digger that he was also a religious fraud. This is a view, however, of our own generation, not Joseph Smith's. Joseph himself never denied that he searched for buried treasure.... In one place he admitted that he did such work but never made much money from it.... Hosea Stout, who believed in the Prophet, said that the gold plates were found by means of a seer stone.
If there was an element of mysticism in Joseph Smith and the other early Mormons which led them to search for treasures in the earth, it does not disprove the genuineness of their religious convictions (Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1972, pp. 224, 225, 231, 232).
In another article published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Winter 1972, pp. 77, 78), Marvin S. Hill wrote: "There may be little doubt now, as I have indicated elsewhere, that Joseph Smith was brought to trial in 1826 on a charge, not exactly clear, associated with money digging.... For the historian interested in Joseph Smith the man, it does not seem incongruous for him to have hunted for treasure with a seer stone and then to use it with full faith to receive revelations from the Lord."*
In his History of the Church, Joseph Smith admitted that he
*In a new book entitled, The Mormon Experience, pages 10-11, Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington and his assistant Davis Bitton have now conceded that Joseph Smith was tried as a "glass looker". "Smith's self-admitted employment by Josiah Stoal resulted in the youth's being brought to trial in 1826, charged with either vagrancy or disorderly conduct. Bills drawn up by the local judge and constable refer to Smith as a 'glass looker' (one who, by peering through a glass stone, could see things not discernible by the natural eye). The bills class the offense as a misdemeanor and indicate that at least twelve witnesses were served with subpoenas."
worked for Josiah Stowel, but did not acknowledge the fact that he was arrested or that he used a "seer stone" to find treasures:
In the month of October, 1825, I hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stowel, who lived in Chenango county, state of New York. He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards ... and had, previous to my hiring to him, been digging, in order, if possible, to discover the mine ... he took me, with the rest of his hands, to dig for the silver mine, at which I continued to work for nearly a month, without success in our undertaking, and finally I prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it. Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money-digger (History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 17).
Joseph Smith's mother did not mention the trial but admitted that Josiah Stowel came seeking Joseph Smith's help because of "having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye" (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, London, 1853, pp. 91-92). The Mormon historian B. H. Roberts stated that Stowel came to Joseph Smith because he had "heard of Joseph Smith's gift of seership" (Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 82).
Although Joseph Smith suppressed the 1826 trial in his History of the Church, Dale L. Morgan discovered that the trial was mentioned as early as 1831 in a letter published in the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, printed in Utica, N.Y. We cite the following from that publication:
Messrs. Editors— ... thinking that a fuller history of their founder, Joseph Smith, jr., might be interesting ... I will take the trouble to make a few remarks.... For several years preceding the appearance of his book, he was about the country in the character of a glass-looker: pretending, by means of a certain stone, or glass, which he put in a hat, to be able to discover lost goods, hidden treasures, mines of gold and silver, &c.... In this town, a wealthy farmer, named Josiah Stowell, together with others, spent large sums of money in digging for hidden money, which this Smith pretended he could see, and told them where to dig; but they never found their treasure. At length the public, becoming wearied with the base imposition which he was palming upon the credulity of the ignorant, for the purpose of sponging his living from their earnings, had him arrested as a disorderly person, tried and condemned before a court of Justice..... This was four or five years ago (Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, April 9, 1831, p. 120).
Now that the authenticity of the court record has been established, the Mormon church leaders are faced with a dilemma.
The court record plainly shows that Joseph Smith was deeply involved in magic practices at the very time he was supposed to be preparing himself to receive the plates for the Book of Mormon. The court record shows that Smith was searching for buried treasure in 1826, and according to his own story, the plates for the Book of Mormon were taken from the Hill Cumorah the following year. Joseph Smith claimed that he had known that the plates were buried in the Hill Cumorah since 1823. He made this statement concerning the discovery of the plates: "Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates....
"I made an attempt to take them out, but was forbidden by the messenger, and was again informed that the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would it, until four years from that time ..." (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2:52-53).
