Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism
John Phillip Walker, editor
7. To Fawn Brodie
27 April 1944
Figuratively speaking, I think one of these days one of these missionaries will catch you with your slip off, and he will slap a garment on you so fast it will knock your eye out. And after that, posterity will cease to have to worry about you; you’ll be a righteous woman of good works the rest of your days, and on your tombstone will be engraved something by Edgar A. Guest. I tell you this to comfort you and let you know in advance of the time that all will yet turn out well.
I know very well the harassed feeling you experience. When I moved to Ogden in 1938 to take the job with the Historical Records Survey, I rented an upstairs apartment from a family on Jackson Avenue. A week or so later I found a note under my door advising me that special services were held by the Church for the hard of hearing and the deafened in such and such a ward every Sunday at such and such a time. What I felt then is how you feel now. I shall go to hell, I know, but I’m enjoying myself now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I enjoy myself somewhat in hell too. After all, just think of all the [p.53] living headaches who are figuring on putting up in heaven…. Why don’t you suggest to [Edgar A.] Brossard [a local church official] that you give a reading from one of your chapters at Sacrament Meeting some Sunday night? He could advertise it in the papers as a special preview of the prize-winning biography, etc.
I have [Fitz Hugh] Ludlow’s book here now, in case you ever want to see it. I agree that the characterization of [Orrin Porter] Rockwell1 is striking. In fact, [Charles] Kelly & [Hoffman] Birney quoted from it on the dust jacket of their Holy Murder[, the Story of Porter Rockwell]. I think you must have reference to [Wilhelm] Wyl’s book [Mormon Portraits], in the case of Rockwell’s brag. That is the only thing I can recall, and it is the only instance of the kind that Kelly & Birney cite.
Wyl says, on p. 255, that in an interview with Brigadier General Patrick Edward Connor on June 23 (1886 apparently), Connor told him that Rockwell used to tell him “many of the horrible deeds he had committed for the church. Among other things he told me once that HE HAD SHOT BOGGS. ‘I shot through the window; said he,’and thought I had killed him, but I had only wounded him; I was damned sorry that I had not killed the son of a b—!'”
Wyl, in printing the Fanny Brewer affidavit on pp. 249-50, dates it Boston, Sept. 13, 1842, and follows it with one by G. B. Frost, same place, Sept. 19, 1842. Presumably the affidavits were printed in the Boston Recorder subsequent to the latter date. If it is merely the text rather than the citation you want, you are welcome to borrow my Wyl. In the long run, of course, you will want to cite the original source. That is my own policy, never citing a secondary source if I can authenticate the original source.
I’m not sure what your Improvement Era citation is (on Ludlow), but maybe it is the Rockwell sketch they serialized some time back. I have never got around to scanning that, although I glanced at one of the issues when it appeared. Kelly told me that George Albert Smith had remarked to [J. Cecil] Alter2 that this piece was about as bad in its way as Holy Murder was in the other. (Or words to that effect; I forget the precise wording now.)
Incidently, you greatly underestimate the E. R. Snow diary. It has no earth-shaking entries, but it has a number of important stray facts tying in with a dozen phases of early Utah history. I am very glad to have the parts dealing with the first years in Utah. Biographically, it’s not much good, but historically, it is more than respectable. Did you read F. Y. Fox’s two-part piece on the Consecration Movement of the 50s? There’s some sound scholarship in that. I’ve devoted a lot of attention to the Consecration movement of the 50s myself, and there are very few angles that Fox missed. He also did, some years ago, an excellent thesis for Northwestern on The Mormon Land System. If the Historian’s Office were staffed with men of his caliber, I think Mormon history as written by Mormon historians would take a great stride foward. I’ve never met the [p.54] fellow, and know nothing about him, but by his works I am willing to judge him.
I just got around today to looking at Reva Stanley’s [biography of LDS apostle Parley E Pratt] Archer of Paradise. A most curious work, a mixture of the amateur and the professional, the skeptic and the zealot, and with an effort at casual interpretation positively astonishing in places, as when the American point of view toward the Mormons a hundred years or so ago is summed up as being the same thing as the popular idea of the “Reds” at the time the book was written. (That reads as a very curious rebuke to today’s ultraconservative church leaders.)
I’m glad you enjoyed Juanita’s jam and preserves. If you get around before it has vanished, I’ll give you some more of the plum jam, as I have found another suitable bottle around here. I should feel myself to betray Juanita in her generosity if I did not spread out to the uttermost her beneficence. So I’ll look for you to drop in again sometime soon.
The Sinclair Lewis piece is very amusing. It is not criticism, it’s “you’re another!” It is in full fellowship with the satiric passages he writes in his books; this time he got off on the subject of B[ernard]. DeV[oto]. instead of the clergy or Babbitt. Yet the interesting thing is that in this case, as usual, he got just enough truth into his picture to give it a certain cockeyed recognition. Incidently, have you read [Wallace] Stegner’s Big Rock Candy Mountain? I read it in December and have since recommended it to everyone I know. It is to my mind the best novel anyone has ever written about the West; it is inconceivably better than anything he has ever written before (perhaps because, unquestionably, it is his own story, basically). It is the only book I have ever seen which dealt naturally with the Utah scene, especially the modern Utah scene; and I think no one who has ever lived in the West can read it without a thousand recognitions. I would give a great deal to have written this novel myself. I was glad to see Lewis give Stegner a boost, though he was really panning DeVoto rather than praising Stegner, and I can’t agree with Lewis that Stegner’s On A Darkling Plain has any particular significance.
I’ve thought it all over, and have finally come to the conclusion that Joseph Smith is a damned lie, and no such person ever existed. This proposition is so plain, on the basis of the numerous facts available, that I’m surprised nobody ever realized it before. I mention it to you in case the information might come in handy.
1. Orrin Porter Rockwell was a bodyguard to Joseph Smith. His feats of courage and terrorism were legendary among Mormons. Following the attempted assassination of Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs, an anti-Mormon, in May 1842, Rockwell was widely thought to be the assailant.
