2. THE SALAMANDER LETTER
The so-called 'Martin Harris letter' [the Salamander letter] is no repudiation of Joseph Smith, but rather probably is a further witness of the Prophet's own account of the discovery of the gold plates. (Deseret News, Church Section, Sept. 9, 1984)
I remember sitting in a sacrament meeting several days after Mark Hofmann had confessed... I felt an overwhelming emotional and spiritual relief.... that white salamander that had bedeviled me for so long at last was exorcised. I felt spiritual channels once hindered and partly clogged renew themselves. (Professor Ronald W. Walker, Brigham Young University, August 6, 1987)
One of the most interesting parts of Mark Hofmann's confession relates to his forgery of the Salamander letter. In Tracking the White Salamander, under ULM's Investigation, I wrote the following:
"In the years that followed our first meeting Mr. Hofmann would occasionally visit our bookstore and tell of the remarkable discoveries that he was making. In the latter part of November 1983 I first heard that Mark Hofmann had a letter which was supposed to have been written by Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris. It was dated Oct. 23, 1830, and was addressed to W.W. Phelps. When I learned of the contents of the letter, I realized that it could deal a devastating blow to the Mormon Church. Sandra and I had previously written a book entitled, Mormonism, Magic and Masonry. In this book we presented strong evidence that Joseph Smith was involved in money-digging and magic. Martin Harris' letter seemed to provide new and exciting evidence which supported our thesis. This letter is known as the Salamander letter because Martin Harris was supposed to have written that Joseph Smith claimed when he went to get the gold plates for the Book of Mormon, a 'white salamander' in the bottom of the hole 'transfigured himself' into a 'spirit' and 'struck me 3 times.'
"Fortunately, I was able to obtain some revealing extracts from the letter and was preparing to print them in the March 1984 issue of the Messenger. I was very excited that we at Utah Lighthouse Ministry would be the first to break this important story to the world. While in the midst of compiling evidence to support the authenticity of the Salamander letter, I made a discovery that shook me to the very core. I found that the account of the transformation of the white salamander into the spirit was remarkably similar to a statement E.D. Howe published in Mormonism Unvailed. This book, written four years after the date which appears in the Harris letter, told of a toad 'which immediately transformed itself into a spirit' and struck Joseph Smith. Even more disconcerting, however, was the fact that other remarkable parallels to the Salamander letter were found just two or three pages from the account of the transformation of the toad into a spirit (see Mormonism Unvailed, pages 273, 275 and 276).
"Some years before I had encountered similar evidence of plagiarism in Joseph Smith's History of the Church. The Mormon Church leaders had always proclaimed that this History was actually written by Joseph Smith himself. My research, however, led me to the conclusion that the largest portion of it had been compiled after his death. I found that later Mormon historians had taken portions of newspapers and diaries written by other people and changed them to the first person so that readers would believe that they were authored by Joseph Smith himself. In agreement with my conclusions, Mormon scholars later admitted that over 60% of the History was compiled after Smith's death (see Mormonism-Shadow or Reality? pages 127-135).
"In any case, parallels I had discovered between the Salamander letter and Mormonism Unvailed reminded me very much of the work I had done on Joseph Smith's History. Although what I discovered about the Salamander letter was not conclusive proof that it was a forgery, it was certainly suspicious. It seemed, in fact, to throw a real monkey wrench into all my plans concerning the publication of the letter. Since I knew that it was very unlikely that anyone else would spot these parallels and realize their significance, there was some temptation to keep the matter to myself. I knew, however, that God knew what I had seen, and I began to feel that He had shown me these unpleasant facts to warn me against endorsing the letter. Furthermore, I knew that I would never be satisfied if my case against Mormonism was based on fraudulent material. It was clear, therefore, that there was only one course of action which I could followi.e., print the whole truth in the Messenger. In the March 1984 issue, therefore, we raised the question of forgery by printing the title, 'Is It Authentic?' Under this title we wrote:
" 'At the outset we should state that we have some reservations concerning the authenticity of the letter, and at the present time we are not prepared to say that it was actually penned by Martin Harris.... We will give the reasons for our skepticism as we proceed with this article.' "
On August 25, 1984, John Dart wrote the following in the Los
Angeles Times: "The Tanners suggestion of forgery has surprised some Mormons,
who note that the parallels in wording also could be taken as evidence for
authenticity." The Deseret News for September 1, 1984, reported:
"...outspoken Mormon Church critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner suspect the document is
a forgery, they told the Deseret News.
"Jerald Tanner... says similarities between it and other documents make its veracity doubtful."
In his confession Mark Hofmann finally admitted that the theory that we had proposed in the March 1984 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger for the origin of the Salamander letter was indeed correct. As I have already indicated, we had suggested that Howe's Mormonism Unvailed could have been used and that the toad mentioned there was transformed into a salamander. Mr. Hofmann not only confirmed this charge but went on to acknowledge that he had a photographic reprint of Howe's book which was obtained from us:
Q. And then the language about "the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole and struck me three times"?
A. Yes, there's a reference in Howe to Joseph Smith being struck. Also I believe there are a couple other sources to that effect. People who claimed that Joseph Smith had said that, that he was bodily prevented from receiving the plates.
Q. Now the white salamander, you were going to explain that?
A. I was only going to say that the idea for the White Salamander derived from the toad in A. D. Howe's book. Salamander, from my reading of folk magic, seemed more appropriate than a toad.
. . . . .
Q. What was your significance [sic] of what the significance the white salamander had?
A. I don't believe I saw a reference to a white salamander, only a salamander, but I decided to spice it up.
Q. What was the salamander supposed to mean? Why did you choose that over the toad?
A. At the time I chose it only because it was commonly used in folk magic. I didn't realize until later all the implications other people would associate with it as far as being able to dwell in fire. I wasn't smart enough at the time to understand all that, but it just happened to be important, or at least some people thought it was important, the same way some people thought various things with the Anthon Transcript or other forgeries were important when no importance were placed in it by me. People read into it what they want or get out of it what they want. I know that really turned on Brent Metcalf for example, and some of the other researchers.
