Superstitious, Gullible, and Unreliable? Shakers, Gladden Bishop, and Martin Harris

Good summary at the Conflict of Justice blog: Was Martin Harris A Superstitious, Gullible, And Unreliable Witness?

Martin Harris left the Church in 1837 during the Kirtland Bank Crisis. A financial panic that affected the entire country, not just Kirtland, Ohio.

After Martin left he affiliated with many sects from the Quakers to break-off LDS factions. But never did he renounce his faith in the Book of Mormon. Nor did he deny his testimony as a witness to the angel, the Liahona, Golden Plates, Brass Plates, and several other objects on the table in 1829.

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Martin saw the artifacts separate from the other 2 witnesses. He and Joseph were alone with the angel.

For a time, Martin Harris associated with Gladden Bishop. Bishop claimed to have the authority to lead the Church after Joseph’s death. Eventually, many of his followers abandoned Bishop in the 1850s and led by Granville Hedrick formed The Church of Christ (Temple Lot).

Before Joseph’s death, Bishop made all kinds of claims without evidence. Bishop never got witnesses to support his claims to have received the Liahona, the lost 116 pages, the golden plates, the breastplate of Moroni, etc.

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During Martin Harris’ many years away from the Church, Martin affiliated with more than one LDS- related group — even ones with leaders making incredible claims — but never himself denied his own testimony.

Consider reading this account by Susan Easton Black on Martin’s long absence from the Church.

A few interesting paragraphs:

David Dille had known Martin in the 1830s. Dille was called to serve a mission to England in 1852. On his way to England, Dille visited Martin Harris in Kirtland. David recorded the following:

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“Although Martin was in bed at the time and had resolved not to “admit anyone into his room for three days,” he allowed his old acquaintance to enter. “His good wife introduced me to him, he received me very coldly but told me to take a seat,” recalled Dille. “I obeyed.” After a few moments, Martin inquired, “How are they getting along at Salt Lake?” Dille answered, “Fine, delightfull.” Dille’s response was not satisfactory to Martin.

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He came to the point: “How are they getting along with polygamy?” Dille said, “Them that was in it was very comfortable.” Martin pressed him for a better answer: “How do you reconcile polygamy with the doctrine taught by one of the old prophets?” Dille replied, “Mr. Harris, if necessary take what you call polygamy to fulfill that prophecy. . . . There is more females born into the world than there is males and besides the many thousands of young men slain in battle, leaving the ladies without a mate.” After reflecting upon his answer, Martin said, “It is so but I never thought of it in that light before.” He then interrupted their conversation to ask Caroline to bring him breakfast before again turning to Elder Dille.

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Martin captured some of the exciting feelings he once had in the faith.

“I have not eaten anything for three days but the old spirit of Mormonism has cured me,” he claimed. Martin then entreated the missionary, “You must stay with me all day.” Having made other plans, Dille told Martin that he would be visiting “Bro. Whiting that afternoon.” And then Martin invited him to “stay till noon and we will get you a good dinner and I will go with you.” Dille replied, “You can’t go, you are sick.”

At this, Martin sprang out of bed and began to put on his clothes while saying, “sick, no, you have brought the old spirit of Mormonism here and it has cured me.” After dinner, both men called upon Brother Whiting. It was in the Whiting home that Martin spoke at length of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon:

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Do I not know that the Book of Mormon is true? Did I not hear the voice of God out of heaven declaring that it was truth and correctly translated? Yes[,] I did[,] and you know I did for I see you have the spirit of it. . . .

I know that the plates have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice declared it unto us. . . . And as many of the plates as Joseph Smith translated I handled with my hands, plate after plate. Martin then estimated the dimensions of the plates: “I should think they were so long [demonstrating with his hands], or about eight inches, and about so thick, or about four inches; and each of the plates was thicker than the thickest tin.”

Dille asked him if he “ever lost 3,000 dollars by the publishing of the Book of Mormon.” Martin replied, “I never lost one cent. Mr. Smith . . . paid me all that I advanced, and more too.”

So, Martin harbored issues about polygamy and Brigham Young, but the still believed in the Book of Mormon.

