6. THE DOCUMENTS EXAMINED
1825 SMITH LETTER
When I originally published The MoneyDigging Letters on August 22, 1984, I included some information concerning an 1825 letter written by Joseph Smith:
"The second letter has never been published. It is also reported to be in the possession of the LDS Church. Although its existence has been known by Mormon scholars for months, the Church has never publicly announced that it has possession of it. This is a letter written by Joseph Smith. We have been told that Dean Jessee confirmed its existence, and when he was asked why he did not publish it in his book, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, he said that it would take an entire volume to explain it. In any case, the text of the document has leaked out." (The Money-Digging Letters, pages 2-3)
I printed the entire text of the letter in The Money-Digging Letters and again in the Salt Lake City Messenger, Sept. 1984. The text of the letter, purportedly written by Joseph Smith to Josiah Stowell on June 18, 1825, reads as follows:
"My Father has shown me your letter informing him and me of your Success in locating the mine as you Suppose but we are of the oppinion that since you cannot asertain any particulars you Should not dig more untill you first discover if any valluables remain you know the treasure must be guarded by some clever spirit and if such is discovered so also is the treasure so do this take a hasel stick one yard long being new Cut and cleave it Just in the middle and lay it asunder on the mine so that both inner parts of the stick may look one right against the other one inch distant and if there is treasure after a while you shall see them draw and Join together again of themselves let me know how it is Since you were here I have almost decided to accept your offer and if you can make it convenient to come this way I shall be ready to accompany you if nothing happens more than I know of I am very respectfully
Joseph Smith Jr."
(Deseret News, May 10, 1985)
Since I only had a typed copy of the letter at the time I printed The Money-Digging Letters in 1984, I realized that there must be some mistakes in it. At that time I made these comments concerning the 1825 letter:
"The spelling and punctuation appear to be too good for Joseph Smith. We must conclude, therefore, that they have been corrected by the person who copied it. In any case, when the original is made available to scholars the spelling, words used and the grammar should be checked against other things known to have been written by Joseph Smith. This may present a few problems since we do not have anything else written by Smith at this early period of his life. His testimony in the 1826 trial shows that he received some of his schooling after the date appearing on the letter. One question that needs to be studied is if Joseph Smith was able to write so well at this early period.
"As far as the historical setting of the letter is concerned, we see no obvious problems. Joseph Smith acknowledged in his history that 'In the month of October, 1825, I hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stowel....He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards...After I went to live with him, he took me, with the rest of his hands, to dig for the silver mine....Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money-digger.' (History of the Church, Vol. 1, page 17)
"In his 1826 trial Smith admitted that 'he had a certain stone which he 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.' (see MormonismShadow or Reality? p.32, for the complete text of the trial.)
"As to Joseph Smith's use of 'a hazel stick' to find treasures, C.M. Stafford said that Smith 'claimed he could tell where money was buried, with a witch hazel consisting of a forked stick of hazel. He held it one fork in each hand and claimed the upper end was attracted by the money.' (Naked Truths About Mormonism, April 1888, p.1)
"In the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, 1877, Vol. 3, pages 810-819, we find an article on the use of the hazel stick. This article says that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery 'commenced their education with the use of the hazel-rod or forked stick, in searching for hidden treasuresthough afterwards they used what they called enchanted stones.'
"In a revelation given by Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery, we read that Cowdery had 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,...' (Book of Commandments, Chapter 3:7) When this revelation was reprinted in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 8:6-7, the words 'the gift of working with the rod' were changed to 'the gift of Aaron.' The other mention of the 'rod of nature' was also replaced with the words the 'gift of Aaron.' The Mormon writer D. Michael Quinn presents some evidence that this same rod was brought to Salt Lake City and that Brigham Young used it to point out where the temple should be built. (Brigham Young University Studies, Fall 1978, page 82)
"Although we can see no historical problems with the letter to Stowell, we will withhold judgment concerning its authenticity until we obtain more information concerning it. We have learned, however, that it was discovered by Mark Hofmann." (The Money-Digging Letters, page 3)
Rick Grunder, who was an associate of Mark Hofmann, claimed that it was his understanding that the 1825 letter came from Charles Hamilton, the New York autograph dealer:
"Rick Grunder is certain that Hofmann maintained to his associates that he, Hofmann, bought the letter from Charles Hamilton, not that Hofmann took it to him for authentication. Rick Grunder is also willing to admit that there is a possibility that Hofmann was not above telling a white lie to impress people." (Maine Antique Digest, April 1986, page 13-A)
Mr. Hamilton had a different story. As I have shown earlier, he said that Mr. Hofmann brought the letter to him to authenticate and that Hofmann told him he had bought it "from a philatelist for $15." (Ibid., Dec. 1985, p. 26-A) Hamilton also claimed that Hofmann "took the letter to some Mormon elder [President Gordon B. Hinckley] and sold it to him for $25,000, and the guy salted the letter away." (Ibid.) When Lyn Jacobs was asked how much the 1825 letter sold for, he replied: "I don't remember exactly, but I believe it was just under twenty thousand." (Sunstone, vol 10, no. 8, p. 16) At the Church's press conference, President Hinckley refused to reveal how much he paid for the letter. At Hofmann's preliminary hearing, the prosecution indicated that in the stipulated statement Gordon B. Hinckley had claimed that "Mark W. Hofmann was given a check from Church funds for $15,000 for the letter."
(click to enlarge)
A photograph of a letter purported to have been written by Joseph Smith to Josiah Stowell on June 18, 1825. Investigators are convinced it is a forgery. (photo from BYU Studies vol. 24, Fall 1984, Number 4, p. 417)
In the Salt Lake City Messenger, June 1985, p. 19, we wrote the following:
"Although the Church later claimed that it had possession of the letter, in a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, May 6, 1985, the Mormon scholar George D. Smith said that it was his understanding that 'Gordon B. Hinckley, second counsellor to President Spencer W. Kimball, purchased the letter in 1983 in his own name from collector Mark Hofmann...'
"If President Hinckley bought the document in his own name, this must have been an attempt to give the Church deniabilityi.e. the letter could be safely kept out of the hands of the public, and yet the Church could officially deny that it had it."
Gordon B. Hinckley's statements at the Church's press conference did not really clarify the matter:
"RICK SHENKMAN: Second thing is, there has been speculation that President Hinckley, that you personally were buying documents from Mark Hofmann, either out of your own funds or using the church funds. Did you in your negotiations with Hofmann ever personally acquire documents from him and were any of the payments ever made in cash?
"PRESIDENT HINCKLEY: The payments were made by check and they are fully authenticated, receipted for, on two occasions. Two items. Nothing like the figures you have been hearing today. Relatively small. What's that?
"REPORTER: Excuse me, can you tell us what items were paid for from Hofmann.
"PRESIDENT HINCKLEY: One was the Joseph Smith, Sr. [sic] letter to Josiah Stowell and the other, I do not remember.
