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James Godson Bleak

Title: The Annals of the Southern Mission: A Record of the History of the Settlement of Southern Utah
Editors and Contributors: Aaron McArthur and Reid Neilson.
Forward: Elder Steven E. Snow
Introduction: Brandon J. Metcalf
Pages: 850
Price: 124.95
Limited Print Run in Smyth Sewn Binding

Book Cover

If you study LDS Pioneer history than you owe James Godson Bleak a debt of gratitude, and you may not even know who he is.  Bleak (1829-1918) was baptized into the LDS Church in 1851 in England.  In 1856 he and his family sailed on the ship Horizon to the United States where they joined the Martin Handcart Company.  He kept a diary of his experiences in that company that contributes much to the understanding of that ordeal.  In 1861 Bleak was among

George Albert Smith in 1852

those called by Brigham Young and George Albert Smith to join the “Southern Mission” and settle the St George area.  At that time Bleak was “set apart” to the additional responsibility of being the mission’s “regional historian” (see pp. xv-xvi).  Over the next 39 years Bleak created and collected the records of the mission, including the minutes of various meetings and events, letters and documents, transcripts of sermons and dedications, announcements of callings and responsibilities, general news and events in the region, etc.  By 1900 Bleak had many records and documents, but no “official” history of the mission.  He began to get pressure from Church authorities to produce such a record.  In 1901 Bleak, who was then in his 70’s, was provided with an office in the St George temple so that he could focus on completing his task.  Over the next seven years Bleak turned his 39 years-worth of documents into a 2,000 plus page history of the Southern Mission that narrated each year in the settlement’s history from 1849 to 1900. 

After Bleak produced “The Annals” copies ended up in several archives, including the archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  For many years the only way that the “Annals” could be studied was for interested persons to journey to and spend time and money researching in theses selected archives.  Then, in 2003, they were sort of made more widely available when they were included among the documents released by the LDS Church in its 74-disc, 1,299 dollar “Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” set.  But until Kofford produced this version of the “Annals”, it had never been made easily available to the general public.   

This Kofford edition of the “Annals” is 850 pages long and consists almost entirely of the documents created by Bleak.  Supplementary material in “Annals” are brief and include: a short forward by LDS Church Historian Steven Snow who is a great-great-grandson of Bleak, an “Editor’s Preface” that provides all of the editorial methods used in the book, a 12-page introduction to the Southern Mission, Bleak, and the history that he created by Brandon Metcalf, some limited footnotes, and an extensive index.  There are no maps, illustrations, or timelines included in this volume and there is no biographical directory/register. While such things would have been cool, as produced, “Annals” is already HUGE measuring 10.25×7.25×2 inches and weighing in at nearly 2 pounds. I can understand that it would have been nearly impossible to include such supplementary materials and still produce “Annals” as a single volume.  This would have added an even higher price tag and would have further limited its potential audience.  If I had one mild complaint about this book, it would be that I would have liked for the editors to have written more and longer footnotes that provided greater historical context and details for some of the people and events that are mentioned in Bleak’s records.  But again, I understand that with as large as “Annals” already is, this would have been impossible for Kofford to include without making this a very expensive, multi volume work. 

As enormous as “Annals” is, and with all of the years and history it covers, there is no way for me to describe all of the cool, fascinating, moving, and occasionally troubling history that a reader will encounter in its pages.  I will however, highlight a few points to whet potential readers appetites.  While Bleak’s history is usually general and sweeping in its scope, it also has it’s touching moments of up-close individual stories.  As an example, this moment from the lives of John and Caroline Lee:

Sarah Caroline Lee

“Friday, 7th February 1862 while the last of J. D. Lee’s family were preparing to leave Fort Harmony, and his wife, Sarah Caroline was in the act of making up a bed, a sudden gust of wind blew down a partition wall, which, in the fall, broke through the lower floor, killing two of the children, George A. and Margaret Ann. Two other children had a narrow escape from sharing a similar fate” (p. 59).

I LOVE that such details are included.  While the big, epic stories of history are important and to be expected in a record such as this, for me it is the small, personal stories that give history heart and meaning so I am glad the Bleak felt to work such moments into his history.  One of the “troubling” aspects that I alluded to was the almost casual way that Bleak includes incidents of violence against Native Americans.  The following excerpts are a little longer, but give important and disturbing details of the Mormon settler’s reactions to Natives whom they found or believed to be guilty of crimes

Pah-Ute’s near Cedar, Utah, 1872

“On the 18th (of January, 1866), a scouting party from Capt. Andrus’ Command took two prisoners while in the act of killing a beef. They were brought in, and on the 19th, examined, but nothing of importance could be obtained. Neither threatenings nor promises availed anything; and although a rope was thrown across a beam, and they were told that unless they told us the truth they would be hanged, they still persisted in declaring ignorance of what had been done. But, one said he had had a dream that the Navajos had been here. He gave information of a small band of indians camped about 10 miles out. A party was sent after them, who found they had moved camp about 5 miles farther. They were overtaken at sunrise on the 20th. Two indians were killed and five captured.

Whilst this party was out, the indian in camp was induced to confess his knowledge of the death and whereabouts of the bodies of Brothers Whitmore and McIntyre. He went with a small party and showed the place where they lay.

A wagon was sent out, and whilst those with the wagon were taking up the bodies, the five prisoners were brought up to the place, in charge of eleven men; among the indians taken, were found the clothes of the murdered men, some money, fresh sheepskins and a few other things, which stood as evidence against them of their guilt. This meeting was too much for the brethren to stand, so they turned the prisoners loose and shot them on the ground where the murdered bodies lay. Thus did retribution overtake them on the scene of their crime. This makes seven {indians} killed. We have one prisoner in camp from whom we hope to get more information.

We have heard of a large band of indians, camped on the Pahreah, and as soon as our supplies come up, we shall march on to them, with prayers in our hearts that the Lord will use us as means in His hands to punish them for their crimes” (pp. 125-126)

Shortly after committing these retaliatory murders the Mormons captured a Native who had killed a non-Mormon miner:

“They (the Mormon militia) took Okus, the murderer, out of the wagon, where he was chained, and putting one end of a chain around his neck and attaching the other end to the horn of a saddle, set off at full speed for Meadow Valley, 10 miles, which they made in one hour and ten minutes. The indian of course was quite exhausted through traveling so far at such a speed. …

On the return of the company to Panaca Okus saw, by the preparations, that he was to be killed. He said, through an interpreter, that he knew he had bad blood in him and that it ought to be poured out, but, he asked to be shot instead of hanged. His request was not granted. He was hanged and died without a struggle.

