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go back to: More About William H. Whitsitt



Dale R. Broadhurst's Review of

Jerald and Sandra Tanner's

"Mormon & Anti-Mormon Forgeries"

in the Oct. 1989 issue of

The Salt Lake City Messenger


Introduction to the Problem

I PLACED earlier versions of this review on-line in 1999 and early 2000, but, in each case, I was dissatisfied with the content and ineffectiveness of those presentations. After mulling the idea over for several months, I became determined to speak directly with Mr. and Mrs. Tanner before I finalized the format and essential content of this review. In October 2000 I traveled to Salt Lake City and met with the Tanners at their house, hoping to discuss with them ideas and events relative to the Solomon Spalding authorship claims for the Book of Mormon. As it turned out, both my time and Mr. Tanner's stamina were too limited for me to delve very deeply into this complex subject. I did not get around to speaking with them specifically about their 1989 article on William H. Whitsitt, but I came away from that short encounter, renewed in my original resolve to rewrite my review. There is good reason for my presenting the conclusions which follow, in as clear and unambigious language as I can possibly articulate. During the decade and a half that has passed since the Tanners published their 1989 article, it has become increasingly obvious to several informed readers and critics that their article demonstrates both shoddy scholarship and an unwillingness on the part of the Tanners to set aright some unconscionable journalistic mischief -- reckless wrongdoing of their own creation. With this thought in mind, I updated the following review at the beginning of 2002, supplemented it with additional links a year later, and now place the results on-line for the consideration and use of other students of Mormonism.

A Matter of Identity

There appears to be no escaping the inherent problems of personality when a critic like myself examines and reports upon such an enigmatic and engaging subject as "Mormonism." From its inception the "restoration movement" has based itself upon subjective personal experiences and expressed itself, to a large degree, in subjective personal testimonies. The merging of all these personal feelings and realizations, into a single community, naturally creates a somewhat strange and inward-looking group of "peculiar people." A flip-side to this comfortable, latter day Laputa is found in collections of frequently harsh and hostile "anti-Mormon" testimonies -- in multitudes of voices decrying the alleged "delusions" of the Saints and their religion. Personal testimonies call for personal identification and there has been no scarcity of these self-proclaiming soliloquies throughout all the years between us and 1830. I draw some small consolation in being a member of a restorationist "faith community" that has been evolving out of (and away from) traditional "Mormonism" for many decades and which now appears ready to trade the title of "Latter Day Saint" for "Communicant of Christ." I try to find some complementary optimism in the occasional pleas voiced by LDS leaders, attempting to disassociate themselves from the old terms, "Mormon" and "Mormonism." Still, traditional Mormonism seems unlikely to disappear from our world; as quickly as one person leaves it, several others embrace it. Also, I cannot ignore the fact that this religion and its adherents have permanently shaped my personality and identity. In much the same way, the well-known "anti-Mormon" Tanners are a product of Latter Day Saintism. I am uncomfortably aware, that to many onlookers, the Tanners and I must appear to be nothing more than opposite sides of the same coin. With this humbling realization well in mind, I do not feel too culpable in offering my admittedly personal opinions regarding one specimen of their research and reporting.

When I first launched the Spalding Studies Home Page, in the spring of 1998, it was placed on-line accompanied by my express hope that it might provide an internet-based forum where interested persons might "initiate and assist studies" reviewing the career and works of the Rev. Solomon Spalding. I had hoped that the site's visitors might eventually develop enough interest in that forgotten writer and his writings to promote a scholarly interchange, more or less apart from our consideration of contemporary Mormonism. I still hold onto that hope as a sort of ideal, but I've since resigned myself to now and then stepping into the gritty arena of pro-Mormon and anti-Mormon contentions -- where subjective arguments and personalized apologetics flourish with barely a blush of shame. This particular arena encloses a playing field where contention among individual personalities appears to be unavoidable. It is also, sadly, an arena where the players and spectators have grown accustomed to attacking the announcers and referees when they do not like the outcome of the struggle. And, as in ancient times, the messenger who brings unpleasant news (no matter that it may be true and important news) risks bearing the brunt of peoples' anger and retribution.

In another web-posting I've made reference to the overheard remark, that Jerald and Sandra Tanner might well have been put on the payroll of the LDS Church, in consequence of their inadvertent (?) journalistic contributions to the cause of that organization. At one point I was considering writing them an apology for publicizing that sentiment; but then an old copy of their Salt Lake City Messenger for October of 1989 (issue no. 73) arrived in the mail from Utah Lighthouse Ministries. In that publication I read their article, "Mormon And Anti-Mormon Forgeries" and immediately felt any inclination for my apologizing evaporate. After carefully perusing this 1989 example of Tannerite "scholarship, I am more convinced than ever that its authors effectively function, in some important instances, as apologetic surrogates for the LDS Church. In saying this I am not necessarily criticizing the motivation and methods of persons in positions of trust within the LDS hierarchy, nor am I disparaging the generally valuable contributions made over the years by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. I am simply stating what appears to me to be the clear fact, that regardless of their publicized squabbles with Intellectual Reserve and similar contentions spanning many years, that the Salt Lake City couple persistently support certain tenets relating to Mormon origins and evolution, the effect of which is mutually beneficial to themselves and to the Church.

The Tanners' 1989 Conjectures

At first glance, to some readers, this couple's 1989 Messenger article might appear to be nothing more than a laudable exposition on the subject of "forgery" among the Mormons, ex-Mormons, etc. This is indeed a matter worthy of a good deal of careful investigation and elucidation, but such commendable investigative reporting is not what the Tanners have provided in their poorly titled 1989 article.

Their 1989 compilation might better be called "We Accuse the Rev. William H. Whitsitt of Forging the Spurious Cowdery Documents." In short, the researchers consider the origins of two long-disputed documents: (1. Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself From the Latter Day Saints (a pamphlet attributed by some to Oliver Cowdery); and, (2. the so-called "Overstreet Confession" (a written document attributed by some to a writer who impersonated Oliver Cowdery). Having informed their readers how they determined that these obviously anti-Mormon concoctions "are forgeries" written during the early 1900s, the Tanners present "three theories with regard to the authorship" of the spurious documents.

The Tanners nowhere say to their readers that the speculation they propound in their article is confirmed or corroborated by even a single reputable specialist in the discipline of historic documents relating to Mormonism -- they simply say they "feel" that one of the following alternatives must be true: (1. "that the documents were forged by R. B. Neal," (2. "that they were forged by William H. Whitsitt," or, (3. "that the documents were forged by an unknown person who had access to" the Whitsitt manuscript biography of Sidney Rigdon (held by the Library of Congress since 1912), the anti-Mormon "writings of R. B. Neal" and "all of the other writings necessary to commit the forgeries."

In their 1989 article the Tanners offer this conclusion: "Now, if Cowdery's Defence had been available in 1885, Whitsitt certainly would have cited it to prove his position that Rigdon impersonated the angel. In any case, this parallel between the Whitsitt manuscript and the Defence is remarkable and certainly raises the question as to whether Whitsitt's idea was incorporated into the Defence." The Tanners have coupled their superficial, subjective examination of these matters with an over-active imagination (see their section, "New Evidence On Forgeries," and those article sections following) to deduce three inter-related possibilities, all of which depend upon someone having mischievously applied unique (?) assertions set down by the Rev. Dr. William H. Whitsitt (1841-1911), the third President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, Kentucky, in an 1885 manuscript. But, as a matter of fact, the "angelic" assertions of Dr. Whitsitt are in no way unique. The Tanners suppress the fact that numerous early writers guessed that Sidney Rigdon acted as Smith's "angel." They also pick 1885 as representing the latest date when Whitsitt might have taken notice of other writers' claims linking Sidney Rigdon to Smith's "angel." Actually, William H. Whitsitt could have quoted these sources, if he had cared to, as late as 1891, when a summary of his views on the subject was published in a widely-read reference book. Whitsitt did not bother to cite contemporary sources or earlier sources on this self-evident point, but that oversight does not mean that he was the first investigator of early Mormonism to reach such conclusions. The Cowdery "Defence" surfaced in mid 1905, by which time Whitsitt was a tired old man who no longer bothered to update his writings concerning Rigdon, Mormon angels, etc. So, even if a copy of the Cowdery "Defence" had reached him, before his death in 1911, it is doubtful that he would have taken the trouble to add a notice of it to his unpublished, abandoned Rigdon biography.

William H. Whitsitt (1841-1911)

The Tanners' Tactics

Before I take a look at some of the bits and pieces which constitute or seemingly support the Tanners' 1989 theories, I'd like to point out one very important effect of their conclusion. By painting Dr. Whitsitt as a plausible anti-Mormon forger (or as an apparently blithe accessory to the act of anti-Mormon forgery) they implicitly call into question the validity of anything this noted professor of church history ever wrote concerning Mormonism, its leaders, its scriptures, or its early history. It doesn't matter at this point that they've told their reading jury to "disregard that last remark," until the remainder evidence has been presented in their case. All of their reader-jurors, at this point, already have the notion well planted in their minds that Whitsitt was a likely liar, out to destroy Mormonism by any means available. This insidious impression is foisted upon the readers before they ever reach the meat (?) of the Tanners' 1989 article. There are various journalistic stratagems which can be used to influence readers' opinions before they ever see supportive evidence, but this Tannerite ploy is one of the shoddiest attempts at prejudicing folks' opinions I've ever seen. The partisan indoctrination the Tanners impart to their readers in this particular case would be perfectly at home among the pages of infamous 1839 issues of the Elders' Journal! What are we to make of this piece of work?

First of all, by their repeatedly calling Whitsitt's honesty into question the Tanners (unwittingly?) provide pro-Mormon polemicists with sufficient ammunition to preemptively shoot down any one of Whitsitt's various assertions regarding the 19th century origin and literary structure of the Book of Mormon. After all, if your antagonist is a suspected liar and forger, why should you even bother listen to that person and his or her assertions regarding the origin and early evolution of the Latter Day Saint movement? The troubling questions of uninformed LDS members, who may have heard something about Dr. Whitsitt's assertions, can be immediately put to rest, simply asking some qualified Church employee to compile a reassuring, Nibleyesque article for The Ensign. Somewhere in that article, the writer can insert a citation or an allusion to the Tanners' calling Whitsitt's veracity into question. That reference alone (made even in a fine-print footnote) will be enough to put to rest the embarrassing questions of practically any Mormon, as to the veracity of Dr. Whitsitt. After all, if "even the Tanners" say he was of questionable character, then the issue is already settled, to his eternal discredit.

"Shooting the Messenger"

Throughout human experience it has always been easier for us to shoot the messenger than it has been for us to hear, consider, and respond to a troubling message. When we are in denial of our problems, somebody must be to blame, other than ourselves, right? And, as the Tanners astutely point out, "it would probably be very difficult for anyone to disprove the accusation" against Whitsitt's honesty. If we do not like his message -- saying who the "angel" was, etc. -- then we can simply dispose of this disturbing messenger. As I read and re-read the second half of the Tanners' article, I cannot help but recall the many examples of journalistic character assassination I've seen in early Mormon publications. Have these modern writers knowingly carried on the disreputable traditions of their forefathers? When we cannot score valid points against an opponent in a debate, by presenting solid, counter-arguments, practically the only way left for us to win the debate is to trick that opponent into attempting to disprove the negative. And, as we all know, when a person tries to refute negative accusations about his or her honesty, the task is a daunting one -- simply standing up and saying "I am not a crook!" works no better for common beings than it has in the past for U. S, Presidents. So, it is obviously not too difficult for any of us to end a debate, before it ever begins, simply by questioning the integrity of our opponent. Accomplishing even this little, we may walk away as the seeming winner of any dispute. That appears to have been the Tanners' first tactic in dealing with Whitsitt.

Using Spalding as the "Straw Man"

Secondly, the Tanners shore up their own rejection of an ill-defined straw-man they call "the Spalding theory" by painting Whitsitt as "a very strong believer in the Spalding theory concerning the origin of the Book of Mormon." In their minds the primary purpose behind the early 20th century forgery of the two spurious anti-Mormon documents was to seemingly reinforce this so-called "Spalding theory," and thus to vilify and perhaps even overthrow the Latter Day Saint religion. If the Tanners prejudiced opinion of Whitsitt's primary motivation were correct, and if he promoted the Spalding theory "tenaciously," then Dr. Whitsitt must have obviously followed a misguided and self-serving agenda from the very beginning -- or so it might seem to the Tanners' readers. The Tanners imply, that if such a "tenacious" zealot in the cause of the "Spalding theory" wrote anything disputing their own views regarding Mormon origins, that his obvious prejudice must disqualify his accusations from any reader's serious attention. Also, the Tanners' marking Whitsitt as "tenaciously" fighting for the "Spalding theory," automatically discredits the man's scholarship in the eyes of practically all traditionally "faithful" Latter Day Saints. It hardly needs to be pointed out that in their writing and publishing all of this, the Tanners clearly display their concurrence with the LDS "party line" on the inadmissibility of any historical evidence supporting the Spalding authorship claims.

Ignoring the Problematic Sidney Rigdon

Thirdly, by focusing their readers' attention primarily upon the matter of forgeries relating to one of the Three Witnesses to the allegedly divine origin of the Book of Mormon, the Tanners avoid engaging the weightier implications of Rigdon possibly having actually been "the Messenger" to Joseph Smith, Jr., the "Restorer" of the Aaronic priesthood to him and Cowdery, the "Angel of the Prairies" to Parley P. Pratt, and the "Shining Seraph" to Eliza Snow. While they selectively acknowledge these kinds of allegations concerning Rigdon's role in the earliest stages of Mormonism, the Tanners also carefully avoid making any useful inquiry into the possible veracity of such old assertions. The grounds and parameters they have established for admitting evidence into the bounds of their 1989 article disallow their readers viewing the content of those old assertions from any perspective other than the Tanners' own viewpoint. This sort of ploy is not unusual on either side of the Mormon/anti-Mormon fence, but it hardly allows for objective scholarship. Rather, the Tanners marshal Whitsitt's adverse opinions on tangential matters, in order to further their own, highly subjective, prejudices concerning the anti-Mormon forgeries of 100 years ago.

The Tanners' intentional rejection of any possible pre-baptismal role for Rigdon in the unfolding of Mormon origins (prior to October 1830) is a matter seemingly separate from their equally studied inattention to any substantial Spalding authorship claims. However, in this case, they have subtly interwoven their two negative viewpoints on these historical questions into a single key presupposition -- a prejudicial assumption that serves only to help pull the questioning reader and hopeful investigator into an unproductive, closed-minded "Tannerism," thus thwarting our proactive inquiry into the most important questions relating to Mormon origins. The Tanners apparently expect their readers to generally ignore the problematic Rigdon, along with his personal brand of radicalized, pre-millennial Campbellite doctrines and practices (mostly unique doctrines and practices, I might add), many of which are also neatly spread throughout a certain book first published in Palmyra in 1830. For more elucidation on this topic, see the excusus contained in my review of Dr. Terryl L. Givens' 2002 book, By the Hand of Mormon.

Dale R. Broadhurst

Where This Reviewer is Coming From

Having already taken the trouble to address the Tanners' article within the context of personal experience impacted generally by Mormonism and anti-Mormonism, I'll next extend the scope of my review to include a few disclosures of my personal views. In other words, for a few paragraphs I'll allow myself the same subjectivity the Tanners apparently methodically allow themselves in carrying out their peculiar work. Following that, I'll attempt to muster enough objectivity to critically address a few specific points raised by the Tanners in their 1989 article.

For most of my past twenty-five years' research and reporting in Mormon studies, I have not typically tried to inject my personality and personal agenda into my labors. Indeed, the practicalities of my generally anonymous research and unrestrained sharing of information have always taken precedence over any vagaries expressed in my infrequent and intentionally unpublished reporting. This way of doing things no doubt evolved on my part as a prudent consequence of the influence of my role models and mentors within the RLDS Church. I have viewed my most productive contributions to scholarship and friendship as falling within the limits of information-provider and enabler for other researchers and writers. With the advent of web-based self-publishing, however, I find myself in the unaccustomed and uncomfortable role of being an on-line journalist and digital media innovator -- and this after having long since discarded the bulk and accessibility of my favorite research resources and relocating to the far off Pacific, where Mormonism and Latter Day Saintism are but minor accessories of the relentless expansion westward of things American.

Nevertheless, with my 1998 resumption of work on the Spalding Research Project and my subsequent launching of The Spalding Studies Home Page and other web-sites devoted to the study of early Mormonism, I have slowly and reluctantly adopted the medium of web-casting to better share my work and discoveries. Self-publication in this medium regularly entails the discarding of traditional scholarly journalism's various restraints and helps. The rapidity of a two-way flow of electronic communication brings in its wake a potential flood of personalized feed-back. In my case, this is something I experience as a mixed blessing at best. It has become a daily experience for me to receive and read numerous e-mail messages informing me that my on-line presentations are in opposition to the "truth," because I have provided information and analysis on Solomon Spalding, Sidney Rigdon, etc. which does not conform to traditional, "faith-promoting" convictions typical to the Latter Day Saints. At the same time, I also find myself informed by other unsolicited messages that I must be deluded cultist for retaining my membership in restorationist faith community, the press of which continues to churn out copies of the Book of Mormon. Finally, several of those students of religion and history with whom I share a good deal of common intellectual ground continue to tell me that Fawn M. Brodie, the Tanners, and other "experts" on Mormonism have long since exploded the Spalding authorship claims, along with the possibility of Rigdon's having been at all involved in the origin of that religion.

It is from this less than popular starting point that I've begun to address issues relative to the Latter Day Saint experience, such as Tannerism. "Tannerism" I define as: the process whereby one presents the appearance of offering substantial explanations for Mormon beginnings and problematic actions, while at the same time consciously avoiding useful new inquiry into the most relevant aspects of those origins and actions. Such pseudo-responsiveness to such important matters, of course cannot prevail forever. When unavoidably faced with the difficulties intrinsic to responding in a material manner to the explicit assertions of a William H. Whitsitt, or the insightful web-casting of a Ted Chandler, the more intelligent and responsible proponents of Tannerism will eventually find themselves significantly changed by that encounter, no matter whether they manage to prevail in a few of the inevitable contests or not. This change need not necessarily involve the personalities of Jerald and Sandra Tanner, as they will disappear from the scene sooner or later, leaving Tannerism entrusted to the care and continuation of other anti-Mormons. But be that as it may, change in this mirror-image manifestation of Mormonism will almost certainly be healthy in the long run and I have no apologies to offer in working as an agent to help spark its further and better evolution. For without such timely and vigorous evolution, Tannerism will sooner or later be co-opted and put to use in the self-interest of the larger, more flexible, less "Mormon" LDS Church of the near future. The voices of warning against incipient theocracy have grown faint in these days of accommodation of and disinterest in established hierarchical religion. As for myself, it does not really matter whether my personal hobbies in history and religion turn out to be of much value or not. What will matter is the coming evolution in the process by which understandings such as my own are communicated and considered by those who are in positions to change things for the better. So, here I stand, armed with little else than a engaging web persona and a passion for productive inquiry -- I can do naught else.

The Rev. Sidney Rigdon
(computerized enhancement)

Sidney Rigdon as John the Baptist
and Smith's Angelic Messenger

It must be admitted, purely as an academic possibility) that the Tanners may be correct in theorizing that Dr. Whitsitt stooped to the deceitful act of forging anti-Mormon documents. It is equally correct to say that, given the current dearth of useful information in this case, it would be difficult to prove that he did not. To tell the truth, I am not particularly fond of finding myself defending the distinction of this particular southern gentlemen. He was, to a certain extent, a prejudiced opponent of my chosen faith and of my ancestors in that faith. Dr. Whitsitt placed both Campbellism and Mormonism within the outer bounds of variant Christianity, but he could find nothing redeeming about the Mormon experience. Whitsitt obviously detested both Alexander Campbell and Sidney Rigdon to the point of utter contempt. However, that being admitted, there is no known reason for anyone to accuse Dr. Whitsitt of being anything other than an honest and honorable man, noted for gaining one personally costly scholarly victory in his courageously defending the more tenable side in a doctrinal dispute of great importance among Southern Baptists. The truth of his side in that seminal religious struggle was not positively affirmed until years after his death, however. In the midst of that divisive debate Whitsitt summoned the personal courage and wisdom to enable him to step down from a position of power and prestige among the Southern Baptists. He made this injurious personal sacrifice in order to help calm the stormy ecclesiastical waters which were then swirling around him and his seminary. His actions in that struggle speak volumes about his integrity and devotion to the Christian cause.