"REPORTER: Can you tell us the price of the letter?
"PRESIDENT HINCKLEY: Well, I don't know that I'm going to tell you the price, but I'm going to tell you that it was nothing like the kind of figures that you've talked of this morning. Nothing like that." (Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 27, 1985)
The idea that President Hinckley bought the letter in his own name seemed to receive support when the charges were filed against Mark Hofmann:
"Your affiant has been informed by Gordon B. Hinckley of the following: That on or about January 11, 1983, Mark Hofmann completed an agreement to sell to Gordon B. Hinckley a document purported to be 'The Josiah Stowell' letter dated June 18, 1825, in exchange for cash in excess of $1,000.00." (The State of Utah v. Mark W. Hofmann, page 5)
As I have already shown, Gordon B. Hinckley was never called upon to testify at the preliminary hearing. After the stipulation was reached, the prosecution asked to amend the wording concerning who purchased the 1825 letter: "...we would move to amend, nothing of substantive importance, but only as to the wording involved in the count. We...charged that originally as being...property of President Gordon B. Hinckley, when in fact as the evidence clearly indicated through the stipulation, that he was only acting as an agent of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And so I would move at this time, to strike out the word President Gordon B. Hinckley and by delineation change it to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
However this may be, it is obvious that President Hinckley bought the letter so that it could be suppressed. Church leaders apparently felt that it would endanger the Church if its members were allowed to read a letter linking Joseph Smith to money-digging and magic. One would think that after we printed the contents of the letter in 1984, the Mormon Church would admit that it had the letter. Instead, however, the Church decided to "stonewall." At about the time we printed the letter, I had a discussion with one of the top historians in the Mormon Church. He lamented that the Church had allowed itself to become involved in a cover-up situation with regard to the 1825 letter. On April 29, 1985, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Dawn Tracy wrote:
"A letter reportedly written by Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith describing money-digging pursuits and treasure guarded by a clever spirit seems to have disappeared from view.
"If authentic, the letter could link Joseph Smith directlyby his own admissionto folk magic....
"Dr. Hill said he is convinced the letter is authentic or he wouldn't have cited the document...He said he doesn't know where the letter is located now.
" 'It's a sad business that the letter is buried,' said Dr. Hill. 'With copies of the letter circulating, I can't see much benefit.'
"Research historian Brent Metcalfe said he knows from 'very reliable, first-hand sources' the letter exists, and the Mormon Church has possession of it.
"Church spokesman Jerry Cahill denied the claim.
" 'The church doesn't have the letter,' said Mr. Cahill. 'It's not in the church archives or the First Presidency's vault.'...He said none of the confidential documents is the 1825 letter.
"Someone may be playing word games, said George Smith, president of Signature Books, a Mormon publishing house focussing on scholarly publications.
" 'The church clearly has possession of the letter,' he said. 'If the exact question isn't asked, someone can wink and say the church doesn't have it.'
"No, said Mr. Cahill, the church does not have possession of the letter." (Salt Lake Tribune, April 29, 1985)
On May 6, 1985, the Salt Lake Tribune published a letter George Smith wrote to the editor. In this letter he revealed that "some scholars have reported seeing it at the church offices,...A number of scholars have photocopies of the letter,..." When it became apparent to the Church leaders that the letter was going to be published in a major newspaper without their consent, they decided to back down and admit the existence of the letter. Jerry Cahill, Director of Public Affairs for the Church, admitted in a letter to the editor that his earlier statement was incorrect:
"...staff writer Dawn Tracy correctly quoted my statement to her that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't have a letter purportedly written in 1825 by Joseph Smith to Josiah Stowel (or Stoal) either in the church archives or in the First Presidency's vault.
"My statement, however, was in error, for which I apologize and for which I alone am responsible. Some months ago I was asked the same question by another inquirer and made a thorough check before responding. Dawn Tracy called me twice as she prepared her article and I responded without checking again.
"When my published statement came to his attention, President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency of the church informed me of my error. The purported letter was indeed acquired by the church. For the present it is stored in the First Presidency's archives and perhaps some day may be the subject of the kind of critical study recently given to the purported letter of Martin Harris to W.W. Phelps." (Salt Lake Tribune, May 7, 1985)
It is very obvious from all this that the Mormon leaders were caught in a very embarrassing cover-up with regard to the letter and that they only published it because their own scholars were preparing to release it to the press. Since the Church or President Hinckley secretly bought this letter in 1983 and never mentioned its existence, it is obvious that Church leaders intended to suppress it. Time magazine for May 20, 1985, reported that "The church offered no explanation for withholding news of the earliest extant document written by Smith,..." John Dart commented: "As it became clear during this week that photocopies of the letter would soon be circulated by sources outside the official church, Cahill announced that the church would discuss the contents and release a photocopy of the letter." (The Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1985) It seems obvious that if the letter had supported the Church in any way, it would have been published immediately in the Deseret News with a large headline announcing its discovery. When Mark Hofmann "discovered" Joseph Smith's mother's 1829 letter, Mormon officials proclaimed it to be "the earliest known dated document" relating to the Church, and it was hailed as a vindication of Joseph Smith's work. Since the letter to Stowell was supposed to have been written by the Prophet himself some four years earlier, we would expect it to receive even greater publicity. Instead, the Mormon leaders buried it and engaged in a coverup.
In the Salt Lake Tribune, Oct, 20, 1985, Dawn Tracy revealed that even top Mormon historians, including the Church Archivist, were kept in the dark concerning the purchase of the 1825 letter:
"Don Schmidt, retired LDS Church archivist, said members of the First Presidency didn't tell him or church historians about the 1825 letter. Nor did they ask him or anyone in his department to authenticate the letter.
"The document, released by church officials in May, was purchased from Mr. Hofmann at least two years ago for a reported $20,000. Church spokesman Jerry Cahill said Dean Jesse[e], an expert in writings of Joseph Smith, had authenticated the letter at the time church officials purchased it.
"Dr. Jesse[e] said he did not see the letter until after church officials purchased it and publicly released its contents. He said the man who invited him in May to authenticate the letter was Mr. Cahill.
"In April Mr. Cahill said the church did not possess the 1825 letter. A few days later he said he had been in error and apologized."
In the list of charges against Mark Hofmann we read that the letter was actually purchased by President Hinckley on "January 11, 1983." Church officials, of course, never admitted that they had the letter until May 7, 1985. From this, it is obvious that the Mormon leaders were able to hide the fact that they had the letter for 28 months!
When the text of the letter was finally published in the Deseret News on May 10, 1985, it was announced that it was 'The earliest known surviving document written by Joseph Smith..." The Church's newspaper tried to defuse the explosive contents of the letter by saying: "The use of a device similar to the 'dowsing rod' that is still used by some rural societies to find water is not unusual in context of the early 1800s, the First Presidency said. Folk magic was a common phenomenon, and Smith was reflecting the beliefs of the society in which he lived." (Deseret News, May 10, 1985)
On May 12, 1985, the following appeared in the Church Section of the Deseret News:
"The 1825 Joseph Smith letter is almost certainly authentic, said Dean C. Jessee, associate professor of Church history and research historian at the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History at BYU. He is a leading expert on early historical documents relating to the Church.
