Mormon History

Memories of NY Smith Household - 1875

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune January 6, 1875


How Joe Smith Manufactured His Bible.

Rhetorical Chloroform in the Smith Mansion.

The Smith Fleas Make Themselves Disagreeably Sociable.

The following lively and ireverent story is from the Cincinnati Times, and we reproduce it in our columns as not unworthy the perusal of the children of Zion. The "Steve" who figures so prominently in the narrative, we have a lurking suspicion can be none other than Steve Harding, a former Governor of Utah.

A reporter of the Times, when a boy, was an attentive listener to his mother's Bible stories about patriarchs. He always wanted to see apatriarch, or see some person who had seen one, and no words can tell his vexation on learning that the day had gone by, that


were all dead; and that even old John Robinson, who had been in the lion business for nearly two score years and ten, could give no satisfactory information in regard to old lions or patriarchs. This desire, which hungered so in boyhood, has not altogether left him, and on learning something of the Mohammed of Palmyra, he felt a desire to find Joe Smith, or some person who had acquired the grandeur of his acquaintance.

The other day our reporter learned the whereabouts of one, who knew all about Joe's vagabondish boyhood, his first Mormon trickery, had handled the Golden Bible before it was printed, slept with Cowdery, the witness, joked old Harris, another witness, and in after years


It was only a little jaunt from the city of a half hour or less to the old gentleman's home, so last Saturday thither went the Times representative for a Sunday's cosy interview about Joe, the Saint, and his doings within the lines of modern Palmyra more than 44 years ago. When he reached his destination and received a comfortably assuring welcome from the host, reportorial interest amounted to a very respectful and reverential admiration.

Here was before him a competent witness, and he was determined to make good use of the opportunuty. His call was expected, and after an exchange of morning civilities, he was made to feel at home, and taking the proffered chair by a cosy fire, began at once to enjoy the satisfying of those desires to which he has alluded.

The reporter will give in his own language, except when otherwise denoted by proper marks, the account of an


which his informant attended in the summer of 1829. It may be in place here, to say that the old gentleman from whom the facts were obtained, is now at the age of sixty-five, hale and hearty, in the enjoyment of that vigorous mental health, which minifests itself in conversation, by sharp perception, accurate observation, unbounded memory and almost infalible judgment. More serious conversation had for a moment given place to a "joke," which both laughed over -- and which is thought too good to be lost, as it affords an opportunity of touching some things which have not yet found their way into the Sacred History of the Saints.

Grandin, the printer, having failed to keep Martin Harris from mortgaging his farm to print such


had commenced the work, under protest, and a few sheets were being struck, from day to day, under the personal supervision of Joe Smith, Harris, Cowdery, and perhaps others.

According to "Divine command," the manuscript was to be brought to the printer "at the rising of the sun and taken away at the setting thereof," and, on the evening referred to, the parties named took the sheets from the printer, rolled up their manuscript, and started for Joe's residence, a mile or so out of Palmyra. A young man, who appeared to take some interest in the matter, was invited to go along and hear "the faith now being delivered to the Saints." In speaking to this young man, Editor Pomeroy Tucker called him "Steve," from which we may infer that his Christian name was Stephen ____; well, never mind the last name. Let this suffice. "Steve" was the editor's particular friend; he was about twenty, was recently from Cincinnati, where he had been fitted up in a suit of Piatt Evans' best, wore a cane, topped out with a fancy "Otter" hat, and sported


Pretty good looking to begin with, Steve had only to cover the affections of his ardent bosom with that ruffled dickey and be what he was, "an irresistible dash." The party left GRandin's office and started down the lane leading to the log cabins where the Prophet resided.

"Joe" was about twenty-two; ling, lank, limber, fair complexion, light hair, his face rather cadaverous, and pitted like a pig skin. He was dressed indifferently -- poor hat, tow pants, and unpresentable shirt. With the manuscript in hand, "he streake ahead," said Steve, "like a gangle-heeled, hemlock Yankee."

Harris had on a good suit of clothes, and "fell in line" behind "the LOrd's chosen, Joseph." Harris was the only pioneer Mormon who had any money, and Joe loved him ardently, till his money was gone, when he went back on him. His name appears on the title page of the Mormon Bible, as one of the three witnesses.

After Harris came Cowdery, the old pedagogue, Joe's scribe, a strong support to the cause. He was a first-class Mormon, one of the three witnesses,


True, he was turned out of the church in Missouri, for lying, counterfeiting and saying naughty things about the Lord's Anointed -- "Joe," but these are mere peccadilloes in Mormon character now, and are not given as bearing this way or that. Old man Smith, Joe's father, came next,


The Smiths were fond of vinegar; and that it might be carefully toted, he was put in charge. Steve had no taste for vinegar, but kept close to the old man only to enjoy the "guggle" of the vinegar, which produced a music in his emotions that was altogether indescribable. "This was," says Steve, "a party for a painter, and one of the most excruciating of all the ludicrous affairs of my life."

A prophet in lead, a jug of vinegar in the middle, and a wag Chesterfield at the rear, smothering almost with laughter suppressed behind a flaring shrit frill that required a tip toe effort to spit over! On reaching the cabin, supper. consisting of raspberries, brown bread and milk, was served up by Joe's big sisters. Steve, who didn't propose to make observations on feminine graces, even when a live prophet was on hand, noticed that "they were bare-footed" and that those bare feet were anything but "daintily small."

