Ep 85 – Mormon Titan
On this episode, we pickup the timeline in early April 1841 with Joseph being sealed to Louisa Beaman, his first polygamist wife in Nauvoo. We introduce the Beaman family and discuss Joseph Bates Noble at length to learn how he came to be in the circle of elites in Nauvoo. Jo must have trusted Noble to let him officiate the wedding between Jo and Louisa. After that, we construct a proper framework for how we’ll be advancing through the remainder of Nauvoo. There’s so much to cover in these few years, but we can’t lose sight of the real goal, building Zion in the great West, beyond the scope and control of the oppressive U.S. Government.
Louisa Beaman Biography
Alvah Beaman Biography
Joseph Noble 1892 Temple Lot Deposition
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
We are finally back to our historical timeline. We’ve spent a lot of time on polygamy the past 2 months. I said when we entered part 1 of the CC polygamy series why we’re spending so much time on the history of polygamy, but that was 2 months ago. Our historical timeline finally site in April of 1841, a profound month when it came to Joseph Smith and polygamy. The entire reason we embarked upon this tangent in the first place is because Joseph is about to take his first official polygamist wife, Louisa Beaman. We’ll be spending a bit of time on her and the entire Beaman family today, but we had to lay some ground work for the history of polygamy before it starts to become a prominent side issue in this show during the remainder of Nauvoo years.
I stated at one point that I don’t want to redo Year of Polygamy in the analysis of this show. I think Lindsay has done a great job with bringing polygamy and the feminist side of it into the public forum of debate. But, just as I don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time on polygamy, it’s a topic that’s really hard to balance when talking about Nauvoo history. Polygamy was certainly something the Mormon elite spent much of their time and resources on, but they were also juggling so many other chainsaws and we need to examine everything available to us. Polygamy can’t be the central focus of the show because it wasn’t the central focus of Joseph Smith and his fellow elites.
With that, let’s dive into today’s advancement through the timeline by talking about polygamy.
Joseph had his little fling with Fanny Alger back in the early to mid-1830s and while he was in Missouri he spent some time with Lucinda Morgan Pendleton. These are seen by Mormon apologists as Jo’s first polygamist relationships, but they always have the 1831 revelation sanctioning polygamy to fall back on to show that these relationships weren’t adulterous affairs, in spite of the public perception.
When we come to Louisa Beaman, the conversation shifts a bit. Jo’s sealing to Louisa Beaman was known as the first plural sealing in this dispensation, whereas his relations with Alger and Lucinda Morgan were not explicitly solemnized with a legitimate sealing ceremony.
Unfortunately for us all, Louisa herself didn’t leave much behind. As is the case for many women of the day, we’ll have to become acquainted with her through the men in her life who did leave writings or were written about. In order to put Louisa Beaman and her brother-in-law in context, we need to take a few steps way back to the 1820s when the Book of Mormon was being printed.
During Jo’s treasure-digging adventures, he came into contact with proficient rodsman named Alvah Beaman, who’d, since 1799, been a resident of Livonia, Ontario county, New York, according to Google maps, about 30 miles from the Manchester/Palmyra area. This is what Historian D. Michael Quinn writes about Alvah Beaman when him and Jo first came into contact.
Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview p. 39:
“Aside from evidence that the Smiths and Cowderys used divining rods from the early 1800s to 1829, another early New York Mormon was also a rodsman. A resident of Livonia, about twenty-five miles from the Smith farm, Alva(h) Beman (also Beaman) was “a grate [sic] Rodsman,” according to early Mormon Joseph Knight. “Some years previous” to 1828, Be(a)man “became acquainted with Father Joseph Smith the Father of the Prophet.” His daughter was a school teacher near Livonia: “We frequently would go to Palmira to see Father Joseph and his family.” According to Martin Harris, these frequent visits were for the treasure-quest. Be(a)man joined the elder Joseph Smith, his sons Joseph Jr. and Hyrum, and they “dug for money in Palmyra, Manchester, and also in Pennsylvania, and other places.”
Like others of Smith’s money-digging associates, Be(a)man became disaffected after the young man obtained the Book of Mormon plates in September 1827. He joined briefly with Palmyra neighbors Willard Chase and Samuel F. Lawrence who turned against the Smiths and tried to steal the gold plates. Be(a)man used his rod to aid his neighbors in their efforts to wrest the plates from Smith. He was apparently the Baptist deacon who asked a conjuror to make a sixty-mile trip to find Smith’s treasure. Brigham Young publicly referred to this Baptist deacon, without naming him, and said that he became converted to Joseph Smith’s claims and remained a faithful elder in the LDS church until his death… Another of Be(a)man’s daughters verified that her father knew [Luman] Walter(s) and invited him to come to the Palmyra area several times to look for buried treasure. She was also LDS.
Nevertheless, shortly after trying to use his rod against Smith, Be(a)man converted to Smith’s claims. He now assisted the Smiths to conceal the sacred plates from their neighbors.”
