Secret or sacred

If you go into the Church archives, behind the rows of computers are several short bookshelves filled with large three ring binders. Registers are tables of contents for document collections. The register for the Brigham Young collection maintains a significant footprint on these shelves. One entry is listed as the 1858-1863 Office Journal of President Brigham Young (marked “Book D”) and over it is stamped in red ink, “Confidential.” Today, I received a newly printed copy in the mail.

Back in the 1970’s, Fred Collier, like many other scholars of Mormonism, spirited away copies of documents that in the days of “Camelot” were open but were swiftly closed. During this time, the New Mormon History took its first steps. Quinn was hired at BYU and with other folk like Ehat, Bachman and Cook used this access to publish papers and books that are now considered classics. Polygamy, the Council of Fifty, Temple Theology. Collier wasn’t really part of the academic community and ultimately he was no longer granted access to the archives.

During the eighties, copies of documents and research notes were circulated on what some called the “Mormon Document Underground.” This is the era of Mark Hoffman and his forgeries. Andrew Ehat had spent a significant amount of time with the journals of William Clayton, secretary to the Prophet Joseph. He had exchanged his notes and excerpts with Lyndon Cook, a research collaborator, for some other material. One day, an individual took Ehat’s notes from Cook’s office, copied them and returned them. These notes made their way to the Tanners who published them. Ehat sued and won, but the Tanners appealed and Ehat lost. During this time Collier focused his efforts on fundamentalist doctrinal expositions.

Ehat’s material along with another misappropriated reel of microfilm published by the Tanners was ultimately the source for the majority of George Smith’s An Intimate Chronicle, The Journals of William Clayton (1).

General level records in the Church archives are restricted. Temple materials are restricted. Lots of general authority papers are restricted. You can, however, go to the BYU, USU, UU or Yale libraries and dig through the papers of researchers who experienced Camelot and copied like mad. They also have some cool records from folk who kept them during the 18th and 19th century. You won’t find everything, but you will find a lot.

Now is a good time for the Church archives. They are digitizing. They are wonderful to work with. Things are opening up, it seems; but, the Brigham Young collection is still closed. Collier is known to produce excellent transcriptions and as one expert in the field noted, Book D is one of the best journals of the bunch. So, I purchased a copy (2). You will find An Intimate Chronicle and other items published by Collier with similar provenance cited in BYU Studies, sometimes by BYU professors.

I will take what I can get, but I wish that it wasn’t in this way.


  1. See James Allen’s review in BYU Studies (1995) vol. 35, no. 2.
  2. Note that while you can purchase the book at Collier’s website, they are switching servers and their email is offline.


  1. So what the hell is in Book D, man?!

  2. Office journal is a great discription. I have just skimmed through it, and there are excerpts that I have seen in others’ research notes. I guess one of the reasons Collier published it is becasue he believed that some researchers had used poorly transcribed notes and twisted the text to reflect poorly on Brigham. You’ll find stuff on general church administration, the Orson Pratt conflict, a bit of Adam-God, etc.

  3. So, is it your point that we shouldn’t be keeping all this stuff secret, but should make, well, more stuff publicly available?

    I’m curious as to why the Tanners would publish material from Ehat (unless they depict Joseph Smith poorly.) Forgive me, I’m not a Mormon scholar, but isn’t Andrew Ehat highly regarded in the field?

    I sort of feel like the theme here is that History is what the modern editors make of it (and censor) and that some people try to preserve the original source materials. And, ultimtely, what should we think about the Church restricting access to these documents? Is it a big conspiracy? =D

    Do LDS conspiracy nuts wear tinfoil over their garments?

  4. I’m a big proponant to public access, but I can understand why the Church isn’t.

    Clayton’s diary dealt with the Temple, the Council of Fifty, and Polygamy. It also dealt with some rough episodes in Joseph’s relationship with Emma. All sutff that is new to the average member and less than flattering in some contexts.

    As to the tinfoil? The truth is out there.

  5. It should not be surprising to anyone that the Church has restricted much of the material in its archives. The Arrington papers episode with the Church and USU in 2001 demonstrated that very clearly. I applaud the Church’s more recent apparent “openness”, but the real test will be the Joseph Smith diaries, papers, letters, legal documents, and the revised Documentary History of the Church project, which Church employees say is moving forward and for which the Church is apparently still looking for/contracting with a major name publisher. If this project truly receives a favorable review by the scholarly and historical communities (meaning that the project produces generally unexpurgated content) then the idea of “openness” will become more legitimized.

    It is really quite surprising that the Church is as open as it is. Maybe a new generation of General Authorities (especially among members of the Twelve–including the members of the Twelve reviewing the JS project) will be that catalyst to move us out of the “fear” stage and into the “faith” stage–faith in the members to have the maturity to understand and accept Church history as it occurred–not as some have wished it to have occurred.

  6. BTW – The joke out there about Collier’s new book is that he must not have been able to get anyone to steal books A-C for him at the time. People are also wondering why he waited decades to publish Book D. Whatever.

    I think we will be seeing more and more information coming out as second- and now third-generation members of at least the twentieth-century General Authority families elect to allow diaries and other materials to be published. Both Signature and George Smith himself, through Smith-Pettit Foundation, have several items in the pipeline that are planned for publication. The passage of time seems to have mellowed some hardcore adherents of the milk-before-meat mantra (or as Quinn has called it, “no meat at all”) such that allowing controversial material to be published may become possible again by Church employees or those contracted by the Church.

    Additionally, once the Church finds a publisher for Turley’s Mountain Meadows project (now more than two years overdue), we will also have more of a glimpse into the Church’s approach to addressing controversial issues. The Church is said to be willing to consider doing more “pre-emptive” pieces (such as on polygamy or blood atonement) before critics have an opportunity to capture the public attention that comes with their publications (i.e., Will Bagley’s book on Mountain Meadows).

