Here we learn that an armistice was arranged between the two contending armies, by which the Nephites were permitted to withdraw to the land of Cumorah. They pitched their tents around about the Hill Cumorah. It was the scene of two vast belligerent camps–the stronger pursuing the weaker, with evident intention to exterminate them. The Nephites made a desperate, though unsuccessful resistance against their savage and victorious enemies–the Lamanites–who poured down upon them in matchless numbers.
This place was selected by the weaker side, evidently, as a strategic point of defense, where, by the aid of the natural advantages and superior skill, they hoped to successfully dispute with the bloodthirsty foe, and preserve their lives and those of their wives and children.
Was it a wise selection; such as a great general, while on retreat, would select, of choice, upon which to concentrate his forces, in order to advantageously give battle to vicious and desperate pursuers? Will the face of the surrounding country, its natural advantages for a defense, sustain the wonderful narrative of the record, when viewed from a commonsense military standpoint? If so, one more point is added to the line of evidence adduced in favor of angelic visits having been had by Joseph Smith, the Seer, and another corroborating proof of the truth of the Book of Mormon.
On March 5th last, the opportunity was afforded me to gratify the wish to visit this place, which I improved. At about 9 o’clock a.m., in company with my brother, E. L. Kelley, whom I met on his return from Connecticut, where he had been on business, I left Palmyra, a town of about four thousand inhabitants, on the New York Central Railroad, and went due south on the old Canandagua [Canandaigua] road, towards the little town of Manchester, six miles distant. We had not gone far, when our attention was directed to a hill in the distance, lying along and to the left of the roadside, which seemed to rise to a height considerably above any of those surrounding it in any direction. This we selected as the Hill Cumorah. A deep snow covered the ground, but the roads being good, with horses and sleigh, we were soon at its base. Enquiring of a German family residing at the foot of the hill to the northwest, we found that our selection was correct; it was indeed the Hill Cumorah; or, as they termed it, “Mormon” or “Bible Hill.”
In company with two German men and a boy, we ascended the hill on foot, and soon stood upon the highest point. The mind-picture I had formed of it and surrounding country, made from the descriptions written by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, was almost perfect.
At the north end it rises abruptly, narrowing as it rises until the top is reached, which is extended in length north and south, and is not more than two or three rods wide for some distance towards the south, when a gentle declination sets in, which continues seemingly, to the southern extremity, when it returns to the common level of the valley below; widening all the way, so as to occupy a number of acres of land.
Viewed at a distance, from the north, and it has a pyramidal appearance, by reason of the sudden rise from the east and west and narrow, bald top.
Doubtless the entire hill was once covered with trees and brush, as is shown, from the remains of a few stumps, here and there, and two or three trees now lying on the top lately felled. The northern part is entirely bald, save the grass covering; but some distance back, the trees and brush, in places, are still standing.
Surrounding the hill to the north, east and west, are small valleys, now covered with farms and dotted with houses. Far to the south the same features are presented. Altogether the scene is at once striking, beautiful and imposing.
We could not determine to a certainty the exact locality from which the records were taken, on account of the snow; and then our guides disagreed as to the identical place.
As I stood and viewed the scene presented, I thought of the “great and tremendous battle” that is recorded as having been fought here between two powerful nations, and the scenes of blood and carnage that ensued–the weaker being utterly exterminated, with but one left to record the event and lament over the fallen.
Whatever may be thought of the truth or falsity of the narrative by men, it is certain that the face of the country sustains the record in a wonderful manner. It would be an excellent place from which to make a defense, in this day of great improvements in war implements, and especially so in an age when the bow and sling, battle axe and war club, were used as the instruments of death.
Another reason which led me to visit this place was, it is near where Joseph Smith, Sen., lived, and of the boyhood of Joseph Smith, the Seer, the neighborhood of Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and others, whose names are enshrined in the early history of the Church, as defenders of the faith, and intimate associates of the Seer. A thousand rumors have been set on foot and assiduously circulated about those men, by the enemies of the faith, impugning their motives and character, with a view to destroy their testimony in favor of the latter-day work.
Here is where they lived, and where, the stories say, lived those who knew of their bad character, etc. We were among some of their old neighbors, all unbelievers in the faith they taught and we remembered some of the names of the parties published by their enemies as knowing facts against them, and determined to “brand the lion in his den,” and hear the worst, let it hurt whom it would. So we set about in good earnest, to interview, if possible, all of those referred to by the enemies of these men, as having knowledge of them; and with one writing during each interview, we obtained the following as the results:–
Having the names of Messrs. [William] Bryant, [David] Booth, and [Orin] Reed, obtained from a published communication in the Cadillac News, of Michigan, about a year ago, by Reverend A. Marsh, of that place, who had received it from a brother reverend, one C. C. Thorn, of Manchester, New York, who claimed to have interviewed the above-named gentlemen, and obtained from them wonderful revelations about the Smith family, Cowdery, etc.; making Mr. [William] Bryant to say that Smith was a “lazy, drinking fellow, loose in his habits every way,” and Mr. Booth to say that their reputation was “bad,” and that Oliver Cowdery was a “law pettifogger,” and a “cat’s-paw of the Smiths, to do their dirty work,” etc; and Mr. Reed to say, “they were too low for him to associate with,” with a recitation of the black sheep story, etc; all of whom were “astonished beyond measure” at the progress of this “imposture, which they thought would not amount to anything.” All of which was sent to Reverend A. Marsh, of Cadillac, in order to counteract the influence which had been created in favor of the faith in that place, by the efforts of M. H. Band and myself.
Believing then that the whole story was a trumped-up thing, I was determined to call on those gentlemen, and ascertain whether this pious Reverend told the truth about what they said or not.
At about 10 a.m. we called at the house of Mr. [William] Bryant, and knocked at the door, which was answered by a lady who gave her name as Mary Bryant. She gave us seats in the room where her husband, William Bryant, was sitting. He is now eighty-five years of age, tall, and lean in flesh, and, during our interview, sat in a stooping posture, with open mouth. His wife informed us that for the last few years his mind had been somewhat impaired. She has a good memory, is seventy-five years of age, intelligent, and seemingly a great talker. We announced that the purpose of our visit was to ascertain some facts from the old settlers with reference to the people known as Mormons, who used to live there, as it is understood to have been the home of the Smith family and others, at the time the Book of Mormon is alleged to have been discovered.