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Elder Colburn, like Elder Dille before him, had known Martin years before. Colburn had been baptized in 1833 and had marched with Martin in Zion’s Camp in 1834. It seemed natural for him to search out an old friend. Colburn had a “lengthy interview” with Martin.

He sent news of their discussion to Elder Erastus Snow, editor of the St. Louis Luminary. Excerpts of his interview were printed in the Luminary:

“At first [Martin Harris] was down on polygamy, but before we left he informed me that he never should say a word against it. He confessed that he had lost confidence in Joseph Smith, consequently, his mind became darkened, and he was left to himself; he tried the Shakers, but that would not do, then tried Gladden Bishop, but no satisfaction; [he] had concluded he would wait until the Saints returned to Jackson Co., and then he would repair there.

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He gave us a history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; his going to New York and presenting the characters to Professor Anthon, etc.; concluded before we left that “Brigham was Governor,” and that the authorities were there, and that he should go there as soon as he could get away. Yet once again, Martin did not make good on his promise. He refused to leave his beloved Kirtland.”

Martin was in his 70s when he helped his much-younger wife (40) move to Iowa. Caroline Young Harris was a niece of Brigham Young. After moving his family, Martin soon returned to Kirtland. A few years after living in Iowa, Caroline moved to Utah. After years of living alone, Caroline Harris remarried.

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Another account of Martin and William Smith attempting to start a new church in Kirtland:

Elder Beese reported to Pres. Young’s office that “Martin Harris had reorganized the Church in this place with 6 members. Appointed Wm. Smith their Leader Prophet Seer & Revelator. In [a] few days Harris drove Wm. Smith out of the place & damned him to Hell.” William’s aspirations for presidency were short-lived at the hands of a disgruntled Martin Harris.

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A relative of Martin’s visited him at the end of his mission to England:

Elder Homer introduced himself to Martin “as a brother-in-law of Martin Harris, Jr.,—as he [Martin Jr.] had married my eldest sister—and as an Elder of the Church who was returning from a foreign mission.”

Martin snapped, “One of those Brighamite ‘Mormons,’ are you?” He then “railed impatiently against Utah and the founder of the ‘Mormon’ commonwealth.” To Homer, “Martin Harris seemed to be obsessed. He would not understand that there stood before him a man who knew his wife [Caroline] and children, who had followed the Church to Utah.”

After a time, Martin asked, “You want to see the Temple, do you?” Elder Homer nodded. “I’ll get the key,” said Martin. According to Homer, Martin now “radiated with interest.” He led Homer and his cousin into the Kirtland Temple and “through the rooms of the Temple and explained how they were used. He pointed out the place of the School of the Prophets. He showed us where the Temple curtain had at one time hung. He related thrilling experiences in connection with the history of the sacred building.”

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While speaking of the neglected state of the temple, Martin again railed “against the Utah ‘Mormons’” and said that a “gross injustice had been done to him. He should have been chosen President of the Church.” It was then that Martin seemed “somewhat exhausted.”

While they were resting, Homer asked, “Is it not true that you were once very prominent in the Church, that you gave liberally of your means, and that you were active in the performance of your duties?” Martin replied, “That is very true.” He mused, “Things were alright then. I was honored while the people were here, but now that I am old and poor it is all different.”

Homer reported that when questioned about his belief in the Book of Mormon, “the shabby, emaciated little man before us was transformed as he stood with hand outstretched toward the sun of heaven.” “Young man,” answered Martin Harris with impressiveness, “Do I believe it! Do you see the sun shining! Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, and the [moon] and stars give us light by night, just as surely as the breath of life sustains us, so surely do I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, chosen of God to open the last dispensation of the fulness of times; so surely do I know that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated. I saw the plates; I saw the Angel; I heard the voice of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God.

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I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon or the divine calling of Joseph Smith.” To Homer, “it was a sublime moment. It was a wonderful testimony.” Indeed, “it was the real Martin Harris whose burning testimony no power on earth could quench.” Homer claimed that hearing him testify was “the most thrilling moment” of his life.

It was then that Martin turned to Elder Homer and asked, “Who are you?” Homer explained for the second time his relationship. “So my son Martin married your sister,” repeated the old man, shaking his hand. “You know my family then?” “Yes,” he replied, “Wouldn’t you like to see your family again?”

