Ep 198 – Higbee Dissent

On this episode, the Fosters, the Higbees, and the Laws in May of 1844 continue at the forefront of our examination. This week we focus in on the Higbee brothers, Chauncey and Francis (Frank). The Higbee families joined the church in 1832 during the Kirtland era before moving to Jackson County, Missouri to join the Mormon settlement there. They were forcefully removed from the county with the rest of the Mormons in late 1833 through early 1834. Francis helps with the Kirtland Temple construction then returns to Missouri to rejoin the rest of the Higbee families. When Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and the Quorum of Apostles are removed from the Kirtland leadership, Francis and Chauncey join their families in defending the Mormon settlements during the 1838 Missouri-Mormon conflict. Francis Higbee even joins the Danites (Joseph’s underground enforcement squad). Francis and two of his uncles are arraigned in the November Court of Inquiry when the Mormon settlements surrendered. The Higbees were released and helped the Mormons resettle in Illinois after the Extermination Order by Governor Lilburn Boggs. Francis and Chauncey both team up with John C. Bennett during his public defection and expose publishing efforts. Both Francis and Chauncey would remain on the blacklist of dissenters from that time forward. Both deal with public character assassination by the prophet and his cronies. Both deal with the fallout of polygamy and the clandestine leadership keeping it under wraps. Both join hands with the Fosters and Laws in May of 1844.


JS Nauvoo Journal

Chauncey Higbee

Francis Higbee

Council of Fifty Minutes

JS Discourse 24 March 1844

1842 Chauncy Higbee excommunication minutes

Nauvoo Neighbor 1 May 1844

Elias Higbee

Isaac Higbee

Missouri-Mormon War Court of Inquiry minutes

Buckeye Laments by Gary Bergera

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The Fosters, the Higbees, and the Laws in May of 1844. Do you know why we’re talking about them? Last week we discussed the Fosters, how Charles and Robert had become affiliated with the church, their leadership positions, and how Robert came into increasing degrees of conflict with the prophet in very public fora both at the pulpit and in the Nauvoo Court room.

Today we’re going to tackle the Higbee brothers, Francis and Chauncey.

There were many Higbees associated with Mormonism from the Kirtland era of the church. The whole family of parents Elias and Sarah, and children Francis Marion, Chauncey Lawson, Andrew Jackson, and Dewitt Clinton joined the church in 1832. Francis was twelve years old, Chauncey 11. Notably, these weren’t the only Higbees to convert to the church in 1832 as Elias’s brothers, Isaac, and John, and sisters Mary Higbee and Mary Denham all joined the church around that time as well. The Higbee family was large and brought many people into the church when it was in its infant stages in early Kirtland.

The Higbees also enjoyed varying degrees of church leadership. But, since we’re only focusing on Francis and Chauncey let’s really dig into these guys. Francis and Chauncey in 1832 were still young enough to be toted around by their parents, Elias and Sarah. Elias and Sarah took their sons to Jackson County, Missouri in 1833, as tensions between the Missourians and Mormons began to boil. They arrived very soon before the Missourians kicked the Mormons out of Jackson county and the entire Mormon population was forced into Clay and surrounding counties.

It wasn’t just Elias and Sarah who took their kids with them to Jackson County. The Mormon population out there was growing very quickly and land was cheap… or free, sort of. All the Higbee families moved to Missouri in 1833, only to be kicked out of Jackson County soon after arrival. They were all forced into Clay and surrounding counties because of the troubles with the Missourians.

At the age of fifteen, one of our Higbee brothers up for discussion, Francis, struck out on his own and moved back to Kirtland for a brief period. What actually brought him back to Geauga County, Ohio after his family had moved to Missouri is a source of mystery but informed speculation would postulate that he was old enough to work on the Kirtland Temple when it was in its final stages of construction and all able-bodied young men were petitioned by the leadership to chip in resources or labor. Francis’s younger brother, Chauncey, seems to have remained in Missouri with the rest of the family during this period.

After the construction of the Kirtland temple and the dedication ceremony in early 1836, Francis at age sixteen returned to Missouri to remain with his family. The age division between Chauncey and Francis continued to divide their activities in Missouri. Francis being only a year older granted him access to plenty of activities required by the Mormon leadership. While Chauncey was most-likely helping his family with menial hired labor, the older Francis took on responsibility in the Mormon empire building process. When Jo was removed from church leadership in Kirtland and fled to the Missouri Mormon settlements, Francis joined the cause of the one true prophet.

While an actual role of the Danites doesn’t exist, historians bicker about who were and weren’t members of the Danites. D. Michael Quinn claims that basically all members of the Mormon militia during 1838, known as the Army of Israel, were Danites, members of the underground shadow enforcement squad. Other historians disagree with Quinn by asserting that membership in the Danites was a higher-ranking circle of the Army of Israel and only select members of the Army were also in the Danites. While there isn’t really a solid bedrock to stand on with this issue, the point remains that the Mormons formed their own militias without government approval, leading to the charges of high treason after the Mormon settlements surrendered in the first part of November 1838.

Francis Higbee was a member of one or both of these organizations. I would postulate he was likely a Danite and my evidence for that is as follows. The Danite Manifesto was signed in June of 1838, giving Oliver Cowdery, David and John Whitmer, and W.W. Phelps three days to leave Caldwell County. The manifesto bears the signatures of 83 men. Two of those men are Francis’s uncles, Isaac and John S. Higbee. Further, during the same testimony from Dr. Sampson Avard, the defector whose testimony led to the Mormon Extermination order and the arrest of Jo and his cronies, Avard referred to the Mormon depredations of non-Mormon settlements in Daviess County. In this statement he directly named the participants of the pillaging and burning posses.

The following of the defendants were in the last expedition to Daviess county: Joseph Smith, jr., Hiram Smith, P.P. Pratt, Lyman Wight,… Alexander McRay, John S. Higbey, Edward Partridge, [and] Francis Higbey.

Francis Higbee was named alongside his uncle in an explicitly Danite robbing campaign. Apparently, being 18, Francis Higbee was old enough to participate as a militant Mormon during this conflict. He was among the dozens of Mormons arrested and tried during the November Court of Inquiry, largely due to Sampson Avard and Thomas B. Marsh naming him directly in connection with the extra-military activities of the Mormon leadership. During this Missouri-Mormon war of 1838, Chauncey Higbee was only 16 to 17 years old, likely making him ineligible to participate at anything more than maybe a message courier.