    Now that the internet provides immediate information about the Church to an investigator, in, say, Germany, the Church has felt compelled to get more information out there to counter the enormity of negative press and articles available. That issue alone (immediate access) may be driving much of what we see now, in the same way that the emergence of professional historians drove the Camelot era of the 70’s and early 80’s.

  7. MRB, I tend to agree with your analysis, especially of the affect of the internet.

  8. A senior apostle’s recent experience in a part of the world in which he presided was responsible for some of this new thinking. He and others have advocated for what amounts to a 180 in thinking about how to best present our history. Time will tell what the outcomes of this approach will be.

  9. “A senior apostle’s recent experience…”

    Which apostle? Which area? Whos is MRB, and how does he know? I’m interested in this kind of thing, but presented like this it just amounts to gossip and rumour. If MRB has reasons for protecting his or the apostles identity, he could at least say so. Otherwise I think it’s probably better if we all ignore rumours like this (not to say that MRB is lying or anything, just that I have no way to evaluate his/her credibility).

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    MRB, I assume by the “Documentary History of the Church” project you are talking about the Joseph Smith Papers project (which is not a history, but a papers collection)? That is the project being run by the Church. The reason the way you put it was confusing to me is that Dan Vogel is separately doing a new edition of the seven-volume History of the Church (what used to be called the Documentary History of the Church) using modern documentary editing standards. That one is not a church project (I assume it will be published by Signature or an affiliate), but Dan has been given excellent access to materials in the archives.

    Oh, and the Church is not involved in publishing the Turley, Walker and Leonard book on MMM. All the Church did was throw the archives doors wide open for them. That book will be published by Oxford University Press.

  11. Julie M. Smith says:

    Two thoughts:

    (1) It may be that the fact that the new Kimball bio and McKay bio came out and the world did not in fact stop rotating will help change opinion on the telling of our history.

    (2) As much as I prefer warts-and-all history, there is one thing that bothers me: I hate the thought of, say, Eldar Bednar sitting down at the end of the day and deciding not to write something sensitive down because he doesn’t want the whole world knowing about it at some future date.

  12. Regarding your number 2, Julie. Surely a similar thought may have crossed the mind of Presidents McKay or Kimball. The biography is hardly the most recent addition to literature.

  13. Yea, I would be surprised if Elder Bednar does not have that thought already. At least, he should be thinking that if he isn’t already.

  14. Ed: Lots of threads in the blogernacle (and other blogs for that matter) refer to sources in a general way, including other threads in BCC (see “The Messiah” for instance and references to senior apostles.) I work with a Church employee on weekends. He works in the Church’s historical dept. (now “Family and Church History Dept”) during the week. He is one of my sources and is a reliable one. I would rather not name any names, including the subjects and sources of any posts. There is always a risk involved and I value my membership in its current form.

    Kevin: David Whittaker at BYU has indicated that the revision of DHC is on the table as part of the JS Papers Project. The elements of the project are as follows:

    1. Journals: 10 volumes, 1700 manuscripts
    2. Papers: Revelations, correspondence, sermons
    3. History: Revision of DHC – updated, edited, including a Howard Coray history
    4. Legal: JS was involved in over 180 lawsuits
    Also proposed:
    – Canonical overview
    – Administrative records (Far West Record, Kirtland High Council minutes, Nauvoo Relief Society minutes)
    – Appendix – all accounts of the martyrdom, for instance

    There is a three-member group from the Twelve on the reading committee.

    This was as of November, 2005. I’m sure some things have changed since then.

    It is true that the Church is not officially publishing the Mountain Meadows book. But they are funding it (regardless of how the contracts are structured) and it will not contain anything not approved by the Brethren. So in essence it will have gone through “correlation” as have other books not published by the Church but promoted by them.

    I’ll be interested to see what Dan Vogel puts out. Thanks for bringing me up to speed on it.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    MRB, I had no idea that the Joseph Smith Papers project included an update of HC. (None of the sessions I’ve attended on it have mentioned that.) Interesting. I wonder whether such a thing is really warranted? (I’ve wondered the same thing about Dan’s project.) To me the HC is so flawed that it would be better to just start over than try to fix it. (But we all know where that idea went when it was tried.)

    If you’re right about a Church review of the MMM volume, that could spell disaster. So far the authors have been both rigorous and extremely forthcoming. If a GA were to try to put rouge and lipstick on it to pretty it up, that would backfire badly. My impression is that the authors are being given a very free hand, including to portray a lot of stuff that is uncomfortable to modern sensibilities. I believe GBH, who has a strong historical sense, understands that trying to hide the ball simply won’t work. Only a brutally frank evaluation of the evidence will do. I hope they publish while he’s still alive, because who knows what the future will bring.

  16. Kevin: It’s possible that revision of the DHC has been put on a backburner or has been dropped. But David Whittaker was quite certain 10 months ago of its inclusion. I agree with you however–it is a mammoth project and may never happen. The 16-volume project, as you implied, blew apart and will likely never happen in that kind of form again.

    As far as MMM is concerned, I hope the “correlation” that the book goes through is less stringent. It may depend on who is on the reading committee and how much influence GBH exerts if any. I agree that he has a strong historical sense and is likely to allow more free rein than most of the hierarchy other than some newer members of the Twelve.

    One member of the Twelve did, however, say “Don’t worry about giving us heartburn. We’re used to heartburn.” That member is no longer with us, but some others of the Twelve are of a similar mind.

  17. I’m assuming that “don’t worry about giving us heartburn” quotation was from Elder Maxwell, it certainly sounds like something he would say. I certainly hope that if there is a large degree of corelation going on that there isn’t much censorship of the final product.

%d bloggers like this: