Repost: On the Pasos Kanki Bridge

February 9, 2016

I was thinking about this post this morning for some reason. It’s the post that spurred me to write all my mission memories. I had told this story to a friend, and he said it would make a great blog post, and I should write it down. So, I did. Writing this post dredged up a lot of suppressed memories from my two years in Bolivia, and once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. After writing about 3 hours every evening for 5 weeks, I had the raw materials that would eventually make up my book, Heaven Up Here. So, I hope you’ll forgive me for indulging in a little nostalgia for the experience of writing my book.

**************

We walked home from downtown La Paz along the uneven sidewalk past the zoo and the botanical gardens, the large “super” slide quiet in the dark, the amber streetlights reflecting from the sagging wrought-iron fence. We hadn’t said much that day, as usual. Davidson, the missionary companion I had been assigned, wasn’t exactly a talker. I pointed out that this was the place where a couple of sister missionaries had been flashed the week before, an unknown pervert having stuck his genitals between the iron bars as the sisters walked to an appointment. At lunch they had told us all about it, Hermana Stevenson relishing every minute while her companion squirmed uncomfortably.

“What was weird was that he was circumcised,” Hermana Stevenson had said, clearly unfazed.

“How could you tell?” her companion had asked.

“Don’t worry, I’ll draw you a picture.” We had laughed as her companion’s face turned a bright red.

Davidson said nothing but jammed his hands farther down into his dusty overcoat. Tall with rugged features, he might have been handsome had parasites not spent five months attacking his digestive system. Now, his tall frame was hunched under a billowing overcoat, his cheek bones protruding at sharp angles, setting off the saddest eyes I have ever seen. I think they were brown, but you couldn’t tell because there wasn’t much light left in them. Five months in Bolivia, and not a single letter from home. Three months with a sadistic “trainer” who thought a naïve Texan was nothing more than a practical joke waiting to happen. And two months with me, both of us trading bouts with salmonella and strep throat. But we were both finally well and ready to get some missionary work done.

We crossed the gray, cut-stone pavement in the plaza bordering the football stadium, the transplanted Incan statues casting long shadows on the gravel of the garden at the center of the plaza. The wind picked up again with its familiar cold, dry, dusty sting, like nothing I had experienced anywhere else. The cold went through you as if you weren’t there, and I could almost see the salesman back in Utah snickering to himself as I paid for the worthless Czechoslovakian overcoat at the “missionary” store. Another half-mile, and we would be home. It wouldn’t be much warmer inside, but at least we had some wool blankets to huddle under.

We came up over the last rise before the river. Even though I’d been in La Paz for three months, the altitude still made me breathless climbing even the gentlest slopes. As we descended toward the bridge, we joined a long line of tired workers quietly making their way home. No one talked, and all you could hear was the dragging of worn sandals on the cold stone sidewalk. It was always like that.

The Pasos Kanki bridge wasn’t particularly impressive. Perhaps thirty meters across, it straddled what the locals charitably called Río Orko Jahuira, a muddy wash full of trash and excrement with a gray-beige stream passing through it. By day people washed their clothes in the river, except on the days when the textile mill upstream emptied its dyes from a pipe into the ravine. On those days the river would run in brilliant purple or green or blood red, and the disappointed cholitas would turn sadly and take their unwashed laundry home.

The still-quiet stream of paceños continued perhaps three abreast as we neared the bridge, and I found myself unconsciously staring at the ground as I walked, shutting out the cold and the crowd around me. I nearly ran into the elderly man in front of me when the crowd stopped suddenly. I could hear some muttering up ahead as the line of people made a wide turn out into the middle of the bridge to avoid whatever was obstructing the sidewalk.

The bridge was well-lighted, and I could see what looked like a pile of rags shoved up against the small concrete railing. As we approached, I could see it wasn’t rags at all. It was a person, though I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. Whoever it was had clearly died on the bridge. Unthinking, we both turned and followed the traffic into the street, around the body, and back onto the sidewalk. Still no one said a word.

We walked up the unpaved street on the other side of the river toward our apartment, the smell of pig entrails frying in lard over a kerosene burner joining the dust in our noses as we passed the Cruce de Copacabana, the main bus stop in Villa Copacabana. We climbed the steep hill to our apartment building, opened the red metal gate, and crossed the courtyard into our tiny room. Neither one of us spoke as we changed into our night-time clothes: long johns and sweats to keep out the Andean cold.

Davidson sat on his bed, staring at his feet.

“Maybe we should go back and do something,” I said, helpfully. “We shouldn’t have left him like that.”

“Look, you’re the one who kept on walking, so don’t blame me,” he said, his eyes showing anger I hadn’t seen before.

“All right, let’s go,” I said, pulling on my overcoat. He dressed quickly, and we headed back down the hill.

Nothing had changed since we left. The line of pedestrians continued steadily maneuvering around the body.

“What are we supposed to do?” Davidson asked, knowing neither of us had a clue.

“I don’t know, but we can do something.” I wasn’t sure we could.

As we approached the body, I’m not sure what I expected. I’d never felt such sadness and yet such terror at the same time. But I made myself squat down beside what was now obviously a woman. She was dressed in traditional cholita clothes: wide pollera skirt, stiff woolen shawl, and battered bowler-type hat. She was absolutely still, almost in a fetal position, leaning against the railing, as if she had just decided to stop walking once and for all.

I touched her shoulder, and she stirred slightly. Not dead. Thank you, Heavenly Father. I asked if she needed help, and she turned a grimy face flecked with bits of coca leaf to me. “What the hell do you want, gringo?” she slurred at me angrily, clearly drunk.

“We just want to help,” I said softly.

“Go to hell!” she shrieked.

A man behind me said, “Stupid gringos, just let the bitch die. She’s not worth the time.” I turned and saw that the crowd had stopped, and they were watching to see what these two American boys were going to do. “En serio, just leave her alone. Let her die,” he repeated. They were right: I knew she would freeze to death if she stayed on the bridge.

“Please, señora, you need to go home,” I tried again. This time she spat at me.

I turned to ask if anyone could help me get her home. At that moment, I saw an ancient green taxi heading toward the bridge, the driver’s eyes staring at the crowd gathered around us. Another car approached from the other side, its driver also trying to figure out what was going on. The cars collided perhaps fifteen feet from where we were.

Half the crowd, including Davidson, rushed to the crumpled cars to see if they could help. I stayed with the woman, trying hopelessly to get her to go home. Presently the police arrived in a rickety Land Cruiser. One of the officers rushed to where I was still squatting and asked, “Which car was she in?”

“Neither.”

As the police worked on the accident, I noticed a small girl, perhaps seven or eight years old, standing a few feet off. “Do you know this woman? Do you know where she lives?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s my mother,” the little girl said. She looked as if she had been crying, but now her face looked stiff and cold.

“Let’s take her home,” I said, trying to smile. I reached my arms under the mother’s shoulders and lifted her to her feet, as a stream of profanity flowed from her mouth. Her daughter smiled at me and said, “We live only a couple of blocks away. I’ll get her home.” I watched them stagger slowly up the hill toward the stadium, the mother now screaming what were likely obscenities in Aymará.

I turned and saw Davidson holding the hand of a woman who sat on the opposite sidewalk, her head against the railing, blood trickling from her temple. We stayed a few more minutes until a policeman told us to go home. Davidson told the woman one last time that it was going to be OK, and then we started up the hill towards home.

As we passed the bus stop, a woman was packing up her kerosene burner and pot for the night, and a few men stood warming their hands near a fire burning in the gutter.

At the gate, I fumbled for my key.

“So what did we end up doing?” Davidson asked, his eyes again dark and empty.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know.”

If you like this, there’s more: Heaven Up Here


The Will of the Lord

January 12, 2016

Many Latter-day Saints I know have struggled with the recent “policy change” that labels same-sex couples “apostates” and bars their children from baptism. It strikes them, as it does me, as deliberately splitting families and punishing children for the actions of their parents. Brigham Young used to say something to the effect that good doctrine tastes good, but this policy is about as appetizing as a hair omelet.

Most Mormons I know who have been troubled by the policy have said that it’s just a policy, not doctrine, so they don’t feel obligated to agree with it. Policies are the decisions of organizations, and they are subject to change; doctrine reflects the revealed word of God and, at least in theory, doesn’t change. The three-hour block of meetings on Sunday is policy; the saving ordinance of the sacrament is doctrine. The white-shirt-tie-and-nametag missionary ensemble is church policy; Christ’s injunction to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” is doctrine.

For a lot of Mormons, it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with a church policy, even publicly. When I was a young boy, most of the Latter-day Saints I knew in Southern California disagreed with the church’s policy against ordaining men of African descent to the priesthood. It was a policy, they said, and it would change. And of course it did. Yes, some church leaders said it was revealed doctrine, but there was no revelation on the matter that anyone could point to.

I think a lot of people feel the same way about this new anti-gay policy: it’s just a decision of men, and it will change, so church members do not feel obligated to support it. One sign of its temporary nature is that, within a week, the church changed a significant aspect of the policy: originally, a child would be excluded from baptism if he or she is “child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship.” The church later changed this to exclude only children who are currently living with a same-sex couple as their primary residence. Of course, that opens a number of other issues, but I digress.

In short, a policy subject to almost-immediate revision is not set in stone, and does not have the authority of revelation.

