The First Vision

If you live within one of our broadcast market areas and you’ve been watching History of the Saints, you’ve probably noticed a new look lately. When we wrapped up season three, “The Kingdom Endures,” there had been some talk of just ending the series altogether and looking for full-time jobs that actually paid us money. It was a good time to end. We’d gotten the Saints to the Valley, watched them struggle and grow, examined their conflicts with the Native Americans, other settlers, and even the United States Government, saw them build temples, tabernacles, and chapels, refine the doctrine as they received further revelation, and watched as Brigham Young began construction on the St. George temple and was then finally laid to rest.

But for us that wasn’t enough. We had told a great deal of the story and brought to light many things that hadn’t really been known or discussed much but we felt we’d left many important parts buried back in Kirtland, Nauvoo, Far West, Jackson County and other places. We wanted to go back and tell the story from the beginning. So we changed the look of the show and gave it a new subtitle, “Joseph Smith and the Foundations of the Restoration.” Our first episode was an examination of the First Vision but then we went back much further to the Reformation, which we believe was instituted by God to eventually create the conditions necessary for the Restoration centuries later.

Professor Steven C. Harper brought up an interesting point concerning the First Vision and that’s the idea that whether or not to approach God for an answer was a choice that Joseph Smith had to make, and the circumstances of that approach made it that way.

“Two of his accounts emphasize that he’s not able to get very far with his prayer,” Harper says. “The 1835 account in his journal tells about hearing something like walking behind him, something as if somebody is behind him.  And that’s disturbing and so on.  And then his tongue becomes swollen, it cleaves to the roof of his mouth.

“I think what surprised Joseph is that the devil made him such a particular target and that the power was so astonishing. It’s one thing to listen to a sermon about the devil having power, and it’s another thing to have him bind your tongue and make you wish you could become nonexistent.”

Harper goes on to say that this intense struggle made the decision to pray wholly Joseph’s. “Now you’ve got an opposition, which is really making it a choice.  Joseph can now decide what to do.  He can quit praying, and he feels like it.  He’s just about to abandon himself to this power. Or he can keep praying because he’s got the will, the ability to make that choice. And he tells us—and this is very important to me—he says, ‘Just about at the moment where I was going to abandon myself’—in other words this moment of decision, this moment of choice—’I exerted all my power to call upon God to deliver myself from the enemy which held me bound,’ and the heavens open.  A pillar of light descends.  He sees two personages in the pillar, and he’s delivered from this enemy.”

The subtleties like this one that come out when we’re talking to these scholars and historians who have devoted their lives to this study are what keep us going with this project. We hope we can continue to share what we learn with others for a long time.

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Meeting new people

Levi Ward Hancock

Levi Ward Hancock

We’re in the middle of our weekends-only book signing tour for this year. We’ve met a lot of wonderful people so far. It’s particularly great to find out that we have ancestors in common with a lot of the people that come to meet us. Last Friday, December, 6th, our editor, Bryant Bush, discovered at Deseret Book in Rexburg, Idaho, that he and a lady who came in to visit with us not only have Levi Ward Hancock, Mormon Battalion Leader, in common,

Thomas E. Ricks

Thomas E. Ricks

but that she’s also a descendent of Mormon Pioneer Thomas E. Ricks, a fact she has in common with Bryant’s wife. We’re really enjoying this opportunity to visit with people personally and hope to see more of you out this coming weekend and the next.

We’re posting dates and locations on our facebook page at

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In addition to our continuing work on Season

In addition to our continuing work on Season Three of History of the Saints, the production team was asked to shoot and edit a three-hour round table discussion on Habeas Corpus that took place in the Senate Hearing Room (formerly the Supreme Court Courtroom) in the Illinois Capitol Building in Springfield, Illinois, on April 4, 2013. The discussion consisted of two panels, one on the use of the Writ of Habeas Corpus by Joseph Smith and other members of the Mormon Church in the 1800s, and one on the use of it by prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The general introduction was made by Jim Thompson, former Governor of Illinois. The moderator was Gery Chico, Chair of the Illinois State Board of Education and, among other positions, former Chief of Staff to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. The first panel consisted of Reg Ankrom of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County; Thomas Campbell of the Chicago Law Firm, Baker & McKenzie and the author of Fighting Slavery in Chicago: Abolitionists, the Law of Slavery, and Lincoln; Leslie C. Griffin, the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at UNLV; Lachlan Mackay, Director of Community of Christ Historic Sites and great-great-great grandson of Joseph and Emma Smith; Hon. William Ray Price, Jr., former Missouri Supreme Court Justice; Richard E. Turley, Jr., member of the editorial board of the Joseph Smith Papers Project; and Jeffrey N. Walker, Senior Advisor for the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Panel two consisted of Jeffrey D. Colman and Thomas P. Sullivan, both partners at the law firm of Jenner and Block and both currently very active in pro bono work representing prisoners of Guantanamo Bay; Andrea D. Lyon, clinical professor of Law and director of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases at DePaul University; Hon. Sue E. Myerscough, United States District Judge for the Central District of Illinois; and David B. Owens, a civil rights attorney at Loevy and Loevy in Chicago.