Q. But you were aware that the salamander had some significance in folk magic?
A. Yes, that's right.
. . . . .
Q. You mentioned Hale. [sic] Is that Mormonism Unveiled by a D. Hale [E. D. Howe]?
Q. Did you have a copy of that of your own?
A. I had a Xerox copy published by the Tanners.
Q. Is that similar to the one I have?
Q. Could you find specifically any of the items in there that would have been used by you as a source for any of these items?
A. I probably could but probably not very rapidly. If you want me to take a copy of that and bring it back with some underlining or whatever, I will.
Q. Okay, I can let you have this. Let me just ask you. Well, I'll tell you what
A. If you point it out I can probably identify that's what I used or not. I believe there is a couple of references to the toad.
A. Yes, Willard Chase's testimony was the primary reference to the toad which the author of the book later used.
Q. There is two places in there in reference to the toad.
Q. In fact, it says on page 276, "which immediately transformed itself into a spirit".
A. Yes. I thought the word, not wanting to sound like I was plagiarizing from a book, I used the word transfigured rather than transformed.
Q. "And gave him a tremendous blow".
Q. You made three blows out of it, struck him twice or three times I think, rather than gave a tremendous blow?
A. Again, I didn't want to sound like I was copying it word for word.
Q. Now another one here, on page 274, he quotes, supposedly a letter from Howe, excuse me from Phillips [W. W. Phelps] to Howe.
A. Oh, yes.
Q. Are you familiar with that letter?
A. Yes, this letter I believe had the source for the, yes, the shorthand Egyptian. The idea being that if Phillips [sic], who was the recipient of the forged Martin Harris letter, Salamander Letter, in speaking of Martin Harris's episode with the Anthon Transcript. If he described the handwriting in shorthand Egyptian that he would have acquired that knowledge from the forged letter or in other words, it was a validation for the letter. This would have been, this letter of Phillips to Howe would have been approximately three months after he had received the forged letter, the Martin letter.
(Hofmann's Confession, pages 440, 441, 444-446)
Mark Hofmann does not remember a specific source for the salamanderonly that he learned about it when reading something with regard to magic. At first I felt that he may have found it in the A. C. Lambert papers at the University of Utah Library. On pages 456-57 of his confession, Mr. Hofmann testified that he "had access" to the Lambert collection but "it wasn't around this [time]." He remembered using Lambert's papers for his work on the Anthon transcript, but could not recall using them for the Salamander letter. Since Mr. Hofmann claimed that he did research in both "pro and anti-Mormon" books in writing the Salamander letter (p. 433), I now feel that it is very likely that he obtained our book, Mormonism, Magic and Masonry, which was published the same year that he penned the Salamander letter. On page 23 we quoted the following from the book Crystal-Gazing, by Theodore Besterman:
"Sir Walter Scott says that the old astrologers affirmed that they could bind to their service, and imprison in a ring, a mirror, or a stone, some fairy, sylph or salamander, and compel it to appear when called, and render answers to such questions as the viewer should propose."
Since this unusual quotation links salamanders to seer stones, it could very well be the reference that spawned the salamander in the White Salamander letter. In Appendix A of Tracking, I also suggested that Mark Hofmann could have read E. T. A. Hoffmann's story "The Golden Flower Pot," which was reprinted in the book, The Best Tales of Hoffmann. This story has some interesting parallels to the Salamander letter.
In any case, it is interesting to note that on August 16, 1985, the Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks tried to ease the fears of Mormon educators with regard to the Salamander letter by claiming that the words "white salamander" could be reconciled with Joseph Smith's statement about the appearance of the Angel Moroni:
"Another source of differences in the accounts of different witnesses is the different meanings that different persons attach to words. We have a vivid illustration of this in the recent media excitement about the word 'salamander' in a letter Martin Harris is supposed to have sent to W.W. Phelps over 150 years ago. All of the scores of media stories on that subject apparently assume that the author of that letter used the word 'salamander' in the modern sense of a 'tailed amphibian.'
"One wonders why so many writers neglected to reveal to their readers that there is another meaning of 'salamander,' which may even have been the primary meaning in this context in the 1820s.... That meaning... is 'a mythical being thought to be able to live in fire.'...
"A being that is able to live in fire is a good approximation of the description Joseph Smith gave of the Angel Moroni:... the use of the words white salamander and old spirit seem understandable.
"In view of all this, and as a matter of intellectual evaluation, why all the excitement in the media, and why the apparent hand-wringing among those who profess friendship or membership in the Church?" ("1985 CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium," pages 22-23)
Dallin Oaks' conjecture concerning the real meaning of the word "salamander" certainly shows the lengths Mormon apologists will go to try and explain away anything that challenges Mormonism. Oaks would have us believe that the news media suppressed the true meaning of the word. Actually, the news media were claiming that the context of the letter showed that the "salamander" mentioned there referred to one of the "elemental spirits" of magic. The confession of Mark Hofmann makes it clear that Oaks was way off base and that the news media were right all along. The reader will remember that when he was speaking of the word "salamander," Hofmann said: "At the time I chose it only because it was commonly used in folk magic. I didn't realize until later all the implications other people would associate with it as far as being able to dwell in fire." (Hofmann's Confession, page 441)
However this may be, in the March 1984 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger, we mentioned a parallel between the Salamander letter and Joseph Knight's account of the discovery of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. In later issues we pointed out many significant parallels between the two documents. Since the Joseph Knight account was locked up in the LDS Historical department and was not published until 1976, we felt that this provided strong evidence that the Salamander letter was a modern forgery. If we could have believed that the forgery had been done many years ago, then we would not have been so suspicious of Mark Hofmann. As it was, however, the evidence seemed to point toward Mark Hofmann. We reasoned that if he was not guilty of the forgery, he probably knew who the person was who had done it. In chapter 1 of Tracking, I listed 7 parallels to the Joseph Knight account, and in Appendix A, I quoted the following from The Money-Digging Letters, published in 1984:
"Knight's account was published by Dean Jessee in BYU Studies, Autumn 1976, pages 29-39. According to Jessee, it was not written for at least three years after the 'Harris' letter was supposed to have been penned. In examining the complete transcript of the letter, we see more striking parallels to this document. For instance, the Knight account quotes Joseph Smith as saying that in the Urim and Thummim he 'can see any thing' (p. 33) The Salamander letter likewise says that Joseph 'can see anything' in his 'stone.' The Knight account says that after Smith found the 'Book' (the gold plates), he 'laid [it] Down' to 'Cover the place over' (p. 31). The wording in the letter is similar: 'I lay it down to cover over the hole.' We have already pointed out in the Messenger that both accounts use the identical words, 'Joseph says when can I have it.' In both accounts the plates are taken away from Smith because he laid them down. The Salamander letter and the Knight account also agree that Joseph was commanded to bring his brother Alvin when he returned for the plates. The Knight account says that 'his oldest Brother Died' before it was time to come again for the plates. In the 'Harris' letter, Joseph says, 'my brother is dead.' In both stories Joseph goes back to the place where the plates were deposited. The Knight account says that he was told that he 'Could not have it.' The Salamander letter likewise says he 'cannot have it.' In both cases Joseph does not know who to bring with him to obtain the plates. The Knight version says that 'he looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale.' The Salamander letter also identified Emma as the person he sees in the stone: 'the spirit says I tricked you again look to the stone Joseph looked & sees his wife.' Both accounts go on to tell of Smith putting the sacred instrument into a hat to translate the Book of Mormon....