William H. Whitsitt, the fiercely independent thinker and pious former Confederate chaplain did not consider any heavy-handed attempt at converting people to his own views justifiable, even when he knew he was right and his opponents were wrong. It is almost impossible for me to picture this kind of a man resorting to nefarious forgery in a Quixotic contest with the Mormons, so late in life, when his thoughts were more likely centered on meeting his Maker than on struggling to win denominational causes.

The Tanners are blatantly in error in their charging that Whitsitt was a "tenacious" supporter of the Spalding "theory" (whatever that theory might consist of in their own minds). Whitsitt, in his manuscript biography of Sidney Rigdon, several times makes it quite clear that he had no passion for all the seedy twists and turns this authorship explanation had taken by the time it came under his scrutiny during the early 1880s. Whitsitt also made it clear that he harbored even less regard for the broken down, former Congregational evangelist from Connecticut who allegedly wrote the original of the Book of Mormon. As Whitsitt says, if he could have avoided reporting the Spalding portion of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship explanation, he certainly would have. Dr. Whitsitt points out in the pages of his Rigdon biography. that he could have built just as strong a case for his primary thesis -- that the Rev. Sidney Rigdon originated Mormonism from his own radical, millenarian Campbellism -- without resorting to any use of the Spalding authorship claims whatever. He included reference to those claims, first of all, because no biographer of Rigdon can honestly exclude some mention of them from his biography. Dr. Whitsitt took the trouble to develop certain aspects of the Spalding authorship rationale because he realized that a person like Rigdon would have more likely edited an existing preudo-historical narrative than he would have concocted such a document from scratch.

Whatever the Tanners might have to say about Spalding, Rigdon, etc., it seems to me to be a foregone conclusion that a "printer's manuscript" of one of Solomon Spalding's works of fiction was retained in a Pittsburgh print shop until the early 1820s and that, through his association with printers like Silas Engles and Jonathan Harrison Lambdin, the young "journey man tanner," Sidney Rigdon eventually acquired access to that pseudo-historical oddity. Whether this segment of the historical reconstruction is fully true, only partly true, or a total mistake, matters little to Whitsitt's expression of his central thesis in Rigdon's biography. The Tanners do not see things this way, however. By concentrating only upon Whitsitt's critical use of certain Spalding authorship elements in his writing the Rigdon biography, the Tanners manage to both ignore the professor's core message and simultaneously to consign him to the ranks of unenlightened dupes accepting the Spalding "theory."

A Search for Some Important Answers

The Tanners pretend to a great discovery, in their assigning to Dr. William H. Whitsitt the genesis of the idea that Sidney Rigdon could have been the alleged angelic messenger and heavenly baptismal restorer spoken of so reverently by Joseph Smith, Jr. Whether the Tanners are correct in assigning to Whitsitt the origin of the Rigdon as the angel-baptizer idea is an interesting question. But it is a question best answered through diligent research among primary historical sources rather than by a Tannerite epiphany, striking the untutored mental wanderings of Jerald and Sandra Tanner as they ponder the Whitsitt transcripts Byron Marchant and I have assmebled for their inspection.

The place to start looking for an answer is in the 1833 Book of Commandments. There, in the opening verses (1-7) of Chapter XXXVII: "A Revelation to Joseph, and Sidney, given in Fayette, New York, December, 1830," we read:

Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose course is one eternal round, the same today as yesterday and forever. I am Jesus Christ, the, Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may become the sons of God, even one in me as I am in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one:

Behold, verily, verily I say unto you my servant Sidney, I have looked upon thee and thy works. I have heard thy prayers and have prepared thee for a greater work. Thou art blessed for thou shalt do great things. Behold thou wast sent forth, even as John, to prepare the way before me, and before Elijah which should come, and thou knew it not.

Thou didst baptize by water unto repentance, but they received not the Holy Ghost; but now I give unto thee a commandment, that thou shalt baptize by water, and they shall receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, even as the apostles of old... [emphasis added]

Mormon scriptural commentators, apologists, and historians alike have generally spoken of this revelation being a divine identification of the radical Campbellite, Sidney Rigdon, with John the Baptist. F. Mark McKiernan went so far as to entitle his slender 1971 Sidney Rigdon biography, The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness... While it is marginally possible that some of the post-1905 writers on Rigdon have derived some of their Rigdon=John the Baptist imagery from the bogus Cowdery Defence (and thus, according to the Tanners, from Whitsitt), this would not be the case for earlier publications wherein Sidney Rigdon is compared or connected with John the Baptist. Rigdon's identification as being a great proselytizer and baptizer for the Campbellites goes back at least to 1827, if not before. It was a distinguishing mark of the Campbellite ministers of those times that they were willing baptize a new convert almost immediately following his or her expression of belief in the "primitive gospel." Rigdon's reputation as a great baptizer naturally carried over into early Mormonism, where baptism was also performed immediately after a profession of belief and repentance on the part of new converts. Already raised to the dignity of the preeminent divine ordinance by the Campbellites, baptism among the Mormons became the only ordinance worthy of being called "sacrament." Clearly the identification of Rigdon as a great baptizer -- like John in the Bible -- and the coupling Rigdon's name with John's name, was a notion firmly implanted in Mormon minds as early as the end of 1830.

1867 Depiction of Smith & Angel

Smith's Angels - Divine or Human?

When the first Mormon missionaries went out from Palmyra to peddle the newly published Book of Mormon and beat the bushes for converts, they took with them the story of Joseph Smith's angelic visitations. But the earliest public reaction to "Joe Smith's Angel" was not always very sympathetic and incredulous writers often demoted the Mormon "angels" to a lesser and very human status.

The June 12, 1830 issue of the Palmyra Reflector told how the local boy-seer's stories of a treasure-guarding ghost had evolved into angelic visitations: "Now the rest of the acts of the magician, how his mantle fell upon the prophet Jo. Smith Jun. and how Jo. made a league with the spirit, who afterwards turned out to be an angel, and how he obtained the "Gold Bible." Spectacles, and breast plate..." The issue of Feb. 28, 1831 adds: "It is well known that Jo Smith never pretended to have any communion with angels, until a long period after the pretended finding of his book..."

A few months later the first Mormon missionaries had reached northern Ohio, where some people greeted them as heaven-sent messengers of a new revelation. This identification of Mormon elders Cowdery, Pratt, etc., was perhaps easiest for the local Campbellites, who had accepted Alexander Campbell's redefinition of "angel" as "messenger" in his translating passages of the Bible's Greek into colloquial English. Just as celestial angels were "messengers" and "fellow servants" with Cowdery and Pratt, so also were they and other LDS missionaries "messengers" and "fellow servants" with the angels of the new dispensation. According to Ezra Booth's 1831 account, having himself just converted to Mormonism, the Rev. Sidney Rigdon observed of Oliver Cowdery, that "his heart open, and it was as pure as an angel," and that the messenger from Palmyra had brought "a testimony from God."

The editor of a local paper, the Hudson Observer, was less credulous concerning Cowdery's role as a messenger of divine tidings: In his issue of Nov. 18, 1830 he wrote: "For several days past, four individuals, said to have formerly resided in the State of New-York, have appeared in the northern part of Geauga County, assuming the appellation of Disciples, Prophets, and Angels. Some among us, however, are led to believe that they are nothing more than men, and impostors..."

Compare those reports to the following account from the Mar. 1, 1831 issue of the Cleveland Advertiser: "Some months since, a young lawyer living in the western part of the state of New York... wrote the wonderful Mormon bible... he marvellously appeared in disguise, in the form of an angel, to a man named Smith, and revealed to him where he would find the sacred treasure..." The same newspaper, only a few days earlier had announced Sidney Rigdon was the person who concocted Smith's wonderful Mormon bible: "Rigdon was formerly a disciple of Campbell's... but... to operate on his own capital... wrote, as it is believed the Book of Mormon."

So, as early as the first weeks of 1831, accounts in the popular press provided sufficient information for people to demote the Mormon "angels" to human status; to identify the "angel" who provided Smith with his "wonderful Mormon bible" as being a mere man; and to identify the writer of the book as none other than Sidney Rigdon. As the Mormons settled in at Kirtland and began baptizing new converts in that region, the same popular press published accounts of angelic visitors attending those night-time baptisms, walking silently near the awe-struck converts and strengthening their faith in the new revelation. In some accounts the silent reputed angel was said to be none other than Smith himself, operating surreptitiously and in disguise. Certainly the judicious application of a little phosphorus to the person of a Mormon leader like Smith or Rigdon could have easily produced such faith-promoting results. Elder James J. Strang demonstrated a rather similar heavenly "miracle" to his followers during the late 1840s. Back in 1831 all the necessary elements were in place for anybody with a little common sense to have identified Sidney Rigdon as one of the Mormon "angels" and, more specifically, as the very messenger who supposedly brought Smith his "wonderful Mormon bible." This logical identification of Sidney Rigdon with Smith's "angel," in the minds of incredulous non-Mormons, did not have to wait sixty years, until William H. Whitsitt saw a summary of his Rigdon studies published in 1891 -- this was an incipient impression in some peoples' minds, beginning in the earliest days of Mormonism.

Rigdon as a Fake Divine Mesenger

Eber D. Howe printed the 1830 Mormon "revelation" to Rigdon on pages 107-109 of his 1834 Mormonism Unvailed. The editor of that book follows his quotation of the 1830 "revelation" to Rigdon, by saying: "We before, had Moses and Aaron in the persons of Smith and Cowdery, and we now have John the Baptist, in the person of Sidney Rigdon." According to the Rev. Clark Braden, a good deal of the information in Howe's book was supplied by the Disciples of Christ leader in Mentor, Matthew S. Clapp. The account of Rigdon in Howe's book is largely taken from Clapp's earlier article, published in Howe's newspaper on Feb. 15, 1831. In Clapp's earlier report he says that the Mormon missionaries to the Lamanites who converted Rigdon in 1830, "applied to O. Cowdery prophetical declarations which are directly and particularly applied to John the Baptist, harbinger of the Messiah." But by 1834 (when Clapp's report was rewritten for Howe's book) it was obvious to most observers that Cowdery's star had set, while Sidney Rigdon's "John the Baptist" role had made him the second most important leader in the Mormon movement.

Previous to his associating Sidney Rigdon with John the Baptist, the editor of Howe's book had already said: "We may here stop to remark that an opinion has prevailed, to a considerable extent, that Rigdon has been the Iago, the prime mover, of the whole conspiracy" (page 101). So, in the very first anti-Mormon book, the reader finds Rigdon identified as the Mormons' "John the Baptist" and also named as the originator "of the whole conspiracy." It takes only a small step in logic for any reader of these lines to accept the logical deduction that Sidney Rigdon played the part of John the Baptist in the purported May 15, 1829 "restoration" of the Aaronic priesthood to Joseph and Oliver. Documentation of a month and a half gap at this point in Rigdon's Ohio chronology was given by RLDS Elder Edmund L. Kelley in 1891 and reprinted in the widely-read Saints' Herald in 1894. Not only could Rigdon have been with Joseph and Oliver at the time of the priesthood "restoration," any reader of the Saints' Herald or Zion's Ensign (which reprinted the chronology) could have come to the very same conclusion as early as 1894. The logical identification of Sidney Rigdon as Smith's divine messenger, in the minds of incredulous non-Mormons, was not a conclusion that could have only been made by William H. Whitsitt. And, for the same reasons, it was not a conclusion that could have only been made by somebody of had read Whitsitt's unpublished biography of Elder Sidney Rigdon.

By 1830 Sidney Rigdon had long thought of himself as being, as much as was then possible, a doctrinally pure Baptist -- one of three Campbellite reformers (the others were Rev. Walter Scott and Rev. Adamson Bentley) who stood ready to baptize repenting new believers at a moment's notice and who was yearning to "restore" the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost as the culminating ordinance in baptizing adult converts by immersion for the remission of sins. Of course Sidney could not claim the divinely authorized power to administer this pure and complete baptism until he himself had received baptism and ordination at the hands of a fully authorized latter day elder. This was a key point in Rigdon's religious evolution and it should not be lost sight of. Rev. Sidney Rigdon, as he ministered among the Campbellites at the close of the 1820s, could not claim the culminating heavenly authority he desired, until he was baptized, confirmed and ordained by a divinely authorized person, and no such person was to be found among the Campbellites. Rigdon could either receive his desired authority from the hands of an angel (he and Smith later inserted such angelic ordinations into their improvement of the Bible) or from the hands of a divinely appointed fellow human being.

So, from whom did he receive these enabling ordinances in 1830? Rigdon's "restored" priestly powers came under the hands of Elder Oliver Cowdery, who, in turn, reportedly received his priesthood authority directly from the divine messenger, John the Baptist -- who was a celestialized being, like Moroni the son of Mormon; or, in other words, an "angel." Here is just one of the many intriguing connections between Sidney Rigdon and the famous baptizing prophet of the former day saints. Whether the celestialized John came to empower Smith and Cowdery, carrying his head under his arm, like a bloody Cumorah treasure-spirit, history does not recall. But, if some early writers are correct, the latter day John spelled his name S-i-d-n-e-y, and acted out a part rather like the fellow in the old song, who was his "own grandpa." If "Rigdon the Baptist" imparted priestly authority to Oliver, and Oliver then imparted that same authority to Rev. Rigdon of Mentor, Ohio, then the latter must have received his baptism and priesthood, "by hook or by crook." This is exactly the sort of historical irony that captured the attention of Dr. Whitsitt, and it is exactly the sort of historical discovery the Tanners seek to conceal, by their dragging Whitsitt's good name and reputation through the mud.

Sidney no doubt delighted in his identification with John the Baptist, either as the unknowing fore-runner and eventual herald of Joseph Smith, or (more likely) as the Mormon herald of the coming millennial reign of Christ. Smith's revelation to Sidney allowed for either outcome -- just so long as Sidney "knew it not." Stepping deftly into the sandals of this ancient "voice of one crying" repentance "in the wilderness," Sidney was not above invoking his first century alter-ego in rebuking the editor of the Millennial Harbinger, his former Campbellite mentor, Alexander Campbell: "When John the Baptist came as the harbinger of the Savior, in six months after, he could say, (John 1:29) Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. But the poor [Millennial] Harbinger, like a widowed dove, can find no mate. It has been five years abroad on the earth, and going up and down on it, but no Millennium yet; not able to point to the place where it, or any part of it is to be found. Let the Editor of the Harbinger be silent about impositions till he corrects his own, and ceases to practice fraud himself." (Sidney Rigdon, "The Millennium II," Evening and Morning Star, Jan. 1834 pp. 126-27.)

Pomeroy Tucker Tells His "Messenger" Story

Skipping over three decades (in which there are very likely numerous published identifications of Rigdon as John the Baptist, and/or Smith's angelic messenger) we come to the writings of Pomeroy Tucker. Mr. Tucker was once the editor of the Wayne Sentinel in Palmyra and he had more than a passing acquaintance with Joseph Smith, Jr. As early as the year 1858 Tucker published an account crediting the writing of the Book of Mormon to Sidney Rigdon, who he said "furnished the literary contributions" to for Smith's 1830 book, and who "was the first 'messenger appointed of God.'" As I've already said, the technical term "messenger," as Tucker uses it herem is an important one. Rigdon matured his religious thought under the tutelage of Alexander Campbell, who insisted on exact translations of scriptural terms from the Greek: for Campbellites "baptism" was "immersion" and "angels" were "messengers". For Sidney Rigdon, speaking during the winter of 1830-31, the terms "preacher," "fellow servant," "messenger," and "divine messenger" would have been closely interrelated, and perhaps (in the case of his own role among the Mormons) one in the same. According to Orson Pratt, the young Joseph Smith was "filled with the most ernest desire, 'to commune with some kind of messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God.'" Elder Pratt does not say whether a "messenger" sent in the form of an ex-Baptist preacher from Mentor, Ohio would have filled this bill, but an 1831 newspaper report on the Mormons says: "Ringdon [sic] partly uniting with them [Smith and associates]... by the suggestions of the Ex-Preacher from Ohio, [Smith and associates] thought of turning their digging concern into a religious plot... They began also to talk very seriously, to quote scripture, to read the bible, to be contemplative, and to assume that grave studied character, which so easily imposes on ignorant and superstitious people... At last a printer in Palmyra undertook to print the manuscript of Joe Smith... They were called translaters, but in fact and in truth they are believed to be the work of the Ex-Preacher from Ohio, who stood in the background and put forward Joe to father the new bible and the new faith."

In his recollections of the Palmyra of forty years past, Pomery Tucker gives much the same report as was published in the 1831 article, just quoted. Tucker fills in details only broadly sketched out in that article, however; most importantly he speaks of a "mysterious stranger" who twice met with Joseph Smith between 1827 and 1830 (Origin and Progress of Mormonism, NY, D. Appleton & Co. 1867, pp. 28, 46, 75-76, & 121.)

Perhaps Tucker's reminiscence at this point relies upon the same wellspring of testimony from which Palmyra residents drew to provide information for the 1831 account of early New York Mormonism, the Joseph Smith, Sr. family, and the mysterious ex-preacher from Ohio who brought them the text for the Book of Mormon. Then again, Tucker may have had access to old Palmyra information as obscure as that which gave rise to Lucy Mack Smith's tale of a mysterious "stranger" miraculously assisting her son at the time he was doing his "translating" (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet... Liverpool, 1853, p. 119) or to the much later statements of alleged eye-witnesses like Abel Chase and Lorenzo Saunders, telling how they had encountered Sidney Rigdon near Palmyra months before his baptism as a Mormon. At any rate, we read in Tucker's comments one of the earliest published reports, placing a very secretive Sidney Rigdon in the neighborhood of the Manchester Smiths prior to his first public visit with that same family at the end of 1830. If the "stranger" was Rigdon, it requires no great leap in logic to assume he also did some more "mysterious" visiting -- at Harmony in his home state of Pennslyvania, on May 15, 1829.

Tucker does not stop at recording vague memories of this "mysterious stranger," however: he speaks directly of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s 1829 baptism at Harmony and says that Joseph "went to Northern Pennsylvania, as previously appointed... and was baptized after the Mormon ritual -- Rigdon being the... officiating "clergyman" (Origin, p. 56). A few pages later, still speaking of Smith's baptism, Tucker says that Joseph "had previously received the ordinance in Pennsylvania by the ministration of 'Brother Rigdon,' and was the first Mormon baptized since the times of the primitive Nephites," (Origin, p. 60). So, in Tucker's 1867 work, we already have all the elements present for the identification of Sidney Rigdon as the "John the Baptist" who restored the Aaronic priesthood to Joseph and Oliver in 1829.

The continual popularization of Eber D. Howe's saucy comments and Tucker's alleged memorial musings is well illustrated in Hubert Howe Bancroft's History of Utah, 1540-1886, (San Francisco, 1889). On page 79), Bancroft quotes Howe in saying: "...we now have John the Baptist, in the person of Sidney Rigdon. Their plans of deception appear to have been more fully matured and developed after the meeting of Smith and Rigdon..." Bancroft directly follows this quotation with a mention of Tucker's comments concerning Sidney Rigdon's "messenger of God" activities in New York. These kinds of accusative references may be found scattered throughout the anti-Mormon literature of the 1880s and 1890s.

