Sister Brodie and Sister Brooks

Review of Gary Topping. Utah Historians and the Reconstruction of
Western History.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003. xii +
388 pp., with index. $24.95.

Sister Brodie and Sister Brooks

Reviewed by Larry E. Morris

Gary Topping, associate professor of history at Salt Lake Community
College and archivist of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, brings good
credentials to the researching and writing of Utah history. Former curator
of manuscripts at the Utah State Historical Society, he is the author of
Glen Canyon and the San Juan Country and the editor of Great
Salt Lake: An Anthology
.1 In Utah
, Topping treats the lives and
writings of an amazing group of historians—Bernard DeVoto, Dale Morgan,
Juanita Brooks, Wallace Stegner, and Fawn Brodie—all contemporaries,
all with a strong Utah connection, and all of whom wrote about Western and
Mormon history. Such a book is overdue because each of the five produced significant
work and achieved national prominence. In addition, their interrelationships
influenced their writing careers. Few Western states could boast such an interesting
group of historians. Topping, who has studied all of them meticulously, candidly
discusses their strengths and weaknesses as historians. He also offers fascinating
biographical information. While Utah Historians thus has value for readers interested
in these historians, Topping undercuts that value by going out of his way
to cast the church and its leaders in a negative light—sacrificing sound
historical methodology in the process.

“The Niece of David O. McKay”2

I would like to focus on Brodie and Brooks because they were both
born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and both produced
controversial work on Mormon history. I am interested in DeVoto, Stegner,
and Morgan and admire them as writers,3
but none of the three published books that engaged Mormon historical issues
the way that Brodie’s and Brooks’s did. (Morgan planned a great work on Mormon history but never completed or
published it.) I would like to point out, however, that one of the best sections
of Topping’s book is his comparison of DeVoto to the great American poet Walt
Whitman, noting that “one could easily imagine Whitman’s delight if he
could have witnessed DeVoto’s continental vision, his extravagant language,
and his easy trespasses across the boundary lines of literature and history”
(p. 79). In parts of the book like this one, Topping demonstrates both his
ability to view the past from a refreshing and insightful perspective and
his skill as a writer.4

Getting back to our duo, we turn first to Fawn Brodie (1915-1981).
In taking a closer look at her life, I found several interesting parallels
between her background and mine. We both had ancestors who lived in Nauvoo
before coming west, ancestors who converted to Mormonism in Great Britain,
ancestors who settled in northeastern Utah (hers in Huntsville and mine in
Hyrum). In addition, Fawn Brodie is in several ways exactly one generation
ahead of me: She was born in 1915, three months before my dad. Her father,
Thomas E. McKay, was born in October of 1875, the same month and year as my
grandfather. Her first grandchild was born in 1975, months before the birth
of my and my wife’s first child. Like Fawn Brodie, I loved reading as a child,
wrote poetry as an adolescent, got a master’s degree in English, and later
turned to history. (I wish that, like Brodie, I had signed a contract with
a prominent national publisher before turning thirty, but what can you do?)

At first glance, it is natural to assume that
Fawn Brodie experienced an ideal Mormon upbringing. Both of her grandfathers,
David McKay and George H. Brimhall, the latter president of Brigham Young
University from 1903 to 1921, were well respected Latter-day Saints, as were
her parents, and she grew up in the McKay home in Huntsville. Her uncle, David
O. McKay, became an apostle before she was born and was called to the First
Presidency when she was a teenager.5
But all was not well in the McKay and Brimhall families. In his brief discussion of Fawn’s early life, Topping
mentions that her grandfather, George H. Brimhall, had been dismissed—unjustly
in the minds of some family members—as president of
BYU6 and that her mother, Fawn Brimhall
McKay, lost her faith in Mormonism and attempted suicide more than once. All
of this was news to me. (I knew of George Brimhall but didn’t know he was
Fawn Brodie’s grandfather.) I was surprised, however, that Topping fails to
probe the question of whether Brodie’s childhood experiences prompted an early
disillusionment with Mormonism that later blossomed into a complete loss of