"Another thing we noticed in the Knight account that could have had an influence on the Salamander letter is the use of the words 'says he' and 'says I.' On page 37, as published in BYU Studies, we find the following: 'Says he,... Says he,... Says I.... Says I.... Says he.' In the 'Harris' letter we read: '...says he... says he... says I... says I...' "
Prosecutors questioned Mark Hofmann concerning the Joseph Knight account and he confirmed that he used it for structural material in the Salamander letter:
Q. Now on another occasion you told us that you also were familiar with Joseph Knight's recollection of early Mormon history?
Q. Is that another one that you would have read in preparation for this?
Q. Where would you have got if [sic] from?
A. It would have been from the actual handwritten account, a Xerox which I had.
Q. And you obtained that from the archives?
A. Yes. I believe the original is in the archives of the Church.
(Hofmann's Confession, pages 447-448)
On pages 508-509, Mark Hofmann testified as follows:
A. Oh, I read through Joseph Knight's account and had a couple other comments to make about that. These are parallels between his account and the Salamander Letter. Joseph Knight describes how Joseph Smith set the plates down and discovered they had been taken away from him on his first attempt to obtain them. He also describes, Joseph Knight also describes how Joseph Smith discovered who to bring in obtaining the plates by looking at the glass or at the stone, as I call it, or as it is called in the Salamander Letter. And also Joseph Knight and the Salamander Letter both describe Joseph Smith's translation process in that he had a stone, the seer's stone in his hand and the words or letters appeared.
Q. Are you telling us then that you were aware of that Joseph Knight letter and used some of that information in composing the information in the Salamander Letter?
A. That's correct.
Another item I listed as having parallels to the Salamander letter was an interview with Martin Harris published in Tiffany's Monthly in 1859 (see Tracking, Salamander letter analysis). On page 467 of his confession, Mark Hofmann said that he was aware of this interview and might have used it.
In the Messenger for March 1984 we noted that the Salamander letter seemed to suggest that Joseph Smith talked of bringing his dead brother's remains to the Hill Cumorah so that the spirit would give him the gold plates. We pointed out that this could be related to a rumor that "Alvin's body had been disinterred":
"On September 29, 1824, just one week after Joseph Smith was supposed to have been visited by the Angel at the Hill Cumorah, his father printed the following in the Wayne Sentinel, the local newspaper:
" 'WHEREAS reports have been industriously put in circulation that my son Alvin had been removed from the place of his interment and dissected,... for the purpose of ascertaining the truth of such reports, I, with some of my neighbors, this morning [Sept. 25] repaired to the grave, and removing the earth, found the body which had not been disturbed.' " (Wayne Sentinel, Sept. 29, 1824)
(Salt Lake City Messenger, March 1984, pages 3-4)
In his confession, pages 441-42, Mark Hofmann gave this testimony:
Q. What about [the part of the letter which says], "shall I bring what remains", talking about Alvin?
A. Part of that was from my own imagination and part was from a story that Well, actually a couple different stories that I tied together. One being that an advertisement which Joseph Smith, Jr. placed in the Wayne Centinnel [sic] asking people who initiated rumors to the effect that Alvin's body had been desecrate[d] would cease and desist. Did I say that right? And there was also a story that Alvin, or rumor, that Alvin was involved, was the magician of the family before his death.
In chapter 5 Tracking, under A Master Forger?, I reported concerning evidence that a number of Mark Hofmann's documents includingthe Salamander letterhad been cut from larger sheets of paper:
"George Throckmorton testified that some of the Hofmann documents seemed to have been cut with scissors or a razor blade. According to Mr. Throckmorton, this problem was detected in the following way: 'By placing the paper on a flat surface, and by putting a straight edge of some type on top of that and examining it under a microscope, you can see how close the edge of the paper would correspond with the straight edge. It would also be possible to detect, many times, individual scissor marks or razor blade cuts or things similar to this.' ...With regard to the Salamander letter, Throckmorton commented: 'This document had been cut.' "
In his confession, page 243, Mark Hofmann explained that "End pages or the blank pages at the beginning and ends of the books were used for the so-called Salamander Letter, the 1829 letter of Lucy Mack Smith and the Josiah Stoal 1825 letter of Joseph Smith." In relating the details of how he forged the Salamander letter, Hofmann revealed that he was trying to disguise the fact that he was using a sheet of paper from a book by drawing lines on it so that it would appear to be machine lined paper:
Q. Where did you get the paper for this document?
A. I believe it came from theIt certainly came from a book at the University of Utah Library, I believe from the Niles Register.
