Join me for a roundtable discussion of Essays on American Indian and Mormon History at the 2020 Mormon History Association conference in Rochester, New York, June 4-7, 2020.
This abstract describes my likely contribution.
Joseph Smith in Iroquois Country: A Mormon Creation Story.
When a colleague told me a story claiming a connection in western New York between Joseph Smith and followers of Haudenosaunee prophet Handsome Lake (Sganyodaiyo), I dug in to find that the story had been told since the 1960s. Joseph Smith, the story claims, got the idea to blend Christianity with the Gaiwiio, the Word of Handsome Lake. As history, the story is plausible, even if no one can prove it true (or untrue). As a story, though, I find myself most interested in how the idea travels and gains momentum. Stories fulfill the wishes and needs of the tellers and of the listeners and readers. They sound true. They fit. We as historians and our subjects in the past all tell stories that we want to be true. We tidy up the edges and reshape our memories, knowingly or not, until our stories become our truth. And yet, the evidence still tells me that all tellings of this particular story lead back to a trickster storyteller in the mid-twentieth century,