William A. Stanton and Smith's "Angel"

One notable proponent of the Rigdon=Angel claims from that period was the Rev. William A. Stanton, a writer and a Baptist minister who lived in Pittsburgh. In an undated newspaper clipping, from an June, 1899 Pittsburgh paper, is found one of Rev. Stanton's sermons, entitled: "Rigdon as the Angel." In this article Stanton says: "Smith claimed to have been directed by an angel to the burial place of a stone box in which was a volume six inches thick and composed of thin gold leaves... My father-in-law, then 19 years old, lived near there, and is still living. He knew Smith... just the man for Rigdon's use, although he proved in the long run too much for his master. It will probably never be known why Rigdon had to take second place in Mormonism... In 1830 the book was printed, and with it a sworn statement by Cowdery, Harris and a David Whitmer that an 'angel of God' had shown them the plates from which the book purported to be a translation. In after years these three men renounced Mormonism and said that their sworn statement was false." Stanton is technically incorrect in saying that all three of the Book of Mormon witnesses renounced their sworn statement, but he does assert that Rigdon was "the Angel" with a degree of believability -- and shows absolutely no reliance upon Dr. Whitsitt's anti-Mormon writings. It is not difficult to imagine an anti-Mormon reader of Stanton's sort of article, at the end of the 19th century, looking about for Cowdery's renuniation -- not finding it -- and then being tempted to fabricate that document himself.

Rev. Stanton wrote a similar article, entitled "The Relation of Sidney Rigdon to the Book of Mormon," which was published in the July 22, 1899 issue of the Chicago Standard. There he says much the same thing all over again, and adds these assertions: "during the summer of 1827 (the "Leaves of Gold" were found in September, 1827) a stranger made several visits at Smith's home. He was afterward recognized as Rigdon, who afterward preached the first Mormon sermon at Palmyra.... In light of this evidence, whence think ye came the Book of Mormon, and what is its claim to divine authority? Was not Rigdon Joseph Smith's angel?" Stanton's views on this subject were reprinted in Edgar E. Folk's 1900 book, The Mormon Monster, and as the section headed: "Sidney Rigdon was Joseph Smith's 'Angel'" in Stanton's own 1907 book, Three Important Movements, (Philadelphia: Am. Bap. Pub. Soc., pp. 36-41). Although Stanton cites Whitsitt's book on the origin of the Campbellites, he is obviously unaware of the larger work from which that thin volume was excerpted for publication -- Whitsitt's unpublished biography of Sidney Rigdon. Also, there is nothing in any of Stanton's known writings to indicate that he picked up the Rigdon=Angel claim (or anything else regarding Rigdon) from Whitsitt's 1891 "Mormonism" essay -- most of Stanton's citations and ideas come out of Robert Patterson, Jr.'s 1882 historical sketch on the origin of the Book of Mormon.

Mahaffey and Schroeder Add Their Views

The turn of the century seems to have been a particularly popular time for anti-Mormon writers to come out and say that Sidney Rigdon was Joseph Smith's angel. S. J. S. Davis, in his 1899 book, Origin of Book of Mormon implies a connection between Rigdon and Smith's angel; he says: "Rigdon... [obtained] Spalding's manuscript, and by some means placed it in the hands of Smith and Cowdery... how easy it was for Smith, who was already in communication with the celestial world, to have an angel direct him to the hill Cumorah." Rev James Ervin Mahaffey expanded upon this connection in writing his 1902 booklet, Found at Last: Positive Proof that Mormonism is a Fraud. On page 33 of this work Mahaffey says: "Now, according to Mormon theology, an angel is but an exalted man. They say, "God may use any beings he has made or that he pleases, and call them his angels or messengers." "God's angels and men are all one species, one race, one great family." "God is a man like unto yourselves; that is the great secret." YES, INDEED, THAT IS THE GREAT SECRET! Sidney Rigdon is an exalted man; therefore, Mormons may call him "God's angel or messenger."

Rev. Mahaffey derived some of this thinking on this point from the commendable work of A. Theodore Schroeder. In his 1901 book, The Origin of the Book of Mormon, Schroeder says: "I conclude... that the "Angel of the Prairies" who outlined to Pratt his then contemplated and now executed religious fraud, was none other than Sidney Rigdon himself, and that this fact accounts for Pratt's failure to give the name of his host or the date of his first meeting with Rigdon." Schroeder then goes on to give his opinion that Parley P. Pratt also carried out some equally deceptive angelic work in Rigdon's behalf, resulting eventually in the origin of Mormonism.

Schroeder's reporting was twice reprinted, many times cited, and eventually responded to in detail by the Mormon historian B. H. Roberts in 1908. All of this publicizing of the Rigdon=Angel explanation was going on during the opening years of the 20th century, at the very time when the spurious Cowdery Defence first surfaced. The RLDS Saints' Herald reprinted the document in its issue of Mar. 20, 1907, saying that it had "recently" come to the editor's attention. In fact, as the Tanners point out, the Rev. Robert B. Neal first published the pamphlet months earlier -- in about the middle of 1906. The fact that Rev. Neal mentioned the forged Cowdery text as early as "June 3, 1905," (as the Tanners also document) does not necessarily mean that Neal had any such publication in his hands at that time. In fact, in mentioning the alleged Cowdery "Defence" in the June-July, 1905 issue of The Helper, Rev. Neal clearly states that he only has an "excerpt" from the pamphlet -- implying that he was working from a handwritten transcription.

The Tanners infer that William H. Whitsitt probably wrote and/or published the spurious Cowdery pamphlet some time before June 3, 1905, and that Neal re-published Whitsitt's forgery the following year. Neal's publication was headed with the title: "Anti-Mormon Tracts, No. 9." If there was really a Whitsitt forgery, published prior to June 3, 1905, no known copies survive. Perhaps this fact convinced the Tanners that they had to include R. B. Neal as a knowing or unknowing participant in the forgery. Probably they were right in implicating Rev. Neal (the first known publisher of the bogus Cowdery text) in this sordid affair -- but not for the reason they imagined when they wrote their 1989 article.

R. B. Neal, Professional Anti-Mormon

Disciples of Christ minister, the Rev. Robert B. Neal (1847-1925) was a well-known anti-Mormon tract-writer and journalist. By 1897 (perhaps earlier) Neal was "holding forth" from Grayson, Kentucky, where he contributed an occasional journalistic attack upon the Mormons to local newspapers like the Carter County Bugle.

Not long after Rev. Neal began to attack the Mormons in the public press, a number of militants within the "Campbellite" movement came together to form the "National anti-Mormon Missionary Association of the Disciples of Christ." This group was formally organized at Omaha on Oct. 21, 1902 and its leadership included the notable former Latter Day Saint, Elder Davis H. Bays. Serving with Elder Bays on the new Association's Board of Directors was the Rev. Robert B. Neal. The cooperation between the ex-RLDS Bays and the zealous R. B. Neal reached back several years before the founding of this group, however. Rev. Neal took notice of Bays' "exposure" of the Saints as published in his 1897 book, The Doctrines and Dogmas of Mormonism. Encouraged by Bays' success in getting such a book into print, R. B. Neal set about researching and publishing his own anti-Mormon writings, beginning with his 1898 pamphlet, Was Joe Smith a Prophet? As may be seen in his earliest writings, Neal accepted the ex-RLDS missionary's views on most topics, but he did not go along with Bays' notion that Joseph Smith, Jr. wrote the Book of Mormon practically unassisted (Bays admitted some probable imput from Oliver Cowdery). The Mormons delighted in pointing to Rev. Bays' maverick opinions, as indicating doctrinal confusion among himself and his Campbellite brethren (see, for example, "Williams-Bays Debate" in the Aug. 18, 1898 issue of Zion's Ensign).

At the end of 1902 Rev. Neal became the editor of the official organ of the National anti-Mormon Missionary Association, the Helper, which he issued at Olive Hill (and later at Moorhead), just west of Grayson, in Carter Co., Kentucky. R. B. Neal's editorial article, "The Book of Mormon," published in the Aug. 1903 issue of the Helper, provides some insight into Neal's obsession with the idea that ex-Mormons like Oliver Cowdery must have denounced the religion and its "Bible of the Western Continent," (as Neal labels the 1830 book). His obsession with this probability took Neal on a quest to find the holy grail of anti-Mormonism, a denunciation of the religion as a fraud, from the lips of primary witnesses Martin Harris, David Wjitmer, or Oliver Cowdery. And, it is likely that it was Rev. Neal's publicized quest for such damning documentation that resulted in somebody writing the spurious Cowdery "Defence" early in 1905.

By Dec. 1904 the National anti-Mormon Missionary Association had added to its ranks the famous Mormon-eater, Clark Braden; he became a member of its Board of Management and R. B. Neal was made its General Secretary. The Helper for that month solicited financial contributions to further the group's "tract plans... to battle Mormonism." Rev. Neal switched into "high gear" and began to issue his anti-Mormon leaflets at about this same time (see various issues of the Disciples' Christian Standard from this period to view Neal's articles and some relevant reports on his activities). Neal merged his Helper periodical into the Disciples' Christian Weekly, but that paper soon folded. Around the beginning of 1907, the Disciples of Christ denomination apparently quit sponsoring the National anti-Mormon Missionary Association. Before long, that original organization deteriorated into what was pratically R. B. Neal's one man show, "The American Anti Mormon Association," of which Neal was the self-styled head.

Operating as the "American Anti-Mormon Association," out of Grayson, R. B. Neal published and distributed copies of his early "Anti-Mormon Tracts" and his new "Sword of Laban" leaflet series between 1905 and 1908. The last of his "Anti-Mormon Tracts" was his "No. 9," Oliver Cowdery's Defence and Renunciation, which he published in mid 1906.

It is perhaps important to note here that Rev. Neal published this particular tract right at the time when the Disciples of Christ were beginning to distance themselves from his anti-Mormon operations and right at the time he was seeking publicity and financial support to continue his endangered publishing efforts. As I mentioned already, his "official organ" of the National anti-Mormon Missionary Association, the Cincinnati Christian Weekly, ceased publication shortly after Neal issued his Cowdery "Defence" tract, and the "Association" went out of business not long thereafter. Although conclusive evidence is not yet available, I am tempted to think that Rev. Neal printed up his "Tract No. 9" as part of his last ditch effort to salvage and reinvigorate the dying National anti-Mormon Missionary Association.

R. B. Neal's "Cowdery" Tract #9

This was also about the first time that the spurious Oliver Overstreet "Confession" was first placed in circulation. On page 11 of their 1989 article, Jerald and Sandra Tanner say: "It is our belief that one of the major reasons that the Overstreet "Confession" was written was to destroy a statement concerning the Spalding-Rigdon theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon which was attributed to Oliver Cowdery when he returned to the church in 1848. According to the report in 'The Myth of the Manuscript Found,' p. 80, Oliver Cowdery proclaimed that the Book of Mormon 'is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it.'"

The Tanners may be correct in their "belief" that the fabricated Cowdery Defence and the forged Overstreet Confession are in some way connected, but are they also correct in their saying "A number of things could make one suspicious that William Whitsitt had something to do with the Cowdery Defence and the Overstreet Confession?" It seems that the "one" who is dealing out these kinds of suspicions is actually the Tanner twosome. And, having painted Dr. Whitsitt as the probable secret author of the bogus Cowdery Defence, they also try to frame him as the counterfeiter of the spurious Overstreet document. What next? perhaps accuse him also of writing the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion?"

My own conclusion is that there is far more evidence linking the Rev. Robert B. Neal to these kinds of early 20th century forgeries than there is for pointing to Dr. Whitsitt's fancied participation in such nefarious schemes. But, having said that much, I might as well also reveal at this point that I do not believe that Rev. Neal personally wrote either the Cowdery Defence or the so-called Overstreet Confession. I will explain my thoughts on this important point by and by.

Untangling the "Neal Connection"

With the demise of the Disciples' National anti-Mormon Missionary Association, at the end of 1906, the Rev. Robert B. Neal put together a loose, inter-denominational coalition of anti-Mormons, under the banner of the American Anti-Mormon Association. Among the contributors to R. B. Neal's new anti-Mormon publishing efforts was the ex-RLDS writer, Charles A. Shook. Shook left the Reorganized Mormons in 1895 and became an ordained minister with the Advent Christian Church. In 1911 he became a member of the Disciples of Christ. After gaining some experience in the anti-Mormon business by writing for Rev. Neal, Shook undertook the writing of his own books: The True Origin of Mormon Polygamy and Cumorah Revisited, both printed near the end of 1910 and made available for sale at the beginning of 1911. The latter book was published by the Disciples of Christ's Standard Publishing Co., as was a 1914 reprint of the former volume. In 1914 Shook also induced the Standard Publishing Co., to print his third book, The True Origin of the Book of Mormon. This last volume was the first known work on Mormonism (other than R. B. Neal's publications) which reproduced (on pp. 50-54) Rev. Neal's 1906 Cowdery "Defence." The Rev. Neal must have been excited by the appearance of Shook's 1914 True Origin, for the Mar. 10, 1915 issue of the Saints Herald speaks of "Mr. Shook, whose work R. B. Neal says will 'shake the foundation' of Latter Day Saintism."

In the course of his anti-Mormon research and reporting, R. B. Neal gained access to some of the papers of Thomas Gregg (1808-1892), author of the 1890 book, The Prophet of Palmyra. Among that unpublished trove was a letter addressed to Gregg, written by Judge William Lang, and dated "Tiffin, O., Nov. 5, 1881." This document Neal first published (on pp. 12-14 of Tract #9) then made available to Shook, who reproduced it in his 1914 book, on the pages directly following his reprint of the spurious Cowdery "Defence." In his note on page 58, Shook says: "The letters of Lang, Gibson and Mrs. Bernard have been turned over to the American Anti-Mormon Association by the family of Th. Gregg, to whom they are addressed." Although Shook goes on to say that he took his text for the 1881 Lang letter "directly from the original," and although Judge Lang's son authenticated his father's handwriting in 1907, there is no way of knowing for certain that all of the pages of the 1881 letter in R. B. Neal's keeping, which Shook inspected, were truly Judge Lang's holographs. In fact, I think we must hold open the possibility that extraneous material may have been interpolated into Judge Lang's letter, by a later, anti-Mormon hand. The "suspect" text in this 1881 letter (as published) includes the following startling disclosure:

"What is claimed to be a translation is the 'Manuscript Found' worked over by C[owdery]. He was the best scholar amongst them. Rigdon got the original at the job printing office in Pittsburgh as I have stated. I often expressed my objection to the frequent repetition of 'And it came to pass' to Mr. Cowdery and said that a true scholar ought to have avoided that, which only provoked a gentle smile from C[owdery]. Without going into detail or disclosing a confided word, I say to you that I do know, as well as can now be known, that C[owdery]. revised the 'Manuscript' and Smith and Rigdon approved of it before it became the Book of Mormon."

Judge Lang wrote elsewhere about his close personal relationship with Oliver Cowdery (see, for example, his 1880 History of Seneca County, Ohio, p. 364), but he is not known to have anywhere else made a claim that Cowdery told him that the Book of Mormon was based upon Spalding's "Manuscript Found." What is the explanation for Lang's singular admission?

In their 2000 CD-ROM book, the authors of the Spalding Enigma call this same missive the "controversial letter written by Lang about Cowdery." On page 741 the Enigma authors reproduce (from James D. Bales' expanded reprint of Richard C. Evans' 1920 book), the same authentication from Judge Lang's son (dated May 30, 1907) that I previously mentioned. The contents of the son's letter appear to confirm that Judge Lang's testimony of 1881 was correctly published after his death -- but those same Enigma authors strongly suspect that somebody (R. B. Neal?) tampered with Judge Lang's holograph, inserting the damning confession of Oliver Cowdery into an original which never mentioned the incident. In private conversations with these authors they related to me their reasons for suspecting that R. B. Neal only sent Judge Lang's son a photograph of a portion of the 1881 letter, when he solicited the son's confirmation of the handwriting. They surmise the "original" held by R. B. Neal was a doctored document and the section relating Cowdery's confession, a spurious insertion. Unfortunately the original of Judge Lang's letter has long since disappeared from public view and is nolonger available for inspection and analysis.

While it is possible that the 1881 Lang letter did read as the Rev. R. B. Neal published the text, it also seems possible that the original may have been tampered with and that Rev. R. B. Neal may have known of this forgery, and yet chose to get the doctored document authenticted and published. At the very least, this possible fabrication of source material useful to the anti-Mormons should induce us to exercise some caution in accepting at face value the unique documents reproduced in Neal's and Shook's writings. Also, we should recall that it was R. B. Neal who first printed the fake Cowdery "Defence" and that the Tanners (whether right or wrong) feel that the unpublished Overstreet Confession is somehow linked to Neal's publication of that "Defence." All of this, I think, compels us examine critically any "lost" historical documents whose texts were first published by Rev. Neal.

Charles A. Shook's 1914 book contains yet another unusual item that the author apparently obtained from R. B. Neal. On page 120 Shook reprints a purported note penned by Dr. Cephas Dodd, on June 6, 1831, onto the fly-leaf of his personal copy of the 1830 Book of Mormon. Yet, on pages 1087-88 of their CD-ROM, the Enigma authors effectively demonstrate that the purported 1831 Dodd note is a forgery. After covering this matter they say: "Because the appearance of this supposed inscription roughly coincides with that of two other equally suspicious items, a document relating to Oliver Cowdery known as the "Overstreet Confession," and a pamphlet allegedly by Cowdery entitled "Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the LDS," it does not seem unreasonable to speculate that this may have derived from the same source." In other words, the Enigma authors believe that the Rev. Robert B. Neal either forged or abetted the forgery of all of these "lost" documents and eventually provided them (along with a Lorenzo Saunders letter and other American Anti-Mormon Association "documents") to the unwary Charles A. Shook, as damning anti-Mormon "evidence" for his 1914 book. This being accepted as probable truth, the question remains unanswered: Did Rev. Neal perform the forgery, or did he simply pass along highly questionable documents to his readers without taking the trouble to verify their purported origins?

Dr. Daniel Braxton Turney

In order to begin to answer the question just posed, I will elucidate what appears to be a pattern of "lost" document publication activities by the Rev. Robert B. Neal, in which the name of one particular discoverer of "lost" documents recurs: that of Dr. Daniel B. Turney. The first implicit mention that Rev. Neal makes, concerning the discovery of the alleged 1839 Cowdery pamphlet, came in the comments he appended to an article titled, "Oliver Cowdery's Recantation," in the April-May 1905 issue of The Helper, where he says: "We have confirmatory evidence to hand out." His readers would have to wait for the next issue of The Helper, in July, 1905, to see exactly what the "confirmatory evidence" was that Neal here so cryptically refers to. The modern reader, skipping ahead to the June-July issue can there read the article "Oliver Cowdery and the Canada Revelation." containing an alleged excerpt from the words of Oliver Cowdery, as reportedly first published in his 1839 pamphlet.

In introducing the very first publication of alleged Cowdery excerpt, Rev. Neal says: "We are indebted to Bro. D. B. Turney, Goreville, Ill., for the following extract from 'Cowdery's Defence' made in 1839." The impression conveyed by this sentence is that Daniel B. Turney first sent Rev. Neal a handwritten "extract" of a single paragraph, which Turney purported to have copied from the only surviving copy of the 1839 pamphlet. Presumably Turney first informed Rev. Neal of this "rare find" during the spring of 1905; next sent him the handwritten excerpt; and finally provided Neal with the entire text -- but whether as a publication or a written transcript remains unknown.

Daniel B. Turney and Robert B. Neal

Dr. Daniel Braxton Turney (1848-1926) was a well educated Illinois politician and a clergyman-turned-polemicist in the Methodist Protestant Church. He was ordained in 1873 and in later years sometimes served as President of annual conferences of that church. Turney was a U. S. Presidential candidate for the "United Christians" in the campaigns of 1908 and 1912. He authored numerous articles and tracts on his own, and evidently supplied Rev. Neal with several unique and highly suspicious documents supposedly related to early Mormonism.