Q. What about the lines on the paper?
A. I forged those with a pen.
Q. You drew them?
Q. Was it with the same kind of ink as you used to write with or something different?
A. Yes, I believe so, although it would have been much watered down.
Q. Why did you put the lines on it? Any particular reason?
A. To make it appear to be writing paper rather than an end sheet. This was around the time period that lined paper started to be used fairly commonly.
Q. Do you remember cutting the paper?
Q. Was that when you took it out of the document or out of the book or after?
A. It would have been after the lines were drawn on it.
Q. Why did you cut it?
A. Well, the sides of it I would have cut because if it would not have been cut you would have been able to see on the sides of the paper, ink from the drawing of the lines which would not have appeared on a genuine ruled sheet. I remember that I would have cut the sides but I don't remember if I cut the top. Well, I'm sure I would have cut the top and the bottom also.
(Hofmann's Confession, pages 457-460)
Mark Hofmann claimed that the wax seal which he added to the Salamander letter came from "a genuine folded letter." (p. 461)
Document experts testified that the Salamander letter had "surface cracking of the ink" (see chapter 6, Salamander Letter) which indicated that the ink had been artificially aged. Mr. Hofmann confessed that the ink was probably aged with ammonia:
Q. Do you remember what kind of ink pen you used?
A. Steel pen.
Q. What about the aging process?
A. Probably would have been ammonia.
Q. Do you remember anything particular about this document that would have been different than the aging process of any other document?
A. It is somewhat mildewed. I would have used bread mold in places to cause the spotting. For example, looking at the address leaf side around the bottom left hand corner area
. . . . .
Q. Anything else you remember doing as far as the creation process goes?
A. I should point out that the handwriting I adopted from the formation of the letters in the signature. It was a fairly common type of a writing style at the time period.
Q. I'll go in to the handwriting in just a minute. What about the stamp?
A. The stamp would have been made by myself, I believe.
Q. When you say you believe, you don't have an independent memory?
A. I'm certain it would have been made by myself. I'm just trying to think of how I would have made this one.
Q. How did you make it?
A. It was some sort of a plate. It was, I'm quite certain it was a copper plate. The postmark itself would have been photographed off of a genuine folded cover.
Q. You made the plate?
A. Yes, I made the plate.
Q. And you made the plate in your house?
Q. From what materials?
A. It would have been made in my garage, actually. Another piece of copper plate, some photoresist in an aerosol and developer. Ferric chloride solution to etch the plate.
Q. You made you own negative?
A. Let's see, what was the date? This was in '84.
Q. You sold it January 6 of '84.
A. Yes, I believe I made my own negative.
A. Just to protect myself, let me tell you another possibility for how I would have made the postmark.
Q. We don't want you to protect yourself, we just want you to tell us what happened.
A. That's what I'm saying. I am not positively sure how I made that plate. The other possibility would have been that I had the artwork from the original postmark, from the original folded cover. That I photocopied that onto a piece of plastic for a transparency. That I used a positive rather than a negative photoresist which would have made the letters or the, what appears to be the impression of the postmark, sunk within the plate rather than sticking up from it, and then I would have used a piece of silly putty that I would have smashed in to that plate after it was developed and etched. And then put the silly putty onto a piece of glass in which I rolled the ink, and then presses that into the paper, on to the paper.
Q. So you made your own stamp?
A. Yes, it would have been my own stamp made that way.
Q. You did it both ways is what you're saying?
A. Yes. And what I'm saying is I can't remember exactly how I made this. It would have been one of those two techniques which were the only two techniques I used to make postmarks.
Q. Also in yourDo you remember getting any letters with Palmyra postmarks that you would have used is the sample for this one?
Q. Where would you have got them from?
A. Probably would have come from Courtney Covers.
Q. Let's talk about the handwriting. How did you make a determination of what style you were going to use?
A. The signature of Martin Harris was in a style, early 19th Century style that I had seen other writers use.
Q. At that time, before you wrote it, did you try to obtain samples of Martin Harris' handwriting?
A. I obtained signatures, I believe three signatures of Martin Harris was all that I could find.
Q. Do you know where those, do you remember where they came from?
A. I'm certain they came from the Church Historian's Office.
(Hofmann's Confession, pages 462-465, 467-468)
Mark Hofmann also gave these interesting details about the Salamander letter:
Q. Let's go on to the Salamander Letter. Of course, that was sold January 6th, 1984. Can you tell us just when the idea started to come in your mind and how it was that idea came and what your intentions were?
A. I can't remember the details as far as how it all came into my mind except in generalities. I knew that Martin Harris' handwriting was very illusive. In fact, that only signatures were known. I knew that he was fairly superstitious in his beliefs, meaning that he believed in both magic and legends.
Q. Do you remember where you got those ideas from?
A. It would have been from my reading about him.
Q. Anything special or just general memory?
A. I believe the stories about his superstitiousness mostly came from anti-Mormon sources that were printed early in the history of the Church. Such statements as that he had stood up on a bar, I believe, in a tavern or something and said that Christ was to return within a matter of months or something to that effect, and also talking about various supernatural occurrences. Possibly from Howe's book, but I can't remember the exact sources for all of that. A lot of the research I did for the letter was from various history books, Church books, both pro and anti-Mormon.
Q. Let me ask you this: Did you have an idea in mind what you wanted to do, then do research or did you do research to come up with the idea?
A. No, I came up with the idea first. Most of the research I did was with his interviews and writings to try to come up with a speaking or writing style which he might have used by comparing various interviews done by different people and various publications in which he supposedly wrote. I was trying to come up with parallels between them which would indicate what was his style and what was the different interviewers' or reporters' style. As I remember, there were several newspaper interviews which I looked at. Most of this research was done in the Church Historian's Office.
Q. How long did you do your investigation?
A. This brings up another point I should have brought out earlier, and that is that a lot of the investigation that I did was not exclusively for one project or, in other words, I sometimes researched several possibilities at the same time. Some of my research for some of the forgeries was done just exclusively for that forgery, where I devoted my full effort and attention into gathering information on that subject as rapidly as possible and then committing the forgery within days. I believe with this item I had the idea in mind, and it was rather stewing in any [sic] head for quite a while before I actually sat down and decided to write it. Therefore, as far as how long it took me, probably off and on for a number of months in between when I first thought of the idea and when I actually did the forgery. As far as when I actually decided to sit down and write it and do it, it would have just been within a day or two. Very rapidly.