Of the 53 men charged for the initial crimes of “high treason against the State, murder, burglary, arson, robbery, and larceny,” only the six in Liberty Jail and about a dozen others remained imprisoned for the months following the war concomitant with the Mormon expulsion from Missouri to Illinois. Francis Higbee and the other two Higbees arraigned in the Court of Inquiry for this investigative trial were all released by the end of November to return to their families and assist the Quorum of Apostles during the exodus. By spring of 1839 all the Higbees, Chauncey and Francis included, were located in Illinois, first in the initial landing spot in Adams County, a little town called Quincy, and then to Hancock County in what was known as Commerce but would soon be called Nauvoo.

Once John C. Wreck-it-Bennett joined the refugee settlement of Nauvoo and helped pass the Nauvoo Charter through the Illinois Legislature, both Chauncey and Francis Higbee were appointed aides-de-camp of Major General John C. Bennett during the formation of the Nauvoo Legion. Now, an aide-de-camp is essentially a special position as a direct assistant to a high-ranking officer. Aides-de-camp are rarely expected to participate in military conflict; their role is more in counseling and grunt work of running messages or handling confidential paperwork.

Understandably, as both Higbee brothers were aides-de-camp to John C. Wreck-it Bennett, that meant they were of relatively high rank in the Nauvoo Legion, or at least favored by the highest-ranking officers of Bennett and Jo. Life was good for Francis and Chauncey Higbee during this time. They were gainfully employed, making ends meet, likely found nice women to court during social occasions, during which they could elect to attend in their Nauvoo Legion uniforms for extra attention or if they were on personal bodyguard duty.

Both Higbee brothers, in addition to their father and uncles, enjoyed leadership and board member roles in Nauvoo. Elias Higbee was on the board of trustees of the University of Nauvoo as well as on the board of regents and helped determine the curriculum. Isaac and Elias Higbee were also on the board of the Nauvoo Agricultural and Manufacturing Association. All of the Higbee men were plugged into Nauvoo Government at different levels in addition to being conscripted into the Nauvoo Legion. A brief point of clarification, Isaac Higbee Sr. and Elias Higbee were the Higbee brothers who converted with their entire families to the church in the early 1830s. Isaac had a child named after him. Isaac Sr died during the Mormon expulsion from Missouri in early 1839. All the Isaac Higbees we see in Nauvoo relate to Isaac Jr., who was cousin of Francis and Chauncey were talking about today. Francis and Chauncey’s uncle Isaac Sr. had died in 1839, but their father, Elias is still present in Nauvoo documents until 1843, which we’ll discuss momentarily.

But all good things must come to an end lest the taste turn to ash in one’s mouth and the friendship between Wreck-it Bennett and lieutenant-General grandmaster king of Israel Joseph Smith soured. Bennett became aware of the assassination attempt by Pistol Packin Porter Rockwell of former Missouri Governor and Senatorial candidate Lilburn Boggs and Bennett decided that was the breaking point.

When Bennett broke away from the church, he drove a wedge in the Mormon community between the Jo loyalists and the believers who believed Bennett’s allegations and weren’t pleased with the direction of the church and its leadership. The Higbees were caught up on the opposition side, making them enemies to Joseph Smith. Francis Higbee is named multiple times in Bennett’s expose letters and the full book-length History of the Saints. Patreon.com/nakedmormonism.

Francis Higbee sided with Bennett during his public departure. This is understandable because he and Chauncey were both aides-de-camp to Bennett; basically, his personal assistants. They were friends with Wreck-it Bennett and thus became swept up in the character assassination campaign waged by Jo and his loyalists.

When Bennett was first excommunicated from the church and removed as Mayor of Nauvoo, Francis M. Higbee sent him a letter dated July 6, 1842 giving Bennett a description of Jo’s public melting down over Bennett’s impending expose. What is notable in this letter and another we’ll read from Chauncey right after, is the fact that the Higbee brothers had essentially become Bennett’s emissaries during his data collecting for the expose. Bennett couldn’t spend much time in Nauvoo without being followed so he needed to work with people still there who weren’t Jo loyalists. The Higbees worked with Bennett in collecting affidavits, talking to people whom they wanted to give statements to the facts, and generally running errands for Bennett. Others who weren’t in the Jo loyalist camp soon became caught up in the smear campaign, including George W. Robinson and Hingepin Sidney Rigdon.

Dear Sir,

Joseph Smith is yet thrashing about, tearing up the D****, and slandering every body. He has not lit on Rigdon and Robinson very severely as yet, but touched them slightly on Sunday, also myself; and we must keep things right side up. Mrs. Schindle’s affidavit is a good one, and Mrs. G**, I have understood, was going to give hers. Mrs. Pratt, I think, will also give hers—also Miss Nancy Rigdon. Joe is operating with Mrs. White, and it is reported, that he is to settle upon her a fine sum soon, or return the money he and Sherman took from Bill White some time ago. You ought to see Mrs. White, and labor with her, as soon as possible, and secure her testimony, because it would be great. As it respects my affidavit, sire, for God’s sake, my sake, and the sake of my people, do not show it to any one on earth, as yet, never, until I give you liberty. Stiles has seen it, and you must swear him that he will keep dark as h***. I am yet true as death, and intend to stick or die, but you must keep my name back, because I am not ready as yet to leave; and as soon as you bring my name out, they ascertain to take my life—they go it like h***, yet. I am likely to sell my property here, and as soon as I do, I will emigrate like lightning. Scorch them with the Missouri writ—that is what scares them like the d***, Porter not excepted.

Your dear friend, FRANCIS M. HIGBEE

Chauncey L. Higbee also shared some correspondence with Wreck-it Bennett in a letter dated just 3 days before his brother’s previous letter we just read.