Nor does Topping inform us that a seriously ill George Brimhall committed
suicide (when Fawn was sixteen) or that his daughter—Fawn’s mother—finally
succeeded in taking her own life (when Fawn was forty-five). Again, Topping
says little of the strange living arrangements in the Huntsville home, with
Thomas’s seven-person family occupying only two bedrooms of the nine-bedroom
home, even though the other bedrooms were unoccupied most of the year. (Thomas’s
brothers and sisters used them during the summer months.) In addition, Fawn’s
mother had virtually no say in the decorating and upkeep of the home because
she was not a voting member of the McKay Family Corporation. Topping does
not mention that all of this could be quite meaningful in terms of Fawn’s
decision to give up her belief. Her “idyllic” childhood (a phrase
she herself used) was in some ways quite the opposite of
that.7 In reading of her family circumstances,
I felt a good deal of sympathy for her.

‘No Man Knows My History’

Fawn Brodie, of course, is best known both in and out of Utah for
her biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History. Early in his discussion of this book, Topping
reveals much about his attitude toward Mormonism in a single sentence. Speaking
of the Book of Mormon, he writes: “What sounds to modern readers like
an ungodly slumgullion of popular cultural themes
designed to address the yearnings of a particular locality at a particular
moment turned out to have a widespread and profound appeal” (pp. 290-91,
emphasis added). It’s hard to understand why Topping, who claims to have “no
conscious awareness of ill will toward the Mormon people or the Mormon culture”
(p. 11) and whose book was funded in part by Brigham Young University’s Charles
Redd Center for Western Studies, would choose to characterize the Book of
Mormon in such an unnecessarily negative manner.

I went to Mr. Webster for help with slumgullion, a word
I have certainly never used (nor does my Microsoft Word spell checker recognize
it). It is defined as “meat stew,”8
and the sound of the word conjures up a rather unappetizing stew. Indeed, the words
slum and gullion originally meant “slime” and “mud,
cesspool,” respectively, an etymology
that one would expect a careful writer like Topping to be well aware of. Topping
gives us no clue why readers should think of the Book of Mormon as slumgullion.
Given its large cast of characters and its complex flashbacks, I can understand
how it might be thought of as a collage, and given its close relationship
to the King James Bible, I can also see how some might consider it a pastiche,
but slumgullion? Topping is clearly taking pains to use highly negative rather
than neutral words. Worse yet, he claims these modern readers will also view
the Book of Mormon as “ungodly.” Why would that be true? This is
a book that continually speaks of God and Christ in reverential terms. Try
opening it at random without seeing a verse or several verses honoring deity.
Topping’s label is not only biased, it is inaccurate. In this and numerous
other places throughout the book, his choice of words reveals a strong bias
against Mormonism and indicates that he has a serious ax to grind, not what
one would expect from a thoughtful scholar.

Topping again describes the Book of Mormon quite negatively in his
discussion of Dale Morgan, calling it a “lurid” tale (p. 144) but
offering no explanation as to why that word would be appropriate. If Morgan
felt that way, why not quote him? “Ungodly slumgullion” and “lurid”
thus reveal much more about Topping than they do about Brodie or Morgan.

Although Topping criticizes all five subjects of this book for various
scholarly failings, he basically gives Brodie a free pass in her attack on
Joseph Smith. In discussing the translation of the Book of Mormon, for example,
Topping mentions that Brodie sees the speed of the process as evidence of
Joseph’s ability, whereas Latter-day Saint historian Francis W. Kirkham had
argued that it was evidence of divine assistance. Topping simply gives Brodie
the last word in this debate. In doing this, he does not account for the complexities
of the issue. To her credit, Brodie explains that Joseph and Oliver produced
a 275,000-word manuscript in approximately ten weeks, a pace that meant averaging
3,700 words a day. Brodie presumes to explain this by insisting that Joseph
“had a remarkable facility for dictation.”9
But neither Brodie nor Topping mentions that the extreme difficulty
of producing a manuscript of that size in such a brief period of time was
compounded by the method of production: Joseph Smith—while looking at
the seer stone in his hat and having no access to other source material—dictated
the text to Oliver Cowdery in fifteen-to-twenty-word segments; Oliver then
transcribed the dictation and read it back to Joseph, who made any necessary
corrections before moving on to the next segment (a process no doubt considerably
more exhausting and time-consuming than normal composition with pen and pad—not
to mention computer and word processor).10
Nor does Brodie or Topping inform us that in the history of
American literature, no one is known to have produced a prominent work of
similar length in anything close to a ten-week period. But Topping glides
past this as if the speed of the translation presents no difficulty for critics.
He also ignores the fact that Brodie attempted to escape some of that difficulty
with an ill-advised and unfounded speculation that Oliver merely copied some
of Martin Harris’s text.