From information given by Elder Nebeker to Mr Woodman, the company of fifteen set out for the camp of indians under Moroni at Clover Valley, in quest of Bush-head. This indian was taken prisoner in the settlement. Moroni and his band upon invitation of the settlers went from their camp to the settlement, and were informed that Bush-head was about to be hanged for his crimes. Moroni preached to Bush-head in relation to his evil course, and considered the judgment just.

Bush-head was then hanged in the presence of settlers and indians” (p. 130).

I realize that “Frontier Justice” was different than what we are used to in the 21st century, but given the modern Mormon habit of focusing on how friendly their ancestors were supposed to have been to the Natives whom they saw as descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples, it is important to see these details of how casually violent they could be to them as well.

St George Temple in 1877

There are many, many others interesting stories and details that Bleak included in the “Annals”.  1877 is a particularly fascinating year and Bleak recorded it in more detail than many of the other years. Among the events detailed from that year are the completion of the St George Temple, its private and public dedication ceremonies, the record of the only LDS general conference to take place in St George (held in conjunction with the temple dedication), and the formation of the St George United order including the documents that outlined all of its rules, bylaws, and contracts.  Among all of these important details of these historical 1877 events was a moment that I personally found amusing when the First Presidency recommended that members from other areas who wanted to come for the conference and dedicatory events in St George ought to bring a “tent” along and “camp out in this beautiful climate” (p. 454).

Miners in tent, 1870’s

To be frank, “Annals” is probably not for everyone.  Unless you are as weird as I am you are not going to plop down on a beanbag or in an easy-chair and read it for an afternoon’s entertainment.  It is full of names, lists, lists of names, minutes of meetings, more lists, letters, and have I mentioned lots of names? But while it may not appeal to the casual reader, “Annals” is a treasure to the dedicated reader and historian.  You could spend years sifting and panning through this book without mining all of its nuggets.  There are details of Southern Utah history that would not exist without “Annals.” As Metcalf explains in his Introduction, “Much of the surviving documentary record of the Dixie region is the direct result of Bleak’s efforts … The documentary sources penned by Bleak, … ‘form the basic core of the history’ of the region and ‘without them the history of Utah’s Dixie would be greatly limited … 1880s’. The Annals remain a beginning point for any scholar exploring pioneer Utah and more especially southern Utah.” (p. xiv and xiii, quoting Andrew Carl Larson). 

At 124.95, “Annals” is significantly more than your average book, but it is not your average book, it is an investment.  I’m going to be honest, until “Annals” came out I had never heard the term “Smyth Sewn”, and quite frankly, I’m still not entirely sure what it means.  BUT I can tell you this, “Annals” is a GORGEOUS book.  It is a wonder to behold. When I lay it open on my desk it is a thing of beauty.  It is a fine example of solid book craftsmanship.  “Annals” was made to last and Kofford deserves all the kudos for producing such an excellently put together book.  And that is just the physical book, add to that the trove of information that “Annals” contains and it is very much worth the price.

One important note: “Annals” is not numbered, BUT was produced in a limited print run.  I spoke to the publisher the last week of May and was told that at that time there were about 100 un-spoken for copies.  When I checked out Amazon mid-July the online retailer listed it as “Currently Unavailable”. If you are interested you should waste no time in contacting Kofford Books or perhaps specialized Mormon book retailers such as Benchmark Books in Salt Lake or Confetti Books in Spanish Fork, Utah.  

For more on the “Annals” read this Q&A with the editors of this volume

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Worlds Without End by Andrew Hamilton - 1M ago

“In a Rugged Land: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and the Three Mormon Towns Collaboration, 1953-1954”, James Swensen, University of Utah Press, 2018
Genre: Documentary Photography, History
Number of Pages: 340
Binding: Paper, Ebook Available
Price: Paperback $ 34.95, eBook $ 28.95

Dorothea Lange, Mid 20th Century Ansel Adams

In 1953 and 1954 famed photographers and old friends Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange toured the Mormon towns of Gunlock, Toquerville, and St. George photographing the people, places, and surroundings for an article that would appear in the 6 September 1954 edition of Life magazine.  This was to be an important project for both artists.  In 1953 it has been years since Dorothea Lange had been involved in any major projects due to poor health.  Meanwhile, “Ansel Adams was in the middle of a mid-career low” and was struggling both “emotionally and professionally” and desired to try some new work that would be more “artistically satisfying” (see pp. 19-22).  The “Mormon Towns” project was meant to satisfy the needs of both artists and document Mormon life for a curious country.

James R Swenson’s book, “In a Rugged Land: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and the Three Mormon Towns Collaboration, 1953-1954”, published by the University of Utah in 2018 takes these 65-year-old, nearly forgotten photographs from two of America’s master artists and presents them to a new generation.  “Rugged Land” is divided up into ten chapters that present a mix of Utah and Mormon history, biographical information on Lange and Adams, a history and interpretation of the project and of course, the photographs.  The first three chapters give some history and background on Lange and Adams and why they chose to do the project, one chapter each is then dedicated to the work in each town, the final chapters discuss an unfortunate rift that occurred between the artists, the layout of the project, the publication of the story and its aftermath (unfortunately some of the Mormon subjects were very upset and the possibility of lawsuits was even brought up), and some final words, observations, and interpretations by Swenson.   