[p.55]8. To Madeline McQuown1
1 June 1944
Your letter of Sunday came yesterday—very appropriately, I thought, since I had reckoned that your new dress most probably would reach you yesterday, though I hoped it would come on Memorial Day. I await your verdict on it with much interest, because I rather fancy myself as a selecter of wardrobes for you, and, as I told you once, would greatly enjoy clothing you entirely in things of my own selection from the skin out. I think my taste in general tends toward simplicity of cut and color, but with color that is bright and fresh. Not that this is an invariable criterion, but as a generality it is good, I think.
The hospital has certainly been giving you the works; you are going through an ordeal of the first grade. But I am happy about it, because it is something upon which you embarked of your own will—that is, you went to the hospital in search of health, not being hauled there helplessly with no voice of your own in the matter. I hope that all these examinations will get to the root of your trouble and give you an opportunity to begin leading a half-decent life as soon as you leave the hospital. I shall be daily expecting further word on how things are going with you. And maybe by the time the week is out I will have a bulletin about your dress.
I’ve been pretty much on the run since I wrote you Friday night. When I got home Saturday night, on the step in front of my apartment was the steel file [cabinet] Mother had shipped me—it had been too heavy for the express people to carry upstairs (350 lbs.). So I had to dig up tools to tear the crate open, then carry up the individual drawers, and finally take the empty filing cabinet up, reassembling them in my apartment. This occupied the greater part of the evening. Maurice Howe spent Sunday with me, coming about 12:30 and staying till about 11:30. He is looking much better than I had anticipated, and enjoyed himself a great deal without seeming to get too tired. In fact, I was probably more exhausted than he at the end of the day, since of course I made him take it easy while I cooked dinner and otherwise made myself useful around the apartment.
When I got home on Monday night I found myself in possession of a complete set (lacking only the first index volume) of the [p.56] 32-volume Early Western Travels series. This is something I have had an ambition to own for years, without much expectation of ever having the $200-plus that is the asking price for this series in these days. Rosenstock in Denver shipped me this set on the understanding that I might take as much time as I wanted to pay for it. The cost shocks me a little—$170. But I think I could sell them overnight for more than that, and the books almost completely fill in the foundation of my historical library. There are not more than a dozen basic source narratives that I still lack dealing with Western history as I approach it, and I am now in a position to sit tight and work with what I have. Incidently, Rosenstock has told me all sorts of interesting things about really big-time collecting (he is one of the country’s best known Americana sellers) with leave to use the information in a magazine article. I had intended writing one for Publishers’ Weekly about his adventures with the Ferris journal, but I think I will see if I can’t slant this yarn so as to hit one of the big-circulation magazines. I have a number of interesting ideas about it. Incidently, when I speak of big-time collecting, I mean this matter of paying from $3,000 to $10,000 for a single book.
Anyhow, I spent most of the evening Monday cutting the leaves of the books. (Though 40 years old now, two-thirds of them were uncut. I abominate uncut books.)
Tuesday night, I fulfilled a promise I had made the Federal Chess Club some weeks before, to come around and with others of the top players play three games at once against the membership, at odds of the knight. Last night, Wednesday, I was occupied till midnight baking a new batch of bread. And tonight, after seeing Maurice off on his train at 5:30, I must do some things at National Archives. Tomorrow night I’m going to try to get some writing done. Thus my week goes!
I have spoken now and then of my “basic” library, gradually assembled over the last five years. I’ll give you a more concrete idea of what I have. I own all the Bancrofts, all the Pacific Railroad Exploration Reports, all of the Hulbert Overland to the Pacific volumes (8 of them), the 12-volume Southwest Historical Series published by Clark, 7 of the 8 Princeton University Trans-Mississippi Series, the 6 most important of the 8-volume Original Journals of Lewis & Clark, and now the Early Western Travels. I have Mrs. Victor’s River of the West, Osborne Russell, James Bridget, Sabin’s Kit Carson Days (and four or five other Carson items, including his Own Story), Ghent & Hafen’s Broken Hand, Catlin’s North American Indians, Hodge’s Handbook of American Indians, Bryant, Thronton, Nidever…and so on and so on, plus the Mormon stuff. It is simpler to list the important stuff that I lack than that I still need. The only real deficiencies in my functional collection are Zenas Leonard’s Narrative, Larpenteur’s Forty Years a Fur Trader, Ross’s Fur Hunters, Rose’s Four Years in the Rockies (these latter two customarily sell for around $40 and I have no expectation of owning them), John Ball’s Autobiography, Allen’s Ten Years in Oregon, and one or two others. A couple of others it would be convenient to have but I already have the privilege of using them, Darel [McConkey] owning Gass’s [p.57] Journal (of the L & C expedition), and Maurice owning James’s Three Years Among the Indians and Mexicans, Luttig’s Journal of a Fur Trading Expedition, James Clyman, and Chittenden’s Am. Fur Trade. You see, we can write a lot of history out of this group of books.
The file that Mother shipped here contains practically everything of importance of my MS materials except the stuff that you had. I had asked Mother to enclose that if there was room, but quite evidently there was not, and I shall have to have her make a supplementary shipment. I have had some trouble discussing this point with her because I don’t know precisely what it was that you did return, and Mother is not clear in her mind as to what she did with the stuff you brought back. You didn’t tell me whether you ever received those photographs I mailed you from the train, going east, but I assume that you had them. To judge from the files I now have here, and my recollection of what I left with you, you had all my Journal History notes up to 1845, plus the folders for 1849 and 1850, and also the journal of Priddy Meeks. Whether you had other MS stuff I don’t know. Some of the books you had have already been sent on to me, notably the Journal of Discourses. One book I lent you, Mrs. Waite’s Mormon Prophet and His Harem, Mother was not able to find when she shipped me some of my books two months or so ago, but I asked her to search again before I queried you. I am going to have her send me the rest of the Mormon books I require to write about Mormon history, so that I will have all the stuff here. If any of the stuff you had should not turn up at my place, there would be some presumption that it might have got mixed up with your own stuff when you stored your books and notes and the like. I bring up the point now, because if we get these things all straightened out at this time and know where we stand, when I come West for you I can, if necessary, stop off in Ogden and dig out any stuff of yours that you are likely to be in need of after you get here, or any stuff of mine that might have got mixed up therein. At all events, I will discuss this with you when Mother has made her search and sent off her final shipment to me.