To this Mr. Bryant in a slow voice replied, “Yes, that big hill you saw coming along, is where they say Joe Smith got the plates; you must have seen it coming along. Well, you can’t find out much from me; I don’t know much about them myself; I have seen Joe Smith once or twice; they lived about five miles from where I did; was not personally acquainted with any of them–never went to any of their meetings, and never heard one preach.”
What do you know about the character of the family? How were they for honesty? Were they industrious or lazy? We want to know their character among their old neighbors.
“Well, I don’t know about that. I never saw them work; the people thought young Joe was a great liar.”
What made them think that?
“They thought he lied when he said he found that gold bible.”
Before this what was thought of him, as to his telling the truth?
“I never heard anything before this.”
What else did he lie about? And how did he get the name of being such a great liar?
“The people said he lied about finding the plates; I don’t know whether he lied about anything else; they were all a kind of a low, shiftless set.”
What do you mean by that?
“The people said they were awful poor, and poor managers. Joe was an illiterate fellow. If you come from Palmyra, you could have got [Pomeroy] Tucker’s work there, and it would have told you all about them. I have read a great deal about them.”
Yes; we have seen [Pomeroy] Tucker’s work, but there are too many big stories in that. Thinking people don’t believe them; they ridicule them, and demand the facts; we wish to get some facts which we can stand by.
“I don’t know anything myself: I wish I did. Have you been to see Mr. Reed? He lives up north of Manchester; he knows.” Mrs. Bryant.–“My husband don’t know anything about them; they did not live in the same neighborhood that we did, and he was not acquainted with them; he don’t know anything.”
Well, were they drunkards?
Mr. Bryant–“Everybody drank whiskey in them times.”
Did you ever see Joe Smith drunk, or drinking?
“No, I can’t say that I did; I only saw him once or twice, when he came to the woolen mill where I worked.”
Did you not see Joe drink sometime?
Mrs. Bryant.–“He ought not to say anything, for he knows nothing about them; then it has been a long time ago.”
Have you stated now all you know about them?
Mr. Bryant.–“Yes; I never knew much about them, anyway.”
Did you know any of their associates–Cowdery, Harris, or others?
“No, I never knew any of them.”
Mrs. Bryant.–“I knew Cowdery; Lyman Cowdery, I believe, was his name. They lived next door to us; they were low shacks,–he was a lawyer,–he was always on the wrong side of every case, they said.”
Did he ever teach school?
“No, not this one.”
Did you know any other one?
“No, I only knew this one and his family; I know they borrowed my churn once, and when it came home, I had to scour it all over before I used it. My father owned the largest house there was in the country at that time.”
How were they about being honest, and telling the truth?
“I don’t remember anything about that, now.”
Were they religious people–pious? “No; they did not belong to any church; I know they didn’t, for there were only two churches there, the Baptist and Methodist,–sometimes the Universalists preached there,–they did not belong to either of those churches.”
Mr. Bryant.–“He (Cowdery), was strong against the Masons; he helped to write Morgan’s book, they said.”
What do you know, now, about the Smiths, or others; you have lived here about seventy-five years, have you not, Mrs. Bryant?
“Yes, I have lived here all my life; but I never knew anything about the Smiths myself; you will find it all in Tucker’s work. I have read that. Have you been to see Mr. [David] Booth? He lives right up here, on the road running south; he knows all about them, they say.”
Very good; we will call and see him. Thank you for your kindness in allowing us to trouble you.
“Oh, it is no trouble; I wish we knew more to tell you.”
We then called upon Mr. David Booth, an intelligent gentleman, hale and hearty, and upwards of seventy years of age–and made known our business.
Mr. [David] Booth promptly stated that he knew nothing of the Smiths, or their character; did not live in their neighborhood, and never saw either of them; did not know anything about them, or their book.
Did you know the Cowderys?
“I knew one–the lawyer.”
What kind of a character was he?
“A low pettifogger.”
What do you mean by that?
“Why, he was not a regular lawyer, but took small cases and practiced before justices of the peace. We call them pettifoggers here.”
What was his given name?
“Lyman; he never taught school; guess he was no church member; he was a Mason; that was all there was to him. They called him `loose Cowdery.'”
What did they mean by that?
“Why, he would take small cases; would be on the wrong side, and pettifog before justices, was the reason, I suppose.
Are you certain his name was Lyman? Wasn’t it Oliver?
“It has been a long time ago. I think maybe his name was Oliver.”
Did he drink?
“Everybody drank then. I never saw Cowdery drink.”
Mr. Bryant, here in the village, told us that he was a strong anti- Mason, and helped to write Morgan’s work.
“Oh, that is all nonsense; they don’t know anything about it. Mr. Bryant hasn’t been here more than thirty-five years; his wife was raised here–is his second wife. Cowdery was a strong Mason, so they all said; that is all the religion he had.”
Do you know Reverend Thorn, a Presbyterian minister at Manchester?
“Yes; I know him.”
What kind of a fellow is he?
“He is a pretty sharp fellow, and will look after his bread and butter, you may depend on that.”
Did he ever interview you on this subject?
“No, sir; he never did?”
Did he not call to see what you knew about the Smiths and Cowderys about a year ago?
“No, he never did to my recollection.”
Did you know he had a statement of yours published in Michigan in regard to this, last year?
“No, sir; I never heard of it before.”
Did you ever give him one to publish?
“I never did–did not know he wanted one.”
He will look out for himself, will he?
“He will that; that is him.”
You have lived here all your life. Tell us of someone who can tell us all about the people we wish to learn about–some of the old settlers.
Squire Pierce and Mr. [Orin] Reed live a few miles north from here, in the neighborhood where the Smiths lived; they know all about them they say. The Smiths never lived in this neighborhood.”
Do you know Thomas H. Taylor, of Manchester?