Dear Sir,

I received your favor by Mr. Hamilton, to-day, and have done all in my power to accomplish your business, according to your request. ********* I have talked with Mrs. G**, and labored hard to show her the necessity of coming out to befriend the innocent, and defend her own character from Joe’s foul aspersion; but she says that she will not give her affidavit now, but thinks that she will in the course of two or three days. She wants to have a talk with O. Pratt before she gives it. I have seen Pratt, and he says, if she comes to talk with him, he will tell her, that if she knows any thing, to tell it, let it hit where it will. There were a great many out to meeting yesterday. Smith preached—said considerable against you, and stated that Messers. Robinson and Rigdon had requested him to recall what he had said against them; but instead of doing it, according to promise, he vilified them worse than ever, if it were possible to do it—no other names mentioned; but he insinuated very hard on Francis in the forenoon, and on myself in the afternoon, by saying that those who had resigned, were no better than yourself, after placing you at the lowest grade he possible could, in his awkward way of doing it. I have seen Nancy [Rigdon]—she told me to say to you, ‘go ahead, and make her name as much as you please, in related the circumstance which happened between Smith and herself.’ Mr. Pratt and his wife say, that if ever Smith renews the attack on them, they will come out against him, and stand it no longer.

Yours, with respect, C. L. HIGBEE

The Higbees defecting from the loyalist camp spelled disaster for Jo and his closest trusted elites. The Higbees had seen and participated in some of the most well-hidden meetings of the Mormon empire. Before the Bennett meltdown and his resulting expose, many Higbees were in line to be inducted into the anointed quorum. However, with Chauncey and Francis Higbee siding with Bennett, they would from that time forward be on the outs. Bennett continued to call upon both Higbee brothers as sources of criminal conduct by the prophet. Later in his same expose he prints a number of Nauvoo financial records dealing with Jo’s application for bankruptcy. Jo had to hide assets in order to qualify for bankruptcy status which had only recently gone into effect for the state of Illinois. In order to hide those assets, Jo transferred a number of them to Emma and his children for as little as $1 per lot or deed. As a precursor to the section in this chapter of Bennett’s book he writes this:

The Bankrupt law, section 2, provides that no conveyances of property shall be made in contemplation of bankruptcy,…

Then Bennett prints some of the correspondence and relevant documents to show Jo had violated the statutes of the bankruptcy laws. After that he states:

If an official certificate is required, call upon Chauncey Robinson, Esq., the Recorder of Hancock, and he will certify that these are correct extracts form the county records. There are various other matters of record that could be made to operate against this king of swindlers and imposters, Joe Smith; but I presume that the foregoing will be sufficient to give him a comfortable home in the State Penitentiary, at Alton, for some years to come, if Missouri does not get him first.

If oral testimony is required, call upon General George W. Robinson, Colonel Francis M. Higbee, and others, who are acquainted with the transactions.

Both Francis and Chauncey Higbee were crucial to Wreck-it Bennett’s information collection for his 1842 expose letters and full-length book. It was through them that Bennett was capable of acquiring one of the most consequential letters in all of Nauvoo Mormon history, known as the Happiness Letter.

One point which drove Jo and Hingepin Rigdon apart was Jo’s lust for Rigdon’s second daughter, Nancy. We discussed her and the Happiness Letter back on episode 117. Essentially, Jo approached her in order to teach her about the doctrine of polygamy. To put it simply, she rejected his advances and he sent her a letter, which White-out Willard Richards delivered. The letter gets its name from the first words of “Happiness is the object and design of our existence, and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it…” After that the letter goes on to say “Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in his views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive,” adding “Every thing that God gives us is lawful and right, and it is proper that we should ENJOY his gifts and blessings.” This is all written in the context of trying to convince Nancy Rigdon to accept Jo’s polygamy proposal.

What is extremely notable about this proposal was the extent to which Francis Higbee was knowledgeable and involved in the Nancy Rigdon proposal situation, according to Bennett anyway so take that with a grain of salt. According to Bennett, when Jo’s messenger, White-out Willard Richards, first approached Nancy and told her to meet with the prophet, Jo wasn’t able to make the meeting. Sensing that something was amiss, Bennett went to a friend he could trust, Francis Higbee, whom Bennett instructed to immediately go to Nancy and tell her what Jo had in store.

Dr. Willard Richards, however, one of the holy twelve Mormon Apostles, and Spiritual High Priest, and Pander-General for Lust; whom I had long suspected as being up to his eyes in the business with Joe, came in, and said, “Miss Nancy, Joseph cannot be in to-day; please call again on Thursday.” This she agreed to do; but she communicated the matter to Colonel Francis M. Higbee, who was addressing her, and asked his advice as to the second visit. I then came to a knowledge of the facts, and went immediately to Joe, and said to him, “Joseph, you are a master Mason, and Nancy is a Master Mason’s daughter, [so is Mrs. Pratt, the daughter of Mr. Bates;] so stay your hand, or you will get into trouble—remember your obligation.” Joe replied, “You are my enemy, and wish to oppose me.” I then went to Colonel [Francis M.] Higbee, and told him Joe’s designs, and requested him to go immediately and see Miss Rigdon, and tell her the infernal plot—that Joe would approach her in the name of the Lord, by special revelation, &c., and to put her on her guard, but advise her to go and see for herself what Joe would do. He did so, and she went down.

Because Francis Higbee had warned Nancy, she was prepared for Jo when he subsequently locked her in the room and tried to force himself on her. She told him she’d cry out for help and he relented. Nancy was one of the lucky ones when it came to Jo’s advances. After this refusal is when Jo sent her the Happiness Letter which instructed her to burn after reading. We have very few pieces of paper in Jo’s actual handwriting and his frequent burn after reading instructions are partially to blame. Needless to say, according to Wreck-it Bennett, if not for Francis Higbee, we may not have the text of the Happiness Letter today.

The original, of which the above is a literal copy, in the hand-writing of Dr. Richards, is now in my possession. It was handed me by Colonel F[rancis]. M. Higbee, in the presence of General George W. Robinson.

Also in the presence of George W. Robinson, Francis Higbee told Wreck-it Bennett about Jo’s plot to assassinate Bennett. When Bennett first began to reveal his grand designs, according to Bennett, Jo brought him into the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge and this was the scene as reported by Bennett.