Now, it is interesting to note that in the court record Joseph Smith confessed that "for three years" prior to 1826 he had used a stone placed in his hat to find treasures or lost property. According to Joseph Smith's own statement, then, he began his money-digging activities in about 1823. The reader will remember that the messenger was supposed to have informed Joseph Smith of the gold plates on September 21, 1823. From this it would appear that Joseph Smith became deeply involved in money-digging at the very time the messenger told him of the gold plates and that he was still involved in these practices for at least three of the four years when God was supposed to be preparing him to receive the gold plates for the Book of Mormon. These facts seem to undermine the whole foundation of Mormonism.
At the time the Book of Mormon was printed many people were engaged in searching for buried treasures. For instance, on February 16, 1825, the Wayne Sentinel (a newspaper published in Joseph Smith's neighborhood) reprinted the following from the Windsor, (Vermont) Journal:
Money digging.—We are sorry to observe even in this enlightened age, so prevalent a disposition to credit the accounts of the Marvellous. Even the frightful stories of money being hid under the surface of the earth, and enchanted by the Devil or Robert Kidd, are received by many of our respectable fellow citizens as truths. . . .
A respectable gentleman in Tunbridge, was informed by means
A photograph of the Journal of Discourses, vol. 19, page 37. Brigham Young talks of treasure hunting.
of a dream, that a chest of money was buried on a small island.... After having been directed by the mineral rod where to search for the money ... he and his laborers came ... upon a chest of gold ... the chest moved off through the mud, and has not been seen or heard of since.
Many of the people who were digging for buried treasure were very superstitious. There were many strange stories connected with these treasure hunts. Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, related the following:
Mr. Stowel was at this time at old Mr. Smith's digging for money. It was reported by these money-diggers, that they had found boxes, but before they could secure them, they would sink into the earth.... There were a great many strange sights. One time the old log school-house south of Palmyra, was suddenly lighted up, and frightened them away. Samuel Lawrence told me that while they were digging, a large man who appeared to be eight or nine feet high, came and sat on the ridge of the barn, and motioned to them that they must leave.... These things were real to them, I believe, because they were told to me in confidence, and told by different ones, and their stories agreed, and they seemed to be in earnest—I knew they were in earnest (An interview with Martin Harris, published in Tiffany's Monthly, 1859, p. 165).
On another occasion Martin Harris admitted that he participated in some money-digging and that a stone box slipped back into the hill: "Martin Harris (speaking to a group of Saints at Clarkston, Utah in the 1870's): I will tell you a wonderful thing that happened after Joseph had found the plates. Three of us took some tools to go to the hill and hunt for some more boxes, or gold or something, and indeed we found a stone box. ...but behold by some unseen power, it slipped back into the hill" (Testimony of Mrs. Comfort Godfrey Flinders, Utah Pioneer Biographies, vol. 10, p. 65, Genealogical Society of Utah, as cited in an unpublished manuscript by LaMar Petersen).
It appears that even Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon church, was influenced by the superstitions of his day. In a sermon delivered June 17, 1877, he stated:
These treasures that are in the earth are carefully watched, they can be removed from place to place according to the good pleasure of Him who made them and owns them.... Orin P. Rockwell is an eye-witness to some powers of removing the treasures of the earth. He was with certain parties that lived near by where the plates were found that contain the records of the Book of Mormon. There were a great many treasures hid up by the Nephites. Porter was with them one night where there were
treasures, and they could find them easy enough, but they could not obtain them.... He said that on this night, ... they dug around the end of a chest.... One man who was determined to have the contents of that chest, took his pick and struck into the lid of it, and split through into the chest. The blow took off a piece of the lid, which a certain lady kept in her possession until she died. That chest of money went into the bank. Porter describes it so [making a rumbling sound]; he says this is just as true as the heavens are ... to those who understand these things, it is not marvelous.... I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance ... Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates.... the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says ... the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. ... They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; ... there is a seal upon the treasures of earth; men are allowed to go so far and no farther. I have known places where there were treasures in abundance; but could men get them? No (Journal of Discourses, vol. 19, pp. 36-39).
At the time the Book of Mormon came forth many people believed in "peep stones." These stones were sometimes placed in a hat and used to locate buried treasure. The following, taken from the Orleans Advocate, appeared in the Wayne Sentinel on December 27, 1825:
MR. STRONG—Please insert the following and oblige one of your readers.