We discussed the details of what happened here all the way back in Episode 10, Joseph Smith Palmyra Pariah. If you want a refresher, I would just point you back to that episode to hear about Jo hiding the plates in the hearthstone of his home and Alvah Beaman using his divining rod to look for them and whatnot.
The Beaman family had an interesting past with the Smith family and Jo specifically. In reading all of the available online sources from JosephSmithPapers.org to BOAP to GeneralAuthorityPages.com, all of them report Alvah Beaman as helping the Smith family conceal the gold plates, but it takes reading Quinn and Compton to get the whole picture that Beaman initially tried to find the plates using his divining rod, but when it proved unsuccessful and he realized he couldn’t beat the Smith family, he joined their cause. Alvah Beaman and the rest of the Beaman family were some early converts to Mormonism and they joined the Saints in Ohio a few years after the first mass exodus from New York in early 1831. Alvah became a trusted Mormon elite, as did his son-in-law, Joseph Bates Noble. But Alvah was also an old man. He was born back in 1775, and by 1837 in Kirtland, he passed away, leaving his daughters and elderly widow behind who would live another 11 years after her husband’s death.
I’ll let Todd Compton tell a bit more about the Beaman family, including Mary, Louisa, and their father, Alvah, in his book In Sacred Loneliness, starting on page 57:
“At some point Alvah was converted to the religious meaning of the gold plates and became one of the earliest disciples of Mormonism. According to Mary Beaman, he once handled the plates with a cloth over them and on one occasion helped Smith conceal them. Louisa would have been approximately twelve at this time, 1827; Joseph Smith twenty-one.
In 1829 Alvah sold his farm and moved to Avon, New York, also in Livingston County. Soon after that, probably in 1830, he purchased the first Book of Mormon that was seek in the area. As Mormonism began to grow, missionaries frequently traveled through Avon, and Alvah welcomed them in his home. Among them were Joseph Young and Brigham Young, whose powerful, sincere preaching made a deep impression on Mary Adeline. Though she did not know it, sixteen-year-old Louisa was meeting her future second husband at this time.
In the spring of 1834 Joseph Smith, Jr., with friends, stayed for a few days in the Beaman home in Avon. “His society I prized, his conversation was meat and drink to me,” writes Mary Beaman. The teenaged Louisa probably felt the same way. During this visit Smith, Sidney Rigdon, future apostles Luke and Lyman Johnson, and about fourteen missionaries held a conference at the Beaman household. Mary remembers preparing meals for the visiting authorities, and “many very interesting interviews” she had with them. Parley P. Pratt was also traveling with Smith, and his account of the visit reveals that Louisa was a good singer: “Among those whose hospitality we shared in that vicinity was old father Beeman and his amiable and interesting family. He was a good singer, and so were his three daughters; we were much edified and comforted in their society, and were deeply interested in hearing the old gentleman and brother Joseph converse on their early acquaintance and history.”
During the Beaman family’s time in Avon, New York, Joseph Bates Noble had his heart stolen by the pretty little filly Mary. I’ll let him tell it from his own perspective in his own reminiscence from GApapers.com:
“I stayed with them three or four days, and then went to see the person that had won my affections--may I not say, had possession of my heart more than two years before I left for Missouri. I formed an acquaintance with Mary A. Beman (distance of about 20 miles from my fathers). My first introduction to this young woman was at McMillan's, my place of boarding. She was teaching school in the neighborhood. Her father, Alva Beman, lived about 2 1/2 miles distance, a man well off as to houses and lands, and the goods of this world, very highly esteemed among men for his word. This man was well acquainted with the Smith family before the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and was with Joseph at one time, assisting him in hiding the plates from the mob. He was permitted to handle the plates with a cloth coming over them.
This Mary A. Beman brought the Book of Mormon into the neighborhood the first I had ever heard of, by the request of an old lay by the name of Wilcox, who testified continually that a great change or overturn was about to take place in the world. This woman read the Book of Mormon and believed it was true. By her testimony and from reflections that came to my mind, I was led to believe that the God of our father's was about to fulfill the covenant that He had made with them, how He would remember their posterity in the last days, though they would have dwindled in unbelief, and have mixed themselves among all people, yet they should be gathered home again and come to a knowledge of a covenant made with their fathers.
I found Mr. Beman and family all well. They all welcomed my return, especially my dear Mary, whose heart, like the fawn, leaped for joy. She was still engaged in teaching in a large district school.”
And the rest is history, like literally, it’s all very fascinating history. Mary Beaman and Joseph Noble married soon after this in September of 1834. Joseph Noble continued to win the family’s trust. Alvah Beaman and the remainder of the family moved to Kirtland and by January of 1836 they were attending prayer and conference meetings. Alvah had a very brief time with his family in Kirtland as he passed away in 1837 right before the 2nd mass exodus at Joseph’s command for the Saints to pack up and head to Missouri. Joseph Noble was a fairly successful businessman as well as trusted by the Beaman family. He had enough wealth to take in some of the Beaman family to the home in which he settled for the brief year the Saints spent in Missouri. Louisa lived with her sister Mary and brother-in-law Joseph during their brief stay in Missouri.