" 'The document appears definitely to be in the hand of Joseph Smith,' he said. 'As such, it is the earliest document we have that is written and signed by the prophet.'..."
Although I could find no historical problems in the 1825 letter, I had grave doubts with regard to its authenticity. These doubts, of course, stemmed from the research I had done on the Salamander letter. It seemed almost incredible that two letters would be found at almost the same time which linked Joseph Smith to money-digging and magic. In the June 1985 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger, Sandra and I printed the results of a study I had done on the 1825 letter. This study seemed to cast some doubt upon the authenticity of the letter:
"According to Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Joseph Smith's widow, Emma, claimed that at the time he wrote the Book of Mormon, he 'could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon...' (Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 1984, p. 26) The 1825 letter hardly seems to support this conclusion. Actually, the spelling in the letter is much better than we would have expected, and for some reason appears to be even better than in some letters written in the 1830s. This is surprising because the testimony Joseph Smith gave in the 1826 trial shows that he received some of his schooling after the date which appears on the letter (June 18, 1825). According to our research, Joseph Smith made only 2.8 spelling mistakes per hundred words in the 1825 letter. From Dean Jessee's book, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, we learn that the first extant letter in the handwriting of Joseph Smith after the 1825 letter is dated March 3, 1831. Using Dean Jessee's typescript of the letter (pages 230-232), we find that Smith made 7.1 mistakes per hundred words. The next letter is dated June 6, 1832, and contains 4.9 mistakes per hundred words (see pages 238-239). The third letter is dated Oct. 13, 1832. This letter has 6.2 mistakes per hundred words (see pages 252-254). We are unable to explain why the spelling would seem to get worse, but it could be that the 1825 letter is too short (only 180 words) to make a good comparison....
"One other thing about the 1825 letter which is somewhat different from Joseph Smith's other writings is that it does not seem to have any words or parts of words crossed out and no words or parts of words are inserted above the lines. In the three later letters and the Anthon Transcript we find numerous examples of this type of thing. There are, in fact, an average of four words or portions of words added or deleted per hundred words in the four documents. The 1825 letter, therefore, should have about seven of these mistakes to be consistent with the other documents. That the 1825 letter has no examples of this nature could be a cause for concern, and we feel that it should be carefully checked by experts who are qualified to make meaningful judgments with regard to spelling, grammar and style." (Salt Lake City Messenger, June 1985, page 18)
Although document examiners did not comment about the "spelling, grammar and style" of the 1825 letter, at the preliminary hearing William Flyn noted that the handwriting appeared to be too good for Joseph Smith:
QOkay. Tell us about the handwriting itself. What did you notice?
A...in this particular document, I don't believe that that is the writing of Joseph Smith on that Josiah Stowell letter.
QWhat do you base that on?
AThe examination of the Joseph Smith handwritings that I had available to me at that time that were records from both LDS and RLDS that were...provided as known samples of Joseph Smith.
QIn what way can you tell us, if any, that this handwriting on this document differs from the other handwriting?
A...one of the things I believe is wrong with this document is that Joseph Smith himself was not a good writer. Not only was he not a good writer, but once I began to cut my own quills I realized how important it was to keep the quills sharp. Everybody in those days that wrote with a quill had to carry a pen knife. That's where pen knife gets its name from. You had to constantly sharpen the pen with your knife. Otherwise, it wouldn't write very well, and it did not appear in the writings of Joseph Smith that he was very adept at either cutting or maintaining...the point on his quill because the writing was terribly sloppy. Now you could always write worse than you could write, but you can never write better...An example would be, if all you can play on the piano is chopsticks, you can pound on the keys with your fists but you can't play Mozart. You know, if you have a certain degree of skill, you can write, you can always write worse but you can never write better. I believe that the writing on the Josiah Stowell letter exhibits a handwriting skill higher than Joseph Smith is capable of....
When George Throckmorton was asked concerning the ink on the 1825 letter, he replied: "That also contained the same characteristic cracking." William Flyn testified as follows:
QAnd...were you able to determine whether or not any of these characteristics you've talked about appeared on that document?
QTell us what you observed.
AThe ink cracking phenomenon, that I'm talking about, is present in the Josiah Stowell letter as well as...there was some work that was done on the handwriting also on that document.
William Flyn went on to testify that he believed the 1825 letter was a forgery:
QDo you have an opinion as to whether or not this documentthe Josiah Stowell letter of 1825is an authentic document of that purported era?
AI don't believe it's a genuine document of that era.
I have already presented a great deal of information concerning the Salamander letter. I have presented evidence of plagiarism, dissimilarities to other things Martin Harris was reported to have said and the fact that Lyn Jacobs changed his story as to how the letter was obtained. In Appendix A the reader will find additional material concerning the Salamander letter. Information concerning the Book of Common Prayer and its relationship to the Salamander letter will also be found in that portion of the book. In this chapter I want to present material on the forensic evidence against the letter.
In my opinion the Salamander letter stands out as a real masterpiece among the forgeries Mark Hofmann sold. While it has defects as far as the text is concerned, the handwriting is beautifully executed and the physical appearance is so good that it could fool the best of experts. Even examination under ultraviolet light does not seem to reveal the flaws found in many of Hofmann's other documents.
Mr. Hofmann must have known that the letter would receive a great deal of scrutiny because of its controversial contents and that it would probably end up in the hands of document examiners. Allen Roberts and Fred Esplin wrote the following with regard to the Salamander letter:
"Jacobs and Hofmann said they realized they possessed something which would make the controversy over the Joseph Smith III blessing pale by comparison....
"The implications of the letter were not lost on Hofmann and Jacobs. If Harris's description was taken literally, it challenged Joseph Smith's later official testimony that he had received the plates from an angel. The letter was a potential source of conflict and controversy in Mormon history." (Utah Holiday, Jan. 1986, p. 54)
Back in 1982 Mark Hofmann spoke of what would happen if a controversial letter concerning Mormonism was discovered:
"HOFMANN:...as far as a Joseph Smith letter, there are several laboratory tests that can be performed...If it's something spectacular or earth shattering, something with important doctrinal or historical implications, an all-out effort would likely be made. There is a very complicated science involved. For example, it is possible to determine the rate of oxidation of the ink in relation to the paper. This would show how long the two were in contact. And so forth." (Sunstone Review, September 1982, page 16)
Since Mark Hofmann was acquainted with Kenneth Rendell, it is possible that he knew what kind of tests Rendell would subject the letter to. At the preliminary hearing Mr. Rendell testified that Hofmann asked him to authenticate the Salamander letter the very month he was supposed to have discovered it:
QNow, at the book fair in Boston on November, 1983, did Mr. Hofmann have occasion to approach you regarding authentication of a document?