What kind of a fellow is he?
“He is a pretty smart fellow; can do most anything he undertakes; he is a lawyer, and lectures sometimes.”
Mr. Booth, we were told, is a Free Methodist. His address is Shortsville, Ontario County, New York.
Following the directions of Mr. Booth, we re-passed the town of Manchester, and at one o’clock p.m., arrived at the house of Ezra Pierce, a very pleasant and hospitable New York farmer, quite well- informed in the political history of the country, especially on the Democratic side. Approaching the subject of the desired interview to him, he quickly answered by saying:
“Well, gentlemen, I must first ask you a question; because I went on to give my statement to some parties once, and as it did not suit them, they got mad and began to abuse and insult me; said that I lied about it. Let me ask: Are you Mormons?”
E. L.–I am a lawyer, myself; this other gentleman can speak for himself. We don’t propose to be anything, especially during this interview; we are here to try to find out some facts, and we don’t care who they hit; it is facts that we are after, and you may be sure there will be no abuse, no matter which side they are on.
“All right; that’s fair; go ahead.”
Were you acquainted with the Smith family?
“Oh, yes; I pulled sticks with Joe for a gallon of brandy once at a log rolling; he was about my age. I was born in 1806. I lived about three miles from the Smiths. Was not very well acquainted with them; but knew them when I saw them. I knew young Joe, who claimed to have found the plates, and old Joe, his father.”
Did young Joe drink?
“Everybody drank them times.”
Did you ever see young Joe drink?
“No, I never did [see Joseph Smith drink]; it was customary in those early days for everybody to drink, more or less. They would have it at huskings, and in the harvest field, and places of gathering; the Smiths did not drink more than others.”
What about Joe’s learning?
“I know that he was ignorant; and he knew no more about hieroglyphics than that stove,” pointing to the stove in the room.
Well; go on and state what kind of a family they were–all about them.
“They were poor, and got along by working by the day; the old man had a farm up there, and a log house upon it. The old man Smith and Hyrum were coopers; I never went to the same school that the boys did–they dug for money sometimes; young Joe, he had a stone that he could look through and see where the money was; there were a good many others who dug with them, and Joe used to play all kinds of tricks upon them.”
Who said they dug for money?
“Oh, I have heard it lots of times. If my brother was living, he could tell you all about it.”
Others dug besides the Smiths, did they?
“Yes; there were others who dug; but I always heard that the Smiths dug the most; one of the Chase’s, a young lady, had a stone which she claimed she could look through and see money buried.”
Did anybody dig for her?
“Yes; I guess they did. They said so.”
Then young Joe had some opposition in the seeing-money business?
“That is what everybody said.”
Who was this Miss Chase? Where does she live?
“She is dead now; she was a sister to Abel Chase, who lives upon the Palmyra Road. Have you seen him? He will know all about this. He has been in the cave with the Smiths where the sheep bones were found–people used to think they were making counterfeit money.”
Did you ever see any of it?
Did any of the neighbors?
“No; I never heard any say they did.”
Did anyone ever catch them trying to pass counterfeit money?
“No; oh! I don’t say they made any; it was only talked around.”
Who talked it; their friends or enemies, and when was it talked?
“Well; they were not their friends, of course; I never heard it while they lived here; after they went to Kirtland, Ohio, people were talking it.”
Young lady, a daughter of Mr. Pierce:
“The sheets, the sheets, pa; what was it about the sheets? Ma said old Mr. Smith come here with the sheets–and she told him to leave. How was it?” (looking to other members of the house).
The sheets; what kind of sheets? (I began to think of ghosts and hobgoblins).
“The sheets, or the leaves, he was carrying around in an old sack, or something.”
Our feelings were relieved somewhat when we learned, on further inquiry, that Mr. Smith had called upon them when the Book of Mormon was first published, with a few unbound volumes for sale, and was ordered out of the house by “ma;” nothing like ghosts being connected with the event.
Squire, did you really think they were in the counterfeit money business?
“No; I never thought they did that.”
Tell us about the cave you spoke of.
“The cave is over there in the hill now–a large cave.”
In what hill? The hill they call “Mormon” Hill?
“No; it is about a mile from that; but what are you so particular about it for?”
We want to go and see it–we want to see the thing itself. Now you have been there; give us the description, while we write it down, so that we can find it.
“No; I never saw it; besides it is all caved in now, so you could not see anything. There is no cave there now, it is all fallen in.”
The young lady.–“Well, why are you so particular for, anyway; what good will it do?” We wish to know just how much truth there is to these stories; and get some facts that we can stand on.
Y. L.–“But what good will it do?”
Just this; there have been a great many stories told about these people, and the finding of the plates; some believe there is truth in the stories, and some believe they are lies. We are investigating the matter to satisfy ourselves what there is in it.
Y. L.–“Now, you had better turn your backs upon it, and let it go; that is the way to do, there is no truth in it.”
That is just the thing at issue. Some say there is truth in it, some say there isn’t. It is right to investigate and prove all things; and we wish to find what there is in this.
Y. L.–“But what good will it do to find out the truth about the Book of Mormon?”
If it is what it claims to be, we wish to know it; if false, we wish evidence to prove that.
Y. L.–“What; you spending your time trying to find out about that? If I only knew where your wives are, I would write to them and let them know just what you are doing.
All right; do so. (Here we gave our names and addresses.)
Did you ever read that book?
Y. L.–“No; I never saw one.”
Well, I have; and there is something strikingly strange about it. It is certain that no one, or multitude of men, ever possessed sufficient inventive genius to produce it, or one similar to it, and have it so perfect in its doctrinal teachings, history and general makeup, as to baffle the skill of learned critics to detect the error and deceptions. This book bids defiance to the whole learned world to prove it false; did you ever think of that?
Y. L.–“No; but what good will it do, if it is true?
If really true; Joseph Smith obtained the plates, and men are telling falsehoods about him; and there has been a divine communication from heaven in our own day, which is contrary to the whole of the traditionary religious belief of the age. It unites with the testimony given in the Bible concerning Jesus being the Christ; and that he is indeed, the Redeemer of the world; hence, another witness testifying in favor of His mission and work. Quite a necessary thing, when we take into consideration the unbelief and skepticism there is in the world at the present time, and it is on the increase. Then it is very gratifying and instructive to know about the ancient inhabitants of this country, their origin, habits of life, form of government, laws and religion.
