Going Long: Of Speculation and Dark Mormon Doings

November 2, 2007 | 44 comments
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November is TV sweeps month, where networks and stations vie for audiences to set their advertising rates for the coming months. Local stations feature gore, scandal, ghost stories, and more or less embroidered accounts of the bizarre, heavily hyped during the days preceding a broadcast.

Rarely do old Mormon sermons serve the purposes of sweeps month. Yea, verily, we see the fulfillment of that Chinese curse – we do live in interesting times.

John Varah Long (1826-1869) was an Englishman, a convert to the church, who emigrated to Utah in 1854 and quickly found employment as a stenographer. Like the more widely known George D. Watt, Long used the Pitman system, the popular 19th century form of shorthand, now virtually extinct. (The church has employed a talented Pitman reader over the past few years to translate numerous documents in LDS archives, including the court testimony in John D. Lee’s Mountain Meadows trials.) Long may have worked for a time as one of Brigham Young’s extensive corps of office clerks; his chief employment and source of income was as a recorder of sermons, many of which were printed in the Deseret News and eventually in the Journal of Discourses.

Long was excommunicated in 1866. Whatever records of his case may have been preserved in church files are restricted, as are all similar papers, and the newspaper coverage of the excommunication is a simple announcement of the fact. With no primary source available for confirmation, anyone with an opinion is free to speculate as to the cause.

In April 1869 Long was found dead, drowned in an irrigation ditch in downtown Salt Lake. Because the ditch reportedly held as little as three inches of water, and because, well, you know, Long had been excommunicated so good Mormons everywhere must have been out to get him, doncha know, speculation among those with a certain type of jaundiced view holds that Long was murdered. By Mormons, of course. Because he knew too much, of course. In the words of that, like, totally credible reporter Ann Eliza Webb Young (Wife No. 19, who also claimed to know too much because, see, Brigham Young had this curious habit of writing down the details of his nefarious schemes and leaving them under bedpillows for Ann Eliza to discover),

Was a man obnoxious to any of the church officers, he disappeared, and was never heard of again; or, like John V. Long, a clerk in Brigham’s office, who was the only person who heard the conversation between Brigham and the messenger sent from George A. Smith, just before the Mountain Meadow massacre, and who wrote out the instructions which the man was to carry back, was found dead in a ditch, ”drowned” in three inches of water, “accidentally,” of course, since that was the decision of the Mormon jury.

Other voices point out that when you are as drunk as Long was, three inches is plenty of water to drown in. But let’s not spoil a good story. Not in sweeps month.

Fast forward to 2007. Descendants of the Long family have recently placed their store of Long’s papers with Ken Sanders, a Salt Lake rare books dealer, whom I greatly respect. Not only does he have a sterling reputation, his internet exploits in tracking down dealers in stolen books and documents, and dealing with the resulting threats against his safety, make for some of the most exciting – and true – tales you could hope to hear. Those stories would require no embroidery to make them sure-fire killers during sweeps periods.

I don’t know how extensive Long’s papers are – like the water in that ditch, maybe three inches deep according to broadcast images – but the potential for what they might contain, as long as they remain untranslated, made them irresistible for sweeps. Last night KTVX (Salt Lake City’s ABC affiliate) broadcast an interview conducted by reporter Chris Vanocur with Ken Sanders and Will Bagley – and, true to the needs of sweeps, John V. Long was transformed into the Brigham Young clerk (as opposed to one of many), the one who knew too much. Much was made of his excommunication, with no mention of his drunkenness at the time of his drowning. And of course we were treated to classic Will Bagley – always a colorful interview – pronouncing his judgment that “He simply knew too much. He had been too close to the inside. He knew too much about the church’s dirty laundry and he knew where the bodies were buried.” Well, of course. What else?

I am – honestly, truthfully, no snarking involved – looking forward to learning what might be in Long’s papers. Are they really diaries, as Ken suggested last night? If so, they aren’t very extensive, unless there are far more than could be seen in the stack Ken displayed. My money – hey, if Ken and Will can speculate, so can I – is on their being primarily shorthand records of public sermons, some of which have no doubt been published already. Even so, as Will said, they would be “in the raw” – not edited for publication, as most sermons were. Those that may already have been published will be shown in a new light; those that have not been published will be new material for study.

That’s the kind of thing that makes historians salivate – sweeps or no.

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44 Responses to Going Long: Of Speculation and Dark Mormon Doings

  1. J. Stapley on November 2, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    I agree with your assessment, Ardis. As I mentioned over at the Juvenile Instructor I am interested in the provenance and I hope that they aren’t sold to someone who doesn’t want them published.