Then, this past Sunday, President Russell Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the church changed everything by equating the policy with revelation. Speaking at BYU-Hawaii, President Nelson spoke about how individuals can learn the mind and will of the Lord through study, fasting, and prayer. He compared the individual quest for answers to the process by which the Lord makes His will known to church leaders:

We sustain 15 men who are ordained as prophets, seers, and revelators. When a thorny problem arises–and they only seem to get thornier each day–these 15 men wrestle with the issue, trying to see all the ramifications of various courses of action, and they diligently seek to hear the voice of the Lord. After fasting, praying, studying, pondering, and counseling with my brethren about weighty matters, it is not unusual for me to be awakened during the night with further impressions about issues with which we are concerned. And my brethren have the same experience. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together and share all the Lord has directed us to understand and to feel individually and collectively, and then we watch the Lord move upon the president of the church to proclaim the Lord’s will.

This prophetic process was followed in 2012 with the change in minimum age for missionaries, and again with the recent additions to the church’s handbook consequent to the legalization of same-sex marriage in some countries. Filled with compassion for all, and especially for the children, we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter. Ever mindful of God’s plan of salvation and of His hope for eternal life for each of His children, we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer, and sought further direction and inspiration, and then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson. Revelation from the Lord to His servants is a sacred process. So is your privilege of receiving personal revelation. My dear brothers and sisters, you have as much access to the mind and will of the Lord, for your own life, as we apostles do for His church. Just as the Lord requires us to seek and ponder, fast and pray, study and wrestle with difficult questions, He requires you to do the same as you seek answers to your own questions.

President Nelson leaves little room for disagreement here: according to him, this new policy was given by revelation and represents the mind and will of the Lord.

Nelson

My initial response was a little snarky in that I said I could see two possible explanations:

  1. God is a muddleheaded douchebag.
  2. These guys don’t know the mind and will of the Lord.

Snark aside, for believing Latter-day Saints, I think President Nelson has drawn a distinct line: either you sustain the policy as the revealed will of the Lord, or you don’t. There’s no middle ground, no excusing it as a matter of policy.

For the record, I am sure these men “wrestled” with this issue, and I want to believe they had the best of intentions. In the end, however, this policy is hurtful and wrong, and anything but compassionate.

Looking back at my life as a believing Mormon, I probably would have accepted President Nelson’s words at face value, put my personal feelings aside, and sustained this policy as the revealed will of the Lord. I suspect a lot of people I know are doing just that. Heaven knows I forced myself to believe, say, and do things I thought were wrong–just  because I believed the church was right, no matter what.

But I also think it would have gnawed at my conscience, despite my best efforts to fall in line. President Monson has often quoted Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to illustrate that one cannot say one thing when your heart says something else:

It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray; and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was, and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. … I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. … It was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, … but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.

In context, however, Twain is writing about the conflict between one’s conscience and what others tell you is right. In this passage, Huck isn’t praying about giving up a vice or sin; rather, he is wrestling over whether he should turn in the runaway slave, Jim. Society, the law, religion–all of these tell him that slavery is right, and helping a slave escape is wrong, but his heart tells him otherwise.

I think I would have forced myself to accept and sustain the policy, but I would have known it was wrong. I’ve felt this way before. The summer before I left on my mission, I worked for a time as a janitor at a dialysis center (this was 1983). I got to know several of the patients fairly well, as they came in regularly. One African-American man I met was what I would call a religious seeker. He told me he was looking for the true church on earth, the kingdom of God, where he knew he was supposed to be. He asked me about Mormonism and what I believed. Then, of course, he asked about the priesthood restrictions that had been rescinded only 5 years earlier. He asked me to explain why, and I couldn’t. No answer I could come up with was adequate. A friend had recently returned from a mission to Jamaica and had said the granting of the priesthood was gradual: first only to the Israelites, then (as of the New Testament) to the Gentiles, and finally to black men. It didn’t sound right to me, especially since the New Testament made it abundantly clear that no one was “unclean” any longer and unworthy of the blessings of the gospel. I did my best to justify a policy I had never agreed with, but it was no use. He knew, and I knew, that it had been wrong.

This morning I am thinking of all those in the church who want to sustain the leaders of the church but recognize that this policy is wrong and harmful. I would imagine there will be some wrestling, fasting, praying, and studying. And that’s a good thing. I’m glad I don’t have to wrestle with this at all.


The Road to Apostasy

April 2, 2015

I have been thinking about the process of losing one’s faith and leaving the church. I’ve been told countless times that people who leave the church have done things the wrong way; it’s not usually a huge, obvious mistake, but a series of seemingly small and insignificant missteps along the way, that lead a person down the road to apostasy.

I thought of someone I’m familiar with (I’ll call him “H”) who has shared how he began this difficult journey and eventually found himself outside the church. As much as possible, I’ll try to let him speak for himself, in his own words. I readily acknowledge that I don’t see the mistakes, the missteps, that led H to lose faith, but I’m hoping–expecting, really–that some active members of the church will enlighten me and help me understand where he went wrong and how he could have salvaged his faith.

H did not grow up a member of the church, but when he was a young adult, he began to feel there was something missing in his life, and a chance encounter with members led him to investigate the church. Although he initially found the scriptures “impenetrable,” he felt the church offered answers to his questions and could help him to “actually handle life, and your problems, and not have them handle you.”

Joining the church gave H a feeling of belonging and a sense of purpose. “I did experience gains,” he says, and he felt he was able to let go of earlier guilt, feeling forgiven for “things I’d done as a teenager that I didn’t feel good about. I think I did, in some ways, become a better person. I did develop more empathy for others.”

H poured himself into church activity, becoming a leader and example to others. But some things about the church nagged at him because they just didn’t seem right. He heard rumors about the church’s origins and some disturbing stories about the church’s founder, whom he had come to revere. But he dismissed these concerns as fabrications from apostates. “There’s always disgruntled folks who say all sorts of things,” he thought. As H saw other church members testify of the blessings they had received, he wondered why he wasn’t seeing the same blessings in his own life. “Maybe there is something,” he told himself, “and I’m just missing it.”

Throughout his time in the church, he was always taught that either it was all true, or it was a lie. Although he struggled to believe the founding narratives of the church, he was told that, if what the church founder and witnesses had testified of had “never existed,” the church must be “based on a lie.” He decided that he would take a more liberal approach to his religion and live the church’s teachings on his own terms. He would “pick and choose” the parts of the religion he wanted to believe and disregard those things he didn’t like.

For a number of years, H continued in his journey of faith, but eventually, things came to a head in 2008, when H was horrified at the church’s public support for Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage proposition in California. When he voiced his concerns to his church leaders, they downplayed the church’s role and urged him to drop the matter. A church member told him, “The church is not political. We all have tons of friends and relatives who are gay. … It’s not the church’s issue.” He knew that wasn’t true.

His frustration with the church led him to search the Internet for information about the church. Looking at unauthorized sources made him feel a little nervous, as he had always been taught that the only trustworthy information about the church was what the church published itself. His research uncovered a lot of troubling information, most of which would be familiar to my readers. But what struck him the most was seeing a high-ranking church leader tell an obvious untruth to a television interviewer. He met with “apostates” who had left the church, and many of them were angry, saying they felt “betrayed” by the church.

Feeling that his world was unraveling, H reached out to church leaders, who dismissed his concerns as being unfounded and urged him to rededicate himself to increased church activity to renew his flagging faith. After agonizing over his choices, H eventually realized that he could no longer be a member of the church in good conscience. He wrote a long letter explaining his decision and his reasons for making it, and sent it to his closest friends and leaders in the church. The response was unexpected. They insisted that he had listened to the wrong people and that he should have shared his concerns only with his church leaders, who could help him. Instead, he had listened to apostates and those who opposed the church, who were obviously lying. Besides, if he “genuinely wanted to change” the church, they told him, he “should stay within the organization, not quit; certainly, going public was not helpful.”

Although they tried to help him stay in the church, his friends and leaders reluctantly accepted his decision, but insisted that he keep his reasons for leaving to himself. Discussing what he had found out about the church could “damage” the lives of the faithful, and he had no right to do that. He told his friends about the information he had found on the Internet, urging them to see for themselves, but they were not willing to listen to information presented by enemies of the church. One friend told him that looking at those web sites was “like reading ‘Mein Kampf’ if you wanted to know something about the Jewish religion.”

Leaving the church has cost H relationships with some friends and even some family members. He has a keen sense of loss: “If you identify yourself with something for so long, and suddenly you think of yourself as not that thing, it leaves a bit of space.” But he is philosophical about it. “It’s not really the sense of a loss of community. Those people who walked away from me were never really my friends.”

What did H do wrong?


More on Joseph Smith’s “Near-Death Experience”

March 20, 2015
I mentioned in my earlier post that I had stolen a good chunk of information about the account of Charles Stoddard regarding William Law’s alleged shooting attempt against Joseph Smith in 1844. This same friend, who is an active member of the LDS church, sent me some further information, so I thought I would share it here.
The Stoddard tale is an interesting bit of folklore. As has been noted, there are two versions of the story: the spurious Sarah Stoddard journal and an affidavit sworn by Charles Stoddard’s granddaughter and great-grandaughter in 1949 (included in Mark L. McConkie’s compilation, Remembering Joseph). [The affidavit can be read here.]

