JS1505 - Mormon Polygamy Documents

Hi Richard,
It looks like your friend Christian has put together a pretty convincing case, except for his exclusion of
so many evidences. Last fall I wrote an essay dealing with the Prices claims. It can be found here:
Christian’s email provides so many opportunities for discussion and the introduction of documentation.
However, to my rationalfaiths essay I would probably just add a few observations showing that Joseph
Smith III, the Prophet’s son, knew of his father’s plural marriage practices.
I am willing to try to contribute further if you think it would be helpful.
I’m sure you are already aware of these things:
(1) During the earliest years following the 1860 establishment of the Reorganized Church, several
RLDS leaders, such as William Marks, acknowledged that Joseph Smith was initially involved with
polygamy. The first volume of their official publication, The True Latter Day Saint Herald, claimed that
Joseph Smith gave several members a false revelation at their request—a revelation that authorized the
practice of plural marriage. This act resulted in the Prophet being punished by death. According to these
authors, Joseph Smith “abhorred and repented of this iniquity before his death.”1 It seems a little
inconsistent for the Prices to ignore this statement that was published in The True Latter Day Saint
Herald along with William Marks other testimonies showing Joseph did practice plural marriage.2
(2) On January 26, 1894, Joseph Smith III sent a letter to RLDS missionary in Provo, Utah, E.C. Brand.
Apparently in a previous letter JSIII had asked Brand to discover the names of his father’s plural wives.
Bro E. C. Brand:
Yours from Provo, of Jan 6 was received; and I have been getting used to contemplating
my respective step-mothers, and possible half brothers & sisters by the same, before attempting a
reply - as if it needed one.
I am sincerely glad that you were not offended at the task I requested you to perform, but
took it in good part and set about it with [alacrity?].
I am glad it is no worse, you might have found the Roc's egg in that Utah mare's next, for
I have always given you credit for a kind heart, and tenderness of feeling, and a
sensibility and recognition of proprieties not usual among men; and have believed that much of
what I facetiously called "check," was bravery for the best and political reasons. That is why I
asked you to look after the "limbs of the" family tree, I wanted to see if they were akin to the
JSIII remarked that he had “been getting used to contemplating my respective step-mothers, and
possible half brothers & sisters.” He also explained to Brand that he had asked him “to look after the
‘limbs of the’ family tree.” The letter continues to discuss twenty-one women reportedly sealed to
Joseph Smith, Jr., some with very incomplete information. Fifteen are common to other lists, with six
new names.3
(3) In 1882, William B. Smith, former Church Patriarch contemplated writing a biography of his
brother, the Prophet. His nephew, RLDS President Joseph Smith III wrote to him concerning it:
In regard to the matter of your Biography &c… Father's history is not yet written for the world,
and ought to be written by a friend, of course…
I have long been engaged in removing from Father's memory and from the Early church, the
stigma and blame thrown upon them because of Polygamy; and have at last lived to see the cloud
rapidly lifting. And I would not consent to see further blame attached, by a blunder
now. Therefore uncle, bear in mind our standing today before the world as defenders of
Mormonism free from Polygamy and go ahead with your personal recollections of Joseph &
… if you are the wise man I take you to be, You will fail to remember anything [contrasting]4 to
the lofty standard of character by which we esteem those good men. You can do the Cause great
good; you can injure it by injudicious sayings.5
Here Joseph Smith III encouraged his uncle to "fail to remember" anything that might have reinforced
“the stigma and blame thrown upon them because of Polygamy." William was also a Nauvoo
(4) JSIII and his two brothers (David and Alexander) visited Agnes Coolbrith Smith, Don Carlos’
widow and a plural wife of the Prophet in 1876, just months before her death. They were on a
missionary journey, promoting their anti-polygamist RLDS religion. They were undoubtedly surprised
by what “Aunt Agnes” had to say. Lucy Walker visited Agnes eight years later and wrote:
I had a very pleasant visit at Oakland, [California] with Ina [Coolbrith, daughter of Agnes
Coolbrith], who received me with much tenderness and affection… From her, I learned many
things I was glad to know, one fact was, that her mother bore testimony to the “Boys” [Joseph
and Emma Smith’s sons, members of the RLDS Church who visited in 1876] in regard to the
faith and teachings of their Father and told them that what they had seen, and heard in Salt Lake
was Truth, that those women were their Father's wives, and it was useless to promulgate
falsehood to the world, and advised them to desist. They pretended not to believe, but she could
plainly see they were stung with the truth of her testimony.
David seemed struck dumb, astounded at the living testimony of so many – What could their
object [could] be! Alexander said he would not take any bodys word – not even Aunt Agnes.
Jos. [Joseph Smith, III] would not talk on the subject. After they left [they] sent \Ina/ what
purported to be the 'History of their Father with their Mother's dying testimony—and desired her
to place them in the Library—She wrote them She could not with the knowledge She had—that
they were false.. (Emphasis in original.)6
Agnes Coolbrith separated herself physically from the Utah Church by moving to California. She
dropped all affiliation with the faith, however, when RLDS missionaries came teaching Joseph Smith
was not a polygamist, Agnes directly challenged their testimony by recalling earlier events in her own
life. I guess this account could be ignored because it comes from Utah Mormon Lucy Walker.
(5) More recently, Mark A. Scherer, the Community of Christ’s Historian, recognized and characterized
Joseph’s participation in polygamy as ministerial abuse: “If [people] were willing to accept the veritable
mountain of evidence including books, diaries, letters, affidavits, and contemporary witness testimonies,
all circumstantial in nature to be sure, as proof of Smith’s involvement [with polygamy], then they
would have to draw the unmistakable conclusion that the Joseph Smith, Jr. was the author, originator,
and first practitioner of this ministerial abuse.”7
[Editorial],”Polygamy Contrary to the Revelations of God,” True Latter Day Saint Herald, 1 (January,
1860) 1: 1-2; Joseph Smith Jr., History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,
See William Marks, “Epistle,” Zions Harbinger and Baneemy’s Organ 3 (July 1853): 52-54 (published
in St. Louis, by C. B. Thompson).
E. C. Brand adds Jane Law (discussed above). He also lists Adeline Amarilla Hamblin who married
Lyman Omer Littlefield in 1846 and later divorced him, and Mary Angell who married Brigham Young
in 1834. I’m unaware of any additional evidence linking Joseph Smith to these two women. Three
other names are provided, Esther Reese (husband is “Russell”), Lucy Havers [Lucinda Harris or Lucy
Walker?], and a woman “_______Bust.” I’ve been unable to identify any additional information on
these three women. Joseph Smith III to Bro. E.C. Brand, Joseph Smith III Letter Press Book, P6,
JSLB4, pages 63-67, January 26, 1894, Community of Christ Archives.
This typescript supplied to me by Community of Christ archivists contains the bracketed word
"[contrasting]." The original word is unavailable in the typescript.
Joseph Smith III, letter to William B. Smith, March 11, 1882, P6, Joseph Smith III Letter Book 3,
page, 335-36; italics added.
Lucy Walker Kimball to Joseph F. Smith ("My very dear Nephew"), Santa Rosa, February 24, 1884, in
Franklin R. Smith collection, CHL, MS 13700, fd 2.
Mark A. Scherer, “As Neither Apologist nor Cynic: Filling in the Gap and Keeping the Theologians
Honest,” The Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association, 25 (2005) 7-9.