Ep 91 – Calculated Risks, Legendary Rewards with Michael Schaffer
On this episode, Brigham Young and the Quorum of Apostles slowly trickle back into Nauvoo after their surprisingly successful mission trip in Europe. Joseph provides a divine revelation to Bloody Brigham, thus relieving him from any future mission trip duties. Zina Diantha and the entire Huntington family enters our timeline with a powerful visionary experience kicking off her belief in the Mormon religion. The Huntington family make their way to Kirtland, Missouri, and finally to Illinois in Spring 1839, where Joseph and Zina become rather friendly, in spite of Zina being half his age. Joseph’s proactive heroism earns him one more deed to add to the column leaving behind a legendary legacy. After that, we have on Michael Schaffer from the Reasonable Risk Podcast.
Manuscript History of Brigham Young
Dimick Huntington Constable Appointment
Improvement Era 1901 on Zina D.H. Young
Zina D.H. Smith Young
Dimick Huntington Bio
Did Joseph Smith Have to Take Algebra
Actual Joseph Smith Horse Carriage Story
Michael Shaffer Interview:
Reasonable Risk on MLM
Reasonable Risk Bryce Blankenagel Guest Spot
Deseret News Affinity Fraud Epidemic in Utah
Other Guest Spots:
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Bloody Brigham Young and the rest of the Quorum had begun their mission trip to Europe during the final months of 1839. When they had left Commerce, Illinois, it was barely more than a swampland with a few hundred people scattered about living out of their wagons or in makeshift lean-to shacks. People were dying daily from sickness and malnourishment. The Illinois Government was showing slight favor to the persecuted minority in hopes of their settlement to boost the floundering Illinois economy.
Robert Flanders in Nauvoo Kingdom on the Mississippi summarizes the state’s motivations, thus explaining their friendly attitude toward the Mormon settlement beginning on page 19 of his book:
“The chief hope for extricating Illinois from public bankruptcy and private ruin was the continuation of large-scale immigration into the state—a trend which had been largely unaffected by the depression. The Peoria Register and Northwestern Gazeteer said in 1840: ‘The history, present condition, and future prospect of the State of Illinois furnish a theme for contemplation which would have thrilled the bosom of an ancient historian with delight. Especially the progress of settlement…in the Illinois River region; and the multiplication of towns, orchards, and all the machinery of wealth and comfort, has been so unprecedentedly rapid and exuberant, that an Herodotus, a Tacitus, or a Gibbon would be astounded at the recital.’ Another contemporary observer agreed, ‘Illinois is destined to be a great state—great in her political and moral influence, as well as in her physical resources. It is to be made thus through foreign influence—the influence of immigration.’ The canal laborers had swelled the stream of immigrants from abroad, and the flow continued. It was expected that 1840 would bring as many as forty thousand new citizens. So the Mormons, arriving in large numbers in 1839 and promising the continued immigration of their sect, were given a cordial, even enthusiastic, welcome.”
The Commerce of Autumn 1839 looked nothing like the Nauvoo of Spring 1841 when the Quorum and Bloody Brigham returned. Where there were lightly forested plains of sludgy marshland before, now there were crop fields, hundreds of cabins, barns, the beginnings of the University of Nauvoo under construction, a printing press chugging out propaganda at an alarming rate, the earliest phases of a major hotel under construction, and the cornerstones to a new temple lay in the ground. In a mere 18 months’ time, the Mormons had made a lot of lemonade with their ambitious construction projects, new businesses, schools, public infrastructure, inroads with numerous government officials, and they were only just beginning.
There had been near-constant letter exchanges across the Atlantic between the Nauvoo leadership and the Q12 so they had some idea of the major headway being made in Nauvoo over the past 18 months, but no combination of words could truly convey everything the Mormons had done to construct this kingdom on the Mississippi. The beginning of July 1841, Brigham and Jo were finally reunited as Brigham and some of the Q12 unloaded from a steamer on the banks of the Mississippi.
“July 1.-- We arrived in Nauvoo, and were cordially welcomed by the Prophet Joseph, our families and the Saints.”