Topping also takes Leonard Arrington to task for his criticism of
Brodie, saying that Arrington’s “opinion of No Man Knows My History
was uncharacteristically caustic” for a man who was normally “kind and
generous” (p. 334). What Arrington actually said is as follows:

The [Mormon] biography most often referred to by most scholars
is Fawn Brodie’s life of Joseph Smith, but earnest critics have found many
inaccuracies in both fact and interpretation. Despite the evidence of prodigious
research, despite the charming imagery of its style and its stirring chronicle
of an enigmatic career, the book has two methodological weaknesses. First,
it is evident that Mrs. Brodie, who is a lapsed Mormon, not only has little
patience with the pretensions of Mormonism, but little appreciation of religious
phenomena generally. She refuses to accord integrity to the many men of undoubted
intellect and character who associated with the Mormon prophet and believed
him to be an inspired leader. Second, Mrs. Brodie was concerned, or at least
it would seem, with painting a pen portrait rather than with writing a work
of history. The work reads as though she began by studying the historical
background sufficiently to formulate what she regarded as a reasonable and
believable approach to Joseph Smith and then proceeded to mobilize the evidence
to illustrate and support her interpretation. To be sure, these indictments
may be overdrawn, but Mrs. Brodie’s colorful adjectives and sometimes damning
inferences imply a finality of judgment that is not warranted by the contradictory
character of the evidence she examined.11

Rather than discussing the substance of Arrington’s comments, Topping
argues that Arrington is being “caustic.” That is ironic because
Arrington’s judgments are not only right on the mark, they are measured and
civil, anything but caustic, with a tone that is perfectly appropriate for
a scholarly journal.

Topping likewise dismisses reviews by Hugh Nibley
and others with a wave of the hand, calling them “attacks that were heated
but lacking in substance” (p. 293). I realize that early Mormon history
was not Hugh Nibley’s specialty, and I personally wish he had published a
serious review of Brodie’s book in a scholarly journal rather than a somewhat
flippant commentary with Bookcraft.12 But let’s take
a look at his criticisms and see if they amount to anything. Nibley starts
by objecting that Brodie “first makes up her mind about Joseph Smith
and then proceeds to accept any and all evidence, from whatever source, that
supports her theory,”13 which is much like Arrington’s
second point. As an example, Nibley points to Brodie’s assertion that the
fortune-teller Luman Walters was a “mentor” to young Joseph
Smith.14 Brodie refers to
“press accounts”15 mentioning Walters,
but as Nibley notes, these so-called accounts all originated with one man,
newspaper editor Abner Cole—using the pseudonym Obadiah
Dogberry.16 Even when such rabid anti-Mormons as Philastus
Hurlbut, Chester Thorne, and Arthur Deming went searching specifically for
damning statements on Joseph Smith from Palmyra neighbors, not a single person
mentioned Walters. Nor does Brodie tell us that Cole’s first discussion of
the contents of the Book of Mormon was rather evenhanded and said nothing
at all about Walters or treasure seeking. “We do not intend at this time,”
Cole wrote, “to discuss the merits or demerits of this work. . . . The Book,
when it shall come before the public, must stand or fall, according to the whims and
fancies of its readers. How it will stand the test of rigid criticism, we
are not prepared to say, not having as yet examined many of its
pages.”17 In an even more serious omission,
Brodie neglects to mention that Cole launched his assault on the Book of Mormon and made allegations
about Walters—via a parody called “The Book of Pukei”—only
after Joseph Smith had confronted him about illegally printing excerpts from the Book of
Mormon. Cole’s claims are therefore suspicious, to say the least, and Brodie’s
hasty conclusions are unwarranted.18

