(with investigative questions from Wade Englund)


(The unquoted portions in Enigma are marked in gray text)

"The individuals who gave birth to this species of fanaticism are very simple personages, and not known until this thrust them into notice. They are the old and young Joe Smith's Harris a farmer, Ringdon a sort of preacher on general religion from Ohio, together with several other persons equally infatuated, cunning, and hypocritic. . . .Young Joe, who afterwards figured so largely in the Mormon religion, was at that period a careless, indolent, idle, and shiftless fellow. . . .Harris also one of the fathers of Mormonism was a substantial farmer near Palmyra. . . .A few years ago [making it around 1827 or 1828, based on the fact that the article was written and published in the fall of 1831, and that Bennett's notes indicate that Joseph Smith was 22 years old--see below] the Smith's and others who were influenced by their notions, caught an idea that money was hid in several of the hills which give variety to the country between the Canandaigua Lake and Palmyra on the Erie Canal. . . .As yet no fanatical or religious character had been assumed by the Smith's. They exhibited the simple and ordinary desire of getting rich by some short cut if possible. With this view the Smith's and their associates commenced digging, in the numerous hills which diversify the face of the country in the town of Manchester. . . .At last some person who joined them [i.e. Cowdery][--actually, Bennett makes no mention of Cowdery in the article or in his notes, so this is clearly self-serving speculation on the Enigma author's part] spoke of a person [Rigdon][--actually, Bennett refers to him below as Henry Rangdon or Ringdon, though his notes state Henry Rigdon] in Ohio near Painsville, who had a particular felicity [sic-- should be "facility"][--not necessarily] in finding out the spots of ground where money is hid and riches obtained. He related long stories how this person had been along shore in the east -- how he had much experience in money digging -- how he dreamt of the very spots where it could be found. "Can we get that man here?" asked the enthusiastic Smiths. "Why," said the other, "I guess as how we could by going for him." "How far off?" "I guess some two hundred miles -- I would go for him myself but I want a little change to bear my expenses." To work the whole money-digging crew went to get some money to pay the expenses of bringing on a man who could dream out the exact and particular spots where money in iron chests was hid under ground. Old Smith returned to his gingerbread factory -- young Smith to his financing faculties, and after some time, by hook or by crook, they contrived to scrape together a little "change" sufficient to fetch on the money dreamer from Ohio.

"After the lapse of some weeks the expedition was completed and the famous Ohio man made his appearance among them. This recruit was the most cunning, intelligent, and odd of the whole. He had been a preacher of almost every religion -- a teacher of all sorts of morals. -- He was perfectly au fait with every species of prejudice, folly or fanaticism, which governs the mass of enthusiasts. In the course of his experience, he had attended all sorts of camp-meetings, prayer meetings, anxious meetings, and revival meetings. He knew every turn of the human mind in relation to these matters. He had a superior knowledge of human nature, considerable talent, great plausibility, and knew how to work the passions as exactly as a Cape Cod sailor knows how to work a whale ship. His name I believe is Henry Rangdon or Ringdon or some such word.

"About the time that this person appeared among them, a splendid excavation was begun in a long narrow hill, between Manchester and Palmyra. This hill has since been called by some, the Golden Bible Hill. The road from Canandaigua to Palmyra, runs along its western base.... In the face of this hill, the money diggers renewed their work with fresh ardour, Ringdon partly uniting with them in their operations. . . .It was during this state of public feeling in which the money diggers of Ontario county, by the suggestions of the Ex-Preacher from Ohio, thought of turning their digging concern into a religious plot, and thereby have a better chance of working upon the credulity and ignorance of the [their] associates and the neighborhood. Money and a good living might be got in this way. It was given out that visions had appeared to Joe Smith -- that a set of golden plates on which was engraved the "Book of Mormon," enclosed in an iron chest, was deposited somewhere in the hill I have mentioned. People laughed at the first intimation of the story, but the Smiths and Rangdon persisted in its truth.

"They began also to talk very seriously, to quote scripture, to read the bible, to be contemplative, and to assume that grave studied character, which so easily imposes on ignorant and superstitious people. Hints were given out that young Joe Smith was the chosen one of God to reveal this new mystery to the world; and Joe from being an idle young fellow, lounging about the villages, jumped up into a very grave parsonlike man, who felt he had on his shoulders the salvation of the world, besides a respectable looking sort of a blackcoat. Old Joe, the ex- preacher, and several others, were the believers of the new faith, which they admitted was an improvement in christianity, foretold word for word in the bible. They treated their own invention with the utmost religious respect. By the special interposition of God, the golden plates, on which was engraved the Book of Mormon, and other works, had been buried for ages in the hill by a wandering tribe of the children of Israel, who had found their way to western New York, before the birth of christianity itself. Joe Smith is discovered to be the second Messiah who was to reveal this word to the world and to reform it anew.