I’m going to be completely honest, I purchased this book for the photos, I wasn’t even thinking about or aware of what was in the text when I bought it, so it was a complete bonus for me that Swenson’s text is AMAZING.  The story behind the “Mormon Town’s” project is fascinating.  Lange and Adams came together as old friends to do a wonderful collaborative project and boost both of their careers in times of personal trial. Unfortunately, artistic differences, disagreements with Life, and some hurt feelings among the subjects caused the whole thing blow up on them.  Swenson explains the whole story in excellent and sympathetic detail.  Swenson’s text also provides wonderful history and a very interesting anthropological study of mid-twentieth-century small-town Mormonism.  As a sample, writing of Adams and Lange’s arrival in Gunlock, Utah, Swenson states that while they arrived with “connections and secured permissions” they were also met with “suspicion” and skepticism (p.84).   They were told by the locals that if they wished to succeed in gaining access to the town and it people that they must “do it through the bishopric” so they first went to Bishop Ivan “Tobe” Holt Hunt (p. 84). Before deciding if he would give the word that would allow the photographers to go ahead with their work, Bishop Hunt contacted Juanita Brooks for advice.  “Salt Lake City” (ie, the LDS General Authorities) were also consulted.  Adding to the concerns and suspicions of the local Mormon’s was that Lange and Adams showed up shortly after the government raided the polygamist town of Short Creek.  While the two communities were theologically divided, their “Small town values” were nearly identical thus leading the citizens of Gunlock to worry about what the photographer’s true motives were.  As I read my reaction was “That’s SO Mormon.” I encourage you to read the story, it’s an amazing study of small, mid-western town behavior, it’s absolutely fascinating. 

One of the things that I LOVED about this book was that the presentation of Adams and Lange’s stunning work proved to me that “photography” is something of a lost or dying art.  In our time almost EVERYONE carries a camera EVERYWHERE.  We take snaps of EVERYTHING.  Your kid does something cute: click, click, click, click.  A cool cloud floats by: snap, snap, snap, snap.  Something mildly amusing happens: tap, tap, tap, tap, on the button on our phones and within seconds we upload it onto Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, or maybe group text it off to our families.  We live in a world saturated in pictures.  I am not complaining; I am glad that we have the ability to preserve and share special moments.  But this book is a great example that there was a time when taking a photograph was an artistic endeavor. Masters like Adams and Lange choose their cameras, lenses, and film stocks carefully.  Angle, lighting, shading, focal length, focus and so many other small details were weighed and considered with great care. Much thought and work were required before the shutter was finally clicked.  The work, artistry, and mastery of craft shows in each and every photograph in this book.

I could honestly go through an entire dictionary and thesaurus to describe the photos in this book: beautiful, stunning, masterful, awesome, fantastic, emotive, sacred, and that is just a start.  I’m not ashamed to write that I got a little emotional looking at the photos in this book.  I have spent most of my life in mid to small sized towns in Utah and Idaho.  Many of my forebearers lived out their lives in small, Mormon, central Utah towns.  These are my people.  But even if you don’t have the personal connection I think that you will connect with the photos in this book because Lange and Adams subjects and photos evoke an “everyman”/“everywoman” quality.  The photos in this book will recall summer picnics, trips to grandma’s house, family outings, childhood fun, and time spent with loved ones.  All of the work is beautiful, but I want to quickly highlight four images that particularly affected me. 


“Loves of Bread, Utah, 1953”[1].

Bread holds a place of important symbolism in American, Christian, and Mormon life.  We eat it, we share it, we throw it at birds, it is a symbol of unity, it is used in Christian/Mormon covenant making, it is a major part of our lives.  If I need some bread, I run to the local market and for about a dollar I can have a sliced-up loaf of Wonder, or maybe if I feel fancy, a loaf of “French Bread” from the store’s bakery department.  But much like the lost art of taking a photograph, there was a time where making enough bread for a family was an all-day affair in many women’s lives.  For these reasons I absolutely love this photo.  I find it to be a thing of beauty: the framing, lighting, and use of shadow and shading are masterful.  To me this is a sacred image. It may just be an image of food but to me it says so much about women, family, small town life, and religious experience. 


“A Winter’s Provender [Jessie Waite Hunt], Gunlock, Utah, 1953”[2]

I have similar feelings about the image “A Winter’s Provender [Jessie Waite Hunt], Gunlock, Utah, 1953”[2]. This close up of a woman holding four home bottled jars of beans says a lot to me.  I fully realize that there was a time when home bottling and canning were common.  Many people, at least in the small towns that I have lived in, still “can” a portion of their harvest in the fall. But Mormons in particular have turned “canning” not only into an art form but into something of a tenant of their faith.  It is often a source of for the bottler, much like Aunt Bea’s homemade pickles.  When I look at this image I don’t just see hands holding beans I see hard work, hours spent, sweat and perspiration, tilling, hoeing, weeding, watering, picking, washing, cutting, flavoring, boiling, sealing, and sharing.  But mostly I see love.


“Riley Savage with his Grand Daughter, Leeds, 1953”[3]

A very touching, non-food image is, “Riley Savage with his Grand Daughter, Leeds, 1953”[3]. The photo features 84-year-old Riley Savage sitting on his porch showing a book of family photographs to his granddaughter. I’ll quote Swenson who writes, “There is a charm of closeness in this image, as the elderly grandparent passes on names and faces to his young descendant in overalls.  A necessary process in a Mormon world where family history is sacrosanct” (p. 137). Having shared many such moments with parents and grandparents as they have shared photo’s and stories of family and ancestors, I just love this image. 


“Young Woman, St George, Utah, 1953”[4]

I love the last photograph that I want to mention for an entirely different reason than the first three.  Found on page 199 the photograph is called “Young Woman, St George, Utah, 1953”[4]  It is a closeup of a young woman in a what appears to be a dress wearing a medallion.  She is smiling for the camera.  It is SO utterly timeless. It is over 60 years old and was taken exactly 20 years before I was born but it could have been taken yesterday.  It could be any of my daughters.  I love it because it reminds me that “the past” is not all that different from the now. We are all so intimately connected.  Of it Swenson said,

“In one of the most remarkable images of the project Lange and Adams photographed a young girl whose eyes exude and the beauty of the Saints … Her experiences in St George allowed Lange to ponder the nature of life. ‘Descendants become Ancestors, and ancestors become a memory,’ she wrote: ‘Many things change, and some endure. Many are gained, and some are lost. It is not time that moves, but life” (p. 199).

