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:
- Why does God give some people brown skin?
- How many shares does God want me to buy in a hotel and at what price?
- What is my “little factory,” and what does it mean to tamper with it?
- What does it mean to be “used up”?
- What’s so special about Missouri?
- Where does the sun get its light?
- Was Martin Luther King part of a Communist conspiracy?
- Why do Native Americans look so much like Jews?
- If a spirit appears to me, how can I tell it’s an angel and not a demon?
- If God had a couple of billion dollars sitting around, what would he do with it?
- What kind of underwear does God want me to wear?
- What is the Egyptian word for the Sun?
- Is it wrong to try to have a personal relationship with Jesus?
- Is a seer stone used for finding buried treasure, translating scripture, or both?
- I’m a married man, and I’d like to have sex with another woman without my wife finding out about it. Is that OK with God?
- Is there some kind of secret handshake you need to get into heaven?
- Should clergy be paid, or only the ones at the top of the hierarchy?
- Is this man a dodo?
- To reach the “tree of life” and everlasting joy, are we supposed to hold onto an iron rod or a rope?
- Does God preserve scriptural records for 1,400 years so that eventually they will be translated by someone who doesn’t actually use them in the translation?
- Can we get rid of the italicized words in the King James Bible?
- Are gay people happier if they remain celibate?
- Should churches ever apologize for their mistakes?
- I like to re-enact disastrous journeys, such as that of the Donner party. Where can I find likeminded people?
- Does God have a penis?
- Does the Godhead consist of 2 or 3 personages?
- Should people of different races marry each other?
- In the nineteenth century, how common was it for a married man in his late thirties to marry a teenager without his wife’s knowledge or consent?
- Is it OK with God for prophets to borrow millions of dollars from the funds of the true church?
- When the Lord establishes a bank through His prophet, how long should we expect it to stay in business?
- What does “carnal intercourse” mean?
- If I have to choose between following my conscience or obeying a religious leader, which one should I choose?
- How many earrings are appropriate in each ear?
- If I do an act of charity, should I do it quietly or should I do something to attract attention to myself, such as wearing a bright yellow shirt?
- If the natural man is an enemy to God, does that mean gays are God’s friends because their desires are unnatural?
- Which one was Jesus: Quetzalcoatl or Wiracocha?
- How, where, and when did Arthur Patton die?
- Where can I find an organization that will help me find happiness in conformity?
- What were Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger doing in the barn?
- When is steel not actually steel?
- Is “ofin Zimim ezmon E, Zu onis i f s veris etzer ensvonis vineris” Hebrew?
- Is it ever OK to criticize a religious leader?
- Is Anubis a slave?
- Does God approve of oral sex?
- Is it ever appropriate to lie to the police?
- Where does God live?
- Are organizations that have secret rites and oaths good or bad?
- Should women have an education and career, or should they stay home and have lots of babies?
- If the Holy Spirit tells me to kill someone, should I use a sword or a knife?
- Are there any moral absolutes?
- How badly do I need to believe in things that are not so?
Bonus question: Which is worse: decaffeinated coffee or caffeinated soda?
If you enjoyed this list, you might also like the Concise Dictionary of Mormonism.
I stumbled across this account from Joseph Smith III of an interview he had with Melissa Lott Willes (he has her last name as “Willis”) in Lehi, Utah, in 1885. It’s strikingly different from Melissa’s testimony in the Temple Lot case, and it differs substantially from her own account of the interview. In the Temple Lot testimony, she specifically denies Smith’s version of the interview, saying that what she told him was the same as what she testified to under oath. I will make no comment about the veracity of Smith’s account other than to note the careful construction of his questions. And I will say that his portrayal of a weepy, timid woman contrasts rather sharply with the quick-witted and self-confident woman reflected in the court testimony.
In the evening we held a service in the Music Hall of the city [Lehi, Utah]. We went early to the room and were met and welcomed by a number of our own members, as well as other friends and citizens. In chatting before the services somebody came and told me that Mrs. Ira Willis was present. I referred to this woman in the early part of these Memoirs.
This news was of interest for I had frequently been told that she, who used to be Melissa Lott, claimed to have been a wife to my father and would so testify, and that I would not dare to visit and interview her for she would tell me unwelcome things. I had, of course, seen the affidavits which she and others made, published by Joseph F. Smith to bolster up his statement that Father had more wives than one.
I at once went to Mrs. Willis, was introduced, and promptly asked the privilege of calling upon her for an interview. This permission she very cordially granted. (The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith III (1832-1914), p.244)
By appointment I went to the home of Mrs. Willis at ten o’clock on the Tuesday following our meeting in the Music Hall. As I have already stated in connection with this woman, she was a daughter of Cornelius P. Lott, a man who had come to Nauvoo from the East, his family consisting of wife, sons John and baby Peter, and daughters Melissa, Martha, Mary, and Alzina. They lived in a house on the farm belonging to Father, just east of the city, and I knew them all in a general way. I was fairly well acquainted with Melissa and with her history and movements up to the time of their departure from Nauvoo, when they all emigrated to Utah.
Melissa married Ira Willis, as I have related—a kind, shrewd Yankee and most excellent man. I had heard that they had had two sons, but when I went to call on her she was living alone. One son had died as he approached manhood, and the husband and the other son had together met death in an accident occurring when they were coming down from the mountains with a load of wood. So she was left a widow and childless at the same time.
Her home was a one-room cottage, and when bidden to enter I found her sitting by the fireside preparing things for the midday meal. It was an old-fashioned fireplace such as I was used to seeing, with broad hearth and wide-throated chimney in which were the traditional hooks to support the kettles swung over the fire, the big dogs on which the logs rested, and nearby the fireshovel, tongs, and poker. Ira Willis had always been a thrifty and handy man-of-all-work and loved to make and provide many conveniences and accessories for his home. I have told how Ira Willis once released my tongue from a frosty axe by pouring warm water on the imprisoned member. He had a hearty laugh at my expense, and for several hours I nursed an extra mouthful of swollen tongue. Mother too had laughed at the occurrence when she heard of it and told me it would be well for me if I could learn some things without trying too many experiments for myself! I have never forgotten that instance and even today, as I retell the story, my stenographer and I have had a hearty laugh over the predicament of an excited boy rushing into the house with his tongue glued to a frosted axe!
I was well received by Mrs. Willis whom I knew by the old familiar name of Melissa. I told her I had a great desire to talk with her for I had been informed she knew things I would not dare to question her about. I said I wanted to know the truth, whatever it was, and believed that in answer to my questions she would be willing to tell me what she knew.
She answered that she would be glad to grant the interview, but explained that some unexpected company was coming for lunch and she would prefer if I could call in the afternoon instead, when she would be more at liberty and with leisure for a conversation. Of course this was agreeable to me, and after exchanging a few reminiscences I left her.
Returning in the afternoon I found her guests had gone, and she was ready for a chat, willing, as she said, to answer any question I would ask about conditions in Nauvoo of which she had any knowledge. I began by asking:
“Did you know of the teaching of plural marriage or polygamy at Nauvoo?”