We entered, and he locked the door, put the key in his pocket, DREW A PISTOL ON ME, and said, ‘The peace of my family requires that you should sign an affidavit and make a statement before the next City Council,… exonerating me from all participation whatever,… in word or deed, in the SPIRITUAL WIFE DOCTRINE, or private intercourse with females in general; and if you do not do it with apparent cheerfulness, I will make CAT-FISH BAIT of you, or deliver you over to the Danites for execution to-night; for my dignity and purity must and shall be maintained before the public, EVEN AT THE EXPENSE OF LIFE… Your die is cast! YOUR FATE IS FIXED!! YOUR DOOM IS SEALED!!! If you refuse… He then unlocked the door; we went into the room below, and I gave the affidavit as subscribed before General Daniel H. Wells,… I was not aware, until the Sunday after my return from Springfield, that any other person was apprized of the fact of the threat of MURDER!! But on that day, Colonel Francis M. Higbee told me, in the presence of General George W. Robinson, that HE WAS IN POSSESSION OF A SECRET THAT WOULD OPEN THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE, and that, if it came to the worst, he would file his affidavit; but he would not then tell me what that secret was. General Robinson, however, informed me afterwards that it was a knowledge of Joe’s threats of murder and the duress.

Indeed, Francis M. Higbee made an affidavit before Alderman Hiram Kimball, not Heber the Creeper Kimball, Hiram Kimball, definitely different guys in every conceivable way. In that affidavit, Francis Higbee stated:

That Joseph Smith told him that John C. Bennett could be easily put aside, OR DROWNED, and no person would be the wiser for it, AND THAT IT OUGHT TO BE ATTENDED TO; and he further remarked that THE SOONER THIS WAS DONE THE BETTER FOR THE CHURCH, fearing, as he said, that Bennett would make some disclosures prejudicial to said Smith.

Without these affidavits, Governor Carlin, the outgoing Governor of Illinois preceding Governor Thomas Ford, wouldn’t have had the necessary affidavits to sign an arrest warrant for Joseph Smith which forced him and Pistol Packin Porter into hiding for the last 6 months of 1842.

It wasn’t just Francis Higbee caught up in this scandal helping Wreck-it Bennett; Chauncey Higbee also cast in his lot with the dissenting voices at this time. He sent a letter to Bennett, which Bennett printed in his expose, which provides some interesting context and alludes to specific tasks Bennett had tasked Chauncey Higbee to carry out while Bennett was away from Nauvoo for his own safety. This letter was written on August 14th 1842, when Porter had fled the city of Nauvoo for Indiana escaping the law and Jo was hiding in places around and in Nauvoo. Port and Jo were both wanted by Governors Reynolds of Missouri and Carlin of Illinois for attempting to assassinate Lilburn Boggs.

I cannot believe, for a moment, that you have forgotten a person who has stood by you as I have done, both in prosperity and exile; for I assure you, Doctor, that I shall never forsake or forget you, nor the scenes through which we have passed together. There is quite a rip up in our city this week. A demand has been made by Governor Reynolds, of Missouri, on the affidavit of Ex-Governor Boggs, for O. P. Rockwell and Joseph Smith; on which demand Governor Carlin, last Saturday, issued his writ.

Then Chauncey goes through the arrest of Porter and Jo by Marshals Pitman and King, the filing for writ of Habeas Corpus, the marshals refusing to honor the writ and appealing to the Circuit Court at Carthage. At that point, Jo and Port were released by “making some masonic pledges to the officers to deliver himself and Rockwell up at any time when called for.” That didn’t work because they went into hiding immediately after being released by the marshals so those guys could get an arrest warrant to override the Nauvoo writ of habeas corpus. Chauncey, among everybody else, suspected they were hiding in town somewhere, even though Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith had stated from the pulpit that they were headed to England. Chauncey Higbee also adds the interesting detail that “The Prophet prophesied n the stand, about four weeks since, that ‘Bennett never would have influence enough to get a demand made for him;’ but, alas! he has, at this late hour, realized his mistake.”

Chauncey Higbee wraps up the letter by capturing the general feeling around Nauvoo about the Bennett and Jo Smith war going on, asking Bennett to return to Nauvoo.

Your friends here are firm, and desire to see you very much. Your presence is now required in the west, and I advise you to come immediately on. Your presence would give fresh courage to your friends, and a zest to the whole proceedings that could not be otherwise inspired. ‘Napoleon should be in the field.’

I have scrupulously attended to the business, which you confided to my care. All the friends desire to be respectfully remembered to you.


The Bennett meltdown was a storm Jo couldn’t keep contained. He was forced into hiding while his enemies continued to roam the streets of Nauvoo without much fear. Bennett was the head of the snake but his being cut off from the church and Nauvoo society revealed the dissent problem in Nauvoo was more hydra than snake. Bennett made a lot friends, and by virtue Jo a lot of enemies, when he left and published his expose. Those folks who helped him could never be fully trusted again by the remaining leadership.

While Jo was in hiding, his quorum of apostles and closest counselors engaged in damage control. The media outside of Nauvoo caught hold of the story and Bennett’s articles in the Sangamo Journal were republished across the nation. A contemporary commentator and sober critic of the Nauvoo church, ThomAss Coke Sharp of the Warsaw Signal, received corroboration of Bennett’s allegations from Francis Higbee and others, printing this article in the August 6th 1842 edition of the Signal.

The testimony of General Bennett, then, has force and effect, when taken in connection with that of Dr. Avard, W.W. Phelps, and others, as given before the Court of Inquiry in Missouri, and the direct corroborations of Colonel [Francis] Higbee and Miss Martha H. Brotherton. All go to show the point arrived at, viz., that Joe Smith is a most consummate villain and knave.

The Higbees, unlike Bennett, chose to remain in Nauvoo. This is the point in Nauvoo history where Francis and Chauncey Higbee’s trajectories depart, only to arrive at the same location by May of 1844. Francis remained in good standing in the church and as a colonel in the Nauvoo Legion. Chauncey, however, became a public target of Joseph Smith’s character assassination campaign. Jo was chaos spiraling out of control during the second half of 1842 and Chauncey suffered the collateral damage.

Francis moved to a town called Pleasant Hill in Pike County, Illinois, probably in an effort to get away from the Danites as he was an enemy of the church. Chauncey remained in Nauvoo, but was excommunicated from the church. The details of Chauncey Higbee’s excommunication are absolutely fascinating.

Shortly after Wreck-it Bennett’s excommunication and removal as Mayor, yet before Chauncey Higbee and Bennett shared letter correspondence as reported in Bennett’s History of the Saints, Chauncey Higbee was charged by the Nauvoo High Council, the ecclesiastical body, for unchristianlike conduct with women. Of course, as was the case with every case brought by Jo and his cronies, witnesses were produced which paint a picture of Chauncey Higbee as a horrible kind of character.