1. Madeline Reeder McQuown and Morgan had a complex thirty-five year relationship, during which time a rich and lively correspondence was generated. Although she destroyed some of his letters before her death, her papers at the University of Utah’s Marriott Library, Special Collections division, contain many letters both to and from Morgan (though occasionally some portions have been excised). Her papers also include the first four chapters and first appendix to Morgan’s unfinished Mormon history, her unpublished biography of Brigham Young, and a novelized account of her relationship with Morgan.”
9. To Madeline McQuown
10 July 1944
[p.58][The preceding pages are missing.]
Here it is Monday morning, and since I began this letter I have picked up what I hope will turn brown into a tan, but which might just as easily turn into a peeling party. The last few Sundays I have taken off my shirt and moved out to the “sun beach” at the side of the apartment. Yesterday I thought I could take two hours in the sun, but the fact is not yet demonstrated. I am more red than brown to this point. Sunday is the only time I can get into the sun, really, so soaking up the sunshine presents some difficulties.
Saturday morning I had to stop in at the post office to pick up two of my books [Maurice] Howe had mailed back to me, and on passing my laundry I was shocked to see that the populace was warned to pick up its laundry by July 8, on account [of the proprietor having been] “DRAFTED.” At that moment I had approximately 7 cents in my pocket—I had intended picking up the laundry today, which was payday. But stern measures obviously were demanded. So at the office I extracted $5 from a person of temporary wealth, and got out to Rosslyn just in time to meet the Chinese fellow walking down the street from his place. He turned around and went back with me and so I am again in possession of my linens. All my sheets but two, and all my towels but two were at the laundry, so you can see the crisis that confronted me. It was just plain luck I happened to pass the laundry that morning, as customarily in going to and from the streetcar terminal I take another course which perhaps saves a hundred yards or two of walking. Today’s check will go rapidly to hell, but it is some comfort to get all my obligations under the hatches, and after the end of this month I should not only be able to help you constructively (aside from the minimum sums I have been sending you) but to put together a bank balance of more satisfying proportions than I have had so far this year.
During these sunning periods I have put on my dark glasses and occupied myself in going through [Bernard] DeVoto’s Year of Decision critically, by way of making it more factually water-tight and thus more useful; I finished the job yesterday. Since I have been working intermittently at this, it is interesting to have you discuss [p.59] him as a historian in your letter. Although a memory is an important adjunct for anyone who works with history, I don’t think it is by any means the prime prerequisite for a historian. I have reflected upon DeVoto as a historian, and I should say that his weaknesses are part and parcel of his strength. His characteristic errors are not the errors in which memory itself is much of a factor. Rather, they come through the tendency he has for sweeping generalizations and striking literary effect. These of course are the things that make his writing most challenging and alive; his mind sweeps broadly so that he puts large facts together in interesting new ways, flavored by allusion and language. But in putting his facts together in this way, frequently he subjects his details to a pressure of distortion. You have to take the bad with the good in his historical writing—and I for one will take it.
The allusion in [Wallace] Stegner’s letter I did not take seriously. He was either flattering me more or less, or having himself a good-natured dig at my proclivity for pointing out errors of detail in other guys’ writing. (For instance, when I wrote him some months back congratulating him on the fine job he did with his novel, I mentioned a very few details that were out of line—speaking of the “continental divide” at Brighton in Big Cottonwood Canyon, “Brigham City High” instead of “Box Elder High,” and one or two others.) I don’t know precisely what he has in mind, but the other day I stumbled over a piece he wrote on Boston which perhaps indicates his method of approach—if so, he might do an interesting job. I’ll try to collar this issue of the Atlantic Monthly from the magazine editor’s desk here, and send it along to you. Iffen I do, take note of the remarks on fish cookery in the end pages. In fact, tear ’em out and save ’em!
At this point interruption seized me in its iron grasp, and I resume next morning. Even 18 hours later I still love you! I’m sure you will be pleased with this tidbit of information.
I’d enjoy gossiping about some more of the people around here this morning, but with some jobs I have to do, I’d better not, for this time.
We are promised a really scorching day today, with very high humidity and temperatures up to 95 (it got to 91 yesterday). The humidity has turned up, all right, but so far the sky is overcast, and if it stays that way all day, nobody around here will be heard groaning. Darling, you ought to make your way here. You could get all the sunshine you are not getting in California. In fact, there are two stretches of lawn around the group of apartments which are a virtual sun beach. I don’t know how it is on weekdays, not being around, but on Sundays there are always two or three people at a time soaking up the sun on one side or the other. The lawn is fresh and green and pleasant, the location, while not board-fenced, is not out in the middle of the street, and in other respects one may pick up a respectable tan there—if he is around when the sun is giving off the means of a tan.
[p.60] Well, why not make your way here? Returning to our subject of yesterday, suppose you name a date when you will leave San Francisco, and I will lay out an itinerary, etc., for you. Put up or shut up, darling!