Y. L.–“But does this book teach the same as the Bible–our Bible?”
The teachings of the two books are the same so far as religious duties and life are concerned. Besides it is urged that many prophecies of the Bible refer to the coming forth of this book, and we confess that we are not enabled to explain satisfactorily the passages referred to, in any other light.
Y. L.–“Why, what are some of them? I never heard of that before.”
The twenty-ninth chapter of Isaiah is one directly in point, where the prophet speaks with reference to a sealed book coming forth, the words of which were to be delivered to a learned man, but he could not be able to read them, and the book itself was to be delivered to an unlearned man, and he would be enabled to read it. Also the stick of Joseph in the land of Ephraim, recorded in the thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel. It is interpreted by the learned that the stick of Judah, there mentioned is the Bible; and the Latter-day Saints hold the stick of Joseph referred to, is the Book of Mormon. Then in the tenth of John, where Jesus says: “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold,” etc. relates to Israelitish people who had come to this continent, and were unknown to the Jews, but known to Jesus. It is held, too, that the fourteenth chapter of the book of Revelations [Revelation] refers to this event, where John saw an angel flying through the midst of heaven having the everlasting gospel to preach to all people, just previous to the hour of God’s judgment; and many other passages. Did you never read them?
Y. L.–“No; write some of them down, and I will examine them.” (Here we wrote down some references.)
Y. L.–“Doesn’t this book teach polygamy?”
Oh, no; it is much more outspoken and emphatic against that sin than the Bible (quoting a passage from the Book of Jacob).
The people in Utah, known as Mormons, treat it as you would a last year’s almanac. They say it was good in its time, but they have outgrown it.
Y. L.–“Are there any other people who believe in that book?”
Yes, the Latter-day Saints, who may be found in almost every state and territory in the Union, and other parts of the world. An intelligent class of people, who have taken pains to examine all sides relating to this subject, and have become convinced that there is truth in it. They do not believe in going to Utah; neither are they more like them in faith and doctrine than are the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. They have a publishing house at Plano, Illinois, about fifty-six miles from Chicago, and are an orderly class of people. It was very easy for people in the days of Jesus to say that He was an impostor–was possessed of the devil–born of fornication–a glutton and a wine bibber; an enemy of mankind generally, but He was true, and the Christ just the same. Sensible people examined into the facts, then, relating to Him, and his doctrine, and the foolish were moved by gossip, stories and popular rumor, until they raised their hands and rejected the best friend of the human race. It is just as easy for people to cry in this age “old Joe Smith–Gold Bible–Money digger, Impostor,” etc. But what are the facts in the case? That is what we wish to know. I am a Latter-day Saint minister myself, not of choice, but from conviction, by force of evidence adduced on that side of the question; I expect to continue to be one until convinced that it is not right, and it will take something more than stories to do it.
The Squire.–“Well, if he believes that Joe Smith was a prophet, that’s enough; you can’t do anything with him. I never knew one to change yet.”
No, Squire, what do you know about it?
“I don’t know anything about it.”
“Now, I am ready to affirm that the Book of Mormon is a work of divine authenticity, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God; and I say that I can prove it from the Bible and other evidences, and am willing to undertake to do it right here, or in Palmyra, or Manchester, where it is admitted the thing first started.
Y. L.–“Why, I don’t believe you would be safe to do that here.”
You don’t? Have you such a class of people here, that they will break the laws of the country, and refuse liberty of speech and conscience? Don’t dare to speak my sentiments in a country in which I have followed the flag, and bore arms for its defense, in order to continue a perpetual union? A country in which every ounce of powder and pound of lead is pledged to maintain human rights and religious equality and freedom?
“Oh, I guess they would let you, too; I will take that back. It is right to let all have the privilege of speaking their minds.”
Of course, Squire, I should not expect you to believe in this, for it is difficult for anyone to believe a matter without evidence; and you say you never heard one of them preach; never attended their meetings; never read one of their books, and have read a great many things written against them. Now would any of us have ever believed in Jesus if we had never read anything that he and the apostles said; never read any of their books; but just took the stories their enemies circulated about them–read the books put out by the pretended pious Jews against them? And don’t you know that it is from that standpoint that the Jews reject Jesus and the teachings of the apostles, unto this day? They say they have hundreds of witnesses to one that Jesus was a lawbreaker, and a deceiver; and the apostles false witnesses.
“Yes, that is true.”
Y. L.–“Can you speak in tongues and prophesy?”
Suppose I can’t, what has that to do with the principle? Jesus says, “These signs shall follow them that believe.” It is in the Bible. I am not responsible for it.
“But can you speak in tongues? That is my question.”
I have heard a great many of the Saints speak in tongues and interpret. Have heard them speak in prophecy, and have seen the sick healed many times.
“But can you prophesy and speak in tongues?”
Well, what would you think, if I was to tell you that I can?
“Why, I should say you was crazy.”
That is just what I thought.
“We have institutions in which ministers are educated now, and we don’t need such things.”
Yes, I know there are a good many who seem to think they know more than Paul and Peter did about Christ and his doctrine: have gone on to invent creeds and systems; but did you never think that this is the greatest evil of the age–the very thing that keeps men in fetters, ignorance and superstition. Here is a Roman Catholic institution, that educates its priests to teach Catholicism; and after they go through the training, they know nothing else; hence, start out in their little groove to make Catholics. They do not know anything else, nor will they listen to others, in order that they may become informed. It is the abominable system of training is the difficulty. Take the Methodist ministers, or Baptist, or Episcopalian, or Quakers, or Disciples, or Adventists, or others; and each has to pass through their respective institutions of training; and when through, they start out, not to preach what is in the Bible, for many of them are forbidden to talk doctrine, but to proselyte to their peculiar creeds; fortify and build them up. One to teach sprinkling for baptism; another pouring, or immersion; another no baptism at all, or only that of the Spirit; one that you must keep Sunday, and others, Saturday; another that you will be saved by works; another by faith and grace, without works; one sprinkles infants, and others don’t; all owing to what school he was educated in. If any courageous spirit endeavors to break away from the creed, they will whip him into the traces, or throw him out. There is no genuine Christian unity and love between them, but each rejoices at the other’s downfall, for the sake of the advantage; not because it is according to the Bible, but according to the Creed.