So, the story as told in the Deseret News seems to be derived from the one from this affidavit, which was made some 30 years after the story’s origin (if my friend is correct that the story dates from after 1918).

If you subtract the gun play, Charles Stoddard’s story has certain similarities to Dennison Lott Harris’s story, which was recounted in an article called “Conspiracy of Nauvoo” that appeared in the April 1884 issue of The Contributor (the New Era of its day). The author of the piece, Horace Cummings, said that he heard Harris relate the story in 1883 and was so impressed by it that he wrote it down afterward in his journal. Later, after learning that The Contributor was offering a prize for a Christmas story, he “extended [his] journal account somewhat and wrote [the] article in competition for the prize.”

In the story, Harris and his friend, Robert Scott, attend secret meetings at William Law’s house as spies for Joseph Smith. There are three meetings. Before the third meeting, Joseph warns them not to enter into any secret oaths. Then, as the account has it, “after a pause of some moments, he added: ‘Boys, this will be their last meeting, and they may shed your blood, but I hardly think they will, as you are so young. If they do, I will be a lion in their path! Don’t flinch. If you have to die; die like men; you will be martyrs to the cause, and your crowns can be no greater.'” Sure enough, at the meeting, everyone is required to swear an oath dedicating themselves to Joseph Smith’s destruction. Everyone takes the oath but the two boys. The enraged mob clamors for their blood: they must take the oath or be killed. When they refuse again, the Law brothers and Austin Cowles frog-march them down to the cellar to slit their throats. Then, at the last moment, someone in the crowd yells—”as if by Divine interposition”—to halt the proceedings. The boys are reluctantly given a reprieve. They will be allowed to leave but must never speak of what they have seen or they will be killed on sight. Joseph, meanwhile, fearing for the boys’ safety, concealed himself along the river bank with one of his bodyguards, just out of sight of Law’s men. There’s a joyful reunion and the boys relate everything they had seen and heard to the grateful Prophet. Cummings’s article closes with the declaration that it “is a true recital of events that actually transpired.” This affirmation is somewhat undercut, however, by the postscript: “That which is elevating and ennobling in its tendency is necessarily true.”

So, it’s a nice story, but even the originator seems to take it with a grain of salt.

So according to Mormon folklore, the Law-Higbee-Foster et al. conspiracy against Joseph Smith was discovered by one or more courageous youths. Contemporary records, however, tell a different story. On 24 March 1844, Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal the following remarks made by the Prophet:

“I have been informed by two gentleman that a conspiricy is got up in this place for the purpose of taking the life of President Joseph Smith his family and all the Smith family & the heads of the Church. One of the gentleman will give his name to the public & the other wishes it to be hid for the present. They will both testify to it on oath & make an affidavit upon it. The names of the persons revealed at the head of the conspiracy are as follows: (Chancy Higby Dr Foster, Mr Jackson, Wm. & Wilson Law). And the lies that Higby has hatched up as a foundation to work upon is, he says that I had mens heads Cut off in Missouri & that I had a sword run through the hearts of the people that I wanted to kill & put out of the way. I wont sware out a warrent against them for I don’t fear any of them. They would not scare of an old setting hen. I intend to publish all the iniquity that I know of. If I am guilty I am ready to bear it. Their is honor among enemies. I am willing to do any thing for the good of the people. I will give the names of one of the gentleman who have divulged the plot. His name is Eaton. He will sware to it. He is a bold fellow. Jackson said a Smith should not be alive 2 weeks not over two months any how. As concerning the Character of these men I will say nothing about it now but If I hear any thing more from them on this subject I will tell what I know about them.”

Joseph’s informants were M.G. Eaton and Abiathar Williams (see Times and Seasons, 15 May 1844, 541)—not Charles Stoddard, Dennison Harris, or Robert Scott. But I suppose, if the folklore is elevating and ennobling in its tendency, then it is necessarily true 😉

So, even in the 1880s they understood that some truths are not very useful, but some untruths can be uplifting.

What I wonder is how the story came to be appropriated by the Stoddard family, when the original, which seems pretty obviously made up, doesn’t have anything to do with Charles Stoddard or his family.  But it seems fairly common for family histories to insert themselves, Forrest Gump-like, into important events based on proximity. In other words, the Stoddards were in Nauvoo during the time of Joseph Smith’s murder, so surely they had a part in defending the prophet.

Several years ago, I read a biography of Frederick G. Williams called After One Hundred Years, published in the 1940s. It was written by a woman named Nancy Williams, who was a Williams by marriage only. She devotes an entire chapter to the Williamses’ likely involvement in the War of 1812, describing battles and ships and heroism. Only there is absolutely no evdience that anyone in the Williams family took part in that war. True, they lived in Kirtland, Ohio, which was near the Great Lakes, and William Wheeler Williams, Frederick’s father, had been involved in shipping on the lakes at one time. But there’s nothing to suggest he or anyone else in the family fought in the war, let alone served with heroic distinction. Basically, then, Mrs. Williams decided that, because he was near the action, William must have been involved. I think that’s the same thing that has happened with the Stoddard family. Maybe Charles was part of the Whistling and Whittling Brigade, or maybe he knew Joseph Smith or William Law personally Who knows?

P.S. For what it’s worth, here is an excerpt from a letter William Law wrote to Isaac Hill on 20 July 1844:

. . . My family and myself are all well, and have enjoyed good health and peace since we left Nauvoo, although the events which have transpired Since, were very shocking to my feeling/s\ yet, as they \(J&H)/ brought it upon themselves, and I used my influence to prevent any outrage Even from the Commencement of the Excitement, believing that the Civil Law had power to Expose iniquity, and punish the wicked I say Consequently, I look on Calmly, and while the wicked slay the wicked, I believe I can see the hand of a blasphemed God stretched out in judgment, the cries of inocence and virtue have ascended up before the throne of God, and he has taken Sudden vengeance.
I am as ever—
Respectfully Yours,
Wm. Law.

(William Law letter to Isaac Hill, 20 July 1844, MS 3473, CHL)

This sounds more like the William Law known from his actual words and actions. While I find his apparent satisfaction with the “vengeance” of God to be more than a little distasteful, he isn’t the foul-mouthed drunkard of the Stoddard and Harris accounts. You would think that, after everything that happened, if William Law had really conspired to kill Joseph Smith, he would have been just a little more proud of his accomplishment. What I find revealing is that Law basically left Mormonism and the Mormons alone after the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Although he had plenty of opportunities to “expose” and denounce the LDS church later, he never spoke publicly about it until some 40 years later, when he was interviewed about his involvement with the Latter-day Saint movement.  You can read what he said in “Three Letters from William Law on Mormonism.” [Please note that my link is not an endorsement of Maze Ministry. I’m only linking to it because it’s the complete text.]

 


Of Ngrams and Diaries

March 18, 2015

Pretty much this whole post will be based on (OK, plagiarized from) a thread I saw this morning on a message board. Still, it’s fascinating, and I thought I should draw attention to it.

Yesterday’s Deseret News had an article entitled 13 Little-Known Facts about Joseph Smith. Number 6 on the list was a reported “near-death experience” Joseph had thanks to arch-apostate William Law.

“Apostate William Law attempted to kill Joseph and fired a pistol at him six times at close range. It misfired six times, and he then pointed it at a post and all six shots discharged properly.” Charles H. Stoddard, “Remembering Joseph,” 74

Just as the poster on the message board, I was perplexed because I had never heard of this, and it seemed pretty counter to William Law’s character and personality. So, I looked up the references the poster had cited, and I found a diary that Charles Stoddard’s mother, Sarah, had written between 1843 and 1844. Here’s the entire diary:

Dear Diary,

Charles stopped in for a few minutes today. Said Sister Emma was worried about the prophet being arrested so frequently. This is the umpteenth time in the past few months. Of course they never can hold him for any length of time since he isn’t guilty of any of the charges brought against him. We hear rumors of more violent mob action and the rumors seem more persistent. Perhaps that is why Sister Emma is worried.

October 1843

Charles is surely privileged to have the opportunity of being so closely associated with the prophet and sister Emma. He admires and loves them both. The prophet is such a kindly man though Charles says he has seen his anger rise. All he has to contend with, is it any wonder? Wrathful outsiders as well as weak and selfish people right among our own ranks. Being a prophet of the Lord, I guess, makes him able to deal with all those whom he comes in contact in a just and noble way. There are many among us who would gladly give our lives that the prophet might be spared the humiliations he has to undergo at the hands of the so-called “law.” Seems like people either love the prophet or hate him. Suppose that is because he is such a great man – yes, for he is our prophet.

December 1843

Charles had a dreadful experience last night. Porter Rockwell escaped from jail. He was taken there on mistaken identity of the prophet. When the sheriff finally discovered the mistake, he kept Porter in jail to teach him a lesson, so he said. Many months he was unjustly held. They gave him very meager fare, mostly just bread and water. He was terribly thin and weakened; his hair was long and matted with filth and his body swarming with lice. Not once did they give him anything with which to clean himself, but left him to stench in his own dirt. Charles said the prophet cried when he saw Brother Rockwell and he hugged him in spite of his condition like he was a beloved child. Charles and Brother Richards helped to clean Brother Rockwell after they had burned the rags he had one time called clothes. They had a terrible time with his hair; it was so snarled and filthy. They had decided the best thing to do was to shave his head but the prophet intervened and then he promised Brother Rockwell that as long as he did not cut his hair our enemies would have no power over him. Porter Rockwell is an uncouth man, even vile of tongue but the prophet discerns men for what they are inside and though Charles says he reprimands Brother Rockwell at times for his bad language he still loves and respects him and trusts him as much as he does anyone, even the apostles.