    I found Ron Watt’s article, “The Beginnings of The Journal of Discourses: A Confrontation Between George D.Watt and Willard Richards” in last Spring’s Utah Historical Quarterly quite wonderful. Anyone interested in how the JD and its sermons were prepared should check it out. It has some nice information on J. V. Long.

  2. SC Taysom on November 2, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Ardis and Stapley,
    Add one more vote for the diaries as sermon transcriptions theory.

  3. Kevin Barney on November 2, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Ardis, thanks for your expert commentary on this news report. (Are the stories about Ken’s exploits available anywhere? I would certainly be interested if they were.)

  4. Nate Oman on November 2, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    I suspect that the documents in question will provide a transcript of the meeting in which Brigham Young. Wild Bill Hickman, and Lee Harvey Oswald planned the Kennedy assination. As Will Bagley no doubt knows — but is too scared to say publically — the second gunman on the grassy knoll was a Mormon sleeper agent.

  5. truebluethru\'n\'thru on November 2, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Hmm, \”extinct\”? I guess Generation Xers write news copy these days. I\’m a baby boomer and recognized the transcriptions as Pitman right away. Although the Scotsman Gregg emigrated to the United States and established his system of penned shorthand to largely supplant the Pitman style on these shore, Pitman is the style of this dying art that still reigns supreme in the United Kingdom.

  6. Bill MacKinnon on November 2, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    In the first volume of my documentary history of the Utah War, “At Sword’s Point,” (due out next March) I discuss a Christmas Day 1857 gathering of B.Y. and his family that was recorded by John V. Long and his wife (she must have been a steno. too). I was tempted to spice up the story with a reference to Long’s sordid death a few years later, the story of which I had heard from Will Bagley years ago. But I decided not to do so on grounds that it was an irrelvancy. I guess I didn’t make a mistake. I too hope that the newly-surfaced Pitman texts will be translated and published. Don’t have a clue as to what it was that John Long (or perhaps the Mrs.) took down in those texts…

  7. Costanza on November 2, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Nate,
    I think that they may reveal the real reason behind Long’s death: Brigham Young held a meeting in which he told another secretary, with a knowing wink of course, that all of Long’s pencils were his for the taking.

  8. truebluethru\'n\'thru on November 2, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    I should talk. John Robert Gregg was Irish-American.

    However, Wikipedia references the text “Shorthand,” as of its printing in 1996, as saying that Pitman (as of its printing in 1996) remained the number two style of shorthand in the U.S.

  9. Ardis Parshall on November 2, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    truebluethru/’n/’thru — Although I’m far from a Gen X’er (I’m a boomer, too), I didn’t realize — didn’t think to think, actually — that Pitman might still be current Over There. Thanks for the tip. I used Gregg myself, but not for the last 20 years or more. Saying that Pitman is number two to a system that itself is a dying or dead antique doesn’t give Pitman much currency Over Here!

    Bill — Sarah Ann Burbage Long (JV’s wife) *was* in fact a steno — LDS Archives has at least one of her diaries, as well as those of John. And the KTVX story was illustrated by a painting of John Long, done by Mrs. Long.

    Kevin — I read of Ken’s online detective work in a print source a while ago; I’ll hunt around and see what I can find to refer you to.

  10. manaen on November 2, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    I’m hoping for a peek into the sealed plates.

  11. Seth R. on November 2, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Once I heard an unsubstantiated story that Mormon girls who were seen fraternizing with the local garrison of US soldiers left behind by Johnston’s Army were occasionally found later with their bellies cut open outside town.

    Fun, fun.

  12. Ardis Parshall on November 2, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    an unsubstantiated story

    The word “unsubstantiated” is entirely redundant in this context, Seth. If you’ve only heard such drivel once, count yourself lucky.

  13. tom on November 2, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    ardis be careful that you don’t become “Someone who knew too much” or will bagley may find you dazed and forgetful on the streets of SLC.
    so in order to protect yourself i would suggest wearing a tin-foil hat at all times to keep out the harmful rays from the” secret church archives”.
    we lds here in tennessee only wear our tin-foil hats every other day as we are so far from SLC so much of the power of the “secret rays” is weak by the time they get here

  14. truebluethru\'n\'thru on November 2, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Here is some of the Pitman phonetic alpabet (to get us started).