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Martin admitted that he would “like to see Caroline and the children” but lamented that his impoverished circumstances prevented such a visit. “That need not stand in the way,” Homer said. “President Young would be only too glad to furnish means to convey you to Utah.” The mere mention of Brigham Young angered Martin. “Don’t talk Brigham Young,” he warned. Martin then declared, “He would not do anything that was right.” Homer suggested that Martin “send him a message by me.”

Martin refused. Yet he did admit, “I should like to see my family.” Homer entreated him again to convey a message to President Young. Martin replied, You call on Brigham Young. Tell him about our visit. Tell him that Martin Harris is an old, old man, living on charity with his relatives. Tell him I should like to visit Utah, my family, my children—I would be glad to accept help from the Church, but I want no personal favors.

Read the rest through the link above.

Kirtland Bank Crisis

Solid summary of what occurred with the Kirtland banking crisis:

Much more was going on in 1837, including the Panic of 1837, in the broader economy. Consider the broader context from the videos below.

Short video:

Longer video:

Another view from Gospel Tangents:

” The year 1837 was one of the most turbulent periods in all of Mormon history. It was the year the Kirtland Bank collapsed. Many, including apostles, lost faith in Joseph Smith and his ability to lead. Why did Joseph decide that Kirtland needed a bank? What were the economic reasons behind this?

Historian and Author, Dr. Mark Staker talks about this in his book [Hearken O Ye People: The Historical Settings of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations] about the Kirtland period. We’ll talk to him about the events that led up to the Kirtland Banking Crisis.”

Critics of the 3 Witnesses and Especially of Martin Harris

Dan Peterson gives us a view of the upcoming movie about the Book of Mormon witnesses:

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Before we get to the critics, let’s keep the criticisms in perspective.  The 3 Book of Mormon witnesses are direct witnesses.  To favor past critics’ testimonies — whom most current LDS critics don’t know lots about — is not a solid approach.

In other words, to discount and withhold the three witnesses’ stories is absurd.  It shows tremendous bias to ignore the three witnesses’ many reports, and to primarily focus on the critics of our three witnesses.

Keep this in mind:  for an attorney to withhold exculpatory, direct evidence and to favor hearsay (2nd-hand account) or even anonymous claims would put such an attorney in jeopardy of sanction in court.

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3 Witnesses:  saw and heard an angel.  The angel held the Gold Plates, flipped through the pages, called David by name, and testified.  The three witnesses, additionally, observed a table on which rested many ancient artifacts:  Gold Plates, Brass Plates, other plates, Liahona, Sword of Laban, and interpreters (seer stones).  These 3 witnesses were David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris.

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8 witnesses:  saw, held, and hefted the Gold Plates; flipped through the metal pages; and noted the engravings on the pages.   The plates were set on a stump. The eight men reported the sealed portion and the three D-shaped rings.  The eight saw the plates 1-2 days after the 3 witnesses saw the angel and objects.  These eight were Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Smith.

Richard L. Anderson (Harvard Law graduate & Berkeley PhD) is a leading authority on the Book of Mormon witnesses.  As an attorney, he understood the value of witnesses.  During Richard’s study of these witnesses, he collected documents with over 200 positive and affirming statements from the 11 witnesses.

The three witnesses:  30 interviews or reports of contact w/ Oliver Cowdery, minimum of 70 with David Whitmer, and about 50 with Martin Harris.  The eight witnesses shared up to 60 reports, affirming their experiences holding and evaluating the Gold Plates.

In contrast, a very small number of records critical to the witnesses’ testimony exist (8 to 10 total).   8-10 vs. 200.   So, around 5% of the total records relative to the witnesses argue that the witnesses made it all up.  Anderson shows how these critics — 1 named Stephen Burnett was recently excommunicated and hostile to the Church — take the witnesses’ stories out of context, misreport, and otherwise claim the witnesses were not credible.  Richard discusses the topic  and critics below.