“I had heard of it in private but not publicly.”
“Did you know of any woman having been married to, my father and living with him as his wife, besides my mother?”
“No; and nothing of the kind occurred to my knowledge.”
“Do you have any reason to believe such a thing took place and that my mother knew of there being another woman besides herself who was wife to my father?”
“No,” quite emphatically, “I am sure she did not.”
“Now, Melissa, I have been told that there were women, other than my mother, who were married to my father and lived with him as his wife, and that my mother knew it. How about it?”
She answered rather tremulously, “If there was anything of that kind going on you may be sure that your mother knew nothing about it.”
I then asked her what was her opinion of my mother’s character for truth and veracity. She replied that she considered my mother one of the noblest women in the world, and that she had known her well and knew her to be as good and truthful a woman as ever lived.
“Then you think I would be justified in believing what my mother told me?”
“Yes, indeed, for she would not lie to you.”
“Well, Melissa, my mother told me that my father had never had any wife other than herself, had never had any connection with any other woman as a wife, and was never married to any woman other than herself, with her consent or knowledge, or in any manner whatsoever. Do you consider I am justified in believing her?”
Without hesitation she answered, “If your mother told you any such thing as that you may depend upon what she said and feel sure she was telling the truth, and that she knew nothing about any such state of affairs. Yes, you would be entirely justified in believing her.”
Our conversation continued for some time. Finally I asked, plainly, “Melissa, will you tell me just what was your relation to my father, if any?”
She arose, went to a shelf, and returned with a Bible which she opened at the family record pages and showed me a line written there in a scrawling handwriting:
“Married my daughter Melissa to Prophet Joseph Smith—” giving the date, which I seem to remember as late in 1843.
I looked closely at the handwriting and examined the book and other entries carefully. Then I asked:
“Who were present when this marriage took place—if marriage it may be called?”
“No one but your father and myself.”
“Was my mother there?”
“Was there no witness there?”
“Where did it occur?”
“At the house on the farm.”
“And my mother knew nothing about it, before or after?”
“Did you ever live with my father as his wife, in the Mansion House in Nauvoo, as has been claimed?”
“Did you ever live with him as his wife anywhere?” I persisted.
At this point she began to cry, and said, “No, I never did; but you have no business asking me such questions. I had a great regard and respect for both your father and your mother. I do not like to talk about these things.”
“Well, Melissa, I have repeatedly been told that you have stated that you were married to my father and lived with him as his wife and that my mother knew of it. Now you tell me you never did live with him as his wife although claiming: to have been married to him. You tell me there was no one present at that purported marriage except the three of you and that my mother knew nothing about such an alliance. Frankly, I am at a loss to know just what you would have me believe about you.”
I was about to make still closer inquiries in order to find out if she ever had any relations of any sort with my father other than the ordinary relations that may properly exist between such persons under the usual conditions of social procedure, when just then there came a rap on the door, and in walked her sisters Mary and Alzina.
Alzina lived rather near Melissa, but Mary, the older, was living some twenty-five or thirty miles away. Hearing I was in Lehi she had hitched up her team andt come to see me, stopping at Alzina’s on the way and bringing her along.
They expressed great pleasure in meeting me again, and I was glad to see them. Our talk was general for a while, for their entrance had changed my line of inquiry somewhat. Then, urged to put to Melissa a question of importance, I asked:
“Melissa, do you know where I can find a brother or a sister, child or children of my father, born to him by some woman other than my mother—in Illinois, Utah, or anywhere else?”
She answered that she did not, whereupon Mary broke in and said:
“No, Brother Joseph, for there isn’t any!”
Then she went on to say, “For twelve years I have made it my business to run down every rumor I have heard about the existence of children born to the Prophet by those women who were reputed to have been his wives. I have traveled a good many miles here and there for the purpose of finding out the truth about such statements, and not in one single instance have I ever found them substantiated or any evidence presented that had the least bit of truth in it. I have never been able to find a single child which could possibly have been born to Joseph Smith in plural marriage.”
At this juncture Alzina snapped in with an explosive and characteristic exclamation:
“No, Brother Joseph, there is none, and what’s more, I don’t believe there ever was any chance for one!”
The earnestness of her manner and the snap with which she pointed her remark caused a ripple of laughter among us, in which, however, Melissa did not join. Noticing this, I turned to her and said:
“Melissa, how about it? You hear what your sisters are saying?”
Tears began to trickle down her face as she said, “Yes, Brother Joseph, I hear them.”
“Well, what do you say? Can I believe as they do?”
She drew a deep breath, as if making a sudden decision, and then, with a sigh with lips trembling:
“Yes; you can believe that they are telling you the truth. There was no chance for any children.”
Mary then explained in more detail about certain places she had gone to make inquiries directly of the persons involved (whom she named) and to see the women and the children who, it was stated, were wives and offspring of the Prophet. She said in every instance she proved the report false, either as to the woman claiming to be such a wife or as to children being there as claimed.
I thanked her and the other girls for the statements they had made. Our conversation on this and other topics continued for some time. We recalled many incidents of old times, and I learned from them of the deaths of their parents and the whereabouts and fortunes of others of the family.
I left these sisters feeling well repaid for my persistence in obtaining the interview with Mrs. Willis. In spite of what I had been told, she had neither been able to “face me down” nor to convince me that my father had done reprehensible things which I would be unwilling to believe. Instead, I left her presence and that of her sisters with my previous convictions more firmly established, if such a thing were possible. The interview had convinced me that the statement made in an affidavit of this Melissa Lott Willis, published by Joseph F. Smith along with others of similar import, to the effect that she had been married to Joseph Smith, was not true, provided the word married be construed as conveying the right of living together as man and wife, a relation she had unequivocally denied in my presence. I was convinced that wherever the word married or sealed occurred in such testimonials regarding my father it meant nothing more than that possibly those women had gone through some ceremony or covenant which they intended as an arrangement for association in the world to come, and could by no means have any reference whatever to marital rights in the flesh.
I was also convinced from the statements of Mrs. Willis that the entry in the Bible which she showed to me was a line written by her father, or some other person, recording an untruth. When I asked her in plain language how it happened she had not lived with my father as his wife if she had really been married to him, she had answered in equally plain language, that she had not lived with him in that manner because it was not right that she should do so.
I had made up my mind when I went to Utah that whenever and wherever I found opportunity I would converse with those women who had claimed, or were reputed, to be wives of my father— wives in polygamy, plural marriage, celestial, sealed, or any kind of arrangement—and in so doing I would subject them to as severe a cross examination as was within my power, to get as near as possible to the actual truth of the circumstances and the reports. It was for this reason I had called upon this woman, and I should have questioned her still further and in a more specific manner had not the entrance of her sisters turned the trend of conversation in a measure.