Then came the arrest of the Prophet, Rigdon, Hyrum, and the 3rd mass exodus of the Saints from Missouri to Illinois after the surrender and downfall of the Saints in the twin cities. Louisa continued to stay with Mary and Joseph Noble as it was the closest thing she had to home. She had only lost her dad barely a year before the traumatic move to Missouri and now the Saints were uprooted again. Joseph Bates and Mary Beaman Noble, along with Lousia and the rest of the Beaman family moved to Quincy in April or May of 1839, later than most of the Saints that moved. Joseph and the leadership had just been sprung from Liberty Jail and were making their way toward Commerce to establish it as the new Zion and build Nauvoo from the ground up.
Now back to Compton to tell us how Jo ended up courting Louisa Beaman through his good friend, Joseph Bates Noble. Starting on page 59 of In Sacred Loneliness:
“In the fall of 1840, according to Joseph Bates Noble, Joseph Smith, who had known Noble in Kirtland, taught him “the principle of celestial or plural marriage, or a plurality of wives,” saying that an angel had given him a revelation on the subject and that “the angel of the Lord had commanded him (Smith) to move forward in the said order of marriage.” Smith then asked Noble to officiate in marrying Louisa to himself. The prophet said, “In revealing this to you, I have placed my life in your hands, therefore do not in an evil hour betray me to my enemies.”
Quick sidebar; Joseph Bates Noble was the recipient of Jo’s miraculous healing power when he came down with the ague right around this time in the last half of 1840. From his own reminiscence we find his description of the scenario, which I’m reading from GApages.com. Jo kinda sounds like a dick in this scenario, but Noble falls head over heels for the schtick:
“Our exposure during the previous winter caused a great deal of sickness. I and some of my family were attacked with bilious fever. I think I can safely say that one half of the families of the whole people had more or less sickness, and many died. Two of my children were buried; and I was nigh unto death. So low was I that my wife asked me, in tears, if I was dying.
At this time Brother Elijah Fordham, a next-door neighbor to me, was very sick; indeed they were preparing clothes for his burial. In this trying hour the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the Prophet Joseph Smith, and he, with Brothers Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt and others, came to Brother Fordham's house and commanded him, in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise and walk. He immediately jumped from his dying bed, kicked off the drafts from his feet, and came into my house, following the brethren, and shouting, leaping, and praising God with all his might.
President Smith, while leading the way to my bed, made this remark: "Brother Noble, you have been too long with me to lie here." As soon as I saw him the tears of joy burst from my eyes. In a moment he was by my bedside, and took me by the hand. Without waiting for the other brethren to get to my bed, he commanded me, in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise and walk. I arose, and while putting on my clothes I fainted. When I regained consciousness I was on the bed, and Joseph was standing close to me.
As soon as my eyes met his he said, "Wherefore didst thou doubt?" and again commanded me to arise.
While he was speaking I felt the healing virtue flowing through every part of my system. I immediately arose and walked, rejoicing and praising the Lord with all my heart, for His blessing resting upon me, by which I was made whole.
Brother Fordham was more active and stronger than I was. He never sat down in my house, but as soon as Brother Joseph had given directions to my wife concerning some nourishment for me, he left with the rest of the brethren. They went and administered to others who were sick, and called them up in a similar manner.
** Joseph, at this time, rebuked the Elders for administering the form without the power. Said he, "Let the Elders either obtain the power of God to heal the sick, or let them cease to administer the form without the power."**
Maybe this offers some insight into the methods Jo employed to make the sick whole again. Look, faith healing is a thing, but it’s only been shown to be as effective as placebo, in some cases, less effective than even that. But, when you’re a 19th-century person relying on folk medicine and the administration of that medicine by somebody who holds the healing power of God, and that shaman doses you with something that’s actually psychoactive, your brain does lots of weird stuff and it’s easy to forget the pain and dread of whatever sickness may ail you. I also find it hilarious that Jo had to rebuke some of the elders for administering the specific medicine, he called it “form”, without having the power of God to properly direct what happens when the threshold dosage finally kicks in.
Regardless of the methods, Joseph Bates Noble saw this as a miraculous healing when he felt he was on the brink of death. That’s an effective way to make a life-long believer out of somebody, and it worked because Noble died in the year 1900 in Utah after following Bloody Brigham out there. Regardless, it seems to me that Joseph Noble wasn’t a particularly significant blip on Jo’s radar until mid to late-1840 came around and Joseph Noble had provided access to something Jo wanted, Louisa Beaman.
