Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism
John Phillip Walker, editor

The Letters

[p.23]Dale Morgan cultivated a voluminous correspondence during his brief life. Confined to a world of silence, his articulate letters became his major means of communicating with those around him. They were, for him, an essential part of his personality and are thus filled with the stuff of human relationships: wit, gossip, advice, criticism, elation, dejection, humor, consolation, encouragement, and, above all, warmth. One cannot read them without experiencing a renewed sense of humanity. Few men or women are as exposed and vulnerable in their personal correspondence as is Morgan. But, as Morgan himself would probably have been quick to add, few men and women have been as accessible.

The following fifty letters chosen for inclusion were written over a period of nearly thirty years, from 1942 to 1970. They were selected from approximately three hundred available letters dealing more or less with Mormon themes. The total number of Morgan letters is difficult to determine, but it may be safely assumed that they number in the thousands. Because Morgan’s papers, housed at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California, have not been processed, the majority of letters included here are more easily located in the various archives housing the papers of Morgan’s correspondents: the Utah State Historical Society for the letters to Juanita Brooks, Stanley Ivins, Marguerite Sinclair, and Elizabeth Lauchnor; and the University of Utah Marriott Library, Special Collections division, for the letters to Fawn Brodie, Joseph Anderson, S. A. Burgess, Francis W. Kirkham, John Selby, Wesley P. Walters, Bernard DeVoto, and Madeline McQuown.

The task of determining which letters to reprint verbatim was difficult. Generally, the following three criteria were used in efforts to simplify the problem: letters which provide autobiographical details, letters which offer insights into Morgan’s approach to Mormon historiography and methodology, and letters which contain information regarding his unfinished history, “The Mormons.”

In editing the letters for publication, the bulk of which are typewritten copies, obvious errors, including Morgan’s rare misspellings and grammatical mistakes, have been corrected. Morgan tended not to underline magazine and book titles, and was sometimes inconsistent regarding capitalization, especially with words such as “church,” “president,” “apostle,” “mother,” “ms,” and “mss.” In [p.24] these instances, no attempt at standardization has been made. The parentheses and ellipses are Morgan’s, but the brackets have been added to supply necessary clarification where needed without distracting the reader by referring him or her to a footnote. Where more information may be required by the reader, footnotes are supplied following the letter to which they refer. What follows then is, as far as it is possible to convey from original to printed page, what Dale Morgan felt, believed, and wrote.

1. To Juanita Brooks1

Salt Lake City, Utah
12 April 1942

Dear Juanita,

This is my sixth letter this afternoon, after which my correspondence will be fairly well caught up; as yours is latest in point of time, it becomes last answered.

It is refreshing to have your letters. I often gallop at so frantic a pace that the world gets to spinning pretty furiously, and your good common sense and urbane view of the world is a tonic, even when this tonic is far from refreshing to you personally. (It is curious, the effect we can have on people independent of the effect we are having on ourselves.)

It was nice having you down here, but there certainly was little enough leisure to enjoy life with you. I wanted to break a few trails for you, so to speak, which you could tread with some assurance when opportunity offered; I probably was not overwhelmingly successful in that, except that you will know where to lay hands on things when you want them, I think. The only other places you really need to know about are the Tribune-Telegram library, on the third floor of the T-T building, the U[niversity] of U[tah] library (for some of its theses only) on the U campus, and the [LDS2] Genealogical Society library, about which I know nothing much myself yet, but will in due course, as one of my research workers is a genealogist in good standing, to say the least.

I am rather amused, in a way, by a sort of misconception of me that you evidence in talking about my “unselfishness.” It is far from being as simple as that, though I can see how you look at it. You see, Juanita, in a purely practical sense, I get as much out of everything I do as anybody who partially or wholly shares in this action. For the last several years I have been soaking up everything about the Mormons I could find. Nothing was without significance. Any problem existing for anybody, in Mormon research, was a problem also for me. These people (and I have encountered an exceedingly diverse group—a folklorist in Los Angeles, a novelist in Terra Haute, a highway employee interested in Nevada trails in Carson City, Wallace Stegner3 in Cambridge, Bernard DeVoto4 in the same place, etc., etc.) with whom I come in contact supply me with provocative [p.26] viewpoints on this major interest of my life. In answering their limited needs, I answer larger needs of my own. For example, your interest is primarily in southwestern Utah, the Indian missions, [the] Dixie [region of southern Utah], etc. I can almost exactly parallel your interest and enthusiasm (except for a geographical and local knowledge I can’t possess); what is important to you is important to me; and the ways these things are important to you are also the ways they are important to me; but also, all these individual things are parts of an infinitely complex organism that I am trying to see whole. I didn’t begin this research with that end in view, but things have so developed that I believe I am now capable of writing that definitive history of the Mormons and this state that has been so badly needed. I am not yet ready to write it; I have a very great deal of research still to do; but I believe that I am fortunate enough to have the equipment. I have an emotional understanding of Mormonism, and also an intellectual detachment essential to the critical appraisal of it; my work for the Historical Records Survey and the Writers’ Project, during the past four years, has been, in effect, a fellowship in the history of this state; I have a pretty good educational background, and I have sunk enough time in research to have a pretty extensive command of resources. So you see what these things add up to.