After my visit south, to Beaver, we passed through Lehi again on our way back to Salt Lake City, at which time I tried to have another conversation with Mrs. Willis, but learned she was not at home. I knew it would have been entirely useless to question her in the presence of an elder of their church as she would either evade my questions or refuse utterly to answer. Indeed, it is possible she may have been so far under domination and surveillance as to have stated, in such a contingency, that which was not true. As it was, I felt I had secured truthful statements from her, for she had betrayed some real depths of emotion as we conversed. She had stated that I might believe what my mother had told me for she regarded my mother as an honest, upright woman who was absolutely truthful. She had also stated that notwithstanding the “marriage” entry scribbled in her Bible, purported to be written by her father, she had not lived with Joseph Smith as his wife, believing it was “not right” to do so, and further, that he had never urged her to do so. I had also learned from her and her sisters that so far as their knowledge went there had been no issue of any polygamous marriages made by Joseph Smith, such as had been alleged. (The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith III (1832-1914), pp. 245-246)
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?
40 Q-Who was present at the time he taught that principle?
A-My wife’s sister.
41 Q-Who was that?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
344 Q-It was not?
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?
348 Q-You commenced hunting a wife in 1838 now when did you quit hunting them?
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?
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?
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]?
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?
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?
680 Q-You performed the ceremony and returned across the river the same night did you not?
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?
687 Q-Now you say that he did sleep with her?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
795 Q-And asked you to seal her to him?
796 Q-And you did it?
797 Q-You took his word for it?
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?
803 Q-I mean this polygamous revelation?
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?
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.
An active LDS reader sent me this, as he was frustrated in not being allowed to respond over on Millennial Star. As I’ve mentioned, I have a very open comments policy: I don’t block anything that isn’t spam, obscene, or grossly insulting to other commenters (obviously, people are quite free to insult me at any time, and they do.)
I’m continually impressed with the education, wisdom, and intellect of people who read this blog. I think Millennial Star missed out in not posting this. But, I need to make clear that I did not write this post, I don’t take any credit for it, and the opinions expressed are its author’s.
An Invitation to Meg Stout
On her blog, Meg recently posted an essay, “Joseph’s Wives – an Algorithm,” which was in response to something I said to her first in a private email discussion, and then again publicly in the comments on John’s blog.
TDLR: Sexless marriage arguments based on lack of DNA-proven children are weak and need a probabilistic model to become persuasive. Meg’s algorithm/model isn’t; it’s junk science, a table of made-up numbers that mean nothing. If she would like assistance with the math, formulating a real model, happy to help.
First I should set the context for all this. By email Meg said to me:
Yeah, Hales and the Prices aren’t known as the most objective historians. As for me, I went into my journey presuming that Joseph had been a full-blooded sexual partner to many of his wives. But it was the scientific data that persuaded me that he likely wasn’t.
Quick aside: For those unfamiliar, she is referring to Ugo Perego, an LDS biologist, who has tried to find children fathered by Joseph Smith through DNA analysis. So far, no conclusive DNA proof has been found which links Joseph to any of the children born to his polygamous wives.
My response to this was:
As I understand it the DNA evidence hasn’t ruled out Joseph having fathered any children, it simply hasn’t been able to prove that he conclusively did. A notable data point but I don’t really find this very persuasive. It’s not evidence of absence. We could speculate quite a large number of good reasons why there aren’t any children. Actually, I think in terms of probability it’s unlikely Joseph would have gotten many, if any, of his plural wives pregnant.
Meg then said to me:
The instances that can be tested have all yielded proof that Joseph could not have been the father except for the case of Josephine Lyons, where the data makes Joseph’s paternity unlikely but not conclusively disproved (Josephine’s descendants have common ancestry with Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith Sr.). There is a reason Sylvia Lyons would have told Josephine Joseph was her father, which I have laid out. Ugo Perego is attempting to definitize that answer one way or the other.
It isn’t just Joseph. None of the polygamists in Nauvoo produced children with plural wives prior to Joseph’s death except:
Joseph Bates Noble (child born in Feb 1844)
William Clayton (child born in Feb 1844)
Things are starting to get interesting at this point. She’s arguing that not only did Joseph not father any children, but neither did any of the other polygamists. This is something I had never heard before. What’s interesting about this to me is that, if true, I think this would undermine her scientific evidence and underlying argument that the relationships didn’t involve sexual relations based on the lack of children.
I responded to this argument by saying:
I’m not sure some of your claims can be made. You say, “It isn’t just Joseph. None of the polygamists in Nauvoo produced children with plural wives prior to Joseph’s death except:” What you really mean is, “Other than this guy and that guy, we don’t have hard evidence to conclusively prove that any of the other polygamist unions produced children.” These are two very different statements.
For the lack of children, or more correctly the lack of proof of children, to be a persuasive argument, one would have to prove that children should be expected in the first place. Which hasn’t been done.
For instance, women have a relatively narrow window during which they can conceive. And even with consistent and regular tries, most women take months to get pregnant, and that’s by modern health standards. The environment during early polygamy was such that Joseph didn’t likely have many opportunities to engage in intercourse with his wives. With all the secrecy and such, keeping things hidden from Emma, liaisons would have been very infrequent.
Moreover, in general, polygamous wives were not in the best of spirits, sacred loneliness and all that. It’s a well established fact for instance that polygamous unions resulted in fewer children per woman than monogamous unions. That being the case, even when opportunities existed, it’s a fair bet the women might not have been “in the mood.”
All this makes for a situation where frankly I wouldn’t expect many children to be conceived, if any at all. And then of course we can also toss in miscarriages and infant mortality which would eliminate testable evidence of a child. A fun exercise might be to try and develop a probabilistic model to predict how many children we would expect Joseph to produce if unions had been sexual. Something like this would be necessary to persuasively argue that children should be expected in the first place.
Meg didn’t have a response to this. Until now.
Taking me up on my suggestion to “develop a probabilistic model,” Meg created what she calls “an algorithm” to assess the importance of Joseph’s wives. She says:
I think we should establish guidelines for the importance we attribute to different women as wives…I’d like to start, then, with each such woman having a score of 100% (or 1.0). Then as we consider various factors, that score may be decreased. If there are mitigating factors, a “penalty” may be reduced. Thus, as I go forward to talk about the various women, we can focus on those individuals whose “score” gives us greatest confidence that she is of import. This scoring matter can also give structure to the discussion of each woman.
Here’s a proposed structure:…By this scoring system, Emma would score 100%.
Meg then treats us to a table of values that weight different things with a score, for instance “DNA negative” is given a score of -0.25, “Motive to lie” is given a score -0.06, and so on.
It’s important to note here that her “algorithm” is not meant to directly answer my question, “How many children should we reasonably expect if the unions were sexual?” Instead this “algorithm” is meant to give Joseph’s wives a kind of relevance score, from which I assume the history related to these women is then going to be ranked and weighted.
In other words, this is meant to be a mathematical justification for ignoring historical evidence, or something. This is how I’m interpreting what she’s doing here. Yikes.