“Well, I guess there is a good deal of truth in that.”
In this age of the conflict of ideas and investigation, people are getting tired of myths, and are digging deep and searching for facts in religion as well as everything else. If religion is a truth, the facts should show it; if false, the world ought to know that. We believe in discussion–“proving all things, and holding fast that which is good.” Hearing everybody; investigating everything possible. But we must go.
Mr. Pierce having referred us to Mr. Reed, Orlando Saunders, and Abel Chase, we took leave of him and his intelligent family, and called next at the residence of Mr. Orin Reed.
He was at his home, doing some work about the barn. He is a gentleman of about seventy years of age, hard of hearing, and of pleasant and intelligent countenance. Breaking the object of our call to him, he readily informed us that he knew nothing whatever in regard to the character of Joseph Smith, or his family.
Mr. Reed; were you not acquainted with the Smith family, or some of those early connected with them?
“No, I was not. I lived in the town of Farmington when the Smiths lived here. I knew nothing about any of them; was not personally acquainted with them, and never heard any of them preach, nor never attended any of their meetings. I have seen Hyrum Smith. He bought a piece of land near here, and lived on it sometime after the others left; but I don’t know anything against him.”
We were given your name by a number of persons, who claimed that you did know all about them, Mr. Reed.
“Is that so? Well, they are mistaken; I don’t know anything about it. I think Mr. Orlando Saunders, living up on the road to Palmyra, will know more about that people than anyone around here. He was better acquainted with them; or lived right by them, and had a better opportunity of knowing them.”
Yes, we have his name already; but have not seen him yet. Do you know Mr. Thorn, the Presbyterian minister at Manchester, over here?
“Yes, I know him slightly.”
Did you not make a statement to him in regard to the character of these men; that they were low persons, and not good associates, or something of the kind?
“I never did.”
Did he call on you to find out what you knew about it?
“No, sir, he never did; at least he never let me know anything about it, if he did.”
Did you ever see a statement he sent to Michigan, last year, and had published, purporting to be what you and others knew about the Smiths and Cowderys?
“No, I never did; did not know that one was ever published before.”
You think we can find out about these persons from Mr. Saunders, then, Mr. Reed?
“Yes; he is more likely to know than anyone round here.”
Leaving Mr. Reed, we at once drove to the house of Mr. Orlando Saunders, and found that gentleman, with his wife and two sons, at supper. Mr. Saunders is a man seventy-eight years old, in April 1881; a fair type of the intelligent New York farmer; seemingly well-to-do in this world’s goods, and quite active for a man of his years; and withal, has an honest and thoughtful face.
Entering upon conversation with reference to our business, Mr. Saunders at once said:
“Well, you have come to a poor place to find out anything. I don’t know anything against these men, myself.” (Evidently judging that we wanted to get something against them, only.)
Were you acquainted with them, Mr. Saunders?
“Yes, sir; I knew all of the Smith family well; there were six boys; Alvin, Hyrum, Joseph, Harrison, William, and Carlos, and there were two girls; the old man was a cooper; they have all worked for me many a day; they were very good people; Young Joe, (as we called him then), has worked for me, and he was a good worker; they all were. I did not consider them good managers about business, but they were poor people; the old man had a large family.”
In what respect did they differ from other people, if at all?
“I never noticed that they were different from other neighbors; they were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died; I always thought them honest; they were owing me some money when they left here; that is, the old man and Hyrum did, and Martin Harris. One of them came back in about a year and paid me.”
How were they as to habits of drinking and getting drunk?
Everybody drank a little in those days, and the Smiths with the rest; they never got drunk to my knowledge.
What kind of a man was Martin Harris?
“He was an honorable man. Martin Harris was one of the first men of the town.”
How well did you know young Joseph Smith?
“Oh! just as well as one could very well; he has worked for me many- a-time, and been about my place a great deal. He stopped with me many-a-time, when through here, after they went west to Kirtland; he was always a gentleman when about my place.”
What did you know about his finding that book, or the plates in the hill over here?
“He always claimed that he saw the angel and received the book; but I don’t know anything about it. Have seen it, but never read it as I know of; didn’t care anything about it.”
Well; you seem to differ a little from a good many of the stories told about these people.
“I have told you just what I know about them, and you will have to go somewhere else for a different story.”
Mr. Saunders giving us the directions to the house of Abel Chase, we next called upon him and ascertained the following:
Mr. [Abel] Chase.–“I am sixty-seven years old. Knew the Smiths; the old man was a cooper. I was young and don’t remember only general character. They were poorly educated, ignorant and superstitious; were kind of shiftless, but would do a good day’s work. They used to call Joe, `Lobby Joe.’ He got a singular-looking stone, which was dug up out of my father’s well; it belonged to my brother Willard, and he could never get it. His mother, old Mrs. Smith, got the stone from mother.”
How do you know Joe ever had it?
“Oh, I don’t know that; but my brother could never get it back.”
Your sister had a stone she could look through and see things, so they have told us; did you ever see that, Mr. [Abel] Chase?
“Yes, I have seen it; but that was not the one that old Mrs. Smith got.”
Well; could you see things through that?
“I could not; it was a dark-looking stone; it was a peculiar stone.”
Do you really think your sister could see things by looking through that stone, Mr. Chase?
“Well, she claimed to; and I must say there was something strange about it.”
Where is your sister now?
“She is not living now: my brother Willard is dead, also. He would know more than I do about those things.”
How did the stone look, you say Mrs. Smith got?
“I don’t know; I never saw that.”
How do you know she got it?
“They said she did; I was young, and don’t remember myself.”