Rev. Neal first mentions Dr. Turney's name in the April-May 1905 issue of The Helper, the same number in which Neal alludes to having "confirmatory evidence to hand out" about Oliver Cowdery's abandonment of Mormonism. Actually, Turney bursts onto the anti-Mormon scene with a flourish, being described by Neal as a "prince among polemics," who is "anxious to enter the lists" in fighting the Latter Day Saint elders.

Dr. Turney's name again appears in the following issue of The Helper, where Rev. Neal credits him as being the supplier of the Cowdery "Defence" text. However, when Neal reports and reproduces part of this same "document that is as rare as oranges in Greenland" in the July 8, 1905 issue of the Cincinnati Christian Standard, he neglects to specify exactly where and how he acquired the marvelous text. Also, in writing to Elder Wingfield Watson, on June 5, 1903, Rev. Neal says nothing about his source for the "Oliver Cowdery's Defence" which he had "just got" the previous day. Since Rev. Neal obviously wished to use the contents of this "Defence" to argue against Watson's affirmation of Mormonism, it seems strange that Neal did not better document the authenticity of the wondrous new discovery. I can only wonder if Turney requested Neal not to publicize his role in coming up with the Cowdery "Defence." Did D. B. Turney shy away from accepting the kind of national publicity by which he might have been called upon to display his alleged specimen of that otherwise unattested document?

Dr. Turney's next prominent mention in a R. B. Neal publication occurs in the Aug. 1908 issue of The Sword of Laban, where "D. B. Turney" of "Effingham, Ill." is listed as one of the Vice Presidents of Neal's new American Anti-Mormon Association. Two years later, in the Aug.-Sept. 1910 number, Turney supplies an article for The Sword of Laban, in which he says, "The testimony of the three witnesses may be studied in the light of hypnotism, or deliberate deception, or of collusion and fraud, or in the light of really not being their testimony." Turney does not indicate whether his transcript of the Cowdery "Defence" might be "studied" in the same "light." He does, however, say that "later testimony of the three witnesses, such as that issued by Oliver Cowdery in his "Defence," and by David Whitmer in his "Address," and by Martin Harris in his "Prophetic Letters," nullifies those witnesses' testimony to the divinity of the Book of Mormon. Whitmer's statements modify but do not invalidate his early testimony; Cowdery's "Defence" is a forgery; so, what about Harris' "Prophetic Letters?"

Here is what Dr. Turney says in that same article: "As these letters have not all seen the daylight of publicity, I take great pleasure in subjoining one of them which Mr. Harris sent to a friend of his..." At which point Turney inserts a Martin Harris letter, originally published by Eber D. Howe, in 1834. But there is an evident problem here: Turney quotes substantially more of the Harris letter than Howe printed, all of which is added in at the beginning of the text. Turney's addition to the Harris letter reads more like a modern writer's expansion of Howe's text than it does like the full, original document, from which Howe might have abridged his quotation. The part not in Howe's book appears to have some thematic affinities with those portions of the spurious "Cowdery Defence" in which Oliver is made to inadvertently reveal Mormon secrets in his faux, seemingly innocuous eye-witness reporting of the LDS past. Although there is no direct proof available to demonstrate that D. B. Turney doctored the old Harris letter, there appears to be literary evidence indicating that sort of textual tampering by somebody.

In 1910 R. B. Neal began publication of a short-lived paper called The Highlander. In the initial number of that periodical D. B. Turney has a short article, titled "A Stanza From a Nauvoo Hymn." Turney's quotation of the last four lines of the 1843 LDS "hymn" are highly suspect. They do not appear in the poem's original publication in the Times and Seasons, nor are they so quoted by any known source, other than Turney's undocumented assertion. It may not be coincidental that Dr. Turney supplied the only known text for the spurious 1839 "Cowdery Defence" -- another "lost" document available only from Turney and one in which the writer accuses Joseph Smith, Jr. of frequently predicting "that he himself shall tarry on the earth till Christ shall come in glory." This echoes the final, otherwise unattested, lines to Turney's version of the hymn: "And he [Smith] shall live to see Christ come... tarry in his fleshly home E'en till the judgment day."

Although Joseph Smith, Jr. apparently did state that Mormon Elders in the Kirtland School of the Prophets, would see Christ face to face, Smith is not known to have predicted his own "tarrying on the earth till Christ shall come." This 1839 (?) assertion from the Cowdery "Defence" is as suspect as is Turney's 1910 quotation of the Nauvoo hymn. Again, the method used in attacking the Mormons' faith in their old leaders is a laconic one -- Turney produces a hitherto unknown text, attributed to an early Mormon leader, which, when read at a much later date makes that leader sound like a liar, a dupe, or both. This is the effect of the otherwise unattested additional lines in the Harris letter; this is the effect of the otherwise unattested additional lines in Nauvoo hymn; and this is the effect of the otherwise unattested Cowdery confession -- all of which came through Dr. Turney and none of which has ever been produced as an original source document.

The 1831 Dodd Document and Related Matters

Two items remain to be examined by the cautious student of R. B. Neal publications: the bogus 1831 Cephas Dodd statement and the undated "Overstreet Confession." In the case of the first, otherwise unattested text (also never produced as an original source document), Rev. Neal does not attach Turney's name to its first publication in the Sept. 1908 issue of his Sword of Laban. In fact, Neal gives no source and no supporting evidence for the existence of the Dodd statement. Neal reproduces the dubious statement in the 12th issue of his Sword of Laban, but offers no explanation as to where it came from. The same text was reprinted by Charles A. Shook, in 1914, but Shook, too, fails to tell where, when and how this alleged fly-leaf testimony was obtained. On pages 1086-88 of their Spalding Enigma CD-ROM, the authors effectively demonstrate that the purported 1831 Dodd note is a forgery, probably made during the first years of the 20th century. In support of this conclusion they cite a letter written by Dr. Dodd to Col. Thomas Ringland, Mar. 2, 1857, in which Dodd says he has "no knowledge" on the assertion of Solomon Spalding having written the Book of Mormon, "which would be of any avail."

As I've already mentioned, the Enigma authors recently asserted:

"Because the appearance of this supposed inscription roughly coincides with that of two other equally suspicious items, a document relating to Oliver Cowdery known as the 'Overstreet Confession,' and a pamphlet allegedly by Cowdery entitled 'Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the LDS,' it does not seem unreasonable to speculate that this may have derived from the same source."

In other words, the fake Dodd document belongs to a growing list of suspicious texts first published by the Rev. R. B. Neal, several of which appear to have originated with Dr. Daniel B. Turney. According to Neal's list in the same issue of the Sword of Laban that features the Dodd document, "D. B. Turney, of Effingham, Ill.," was then an associate editor of that periodical. Thus, Turney seems to share the blame equally in facilitating the publication of that spurious text. At this late date, it is probably impossible to tie Dr. Turney any more closely with its production and promulgation. The most I can say is that the Dodd document's laconic presentation of information seemingly threatening to Mormon interests "fits" the modus operandi of Turney's other contributions to R. B. Neal's anti-Mormon campaign.

The second item of interest at this point is the undated, unpublished (previous to the Tanners' reproduction) "Overstreet Confession." If this forged document can ever be more closely tied to R. B. Neal and D. B. Turney, it may well qualify as yet another "page on the stack" of spurious and/or suspicious texts associated with those two names. Here is a subject worthy of some further investigation.

Some Personal Thoughts

At the risk of being accused of attempting to demonize the Rev. Robert B. Neal and Dr. Daniel B. Turney, in the same way that the Tanners have attempted to ruin the reputation of Dr. Whitsitt, I will relate here a few more ideas that have been passing through my mind regarding the "anti-Mormon forgeries" affair.

First of all, it is entirely possible that R. B. Neal forged none of the strange documents that the Enigma authors and the Tanners trace to his doorstep. I will not make Tanneresque insinuations here in my own reply to their 1989 article. But, since they themselves raise the name of R. B. Neal as a possible offender in that same article, I will simply state that I hope some serious researcher of Mormon history will look into this matter much more closely than I am able to do. If future research findings do confirm R. B. Neal as the "forger," I can only hope that such a discovery will help absolve Dr. Whitsitt from all blame. However, from my own lengthy studies of Rev. Neal's life and work, I am somewhat reluctant to picture him as the forger we are now seeking. Despite his rabid anti-Mormonism, I've found no instance where Rev. Neal used deceitful tactics or was "economical with the truth." I suspect him of being less than forthright about where and how he obtained some of his published documents (especially so the case of the 1881 Lang letter) but my suspicions do not amount to anything like conclusions that question the man's honesty or Christian devotion. I think that he may have been more the unwitting tool of the forger(s) than a counterfeiter himself.

That still leaves the matter of Dr. Daniel B. Turney. I do not know whether the Tanners knowingly suppressed his role in the coming forth of the Cowdery "Defence," or were simply so inept in their historical research that they did not connect his name with that and other spurious documents publicized by R. B. Neal. I suppose that by now it really does not matter how deeply Turney may have been involved in the forgery affair -- those who may remember him today probably have no particular reason to defend the man's contributions in regard to Mormonism. The Rev. Robert B. Neal's contributions were far greater and it matters more whether what he wrote and published can be relied upon. If Sandra Tanner ever decides to put more evidence on the table in reference to Rev. Neal, I would be interested in studying it. I have not yet made up my mind as to how much I can and should trust the anti-Mormon crusader.

If Turney's contributions to our knowledge of Mormonism appear to be minimal and problematic, and if Neal's offerings prove to be a mixed bag, so be it. Neither of these men managed to originate a watershed conception of what early Mormon theology was, who first compiled that theology, or how it may have been interwoven into an existing attempt to produce a pseudo-historical account of the ancient Americans. In short, the unique contributions of Turney and Neal are probably expendable, but those of Dr. Whitsitt probably are not -- at least they are not, if we take the study or Mormonism and its enigmatic origins seriously.

As I have already shown, the concept of Rigdon=Angel was an old one, well publicized long before Dr. Whitsitt ever researched and wrote his Rigdon biography. The Tanners are wrong to ascribe to him the inception of the Rigdon=Angel conclusion. Any school-child could see that much, after browsing quickly through the major 19th century writings on the Mormons and their religion. As I have demonstrated, Whitsitt was only one of many voices making that particular claim. In 1881 (well before Whitsitt finished his writings on Rigdon) Mrs. Horace Eaton of Palmyra, New York had this to say:

"Early in the summer of 1827 a 'mysterious stranger' seeks admittance to Joe Smith's cabin. The conferences of the two are most private. This person, whose coming immediately preceded a new departure in the faith, was Sidney Rigdon, a backsliding clergyman, at this time a Campbellite preacher in Mentor, Ohio. Now we have 'a literary genius behind the screen.' Rigdon was versatile in his gifts, had a taste for theological and scientific discussion, was shrewd, wily, deep and withal utterly unprincipled. Soon after his appearance on the stage, Mormonism begins to assume "a local habitation and a name." Now the angel talks more definitely to Smith..."

Mrs. Eaton had more to say about Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith, and she clearly implied that it was Rigdon who served as "the angel" and who spoke "more definitely to Smith." Cementing the Rigdon=Moroni identification even more firmly, Eaton adds that whenever "new commands were given by the angel" the secretive Sidney's "pen was ever ready" to ghost-write the necessary "revelation." Mrs. Eaton's remarks on this subject were published as a misisonary tract and republished as a section of a reference book on Mormonism. As a long-time resident of Palmyra, her assertions were well respected and widely circulated. Such a popular source might just have easily served as an inspiration to the forger of the spurious Cowdery "Defence" as anything ever written down by William H. Whitsitt.

The reader need not depend upon these old anti-Mormon publications or the unpublished writings of Whitsitt in order to envision Rigdon as the angel-baptizer of early Latter Day Saintism. As an example I'll relate my own experience from nearly three decades ago. At that time I had yet to be baptized into the RLDS Church and nearly all my knowledge of Mormonism came as word of mouth comments from my Mormon neighbors living in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I am altogether positive that I had never even heard the name of Rigdon, let alone any allegations that he was ever accused of impersonating heavenly messengers. What I did hear was that "a stranger" once went to a great deal of trouble to help Joseph Smith travel from Pennsylvania to his home in New York, following the death of his first child. Upon hearing this account (retold from Lucy Mack Smith's history), one of my first remarks to the Mormon friend who had related the story was: "I'd guess the stranger must have been the angel Moroni or one of the Three Nephites." I was then told by my friend that David Whitmer once gave a similar account -- of his encountering "the angel," who was disguised as an old man, walking along the road to the Hill Cumorah:

When I was returning to Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old-fashioned wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us... a very pleasant, nice-looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon... I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, 'No, I am going to Cumorah.' This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked around inquiringly of Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again.... It was the messenger who had the plates... I frankly asked Joseph if my supposition was right, and he told me it was." (RLDS Journal of History, vol. 3, 1910, p. 447)

At that point in my spiritual evolution I had not yet considered the disturbing teaching that Mormon angels are merely exalted human beings and that it was thus entirely likely that "Moroni" was Mother Smith's mysterious "stranger" and David Whitmer's "nice-looking old man." Or, to put it another way, in both cases the human "stranger" was actually an angel. This Mormon teaching is not quite the same as the notion of angels sometimes pretending to be mere mortals -- of persons having "entertained angels unawares." The old Mormon teaching says that human beings and angels are the same things. All that really separates them from us, is that angels are "bloodless" and "exalted."

In a less "faith-promoting" example, we hear of a youthful Joseph Smith once encountering a mysterious man with a monkey. The story is related on pp. 275-77 of Eber D. Howe's book:

Joseph Knight, related... a story as having been related to him by Joseph Smith, Jun.... it was confirmed... by Joseph himself... After he had had finished translating the Book of Mormon... he was going through a piece of woods, on a by-path, when he discovered an old man [who said]... he had a MONKEY, and for five coppers he might see it. Joseph answered, that he would not give a cent to see a monkey... Joseph then passed on... began to ponder over the strange interview, and finally asked the Lord the meaning of it. The Lord told him that the man he saw was MORONI, with the plates...

In those youthful days, when I first considered such mysteries, I had no idea who Eber D. Howe was and probably would not have read his telling of the above story had it been placed in my hands. But my Latter Day Saint mind might have easily been persuaded to ponder Eliza Snow's 1829 poem about the "shining Seraph," or Parley P. Pratt's 1844 account of the "Angel of the Prairies," or Sidney Rigdon's spring 1844 conference speech in which he describes some of the Mormons' earliest "secret" activities. And, given such source material to think over, I probably would have decided that the "Angel Moroni" was a much less "exalted" and much more "red-blooded" being than I had previously believed.

I doubt that anyone thinking along these same lines at the end of the 19th century would have been forced to resort to Whitsitt's uncelebrated conjectures in order to view Sidney Rigdon as Smith's "angel" or as the heavenly overseer of of Smith and Cowdery's baptism. The image in my mind of Rigdon has for many years been that of a latter day reformer-baptizer, standing in the Chagrin river with a flock of baptismal applicants -- saying: "Come, there's water enough to wash away all your sins!" None of this early mental imagery came out of Whitsitt or from any sources I can possibly believe were dependent upon his ideas or passages from the Cowdery "Defence." My mental picture of Rigdon standing in the water, John the Baptist style, probably came from an old RLDS Sunday School handbook or some such thing. That image might conceivably be traced to an account of Rigdon's baptismal activities, as printed in Frederick G. Mather's "The Early Days of Mormonism" (Lippincott's Magazine, Aug. 1880), but even that source pre-dates Whitsitt's writings by a couple of years and was quoted by RLDS writers who probably never heard of Dr. Whitsitt.


The Whitsitt Manuscript

All Roads Lead to Louisville?

Jerald and Sandra Tanner present three possibilities of how the bogus "Cowdery "Defence" may have been manufactured. In expressing two of their interconnected speculations for the document forgery, the Tanners concede that perhaps someone else carried out the actual forging of the documents in question (perhaps R. B. Neal, who lived near Whitsitt's Louisville home, or some other nameless bad guy), but even here they continue to claim that the ideas used in creating the phony documents must have originated with Dr. Whitsitt. At least this approach at explanation "would clear... Whitsitt," the two ex-Saints pronounce with mock grace. Of course all of this still leaves open the possibility in the reader's mind that Whitsitt may have collaborated to some extent with liars, cheats, and counterfeiters -- so his good name is brought to the edge of the Tannerite mud, even if Jerald and Sandra temporarily refrain from dragging it into that mire. Is there any justification at all for their pinning the blame upon Dr. Whitsitt, indirectly if not directly? I believe I have already answered that question in all I've said so far. But, for those who may think I've still left a few stones unturned, I'll reiterate my position on this question.

As I mentioned already, I have repeatedly brought this whole problematic affair to the attention of Sandra Tanner, and have received only a few curt replies, none of which lead me to believe she has read even the introductory paragraph to this web-page. I suppose it is probably useless for me to hope for any more consideration in this regard, than I've received from her during the course of the last three years -- since I first posted this review on-line. If, as I strongly suspect, the bull-dog mentality of the Tanners remains as firmly clasped to their imaginative sentiments today as it was a decade and a half ago, I can guess why they have failed to come up with a single shred of factual evidence in support of their old (and continuing) defamation of Dr. Whitsitt's reputation as a scholar and a Christian gentleman.

A leisurely working-vacation drive through Louisville Kentucky, Richmond Virginia, and Washington D. C. might provide the now elderly and seemingly retired Tanners with the kinds of answers they should have been seeking out from the beginning of their investigation. According to these two investigators (pg. 9 & pg. 14), they derived their original notions on this subject after having read some of my own Whitsitt research materials. As they say: "We have also examined photocopies of many pages of the manuscript in the Dale Broadhurst Collection at the University of Utah Library, Special Collections... In the Dale Broadhurst Collection at the University of Utah Library, we did find a photocopy from a book which has some interesting information on William Whitsitt."

The Tanners would have done better had they followed their reading of my papers by conducting some minimal investigations at major research libraries in each of the three cities I just mentioned, since institutions in all of these places preserve troves of original Whitsitt documents. In the case of the Library of Congress Whitsitt papers and the Library of Virginia documents, access might be had even more quickly via microfilm roll copies. And, assuming that a trip so far afield of Salt Lake City is not among the Tanners' current plans, a simple letter of inquiry written to the Coordinator of Degree Completion at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky might well bring them some very useful information, since that person has accumulated a great deal of unpublished material related to the life and writings of Dr. Whitsitt.

Whitsitt's Widespread Opinions About Rigdon

If the Tanners still opt for a last-ditch argument, saying that the information necessary for the anti-Mormon forgeries could have only have come from the contents of Whitsitt's manuscript, they will sooner or later (I hope sooner) find themselves on the losing end of that battle as well. Rather than hiding his opinions away under lock and key in his unpublished manuscript, Whitsitt seems to have been quite eager to share his ideas regarding Mormonism, even in lengthy letters addressed to people he barely knew. Consider, for example, his remarks directed to James H. Fairchild, President of Oberlin College, on Feb. 16, 1886:

My dear Sir,

After diligent consideration of the subject you are good enough to bring to my attention, I some while ago reached the conclusion that Mr. Sidney Rigdon supplies the right key to Mormon history and theology. In pursuance of that conviction, I have prepared a Biography of Sidney Rigdon, of which 810 pages are now ready for the printer. A few of my chapters which dealt with the Book of Mormon were read before one of my classes and made the topic of my intermediate examination.

Mr. Rigdon was a Disciple minister at the moment of producing the particular form of the Book of Mormon which we are now familiar with, and I discovered that it contains all the leading tenets and peculiarities of that people. The contents of the volume, at least to my thinking, will supply a demonstration that it could have been prepared by none but a Disciple theologian, and further that it could have been prepared by no Disciple theologian except Mr. Rigdon. This is what I consider to be my personal contribution to the sum of knowledge on this subject.