In a letter about Christmas-time, you speculated a little about me; I couldn’t take the time then to remark on myself. However, there isn’t much to say. I was born into a thoroughly orthodox Mormon family (except that the orthodoxies of each succeeding generation are not, of course, the same orthodoxies) and was, to my fourteenth birthday, probably a more dutiful Mormon than the average—president of my quorum of deacons, etc., etc. My father died soon after my fifth birthday, and my mother has taught school (second at first, then first grade) ever since to support her children, which included a sister and two brothers younger than I, all three of whom now are married. I lost my hearing through meningitis in the summer of 1929, and was out of school a year convalescing. The loss of my hearing pretty well broke up the world I had lived in, in one way and another; it confirmed a tendency to introspection and living in a personal world; it broke me out of most social contacts and faced me with various difficult problems of adjustment, not least among which was a grave doubt as to my competency to survive in the kind of depression world we had during my high school years. I studied commercial art in high school, seeing that as the best possibility for myself, but my senior year English teacher, after some investigation, found that I was eligible to be helped by the state Vocational Rehabilitation Department; I was given a probational year at the University, and then three more years. My tuition fees were paid by this department, and my mother scraped up enough money for books, carfare, etc., although I rarely had a nickel to rub one against another. I did a good deal of writing at the U and, in my junior year especially, recovered a measure of self respect and confidence in [p.27] myself. After graduation I had a difficult time for a period, as I did not find employment at once and there were other complications in my living which I won’t discuss except to say that they ended with putting me together as a person. I spent much of the time that year studying advertising at home, but then an opening [was] offered with the H[istorical] R[ecords] S[urvey] in Ogden. I worked there nine months, then moved back to Salt Lake. I went to San Francisco, or rather stopped off there after a trip into the Northwest with some of my family, in the summer of 1939, and tried to stir up something in advertising, as I wanted to get into something more demanding than what I had been doing, and wanted to get out of Utah for awhile. However, that was a bad season, so I went back to Utah to work for the HRS until things should open up in the fall. Then my mother had a heart attack, so I decided to stay on till the end of the year, then in December Farrar & Rinehart offered me a contract on the Humboldt book which I had proposed to them, and I decided to stick around doing research until the next July. But in February Darel McConkey5 came from Washington to help get the Guide finished, and as he had heard about me from Maurice Howe6 and Nels Anderson,7 he tried to draft my services. HRS squawked, and it was arranged that I should work mornings for Writers, and afternoons for HRS. That was accordingly quite a busy spring for me, and Darel thought pretty highly of me and leaned on me quite heavily; as he had come out with instructions to try to find a supervisor adequate to the job, he finally asked me if I would be interested in taking it over. There were various complications, but it finally worked out that way. I accordingly took over the project in July, 1940, and have run it since, at the same time spending all my spare hours doing research for the Mormon books that have gradually evolved in my mind. That research is now mostly finished here, and I am going to make a determined effort, perhaps before the end of summer, to get to Washington, to finish up my research in the National Archives and Library of Congress. History has been perhaps the largest value in my life in the last couple of years, but it is not a paying kind of history, and I shall have to find jobs to support it, so to speak.

I graduated from the U with an art major, expecting to make a living in commercial art and advertising, but use this talent solely for recreation. When I lived alone in an Ogden apartment, I sometimes pinned up stuff on the walls, not that it was good, but for the educational effect of looking it over; however, since I came back to live somewhat crowded with my family, the stuff has stayed packed down [in] the basement; anyway, I gave to various friends the best things I had done. I haven’t done any finished clay pieces; my first will be cast soon, but it’s just a journeyman’s find-out-how piece, if you know what I mean. I like to sketch nudes in pastel, and now and then drop in on the life classes at the Art Center for this purpose; sometimes they come out well, and sometimes they’re lousy. But I’m strictly nothing but an amateur, grade B, as an artist. I have played chess since the summer of 1936, and have been a factor in [p.28] most of the tournaments played since—I won the city championship in 1938, 1940, and 1941, lost out by half a point in 1936 and 1939, was four points down in 1937, and how this year’s event will come out remains to be seen (it is reported round by round in the sports pages of the [Deseret] News each Saturday, and the Tribune each Sunday, so you can follow this yourself, if interested). In the state championship, I won in 1940 and 1941, missed out by half a point in 1937 and 1938, and was about four points down in 1939.