2 days later, the Nauvoo Legion was out in full parade force for the Independence Day celebration. For the Q12 who’d left the Mormons when they were in absolute dire straits to see how much Nauvoo had flourished in the 18 months since they left and to see the Legion in full uniform parading about the streets of Nauvoo must have been a wonderful shock to their systems. What better way to instill hope and ambition in the minds of the Mormon leadership and occupy the jobless layman Mormon than to flex military muscles in a grand show with public officials in attendance?
Another aspect contributing to the general optimism was the influx of immigrants from across the pond. Somewhere just over 100 Europeans had made the return trip back with the Q12 or were nearing Nauvoo on a steamer headed north from New Orleans. Talos was receiving a much-needed blood transfusion from foreign lands and was growing stronger with every new lifeforce absorbed.
That sets our scene for summer of 1841. Now it becomes necessary to shift our focus to slightly earlier in our timeline to incorporate another crucial individual in Mormon history. Let’s take a step back and talk about one of the most prominent women in Nauvoo and Utah history, Zina Diantha Huntington Smith Young. This comes at a time when Zina Huntington’s brother, Dimick, was appointed to be a constable of Nauvoo. The Huntington family were among the trusted elites of Mormons in Nauvoo, but they were also relatively recent converts compared to other families who’d been members for close to a decade by this point.
The Huntington family lived a peaceful Presbyterian life in Jefferson County, New York, roughly 100 miles northeast of Palmyra. The Huntingtons were visited by a neighbor who’d just met with Mormon missionaries. This neighbor lent them his copy of the Book of Mormon and Zina vividly remembers embracing the sacred text at the pure age of 14. Todd Compton includes her reminiscences of that period in Zina’s life in his book In Sacred Loneliness, beginning on page 74:
“Zina was away from home attending school, but she heard about Wakefield’s reports. When she returned home, she wrote, “I saw the Book of Mormon, that strange, new book, lying on the window sill of our sitting room. I went up to the window, picked it up, and the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit accompanied it to such an extent that I pressed it to my bosom in a rapture of delight, murmuring as I did so, ‘This is the truth, truth, truth!’ The mere idea of a new scripture was intoxicating to her.”
The Huntington’s joined the Church of Latter Day Saints a few months later and Zina herself was baptized by Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith in August 1835. Soon after joining, Zina partook of the gifts of the gospel alone in the woods and had a powerful experience. From later in Compton’s book:
“’The gifts of the gospel were manifest the first time I ever sang in tongs after baptised into the church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints around me was as light as the blaze of a candle I was surrounded [it was] a heavenly influence and no unpleasent sensation from that day the gift has remained with me.’”
I have a hard time telling of any major differences between her spiritual experience and that of many other accounts left behind from Mormons and non-Mormons alike at this time. She saw some incredible stuff out in the woods and her father had been praying back in the early 1830s for God to show him the way to the one true religion, after which he concluded that none of them were true. The Huntingtons subsequently moved to Ohio, then to Missouri for the brief year of 1838 that the Mormons inhabited the land.
The Huntington family was one of the last to leave the state of Missouri during the Mormon exodus to Illinois. Before we broach the details of the Huntington family leading up to 1841 we need to introduce another subject surrounded by some level of controversy in Mormon history. Zina Diantha Huntington was a prophetess, as was her mother, Zina Baker Huntington. I offer a few examples of prophetic abilities being endowed upon these two women in early Mormon history. Zina’s Diantha’s mother, Zina Baker, raised a person from the dead.
Once again, from Compton:
“One night she was called to sit up all night with the body of a neighbor. Pondering ‘power, faith and the possibility of the dead being brought back to life now as well as in the days of the apostles,’ she felt that she had the faith to call the neighbor back from the dead. When she laid her hands on him, ‘The dead man obeyed, and opened his eyes full wide and gazed into hers.’ This was too much for Zina Baker, and she rushed from the room; the corpse lapsed back into lifelessness. She later explained to her children that the man was not meant to take up his mortal life again, but God had allowed his momentary revival ‘to show her that ‘these signs do follow them that believe.’’”