    “ay” •
    b \
    ch /
    d ¦ (unbroken vertical penstroke)
    short e (/É›/ as in “pen”) ·
    “E” .
    f {{Unicode|â•°}}
    g _
    short i (/ɪ/ as in “is”) .
    “aye” /
    k _
    l {{Unicode|â•­}}
    short o (/É”/ as in “not”)
    oy â•°}}
    z )
    zh {{Unicode|╯}}

  15. Ardis Parshall on November 2, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    tom, thanks for the warning. I specialize in knowing when OTHER people know too much. Is there a feminine form of “Danite”?

    trueblue, figure out how to type “Brigham loves Amelia” in Pitman and post that. Then we can all run around carving it into tree bark and painting it on curbs and see how long it takes Homeland Security to track us down.

    Mark, you can never have too many “ass”es involved in a conspiracy theory.

  16. Mark B. on November 2, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Nate forgot to note the attendance at that meeting of Long John Silver. How can you even start a conspiracy theory without noting the similarity in their names?

    And, did you leave out an “ass” or a “g” from whatever it was that the three planned for Kennedy? :-) If the latter, you’d have to nail down which one they planned.

  17. Brad Kramer on November 2, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Bob Goldberg, interestingly a Prof at the U of U, has written at great length on conspiracism and the production and dissemination of conspiracy theories (see especially his book, Enemies Within, published by Yale Press about 6 years ago). One of his most prescient observations is that all conspiracy thinking depends on the existence of omniscient, omnipotent actors–the proverbial mustache-twisting puppeteers in a smoke-filled room, Jewish financiers, Mormon Elders, whatever. Thus, the government that so famously and disastrously bungled Katrina and its aftermath managed to seamlessly, with dazzling efficiency and breathtaking precision, orchestrate and execute the attacks of 9/11.
    Bagly, evidently aware of the importance of omnipotent agents to any respectable theory, goes to great lengths to emphasize the “knew-too-much,” “nothing-happened-anywhere-in-the-entire -territory-of-Utah-or-any-satellite-Mormon-community-without-Brigham’s-explicit-knowledge-and- approval” elements that contextualize the self-evidently conspiratorial doings of Young and his cohorts.
    What’s especially creative in this particular case is Bagley’s ability to integrate the all-seeing, all-knowing Brigham Young with the Brigham Young hopelessly stupid enough to order the killings in the first place.

  18. Ardis Parshall on November 2, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    … and the Brigham Young stupid enough to order the murder of John V. Long without ordering the confiscation of his incriminating writings?

  19. Will Bagley on November 2, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    My, my, my. my Insightful critics can sure make a lot out of a heavily edited TV interview.

    Long appears to have been ex’ed for renting his house to General Connor. Ken and I
    have written a 5,000+-word article on Long that will disappoint conspiracy theorists. But
    guess what? I’m not the only respected historian who finds Long’s death interesting:

    Family legend, Juanita Brooks wrote, said John Varah Long “fell out of favor with President Young when the president asked him who he thought was the best speaker in the church, and he answered, ‘Orson Pratt.’” Brooks also speculated that “Long had become too fond of liquor and wine and having attended so many private meetings and conferences, could not be trusted to be discreet in his talk.”

    Will Bagley

  20. Ardis Parshall on November 2, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Long’s excommunication may very well have been connected to his renting of his house to Connor — Brigham Young’s incredulous question to Long about that rental was “[D]oes he [Long] not understand that, according to the present occupant’s former statements and conduct, he would if he had the power, shed the blood of the Saints?” — but Long had opportunities to make that right, if it was the cause. The excommunication came after something like three months of negotiations where BY urged Long to put Connor out of the house, offering to cancel Long’s many thousands of dollars of debt to BY, even offering to pay Long the thousands of dollars Long claimed was due him but which BY disputed.

    I don’t know the story of the favorite speaker — despite Juanita Brooks’ connection to it, it’s a ridiculous story if you’re putting it forth as cause for Long’s excommunication or as a motive for murder!

  21. Ray on November 3, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Speculating is one thing; speculating by simply quoting another’s speculation is quite another. If, after all this time, it still is speculation, perhaps it is time to stop advancing it – even while admitting openly that it is speculation. In many ways, Will, that just makes it worse – kind of like having to listen to the used car salesman in the commercial read the disclaimers so quickly that the words are unintelligible – or seeing the microscopic print at the bottom of the ad on TV.

  22. truebluethru\'n\'thru on November 3, 2007 at 8:05 am

    But, isn’t stuff “the jury will forever be out” about, part of the historical record, too?