January 1844

Charles is young to be given so much responsibility (just turned 14), but his experiences have made him old for his years. I hate to see Charles put in such a precarious position but if this is where the prophet thinks he can be of greatest service then it must be so. I have never doubted but what the prophet knows what is best for us all. May my faith ever be as strong as it is now though we have very little of worldly goods having moved from New Jersey to Ohio to Nauvoo in so short a time. Still our physical needs are provided. We feel rich in the spirit and our faith in God and in His church grows with each passing day. But back to Charles. Mr. William Law is known to be wanting a houseboy, so the prophet has told our son to take the position and to keep his eyes and ears open. The prophet feels Mr. Law bodes only evil to him and to the Church, him being so resentful to the prophet and having been excommunicated.

February 1844

Charles doesn’t like his work at the Laws. He says the riffraff of Nauvoo drink and carouse all night and lay plans for what unpleasant things they can do to the Mormons in general and the prophet in particular. The boy looks tired, up most of the night so he can keep the prophet posted on Mr. Law’s plans and then working by day. He’s growing so fast right now, too, and should be getting his rest.

April 1844

Charles had another faith promoting experience. Early this morning, even while the darkness still hemmed out the light of day, Mr. Law, after he had been drinking and planning with his associates through the night, got Charles out of bed to clean and oil his gun for he said he was going to shoot the prophet, only William Law called him “old Joe Smith.” Poor Charles was frightened beyond description but Mr. Law stood over him and prodded him with his foot when Charles hesitated through fright and anxiety. Finally when Mr. Law was satisfied with the way the gun was working, he put one bullet in. He boasted that he could kill the prophet with one shot and sent Charles to bring the prophet.

He ran as fast as he could and delivered the message but begged the prophet not to go to Mr. Law’s as Mr. Law was drunk and Charles was afraid he would carry though on his threat to shoot the prophet in cold blood. In spite of Charles’ protestations the prophet rose from bed and dressed.

It was breaking dawn by this time. As they walked the few blocks from the mansion house to the Law residence the prophet reassured Charles that no harm would come to him that day. Charles was frightened and he said it kept racing through his mind “I am the one that cleaned the gun that is going to be used to kill the prophet” until he was sick with fear. The prophet in a final attempt to calm my dear son uttered the fateful words, “Mr. Law may some day kill me, Charles, but it won’t be today’

As they approached their destination Mr. Law came staggering out of the house and his only greeting was angry boasts of what he intended to do. The prophet said kindly and unafraid, “You sent for me, Mr. Law?” to which Mr. Law replied with oaths that he had and that he was now going to do Nauvoo, Illinois, and indeed the whole world a great favor by disposing of the prophet with one shot.

Calmly the prophet unbuttoned his shirt and bared his chest, then said, “I’m ready now, Mr. Law.” Charles said at this point he nearly fainted. Fear strangled him until he was speechless and paralyzed, unable to move a muscle.

Mr. Law paced a few steps, turned, aimed, and pressed the trigger. There was complete silence, then the air rang with profanity and Mr. Law turned on Charles, accusing him of fixing the gun so it would not go off and threatening to kill even Charles, my innocent, frightened, but faithful son. The prophet, to divert Mr. Law’s blame of Charles suggested that a can be placed on the fence post for Mr. Law to take a practice shot. Relieved, Charles ran for a can and laid it on its side on the post. Mr Law paced back, took aim and fired. His ‘one shot’ streaked through the exact center of the bottom of that can. Mr. Law is well-known for his marksmanship even when drunk. Even Mr. Law was quiet as if stunned.

The prophet buttoned up his shirt, gave Charles a meaningful look and then said, “If you are finished with me now, Mr. Law, I have other things needing to be done. Good morning.”

At first glance it seems fairly straightforward: Joseph Smith apparently hired a teenaged Charles Stoddard to work at William Law’s house and “keep the prophet posted” about William Law’s nefarious plans. And this boy witnessed William Law’s attempt to kill Joseph Smith, as well as the prophet’s fearless response.

But, an LDS friend said elsewhere, “I am quite certain that this entry—and indeed the whole diary—is a forgery.” He summarizes his reasons as follows:

If you check out the whole diary (which is suspiciously short) I think you’ll notice that it reads like bad fiction. Nothing in it is credible. All of the characters are broadly drawn caricatures (especially William Law, who, unlike his real-life counterpart, is here a foul-mouthed drunkard). I think it was probably written in the early 20th century, based on expressions like “umpteenth” (which first came into use around the turn of the 20th century and gained prominence after WW1), “keep your eyes and ears open”, and “faith promoting experience” (which, as far as I can tell, did not enter the Mormon lexicon until the 1880s). “Keep him posted” also seems out of place for 1844.

Robert H. Daines described the provenance of the diary in a 2000 BYU devotional: “I should like to share with you an entry from the diary of my great-great grandmother. This is a record of a little-known experience of the Prophet Joseph—little known because this diary was lost for 30 to 40 years in my mother’s home in New Jersey. It was only rediscovered as they were preparing to move back to Utah in the late 1970s. This is a diary entry of Sister Sarah Stoddard.” My guess is that it was created ca. 1920-1930.

Admittedly, I am not that clever to have thought of the word usage, but he’s right that some of the words and phrases did not arise in the English language until much later than 1844. “Umpteenth,” for example, dates to World War I.

I’d never used Google’s Ngram Viewer before, but it can tell you how often a word is used over time, based on its text database of books. For example, we can chart when the following words became widely used in English:

In short, I learned something, and not just that the account of William Law trying to shoot Joseph Smith is likely bogus. I think I could have fun with the Ngram Viewer.

 

 


Concise Dictionary of Mormonism So Far …

March 17, 2015

A while back I started putting together a satiric “Concise Dictionary of Mormonism,” sort of a take-off on Bruce R. McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine,” though more concise and with less racism. I got distracted and never finished, but I did promise some friends I would finish. So, I will get back on it. In the meantime, here are the entries so far:

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M (part 1)
M (part 2)
N
O


Polygamy Sources: Joseph Bates Noble

March 13, 2015

Here is some of the testimony of Joseph Bates Noble (1810-1900), who married Joseph Smith to Louisa Beaman, who was Noble’s sister-in-law. Some background:

I’ve included some testimony that isn’t entirely relevant just because it gives you a good idea of his temperament. It may seem like I’m over-using ellipses, but I am skipping a lot of repeated questions and discussions of objections

I should note that almost every question is followed by an objection in the original, so I skipped them. They all read something like this:

Counsel for the plaintiff objects to the question asked the witness on the ground that it is incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial, and not relevant to any of the issues of this case and pleading.

Needless to say, I didn’t feel like including that over and over, and I figured readers wouldn’t want to wade through it, either.

29 Q-I asked you to state to the reporter Mr. Noble, what you know if anything about the doctrine of plural marriage, sometimes or commonly called “polygamy” being taught or practiced in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of which you were and are a member, at Nauvoo, during the life of of Joseph Smith, the prophet?
A-Yes sir, it was taught by Joseph Smith.

31 Q-[State] where the doctrine of plural marriage was taught at Nauvoo before the death of Joseph Smith?
A-What is that?
34 Q-Never mind his objection, but just answer the question as soon as he gets through with his Objection,-give him time to make his Objection and then go ahead and answer the question.
A-Well it was at my house.
35 Q-Who taught the doctrine of plural marriage at your house?
A-Joseph Smith the prophet did.
38 Q-I asked you to state to the reporter what you know in regard to Joseph’s teaching or practicing the doctrine of plural marriage during his lifetimes there in Nauvoo,-what you know about that further than what you have stated?
A-Well he taught it in my house and practiced it also.
39 Q-Was any one present at the time that Joseph Smith taught the principle of plural marriage that you refer to?
A-Yes sir.
40 Q-Who was present at the time he taught that principle?
A-My wife’s sister.
41 Q-Who was that?
A-Louisa Beaman.
42 Q-Was there any others? A-Yes sir, there was some of my own family there, but they were young at that time.
43 Q-Were you ever present when any one was married under this plural marriage doctrine, as taught by Joseph Smith?
A-Yes sir.
45 Q-Mr. Hall asked you to state the circumstances under which you were present and saw any one married under the operations of this plural marriage doctrine or principle, as I understand it?
A-It bothers me to call us these things. I feel so feeble. Well I was present one time and performed the marriage ceremony giving him my wife’s sister.
46 Q-Who did you marry?
A-Louisa Beaman to the prophet.
48 Q-You married Louisa Beaman to the prophet Joseph Smith?
A-Yes sir.
49 Q-About what year was this?
A-In ’41 or close to it. Now that is my best recollection.
50 Q-When did the prophet Joseph Smith first teach you that doctrine?
A-He taught me that doctrine in ’40. It was in ’40 or about that time,-that is my best recollection.
51 Q-Where were you living when you were first taught that doctrine?
A-I was living in Montrose in Lee County, Iowa, right across the river opposite Nauvoo.
52 Q-Do you know whether Joseph Smith ever lived any with Louisa Beaman as his wife?
A-Yes sir.
53 Q-You may state how you know it?
A-I know it for I saw him in bed with her.

