Ep 73 – Heber Kimball Visionary Polygamist
On this episode, we finally introduce someone who’s been long overdue for our historical timeline, Heber C. Kimball, maybe you guys can help me come up with a fitting NaMo nickname for him. After that we jump into a letter Bennett wrote to the brethren to be published in the Times and Season stating the Nauvoo Charter had finally passed the Illinois State Legislature. Bennett was a powerful lobbyist and ally to have on the Mormons’ side, and he specifically called out a few government officials who were paramount to the Charter’s success. Then we find out that God gave a sign in the heavens to the Mormon missionaries in England, signaling the passing of the Nauvoo Charter, legends are born easily but never die. After that, we’re joined by a special guest who recently dove really deep into the BoM to try and make sense of it all. Patreon supporters be sure to listen to this episode in the Patreon feed to hear the special extended interview with Colt.
Heber C. Kimball biography
Heber C. Kimball quotes
Colt Kalcich BoM Chronology Study
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Let’s get into it.
Let’s get some milk to start us off. When we last left off the historical timeline, we were discussing land speculation in and around Nauvoo, or what was soon to be designated Nauvoo. Jo was purchasing land left and right on which the Mormons would begin settling, and was doing so through means of nothing but credit. Jo was running a massive deficit because he had no way to make any of the payments for the land he was purchasing, he was just signing every land contract which would come his way, even when the contracts were woefully damaging to his long-term goals. Jo paid over 30 times the going rate for unimproved land and was turning around and selling it to the Mormons with hopes of making a profit. Unfortunately for everyone, the Mormons were desperately poor and there was no way Jo could sell the incredibly inflated land at the rates he was purchasing, so he was only dragging himself and the Mormon church further into debt. Hotchkiss, Gillet, White, and Galland were some of the primary land speculators looking to make a quick buck of the Mormons’ misfortunes, but unfortunately for them, they weren’t getting any money for the land they’d sold to Jo on contract, because a piece of paper with Jo’s signature and 5 dollars wouldn’t get somebody halfway to a bushel of corn back then. Robert Flanders, in his book, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi, makes a solid case that Nauvoo was by definition a land speculation, so any aspersions cast upon Jo and the Mormon leadership handling Nauvoo land was well founded, but no other option existed for building up Nauvoo from the desolate swampland it was before the Mormons arrived. After the historical timeline, we did a Mormon Leaks Minute with Ethan Dodge and I offered some thoughts on the Mythinformation conference, and subsequently published a later conversation I had with Marie right after the conference, which you can find in your podcast feed.
That wraps up the milk, let’s chow down on some meat.
I’m going to start off the episode today by talking about an email I should have addressed long ago which makes a really good point and introduces an opportunity for us to work together in our historical timeline. This email came from Arron talking about John Bennett, who I gave the NaMo nickname of John Brokeit. This is Aaron’s email:
“Regarding Episode 62. "John Broke-it"? To me you just missed the perfect name I had in my head that I thought you were going to say seconds before you named him.
How about "Wreck-It-Bennett"? Don't you think this namo name flows off
the tongue a little easier and would stick in the mind a little
Would “Wreck-It-Bennett” be too close to Disney's Wreck-It-Ralph to use?
I love how you name these guys from Mormon History which helps me keep them straight in my head. Martin Harris will always be for me “Not So Smarty Marty” solidifying a place in my minds history logs.”
Notwithstanding my reply email, I think Aaron makes a good argument and I personally believe that Wreck-it Bennett is way better and more memorable, so we’re going to call John Bennett Wreck-it Bennett from now on.
The opportunity this represents is great, because I’ve come up with a bunch of NaMo nicknames in the past, some better than others, but maybe you guys can be like Aaron here and come up with much better names for these people than I’m able to.
So let’s get the ball rolling on this, we’re going to introduce someone who’s been a part of our timeline for a long time, but is really going to make his place important in the coming years. Let’s talk about Heber C. Kimball, and let’s see which one of you listeners will come up with a fitting NaMo nickname for our historical timeline and get a shout-out on the next episode.