Another example of Brodie’s uncritical source selection is her use
of a quotation from Thomas Ford in her discussion of the Eight Witnesses.
In a history of Illinois published in 1854, Ford, the governor of Illinois
from 1842 to 1846 and the man who abandoned Joseph and Hyrum Smith after encouraging
them to give themselves up at Carthage, wrote that Joseph set his followers

to continual prayer, and other spiritual exercises, to acquire this lively faith
by means of which the hidden things of God could be spiritually discerned;
and at last, when he could delay them no longer, he assembled them in a room,
and produced a box, which he said contained the precious treasure. The lid
was opened; the witnesses peeped into it, but making no discovery, for the
box was empty, they said, “Brother Joseph, we do not see the plates.”
The prophet answered them, “O ye of little faith! how long will God bear
with this wicked and perverse generation? Down on your knees, brethren, every
one of you, and pray God for the forgiveness of your sins, and for a holy
and living faith which cometh down from heaven.” The disciples dropped
to their knees, and began to pray in the fervency of their spirit, supplicating
God for more than two hours with fanatical earnestness; at the end of which
time, looking again into the box, they were now persuaded that they saw
the plates. I leave it to philosophers to determine whether the fumes of an
enthusiastic and fanatical imagination are thus capable of blinding the mind
and deceiving the senses by so absurd a

Brodie opines that Ford offered “one of the most plausible descriptions
of the manner in which Joseph Smith obtained these eight
Is it solid source criticism that leads to this
conclusion? Not at all, because Ford’s account is weak on several levels.
First, Ford’s account is late—it was not printed until twenty-five years
after the witnesses reported seeing the plates. Second, and most important,
Ford did not identify his sources, claiming instead that “I have been
informed by men who were once in the confidence of the prophet, that he privately
gave a different account of the matter.”21
Brodie even takes the liberty of expanding on Ford’s explanation by stating that Ford
“knew intimately several of Joseph’s key men after they became disaffected and left the
church.”22 How does she know
this? Despite this posturing, the fact remains that Ford’s sources are anonymous,
so we have no way of knowing how reliable they are. Third, since we can’t
identify the sources, we don’t know whether they received their information
directly from those involved or from someone who talked to those people, making
Ford’s version thirdhand at best and possibly even fourthhand. (We have a
word for the kind of story that floats from one anonymous source to another—we
call it a rumor.) Fourth, Ford’s account is not corroborated by any
reliable sources.23

Given all these difficulties with Ford’s statement, one wonders why
Brodie claimed it is “the most plausible description” of what happened.
After all, the Eight Witnesses themselves made a perfectly clear statement,
explaining that “Joseph Smith . . . has shown unto us the plates of which
hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves
as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our
hands.”24 This account is both early
and firsthand, trumping the Ford statement by any reasonable historical standard.
Nor can it be dismissed as describing a “metaphysical” experience, whatever that might be,
because the text itself gives no indication of that whatsoever. Brodie, however,
clearly privileges sources that fit with her theory of what must have happened.

Admitting that Emma and William Smith “emphasized the size,
weight, and metallic texture of the plates,” Brodie speculates that “perhaps
Joseph built some kind of makeshift deception. If so, it disappeared with
his announcement that the same angel that had revealed to him the sacred record
had now carried it back into heaven.”25
To her credit, Brodie has broached one of the key issues related
to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon: Did Joseph Smith have real plates,
fake plates (“makeshift deception,” in Brodie’s words), or no plates
at all? This question deserves careful consideration by those interested in
Joseph Smith. Why? A number of honest people claimed to have handled, lifted,
or seen the plates in many different circumstances. However, if Joseph created
fake plates, as Brodie hints, he would have left a trail of evidence. He had
to obtain the material somewhere, he had to have tools, and he had to have
a place to work. He had to have created the plates in a specific place at
a specific time. Any number of people, including neighbors who later did everything
possible to make Joseph look bad, could have seen Joseph involved in these
activities. There was one chance after another to catch Joseph in such a fraud.
Receipts for purchases could have been written. Tools or fragments of material
could have been seen or found. Where did Joseph get the money to do this?
Did he have coconspirators? Did anyone mention his or her suspicions—or
collusion—in a letter or diary? Anyone claiming that Joseph produced
fake plates needs to provide evidence for that assertion or admit there is
none and, if that’s the case, explain how the theory can possibly be a good
one. Likewise, anyone claiming there were no plates at all must account for
firsthand testimony to the contrary, from at least fifteen