  23. Will Bagley on November 3, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    I went back and read Brooks’s comments on Long. It turns out she was not
    speculating, at least if stories about Long’s alcoholism are true: she was
    making a statement of fact, as was her wont. Note too that she wrote that
    Long’s supposed candor was why “fell out of favor with President Young,”
    not that it got him ex’ed or killed. Even given Brigham Young’s celebrated
    humility, selflessness, charity, and total lack of vanity, I doubt such an
    honest opinion helped Long’s career very much.

    But enough: aside from my speculating about Juanita speculating, other
    folks are doing an awful lot of speculating. The documents will be on
    display starting Monday at Ken Sanders Rare Books. I’ve learned a lot
    more about the contents of the Long documents since the Vanocur
    interview, and they include diaries, draft DesNews reports, minutes
    of the probate judge’s inquest into the lynching of Isaac “Ike” Potter,
    Charles Wilson and John Walker at Coalville, and transcriptions of
    sermons. Some of the text in the documents is marked with a large
    “X,” perhaps indicating material to be deleted or not transcribed. But
    I’m speculating.

    I rarely visit the hallowed sanctum of T&S, but I have heard about
    various insults and falsehoods leveled against me. Come to think
    about it, reviewing the Long material, it strikes me that several comments
    violate the blog’s “no insults” rule and at least challenge several other
    policies. But then again, I can understand why I’m fair game. I’d like to
    thank those who found my work fair and honestly presented, even in the
    face of hostile reactions. And thanks to my friends for rising to my defense.

    Back to work. Let me know if someone proves the Long material was
    fabricated by Mark Hofmann, which would show I wouldn’t know an
    authentic nineteenth-century document if it came up and bit me on the fanny.

    Will Bagley

  24. Ardis Parshall on November 3, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Will, we do not knowingly permit falsehoods or personal insults in either posts or comments. Our (my) failing to be convinced by assertions made in published work or TV interviews, and scoffing at faulty reasoning and conclusions, is not personal insult, although I understand why you don’t feel warm and fuzzy when you read such evaluations.

    Policing the blog or taking participants to the woodshed for violation of the blog’s policies is the responsibility and exclusive right of the bloggers. We have that under control, thank you. The role where you are welcome (and I sincerely mean you are welcome, although you seldom do me the honor of taking me seriously anymore) is as a commenter offering information, quotations, tips, stories. Opinions in keeping with the purpose of T&S are welcome — we’re all too familiar with being fair game ourselves, you know, by some with far flashier platforms than T&S. If you do participate, you have to be ready to face questions and challenges and either ignore them or respond to them within our groundrules.

    I’ll be stopping by Ken Sanders’ shop to see the collection sometime this week. Thanks for letting us know about that. I wish it had been mentioned on the Vanocur piece — the coming to light of a collection like this one deserves better than his Halloween-flavored exploitation. He should have given you a serious half-hour treatment on his Sunday morning show.

    And perhaps you were taken out of context. But if you *did* intend listeners to believe what was implied — that John V. Long was murdered by Brigham Young because “he knew too much” and that The Awful Truth is to be found in Long’s notes — it will take a lot more than unsupported assertions and an indignant tone of voice to win credibility.

  25. Brad Kramer on November 3, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    Will,
    If you found my comment or tone personally insulting, I apologize. The object of my ire was not you–I don’t know you at all and I have way to many close friends with views toward the Church and Brigham young far more hostile than yours to allow your argued positions to influence my opinion of your humanity. The target of my derisive analysis was the logic that appears to underlie your analysis of Young’s culpability. And let me emphasize here that I have no problem acknowledging the possibility of Young’s responsibility–I happen to believe that although there is no significant positive evidence implicating Young directly in such a horrific crime, I personally find Young’s inability (or unwillingness) to foresee and actively intervene to prevent said crime almost as ethically problematic. It certainly doesn’t speak well for the wisdom or righteousness of his dominion. I do think, however, that the evidentiary standards for claiming Young had an active hand in planning and ordering the massacre must exceed the circumstantial and speculative.

    I enjoyed BotP. I own a copy and found it incredibly informative and largely well written. I also find your argument about Young’s criminality (not that you foregrounded it to the degree that other more sensationalist authors have) rather uncompelling. I think you realize yourself that the “evidence” you uncovered is far from a smoking gun. Which is why you are so often so quick to fall back on the “nothing happened without Young knowing” explanation as a trump card. Such a bold, sweeping generalization about the power of a single individual is problematic even in a day and age of cell-phones, internet, and Bush-era, paranoia driven surveillance. When much of this question turns on whether a written message was capable of being successfully relayed several hundred miles in several days, Brigham Young the all-knowing, all-seeing dictator is a less than believable figure, no matter what his authoritarian proclivities.