Q. Are you saying though that to get the contents and writing down, you would write a sentence or phrase down, maybe in your own handwriting and get it worked out before you actually sat down and wrote it in Harris's handwriting?
A. Yes, I would have done that. I would have composed it before sitting down and trying to imitate his handwriting or what I supposed his handwriting m[a]y look like. But that would have all been within a day or two. In other words, I may have done the research over quite a long period of time but when I finally decided to sit down and write it I would have composed it and forged it all within a day or two. It wouldn't have been over any extended length of time as far as a week or so. It wouldn't have been that long. I would guess that I would have composed it and then forged it within the same day or maybe two days, like I say.
(Hofmann's Confession, pages 432-436)
The reader may remember that a few months before the bombings a story was put forth that the Mormon Church had a secret document known as the Oliver Cowdery history which supported the Salamander letter. We became suspicious that the mysterious source of this report might be Hofmann himself. In the August 1985 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger, we suggested that Hofmann might be the "Deep Throat" who leaked the information. In Appendix A of Tracking, I noted that an "interesting parallel between the Salamander letter and the account given by 'Deep Throat' of the discovery of the gold plates in the Cowdery history is that the word plates is missing in both. The Salamander letter says that the 'old spirit' told Joseph Smith to 'dig up the gold.' The anonymous source claimed that the Cowdery history 'said that Alvin located the buried gold.' "
In his testimony, Mark Hofmann frankly admitted that he "was the deep throat... described in the media" who pretended to have access to the secret Oliver Cowdery history. Hofmann was questioned as follows concerning the Cowdery history:
Q. Was it during this time that you were talking to him [Brent Metcalfe] about Alvin or would that have been a little later?
A. It would have been a little later that I introduced the story of, let's see, that I introduced the story as far as Alvin preceding Joseph Smith and the alleged reference in the First Presidency's vault of a history of Alvin [i. e., the Oliver Cowdery history]. That would have been later.
Q. How much later, do you remember?
A. Probably a few months later after Steve Christensen purchased this letter.
Q. Is there anything to that story?
Q. Is that all a creation of yours?
A. That's pure creation.
Q. And besides telling Metcalf you told some other people, didn't you?
A. I believe I told, well I know I told it to, let's see, Lynn Jacobs. I may have told Shannon Flynn but I can't remember having told anyone else.
Q. How about a reporter, L. A. Times?
A. Oh, of course, yes.
Q. Who would that be?
A. Yes, I was the deep throat or however I was described in the media. That would have been
MR. RICH: That was John P.
MR. STOTT: Was it Dart?
A. Yes, I think it would have been John Dart is his name. Do you want me to go in to that now? As long as we are talking about it I may as well.
Dart was contacted by Metcalf and told that an inside source named Limy had access to some materials in the First Presidency's vault and was willing to make a statement concerning Alvin's involvement in this early Church record in first having contact with the Angel Moroni or whoever. And thwarted because of his death from obtaining the plates and then Joseph took over, type of deal.
Dart flew into Salt Lake. Metcalf and he, myself had lunch one afternoon at, I can't think of the name of the restaurant. At the sandwich shop of some sort, hamburger place. We then went to a park where we sat down at a table, picnic table, and I told him this fabrication. It is purely made up. It's not based on anything I saw in the First Presidency's office or elsewhere.
Q. My next question would be, had you ever seen anything or ever been invited in to the First Presidency's vault?
A. No. I saw some materials from the First Presidency's vault but I've never set foot in to the vault.
Q. Some things were brought out and showed to you?
Q. The Oliver Cowdery [history] was made up by you?
Q. Never saw it in the First Presidency's vault or anywhere?
Q. How did you come up with the story?
A. There was a footnote in a book, I believe by Joseph Fielding Smith, where he discussed something about that history and said that it was in the possession of the Church. That has been interpreted by people to mean that there's some other history. I can't remember all the details but that was the original, that was the source of the idea.
Q. Why did you make the story up?
A. For a couple of reasons. First of all, I remember distinctly when I did make it up we were eating at Wendy's. Indigestion, perhaps. And I first talked about it actually out of amusement. It wasn't anything I had previously thought of, I just kind of evolved into it, to keep them interested. One thing about Metcalf is he's always interested in these little hidden rumors or truths or whatever. And I noticed I could throw out a little thing to wet his appetite and he would always be after me for more and more information. So I would just make it up as we went along.
Q. Why did you go to John Dart and why did you not go to a reporter and publish it?
A. I didn't. My intention wasn't to have that happen but Metcalf, although I swore him to secrecy at the time, somehow word of this Oliver Cowdery history got out and he brought John Dart into it or whatever. Let's see, I said there were a couple reasons for the story. The other, obviously, would have been that part of the Oliver Cowdery History was there was a white salamander as far as Alvin's involvement and that would have validated the history presented in the forged Salamander Letter.
Q. Again made up by you?
A. Again made up by me. One forged idea to validate another forged idea.
Q. Not only then the whole thing was made up but you were aware by people recounting this story it was causing, I suppose, some considerable embarrassment to the LDS authorities?
Q. But you went along with it to the point of giving an interview. What were your feelings during this time? Why were you doing that?
A. As far as my feelings, there was actually a mixture of emotions. One of which was amusement for the whole idea. As far as the embarrassment to the Church, it is true that it was embarrassing but I was also interested to see how the Church would react to the situation. As far as giving the interview, I ended up consenting but I did it reluctantly feeling that once the story got out I was kind of, just like a lot of these other frauds, it was almost like I ended up getting dragged along with my own creation to past where I wanted to. I don't know how to best describe that, but a lot of these events were rather an evolution rather than plotting in advance how I would respond to a situation. I just, it kind of just evolved in to that. There wasn't a lot of times, there wasn't a lot of Like I remember, for example, we were he [sic] eating at Wendy's. The idea wasn't to get this public, just to get Metcalf interested or wet his appetite or get him excited about it or whatever.