Wonderful Discovery.—A few days since was discovered in this town, by the help of a mineral stone, (which becomes transparent when placed in a hat and the light excluded by the face of him who looks into it, provided he is fortune's favorite,) a monstrous potash kettle in the bowels of old mother Earth, filled with the purest bullion. . . . His Satanic Majesty, or some other invisible agent, appears to keep it under marching orders; for no sooner is it dug on to in one place, than it moves off like "false delusive hope," to another still more remote.
In an affidavit dated December 11, 1833, Willard Chase claimed that Joseph Smith found his seer stone while he was helping dig a well. The Mormon historian B. H. Roberts accepted the story that the stone was found while digging a well: "The Seer Stone referred to here was a chocolate-colored, somewhat egg-shaped stone which the Prophet found while digging a well in company with his brother Hyrum, for a Mr.
Clark Chase, near Palmyra, N.Y. It possessed the qualities of Urim and Thummim, since by means of it—as described above—as well as by means of the Interpreters found with the Nephite record, Joseph was able to translate the characters engraven on the plates" (Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 129).
Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, stated concerning Joseph Smith's "stone":
These plates were found at the north point of a hill two miles north of Manchester village. Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase, twenty-four feet from the surface. In this stone he could see many things to my certain knowledge. It was by means of this stone he first discovered these plates.
In the first place, he told me of this stone, and proposed to bind it on his eyes, and run a race with me in the woods. A few days after this, I ... was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth, and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw.... I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him—I said, 'Take your stone.' I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat—the old white hat—and placed his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick, and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me.... There was a company there in that neighborhood, who were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients. Of this company were old Mr. Stowel ... also old Mr. Beman, also Samuel Lawrence, George Proper, Joseph Smith, Jr., and his father, and his brother Hiram Smith. They dug for money in Palmyra, Manchester, also in Pennsylvania, and other places. When Joseph found this stone, there was a company digging in Harmony, Pa., and they took Joseph to look in the stone for them, and he did so for a while, and then he told them the enchantment was so strong that he could not see, and they gave it up....
The money-diggers claimed that they had as much right to the plates as Joseph had, as they were in company together. They claimed that Joseph had been a traitor, and had appropriated to himself that which belonged to them. For this reason Joseph was afraid of them, and continued concealing the plates.... He found them by looking in the stone found in the well of Mason Chase. The family had likewise told me the same thing.
"Joseph said that the angel told him he must quit the company of the money-diggers. That there were wicked men among them. He must have no more to do with them. He must not lie, nor swear, nor steal" (Tiffany's Monthly, 1859, pp. 163, 164, 167, 169).
According to David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, Joseph gave the stone which he used to translate the Book of Mormon to Oliver Cowdery. Later this stone was brought to Utah. A newspaper reporter wrote the following in his account of an interview with David Whitmer: "With this stone all of the present Book of Mormon was translated.... For years Oliver Cowdery surrounded it with care and solicitude, but at his death old Phineas Young, ... carried it in triumph to the apostles of Brigham Young's 'lion house'" (Des Moines Daily News, October 16, 1886). We know that by 1856 Joseph Smith's "seer stone" had been brought to Utah, for Hosea Stout recorded the following in his diary under the date of February 25, 1856: "President Young exhibited the Seer's stone with which The Prophet Joseph discovered the plates of the Book of Mormon, to the Regents this evening ... It was about the size but not the shape of a hen's egg" (On The Mormon Frontier, The Diary of Hosea Stout, vol. 2, page 593).
Book of Mormon from the Stone
In the Book of Mormon we read: "And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light ..." (Book of Mormon, Alma 37:23). In the Doctrine and Covenants 78:9, Gazelam is identified as "Joseph Smith, Jun."
Joseph Smith claimed that his Urim and Thummim—which he also used to translate—consisted of "two stones in silver bows" (History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 12). It would appear, then, that Joseph Smith fastened two of his "seer stones" together to make his "Urim and Thummim." The testimony given in the 1826 trial shows that as early as 1826 Joseph Smith was using two different stones.
At any rate, Joseph Smith's father-in-law, Isaac Hale, noticed a definite relationship between the method Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon and the way he searched for buried treasures. The following is taken from an affidavit by Mr. Hale:
I first became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr. in November, 1825. He was at that time in the employ of a set of men who were called "money-diggers;" and his occupation was that of seeing, or pretending to see by means of a stone placed in his hat, and his hat closed over his face. In this way he pretended to discover minerals and hidden treasures.... Smith, and his father, with several other "money-diggers" boarded at my house.... Young Smith gave the "money-diggers" great encouragement, at first, but when they had arrived in digging, to near the place where he
had stated an immense treasure would be found—he said the enchantment was so powerful that he could not see....