Did you ever see the Smiths dig for money; or did you ever see the cave where they say they met at?
“No. I never saw them dig, myself; I never saw the cave.”
Well; you were a young man then, how did it come you lived so near, and never saw them do these things?
“I was young, and never went where they were. Don’t know anything about it but what I have heard. If you will see Mr. Guilbert [Gilbert] at Palmyra, he can tell you more about it than any person else; he knows it all, and has been getting everything he could for years to publish against them; he was in with [Pomeroy] Tucker in getting out Tucker’s work.”
All right, Mr. [Abel] Chase, we will see him this evening if possible. Good day, sir. Much obliged for the trouble.
“Oh! it is no trouble; I only wish I could tell you more.”
Early in the evening we called upon Mr. John H. Gilbert, at his residence, and made known our desire for an interview, etc. He seemed quite free to give us all the information he had upon the subject, and said he had been for the past forty-five or fifty years doing all he could to find out what he could about the Smiths and Book of Mormon. He is a man seventy-nine years of age, and quite active even in this time of life.
What did you know about the Smiths, Mr. Gilbert.
“I knew nothing myself; have seen Joseph Smith a few times, but not acquainted with him. Saw Hyrum quite often. I am the party that set the type from the original manuscript for the Book of Mormon. They translated it in a cave. I would know that manuscript today if I should see it. The most of it was in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting. Some in Joseph’s wife’s; a small part though. Hyrum Smith always brought the manuscript to the office; he would have it under his coat, and all buttoned up as carefully as though it was so much gold. He said at the time it was translated from plates by the power of God, and they were very particular about it. We had a great deal of trouble with it. It was not punctuated at all. They did not know anything about punctuation, and we had to do that ourselves.”
Well; did you change any part of it when you were setting the type?
“No, sir; we never changed it at all.”
Why did you not change it and correct it?
“Because they would not allow us to; they were very particular about that. We never changed it in the least. Oh, well there might have been one or two words that I changed the spelling of; I believe I did change the spelling of one, and perhaps two, but no more.”
Did you set all of the type, or did someone help you?
“I did the whole of it myself, and helped to read the proof, too; there was no one who worked at that but myself. Did you ever see one of the first copies? I have one here that was never bound. Mr. Grandin, the printer, gave it to me. If you ever saw a Book of Mormon you will see that they changed it afterwards.”
They did! Well, let us see your copy; that is a good point. How is it changed now?
“I will show you,” (bringing out his copy).
“Here on the title page it says,” (reading)
“`Joseph Smith, Jr., author and proprietor.’ Afterwards, in getting out other editions they left that out, and only claimed that Joseph Smith translated it.”
Well, did they claim anything else than that he was the translator when they brought the manuscript to you?
“On, no; they claimed that he was translating it by means of some instruments he got at the same time he did the plates, and that the Lord helped him.”
Was he educated, do you know?
“Oh, not at all then; but I understand that afterwards he made great advancement, and was quite a scholar and orator.”
How do you account for the production of the Book of Mormon, Mr. Gilbert, then, if Joseph Smith was so illiterate? “Well, that is the difficult question. It must have been from the Spaulding romance–you have heard of that, I suppose. The parties here then never could have been the authors of it, certainly. I have been for the last forty-five or fifty years trying to get the key to that thing; but we have never been able to make the connecting yet. For some years past I have been corresponding with a person in Salt Lake, by the name of Cobb, who is getting out a work against the Mormons; but we have never been able to find what we wanted.”
If you could only connect Sidney Rigdon with Smith some way, you could get up a theory?
“Yes; that is just where the trouble lies; the manuscript was put in our hands in August 1829, and all printed by March 1830, and we cannot find that Rigdon was ever about here, or in this state, until sometime in the fall of 1830. But I think I have got a way out of the difficulty now. A fellow that used to be here, by the name of Saunders, Lorenzo Saunders, was back here some time ago, and I was asking him about it. At first he said he did not remember of ever seeing Rigdon until after 1830 sometime; but after studying it over awhile, he said it seemed to him that one time he was over to Smith’s, and that there was a stranger there he never saw before, and that they said it was Rigdon. I told him about Cobb, of Utah, and asked him if he would send Cobb his affidavit that he saw Rigdon before the book was published, if he (Cobb), would write to him; he finally said he would, and I wrote to Cobb about it, and gave Saunders’ address, and after a long time, I got a letter from him, saying he had written three letters to Saunders, and could get no answer. I then sat down and wrote Saunders a letter myself, reminding him of his promise, and wrote to Cobb also about it; and after a long time Cobb wrote me again, that Saunders had written to him; but I have never learned how satisfactory it was, or whether he made the affidavit or not.”
Is that Saunders a brother of the Saunders living down here, Orlando Saunders?
“Yes, sir: they are brothers.”
Is he older or younger?
Younger; about fifteen years younger.”
Then he must have been quite young before the Book of Mormon was published?
“Yes, he was young.”
This Saunders down here don’t talk like a great many people; he seems to think the Smiths were very good people; we have been there today.
“Oh, I don’t think the Smiths were as bad as people let on for. Now [Pomeroy] Tucker, in his work, told too many big things; nobody could believe his stories.”
Did the Smiths ever dig for money?
“Yes; I can tell you where you can find persons who know all about that; can take you to the very place.”
Can you? All right, give us their names.
“The Jackaway boys–two old bachelors, and their sister, an old maid, live together, right up the street going north, near the north part of the town; they can tell you all about it, and show you the very places where they dug.”
What will you take for your copy of the Book of Mormon; or will you sell it?
“Yes, I will sell it.”
How much for it?
“I will take five hundred dollars for it, and no less; I have known them to sell for more than that.”
Well, I am not buying at those figures, thank you.
What kind of a man was Martin Harris?
“He was a very honest farmer, but very superstitious.”
What was he before his name was connected with the Book of Mormon?
“Not anything, I believe; he was a kind of skeptic.”
What do you mean by his being superstitious? Was he religious?
“Well, I don’t know about that; but he pretended to see things.”
What do you think of the Book of Mormon, as a book; you are well- posted in it?