According to her own account, Zina Baker Huntington rose a man from the dead momentarily. I’ll share a brief story I remember my mother telling me when I was a kid. She was plucking a chicken to prepare it for dinner one night and when she pushed her hand on the chicken’s chest to hold it down to pull the feathers out, the bird came back to life with a demonic chicken whisper from beyond the grave. Freaked her out! She didn’t know what had happened and went running in to her mom for comfort. My grandmother then took my mom out to the vocally reanimated chicken corpse and illustrated to my mother that the chicken simply still had air trapped in it’s lungs by pushing again on its chest, causing it to make the same noise which had chased my mother from the corpse in the first place. Once you investigate something, it tends to lose its supernatural mystique. This corpse that Zina Baker was caring for didn’t reanimate unless the person was comatose and spontaneously gave some dying gasp when the light finally died. She may have been seated next to it and dosed off for a brief moment and dreamt she had healed him, waking from her slumber with a great startle unable to tell the difference between reality and dream while in a sleep-deprived state from having lost so much sleep caring for the man before he’d passed away. It could have been completely apocryphal, fabricated to forward an agenda, Zina Diantha, Zina Baker’s daughter, did become one of the most powerful women in Utah along Eliza Snow. Each of these naturalistic explanations render Zina Baker’s claim to divine healing power increasingly obsolete and less believable.
However, Zina Baker’s daughter, Zina Diantha, similarly held some prophetic powers which were seemingly much less miraculous, but equally compelling when it comes to Mormon prophetic power. After her visionary experience in the forest, Zina Diantha acquired the power of glossolalia, which she cherished for the rest of her life. Many early Mormons beginning in Ohio around 1831-2 all the way into the 20th century in Utah considered glossolalia to be a divine gift. Apparently if people simply revert their minds to their prelingual state of infancy, they somehow feel the power of God, I wonder if every baby feels the power of God constantly until they learn language.
Anyway, here’s a bit about the personality and character of Zina Diantha Huntington written by Emmeline B. Wells in the 1901 edition of the Improvement Era after Zina’s death. Emmeline simply could not heap enough praise on Zina’s legacy and her incredible curative powers when it came to administering sacred ointment to the sick:
“…she inherited… many rare gifts of excellence that gave her influence and power among her fellow-beings; and withal, she possessed an indefinable charm and attractiveness that in later life made her a central figure in whatever place her lot was cast. This attractive quality matured with her years, as her good deed multiplied.
We can safely say of her, ‘She went about doing good.’ Administering comfort and consolation to the afflicted, binding up the broken-hearted. It was as if she carried with her the ‘balm of Gilead’ and ‘sacred ointment.’ In the sick-room, she was a ministering angel, having always something to suggest that would be soothing and restful; she was a natural nurse, and she invariably inspired confidence, in many cases one of the most successful remedies. No other woman knew better what to do when death came into a home, nor was ever woman calmer in the midst of excitement. Innumerable are her good deeds, her acts of kindness, her sweet charity. In more than fifty-five years’ acquaintance, often under trying circumstances and adverse conditions, she proved ever the same gentle, loving, tender, sympathizing friend and sister…I have been asked many times since her demise, what were her chief attributes, her crowning virtues, her highest endowments, her greatest excellencies. It is difficult to tell wherein she most excelled, her character was so well rounded, her temperament so even, and her sympathy with all suffering so intense, that her very presence was an inspiration in itself towards a higher and better life…
Numberless instances might be cited of her ministrations among the sick, when she seemed to be inspired by some higher power than her own at an opportune moment, when courage and faith had failed in those around the sick-bed. At such times she seemed an angel of mercy in very deed. On one occasion late at night when the writer was apparently near unto death, and only young girls present, except dear, blessed Mother Whitney who had been praying and interceding with the Lord for help in the hour of need, into the house, and up stairs to the sick room, walked Aunt Zina, not knowing why she had come so late in the evening. Mother Whitney was kneeling in prayer, and all were weeping; Mother arose and exclaimed, ‘The Lord has sent you, Sister Zina, you can surely do something to save her.’ Calmly, and without losing any time, she prepared restoratives, and soon there was rejoicing instead of grief. The prayers were answered, and faith and hope revived. There is no doubt but that hundreds of the sisters could bear similar testimonies of her helpful ministrations in sorrow’s dark hours, when courage was inspired in the weak, and the pillow of pain was made easy and restful.”