Q. Lunch conversation?
A. Right. And it kind of evolved. The idea at that time wasn't how I can use this to leak this to the press and use this to validate the Salamander Letter or anything like that. That wasn't my initial thought.
(Hofmann's Confession, pages 451-456)
In chapter 1 of Tracking, under A Confrontation, I printed some very revealing testimony by Mark Hofmann's friend, Lyn Jacobs and then commented: "It is now evident that both Lyn Jacobs and Mark Hofmann conspired to hide the truth concerning the origin of the Salamander letter. If Jacobs had knowledge that the letter was forged, he would be as guilty as Hofmann of 'THEFT BY DECEPTION.' Investigators have apparently not found any hard evidence to that effect. Otherwise, they would have filed charges against him." In his testimony, Mark Hofmann tells how he worked with Lyn Jacobs to create a false story concerning the origin of the Salamander letter and their attempt to sell it to the Mormon Church:
Q. Do you remember when you actually made it? What month? You sold it January 6th. In relationship to when you sold it when did you actually manufacture the document?
A. If you can find out Lynn Jacob's travel arrangements, he came to Salt Lake City in either December or January. Well it would have been in December, I believe he came here for Christmas. It would have been the day before he arrived that I actually forged it as far as writing it out and aging it or whatever was taking place the day before he arrived in Salt Lake.
Q. But you talked to Lynn about it beforehand?
A. Yes, I had talked to him about it before it was written or forged.
Q. Tell us the chronology of events in talking with Lynn about it.
A. I believe that part of itI can't remember. I think that just a couple days before he arrived in Salt Lake I read him familiar parts of it necessarily which would have been there, my composition of it before I had actually written it in Martin Harris' handwriting. Before that, perhaps a week or two before I told him about it.
Q. Did you tell him why you wanted him to offer it as his document?
A. As I remember, it was actually his idea or his suggestion, although I probably anticipated doing it beforehand. He felt like he could obtain more from the Church. That is at this time we were thinking of offering it to the Mormon Church, than I would be able to.
Q. Had he had any dealings with the Mormon Church?
A. Yes. He was always rather proud of the fact that he could obtain quite a bit in his dealing with Don Schmidt.
Q. Wasn't his dealings mainly with the archivist?
Q. Your dealings had actually been with some of the general authorities?
Q. Why did he believe he could get more than you then?
A. My feeling was in offering it to the general authorities if I were to do it it would appear to be almost a blackmail type of attempt just because of the content of the letter and potential embarrassment to the Church, that I wanted to stay away from. He didn't have any of those feelings as far as if he offended them.
Q. Was there any concern on your part that this was maybe one too many documents foryou to discover and let somebody else take the credit?
A. Yes. That was also in my mind. Yes, I remember also thinking of that fact.
Q. Did you tell Lynn at that time where you found the document?
A. I don't believe that I was specific other than a cover dealer or direct source.
Q. Where did your story come up that he used that he was the one that actually went to the place and actually looked in drawers and actually bought it himself? Is that a story you two came up with? Was it your idea? His idea? How did that come up?
A. The idea was that he actually bought it from a dealer. It's hard to say as far as how we actually came up with that idea but that was the original idea. Since he was going to be offering it as his own document he had to be the one to have made the discovery or whatever.
Q. Your agreement was it was yours but he was going to pose as if he were the finder-owner?
A. That's correct. And I think my involvement is we told other people was that the source where he obtained it was mine. That he had made an agreement with me in looking for these documents while he was back east, that since it was my idea and my source that we would share 50/50 the, any profits that we made. And I think that's what we told other people.
Q. Let's leave Lynn aside just one second and get back to your motivations. What was the purpose for coming up with the Salamander Letter?
A. Money. It's a controversial type document, therefore it would be valuable and it was also, again somewhat of an experiment to see the Church's reaction as far as, that always interested me.
Q. Reaction in what way?
A. As far as how they would handle it, if they would purchase it, if they would trust him enough, Lynn enough to keep his mouth shut. To enter into some sort of agreement to keep it confidential. If they would pay his exorbitant price he was demanding for it. Their reaction as far as what the contents were, any comments that might be made concerning it.
Q. Do you consider this to be your most extreme document as far as controversy, as far as the contents?
A. In ways. In ways I considered the Josiah Stoal Letter to be more controversial since it was actually in Joseph Smith's handwriting rather than a second hand account. The Blessing document, doctrinally was also controversial but this is ait's obviously a controversial document, more so with the media's help.
Q. Did you see yourself moving toward the creation of more controversial documents, more involved in the folk magic? Was it a conscious effort on your part?
A. No, never. Well, it was just like with the creation of the Anthon Transcript. After that I told myself, now I can't forge any more Mormon documents because I don't want to be suspicious. After creating the Josiah Stoal Letter I told myself the same thing, no more magic type documents.
Q. When Lynn came in December was your idea at that time to sell it to the Church?
Q. When you created the document was it your idea to sell it to the Church?
Q. Lynn went ahead and tried to sell it first?
A. That's right. What do you mean he tried? Yes, under my direction.
Q. And you had a price determined?
A. Lynn's price was higher than I thought appropriate but he was determined to get as much out of it as he thought he could.
Q. How was it he went right to Hinkley? He hadn't dealt with Hinkley before, had he?
Q. Did it surprise you when Lynn came back and said Hinkley wouldn't buy it?
A. No, not given the price that Lynn was asking for it.
Q. Now with the Stoal Letter, you were aware that he bought the Stoal Letter and it pretty well had been publicized?
A. That's right.
Q. Now, were you at all surprised that he refused to buy the Salamander Letter which was a very similar type document?
A. No. Like I say, a lot of it was almost like an experiment, in my mind as far as what his reaction would be. Lynn doesn't come across as being a faithful Mormon like I do.