"In relation to the finding of the plates and the taking the engraving, a number of ridiculous stories are told. -- Some unsanctified fellow looked out the other side of the hill. They had to follow it with humility and found it embedded beneath a beautiful grove of maples. Smith's wife, who had a little of the curiosity of her sex, peeped into the large chest in which he kept the engravings taken from the golden plates, and straightway one half the new Bible vanished, and has not been recovered to this day. Such were the effects of the unbelievers on the sacred treasure. There is no doubt but the ex-parson from Ohio is the author of the book which was recently printed and published in Palmyra and passes for the new Bible. It is full of strange narratives -- in the style of the scriptures, and bearing on its face the marks of some ingenuity, and familiar acquaintance with the Bible. It is probable that Joe Smith is well acquainted with the trick, but Harris the farmer and the recent converts, are true believers. -- Harris was the first man who gave credit to the story of Smith and the ex-preacher. . . .They were called translaters, but in fact and in truth they are believed to be the work of the Ex-Preacher from Ohio, who stood in the background and put forward Joe to father the new bible and the new faith. After the publication of the golden bible, they began to make converts rapidly. The revivals and other religious excitements had thrown up materials for the foundation of a new sect, they soon found they had not dug for money in vain -- they began to preach -- to pray -- to see more visions -- to prophesy and perform the most fantastic tricks -- there was now no difficulty in getting a living and the gingerbread factory was abandoned. They created considerable talk over all this section of the country. Another Revelation came upon them, and through Joe and some other of these prophets, they were directed to take up their march and go out to the promised land -- to a place near Painesville, Ohio. Money was raised in a twinkling from the new converts. Their principals -- their tenets -- their organization -- their discipline were as yet unformed and unfashioned, and probably are so to this day. Since they went to Ohio they have adopted some of the worldly views of the Shakers and have formed a sort of community system where everything is in common. Joe Smith, Harris, the Ex-pedlar and the Ex-parson are among their elders and preachers -- so also now is Phelps one of Mr. Granger's leading anti-masonic editors in this village."(38)

Investigative Questions:

(fatal questions marked with an asterisk *)

  1. How reliable can Bennett's statement be when one is given no direct indication as to who is (are) the source(s) of his information? For all we know it could very well be a third-hand statement derived from hearsay sources considerably less than objective towards Joseph Smith and the LDS faith (such as E. B. Grandin or other eventual Spaulding theorist associated with the Wayne Sentinel, and/or those directly or indirectly involved in the religious persecution and prejudiced manifest against Joseph Smith, his family and followers, just prior to that time-see statement by Lucy Smith below, each of whom could easily be numbered among those that first started the false rumor, around the same time as Bennett's interview, that Rigdon was the author of the Book of Mormon--see below)?
  2. How reliable can Bennett's statement be when none of the principal characters mentioned in the article were consulted to see if what was being reported was correct or not? At the time of Bennett's investigation, Joseph Smith and his family, along with Sidney Rigdon (who had been at Fayette for only a month or so) and other principal characters mentioned in the article, had moved to Kirtland, Ohio eight months earlier, and thus they were not available to deny or correct what was later errantly reported.
  3. How reliable can Bennett's statement be when certain claims were stated as fact which, were they true, could only have been known of a surety by the principal characters not consulted by Bennett (not the least of which is the alleged conversation about fetching the famed money-digger from Ohio)--especially when those who would know suggest just the opposite?
  4. With these questions in mind, how can Bennett's statement possibly be considered as "evidence", whether primary or supportive?
  5. *How reliable can Bennett's third-hand statement be when the 1831 article was, at best, vague regarding the timing of the alleged events (i.e. "several years ago"), and it was entirely unclear as to the duration that Rigdon (or Rangdon) and Smith were in each others company--though the impression is given that they both had frequented each others company in the vicinity of the Palmyra area over the course of the "several years". Since Rigdon, during that time, was known to be mostly in Mentor, Ohio and vicinity; and Smith was in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and later in Fayette where official history records that he first met Rigdon; then, either it is now impossible to test Bennett's claim against the Rigdon/Smith time-lines (because of the vagueness of the statement), or his statement is now in repeated conflict with the Rigdon/Smith time-lines. Yet the Enigma authors went on to knowingly and falsely claim that "for in every instance without exception, where a witness or witnesses have claimed that Rigdon and Smith were together, a gap in Rigdon's chronology occurs which allows sufficient time for him to have visited New York." As the author's have also said, "every liar slips up somewhere" (see Enigma p. 490), and it appears that both Bennett's source(s) and the Enigma authors slipped up here.
  6. How reliable can Bennett's statement be when it makes claims about Rigdon that lack collaboration and even appear to conflict with credible history (not the least of which is Rigdon's alleged reputation as having "a particular felicity in finding out the spots of ground where money is hid and riches obtained", the supposed lengthy stories how he allegedly "had been along shore in the east," "how he had much experience in money digging," and "how he dreamt of the very spots where it could be found").
  7. How reliable can Bennett's statement be when he, or his hearsay source(s), weren't consistent in getting the names of the supposed principal characters correct?
  8. Of the four principal characters in the article (Smith Sr, Smith Jr, Martin Harris, and Sidney Rigdon), why do you suppose that they (Bennett and his source(s)) only had trouble with Sidney Rigdon's name (Ragdon, Ringdon, Henry--Bennett's "or some such thing" qualifier notwithstanding)? Could it be that the official history is correct, and Sidney Rigdon had only been in the vicinity of Palmyra (mostly at Fayette) for a month or so, eight months previous to Bennett's investigation, and thus Rigdon was considerably less familiar to the unnamed source(s) than were the Smiths and Harris, who were long-time residents of the area? If the supposed famous Rigdon had been for "several years" in the Palmyra area, and his alleged activities (digging for treasures, shifting the scheme from treasure seeking to religion, preaching, writing the "Gold Bible", etc.) during that time were well enough known to be supposedly given an accounting of (parts of which were in specific detail), don't you suppose that he would have been familiar enough for them to have gotten his name correct?
  9. How does one know that Bennett's account is not just, in his own words, one of "a number of ridiculous stories [that were] told" regarding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon?
  10. Leonard Arrington, an LDS historian, indicates that following this article by Bennett, he went on to write hundreds of other article's about the LDS, many of which were favorable. It would be interesting to see from those articles whether what he reported about the beginnings of the LDS Church ever changed over time--particularly after he finally got to speak with the principal characters mentioned in his first article about them.