With your letter Monday came one from Juanita Brooks. A while back I learned that the original transcripts of the [John D.] Lee trials were in the Huntington Library. I wrote Juanita Brooks about it, and she wrote them. They had a copy of her little biography of her grandfather, Dudley Leavitt, and were cordial, being particularly interested in what she had said about having been interested in collecting diaries, and so on. Well, on the 10th she went to Los Angeles for the dual purpose of visiting with her brother’s family and of looking things over at Huntington. In both respects, she had a very satisfying time. You know, a while back the Rockefeller foundation made a series of regional grits, about $50,000 each, for research projects in American history. The Huntington Library is the administrator of the Southwestern grant, and they are interested in a program of gathering Mormon diaries, among other things. They intimated as much to Juanita before she went there. I told her I was both in favor and against the idea—that is, one can only look with favor on a collecting program designed to preserve materials for history—but one cannot look with such favor on a program by which the State of Utah will be looted of its historical treasures for an out-of-state institution. Juanita told them she could not be enthusiastic about collecting originals for them, except when they were not being taken care of properly, or when the others were poor and need to sell. The upshot is that they will be fully satisfied with photostating the journals; and accordingly Juanita is to be given $50 a month plus traveling expenses, postage, and other incidental expenses, for a new collecting program. The arrangement has to be okayed by the Board of Directors, but Dr. [Robert G.] Cleland told Juanita he presumed they would accept his recommendation. So this is to my mind a perfect arrangement, from which history can only be the gainer. Huntington does not, so Juanita reports, have a very extensive collection of Mormon manuscript material right now—she sends me notes on what they do have. But in future something should result from Juanita’s efforts—and nobody is better equipped to find stuff. Besides, photostats are much more satisfactory than typed copies. So I am in a mood to say hooray!
Juanita has also ordered a microfilm of the Lee trial testimony—something like 900 pages for the two trials. Between us, Juanita and I will soon have everything available on the M[outain] M[eadows] M[assacre]. We have been putting all our findings into a mutual pool, and both of us have contributed material of high value.
I’ve been sitting here reading and rereading the two poems. I hope you will send me all the poems you write. They give me a special insight into you I obtain in no other way, and they are a way of enjoying you, deep down inside where you live most vitally. I’ve already said that I particularly like the one called “June 7.” I like the [p.61] original version of the poem, but it did occur to me in time that it possibly was subjective in some ways, and it might mean more to me and to you than to one who knew nothing of the Wasatch and the desert country. The poem now written strikes fire in a great many more recesses of the heart, perhaps; you have expanded the experience to a more universal level. All this apart from the almost shattering force of the title and all it implies for all that you say.
In the other poem, is the parenthesis around “in place” intended for a deletion of those words? I like the poem better without them.
Now, at this late stage of my letter, I actually take up your letter. With all my heart I hope you got away to the Sacramento Valley and that you had a thoroughly enjoyable little vacation from San Francisco. There must be another one in the Santa Cruz Mountains even if the one in the Sacramento Valley went as planned. I like to think of you enjoying yourself. I prefer to think of you enjoying yourself with me, but as next best, I like to think of you enjoying yourself anywhere at all.
I am most interested, too, in what you tell me about this woman endocrinologist, and I hope she really is right in thinking she knows what your endocrine upset has been. Good luck to us!
About the [Brigham] Young biography, I think you are wrong in imagining that the sample chapters must be the opening chapters. The chapters that you have written would, indeed, be much more to the point—because they are chapters from a significant period of his life, and the earlier years were not really his most significant years. I think you ought to have as many as five or six chapters altogether, to show a substantial bulk of writing already done, and to illustrate your method, but these need not necessarily be consecutive chapters. An outline of what you propose to do, and some indication of how your chapters fit into the whole, is all you will require.
You might send along those novels at your convenience, but make sure it is at your convenience, and forget about the Lauritzen book if it is in Utah.
[The remainder of this page has been torn away. The next page begins:]
The enclosed note from Stegner might interest you. He wrote me a week or so ago asking advice about a picture story on the Mormons for Look [magazine]—he is doing a larger story on the problems of minorities, racial and otherwise, and thought he would like to pull in the Mormons as an example of a problem which has been largely dissipated by the force of history. I interpreted his letter to mean that he was doing a primarily West Coast job, and therefore recommended San Bernardino rather than a Utah town; or if he felt the need of a Utah locale, maybe Beaver would be a good bet because of the background of Mormon-Gentile conflict there (it was headquarters for the southern Utah polygamy prosecutions, locale of the Lee trials, etc). From this second letter it would appear he has [p.62] something larger in view, a national approach to a problem, and I should judge that the Look angle is only incidental and that he means to have a book out of it.
P.S. On second thought, I’m enclosing my key to Mother’s place…
[The remainder of this page has been torn away.]
10. To Juanita Brooks
25 July 1944
At the moment this is the only paper I have around, and this is a good moment for writing you a note, so let’s let it go at that.
I much enjoy the deteriorating effect I have on your character. If it is any comfort to you, yours is not the only integrity I undermine. The other day one of my friends remarked that he was a little leafy of something he’d been doing—”for Gossakes,” he said, “remember—” By which he meant that a few ill- or well chosen words could do him great quantities of no good at all. I told him, of course, that I was a walking cemetery, and his grave should be held undisturbed like all the others I carry around in me. So the same thing can apply to yours. I’ll discuss these [John D. Lee] journals with you presently; but for right now all I’ll say is I’m damned glad they exist, and I only hope that others are to be found. I have an idea that no personal journal by him will ever be found for the period between December, 1850, and about July, 1851, because he kept the official journal of the Iron County Mission during that period, and I should imagine that satisfied his journal-keeping proclivities. I have all the excerpts from this record that were copied into the Journal History, incidently. Did Huntington give you any reason to think that they might be able to lay hands on others of his journals? I hope so, for heaven’s sake. When you look in on them again, ask them to put my name on the subscription list for their publication of the journals. You needn’t tell them I know about them—just tell them I have a standing order [p.63] for every Mormon journal that is published by anyone. Incidently, I think they would be smart to hire you to edit the journals. With the possible exception of [Charles] Kelly, you know more about his life than anyone else, I’m willing to bet.