I expect to marry ultimately, but won’t predict when. If things had broken a little better several years ago, I would probably have been married now, although my family would be amazed to know this; I don’t talk about it but may write about it sometime in a novel I want to write. As to religion, I had a period of adjustment through my teens which more or less precipitated itself during my final college years and the year thereafter. I could no longer believe the things I had formerly believed, but made the transition without bitterness, as some persons I know have not been so fortunate in accomplishing. I do not see the necessity of a God in the scheme of things, and on the plane of ethics think that things are in a hell of a state if we order our behavior purely in hope of reward or fear of punishment in a hereafter; if I have a religion, it is a belief in what I call “the decencies of human relations.” I live life as I see it from day to day and hour to hour, and in my way I think I am a better Mormon than those who go to church on Sunday and pay their tithing. I don’t ask that others believe or think as I do, but also ask that they try not to enforce their beliefs and thinking upon me. In other words, I’ll let them live as they want to, and mind my own business; and I expect that they shall let me live as I want to, and mind their own business. This is an ideal of tolerance which probably does not work out uniformly, and is not the kind of religion that can be effectively preached; it is a purely personal religion. At the same time, I have no quarrel with those who find that formal religion, in orthodox patterns, fills a definite need in their lives; nor am I critical of the Mormon Church on these grounds. Historically, I think there are certain imbecilities in the social development of the Mormon Church; its history is riddled with inconsistencies, and the church membership and its ideals today would be utterly unacceptable to the fanatic founders of the religion; the whole scheme of values has changed, as Mormonism has evolved from a millennial church to an ordinary, or more ordinary, type of church. These are matters for historical evaluation, and in the course of time I mean to evaluate them—what the church was and what it has become, and why it was inevitable that it should so become. But in the field of pure religion, the Mormon Church offers as much as any other church—perhaps more, aside from some of the absurdities consequent upon an authoritarian-type church—and if one desires to worship God, he can do it with as much grace and dignity within the sanctions of Mormonism as anywhere. I might remark that I respect you for your own type of religious thinking. It is a primary criticism I hold of the [p.29] Church that it tends, fundamentally, to stifle independent thinking by straitjacketing it with the demands of faith. For the independence of mind to which you hold I admire you, and I hope that it will always characterize your thinking, about the church, about life, and about yourself, regardless of environmental demands.

This letter has gone into a larger quantity of detail than is usual with my letters. Possibly it will explain to you a few things about me, though you will find in it not one fact of any but personal history!



1. Juanita Brooks, an LDS historian from southern Utah, corresponded regularly with Morgan throughout the 1940s and 1950s. She accepted his generous help during the writing of several of her books, including The Mountain Meadows Massacre (1950) and John Doyle Lee: Zealot-Pioneer Builder-Scapegoat (1962). Brooks/Morgan correspondence is housed in both the Utah State Historical Society and the University of Utah Marriott Library, Special Collections division.

2. LDS is a common acronym referring to the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; also Mormon.

3. Wallace Stegner, a graduate of the University of Utah, was a western novelist, historian, and conservationist. He authored several books about Utah and the Mormons. Morgan’s reference in this letter probably refers to one of Stegner’s two works-in-progress, ” Mormon Country (1942) and The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943).

4. Bernard DeVoto, a noted western historian and literary critic, was born in Ogden, Utah. He was, at the time of this letter, curator of the Mark Twain papers, teaching at Harvard University, and was completing work on his Year of Decision. His life is chronicled in Wallace Stegner’s The Uneasy Chair.

Darel McConkey was the director of the Utah Writers’ Project which produced Utah: A Guide to the State, edited by Morgan.

5. Stanley Ivins, a Salt Lake City businessman, was an avid researcher of Mormon history, particularly polygamy. His correspondence with Morgan is housed in the Utah State Historical Society.”

6. A close friend of Morgan, Maurice Howe later helped convince him to move to Washington, D.C.

7. Nels Anderson, another of Morgan’s friends who prompted his move east, was a convert to the Mormon church. After graduating from Brigham Young University and the University of Chicago, he published in 1942 a major contribution to the sociology of Mormonism, Desert Saints.

2. To Juanita Brooks

Salt Lake City, Utah
21 May 1942

Dear Juanita,

Here is the rest of the [Thomas D.] Brown journal, completed today. Copying it has been a most laborious job, but I wish all my [p.30] time were spent as profitably. Apart from the new light this journal sheds on the Indian mission, it provides interesting material on [John D.] Lee1 that I have not seen before; and also it echoes in the Utah outlands things that were going on at headquarters, especially the consecration agitation, as no other journal I have seen does. I was disappointed, however, that Brown didn’t either confirm or deny that tale you have heard about how [Jacob] Hamblin happened to leave Harmony for Santa Clara. The dictatorial character of Lee, as brought out in the journal, might supply a little indirect substantiation, though.

Before I forget, I’ll ask you to make corrections on the carbon material sent you earlier. In the entry for June 24, 1854, last line, read “these two days” for “these day days.” In the entry for June 30, first line, insert “and” after “ago.” In the poem on July 24, 3rd verse, first line, read “he would build up” for “he would built up.” I notice, too, that there is no 10th verse. I think that is my error, and will investigate, possibly before I mail this to you.

After the beginning I didn’t number the pages—I think I told you the reason—they could be numbered later, after the job was done, when no question could arise about how much of the journal had been copied for profane eyes.

When you have returned the part of the journal you have, so that I can review it as a whole, I will offer some comment on passages of the journal, etc. But aside from that, don’t you think it’s a pretty fine ms. [i.e., manuscript], taken altogether?