AYes, he did.
QWould you please tell us, at that time, what occurred with respect to yourself and Mr. Hofmann and over what document?
QAs I recall, Mark Hofmann told me that he had come across a letter that was quite important to Mormon history and he wanted to have it authenticated....I don't believe he had the letter with him, but I was not particularly interested in doing it and I told him that at the time.
After Mark Hofmann sold the letter to Steven Christensen, Christensen "and Hofmann agreed to split the cost of $6,000 to have the letter authenticated by Kenneth Rendell, a...rare book dealer recommended by Hofmann." (Utah Holiday, Jan. 1986, p. 55) Mr. Rendell examined the letter and sent it to other experts for their opinions. He was unable to find any evidence of forgery. At the preliminary hearing he testified that when he examined the letter he felt that it was authentic but that he could not actually prove that this was the case: "First of all, I did not determine authenticity. I mean, I dealt with the question of authenticity, but I did not determine it to be genuine." Rendell said that there was no material to compare the handwriting with although he was given a few Martin Harris signatures: "...I did compare the signature to four or five signatures, but frankly, I just couldn't rely on the signatures." As I have already shown, after Kenneth Rendell saw other forgeries Mark Hofmann had sold and found out that Lyn Jacobs had admitted that he fabricated a story as to how the Salamander letter was obtained, be began to have doubts with regard to its authenticity. At the preliminary hearing he stated: "If someone came to me with this letter in this context, I would not buy it. I could not offer it as probably being genuine." He also said that he "would not sell this letter."
Mr. Rendell claimed that he was unable to find a relationship between the Salamander letter and the other forgeries, but "If there is one it's in the ink...and I...don't do ink analysis...that's out of my area, and it now passes on to being a question of ink." Document examiners, of course, did find the common denominator between the Salamander letter and the other forgeries in the ink. William Flyn testified: "The...Martin Harris-W.W. Phelps letter also is one of the documents that has the extensive surface cracking of the ink that I have talked about several times now." The Deseret News for May 12, 1986, reported:
"A Utah documents expert has given additional testimony that the controversial Martin Harris letterbetter known as the 'White Salamander Letter'is a forgery....
"The Martin Harris letter Hofmann claimed to have discovered was different in two respects, Throckmorton said Monday. First, after it was folded, it was still possible to look inside and read the letter; and second, the sealing wax was in the extreme right-hand corner, not the center of the document.
"The suspicious cut marks on the Harris letter also were discovered on several other documents Hofmann claimed to have discovered,...
"Throckmorton said the suspicious cut marks were discovered only on documents Hofmann said he discovered and not on any of the other documents he examined....
"Throckmorton also testified about the unusual cracking effect exhibited in the ink on Hofmann's documents. He said he personally examined 688 documents and that 21 showed microscopic ink cracking. Mark Hofmann was the source of all 21 documents....
"Throckmorton added he had never seen the ink cracking phenomenon before and was unaware of similar ink cracking on any legitimate historical documents. After examining hundreds of documents, the expert said, the phenomenon was apparent only in those documents Hofmann claimed to have discovered."
William Flyn testified that he did not believe that the writing on the document "is authentic writing from that time period." Mr. Flyn also said: "The paper itself appears to be genuine period paper. The writing itself does not appear to be genuine writing of that time period." Flyn also noted that "One edge of the document had been cut." He said the cut "probably [was done] with the scissors. It's an irregular cut."
Kenneth Rendell said that when he originally examined the Salamander letter he noticed it was not folded in the way normal cover letters were folded, but he felt that this in itself would not cause him to reject the letter's authenticity. He did state, however, that "There's no logical reason that this letter is folded in the way that it is."
Throckmorton and Flyn seem to feel that the peculiar way that the letter is folded and the evidence of cutting on the side may indicate that the paper used for the Salamander letter came from a larger sheet of old paper.
At the preliminary hearing former Church Archivist Donald Schmidt testified:
A...Mark Hofmann told me that he had two lettersone from Martin Harris and one from David Whitmer to Walter Conrad.
QAnd was there a provenance on...these particular documents?
AI understood that they were obtained from someone who collected...the correspondence....
While a number of Mark Hofmann's documents were embarrassing to the Church, some of them were very faith promoting. The 1873 letters of Book of Mormon witnesses David Whitmer and Martin Harris certainly fit into this category. Speaking of the David Whitmer letter, Donald Schmidt testified: "Basically it reaffirms his testimony of the Book of Mormon." A photograph of this letter is proudly displayed in the Dec. 1983 issue of the Church's publication, The Ensign, page 39. The letter, dated April 2, 1873, reads as follows:
Anyone who is without prejudice can easily learn the Book of Mormon is the word of God if he will earnestly seek the truth. Upon investigation it is evident that the Bible and the Book of Mormon perfectly agree; all else is darkness.
People who believe in the Book of M. who do not understand this are spiritually blind.
In regards to my testimony in that Book as one of the three witnesses: I have always been true to what I have said. I know for myself that Angels minister to man in these last days. I have also seen the golden plates and the interpreters.
Yours Very Truly,
Donald Schmidt testified that President Gordon B. Hinckley made the decision to purchase the Whitmer letter from Mark Hofmann:
QWas anyone else involved in the...negotiations for the purchase of this particular document?
QWho else was involved?
AManaging Director G. Homer Durham, as well as President Hinckley.
Q...did they have an opportunity to examine this document during the course of these negotiations?
AThey saw it.
. . . . .
QAnd did there come a time when you determined...to purchase this letter?
. . . . .
QAnd who made that decision?
In the charges against Hofmann we find that he sold the letter to the Church on "October 2, 1982." Donald Schmidt testified that Mr. Hofmann received "a check for $10,000" for this letter.
When William Flyn testified, he was asked if he found cracking in the ink. He replied: "Yes. Certain portions contained that." Flyn went on to say: "I don't believe that was authentic either."
The idea of having two of the Book of Mormon witnesses write to a man by the name of Conrad could have been suggested by another letter that came through Hofmann to the Churchi.e., "A letter, dated Aug. 5, 1844, from Susan Conrad Wilkinson to Mary Wooley,..." (Deseret News, April 12, 1986) At the preliminary hearing, Brent Ashworth claimed that this was a genuine letter that he had given Mark Hofmann in a trade.
Because of the brevity of the David Whitmer letter to Walter Conrad and the lack of historical details, it is almost impossible to find any fault with it from a historical point of view. While I must admit that the wording in the letter sounds very much like that of David Whitmer, I have had doubts about its authenticity for a long time. These doubts arose because of the fact that it is obviously related to the 1873 letter of Martin Harris to Walter Conrada letter I was very suspicious of. The purported Martin Harris letter, dated January 13, 1873, reads as follows:
Brother Walter Conrad.