Testimony of Margaret J. Nyman…

Some time during the month of March last, Chauncey L. Higbee, came to my mother’s house, early one evening, and proposed a walk to a spelling school. My sister Matilda, and myself accompanied him; but, changing our design on the way, we stopped at Mrs. Fullers. During the evening’s interview, he, (as I have since learned,) with wicked lies proposed that I should yield to his desires, and indulge in sexual intercourse with him, stating that such intercourse might be freely indulged in, and was no sin. That any respectable female might indulge in sexual intercourse, and there was no sin in it, providing the person so ingulging, keep the same to herself; for there could be no sin, where there was no accussor;--and most clandestinely, with wicked lies, persuaded me to yield by using the name of Joseph Smith; and as I have since learned, totally false and unauthorised; and in consequence of those arguments, I was influenced to yield to my Seducer, Chauncey L. Higbee.

I further state that I have no personal acquaintance with Joseph Smith, and never heard him teach such doctrines, as stated by Chauncey L. Higbee, either directly or indirectly. I heartily repent before God, asking the forgiveness of my brethren.


A similar affidavit was made by Margaret’s sister, Matilda stating additionally “I yielded and become subject to the will of my seducer, Chauncey L. Higbee: and having since found out to my satisfaction, that a number of wicked men have conspired to use the name of Joseph Smith, or the heads of the Church, falsely and wickedly to enable them to gratify their lusts, thereby destroying female innocence and virtue, I repent before God and my brethren and ask forgiveness.” Matilda also testified “that I never had any personal acquaintance with Joseph Smith and never heard him teach such doctrines as Higbee stated either directly or indirectly.” There’s another testimony from Sarah Miller and yet another from Catherine Warren and all of them told essentially the same story that Higbee told them there was no sin in sexual intercourse if the women keep it to themselves and that he had the prophet’s approval and that none of them have personally known Joseph Smith. The remarkable consistency in the statements, even down to the terms each woman used, is highly suspicious when we consider the timing of the hearing. Bennett is repeatedly named as the originator of the idea and Jo’s name is completely exonerated in every statement. It almost reads as if all of the witnesses were instructed as to what to say on the stand before they testified.

The splash damage from these testimonies hits Jo too. Let’s not mince words here. Jo was pulling the strings to paint Wreck-it Bennett in a bad light at the end of May 1842 when this hearing took place. The fact that Chauncey Higbee was excommunicated from the church as a result of this hearing sheds a brighter light on the damage control Jo and his cronies were utilizing to keep Bennett’s salacious accusations from landing. However, whatever Bennett was up to was the exact thing Jo was up do until Bennett decided to defect. It’s no coincidence that the term New and Everlasting Covenant doesn’t make its colloquial appearance referring to polygamy until Bennett defected. That was how the leadership was able to distinguish its practices from the “spiritual wifery” Bennett and apparently Higbee and others were practicing. The practice was the same, just called by different names. Chauncey was caught up in the meltdown and got burned along with George W. Robinson, Sarah Pratt, and a dozen other previously high-ranking members.

One interesting detail to tease out of the testimony from Sarah Miller is her implying that Bennett would perform abortions to hide the results of polygamy.

Chauncey Higbee said it would never be known, I told him it might be told in bringing forth (a euphemism for pregnancy). Chauncey said there was no danger, and that Dr. Bennet understood it, and would come and take it away, if there was any thing.

Sometimes a trial is more important for the witness statements than the actual outcome. Notably, this was a high council tribunal, a disciplinary council if you will. This was not held in the capacity of the Nauvoo Municipal Court for illegal conduct as that may require other witnesses to come forward and testify on behalf of Chauncey Higbee. Instead, because it was a church court, only the prosecution was able to call witnesses and Chauncey was excommunicated as a result.

Coming out of this entire affair was a Nauvoo Municipal court proceeding. The church court had excommunicated Chauncey Higbee and Francis Higbee remained unreprimanded. However, at the civil level, Jo decided to exert some force upon both Higbee brothers for slander and defamation. Because Jo was king of Nauvoo, he prevailed and both Chauncey and Francis were fined $100 each. A super interesting detail to come out of this lawsuit judgement was a recognizance filed by clerk Ebenezer Robinson. According to the filing, as long as Chauncey appeared at the church tribunal, he wouldn’t be held in contempt and wouldn’t be responsible for paying the fine. I’ve never seen this before but I’m sure it wasn’t uncommon in Nauvoo. Essentially, Jo sued Chauncey for slander and defamation which resulted in a fine of $100, but if Chauncey didn’t leave town and showed up for his tribunal in the High Council to be excommunicated then he wouldn’t have to pay the fine. It’s like bail but the bond the person pays is going to a church disciplinary council. Eventually Jo dropped the suit, probably because he was in hiding for 6 months after he filed it and couldn’t attend any trials without risk of arrest by Illinois constables who’d extradite him to Missouri.

The remainder of 1842 and the majority of 1843 the Higbees sort of remained at the surface level of the church. Chauncey was excommunicated and therefore barred from anything of consequence during that period. Francis, however, somehow made it through the Bennett meltdown in good standing. Francis didn’t become the target of the character assassination campaign waged against Bennett and his cronies even though Francis had very clearly been corresponding with Bennett even more so than his brother Chauncey did. While Francis had been aide-de-camp to John C. Bennett, Bennett’s removal from the Nauvoo Legion left Francis without a job in the Legion. As a result he was named aide-de-camp to another major-general of the Legion. The Joseph Smith Papers doesn’t list who that specific major general was, but I suppose it would likely be William Law or another of similar high rank who were still largely loyal to Jo in 1842.

The entire Bennett affair had left the taste of ash in the mouths of both Higbee brothers. Their father, Elias Higbee, was called to be church historian and recorder prior to the Bennett meltdown and it seems as if Elias had some hand in calming the contentious spirits of his sons. After he’d moved a hundred miles south of Nauvoo in late 1842, Francis Higbee wrote to his father Elias: “I want to understand that I have no feelings against Joseph; I have fully satisfied myself that he has been called of God, to do a great, and mighty, work in the earth, and let it suffice to say I am fully satisfied with him. All our former difficulties, were forever effectually settled before I left.” Chauncey Higbee wrote to his father a month after this: “My object, is not to vindicate or anathamatise either party,--free from the shackles of party litigation I desire peacefully to pursue the duties of my daily avocation; while—thankful for the boon—I hope long to remain a citizen of our flourishing city.”

