Intro 9/28/17

Ep 70 – Illinois Theocracy with Geisner, Shepherd, Marquardt

On this episode, we record from NAUVOO during the John Whitmer Historical Association conference. We talk with historians William Shepherd, Joseph Geisner, and H. Michael Marquardt about the Council of Fifty and the Hodge murders, the subjects these historians have been researching most recently. After that, I offer my own musings wrapping up the conference with a few headlines which have come out in the Mormon community recently. Thanks to everybody who made the JWHA conference a resounding success and such a pleasure to attend this year!


John Whitmer Historical Association

Joe Geisner Year of Polygamy episode

BoM Printer’s Manuscript article

Community of Christ

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This episode is a break from our regular historical timeline, as will be next week’s episode. The impetus behind taking a brief hiatus from our chronological timeline is the fact that I’m amidst travelling for the JWHA and Mythcon and haven’t been able to sit down and put together the regular episodes. We’ll pick up our timeline and regular format on the episode that airs Oct 12. With that out of the way, this week’s episode is something very special that I’m so excited to share with everybody listening right now. Before we get into the actual meat of today’s episode, let me tell you a little about it to provide context for what you’re about to hear. I’ve spent this previous weekend at the John Whitmer Historical Association conference. John Whitmer association is a Mormon history journal which conducts an annual conference with presentations of publications by their authors for peer review and discussion. This is one of only a small number of highly respected historical journals worldwide which publishes in this specific field and the criteria for getting an article in are incredibly stringent, they actively fight against Mormon apologetics and anti-Mormon articles equally by design. I’ll speak more on the actual JWHA at the end of the episode. Basically, I spent last weekend fraternizing and conversing with incredibly prominent historians in the field. People whose books and articles I’ve been consuming the past 4 years were suddenly sitting at the same table as me and I could ask them pointed questions about their books and articles and even get some of those books signed. Today’s episode features 3 historians, one of which has been on the podcast before, but the other 2 are new to the listening audience. Please permit me to introduce each historian with a brief overview of some of their most prominent works.

Joe Geisner: “Even Fifty Six Years, Should Wind Up the Scene”, “A Review of The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revelation Books, Facsimile Edition By Robin Scott Jensen”, “The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young by Richard S. Van Wagoner”, Episode 115 of Year of Polygamy, “The Council of Fifty”.

William Shepherd: “The Concept of a "Rejected Gospel" in Mormon History”,  "'To Set in Order the House of God': The Search for the Elusive 'One Mighty and Strong'", Lost Apostles, and a plethora of other books and similar publications.

H. Michael Marquardt: The Four Gospels According to Joseph Smith, Literary Dependence in the Book of Mormon, The Rise of Mormonism (which I frequently cite on this podcast), he’s posted the contents of his extensive collection housed at the J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah. It consists of 419 boxes containing over 4,000 items including correspondence, clippings, diary copies, scholarly articles, and miscellaneous research on topics in Mormon history and theology, and he’s the editor, host, and primary contributor to Mormon research website

It is a rare occurrence to get these three incredible Mormon historians in one room, much less on one podcast episode to discuss their most current research. Joe Geisner and Mike Marquardt tell us all about the Council of Fifty, and Bill Shepherd tells us about the Hodge murders of 1845 in Nauvoo with explicit detail. Here’s a fair warning before I play the audio for you, this was recorded in a motel room in Nauvoo, it wasn’t exactly from the comfort of Ground Gnomes studios, so there is some background noise. I did my best to clean it up, but there is still some coins jingling, sodas being cracked open, a sink and fridge being opened and closed, a microwave being operated, some random footsteps, and a few other noises I couldn’t quite scrub out of the audio. My sincerest apologies for that, I hope you’ll bear with me because the content is truly incredible and timeless, and these historians have never been recorded together on a podcast before, so getting this interview was a once in a lifetime experience. I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed conducting the interview. For those listeners coming over from Cognitive Dissonance to satiate that cliffhung sensation I teased you with, you’ll learn about the third main reason why the Mormons were forced out of Illinois at the end of the episode. Just a hint, it relates to what Bill Shepherd describes in this interview. Without further ado, here is my interview with Joe Geisner, Mike Marqardt, and Bill Shepherd.

