Cemetourism: Alpheus Cutler (1784–1864)

To mark the passing of Stanley E. Whiting, the most recent president of the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), it seems appropriate in this installment of “Cemetourism” to remember the first, Alpheus Cutler.*

Alpheus Cutler’s grave is located at the site of Manti, Iowa, the first headquarters of the reorganized Cutlerite church.  Once a bustling town, Manti is all but abandoned today — a victim of brinkmanship with the railroad.  After Manti became an RLDS town, church leaders advised members to hold out for a good price for rail right-of-way.  Rather than pay, the railroad skipped over Manti and founded a new town called Shenandoah.  Over time, Manti’s residents moved to Shenandoah and even dragged many of Manti’s vacant buildings to the new town.

Now some of the last historic Cutlerite homes are falling into ruin and only the stagecoach station is in good repair. The most visible remains of the old Cutlerite town are a road, a memorial park, and a pioneer cemetery.  The site is in Freemont County in the extreme southwest of Iowa — where Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri meet.  The first generation of Mormons had been promised that the Second Coming of Christ would occur in their lifetimes and they knew that the Kingdom would be built in Jackson County, Missouri. Cutler saw little reason to trudge across the Great Plains to live in Utah Territory only to have to trudge back when the call came.  Missouri was unsafe for Mormon settlement, but Manti was just about as close as you could get: Jackson County was a quick steamboat ride down the Missouri River.
[Read more…]

A Visit with the “Den Mother of Mormon History”

On our way home from the Restoration Studies Symposium, Mike and I stayed overnight Sunday at “Balmy Gilead Farm” — the home of Jan and Tony Shipps, nestled in the woods just east of Bloomington, Indiana.  The visit was a mixture of southern country hospitality and reminiscences of the golden age of Mormon studies, alongside discussions of current research and events in the field.  Jan has hardly let her eighty-two years slow her down, as the list she shared with us of her upcoming lecture trips, projects, and books proved.

Right: Tony, Jan, and myself (holding Mr. Darcy) yesterday at Balmy Gilead Farm.

[Read more…]

Join BCC this weekend at Restoration Studies

A number of BCC permas will be presenters this weekend at the annual Restoration Studies / Sunstone Midwest Symposium. The symposium kicks off Friday night with an address on the conference theme: “‘A Woman’s Place…’ Ideas, Impacts, and Experiences of Restoration Women” given by Gail Mengel.  (Now retired, Gail was one of two women who became the first female apostles in the RLDS Church, now known as the Community of Christ.)

Russel Arben Fox chairs a star-studded panel that includes our own Kristine Haglund and Tracy McKay, along with Christian Harrison and Chris Henrichsen, in a session entitled “Homemaking Radicalism and Homemaking Realities.”  Kristine will also be joining Stacy Mengel Keenan, JWHA Executive Director Sherry Mesle-Morrain, and Sunstone Executive Director Mary Ellen Robertson, to explore the topic of “Getting Educated: How Attending a Church University (or not) Shapes Restoration Women’s Experiences.”

My own presentation will look at the histories of two small American denominations that initially embraced problematic doctrines that they eventually jettisoned before they each ultimately became “just another Protestant church”.  The Worldwide Church of God (now Grace Communion International) believed in Anglo-Israelitism (the view that the Anglo-Saxons were the lost tribes of Israel), and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church (now Christ Community Church) famously believed that the world is flat.  How has becoming just another Protestant church worked out in these two examples and what lessons might these experiences hold for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ)?

[Read more…]

The Kirtland Temple Turns 175

“Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb! Amen, Amen, and Amen!”

There’s nothing quite like singing “The Spirit of God” with a congregation in the Kirtland Temple.  I’ve had the opportunity three times — the first time was at the dedication of the new Temple Visitor Center, the second was at a meeting of the John Whitmer Historical Association, and the third time was yesterday.  However, yesterday was the first time the congregation also gave the “Hosanna shout.”  (I’ve heard a lot of reviews of lackluster Hosanna shouts — I’ve never before participated in one, so I have no basis for comparison —  but I thought this one was pretty good.)