Dear Sir.Your favor of the 7th inst. has been purused with much pleasure, and I am pleased to reply. it is truly gratifying to hear of the continual increase of influence manifested by the Book of Mormon and as you have entreated me to write my witness of said Book (and have graciously enclosed a stamp for the same) I now solemnly state that as I was praying unto the Lord that I might behold the ancient record, lo there appeared to view a holy Angel, and before him a table, and upon the table the holy spectacles or Urim and Thummim, and other ancient relics of the Nephites, and lo, the Angel did take up the plates and turn them over so as we could plainly see the engravings thereon, and lo there came a voice from heaven saying 'I am the Lord,' and that the plates were translated by God and not by men, and also that we should bear record of it to all the world, and thus the vision was taken from us.
And now dear brother, I would that you might look upon my countanance and know that I lie not, neither was I deceived, but it pleases the Lord that I must be content to write these few lines. Yours in the Gospel of Christ.
The text of the 1873 letter is supposed to be in the handwriting of Martin Harris' son, although it appears to bear the signature of Martin Harris himself.
Mark Hofmann mentioned this letter when he was interviewed by Sunstone Review in 1982:
"And I know of a super good letter written by Martin Harris. Someone had asked him to put in writing his testimony of the Book of Mormon. He gives details in that letter which are not found anywhere else concerning hearing the voice of the Lord and the things that he saw on the table and the angel appearing, etc. Very significant, at least in my mind." (Sunstone Review, Sept. 1982, page 18)
Mr. Hofmann sold this letter to the Mormon bishop Brent Ashworth. Ashworth, of course, liked to buy documents that were favorable to the Church. When he would announce these discoveries, the Church's newspaper would usually give him a great deal of publicity. Lyn Jacobs said that Ashworth was later offered the Salamander letter, but "he decided not to purchase it, although I don't exactly know why. It might have been because of the content, or perhaps the price we were asking." (Sunstone, vol. 10, no. 8, p. 15) Mr. Ashworth must have realized that possession of the Salamander letter would only bring him embarrassment. In any case, after Ashworth obtained the 1873 Harris letter, the Church Section of the Deseret News, Oct. 9, 1982, carried a full-page write up about the letter. In this article we find the following:
"Discovery of a 110-year-old letter containing the only known signed testimony of Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses, was announced Oct. 5 by Brent F. Ashworth,...
"In a press conference at the Church Historical Department in the Church Office Building, Ashworth said the letter reaffirms Harris' testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon....
"In his declining years in Utah, Harris testified often of the angelic visitation. Yet, until the present discovery, no signed copy of his testimony was known to historians. Signed letters containing the testimonies of the other two witnesses are in the possession of the Church....
"Ashworth said he brought the letter to the attention of the Church because he was impressed by Elder Boyd K. Packer's conference address Oct. 3. Elder Packer announced that the subtitle, 'Another Testament of Jesus Christ,' would be added to the Book of Mormon.
" 'I feel like the letter supported that new title; that this is also a testament of Christ,' Ashworth said. 'I felt like the Church would use the letter in the way the writer intended.' "
In another article on the same page, G. Homer Durham, managing director of the Church Historical Department, commented:
" 'The Martin Harris letter...written to Walter Conrad in response to the latter's inquiry, is new and additional documentary support for the account recorded by the Prophet Joseph Smith...It also sustains, by his own signature, the testimony of the Three Witnesses. Because it is a signed statement, it represents one of the most significant documents regarding [the] coming forth of the 'Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.' In its own way it constitutes Martin Harris' 'personal' witness."
I first began publicly criticizing the 1873 Martin Harris letter in 1984 in The Money-Digging Letters. On page 19 of that booklet, I stated that the signature appeared too good for a man "who was just four months from his ninetieth birthday." In the Salt Lake City Messenger for Jan. 1985, I wrote the following:
"It is disturbing to note that the Salamander letter, which seems to remove all religious elements out of the Book of Mormon story, comes right on the heels of the discovery of another letter reported to have been written by Martin Harris in 1873....It is a strong affirmation of the testimony concerning the angel appearing to show the gold plates:...
"The Salamander letter almost appears to be a rebuttal to the powerful testimony of the 1873 letter. When it comes to Harris's view of the gold plates it merely states: '...Joseph takes me together with Oliver Cowdery & David Whitmer to have a view of the plates our names are appended to the book of Mormon...'
"I have made a comparison of the religious content of the two letters and found the following: the 1873 letter uses the word Lord three times. The words Angel and holy appear twice, and the words God, Christ, heaven, vision, Gospel and praying all appear once. In the Salamander letter all of these words are missing, and since it is almost three times as long as the 1873 letter the discrepancy becomes even more important.
"In The Money-Digging Letters, page 19, I wrote: 'The style of the Salamander letter seems to differ from that of the 1873 letter. Although Harris was in his late forties at the time the Salmander letter was supposed to have been written, it appears to have been penned by someone who did not have a very good education. The 1873 letter, on the other hand, is very well written. One very obvious difference is that it uses the word and three times as often as the Salamander letter.' After sorting the words in the two letters alphabetically on our computer, I found that the figure should be 2.6 instead of 3. The Salamander letter uses and 2.9 times per hundred words, whereas it appears 7.5 times per hundred words in the 1873 letter. I also made this observation in The Money-Digging Letters: 'The Salamander letter is composed mostly of short sentences (an average of 12 words in each sentence), whereas the 1873 letter has an average of 73 words per sentence.' If the original punctuation of the 1873 letter is not followed, it is possible to divide it into more sentences. While this would reduce the number of words per sentence, the new sentences would all have to start with the word and. The other letters attributed to Harris which I have examined do not seem to use the word and to start sentences. It is also interesting to note that the sentences in these letters are about twice as long as those in the Salamander letter. I really do not profess to know how significant the length of sentences and the number of times and is used are for determining authorship. It would seem that both could be affected by the contents of the letter. I do feel, however, that the two letters bear little resemblance to each other. The differences have led me to question whether both could be genuine. Although the 1873 letter seems to fit more comfortably with the picture I have obtained of Martin Harris from many other sources, I must admit that I am not absolutely convinced that it is authentic.
"If I accept the statement that Martin Harris was a man 'of small literary acquirements' when he was over forty years of age, then I find it very hard to believe that he would have improved his style to the point where he could have written the 1873 letter. One explanation for this, however, might be that Martin Harris's son imposed his own style into the letter. For that matter, he could have composed the entire letter, and as long as his father signed it, it would be considered the work of Martin Harris, Sen. The most important thing, then, is the signature....
"I would expect Harris's signature to be somewhat shaky by the time he was supposed to have signed the 1873 letter. I have been told by a scholar who has seen the original that it does show evidence of an unsteady hand. If this is the case, the photograph published in The Ensign does not seem to reveal it. In any case, after I published The Money-Digging Letters, I received a photocopy of an application for a U. S. Military pension which Martin Harris signed on April 21, 1871. Since it was signed 21 months before the 1873 letter was supposed to have been written, I would expect it to be as good as or even better than the one appearing on the letter. Instead, it seems to bear evidence of deterioration....