The question touching the Spaulding manuscript has no direct connection with that result; it stands upon its own merits, just as truly as if no such person as Solomon Spaulding ever existed. I was solicitous to avoid the Spaulding controversy entirely, for the reason that it has no real connection with the business. But having set my hand to compose a biography of Mr. Rigdon, I felt somewhat bound by the nature of the task to express an opinion. Here I have given attention almost exclusively to the only original authority in existence, namely Howe, pp 279-290. Citations have also been made from a pamphlet entitled "Who wrote the Book of Mormon?" by Robert Patterson of Pittsburgh, but with caution, for the reason that he has too much credulity and too little criticism. I am also indebted to a few passages in Hayden's "History of the Disciples on the Western Reserve," and in Mr. Alexander Campbell's "Millennial Harbinger."

In my treatment I have felt myself impelled to reject a great deal that passes current in the literature of the subject: but I have reluctantly assented to the chief point that Spaulding wrote the Book of Mormon under that title also, and that Mr. Rigdon by some kind of process got possession of it. Nay, I have even gone to the length of suggesting a theory of my own in explanation of that process. That theory is different from any other that has been preached, and I cannot avoid to regard it as the weakest point of my performance; I am too often constrained to have resort to such words as "likely" and "perhaps"...

In a word my demonstration, satisfactory to my [mind?], without any kind of reference to the inquiry whether Rigdon had any connection with the Spaulding Manuscript.

When I had concurred the point that Mr. Rigdon made use of the Spaulding manuscript of the Book of Mormon, I felt under obligation [of] an industrious inquiry to examine the volume with reference to the question [of] where Mr. Spaulding obtained the materials that he collected in his history. The conclusion which was reached in this quarter is likewise regarded with modesty; it is not conceived to amount to a demonstration.

I have placed nearly every fact and incident that I have touched in a different setting from any that it ever before received. I hope to do myself the honor to submit my book to your inspection, and I desire to entreat you in advance not to accuse me of any passion for novelty. On the contrary, novelty is for me the "abomination of desolation standing in the place where it ought not." The different light in which I consider the subject is due entirely to the different point of view which I occupy. Will you not kindly investigate and determine whether the new light is a true light before you shall condemn my conclusions?

I have derived the theology of Mormonism from the Disciples and from the Swedenborgians and from the Restorationists. These excellent people, I foresee would be very much enraged against me, but I do not feel the slightest hostility against them; I am simply exercising the right of every student to prosecute a thorough investigation. Mormonism, I believe, can be understood by no other process than that which I have advocated. If in any way you should ever feel disposed to employ your kind offices to relieve a fellow soldier from undeserved obloquy, it would be accepted as the kindest favor you could bestow. I consider that I am guilty of no offense except what is involved in a more complete and critical use of the inductive method than has been achieved by my predecessors in this field.

yours very truly,
Wm. H. Whitsitt  
(J. H. Fairchild Papers, Oberlin College Archives)

Not only did Whitsitt share such details of his views on Mormon origins "at the drop of a hat" in his private correspondence, he taught them to his seminary students and tested them on their retention of that knowledge. The "intermediate examination" Whitsitt referrs to in his letter to Fairchild was given January 6, 1886. The instructions of the exam several times solicit the students to write comments regarding the alleged pre-baptismal connections of Rigdon with Mormonism. It is almost certain that Whitsitt repeated the use of these sorts of exam questions in other religious/historical classes he taught. These were matters he discussed openly with his students, lectured about to large audiences, and probably discussed with anyone else who would take the time to listen to him.

Although the precise image of Rigdon embodying the spirit of John the Baptist is missing from Whitsitt's "Mormonism" article in Samuel M. Jackson's 1891 Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, the picture of Rigdon being a "pretended angel" is clearly drawn there: "The first interview of the pair appears to have occurred on Sept. 21, 1823, when Sidney must have shown himself at the humble home of Joseph and passed a night with him. In subsequent years Mr. Smith liked to adopt a pictorial method in accordance with which Sidney was raised to the dignity of an angel..."

Whitsitt's views regarding Rigdon were further publicized in John Fletcher Hurst's Short History of the Christian Church, (NY, Harper, 1892, 3rd ed. 1898), where Hurst cites Whitsitt's research and relies upon it in his saying: "Smith was captivated with the Pittsburg minister's ideas and plans... the reality of all this, with several angelic interferences besides, was attested by the oath of Smith's amanuenses, Cowdery... [etc., who] denounced the whole story as an imposture." What would a Robert B. Neal or a Daniel B. Turney thought of such a claim -- that Oliver Cowdery had, somewhere, sometime, "denounced the whole story" of Mormon origins "as an imposture." What a perfect hunk of journalistic "bait," dangling in the literary stream, where some overzealous anti-Mormon could "bite" at the possibilty that Oliver Cowdery had denounced Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, and their "whole story as an imposture!" All that was lacking from Hurst's 1892 assertions was some documnetary proof of Oliver having "denounced the whole story." Where might such damning "proof" be found? That must have been the natural question of many of Hurst's readers.

No doubt there were other Whitsitt disclosures in obscure or ephemeral publications that have escaped common notice -- see, for example, reports of his research in the Louisville Western Recorder of Feb. 16, 1882, Oct. 26, 1882, Nov. 9, 1882, Nov. 23, 1882, and Dec. 21, 1882 -- much of which was reprinted and discussed in contemporary "Campbellite" periodicals like the Christian Standard and the Old Path Guide.

Looking Beyond Dr. Whistitt and Rev. Neal

To all of the published material so far cited, I might just as well add in the early 20th century promulgation of Whitsitt's views by word-of-mouth and personal correspondence. At least a little of that sort of idea circulation must have gone on. Given the evident widespread dissemination of Whitsitt's views on Rigdon and Mormonism, the list of possible candidates for the Tanners' anti-Mormon office of "forger of documents" must be a long one indeed! Such a list must include a good many more persons than just Dr. Whitsitt, Rev. Neal and/or a couple of Whitsitt's close associates. Why, for example, would the Tanners wish to exclude the names of people like Clark Braden, James Mahaffey, William A. Stanton, and Daniel B. Turney from such a list? I do not presume to eliminate the name of R. B. Neal, from this "list of possible candidates," but I do ask why the Tanners stop looking, once they've noticed him and Whitsitt? Why might the Tanners (or any other investigator) suppress the names of these dozens (perhaps hundreds) of other potential candidates?

Suppose, for a moment, that the Tanners could assuredly attribute the ideas expressed in the forged anti-Mormon documents to a unique origin with William H. Whitsitt (which, of course, they cannot do), even then, there would be no reason for anybody to automatically point the finger of guilt at the Baptist Professor as the likely forger -- or as the knowing or unknowing accomplice of some forger. As they say -- "If you can't make it fit, you must acquit." And the Tanners have failed miserably to make the crime they write about "fit" upon Dr. Whitsitt.

The Need for some New Thinking

I am inclined to think that were the Tanners to re-write there unreasonably prejudicial 1989 piece of work, as a professional paper for submission in the Whitsitt Journal (published by The William H. Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society, 1717 Shenandoah Drive, Vidalia, GA 30474, and 1008 Forest Blvd. Decatur, GA 30030) they might wish to relegate more than one of their speculations regarding the professor's forgery activities to a minor footnote. For example, what response do the Tanners have to W. Morgan Patterson's article on Whitsitt, as published in the April, 1996 issue of the Whitsitt Journal? Surely, given all that they said in their 1989 article, they might be curious to know more about the man's research, as summarized by Dr. Patterson: " He carried on a voluminous correspondence to assemble the facts related to Mormon beginnings and its leaders. There are scores of entries in his diaries dealing with the obstacles and successes of his research. They also show the tireless historical detective at work to track down every lead and source." However, I sincerely doubt Sandra Tanner would today even read a sentence of such an article. It appears to me that motivations other than objectivity and the search for truth were in the driver's seat when Mr. and Mrs. Tanner crafted their dubious 1989 contribution to our knowledge of religious history.

With an idea along these lines in mind, I contacted Sandra Tanner several months ago and asked if she and her husband would be prepared to make any changes in the views they expressed in their 1989 article, as a prelude to somebody writing a scholarly paper on the subject. From the brusque response I received at that time, it became apparent to me that the Tanners have absolutely no desire whatever to pursue this matter: they will not be writing any more about the subject and they did not care to hear or discuss anybody else's research and reporting on the matter. When I mentioned that I might be interested in writing such a paper, the only response of any substance that came back from Sandra Tanner was her expectation that a writer such as myself would quote their 1989 article correctly. This response strikes me as an arrogant one, but perhaps the famous anti-Mormon had personal reasons for not constructively engaging the subject matter.

As things worked out, somebody did do the work -- only it did not result in just a brief submission to a scholarly journal. What happened is that the Rev. Brian Ready, a Master's candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an entire thesis on William H. Whitsitt's old study of Sidney Rigdon. This 2001 report is entitled: "William H. Whitsitt: Insights into Early Mormonism." On pp. 3-4 of his thesis, Ready confesses that part of his incentive to take on this particular study grew out of his consideration of the Tanners' published opinons regarding Whitsitt: "Sandra Tanner... sent me an article she co-wrote with her husband, Jerald Tanner, in 1989. This article links Whitsitt's manuscript with the Cowdery Defence... They also suggest that Whitsitt may have played a role in the forgery of the Defence... This information ignited my interest in Whitsitt's work and is the motivation for this thesis."

It is probably rather rare these days that some anti-Mormon's half-baked article on an obscure forgery of the distant past would spur any graduate student in theology to research and write an entire thesis. If the Tanners were pleased with providing Ready this particular "inspiration," they have not yet expressed that sentiment in print. Anecdotal sources give me the impression that Sandra has at least glanced at Rev. Ready's work -- but if anything came of that glance, she isn't telling. Perhaps the Tanners; reticence to reply is partly explained by something Ready says on pp. 112-x of his 2001 thesis: "the Tanners are widely respected in their field [of anti-Mormon publication]. By their labeling Whitsitt as a forger, other scholars will be less likely to examine his significant contributions to the understanding of early Mormonism. Indeed, it appears that the Tanners have failed to examine his ideas seriously as well. Third, they have maligned Whitsitt's character and owe his family an apology."

I could not agree with Rev. Ready more wholeheartedly. Perhaps, despite all my words to then contrary, the Tanners made some honest mistakes in writing up their 1989 article -- if so, how easy it would be to cover that multitude of errors with a simple "We are sorry." Ah, but hell may well freeze over before such a reply ever sees print! Had a sincere evangelical Christian scholar written something like that about myself, and sent it out to the world in his completed and approved graduate thesis, I think I might remain silent -- like the Tanners have -- at least for awhile. But probably not forever. But, regardless of what Sandra Tanner decides to do about such things, Rev. Ready is correct in saying that what they have done so far may well keep "other scholars" from investigating the "significant contributions to the understanding of early Mormonism" Dr. William H. Whitsitt provided to the world. Forgive me for being a pessimist, but I sincerely wonder if this was not the true goal of the Tanners all along. "Shoot the messenger" and destroy the message? I do not suppose that ever a month has gone by that I have not received e-mail from visitors to my web-sites, in which the proverbial authority of Mr. and Mrs. Tanner is not invoked. The strange thing about such communications, is that a goodly number of them come from faithful Latter Day Saints, voicing the old "even the Tanners do not believe that" polemical strategy. But the more saddening messages are those that come my way from supportative readers of the Tanners' research and rhetoric. Such correspondents boldy inform me that "Fawn Brodie and the Tanners" have disproved this idea or that in Mormon studies, "long ago."

Despite what critical Mormons may have to say about him (and I include myself among those critics), Dr. Whitsitt's "significant contributions" are worthy of more study, just as Rev. Ready says. And, despite what censorious anti-Mormons may have to say about the man and his character, I suppose that such study will eventually be carried out. I only wish that the Tanners had not thrown their monkey wrench into such investigations before they had barely begun. The bad effects have been insidious -- they have not just maligned Dr. Whitsitt, they have kept the lid on productive research into Mormon origins. May I be forgiven for saying that I think this is precisely what the tanners had in mind all along?

Spalding, Spalding, and More Spalding

In the piece they published in the 73rd issue of their Salt Lake City Messenger the Tanners blatantly betray their ultimate purpose in attacking Dr. Whitsitt; that is they betray their Brodiesque desire to discredit the Solomon Spalding-Sidney Rigdon claims for Book of Mormon authorship. The Messenger writers carry out this strategy by repeatedly injecting references to minor Spalding historical details into an article supposedly devoted to a discussion of "Mormon and anti-Mormon forgery." In the "Views on Forgery" section of their article they spill copious draughts of printer's ink in offering up a rehash of opinions regarding the April 1, 1839 statement on "Mormonism" printed in the Boston Recorder and subscribed by Matilda Davison. Matilda Sabin Spalding, before she married John Davison, had for many years been the wife of Solomon Spalding and was perhaps one of the few persons who was ever in a position to know a great deal about what the former clergyman wrote and what became of his manuscripts. Mrs. Davison had no reason to relate the intimate details of her recollections of earlier days spent with Solomon when the stranger D. P. Hurlbut unexpectedly showed up on her doorstep late in 1833. It is doubtful that the widow stold Hurlbut one-tenth of what she knew -- or that Hurlbut earnestly relayed one-tenth of what she did say to E. D. Howe, for book publication the following year. When she was interviewed a few years by a local educator and member of the church she attended, it is not so remarkable that Spalding's widow was much more cummunicative regarding her late husband and his writings. So much for any modern writer trying to discredit the widow's 1839 statement by quoting the few scraps of information printed by Howe in 1834.

"In the main" her replies, as recorded during the interview with the two local gentlemen, were correctly relayed and printed in the 1839 Boston Recorder article. So says the widow herself, if we can trust what Brigham Young's cousin, Elder Jesse Haven, relayed to the public following his own interview with the lady later that same year. The results of the first 1839 interview with the Widow were neither the "bogus affidavit" Whitsitt postulated, nor the fountain of truth trusted in by the "three California researchers" when they wrote their 1977 book, Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? Also, it is worth our remembering that the statement published under her name early in 1839 was neither a letter composed by Mrs. Davison, nor a formal affidavit signed by her. The statement, as published in the Boston Recorder was paraphrase of her replies as provided and certified by her as being accurate before the interviewer ever left her presence. Despite what William H. Whitsitt had to say about this interview, the results deserve the careful and critical examination of students of Mormon history, for they provide a rare disclosure of valuable first-hand information relating to Spalding and his family. Had Dr. Whitsitt studied the 1839 statement more closely, in the context of certain other contemporary materials, he might have come to a more positive conclusion himself.

The Tanners choose to read Dr. Whitsitt's views on this matter uncritically and without offering any useful analysis of their own. They seem content just to have found some caustic words penned by Whitsitt which they can quote at length to shore up their own antipathetic opinions of the old Spalding-Rigdon "theory." Perhaps they also take the trouble to reproduce Whitsitt's repugnant ruminations on Mrs. Davison's 1839 testimony for another reason as well. They evidently wish to try and demonstrate that Whitsitt was very unhappy not to have uncovered some better documentary evidence, linking Spalding's writings with the Book of Mormon. The Tanners thus implicitly convey the picture of a frustrated Whitsitt, on need of more proof to shore up his prejudice that Spalding and Rigdon wrote the Book of Mormon. Might not such a frustrated scholar -- not finding the crucial evidence he needed -- resort to fabricating testimony in order to justify his own bankrupt theories? I can easily picture the Tanners thinking along these lines in regard to Dr. Whitsitt's writings, and then looking for some profitable way in which to make such an insinuation about him and his fruitless scholarship.

Are the Tanners correct in their quoting Whitsitt in order to argue that Sidney Rigdon was unknown to Spalding's wife/widow when she lived in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York? The question remains an open one and this is not the place to discuss it in any depth. But I can point out here that the authors of the recent CD-ROM book, The Spalding Enigma, demonstrate that Sidney Rigdon and Solomon Spalding were both picking up their mail at the same small Pittsburgh Post Office in 1816, if not well before that time. Also, Sidney Rigdon's aunt Mary Rigdon and her children were living in the tiny village of Amity, Washington, Co., Pennsylvania in 1810 and apparently for a few years thereafter. This is where Spalding took up residence in 1814 and where he died in 1816. The distance between Rigdon's home in 1816 and Spalding's residence, in the adjoining county, was less than a day's walk and it is easily conceivable that the young Sidney Rigdon made the trip to Amity hamlet more than once before Spalding died there. If the two did not meet while retrieving letters from the pigeon-holes of the Pittsburgh Post Office, visiting the book stores of that town, or attending nascent Campbellite meetings in Washington Co., they may simply crossed paths while traveling the roads around Amity.

The sentences mentioning Sidney Rigdon -- as printed in the 1839 Davison statement -- are likely not exact quotations from the widow. In addition to whatever slight personal knowledge she may have possessed regarding Rigdon, the widow (or her paraphraser) seems to have also mouthed a thing or two out of E. D. Howe's 1834 book. So, while the 1839 statement may provide some clues about Rigdon, neither it nor the similar scraps of information printed in Howe's book should be read as definitive certainties.

None of the above information and speculation is especially relevant to the Tanners' article on "Mormon and Anti-Mormon Forgery," but they must have somehow felt justified in dragging the whole, musty matter before their readers. As I stated before, Whitsitt was a reluctant proponent of the Spalding claims -- he felt that Rigdon's involvement in the compilation of the Book of Mormon could be verified from internal evidences, along with an understanding of who Rigdon was and what his pre-1830 motivations were. If Mr. and Mrs. Tanner expect to demolish the Spalding-Rigdon claims, either by citing or by invalidating Whitsitt's work, they will ultimately fail in that endeavor. Careful consideration of all the evidence available for study in theis case will show that the facts are on the side of the old authorship claims.

Pious Frauds and Perfect Scriptures

Am I wrong in my thinking, in all that I have thus far said in this review? Of course the Tanners would no doubt plead that they have only introduced Whitsitt's comments on the 1839 Davison article in order to show that the Baptist Professor was aware of how literary "frauds" of various kinds might be used to attack Mormonism. But, even though Whitsitt rashly used that particular term in commenting upon the 1839 Davison statement, the interviewing of Mrs. Davison and the publication of her statement was by no means a fraud. The 1839 publication was the result of a muddled effort by certain clergymen to make use of Mrs. Davison's name and knowledge for purposes she did not initiate. She did not initiate the effort but she did condone what those clergymen were attempting to do. Had all the events associated with the 1839 affair been better handled, better documented and better communicated, nobody today would be calling the outcome a "fraud." Whitsitt probably realized this possibility, and had he voiced it, he could have spared us all the words that became so incendiary in the Tanners' thoughts and writing.

There is yet more here to be discussed, however. Even though Dr. Whitsitt concluded that Sidney Rigdon's clandestine efforts to establish Mormonism and its unique scriptures were a wholesale deception of all converts to the cause, Whitsitt left the door open on the possibility of Rigdon's having at least a few good intentions -- he termed the literary result of all this deception a "pious fraud." Although that may sound like an oxymoron, the concept involved in it is as old as the old notion that "the ends justify the means." In the case of a genuine "pious fraud," the originator generally expects that the commendable results he or she has envisioned will far outweigh the reproachable methods employed to bring about those results. Such a scenerio has long been argued by some students of the life of Mohammed and of the Koran he brought forth. When the Tanners dwell too long upon such oddities in clerical vocabulary (and upon Whitsitt's attempts to understand Rigdon's alleged pious fraud), they speak volumes concerning their own basic motivation in digging up the entire 1839 statement episode. To vastly oversimplify things, I see the Tanners saying that Whitsitt got made, saw that an old Spalding fraud once hurt the Mormons, decided that a successful fraud of the same kind would hurt them even more, and so he forged the Cowdery "Defence." It is a facile explanation for unknown causes and events that I am not surprised to see coming out of Utah, but such hypocritical hypotheses get us no closer to the truth.