The mircrofilms of the Lee trials arrived Thursday night, and the upshot was that willy-nilly I immediately squeezed out of this month’s budget $5.50 for a “viewer.” It is a very simple device, consisting of a lens set in an adjustable cylinder a couple of inches long, with a slide arrangement at the back through which the microfilm can be drawn—like looking into a very short telescope. It doesn’t “lift” the microfilm very far, but it does lift it into readability, and at the cost of a certain amount of eye-strain, one could go through the entire microfilm with the use of this “viewer” alone. But I have been contemplating this device, and it seems to me that it should be possible to use it as a projector. That is, by shining a strong light back of the film, it should be possible to use the lens to project an enlarged version of the film on a screen or something. I have made some (as yet unsatisfactory) experiments with a flashlight, but I mean to mess around further and see what I can do with this lens. It will be far easier to use microfilms with this device if it can be made to enlarge them further. I’ll report in due time. Meanwhile you can rest assured that we have already a means of using these microfilms, if something still better cannot be figured out.
One by-product of my getting this “Viewer” is that I am now going to go ahead and write the Danite1 piece. Up till now I have been stymied by two things—I haven’t had my files here, and I had no means of getting at two microfilms I possessed, bearing on the Missouri phase. But my files have been at hand since early last month, and on Sunday I used this Viewer to extract from the two microfilms the information I needed. So as rapidly as time will permit, I shall now write the piece. I’m going to see if the Pacific Historical Review will publish it.
As a dividend to you on the arrival of my files, I enclose an excerpt in regard to [Jacob] Hamblin and another in regard to Indian wives. The latter is interesting when read in conjunction with Hosea Stout’s journal entry, because this lecture to the Green River Saints was delivered some months before Stout appeared on the scene, and it is evident from what Stout tells us that the good humor, if not even the ribaldry, of the men was far from subdued by Nebeker’s lecture! I do not remember clearly, but isn’t this journal entry one of the very earliest of all the entries evidencing a policy of taking Indian wives? This mission to the Shoshones antedates by some months the organization of the Southern Indian mission.
What you’re suffering from right now, in the case of your book, is a characteristic case of “authoritis.” I have experienced the disease myself from time to time and recognize all the symptoms. Personally, I am expecting from day to day to hear that you have been given the award you are after, though as I have observed to you, I always admit the capacity for people’s going haywire, and there is [p.64] always the chance that H[oughton]-M[iflin] will get smart on you. But when and if that happens, all you have to do is send your MS to me, because I have appointed myself your authorized agent in all contingencies except a straight award by H-M. I have a place on my bookshelf already reserved for Quicksand and Cactus, and it is only a question of time until the space is filled.
While I think about it, I want to ask you a question. What is Salt Lake City characteristically called by the Mormon outlanders? One of my friends once wrote a story in which a character, a farmer, called it “The Lake.” I have wondered whether that name was peculiar to the section he was writing about, or whether it was generally used. The reason I ask is that I am going to write a piece on Salt Lake City for the Rocky Mountain Review, probably their autumn number. They are inaugurating a series called “Rocky Mountain Cities,” and plan to publish an article on the major city in each of the Rocky Mountain states. Since I have various ideas about S[alt] L[ake] C[ity] I never could write into a W[orks] P[rogress] A[dministration] production a completely personal point of view; in other words, I was pleased to be asked to do the Salt Lake City piece. But I would like this item of imformation on Salt Lake City as viewed from the outside. My own point of view has been largely internal, of course.
In a day or so I shall send you something that will interest you-to wit, the rest of Gunnison’s journal. Just when I thought I had finished with the Stansbury journals, I found a homeward-bound journal by Gunnison which I had taken to be only a field-book. I expect to finish copying it at National Archives today, and after a spell of proof-reading, I will send you a copy to supplement what I sent you before—the entries run to November 30, 1850, by which time he was on a river steamer heading up the Ohio. There is not so much information about the Mormons in this, but while homeward bound he was told by one fellow who had boarded with Lyman that Amasa Lyman had six wives, all of whom were “profane swearers,” and a juicy item of gossip is thrown in for good measure.
You speak of going back to Huntington August 2. I hope that all arrangements have been cleared with respect to the Rockefeller grant, and also that they are paying your expenses there! Such details are always helpful. If by any chance you should have the time while there, I’d appreciate your having a closer look at the [Oliver] Cowdery docket book, particularly for 1837, to see whether it does contain anything of importance for Mormon history during that period of violent upset in Kirtland [Ohio]. Fawn [Brodie], by the way, is off to New England with her husband and her youngster for a two-week vacation. She always gets worried when she goes off somewhere with her husband, because, as she says, she has such a vested interest in her book that she couldn’t stand not having it published. So, against the contingency that a truck might run them down, she dropped me a note before leaving vesting in me all rights and whatnot in her MS and notes “just in case.” Fire also troubles her, but she is able to safeguard against that somewhat by keeping a carbon copy [p.65] of her MS in her husband’s desk in the Navy building. I know somewhat how she feels. I drew up a formal will a year ago to insure that my papers would not just be sold for waste paper in case I slipped in getting out of the bathtub some day. Fawn ordered a microfilm of the miscellaneous Cowdery letters, but they had not arrived up to the time she left, a week ago today.
I expect to go over to N.Y. to see my mother and sister between August 10 and 15, and will also spend some of that time at the N[ew] Y[ork] P[ublic] L[ibrary]. If anything occurs to you that you’d like looked into while I’m there, speak up and I’ll attend to it.
Your tale of Dixie [i.e., southern Utah] puts me in mind of what Orson Huntsman once wrote, that he “believed Dixie was close to hell, for it was the hottest place I ever was in.” Not that it will be any comfort to you, you can be glad you have only the heat and not the humidity. It is my experience that Utah’s dry-kiln variety of heat is greatly to be preferred to the steam pressure-chamber they have in this section of the country. But this year to date has not been so bad as last year.
* * * One of the secretaries here, a young Negro wife, just walked down the aisle. She is in a state of extreme expectation, if you know what I mean. I don’t know what she expects, but personally I am expecting the child to arrive almost any hour now.