This was when Jo finally decided to go balls deep with polygamy and commission the help of somebody he could trust, thus creating the sealing ceremony along with this, the first divine plural marriage in Nauvoo. This was a significant shift from how Jo handled his little flings before this point, now he had God’s approval and he was ready to bring people into the “in” club who were willing to keep their mouth shut. Continuing on in Compton’s book:
“If Louisa’s case is similar to Almera Johnson’s, Noble may have introduced the doctrine to her before Smith did. Whoever taught her the principle, she had to be converted to it, according to Brigham Young family tradition: “Sister Louisa asked the Lord in fervent prayer for a testimony concerning the principle. The Lord heard her supplication and granted her request, and after being convinced that the principle had emanated from God, she accepted it, and was married to the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
By most accounts, the ceremony took place on April 5, 1841; she was twenty-six, Joseph thirty-five. Erastus Snow, Louisa’s brother-in-law, said that she married the Mormon prophet “in a grove Near Main Street in the City of Nauvoo, The Prophet Joseph dictating the ceremony and Br Nobles repeating it after him.”
Jo now knew he could trust Joseph Noble to be an elite. There’s a few details to point out here. Most of Joseph’s polygynist marriages were conducted in the second floor of the Red Brick Store, which would soon become the central location for transacting business and church affairs. However, when Joseph married Louisa Beaman, the Red Brick Store was still under planning and early construction phases, it wouldn’t be completed for another 6 months after this and wouldn’t be open to the public for business until 5 January 1842, 9 months after his and Louisa’s marriage. The Red Brick Store first level was the mercantile and business center with a small office in back where Bishop Newell K. Whitney would collect and pay bills as well as collect people’s tithing. The second floor of this business was segmented into a small apartment and a large meeting room. This second-floor meeting room is iconic in Mormon Nauvoo history. This is where the Nauvoo brethren met, where the Council of Fifty met, the Relief Society met, and, equally important, where most prospective wives were taught about the doctrine of the new and everlasting covenant, and those plural marriages were performed.
The office in the Red Brick Store was discreet and away from the public eye. It was the perfect place Joseph needed to conduct business he didn’t want the general public knowing about. Just considering the pure logistics of plural marriage, when Nauvoo was in it’s infancy and toddler stages throughout 1840 and 41, Joseph didn’t have a private meeting place he could meet with a few of his elites to perform and witness the marriage ceremony, especially not with Emma around. This ceremony between Louisa and Joseph being performed in an open grove was kind of dangerous to be doing out in the open with so many accusations and excommunications which had taken place in the last 5 years because of polygamy allegations. Finally having the Red Brick Store and the meeting area on the second floor complete was a relief to Jo which may partially explain why he was married to just 3 women in all of 1841, but 11 in 1842.
Joseph knew that if he was seen in public with another woman surrounded by a few of his elites, rumors would abound. His prophylactic response to the danger this held sets this marriage with Lousia apart from all the other plural marriages performed in Nauvoo. Franklin D. Richards offers some insight when quoting Joseph Bates Noble on the details of the ceremony, this from Joseph Smith’s Polygamy.org on Louisa Beaman’s biography page:
“Noble later related that “he performed the first sealing ceremony in this Dispensation in which he united Sister Louisa Beman to the Prop[h]et Joseph in May—I think the 5th day in 1841 during the evening under an Elm tree in Nauvoo. The Bride disguised in a coat and hat.”
The reference to a “coat and hat” is singular. While secrecy was routine, it appears to be the only description of a plural marriage that implemented the use of costume or camouflage. No other accounts associated with Louisa Beaman (or any other of Joseph Smith’s plural sealings) include such details.”
This marriage was the first official polygamist marriage Joseph acquired. It is also one of the better documented of his polygamist relationships in spite of the fact that all the writings by Louisa that survive to this day are 2 letters she wrote to one of her sister-wives. Joseph Bates Noble was a trusted Mormon elite and enjoyed a certain elevated status both in Nauvoo and Utah. He passed away at the ripe age of 90 in 1900 in Salt Lake City. However, before he passed away, the ownership for the temple lot in Independence Missouri was disputed in 1892. Joseph Noble was deposed to give his take on the rightful line of possession for the Temple Lot, which was ruled in favor of the Church of Christ, known as the Temple Lot Mormons, who still own it today. During the deposition process, the subject of polygamy and Joseph’s marriage to Louisa Beaman came up and we find some interesting details which put a nail in the coffin of whether or not Joseph was actually having sex many of the women he was marrying.
From JosephSmithsPolygamy.org in the form of question and answer during an official deposition:
“Q. Do you know whether Joseph Smith ever lived any with Louisa Beaman
as his wife? …
A. I know it for I saw him in bed with her. …
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.
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.
Q. Where did they sleep together?
A. Right straight across the river at my house they slept together. …
Q. Did he sleep with her the first night after the ceremony was performed?
A. He did.
Q. Now you say that he did sleep with her?
A. I do.
Q. How do you know he did?
A. Well I was there.
Q. And you saw them go to bed together?
A. I gave him counsel. …
Q. What counsel did you give him?
A. I said “blow out the light and get into bed, and you will be safer there,” and he took my advice or counsel. …
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.