Incidently, I might make some remarks now which are applicable to earlier material I have lent you also. Anything I have given you or obtained for you, you may make free use of in any writing you do; but I should prefer that no acknowledgments be made direct to me for such material. For example, in the case of this Brown material, as also in the case of the Hamblin material, use the journals as boldly as you want, but don’t intimate that you obtained it, through my courtesy, from the [LDS Church] Historian’s Office, or anything like that. If people wonder how you have got your hands on certain things, let them wonder.

I say this because in some respects I haven’t always been quite ethical in drawing upon the Historian’s Office for stuff. I don’t always say, “I want a copy of such and such. May I obtain it?” There is an automatic tendency to say no, on the part of [A. William] Lund, [a long-time employee of the Historian’s Office], at least, irrespective of one’s motives in these matters. I shall of course make only the most ethical use of the material I have gathered to date, and may gather hereafter; I shall use it only within the canons of the highest historical objectivity. I have therefore felt justified, and my conscience has never bothered me. Material that might be used by enemies of the church, or critics of the church, to attack the church I have never placed at the disposal of other persons for this reason. Although Charles Kelly2 has been more than kind in all our relations, and has done me many favors, I should not permit him to see [p.31] the [Jacob] Hamblin3 journal for this ethical reason. I might, on request, offer criticisms of his thinking or writing, based on what I know, but I should regard the sources as inviolate. In one respect our own relationship has been unusually pleasant because I have been able to hold every confidence in you, and anything that crossed your special field of research I have passed on to you. But as I say, neither in personal intercourse nor in professional acknowledgments should I like you to identify any specific material as having been derived from me. And, as one other point in this respect, which you will recall I brought up last fall, I should like you to ask my permission before you let anyone, no matter how much trust you might have in such a person, use this material I have given you. It is a part of my feeling of responsibility, which I am sure you understand. There are absolutely no restrictions upon your own work, and the personal uses you find for this stuff, but I feel better to know that it will not go beyond you without my knowledge and permission. I am not talking specifically about any person or set of circumstances, you understand; I am just outlining a personal problem in morals.

I am sorry your Hamblin book did not achieve the fellowship, but there has of course been more than a probability of that ever since the war broke out. In the light of a war crisis, any book of primarily regional interest would suffer in the eye of the contest readers. However, I would not pay any attention to this setback; I would just go right ahead and work on your book as time, opportunity, and money will permit. For the moment, if I were you, I would not bother my head about a publisher. You might or might not be able to strike terms with one just now, with all this unpredictable dislocation of our society, contingent on the war effort and the increase in taxes, rationing, priorities, etc., making the future so unpredictable—if you were unlucky, that might be discouraging to you. Look at it like this, Juanita: You aren’t interested in this book for the money there might be in it, not even for the reputation you might gain out of it. It is a labor of love with you, for the most part. Working on the book, directing all your creative energies toward its fulfillment, will be a rich experience for you. I know you and your writing well enough to know that the end product will be an immeasurably rich book, and one certain of publication. You may not have the same confidence, but you could take my word for it, this time. Anyway, by the time you are ready to publish, I may be in a position to give you a lift with a publisher; or Bernard DeVoto has expressed a willingness to do what he can for any book I feel really worth while, and if I have no influence in the book world, he has, at least.

I suggest that you try to orient your life as well as you can to let you do the job you want to do. Your case is not dissimilar to mine. I have been holding down a job which at some points has a coinciding field of interest with my primary absorption, Utah history, but this job has been in large part a means to an end; it has been financing my leisure hours. This will also be true to some extent of whatever [p.32] job I pass on to during this year. Whatever the job means to me, it will mean most the freedom to use my leisure hours in this way.

You yourself have a family to take care of, and other responsibilities. But perhaps you can make some arrangements. You say in your letter that you might make more money by taking a regular part-time job at the college. Had it occured to you that you might take some of the bright edge from your leisure hours during the school months, through handling a family job and a school job, but thereby set aside enough money so that in summer you could go where you wanted to do such research as you felt to be necessary? There are ways to sacrifice some things in life to acquire others; I am better aware of this than are most people. I am not going to philosophize to you, but you might think this over.

I don’t know just when I’ll be able to get away, but as I told you, I am going to try to manage it as soon after August 1 as I can. It is not a matter of money, so much, as of opportunity. I need certain resources in my writing that are not to be had here in the local libraries. I need background materials on American life to give me a perspective for the books I want to write. For instance, you can’t find books here on morals in the United States between 1700 and 1850 (except some of the secondary summaries of such books); you can’t find books which give an idea of the state of medical thinking in the country for the above period, etc. Neither is there the monograph material on the early socialistic and communistic experimentalism of the early 19th century. Except that Bernard DeVoto lent me his copy of Nordhoff’s “Communistic Societies of the United States,” I should never yet, for instance, have had a look at this book. I want to look into the government archives at Washington, also. I have a vast quantity of Mormon material, now—as I told you a while ago, I have very nearly obtained all I want from the Church library, several millions of words; and now I begin to suffer from the malnutrition of the local libraries. Apart from all this, I want to become external to Utah for a while and look the place over from a distance. And also, I confess, I am becoming a little fed up on WPA and all its red tape, especially now that we on this project are losing all individual identity, and are being merged into a sort of anonymous “War Service” program. (Technically there has been no Utah Writers’ Project for the last week or so; we are now merely a “phase” of the War Service Division, like all the other white collar projects.) And the constriction of our activities somewhat gets on my nerves. If I have to spend all my time on defense stuff, I’d like it to be big, rather than piddling, defense stuff. Well, I won’t go on in this vein except to say that you will be able to draw upon me as freely, wherever I go, as you have in the past. There isn’t a whole lot of material now in this town that would be fresh to you. The research from here on will be like chasing gophers out of their holes—when you can find the gophers.