It’s hard to understand the argument that women shouldn’t be able to hold the priesthood today when they were anointing and blessing the sick and curing them of what ails them just like the men were. Apparently curative ointments work at the same rate regardless of whether it’s a man or woman administering them. Maybe Mormon miraculous healing rates would be significantly increased if that olive oil came from Zina’s medicine bag.
Huge thanks to Emmeline Wells for providing that biographical sketch. You’ll find a link to it in the show notes and it’s only like 6 pages, I would strongly recommend giving it a quick read.
Zina was a compassionate and wonderful person, traits which would elevate her to elite status in Utah and usher her into the position of third President of General Relief Society. When Zina first met Joseph, she was hit by his striking features at the age of 15, Joseph was 30.
From Compton on page 76 quoting Zina Diantha Huntington:
“He was 6 feet light auburn hair [and a heavy nose] blue eyes the [eye]balls ful & round rather long-favoured when he was filled with the spiret of revilation or insperation—to talk to the saints his countenance would look clear & bright.”
Upon the Huntington family’s arrival to Illinois after the Missouri exodus, most of them were very ill. They moved in with Zina’s brother, Dimick, for a few weeks before moving to Commerce and settling in. At the same time, Joseph was living very nearby. Joseph and Dimick had become rather close associates in Missouri as Dimick and his brother, Oliver, were both Danites, providing much time for the 18-year-old Zina to become intimately acquainted with the prophet of this dispensation. The entire family was struck with malaria during the spring and early summer of 1839. Zina Baker Huntington died in early July 1839, which hit Zina Diantha hardest of her siblings as she was very close to her mother. It was at this time where we see Jo manufacture new doctrine to comfort a lost soul, a soul to which he would proposition for eternal matrimony in the very near future.
At a time when a young man named Henry Jacobs was courting Zina Diantha, as well as grieving for the death of her mother, this was Jo’s answer, from Compton’s book again:
“It was perhaps during this stay in Joseph Smith’s house that Zina learned an important, peculiar doctrine from the American prophet. She was grieving for her mother and asked Joseph if she would know her as her mother in the next life. ‘Certainly you will,’ he answered. ‘More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.’ ‘And have I then a Mother in Heaven?’ exclaimed the astonished teenager. ‘You assuredly have. How could a Father claim His title unless there were also a Mother to share that parenthood?’ the Mormon leader replied.”
And thus, the birth of the doctrine of Mother in Heaven was born when Jo was amidst consoling and courting a teenage woman. Zina must have been quite a catch with the prophet fawning over her, however, prior to her mother’s death, she was married to the striking young man, Henry Jacobs.
From OA Cannon’s biography of Zina Diantha Huntington read from her essay on JosephSmithsPolygamy.org concerning her marriage to Henry and the immediate proposition from Joseph for her to become his plural wife:
“While Zina and her brothers were living with the Prophet and Emma she met and became engaged to Henry Bailey Jacobs. They asked the Prophet to perform their marriage ceremony which was to be held at the County Clerk’s office [March 7, 1841]. When the couple arrived the Prophet was not there. After a wait, they decided to ask the clerk, John C. Bennett, if he would perform the marriage, which he did. When the couple later met the Prophet, Zina asked him why he hadn’t come as he had promised. He told her it had been made known to him that she was to be his Celestial Wife and he could not give to another one who had been given to him.”
It’s not hard to tease out that Jo didn’t like his prey being consumed by a rival younger man. Henry and Zina were married in spite of the Prophet’s wishes and when confronted about it Jo just said that he can’t give to another man a woman who God had prepared for him. In this Nauvoo era of good feelings with so much good happening for the Mormons, Jo couldn’t help but seek out his options and sew the seeds of drama and discord among his trusted elites.