    Sure, if one assumes Young’s omniscience and puppet-mastery over Mormondom, his complicity in ordering the murders seems plausible and, by extension, the cryptic handwritten accounts of cryptic language and cryptic gestures seem a little more suspicious. But can you explain how someone as savvy, calculating, hard-nosed, pragmatic, and self-preservation-obsessed as Young could be enough of a damned fool to order the slaughter of American citizens with federal army at his doorstep without reducing it to the ineffable, inscrutable, mysterious irrationality of religious fanaticism? If you can’t, than you’re not much different from Saints who refute your arguments by playing the “well I have a testimony that Brigham was God’s prophet and a righteous man” trump card.

  26. Ray on November 3, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Amen to the words of the others. There is absolutely no personal animosity involved. I just don’t like speculation based on speculation – and that is how you phrased it in your comment. the follow-up information and clarification is appreciated – sincerely appreciated.

  27. Left Field on November 4, 2007 at 8:41 am

    “. . .the “nothing happened without Young knowing” explanation as a trump card”

    In logic, this is known as begging the question. We start with the premise that no one could be killed in Utah without Brigham Young’s prior approval, and then we conclude that if someone was killed in Utah, Brigham Young gave prior approval.

    In law, it would be called a presumption of guilt. The accused is presumed guilty, and the burden is on the defense to prove innocence. And evidence of innocence is considered inadmissible since it contradicts the presumption of guilt.

    It’s bad logic, bad law, and bad history.

  28. Scott Cisney on November 5, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    It seems like many people were excommunicated, in the early days, for very personal issues, not necessarily a moral sin. Why was this? Today you pretty much have to ASK to be excommunicated. If I had a business dispute with my bishop it would NOT get me x’d. What in the world was going on at that time???? The more I read about this time frame the less and less I am convinced of the “goodness” of BY and other church leaders. Weird stuff, weird goings on. I’m glad I did not live in the Utah territory at that time.

  29. Ardis Parshall on November 5, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Scott, you need to do more reading and get a clearer historical perspective — inadequate context will kill your respect for anything and anyone. That context, and a general history of excommunication, is beyond the scope of this thread, though.

  30. Nate Oman on November 5, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    Ardis: Let me know if the Long papers mention the Kennedy assination…

  31. Ardis Parshall on November 5, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Roger, wilco, Nate. Maybe they will solve the cases of Judge Crater and Jimmy Hoffa, too. Or Amelia Earhart.

  32. Will Bagley on November 5, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    I would like to respond to Brad Kramer’s thoughtful remarks. I’ll start by quoting Ken Sanders: “It’s my belief personally that any faithful, believing Mormon will never accept that Brigham Young had anything to do with the Mountain Meadows massacre. I simultaneously feel that there’s no non-Mormon or gentile that will ever believe otherwise.” That’s hyperbole, but not far from the truth. I don’t care to convert anyone to my view that Young ordered the murder as an act of vengeance: nor was that the purpose, as I think Brad understands, of BOTP. You don’t have to be a historian to examine the evidence and draw your own conclusions-and I have not the slightest interest in arguing that someone else’s conclusions are wrong and mine are right. But I do feel that I’ve been demonized and insulted by a variety of charges that are simply false.

    First, it appears I’m compelled to state that I’ve been to Dealey Plaza and don’t believe the bums on the grassy knoll had anything to do with killing JFK: that was done by one bum in the textbook warehouse. It may not qualify as an insult in the holy sanctum of T&S, but I find the snarky – and not very funny — insinuations that I am a conspiracy historian insulting: maybe my finely tuned persecution complex is showing. It also seems pointless to address the continual misrepresentation of my work and conclusions about John V. Long. No one has seen anything more than two clips of my much longer conversation with Vanocur, but that did not stop many commentators and even moderators from brilliantly demolishing a series of strawmen.

    Similarly, my oft-quoted comment about Brigham Young’s knowledge and power in Utah Territory represented the tail-end of a much longer explanation I gave during the interviews for Helen Whitney’s “The Mormons.” It reflected Juanita Brooks’s conclusion that “Brigham Young was accessory after the fact, in that he knew what happened, and how and why it happened. Evidence of this is abundant and unmistakable.” Years ago I realized that this great historian’s assignment of what I see as moral responsibility for the atrocity was also the best and least refutable conclusion about what happened: “While Brigham Young and George A. Smith, the church authorities chiefly responsible, did not specially order the massacre, they did preach sermons and set up social conditions which made it possible.” Once you realize this, everything else is details. And typically, I get lost in the details.