115 Q-You don’t know much this morning only about polygamy and Joseph Smith’s connection with it, and you know all about that?
A-Well that forces it upon me more particularly.
116 Q-Is it because you have been connected with that crime,-with the commission of that crime yourself?
A-Yes sir, I expect so.
117 Q-You know all about polygamy.
A-I expect I do.
118 Q-And your conscience is gnawing you?
A-Yes sir, It has a terrible gnawing fit on it this morning.
119 Q-You feel very bad over it, don’t you?
A-Over what?
120 Q-Is it not a fact that you feel very bad over your sins in connection with polygamy?
A-Not much, thank you.

341 Q-Answer the question,-it was according to the law of doctrine and covenants that any minister could marry you and perform the marriage ceremony?
A-Yes sir, of course it was.
342 Q-You could get any one to do that?
A-Yes sir, you could call on whom you liked.
343 Q-That was the doctrine of the church, wasn’t it?
A-No sir.
344 Q-It was not?
A-No sir.
345 Q-Well what was it?
A-There was no doctrine about it,-it was simply the practice. We were not after doctrine at such a time as that.
346 Q-You were after the women weren’t you? A-Yes sir, we were after women and we got them too, and that is more than some men can do now a days. I was after a wife and I know I got her.
347 Q-You got your first wife in 1838?
A-Yes sir.
348 Q-You commenced hunting a wife in 1838 now when did you quit hunting them?
A-Quit?
349 Q-Yes sir,-that is what I asked you.
A-I don’t know as I have quit yet.

380 Q-Well when did you go to Nauvoo to live?
A-Well it is my best recollection that we went there about 1841.
381 Q-That is when you first heard the doctrine of polygamy talked,-when you went over to Nauvoo to live in 1841 was the time when you first heard that doctrine talked was it not?
A-Well I don’t know about that.
384 Q-Well it was some time in ’41 wasn’t it that you first heard it talked of, when you went over to Nauvoo to live?
A-Yes sir, I heard of it then I guess, but I had heard of it before that time, and afterwards too I guess.
384 [sic] Q-Well where and when did you hear of it before?
A-I heard of it in ’40 I guess.
386 Q-In 1840 you say you heard of it?
A-Yes sir.
387 Q-Where did you hear of it then?
A-Let me see where I was then,-I was over there in Montrose I guess.
392 Q-Now did you hear anything about the church denouncing such a practice at any time between 1840 and 1844,-at any time between these dates?
A-I don’t recollect much about that.
393 Q-Well do you recollect anything about it?
A-Not the date,-of course there were rumors and talks,-I could not begin to say or tell all that I heard for there was so much talk going on there.
394 Q-Don’t you know that the church as a church did denounce it between 1840 and 1844?
395 Q-Answer the question,-don’t you know that too?
A-How is that? Know what?
396 Q-I asked if you did not know that the church did denounce the practice of polygamy or the plural or secret wife system between 1840 and 1844? Answer the question? Are you going to answer the question?
A-Be patient. I am trying to call up these things. It was in ’44 that the prophet died. That was the time of the death of the prophet I believe. My head feels so bad and I feel bad all over too.
397 Q-It feel worse than it did when you was being examined by Hall, don’t it?
A-Well I don’t know.
398 Q-Don’t you know that the church did denounce it and publish it, and by resolution it was put in the book of doctrine and covenants. Don’t you know that?
A-The dates is what bothers me you see. I can’t remember dates at all any more.
399 Q-Well you know it was denounced by the church at some time, don’t you?
400 Q-The church did denounce the system of polygamy or its practice did it not at some time, at that too before the death of Joseph Smith?
A-The trouble with me is that I can’t date it.

[Attorney tries very hard to get Noble to admit that monogamy, as outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants, was the law of the church during Joseph Smith’s life.]

415 Q-Then you say you did not know this was the law of the church at the time that Joseph Smith died, when you were a bishop, and a high priest and elder, and sat there to teach the people what the law of the church was?
A-I was not much of a scholar, and I guess I did not go to the book.
416 Q-Then you did not teach the law of the church out of the book?
A-I guess not.
417 Q-Why not?
A-I guess I had enough without.
418 Q-You had enough to teach without going to the book for your law,-you knew enough without that?
A-Yes sir, I suppose so.
419 Q-Well what did you teach,-this law or some other law?
A-I taught every man to mind his own business devilish close.

424 Q-Did you teach publicly or privately there at Nauvoo that a man could have more wives than one?
A-I did not.
425 Q-You did not teach that either publicly or privately?
A-No sir, I did not teach anything of the kind.
426 Q-Why not?
A-Because it was not taught publicly,-it was a private matter.
427 Q-Then you did not teach it?
A-No sir, I guess not,-not much I did not teach it. I don’t think I did but I can’t remember. My head hurts me when I try to think of these things that I can’t remember.
428 Q-When I ask you these questions it makes your head hurt?
A-Sir?
429 Q-It did not make your head hurt a little bit when Hall asked you these questions?
A-It did some.
430 Q-It made it hurt some, but not as bad as when I ask you the same question?
A-You ask so many foolish nonsensical questions that it would make anybody’s head hurt to answer them I think.

433 Q-Well then answer the question as to whether you taught that a man could have more wives than one?
A-No sir, I don’t think I did teach that.
434 Q-Well if that was the doctrine and practice of the church, why didn’t you teach it?
A-Well I guess it wasn’t safe for a man to do so, and you had to be careful what you taught.

[Attorney gets exasperated when trying to get Noble to say whether Joseph Smith taught plural marriage during his lifetime.]

444 Q-Well I am not asking you a thing on earth about the date,-I put at any time before his death,-at any time from 1830 up to 1844. Pick your own time any where within these limits?
A-Yes sir, the principle was taught.
445 Q-Taught to the church was it?
A-It was taught privately.

448 Q-Did he teach it publicly or privately?
A-Privately I think it was.
449 Q-Did he teach it to the church?
A-To individuals in the church. There is no doubt of that. I guess I had better put it that way.

456 Q-You know that he did not teach it to the church as a church either publicly or privately, don’t you?  Don’t you? Don’t you know that?
A-I know that he taught it to individuals in the church.
[Noble complains that Kelley “holler[s] so loud that it makes my head hurt.” Kelley is exasperated and asks again whether Joseph Smith taught the principle of plural marriage.]
467 … A-He taught things to the church, that unless the key was turned on their minds you could not know a darned thing about what he was driving at.
468 Q-Well I move to strike out all that answer except the word “darned.”
A-What a comfortable place this is for a sick fellow.

489 Q-And let the record show that the party that uses such language is an elder in this church out here in Utah?
A-Yes sir, let the record show that. Oh I don’t wrap a Pharisaical coat around me and say I am not like that other fellow, for I swear frequently when I am driven to it. I have sworn or affirmed before this frequently when I was on the stand, for I am rather a plain dealer, or used to be. I don’t like to do it though, for it is not right you know, but we are all weak, and I am especially so perhaps.

628 Q-At whose house [was Joseph Smith married to Louisa Beaman]?
A-At mine.

634 Q-Well [Louisa Beaman] was present at that time wasn’t she? She was present at the time?
A-Well she would be very likely to be present, I think.

648 Q-Was that sealing for time and eternity?
A-For time and eternity.

669 Q-Did you not claim that Joseph was higher than the law?
A-Joseph?
670 Q-Yes sir?
A-Well we received the law through him.
671 Q-And that he was higher than the law? You thought that didn’t you?
A-Well what if I did?
672 Q-Well answer the question,-did you not claim and think that he was higher than the law?
A-Well he was the law.
673 Q-He was the law himself, according to your way of thinking?
A-Well he gave us the law.
674 Q-You believe that didn’t you,-that he was the law?
A-Well he was the one that restored the priesthood to earth.
675 Q-Well was he the law of the church?
A-He gave the law to the church.
676 Q-Well was he the law of the church?
A-He had to do with it any way.
677 Q-Well he made the law didn’t he?
A-He received it from the Lord all right enough.
678 Q-Q-Now you are positive that it was before ’43 that you performed this marriage ceremony marrying Joseph Smith and Louisa Beaman? You are sure of that are you not?
A-Yes sir.

680 Q-You performed the ceremony and returned across the river the same night did you not?
A-Yes sir.
681 Q-What made you say the other day that Joseph Smith and that woman you sealed to him slept together that night?
A-Because they did sleep together.
682 Q-If you were not there that night how do you know they slept together?
A-Well they slept together I know. If it was not that night it was two or three nights after that.
683 Q-Where did they sleep together?
A-Right straight across the river at my house they slept together.

686 Q-You said the other day that the night you married them they slept together, and now today you say after you married them you went across the river and did not stay there that night? Now I want you to answer the plain square question. Did he sleep with her the first night after the ceremony was performed?
A-He did.
687 Q-Now you say that he did sleep with her?
A-I do.
688 Q-How do you know he did?
A-Well I was there.
689 Q-And you saw them go to bed together?
A-I gave him counsel.
690 Q-What counsel did you give him?
A-I said “blow out the lights and get into bed, and you will be safer there,” and he took my advice or counsel. (witness laughs heartily.)
693 Q-You went across the river did you not,-is that not what you said?
A-Yes sir, but I told him that.