This reminds me of a story I heard yesterday which in a way is a small cross-section of a world. Naomi Peres, one of my associates here, was telling me about the janitor and wife in the apartment building where she and her husband live. This couple, who are just “ordinary colored folks,” acquired a baby about three months ago. Naomi just learned the details in the last couple of weeks, when the woman came up to do some ironing for her to enable her to get away on a vacation. The woman said that God had sent the child to her, which sounded rather odd until she explained. In the spring she was riding on the streetcar one day when she saw a young colored girl, about 18, on the seat ahead carrying a baby boy about 10 months old. The baby was rather dirty, and it was plain that the girl was very poor. The woman began to talk to the baby as women do, and then she began to talk to the girl who, it developed, had reached so desperate a point that she was almost in a mood to kill the child to get rid of it. She was not married, and the child’s father was overseas. With this baby to take care of, she couldn’t hold down a job, find a decent place to stay, or anything else; it was a millstone around her neck. The janitor’s wife said, “Don’t you dare harm this little baby! If you can’t take care of him, give him to someone.” “You take him, then,” the girl said. The woman gasped, then said, “You can’t do just like that. Come to my place and talk to my husband and me and see what you want to do.” So the girl came with her and they talked it over, then she said to the girl, “You don’t want to do anything in a hurry that you’ll regret. So you think it all over for a week or two, and then if you still want me to have the baby, you come back with him.” So the girl went off. And the woman told Naomi that she [p.66] prayed to God every night that the girl would decide to give her the baby. Finally she did come back. The woman said, “But don’t you want to investigate us or something?” The girl shook her head, and said she could see from their place and how they acted the kind of people they were. So she went off and left her child behind, and now this couple has a baby of its own. Naomi asked about a formal adoption, since they might grow to love the baby and then the mother might come and demand him back; the woman said they would manage that when they could get $25 to pay a lawyer to fix up the papers. And now the woman says she prays that sometime they can get $180 to pay for an operation on her so she can bear a little sister for the boy. She is 38 years old, so let us hope she is able to raise that money before very long.
It appears that at first the woman’s husband, and all the in-laws, were very much set against the idea. But she brought her husband around to at least a neutral point of view at the time the girl brought the baby back, and now, Naomi says, the fellow is even crazier about this baby, now 13 months old, than his wife is. An enormous, sober-looking fellow over six-feet tall, he goes everywhere, the baby’s hand in his toddling along by his side! All the relatives have now fallen in love with the child in the same way.
There is something deeply pathetic, and also something rather heartwarming, about this story. It is the kind of stow that must be duplicated many times over in the submerged part of the population.
And this story puts me in mind of an observation Darel McConkey made to my mother last summer. “There’s nothing cuter than a colored baby,” he said, “—except mine!”
1. The Danites were a secret fraternity of vigilante Mormons organized in 1838 in Far West, Missouri. Reportedly, their purpose was to “waste away the Gentiles [i.e., non-Mormons] by robbing and plundering them.” The “Danite piece” Morgan refers to has never been published, and may be among his uncatalogued papers at the Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California.
11. To Fawn Brodie
28 August 1944
For a week I’ve done practically nothing in my spare time but read in your manuscript [No Man Knows My History]. It has been thoroughly engrossing. I picked up your MS after you left last Monday, and only put it down at 2 a.m. because I was supposed to show up at the office [the] next day and have to be my own alarm clock. Since then I have read it on the streetcar going to and from work, at lunch, after hours, etc., etc. To a considerable extent I have marked up the manuscript, but I think it would also be well to summarize for you some of my reactions.
In the first place, I think the book is downright fascinating. It is fascinating to me, a specialist, and I think it will be to the general reader. The research is wide and deep without being ostentatious; the prose is clean and on the whole admirably muscular; it is frequently full of stimulating ideas, and at all times it moves rapidly. These add up to notable virtues indeed.
When I first saw your MS, my reaction was that you had a history of Joseph’s life, not a biography. In the job of rewriting, you have dealt effectively with that criticism. The same chapters have now become a biography. Joseph dominates them in a way he did not before; and they illuminate his life—a personality emerges from the history. I feel that right up to the end of the Missouri chapters, you are clearly master of your material. You write with insight and understanding, not to say with much practical shrewdness and deftness. The only really grave defect in the first 25 chapters is the handling of the Nauvoo material. I am frank to say that I think more work is required of you here.
I have written on the manuscript itself some of my reactions and suggestions with respect to this part of the book, but I’ll restate my ideas in general terms. I, at least, got the impression from the Nauvoo chapters that you were no longer in command of your material, as you clearly were in the earlier parts of the book. You have done precision jobs on some aspects of the Nauvoo history, very fine segments, considered in isolation. But they stand in isolation; they don’t build together into a larger coherence. On thinking it over, I [p.68] believe that the greatest part of your trouble is that (a) you have not made the necessary final analysis of [Joseph] Smith’s character which will at once explain and be explained by the events you narrate; (b) the manner in which you have chopped up the [John C.] Bennett material seriously disorganizes the narrative; and (c) the amount of space you give to polygamy sets up strains of disproportion—that is, while all this material should be retained, as it is of greatest importance and significance, it was not of such critical significance to the outward course of his life as other actions and events of the period, and when you have subtracted the inner life (polygamy), you do not have a sufficient skeleton to support the body of your narrative. I very much think that you must expand your discussion of the situation in Illinois and Nauvoo, the pattern of outward event and motivation. Also I think this discussion will have more weight when you have done what I regard as still more essential, written a chapter of analysis of Smith’s character.
It may be that you have proposed such an examination of him for one of the last chapters, which I have not seen yet. But if so, I recommend that you incorporate the body of such material into the earlier time scheme. Because an understanding of Smith’s character in all its final complexity is essential to the reader’s understanding of the final events of his life; a post mortem simply won’t do.