When Zina Diantha and Henry Jacobs were married, they almost immediately conceived a child to be born Zebulon William Jacobs. When she was propositioned for a plural marriage by Joseph Smith, she shot him down. To clarify, she wasn’t told of the practice of polygyny by Joseph himself. As was the case with a number of Jo’s polygamist wives, Jo used an emissary to teach Zina of the doctrine. Jo and Zina’s brother, Dimick, had become rather close and Dimick had just been appointed constable by John C. Wreck-it Bennett, elevating his position above the majority of the community, inserting him into the ranks of Mormon super-elite. Jo asked Dimick to teach his sister about plural marriage to soften the blow when he went in to pop the question. Dimick, who’d been a member of the Danites during the militia attack at Crooked River in Missouri, conformed with the Prophet’s wishes and educated his sister on the doctrine of polygamy. We’ll pick up on the little love triangle of Zina, Jo, and Henry Jacobs as we continue to progress.
One point I find very interesting in Zina’s story is the spiritual manifestation she experienced out in the woods. These were surprisingly common. In the HoC Vogel edition on July 14, 1841, another couple who would soon be immigrants had another incredible manifestation in England.
Vogel HoC 4:379:
“Wednesday 14. Says Thomas and Sophia Tyler of Westbromwich, England, “after returning from a prayer meeting, at about half past eleven o’clock, on walking into the garden, I beheld as it were a large brilliant Star ascending and descending, and hovering and waiving in the air. It presented a variety of color, and then changed itself to the brilliant form in which we first beheld it. The rays of it were extended as the rays of the Sun; after this it expanded, and I beheld the face of a personage down to a little below the shoulder, and then all of a sudden it unfolded down to the loins. When this was done the Clock struck twelve, and the vision instantly disappeared. We looked time after time but beheld no more of it, but in the place appeared the form of an eye, very large, and within the eye was an appearance of the most horrid gloom… It seemed to me to surpass the sun for brightness, about as much as the Sun does the moon.”
After a prayer meeting, likely involving prayer, singing, and most importantly, sacrament, these people have a visionary experience, seeing some kind of floating orb of multi-colored light descend over their heads and hover there whilst waiving about in the air. I find this completely remarkable. Visionary experiences like this are nothing new, people hallucinate these things constantly all around the world every day, but still no verifiable video evidence has ever emerged of phenomena like this. I guess my question would simply be, with so many of these spiritual and visionary experiences, why Joseph Smith?
His claims to miraculously seeing angels and God in human form came from a world where this was surprisingly common, what was special about Jo’s spiritual visions as opposed to everybody else’s? Why did his hallucinations garner thousands of followers when thousands of people prior to him had just as vivid of experiences backed up by the same lack of hard evidence? Well, Jo is the favorite visionary of millions of people throughout history. Given the laws of statistics, out of thousands of claims of heavenly visitations, some had to become outliers and gain a following. It’s a matter of if we choose to view Joseph Smith through the lens of today as a singular example, or view his actions along a continuum of thousands of visionaries across hundreds of generations. He has a pretty miraculous story when viewed alone, but put into the context of the world from whence he sprang, his visions are absolutely nothing special. So what was it that did make him special? I think it has to do with the man behind the visions.
That description of Joseph Smith by Zina Diantha shows that he had some kind of magnetism to his personality. I’ll share a little story about Jo that Joe Geisner recently shared with Marie and I on an upcoming My Book of Mormon podcast episode relating to a heroic act by Joseph Smith.
During his trip to Washington D.C. to meet with President Van Buren, Josephs heroism was captured in a letter by an eye witness to the events, Bob the Builder Robert D. Foster. The carriage driver had left the stagecoach and 4 horses to drink while he went in to a local tavern to get a drink himself. The horses spooked and took off and it was up to Joseph Smith to calm the passengers and bring the carriage to a halt before they went careening off a cliffside. This story has been fantasized and built upon by later scholars and historians. In 2012, a man named Shane Barker wrote a book titled Did Joseph Smith Have to Take Algebra, in which he fabricated something that makes it look more like Tom Cruise stopped the carriage than being Joseph Smith:
“’John, hold on! I’ll try and get to the horses!’