Yesterday was the 175th anniversary of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and I traveled there for the weekend to participate in the commemorative events.  Beginning Friday there were a series of special meetings, services, seminars, lectures, and tours.  There were three services on Sunday itself — an LDS service in the early morning and one in the evening, and a Community of Christ service in the mid-morning.  To preserve the temple, the number of attendees for each session was limited to 300 (over a thousand apparently packed in for the original 1836 dedication), so I was only able to attend the Community of Christ service, but by every account, all three were very special and moving. [Read more…]

Cemetourism: William B. Smith (1811–1893)


William the Unloved was the last surviving brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, hanging on nearly five decades more than the rest.  I always feel a little sorry for William, since nobody liked him and nobody remembers him at all fondly.

We went to visit William’s grave a couple months ago and he will mark the first entry in a feature I’m calling “Cemetourism.”  I inherited the cemetery gene from my mother and her mother.  My uncles say of my grandmother (with a groan!) that she can never pass by a cemetery without wanting to stop and hunt for ancestors.  I share those inklings.  As we travel around the country, we like to stop and look for graves, either of ancestors, Mormon history figures, or U.S. presidents and vice presidents, along with their defeated rival candidates for both offices.  (Yes, I’ve been to the graves of Alben Barkley, Hannibal Hamlin, and Wendell Willkie!) [Read more…]

Mapping the Acts of the Apostle Parley

I was recently commissioned by Terryl L. Givens, Matthew J. Grow, and Oxford University Press to produce a new series of maps for their upcoming biography, Parley P. Pratt: The St. Paul of Mormonism (scheduled for release in October of this year). There’s been no skimping on the maps — the volume will include ten full maps plus insets.

Parley P. Pratt's Early Life
Locations in the early life of Parley P. Pratt.

In keeping with the title, the bulk of the maps focus on the missionary journeys of the peripatetic Pratt. The vision of the authors, which I attempted to fulfill, was to produce a series of maps almost reminiscent of the maps at the back of LDS Bibles that show the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul.

[Read more…]

An Exciting John Whitmer Conference

This year’s conference of the John Whitmer Historical Association (JWHA) is exciting for me. It’s special in general because 2010 marks the sesquicentennial of the 1860 meeting in Amboy, Illinois, where Emma Smith and her son Joseph III affiliated with the “new organization” of Midwestern Mormons — a reorganization that ultimately became the Community of Christ. But it’s also special for me personally. Although I’ve had a hand in JWHA’s programs since 2004, this is the first year I’ve served as chair of the program committee and put the whole thing together. [Read more…]

The CTR Course B Child’s Kit (1978)

Do you guys have one of these? I’m in the process of cleaning out the house, preparing for a move — which means that I’m going through forty years of accumulated “treasures” and associated memories. [Read more…]

Book of Mormon / Epic Beefcake Movie

George Chakiris “King Balam” and Yul Brynner “Chief Black Eagle” in Kings of the Sun.

For a kid in the 1970s, Mormon-themed media was pretty scarce. So I was nothing less than astounded one Saturday afternoon to turn on the TV and discover a movie about the Nephites and Lamanites!

Of course, they weren’t called by those names, but they fit the images perfectly. There was a group of “whiter,” more civilized Indians — new settlers in the land — who were building a city centered on a temple/pyramid (the Nephites). Outside their walls lurked a group of traditional Hollywood Indians, loincloth-clad and living in teepees (the Lamanites).

Even better, the Lamanite chief was none other than Yul Brynner. In my family, Brynner held an essentially canonical role in Cecil B. DeMille’s scriptural epic The Ten Commandments. [Read more…]

The Reorganized DHARMA Initiative

As Lost has been counting down its last few episodes, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks underground (literally) in a place eerily — and wonderfully — reminiscent of the DHARMA Initiative’s subterranean island stations. In the Lost universe, the DHARMA Initiative was a group headquartered here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which sent teams of scientists and support crews to the show’s island in the late 1970s. The Initiative constructed a number of stations in a style that was ultra-modern for the 70s, but is quite dated now.