It was very interesting to see how the experiences of Joseph Smith and his use of the writ shed light on what’s happening today. It was a fascinating discussion.

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Meeting New People…Again

Now that the holiday season is over we want to thank all of those who came out to our book signings. We really had a good time. We travelled to bookstores in Rexburg, Idaho Falls, Boise, and Meridian, Idaho and Logan, Salt Lake City, Sandy, West Jordan, Provo, and Orem, and other places in Utah, and we were treated very kindly wherever we went.

It was great fun talking to people about their own pioneer heritage. Many were able to find their ancestors listed on the roster in the back of The Remarkable Journey of the Mormon Battalion. We heard some wonderful stories of famous and not so well known pioneers alike that have been passed down from generation to generation. All in all, we were amazed at how connected all of us are. We’re glad these two books could be realized and we hope they bring great joy to everyone who got them as gifts—even if they gave them to themselves.

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Hunt and Hodgetts

We’re wrapping up our ten-part series (you read right–ten parts!) on the Handcart migration into Utah. One of the episodes is about two wagon companies, Hunt and Hodgetts, but it fits in with the handcarts because they accompanied the Willie and Martin companies and suffered right along with them. Several of the historians that we interviewed have said that if it weren’t for those two wagon companies, we wouldn’t be talking about the great rescue but of the great tragedy in which most, if not all of the Willie and Martin travelers, had died. So why don’t we talk more about Hunt and Hodgetts? Mel Bashore said this in our interview with him:

“This is nothing new today, to have them be forgotten. Fifty years after those handcart companies came into the valley, the handcart company survivors, in 1906, planned to have a jubilee celebration, a 50-year celebration where those survivors would get together and remember the hardships, the suffering, and as they planned it, they sent out word in the newspapers for the handcart survivors to get in touch, and write things up, to gather for this reunion.

“Well, one of the members of one of these wagon companies wrote a letter to the organizer of this reunion, this jubilee, and said, ‘I think we’re forgetting the wagon companies.’ And suggested, ‘Why can’t those people in the Hodgetts and Hunt–there are survivors of those wagon companies who played a big part in this story–attend this jubilee celebration, too?’ And I think that did, in fact, happen. I think they included them. But for too long, these wagon companies have just been forgotten and they shouldn’t be because they were out there suffering the same conditions and for longer, even, than the handcart companies were.” 

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Third Season

The three of us have been working very hard to get the third season up and running. It’s been a little bumpy, being preempted by the Ryder Cup and General Conference, but we’re staying on track. We’re beginning to assemble our fourth episode of the season, Handcarts Part 4, which is really starting to get into the plight of the Willie and Martin Companies. There’s so much to tell about the whole handcart episode even though it only encompassed a tiny portion of the pioneer migration. It seems to be the story that captures the heart of the members of the Church the most.

Last week we were invited to appear on the KSL Radio broadcast of “People of Faith,” with Carole Mikita, to talk about our new books, History of the Saints, and The Remarkable Journey of the Mormon Battalion. She was very kind and gracious to us and she seemed to really like the books. The show aired September 30 but it is still available on the KSL Newsradio website as a podcast.

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The Handcart Companies

With History of the Saints entering its third season this November, we wanted to start off telling a story that we know is close to the hearts of many Latter-day Saints: The trek of the handcart companies. The information about them is abundant and we’ve interviewed many scholars on the subject, including Alexander Baugh; Andrew D. Olson, author of The Price We Paid: The Extraordinary Story of the Willie and Martin Handcart Pioneers; Lyndia Carter; William G. Hartley; Jolene S. Allphin, Author of Tell My Story, Too-A Collection of Biographical Sketches of Pioneers and Rescuers of the Willie, Martin, Hodgett and Hunt Companies, 1856; Mel Bashore; Al Christy and others. It’s probably the greatest number of interviews we have done on one subject.

These episodes of History of the Saints will cover the entire handcart movement, as well as some of the wagon companies that went with them, not just the Martin and Willie Companies. There were ten companies of about 3000 people total. That’s only around ten percent of the Mormon Migration, yet those handcart pioneers seem to occupy a special place in the hearts of many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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