Q. You did?
A. Or at least like I pretended to. I didn't think that President Hinkley would trust his silence or that he would appreciate Lynn's manner, or boastfulness or whatever. Although I speculate, well, you probably don't want speculation since there is no backing for it so I won't speculate.
Q. Well, if it is germane to the topic go ahead, as long as you preface it by speculation.
A. I speculate if I would have been the one to offer it that it would have had the same fate as the Stoal Letter [i. e., be suppressed by the Mormon Church].
Q. Would you have asked the same thing or different?
A. I wouldn't have asked for nearly the price.
(Hofmann's Confession, pages 469-477)
Mark Hofmann goes on to allege something that has never been revealed beforei. e., that after Lyn Jacobs' offer was refused, Hofmann himself talked with the church about a secret deal in which Lyn Jacobs could be sworn to secrecy so that the Salamander letter could be suppressed:
Q. Lynn comes back, it's not sold. What do you do?
A. I went to, let's see, I'm trying to think of if before Lynn went to Hinkley if he went to Don Schmidt with it or went to him just afterwards. But I believe it was the next day Don Schmidt knew about it from Lynn or the next day with Lynn's meeting with President Hinkley and that morning I believe I told Don Schmidt that I could obtain complete control over it and would be willing to sell it to the Church for a price. I can't remember, I would get 10 or 15 thousand dollars. Don Schmidt told me that he would check with his superiors.
That same afternoon, in a meeting with Don Schmidt again, he told me that he had talked with G. Homer Durham and I believe higher up, and that they would make that purchase. I told Don Schmidt that I believed that it could be handled confidentially and that Lynn could be sworn to secrecy. I told him that in the morning. Later, it would have been in a day or two, whenever, we had made contact with Steve Christensen and he had agreed to buy it and if, if we wanted to sell itLet's see, I'm trying to get the sequence right, chronology. I believe it was actually before. I believe it was with the statement that if the Church would prefer we could see that it was sold to a faithful member of the Church. If they didn't wantwhich I spoke very frankly with Don Schmidt about this but I didn't talk to anyone higher up than Don Schmidt. That if the Church was afraid of the publicity of the document now that Lynn knew about it and possibly others, that we could arrange to have it sold to a faithful member who we thought would keep it quiet or handle it the way the Church thought would be appropriate but yet not having the Church officially making decisions.
Q. Did he get back to you, Schmidt?
A. After originally it was agreed the Church would make the purchase for the money that I asked, I can't remember the exact sum. But then later, I mean it was a day or two later, in talking with his superiors he told me that they thought it would, it might be more appropriate to have that happen to it as far as a faithful member making the purchase. I told him that I would keep him posted as far as the negotiation with this faithful member.
Q. No names given?
A. I think at that time the name of Steve Christensen might have even been given, although it wasn't that next day I talked to him.
Q. That name came from you?
A. Yes, I believe so, although, it's hard for me to say because I am told that sometime during this period Steve Christensen had already been in contact with the Church so I'm only giving my side, how I know it from my own experience.
. . . . .
A. My first contact with the Don Schmidt, I believe it was the day after Lynn made contact with President Hinkley and I believe that same day the decision was given, later that afternoon, that he would make the purchase.
MR. STOTT: What I'm getting at, from the time that you first contacted Lynn to this point, who all knew about it? Lynn, you, perhaps Hinkley and perhaps Schmidt?
A. Earl Olsen, G. Homer Durham.
(Hofmann's Confession, pages 477-480)
In his testimony at the preliminary hearing, Lyn Jacobs said that he asked Gordon B. Hinckley to give him a gold coin valued at "60,000 to over 100,000 dollars" in exchange for the letter (see Appendix A). When President Hinckley would not agree to that, he suggested a trade for a Book of Commandments. This offer was also turned down. Besides the high price which Jacobs asked, the fact that word concerning the 1825 Joseph Smith letter had leaked out may have discouraged Hinckley from trying to suppress the letter. He undoubtedly reasoned that if the church did purchase the Salamander letter, there would be no way to be certain that Jacobs would not talk about it or retain a photograph. An unsuccessful attempt to suppress the letter, of course, would be more damaging to the church than for the church to buy the letter and publish it to the world. Church leaders apparently did not feel that they could "trust his silence," and it was decided that Steven Christensen, who had a reputation of being friendly to the church leaders, should buy the letter for $40,000. In 1985 Christensen donated the letter to the Mormon Church.
If the church leaders had actually bought the letter to suppress it, they could have found themselves in a very compromising situation. While Mark Hofmann has testified that he originally created the Salamander letter to sell to the church, before Jacobs was sent to talk to President Hinckley, Hofmann had considered breaking the news about the letter in a major newspaper like the New York Times. During this time of uncertainty, Mr. Hofmann allowed H. Michael Marquardt to make a partial typescript of the Salamander letter. Hofmann testified as follows:
Q. Now anyone else? Had you told anyone else? Had Lynn told anyone else? Your friends, acquaintances?
A. Sometime during this time periodNo, during that time period no one.
Q. When was it you told Michael Marquardt?
A. That would have been after. Let's see, I was going to say I thought that was after Steve Christensen made the purchase but I'm not sure if that was really true or not. See, I wasn't keeping this confidential since I knew Lynn was going about it, I figured it would get around and everything. There's a chance I told Marquardt before Steve Christensen purchased it.
Q. Did there come a time you actually gave him a transcript of it?
A. Yes, he made a transcript of it but I can't remember the date when that would have been.
Q. Why were you doing this? You knew Marquardt was going to go public?
A. Yes, I think at the time I told him to keep it quiet for the time being and I believe he agreed to that until it became public.
Q. Was your agreement with Steve Christensen and semi with the Church, something to the effect that, you know, it was going to be, the contents or even the idea that there was a letter would remain private with them?
Q. But nevertheless you were still talking to people like Marquardt about the letter?
A. I can't remember when I talked to Marquardt so it's hard for me to say if I talked to him after agreeing to not talk about it, or not. Although I'm sure that date could be had as far as when I talked to Marquardt. He keeps good records, as we know.