The 70s were a wonderful era for futuristic design because they represented the final gasp of modernism. Up until that time everyone always assumed that as we penetrated further and further into the future, everything would become more and more modern. Even dystopias like the city in Logan’s Run (filmed in 1976) were ultra-modern dystopias. As the 1980s dawned, this idea was abandoned, and people began to envision a future that was dark and dirty — compare the city in Logan’s Run to future Los Angeles in Blade Runner, filmed just six years later (1982). [Read more…]

Gay Rights Revelation added to the Community of Christ D&C (World Conference Part 2: April 12–15)

Delegates to the World Conference of the Community of Christ taking the historic vote.

This week I’ve been in Independence, Missouri, observing the history-making 2010 World Conference of the Community of Christ. As I mentioned in a previous post, World Conference is made up of delegates elected to represent the church’s Mission Centers (roughly equivalent to LDS Stakes or Regions), meeting together to discuss and vote on the business of the church. This year, two topics have been in the forefront of the agenda: (1) the role of gay members within the church, and (2) conditions of baptism. [Read more…]

Blogging World Conference (Part 1: April 10–11)

A conference poster on the side of the Auditorium.

The semi-annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is over, but the triennial World Conference of Community of Christ is just now in full swing. This is the first World Conference I’ve attended, so I thought I’d blog some of my reflections. [Read more…]

New FLDS President Called

According to a certificate filed with the Utah Division of Corporations & Commercial Code and obtained by the LDSgroups Yahoo Group, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church) has called a new church President: Wendell Loy Nielson. (The FLDS Church is one of the two largest fundamentalist Mormon denominations, the other being the Apostolic United Brethren.)

President Nielson was formerly First Counselor in the FLDS First Presidency under the previous church President, Warren Steed Jeffs. Jeffs resigned his position on December 4, 2007, shortly after his sentence of ten years to life by a Utah court.

It is not yet clear whether Jeffs also resigned as Prophet of the FLDS Church or whether Nielson has been called to succeed him as Prophet. [Read more…]

The Perfect Place for Your Own Theocracy

This is the place, trust me.

So you’ve decided to found your own Mormon church and you want to create a Nauvoo-style theocracy by taking control of a U.S. county.

Q: What is the most vulnerable county in the United States?
A: Loving County, Texas.
[Read more…]

Comparative Charts

Big Ark
Someone sent me a link to a lesson manual containing a fascinating and useful comparative chart that illustrates the size of Noah’s Ark in relation to other vessels. While I had always wondered how much bigger the Ark was than an Icebreaker or a Portuguese Man-of-War, it still left me wanting to know more. I did a little bit more scholarly research and I came up with my own chart that offers additional useful comparisons. [Read more…]

Powerful Monuments to Service

My uncles tease (more than half seriously) that my grandmother can’t drive past a cemetery without getting the urge to stop and look for ancestors. That’s a trait that she’s passed on to me. As we take road trips around the country, Mike and I spend a surprising amount of time in cemeteries, looking for graves — not only of ancestors, but also of figures in church history and U.S. history. All the cemeteries we visit are solemn and hallowed places, but few sites can compare to the acres and acres of orderly rows of veterans buried in America’s national cemeteries. It seems appropriate to reflect on some of these this Veterans Day (Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, outside of the U.S.) [Read more…]

Mammon’s “Wisdom” in Milton

Call for Papers
I’ve been reading Milton — which I suspect is an important background source for a number of Mormon cosmological concepts from the “war in heaven” to Arianism (Jesus as a completely separate member of the Godhead, clearly inferior to God the father). Of course, I knew that Milton is one of the greats of English literature, but in my reading I’ve been shocked at the sophistication of his portrayals of Lucifer and his allies. Paradise Lost is not a cardboard polemic about the war in heaven. Milton puts himself in the sandals of the fallen angels and creates a realistic perspective. After their ostracism and exile, the fallen legions of hell consider their options. Mammon has a particularly realistic appraisal of any potential gains that might be made in renewing the war with heaven. [Read more…]

JWHA’s 2010 Call for Papers

Call for Papers

On April 6, 1860, the prophet Joseph Smith Jr.’s widow and eldest son traveled from Nauvoo to Amboy, Illinois, to attend the general conference of a ‘new organization’ of Midwestern Latter Day Saints. Emma and Joseph Smith III were accepted as members on the strength of their original baptisms, and Joseph was then ordained prophet and president of what became the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now known as Community of Christ. The majority of Midwestern Mormons, divided from 1844-1860 by schism after schism, now began to come back into communion together, in the most successful regathering of disparate groups within Mormonism to date.