I wondered, when I received your last letter, what you expected to find in the Temple archives. It didn’t occur to me that you meant [p.33] the St. George Temple, rather than the Salt Lake Temple—although there were sealings in Brigham’s house, as well as in the Endowment House before there was a St. George temple, I would have been willing to bet money that Jacob [Hamblin] never brought an Indian wife to Salt Lake to be married to her. I am doubtful whether any vital statistics record in the church would record an Indian marriage. But of course I don’t know for sure.

The article you mention for the [Utah Historical] Quarterly sounds interesting. By all means go ahead. And as another thought, any time some interesting phase of the social history of the state occurs to you, give serious thought to writing it up. “History” to most Utah writers means what is found in the [multi-volume] Journal History [of the LDS church] or Brigham [Young]’s letters. We are badly in need of some informed historical comment on home life, agricultural practices, irrigation developments, recreation, etc., etc. That is one service [LDS novelist] Maurine Whipple did state history; and it is a crying shame that the job had to be left for a novelist to do in the form of fiction. The Quarterly really needs to be broadened this way. The forthcoming issue, with its material on pioneer midwives, is a step in the right direction.

I’ve spent a good part of the afternoon, when I should have been attending to office affairs, on this letter; so you will excuse me if I write no more now. Thanks ever so much for the information on the journal-gathering. I’ll ask some more questions later. It has definitely been arranged that I shall write an article on the subject for the Autumn number of the Rocky Mountain Review. They offered to serialize it in two numbers, if I needed that much space.



1. John Doyle Lee (1812-77) was a participant in the Mormon/Indian massacre of an Arkansas emigrant company near Cedar City, Utah, in 1857. The bloody massacre at Mountain Meadows and the tragic life of John D. Lee were both subjects of books by Juanita Brooks.

2. Charles Kelly (1889-1971) corresponded regularly with Morgan about early pioneer routes and western outlaws, two of Kelly’s favorite research topics. He and Morgan subsequently collaborated on a revision of his Old Greenwood: The Story of Caleb Greenwood. Kelly’s letters with Morgan and J. Roderic Korns are maintained at the Utah State Historical Society.

3. Jacob Hamblin (1819-86) was an early Utah settler and LDS missionary to the Paiute Indians on the Utah frontier. Juanita Brooks was trying to establish if Hamblin had been a participant in the Mountain Meadows massacre.

3. To S. A. Burgess1

Salt Lake City, Utah
1 July 1942

[p.34]Dear Mr. Burgess:

Owing to the pressure of our war work, your kind letter of June 5, critical of the Utah Writers’ Project’s Utah: A Guide to the State has had to wait some time for answer. I may say that your letter is interesting and stimulating throughout, but many points you make seem irrelevant or even misconceived, and I am sure you will not object if I answer you generally as well as with specific reference to matters criticized in the Utah Guide.

[Here follow six paragraphs responding to Burgess’s criticisms of the American Series project in general that are unrelated to the Utah Guide and Mormon history and have therefore been deleted.]

Propaganda is a term used very loosely. In popular thinking it has the significance of facts or pseudo-facts designed to convert people to some given viewpoint usually conceived as being disparate from abstract truth. In point of fact, any written or spoken utterance, any human communication designed to effect some purpose or end is “propaganda.” You characterize the Utah Guide as being indirect propaganda for the Utah Mormon church; had it occurred to you that the American Guide as a whole might be called indirect propaganda for the American way of life? Certain bases of thinking underlay the production of the American Guide series; we took it for granted that America was worth examining, worth interpreting—in a word, worth writing about. This naturalistic viewpoint applied as well to a segment of America, the Utah Mormon church, as to America as a whole. The L.D.S. church is central to Utah’s way of life; it is an existing fact, conditioning the lives of all who dwell in Utah, whether Mormon or non-Mormon. We were concerned first of all with this cultural fact. By picturing a condition of culture, we did a service to all who are interested in the development and nature of America and its people. I could argue to you, though I will not, that the Utah Guide would constitute a perfect achievement, as a picture of Mormon Utah, if it uncritically accepted everything the Utah Mormons believe about themselves and their history, and drew a graphic picture of these beliefs. All who examined the Utah Guide should then be able to draw their own conclusions about the validity [p.35] or nature of Mormon beliefs about any given subject. This was not, however, our purpose. We desired to draw a picture of Mormon beliefs from an objective point of view, reserving to ourselves the privilege of exhibiting or not exhibiting a skepticism about those beliefs. I believe that we fully accomplished, in the Utah Guide, all that we aimed to do.