After these occurrences, young Smith made several visits at my house, ... and while I was absent from home, carried off my daughter, into the state of New York, where they were married without my approbation or consent.... In a short time they returned ...
Smith stated to me, that he had given up what he called "glass-looking," and that he expected to work hard for a living.... He also made arrangements with my son Alva Hale, to go up to Palmyra, and move his (Smith's) furniture &c. to this place.... Soon after this, I was informed they had brought a wonderful book of Plates down with them.... The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time hid in the woods! (Affidavit of Isaac Hale, as printed in the Susquehanna Register, May 1, 1834).
David Whitmer frankly admitted that Joseph Smith placed the "seer stone" into a hat to translate the Book of Mormon: "I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing" (An Address To All Believers In Christ, by David Whitmer, p. 12).
Emma Smith, Joseph Smith's wife, related the following to her son: "In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, after sitting by the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us" (The Saints' Herald, May 19, 1888, p. 310).
Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, also said that a stone was used:
On Sunday, Sept. 4, 1870, Martin Harris addressed a congregation of Saints in Salt Lake City. He related an incident which occurred during the time that he wrote that portion of the translation of the Book of Mormon which he was favored to write direct from the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and said that the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone.... on one occasion, Martin Harris found a stone very much resembling the one used
for translating, and on resuming their labor of translation, he put in place the stone he had found. He said that the Prophet remained silent, unusually and intently gazing in darkness, no traces of the usual sentences appearing. Much surprised, Joseph exclaimed, "Martin! What is the matter! All is as dark as Egypt!" Martin's countenance betrayed him, and the Prophet asked Martin why he had done so. Martin said, to stop the mouths of fools, who had told him that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them, etc. (Historical Record, by Andrew Jensen, p. 216).
In a letter written March 27, 1876, Emma Smith said that the entire Book of Mormon, that we have today, was translated by the use of a stone. David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses, admitted that he never did see Joseph Smith use what was later known as the Urim and Thummim—i.e., the two stones set in silver bows. This information is found in an article by James E. Lancaster:
According to the testimony of Emma Smith and David Whitmer, the angel took the Urim and Thummim from Joseph Smith at the time of the loss of the 116 pages. This was in June, 1828, one year before David became involved with the work of translation. David Whitmer could never have been present when the Urim and Thummim were used. All of this he clearly states in his testimony to Brother Traughber:
"With the sanction of David Whitmer, and by his authority, I now state that he does not say that Joseph Smith ever translated in his presence by aid of Urim and Thummim, but by means of one dark colored, opaque stone called a 'Seer Stone,' which was placed in the crown of a hat, into which Joseph put his face, so as to exclude the external light" (Saints' Herald, November 15, 1962, p. 16).
One thing that has caused confusion is the fact that the "seer stone" was sometimes called the Urim and Thummim. Bruce R. McConkie, who is now an Apostle in the Church, stated concerning the seer stone: "The Prophet also had a seer stone which was separate and distinct from the Urim and Thummim, and which (speaking loosely) has been called by some a Urim and Thummim" (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 818).
Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth president of the Mormon church, admitted that the "seer stone" was sometimes called the Urim and Thummim: "The statement has been made that the Urim and Thummim was on the altar in the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of, however, was the seer stone which was in the possession
of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days. This seer stone is now in the possession of the Church" (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, p. 225).
The fact that Joseph Smith used a stone, which he placed in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon, has caused a great deal of embarrassment because it so closely resembles crystal gazing. Bruce R. McConkie made this statement: "In imitation of the true order of heaven whereby seers receive revelations from God through a Urim and Thummim, the devil gives his own revelations to some of his followers through peep stones or crystal balls" (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 565-66).
In early Utah the anti-Mormon paper Valley Tan, accused the Mormons of using peep stones to "see cattle beyond mountains twenty or a hundred miles, or even a greater distance off" (Valley Tan, October 5, 1859, p. 2). The Mormon writer Arch S. Reynolds wrote a pamphlet entitled, The Urim and Thummim in which he stated: "From the earliest days of the Church we have had many who have claimed to have had the power to see things in so-called peep-stones. There are stones among the Church members that are considered by some to be the means of their receiving communications from the unseen world."