Updated 02/14/01


BYU Studies, Number 3, Spring 1970, James Gordon Bennett's 1831 Report on "The Mormonites", by Leonard J. Arrington *

Internal evidence suggests that Bennett discussed Mormonism with E. B. Grandin, whose firm had printed the Book of Mormon; Charles Butler, the lawyer-philanthropist from whom Martin Harris attempted to borrow money to pay for printing the Book of Mormon; and others.

Geneva, August 7, 1831: Mormonism. Old Smith [Joseph Smith, Sr.] was a healer -- a grand story teller -- very glib -- was a vender [?] -- made gingerbread and buttermints &c&c -- Young Smith [Joseph Smith, Jr.] was careless, idle, indolent fellow -- 22 years old -- brought up to live by his wits--which means a broker of small wants -- Harris [Martin] was a hardy industrious farmer of Palmyra -- with some money -- could speak off the Bible by heart -- Henry [Sidney] Rigdon -- a parson in general -- smart fellow -- he is the author of the Bible -- they dig first for money -- a great many hills--the Golden Bible Hill [Cumorah] where there is a hole 30 or forty feet into the side -- 6 feet diameter dug among and the chest fled his approach -- turned into a religious plot and gave out the golden plates -- the Hill a long narrow hill which spreads out broad to the South -- covered with Beech, Maple, Basswood and White Wood--the north end quite naked -- the trees cut off in the road from Canandaigua to Palmyra between Manchester & Palmyra -- several fine orchards on the east -- and fine farms on the west -- here the ground is hilly -- but small hills -- very uneven -- the [Lake Canandaigua] outlet runs past part of it -- Mormonites went to Ohio because the people here would not pay any attention to them -- Smith's wife [Emma] looked into a hole and the chest fled into a trunk and he lost several of them -- [William W.] Phelps of the Phoenix was converted to Mormonism and is now a teacher or elder --

August 8, 1831: Mormonism -- C[harles]. Butler saw Harris [[3 Professor Richard L. Anderson of Brigham Young University states that among the Charles Butler Papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress is a folder containing correspondence for 1842. One four-page statement dictated by Mr. Butler relates to the Butler-Bennett interview. Butler stated that sometime after Harris' application for a loan, "as he was walking in the street at Geneva he [Butler] was accosted by a young man who shewed him a letter asking if he knew where he cd find the person to whom it was addressed. The letter was to Mr. B [Butler] from Jas Watson Webb then editor of the N Y Inquirer introducing the bearer James Gordon Bennett who was sent to get information about the discovery of the Mormon Bible." See also Francis H. Stoddard, The Life and Letters of Charles Butler (New York, 1903), pp. 125-128. end3]] they wanted to borrow money to print the Book -- he told him he carried the engravings from the plates to New York--showed them to Professor Anthon who said that he did not know what language they were -- told him to carry them to Dr. Mitchell -- Doctor Mitchell examined them -- and compared them with other hieroglyphics -- thought them very curious -- and they were the characters of a nation now extinct which he named -- Harris returned to Anthon who put some questions to him and got angry with Harris

Quotes from Lucy about persecution

Quote from PP Pratt about when the false rumor about Rigdon authoring the Book of Mormon first began to circulate