To mark the sesquicentennial anniversary of this important event, the John Whitmer Historical Association will hold its September 23-26, 2010, conference near Amboy, Illinois. [Read more…]

Some Youthful Apologetics

Mike and I have just returned home from Voree, where we spent another entire week pouring through the records housed in archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite). We’re working on an institutional history of the church since the martyrdom of James Strang in 1856, the first ever composed. It’s been a fantastic experience because the Strangites have been excellent record keepers and because the church has given us unrestricted access to the archives. [Read more…]

The Colorful Career of Increase Van Deusen

headstone of Increase Van DeusenI’ve spent the past few days editing a great little book by Janet Lisonbee, entitled Mormon Graves in Kirtland: A Biographical Dictionary of Early Saints Buried in the Kirtland Area.[1] The book covers everyone who was a church member during the early period (1830-1844) who was subsequently buried in Lake County, Ohio.

Early Mormons liked to compare the church to the stone cut without hands, rolling forward in Daniel’s vision. Historians inevitably follow the stone as it rolled from Kirtland, to Missouri, to Nauvoo, and beyond. Members who were left behind at each of those places fall out of church records — and they tend to fall out of our history too. Janet’s book will surely be most useful as a research tool for genealogists, but I’ve found it fascinating to view as a composite picture of a diverse group of early members who didn’t follow along the broad path of our mainline historical narrative.

Among the many early members buried in and around Kirtland, few had as colorful a Mormon career as Increase McGee Van Deusen. With good reason, Van Deusen’s antics are favorite fodder for guides at the Kirtland Temple. His name alone is worth the price of admission, but the stories even better than his name.[2] [Read more…]

Race, Gender, Ethnicity and the Restoration

Attend JWHA

Plan to attend the annual conference of the John Whitmer Historical Association (JWHA), this September 24-27, 2009, in Independence, Missouri. Our program will explore the important, controversial, and too often ignored themes of ethnicity, race, and gender (including sexual orientation) in Mormonism. (I say “ignored,” not because these themes are ignored on the bloggernacle, but rather because scholarship, especially history, too often focuses on the elite narrative of church headquarters, which is almost exclusively white and male.) [Read more…]

The Spaulding Fable

Once upon a time in 1809, there was a man named Solomon Spaulding, who lived in what is now the town of Conneaut in Ohio’s Western Reserve district. Like so many Americans of his day, Solomon hoped to make his fortune through land speculation, and he and his brothers purchased a great deal of land in the area on credit. To maintain himself, he operated an iron forge and his wife ran a small grocery store. After a series of reversals in the land business, Solomon thought he might recoup his losses by writing the great American novel. His would be a historical fantasy — explaining the origin of the great, ancient earthworks in Ohio and elsewhere, which everyone at the time believed must have been made by some high civilization and not the “savage” American Indians of his own day. [Read more…]

How Christian are Mormons? How Mormon is the Community of Christ?

Mapping boundaries

These and similar questions will be explored at the third annual Restoration Studies and Sunstone Midwest Symposium, to be held April 8–9, 2010, in Independence, Missouri. Our theme is “Identities & Relationships” within the Latter Day Saint movement and Christianity as a whole. [Read more…]

Reflections on the Articles of Faith, Then and Now

John's Blazer BannerThe written text of my talk, given February 14, 1982, (when I was age 11 years, 10 months), reads as follows:

This is my Blazer Banner. These emblems show the different lessons we work on to prepare to receive and honor the priesthood. That is our motto, which is written here at the bottom of my banner.