Mormon apologists have a difficult time explaining the fact that Joseph Smith used a "seer stone." Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe asserted: "Some use was made also of the seer stone and occasional mention was made of it. This was a stone found while the Prophet assisted in digging a well for Clark Chase. By divine power this stone was made serviceable to Joseph Smith in the early part of his ministry. There is no evidence that this stone was used in Joseph's sacred work" (Joseph Smith—Seeker After Truth, 1951, p. 267). Notice that Apostle Widtsoe states there is "no evidence that this stone was used in Joseph's sacred work," yet on page 260 of the same book Widtsoe states that Joseph did use the stone in his "spiritual work":
Before Joseph received the Urim and Thummim he had a stone, obtained during the digging of a well for Clark Chase. This stone, through the blessing of the Lord, became a seer stone which was used frequently by him in his spiritual work.
The use of the seer stone explains in part the charge against Joseph Smith that he was a "peep stone gazer."... The use of the seer stone and the Urim and Thummim was well-known to the people of his time and neighborhood.
Mormons, therefore, continue to remain uncertain about how to handle Joseph's "peeping" activities.
Money-Digging and the Book of Mormon
A careful examination of the whole story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and even the text of the book itself reveals that it originated in the mind of someone who was familiar with the practice of money-digging. To begin with, the "seer stone" used in "translating" the book seems to have been nothing but a common "peep stone." Many people in Joseph Smith's area were using these stones to search for buried treasures. Mormon scholars admit that Joseph Smith found the stone while digging a well, and the testimony given in the 1828 trial shows that he used his stone to search for treasures. Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, said that Joseph found the Book of Mormon plates by "looking in the stone found in the well of Mason Chase." Evidence also shows that in "translating" the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith placed the stone in a hat in the same manner "as when he looked for the money-diggers."
According to witnesses, the plates didn't even have to be present when Joseph Smith was "translating." Mormon writer Arch S. Reynolds notes that "the plates were not always before Joseph during the translation. His wife and mother state that the plates were on the table wrapped in a cloth while Joseph translated with his eyes hid in a hat with the seer stone or the Urim and Thummim. David Whitmer, Martin Harris and others state that Joseph hid the plates in the woods and other places while he was translating" (How Did Joseph Smith Translate? p. 21).
As we examine the Book of Mormon story in the light of the money-digging activities of the 1820s, we notice that the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was "translated" were supposed to have been a very valuable treasure. Mormon author Paul R. Cheesman has brought to light a document prepared by Joseph Smith which the church suppressed for 130 years. In this manuscript Joseph Smith admitted that he wanted to obtain the Book of Mormon plates so that he would become rich and that the angel rebuked him:
... I immediately went to the place and found where the plates was [sic] deposited ... and straightway made three attempts to get them ... I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul why can I not obtain them behold the the [sic] angel appeared unto me again and said unto me you have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave unto you therefore you cannot now obtain them for the time is not yet fulfilled ... I had been tempted of the advisary [sic] and sought the Plates to obtain
riches and kept not the commandment that I should have an eye singled to the glory of God therefore I was chastened and sought diligently to obtain the plates and obtained them not until I was twenty one years of age.... ("An Analysis of the Accounts Relating Joseph Smith's Early Visions," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1965, pp. 130-31).
The treasure-hunting fever, with its accompanying superstitions, even found its way into the Book of Mormon as the following extracts show:
And behold, if a man hide up a treasure in the earth, and the Lord shall say—Let it be accursed, because of the iniquity of him who hid it up—behold, it shall be accursed. And if the Lord shall say—Be thou accursed, that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever-behold, no man getteth it henceforth and forever (Book of Mormon, Helaman 12:18-19).
For I will, saith the Lord, that they shall hide up their treasures unto me; and cursed be they who hide not up their treasures unto me; for none hideth up their treasures unto me save it be the righteous; and he that hideth not up his treasures unto me, cursed is he, and also the treasure, and none shall redeem it because of the curse of the land (Helaman 13:19).