Heber C. Kimball, who looks like a cross between Joseph Smith sr. in the Joseph Smith movie and Bryan Cranston, was born in Sheldon Vermont in 1801. He had training as a blacksmith and potter and married his lovely wife Vilate Murray in 1822, after which he joined the Ontario County, New York Freemasons in 1823. He received the York Rite of the Masonic society, ascending the first three degrees in a very short time. He petitioned the Royal Arch Masonic Society to ascend their degrees, but unfortunately, in response to the death of William Morgan due to his expose on the Masons, an anti-Masonic mob had burned down the lodge so he wasn’t able to perform the next rituals to further ascend. Heber C. and Vilate Kimball, who were good friends with the Young family, then had young Helen Mar Kimball who was born August 22, 1828, when Jo had just finished writing the 116 pages with Not-So-Smarty-Marty Harris.
Three elders first proselyted to the Kimballs in late 1831, and the family moved to Kirtland, Ohio in 1833. Heber went with Zion’s camp out to Missouri to redeem Zion as the prophet saw it, and was subsequently ordained a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles during its original organization in February 1835. He participated in the first Mormon mission overseas to England in 1837, which was met with very minor success.
Later, when the Mormons were exterminated from Missouri, Bloody Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball acted together as the head organizers of the Mormon exodus to Illinois, showing each other how well they worked together. Heber Kimball would continue to solidify his position as Bloody Brigham’s best friend and second in command. In our historical timeline, Heber C. Kimball is currently hanging out with Brigham and the rest of the quorum in England prior to them heading back to America in early 1841.
Some other fun facts about Heber Kimball that may help spawn some nicknames in all of our minds, he was a visionary man and a poet, oh, and he LOOOOVED his polygamy. He told of a vision he saw the same night the unnamed angel visited Jo in September of 1827 and gave him the gold plates. From his biography written by Orson F. Whitney in 1888:
“I had retired to bed, when John P. Greene, who was living within a hundred steps of my house, came and waked me up, calling upon me to come out and behold the scenery in the heavens. I woke up and called my wife and Sister Fanny Young (sister to Brigham Young), who was living with us, and we went out-of-doors.
It was one of the most beautiful starlight nights, so clear that we could see to pick up a pin. We looked to the eastern horizon, and beheld a white smoke arise toward the heavens; as it ascended it formed itself into a belt, and made a noise like the sound of a mighty wind, and continued southwest, forming a regular bow dipping in the western horizon. After the bow had formed, it began to widen out and grow clear and transparent, of a bluish cast; it grew wide enough to contain twelve men abreast.
In this bow an army moved, commencing from the east and marching to the west; they continued marching until they reached the western horizon. They moved in platoons, and walked so close that the rear ranks trod in the steps of their file leaders, until the whole bow was literally crowded with soldiers. We could distinctly see the muskets, bayonets and knapsacks of the men, who wore caps and feathers like those used by the American soldiers in the last war with Britain; and also saw their officers with their swords and equipage, and the clashing and jingling of their implements of war, and could discover the forms and features of the men. The most profound order existed throughout the entire army; when the foremost man stepped, every man stepped at the same time; I could hear the steps. When the front rank reached the western horizon a battle ensued, as we could distinctly hear the report of arms and the rush.
No man could judge of my feelings when I beheld that army of men, as plainly as ever I saw armies of men in the flesh; it seemed as though every hair of my head was alive. This scenery we gazed upon for hours, until it began to disappear.
After I became acquainted with Mormonism, I learned that this took place the same evening that Joseph Smith received the records of the Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni, who had held those records in his possession….
My wife, being frightened at what she saw, said, ‘Father Young, what does all this mean?’
‘Why, it’s one of the signs of the coming of the Son of Man,’ he replied, in a lively, pleased manner.
The next night similar scenery was beheld in the west by the neighbors, representing armies of men who were engaged in battle.”
I think this account, published 61 years after the supposed occurrence from a second-hand account offers a wonderful insight to how a story or legend can develop when somebody watches the aurora borealis on mushrooms or something and tells a friend who tells a friend who tells their child who writes it down later as a fact with actual supposed quotes and exact dates.
Heber the dreamer maybe?
But wait, there’s more to quote Heber Kimball on, this time when it comes to his views on women and polygamy, which we’ll be discussing very soon in our timeline:
“Women are made to be led, and counseled, and directed…And if I am not a good man, I have no just right in this Church to a wife or wives, or the power to propagate my species. What then should be done with me? Make a eunuch of me, and stop my propagation.”
Try this one on for size:
“It is the duty of a woman to be obedient to her husband, and unless she is, I would not give a damn for all her queenly right and authority; nor for her either, if she will quarrel, and lie about the work of God and the principle of plurality.”