695 Q-Well when was it you told him that?
A-It was in the night time.
700 Q-Well did you stay there until the lights were blown out?
A-No sir I did not stay until they blowed out the lights then.
701 Q-Well you did not see him get into bed with her that time?
A-No sir.
702 Q-And so you don’t know whether he followed your advice from your own knowledge?
A-No sir, I did not see him, but he told me he did.
703 Q-But you don’t know it of your own knowledge from seeing him do it?
A-No sir, I think not.

705 Q-Was Emma Smith there?
A-No sir.
706 Q-Did she know anything about it?
A-No sir, I think not.
726 Q-Well do you not know, or did you ever know of any women who were taken as plural wives, before they became members of the church?
A-Well I expect as a rule they took a soaking beforehand.

789 Q-There was no license, was there, issued by the clerk of the court, or by any body else for the marriage?
A-For the marriage, did you say?
790 Q-Yes sir,-to marry Joseph Smith to Louisa Beaman,-for sealing her to him?
A-No sir.
791 Q-Why not?
A-Well we did not have to use them in marriages of that kind,-that was a marriage performed in the church, and it was a secret marriage as I told you many a time.
792 [Q-]Was that marriage performed under the law or the color of law?
A-Yes sir.
793 [Q-]Now where was your law for that marriage or sealing,-where did you get it?
A-I got it all right,-right from the prophet himself. That is where I got it.
794 Q-He just told you it was necessary for him to have Louisa Beaman?
A-Yes sir.
795 Q-And asked you to seal her to him?
A-Yes sir.
796 Q-And you did it?
A-Yes sir.
797 Q-You took his word for it?
A-Yes sir.
798 Q-And you did not hesitate about it?
A-No sir, I took his word for it quicker than scat.
799 Q-And you sealed him to her?
A-I sealed her to him and I did a good job too.
800 Q-There was no revelation for it?
A-I don’t know anything about the revelations.
801 Q-You don’t know anything about whether there was any revelation for it,-any revelation authorizing it or not,-you just took his word for it?
A-Yes sir. He said it was all right and I believed him.
802 Q-Did you perform it in accordance with this revelation published in the book of Doctrine and Covenants,-published by your church here in Utah?
A-No sir.
803 Q-I mean this polygamous revelation?
A-No sir.
804 Q-This was not in existence at that time was it?
A-I don’t know whether it was or not.
805 Q-Well it is dated here in 1843,-was it in existence at the time that you married Louisa Beaman to Joseph Smith?
A-I don’t know anything about it, and I don’t care a darned thing about it either.
806 Q-That is another of the things that you don’t care a darned thing about too?
A-Yes sir, you can have it that way if you want it that way.
807 Q-Well is that not just what you said?
A-I expect it is,-you are enough to badger the life out of a fellow, and I kind of lose my temper sometimes, but I will try and bear with you.
808 Q-Don’t that revelation say that the first wife of a man must give her consent to it before he can marry a plural wife,-must take the plural wife by the hand and give her to her husband as a wife before the ceremony can be celebrated?
809 Q-Is that not what the commandment says?
A-I don’t know anything about what it says.
810 Q-You don’t know as a matter of fact, whether there was any revelation at the time that you married Louisa Beaman to Joseph Smith, or not?
A-No sir, I don’t know anything about it, only I had it kind of stuck in me that there was.
811 Q-The Lord stuck it into you?
A-Yes sir, I expect so and he has stuck it in me that I must fight my way through with you,-I see that plainly enough. Oh you are not the only cross I have had to bear in my time, and I guess I will out-last you, so you go ahead, for I am tough,-tougher than I look, perhaps.

816 Q-Who did you consult after you left the witness stand here the other day?
A-Nobody.
817 Q-Did you not consult with Woodruff?
A-No sir, I did not consult with him or anybody else, nor has anybody insulted me only you.


Scars

March 9, 2015

I have several major scars on my torso. One is about the size of a silver dollar and is just under the bottom of my lowest left front rib (my brother used to say I had two belly buttons). Another is basically an arc-shaped fold of skin, about an inch long, just under the right scapula on my back. The largest scar begins just below and to the right of my right nipple and extends in a roughly straight line under my right armpit around to just above and to the left of the scar near my scapula. Anyone who has ever seen me without a shirt on has seen the scars. When I was younger, I used to enjoy telling tall tales about the origins of my scars. I told people it was a shark attack, a gang fight, or my personal favorite, “Dude, I got it in ‘Nam.”

The current scholarly consensus is that I got the scars from surgery in 1964, on the day I was born. According to the narrative espoused by the Williams family, the scars are consistent with major surgery to correct a birth defect, tracheoesophageal fistula. Whenever I have an X-ray, it’s obvious that every rib on my right side has been broken, and the breaks line up in a clean line, suggesting that they were cut during surgery. I’m sure any number of physicians could confirm that the scars look exactly like what you expect from someone who has had corrective surgery for that birth defect.

However, there are significant gaps in the historical record. Neither of my parents kept a journal, so there is no written contemporary evidence from the family. As far as I know, the only documentary evidence for the surgery from the family is a life history of my uncle, which he wrote in 2001, many years after the alleged surgery. And unfortunately, the hospital where the surgery was performed has long since closed. The only evidence that supports the consensus–besides the scars themselves–is oral history, and obviously memories and motivations can be suspect. If we are going to uncover the real origins, the ones we all want to believe in, we need to consider alternative theories.

Given the paucity of incontrovertible evidence that is available to the public, several alternatives are possible: the knife fight, and so on (the ‘Nam theory is intriguing but ultimately can be discounted because I was 8 years old when the war ended). But someone could easily speculate that the injuries could have been sustained in a car accident. Suppose they learn that, around the time I was 17, I didn’t work during one summer, several high school acquaintances died that same summer in a terrible car accident a few miles from my home (police reports could not determine who was driving), and the car my grandfather had given me–a 1971 Plymouth Valiant–suddenly disappeared from in front of my house at roughly the same time. Is such an accident a plausible explanation for my scars? I suppose it is. I could explain the real origin of the scars, but this theorist could just as easily say I have a motive to lie about not being in a car accident because I don’t want to admit that I killed 7 people on the Pacific Coast Highway. And besides, how could I confirm that I was operated on as a newborn, as I obviously have no memory of the surgery? And there are other, unexplained scars that do not fit the “surgery” narrative: one on my chin, another on my upper left back, and a small, barely noticeable one on my nose. All of these might be consistent with injuries sustained in an automobile accident, but not with the alleged surgery. Also, several years later I had a stress fracture in my femur, which could have been weakened in the accident. Clearly, then, it’s just as plausible to believe I was in a car crash at age 17 than it is to believe I had major surgery the day I was born.

Imagine that I ask this theorist to provide some documentary data to support the theory: an accident report, hospital records, a family member or anyone else placing me at the scene of the accident. I would think I’m well within my rights to ask for some evidence beyond speculation.

Suppose, then, that the accident theorist asks me for more “data” to prove I got the scars from surgery. I’m not really sure I could prove it to anyone’s complete satisfaction. It would take me some time, but I could probably locate the note the surgeon gave my parents the day I was born. I saw it once about 20 years ago, and it consists of a diagram showing the extent of the defect and an explanation of what the surgery would do. It’s probably in a closet somewhere in my parents’ home, but it would take some digging to find it. But then it’s jotted in blue ballpoint pen on a scrap of lined notebook paper, and it would be impossible to substantiate its authenticity, unless of course you can trust me or my parents (would they have a motivation to lie, as well?). There’s no date on it, there’s no way to authenticate the doctor’s handwriting, and besides, he’s been dead for more than 15 years. As far as I know, that is the only documentary evidence of the surgery in my parents’ possession. I would also assume there are medical records somewhere, but I’m almost certain my parents don’t have them. I’m not sure how I would be able to find anything contemporary to the surgery that is verifiable. I don’t have any photos of me as an infant without a shirt on, so that’s out. I could probably find a photo somewhere in a closet in my parents’ house, but then again, my mom is a bit of a hoarder, and it might be hard. But before I bother with that, I think it would be reasonable to ask the theorist to provide some evidence to substantiate the assertion that I was in such an accident.

What if there were even less compelling evidence that I was involved an accident? What if it was known only that I had received the Valiant sometime after high school and that I no longer had it in my possession sometime before I turned 19? What if I had met some of the accident victims only a couple of times during high school but had no established history? What if I could show that the stress fracture to my femur was probably related to doing too much running and occurred many years later? What if the theorist couldn’t show that the other scars I have are contemporary with the surgery scars?

What if there were no documentation at all? No accident reports, no medical records, no bill of sale of the Valiant? What if all we had to go on is oral history from me and my parents? Would it make sense to accept the accident theory and then interpret the rest of my life based on the belief that it actually happened? Why or why not?


Not My Finest Hour

March 9, 2015

Over on Meg Stout’s blog, someone who says they’re a friend of mine (and I have no reason to doubt they are) has taken issue with my approach here to Meg Stout. But I think this friend is right: my exchanges with Meg have not been my “finest hour.” I’ve been frustrated and a little angry, and it shows. He or she says there are three problems with my approach. I’ll take them one at a time. Unfortunately, I’ll have to do it here, as Ms. Stout does not allow me to post over there.