    My statement on the Mormons that “Nothing happened in Utah Territory that Brigham Young didn’t know about” was, of course, hyperbole. (But I do find the notion that John D. Lee would lie to Brigham Young about such an important matter is silly). For some reason, my statement that the key question about the massacre is “how did these decent, religious men who had sacrificed so much for what they believed in–how did they become mass murderers?” is not quoted nearly so often.

    Brad, I did not find your comments insulting. And I could not agree more with the advice that understanding Brigham Young and Utah Territory requires understanding the context of the time and place. (I just stumbled across a peach of an 1864 statement that, for my money, wonderfully evokes the view of conditions in Utah Territory from the bottom up rather than the top down: “Mormonism as Seen by a Scotchman,” Daily Union Vedette, 5 May 1864, 1/2-4; 4/1-2. You can find it on the Utah Digital Newspapers website or I can email it to anyone interested an attachment.)

    And while I’m not interested in debating whodunit at Mountain Meadows, anyone who discounts Brigham Young’s power in Deseret and the lengths he went to manage and control the Kingdom is promoting a fairy tale: “I am watching you,” he said. “Do you know that I have my threads strung all through the Territory, that I may know what individuals do?” (8 October 1855, Journal of Discourses, 3:122). I also believe he did whatever he felt necessary to defend that Kingdom and “do the work of Joseph,” which included preparing the way for the Second Coming.

    Finally, I need to explain “how someone as savvy, calculating, hard-nosed, pragmatic, and self-preservation-obsessed as Young could be enough of a damned fool to order the slaughter of American citizens with federal army at his doorstep.” Like the Bagley strawman, this is a historical fallacy and assumes that smart people do not do dumb things: you’re in good company, however, since Gene Sessions and Jan Shipps have made the same argument. But if Brigham Young was too smart to order a mass murder (we have good evidence he ordered several murders or attempted murders and the next issue of “The Western Historical Quarterly” will present more), Napoleon was too smart to invade Russia, and Robert E. Lee, who had seen the horrific results of a similar assault at Fredricksburg, never would have ordered Pickett’s Charge. As I wrote in a book you read, “Many of Brigham Young’s most perplexing policies originated in his conviction that the Kingdom of God would roll on like the stone of Daniel’s prophecy to fill the whole earth.” As Brigham Young said in August 1857, “Sometimes my heart quakes a little, my nerves tremble in consequence of the great things that God is bringing forth. Do we realize that they are coming on us, I may say, faster than we are preparing ourselves to meet them? There is one sign after another, revelation after revelation. The Lord is hastening his work. He is bringing to pass the sayings of the Prophets faster than the people are prepared to receive them.” And “If the brethren will have faith, the Lord will fight our battles.” I believe that at the same time, Brigham Young’s ideology and his promise to avenge the blood of the prophets overcame his famous pragmatism and common sense.

    So, did Brigham Young order the murder of John V. Long? I dunno. Both Brooks and I provided a possible motive. I’d suggest he also had means and opportunity. But the failure of any of the Godbeite writers to even mention their old friend’s name suggests that Long, like many if not most of Brigham Young’s clerks, did have a serious drinking problem. And as for Ann Eliza’s tale, maybe Ardis can help us out. I did not recognize the handwriting of the clerk who wrote Brigham Young’s famous alibi letter to Isaac Haight on 10 September 1857. Ardis might know, and if not, she or I can ask Rick Turley if the Brethren have identified him and expose or support Mrs. Young’s charges.

    Enough time wasted. This is about the longest defense I have ever written of myself, but I’ve got real work to do. Anyway, the tone of this discussions makes me realize I’ve got few if any friends in this sanctimonious sanctum, so as the old-time missionaries said, adieu. And as they say in the bars, keep it out of the ditch

    Will Bagley

  33. Kaimi Wenger on November 5, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Will. I appreciate your taking the time to explain your view, even if it’s one that has been criticized in comments here.

    I agree with you, that Juanita Brooks’ take remains one of the most sensible. Ultimately, without a real smoking gun, the evidence that is there can reasonably go either way. It’s an instance of “will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”, and that can go either way. (And you’re right to note that there seems to be a strong correlation between church membership and interpretation of the ambiguous evidence.)

    Anyway, thanks again for your comments, and for explaining your view. I’m sorry to hear that the televised interview left out relevant portions of your interview (though we all get butchered in press quotes, that’s the nature of the beast). And I guess we’ll all be interested to see what new information, if any, comes out about Long, Brigham, and related topics.