Let me discuss a little further this question of propaganda. Essentially your letter criticizes the Utah Writers’ Project because it accepted for facts, or presented for facts, certain beliefs about its history entertained by the L.D.S. church. But at the same time the Massachusetts Writers’ Program is criticized because it exhibited a skepticism of a prevailing view in that state about the Sacco-Vanzetti case. The Massachusetts Guide is objected by the governor of Massachusetts, and therefore the Writers’ Program is censurable; the Utah Guide is not objected to by the President of the L.D.S. church, and therefore the Writers’ Program is censurable. You will perceive the incompatibility of these criticisms. The Massachusetts Writers’ Program, in my opinion, interpreted controversial facts as it saw them, just as did the Utah Writers’ Program, and this honesty of intention is a reflection of the essential integrity of the whole American Guide series. I may say that I am proud to have been associated with the Writers’ Program, and proud of the integrity of its work.

I should like to take the liberty of pointing out the fact that your narrow viewpoint on the Utah Guide, revolving about your central interest in the beliefs of the Reorganized Church, prevents your seeing the Utah Guide for what it is. One would judge from your letter that the whole Utah Guide is subservient to the large purposes of “Utah Mormon propaganda.” Now I should like you to reexamine this book. You will please observe that all the material published in Part I except “Contemporary Scene,” “History,” and “Mormon Church,” is concerned only incidently with the L.D.S. church, and when concerned is as often critical as not. The percent of Mormon material in Part IV is even more negligible. Parts II and III, concerned with the towns and the by-ways, naturally have more to do with the Mormons as a people, but in view of the fact that the Mormons settled Utah, I am sure you will admit that these sections could not have been written without attention for the Mormon people, and I think that any reasoned consideration of these pages will confirm the honesty and the objectivity of our observation and our judgment of the Utah scene.

You do not object to the essays, “Contemporary Scene” and “Mormon Church”—because, I believe, you see these essays for what they are, an exposition of the mental climate of the people of Utah. They could hardly have been written in any other form and serve their essential purpose. Your criticisms of the Utah Guide and your characterization of the book as propaganda rest almost entirely upon exceptions taken to certain statements made in the essay on “History,” and the statements to which exceptions are made cannot be [p.36] considered as susceptible of easy disposition in the light of facts at present available to history.

Having said so much by way of preface, I will now take up your specific criticisms.

1. The question of whether Brigham Young held the Church together: You have attacked our statement on p. 52 on the basis of the probable membership of the Church prior to the death of Joseph Smith as compared to the number Brigham Young demonstrably drew to Utah. Obviously here the question is how reliable the pre-Young statistics are, and one’s judgment of the matter depends upon the seriousness with which one regards the statistics you quote. Every man must be his own judge in this matter, but I for one place no reliance whatever in the figures which, on the average, would place the total membership of the Church on June 27, 1844, as approaching 200,000. You will observe that in almost every case, when the estimates you quote were made, some question of church prestige was involved. It is my experience that any group contending its own importance always tends to give itself the benefit of a great many doubts. Although I should not give this as a finally considered opinion, pending further study of the matter, I very greatly doubt if there were as many as 40,000 members of the Church on June 27, 1844, in the United States, and the figure is probably lower than this. Estimates I would regard as reliable give the number of Mormons scattered between Nauvoo and Council Bluffs, at the end of 1846, as about 15,000 (including the Battalion), and in view of the fact that no other organized group in 1846 numbered, I should judge, over 300 members (I allot this many to Strang and to Wight), I don’t think any objective critic can question that the group headed by the Twelve constituted the central church organization. If you will permit me to hazard this personal opinion, I might say that had the Utah Church not constituted a core of organized activity between 1844 and 1860, the Reorganized Church might never have been able to found an effective organization. This is a question much too involved for easy discussion here, but I think you will realize what I mean, even though you may not agree.

The census figure for 1850 may be taken as entirely reliable, I believe, but it by no means reflects the full influence of the Twelve Apostles among the church membership, as from the date of the census it covered only the emigrations of 1847-1849. The first movement from the midwestern frontier to Utah was not completed until 1852, and if census figures were available for this year, they would give a possibly truer picture of the extent to which Brigham Young held the allegiance of the Mormon people, although by 1852 European emigration was becoming much stronger and is a disturbing influence in any conclusions that may be reached.

2. The question of Sidney Rigdon’s sermon of July 4, 1838: Your objections do not seem to be altogether well taken, for even though, as you say, the only extant report of this “salt sermon” may be that in Hunt’s Missouri War, I am not aware that any Mormon writers [p.37] have ever seriously denied that Rigdon gave voice to the sentiments quoted on p. 54 of the Guide. I have seen many contemporary references to this speech, and whether or not he was correctly reported in what he said, the impression of his speech that got abroad may be boiled down to what was quoted in the Guide, and the historical effect remains the same. However, it is my understanding that the speech in question was printed in The Far West, a weekly newspaper which was published, I believe, at Liberty, and that it was further printed in pamphlet form and distributed about the countryside. Ebenezer Robinson, in vol. 1 of The Return, makes a statement to this effect. I have been greatly desirous of getting a transcript of the entire speech, and if one is to be obtained, I should much appreciate your aid in this matter, in the original draft of the History essay Rigdon’s words were quoted without source, and the “according to Bancroft,” which is stylistically most disruptive, was inserted to please a consultant who remarked that he had never seen Rigdon’s speech printed in any Mormon source (which in itself I regard as significant, by the way).