The reader will remember that Brigham Young told of a "chest of money" that moved by itself "into the bank," and that Martin Harris told of a "stone box" that "slipped back into the hill." In Joseph Smith's 1826 trial, Jonathan Thompson testified that "on account of an enchantment the trunk kept settling away from under them when digging." This idea of treasures slipping into the earth can be found reflected in the Book of Mormon, Helaman 13:34-36:
Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle. Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land. O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us; for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them.
In Mormon 1:18 we read that the people "began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again."
From the available evidence it becomes clear that the Book of Mormon had its origin among a people who believed in "seer stones" and money-digging.
Working With the Rod
One important change Joseph Smith made in his revelations was an obvious attempt to cover up the endorsement of Oliver Cowdery's supposed gift from God to work with a divining rod. Below is a comparison of the way this revelation was first published in the Book of Commandments and the way it has been changed to read in recent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Book of Commandments: "Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands...." (7:3).
Doctrine and Covenants: "Now this is not all thy gift, for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things;
"Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you" (8:6-7).
The reader will notice that the words "working with the rod" and "rod of nature" have been entirely deleted from this revelation.
The money diggers used divining rods to find buried treasure. They were also used as "a medium of revelation." Those who used divining rods were at times referred to as "rodsmen." Richard P. Howard, RLDS church historian, makes some startling admissions in a book published by his church:
Several writers have established that both in Vermont and in western New York in the early 1800's, one of the many forms which enthusiastic religion took was the adaptation of the witch hazel stick.... For example, the 'divining rod' was used effectively by one Nathaniel Wood in Rutland County, Vermont, in 1801. Wood, Winchell, William Cowdery, Jr., and his son, Oliver Cowdery, all had some knowledge of and associations with the various uses, both secular and sacred, of the forked witch hazel rod. Winchell and others used such a rod in seeking buried treasure;... when Joseph Smith met Oliver Cowdery in April, 1829, he found a man peculiarly adept in the use of the forked rod ... and against the background of his own experiments with and uses of oracular media, Joseph Smith's April, 1829, affirmations about Cowdery's unnatural powers related to working with the rod are quite understandable....
By the time that Joseph Smith approached the reinterpretation and rewording of this document for the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, he had had time and experience necessary
to place his 1829 assessment of the meaning of Cowdery's gift of working with the rod in a somewhat more accurate perspective. Both he and Cowdery had developed away from an emphasis on the religious or mystical meanings in such mechanical objects as the water witching rod. Joseph's 1835 wording of this document ... left behind the apparent 1829 reliance upon external media, which by 1835 had assumed in Joseph's mind overtones of superstition and speculative experimentation (Restoration Scriptures, Independence, Mo.. 1969, pp. 211-14).
We are not aware of any writer in the Utah Mormon church who has been this honest about the change concerning the gift of working with the rod in Joseph Smith's revelation, but Marvin S. Hill, assistant professor of history at BYU, has admitted that "when Oliver Cowdery took up his duties as a scribe for Joseph Smith in 1829 he had a rod in his possession which Joseph Smith sanctioned...." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter 1972, p. 78). Marvin Hill goes on to state: "Some of the rodsmen or money diggers who moved into Mormonism were Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, Orrin P. Rockwell, Joseph and Newel Knight, and Josiah Stowell." It is interesting to note that Marvin Hill includes two of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon in his list of "rodsmen or money diggers."* (In Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? pp. 47-49, we reproduced a number of affidavits and statements linking Joseph Smith to peep stones, divining rods and money-digging.)
Joseph Smith's interest in treasure hunting continued even after he published the Book of Mormon. Ebenezer Robinson, who was at one time the editor of the Mormon paper, Times and Seasons, gave the following information:
A brother in the church, by the name of Burgess, had come to Kirtland and stated that a large amount of money had been secreted in a cellar of a certain house in Salem, Massachusetts.... We saw the brother Burgess, but Don Carlos Smith told us with
*Recently the Mormon writer D. Michael Quinn has admitted that "Oliver Cowdery was by revelation given the gift of working with a 'rod of nature...'" (Brigham Young University Studies, Fall 1978, p. 82). Dr. Quinn further informs that "during the Nauvoo period Apostle Heber C. Kimball 'inquired by the rod' in prayer." In a footnote in the same article the following is cited from the Anthon H. Lund Journal for July 5,1901: "in the revelation to Oliver Cowdery in May 1829, Bro. [B. H.] Roberts said that the gift which the Lord says he has in his hand meant a stick which was like Aaron's Rod. It is said Bro. Phineas Young [brother-in-law of Oliver Cowdery and brother of Brigham Young] got it from him [Cowdery] and gave it to President Young who had it with him when he arrived in this [Salt Lake] valley and that it was with that stick that he pointed out where the Temple should be built."