"While the 1871 signature does raise some questions about the signature on the 1873 letter, caution must be used. It could be that when Martin Harris signed the document in 1871 he was having an exceptionally bad day. Although I am suspicious of the signature on the 1873 letter, I cannot say for certain that it did not come from Martin Harris's pen. It is interesting to note, however, that in the letter dated January 1871, which was published in the Millennial Star, Harris commented: 'I reply by a borrowed hand, as my sight has failed me too much to write myself.' If Harris was having such a severe problem when he was 87, I would think that it would even be worse by the time he was 89. This could not only affect the appearance of the signature but also its orientation to the writing which had already been dictated. A close exmanination of the photograph in The Ensign shows that the signature is placed perfectly between the lines on the paper and that it is parallel to the other writing.
"I do not know whether any physical tests have been made on this letter. The Church's press release, dated October 5, 1982, only told that, 'Preliminary studies, comparing the handwritings in the letter with known examples of handwritings of both Martin Harris and his son, substantiate the letter's authenticity.'
"As to the pedigree of the letter, the Church's press release said that Brent F. Ashworth 'declined to identify the collectors from whom' he obtained it. We have since learned that it passed through the hands of Mark Hofmann...Martin Harris's 1873 letter was addressed to Walter Conrad. Mr. Ashworth was apparently unsuccessful in tracing the letter back to the Conrad family. In the press release, we read as follows: 'He said the Martin Harris letter was previously owned by at least three collectors. The first of these, he said, kept the letter in a collection of postmarked covers from early Utah and apparently didn't realize its import.'
"It would appear, then, that the first person known to have had the letter was a collector. This, of course, provides no real evidence for the document's authenticity. (It could be of some value, of course, if the collector furnished evidence that it was in his collection for a number of years.) In my opinion, the fact that a document has been in the hands of a collector does not really give it a pedigree. A forged document could be funnelled through an unsuspecting collector to help convince someone else of its authenticity. The important thing, then, is where the document was before it arrived in the hands of the collector. Although many authentic documents have no pedigree, I would still feel better about the 1873 letter if it could be traced back beyond a collector.
"The 1873 letter is worth a great deal of money because it fills a real vacuum for believers in the Book of Mormon. While Harris often claimed that an angel showed him the gold plates of the Book of Mormon...he seems to have had little to say about the details of the vision. According to a number of sources, when Harris was questioned about the matter, he said he 'never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision...' (see MormonismShadow or Reality? page 96-C; Gleanings By The Way, pages 256-57). In the Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 142, Mormon historian B.H. Roberts concluded that "So far as any direct personal statement is concerned, Martin Harris is silent as to the manner in which the plates were shown to him;...'
"The following appeared in the Church's press release which announced the discovery of the 1873 letter: 'Through the years several interviews with Martin Harris have been published, reaffirming his testimony...But this letter is the first statement to be discovered since then that carries his signature.'
"Mormon officials were elated with this remarkable discovery....The rejoicing was shortlived, however. Scarcely a year had elapsed when rumors began to surface that another letter by Martin Harris had been discovered. Instead of confirming the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, the Salamander letter turned out to provide devastating evidence against it by linking it to money-digging and the occult.
"At any rate, the 1873 letter contains some interesting parallels with two documents printed in the Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 1, pages 142-43. The first is a statement by Edward Stevenson in which he claimed that Martin Harris gave important details concerning the vision of the gold plates at his (Stevenson's) home. B.H. Roberts source for Stevenson's statement is listed as Millennial Star, Vol. 48, page 367-389. When this reference was checked, it became evident that it was only a reminiscence. It was not published until June 21, 1886eleven years after Martin Harris's death. Furthermore, Stevenson seemed to have been relying at least to some extent on James T. Wood's memory: '...Brother James T. Woods, who is now present while I am writing this article, reminds me that himself and G.D. Keaton were present on that occasion, and asked him [Harris] to explain the manner in which the plates containing the characters of the Book of Mormon were exhibited to the witnesses.' Since a number of similar statements by Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer had already been published, it is possible that some of Whitmer's ideas were unconsciously attributed to Harris. However this may be, Stevenson said that Harris related that 'the angel stood on the opposite side of the table...' The 1873 letter told of 'a holy Angel, and before him a table,...' Stevenson's account said...'the angel...took the plates in his hand and turned them over.' The Harris letter also claimed that 'the Angel did take up the plates and turn them over...' Both accounts use the words, 'to all the world.' Stevenson went on to say that Harris claimed 'he lied not.' In the 1873 letter Harris said that 'I lie not...'
"While there are a number of interesting parallels between the two accounts, there is one significant difference. Stevenson claimed that Harris spoke of the 'angel' who declared that the Book of Mormon was translated correctly, whereas the 1873 letter said it was 'the Lord.' This is interesting because the other document used by Roberts in the Comprehensive History, p. 143, agrees with the 1873 letter in this matter. This is a report of an interview with David Whitmer which appears on the same page Stevenson's account ends. In this report we find Whitmer (who seems to be borrowing heavily from the printed 'Testimony of the Three Witnesses') quoted as saying: '...I heard the voice of the Lord....declaring that the records of the plates...were translated by the gift and power of God.' In the letter attributed to Harris, we read that, 'there came a voice...saying 'I am the lord,' and that the plates were translated by God...'
'These parallels, of course, do not prove that the 1873 letter was created from the accounts used by B. H. Roberts. They only show that there was a source available which was printed after Harris's death which someone could have used to write the letter." (Salt Lake City Messenger, Jan. 1985, pages 9-12)
In his book, Great Forgers and Famous Fakes, pages 94 and 99, Charles Hamilton related that the notorious forger Joseph Cosey made the mistake of not taking into consideration the deterioration of handwriting as a person gets older:
"After my visitor's first flush of embarrassment subsided, he pressed me for more details, saying: 'But the signature of Franklin perfectly matches a facsimile with which I compared it.'
" 'It is a superb counterfeit,' I said.
" 'Then how can you tell it's not genuine?'
" 'Notice the date of your document1787only three years before Franklin's death. Yet the signature is firm and bold, unlike the writing of an old man. Cosey never grasped the fact that like most handwriting, Franklin's disintegrated toward the end of his life. It became shakier, almost tremulous. The tremor is especially obvious in his handwritten documents, but even the huge signature which the aging statesman affixed to land grants and pay warrants reveals a slight quaver, easily visible without a magnifying glass.