Q. Well you did not see him get into bed with her that time?
A. No sir.
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.
Q. Well, you know from your own knowledge that he did?
A. Well, I am confident he did.
Q. But you don’t know it of your own knowledge from seeing him do it?
A. No sir, for I was not there”
This is trotted out as evidence by many historians that Joseph actually consummated some of his polygamist marriages. The wording associated with it is a sealing for “time and eternity” whereas it is seen that sealings for eternity only didn’t include the sexual element. I think this might be an example of historians latching on to wording that may have meant something slightly different back then and using it to classify or infer details of the historical narrative.
The fact of the matter is, there’s no way to tell exactly how many of Jo’s polygamist marriages included sex. He could also be sealed to a woman for eternity without including the time part, implying no sexual aspect, but still end up sleeping with the woman to whom he was sealed for only eternity. My point is, using time, time and eternity, or for eternity alone isn’t a good litmus test for whether or not Joseph had sex with his dozens of wives. My suspicion is that more of these relationships included sex than historians suspect, unless you’re D. Michael Quinn who claimed that Jo was having sex with basically all of them, multiple times a day. There’s no way to prove where on that spectrum Jo actually fell.
That’s basically all we’re going to discuss when it comes to the marriage between Jo and Louisa Beaman. They got married, Joseph Bates Noble told them to blow out the candles, they did their thing, and the first polygamist marriage in Nauvoo was complete and consecrated.
As I stated before, we’re not going to be spending inordinate amounts of time on polygamy, there was too much else going on of much greater consequence. I can’t escape this feeling that polygamy was merely the subterfuge covering for much more sinister things happening behind closed doors. Think of any politician or large company who comes under public scrutiny for something they did, sexual misconduct, fraud, whatever the case may be. That’s merely the story the public is privy to. There’s no way of knowing everything that’s actually happening behind closed doors. Polygamy was the same thing with Jo and the Mormons in Nauvoo. They were amidst constructing a TItanic Mormon empire and no historian will ever know everything which was happening behind closed doors, but hey look over there, Jo was fucking dozens of women, let’s talk about that! Polygamy just feels like the dumpster fire of Nauvoo designed to avert the public eye while Jo is busy looting the cash register and wrecking the store.
In order to frame the next grouping of episodes covering all of Nauvoo until the schism grenade and the Utah years, I’ve decided to craft an analogy around which we’ll build the coming episodes to provide context for the necessity of each individual action, while still keeping the central goal in mind. Please permit me some time to construct said analogy, but before doing so, we need to take a break for a quick word from this week’s sponsor, HelloFresh.
In Nauvoo, Jo’s overarching desire was the same it had been since he started the religion back in 1830, to go west and build Zion. Jo had this insatiable desire to live in a place outside of U.S. Government control to rule his own empire, while simultaneously being close enough to the modern world around him that he could reap all the benefits of industrialization. We can cast our eyes back to 1831 when the Mormon elites declared the Western-most border town of Independence, Missouri as the site of their temple and Zion the New Jerusalem. When the Mormons were kicked out of Jackson County, Jo settled his kingdom building efforts in Kirtland. Met with too heavy resistance, he made his way to Missouri for the fateful year of 1838 where he got closer than ever before to creating a Mormon kingdom, but the Missourians wouldn’t allow it and chased the Mormons out of the state. Finally, Nauvoo Illinois was just remote and undesirable enough that Jo expected the Mormons would be reasonably left alone to build their kingdom, while still being in a state of the Union to enjoy the protections of the federal government from rogue First-Nationers and other settlers who didn’t like the Mormons.
However, even Nauvoo wasn’t Jo’s final destination. It seemed to be a proper staging area for the state of Deseret, people in Illinois were still under the rule of the federal government, but not the final resting place to truly construct Zion. After too many terrible business deals and some political persecution, beginning around 1842-43, Jo really set his sights on the true wild west. Texas, Oregon, California, all were just territories or unsettled land ruled by rogue First-Nation tribes, easy to conquer with an army of a few thousand European settlers with firesticks in hand.
The way I picture Nauvoo in my mind is the construction pad for a Massive 33-story tall titan, you know, some kind of mechanical warrior aimed westward to carry the Mormons safely to unknown lands protected from all the fiery darts of their adversaries. But this is no space-age titan with machine-guns and lasers attached to the arms and jet pack boosters to leap mountains in a single bound. The Mormon mech Titan is a grungy, steampunk kind of colossus the Mormons are planning to build. There isn’t an Iron-man helmet-based holographic user interface, this humanoid shaped 19th-century robot is controlled by comically large levers and pullies, driven by pistons the size of horses exchanging steam through valves and pipes the size of firehoses. There aren’t any harnesses or seats on this colossal monstrosity of steampunk artists’ wet dreams, everything is unpolished wood-paneled flooring and twisted blued steel contorted into railings straight out of the Nightmare Before Christmas. Our Mormon titan doesn’t have the blue, red, white, and gold head of a Megazord, rather, it’s a steel cage command center, but the steel rods comprising it have been bent and contorted to resemble the face of our one true king on earth, with hastily constructed wood panels and square-cornered limestone blocks filling out the facial features to create some kind of nightmarish wood-metallic bastard child more resembling a hollow-eyed demon than Joseph Smith.