Let me start by saying my motivation here is not to belittle Meg. I want that to be clear. I fear this may come across that way, though, because I am pointing out what should be obvious. Perhaps let the ramifications of that speak for itself. I am taking Meg at her word that she is, per her claim, a scientist and engineer. And maybe I misread her; perhaps she only meant that she has worked in the “science/engineering” industry, in which case I wouldn’t expect her to understand any of this. Either way, I do not presume to give her remedial math lessons. I don’t believe she needs such instruction.
I have two objectives.
One, I fear that lay readers (who don’t understand math) won’t understand what’s bad about her arguments. I assume that Meg knows her arguments are bad, but all this is fun for her. That’s my impression. In general I find Meg’s arguments (double-standard, logical fallacies) and behavior (censorship) to be dishonest.
Giving her the benefit of the doubt (no pun intended) I don’t think she’s being intentionally deceptive. I think she’s mostly just having fun, like a nerdy fan at a science fiction conference (see Galaxy Quest) engaging in wild speculation that isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. The debate is fun, and I sincerely appreciate that mindset.
At the same time, I think she’s a hypocrite. And I don’t mean that in a mean-spirited, name-calling kind of way, but a very calm observation that in my opinion she is not thinking critically or being introspective. However noble her intentions, she’s leading people astray, in my opinion. People are reading her material and taking her seriously. In its current form, her “algorithm” is pretty silly, and I have to believe Meg knows this, but I see this going in a bad direction.
Two, I’m genuinely interested in an answer to my question, a real and unbiased answer. A serious and credible answer. I’d like to see a legitimate model developed that can reasonably answer the question, “How many children should we expect Joseph to produce if the unions had been sexual?” Such a model might be completely inconclusive and results entirely flip based on assumptions that nobody can agree on. It could be, though, that even if we’re using the most faith-promoting of assumptions, children either weren’t likely to begin with, or they are unlikely enough that it amounts to the same, and the “no children = no sex” arguments immediately become irrelevant. My hunch is those arguments are (unfortunately) irrelevant.
If the opposite is true though and there’s a truly high probability of children, then that’s worth noting, and I would find it personally persuasive that Joseph didn’t have sex with these women. I am not biased towards a particular answer. I want the actual truth, whatever that may be. But, as a member of the LDS church who’s trying to be faithful, I would be very happy to learn that Joseph wasn’t as bad a guy with respect to polygamy as it’s currently reasonable to conclude. At a superficial level, I truly love Meg’s argument that the sexual dynamic of polygamy was a perversion mistakenly created by the ignorance of Brigham Young. If such a conclusion could be reasonably arrived at, I’d love it. Think of all the problems that could be solved by plucking section 132 out of the D&C and setting it on fire.
All that said, Meg’s “algorithm” is horrible.
First, I would like to point out that Meg’s “algorithm” isn’t an algorithm at all. What Meg gives us is a table full of probabilities literally pulled out of thin air. That’s not an algorithm. I’m not sure what it is, nonsense mostly. An algorithm would be a step-by-step process for deriving the probabilities listed in her table. I would in fact love to see the algorithm she used to come up with those numbers. It could come in the form of a math equation, a description in English, or a programming language.
Wikipedia defines an algorithm as “a self-contained step-by-step set of operations to be performed. Algorithms exist that perform calculation, data processing, and automated reasoning.” Pulling one of my engineering textbooks off the shelf, it describes the word “algorithm” as a “term used to in computer science to describe a finite, deterministic, and effective problem-solving method suitable for implementation as a computer program.” and then goes on to use Euclid’s algorithm, which computes the greatest common divisor or two numbers, as an example.
For example, an English-language description of Euclid’s algorithm is:
Compute the greatest common divisor of two non-negative integers p and q as follows: If q is 0, the answer is p. If not, divide p by q and take the remainder r. The answer is the greatest common divisor of q and r.
A Java-language description is then:
public static int gcd(int p, int q)
if(q == 0) return p;
int r == p % q;
return gcd(q, r);
That’s an algorithm. What Meg created is not an algorithm by any reasonable definition of the word. She has given us the output of some unknown algorithm that I assume exists only in her mind. It probably goes something like this: Make Joseph Look Good ==> Make Up Numbers.
Next I’d like to give a very simple example of what an actual probability problem looks like. This seems appropriate, as her table is listing probability values, and my original suggestion was that a probabilistic model should be developed in order to answer the question. This may seem off-topic, but just bear with me for this simple problem.
OK, so here’s my simple example:
Suppose 1% of a population has cancer. A new test for cancer shows positive 90% of the time when a person actually has cancer, and correctly indicates “negative” 95% of the time when run on someone who do not have cancer. This test is conducted on a person at a doctor’s office and the results come out positive. What is the probability that this person actually has cancer?
Baye’s rule is:
The theorem is also sometimes referred to as the theorem on the probability of causes because it allows us to find the probabilities of various events A1, A2, …., An that cause event A to occur.
From the problem we are given the following:
P(cancer|population) = 0.01
P(positive|cancer) = 0.9
P(negative|notcanter) = 0.95
From which we can then derive:
P(notcancer|population) = 1- P(cancer|population) = 0.99
P(positive|notcancer) = 1- P(positive|cancer) = 0.1
P(negative|cancer) = 1- P(negative|notcancer) = 0.05
So, if you go to the doctor and test positive for cancer, what is the probability that you actually have cancer? The answer might surprise you.
[+] = positive test result
8.33%!! No, that’s not a typo. So, for this particular population, if you get tested positive, your chances of actually having cancer are 8.33%. In other words, don’t freak out just yet. This may seem strange, but it’s not, if you think about it. In the case of this cancer test, even though our test is highly accurate (90%), there will still be a lot of false positives. So the probability of a false positive also has to be weighted, which makes the likelihood of a true positive quite low.
My point with this exercise is to demonstrate what an actual probability problem looks like and also to show how probabilities can be counterintuitive, especially for those who don’t understand mathematics and probability theory. Most people who get a positive cancer test are likely to freak out. Even understanding probability theory, I’d probably feel my stomach hit the floor upon hearing such a result. Calming down, however, and taking a moment to think about things critically, we shouldn’t be freaking out just yet. The result tells us we should do more testing, that is all.
For anybody interested in a deeper treatment of probability theory, here’s a link to one of my undergraduate textbooks which is available for free in PDF format.
Here’s a chapter from the textbook Computer Analysis of Human Behavior, which will give you an idea of what probability theory looks like when applied to human behavior. This is more about gesture interpretation, but similar principles would apply to historical observations.
Now, back to the original problem and question. Meg has not given us an algorithm or anything that even remotely resembles a probabilistic model. She has a table of made-up numbers. Behind each of those numbers should be a mathematical proof justifying how the number was arrived at. Why is motive to lie -0.06 for Emma Smith? But, what she has might be a useful starting point to come up with a list of features that should be included in a proper model. I’m sure if we ask a psychologist, the observation of lies is indicative of something and we could factor that into our model. Counting lies within a period of time could be a method of determining a trustworthiness feature, maybe. Then, based on that, we could reasonably add less credibility to the testimony of untrustworthy individuals we’re relying on. Meg might not like how these results turn out, though.