First, the insults. He has referred to you on other forums as “either delusional or incredibly dishonest, or both. I’m thinking it’s both” and described your posts as “comedy gold”. I respect his usual balance and restraint, but we all have off days (I certainly do). I don’t think this is Runtu’s finest hour. I do not think that insults or mockery have any place in serious discussion. They demean the writer. If an argument is weak then present a stronger counter argument. If readers cannot grasp the intricacies then we should not stoop to insults, but should find a better way to present our evidence. If we are taking among friends we simply have to say we have looked at the evidence and strongly disagree: our reputation will do the rest. The world has too much hate and not enough careful thought.

It’s true. I have insulted her. It’s frustrating to be have someone ridicule and insult me in public and in private conversations and then not allow me to respond. That’s no excuse, but it does explain my frustration. Do I think Meg Stout’s approach is dishonest? Yes, I do, and I’ve explained why, but I can say that without the personal insults and mockery. So, I hereby publicly apologize to Meg Stout for treating her disrespectfully.

My second problem with Runtu’s attack is his apparent raising of evidence to be higher than its necessary masters, clarity and logic. Regarding clarity, he refers to your algorithm as “a complete misunderstanding of how historical evidence works.” This may be true in the sense that historians do not use algorithms, but maybe they should. I think most historians do not understand how algorithms work. Writing an algorithm is not a proof that a claim is true, it is simply a way to clarify what would otherwise take several paragraphs to write. If more historians could clarify their work then the world would be a better place.

I think my friend misunderstands where I am coming from, so perhaps I haven’t been clear. My problem with Meg’s approach isn’t disagreement over how evidence fits, but rather her complete disavowal of documentary evidence in favor of naked speculation and assertion. To give an example, there is no documentary evidence whatsoever that links Nancy Winchester to John Bennett’s “sex ring,” and yet Meg simply asserts that it happened and goes with it. Similarly, my criticism of her “algorithm” isn’t that evidence can’t be weighted, but that the algorithm is unevenly applied, as can be seen in how she views evidence regarding John Bennett and Sarah Pratt. A historian is supposed to look at the evidence as it is, not engage in double-standards or invent things out of whole cloth.

As for logic, those who worship evidence can easily forget that evidence must be the servant of reason. So it does not matter how many people said “I slept with Joseph” if all of these people only said it to protect the church and their own polygamous marriages 50 years later. Similarly it does not matter how many diaries at the time said “Joseph was horrible to me” if the sexual implication is dependent on the later confessions referred to. I am not saying that Runtu has ignored those points, I am just concerned at the naive implication that evidence can ever stand on its own.

I can reassure my friend that I do not believe “evidence can ever stand on its own.” What I am concerned about is logic taking the place of evidence. A historian looks at available evidence and makes logical conclusions from that evidence. What Meg has done is to use reason and logic instead of evidence. Let me give an example of what I’m talking about. A coworker this morning was telling me that she has a dog that likes to eat socks. This morning she found several socks from a laundry basket on the floor, and the dog was choking. It’s fairly safe to conclude that the dog had eaten a sock, and sure enough, it eventually vomited up a sock. Meg’s approach is to overlay a conclusion onto a situation without any evidence (see the Nancy Winchester discussion). Returning to the dog example, Meg’s approach would be to “propose” that before coming to the current owner, the dog had been used in dog fights in El Paso, and the sock eating was a post-traumatic reaction to the abuse it had suffered. It’s bizarre to me that anyone can read Meg’s writings and not see what’s going on. No, evidence doesn’t stand on its own, but neither do reason and speculation. We use reason and logic to make sense of the evidence, not to replace it.

My third and final problem with the attacks on Joseph Smith is that they ignore the bigger picture. As Lindsay Park said on Feminist Mormon Housewives (and she is no supporter of Joseph), the sex is not the point. From the point of view of the girls, being unable to socialize with other boys (because the girls were technically married) would be far more serious. There are also bigger forces at work here, as I hope to show.

As Adam Archer mentioned on the latest “Mormon Expression” podcast, what is it that exmos want? The destruction of the church, or to change it? And how do we think that change will happen, realistically? It seems to me that the only realistic hope for change is to expose the staunchest believers to all the evidence, but in a non threatening way. By saying “yes we can look at every document, without being scared by the word pedophile” you are easing the church in the right direction, in my opinion.

I’m not sure what bigger picture I’m missing. I have repeatedly said it’s not the sex that is the point, as my friend put it. I do not want to destroy or change the church, for one thing. How strange that anyone would think that.

What I think is going on here is an inability to separate my problems with Meg Stout’s methodology from some perceived “attack on Joseph Smith.” I’m not interested in attacking Joseph Smith and never have been. For some strange reason, people continue to insist that I think sexuality in Joseph Smith’s marriages is a proven “fact,” and they apparently believe this hard assertion (which I’ve never made) is the main point of disagreement with Meg Stout. It’s not, and in fact it’s not even related to my disagreement with Ms. Stout. I will simply say again that an honest historian or historical researcher cannot invent evidence out of whole cloth. Speculation and assertion cannot replace documentary evidence.

Either way, I would like to say in the end that I feel bad that a friend of mine would be afraid to challenge me openly. I’m certainly not averse to being told when I’m wrong, and I will always admit it when I am shown to be wrong.

Again, I apologize to Meg Stout for getting personal. I should not have reacted in kind to her repeated insults and attacks.


“My Joseph”: Meg Stout and Polygamy, Part 3

March 3, 2015

Ms. Stout next tackles the meteoric but relatively brief history of John C. Bennett in the LDS church. In 1840 Bennett had attached himself to the LDS church in Nauvoo, helping to develop the city charter and using his charisma and persuasiveness to get it passed by the state legislature. Joseph Smith was so impressed by Bennett that he gave him a tremendous amount of civil and ecclesiastical authority, and Smith even adopted Bennett’s oratorical style and mannerisms. But who was John Bennett?

As before, Ms. Stout begins her discussion with a straw man:

There are two prominent views of John Cook Bennett.

Those who revere Joseph Smith tend to believe Bennett was a devilish scoundrel who told vicious lies about Joseph Smith.

Those who don’t much care about Joseph Smith tend to believe Bennett was a colorful individual who possibly told the truth about Joseph Smith.

This is a false dichotomy, as most historians put Bennett somewhere in the middle of the scale between scoundrel and truthful whistleblower, hence the title of Andrew Smith’s Bennett biography is The Saintly Scoundrel. Bennett, in his self-serving exposé of Joseph Smith and the Mormons, History of the Saints, portrays himself as an unbeliever from the start, dedicated to ingratiating himself with Smith and church leaders as a means of exposing the truth. Meg Stout posits an initially sincere believer who eventually “fell.”

However real people are not all good or all evil. I think of Bennett as someone who secured freedom for his adopted people and could have been one of the greatest leaders of the Mormon movement. Allow me to explain how a believing and honorable Bennett could have fallen.

But I’m not going to focus on Bennett here entirely, as what is far more interesting is the contrast between the way Stout deals with evidence against Bennett and how she dismisses similar, if not stronger, evidence regarding Joseph Smith.

First of all, let’s look at Bennett’s sincerity. In discussing Joseph Smith, Ms. Stout takes everything he says at face value, even when it conflicts with compelling evidence to the contrary. Bennett, however, gets the opposite treatment:

Bennett’s 1842 exposé History of the Saints claimed he had never believed. But Bennett in 1842 was a wounded man full of rage, driven to hurt Joseph Smith in any way possible.

However I urge you to consider the possibility that Bennett was honestly impressed with the goodness of the people he had decided to save. Bennett’s past was littered with events of which a man might reasonably wish to repent. For a moment, let us consider that his decision to be baptized in October 1840 was sincere, despite his obvious political motivations.

It’s fine to consider a possiblity, but Ms. Stout gives us no reason to do so. Now, as before, Ms. Stout takes this speculation and interprets every subsequent event assuming that the speculation has become fact.

If Bennett was truly converted …

Perhaps a penitent Bennett thought his relinquished past could remain a secret.

It could be that Bennett was aware of how much Joseph was willing to forgive. … If Joseph could forgive the deadly treachery of W. W. Phelps, why need Bennett confess of politically inconvenient facts from the past?

In Ms. Stout’s world, then, by March of 1841, Bennett was a sincere, repentant believer, determined to leave his sordid past behind him. But it eventually caught up with him. Sometime after Bennett’s association with the church became public, Joseph Smith received a letter informing him of Bennett’s having committed adultery and having abandoned his still-living wife. Nothing is known about whether Smith confronted Bennett with this information, but, as we’ve seen before, that doesn’t stop Ms. Stout:

I imagine Joseph’s conversations with Bennett gently probed the past before Joseph took the step of commissioning an investigation. This would be the first point after baptism when Bennett could have come clean and retained Joseph’s trust. However Joseph remained concerned enough that he sent George Miller to look into the accusations.

On March 2, 1841, Miller reported back that he had substantiated the claims. Once again we have no information as to whether Joseph confronted Bennett at this time, either, but Ms. Stout forges ahead:

Joseph would have talked with Bennett again after receipt of George Miller’s March 2nd letter. The text of the letter is damning, so Bennett must have done something to retain Joseph’s good will. It’s even possible Bennett didn’t overtly lie.