Of course, no 33-story tall mechwarrior is complete without armor and weapons to respectively protect the control-room and eviscerate any enemy which may obstruct the progress of the Mormon colossus achieving its destination; the West. In addition to teams of people to control and oversee the operations, compass-powered navigation, and telegraphic communications console, this titan needs a power source. It isn’t powered by banks of lithium ion batteries connected to a nitrogen-cooled nuclear reactor, this Mormon titan generates its steam pressure from nothing more than the blood, sweat, and tears of 15,000 Mormons devoting every waking moment and every last calorie to constructing and powering this apocalyptic steampunk mech of truly epic proportions.
Our Mormon Titan needs a solid infrastructure underneath all the armor to withstand the weight, and also some ancillary systems weaved through all that underlying infrastructure to comprise some kind of nervous and control system, some sensors to light up big red warning lights on the wooden control panel if any boilers over-pressurize, and also a way to intake energy units and exhaust expended energy units. It needs some way to move around, large tank-looking roller tracks or maybe bipedal or quadrupedal mechanisms the size of double barns upended to stand in portrait mode. Last, but not least, this juggernaut needs the ability to move tens of thousands of Mormons thousands of miles to their new land of refuge. That would take far too much space and extra infrastructure, so we’ll just have our Mormon Mech blaze the trail ahead and the Mormons will be walking behind in companies of hundreds of people, dragging their own possessions in dinky little handcarts that can be turned out at a rate of 5/day with a well-oiled assembly line.
Jo had already tried Mormon Titan version 1.0 in New York, but it burned to the ground when he fired it up in the crafting barn. Mormon Titan version 2.0 in Kirtland had been partially built, but in late stages, a few apostates stole the keys from Jo and decided to take 2.0 for a spin before construction completed. Those who took over the Ohio Titan weren’t great when it came to maintenance and the Titan there has essentially dwindled into ill repair and is nearly useless to even scavenge for parts. Titan 3.0 in Missouri became fairly robust but there wasn’t enough time to complete it. Jo learned from his previous experiences with 1 and 2.0. Version 3.0 had the armor, the weapons, the infrastructure, and the blood sweat and tears from nearly 10,000 Mormons to fuel the great machine, but once the government found out he was constructing Titan 3.0 without a permit, they popped in for a visit, broke up the project, and arrested the foreman, owner, and some of the engineers. Jo and his fellow builders were forced to escape from prison, but with some harsh new lessons under their belts.
Mormon Titan 4.0 is going to be much different and worlds better than all its predecessor models. The Mormons had the necessary blueprints to construct this new updated version. They also had a few important pieces in place which would supply the necessary resources. But, as with any resource collection, you can build a farm or schoolhouse and begin collecting the resources immediately, but it takes a long time to save up for everything needed for such a mammoth project. Let’s briefly take stock of what constituent pieces the Mormons had by 1841.
A major issue to keep in mind with building this Titan was the need to keep it secret. They had to build it piece by piece in darkened back rooms and barns and quickly assemble all the constituent parts before the government caught wind of the project and shut it down like had happened with version 3.0 in Missouri. Jo and friends were careful to put the protections in place to be able to successfully conceal from prying eyes what was really going on behind closed doors.
From Flander’s Nauvoo, Kingdom on the Mississippi beginning page 98:
“In practice, however, the Mormons created a quasi-sovereign government tailored to suit what were thought to be the unique requirements of the Latter-day Saints’ community and church. The oligarchic flavor of Mormon church organization was evident in the relative absence of a real separation of powers between the branches and the functions of government. The mayor was an active member of the city council and was at the same time chief justice of the municipal court. Four aldermen, who with nine “Councillors” formed the city council, were associate justices.”
With the Nauvoo Charter passed and monolithic authority granted to the Mormon hierarchy, they could devote nearly all their resources to Titan construction without having to worry about the government breaking up the project again.
Included in the Nauvoo were the various clauses that made the Mayor sole ruling authority and able to issue writs of habeas corpus. This didn’t make the resource collection any easier, but it made it much harder for the government to come in and break up construction of the Titan and granted Jo a lot of power and insulated the construction process. Go back to Episode 66 – God Mode Jo to hear a lot more about the judicial and enforcement powers granted by the Nauvoo Charter.
To collect enough resources to build this Mormon Titan, they needed land and fuel. From page 41 of Flander’s book:
“Joseph Smith assessed the [Illinois] site with the eye of a man who defined the future in large terms. It was a natural location for a great Mormon city which would cover the plain in the bend of the river and even the bluffs and prairies beyond with the thousands and tens of thousands of converts expected to join the faith. The city would be crowned with a great temple atop the bluffs, like those projected for Independence and Far West but never realized… During the summer of 1839 the Prophet began to purchase the entire site of his envisioned metropolis to the extent that it was for sale. In addition to the White and Galland farms he contracted the purchase of about five hundred acres from Hotchkiss and Gillet, including some of Commerce and all of Commerce City. Thus the Church would own most of the peninsula, excluding about 125 acres of the western end.”