That quote from Lange is a perfect summary of why I love this book so much.  It gives the reader a complete, “circle of life … moves us all … despair and hope … faith and love”[5] type vibe.  This book is spectacular.  The images are moving and poignant.  After reading James Swenson’s text and savoring the masterful artistry of Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange as found in “In a Rugged Land” I have come to believe, and think that fellow reader’s will agree with me that Paul Simon was right when he sang “Everything looks better in Black and White[6]

[1] Page unnumbered but would be xiv, labeled “Figure 0.5

[2] p. 104, Figure 4.23. Bottling is featured in several photographs in this chapter.

[3] p. 136, Figure 5.28. Leeds is near Toquerville

[4] Figure 6.58

[5] John, Elton and Rice, Tim.  “The Circle of Life.” The Lion King Soundtrack, Walt Disney, 1994. 

[6] Simon, Paul. “Kodachrome.” There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Columbia Records, 1973. – I am fully aware that in the studio recording on the original album Simon sings “Everything looks WORSE in Black and White”, however, in many live performances he sings it as I have quoted using the word “Better”.  The most notable of these performances is the 1981 “Concert In Central Park” reunion performance with Art Garfunkel.  In an interview about Kodachrome Simon said “I can’t remember which way I originally wrote it – ‘better’ or ‘worse’ – but I always change it” (“Still Creative After All These Years,” interview with Daniel J. Levitin, Grammy magazine, Winter, 1997).

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“Thunder From the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics” – Edited by Matthew L Harris
Published by: University of Illinois Press, 2019
Number of Pages: 247, Paper Binding and eBook, Cloth by Special order
Price: Paperback: $27.95, eBook: $14.95, Hardback: $99.00

I teach college English. A big part of my job is teaching freshman to avoid using clichés and buzz words in their essays. I promised myself I’d be a good boy, but I’m going to give in to temptation. “Thunder From the Right” is an outstanding book by an excellent group of scholars who have written a collection of essays that will amaze, fascinate, inform and probably trouble you.

Ezra Taft Benson Sustained as Church President, April 6, 1986

I’ll be honest, I went into “Thunder From the Right” skeptical that I would learn much from it. I’ve long had a fascination with Ezra Taft Benson because of the particular way that he influenced my life. Benson bookended my teenage years: I was 12 when he became president of the LDS Church and he passed away a couple of months before I returned from my mission. On top of that I grew up in a family of Utah Democrats: my parents, my parents-parents, and their parents back to Utah’s statehood were proud Democrats. Benson did not like Democrats and infamously said that good Mormons could not be good Democrats. Take hearing about Benson and his teachings constantly during my formative years, add two years of knocking on doors in Oklahoma testifying to strangers that Benson was a prophet of God, and mix in that Benson said that my family did not even deserve to be Mormons and you get a man who I had complicated feelings about. This led me to read any material on Benson that I could get my hands on. I thought that I had learned it all. “Thunder from the Right” proved me wrong; its compact 238 pages of text taught me a wealth of information on Benson and gave me a greater understanding of his personality and motivations for his beliefs and actions.

Ezra Taft Benson Sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture

“Thunder” is a collection of eight essays edited by Colorado State professor Matthew L. Harris. The contributors are all names that you will know if you ready scholarly Mormon history: Brian Q. Cannon, Gary James Bergera, Robert A. Goldberg, Newell G. Bringhurst, Matthew Bowman, Andrea G. Radke-Moss, and J. B. Haws. Harris sets up “Thunder” with a brief ten-page introduction that, much like a good movie trailer, whets the appetite, sets high expectations, and gives you just enough information to lure you in and make you feel that what is to come is going to be irresistible. He concludes by stating his hope that “Thunder” will:

“offer a fresh and stimulating retrospective assessment of Ezra Taft Benson’s life and legacy, particularly his considerable accomplishments as a public servant, Cold War figure, and religious leader in the half century after World War II” (p. 10).

Ezra Taft Benson on the cover of Time Magazine, April 13, 1953

I can say that the book meets those expectations. As this is a collection of work by eight authors, I will provide a mini-review of each essay. “Thunder” is divided into two thematic parts. Part One, which is made up of the first seven essays, is called “Politics and Cold War Anxieties.” This is an excellent description for this section as readers will be intimately familiar with Benson’s anxieties and fears by the time they finish this section of the book.

Ezra Taft Benson inspects a farm during a drought, date unknown

Brian Q. Cannon, professor of history and director of the Charles Redd Center at BYU, leads off with the essay “Ezra Taft Benson and the Family Farm.” Before leaving for Washington DC to take up his post as Secretary of Agriculture, Benson received a blessing from David O. McKay who said “as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ [y]ou are entitled to … divine guidance which others may not have.” He also “blessed him to discern ‘the enemies who would thwart the freedoms of the individual as vouchsafed in the constitution’ and to ‘be fearless in the condemnation of those subversive influences, and strong in your defense of the rights and privileges of the constitution’” (p. 28, brackets and ellipses in the book). Cannon then deftly outlines how Benson took this as a mandate that he was on a “divine errand” (p. 36) to fight his perceptions of socialism in farming and the government and impose his own version of Mormon ideals through official policy.


Nikita S. Khrushchev pats “Alice” during a visit to the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Center in Maryland September 16, 1959. Ezra Taft Benson and U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge look on. Photo courtesy of National Archives

Gary James Bergera, managing director of the Smith-Pettit Foundation, takes on and debunks one of Benson’s most famous stories in “Ezra Taft Benson Meets Nikita Khrushchev, 1959: Memory Embellished.” Growing up at the tail end of the cold war, and as a teenager during Benson’s years as LDS Church president, I cannot tell you how many times I heard the story of how Benson, as Secretary of Agriculture and with the authority of the apostleship to give him strength, stood up to and defied the “evil” Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union. The way the story was retold, Benson came out as something of a patriotic capitalist Mormon superhero. Bergera documents that Benson and Khrushchev did indeed meet briefly in 1959 and then proceeds to explain that when Benson told the story to a BYU audience seven years later he “recast the meeting as a near-mythic confrontation between good and evil” (p. 53). Bergera then outlines why he thinks that Benson did this and then shows how the story grew with each retelling over the years by Benson. Bergera even proves that the most famous quote that Benson attributed to Khrushchev from the meeting that “your grandchildren will live under communism,” to which Benson was supposed to have heroically defied/prophesied “Mr. Chairman, if I have my way, your grandchildren and everyone’s grandchildren, will live under freedom” (p. 55) likely was NOT even said to Benson. In fact, Benson probably borrowed this Khrushchev quote from someone else’s experience! Bergera has crafted a compelling essay on memory and motive.