Insert interview

Thank you for your patience, I hope the audio wasn’t too offensive, but like I said, the content is timeless and it was such a pleasure to have these guys on; this was a rare interview to get with these three incredible historians and once again, I’d like to thank them for taking the time to sit with me and share their research. For those of you who came over here from Cognitive Dissonance, you’ve probably been dying to know exactly what that third thing was which served to be one of the main driving factors behind the Mormons being removed from Nauvoo, thus forcing them to settle in Utah. Item one was Politics and the political movements made by Jo and the Mormons. Item 2 was the severe economic stress the Mormons were under for myriad reasons which we’ve only begun to cover in our historical timeline. Finally, the third primary reason the Mormons were removed from Nauvoo was the entire underground world existing under the shiny and PR friendly Nauvoo visitors saw. Bill Shepherd gave us one small insight to the Mormon underground with the Hodge murders which has been the focus of his research for the past 30 years, but Nauvoo was driven by the Mormon mafia family with Joseph Smith sitting atop his Mormon empire as kingpin of it all. The Nauvoo police force wasn’t so much a police force as it was an armed mafia group making deals the people couldn’t refuse. The river rat robbers, Driscoll gang, William Brown gang, the Hodges, all were only one small aspect of mafia violence, but if you crossed Jo, it wasn’t long before you came down with a spontaneous case of 24-hour cholera or consumption which had a 100% fatality ratio. Either that, or you were taken out on a hunting trip and you’d disappear with the Mormons coming back crying Missouri mob violence. The prevalence of mysterious deaths became a highly suspicious aspect of day-to-day Nauvoo life. Once the non-Mormons around Nauvoo began to catch wind of these mysterious deaths of dissenters, gentiles, or anybody who crossed the leadership, Jo was seen as an out-of-hand Godfather operating well beyond the constraints of any set of laws, instilling himself as the one true theocrat of the One-Mormon world government. It only took his overt public act of destroying the Nauvoo Expositor printing press for the public to finally realize just how malignant of a force on society he was and take matters into their own hands, resulting in a vigilante mob assassinating Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage Jail in June 1844.

Surprisingly enough, Bloody Brigham Young realized how much of a problem this was and I’m told he had most of it cleaned up by mid-1846, but with the debts of the Nauvoo land so far in default and confused with land speculation by dishonest men, coupled with the massive schism left in the wake of the prophet’s death with no clear succession plan in place, Bloody Brigham had no choice but to abandon Nauvoo. It’s worth noting that once Brigham and the largest bloc of Mormons left, the mob violence almost completely vanished and the Mormons which decided to remain with Emma and the teenage Joseph III began building peaceful relationships with the non-Mormons in the surrounding area.

Needless to say, as our historical timeline matures further into the Nauvoo years in the coming years of the podcast, there will be a lot to cover and we’ll be doing a lot more book reports as I continue to consume more publications relating to this incredibly controversial and confusing era of Mormon and American history.

To wrap up for today, let’s spend some time talking about the field of Mormon history in the abstract. I want to share some thoughts which I can’t escape given this past week and a half. So much has happened and I’m trying to figure out what’s most important to talk about.

Let’s begin with discussing the recent acquisition of the Printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon by the LDS church, purchased from the Community of Christ. For those of you unfamiliar with the story or listening in the backlog, check the show notes for a link to the Deseret News article about it. Simply put, the printer’s manuscript of the BoM was one of the last valuable documents the LDS church wanted to acquire from the Community of Christ, and they’ve wanted it ever since it was put in the possession of the CoC in the early 1900s. Last week, the LDS church purchased the Printer’s manuscript for $35mn dollars, a deal they’ve supposedly been working on for over a year. For some context, this is the most money ever transferred for a single manuscript of any kind in all human history. The second most was the 72-page Leonardo da Vinci Codex Hammer which Bill Gates purchased in 1994 for just under $31mn. So, if you factor in inflation, the da Vinci manuscript transaction would be just a hair shy of $50mn in today’s dollars, so in that respect this BoM printer’s manuscript doesn’t quite take the cake as the most money transferred for a single manuscript in all history, but it does at face value.