According to Nibley, “here is Brodie’s method” of dealing
with the fundamental questions regarding the plates:
“‘Exactly how Joseph Smith persuaded so many of
the reality of the gold plates is neither so important nor so baffling as
the effect of this success on Joseph himself.’ Whereupon she drops the question
for good. . . . She is simply side-stepping the issue, and the law of parsimony
screams bloody murder: it must have an explanation of those plates, but such
is not forthcoming from our oracle.”27
In just a few pages, Nibley has revealed serious problems with Brodie’s methodology,
problems that persist throughout her book.28
Topping, however, is content to ignore Brodie’s deeply flawed source criticism and echo Dale
Morgan’s laughable claim that Brodie could have eliminated nine-tenths of
the criticisms directed by Nibley and others by changing twenty phrases in
her book (see p. 293).

Juanita Brooks (1898-1989)

Of the three church members covered by Topping,
Juanita Brooks has the distinction of being the only one who remained a faithful
Latter-day Saint. As Topping aptly notes, Brooks was “born, reared, educated,
and employed in that far-flung outpost of Mormon country along the middle
and lower Virgin River in southern Utah and Nevada.” She “left her
homeland only for brief sojourns and spent her scholarly career collecting
sources and writing about little else” (p. 178). Topping adds that “there
was an undercurrent of tragedy in Dixie culture, an unspoken memory of the
Mountain Meadows Massacre” (p. 185). This undercurrent had a profound
effect on Brooks, and in 1950 she published The Mountain
Meadows Massacre
, still the best book yet published on the
subject. According to Topping, “Brooks’s problem, then, as she worked
out her interpretation of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was the question
of why good people do bad things. Her answer, and probably the only answer
available to her within a Mormon worldview, was that external agents had temporarily
clouded the otherwise good judgment and moral rectitude of the people of southwestern
Utah” (p. 209).

Convinced that Brooks refused to “follow her sources to conclusions
that might embarrass her church” (p. 6), Topping offers his interpretation
of the massacre, which he explains in terms of a fundamental flaw in Mormon

Early Mormonism, and the Mormonism of the frontier of both [John
D.] Lee and Brooks, was an enchanted world. It was an apocalyptic world in
which signs and wonders abounded, in which people prophesied and worked miracles.
Patriarchal blessings loomed over people’s lives as the manipulative gods
of the Greek pantheon kept dipping into human affairs. Some kind of miraculous
manifestation of God’s hand pops up, if not on every page, certainly in every
chapter. Brigham Young’s face lights up with a heavenly glow as he dispenses
the word of God; his voice becomes the voice of Joseph Smith as he asserts
his authority over the church; fatal illnesses yield to the laying on of hands;
people’s heads are run over by wagons with no ill effect. And through it all
is a profound sense of the End Times, that history is coming to a culmination,
that the trumpet of the Lord is about to sound and the sword of the Lord to
be drawn, while He dons His boots to trample out the vintage of the grapes
of wrath. All this, of course, is readily documented in a multitude of sources,
not the least of which is John D. Lee’s diaries. There can be no question
that the enchanted world of John D. Lee was precisely as Brooks presents it,
and that he was willing to serve and to suffer for the church—and to
take blaspheming Gentiles into eternity with him—because Lee’s head
was in heaven while his feet were on earth, and he was zealously eager to
bring the kingdom of God to earth. What is curious, though, is that Brooks
presents all this with a wide-eyed straightforwardness as historical fact.
The absence, in Brooks’s narrative, of any external, critical perspective
on Lee’s enchanted world forces the reader to wonder, then, just what was
wrong about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. . . .