Invitation to Meg
If Meg is interested, I’d be happy to work with her (and/or any others) on developing a credible model that attempts to answer my question. I’m not used to applying probability theory to social science or history, but it should be an easy shift compared to what I’m used to, and I would find the prospect quite interesting. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised a model like this doesn’t already exist. I would have expected someone like Ugo Perego to have already created one, and maybe he has, if we ask him.
My starting approach would be to do some journal searches and see what kinds of models already exist with respect to fertility and what-not, and also seek out any relevant data I can use in my model. I think what I’d do is start out by just developing a model that determines the probability of a random male getting a random woman pregnant today from having intercourse once. P(child|sex) = ?
And then from there add relevant features which would alter the probability given the environment of polygamy, frequency, potential mindset of Joseph, etc. (such as, how well did people understand the calendar method back then?). What would result is a model that could be run based on varying assumptions. So the assumptions being fed into the model by someone like Meg or Brian Hales would likely be different than the assumptions of Richard Bushman or Dan Vogel or Grant Palmer.
One assumption might be that Joseph didn’t want the women to get pregnant and acted accordingly. Perhaps he was concerned about pregnancy for the single sisters, but not the already-married polyandrous ones. What is the probability that an average male in the 19th century could successfully employ the calendar method if he wanted it? What is the probability that Joseph would be the father of a child if a woman is having sex with two men at the same time? Even if Joseph didn’t care about getting anybody pregnant, what are chances he’d get them pregnant based on frequency of sex?
We could run the model based on different assumptions and see how the probability distribution changes. In the course of this, though, I’d want to consult with some bona fide experts on the history of polygamy so they can guide feature selection as well as tuning constants that we arrive at. For instance, how many opportunities for intercourse would Joseph have had per woman? I’m hoping the history buffs could come up with a calendar, and block out times when we know he’s not even in town, etc. I think we could come up with a model that could be applied individually to each plural wife and come up with a probability of children per wife, then sum those together to arrive at an overall likelihood of no children at all assuming that sex took place. How “impossible” is it that he fathered no children despite sex?
As I said earlier, it might be completely inconclusive, but it could tell us something. The results might be surprising, just as with the cancer test. Meg seems to think it’s intuitively obvious that if Joseph were having sex there should be children, but that has not been demonstrated to be true. It might also just be a useful exercise to see how reasonably we can employ mathematics as a tool for historical analysis. Putting together a proper model is something that will take time and a lot of consideration. I think starting out by developing a list of features is a good idea though.
Major thanks again to Grindael for providing a link to the Temple Lot transcripts.
I have been reading Emily Dow Partridge Young’s testimony in the Temple Lot case. A little background: Emily was born in 1824 in Painesville, Ohio, where her father, Edward, was a hat maker. Edward was sent by a committee of townspeople to New York to investigate the Mormon religion; he was baptized there in December 1830. When he returned to Ohio, he discovered that his wife had also converted in his absence. He later became the first presiding bishop of the LDS church and was a leader in the Mormon settlements in Missouri. After the Latter-day Saints were forced to relocate to Illinois, Edward died in 1840, victim of one of the epidemics that spread through the settlers because of the swampy conditions at Commerce (later Nauvoo). After Edward’s death, Emily (16) and her sister Eliza (19) moved into Joseph Smith’s home, where they would eventually become his plural wives. Emily was married to Joseph twice. On March 4, 1843, Emily was married to him without Emma Smith’s knowledge or consent. Two months later, Emma consented to Joseph taking additional wives, so long as she could choose them. She chose Emily and Eliza, not knowing that they were already married to her husband, so they performed a second ceremony for Emma’s benefit. After Joseph Smith’s murder, Emily married Brigham Young and bore seven of his children. At the time of her testimony, Emily was a widow in her late sixties.
What’s fascinating to me about the transcript is that the RLDS attorney keeps trying to get her (and Melissa Lott Willes) to admit that, because the public position of the church was against polygamy at the time she says she was married, she is admitting to violating church laws. Both of them said the same thing, however: Joseph told them he’d had a revelation, and that was good enough for them. I thought I’d post some interesting bits of Emily’s testimony.
As Meg Stout noted, Joseph took several months between the time he first approached Emily and when he eventually told her he was asking for her consent to marry him as a plural wife. Emily says several times that she had an inkling of what he was going to ask her but was too frightened to talk to him about it until she had prayerfully reassured herself that she could handle whatever he asked. So, rather than rehash all that, I’ll just start with the moment Joseph told her about plural marriage.
170 Q-Where were you when you had that conversation [when Joseph finally told her he wanted her as his wife]? A:-I was at the house of Heber C. Kimball.
177 Q-Who else was present besides Joseph C.[sic] Smith? A-Heber C. Kimball was present.
178 Q-Was there any body else present? A-I don’t know whether his wife was present or not at the time,-Well I will say that I don’t know who was present when we were talking there together,-I don’t think though that at that time there was any body present, for I think we were alone.
179 Q-You were alone together? A-Yes sir.
180 Q-You and Joseph Smith? A-Yes sir.
181 Q-And you are pretty certain that was March 1843? A-Yes sir.
182 Q-Did he offer to take your hand then? A-No sir.
183 Q-Or put his arm around you? A-No sir.
184 Q-He never did any such a thing as that? A-No sir.
185 Q-At any time or place? A-No sir,-not before we were married.
186 Q-Now did he tell you there about the principle of sealing? A-Yes sir.
187 Q-He did? A-Yes sir.
188 Q-He told you all about the doctrine or principle of sealing? A-Yes sir.
189 Q-Was it sealing for eternity? A-Yes sir,-time and eternity.
222 Q-Now at the time you had this last conversation you had seen the revelation then? A-No sir.
223 Q-You had not at the time you were married? A-No sir.
224 Q-Did you not say awhile ago that you had seen it then? A-No sir.
225 Q-How did you come to marry him without seeing it? A-Well he told me it was all right and I just took his word for it.
226 Q-Well did you go and get married without ever knowing it was the law of the church? A-I got married on his own teachings,-he was the prophet of the church and he told me it was all right and I took his word for it.
227 Q-You took his word for it and got married to him in that way on his own teachings? A-Yes sir, and on my own convictions, for I believed it was all right or he would not have taught me and told me what he did.
228 Q-Now did he teach you that a man can have more women than one? A-Yes sir.
229 Q-As wives? A-Yes sir.
230 Q-Well what words did he use in making this statement to you? A-I told you that I did not remember.
231 Q-Well did he say that they should be sealed to him for time and eternity, or was it for time? A-For time and eternity.