Maybe we can go with King-me Kimball?
And my favorite from him:
“I think no more of taking a wife than I do of buying a cow.”
Who likes Heber Lingo?
These various quotes from Heber C. Kimball can go on for days revealing his true character, but I’ll spare you any more anguish. That’s who we have to work with as our newest inductee into the ranks of NaMo nicknames. Which do you like best: Heber the Dreamer, Half-man Heber, King-me Kimball, or Heber Lingo? Or, are you going to be like Aaron and come up with a way better name for Heber Kimball by tweeting it @NakedMormonism with #NaMoNickname or posting on the facebook page or by emailing at NakedMormonism@gmail.com and get a shout-out on next week’s episode? The ball is in your court dear listener, let’s see how clever you are.
Now that we have introduced Heber C. Kimball, let’s briefly catch up with him and Brigham during their mission by talking about one meeting they had with the Brotherton family. We don’t know exactly what occurred during this meeting, but we can assume it was much like many of the other proselyting meetings Heber C. Kimball and Bloody Brigham held in small congregations to convert and baptize investigators. The Brotherton family, consisting of Thomas and Sarah, along with daughters Elizabeth and sixteen-year-old Martha were convinced by what the charismatic missionaries were selling and converted, being baptized sometime in mid to late 1840. They would soon migrate to America, landing in New Orleans on November 9, 1841. We’ll keep the Brotherton family in the back of our mind for now.
Let’s pick things back up stateside and see what trouble Jo and company were getting in to.
The Illinois State legislature were finally going through the process of ratifying the Nauvoo city charter. Wreck-it Bennett was sent by Jo to lobby them and ensure the passage of the charter, even with those extra provisions they added of the Nauvoo University and Nauvoo Legion. Wreck-it Bennett wrote to the brethren in Nauvoo from Springfield on 16th December 1840 with no reservation of glee in his own success. This letter was immediately published in the church periodical, Times and Seasons.
From the Dan Vogel HoC 5:247:
“The Act incorporating the city of Nauvoo has just passed the council of revision, and is now a law of the land, to take effect and be in force from and after the first Monday of February next. The aforesaid Act contains two additional charters—one incorporating the “Nauvoo Legion,” the other the “University of the city of Nauvoo.”
All these Charters are very broad and liberal, conferring the most plenary powers on the corporators. Illinois has acquitted herself with honor, and her State Legislators shall never be forgotten. Every power we asked has been granted, every request gratified, every desire fulfilled. In the Senate Mr. Little canceled every obligation to our people, and faithfully, and honestly, and with untiring diligence, discharged every obligation devolving upon him as our immediate representative in the upper House. Mark well that man, and do him honor. Snyder, and Ralston, and Moore, and Ross, and Stapp, and numerous others, likewise in that branch of our State Government, rendered as very essential services; and the Act passed that body without dissenting voice.
In the House of Representatives, Charles, our immediate Representative in the lower House, was at his post and discharged his duty as a faithful Representative; he is an acting, and not a talking man, and has fulfilled all his obligations to us.—Many members in this House, likewise, were warmly in our favor; and with only one or two dissenting voices, every Representative appeared inclined to extend to us all such powers as they considered us justly entitled to, and voted for the law; and here I should not forget to mention, that Lincoln, whose name we erased from the electoral ticket in November (not however on account of any dislike to him as a man, but simply because his was the last name on the ticket, and we desired to show our friendship to the Democratic party by substituting the name of Ralston for some one of the Whigs) had the magnanimity to vote for our Act, and came forward, after the final vote, to the bar of the House, and cordially congratulated me on its passage.
Our worthy Governor is certainly disposed to do us ample justice in every respect, and to extend to us every facility for our future happiness and prosperity.
Illinois has certainly done her duty, and her whole duty; and now it becomes us to show ourselves upright, honest, just, worthy of the favors bestowed by noble, generous, and magnanimous statemen. I have said that we are a law-abiding people, and we must now show it. The State has washed her hands in granting all our petitions, and if we do not now show ourselves approved, the curse must fall upon our own heads. Justice, equal justice, should be our fixed object, and purpose, and the great God will prosper us; length of days will be in our right hand, and in our left, glory and honor. In necessariis unitas, in non necessariis libertas, in omnibus charitas, should be our motto, in the consummation of the great object, (human liberty, and equal rights,) and with the sauviter in mode, and the fortiter in re we must ultimately succeed in overcoming all unjust prejudice, and unreasonable opposition.