It seems reasonable to suggest, then, that Brooks’s
research might have yielded more plausibly to an interpretation based on her
Augustinian moments rather than the Pelagianism with which she felt compelled
to reconcile it. Instead of giving us thoroughly good people who became suddenly
sidetracked by a highly aberrant moment of hysteria and provocation, she might
have probed more deeply into the dark recesses of the Mormon psyche, with
its festering resentments, its latent violence, and its readiness to visit
the sins of the fathers upon the children. Unfortunately, she was unable to
arrive at an Augustinian interpretation because of her felt obligation to
explain the tragedy in terms acceptable to her church. (pp. 201-2, 218)

In these passages, Topping makes his disdain for things Mormon quite
clear. He also psychoanalyzes Brooks based on what he concludes she must have
been thinking. Again, his choice of words reveals his attitude: the pioneer
world is not spiritual but enchanted; patriarchal blessings don’t
inspire—they loom; deity is depicted not as the
Lord God who blesses but as the manipulative Greek god
whose hand pops up. For Topping, the Mountain
Meadows Massacre condemns not only the perpetrators of the tragedy but the
entire movement founded by Joseph Smith. One gets the distinct feeling that
festering resentment is actually a good description of Topping’s own
feeling toward Mormonism.

There is no doubt that, from any perspective, the Mountain Meadows
Massacre is difficult to understand. Any author attempting to interpret the
event faces genuine obstacles. Still, Topping could have provided some context.
He could have pointed out, for example, that the nineteenth-century Mormon
“apocalyptic world in which signs and wonders abounded, in which people
prophesied and worked miracles,” sounds remarkably like the world of
the New Testament, where miracles were common and believers frequently saw
the hand of God in their lives—and where the second coming of Christ
was believed to be on the horizon. Topping could have also posed the question
of whether similar beliefs concerning God’s intervention in human affairs
were common among non-Mormon Christians of the time or whether they are still
found among Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, and a host of others.

An even more serious omission is Topping’s failure to place the “latent
violence” of the “dark recesses of the Mormon psyche” in a
nineteenth-century context. He could have reminded his readers that such “heroes”
as Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson, and Wyatt Earp (to name a
few) all participated in violent events that we would find abhorrent. He could
have reminded us that many Americans had no qualms about massacring innocent
people they had classified as outsiders—for example, American Indians.
To those of us appalled by Mountain Meadows, such discussions offer no consolation;
nevertheless, all of this is pertinent to the dialogue.

Brooks, according to Topping, feared offending
church leaders because she was “staring down the barrel of excommunication”
(p. 218). Where is evidence for this? Topping offers none. Furthermore, in
his biography of Brooks, Levi Peterson discusses visits that Brooks had with
such leaders as church president George Albert Smith and First Presidency
member Stephen L Richards but never mentions any threat of excommunication.
This was true even though Brooks had written an angry letter in which she
chided President Richards.29

Although Topping admires Brooks and expresses a degree of respect
for her work on the Mountain Meadows book, he also shortchanges her by implying
that she caved in because of her fear of church leaders and intentionally
told less than the truth about the massacre. But in subsequent events not
mentioned by Topping, Brooks showed just how fearless she was. When Brooks
learned that church leaders had decided to posthumously restore John D. Lee’s
blessings—another important fact ignored by Topping—she resolved
to include a paragraph telling of the reinstatement in her biography of Lee.
Although an apostle reportedly exerted pressure, warning that she could be
excommunicated and that the reinstatement of Lee’s blessings could be rescinded,
Brooks did not flinch but went ahead with her plans to publish the announcement.
In the end, neither of the threats materialized, and David O. McKay instructed
other leaders to leave Brooks alone, something that brought tears to Juanita
Brooks’s eyes when she heard about it.30

Just as he did with Brodie, Topping fails to give full disclosure
on these points related to Brooks. This pattern continues throughout Utah
, detracting from a book that
had considerable potential. As it is, however, readers not well acquainted
with Mormon history are likely to gain a skewed view of it, while readers
who believe in the reality of Joseph Smith’s visions are likely to find Joseph’s
history repeatedly distorted.


Dale Morgan inspired the title for this essay by sometimes calling Fawn Brodie
and Juanita Brooks “Sister Brodie” and “Sister Brooks,” respectively,
and by referring to himself as “brother.” Writing to Brodie in 1955, for example, he closed by
saying, “I am, Dear Sister Brodie, your bro. in the bonds of faith.”
John Phillip Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence
and a New History
(Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 87.
Morgan made such references with a touch of sarcasm but also with genuine
affection, and I do the same.

1. Published by the University
of Idaho Press and Utah State University Press, respectively. Publishing with
the University of Oklahoma Press, definitely in the top tier of publishers
of Western Americana, adds another feather to Topping’s cap.

