The Science of Reminiscence: Joseph Smith Vignettes. III

This is the third in a series of posts on memories about Joseph Smith. The same cautions apply as noted in part 1.

Bro. Gates said. One day while at Far West. Br. Joseph was talking to Bishop Partridge concerning the lost tribes. Joseph remarked that they are hid from us. “Yes” said Br. Partridge in a rather unbelieving tone. I guess they are by land and water. “No” said Joseph, “by land and air.” Br. P smiled as if he thought Joseph did not know what he was talking about. Joseph continued, “Yes, they are hid by land and air in such a manner that the Astronomers cannot get their telescopes to bear on them because they are at an angle that they can’t be seen from the earth.[1]
I heard J. Gates relate this little incident in the St. Geo Temple. June 1880.[2]

The “ten tribes” has not been a subject of discourse in recent years, but episodes like the one remembered by Gates were important as markers of original Mormonism to many believers at a time when it seemed outside pressures to conform to the larger culture were increasing. Orson Pratt, in an 1873 speech:

Then again, after the six thousand years have ended, before the Lord shall come while these trumpets are sounding, or about that time, we find that there is to be a great work among the nations-which will probably take place in the morning of the seventh thousand years. The ten tribes will have to come forth and come to this land, to be crowned with glory in the midst of Zion by the hands of the servants of God, even the Children of Ephraim; and twelve thousand High Priests will be elected from each of these ten tribes, as well as from the scattered tribes, and sealed in their foreheads, and will be ordained and receive power to gather out of all nations, kindreds, tongues and people as many as will come unto the general assemblage of the Church of the first-born. Will not that be a great work? Imagine one hundred and forty-four thousand High Priests going forth among the nations, and gathering out as many as will come to the Church of the first-born. All that will be done, probably, in the morning of the seventh thousand years. The work is of great magnitude, Latter-day Saints, and we are living almost upon the eve of it. Six thousand years have nearly gone by, the world is getting aged, and Satan has accomplished almost all that the Lord intends that he shall accomplish, before the day of rest. With a work of such magnitude before them, the Latter-day Saints should be wide awake, and should not have their minds engaged in those fooleries in which many indulge at the present time. We should put these things away, and our inquiry should be,-“Lord, how can we prepare the way before thy coming? How can we prepare ourselves to perform the great work which must be performed in this greatest of dispensations, the dispensation of the fullness of times? How can we be prepared to behold the Saints who lived on the earth in former dispensations, and take them by the hand and fall upon their necks and they fall upon ours, and we embrace each other? How can we be prepared for this?” How can all things that are in Christ Jesus, both which are in heaven and on the earth, be assembled in one grand assembly, without we are wide awake?

[1] The subject of the “Lost Ten Tribes,” is complex, both in and out of Mormonism (note the connection to the subject of John the apostle in part 2 of the series). The biblical basis for lost tribes of Israel rests in the story of their abduction by the Assyrian empire ca. 722 BCE. The fate of the Lost Tribes became the subject of apocryphal texts and some 1,400 years after the Assyrians, the tribes became associated with messianic beliefs. The myth of the lost tribes was a part of British Israelism and the colonial logic of Imperial Europe. (See for example, Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, The Ten Lost Tribes (New York: Oxford UP, 2009).) Latter-day Saints have a special interest in the Lost Tribes and Israel in general, largely because of Joseph Smith’s revelations. The Book of Mormon is replete with discussions of Israel in the latter days and Joseph Smith’s later revelations tie Abraham and his descendants closely to the restoration movement. In particular, Doctrine and Covenants section 133 (a November 1831 revelation) underscores an eschatology that features a “return” of the tribes. (See verses 17-34, though it does not actually use the phrase, “lost ten tribes” –it was interpreted that way.) This portion of the revelation was encoded in early statements of belief by missionaries like Orson Pratt, and finally by Joseph Smith himself. Joseph’s statement was extracted for printing in the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price (1851, Franklin D. Richards, Liverpool, England) as Article of Faith 10 . . . “We believe . . . in the restoration of the Ten Tribes”. Today that “restoration” is probably seen as largely figurative—a part of the universal mission work, and few addressed the issue after the death of Pratt, though Neal A. Maxwell waxed eloquent (and very brief) on the subject in his October 1996 conference address. Gates’s remarks on Partridge may reflect some early tensions between Smith and the bishop. Smith’s first and second visits to Missouri (1831, 1832) showed Partridge as somewhat skeptical about Smith’s claims regarding Jackson County, Missouri. Gates’s claim that Joseph offered that the lost tribes were “in the heavens” somehow is somewhat at odds with the revelation (section 133) but other stories of Smith and the tribes suggest that Gates’s recollection, though late, was not without foundation.

[2] The manuscript is not clear as to the witness of (presumably) Jacob Gates’s (1811-1892) story telling. Gates became a seventy and in October 1844 he was made a president of the 4th quorum in Nauvoo, Ill. Gates was in Liverpool, England in 1859 when Brigham Young informed him he was to be a member of the First Council of Seventy.


  1. J. Stapley says:

    Fun stuff. I believe Charles Lowell Walker has a contemporaneous account of the reminiscence (love temporal complexity):

    [March 6, 1881, Sunday] Went down to the Temple and joined with the Circle. At night went to Meeting. Br Jacob Gates spoke in a very pleasing manner on a variety of subgects Showing the ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ over the Powers of darknes and the Establishment of God’s Kingdom upon the earth and the glorious Reign of Imanuel during the great Millenium, the power of God being manifested in the return of the ten lost tribes of Israel and of their coming to Zion to receve their blessings under the Hands of Ephraim. Said he heard Joseph Smith say when he was at Bishop Partridge’s House in Far West, Missouri, concerning the ten lost tribes, They are hid from us by land and air. Said Bishop Partridge, I guess they are by land and water, in a doubting manner as if Joseph did not know what he was talking about. Yes, said Joseph, by land and air; they are hid from us in such a manner and at such an angle that the Astronomers cannot get their telescopes to bear on them from this Earth.

  2. That’s a great report. The “land and air” thing is a great joke, whether by JS or a trick of memory, it’s a great counterpoint playing on a reputation for skepticism.

  3. If the invisible angle sounds funny, maybe we’re just not educated enough. Perhaps Joseph was laying the groundwork for multidimensional string theory.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    Agreed, WVS.

    Just for fun: in my review of Benite’s volume, I included some other examples of people remembering JS teaching something similar, viz., Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson, eds., Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press/Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2009), 407-8; Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833–1898, typescript, 9 vols. (Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983-85), 5:385, 6:363; Bathsheba W. Smith, “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor 27 (June 1, 1892) 344.

  5. Yeah, there are some interesting (and not always consistent) stories out there. In reading them I sometimes have the feeling that JS was having folks on just a bit. We should add these accounts in extenso I think.