Robert A. Goldberg, professor of history and director of the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah, contributes the essay “From New Deal to New Right.” Goldberg makes the contention that “in the late 1950s the power of American conservatism appeared spent”, that Eisenhower had no plans to “roll back, New Deal and Fair Deal reforms” started by FDR, and that outside of the “mainstream, conservatives had fractured into loosely structured ideological camps.” He also states that for Mormons of the time to “connect with all of these (conservative) camps” they would need “a Moses to lead them” (p. 71). Goldberg writes that Benson had the “timing, opportunity, and desire … to play the role” and that Benson “burned with ambition to lead America and his church past tribulation” (p. 72). Goldberg then shows with excellent documentation how Benson from the early 60’s to the early ’80s, through nearly every speech and action, including his involvement in the John Birch Society, sought to guide Mormons to his political promised land and in so doing pretty much created modern Mormon conservatism.

Governor George Wallace. When Wallace ran for president in 1968, Benson wanted to be his running mate. Benson told John Birch founder Robert Welch about Wallace “He’s a great guy. We have a lot in common”

Newell G. Bringhurst, emeritus professor of history and political science and author of 13 books, authored an essay titled “Potomac Fever: Continuing Quest for the U.S. Presidency.” I won’t say much about this essay other than it is a remarkable piece of scholarship and writing that shows that Benson really, really, REALLY, REALLY wanted to be president of the United States very, very badly and that he was willing to cuddle up to some nasty racists to get there.

Benson was convinced that Dr King was a tool of a communist plot to take over the USA

Matthew Harris, along with his editing duties, penned the essay “Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, and Perceptions of a Communist Conspiracy.” You probably knew that Benson was influenced by Herbert Hoover, that he was convinced by Robert Welch that communist conspiracies were everywhere, that he loved the John Birch society, that Welch even convinced Benson that his old boss former president Eisenhower was a tool of the communists, and that he hated Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement and was convinced that they were being used to turn the USA over to the communists. I knew of these things, but I had no idea how severely Benson was into these ideas and conspiracy theories until I read this essay. It is a must read. It blew me away. I couldn’t put it down. I’m going to buy Harris’s next book just based on this essay. It is definitely a you won’t believe it until you read it type essay but you will believe it because it is so well written.

Benson spoke a lot on “Free Agency” in the 1950s and 60’s

Matthew Bowman, associate professor of history at Henderson State University, starts off the second section of the book, “Theology,” with the essay “The Cold War and the Invention of Free Agency.” Bowman begins his essay by describing teachings about the agency of man during the Second Great Awakening and the teachings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other early LDS leaders on the topic. He explains that the free agency taught by these early LDS leaders and others such as Talmage and Joseph F. Smith was strictly tide to producerism, that “Free agency was centered on one’s individual choices, and Mormons like (Joseph F.) Smith expected to exercise it regardless of pressures, needs, or external forces” (p. 162). Bowman then goes on to prove over the course of his essay that, during his time in the LDS hierarchy, Benson completely transformed the LDS idea of what agency was. He shows how this transformation began in the 1940s and 50s when Benson “laid the groundwork for a transformation of free agency from something sustained through moral exertion into something that stood eternally in peril” (p. 165) and then documents how Benson, with the help of Mormons like W. Cleon Skousen, “reinterpret(ed) free agency in a way that bound Mormon theology to libertarian politics” (p. 168). He also explains that Benson reinterpreted the Mormon concept of “the War in Heaven” to be “a political allegory in the Cold War” (p. 171). Its an amazing essay and Bowman makes a compelling case in showing that Benson completely redefined an LDS doctrine to suit his personal beliefs and ideals.

Every essay in “Thunder” is excellent. I encourage the careful reading of each and every one. But if I was going to name a favorite, if I were to say to someone, “if you are only going to read one essay in this book and no more read this one,” it would be “Women and Gender” by Andrea G. Radke-Moss, professor of history at Brigham Young Idaho. I’ll be completely frank, Moss’s essay is troubling and frustrating to read, but you will be well compensated for having done so because it is brilliant, compelling, and well, fantastic. Benson loved his wife Flora deeply and was fiercely devoted to and protective of her and she felt the same way about him. But Benson held some extreme ideas about women and what he saw as their divine role as wives and mothers. Over his nearly 50 years in the LDS hierarchy, he has a lot to say about women, some of which many would see as troubling, including blaming women and their behaviors for many of the ills of modern society. This was a hard but important essay to read. Moss’s skill as a writer and her passion for the subject make this an especially compelling essay.

George Bush, Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B Hinckley, Barbara Bush

J. B. Haws, assistant professor of church history and doctrine at BYU, wraps “Thunder” up nicely with his essay about Benson’s “LDS Church Presidency Years, 1985-1994.” It’s a fantastic essay that describes the juxtaposition of Apostolic Benson, the world that he lived in and his ideas, with the evolving world and LDS Church of the 80’s and 90’s and shows how the Benson that I experienced as a youth tied to the Benson from the rest of the book.

If you are interested in the development and course of twentieth century Mormonism, if you want to understand the creation and development of modern Mormon political conservatism, if you want to have an understanding of just who Ezra Taft Benson was and why he was who he was, then read this book. It’s short, it’s engrossing, it’s important, and it will give you a greater understanding, not only of Benson, but of modern Mormonism as well.

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Title: Life and Times of John Pierce Hawley: A Mormon Ulysses of the American West
Author: Melvin Johnson
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Pages: 210
Year: 2019
Price: Paper $24.95; Cloth $34.95

Odysseus and Scylla by PinkParasol

In Book XII of Homer’s Odyssey, after the survivors of Ulysses crew have made it past the Sirens and are growing fearful of facing Scylla and Charybdis, Ulysses gives the following inspirational speech:

“Friends, have we never been in danger like this before? More fearsome, is it now, than when the Cyclops penned us in his cave? What power he had! Did I not keep my nerve, and use my wits to find a way out for us? Now I say by hook or crook this peril too shall be something that we remember.” (Odyssey Book 12)

While John Pierce Hawley never faced down any mythical monsters, historian and award-winning author Melvin Johnson demonstrates in his book “The Life and Times of John Pierce Hawley: A Mormon Ulysses of the American West” that over a lifetime of journeying in pursuit of an authentic Mormon home, John Hawley by “hook (and) crook” faced his own share of perils that are “something (for us to) remember”. 

Near the end of the book Johnson gives this description of Hawley:

“John Hawley is a Mormon Ulysses, a singular and unique individual in the understanding of this important facet of the pioneers’ and settlers’ expansion to the West Coast before and after the Civil War.  Mormonism turned the story of the West into an extraordinary tale of religious devotion, pioneer struggle, and familial connections.  John Hawley illustrates Joseph Smith’s legacy, and Hawley’s story is so exceptional that it becomes a vehicle for telling a larger story than his own: that of the Mormon diaspora.” (p. 165)

Portrait of Lyman Wight settlement of Zodiac Texas c 1850 by Kim Wells Greening

Over the course of ten chapters and three appendices Johnson gives interesting details that depict how Hawley’s journey through Mormonism was truly a life of Odyssey proportions. Johnson introduces us to Hawley’s journey in 1833 when his family is baptized into the Church of Christ started by Joseph Smith. He then guides us on Hawley’s Mormon Odyssey as the he and his family follow Smith to Missouri, the Nauvoo area, and their “calling” to go on a mission with Lyman Wight to the “Wisconsin Pineries” to harvest wood for the Nauvoo building projects.  After the death of Joseph Smith, the Hawley Odyssey continues as they follow Wight to Texas. 

Mormon Mills Cemetery, Burnet County Texas. Photo by Melvin Johnson

Johnson gives us a fascinating two chapters on Hawley’s journey’s with Wight in Wisconsin and Texas before detailing how Hawley became disillusioned with Wight and then continued is Ulysses’ like quest to Utah where he hoped to find the true Mormonism under Brigham Young.  Hawley’s Odyssey in Southern Utah encompassed the tumultuous years of 1857–1870. 

Pine Valley Utah was John Hawley’s home during his sojourn there. It s 14 Miles Southwest of the Mountain Meadows Massacre Site and about 34 miles North of St George.

Much of the book details Hawley’s Journey in Utah Mormonism as he tries to reconcile what he believes with events like the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the practice of polygamy, and the teachings of Brigham Young.  After losing his faith in Young, Hawley’s journey as the Mormon Ulysses continues when he determines that he has finally found the true Mormonism under Joseph Smith III. Even then his journey is not over as this portion of his life is spent traveling through Missouri, Kansas, Texas and finally Lamoni, Iowa where he died in 1909. 

“Mormon Ulysses” is a brief, but fascinating book that Mel Johnson has packed with stories, facts, drama, and intrigue. Hawley lived through the highs and lows of Mormonism in its many forms and Johnson has documented well his journey in a way that will keep readers going to the end. I won’t spoil all of the stories in the book but let me tease a few.

Mormons LOVE to talk about Pioneers, especially their sufferings and trials. I have lost track of how many books and articles I have rad on Mormon Pioneers. But in “Ulysses” Chapter 4 “Wagons West to Utah Territory” I learned new things about the pioneering journey and deaths on the Mormon, Oregon, and California Trails that fascinated me.

Another thing Mormons love to talk about is how well their pioneer fore-bearers treated and got along with the Native Americans that were already living in the Mountain West when they arrived in and began spreading settlements all over the Utah territory. Support for this idea is usually found in a quote attributed to Brigham Young, “It is cheaper to feed than fight the Indians.” The belief that Mormons always followed this maxim has led to this myth that Mormon pioneers were always kind to the natives they found in Utah. When I Googled “Brigham Young” and “Indians” I found the above picture on Pinterest which had been given this caption:

Brigham Young was friendly, kind and helpful to the Lamanites, and the Lamanites, the American Indians, were friendly & kind in return.

The truth is FAR more complicated than the myth and this devotional statement. In Chapter 6 “The Hawley’s of Pine Valley: Part 1” and Chapter 7, “The Racial Divide and Theocracy in Greater Dixie” Johnson gives a detailed account of what became of the Native people that were living in Pine Valley and the surrounding area after the Mormons arrived. These chapters were VERY difficult to read. They detail among other things the Circleville Massacre, various murders, and diseases caused by the Mormons that nearly wiped out the Natives in the area.

For instance: Chapter six starts with the story of a man name Isaac Riddle who murders an “‘impudent’ Indian at Pine Valley because he had killed a ‘lot of critters’.” He confessed this to his LDS leaders. His only punishment for this crime was that he was excommunicated from the Church, however, he was almost immediately re-baptized (see page 81).

Also included in the book is this horrific excerpt from a letter by Mormon William McBride who wrote the following to his superiors in the territorial militia after exploring Tooele Valley in 1851:

“We wish you without a moment’s hesitation to send us about a pound of arsenic we want to give the Indian’s well a flavour. Also a spade to dig for water. A little stricknine would be of fine service, and serve instead of salt, to their too-fresh meat.

Most obediently &c &c
Capt. Wm. McBride

Don’t forget the arsenic!
Don’t forget the spade and arsenic!
Don’t forget the spade, stricknine and arsenic!”

(See pages 157-158)

There are some tough things to read about in this book, but it is important to know about them and Johnson does an excellent job in relating the information.

While I thoroughly enjoyed “Mormon Ulysses,” I have two minor criticisms related to the books editing that I will mention.  The first one may be kind of nit-picky, but I was surprised to find several “typo” errors in the book.  The most startling occurs on page 93 where the description of the Pine Valley settlers working with sheep states that they “washed, dried, and *corded* the wool” when it meant that they *carded* the wool.  The other errors, and there were only a few, were not as severe and were the type of mistake where letters are missing from a word or as in the wrong order. 

My second criticism relates to the pacing of the book.  Now, I have read some LDS biographies recently that were way too long.  In these books the authors padded out the narrative with detailed descriptions of events from restoration history that did not directly relate to the life of the subject and were not necessary to move the narrative forward.  One of the most egregious of these examples was an author who spent several pages recounting the story of the stranding and rescue of the Martin and Willey handcart companies only to end with a statement that basically said, “there is no record of our subject helping with the rescue in any way but he was in Salt lake at the time so he was aware of it”.  After reading that my reaction was “THEN WHY DID YOU HAVE ME READ THAT STORY!” That problem definitely does not occur in “Mormon Ulysses”, there is no unnecessary padding in this book.  Overall I thought the pacing of the book worked, but there were several times where I felt like I wasn’t getting enough of the story.  At just under 200 pages the story is pretty lean, I honestly wish that this book was about twice as long.

Minor complaints aside, “Mormon Ulysses” is an important and compelling book. Mel Johnson has done an outstanding job in documenting and telling the story of John Hawley the Mormon Ulysses. But this book is far more than that, in relating the journeys and tales of this brave American Ulysses as he searched for the authentic Mormon faith, Mel Johnson gives his readers a greater understanding of 19th century Mormon Restorationism and successfully proves his thesis that “Hawley’s story is so exceptional that it becomes a vehicle for telling a larger story than his own: that of the Mormon diaspora.”

John Hawley gravestone, Oak Lawn Cemetery, Ravenwood, Nodaway County, Missouri, USA

Mel Johnson Interviewed by Brian Whitney about John Hawley

Book Available at:
Kofford Website
Benchmark Books
Amazon

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Pioneer journals speak often of hot springs near the Great Salt Lake. To indigenous peoples these sacred waters bubbling from the earth effected miracle cures. Pioneers, too, believed pungent sulfur springs had medicinal benefits. Bathers flocked to hot springs resorts by the hundreds or thousands seeking help for psoriasis, rheumatism, or diabetes.

Recently I found myself wondering, where are these hot springs today? I live in Salt Lake, so why have I never seen them? I assumed that if these springs still existed, they would be resorts or parks or national monuments. A little research revealed my assumption to be naive. Many of these springs are now diverted by underground pipes for commercial use.

For instance, Beck’s Hot Spring at the north end of the valley once filled a large shallow lake called Hot Spring Lake. In 1849 Brigham Young spent $6000 to build a public bath house there. In 1860, Richard Burton described “curls of vapor ascending” from “The Lake of the Hot Springs—set in a bezel of emerald green.” Thomas Bullock compared it to the biblical Pool of Siloam.

But fires repeatedly destroyed the bath house, and in 1915 the Board of Health drained Hot Spring Lake because it had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. In 1951, new Health Department regulations requiring swimming pools be chlorinated led to closure of most hot spring resorts in the state. Beck’s survived two more years until the state claimed the land to build a new highway in 1953.

Today, the orifice of Beck’s Hot Spring “is confined in a concrete box beneath the south bound lane of Beck Street and the spring discharge flows west through a series of drainage tiles and open ditches into the Jordan River. Hot Spring Lake no longer exists.” Some of the sacred healing water is used to wash sand and gravel from a nearby pit mine.

The fate of Beck’s Hot Spring is sadly typical of Salt Lake Valley springs. However, I did find a few that still have surface expressions! Yesterday I went hot springs hunting and located a few of these obscure, hidden gems, all out of the way and none listed on Google Maps. I took photographs and detailed notes on their locations so you can find them too. Let’s make Salt Lake Valley Hot Springs great again!

Wasatch Warm Springs

I started with Wasatch Warm Springs, which seemed the easiest to find. But after wandering around Warm Springs Park (840 N 300 W) for 20 minutes and finding nothing but grass and recreational equipment, I scratched my head and wandered over to the old resort building north of the park.

The large, abandoned building’s majestic mission-style architecture clashes with its cracked chimney, boarded windows, and crumbling stucco facade. I peered inside and saw colorfully painted walls. A plaque by the door says the bathing facility closed in the 1970s and reopened as a children’s museum in 1983. No children play here now.

Catching a whiff of sulfur, I wandered into North Gateway Park on the other side of the resort building. Here, at the north end of the park, I finally found the warm springs for which they named the neighboring park! (Great job, parks service naming committee.) Choked with an invasive species of reeds, the pools are hard to see from the paved pathways. To get a better view I went off-trail and photographed them from the hillside behind.

The pools gurgle as new spring water fills them. Emerald algae glitters beneath the surface. A whiff of sulfur stings the nose. Posted signs warn that bathing is strictly prohibited.

The warm springs water and fertilize a copse of invasive phragmites reeds. Phragmites crowds out native plants, and the Utah government spends a lot of money to control it on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. But to the casual observer, the tall, plumed golden stalks are hard to hate. The breeze whispers through them with a pulsing hiss, a sibilant beat I strained to hear over the roar of passing cars.

Hobo Hot Spring

If you don’t mind a little trespassing, you can also check out Hobo Hot Spring, so named because its proximity to the railroad tracks makes it a convenient bath for train-hopping vagrants. Hobo Hot Spring consists of two marshy pits located on private land at the east end of John Cannon Drive, west of the Salt Lake City Airport.

Would you like to own a hot spring? Hobo Hot Spring sits on a 20-acre lot zoned for manufacturing, and it’s for sale. Whoever buys it will likely use the spring for geothermal building heat.

Crystal Hot Springs in Draper

I was particularly interested to locate Crystal Hot Springs in Draper, which I first encountered in an 1849 journal by Thomas Bullock. Bullock writes,

we came to a Hot Spring of pure Water, about 8 feet wide at the top descending in a tunnel shape, which we sounded by a piece of Iron, & rope, & found to be 13 feet 3 inche[s] deep – [T]he water is nearly boiling hot & bubbles of air continually rising – [O]n the top was the remains of a bird that no doubt had alighted on it, & was scalded to death. West of this Spring [a]r[e] several other Springs which run into a Lake, surrounded by tall grass.

The surface expression of Crystal Hot Springs covers about 70 acres, nearly all of it now located within the premises of Utah State Prison, which uses the water for building heat. Some of the water also heats a commercial greenhouse, and the discharge from the prison and greenhouse goes to a fishery operated by inmates.