Let’s dive in just a little further. This story broke on the first day of the John Whitmer Historical conference, which is run by the CoC. Could be coincidence, but I doubt it. The $35mn the LDS church put up for the manuscript is said to be funded by a few wealthy investors who are donating the manuscript to the church, which is the method by which most of these rare document acquisitions are done, but the church fronted the money for it. That means, the church isn’t going to actually feel the pinch from this massive purchase, and a few people just undoubtedly had their calling and election made sure.

We may ask why the CoC sold the Printer’s manuscript in the first place. Well, at the conference, I attended a presentation by my friend, Tom Kimball, who is kind of known as the sweetheart best friend of everybody who helps to bridge the gap between the two churches. Tom is the primary maintenance guy for the Kirtland Temple, which is owned by the CoC, and in his presentation, he spoke of a few projects the temple desperately needs to continue operating. The projects he listed probably total about $20k, but the temple needs a lot more TLC above and beyond those simple projects to be restored to pristine condition. He ended the presentation by saying if there are any copiously wealthy people in attendance who want to help fund projects to keep the Kirtland Temple in good repair, that they should contact him to set something up. To be clear, the CoC and the LDS church have cooperated on renovations of the Kirtland Temple before for major updates needed to keep it standing, but there isn’t any partnership set in stone above and beyond a couple big projects they’ve combined forces to accomplish.

The simple fact that Tom talked about the CoC needing donors to keep the temple site up and running is indicative of a problem the CoC is suffering from, they seem to only be scraping by and probably are in desperate need of this $35mn from the LDS church for myriad costly projects with which they’re engaged. But, the CoC isn’t alone, this resource vacuum is a larger trend affecting all churches nationwide, they’re all starting to feel the growth of secularism hitting them in the pockets. The LDS church has a pretty solid bumper crop to stay alive with diversified investments in plenty of secular projects, but I’ll bet they’re going to start taking desperate measures soon to stay financially solvent. Gordon B. Hinkley’s push to build dozens of new temples was a good idea in the short term, but as attendance wanes, those temples will soon become a major liability and the projected return on investment will begin to look like a pipedream.

I want to add my personal thoughts on this, but before I do, let’s discuss another story which broke this last week in the Mormon community. Prominent Mormon historian Grant Palmer just passed away. He’s been ill for quite some time and this was a sweet release after a lifetime well fulfilled. On a personal level, his book, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, was an integral piece to my interest in Mormon history and serves as a great introduction to the field of being a real historian by comparing differing accounts of the first vision experience and other aspects of early Mormonism. I’ve conversed with countless people who have the same high regard for his work. Grant Palmer will be dearly missed by all who met him or read his books, and I extend my best wishes and condolences to his family and beloved friends who’re mourning his passing as we speak. Thank you for you work, Grant.

Reflecting on Palmer’s passing, I’m struck with an overwhelming sense of worry, and please permit me some anecdotal observances to justify this worry. Palmer’s passing marks one more cog turn in the endless wheel of elderly Mormon historians passing as the new generation slides in to attempt filling the void left behind. One observation which struck me at this John Whitmer historical conference was the fact that there were only maybe half-a-dozen people there under the age of 30 out of more than 200 attendees, and if you factor our statistic-skewing age out of the aggregate, the average age of conference attendees trended above half a century. At every major gathering during the conference, the sea of silver dusting the congregation couldn’t be ignored, and according to friend of the show, Jason Smith, when he joined in 2001 it was salt and pepper. Needless to say, the salt of the earth has overtaken the pepper in the crowd.

The fact of the matter is, the authorities of Mormon history who began researching and publishing in the 60s, 70s, and 80s are aging, and in another couple decades, they won’t be able to contribute to the field any more. But losing their contributions to the field is only the beginning of what will truly be lost in the coming generation, because all their knowledge and memories which aren’t recorded will be lost forever, which is where the true loss comes in to play. On a personal level, grappling with the implication of the gentrifying field of Mormon historians is saddening. It’s overwhelming how tragic it is that this field will lose the majority of prominent Mormon historians within a generation’s time.