JOHN C. BENNETT”
I probably didn’t need to read the entire letter to you, but there are a few little things to talk about in each paragraph. First paragraph showed Wreck-it Bennett’s excitement at the prospect of Nauvoo having its own legion and a Smith University, which were both provisions in the charter. Creating a city University wasn’t too far out of the norm for other city charters of the day, but the Nauvoo Legion definitely was, which we’ve discussed in prior episodes.
The second and third paragraph can be analyzed together, which I’ll do in just a second.
The final paragraph was Bennett’s way of commending Illinois for “doing her duty and her whole duty” to the Mormons. The way Wreck-it Bennett couched his excitement was interesting to me, and it almost seemed like he was giving a voice of warning to the Mormons. “Now it becomes us to show ourselves upright, honest, just, worthy of the favors bestowed.” “I have said that we are a law-abiding people and we must show it”. This was Bennett’s way of telling the Mormons, Guys, we really can’t fuck it up this time; he didn’t want the Mormons making a liar of him. I find it amazing he had to do this. But really, come on, Bennett knew the history of the Saints, he’d read the headlines coming out of Missouri when they were kicked out, and he must have known they were dancing on a knife’s edge.
Let’s get to the second and third paragraphs, because they represent an interesting relationship building exercise between the Illinois government and the Mormons. Having a massive population of people moving into a completely uninhabited area was an exciting economic prospect for Illinois, especially because the state was on the brink of complete insolvency. One great way to drag an economy out of ruin is by having a 20-30 year long plan of bunch of people settle an area and turn it into useful farmland which would hopefully turn into a thriving metropolis with manufacturing and shipping up and down the Mississippi. Even better for some Illinois government officials, the Mormons voted in a bloc. You get the approval of a few higher-ups in Mormon leadership, and suddenly you have 15,000 votes in your column, and, more importantly, 15,000 votes against your opponent. I suppose since it was only men over 21 who could vote that was probably only about 5,000 at best, but that was double the possible votes coming out of Chicago and 4 times the number of votes coming out of the capital, Springfield. By 1844 Nauvoo had a larger voting population than Chicago and Springfield combined; politicians wanted to be on the Mormons’ good side.
The Mormons presented an opportunity to the state in the form of improving the economy and pushing change through the government. The Mormons were actually one of the largest swing vote populations in America at this time when most populations were already sanctioned off as Democrat or Whig, but the Mormons didn’t hold much loyalty to either party, especially given the ever-growing diversity of their population from so many states and even from Europe.
When Wreck-it Bennett named those government officials in his letter, that was his way of signaling them that they would have the Mormon vote if they stayed on the Mormons’ good side. You can bet that his lobbying efforts in getting the charter passed in the first place was laden with promises. “Hey, if you vote to pass our charter, I’ll see to it that not a single Mormon votes for your opponent in your upcoming election next year.” (Wink, nod, elbow rub, back scratch, etc.) You know how these things go. And, because Illinois was largely a Whig state at this time, or at least most of the large population centers and public offices were held by Whigs, they favored urbanization and industrialization, the Mormons moving to an area and improving it first to farmland, then to industry and shipping was an exciting proposition for the typical Whig platform issues, albeit a 2-3 decade long plan that would never come to fruition for a number of reasons.
Bennett did, however, invoke very briefly a name which I found rather interesting in his letter. He said “and here I should not forget to mention, that Lincoln, whose name we erased from the electoral ticket in November (not however on account of any dislike to him as a man, but simply because his was the last name on the ticket, and we desired to show our friendship to the Democratic party by substituting the name of Ralston for some one of the Whigs) had the magnanimity to vote for our Act, and came forward, after the final vote, to the bar of the House, and cordially congratulated me on its passage.”
Yes, that’s exactly who you’re thinking it is. Abraham Lincoln was only 3.5 years younger than Jo, born in 1809, and had begun his meteoric rise through elected offices around the same time Jo started becoming successful in Kirtland. Lincoln had just barely won his fourth term in the House of Representatives a mere 4 months prior to the Nauvoo Charter hitting the legislative December session, and he had the Whig industrialization mindset and political foresight to appeal to the Mormons when they were starting to become a voting bloc to reckon with. Luckily, he didn’t do anything to piss off Bennett, so he had the collective ignorance of the Mormons, but he certainly didn’t land himself on their bad side. Kudos to Lincoln the pragmatist. To be fair though, Lincoln had delivered his first public speech against slavery a mere 3 years before this. While the diversity of the Mormons was increasing, they were still largely northerners who were indifferent to or opposed to slavery, but the majority of the political and social opposition against the Mormons in Missouri came at the hands of good ol’ boy slave-owning democrats. Any elected official who was opposed to the everyday country bumpkin southern democrat slave-owner was a friend of the Mormons and Lincoln fit the bill perfectly.
