New Harmony: A different view of Lucy Harris

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 17 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Clutching the manuscript, Glynne Scholle plays the part of Lucy Harris, wife of Martin Harris at the performance of the Martin Harris Pageant: "The Man Who Knew" in Clarkston, Utah on Thursday, Aug., 13, 2009.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

Usually, "revisionist history" feels like character assassination. A historian will take an icon — George Washington or Joseph Smith — tug the historical figure from his pedestal and showcase his human failings in order to "balance the ledger."

But the knife of history whittles both ways.

Sometimes a person thought to be a scoundrel can be rehabilitated.

And such, I think, is the case with Lucy Harris, the shrewish wife of Martin Harris — the woman who lost, hid or burned the original 116 pages of the Book of Mormon.

Popular history paints her as vindictive and small-minded.

Rhett James opts for understanding.

James, a Martin Harris scholar, is the author of "The Man Who Knew," the dramatic production of Harris' life held at his gravesite in Clarkston, Utah, each year.

Last week my wife and I not only drove to Cache Valley to see "The Man Who Knew," but, along with several others, spent part of the evening with Rhett and his wife, Alice, before making the trip.

There's nothing like quality time with the author to give a work of art a fresh face.

And Rhett won me over.

I now think Lucy Harris has gotten a bad rap.

First of all, she was overwhelmed. She was trying to raise four children, take care of Martin's parents and run the family business (13 looms) while Martin was away on his spiritual treks.

She was in constant pain from an earache.

She could barely hear.

And her health was failing.

About the only stable thing in her life — the one thing she could hold to — was her home and the little farm around it.

Then Martin put that at risk to further the work.

Yes, she could have shown more patience and faith.

Couldn't we all?

And, yes, she panicked.

Who wouldn't?

In fact, by the end of the evening last week, Rhett had me convinced that if I were in Lucy's shoes, I would have probably burned those 116 pages.

It was an act of desperation.

She just wanted all the pain, anxiety and insecurity to go away.

And Rhett is convinced that Lucy did burn the pages.

It was the one way to make it stop. She had to keep her family from going to the wolves. And Lucy was a very thorough person.

History shows she and Martin had other strained moments, but they stayed in love. Lucy Harris was a determined soul with the temperament of a mother bear.

She protected her own.

And though history has cast her in the role of a Judas of sorts, the truth is — if you believe Rhett James — she was really just a mother and homemaker at the end of her wits.

Like the mother in the musical "Les Miz," she could feel the tigers coming at night, with voices loud as thunder.

She felt she had no other choice.

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in Mormon Times. Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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