I received these emblems for memorizing the 13 Articles of Faith. The Fifth Article of Faith talks about the authority of the Priesthood. The Sixth Article of Faith names a few of the priesthood offices in the church, such as prophets and apostles.

This emblem shows three Aaronic Priesthood holders at the Sacrament table. The lesson we had helped me understand the Sacrament better so that when I pass it, I will feel greater reverence.

This emblem shows John the Baptist giving Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the Priesthood. I’m thankful for the Blazer program which is helping me to prepare to receive the Priesthood and for the great teachers who have worked with me.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[Read more…]

Ron Romig: Scholarship Catalyst, Scholar, and Missionary

Ron RomigThe Acknowledgments section of my very first essay in Mormon history begins:

Ronald E. Romig of the Community of Christ Archives suggested this project to me when we met on April 6, 2003. From that moment to the present, his assistance in moving the project forward has been invaluable.[1]

My indebtedness to Ron is hardly unique. In a quick perusal of acknowledgments sections of books and journals in my own library, Ron’s name shows up more than a dozen times. These works individually acknowledge Ron’s contribution to their creation, but they barely scratch the surface of the overall contribution Ron has made to Mormon studies in general, both as a scholar himself, and (even more importantly) as a catalyst for scholarship.

It is this overall contribution that we need to acknowledge today, because after more than twenty years of work in the Community of Christ Archives, Ron will be taking early retirement at the end of next month — a casualty of steep budget cuts the church has been forced to make due to the current economic recession. [Read more…]

The Milk & Strippings Story, Thomas B. Marsh, and Brigham Young

Thomas B. Marsh and his wife Elizabeth were baptized on September 3, 1830, and were therefore among the earliest members of the church. (Dan Vogel calculates that they were the 55th and 56th members, preceding all the future apostles save for William Smith and the Pratt brothers).[1] Marsh became an important early church leader and when the Council of the Twelve was organized in 1835, he was called to be one of the original members. Because he was the oldest original apostle, he became the quorum’s first president. And yet today, among Mormons, Thomas B. Marsh (if he is remembered at all) is remembered only in a story where his wife was jealous over the division of some “milk and strippings,” the fallout of which led the couple into apostasy.

History is somewhat different than the fable. [Read more…]

MHA: Call for Papers

Call for papers

A call for papers for next year’s MHA — don’t let the due date creep up on you. More from MHA below… [Read more…]

Genealogies and Family Histories

Fitly Framed Together

I just received a copy of my grandparents’ new memoir, Fitly Framed Together: The Life and Testimony of Bob & Louise Erekson. [Edited by Ginger Hamer. Billings, Montana: Pacer Books, 2009. 377 pages. Paperback. $24.95. Photographs, illustrations, appendices, index. ISBN 978-1-4392-2912-5.]

This book has been a long time in the making! [Read more…]

Bloggernacle: Meet the Blogitorium

The Community of Christ Auditorium at night

I’m pleased to introduce you folks to a group blog that friends of mine in the Community of Christ and I have recently launched. I believe this is the first Community of Christ blog designed on the model of BCC and the many other venerable group sites of the Mormon bloggernacle. Like Times & Seasons, the Millennial Star, the Juvenile Instructor, and Keepapitchinin (among others), Saints Herald takes its name from a historic Latter Day Saint publication. Published continuously since 1860, the Community of Christ’s Herald periodical was originally entitled The True Latter Day Saints’ Herald and through most of its history was published as the Saints Herald.

Although it’s just getting started, I think there’s already a number of contributors who have posted on topics you may find of interest. [Read more…]

The First 25 Years of the JWHA Journal

Reprints of Vols. 1-6 of the JWHA JournalThe John Whitmer Historical Association Journal is the best Mormon studies journal that you’ve never read and that isn’t in your local or university library. (If you have read it and it is in your library, you’re part of a happy minority.) I’m biased, of course. Like the guy on the old Remington Microscreen Shaver commercials who believed in the product so much “he bought the company,” when I first encountered JWHA in 2003, I enjoyed the experience so much I volunteered to become one of its directors. [Read more…]