232 Q-For time and eternity both? A-Yes sir.
233 Q-That is what he told you? A-Yes sir.
234 Q-Did you ever hear the doctrine of plural marriage taught publicly before you were married to him? A-No sir.
310 Q-Who roomed with Joseph Smith that night, the night [of] the 11th of May 1843 when you say you and your sister were married to Joseph Smith? A-Well I don’t want to answer that question.
311 Q-Well answer it if you can, if you know? A-Well it was myself.
313 Q-You roomed with Joseph Smith that night? A-Yes sir.
314 Q-Where was Emma? A-She was in her room I suppose. I don’t know where she was but that is where I supposed she was.
316 Q-Was she there at the house? A-Yes sir. Well I think she was, but I don’t know it,-I have no reason to think she was any where else than there at the house.
318 Q-Well do you know whether she was or not? A-Well I don’t know positively whether she was or not, but I have every reason to believe she was there.
319 Are you willing to swear that she was in the city of Nauvoo at all? A-Yes sir, she was in the city of Nauvoo.
393 Q-How many children did you have by Joseph Smith? A-None at all. I have told you two or three times I had none.
396 Q-And while married to Brigham Young by the law of proxy you had children? A-Yes sir.
399 Q-My question is this,-that when you were married by the law of proxy you had children? A-Yes sir.
400 Q-And when you were married under the law of the church you did not raise children? A-I did not have any, but I don’t know that that had anything to do with it, for I might have had children married that way as well as under any other marriage relation.
480 Q-Had you roomed with him prior to that thime [sic] that you say you roomed with him at his house on the night after you were married the last time? A-No sir,-not roomed with him.
481 Q-Well had you slept with him? A-Yes sir.
482 Q-Slept with him prior to the time that you were married to him? A-What is that?
483 Q-I mean prior to the time that you were married to him, as you say, on the 11th of May? A-Yes sir I had prior to that.
484 Q-Had you before the fourth of March 1843? A-No sir.
485 Q-Now at the time that you were married as you say on the 11th of May 1843 what was the ceremony? A-Well I say perhaps it was not the 11th of May,-
486 Q-You do not swear positively to the date of that marriage? A-No sir, but I say that I do to the fact that we were married.
487 Q-Well what was the ceremony on that occasion? A-Well i can’t tell you, I can’t repeat it.
488 Q-Did Emma take your hand and place it in Joseph Smith’s hand? A-I think she did.
669 Q-And still you want to go on record as saying that after this statement made by so many prominent women in the work of the church there at Nauvoo, and members of the church, whose husbands also in a great many instances occupied prominent offices and important offices in connection with the government of the church,-that you do not know anything about the practice being denounced of polygamy? A-I don’t say that,-I do not say that it was not denounced I say that I don’t remember anything about it, but it probably was. I have no doubt but that it was published just as it is there and at that time too.
[670 appears to have been skipped.]
671 Q-And still do you say not withstanding this public, and unqualified denounciation [sic] of poly gamy [sic], that at this very time you and Joseph Smith were not only secretly talking about polygamy but were practicing it? A-Yes sir.
672 Q-You were? A-Yes sir. I don’t know that it was right at that time, but it was shortly after that.
673 Q-You said awhile ago that you talked it over in 1842. A-Yes sir.
674 Q-And this was in ’42? A-Well I have sa[i]d what he said to me, but he did not say anything to me about polygamy at that time, you know. That was before the time that he said anything about polygamy.
747 Q-Did you ever live with Joseph Smith after you were married to him after the first night that you roomed together? A-No sir. Emma knew that we were married to him, but she never allowed us to live with him.
748 Q-Now you make that statement in the face of the declaration that Emma Smith made in 1875 in which she said she never gave her consent for any body to marry Joseph? A-Yes sir I do.
749 Q-Now you make that declaration here at this time in the presence of a declaration signed by the present president of your church that at the very time you say you were having conversations with Joseph Smith about this matter, that there was no such a practice taught or practiced in the church? A-I make the statement here that I was married to Joseph Smith there at Nauvoo.
750 Q-And you also make the declaration that you roomed with him on the night of the 11th of May 1843? A-No sir I said it was in my mind that that was the day that I was married to him the second time, but when you read his diary I see that I was mistaken and I don’t say that was the date now, although it always run in my mind that that was the time.
751 Q-Well do you make the declaration that you ever roomed with him at any time? A-Yes sir.
752 Q-Do you make the declaration that you ever slept with him in the same bed? A-Yes sir.
753 Q-How many nights? A-One.
754 Q-Only one night? A-Yes sir.
755 Q-Then you only slept with him in the same bed one night? A-Yes sir.
756 Q-Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith? A-Yes sir.
757 Q-How many nights? A-I could not tell you.
758 Q-Do you make the declaration that you never slept with him but one night? A-Yes sir.
759 Q-And that was the only time and place that you ever were in bed with him? A-No sir.
760 Q-Were you in bed with him at any time before that time? A-Before what time?
761 Q-Before you were married? A-No sir, not before I was married to him I never was.
762 Q-Do you mean that you were in bed with him after the 4th of March 1843? A-Yes sir, but that was after I was first married to him.
763 Q-And that was before this revelation on plural marriage was given wasn’t it? A-I supposed it was.
787 Q-Now Mrs. Young, don’t you know that you were just simpl[y] sealed to him for eternity? Don’t you know that that was all that was done Mrs. Young,-that you were simply sealed to him for eternity? A-I know that I was sealed to him for time and eternity.
820 Q-Well there was a marriage ceremony performed was there not at the time that you were married to Joseph Smith? A-There was.
821 Q-You agreed to certain things did you not? A-Yes sir.
822 Q-And he also agreed to certain things didn’t he? A-Yes sir.
823 Q-What did he agree to? A-Well we agreed to be each others companions,-husband and wife.
824 Q-Keeping your selves for each other, and wholly from all others? A-Well I did.
825 Q-You say you agreed to that? A-Yes sir.
826 Q-That is what you agreed to on your part? A-Yes sir.
827 Q-Well didn’t he agree to the same thing? A-No sir I think not, for he could have other wives.
As anyone who has been reading my blog lately knows, some claims have been made about the primary sources regarding Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy, or plural marriage, however you want to call it. I haven’t had time to go back to primary sources, but then my point was not so much to dispute sources as to point out naked speculation and baseless assertion. I’m grateful to my friend “Grindael”–whose blog, Mormonite Musings, is a fantastic source of research in Mormon history–for posting some of the primary sources in comments here. I’ve decided to put them up as posts so that those who might be interested will be more likely to see them.