Both Francis and Chauncey had built their reputations and community in the Nauvoo kingdom and the general threat by being dissenters of the church, combined with some likely gentle pushes from their father, resulted in both Chauncey and Francis taking a more distant approach to church affairs. Chauncey Higbee remained excommunicated, but Francis remained in active duty to the church, albeit with the cloud of distrust hanging over him. Anybody who’d worked with Bennett during 1842 was perceived as an enemy regardless of whether or not they had been officially disciplined by the High Council. Both Francis and Chauncey bore that scarlet letter. The peace brokered between these brothers and church leadership wasn’t long for this world.

Elias Higbee, Chauncey and Francis’s father, passed away suddenly in June 1843 at the age of 47. Jo’s journal for that day reads as follows:

This morning, about daybreak, Elder Elias Higbee died at his residence near the Temple [of] Cholera morbus, inflammation, and mortification. [He was] one of the Temple committee.

The funeral service for Elias Higbee wasn’t held immediately. A few days after this entry, Jo traveled to Dixon, Illinois to visit one of Emma’s siblings living there and preach along the way. While Jo was in Dixon, Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson arrested him with writs of extradition from Governor Ford of Illinois and Governor Reynolds of Missouri. Jo sent his personal secretary, William Clayton or Quilliam Claypen as we call him, to get to Nauvoo as soon as possible and alert Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith that Jo had been arrested and was on his way to Missouri in custody. Hyrum called out the Danites masquerading as the Nauvoo Legion to rescue the prophet and the sheriffs were arrested by Jo’s boys. It wasn’t until late 1843 that this whole matter was resolved. During that interim period, the funeral service for Elias Higbee was held on August 13 and Jo’s sermon contains some cryptic signals.

the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night;… I am not like other men; my mind is continually occupied with the business of the day, and I have to depend entirely upon the living God for every thing I say on such occasions as these.

The great thing for us to know is to comprehend what God did institute before the foundation of the world. Who knows it? It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes, and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty.

We are called this morning to mourn the death of a just and good man—a great and mighty man… Had I inspiration, revelation, and lungs to communicate what my soul has contemplated in times past, there is not a soul in this congregation but would go to their homes, and shut their mouths in everlasting silence on religion till they had learned something.

Why be so certain that you comprehend the things of God, when all things with you are so uncertain. You are welcome to all the knowledge and intelligence I can impart to you. I do not grudge the world of all the religion they have got; they are welcome to all the knowledge they possess.

Where has Judge Higbee gone?

Who is there that would not give all his goods to feed the poor, and pour out his gold and silver to the four winds to go where Judge Higbee has gone?

That which hath been hid from before the foundation of the world is revealed to babes and sucklings in the last days.

The world is reserved unto burning in the last days. He shall send Elijah the prophet, and he shall reveal the covenants of the fathers in relation to the children, and the covenants of the children in relation to the fathers.

Four destroying angels holding power over the four quarters of the earth, until the servatns of God are sealed in their foreheads, which signifies sealing the blessing upon their heads, meaning the everlasting covenant, thereby making their calling and election sure. When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant to their father and mother.

If this wasn’t cryptic enough, Jo’s final words in the sermon are quite revealing. “To the mourners I would say, do as the husband and the father would instruct you, and you shall be reunited.” This was a mere month after the polygamy revelation had been given and presented to the High Council. Any time we see the terms of new and everlasting covenant in this period of Nauvoo history, it’s talking about the doctrine of sealing in the context of polygamy. There is no other available definition for that phrase from Nauvoo. Other mysterious and untimely deaths had occurred connected to polygamy and Jo’s funeral sermon for Elias Higbee reading so cryptically can be viewed as such. I’ll readily admit how incredibly speculative it is that Elias Higbee was killed for opposition to polygamy, but I’m equally speculative in believing the same was the case for Don Carlos Smith, Jo’s youngest brother, especially when Jo married his widowed sister-in-law only a month after Don Carlos’s death. Who knows, if Jo had lived another year he may have added Francis and Chauncey Higbee’s mom, Sarah Elizabeth Ward, to his harem.

Jo wasn’t done preaching that day. After a few other speakers had talked for a bit, Jo got back on the stand.

I had forgotten one thing: we have had certain traders in this city who have been writing falsehoods to Missouri; and there is a certain man in this city who has made a covenant to betray and give me up to the Missourians,… That man is no other than Sidney Rigdon: this testimony I have from gentlemen from abroad, whose names I do not wish to give.

This is when Rigdon was excommunicated by Jo for his work with Bennett, the post office fiasco, Nancy Rigdon, and half a dozen other disagreements which signaled to Jo that Hingepin Rigdon wasn’t a loyalist. The main issue here is that the Higbee brothers were considered to be in league with Rigdon at this time. Francis Higbee and Nancy Rigdon were even close friends before Jo tried to rape her and Francis gave the Happiness Letter to Wreck-it Bennett. Nancy was understandably angry with Francis Higbee for casting her name further into the public light by sharing so much with Bennett, but the fact remained that Jo considered Rigdon and Francis Higbee both enemies. His speech at this time was aimed at Rigdon just as much as the implication was aimed at those Rigdon was in conspiracy with.

A month after this speech during the same gathering of Elias Higbee’s funeral, Francis Higbee sent a letter to Jo to try and be the bigger man and bury the hatchet.

My father’s death has been enough,… When taken in connection with other things of less moment, to engage my whole attention without seeking to draw down upon my own head, the heads of my mother’s family, another scourge, such as we suffered in Missouri. Who suffered more and hazarded life oftener than did I—God forbid that ever I should be instrumental in bringing destruction not only upon my friends, but upon myself and relatives—then, Sir, please read this, or announce to the public that the charge with which I stand charged is false, false, false, and greatly oblige.

Jo did oblige by inviting Francis Higbee over to a house party. They apparently settled affairs briefly and Jo “expressed himself satisfied that Col. Francis M. Higbee was free, even of reproach or suspicion, in that matter.” Once again, this peace was short-lived.