However, Crystal Pond, that lake described by Bullock, still exists! Located behind a strip mall at 14557 S 790 W in Draper, the lake sits amidst a commercial scrap yard. Even so, the scene is idyllic. Waterfowl croak and flutter atop its surface. Fish breach the water with a splash, and animals rustle in the reeds. The water is reputed to average 80 degrees Fahrenheit, though the temperature has been dropping due to discharge from the prison.

Advice for Hot Springs Hunters

The most useful resource I found for locating out-of-the way hot springs is the Hot Springs Enthusiast page for Utah, complete with latitudes and longitudes that can be used on Google Maps. Please pay attention to posted signs and don’t do any more environmental damage to these sites than civilization already has. Remember that these springs are ancient and sacred. You may also want to do a little research into their histories before you visit them. I find that knowing the story of a place helps bring it to life in a way that simply visiting it does not. And above all else, remember: have fun!

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I have a new essay out in A Preparatory Redemption: Reading Alma 12-13, edited by Matthew Bowman and Rosemary Demos, which was just published by the Maxwell Institute this month.

It has been my experience in dialoguing with Latter-day Saints that my LDS friends tend to see the most similarities between their priesthood and the Roman Catholic system of priesthood in that both priesthoods are linear (purportedly stretching back to the church Jesus founded) and exclusive. [1] They are less inclined to see analog between their priesthood and the Protestant doctrine of a priesthood of believers. Furthermore, the LDS priesthood as it is currently taught and practiced tends to be assumed in the text of Alma 13.

I argue that the LDS priesthood is closer to a hybrid between linear, exclusive priesthood and a priesthood of all believers, and that the text of Alma 13 provides the basis for a Mormon priesthood of all believers. An excerpt:

. . . Alma 13:4 seems particularly concerned with establishing that there has been no unfair treatment of nonpriests . . . Historically, the concern raised in Alma 13:4 has been broadly justified. In order to explain why whole classes of people have been excluded from the priesthood, these classes have been consistently slandered. Highly negative theories have circulated about the groups in question. In LDS history, for instance, the now-discarded theory that blacks of African descent were less valiant in the premortal existence is one example of a theory that places the blame for nonordination on the actions of an entire race. And, in broader Christian history, early church fathers and other Christian leaders have regularly taught that women should not be ordained because, as a whole, women were naturally more susceptible to sin than men. While many Christian denominations have repudiated the idea that women are inherently more sinful than men, and while the contemporary LDS Church has emphatically stated that it “disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else,” it seems to me that the practice of excluding certain classes of people from the possibility of priesthood ordination still carries substantial risks. It is to the Book of Mormon’s immense credit that, in its only sustained discussion of priesthood (see Alma 13:1-20), the text is so sensitive to these risks.

This represents the first essay by a non-Mormon in the Mormon Theology Seminar series.

The book is available on Amazon and from third-party sellers and contains other essays by Matthew Bowman, David Charles Gore, Rosemary Demos, Robert A. Rees, Sheila Taylor, Joseph M. Spencer, and Adam S. Miller.

Kristeen L. Black was a participant at the 2016 Mormon Theology Seminar, but her essay does not appear in this volume. You can read her essay, “A Capacious Priesthood and a Life of Holiness,” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 50.3 (Fall 2017), p. 73-88.

[1] The Eastern Orthodox priesthood is similarly linear and exclusive, but my LDS friends tend to be less aware of Eastern Orthodoxy.

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Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources, edited by Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin Scott Jensen and Sharalyn D. Howcroft (Oxford University Press, 2018) reviewed by Clair Barrus.

In determining the scope of their book, the editors of this collection of essays defined “foundational” in two senses, the foundational period of Mormonism through the life of Joseph Smith, and the major sources that inform historians when studying this period. The goal of the editors of Foundational Texts was “to provide a deeper level of understanding of these sources so historians and other scholars can use them more critically.” (p.2) I believe the editors succeeded in their objective.

Symbols included with the text of a vision recorded in Wilford Woodruff’s journal

The book follows the approach established in Mormon studies by historian Dean Jesse, who critically examined important source documents. The authors looked at the texts from the angle of the archivist, the descriptive bibliographer, and the documentary editor. To them, the creation or production of a foundational document is considered itself an historic event. Through this unique approach, new light is shed that otherwise might go unnoticed.

A sampling of the essays includes:

  • Grant Underwood looking at the process of revelation through Joseph Smith – from the moment of dictation, on to the process of compilation and correction, and finally to the canonization of the revelations. Regarding correction of the revelations, he includes statistics about how much text was added, deleted, or changed from the original dictation. Additionally, he includes percentages of changes that were stylistic, clarifying, presentational, grammatical, elaborative, or updates. This analysis is done for both the 1833 Book of Commandments, and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.
  • Thomas Wayment discusses Joseph Smith’s harmonization objectives in Smith’s Bible “revision” (a term Wayment prefers over “translation”). Wayment views the revision as a method to bring the Bible more in line with Smith’s thought, particularly the perception that Christianity existed from Adam forward. Wayment’s careful analysis of changes to the multiple Book of Moses manuscripts, plus different translations of the same New Testament text, provides insights, and a greater sense of the revision process.
  • Jennifer Reader analyzes the minutes of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society, noting that the presidency was a “living constitution”, a concept Joseph Smith would later incorporate into the Council of Fifty. She notes the masonic aspects of the Society, overviews characteristics of the meeting minutes, provides historical context of other female societies, and discusses the curious fact that most of the leadership were polygamously married to Joseph Smith.
  • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich claims that Wilford Woodruff’s diary is a “great American diary” and she moves beyond the text, noting the elaborate symbols and sometimes elaborate art in his diaries. Entries that would otherwise seem bland, come to life with sometimes profound emphasis through his symbology and illustration.

And of course, there are additional intuitive essays bring the total to thirteen.

Those considering diving into Mormon historical studies would be well served by this book, while seasoned readers of Mormon history would enjoy new perceptions gleaned from the insightful essays. In all, Foundational Texts of Mormonism stands as an excellent collection of essays, providing a new lens, or approach through which to view the rise of Mormonism by giving serious consideration to the foundational source material of early Mormon history.

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