“Oh, there is nothing taught in the book but what is good; there is no denying that; it is the claim of being from God that I strike at.”
Well, is it any more wonderful than that God gave the Bible?
“No, not a bit; and there is a good deal more evidence to show that that is divine than there is for some of the books in the Bible. Why, it is all nonsense to think that Moses wrote some of the books attributed to him, in the Bible.”
Then you don’t believe the “fish story,” either, Mr. Gilbert?
“No; nor that Jonah swallowed the whale.”
How about Sampson catching the three hundred foxes, and the firebrands?
“Yes, that is a good one; you fellows will do.”
Much obliged, Mr. Gilbert.
“You are quite welcome. I wish I could give you more than I have.”
Acting upon Mr. Gilbert’s advice, we at once called upon the Jackways, and found the older of the boys and the sister, ready to talk of what they knew. They had Tucker’s work on the small table by, which they offered to sell us for three dollars, and then we could read for ourselves; but being quite familiar with its weaknesses, we declined to purchase at the price.
The conversation upon the main topic was as follows:–
What is your age?
I will be sixty-six years old on my next birthday,” said Mr. Jackway. (The lady did not answer.)
How far did you live from town at the time the Smiths, and those of their comrades, were in this country? “One-half mile south of Palmyra.”
Were you acquainted with Joseph Smith and his early followers?
“Yes, I knew them; saw them a many-a-time–old Joe and young Joe.”
How far did you live from them?
“It was about a mile.”
You know about their digging for money, so Mr. Gilbert said; he sent us to you?
“Oh, yes. I can show you the places now; there are three places over there where they dug.”
Well, we want to see them. Did you help them dig?
“No, I never helped them.”
Well, you saw them digging?
“No, I never saw them digging.”
How do you know they dug the holes you refer to?
“I don’t know they dug them; but the holes are there.”
Did anybody else dig for money at that time there?
“I believe there were some others that dug; but I did not see them.”
Do you know any of them?
“I only know one now; he lives up at Canandaigua.”
(Mr. Jackway gave us the name, but for some cause we fail to find it in our notes.)
What do you know about the Smiths’ character?
“I don’t know much about that.”
Would they steal, get drunk, etc.?
“Don’t know anything about their stealing. Joe and his father got drunk once.”
Where was that?
“It was in the hayfield; Joe and his father wrestled, and Joe threw the old man down, and he cried.”
What did he cry for?
“Because Joe was the best man I guess.”
What did they drink to make them drunk?
“They drank cider.” Got drunk so they could not walk, on cider, did they?
“No; they could walk, but they cut up and acted funny.”
Did you ever see them drink, or drunk, any other time?
“No; not as I remember.”
What kind of a woman was the old lady Smith?
“I don’t know; I never was at the house. She was kind in sickness.”
Quite a number here in town, today, have told us it was two and a half to three miles from Palmyra to where the Smiths lived; how is that?
“Yes; it was about three miles.”
(How Jackway lived within half a mile of town and only a mile from them he did not explain.)
Where was Joe when he was translating his book?
“At home; it was translated in the farmhouse.”
Mr. Gilbert, across here, said it was done in a cave; now you don’t agree? What does Tucker say? (reading Tucker).
“They all differ. Now, Tucker has a statement from Willard Chase in his book, and Chase said Tucker never called on him at all to find out what he knew.”
Lady.–“Yes; I have heard Willard Chase say Tucker never even asked him for what he knew, and Chase lived next door to him, too. Chase is dead now.”
Well; did you ever see Hulbert [Hurlburt] or Howe, that published works?
“Yes; Hulbert [Hurlburt] came around first, I believe, soon after the thing started, and they had gone to Kirtland, Ohio, trying to find things against them; and there have been a good many around trying to connect Sidney Rigdon with them.”
What kind of men were Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery?
“[Martin] Harris was an industrious, honest man; lived north here, two miles. The Cowderys were as good as the general run of people. Have you seen Dr. Stafford? He lives at Rochester. His father, William Stafford, is the one that furnished the `black sheep’ Tucker tells about there.”
He is? Well; do you know about that?
“No; only what Tucker says there.”
Taking leave of the Jackways, in due time we called upon Dr. John Stafford, at Rochester, New York. He is now a retired physician, being too aged and infirm to practice. Answering a question as to the character of Joseph Smith, he said:
“He was a real clever, jovial boy. What Tucker said about them was false, absolutely. My father, William Stafford, was never connected with them in any way. The Smiths, with others, were digging for money before Joe got the plates. My father had a stone, which some thought they could look through; and old Mrs. Smith came there after it one day, but never got it. Saw them digging one time for money; (this was three or four years before the Book of Mormon was found), the Smiths and others. The old man and Hyrum were there I think, but Joseph was not there. The neighbors used to claim Sally Chase could look at a stone she had, and see money. Willard Chase used to dig when she found where the money was. Don’t know as anybody ever found any money.”
What was the character of Smith, as to his drinking?
“It was common then for everybody to drink, and to have drink in the field; one time Joe, while working for someone after he was married, drank too much boiled cider. He came in with his shirt torn; his wife felt bad about it, and when they went home, she put her shawl on him.”
Had he been fighting and drunk?
“No; he had been scuffling with some of the boys. Never saw him fight; have known him to scuffle; would do a fair day’s work if hired out to a man; but were poor managers.”
What about that black sheep your father let them have?
“I have heard that story, but don’t think my father was there at the time they say Smith got the sheep. I don’t know anything about it.”
You were living at home at the time, and it seems you ought to know if they got a sheep, or stole one, from your father?
“They never stole one, I am sure; they may have got one sometime.”
Well, Doctor, you know pretty well whether that story is true or not, that Tucker tells. What do you think of it?
“I don’t think it is true. I would have heard more about it, that is true. I lived a mile from Smiths; am seventy-six years old. They were peaceable among themselves. The old woman had a great deal of faith that their children were going to do something great. Joe was quite illiterate. After they began to have school at their house, he improved greatly.”
Did they have school in their own house?
“Yes, sir; they had school in their house, and studied the Bible.”
Who was their teacher?