So, what is the truth? The typical pious Latter Day Saint mind (including my own, perhaps), has been consistently, over many decades, schooled in the Mormon conceit that the professional clergy of the various "sects" are inveterate priestcrafters and tools of the Devil in a longstanding, subtle battle with the "restored gospel" and "the latter day work." Many of the Saints have been taught from infancy to suspect and distrust men and women of the cloth -- those "hireling priests" -- no matter what good intentions they might profess. Each of the Tanners would do well to examine his or her own psyche, and to consciously erase from it all the residual "Mormon" indoctrination they still retain of black-clothed, clerical-collared minions of Satan. No doubt those images are still there, lurking about like that priestly tool of Lucifer who once had such a crafty part to play in the old LDS temple endowment ceremonies. That fellow may have been W. W. Phelps or some other priestly worthy, but he is not the Rev. Dr. Whitsitt. Sorry about that, Mr. and Mrs. Tanner.

Sidney Rigdon, Believer -- In What?

The Tanners would do equally well to remember that Sidney Rigdon was once just such a white-collared, black-coated, smooth-faced man of the cloth, who evidently had no qualms at all about accepting the benefits extended to him as a leader under whatever religious system he happened to be currently operating, be it that of the Baptists, the Disciples, the Mormons, or his own post-Nauvoo splinter group. If any one Reverend personifies the priestly tool of Lucifer from those traditional LDS temple ceremonies, it is probably Rigdon himself. At least Brigham Young thought him so despicable as to merit a future existence among Satan's demons, following his 1844 excommunication. So -- how is it that such a crafty fellow, with all his lies in the name of the Lord and his secret works of darkness to deceive the elect, can be called a "pious" fraud?

I do not know what views the Tanners now affirm as professed evangelical Christians. In regard to the biblical scriptures and Christianity they appear to be biblical literalists and fundamentalists. Whitsitt was something of an anomaly among the equally literal and fundamental Baptists of his day, in that he obviously believed in and made use of historical-critical methodology as it is typically applied in academic scriptural study. Perhaps the Tanners would shrink from the notion that the Book of Deuteronomy and other volumes of ancient "scripture" are essentially pious frauds. Whitsitt was a keen enough scriptural historian and literary critic to realize such facts. But he was also astute enough in his application of religious principles and procedures, not to undercut the traditional authority of the Baptist-affirmed holy scriptures. Had he been a little more candid on this point when writing his Rigdon biography, Whitsitt would have certainly been accused, by his own co-religionists, of branding their "holy scripture" the artifice of prophetic liars and priestly cheats.

Any serious scholar who attempts to understand how Deuteronomy can at one time be a pivotal scripture in Israelite history and religion, and also a pseudographic text compiled in the days of Jeremiah, can come away from that kind investigative experience with respect for what Whitsitt has to say about Rigdon's attempt to manufacture authoritative "scripture." If the Rev. Sidney Rigdon was truly the founder of Mormonism (and I sincerely believe he was just that), then historians must somehow account for the fact that he went to a tremendous amount of trouble to create a system which did not subsequently provide many tangible rewards to him and his family. Despite his occasional ranting for the Saints to build him a house, or his willingness to take up what the faithful laid "at the feet of the Apostles," Rigdon does not appear to have been primarily motivated in his preaching and church organizing by visions of wealth and power. He was more likely motivated by visions of the angels whose ministrations he wanted so badly to experience. Is it beyond all possibility that while he was fabricating platitudes for the Christ of 3rd Nephi, Rigdon was also expecting to "jump-start" the millennial reign of Christ upon earth? Rigdon undauntedly felt that all the religious professors of his day were corrupt priestcrafters and dupes of priestcrafters. Perhaps he also thought, that at the very worst, his new religion would still be better than all the others. Perhaps he could believe in God and still lie in God's name. That is the Rigdon image Dr. Whitsitt was attempting to fathom and convey to his readers.

Whitsitt seems to have been one of the few students of Mormon history who actually "caught onto" the essence of Sidney's religious mania and unique personal psychology. This was a secretive and largely inexplicable side to his personality that has totally escaped the comprehension of investigators like Fawn M. Brodie, the Tanners, F. Mark McKiernan and others who have taken an interest in the early Mormon leader. Even Rigdon's latest biographer, Richard Van Wagoner, has misunderstood how the man could at the same moment be a sincerely motivated religious reformer and an outrageous deciever and liar. There is something important to be studied and discerned about this man and his religion -- and it is a pity that the Modern Microfilmers and Lighthouse Ministers of Salt Lake go to such pains to avoid confronting this remarkable phenomenon. Instead of performing a truly beneficial service to both religion and history, the Tanners choose to shoot down Whitsitt -- saying he was most likely a pious defrauder himself! And this is coming from self-professed enemies of Mormon obfuscation and character assassination! How near to the tree fall the apples of Deseret.

The Demise of Tannerism

I said near the beginning of this article, that the more intelligent and responsible proponents of Tannerism will eventually find themselves significantly changed by their encounter with the truth in Mormon history. A person such as myself may not always know the details and full extent of this truth, but I still feel confident in saying what I did. I do not expect that Tannerism will melt away with the demise of the Tanners themselves, but I do believe that today Tannerism stands on the verge of changing into something entirely new. The change I am here speaking of need not necessarily involve the personalities of Jerald and Sandra Tanner. They are both well past retirement age, susceptible to sundry infirmities, and will disappear from the scene sooner or later. When that happens (and it is beginning to happen now) Tannerism must be entrusted to the care and continuation of a new generation of anti-Mormons -- persons whose egos and reputations are not fully invested in what the Tanners have done and said in the past. This is what I call the "changing world of Tannerism," and as that evolution goes forward, most likely many of its previous manifestations will fade away. Hopefully that which replaces Tannerism will be something better and wiser -- something less concerned with being anti-Mormon than pro-truth. We could use a little of that sort of thing in Latter Day Saintism, on both sides of the polemical fence.

Perhaps one day Mr. and Mrs. Tanner (or their successors) will demonstrate to the satisfaction of all, that my remarks are in error and that the Rev. Dr. William H. Whitsitt was indeed a double-dealing priestcrafter who is not to be trusted any farther than we might throw the hefty volume he composed on the life of Sidney Rigdon. If so, there will be no regrets on my part. No matter how things play out, what I will always regret is that Jerald and Sandra never took Mormonism seriously enough to try and understand what it is, where it came from, and its adherents continue to cling to their vision of Zion. In the case of the Tanners, a little more education and spiritual sensitivity might have gone a long way in providing a better legacy for the Modern Microfilmers. It is a shame that they avoided taking the kind of introductory courses in Book of Mormon form and source criticism that William H. Whitsitt can still teach the inquiring student. To use a phrase found both in Solomon Spalding's Oberlin manuscript and in the Book of Mormon: they appear to be content to walk in the traditions of their fathers.

Sandra -- I've been saying this for years now, and I'm still saying it: You owe the Whitsitt family an apology.

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Anti-Mormon Forgeries

(Salt Lake City Messenger)


Jerald & Sandra

-- 1989 --

Although this publication has no copyright notice, its reproduction here is limited to excerpts,
in a generalized application of the "fair use" provisions of US & International copyright law.

[ 5 ]


By Jerald & Sandra Tanner

(Excerpt: Salt Lake City Messenger, No. 73, OCTOBER, 1989, pp. 5-15)

Over thirty years have passed since the editors of this newsletter (Jerald and Sandra Tanner) began studying the doctrine and history of the Mormon Church. Not long after starting our research, we began to realize that those who would make a serious examination of Mormonism must pass through a dangerous mine field of false statements, incorrect theories and even falsified or forged documents. Researchers, therefore, have to be extremely careful that they do not put their weight down upon some idea or document that might explode under their feet. While it was shocking enough to learn that Mormon works were filled with a great deal of false information, changes and even outright forgery, we were thoroughly disgusted when we later found that a number of Mormon critics had also resorted to the idea that 'the end justifies the means." Because they firmly believed that Mormonism was built on sand and therefore dangerous to the people who accepted it, they seemed to feel that they had the right to twist the facts to make their arguments stronger. In some cases documents were actually altered to suit their purposes, and in at least a few cases the forgery of entire documents was perpetrated.


Unfortunately, we know from first-hand experience the devastating effect one of these "land mines" can have on those who really want to present the truth. Early in our ministry, we encountered a copy of a pamphlet entitled, Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself From the Latter Day Saints, purported to have been written by Oliver Cowdery, one of the three special witnesses to the Book of Mormon. In this publication, "Cowdery" related that the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith had given false revelations and had led the church into error. Mr. Cowdery even claimed that "the Redeemer Himself, clothed in glory, stood before" him and said: "After reproving the Latter Day Saints for their corruption and blindness in permitting their President, Joseph Smith, Jr., to lead them forth into errors, where I led him not, nor commanded him, and saying unto them, "Thus saith the Lord,' when I said it not unto him, thou shalt withdraw thyself from among them.'"

We felt that this publication was very significant and should be in the hands of those investigating the truthfulness of Mormonism. As far as we knew at that time, no historian questioned the authenticity of this work. In fact, B. H. Roberts, who was probably the most famous Mormon historian, accepted the Defence as Oliver Cowdery's work. He claimed that it was published by "Oliver Cowdery" at "Norton, Ohio" in "1839" (see Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol. 1, page 163, footnote 11). Since Roberts had access to the documents in the Mormon Church Archives, we felt that he never would have accepted this document if there was any reason to doubt its validity. In addition, Yale University claimed in 1960 that it had a photographic copy "of the original of Oliver Cowdery's 'Defence . . ." (Letter dated Nov. 15, 1960)

On the basis of this information, we published the Defence in the early 1960's. Later, however, Wesley P. Walters tracked down the very copy from which Yale University's photocopies were obtained. Unfortunately, a careful examination of this copy revealed that it was not the original 1839 publication but a printing put out by R. B. Neal in 1906. According to a letter written by Pastor Waiters on April 25, 1967, the photocopies which had been sent to Yale University did not have "the identifying words 'Title Page of Cowdery's tract.'" Because of this omission, the librarian at Yale was unable to recognize that it was only the Neal printing of the tract. Since B. H. Roberts had mentioned the 1906 printing as well as that done in 1839 we did not think that this invalidated the Defence. Some time after Walters' discovery, Professor Richard L. Anderson, a  


Mormon scholar, mentioned to us that he had some reservations about the authenticity of the document. We felt that it would be easy to refute Anderson's arguments and began an intensive study of the Cowdery Defence. To our dismay, however, we discovered that there was no evidence to support the claim that it was written in 1839. We could not find any mention of the Defence in any publication or diary written during Cowdery's lifetime. In fact, the first statement we found concerning the tract was published more than fifty years after Cowdery's death when R. B. Neal printed it in 1906.

Even Oliver Cowdery's close friend David Whitmer (also a witness to the Book of Mormon who became alienated from the Mormon Church) never mentioned the Defence in his An Address to All Believers in Christ, published in 1887. Since Whitmer held views almost identical to those expressed in the Defence, it seems hard to believe that he would not even mention it.

The 1839 printing of Cowdery's Defence was supposed to have been done at "Pressley's Job Office," in Norton, Ohio, but we could find no evidence that this establishment ever existed.

All of the evidence we could find pointed to the conclusion that the pamphlet was a forgery. On April 7, 1967, we published the evidence against the Defence in a booklet entitled, A Critical Look -- A Study of the Overstreet "Confession" and the Cowdery "Defence." (This booklet is still available from Utah Lighthouse Ministry for 50e a copy -- $1.00 minimum shipping charge.) In the same booklet, we also printed evidence against the so-called Overstreet "Confession." This document relates to the Mormon leaders' claim that Oliver Cowdery returned to the church in 1848 some ten years after his excommunication. In this confession, a man by the name of Oliver Overstreet claimed that he "personated Oliver Cowdery" at a Mormon conference held in 'Council Bluffs, Iowa." He maintained that "Bro. R. Miller," acting under the direction of "Bro. Brigham Young," gave him a "$500.00" bribe to pretend that he was Oliver Cowdery. At the conference, Overstreet -- posing as Cowdery -- gave a speech in which he defended the Book of Mormon and reaffirmed that the church was true and that the priesthood had been restored through angels.

Oliver Overstreet was supposed to have written the confession with his own hand, and three witnesses went before Judge Elias Smith in 1857 and certified to the fact that the original document was in the handwriting of Oliver Overstreet. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Overstreet was supposed to have died "a few days after he penned the confession," and all that we could locate was a typed copy of the 'Confession." While the document maintained that Oliver Cowdery did not come to Council Bluffs and address the Latter-day Saints, ail of the evidence we could find indicated just the opposite. Cowdery's own sister, in fact, spoke with him at Council Bluffs and his close friend David Whitmer later admitted that in the "winter of 1848, after Oliver Cowdery had been baptized at Council Bluffs, he came back to Richmond to live . . ." (An Address To Believers in the Book of Mormon, April 1, 1887, p. 1) In A Critical Look, pages 2-4, we presented conclusive evidence that Cowdery did, in fact, return to the Mormon Church. The evidence, however, does indicate that after Cowdery's rebaptism he again became disenchanted with the Mormon leaders, and, according to David Whitmer, although he still believed the Book of Mormon, he died "rejecting the Book of Doctrine and Covenants" -- i. e., Joseph Smith's revelations to the church.

In any case, we concluded that although "Oliver Cowdery may not have died in full fellowship with the Church, we do not feel that there is any real evidence to prove that the purported Overstreet 'Confession' is a genuine document." (Critical Look, p. 6)

Our work on the Cowdery Defence and the Overstreet "Confession" was not convincing to all historians. Two of the most prominent, Fawn Brodie and Juanita Brooks, both of whom are now deceased, felt we had not proved our case. Although Mrs. Brodie said that she had "read several of your pieces now with great interest, and much admire your scholarship," she made this comment concerning the Defence: "I regret very much to say that I cannot agree with you about the Cowdery 'Defence.' After the most careful reading, I still believe it to be genuine . . . I cannot see a forger fabricating this kind of thing . . ." (Letter dated May 10, 1967)  Mrs. Brodie had no comment to make concerning the authenticity of the Overstreet "Confession."

Juanita Brooks disagreed with our work on both documents. Concerning the Defence, she commented: "You have convinced me that the item is genuine and that it was really written by Oliver Cowdery. You did for me what I had intended to do with the Messenger and Advocate letter myself, and the result is clearly that Cowdery was really the author . . . The language is his, the incidents are his, the message is his. To me, all this pathetic 'straining at a gnat while you swallow a camel' is entirely without point . . . This is CLEARLY the work of Cowdery . . . To assume that because you cannot find it, such a thing did not exist, is being pretty silly, I think." (Letter dated July 13, 1968)  Before she ever saw our work with regard to the Overstreet Confession, Mrs. Brooks wrote: "I have been told that you consider the Oliver Overstreet confession a hoax? Would you mind telling me how you arrived at this conclusion? The men who testified were all living at the time, all highly respected men, none of them bitter anti-Mormons. And Judge Elias S. Smith was certainly to be trusted!" (Letter dated June 27, 1968)  In the letter of July 13, cited above, Mrs. Brooks maintained that the Overstreet "Confession" had been "proved true."

In A Critical Look, we presented a long list of parallels between wording found in material Cowdery wrote for the Messenger and Advocate and the Defence (see pages 22-26). In most cases parallels would help to establish common authorship, but in this case we felt that it proved just the opposite. We noted that "Some of the phrases taken from the Messenger and Advocate appear unnatural in the 'Defence.' The whole thing, we think, looks like the work of an impostor. If we had found parallels in the letters which are in the Huntington Library, we would be more inclined to think that the 'Defence' is genuine. But since almost all of the parallels are found in the letters published in the Messenger and Advocate, which were available to the general public, we are led to believe that the 'Defence' is  


spurious." (A Critical Look, p. 27)  While Mrs. Brooks felt that the parallels proved common authorship, the noted Mormon critic Wesley P. Walters recognized the real problem. In a letter dated April 13, 1967, he wrote: "While reading through your list of comparisons of phrases I thought at first that you were going to conclude that the parallels proved Cowdery's authorship, and as I was reading these, the nearly verbatim agreement of the phrases made me feel that they showed copying rather than common authorship. I was very much in agreement with your conclusions therefore when I arrived at the end and found that you too had drawn this same conclusion."


Although we felt that we had a very good case against both documents in 1967, we have recently completed some research which throws important new light on the Defence and completely destroys the Overstreet Confession."

With regard to the Overstreet document, we have already quoted Juanita Brooks statement that the purported witnesses to the "Confession" and the Judge "were all living at the time." In another letter to Professor Richard Anderson, dated April 26, 1968, Mrs. Brooks stated that "the men who signed it were alive in 1857, all three prominent and active citizens, men to be trusted, and good-old Elias Smith without imagination or malice enough to swear to a fraud." She also noted in the letter of June 27, 1968, that "The Overstreet name is quite common in our records," but had apparently not found anyone with the name "Oliver Overstreet": "He did not come before the 1850 census, but there is no reason why he should not have come later."

We did not question Mrs. Brooks' information concerning the fact that the witnesses and Judge Smith were really historical people. (We respected her as one of the best authorities on the early history of early Utah.) We did, however, question the fact that this proved that the document was genuine. Our reasoning was that a clever forger also could have found the names and used them to give credibility to the document. We felt that it was possible that these names might be found in books on the history of Utah. The names of the witnesses which are given in the Overstreet "Confession" are "John M. Bowlwinkle," "Jesse W. Fox" and "H. McEwan." The Judge was listed as "E. S. Smith." As Mrs. Brooks indicated, this would have to be Elias Smith, who was Judge of the Probate Court at that time.

We had always felt that it did not ring true for the witnesses to bring such a devastating anti-Mormon document before a devout Mormon Judge for his signature. (Smith at one time even served as editor of the church's official organ, Deseret News.) Those who are familiar with early Utah history know that it would have been dangerous enough for these witnesses to have been engaged in a plan to undermine Brigham Young at that critical time, but to bring the document before one of Young's most trusted followers to obtain his signature would be asking for trouble.

In any case, we felt that it was possible that some type of document prepared by Judge Elias Smith could have been used to help create the forgery. We began to search in books about early Utah for a document signed by Smith and for the names of the three witnesses. Most books mentioned Elias Smith and some also referred to Jesse W. Fox, but the other names appeared to be difficult to find. It seemed very unlikely, therefore, that we would find all four names in one book. A few weeks ago, however, we struck pay dirt. We not only discovered all of the names in one book, but we also found that they originally appeared in one document! This document is reproduced on pages 501-502 of T.B.H. Stenhouse's book, The Rocky Mountain Saints, which was published in 1873.

In the Overstreet "Confession," we find that after completing his statement, Mr. Overstreet signed the document. This is followed by the names of the three witnesses ("John M. Bowlwinkle," "Jesse W. Fox" and "H. McEwan") certifying to his handwriting, and last of all the signature of "E. S. Smith" appears. In the document reproduced in The Rocky Mountain Saints, we find that "Jesse W. Fox" signed the original document. Following this appear the signatures of two witnesses, "Henry McEwan" and "John M. Bollwinkel." At the very bottom of the document we find the name "E. Smith." The reader can hardly imagine our surprise when we found this document.

It was very clear from this that someone had merely borrowed the names from this document to create the Overstreet "Confession." Moreover, the bottom portion of the document reproduced by Mr. Stenhouse was obviously used to forge the end of the "Confession." It reads as follows:

"Territory of Utah, County of Great Salt Lake.

"'I,  E. Smith, Judge of the Probate Court for said county, certify that the signer of the above transfer, personally known to me, appeared this second day of April, A. D. 1857, and acknowledged that he, of his own choice, executed the foregoing transfer. E. SMITH.'" (The Rocky Mountain Saints, p. 502)

The reader will notice in the quotation which follows from the Overstreet "Confession" that most of the words are identical with what we have quoted above. There have been a few changes to fit the type of document the Judge was signing. Notice, for instance, that in the genuine document Elias Smith was only certifying to the signature of "Jesse W. Fox," whereas in the forgery he was referring to three witnesses. This, of course, made it necessary to use the plural form of certain words in the purported Overstreet document:

"Territory of Utah
County of Great Salt Lake

"'I,  E. S. Smith, Judge of Probate Court, for the County aforesaid certify that the signers of the above certificate, all three are personally known to me, appeared before me this (7) day of April, A. D. 1857, and severally acknowledged their respective signatures as attached by themselves to the same.
E. S. Smith.'"