  34. Ardis Parshall on November 5, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    Thanks for stopping by again, Will, and for your generally measured tone. You’ll have to excuse us all for not responding in detail to most of your comment — Mountain Meadows is beyond the scope of this particular post, and I’ll thank all commenters for not pursuing the threadjack.

    I do have a question about this, relevant to the original post:

    So, did Brigham Young order the murder of John V. Long? I dunno. Both Brooks and I provided a possible motive.

    Would you kindly clarify that motive, please? In #23 you explicitly state that Long’s supposed preference for Orson Pratt as an orator is not your motive (“Long’s supposed candor was why ‘fell out of favor with President Young,’ not that it got him ex’ed or killed”), and in #32 you seem to distance yourself from the not-a-sparrow-fell-in-Utah theory by calling it “hyperbole.”

    What am I misunderstanding here? What is the motive you propose and stand by?

  35. Craig L. Foster on November 6, 2007 at 11:44 am

    Will, I will mention this now as I did when you wrote in Blood of the Prophets about Long being found dead in a ditch, “drowned, in three inches of water.” It was reported he was found with two bottles of whiskey on him. Furthermore, it has been passed down among some of his descendants that he had a drinking problem and was was ecommunicated for stealing church funds.

    Yet, you never mention those minor details. So, I thought I would.

  36. Kristin Johnson on November 7, 2007 at 10:29 am

    I\’m interested in the statement \”it has been passed down among some of his descendants that [Long] had a drinking problem.\” I\’m connected to JVL by marriage and my relations have no such story. Their family believed that Long was murdered because he knew too much.

    When it comes to Wilford Woodruff\’s statement about \”two bottles,\” I have to say, \”Consider the source.\” First of all, I am not at all impressed by Woodruff\’s intelligence or humanity, as evidenced in the portions of his diaries that I\’ve read. I *was* stuck, however, by the apparent satisfaction he took in reporting the awful death of someone he believed to be an apostate, and what he says about Long seems to be in the same vein.

    The second problem I have with Woodruff\’s statement is that looks a lot like the sort of gossip that swirls around people who leave the church. Former members, even those who voluntarily leave because they no longer believe, frequently become victims of character assassination. No doubt the rumor mill churned out stories about Long when he was excommunicated, and accusations of alcoholism and embezzlement are actually pretty mild, by today\’s standards.

    What were the official reasons for Long\’s excommunication? We\’ll (probably) never know. Did he have two bottles of liquor on him? I wouldn\’t take Wilford Woodruff\’s unsubstantiated word for it. Was he an alcoholic? He may well have been, but I\’d like to see more evidence. Was he drunk at the time of his death? Another conundrum — no CSI back then!

    But even if John V. Long was an alcoholic, even if he was drunk when he died, it doesn\’t mean he wasn\’t murdered. After all, it would be a lot easier to drown a man who was already incapacitated.

    If nothing else, the Long case is fascinating. I\’m looking forward to finding out more.

  37. Craig L. Foster on November 7, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    John Varah Long may or may not have been drunk when he died. He may or may not have have been murdered. I guess we will never know. Whether or not Wilford Woodruff wrote that in his journal as a cover-up or was just genuinely writing what he had heard or was aware of we will never know. I guess we will believe what we want.

    As for what the family believes depends upon which branch or line of the family. My wife is a great-great-granddaughter of John Varah Long and her family does not believe he was killed. Her grandmother and father specifically said they did not think he was murdered. Her great-grandfather was bitter against the church but it was more that he felt his family had been mistreated by some of the church leaders rather than his father had been murdered. He made sure, however, that all of his children were raised in the church and baptized, etc., including my wife’s grandfather, Walter Varah Long.

    So it comes down to everyone having a different point of view and believing what they want to.

  38. Kristin Johnson on November 7, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    That’s what makes this story so fascinating, the way that the evidence (such as it is) can be argued either way. I’m not convinced he was murdered, neither am I convinced he wasn’t, and if his death remains a mystery, that’s OK, too; it’s more interesting that way. I hope that this collection of documents, of which the diaries are a only fraction, will tell us much more about JVL and his life, even if they shed no light on his death.

  39. DymockDude on November 9, 2007 at 12:16 am

    Here’s what Wilford Woodruff’s journal entry says about John V. Long’s lamentable death: “J. V. Long was found dead in a ditch on the 14th. Died a drunkard. Found dead with 2 Bottles of whiskey with him. Many smart Men are going to the Grave with drunkeness.” (Source: Signature Books published typescript of Woodruff\’s journals, 16 April 1869, 6:462)

    There it is. That’s all you get. Not much for even Jerry Springer to hyperventilate about. The last sentence is still strikingly true nearly 140 years later.

