McLellin journal finally is located

Published: Thursday, Jan. 22 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Ashworth said the evidence implies that the notebook came from McLellin's widow in Missouri who had joined the RLDS Church. Ashworth believes that she gave or sold the book to someone named W.O. Robertson, who has two signature stamps in the notebook. Robertson then sold it to John Resch in 1919, according to an inscription and signature. Resch then sold it to RLDS apostle Paul M. Hanson who put excerpts into a 1929 newspaper.

The notebook remained in the family until a trusted contact of Ashworth's brought it to his attention this summer.

The notebook is about 6 by 8 inches and 266 pages long. It is filled from binding to page edges with the fine and clear handwriting of a teacher of penmanship. McLellin wrote in it in 1871 and 1872. The notebook has a detailed index of the many subjects it contains.

"My opinion is he was trying to write a book. And this is written with more care than some of his other notebooks. I think he was actually trying to put a book together," Ashworth said.

Hofmann's fictional McLellin collection was claimed to be devastating to the LDS Church and Joseph Smith's reputation. Ashworth believes the evidence shows that this is a real notebook of McLellin's. Although it does contain some pointed criticisms of the church, they are similar to those already published in "The William E. McLellin Papers."

Ashworth, however, sees the notebook as one of the most significant finds in the past 50 years because of an unexpected element: McLellin's faith in the Book of Mormon.

The notebook puts a story in context that was only partially known through the photograph and excerpt from the 1920s. McLellin asks his readers a question in a section titled, "The Testimony of Men." He says the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who said they saw an angel, "either told the truth or they willfully lied. How shall we tell which, how shall we know?"

McLellin then recounts a story of meeting two of the witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, in July 1833 in Missouri. McLellin and the two were in danger of their lives from anti-Mormon mobs. McLellin wrote:

"I said to them, 'Brethren, I never have seen an open vision in my life, but you men say you have, and therefore you positively know. Now, you know that our lives are in danger every hour, if the mob can only catch us. Tell me, in the fear of God, is that Book of Mormon true?' Cowdery looked at me with solemnity depicted in his face and said: 'Brother William, God sent his holy angel to declare the truth of the translation of it to us, and therefore we know. And though the mob kill us, yet we must die declaring its truth.' David said: 'Oliver has told you the solemn truth, for we could not be deceived. I most truly declare to you its truth!!' Said I: 'Boys, I believe you. I can see no object for you to tell me falsehood now, when our lives are endangered.' " (punctuation modernized)

Ashworth said: "This 'apostate' had a rock-solid testimony of the Book of Mormon. And you can extrapolate his belief in Joseph Smith. Obviously he believed Joseph Smith was a prophet at the beginning of the church."

Another surprise is McLellin's description of Joseph Smith as a student in McLellin's "High school" he taught during the winter of 1834. McLellin wrote: "I learned the strength of his mind as to the study and principles of science. ... And I here say that he had one of the strongest and well-balanced, penetrating and retentive minds of any man with whom I ever formed an acquaintance."

Harvard Heath, a historian who has seen the notebook, said, "I don't think we've had too many individuals who write about the LDS Church from a former-member standpoint that wrote so articulately — his grammar and his way of expressing himself in this journal is rather remarkable for its time."

Ashworth is hoping to have the notebook published soon, and at least one publisher has shown interest. This will fulfill McLellin's aim to produce a book and Ashworth's goal to share his discovery with others.

The discovery and eventual publication of the notebook likely also will have another impact. Both Ashworth and McLellin have been living to some extent under Hofmann's shadow of lies, forgeries and schemes. Ashworth hopes that will change.

"I think that it's kind of ironic that I would be the one to find this last lost journal. That seems to me to be more than just coincidental," Ashworth said. "It kind of puts an end to the speculation that Hofmann began."

E-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com

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