The reader will notice that the two documents are dated only five days apart. The Stenhouse reproduction gives a date of April 2, 1857, whereas the "Confession" bears a date of April 7, 1857. A comparison of the content of the two documents reveals how ludicrous the "Confession" really is. While the "Confession" indicates that Brigham Young was very dishonest (using bribery to fool his own people and encouraging plans for "Milking the Gentiles"), the original document reveals a blind faith in Brigham Young. It is, in fact, a document in which Jesse W. Fox consecrated his property to the Mormon Church! It says:

". . . I, JESSE W. FOX, . . . for and in consideration of the sum of One Hundred ($100) Dollars, and the good will which I have to the CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS, give and convey unto BRIGHAM YOUNG, Trustee in trust for said Church, his successor in office, and assigns, all my claim to the ownership of the following described property, to wit: . . . together with all the rights, privileges, and appurtenances thereunto belonging . . . and will warrant and for ever defend the same unto the said TRUSTEE IN TRUST, his successor in office, and assigns, against the claims of my heirs, assigns, or any person whomsoever>"

Henry McEwan and John M. Bollwinkel signed their names as witnesses and Elias Smith verified that Jesse W. Fox was "the signer of the above transfer." The list of property which Mr. Fox turned over to the church included a house, lots, cows, clothing, beds and household furniture. The total value was listed at $2,127. In 1857 this was a great deal of money. From the list, it would appear that Fox consecrated all of his property. T.B.H. Stenhouse comments concerning this matter: ". . . when they [the early Mormons] have increased in faith 'the Lord' will afford them the opportunity of 'consecrating' to him all that they possess. Their houses and lands, their chairs and tables, their horses and pigs, their hammers and saws, their buggies and wagons, and all and everything that they own or hope to own, to be deeded over to 'the Lord's' Trustee in Trust -- Brigham Young; . . . The preaching in the Tabernacle and in the ward meetings throughout Utah, at the date of Mr. Fox's consecration, was almost wholly devoted to the Order of Enoch, and many believing souls placed all they possessed for ever beyond their own personal control and robbed their children of their rightful inheritances." (The Rocky Mountain Saints, pp. 501-502)

While the Fox document completely destroys the Overstreet "Confession," it does not provide any structural material for the first part of the forged document. We feel, however, that there is convincing evidence that pages 79-80 of George Reynolds' The Myth of the "Manuscript Found," or the Absurdities of the "Spalding Story" was an important source for this part of the "Confession." Reynolds' book, printed in 1883, contains an article reprinted from the Deseret News which had Reuben Miller's report of what Oliver Cowdery said when he returned to the church. (Those who believed the Overstreet "Confession," of course, maintained that these were really the words of Oliver Overstreet, the man who supposedly "personated Oliver Cowdery.")

The account found in The Myth of the "Manuscript Found," p. 79, contained this information: "'At a special conference at Council Bluffs, lowa, held on the 21st of October, in the year 1848 . . . Brother Orson Hyde presided . . ." In the "Confession," this same information is included, although the words are slightly rearranged: ". . . at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the 21st day of October, 1848, in  a conference at which Brother Orson Hyde presided."

The Reynolds account indicates that "Brother Reuben Miller" was at the conference. The "Confession" also says that "Bro. R. Miller" was present. The Reynolds account says that Reuben Miller made "a verbatim report of his remarks . . ." The "Confession" likewise speaks of "a verbatim record of my remarks . . ." The following short sentence appears in the Reynolds account: "This is true." In the "Confession" we also find the sentence: "This is true. "

At the top of page 79 of The Myth of the "Manuscript Found," a statement which did not originally appear in the Deseret News is found: "Oliver Cowdery is  the first of the three witnesses." In the "Confession" we find an almost identical expression: "Oliver Cowdery, the first of the three Witnesses . . ."

The fact that the Overstreet "Confession" uses a legal document printed by Stenhouse in 1873 seems to indicate that it could not have been written prior to that time, and that it seems to rely on Reynolds' book makes it very unlikely that it was written before 1883. We actually do not know when the "Confession" first appeared, but in our pamphlet, A Critical Look, p. 2, we said that we had "heard that it began to be circulated shortly after the turn of the century."


After we wrote A Critical Look, we began to feel that there was a strong possibility that both the Defence and the Overstreet "Confession" came from the same source. Since there has been so much material plagiarized from other sources in both documents, it is unlikely that stylistic analysis can throw much light on the subject. Nevertheless, there are three important similarities between the documents that seem to indicate the documents originated in the same mind.

One, both forgeries relate to Book of Mormon witness Oliver Cowdery. The Defence contains views which Cowdery may have held but never put down on paper. The "Confession," on the other hand, was written to destroy the idea that Cowdery returned to the LDS Church and bore his testimony to the restoration of the priesthood by angels.

Two, the "Confession" reveals the very method that was used to forge the Defence. As we have shown in A Critical Look, a series of articles which Oliver Cowdery wrote for the Messenger and Advocate were used to make the document sound like Cowdery. In the Overstreet "Confession," Mr. Overstreet claims that to enable him "to know what to say and do, Bro. Miller had me read some articles written by Cowdery . . . "

Three, both documents could leave the reader with  


the impression that an impersonation had taken place. The Overstreet "Confession" plainly states that Mr. Overstreet "personated Oliver Cowdery." In the Cowdery Defence, the possibility of Sidney Rigdon impersonating "John the Baptist" seems to be strongly hinted at, although "Cowdery" turned right around and said he was sure that Rigdon "had no part in the transactions of that day. As the Angel was John the Baptist . . ." Notwithstanding the denial, it seems clear that the forger was trying to give the impression that an impersonation had, in fact, taken place. Furthermore, both forgeries discussed the matter of the similarity of the "voice" of a personage who delivered a message. In the Defence, we find the following:

". . . from his [Joseph Smith's] hand I received baptism by the direction of the Angel of God, whose voice, as it has since struck me, did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon . . . When I afterward first heard Elder Rigdon, whose voice is so strikingly similar, I felt that this 'dear' brother was to be . . . the herald of this church . . ." 

In the Overstreet "Confession" we read:

"'He insisted that I resembled Cowdery so much in form and features, notwithstanding our differences in tone of voice that I could easily personate him . . . Bro. Miller . . . also gave me some voice drill . . ."

New  Evidence  On  Forgeries

While we felt that the evidence against the Defence and the Overstreet "Confession" which we printed in 1967 completely disproved both documents, some have continued to hold to the hope that one or both of these writings might be authentic. The Mormon scholar Marvin S. Hill acknowledged that there was a question with regard to the authenticity of the Defence, but still seemed to hold the door open to the possibility that it might be genuine: "Cowdery's views may be contained in Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints . . ." (Quest For Refuge -- The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism, 1989, p. 200, footnote 68)

In A Critical Look, pp. 27-31, we suggested that the author of Cowdery's Defence depended upon David Whitmr's pamphlet -- which is unquestionably a genuine document -- for a great deal of the material in his forgery. We noted, for instance, that Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer claimed that God Himself spoke to him "from the heavens, and told me to separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints . . ." (An Address To All Believers In Christ, 1887, page 27)  The words "Separating Myself From The Latter Day Saints" are used as part of the title of the Cowdery Defence. We also pointed out that David Whitmr's claim that God spoke to him and told him to leave the Mormons probably suggested the vision in the Defence where "the Redeemer Himself" told Cowdery that he should "withdraw thyself from among them." We listed many other important parallels between the forgery and Whitmr's pamphlet; and, as we stated earlier, we noted that Whitmer never mentioned Cowdery's work -- a pamphlet which was supposed to have been printed 48 years earlier. It seemed almost inconceivable that Whitmer would not even mention it if it really existed. 

Richard Anderson has recently presented some new evidence which tends to confirm our theory that Whitmr's pamphlet was used to create the Defence. On page 28 of A Critical Look, we related that David Whitmer told of a revelation Joseph Smith gave which commanded some of the brethren" to go to "Toronto, Canada" and sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon. When the revelation turned out to be false, it caused "great trouble" among the brethren. They wanted to know why it was that God had given them a revelation to sell the copyright in Canada and yet they "had utterly failed in their undertaking." Whitmer claimed that "Hiram page [sic] and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto . . ."  Professor Anderson, however, has demonstrated that Whitmer made a mistake with regard to the city in which they were supposed to sell the copyright. It was really Kingston. This is verified in a letter written by Hiram Page, the Book of Mormon witness who actually went with Cowdery on the journey (see Quest For Refuge, page 20). In addition, W. Wyl printed a letter from "Mr. Traughber" (probably J. L. Traughber, the man who preserved the McLellin diaries) which corroborated the essential elements of David Whitmer's statement about the Canadian revelation but also made it very clear that Page and Cowdery went to Kingston. (Joseph Smith The Prophet -- His Family And His Friends, 1886, page 311)  The forger of the Cowdery Defence, not realizing the problem, slavishly followed Whitmer's pamphlet into the error.

With regard to the authorship of the forgeries, some new evidence has come to light which has affected our view regarding who wrote the two documents relating to Cowdery. We originally felt that the author of the 'Defence' was probably a believer in the Book of Mormon who had become disillusioned by David Whitmr's pamphlet and was not sure what to believe." (A Critical Look, page 27)  While we are even more convinced that Whitmer's pamphlet was used, the evidence which we have recently examined now leads us to believe that it was probably a dedicated "anti- Mormon" rather than a mixed-up believer in the Book of Mormon who forged the Defence. 

One thing that has caused us to revise our position is a manuscript entitled, "Sidney Rigdon -- The Real Founder of Mormonism," by William H. Whitsitt. Professor Whitsitt donated the original manuscript to the Library of Congress in 1908. Fortunately, Byron Marchant has made a typescript of about 500 pages of this manuscript, and it is available through Metamorphosis Publishing in Salt Lake City. According to Mr. Marchant there are 1,306 pages in the entire manuscript. In the material that follows we have used Byron Marchant's typescript and have followed the page numbering of the original manuscript which Mr. Marchant has supplied in his typescript. We have also examined photocopies of many pages of the manuscript in the Dale Broadhurst Collection at the University of Utah Library, Special Collections.

When one of the editors of this newsletter (Sandra) was examining some of the pages which Mr. Marchant had given us, she made a startling discovery. She found  


that some twenty-one years before the Cowdery Defence was published, William H. Whitsitt had suggested that Sidney Rigdon impersonated John the Baptist. In his manuscript, Whitsitt wrote the following:

"In case Oliver had not encountered Mr. Rigdon on any other previous occasion, he had certainly received baptism at his hands on the 15th of May, 1829, and it was entirely natural that when a person of so much consequence should exhibit himself a second time, Cowdery should be in a situation to recognize his features. When in the subsequent progress of the movement he was introduced to Sidney, it is perfectly natural that he should have been confirmed in the conclusion that the person who had baptized him and exhibited the plates was none other than Rigdon." ("Sidney Rigdon -- The Real Founder of Mormonism," p.392-b)

"But the name by which Rigdon was most commonly and openly designated was that of 'John the Baptist.' (Ibid., p. 232)

The reader will note how similar this idea is to the Cowdery Defence:

". . . from his [Joseph Smith's] hand I received baptism, by the direction of the Angel of God, whose voice, as it has since struck me, did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon. . ."

Now, if Cowdery's Defence had been available in 1885, Whitsitt certainly would have cited it to prove his position that Rigdon impersonated the angel. In any case, this parallel between the Whitsitt manuscript and the Defence is remarkable and certainly raises the question as to whether Whitsitt's idea was incorporated into the Defence.

The Mormon Church has always maintained that Sidney Rigdon did not become converted to the church until the fall of 1830 (see History of the Church, vol. 1, pp. 121-124). William Whitsitt, however, felt that he needed Sidney Rigdon on the scene much earlier because he believed that Rigdon was the "real founder" of Mormonism. Whitsitt's manuscript reveals that he was a very strong believer in the Spalding theory concerning the origin of the Book of Mormon. This theory holds that early in the 19th century a minister by the name of Solomon Spalding wrote a manuscript entitled, "Manuscript Found." Sidney Rigdon in some way obtained this document and it eventually was used by Rigdon and Smith to create The Book of Mormon. (Those who are interested in this theory and the attempt to revive it in the 1970's should read our book, Did Spalding Write the Book of Mormon? This work, which includes a reprint of Spalding's "Manuscript Story," is available from Utah Lighthouse Ministry for $4.00 a copy (minimum postage $1.00).

William H. Whitsitt felt that Sidney Rigdon was revising the Spalding manuscript long before Joseph Smith was supposed to have received the gold plates. He maintained that Rigdon "made two separate redactions of the Book of Mormon, the first of these being performed at Pittsburgh and Bainbridge from January 1823 to the autumn of 1826, and the second in or near Harmony township, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1829." ("Sidney Rigdon -- The Real Founder of Mormonism," p. 205-a) Whitsitt professed to be able to tell which parts of the Book of Mormon were written by Spalding and which came from Rigdon. On pages 212-13 of his manuscript, he claimed that when Sidney Rigdon first examined "the volume of Mr. Spaulding," he found that is was "entirely . . . devoted to the external history of the Nephites and Lamanites . . . to render it suitable for the chiefly religious purpose he had in mind it would be indispensable that he should rewrite the whole of it, leaving out the 'more history part' . . ." He started to do this; however, he "was a lazy scamp," and when he came to the "close of the Book of Omni his industry failed him . . ." From that point on, he "returned to the text of Spaulding, only inserting here and there larger or shorter religious harangues set down on separate sheets of paper for the purpose of imparting a religious character to the story."

Professor Whitsitt had a very active imagination. Like the originator of the Overstreet "Confession" and the Cowdery Defence, Whitsitt seems to have been obsessed with the idea of impersonations. He not only had Sidney Rigdon impersonating John the Baptist, but he also had him posing as the angel who showed the gold plates to the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. The first set of Book of Mormon witnesses was composed of David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris. On page 392 of his manuscript, Professor Whitsitt commented:

"It is suspected that Mr. Rigdon was somewhere present in the undergrowth of the forest where the little company were assembled, and . . . could easily step forward at a signal from Joseph, and exhibit several of the most faded leaves of the manuscript, which from having been kept a series of years since the death of Spaulding would assume the yellow appearance that is well known in such circumstances. At a distance . . . the writing on these yellow sheets of paper would also appear to their excited imagination in the light of engravings; Sidney was likewise very well equal to the task of uttering the assurances which Smith affirms the angel was kind enough to supply concerning the genuineness of the 'plates' and the correctness of the translation."

The reader will notice that Whitsitt not only had Rigdon impersonating the angel, but he also had him showing the Spalding manuscript in lieu of the gold plates. On page 181, Whitsitt observed: "Whatever secrets Oliver might have acquired or suspected on the occasion of the exhibition of the plates, he kept his own counsels . . . the trial which Joseph had feared so highly, succeeded beyond expectation." Whitsitt carried the matter even further by claiming that Rigdon fooled the second set of eight witnesses in much the same way. Whitsitt's imagination seems to have been especially active here because "The Testimony Of Eight Witnesses," which appears in the Book of Mormon, says nothing about an angel being present, only that "Joseph Smith, Jun. . . . has shown unto us the plates . . ." Professor Whitsitt, however, wrote the following on pages 393-395 of his manuscript:  


"This second exhibition came to pass only a few days after the one just now described . . . [the] place was likely the cave that is mentioned by Pomeroy Tucker . . .

"In such a cavern it would be easy for Sidney to secrete himself . . . When the eight fresh witnesses were duly assembled in this favorable situation, Mr. Rigdon would experience no special embarrassment in playing the role of an angel to which he had grown accustomed. The plates which on the previous display did not seem to resemble gold, would easily take on the 'appearance of gold' (Testimony of Eight Witnesses), in the far dimmer light to which they were now exposed..."

A number of things could make one suspicious that William Whitsitt had something to do with the Cowdery Defence and the Overstreet 'Confession." We have already pointed out that he had a vivid imagination and was obsessed with the idea of impersonations. It is interesting to note that in the sentence just before Whitsitt spoke of Rigdon's impersonation of John the Baptist (an idea strongly hinted at in the Defence), he quoted from "Myth of the Manuscript Found, p. 79" (see Whitsitt's manuscript, page 392-a). The reader will remember that this is the very page which seems to be the basis for part of the Overstreet "Confession." Moreover, in an article published in The Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge and Gazetteer, 1893, William H. Whitsitt recommended a number of books to his readers. Among them was "T.B.H. Stenhouse, Rocky Mountain Saints, New York, 1873 . . ." This, of course, is the book that contains the last part of the Overstreet "Confession." 

The creator of the Overstreet "Confession" apparently wanted to destroy the idea that Oliver Cowdery returned to the Mormon Church and bore his testimony to the Book of Mormon and the restoration of both the Aaronic and Melchisedek priesthoods by angels from heaven. Professor Whitsitt was strongly committed to the position that no angels came from heaven to bring the Book of Mormon or to restore either priesthood. On pages 553-554 of his manuscript, Whitsitt emphatically wrote:

"By this introduction of Peter, James and John, Mr. Smith also placed himself on a more advantageous footing with relation to Rigdon. Under the character of 'John the Baptist,' Sindey [sic] had ordained the prophet to the Aaronic priesthood . . . But Peter, James and John [who were supposed to have restored the Melchisedek priesthood] were manifestly above 'John the Baptist'. . .

The Mormons have vexed their ingenuity not a little to decide at what place and time Peter, James and John appeared to the prophet and bestowed the apostleship upon him . . . but the inquiry is entirely futile, since the occurrence never took place in any form, but was merely pretended by Joseph in order to guard himself against possible embarrassments."

It is our belief that one of the major reasons that the Overstreet "Confession" was written was to destroy a statement concerning the Spalding-Rigdon theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon which was attributed to Oliver Cowdery when he returned to the church in 1848. According to the report in The Myth of the "Manuscript Found," p. 80, Oliver Cowdery proclaimed that the Book of Mormon "is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it."

This statement would have been objectionable to anyone who believed that Spalding wrote the Book of Mormon, but William Whitsitt, who had written a large manuscript debunking Mormonism and promoting the Spalding theory, would have found it exceptionally abhorrent. Since he already believed that Rigdon had impersonated angels to convince Cowdery of the truthfulness of Mormonism, he probably would have felt that these words attributed to Cowdery were also spurious. Whether he would go so far as to resort to forgery in an attempt to eradicate the statement is of course another question.

While the Overstreet "Confession" tries to completely destroy the credibility of the attack on the Spalding theory attributed to Cowdery, the Defence takes the matter even further by having Cowdery say that the voice of the angel "did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon . . ." The effectiveness of this subtle suggestion in the Defence cannot be overstated. Although we have never placed much stock in the Spalding theory, at the time we accepted the Cowdery Defence as genuine, we felt that this was one of the best evidences for that theory because it came from within Mormonism from a person who really could have known what was going on. 


The first part of William H. Whitsitt's manuscript would certainly give one the impression that he was very opposed to forgery. He, in fact, severely castigated a minister for being involved in producing a document which he felt was a "clumsy fabrication." This document, which promoted the Spalding argument, turned out to be very embarrassing to those who endorsed that theory. It purported to be a letter written by Solomon Spalding's widow, Matilda Davison, and was published in The Boston Recorder in 1839. The letter charged that Solomon Spalding was trying to get his manuscript published at a printing establishment in Pittsburgh where Sidney Rigdon was employed. This, of course, supplied the "missing link" between Spalding and Rigdon and made it clear that Rigdon could have copied Spalding's manuscript while it was in the printing office. The Mormons referred to the letter as a "bogus affidavit." Professor Whitsitt seemed to agree and expressed very strong feelings against it:

"In the face of proofs so strong as those that have just been supplied to the effect that Sidney's handicraft in Pittsburgh was that of a tanner . . . the statement has been so often repeated that he engaged in a printing office at Pittsburgh . . .