I love these little confluences of American history I never foresee until it randomly crops up. This letter was written 18 years before Lincoln’s great “House Divided” speech and 20 years before his presidential election. There’s no way Bennett could have known Lincolns influential future, but apparently Lincoln left enough of an impression on Bennett that his named merited mention above and beyond the other legislators who voted to push the Nauvoo Charter through. I assume it was due to them chatting at the bar the day the Charter passed.
To conclude the historical portion of today’s episode, we’re going to finish where we started, with a sign in the heavens. No, that’s literally what it’s called. Just like Heber Kimball saw some kind of phenomenon in the sky and took it as a sign that the angel had visited Joseph Smith and given him the plates, another sign was seen in the heavens, undoubtedly exhibiting God’s approval of the Nauvoo Charter passing to the quorum living in England at the time who wouldn’t get word of its passage for another couple of months.
This is starting from page 251 of vol 5 of the Vogel HoC. I find it fascinating that this was included in the HoC. Vogel added a footnote which states: “MSt 1:215 includes the following introduction: ‘The following Account is taken from a printed sheet which has been lately published, and is supposed to be authentic; but we cannot now readily ascertain the exact date of this singular occurrence.’” The footnote implies that this was later removed and another footnote says the heading was changed from ‘Signs in the Heavens’ to ‘Signs in the Sky’. Here it is:
“A most wonderful phenomenon was observed last week by the inhabitants of Hull and the neighborhood. A perfectly blood red flag was seen flying in the heavens, which illuminated the horizon for many miles around. At intervals it changed its form, assuming that of a cross, sword, and many other shapes. At one o’clock on Friday morning the town was nearly as light as noonday; the inhabitant[s] were parading the streets; fear and dismay pictured in their countenances. This wonder continued until near three o’clock, when it gradually went to the westward, illuminating the Humber as it seemed to sink in her waters. Then for a few seconds all became total darkness, when from the northwest by north, arose the most beautiful light, which shot away towards the Western Hemisphere, leaving in its train the most beautiful and verigated colors, and which the eye might readily form into armies, drawn up in the order of battle, charging and retreating alternately, and then again all was wrapped in the sable curtains of night. It appears that many signs were seen on the same night in different parts of the kingdom.”
In a prescientific world like the one our heroes and villains inhabit, things like this propagate and birth legends. The various celestial phenomena we have complete scientific grasp of today would have understandably exploded the brains of these troglodyte simpletons, but to them God was giving them a sign by which they judged their actions and lives. Once you separate out a spurious account like what Heber the visionary told somebody about, or reprint an unsourced newspaper article that I can’t seem to find an original source for no matter how deep I dig, is it really that hard to see how things like this become legends that never die?
Luckily, we’re analyzing history that happened after the invention of the printing press, and the Mormons were printing fiends. Mormon history doesn’t have the mystery and lack of evidence most other world religions are fortuned with. 19th-century people with a slightly scientific understanding of the world were much less vulnerable to creating legends than people 2000 years ago, and I would argue that legends have an even harder time propagating today than they did in the 19th century. We’re smarter now. People know more stuff about more things now than they ever have in the world, and that’s only come through wider-spread communication and access to information. This isn’t to say that humans are completely inoculated from bullshit today, we still fling plenty of it around, but now we have tools the world has never had before to wash the bullshit off and figure out the truth. Where teaching somebody in the 19th century was an impossibility before due to lack of collective knowledge and willful ignorance, we now have the knowledge to shatter ignorance, if we but remove people’s will to be ignorant.
Thanks again, Colt, for talking to us today. If you’re interested in reading what Colt put together, you’ll find a blog post on realbookofmormon.org where you can look at his work for yourself, or you can simply chase the show notes for a link. Colt put a fair amount of work into drafting and redrafting this and the final product looks really good with included tables and all the names with estimated Gregorian dates for all the metal plate authors.
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