By the very end of 1843, Jo was again distrusting of Francis Higbee and ranting against him in High Council meetings. Jo had recommended that other young men should “better withdraw from his [Higbee’s] society, and let him stand on his own merits… [Higbee] had better be careful or a train of facts would be disclosed concerning him that he would not like,…” The minutes of the meeting seem to tell only half the story because Francis Higbee fired off another letter to Jo and it is absolutely dripping with venom from how Francis had been treated in such a petty way by Jo.

The inconsiderate, the unwarented, and unheard of attack you made upon my character… before the City Council impels me to demand an investigation of you, and that without any delay before the eclesiastical powers. For if I am guilty of either of those charges, omitting the guilt of the whole, I most unquestionably am not worthy a name among a people making as great proffesions as do the people called mormons. It is said I seek the hours of the midnight assassin to seize my victim, when no one is near to bear witness of the crime or attest the unhallowed deed, that I sympathized with the afflicted and oppressed, that I may devour their vitals, that I seek the mantle of religion to envelop my scorpion body, that I may better practeice my nefarious designs. Then sir, if I am acting in this sphere, am I not acting in the sphere of a hypocrite, and am I not a dark body suffered a place on the fair escutcheon of our religion? In deciding this question, let us not sever the moorings of Chrisitanity, and plunge into the mad sea of revenge? Persuade the mariner to sell his compass? Or Washington his sword? Persuade an intelegent man to pluck out his eyes, to enjoy the unmitigated horrors of blindness? Truth is our compass in the stormy sea of life;… Truth shall arise like the angel on Manoah’s sacrifice, upon the flame of Natures funeral pyre, and ascend to her source, her heaven and her home, the bosem of the Holy, and eternal God…

Sir, you have struck a blow at evry thing which renders existance sweet; you have sought to blast evry proud hope, and evry fond expectations by throwing into free circulation reports, the truth of which, God is some day to judge… As for the opinion which I always, and still entertain, with regard to the propriety of one mans having more than one woman, or this spiritual business, I am not ashamed to avow, in your presence or in the face and eyes of the world; I have repeatedly said and am still of the same opinion “fixed and determined as the polar star” that any revelation commanding or in any wise suffering sexual intercourse under any other form than that prescribed by the laws of our country, AND which has been ratified by special revelation through you, is of HELL; and I bid defiance to any or all such. As far as my character and influence extends, I am willing, not only willing but determined, to oppose it, under evry form it can present itself… “though the people should riot and protect in insurrection though tyrants should rage and threaten distruction, though the hurricane should lay upon the bed of the sea; though the earthquake should tear the globe in peices; though the stars should fall from their sphere, and the frame of nature be dissolved I know virtue will protect her votaries while the good men will remain tranquil amidst the ruins of the world.”…

Sir I cla[i]m the right of investigation, I claim the right to a fair and impartial and public trial; and that without delay. From your mere ipse dixit I shall extricate myself, for bear it I will not; I am quite determined not to remain quiet under the foul imputations cast upon me.

No investigation into Joseph Smith was ever held because of course it wasn’t. Jo continued to rail against Higbee in private councils and that information eventually found its way back to ol Franky boy through the gossip network. Finally, Francis had enough.

A poem was published anonymously titled Buckeye’s Lamentation for Want of More Wives. This poem details some important and salacious details of Nauvoo polygamy and prostitution around town. Historian Gary Bergera postulates that this poem was actually written by Francis Higbee amid the pending Bostwick lawsuit for which he was lawyer. It is an interesting assertion but Bergera makes a strong case for it being Francis and I’m inclined to agree with it. Considering everything Francis had suffered because of Jo, resorting to subterfuge by way of this scathing poem must have been a cathartic outlet.

The trial of Orsimus F. Bostwick is something we’ve talked about it on the show before. Essentially Bostwick claimed that Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith was teaching plural marriage and Hyrum sued Bostwick for slander. Francis Higbee was Bostwick’s lawyer during the trial, chaired by Mayor and King Jo, and it was, of course, ruled in Hyrum’s favor and therefore Bostwick was on the hook for a $50 fine. Francis Higbee appealed the case to the circuit court at Carthage, which Jo said would bring the mob down upon us in his public speech railing against Higbee. Luckily for Jo, he died before the appeal process was resolved.

Spring of 1844 brought the Higbee brothers, Chauncey and Francis, the Foster brothers we discussed last week, Charles and Robert, and the Law brothers, William and Wilson which we’ll discuss next week, into sharp focus as the most acute threats to the church. On March 24, 1844 Jo preached from the pulpit:

I have been informed by two gentlemen that a conspiracy is got up in this place for the purpose of taking the life of President Joseph Smith, his family, and all the Smith family, and the heads of the church. One of the gentlemen will give his name to the public, and the other wishes it to be hid for the present. They will both testify to it on oath and make an affidavit upon it. The names of the persons revealed at the head of the conspiracy are as follows:--Cha[u]ncey L. Higbee, Dr. Robert D. Foster, Mr. Joseph H. Jackson, William and Wilson Law. And the lies that C.L. Higbee has hatched up as a foundation to work upon are—he says that I had men’s heads cut off in Missouri, and that I had a sword run through the hearts of the people that I wanted to kill and put out of the way. I won’t swear out a warrant against them for I don’t fear any of them, they would not scare off an old setting hen. I intend to publish all the iniquity that I know of them. If I am guilty I am ready to bear it.

While Francis Higbee wasn’t named directly in that list of conspirators to murder the prophet, his long-running association and familial connection with those named implicated him as well.

A week after this speech, Chauncey Higbee accosted Jo on the street and Jo charged him with “abusive indecent and threatening language” for which Chauncey was fined $10 plus court costs after his motion to dismiss was ignored by Jo’s banana republic municipal court.

Both Foster brothers became the target of the prophet’s smear campaign as he entered the national stage to run for president. Chauncey was with the Fosters when the marshal deputized all three men to assist him in the arrest of Augustine Spencer and Charles Foster aimed a pistol at Jo’s chest. During the fray, Chauncey Higbee said “[I] would be God damnd. if [I] did not shoot [you]… [I] would consider favord of God—for the privilege of shooting. or ridding the world of such a Tyr[a]nt” All three were arrested and fined $100 a piece. Chauncey Higbee, Robert Foster, and Charles Foster appealed the decision to be taken to the circuit court in Carthage to be heard during the June session, conveniently when Hyrum’s case against Orsimus Bostwick was scheduled to be heard in Carthage as well. Neither Jo nor Hyrum survived for either of these hearings.