"Nothing was ever heard of Rigdon as being employed in the printing office of Patterson and Lambdin at Pittsburgh until the first day of April 1839. The document containing this singular assertion was subscribed by Matilda Davison . . . this was to turn to a very inferior source; Mrs. Spaulding (Davidson [sic]) had imparted all the information she could command to Mr. Howe in the year 1834, and it is marvel to perceive  


how meager was her store . . . she had heard of the 'Manuscript Found' by name, but was not aware of its contents; she could not be positive that it had ever been carried to the office of Patterson and Lambdin, and was just as much in the dark to decide whether it had ever been returned; of Sidney Rigdon she knew nothing in the world.

"But when her certificate dated the 1st of April 1839 was given to the public, she had meanwhile acquired a considerable access to her knowledge regarding all these topics and especially touching Mr. Rigdon. She affirms: 'Sidney Rigdon, who was figured so largely in the history of the Mormons, was at that time connected with the printing office of Mr. Patterson, as is well known in that region, and as Rigdon himself has frequently stated. Here he had ample opportunity to become acquainted with Mr. Spaulding's manuscript and to copy it, if he chose . . .'

"It is not probable that Mrs. Spaulding (Davison) should have been the author of assertions of this nature. She was too honestly ignorant of these concerns in 1834 to have expressed herself in the above strain in the year 1839 . . . it is absolutely certain that he was not an apprentice in a printing office as early as she intimates . . . Almost every important allegation that she supplies in the certificate which is presumed to have been composed by Messrs. Ely and Austin is incorrect and misleading. A comparison of the two separate utterances will suggest two conclusions, one or the other of which must be accepted. The first is that the good lady is an unfaithful witness, and the second is that her innocency was employed by some person who wished to do evil that good might come of it.

"But no real good has ever come of it; the certificate of 1839, besides introducing a large amount of error into this history, has steadily brought aid and comfort to the Mormons . . .

"If the certificate . . . be rejected as the clumsy invention of the parties who were using her simplicity to accomplish their own ends -- and no other course lies open to the student of the subject -- the public will be deprived of the only evidence it ever possessed to the effect that Sidney was at any time engaged in a printing office . . ." ("Sidney Rigdon -- The Real Founder of Mormonism," pages 153-157)

On page 197 of the same manuscript, William Whitsitt charged that if Mrs. Spalding "had been left to her private devices that clumsy 'April Fool' would never have vexed the soul of the student. All the blame of this transaction must be laid at the door of other people who abused her simplicity to accomplish purposes of their own. The parties who seem to be directly responsible for this fraud, are the Rev. John Storrs, Pastor of the Congregational Church in Holliston . . . and Mr. D. R. Austin, Principal of the Monson Academy."

It is interesting to note that the very statement by Spalding's widow which Professor Whitsitt condemned so strongly became a very important part of a recent attempt to revive the Spalding theory. It is reproduced twice in the book, Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? by Wayne L. Cowdrey, Howard A. Davis and Donald R. Scales, 1977, pages 42-47, 201-209. On page 207 we read: "Our examination of the so-called 'problems' in Mrs. Davison's testimony show that they can all be answered easily . . . the basic facts of her affidavit will stand careful examination."

In any case, although Professor Whitsitt seemed so adamant against forgery or fraud in the case of Spalding's widow, when he came to "The Question of Rigdon's Sincerity" in chapter eleven of his manuscript, he seemed surprisingly tolerant:

"The Book of Mormon sincerely if not effectually aims to 'make for righteousness.' . . . Mr. Rigdon pursued a purpose which he candidly believed would promote the honor of the Lord . . . His own impulse and plan were to his thinking unquestionably good, and with as little question he supposed that both had come from the Lord . . . the fact remains that notwithstanding what the world conceives to be his evil behavior he kept a good conscience which had no trouble to excuse the conduct of its owner . . . To his mind the truth and authority of this production were entirely independent of Joseph's connection with it. He was sensible that he had only employed young Mr. Smith as a kind of tool . . . The great position that 'Jesus is the Christ,' . . . would stand firm no matter what kind of fate might befall Joseph Smith . . .

But the allegation will be still laid against the honesty of Mr. Rigdon that he perpetrated a pious fraud. The history of the religious world abounds with instances of pious fraud. In the Old Testament the number of Apochryphal and of pseudepigraphical books is far too large to recount in this place. The same remark also applies to the New Testament . . . The man who out of hand asserts the knavery, all and singular, of the authors of these productions argues nothing so much as his own imbecility . . . every man of sober reflection must suspend his judgment touching the conduct of Rigdon until he has weighed all the conditions that may be involved . . . those who will persist in the conclusion that Mr. Rigdon was nothing else than a roguish knave must be content to forego every kind of hope to find a right understanding of his career and character . . . If they relish their voluntary imbecility they are welcome to the benefits it may bring them, but when Sidney is judged, as he has a fair right to be, by the facts, and by his own productions, it becomes probable that he was an honest fanatic . . .

The question is not whether the production of Rigdon actually 'makes for righteousness'; but did he intend that it should 'make for righteousness? The inquiry must be answered in the affirmative; it was not his purpose to earn money or fame from its circulation; he desired to promote the interests of Christ and of the 'ancient order of things.'" ("Sidney Rigdon -- The Real Founder of Mormonism," pages 466-471)

The question naturally arises as to whether the person who wrote the above might himself commit "a pious fraud" to save the Mormon people from their delusions? Since he already believed that Rigdon and Smith had used impersonation to lead the people into error, would he consider it wrong to create something that might reclaim them? If it was done to 'make for righteousness" with no desire "to earn money or fame  


from its circulation," would it really be evil to produce such a work? We do not really know the answer to those questions. The circumstances look very suspicious, but it is certainly possible that someone else might have taken advantage of Professor Whitsitt's ideas to produce forgeries.


As we indicated earlier, R. B. Neal was the first to print the Cowdery Defence in 1906. Neal claimed to have received his copy of the original in 1905. In a letter dated June 3, 1905, he wrote: "I have before me 'Oliver Cowdery's Defence;' just got it yesterday." This letter is printed in Wingfield Watson's Prophetic Controversy. No. 6, or 'Facts' for the Anti-Mormons . . . Mr. Neal certainly realized the importance of the Defence in his work with the Mormons. In a later publication, Neal commented: "No more important document has been unearthed since I have been engaged in this warfare . . ." ("Sword of Laban" Leaflets, No. II)

Because Neal had a ministry which published "Anti-Mormon" tracts and was the first to bring the Defence to light, a number of Mormons suspected that he really wrote it. Another theory, of course, would be that someone else wrote it and had it typeset and printed by a publisher who had no interest in Mormonism. Since it would have only been sixty-six years since Oliver Cowdery was supposed to have printed it, it would have been easy to make a copy of the pamphlet appear that old by exposing it to the sun, water and dirt. A copy created in this manner could have been sent to Mr. Neal without much fear of exposure.

Like William Whitsitt, R. B. Neal was dedicated to proving the Spalding-Rigdon theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon and felt that the statement about Sidney Rigdon in the Defence was very significant: ". . . we are not surprised that Cowdery says: 'The voice of the angel did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon.' This statement of Cowdery's, solves in a large measure the problem as to the 'fine Italian hand' behind ignorant Joseph Smith in this Mormon conspiracy." (Oliver Cowdery's Defence and Renunciation, Anti-Mormon Tracts, No. 9, 1906, pages 17-18)

One very interesting thing about the Defence is that it seems to reflect and even directly quote some material written by R. B. Neal six years before the pamphlet fell into Neal's hands. In a pamphlet published in 1899, Neal had argued that there was an important contradiction with regard to the restoration of the Mormon priesthood. He demonstrated that one of Joseph Smith's revelations published in the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 7), and the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 28: 6-40) affirm that the Apostle John and three members of the Council of Twelve among the Nephites were to remain on earth and "never taste of death."

R. B. Neal noted that because of this claim, "we must revise the stereotyped answer given by the child to the question of who was the oldest man. Methusaleh is nowhere. John and the three nameless Nephites are over 1,800 years old . . .These apostles have the keys to both 'Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods' -- the 'right to baptize' and 'to impart the Holy Ghost.'" Mr. Neal then commented that the Pearl of Great Price, one of the four standard works of the church, contained an account of the restoration of the priesthood by Cowdery which said that at the time Joseph Smith began his work, "none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the Gospel." (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith -- History, l98l edition, p. 59)

Joseph Smith claimed that "John the Baptist" came from heaven to restore the Aaronic priesthood. R. B. Neal, however, pointed out that one of the 'four apostles" who remained on earth should have restored the priesthood and, according to the Mormon Church's own theology, it was wrong to say that "none" on earth had the authority from God: "Joseph! Oliver! what do you mean? Where, oh, where were the four apostles who held these keys, the keys to both priesthoods? They were on earth, if Joseph and Oliver and the Book of Mormon are not monumental liars. Who took them from earth? Or, who took the right to baptize and to impart the Holy Ghost from them?" (The Stick of Ephraim vs. The Bible of the Western Continent; or, The Manuscript Found vs. The Book of Mormon, Part I, 1899, page 28)

The Defence presents exactly the same argument. It has Cowdery recognizing his error with regard to this matter and claims that he said:

"(1) But I certainly followed him [Joseph Smith] too far when accepting, and reiterating, that none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the Gospel, as I had then forgotten that John, the beloved disciple, was tarrying on earth and exempt from death."

By comparing the quotation below, the reader will notice that a number of words (set in bold type for easy comparison) used in the Defence are identical to wording printed six years earlier by Neal! Although many of these words are borrowed from the Pearl of Great Price, that they would be followed by words concerning John the beloved still being on earth seems to close too be a coincidence.

"We learn that none on earth 'had authority From God to administer the ordinances of the gospel.' I am quoting Oliver now. This confirms Joseph. John the beloved was on earth . . ." (The Stick of Ephraim, p. 28)

It would be very difficult to believe that the parallels in thoughts and wording could have happened by chance. While it does throw a shadow of suspicion on R. B. Neal, there is another possible explanation. It could very well be that someone who read Neal's The Stick of Ephraim used it to write the Defence. People are far more likely to fall for a forgery if it supports their own beliefs. The noted forger Mark Hofmann demonstrated this within the last few years. One of his customers indicated that he would like to have a letter written by Joseph Smith from the Carthage Jail. While this would be a very rare item, within a short time Hofmann was able to "find" such a letter.

A forger who had read some of R. B. Neal's writings would certainly be wise to frame the document as near to Mr. Neal's theories as possible. This would insure that Neal would give it his full support and a  


wide distribution. It is interesting to note that Mr. Neal recognized that the document supported his position with regard to "John the Beloved." When he first published the "Cowdery" tract in Oliver Cowdery's Defence and Renunciation, pages 15-16, he commented: "We made the same argument years ago that Oliver here makes. It is unanswerable . . . No wonder Oliver says: (I followed Joseph too far when accepting and reiterating that none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the Gospel, &c."

It is hard to believe that Neal himself would bring the matter to light if he was the one who forged the document. Such a statement might make people want to compare Neal's earlier writings and possibly lead to the discovery that the Defence was forged. On the other hand, however, we have to acknowledge that people who forge documents and commit other crimes do not always use the same type of logic that normal people do.  


During our research on these forged documents we have kept our eye open for any connection between William H. Whitsitt and R. B. Neal. At the present time we have no evidence to show that Professor Whitsitt ever provided Neal with information. Nevertheless, it does seem possible that these two men could have known about each other. In the Dale Broadhurst Collection at the University of Utah Library, we did find a photocopy from a book which has some interesting information on William Whitsitt. Although the photocopy does not reveal the name of the book, it seems to be a book concerning important religious leaders. In any case, on page 170 we find this information:

"Whitsitt, William Heth (Nov. 25, 1841 -- Jan. 20, 1911), Baptist minister, church historian, and theological seminary president . . . he accepted (1872) the chair of ecclesiastical history in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Greenville, S. C . . . In 1895 he was elected president of the seminary, which in 1877 had been moved to Louisville, Ky. Under his administration the enrollment surpassed that of any other American theological seminary, and his thorough scholarship and courageous devotion to truth commanded the unstinted admiration of his students.

A statement made by Whitsitt in his article upon the Baptists published in Johnson's Universal Encyclopaedia (1896) precipitated what was known as 'the Whitsitt controversy' . . . the controversy lasted for four years, increasing in bitterness as the weakness of th[e] arguments of the church successionists becam[e] more evident. Many who recognized the principle of academic freedom became convinced tha[t] denominational concord could be gained onl[y] through Whitsitt's withdrawal from the institution, and the trustees of the seminary at lengt[h] accepted his resignation (1899). After a year['s] rest he accepted the chair of philosophy in Richmond College, Richmond, Va . . ."

While Whitsitt was serving as president of the seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, R. B. Neal was publishing "Anti-Mormon" tracts in Grayson, a town in the eastern part of Kentucky. Only about 150 miles separated the two Mormon critics at that time. Professor Whitsitt later served at Richmond College, which was about 375 miles east of Neal's home. Since R. B. Neal printed a vast number of tracts, it would seem likely that some would reach the seminary at Louisville or Richmond College in Virginia. On the other hand, in 1891, an article on Mormonism by Whitsitt was published in The Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge and Gazetteer. This book was reprinted in 1893. In this article, Professor Whitsitt strongly advocated his views on the Spalding theory. At the end of his selection of books on Mormonism (page 622), Whitsitt indicated that he had written a book about Sidney Rigdon. He referred to, "W. H. Whitsitt, Life of Sidney Rigdon, 1891 (in which will be found the proof of the statements made about the Book of Mormon, etc.)." If R. B. Neal ever saw this article, it probably would have aroused his interest in the manuscript Whitsitt had written.

As it turned out, Whitsitt's manuscript was never published and in his letter to the Library of Congress, he sadly wrote, "I suppose it will never be in my power to issue the work in print, but I should be glad to leave it in some library where it might be consulted in manuscript . . ." (Letter dated August 28, 1908, Byron Marchant's transcript). In the same letter, Whitsitt indicated that when his article was published in 1891, he received letters from "many persons in differing portions of the country who had perused it." Because of their common interests in refuting Mormonism and establishing the Spalding theory it is possible that these two men met or corresponded at some time.

An anthropologist once noted that when just a few scattered fragments of bone from an ancient fossil man are found, some scientists tend to be more dogmatic than when there are a large numbers of bones discovered. This is because there is not a great deal of evidence available to refute any conclusions they might arrive at. This same thing is undoubtedly true with regard to historians. It is easy to write sweeping statements about things that happened long ago when we know there is little to contradict what we set forth as "truth." In the present case, it would be very easy to pronounce William H. Whitsitt the forger of the Overstreet 'Confession" and the Cowdery Defence, and it would probably be very difficult for anyone to disprove the accusation. When it comes right down to it, however, we must admit that we do not have enough pieces to complete the puzzle.

While we can now be certain that the Defence and the "Confession" are forgeries, we must be very careful about jumping to conclusions. The evidence, however, seems to indicate that the Cowdery Defence was written sometime between 1899 and June 3, 1905. A number of things seem essential for its production: One, William Whitsitt's idea that Sidney Rigdon impersonated John the Baptist. His manuscript containing this idea was written in 1885. Although we are not aware of any other source for this theory, we cannot state for certain that Whitsitt did not hold to the idea at an earlier time or that it could not have come from some other source we are not familiar with. Two. David Whitmer's An Address to  


All Believers in Christ, which was not published until 1887. Three, R. B. Neal's 1899 printing of The Stick of Ephraim (the pamphlet that maintained that the priesthood should have been restored by the Apostle John rather than John the Baptist).

The Oliver Overstreet "Confession" is more difficult to date. We do know that it was necessary for the forger to have The Rocky Mountain Saints, printed in 1873, and The Myth of the "Manuscript Found," which appeared in 1883. Whitsitt's idea of a number of impersonations in early Mormonism, set forth in his 1885 manuscript, cannot be overlooked with regard to this document. Since the "Confession" describes the very method used in producing the Defence, i.e., Overstreet's use of "some articles written by Cowdery" to imitate his style, it seems reasonable to believe that it was forged after the Defence was written. This, of course, would be sometime after June 3, 1905.

We feel that there are three theories with regard to the authorship of the Cowdery Defence and the Overstreet "Confession":

One, that they were forged by R. B. Neal. Mr. Neal was a firm believer in the Spalding theory and had the ability to write both documents. Furthermore, in his position with an organization which printed "Anti- Mormon" tracts he could have had access to the printed books necessary to produce the forgeries. For instance, in his booklet, The Stick of Ephraim, page 26, he cited a quotation from "Myth of the Manuscript Found, p. 80." As we have already pointed out, pages 79-80 of this book were used in creating the "Confession." We have also noted that Neal wrote a pamphlet in 1899 concerning the restoration of the priesthood and that the same argument was incorporated into the Defence. In this publication, however, Mr. Neal did not refer to the idea that John the Baptist was impersonated by Sidney Rigdon. He, of course, could have later learned of that theory from William Whitsitt or someone who read Whitsitt's manuscript, but so far we have no evidence to that effect. If our theory is correct that the Defence and the "Confession" were forged by the same individual, it would raise the question as to why Neal never printed the Overstreet "Confession." He printed many tracts after the Defence, but as far as we have been able to determine, he did not publish the "Confession." It would seem that a man who played such a prominent role in an organization which printed Anti-Mormon tracts would rush the "Confession" into print if he was, in fact, the author of that document. This would lead us to believe that Neal was merely the "tool" used by a very clever forger.

Two, that the documents were forged by William H. Whitsitt. Professor Whitsitt, like R. B. Neal, had the ability to write the documents in question. Moreover, he had a very active imagination. He was obviously fascinated by the idea of impersonations, and his manuscript contains accounts of three different impersonations by Sidney Rigdon. The "Confession" begins with the words: "I personated Oliver Cowdery . . ." The Defence also hints concerning Rigdon impersonating John the Baptist.

According to this theory, Whitsitt would not have to be personally acquainted with R. B. Neal. He would just have to know that Neal had an extensive Anti-Mormon tract ministry. He would, however, need to have access to a copy of Neal's booklet, The Stick of Ephraim to use in writing the Defence. Whitsitt could have some copies of the Cowdery" pamphlet printed, have one 'aged" and send it to Mr. Neal. Neal, of course, would be very vulnerable to a tract which supported his own beliefs about Mormonism.

Like R. B. Neal, Professor Whitsitt held tenaciously to the Spalding theory about the origin of the Book of Mormon. He had, in fact, written a 1,306-page book dedicated to proving that theory. In his letter to the Library of Congress he said that he found that "such a large amount of money was required to produce the work that I was compelled to desist . . ." It could be argued that the frustration of never having his masterpiece published led him to seek some other way of getting the message out to the world that Mormonism originated and grew through deceit and impersonations.

William Whitsitt, as we have shown, was familiar with the two books which were used to produce the Overstreet "Confession," and would have wanted the report of the remarks made by Oliver Cowdery when he returned to the church undermined because it contradicted the Spalding theory and his firm belief that the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood "never took place."

Three, that the documents were forged by an unknown person who had access to the Whitsitt manuscript, the writings of R. B. Neal and all of the other writings necessary to commit the forgeries. This explanation, of course, would clear both Whitsitt and Neal of any responsibility for the forgeries.

While it may never be known for certain who forged the Oliver Cowdery Defence and the Oliver Overstreet "Confession," one thing is very obvious: there was a forger on the loose around the turn of the century who was extremely interested in promoting the Spalding manuscript theory. Because of this, we must be especially cautious of any documents relating to that matter which were "discovered" during the latter part of the l9th century or the early part of the 20th century.

While some anti-Mormon writers have been guilty of deceit and forgery, a far greater problem exists in documents printed by the church itself. Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders created literally hundreds of pages of forged documents. At the present time, we are working on a book that will demonstrate conclusively that the Book of Mormon is not a translation of an ancient record written on gold plates.

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