A little background for this testimony, most of which was given during the “Temple Lot” case, The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, complainant, v. the Church of Christ at Independence, Missouri, which was decided in 1894. Essentially, a small offshoot of the Latter-day Saint movement, the Hedrickites, or Church of Christ (Temple Lot), had purchased part of the property Joseph Smith, Jr., had designated for the building of a temple in the last days in Independence, Missouri (see Doctrine and Covenants Section 57). When the Hedrickites began gathering materials to construct a building on the site, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), a rival organization headed by Joseph Smith III, initiated a lawsuit claiming title to the land as the legal successor to the church established in 1830. The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) gave financial and legal support to the Hedrickites. One important aspect of the trial was establishing whether the church as originally organized by Joseph Smith had taught and practiced plural marriage. The RLDS church argued that the practice had originated after Joseph Smith’s death, and thus the LDS church was a splinter group, not the legal successor. Thus, it was important for the LDS church to establish that Joseph Smith had taught and practiced polygamy during his lifetime. For that reason, several of Smith’s plural wives testified about their relationships with Joseph Smith.
As we’ve seen recently, some have argued that the testimony is ambiguous and can be dismissed because the witnesses were pressured by LDS church leaders to lie or shade the truth in order to pin plural marriage (including sexual relations) on Joseph Smith. I think it’s best to let the wives speak for themselves. In my view, there’s not much ambiguity, so we’re left to decide for ourselves whether the wives were telling the truth or not.
First up is Melissa [alternately spelled Malissa] Lott Willes, who married Joseph Smith on September 20, 1843. The following are excerpts from her recorded testimony in the Abstract of Evidence, Temple Lot Case, published by the RLDS church in 1893. You can read Melissa’s testimony in full here, lest anyone say I’ve quoted selectively.
I lived at Nauvoo a number of years; I cannot state exactly how long we were there. We were there in Nauvoo about ’46, I think, as near as I can come at it. The system of plural marriage was taught in Nauvoo the same as it is here in Utah. There is no change.
Q. — What law of the church existed at that time by virtue of which you took the name of Melissa Lott Smith?
A. — There has never been any change that I knew anything about since I knew anything about the church. I was acquainted with the rules of the church at that time, and have been ever since. I was acquainted with Joseph Smith. I knew he had a wife living at the time.
His wife was named Emma Smith. … Yes, sir, I said in my direct examination in answer to the questions from Mr. Hall, that the practice of plural marriage was taught to me in Nauvoo by Joseph Smith and I also said that I was married to Joseph Smith, September 27, 1843. As nearly as I can remember or understand it, the marriage ceremony at the time I married Joseph Smith, is as follows: “You both mutually agree to be each other’s companion, husband and wife, observing the legal rights belong to this condition, that is, keeping yourselves wholly for each other, and from all others during your lives.” I married him under that ceremony, knowing at the time he had a wife living, his wife, Emma Smith.
Q. — Did he agree in that marriage ceremony to keep himself from his wife, Emma, for you?
A. — I cannot tell you. You will have to ask him that question. I cannot swear to his saying he would or would not. I don’t think he made any promise of that kind. Do not remember it if he did. I made a promise of that kind, but he did not. There were no children born of the fruit of that marriage. …
Yes, I said I was married for time and eternity. The ceremony you read there is only for time. There was no other ceremony used. It was all the same only it was for time and eternity.
That is not a matter of time alone, for I go on beyond time and I think there is such a thing as eternity. Very likely you will find out there is, too, before you are through with it. That was what was contained in the ceremony–time and eternity.
All good Latter Day Saints [note the RLDS usage] when they married calculate they are married for time and eternity. Yes, sir, that was the ceremony. Well, now, I would not say that the words time and eternity were used in the ceremony. I was never married to anybody else except Mr. Willes, and I had a family of children by him.
Q. — If you were married to Joseph Smith for time and eternity, how does it happen that you were afterwards married to Mr. Willes?
A. — I married him for time, and when we meet in eternity we will settle that there, for that is something that the laws of to-day have nothing to do with.
Q. — You married one for eternity, and one, the father of your children, you married to time?
A. — Well, that is a matter we will settle afterwards. That is a matter between God and myself, and not a matter that concerns this world. …
Q. — Well, have you met any other children of Joseph Smith besides those you have mentioned? [She had mentioned Joseph, Frederick, Alexander, and David Smith.]
A. — I cannot swear to anything of that kind, no person is supposed to swear to anything of that kind, only those that belong to them.
Q. — Why can’t you say those are all the children Joseph Smith had?
A. — I can’t swear anything about whose children they are, can only swear to my own children and who their father is. I never met any other children of Joseph Smith except the ones I have named.
Of course, if I had married a man who had a wife living when it was not the law of the church allowing a man to have two wives, I would have violated the church law. …
Q. — I will ask you now if you did not state to Joseph Smith, the present President of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, at that time and place in that conversation there at your house, in Lehi, in this Territory, that you were never married to Joseph Smith, but that you were sealed to him for eternity.
A. — I do not think that I told him any such thing. I answered him just as I have answered you to-day about it,–that I was sealed or married, whatever you have a mind to call it, and I quoted over the very ceremony as near as I could to him at the time, but to-day I cannot do it, for I am nervous here to-day.
Q. — And did you not tell him further at that time and place and on that occasion that his father never solicited you to have anything to do with him?
A. — I did not tell him anything of the kind; I told him the same as I have answered you here to-day, and he would not say but what I told him the same as I have answered here if he were here either. He would not say that I told him anything different if he were here to-day.
And the following is testimony from the court transcript, which you can read here in full:
86 Q:-How many children were born to you by Joseph Smith? A:-Not any.
87 Q:-There was not any children born to you by Joseph Smith? A:-No sir.
88 Q:-Have you ever borne any children since that time? A:-Yes sir, I have.
89 Q:-Who was your husband at that time? A:-Well sir, the father of my children was Mr. Will[e]s.
93 Q:-State now the reason why you never bore any children by Joseph Smith? A:-Well that is something impossible to do,-that is something I can’t tell.
108 Q:-Did you ever see any children of Joseph Smith in the territory of Utah,-or do you know of any of his children being in Utah at any time? A:-I don’t know anything about his affairs,-I attend to my own business.
227 Q:–Did you ever room with Joseph Smith as his wife? A. Yes sir.
228 Q:– At what place? A:– At Nauvoo
229 Q:– What place in Nauvoo? A:– The Nauvoo Mansion.
230 Q. At what place in the Mansion? A. Do you want to know the number of the room, or what?
231 Q. Well just what part of the house the room was in if you can give it? A. Well I can give it and the number of the room too. It was room number one.
252 [sic] Q. Room number one? A. Yes sir.
233 Q:–Who else roomed there? A:–I don’t know of any one.
234 Q:–Where was Emma Smith at that time? A:–I don’t know I didn’t ask where she was.
235 Q:–Did you know where she was at that time? A:–No sir I didn’t.
236 Q:–Did she know where you were at that time? A:–I did not ask her whether she did or not.
237 Q:–So you roomed with him in the Nauvoo Mansion in room number one? A:–Yes sir.
238 Q:–That was the house that Joseph Smith lived in was it not? A:–Yes sir.
239 Q:–And you don’t know whether Emma Smith was in the house or not? A:–No sir.
240 Q:– And you can’t say whether she knew where you were? A:–No sir. I couldn’t say where she was, and I don’t know that she knew about me, for I did not speak to her.