regard to the hidden treasure. His statement was credited by the brethren, and steps were taken to try and secure the treasure, of which we will speak more fully in another place" (The Return, vol. 1, p. 105).
Ebenezer Robinson goes on to state: "We soon learned that four of the leading men of the church had been to Salem, Massachusetts, in search of the hidden treasure spoken of by Brother Burgess, viz: Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery. They left home on the 25th of July, and returned in September."
Joseph Smith's History tells of this trip: "On Monday afternoon, July 25th, in company with Sidney Rigdon, Brother Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery, I left Kirtland, ...and arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, early in August, where we hired a house, and occupied the same during the month ..." (History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 464).
On August 6, 1836, Joseph Smith received a revelation concerning this treasure hunt, which is still published in the Doctrine and Covenants. In this revelation we read the following:
I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey, notwithstanding your follies.
I have much treasure in this city for you,... and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours.
Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them. ...inquire diligently concerning the more ancient inhabitants and founders of this city;
For there are more treasure than one for you in this city (Doctrine and Covenants, (111:1, 2, 4, 9, 10).
Mr. Robinson informs us that the treasure was never found, and Joseph Smith was unable to pay his debts as the revelation had promised. The Mormon historian B. H. Roberts admitted that the Mormon leaders went to Salem seeking "an earthly treasure," but claims that the other treasures spoken of in the revelation were of a spiritual nature (see Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 412).
In 1974 Dr. Reed Durham, who was director of the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Utah and president of the Mormon History Association, made a discovery that was so startling that it caused great consternation among Mormon scholars and officials. Dr. Durham found that what had previously
been identified as the "Masonic jewel of the Prophet Joseph Smith" was in reality a "Jupiter talisman." This is a medallion which contains material relating to astrology and magic. Dr. Durham, apparently not realizing the devastating implications of his discovery, announced this important find in his presidential address before the Mormon History Association on April 20, 1974:
... I should like to initiate all of you into what is perhaps the strangest, the most mysterious, occult-like esoteric, and yet Masonically oriented practice ever adopted by Joseph Smith.... All available evidence suggests that Joseph Smith the Prophet possessed a magical Masonic medallion, or talisman, which he worked during his lifetime and which was evidently on his person when he was martyred. His talisman is in the shape of a silver dollar and is probably made of silver or tin. It is exactly one and nine-sixteenths in diameter,... the talisman,... originally purchased from the Emma Smith Bidamon family, fully notarized by that family to be authentic and to have belonged to Joseph Smith, can now be identified as a Jupiter talisman. It carries the sign and image of Jupiter and should more appropriately be referred to as the Table of Jupiter. And in some very real and quite mysterious sense, this particular Table of Jupiter was the most appropriate talisman for Joseph Smith to possess. Indeed, it seemed meant for him, because on all levels of interpretation: planetary, mythological, numerological, astrological, mystical cabalism, and talismatic magic, the Prophet was, in every case, appropriately described.
The characters on the talisman are primarily in Hebrew, but there is one inscription in Latin. Every letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical equivalent and those numerical equivalents make up a magic square. By adding the numbers in this Jupiter Table in any direction ... the total will be the same. In this case, on the Jupiter Table, 34....
There is the one side of the talisman belonging to the Prophet Joseph Smith. You can see the Hebrew characters ... you see on the margins, at the bottom is the Jupiter sign.... The cross at the top represents the spirit of Jupiter, and you will see the path of Jupiter in the orbit of the heavens, and then again the Jupiter sign.
I wasn't able to find what this was, for—as I said—two months; and finally, in a magic book printed in England in 1801, published in America in 1804, and I traced it to Manchester, and to New York. It was a magic book by Francis Barrett and, lo and behold, how thrilled I was when I saw in his list of magic seals the very talisman which Joseph Smith had in his possession at the time of his martyrdom.... To the Egyptians, Jupiter was
known as Ammon, but to the Greeks he was Zeus: the ancient sky Father, or Father of the Gods....