3. The question of whether Brigham Young led the church out of Missouri: Your objection here seems to me more well founded than others you voice. The assertion in the Utah Guide followed the account of M. R. Werner, whose biography of Brigham Young remains the most important biography about him. Werner distinctly was not a Mormon, and had no propagandic purpose to serve, but on the other hand there is a tendency for biographers to overemphasize the influence of their subjects in their times, and Werner may have fallen into this error. I will say frankly that I have not given enough attention to the sources to be able to comment authoritatively on this matter, although for some months past I have wanted to inquire into the extent of Young’s leadership in the exodus from Nauvoo. I thank you for crystallizing in my mind the necessity for reexamining this phase of Mormon history.

4. The question of stealing by Mormons during the Nauvoo period: You inquire how much stealing was by Mormons, and phrase your remarks to indicate that if there was any stealing it probably commenced after Brigham Young’s accession to power. As a matter of fact, Mormon literature both before and after the death of Joseph Smith abundantly attests the fact that some stealing was going on in and around Nauvoo. Rebukes were periodically administered to the people for not ridding themselves of the blacklegs who dwelt among them. I have a number of references which I will elaborate upon when I am enabled to examine the Nauvoo period of Mormon history, and these sufficiently confirm the existence of some thievery and robbery, by Mormons as well as by non-Mormons. However, I will say that in my belief (and this was expressed in brief in the Guide), because of the situation of the Mormon group in an antagonistic society, any and all crime in the Hancock County area was automatically attributed to the Mormons. The columns of the Warsaw Signal and Quincy Whig abundantly attest this. They were [p.38] certainly members of the criminal elements among the Mormon people, but by and large I think they were not guilty of charges so frequently laid at their door. This is what might be called the abstract truth of the matter. But in Illinois abstract truth did not count for much; what counted was what people believed, and a great many people believed that the Mormons were guilty of charges alleged by their enemies.

5. “Rumors of adultery and polygamy”: You cite this as though it were an objection, but in actual fact you are in evident agreement with me that there were rumors of this kind, regardless of their truth. You will please remember that our point of view in the essay was what people believed, the levels of belief in contemporaneous society contributing to the difficulties of the Mormons. I don’t think you will contest the idea that even before June 27, 1844, there was a widely voiced suspicion that the Mormons were guilty of unorthodox marriage practices.

6. The migration to the Rocky Mountains: You are not very clear in discussing this, and I experience some difficulty in knowing exactly what to say to you. However, it is my understanding from reading controversial works involving the Reorganized Church that you have combatted the idea that Joseph Smith ever intended leading the Mormons out of the Mississippi Valley to the West, and that you tend to regard proofs advanced by the L.D.S. church as being revisions of original history to serve the propagandic purposes of this church. This is a matter to which I have given especial attention, and in the work on the Mormons that I have conceived, I believe I shall be able to demolish once and for all any argument that Joseph Smith did not entertain this purpose. Two years ago I commenced to write a monograph on the subject, but after I had written forty-odd pages, I began to see that my materials had a significance too wide for monograph treatment, involving a whole reorientation of Nauvoo history from 1843 on, and I therefore shelved the subject until I could undertake a large treatment of Mormon history. My materials have been drawn in some part, though by no means wholly, from the L.D.S. archives here, but I do not think historians of the Reorganized Church will seriously question my findings when I am enabled to publish them. I cannot speak so authoritatively about the authenticity of the Rocky Mountains prophecy, but I am by no means disposed to doubt it, in view of what I have learned about Smith’s purposes in the winter of 1844. I cannot undertake to discuss the whole subject at length here, so for the present I must content myself with assuring you that the statements in the Utah Guide about the proposal to migrate to the Rocky Mountains have a firm factual foundation, and I will publish the proofs in due course.

7. The question whether Brigham Young talked with the voice of Joseph: The Guide mentions this only as a folk tale (“it is said”). I consider it quite probable that this was a later rationalization by the supporters of Brigham Young; I have not seen any journal entry of that day which mentions the impression spoken of. However, I am [p.39] not disposed to doubt the possibility that some of Brigham Young’s auditors thought they heard Joseph’s voice in Brigham’s. To my mind, what they really heard was a man’s voice speaking confidently and with power, a purposeful voice such as they had known Joseph’s to be, and after so much indecision and weakness in the voices of other leaders who had spoken to them since Joseph’s death, they were ripe for the authentic sound of leadership. Since my own personal views are at least agnostic in character, you will understand that I am not much disposed to believe that Joseph actually spoke through Brigham. However, there is no question that at an early date the belief was disseminated among the Mormon people that this thing actually had happened, and this was the reason the belief merited inclusion in the essay on history. I am sure you will grant me the commonplace fact in social psychology that it is not things themselves but what people believe about things and how they react to things that shape the development of society.