2. In April of
1951, not long after David O. McKay had been named president of the church,
Morgan sent a mock title page of No Man Knows My History to Brodie,
listing the author as “the niece of DAVID O. MCKAY/PRESIDENT OF THE
MORMON CHURCH.” Walker, Dale Morgan, 187.

3. Not long ago, I pulled down one of the three
Bernard DeVoto books on my shelf, Across the Wide Missouri (a compelling
account of the Rocky Mountain fur trade during the 1830s), expecting to find
a colorful and interesting description of pemmican. DeVoto did not disappoint,
explaining that pemmican was a mixture of pulverized meat—with the gristle
and sinew removed—and melted fat: “It was a splendid high-energy
food, a complete diet in itself. It was also a great treat (some cynics dissenting),
incomparably richer and more flavorsome than jerky. It could be eaten uncooked
or fried, roasted, or boiled, by itself or in combination with anything you
had on hand. The luxury article was ‘berry pemmican,’ into which pulverized
dried fruits of any available kind had been mixed.” Across
the Wide Missouri
(Boston: Mariner Books, 1998), 164. This is vintage
DeVoto. His descriptions of Indian and frontier life are packed with detail
and are endlessly fascinating. As Topping points out, DeVoto was a solid researcher
who could write well. His work was well received by both readers and critics,
and he won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for his Western
history. As for Stegner, who also won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer
Prize (but in his case for fiction), one of the most recent novels I’ve read
was his haunting The Spectator Bird. I also believe that another of his novels,
Recapitulation, contains some of the best descriptions of the Salt Lake Valley that I know
of. The historian among Topping’s fearsome fivesome I admire most is Dale
Morgan. I see his Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West as a masterpiece and believe that
The West of William Ashley is one of the best examples
I’ve seen of thorough research into primary documents accompanied by impeccable
annotation. Morgan had unique gifts for both finding forgotten documents and
writing beautiful prose—what a rare combination.

4. Even in his treatment of DeVoto, however, Topping editorializes needlessly on Mormonism.
Rather than allowing DeVoto to express anti-Mormon sentiments for himself—something
he does quite well—Topping insists on labeling Joseph Smith’s theology
“bizarre” (pp. 64, 86) and on characterizing priesthood authority
as “iron” (p. 64). Indeed, Topping uses the word iron
so often in describing LDS leaders that he manufactures
his own cliché (see pp. 8 and 89 for other examples).

5. Fawn’s father,
Thomas E. McKay, was called as an assistant to the Twelve in 1941. Topping
mistakenly refers to him as an apostle (p. 285).

6. Different branches
of the Brimhall family tend to view George Brimhall’s history and his attitude
toward the church quite differently. See Mary Jane Woodger and Joseph H. Groberg
(a descendant of Brimhall through a different wife than the one Fawn Brodie
descended through), “George H. Brimhall’s Legacy of Service to Brigham
Young University,” BYU Studies 43/2 (2004): 4-46.

7. See Newell B. Bringhurst, Fawn McKay Brodie: A
Biographer’s Life
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999),
7-44, for an overview of Brodie’s early life. Her son Bruce noted that
she referred to her youth as “idyllic” (7).

8. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.

9. Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life
of Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
1945), 62.

10. See Royal Skousen, “Translating the Book
of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited:
The Evidence for Ancient Origins
, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 61-93.

11. Leonard J. Arrington. “Scholarly Studies of Mormonism
in the Twentieth Century,” Dialogue 1/1 (1966): 24-25. Once again
revealing his bias, Topping accuses Arrington of being “caustic” when he criticizes
Brodie but claims that Arrington “soft-pedals” his discussion of being frustrated with
certain General Authorities in his role as church historian. But I believe both are simply
instances of Leonard Arrington being his normal diplomatic self. (See Utah
, 369 n. 8.)

12. Hugh Nibley, No, Ma’am, That’s Not History
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946). For an interesting comparison of Nibley’s
and Morgan’s criticisms of No Man Knows My History, see Gary F. Novak,
“‘The Most Convenient Form of Error': Dale Morgan on Joseph
Smith and the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Review of Books 8/1 (1996): 137-44.