In astrology, Jupiter is always associated with high positions, getting one's own way, and all forms of status. And I quote: "Typically a person born under Jupiter will have the dignity of a natural ruler. . . . He will probably have an impressive manner. . . . In physical appearance, the highly developed Jupiterian is strong, personable, and often handsome. . . . the Jupiterian influence produces a cheerful winning personality, capable of great development." . . .
So closely is magic bound up with the stars and astrology that the term astrologer and magician were in ancient times almost synonymous. The purpose of the Table of Jupiter in talismanic magis [magic?] was to be able to call upon the celestial intelligences, assigned to the particular talisman, to assist one in all endeavors. The names of the deities which we gave to you, who could be invoked by the Table were always written on the talisman or represented by various numbers. Three such names were written on Joseph Smith's talisman: Abbah, Father; El Ob, Father is God or God the Father; and Josiphiel, Jehovah speaks for God, the Intelligence of Jupiter.
When properly invoked, with Jupiter being very powerful and ruling in the heavens, these intelligences—by the power of ancient magic—guaranteed to the possessor of this talisman the gain of riches, and favor, and power, and love and peace; and to confirm honors, and dignities, and councils. Talismatic magic further declared that any one who worked skillfully with this Jupiter Table would obtain the power of stimulating anyone to offer his love to the possessor of the talisman, whether from a friend, brother, relative, or even any female (Mormon Miscellaneous, published by David C. Martin, vol. 1, no. 1, October 1975, pp. 14-15).
Reed Durham was severely criticized by Mormon scholars and officials for giving this speech. He was even called in by Mormon President Spencer W. Kimball, and finally found it necessary to issue a letter in which he reaffirmed his faith in Joseph Smith and said that he was sorry for the "concerns, and misunderstandings" that the speech had caused. We feel that Dr. Durham's identification of Joseph Smith's talisman is one of the most significant discoveries in Mormon history and that he should be commended for his research.
That Joseph Smith would own such a magic talisman fits very well with the evidence from his 1826 trial. W. D. Purple, who was an eye-witness to the trial, claimed it was reported that Smith said certain talismanic influences were needed to recover a box of treasure:
Mr. Thompson, an employee of Mr. Stowell, was the next witness.... Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences.... the box of treasure was struck by the shovel, on which they redoubled their energies, but it gradually receded from their grasp. One of the men placed his hand upon the box, but it gradually sunk from his reach.... Mr. Stowell went to his flock and selected a fine vigorous lamb, and resolved to sacrifice it to the demon spirit who guarded the coveted treasure ... but the treasure still receded from their grasp, and it was never obtained (The Chenango Union, Norwich, N.Y., May 3, 1877, as cited in A New Witness For Christ In America, vol. 2, pp. 366-67).
Dr. Durham was unable to determine just when Joseph Smith obtained his talisman, but the fact that he was recommending "certain talismanic influences" around the time of the 1826 trial is certainly interesting. The Jupiter talisman is probably the type of talisman a money digger would be interested in because it was supposed to bring its possessor "the gain of riches, and favor, and power." Regardless of when Joseph Smith obtained his talisman, we do know that he possessed it up to the time of his death. He must have felt that it was very important because the Mormon scholar LaMar C. Berrett reveals that "This piece was in Joseph Smith's pocket when he was martyred at Carthage Jail" (The Wilford C. Wood Collection, 1972, vol. 1, p. 173). Wesley P. Walters says that "Charles E. Bidamon, who sold the talisman to the Wood collection, stated in his accompanying affidavit: 'Emma Smith Bidamon the prophet's widow was my foster mother. She prized this piece very highly on account of its being one of the prophet's intimate possessions (Charles E. Bidamon Affidavit. Wood Coll. #7-J-b-21)."
The discovery of evidence to prove Joseph Smith's 1826 trial was certainly a devastating blow to Mormonism, for it proved that Joseph Smith was a believer in magical practices. Reed Durham's new find that Joseph Smith possessed a magic talisman is also very significant because it shows that Smith continued to hold these ideas until the time of his death.