" 'Yet, whether Cosey writes an early or late Franklin document, he never varies the handwriting. His scribbling Franklin is timeless, an eternal youth whose hand never trembled and whose handsome script remained firm and bold to the very end.' "
I feel that the person who created the 1873 Martin Harris letter has made the same mistake as Joseph Coseyi.e., failed to take into consideration the deterioration of Martin Harris' handwriting as he got older. Dean Jessee has prepared a study which shows 15 signatures of Martin Harris. While at least three come from alleged forgeries sold by Mark Hofmann, some of them are undoubtedly authentic. Below is a photograph of the signatures from Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 24, no. 4, p. 425:
(click to enlarge)
Although Mr. Jessee did not make his comparison for that purpose, it certainly seems to show that the purported 1873 signature, which appears on the letter to William Conrad, is very questionable. On page 406 of the same article Dean Jessee says that after "1860" Martin Harris' "writing shows deterioration possibly due to illness or age." The reader will notice that signature number 15, from the Hofmann document, compares very well with number 8a signature which was undoubtedly penned by Martin Harris 42 years earlier. This signature comes from an 1831 "Bishop's license" signed by 20 early Mormons. This document has been preserved in the Church Historical Department. The signature on the 1873 letter is certainly better than the last signatures on Jessee's list (see especially signature number 14).
As I have indicated earlier, the letter of David Whitmer to William Conrad has been shown to have cracked ink, indicating that the ink was artificially aged. Unfortunately, the Martin Harris letter to Conrad cannot be tested in the same way as the David Whitmer letter. According to the Church's press release, page 3, it "was written in indelible pencil on lined paper." There is, therefore, no way to determine when it was actually written. The forger would probably be smart enough not to use a modern pencil that might contain some 20th century ingredients.
I believe that it is possible that the real purpose for the 1873 Harris letter was to prepare the way for the Salamander letter. Since it was favorable to the Church and contained nothing really controversial, both Church leaders and scholars accepted it as a genuine document. Mr. Hofmann probably felt that once the letter was accepted, the signature would be used to help validate the Salamander letter. Moreover, if there was a plan to produce the missing 116 pages of the Book of Mormon in the handwriting of Martin Harris, the Harris to Conrad letter would be one of the preliminary steps. In this scenario, the forger would first "seed the mine" with bogus Martin Harris signatures (as in the case of the forged Hitler diaries). These signatures would be used in authenticating the Salamander lettera letter which not only contains a signature but also over 600 handwritten words. The handwritten words, in turn, would be used to validate the 116-page manuscript.
Although Mark Hofmann was not charged by the County Attorney's Office with "theft by deception" with regard to the 1873 Martin Harris letter, Brent Ashworth has listed it as a forgery in the complaint for his lawsuit against Hofmann. Mr. Ashworth revealed that he paid $27,000 for this letter. Since it is unlikely that Ashworth can recover much, if anything, from Mark Hofmann, it would be very foolish for him to list this letter as a forgery unless he had very good reason to doubt its authenticity. By charging Hofmann with selling him a forged document, Mr. Ashworth stands to lose his entire investment in the Martin Harris letter.
In The State of Utah v. Mark W. Hofmann, pages 2 and 5, we read that Mr. Hofmann was charged with "a Second Degree Felony" with regard to the sale of the Grandin Contract:
"Your affiant has been informed by Donald Schmidt of the following: That on or about March 3, 1983, Mark W. Hofmann completed an agreement to sale [sic] to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a document purported to be the 'E. B. Grandin Contract', in exchange for cash in excess of $1,000.00."
This document is actually a contract between Joseph Smith, Martin Harris and the publisher Egbert B. Grandin concerning the printing of the Book of Mormon. The document is dated August 17, 1829, and contains another Martin Harris signature. It was printed in the Church's publication, The Ensign, October 1982, pages 72-73. When I wrote The Money-Digging Letters in 1984, I felt that this document contained a genuine Martin Harris signature which did not come through the hands of Mark Hofmann. As it turns out, however, this is another document that Hofmann sold to the Church for a large amount of money. At the preliminary hearing former Church Archivist Donald Schmidt was asked how much the Church paid for the document. He replied: "I recall it [was] $25,000." Donald Schmidt also revealed that President Gordon B. Hinckley was involved in the purchase of the Grandin contract:
QDid President Hinckley become involved in these negotiations?
QAt what point?
Q...did he examine the document himself?
AI'm sure he did.
When handwriting expert Kenneth Rendell examined this document, he noted that there was "an awful lot of shakiness in the Joseph Smith signaturean unusual amount of shakiness.
William Flyn testified that this is another Hofmann document in which the ink was artificially aged:
QCould you tell us what, if anything, you observed about the characteristics of the ink on that document?
AYes. This, the entire document, the ink was extensively cracked throughout the writings of this document.
QUnder the ultraviolet, did it________ showing anything?
AYes. This was one of the documents that had one-directional running under ultraviolet. Again, some constituent part of this ink bled in one direction only on this paper as if it had been wetted down with a material that dissolved a portion of the ink out and ran it down.
Mr. Flyn concluded by saying: "I do not believe it's a genuine document from that time period."
LUCY SMITH LETTER
According to the charges filed against Mark Hofmann, "on or about July 29, 1982, Mark Hofmann completed an agreement to sell to Brent Ashworth a document purported to be 'The Lucy Mack Smith' letter, dated January 23, 1829, in exchange for property valued at over $1,000.00."
In his interview in Sunstone, Lyn Jacobs said that Mr. Hofmann acquired the Lucy Smith letter through the cover trading business. This, of course, would mean that he would have paid very little money for the letter. When Brent Ashworth was asked how much Hofmann originally paid for the letter, he replied: "...I believe...$25 was the figure." Alvin Rust, however, testified that Hofmann borrowed "$15,000" from him "for the purchase of the 'Lucy Mack Smith letter.' " (Deseret News, April 22, 1986) In any case, Hofmann later sold the letter to Mr. Ashworth for items Ashworth valued "at around $33,000." The Deseret News for May 7, 1986, reported:
"Ashworth said he was initially impressed with Hofmann. Hofmann arranged the purchase of a letter purportedly written by Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of Joseph Smith Jr., founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In July 1982, Ashworth exchanged six documents valued at $33,000including letters written by Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson and John Brownfor the Smith letter.
"Ashworth exuded enthusiasm for document collecting as he spoke on the witness stand of his great finds, and said he was thrilled to obtain the letter.
" 'I didn't know at the time that Lucy Mack Smith could write. This letter is extremely rare,' Ashworth testified."
Brent Ashworth testified that he wanted to know where Hofmann had obtained the letter, but he was unable to obtain an answer: "...after my purchase of the Lucy Mack Smith letter, I guess my curiosity was getting to me on where exactly the letter came from, and I continued to pursue that, although quite unsuccessfully as to the dealer and so on..."
At any rate, the Mormon leaders rejoiced over the letter and it was hailed as a vindication of Joseph Smith's work. The Church's publication, The Ensign, Oct. 1982, pages 70-72, printed the following:
"A previously unknown 1829 letter by Lucy Mack Smith to her sister-in-law in which the mother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., discusses her son's work has been made available to the Church Historical Department.