If the next wave of budding historians doesn’t step in and nestle comfortably under the wings of these intellectual towers of the community, untold memories and research will be forever lost. For those of you interested in church history, an opportunity exists here, but the window is closing relatively quickly.

This was my first JWHA, and the feeling of overwhelming fraternity and love expressed by these incredible people is more than my constricted vocabulary can elucidate. Upon my arrival, Joe Geisner plugged me into to a dinner party with Brent and Erin Metcalf, Mike Marquardt, Joseph Johnstun, Bill and Dianne Shepherd, Johnny Stephenson, and a number of other historians, chatting over bbq pork sliders and diet Pepsi. From that moment throughout the rest of the week, there was never a moment I wasn’t speaking with Mormon historians who treated me as one of the family. Acquaintances and relationships were built that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life and continue to foster ever year in the future as I plan on attending every JWHConference for decades to come.

The JWHA is one of very few places where Strangites, Brighamites, Bickertonites, Josephites, and even secular Mormons like myself, can come together and respectfully discuss Mormon history on a level playing field in places like historic Nauvoo and Independence, Missouri slated for next year. And now, I must say something that may offend some of those listening, but it’s a conflict plaguing my mind with contradictions, clouded by the love and fraternity which filled the air around these amazing people. The JWHA is a secular organization. It may be run by the CoC and staffed with almost exclusively religious people, but it’s no ministry, it’s an academic organization created to peer-review and publish Mormon history. The JWHA MUST continue to survive. I hold no love for any religion. Whether it’s the Community of Christ, or the Brighamite LDS church in SLC, or even Catholicism or Islam, they’re all religions and they continue to fall further into the annals of human history like every religion has with the inverse rise of Secularism. But these religions aren’t their people. The people may make up the religion, but it’s easy to love people and not love their religion. My point is, we MUST venerate these Mormon historians who may not be with us in 10 or 20 years’ time. It’s up to those of us who love Mormon history, regardless of beliefs, to build up and perpetuate these Secular conferences and hear the stories related by these incredible people who were publishing controversial Mormon history when it meant the end of their career and status in their community and family to do so. These people risked everything for the history we read from books published in the last 60 years. We can’t save the dying religions, but we can do everything in our power to keep secular education institutions alive.

If the JWHA declines in membership at the same rate religions are declining in membership across America, this incredible secular academic organization may not be around as the generations of current historians pass away without being replaced by the next generations of budding historians. After attending my first time, I love the JWHA and the people whose acquaintance I was privileged to make. I know if those of you who’re listening right now were to attend one of these conferences, you’d have a similar experience. Reading books and articles or listening to podcasts about Mormon history in the comfort of your home is one thing, but actually talking to another person face-to-face and building those important personal relationships is a completely different experience. I can’t describe what chocolate tastes like, it’s better for you to eat some of it for yourself so you can understand what I’m trying, and failing, to properly describe.

To wrap everything up, I owe a debt of gratitude to all of the wonderful organizers of the JWHA conference for doing such a stellar job in making this year’s conference a resounding success. Specifically, thank you to Bill and Sherry Morain, Dan Whittemore, next-year’s president Rachel Killebrew, Cheryle Grinter, Jason Smith, and everybody else on the back end who put so many hours into this conference. Their endless efforts were made abundantly apparent with how smoothly everything went and they deserve every accolade and word of gratitude I could possibly offer. Also, thank you again to Joe Geisner, Mike Marquardt, and Bill Shepherd for taking the time to talk to us on the show today. Thank you to Tom and Shad Kimball, Mike and Matt, whose last name I can’t remember, Deverey Anderson, Johnny Stephenson, Brent and Erin Metcalf, Vickie Speek, and everybody else whose company was such a pleasure to enjoy. And a huge thanks to Joseph Johnstun for giving us a proper Nauvoo tour and sharing so much Nauvoo knowledge with the group and me.

Thank you to the Patrons who funded this trip over at, we’ll catch up on new patrons next week when I have some time in the office to sit down and catch up on the regular business of the show.

Thanks to Julie




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