Dr. John Bernhisel grabbed hold of a slatted seat as the speeding stagecoach bounced over a rut. ‘You’ll be killed!’
Joseph crouched in the door as the stagecoach careened over the bumpy road. A few minutes earlier, the coach had stopped at a country inn. Something spooked the horses after the driver stepped down, and they’d bolted. Now the animals were thundering down the road out of control, dragging the swaying, teetering stagecoach behind them.
Joseph grabbed frantically at the doorframe as the coach lurched, nearly pitching him out. He glanced over his shoulder, and his eyes widened in horror: a terrified woman was staggering toward the opposite door with her baby. To save its life, the woman was about to throw the child from the coach.
‘No!’ he shouted. ‘Madam. Don’t!’
‘But she’ll be killed!’ the distraught mother wailed.
Joseph turned to Dr. Bernhisel. ‘John, quickly!’ he shouted. ‘Don’t let her throw that child from the coach!’
‘Please, madam,’ the doctor pleaded, lurching across the bouncing coach toward her. ‘Your daughter will be fine. There, now…please just hold her tightly and she’ll be fine.’
Joseph turned back to the door. A moment earlier another passenger, a United States congressman, had thought of saving his own life by leaping from the coach. The man had stopped only after seeing how fast the stagecoach was thundering over the road.
‘There, there,’ Dr. Bernhisel said, pulling the hysterical mother back to her seat. ‘Everything will be fine… just hold on now.’
Joseph took a deep breath and then climbed through the narrow door and pulled himself onto the roof, the coach bouncing and swaying beneath him. Trunks, boxes, and other luggage had been piled high over the carriage, and the prophet had to clamber over the bulky bags to reach the coachman’s seat. The horses were running flat out in front of him, their nostrils flaring fiercely in the hot air as their hooves pounded the road.
The coach dropped into a rut, tipping onto two wheels. Joseph grabbed frantically for a handrail, holding tightly until the coach righted itself, and then he reached for the reins. He pulled gently but firmly.
‘Whoa, whoa there,’ he called out, ‘Whoa, now… whoa, whoa…’
The chuffing horses responded, tossing their heads and beginning to slow. Joseph pulled more firmly on the reigns. He then reached down and eased back on the brake handle.
‘Whoa, whoa there…’
The horses gradually slowed and—under Joseph’s hand—finally came to a stop.
Joseph released his breath, letting his head drop to his chest. He closed his eyes and whispered a quick prayer of gratitude. He tied off the reins and swung down from the coach, opening the door and helping the shaken passengers to the ground.
‘Thank you, young man,’ the rattled congressman said. He took Joseph’s hand and shook it firmly. ‘Thank you! I, ah…. I have never before seen an act of such bravery!’
‘Nor have I,’ a second congressman said as he clambered gingerly to the ground. ‘When I return to Congress, I shall make mention of this incredible act of courage.’”
Yes, the situation really happened, which makes it even more exciting to fantasize about and write specific versions which take certain liberties with the historical record just like Shane Barker did here. If we can use stories like this to bolster how great a man Joseph Smith was, what great stories we can manufacture about the Prophet surrounding things he merely claimed happened to him when there were no eye witnesses to corroborate the story.
Joseph is a legendary figure of religious history, but those legends didn’t evolve from a vacuum. He claimed to have a visionary experience similar to countless experiences from people before and after him, but he also had a personality and charisma unique to only him which drew people in and allowed him to become the legend he is now a century and a half after his death. Joseph was a statistical outlier in many respects. With enough outliers embodied in one individual, weird things are going to happen around him and, somehow, he gained a cult following with all these individual pieces of eccentricity working in concert. He stood out in the world. Joseph was special, but not for the reasons Mormons champion him for today.
League of Nerds
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