I saw Ardis’s post about the upcoming Utah State History Conference and noticed a number of interesting papers, including Gary Bergera’s presentation on the BYU Spy Ring (which I understand is quite good and forthcoming in the UHQ). I had the pleasure of responding to Gary, LaJean Carruth and Lavina Fielding Anderson at the MHA conference last spring and I thought I could translate my response into something of interest for those who did not attend.
LaJean is the Church History Department’s shorthand ninja. She has quite a gift and has been able to transcribe many a document which left others scratching their heads. Her work has been prominently featured in the recent Mountain Meadows Massacre volume and Staker’s Kirtland book. She is currently working on the shorthand reports of the John D. Lee Trial. In her presentation, she brought together numerous sermon transcripts, which she had prepared and have never before been available. She focused on the recollections of Brigham Young and others regarding the Missouri Mormon War period.
It can be counted in weeks, the time since my historiographic world crumbled at the feet of LaJean. We live in a time when the Journal of Discourses is avoided as a source in LDS Church publications—the Deseret News being the preferred citation for nineteenth century sermons—and people squint suspiciously at the words of Young, Kimball and Grant. I have consistently pointed to Ron Watt’s excellent work on George Watt and the Journal of Discourses, both with USU Press and the Utah Historical Quarterly, in defiance. Ron describes Watt’s meticulous shorthand, transcription and subsequent textual verification with the orator before publication. Alas, LaJean shows how this is an over simplification and frequently the shorthand is wildly inconsistent with the published sermons. She insists that there simply was no time to verify all published sermons with the people that delivered them.
I consequently would like to step into the role of exhorter. There are mountains of short hand waiting to be transcribed—LaJean has enough work for several lifetimes. However, we are in a golden age of source criticism within Mormon historiography and the economy of Mormon Studies would be enormously benefited by a study of nineteenth-century sermon reporting. LaJean is uniquely situated to contribute to such a study and therefore I implore her to divert her attention sufficient for its realization.
Her paper today highlights the wonderful materials that come from her tedious and specialized labor. This recovery is the first step. The questions that arise from these materials are the next. Focusing on reminiscences naturally leads us to Memory Studies. Why did these people tell the stories they told, when they told them? And what did these stories mean to those who consumed them? David Grua’s important thesis, which explores the collective memory of Missouri persecution and violence in the formation of Mormon identity and sense of place, is the natural place to turn. Surely these new data will expand our understanding of that process.
An interesting example of this dynamic was occasioned when William Hennefer, while travelling in 1860, camped with a division of the US army. He was brutally whipped and beaten by a soldier who had been injured while in Salt Lake City 18 months earlier. The story was published widely and it was the matter of conversation in Brigham Young’s office. Here, Young does the work for us, in tweezing out the cause for his recollection:
Gilbert [Clements] remarked the outrage was one of an unparalleled nature. The President Remarked ^at Haun’s Mill^ about 100 men ravished a young woman after tying her to a bench. They were part of a mob headed by Governor Boggs and that was worse than whipping Henifer. ["]I also Consider["] observed the President ["]that the Troops are a mob of the United States. Before our persecutions were from a single states["]
- In subsequent conversations, LaJean has indicated to me that the preliminary evidence suggests that the Journal of Discourses is more accurate that the sermon reports found in the Deseret News, though much work is yet to be done.
- Ronald G. Watt, “The Beginnings of The Journal of Discourses: A Confrontation Between George D.Watt and Willard Richards,” Utah Historical Quarterly 75 (Spring 2007): 134-148; Ronald G. Watt, The Mormon Passage of George D. Watt: First British Convert, Scribe for Zion (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2009).
- David Grua, “Memoirs of the Persecuted: Persecution, Memory, and the West as a Mormon Refuge” (MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 2008).
- [No author], “The Latest Brutal Outrage,” Deseret News 10 (June 6, 1860): 108-9. [No Author], “IMPORTANT FROM UTAH.; The Indian Troubles at the West-Conduct of the Mormons A Case of Personal Revenue-Assassinations, &c.,” New York Times, July 3, online (accessed May 4, 2010).
- Fred C. Collier, ed., The Office Journal of President Brigham Young, 1858-1863, Book D (Hanna, Utah: Collier’s Publishing Co., 2006), 101, June 15, 1860. See also 104, June 23, 1860.