This chapter I speak of is essential for your sake as well as the reader’s. I don’t get the impression that you have been willing to make a final evaluation of Smith’s character, and in consequence there is a certain tentativeness or unwillingness to what you have to say about him through the Nauvoo era. You put forward the facts, but I get the impression that you don’t throw your weight behind them. And, moreover, this gives an illusory aspect of simplicity to the final years of Joseph’s life. I am firmly of the opinion that he was not in the least a simple personality at the time of his death. I agree with you that he was perfectly sane, and you have hit exactly upon my own point of view, that his career in major degree is best interpreted as an astonishing reflection of the Jacksonian upsurge of the common man; he was perfectly the expression of the zeitgeist. But at the same time he was definitely not a simple personality. This rich complexity remains to be built into his portrait for the Nauvoo era. And one element you must also get into this is the extraordinary magnetism he had for his followers. You have not yet exactly explained this. He gave them something they never got from anyone else; he left an indelible impress upon their minds, and they gave him a love they never have given anyone else. The martyrdom was a factor in this, of course, because it sanctified all they felt about him. But Joseph owes his semi-deification today quite as much to the quality in him which gave his people a renewed and enriched sense of their own life and of the meaning of life. This quality, living on, has tended to cancel out of history and legend certain elements of the profoundly human, even the earthiness that also made them enjoy him while he lived—and which also, perhaps, served in its [p.69] time to heighten his meaning for them (he lived more intensely than they, and they found a vicarious satisfaction in this aliveness, which empathically enlivened their own existences).
I have also a general criticism of your book, to which I think you would do well to give careful attention before publishing it. It is one of the strengths as well as one of the weaknesses of your book that you have not hesitated to come to bold judgments on the basis of assumptions. Sometimes these come off astonishingly, and are bound to be fruitful in further thinking about Joseph and the Mormons. But also, sometimes, they leave you out on limbs. A few such cases I have pointed out, in the course of marking up the MS. But I seriously advise you to go carefully over your entire book and make a final evaluation of all such judgments before you publish it.
The point is, by their very boldness, these generalizations expose you to attack as you are exposed in no other way. Mormons who don’t like your book, and there are bound to be many, are going to go over it with a fine-tooth comb looking for ways to discredit you. And if you have been rash and have left yourself wide open in some ways, they are going to jump all over you. The psychology is simple—if they can prove or seem to prove that your mind goes haywire on certain matters, even if these are matters unrelated to the large issues of your book, then they can cast doubt on your mental processes in arriving at judgments in other areas of the book, areas where they cannot question the facts themselves. Many Mormons are likely to be discomfited by what you have to say concerning the origins of the Book of Mormon and of polygamy, so you had better take measures to protect yourself from counterassaults while you still have time. Let me give you an example. After [Vardis] Fisher’s  novel [The Children of God] came out—and this was merely a novel, mind you—an astonishing number of Mormons took comfort in pointing out Fisher’s error in stating that the company brought to America by Lehi was a part of the lost tribes.1 The fact that this was an utterly irrelevant element of Fisher’s larger story made no difference at all. (“Oh, it’s full of errors. Why, Fisher is so uninformed about Mormon history that he even thinks the Nephites and Lamanites descended from the Lost Tribes.”) In other words, the error was a starting point for rationalization.
As history, rather than as fiction, your book is likely to be subjected to an examination far more intensive. And nowhere will you be more vulnerable, in the light of such fault-finding, than in the area of generalizations. Because your generalizations about Smith’s character and related matters are of key importance to your book. Without a minute study of the book in relation to its sources, a job I have not been able to attempt, I cannot say where your generalizations are abundantly supported in fact and where they represent, to a degree, your own intuitions. But you should have some inner knowledge on this point, and on reviewing your MS, you should know where it would be wise of you to make a final check on your sources and see whether your statements are too fiat and positive in the light [p.70] of the facts that are available to you. Many of your judgments you can set forward tentatively, after the fashion I have indicated in some places. But it is highly important that you should not talk like God on insubstantial foundations.
The Mormons themselves are not likely to challenge you on the point, but I would suggest that you carefully re-evaluate what you have to say about [Sidney] Rigdon, especially from the time of the break-up at Kirtland. Your judgment is that he was finally crushed as a personality in Missouri and was never significant thereafter. But this, I think, goes too far. I have begun to think that much requires to be explained about Rigdon during the Nauvoo period. What, for example, are we to make of that entry in the first week of January, 1841, that he had been ordained a “prophet, seer, and revelator to the Church”? This is damned near inexplicable, Joseph being what he was. Rigdon, you know, after Joseph’s death brought forth a revelation of January 7, 1841, which he claimed as a basis of legitimacy in the church he established. I have not examined this revelation in the Messenger and Advocate (at [the] L[ibrary of]. C[ongress].) yet, but I find it coincidental, to say the least, that this claimed revelation should be dated only a few days after the entry in the official History of the Church to which I refer above. I mean to look into this matter presently—and maybe you would do well to look into it youself before too readily or too cavalierly disposing of Rigdon in your book. I gain the impression that you arrive at other flat judgments about Rigdon which one day you may regret as overstatements, hence I would advise reviewing all you have to say about him while the opportunity is still fluid.
I suggest too that somewhere, in discussing Brigham Young, you stick in a few words about the profound impression Joseph made on Brigham. About all you have to say now is that Brigham recognized that there was something in Joseph that made him the better man. Joseph made an imperishable impression upon Brigham, and Brigham is said to have died with Joseph’s name on his lips—you would do well to make the reader understand why.
As a matter of personal taste, I would suggest that you write out all abbreviations of months and names; it looks more graceful in print. I think your footnoting system, or method of citation, can be worked out more satisfactorily and in condensed fashion, but I will reserve specific recommendations here until I have learned what you plan in the way of a bibliography.