8. Your critical remarks about Brigham Young are well taken, on the whole. It is quite true that no proper critical study has yet been made of him. During his lifetime and for a while thereafter there was a tendency by his enemies to squeeze down and belittle his stature; only in recent years has a proper recognition of his abilities and accomplishments begun to emerge, but this recognition has fallen into the opposite error of praising him for qualities he did not possess and generally overestimating him. Within the frame of his environment Young was a brilliantly able personality, and an adequate evaluation of this must now be made; at the same time he had the defects of his qualities; in many respects he was narrow, intolerant, autocratic, and provincial. All this must enter into an appraisal of him. But recognizing all this, I see no reason for altering anything that was said about him within the restricted compass of the History essay. I should like to offer one correction about your own remarks. You say that the Mormons in Utah today “would place Mr. Young as the greatest of all L.D.S. and Joseph much inferior.” This is an entirely erroneous impression, as I can assure you from my own certain knowledge. The reinterpretation of Young as a great man, a greater man in his way than Smith, must be attributed to non-Mormon writers. Mormons themselves are not disposed to go as far as non-Mormons in this reappraisal. Joseph Smith has approached the stage of semi-deification, and many orthodox Mormons will not even permit discussion of Joseph Smith as a man with human failings, whereas Brigham Young may be so criticized.

9. The question of polygamy: This is, of course, a very old source of contention between the Reorganized and L.D.S. Churches, and I am sure that nothing is to be gained by resuming the argument here. I am not aware that any non-Mormon historian of repute has accepted the view of the matter put forth by the Reorganized Church, and while you may attribute this simply to effective propaganda by the Utah church and to the tendency of people to believe the worst about other people, you will at least grant me that the [p.40] view of polygamy set forth by the Utah Guide has ample justification in published history. Although I recognize that there are problems about the institution and development of polygamy among the Mormons, and I propose to devote further attention to these problems before publishing the work on the Mormons I contemplate, for the present I am content to let the Utah Guide represent the viewpoint of history on the subject of polygamy among the Mormons. I am very well acquainted with the social background out of which Mormonism arose, the influence of the “burnt over district,” the influence of the numerous small communistic and socialistic societies, the influence of prevailing religious beliefs, etc. We are entirely in agreement here. But I conceive these influences to have worked on Joseph Smith equally with Brigham Young, and do not see that their existence alters in any way the general argument of polygamy as having been instituted by Smith.

In connection with the argument that moral standards were higher in polygamy than out, I had general reference to the whole fact of polygamy and the whole fact of monogamy in the United States. I have read through hundreds of diaries, and have had access to scores of official minute books and other documents concerned with the practical working of polygamy as a social system, and there can be no question about the almost fanatic morality and the entire integrity of polygamy among the Mormons. There were abuses, naturally; I have no doubt that there were polygamists who had their eye less on heavenly glories than on earthly pleasures; but the Guide said this in so many words. Conditions of morality among the Mormon people are adequately set forth in print, and although the picture drawn by Mormon elders of the iniquity of the nation’s large cities may be regarded as exaggerated, the kernel of truth cannot be ignored. I have no doubt that monogamy in specific localities, particularly in rural districts, existed on as high or higher a plane morally speaking than polygamy among the Mormons. But there was a tight moral rein exerted generally on the Mormons as a people that was not exerted on monogamic society at large, and from this large viewpoint I regard the statements in the Utah Guide as true to the facts of history. Polygamy can be endlessly debated; it has been too much debated in the past, and history has been astigmatic in consequence of it. The point was made in the Utah Guide because it seemed about time someone made it in a popular book about the Mormons.

10. Finally I should like to correct your impression that an effort was made in the Utah Guide to discredit Joseph Smith. The portrait drawn of him was an honest picture of him as a man, although within the limitations afforded by the book it was impossible to devote more than a few paragraphs to him. If you will re-read the essay on History, I believe you will grant the integrity of our intention and the objectivity of our interpretation.

This letter has drawn out to intolerable length. No doubt you will not regard it as a reply satisfactory in all respects, since you [p.41] have been answered in general terms, and not with a documentation, chapter and verse, from history; however, I am sure that you will recognize, at the same time, that all questions you have brought up have long been violently controversial questions, and whole books have been printed to argue one viewpoint or another; it is hardly possible for me to undertake anything so ambitious within the compass of a letter of this sort. But I am grateful for your critical viewpoint; I find that any divergent expression of views stimulates one to a greater awareness of any subject, and since I personally entertain a large project in Mormon history, your own viewpoint as expressed in this letter has a high personal value which I wish to acknowledge. Opportunities will offer later, I hope, to discuss with you the minutiae of certain controversial phases of the history of the Mormons.

Sincerely yours,

Dale L. Morgan
Assistant State Supervisor
War Service Program2


1. S. A. Burgess was a research assistant and staff member in the Historian’s Office of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), head-quartered in Independence, Missouri.”

2. Though written by Morgan, this letter also carries the signature of Gall Martin, Morgan’s supervisor at the War Service Program.”