13. Nibley, No, Ma’am, 11.

14. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 31.

15. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 19.

16. For information on Cole, see Andrew H. Hedges,
“The Refractory Abner Cole,” in Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays
in Honor of Truman Madsen
(Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 447-75.

17 Palmyra Reflector, 2 January 1830,
as cited in Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols.
(Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003),
2:228. Brodie gives no mention at all of this newspaper article about the
Book of Mormon.

18 I believe that
Luman Walters was on the scene at various times. Lucy Mack Smith and Brigham
Young both seem to mention him, although not by name. However, his exact role
and his relationship with the Smith family, if any, remain hazy.

19. Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 3:333-34.

20. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 79.

21. Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 3:333.

22. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 79.

23. True, Stephen
Burnett claimed to hear Martin Harris say “that the eight witnesses never
saw [the plates] & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason,
but were persuaded to do it.” Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 1838,
in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:291. But even if Burnett recorded Harris’s
statement accurately—and this is a matter of considerable
dispute—Martin Harris was certainly
not a firsthand witness of what the Eight Witnesses experienced. Nor did he
explain, according to Burnett, the source of his information. Therefore, Burnett’s
letter fails to make any meaningful link to the Eight Witnesses themselves.
It falls into the category of rumor (as far as the Eight Witnesses are concerned),
and Ford’s repeating that rumor would not add up to anything. See Vogel, Early
Mormon Documents
, 2:288-90, for an editorial note detailing
various reports of Martin Harris’s statement.

24. “The Testimony
of Eight Witnesses,” in the front matter of the Book of Mormon.

25. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 80.

26. Without offering
any evidence whatsoever, Dan Vogel speculates that Joseph Smith
could have easily set up shop in a cave on the other side of the
[Hill Cumorah] or in some corner of the forest. Using a pair of metal sheers, it would
have been
easy to cut a number of 6 x 8-inch sheets.” Next,
in a shot in the dark that would do Fawn Brodie proud, Vogel muses: “That
Smith was unable to finish the plates on the night of 21-22 September
1827 may be the best explanation for why he neglected to bring them home.”
Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004),
98, 600 n. 66, emphasis added. Of course, such plates would hardly have “the appearance of
gold” with engravings having “the appearance of ancient work, and of
curious workmanship” (“Testimony of Eight Witnesses”). Vogel therefore makes an
elaborate attempt to show that the Eight Witnesses—despite their unequivocal statement
to the contrary—never actually saw the plates, only imagined them while
feeling them through a cloth. This theory is capably dispatched in Richard
Lloyd Anderson, “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses,”
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/1 (2005): 18-31.

27. Nibley, No, Ma’am, 13. I find Nibley’s
discussion of Brodie’s faulty use of parallels to be just as convincing as
his discussion of her biased selection of sources. See pp. 14-16.

28. Another example
of Brodie’s biased selection of sources is appendix A in No Man Knows My History, which
Brodie entitles “Documents on the Early Life of Joseph Smith.” Brodie
has conspicuously chosen statements from such hostile individuals as Abner
Cole, Peter Ingersoll, Lucy Harris, and others that cast the Prophet in a
negative light. Firsthand statements from Lucy Mack Smith (the key source
on this topic), Emma Smith, Martin Harris, Joseph Knight Jr.—or any
other friendly party—are nowhere to be found.

29. Levi S. Peterson, Juanita Brooks: Mormon Woman Historian
(Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1988), 219. Nor does Topping inform
us of David O. McKay’s apparent reluctance to excommunicate apostates, and
Brooks did not even fall into that category. Sterling McMurrin, who spoke
out against the church in ways that Brooks never did, said that certain church
leaders threatened to excommunicate him. According to McMurrin, David O. McKay,
then president of the church, offered to testify on his behalf at any church
court. See Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the
Rise of Modern Mormonism
(Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 55.
McMurrin was still a member of the church when he died in 1996.

30. Prince and Wright, David O. McKay, 53-55.
See also Peterson, Juanita Brooks, 273-84. Prince and Wright’s book
(which describes President McKay’s instructions to leave Brooks alone) was published after
Topping’s book. Peterson’s book, however, tells the rest of the story and was available to Topping, who
cites it in other contexts.