    Immediately preceding that entry is this one, ” . . . We had the painful intelligence that Franklin Woolley was Murdered By the Indian[s] near Calafornia & they were Bringing his body home in a Metalic Coffin.”

    Regarding Kristin Johnson’s remark above about Woodruff’s lack of intelligence and humanity, I offer this entry (same source as above, 27 May 1869; 6:476) found a few pages after the one regarding Long’s death. I can’t justifiably appoint myself judge of Woodruff’s intelligence, but you can consider for yourself how humanely Woodruff acted in the following traumatic and gruesome situation. You might also want to imagine what you would have done in a similar circumstance.

    Woodruff journalized, “I had an unplesant day. I spent most of the day with Brother James Brown with G. Q. Cannon[,] Drs Anderson[,] Bernhisel, & Heber John Richards. Brother Brown was shot some 5 years ago in the night in the Canyon By a young Man who thought He was a grizerly Bear. The Ball Broke his thigh bone & he has been years in misery & to day the surgeons Cut open his thigh & Examined the Bone & found it so diseased they amputated his leg near the Body. Brother Cannon & myself held his leg while it was Cut off. Several of his Cousins was present & Bishop Davis. Dr. Anderson Cut his leg off. Heber John Richards took up the arter[ie]s. Br Brown was a strong Man. It was Hard to put him under the Influence of Cloriform & hard to Come out of it. Presidt Young Came a short time But his [Brown’s] leg was taken off when he got there. . . .” The next day Woodruff saw Brown again and recorded, “I visited Brother Brown & found him much better than Could possibly have Been Expected. . . .”

    Someone killed by Indians, someone shot mistakenly as a grizzly bear, an alcoholic drowned in a ditch–life was ruggedly unpredictable and severe on the western frontier.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Ardis Parshall’s astute observations. If Long had been murdered, don’t you think the “1850s rock star” clerk who was “Brigham’s personal secretary” (both unsubstantiated speculations, by the way) would have left behind incredibly incriminating documentation that “Bully Boy” Brigham–who always got his way–would have instantaneously seized and destroyed? Logic escapes me on a motive for the dastardly Danites doing in Bro. Long and not destroying the incriminating records detailing “where all the bodies/bones are buried.” This conspiratorial sieve springs leaks from a thousand holes.

    May truth prevail in this life and the next. In the meantime, I’m sitting right tight on my million dollars!

  40. Will Bagley on November 10, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    While I think the world has all the Roxy Snow poems it needs, you gotta love this:

    http://www.abc4.com/news/local/story.aspx?content_id=604bca2b-0413-4fd4-957a-b12b5605a924

    Ken and I will be on KUER’s Radio West with Ron Barney on Tuesday at 11 a.m. Speculate away, all-knowing ones.

    Will Bagley

  41. Ardis Parshall on November 10, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Good news, Will, glad to hear it.

    I don’t suppose one of the poems begins something like “The purest tributes earth can bring—Bright gems, that never fade, Should be for friendship’s offering Upon her altar, laid” ?

  42. JimmyThang on November 12, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Do either of those poems provide difinitive proof that Brigham Young is an evil murderer? Or are they, maybe, lyrics to one of John Varah Long\’s hits that propelled his Rock Star career?

  43. Ken Keate on November 18, 2007 at 12:06 am

    I also am a decendant of John V. Long. My mother’s mother’s mother was Martha Jane Long Watson, one of John V.’s daughters. While I’m not sure about the extent to which she was raised in the LDS church, she helped to found the Unitarian church in Salt Lake City. Indeed the social hall in the church on 9th East is or was named after her. Her name appears on a plaque at the entrace to the sanctuary as being a member of the Board of the church at the time it built its current building. I believe that my Great Grandmother was born in about 1860. I know she died about 1954, because we have a picture of her holding me as a baby. We do not know if her mother left the church as a child, or if my great grandmother left as a child or an adult, but she lived a very rich, full, life helping the women and children of Salt Lake City, where she lived almost all of her adult life.

  44. Ardis Parshall on November 18, 2007 at 12:52 am

    Ken Keate — It looks like Martha Jane Long Watson was born 15 December 1856, so she lived a very long, and evidently quite productive, life. I have no information on her childhood religious training. From what Ken Sanders has said publicly, much of the Long collection has to do with family history after JVLong’s death, so here’s hoping that the papers will have something on your branch of the family that will be of use in understanding your great-grandmother’s life.

    Thank you for contributing to the discussion.