Like some kind of parasitic amoeba, a vast expanse of land was necessary for resource collection, and the Mormons infected 10s of thousands of acres around the Mississippi in Nauvoo and Iowa. This would be very useful in constructing the several thousand ton metal and stone skeleton of our Mormon Titan around which could be built all other necessary systems to get the goliath up and running.
Much else was needed.
From later on page 43:
“Smith began at once to promote Nauvoo as a new gathering place for the Saints. He wrote letters late in May, 1839, urging his friends to come settle, reserving lots for them, and speaking of house building and the general development of the city. In July he issued a circular to all members of the Church to urge the principle of the gathering:
‘There will be here and there a Stake [of Zion] for the gathering of the Saints. Some may have cried peace, but the Saints and the world will have little peace from henceforth. Let this not hinder us from going to the Stakes; for God has told us to flee, not dallying, or we will be scattered, one here, and another there. There your children shall be blessed, and you in the midst of friends where you may be blessed. The Gospel net gathers every kind.
I prophesy, that that man who tarries after he has an opportunity of going, will be afflicted by the devil. Wars are at hand; we must not delay…We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object. When wars come, we shall have to flee to Zion. The cry is to make haste… It will come as did the cholera, war, fires, and earthquakes; one pestilence after another, until the Ancient of Days comes, then judgment will be given to the Saints.’”
Jo is collecting more batteries. It’s going to take a lot of power from a lot of blood sweat and tears collected from the shattered remains of each plebian Mormon life. Jo’s decided to go with the grid-battery system, chaining each Mormon together, but giving each their own separate task to contribute to the whole.
Now that large swaths of land were technically owned on contract by the Mormons, we need machines to collect the raw resources to refine into constituent pieces of the Mormon Titan. Jo wrote in December 1841 to a convert named Edward Hunter, a rich businessman contemplating the move to Nauvoo from Pennsylvania. From page 148 of Flander’s book:
“As respects steam engines and mills… we cannot have too many… This place has suffered exceedingly from the want of such mills… and neither one or two can do the business of this place another season. We have no good grain or board mill…and most of our flour and lumber has to be brought twenty miles…
The city is rapidly advancing, many new buildings have been erected… and many more would have arisen, if brick and lumber could have been obtained. There is scarcely any limits which can be imagined to the mills and machinery and manufacturing of all kinds which might be put into profitable operation in this city, and even if others should raise a mill before you get here, it need be no discouragement to either you or Brother Buckwalter, for it will be difficult for the mills to keep pace with the growth of the place, and you will do well to bring the engine. If you can persuade any of the brethren who are manufacturers of woolens or cottons to come on and establish their business, do so.”
There was the possibility that a major influx of immigration, goods, and exportation would occur in Nauvoo in the form of a railroad proposition. If you’re trying to collect all the necessary resources to build a war-ready colossus, a railroad is the artery needed to pipe in new and take out old expended resources.
From 150 of Flander’s Nauvoo, Kingdom on the Mississippi:
“There was the prospect that Nauvoo might even have a railroad. “A charter has been obtained from the legislature,” wrote Smith in August, 1840, “for a railroad from Warsaw, being immediately below the rapids of the Mississippi, to this place—a distance of about twenty miles, which if carried into operation will be of incalculable advantage… as steamboats can only ascend the rapids at a high stage of water.” The proposed Des Moines Rapids Railroad would link Nauvoo with a proposed Warsaw, Peoria, and Wabash Railroad running from Warsaw on the Mississippi through Carthage, Macomb, Peoria, and Bloomington, on to the Indiana border where it would connect with the Lake Erie and Wabash Canal. When the Des Moines Rapids road was not built within the time limit set by the original charter, extensions were granted. But apparently construction was never begun.”
This truly is a heartbreaking fallout. That railroad would have essentially put Nauvoo as the largest city in the middle of all those towns and industrial districts, all feeding the Titan. The incalculable influx of goods and services upon the completion of that railroad would have supercharged the resource collection necessary for the Mormon Titan, expediting the final construction process. However, as Flander’s said, the railroad, like so many other Nauvoo projects, was proposed and initially funded, but never went anywhere. That quote from Jo’s writings in late 1840 hit on another prominent market Nauvoo was slated to tap into, but never ended up breaking through the ceiling. Warsaw, a day’s ride south of Nauvoo, was a successful industrial and tourist town during low flow season of the Mississippi. Boats going up or down the Mississippi were required to unload their cargo and passengers in Warsaw and go further up or down the river without a load, or risk being beached on a sandbank. Jo and the Mormons wanted to tap into that market and a rail line from Warsaw to Nauvoo would open Nauvoo up as an industrial and tourist location just like Warsaw. As helpful as this would have been for Titan construction, it never panned out.