Q. There came a time whenDid you learn that there was some interest by other people in this?
A. Let's see. Now I think about it I think I did talk to Marquardt before it was offered to the Church or to Steve Christensen. I believe that I, because I know that I talked to Ashworth before it was offered to Christensen and I believe I also talked to Marquardt before I talked to Christensen. I believe, but I can't say for certain.
MR. STOTT: Did you want to make a statement, Mark, before we proceed?
A. Yes. Before we ended last times meeting we were talking about what I told Steve Christensen concerning who had seen or had access or copies or whatever of the Salamander Letter. I'm quite certain now, thinking about it, that Mike Marquardt had made a partial transcript of the Salamander Letter before it was shown or purchased by, shown to or purchased by Steve Christensen. I covered myself in that regard by telling him that people had seen it although I did not mention Mike Marquardt's name, but that Xeroxes of it were available and that full transcripts were not available.
Q. How did Marquardt obtain a copy of the transcript?
A. The original by probably a Xerox of the Salamander Letter he saw at my house and wrote down a few lines of its content.
Q. In other words, you gave him the transcript through you?
A. He made the transcript through me, that's right.
(Hofmann's Confession, pages 480-481, 487-488)
Mr. Marquardt allowed us to obtain a copy of his extracts from the Salamander letter, and it was these excerpts which were printed in the March 1984 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger. The portions of the letter which Marquardt copied were, in fact, what led us to believe that the letter might be a forgery. As strange as it may seem, our publication of portions of the Salamander letter in March 1984 almost caused a serious altercation with Steven Christensen in federal court (see chapter 1 of Tracking, Christensen Couldn't Testify). Mr. Christensen was very upset that we had cited anything from the letter and apparently felt that we had obtained the extracts in an improper way. He, therefore, determined to testify against us in the Ehat suitthe case which we finally won after it was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In reality, Steven Christensen did not have any copyrightable interest in the Salamander letter. Furthermore, as we have shown, the extracts we published were obtained by Michael Marquardt directly from Mark Hofmann before Mr. Christensen purchased the letter. The extracts we printed certainly were not stolen. Although Christensen appeared in court ready to testify against us, the Judge felt this type of testimony was irrelevant to the case at hand and Christensen was unable to testify.
Steven Christensen seems to have been thoroughly converted to the Salamander letter. Instead of listening to the message of caution which we printed in the March 1984 issue of the Messenger, he wanted to fight us in court. He continued to believe in Mark Hofmann and his stories concerning the discovery of important Mormon documents for more than a year. Although he seems to have eventually come to the conclusion that Hofmann was involved in illegal activities, by this time it was too late. It was Christensen's continued involvement with Hofmann which finally led to his untimely death.
Mark Hofmann believed that the Salamander letter would pass any test document experts could subject it to. Hofmann probably felt that favorable comments by document experts would overweigh any criticism that we made of the document. In his confession, pages 490, 493-495, Mr. Hofmann maintained that he encouraged Kenneth Rendell to give the document a very rigorous examination:
Q. How did Rendell get involved? Is this a name you gave to Steve?
A. Yes, he was a name I mentioned. I considered him and I still do, one of the best handwriting or autograph experts.
Q. Did you know in advance what Rendell would do to go about attempting to authenticate it?
A. I had a pretty good idea what he would do or what was possible to do. I told him to use every means possible to authenticate it, some of which tests he did not think were necessary but I told him that in my opinion he did not understand, Rendell did not understand the controversial nature of the document and we would be willing to spent thousand of dollars in the authentication process.
Q. Why were you some concerned? Why were you almost helping to get it authenticated? Was it something you wanted it to prove was authentic or something you wanted to prove to yourself that you could be [beat?] the authenticators?
A. Well, before this time I had already felt confident I could be [beat?] the authenticator as far as whatever tests would be done. I knew it was of a controversial nature and would be questioned and I wanted to put down as much of that as possible. In other words, to make it appear like the people questioning it were questioning it not for rational reasons but because they didn't want to believe it.
Q. Was there anything in the testing procedure that was a surprise to you or that you had not anticipated?
MR. YENGICH: That's a good question.
A. Only what was performed by the County Attorney's Office concerning ink cracking.
. . . . .
Q. Were you aware basically through forensic tests or through document analysis, basically they cannot prove a document is real or authentic. All that he can basically say is we can find no evidence that it is a fake?
Q. Yet it seemed that you were able to use that and turn it around as if the people that authenticated the document. Was that something deliberate on your part to change peoples perceptions kind of, of what forensic people can do?
A. That's what authentication is, is not being able to find out that its not authentic.
Q. It seemed so many people, once it came back from the authentication process say this proves it's authentic because they have now proved it's authentic. In reality what they said was we can't prove it's not authentic.
What I'm saying is it seems a lot of people don't understand that, who should understand that and I'm just wondering if you helped to convey that impression?
A. I might have, I don't know. I think to the same extent as far as the ink cracking testing or whatever, that also does not prove conclusively that a document is a forgery any more than the negative tests would prove that it is authentic, but we can get in to that some other time.
In Tracking the White Salamander I suggested that Mark Hofmann seemed to have been planting forged Martin Harris signatures with the hope that they would be used in authenticating his more controversial documents i. e., the Salamander letter and the 116 missing pages of the Book of Mormon which he was probably planning to forge. In Appendix A of Tracking, I showed that he had forged an inscription which was claimed to be in the handwriting of Martin Harris in a Book of Common Prayer. Document experts charged that this inscription was a forgery. In his confession, page 501, Mark Hofmann confirmed that the inscription attributed to Harris was a forgery:
A. My intention on that was both to provide further samples of Martin Harris' handwriting and also to find a book with Martin Harris' handwriting in it. We talked about that before as far as the one page, the inscription on one page was forged... the page in Martin Harris' handwriting.
In Appendix A of Tracking, I discussed another Martin Harris inscription in an early Book of Mormon which both Mark Hofmann and Brent Metcalfe talked about. In his confession, page 499, Mr. Hofmann said that "the Book of Mormon inscription was rumor that I had heard from other sources, not that I had made up."
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