241 Q:–Well she was at home? A: Yes sir.
242 Q:–How do you know? A:–She was there when I see her last.
243 Q:–What time was that? A:–That I saw her?
244 Q:–Yes madam? A:–I can’t tell you the time, If I had thought I was to be asked all these questions I might have kept a note of all these things, but as I didn’t know anything about this examination I didn’t.
245 Q:–How often did you room there with Joseph Smith? A. Well that is something I can’t tell you.
246 Q:–Well was it more than once? A:–Yes sir, and more than twice.
247 Q:–Well that is something I would like to know? A:–Well there is something I would like to know. If I am to be asked these questions I would like to know if I am to answer them. I have told you all about this thing that I know, and I can’t see any reason in your worrying me with these questions, and I would like to know if I have to answer them?
248 Q:–Well if you decline to answer them say so, and that will do? A:–I don’t decline to answer any question that I know anything about.
249 Q:–Well answer that question then? A:–What is the question?
250 Q:–I asked how many times you had roomed there in the house with Joseph Smith? I do not expect you to answer positively the exact number of times, but I would like to have you tell us the number of times as nearly as you can remember it? A:–Well I can’t tell you. I think I have acted the part of a lady in answering your questions as well as I have, and I don’t think you are acting the part of a gentleman in asking me these questions.
251 Q:–Well I will ask you the question over again in this form, –was it more than twice? A:–Yes sir.
252 Q:–Well How many times? A:–I could not say.
253 Q:–Did you ever at any other place room with him? A:–In what way.
254 Q:– Of course I mean as his wife? A:–Yes sir.
255 Q:–At what places? A:–In my father’s house.
256 Q:-At other places did you ever room with him as his wife? A:-Well now I think that is all the places it is necessary for me to answer you one way or the other. I think I have answered plenty of questions on that matter, and all that you should require of a lady whom you know is telling the truth as best she can.
257 Q:-Did you ever room with Joseph Smith at any other place or places than at the Nauvoo Mansion and your father’s house,-that is did you ever room with him as his wife? A:-That is all the places I remember.
258 Q:-Those are the only places you remember? A:-Yes sir.
259 Q:-Now at the times you roomed with him, did you cohabit with him as his wife? A:-Yes sir.
260 Q:-And you never had any children? A:-No sir, I answered that question before and told you no.
261 Q:-You want to go on record here as saying that you cohabited with a man as his wife, and knew at the time you did that he had a wife living, and you don’t know whether there was any law of the church or land permitting it at all? Is that the way you want to go on record? A:-I told you that it was the law of the church at the time,-I considered it the law of the church and it was all right, for I have always lived correctly.
Edited to add something from an interview she gave to Joseph Smith III, in which she confirms that she was a wife “in very deed” and then explains why they had no increase (it wasn’t lack of sex):
Q. Were you married to my father?
A. Yes . . .
Q. Was you a wife in very deed?
Q. Why was there no increase, say in your case?
A. Through no fault of either of us, lack of proper conditions on my part probably, or it might be in the wisdom of the Almighty that we should have none. The Prophet was martyred nine months after our marriage.
And here are some notes from Andrew Jenson’s interview with her, wherein she says that she was his wife “in the full meaning of the term”:
WILLES, (Malissa LOTT,) daughter of Cornelius P. Lott and Permelia Darow, was born Jan. 9, 1824, in Bridgewater, Luzerne Co., Penn. Her parents having embraced the fulness of the Gospel, the family removed to Kirtland, Ohio, where Sister Melissa was baptized in November, 1837. After the expulsion of the Saints from Kirtland and Missouri, Brother Lott located with his family in Pike County, Illinois, where they remained until 1842, and then moved unto Joseph Smith’s farm, located some four miles east of Nauvoo, on the Carthage road. Shortly afterwards Sister Melissa became intimately acquainted with the Prophet’s family, and on Sept. 20, 1843, she was married to Joseph Smith for time and all eternity. She spent most of the following winter in his family, going to school in the so-called brick store. The Prophet’s children, Joseph, Frederick and Alexander, went to the same school, under the immediate watch-care of Sister Melissa. In the spring of 1844 she went back to live with her parents on the farm, where she remained until after the martyrdom of her husband in Carthage jail. Subsequently she lived with Emma Smith, occasionally, until the exodus in 1846, when she left Nauvoo with the rest of the Saints. After spending two winters at Winter Quarters, she accompanied her father’s family to G. S. L. Valley in 1848, coming through in Heber C. Kimball’s company. On May 13, 1849, she married Ira Jones Willes, formerly a member of the Mormon Battalion, with whom she lived in Salt Lake City and Lehi, Utah Co., until his death, Dec. 5, 1863. He was accidentally killed while crossing a creek near Lehi, being thrown from a load of wood into the water together with his son Cornelius John, about nine years old. Both were drowned. With Elder Willett Sister Melissa had seven children, of whom four are yet living. Although now somewhat advanced in years, she is still bright and active, and occupies a prominent position in the Lehi Female Relief Society. She is ever unflinching in her testimony of what she knows to be true, and states in the most positive terms, and without any hesitation, that she was sealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet on the above named date, and became, in the full meaning of the term, his wife, according to the sacred order of celestial marriage. She further states that when she was married to Ira Jones Willes, he fully understood that he was marrying a widow of Joseph Smith, the martyred Prophet; that their association together would end with this life, and that in the morning of the resurrection she would pass from him to the society of her deceased husband.
And this from RLDS source R. C. Evans:
When in Salt Lake City I called at the residence of Patriarch John Smith, brother of Joseph F. Smith, and son of Hyrum Smith, nephew of the original prophet Joseph Smith, and while there his wife, Helen, told me, among many other interesting things, that “Melissa Lott told me that when a girl she sewed for Emma Smith and took care of the children. Joseph had to pass through her room to go to Emma’s room. She said Joseph never had sexual intercourse with her but once and that was in the daytime, saying he desired her to have a child by him.”
So, what think ye of Melissa Lott Willes? Faithful wife? Liar?
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?
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.
I can’t decide if this is an example of Poe’s Law or just an indication of someone’s complete misunderstanding of how historical evidence works, but, to steal a word, it is “amusing.”
It’s worth pointing out that, if we apply this algorithm to John Bennett and Sarah Pratt, the likelihood of any sexual relationship between them is exceedingly small. Much smaller than, say, the likelihood that Joseph Smith was sleeping with Emily Partridge. And imagine if we were to apply this algorithm to the unfounded assertion that Nancy Winchester was seduced or raped by the Bennett sex ring.
I’m sure someone out there is going to say I’m being mean or vilifying or persecuting another person. That’s not it at all. Once again, if you’re going to make claims based on historical evidence, you must actually provide historical evidence. It’s not enough to “propose” something or use the subjunctive mood; your claims must have some basis in documentary evidence, or they cannot be taken seriously at all.
I’m still waiting, though not holding my breath.