You will observe that, however regrettably, I have recommended expansion rather than cutting in my general approach to the book. But I have also indicated, in ma[r]king up the MS, a kind of interior cutting which you might well utilize in going over your manuscript prior to typing the draft for Knopf. This, in a far greater degree, was the sort of job I did on the Humboldt [book], when I found I had to cut 40,000 words from it without impairing its substance. I sweat blood on that job, and there was no word published in my book which had not been individually weighed in my mind for its [p.71] necessity; but when I got through I felt much better about the prose; it had become incomparably leaner and more muscular—all the fatty tissue that had vaguely bothered me before was missing. So if you feel the need to cut, I would suggest going over your MS in ways I have indicated, to see whether you can say the same thing as effectively (or more effectively) in fewer words.
You will appreciate that all my annotations are suggestive only. Another person may contribute ideas of value, but when it comes right down to it, the author must fashion his book according to his own conception of interior necessity.
12. To Madeline McQuown
8 December 1944
It won’t be news to you that I have had damned little news from you for too long a time. Your last letter was dated the 25th, and 13 days later the only assurance I have about you is a package I obtained from the P.O. this morning, which is dated the 28th. I shall place this package “on file” till further instructions are received from you. But I can tell you, I should much rather have had a nice, warm (if not fat) letter from you than whatever this “fragile” package may prove to contain. I want to know that you are feeling better and not monkeying around with carbon monoxide any more,1 and otherwise living a righteous life…and thinking of me once in a while.
It’s a gloomy sort of day here today, dripping rain and mist all over the town. It has been fairly cold for a week past—25-32 minimums—but has gradually warmed up, only to cloud up and start drizzling. A hell of a note. I like my warmth and my sunshine both at the same time.
I was over to see Fawn [Brodie] last night. She has embarked upon having a new baby, and since the early stages always get her down, she won’t be feeling up to snuff till after Christmas. The new arrival is scheduled for next June. I joked with her about whether [p.72] she had books between babies or babies between books. She says babies come along faster than books—her first took her six years—but even so, the scheduling could be improved.
She has not yet received her manuscript back from [M. Wilford] Poulson at B[righam] Y[oung] U[university] or from [Milo M.] Quaife, but has reports from both. The Quaife one was amusing because it was what you would term a favorable book review rather than a specialist’s report on a manuscript. In sending Fawn the report, [Alfred] Knopf also summed up his irate reply to Quaife. He said they didn’t have to be told it was a serious job, well done, etc., etc.—they knew that already. What they wanted from him was consideration in detail as to the proportions of the parts, treatment, etc!
At BYU Poulson wrote Fawn a curious reaction. His approval was grudging and tentative, and yet he seemed to have no major quarrels with the book. His criticism was almost entirely criticism in detail, and bibliographical suggestion. His letters which Fawn showed me rather made me wonder about him. His being a BYU professor, even if of psychology, automatically bespeaks a certain orthodoxy in him, but I was interested to see him speak of “our group,” and “we,”—placing himself squarely within the church—inasmuch as in my own conversations with him he had not committed himself personally one way or the other. This being so, it seems odd that he did not express himself from the larger philosophical point of view, taking issue with Fawn on certain of her conclusions. From an earnest Mormon, I expected such difference of opinion, and in fact recommended to Fawn when I read her MS that if Poulson did not give her such a reaction, she ought to get one from some person like Juanita Brooks, as I warned her my point of view was much the same as hers, and I would tend to be uncritical from certain bases of assumption just as she would, so that for a mature book, she ought to have the rounded thinking that would come from an independent Mormon’s point of view.
Fawn is looking around for a subject for a new book. She doesn’t know what she wants to do next, except that it must not be about the Mormons. I suggested the possibility of a study of the Grant administration after the Civil War, and its impact upon American life, political, social, and economic, with special reference to the kind of baronial finance that got its start then, and to the unfortunate handling of the South, which has left a scar upon American life to this day. I thought there were contemporary parallels which would give such a book impact and importance. Fawn was interested, but a little appalled at the formidable nature of the undertaking.
The Great Salt Lake book is still in stasis, pending word from Stanley Rinehart as to the contractual angle. Therefore the Guggenheim idea is still in stasis also, as I am sitting tight there until I see what bearing the Quaife proposal may have on my application.
At [the National] Archives I continue slowly plowing my way through Vol. 1 of the Utah Territorial Records. I’ve not quite [p.73] reached the half-way mark in the first of the two volumes. There is an incredible amount of 1858-59 material—most of the first volume is composed of documents dating from those years, while the second volume covers the 14 years from 1860 to 1873. I enclose a carbon copy of the last document I copied, an extra specimen copy I made for your benefit. It is not in itself particularly important, but it offers some insight into the viewpoint of Brocchus and how his mind worked, and also locates him seven years after the big fuss. The printed document is really of more historical importance, but at Archives I am restricting myself to MS material. Printed stuff can be picked up later—and elsewhere, if necessary—at my leisure.
And here and now, while I happen to think about it, let me add a postscript to my recent discussion of your Ely story. I recommended, if you will recall, that the scene of the three men riding out on the desert be recast to present it from Joe’s point of view. But I meant to discuss one of the angles involved, to which I devoted some thought at the time. In a word, the story would be more coherent and more compact, and you would get away from a tendency toward loose ends that the story displays, and for these reasons I am inclined to think you should follow my suggestions. But on the other side, there is to be said that the story is given greater depth, and a larger sense of dimension, through borrowing the Englishman’s mind to experience the desert with. It may be argued whether the story is not made a little too craftsmanlike, too neatly tailored at the edges, and therefore a little too artificial or formular in acting upon my suggestion. I could see two sides to this. But still I felt that the scene as it stood pulled more out of the story than it put into it. I don’t think this is a purely personal reaction. Maybe you could incorporate the substance of that scene, retaining the Englishman’s viewpoint, and still attain a firmer texture if you looked into the man’s mind more consistently in other parts of the story.
So much for Dr. Morgan, the well-known authority on the short story. This charge is rendered without service.
Damn it, why aren’t you somewhere around, so I can buy a flower for you when the fancy takes me—or even grow one for you that we can enjoy together? Give me a good answer, if you can.