“They did not have any teacher; they taught themselves.”
Did you know Oliver Cowdery?
“Yes; he taught school on the Canandaigua road, where the stone schoolhouse now stands; just three and a half miles south of Palmyra. Cowdery was a man of good character.”
What do you know about Martin Harris?
“He was an honorable farmer; he was not very religious before the Book of Mormon was published. Don’t know whether he was skeptical or visionary. Old Joe claimed he understood geology, and could tell all kinds of minerals; and one time, down at Manchester, in the grocery, the boys all got pretty full, and thought they would have some fun, and they fixed up a dose for him.” (We omit the ingredients of the dose, because improper for publication.)
If young Smith was as illiterate as you say, Doctor, how do you account for the Book of Mormon?
“Well, I can’t; except that Sidney Rigdon was connected with them.”
What makes you think he was connected with them?
“Because I can’t account for the Book of Mormon any other way.”
Was Rigdon ever around there before the Book of Mormon was published?
“No; not as we could ever find out. Sidney Rigdon was never there, that Hurlbert [Hurlburt], or Howe, or Tucker could find out.”
Well; you have been looking out for the facts a long time, have you not, Doctor?
“Yes; I have been thinking and hearing about it for the last fifty years, and lived right among all their old neighbors there most of the time.”
And no one has ever been able to trace the acquaintance of Rigdon and Smith, until after the Book of Mormon was published, and Rigdon proselyted by Pratt, in Ohio?
“Not that I know of.”
Did you know the Pratts,–Parley or Orson Pratt?
“No; have heard of them.”
Did you know David Whitmer?
“No; he lived in Seneca County, New York.”
Have you told now all you know about the Smiths and the Book of Mormon?
“All that I can recollect.”
Here we bade the Doctor, whom we found to be quite a gentleman,– affable, and ready to converse,–good day.”
During the time of making the interviews in Manchester, we accidentally met the Thomas H. Taylor, referred to by Mr. Booth in the interview with him. He is a Scotchman by birth, of advanced age, but very robust and active. Somewhat of the knock-down and drag- out style; is a public speaker and lecturer, and practices law to some extent. He claims to be one of the original parties with John Brown at Harper’s Ferry–all through the fight there–and previous to the war of the rebellion, was engaged in piloting the darkey to Canada and freedom. He was a soldier throughout the war, and saw hard service. In religion he follows Colonel Robert G. Ingersol. To our enquiries if he was acquainted with the Smiths, and the early settlers throughout that part, sometimes called Mormons, he said:
“Yes; I knew them very well; they were very nice men, too; the only trouble was they were ahead of the people; and the people, as in every such case turned out to abuse them, because they had the manhood to stand for their own convictions. I have seen such work all through life, and when I was working with John Brown for the freedom of my fellowman, I often got in tight places; and if it had not been for Gerritt Smith, Wendell Phillips and some others, who gave me their influence and money, I don’t know how I would ever got through.”
What did the Smiths do that the people abused them so?
“They did not do anything. Why! these rascals at one time took Joseph Smith and ducked him in the pond that you see over there, just because he preached what he believed and for nothing else. And if Jesus Christ had been there, they would have done the same to him. Now I don’t believe like he did; but every man has a right to his religious opinions, and to advocate his views, too; if people don’t like it, let them come out and meet him on the stand, and shew his error. Smith was always ready to exchange views with the best men they had.”
Why didn’t they like Smith?
“To tell the truth, there was something about him they could not understand; someway he knew more than they did, and it made them mad.”
But a good many tell terrible stories, about them being low people, rogues, and liars, and such things. How is that?
“Oh! they are a set of d__d liars. I have had a home here, and been here, except when on business, all my life–ever since I came to this country, and I know these fellows; they make these lies on Smith, because they love a lie better than the truth. I can take you to a great many old settlers here who will substantiate what I say, and if you want to go, just come around to my place across the street there, and I’ll go with you.”
Well, that is very kind, Mr. Taylor, and fair; if we have time we will call around and give you a chance; but we are first going to see these fellows who, so rumor says, know so much against them.
“All right; but you will find they don’t know anything against those men when you put them down to it; they could never sustain anything against Smith.”
Do you think Smith ever got any plates out of the hill he claimed to?
“Yes; I rather think he did. Why not he find something as well as anybody else. Right over here, in Illinois and Ohio, in mounds there, they have discovered copper plates since, with hieroglyphics all over them; and quite a number of the old settlers around here testified that Smith showed the plates to them–they were good, honest men, and what is the sense in saying they lied? Now, I never saw the Book of Mormon–don’t know anything about it, nor care; and don’t know as it was ever translated from the plates. You have heard about the Spaulding romance; and some claim that it is nothing but the books of the Bible that were rejected by the compilers of the Bible; but all this don’t prove that Smith never got any plates.”
Do you know Reverend Thorn, here in Manchester?
The Presbyterian preacher?”
Yes, that is the one.
“I know him.”
What kind of a fellow is he?
“Well, originally he was nothing. He got some money, and went off to college awhile, and came back a Presbyterian preacher. He knows just what he got there, and feels stuck up, and is now preaching for his bread and butter; and if they should take away his salary, he wouldn’t last twenty-four hours.”
We are much obliged, Mr. Taylor, for your kindness.
“You are welcome, and if you will drive back, I will go with you and show you persons who can tell you all about those people.”
We thus left Mr. Taylor, but for want of time, could not then return and accept his kind offer to show us around; hope to be able to do so sometime in the future.
These facts and interviews are presented to the readers of the Herald impartially–just as they occurred–the good and bad, side by side; and allowing for a possible mistake, or error, arising from a misapprehension, or mistake in taking notes, it can be relied upon as the opinion and gossip had about the Smith family and others, among their old neighbors. It will be remembered that all the parties interviewed are unbelievers in, and some bitter enemies to, the faith of the Saints; and it is not unreasonable to suppose that they all told the worst they knew. So we submit it to the readers without comment, with the expectation of sending each one of the parties interviewed a copy when published.
Wm. [William] H. Kelley.
Coldwater, Michigan. March 1881.