After the judgement was made against these three men including Chauncey Higbee, Francis M. Higbee was fed up. He sought final legal recourse for what he considered unrelenting and complete tyranny. Francis filed a lawsuit against Joseph Smith for the sum of $5000 in damages for defamation and slander. But, because Francis had long been fed up with Jo’s complete control of the court; digression, some historians call what Jo did with the Nauvoo Municipal court merely “tampering” but that supposes a baseline of fairness from which Jo tugged and pulled on occasion. I disagree, he was judge jury and executioner of Nauvoo’s court system. He didn’t manipulate the system, he was the system. Francis had suffered from that fact for years and he wasn’t going to deal with it anymore so he filed the lawsuit in Carthage instead of Nauvoo. This meant a Carthage official needed to arrest Joseph Smith and bring him to the circuit court there, at the county seat, which superseded the Nauvoo Municipal court. What did Jo do? Well, he allowed himself to be arrested by the Nauvoo marshal, John P. Greene because Nauvoo ordinances dictated this as legal, then he held a hearing in secret which granted his writ of habeas corpus and the case went away. Besides, if an officer from outside Nauvoo entered the city with the intent of arresting Joseph Smith, another Nauvoo Ordinance dictated that person to be arrested and imprisoned for life. Jo was bulletproof and Francis Higbee knew that more than anybody.

The Council of Fifty meeting on May 6th contains a report by Hingepin Sidney Rigdon after he’d met with the Laws, Fosters, and Higbees to see what was really going on.

Er Rigdon reported that he had had a labor with the Laws without accomplishing any thing, but judged that they had taken a course which they never would become reconciled, that William Law said that if they would not buy out his property &c he would set up a press and go it to the death to get satisfaction.

He found Chancy Higbee in his office. He manifested no bitter feelings, Had nothing to do with the thing and did not calculate to leave.

He found Francis M. Higbee at the landing. He seemed more stubborn than Chancy. He said that they had addressed the Governor, who had received the charges and agreed to summon the Court Martial &c. They had also preferred charges to the [Masonic] Grand Lodge of Illinois. There were a multitude of Law Suits. F. M. Higbee had 2 Law suits, Wilson Law 2 and Wm Law some. There were some half score in all…

The Laws manifested a determination to go ahead. They would not retain a standing in the church & be still

Er John Smith moved that we feel after the Laws no more but give them over to the buffetings of Satan…

[Joseph Smith] decided that Foster and the Higbees were included in the last resolution and were all given to the buffetings of Satan.

So, where does that leave us? Exactly where we left off last week, this small entry in Jo’s journal for May 7th, 1844.

An opposition printing press arrived at Dr [Robert D.] Fosters fr[o]m Columbus ohio. as report says

The Higbees were O.G. Mormons from the earliest Kirtland era of the church. They were used, abused, driven from their homes multiple times, maybe assassinated for their opposition to polygamy, died from sickness, and generally suffered incredible amounts of abuse by Joseph Smith and his church. Elias and his sons were members of the church for over a decade before Chauncey was excommunicated for doing what Jo was doing but doing it too publicly or without Jo’s permission or something. Elias died. Francis fought the prophet in the court system repeatedly, the only way us citizens have to right wrongs committed upon us by another citizen. At the end of it all, what was the greatest sin the Higbees committed? Following the rules. That was it, they followed the rules. The rules of law and rules of culturally dictated monogamy. That was their slight against the one true prophet. They bowed to the despotic system of the Nauvoo theocracy for years and tried to make life work but Jo was a weak human and considered them a threat. Accordingly, he waged public square warfare against the Higbees repeatedly until he’s successfully destroyed their characters, destroyed any opportunity either brother had of finding a wife, and completely obliterated any familial and community relationships they’d formed. The Higbees filing lawsuits and speaking against the prophet were purely reactionary to Jo the tyrant flexing on people he perceived as weaker in status than he.

Chauncey and Francis Higbee fought long and hard to live in an equal society but the simple fact remained that the deck was stacked against them. No matter how hard they played, no matter how good their poker face, Jo always had a trick ace in the sleeve. People can only handle so much of this kind of abuse from a figure in power before they do something to flip the table and change the game. That’s what we’re witnessing in a slow and grueling process. The Higbees, the Fosters, and the Laws had placed their hands underneath the table in preparation of flipping the Mormon empire game into complete and utter chaos.

Hey y’all, you heard it at the top of the episode. We have an upcoming event this April 19th in Salt Lake City. However, given the current trends related to COVID-19 or Coronavirus, the organizers and myself have decided to postpone the event. The FAA has issued travel restrictions on many countries to contain the spread and the CDC has issued a number of guidelines to best protect people against infection. I live up here in Seattle with the nation’s largest outbreak of the virus and if actions Seattle has taken is any indicator of what other states will be doing in the coming months, the Salt Lake City Library probably won’t even be open for non-essential meetings for us to even hold the event if we didn’t postpone it.

I’m very disappointed with this development. However, I know that certain people are more vulnerable to being infected by this specific virus and I don’t want them to be excluded from the event should their doctors or any federal agencies recommend they shouldn’t attend something like this. The Utah Psychedelic Society organizers and myself explored ways we could still possibly hold it but none of them could work. So, what does that mean for you if you’ve already bought your tickets? They’ll still be valid when the event happens. Like I said, we’re just postponing, not canceling. If you’d like a refund instead that’s no problem. The Eventbrite page will be updated to reflect our postponement this upcoming ides of March weekend.

If you were looking forward to the lecture and the tour of Gilgal gardens, or even the VIP dinner afterwards… I’m sorry. But, this is the best decision and trust me I’ve weighed out a lot of different options. The risk of somebody actually becoming infected is very small, but I couldn’t sleep at night knowing I was responsible for somebody being infected. It’s simply better to not take the risk and hold the event at a later time when we have more information and risk of infection is lower.

If Sunstone in Salt Lake City isn’t canceled this year, I’ll be presenting on psychedelics in occult traditions with my copresenter, Brian Kassenbrock, who’ll present on entheogens in the Book of Mormon. That’ll be, as always, the last week of July 2020.

Dennis Anderson geocentric email

Thank Jay Mumford

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