Again we have an imagined conversation with nothing behind it but Ms. Stout’s hunch, but she goes further in telling us what she imagines the contents of the conversation were:

Why would an honest Bennett allow Joseph to reach a wrong conclusion? The key may have been love. Joseph would later accuse Bennett of having courted a woman under false pretenses. Bennett could have confessed to feckless behavior before his baptism without significant damage. But he could not admit he was still married and hope to continue courting his newly beloved.

Even if Joseph wasn’t ready to censure Bennett openly, Bennett had clearly kept important information hidden. Assuming the young woman Bennett had been courting was known to Joseph, he could easily have put her on her guard against Bennett. Bennett was persuaded to leave the homestead around May, hinting that the young woman in question was a frequent visitor to or intimate of the Smith homestead.

I wouldn’t blame readers for getting a little lost here, but let’s try to sort this out. In the July 1, 1842, edition of the LDS newspaper Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith wrote of Bennett:

He had not been long in Nauvoo before he began to keep company with a young lady, one of our citizens; and she being ignorant of his having a wife living, gave way to his addresses, and became confident, from his behavior towards her, that he intended to marry her; and this he gave her to understand he would do. I, seeing the folly of such an acquaintance, persuaded him to desist; and, on account of his continuing his course, finally threatened to expose him if he did not desist. This, to outward appearance, had the desired effect, and the acquaintance between them was broken off.

Smith’s statement is problematic for a number of reasons, but it’s germane here because, in the previous section, Ms. Stout had identified the young woman in question as Annie Elvira Cowles. I’m assuming this will become important later, but so far it’s just speculation based on speculation. More speculation follows:

Despite Joseph’s likely misgivings, Joseph defended Bennett when Thomas C. Sharp attacked Bennett’s character in May.

Again, we don’t know if Smith had “likely misgivings,” but Ms. Stout proceeds as if her supposition is factual. She continues:

It appears Bennett’s next lodging was the home of Sarah Pratt, wife of apostle Orson Pratt. Sarah was a young woman and mother, and was likely emotional about her husband being gone on a foreign mission. Later reports alleging Bennett and Sarah were intimate early on could have arisen from professional treatment of her “hysteria.”

Here she relies on testimony from Stephen and Zeruiah Goddard, with whom Sarah Pratt stayed in October 1840. They swore an affidavit that Bennett was with Sister Pratt every night but one during that month. This testimony is clearly false, as Bennett was in the state capital that month, working for passage of the city charter. Indeed, Sister Pratt later claimed that the Goddards told her they were forced to sign the affidavits to “save” Joseph and the church.

Stout then states as a fact that Bennett and Pratt “became fully intimate”:

Bennett was later reported to have claimed “Sarah Pratt made a first rate go.” I imagine Bennett was heartbroken at being cut off from his beloved. Sarah was likely still anxious about the absence of her husband, Orson. The professional treatment for hysteria in Bennett’s day was vulvar massage, something we would see as intensely sexual. Bennett and Sarah Pratt lived in the same house, a house not nearly as crowded and public as the Smith homestead where Bennett had been living. It is little wonder that the two lonely adults ended up in bed together.

Here we see the double-standard by which Stout applies evidence. Firsthand testimony from Joseph’s wives that they were sexually intimate with him is dismissed as “euphemisms” and outright lies. Corroboration from people who said Joseph retired to bed with a woman is dismissed because no one actually saw them having sex. But with Bennett, a secondhand report that “Sarah Pratt made a first rate go” is taken as absolute truth. Jacob Backenstos’s ambiguous statements that Bennett and Pratt seemed like husband and wife are also taken as proof of sexual intimacy, as are the clearly fabricated statements of the Goddards.

I do not know what transpired between Sarah Pratt and John Bennett. What matters here is that Meg Stout takes hearsay and demonstrably false testimony and accepts it as fact when it applies to John Bennett. But when dealing with Joseph Smith, she discards stronger, firsthand testimony because it doesn’t fit her narrative. This is dishonest, and it is not scholarship.

But let’s get back to the timeline. Apparently unsatisfied with George Miller’s report, Joseph confronted Bennett only after receiving further confirmation of Bennett’s past from Hyrum Smith. Here’s Stout’s take:

Joseph called Bennett in and tore into him. I believe it is during this discussion that Bennett confessed to his adultery with Sarah Pratt. 22

I’m leaving the footnote citation in because it’s illustrative. It reads:

22. Lorenzo Wasson, Emma Smith’s nephew, overheard the exchange but his summary doesn’t mention Sarah Pratt.

So, again, based on nothing, she asserts that Bennett confessed to adultery with Sarah Pratt.

Bennett begged Joseph to not openly shame him. Sarah was evicted from the house she had been granted and sent back to board with the Goddards. Bennett may have moved to a public house at this point. Certainly Joseph would not have brought Bennett back to the homestead.

Alone, disgraced, despairing, Bennett apparently took a lethal dose of medicine. I believe Bennett’s suicide attempt was sincere. But Bennett was discovered and his life saved.

Oddly, though, Joseph Smith did not make any of this public.

As angry as Joseph would have been at Bennett, he had compassion on the fallen man. As soon as practicable, Bennett was again involved in the duties of his offices. No mention was made publicly at this time of his abandoned wife and children, his shady past, or the adultery with Sarah Pratt.

Once again, Ms. Stout makes unsupported assertions. How do we know Joseph had compassion on Bennett? By this time, the anti-Mormon press had already suggested that it was common knowledge that Bennett was not a believer in Mormonism but had joined for personal gain. This would have been the perfect opportunity for Joseph to disavow Bennett, but he did not do so. Why, I do not know. I could as easily suggest that Bennett knew of Joseph’s marriage a few months earlier to Louisa Beaman and feared exposure, so he decided to keep quiet about Bennett’s problems. That makes as much sense as Meg Stout’s assertion, but at least I recognize mine is speculative and based on no evidence.

Next, she tells us, “By July Bennett was stripped of all real power. But few realized how hollow his positions were.” Without elaboration, it’s difficult to know what she means. But never mind, we’ll keep going.

In July Orson Pratt returned to Nauvoo after a successful mission to the Holy Land. Orson was perturbed to find his wife living as a tenant, without the level of support other missionaries’ wives were receiving. However no one told Orson at that time about Sarah’s infidelity. Orson re-established his household and looked to re-integrate himself into the excitement that was Nauvoo. Orson’s interest in founding a University led him to Bennett. When Orson learned of Bennett’s care for Sarah while Orson was absent, he insisted Bennett come live with them.

Again Ms. Stout assumes that Bennett’s alleged adultery with Sarah Pratt is established fact and was known in July 1841. Why? Because she believes that Bennett would have confessed to Joseph Smith. This baseless assertion leads to more wild speculation:

Bennett was forced to be friends with a man he’d cuckolded, forced to endure while that man enjoyed all the benefits of being back home. Bennett had to go through the performance of his duties knowing that Smith would never permit him any more opportunities for advancement. The woman he loved was in the city, forever in sight, but never to be his.

I’m trying to be polite, but this is beyond bizarre. But Meg Stout needs all of this to be true because she needs the sexual polygamy of Nauvoo to have originated with John C. Bennett, not with Joseph Smith. According to her narrative, Bennett’s first hint of polygamy came from an Joseph Smith made in the fall of 1841, at which Smith suggested that in countries were polygamy was practiced, the church might have to accept the practice.

After lunch the meeting reconvened, and Joseph recanted his words. But the sermon may have planted the seed of an idea in Bennett’s mind.

She doesn’t tell us why Joseph recanted, but it was Emma’s and other women’s strenuous objections over lunch that forced Joseph to back down. But for Stout, this is a seminal moment in that it gave the lecherous Bennett an excuse to sleep around with multiple women.

Bennett was apparently not alone. A small group of individuals came together over this idea. Some one or more of them was familiar with Jacob Cochran’s explosive teachings related to spiritual wifery. Bennett was an obvious individual to guide the group for good or ill. He could have called them all to repentance or asked Joseph to instruct them more perfectly in what he’d meant with his sermon about the Turks and Indians.

I submit that Bennett saw an opportunity to possess the one he desired. If he could convince her that it was right to sleep with someone who was not acknowledged as her husband before the world, he might taste the pleasure of her embrace. If he could convince her that it was right to be his secret, spiritual wife even though he was still legally married to another, he could have the joy of her devotion.

He could not risk approaching his beloved first, however. It needed to be bigger than him, something that neither his beloved or Joseph would see as the object of the group’s activities.

With luck Bennett would secure the heart and body of his beloved before Joseph discovered the matter. Joseph had forgiven men who had plotted to kill him. 28 Bennett himself had not suffered terribly even though he had bedded the wife of an apostle. What then if a few men tasted the pleasures of the fair ladies of Nauvoo, as long as it was done in secret without exposing those involved by unexplained pregnancies?

Surely, Bennett must have reasoned, Joseph would forgive.

More assertions and speculation without evidence. In a footnote, Ms. Stout explains her source for her unsupported assertions:

My midrashic view that Bennett could have fostered this scheme for the sole purpose of ensnaring the woman he had been courting is based on the 2002 DC Sniper. John Allen Muhammad created a cloud of shootings with the intent of hiding the intended murder of his wife. By the time John Allen Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, were apprehended, they had terrorized the capital of the United States for months, shooting twenty seven people, of whom seventeen died. John Muhammad had not yet gotten around to shooting his wife.

I will leave it here for now, as I don’t think that statement requires any commentary from me.