Shervin Hess
"History Detectives" host Tukufu Zuberi talks with Marcie Waterman Murray, who owns "Female Life Among the Mormons."

Viewers of tonight's season premiere of "History Detectives" will learn that a book about the horrors of "Female Life Among the Mormons" is a work of fiction.

And the woman who owns the 1856 volume will be "disappointed" by that news.

"History Detectives" (8 p.m., Ch. 7) is a fascinating series in which historical objects are examined to determine if they're authentic. (Tonight's other two segments feature a World War II diary and a coin shot by Annie Oakley.)

In the case of the 1856 book about the horrors of Mormon polygamy, Marcie Waterman Murray of Stanfordville, N.Y., bought it at an auction and wants to know who wrote it. (There's no author listed.)

"I was very moved by this book. It really stayed with me a long time. I've become fascinated with it," Murray says.

What stayed with her is a barbaric account, written in the first person, of a young woman who married a Mormon elder in New York and traveled to Utah with Brigham Young. She suffered the "abominations" of polygamy and the "degradation it imposes on females."

That includes one account of a misbehaving wife who was stripped nude, tied to a tree and whipped until "blood ran to the ground."

Enter Tukufu Zuberi from "History Detectives."

"You don't know if this is a real book. You don't know if it's really from the 19th century. You don't know what it is," Zuberi said in a phone interview with the Deseret News. "But it is a document which definitely offers a skewed view toward marriage among Mormons.

"It puts (women) on the level of being slaves. You can take it as something that's either laughable, looking at it today, or something that really provided fuel for those who were anti-Mormon back in the 19th century."

Without detailing the entire episode, Zuberi quickly discovers that this is not a genuine history. Among other things, it purports to tell the story of Joseph Smith's death and gets it flat-out wrong.

And the show's conclusions are clear. "It seems that our book is little more than pulp fiction, and shot through with historical errors," Zuberi says in the show.

The segment briefly outlines 19th-century LDS history, including the effort to demonize Mormons.

"Someone could write it today in order to kind of speak badly of the Mormons," Zuberi said. "Someone could've written it then to speak badly of the Mormons. And that's our task — to find out."

He does his best to track down the author, including using "some high-tech stuff to determine who wrote the book and determine the authenticity or lack thereof."

"This one I was surprised by. The Mormon story has a lot of twists and turns."

In 21st-century Utah, "Female Life Among the Mormons" seems silly, even campy. But, obviously, the book's owner thought — perhaps hoped — it was genuine.

Upon learning that it's fiction, she gasps and says, "I'm actually a little disappointed. But I'm glad to know the truth."

But it certainly seemed as if she would've been more glad if Mormon women really had been tied to trees and whipped.


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