"The letter, dated 23 January 1829, is 'the first [earliest] known dated document relating to the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,' said Heber C. Wolsey, managing director of the Public Communications Department of the Church, in a news conference held Monday, August 23, in Church Historical Department offices....
"The letter was acquired by Brent F. Ashworth, a Provo, Utah, member of the Church from a private collector who obtained it from another collector in the eastern United States....
"After closely examining a copy of the letter, Dean Jessee, senior research historian of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute of Church History at Brigham Young University, said, 'The letter appears to be Lucy Mack Smith's handwriting...
"According to Brother Jessee, the letter is significant to the Church for several reasons. 'It is probably the earliest signed and dated letter dealing with events surrounding the Restoration, and it is also probably the oldest known dated document of any typeexcluding newspapersprior to the organization of the Church that deals with the restoration of the Church.' In 1980 the Church received a copy of a transcript of characters thought to have been taken from the gold plates...but the document is undated....
"The letter, said Brother Jessee, 'shows that right at the beginning, when the curtain first goes up in 1829, the Smiths are talking about and saying the same things that they say in their histories later on, in Joseph's history beginning in 1838 and in Lucy's in 1845."
On August 24, 1982, Seventh East Press printed the following:
"The letter mentions Joseph Smith's being led to the location of the gold Book of Mormon plates by an angel. 'This pretty much knocks in the head the old evolution theory of Joseph's doctrinal development,' Jessee said, alluding to the concept that Joseph Smith invented the stories of the First Vision, origin of the Book of Mormon, etc., later in his life in order to vindicate his prophetic calling. 'Here's Lucy, repeating the Moroni story in 1829, when the curtain of Church history was just going up. Obviously Joseph didn't think all this up later on.' "
Actually, a careful examination of the letter reveals that it says absolutely nothing about the First Vision, nor does it refer to "being led to the location of the gold Book of Mormon plates by an angel." It only says that "the Lord...made his paths known to Joseph in dreams and it pleased God to show him where he could dig to obtain an ancient record engraven upon plates made of pure gold..." While the letter is not as faith promoting as some Mormon apologists would have us believe, it does at least have God directing Joseph Smith to the gold plates. The Salamander letter, on the other hand, has Smith communicating with an "old spirit" and entirely omits all mention of God.
(click to enlarge)
A photograph of the letter Lucy Smith was supposed to have written in 1829.
To those of us who believe in the theory that Hofmann was planning to bring forth the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, the Lucy Smith letter is extremely important. It is the only document accepted by the Church which seems to reveal anything concerning the contents of these missing pages. For instance, the printed Book of Mormon says that Lehi and his family left Jerusalem with a man named Ishmael and his family. Lucy Smith's letter adds that Ishmael was the brother of Lehi's wife. This would mean, of course, that Nephi and his brothers married their cousins when they "took the daughters of Ishmael to wife" (1 Nephi 16:7). The Church publication, The Ensign, page 70, commented about this matter:
"Of special interest to members of the Church are several details in the letter apparently from the lost 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon....Lucy Mack Smith's understanding, described in this letter of January 1829, presumably came either from what she had read or heard from her son or from the material contained in the 116 lost manuscript pages. Sister Smith describes a synopsis of the manuscript's contents and the negative response by the people to the Smiths because of their beliefs."
Mark Hofmann's friend, Lyn Jacobs, also mentioned the matter: "...the Lucy Mack Smith letter was important because we have never had any verifiable notion of the contents of the 116 lost manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon. The reference to the contents of the 116 pages made the letter incredibly important to many people." (Sunstone, vol. 10, no. 8, page 16) The obvious implications of this matter seem rather clearthe Lucy Smith letter could be used to help validate the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon if they ever came forth. It seems like more than just coincidence that Mark Hofmann, who has openly stated that he has been searching for these lost pages, would find a letter which seems to reveal some of their contents.
The Lucy Smith letter may have some relationship with another letter written by Mrs. Smith which has been preserved by the Church. It was published many years ago in Scrap Book of Mormon Literature, vol. 1, by Ben E. Rich. On pages 543-45, we find a copy of a letter written by Lucy Smith to her brother, Solomon Mack on Jan. 6, 1831. We find the following in that letter:
"God...sent out a prophet named Lehi and commanded him to declare unto the people that unless they repented of their sins that the city would be destroyed, but they would not hear him,...the Lord commanded him to take his family, together with another man named Ishmael, and his family, and flee out of the city, and they were led by the hand of the Lord on to this continent...and the more wicked part of them being led by one of the sons of Lehi named Laman, arose up in rebellion against their brethren, and would not keep the commandments of God, therefore He sent a curse upon them, and caused a dark skin to come over them,..."
The reader will notice that there are a number of parallels in the letter sold by Mark Hofmann:
"...they descended from a prophet of the Lord whose name was Lehi he fled from Jerusalem with his family and also his wife's brother's family a few days before Nebuechadnezzar besieged the City...Lehi prophesied unto the Jews...that they must repent of their sins yet they would not,...God commanded the people of Lehi to get out of Jerusalem and flee into the wilderness and at length they were directed to enter upon the Land of America: now a part of the people of Lehi whose head was named Laman a son of Lehi became savage and they sought to exterminate their more virtuous brethren who were called the people of Nephi therefore God cast off the people of Laman and he cursed them with a dark skin..."
Back in 1982 Dean Jessee noticed some similarities between the two letters and commented: " '...It is very similar to another letter that is dated 1831, when she wrote to her brother Solomon. The handwriting on the two documents is the same.' " (The Ensign, Oct. 1982, p. 70) While the parallels could be used as evidence to show that Lucy Smith wrote both letters, under the circumstances, it seems more likely that Mark Hofmann or one of his friends obtained a copy of the 1831 letter and that it provided structural material for the 1829 letter.
It is interesting to note that although Dean Jessee believed the Lucy Mack Smith letter was authentic, when he published it he did note that the letter showed no evidence of handling and that it was addressed to an address that had been incorrect for nearly six years: "...there is a question whether Mary ever received the letter from Lucy: In the first place, the letter was part of a large collection of letters valued for their postmarks and may have come from a dead letter file. Furthermore, although separated at the fold, the letter shows no evidence of handling or wear. And finally, the letter is addressed to Royalton, Vermont, whereas the Pierces had moved to Lebanon, New Hampshire, in 1823, nearly six years prior to the postmark date of Lucy's letter." (Brigham Young University Studies, Fall 1982, page 455, footnote 4)
Document expert George Throckmorton examined the document, and at the preliminary hearing he reported: "There was cracking on that letter, on the ink." William Flyn also testified concerning the "extensive ink cracking again throughout this document...There was also that ink running...visible under ultraviolet on the last page of the document." Mr. Flyn concluded: "I don't believe it's genuine."
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