The girls being well acquainted with the Saint business, including


paid little attention to anything other than supper, one of them in particular to see that Steve had the "new pewter spoon." The other sister was the one, as appears from Pomeroy Tucker's story, upon whom Harris wasted considerable "adoration," in a religious way, believing as Tucker says, that she was to be the Mary of the coming Dispensation, who, in the matter of an immaculate conception, should astonish the Gentiles of Palmyra; but, unfortunately, for Harris,


which quite collapsed Harris, for awhile, and gave rise to wicked scoffings among the ynregenerate of the neighborhood. After supper, all turned to the satisfying of those cravings concerned in spiritual cupboards.

Those who afterwards knew Joseph at the Nauvoo Mission will bear witness that he was not more susceptable to the charms of a pretty woman than to the sight of a biscuit or the flavor of a fried clam.

Joe knew that the best way to touch a man's heart is


hence the supper as a preparatory. Joe took a back seat, Cowdery took his place at the table, whereupon was placed a tallow candle. Harris, whose emotions were hung on quick triggers, took a reverential attitude, and got a good ready to let off, "oh Lord, oh, oh - oh, blessed Nephi, etc." Joe was seemingly wrapped up in the devotional mysteries, occasionally contributing to Cowdery's reading a foot note critical or explanatory. The rest were seated around at pleasure, old Mrs. Smith taking a rest on a three-legged stool, near the stove. Taking out her pipe she proceeded to light the same and puff the house full of smoke, adding a mystic halo to the


At the periods, she would balance her tongue in the middle, and gabble away about revelations, saints, &c. -- the veriest compound of nonsense and superstition, her appearance and deportment recalling Scott's Meg Merrilies, and entitling her to first artistic honors in the coming role of "Granny the Witch."

The reading was continued till 11 o'clock, when all turned in -- to bed. As Steve was a possible convert, he was entitled to some consideration, and was put to bed with Cowdery, who, of all the rest


In a few moments all were soundly asleep, except Steve, whose risibles had been so played upon by the serio-ludicrous of the evening, that sleep went from him.

This thing of lying awake at nights is a waste fo time. So thought the Smith fleas, and they determined to cultivate the acquaintance of the man who had


A jumper made the circuit of all the beds, giving the squeak that the fresh man was "where the snore came from." Cowdery's inspirations from the effulgence of the Divine page were mostly convertible into "snore" hence his acquired reputation of Jack Mormon, when not engaged in reading or snoring. Five or ten thousand fleas came over at once to inquire for Steve; every one that lit on Cowdery sloped on the first snore; as the snoring continued the fleas kept on coming. Steve tried to wake Cowdery by putting his elbows into his rib spaces, but Cowdery couldn't be waked; and as for the fleas, he cared not a whit -- his soul was away hob-nobbing with Nephi, Lemuel and Sam.

As to the fleas, the frisky ones started a cotillion under Steve's bosom ruffles; others, intent on business, divided up


while the rapscallions organized a Danite Band. Blood was the watch-word; and, till daylight, the merciless marauders pursued their bloody recreations. Cowdery slep the sleep of a Saint, and, as Steve says, "snored a sepulchral blast, which wounded through the house like the wheeze of whooping-caigh or a wood-pecker's requiem on a hollow beech!"

Morning came, but what words can tell the feelings of that distressed Gentile on beholding that shirt frill. Hereon the fleas had assembled previous to saying good-bye; their weapons were yet dripping with blood, and every time they grounded arms, each one made a red spot on that shirt bosom, and the stragglers coming up late,


scrawling with bedraggled legs a farewell complimentary, in characters that bore a wonderful resemblance to Joseph's "learning of the Jews in the language of the reformed Egyptian."

At breakfast, Mrs. Smith opened the conversation with a dream, and, for half an hour, it would have required a lightning stenographer to take down the superstitious gabbling that slid from her tongue like water from a duck's back.

Turning to Steve she, at last, said:

"Did you not dream last night?"

"Yes," said Steve, "but it don't come to me just now."

For the benefit of Harris, Steve's dream was related after the meal was concluded.

The parties are here dismissed, on their way to Palmyra, with more manuscript for Grandin's printers. Fact and fiction are easily separated, and the facts herein set forth are supported by the testimony of competent living witnesses.

Note 1: The Tribune's copy-writer must have left off the final several paragraphs of the story told in the columns of the Cincinnati Times. See the April 23, 1911 issue of the Indianapolis Sunday Star for the content of Harding's made-up dream. Much of this story was also was also published in Thomas Gregg's 1890 book, The Prophet of Palmyra. The 1890 version is significantly longer and more detailed, but covers the same time period and the same major events. It does not, however, relate the details of Harding's fabricated "dream."

Note 2: The Smith "girl" who was supposed "to be the Mary of the coming Dispensation," was evidently Catherine (or Katherine) Smith. Her premarital pregnancy would not occur until several months after Harding's visit. Some early accounts name the Rev. Sidney Rigdon of Mentor, Ohio as being the hopeful (?) father. See notes appended to an article in the May 17, 1831 issue of the Painesville, Ohio Geauga Gazette for more details on the Joseph Smith, Sr. household reportedly functioning as "a perfect brothel."

Note 3: Governor Harding's description of Joseph Smith, Jr., appears to indicate that the young man had once been the victim of small pox, or some other disfiguring disease. Smith's 1844 death mask, however, shows no evidence that he suffered from severe facial scarring.

Note 4: Since Governor Harding makes no mention of sampling the contents of "the old man's" jug, it appears that he took Father Smith's word, that the sloshing liquid was only "vinegar." In that day and age, grocers who filled jugs with vinegar were the same as those who dispensed hard cider into the same sort of receptacles.