Another exciting possibility for powering the Mormon colossus was water power. From 151 of Flander’s book:
“Wherever there was a fall of a few feet in a stream of water, there was a potential location for a water-driven mill. Before the era of the steam engine such millsites were valued also as townsites. Nauvoo was located at a millsite, but one of enormous proportions, since the millstream was the Mississippi River. The city lay along the upper reaches of the Des Moines Rapids, and as the river swept around the Nauvoo peninsula it fell enough to provide an adequate head of water to drive machinery. Undaunted by the magnitude of the project, the Mormons sought repeatedly to harness the great stream. Perhaps the first and most spectacular proposal was made by John C. Bennett early in 1841. Main Street in Nauvoo ran south to north across the flat, intersecting the river at both ends. At the north end of the street there was a ravine paralleling the street and forming a narrow inlet of the river. Bennett proposed a wing dam beginning at the mouth of the ravine and extending north into the river, and the excavation of a ship canal from near the inlet south right down the middle of main Street until it regained the river on the lower side of the peninsula,…Sheltered wharfage, said Bennett, “and the best harbor for steamboats, for winter quarters, on this magnificent stream,” would thus be provided. The canal would be about two miles long. But the chief benefit would be water power:…”
If only the immense water power of the Mississippi could be harnessed, it would be strapping a jetpack to an already sinister and terrifying war-machine.
Example after example can be trotted out of everything the Mormons did to secure the construction of the Mormon Titan. By early 1844, this Titan was nearly completed. As with any major construction project though, the finishing touches can be the most arduous and time and resource intensive process.
Now we have some blueprints and we’ve assessed the available inventory for constructing the Mormon Titan. Once this Victorian-era war machine is completed in all its glory of stone, wood, and steel, donning the twisted metal face of a supervillain, exuding the overbearing sounds of creaking metal grinding against gears and splintering wood, set to plague the Mississippi and haunt the dreams of every American Militiaman conscripted to give his life to fight tyranny; we can begin our march to the New Jerusalem to be designated in the Great West beyond. The last thing we need is a name for our colossal Titan. I’m personally partial to Jupiter for the size and astronomical significance to Joseph Smith. But, maybe Atlas is a better name, signifying the great weight of all the Mormons to be carried by this wretched creation. Maybe Prometheus is a more fitting name as the great titan who stole light from Kolob to seed the uprising of the great Mormon kingdom. What do you guys think? Tweet your proposals and, if you’d like, a brief explanation to me @Naked Mormonism with #MormonTitan.
The question remains, why did Jo and the Mormons actually need this machine? They lived in an entirely different society and United States than we have today. In Jo’s day, everything west of the Mississippi was largely uncolonized and up for grabs. I sometimes sit back and wonder what dreams and fantasies kept Jo up at night and I can’t escape the possibility that he wanted to do exactly what Brigham Young did; construct a Mormon empire and machine to settle an unclaimed land and create his own theocratic country outside the scope of government oversight. He’d tried to create the Mormon theocracy inside the jurisdiction of the government and various state militias multiple times and every time his efforts were suppressed or wholly quashed. Jo didn’t like being constrained by the laws that made America great because it protected his victims too well when he repeatedly sought to steal their livelihood and wives from them. If Jo could just find a Utah, he could do whatever pleased him and not suffer any repercussions. If his church courts were truly the final say instead of having a secular government that people could appeal to when wronged by Jo, his word would actually be law with no need for a supreme court, president, or legislative bodies. When people apostatized and mysteriously disappeared in Utah, Jo could come right out and say that you shouldn’t come into conflict with the brethren and you won’t be put out of the way. He wouldn’t have to send his wives to poison the people, he could just send Ol’ Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell to their home in broad daylight and their bodies would disappear down a well without a peep from their neighbors.
For a person like Joseph Smith with his theocratic ambitions and proclivities, nobody can make the argument that a powerful war machine wouldn’t benefit Jo and the Mormons and allow them to accomplish whatever it was they put their minds to. But Joseph Smith had a fatal flaw, he was always looking forward. It was a challenge for Jo to live in the present and work within the constraints provided by today, because tomorrow was always a latter day to him. He always had it in his mind that once the Mormons were powerful enough he would take them west and build Zion. He never said, now we are powerful enough to enact the plan, it was always, we’ll be strong enough tomorrow. You can’t put off a revolution. But, to be fair, with people like Bloody Brigham, Heber the Creeper, and James Strang in the ranks, I don’t think Jo would have lasted very long in Utah, Texas, Oregon, or wherever the Mormons saw fit to designate as the destination to park the Mormon Titan. The Dream of Zion in the West was just that, a dream, for Jo. He may have been surrounded by the people who could make it happen, but he never could have pulled it off, he cared too much about too many people, which is the first fickle human emotion a true tyrant must learn to overcome.
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