Before I go further, I’ll point out that most of the critics make comments against Martin.  The other witnesses don’t say and do what Martin did.  What Martin did was more eccentric and odd.  He managed his frustration with polygamy, Brigham Young, and others uniquely.  He flirted for short periods with a few other faiths.  But Martin never denied.

I’ll share a portion of Jim Bennett’s reply to the CES Letter:

According to the CES Letter:  “it has been reported that Martin Harris “declared repeatedly that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon” (The Braden and Kelly Debate, p.173).

“It has been reported” is a pretty way of saying “somebody made something up.” The Braden and Kelley debate took place thirteen years after Martin Harris’s death, and it was the first time anyone made this charge. Nobody reported Martin saying such a thing during his lifetime. The person making the charge had never met Harris and had no way to substantiate this allegation, which means you don’t, either.

CES Letter:  “In addition to his devotion to self-proclaimed prophet James Strang…”

Jim:  His devotion was to the Book of Mormon, not to Strang. The Strangites booted him out not long after he joined.

CES Letter:  “In addition to devotion to self-proclaimed prophet James Strang, Martin Harris was a follower to another self-proclaimed Mormon prophet by the name of Gladden Bishop. Like Strang, Bishop claimed to have plates, Urim and Thummim, and that he was receiving revelation from the Lord. Martin was one of Gladden Bishop’s witnesses to his claims.

Jim:  A gross exaggeration. Martin never gave any witness that Gladden Bishop actually had any plates or a Urim and Thummim or anything else. His testimony in this splinter group, as in all the splinter groups he joined, was focused on the Book of Mormon and his original witness, and that’s it.

CES Letter:  If someone testified of some strange spiritual encounter he had, but he also told you that he…
• Conversed with Jesus who took the form of a deer

Jim:  As noted above, it’s highly unlikely Martin ever said this.

CES Letter:  • Saw the devil with his four feet and donkey head

Jim:  Martin almost certainly didn’t say this, either.

CES Letter:  • Chipped off a chunk of a stone box that would mysteriously move beneath the ground to avoid capture

Jim:  First time you’ve mentioned this one. Source, please?

CES Letter:  • Interpreted simple things like a flickering of a candle as a sign of the devil

Jim:  Hearsay and dubious, but harmless even if it’s accurate.

CES Letter: • Had a creature appearing on his chest that no one else could see

Jim:  More like woke up from a bad dream. (Also dubious hearsay.)

CES Letter:   …would you believe his claims? Or would you call the nearest mental hospital?

Jim:  I’d do neither. Instead, I’d verify my sources for these claims, as all of them are either grossly exaggerated or altogether bogus.

CES Letter:  With inconsistencies…

Jim:  The inconsistencies are between your hearsay nonsense outnumbered 10-1 by consistent firsthand accounts.

See Jim Bennett’s reply around 4/5 of the way down for all Jim’s research on the Book of Mormon witnesses.

Now we’ll shift to the criticisms of the Book of Mormon witnesses.  We’ll start with Steven Burnett.  At one point a very faithful member of the Church.  In fact, he’s name in D & C 80:

Section 80

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet to Stephen Burnett, at Hiram, Ohio, March 7, 1832.

1–5, Stephen Burnett and Eden Smith are called to preach in whatever place they choose.

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice.

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Stephen is mentioned again in D & C 75:35.  23–36, Families of missionaries are to receive help from the Church.

35 And also my servant Ruggles Eames and my servant Stephen Burnett;

Minutes of a general Conference held at the dwelling of br. Serenes Burnet[t] in the Town of Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, October 25, 1831.

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Elder David Bendar referenced Stephen Burnett many times in a 2017 General Conference talk, “Called to the Work“.

Section 80 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a record of a mission call to Stephen Burnett extended by the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1832. Studying this call to Brother Burnett can help us to (1) understand more clearly the distinction between being “called to the work” as a missionary and “assigned to labor” in a particular place and (2) appreciate more completely our individual and divinely appointed responsibility to proclaim the gospel.

Verse 1 of this section is a call to serve: “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice.”3

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Interestingly, verse 2 informs Brother Burnett about his assigned missionary companion: “And inasmuch as you desire a companion, I will give unto you my servant Eden Smith.”4

Verse 3 indicates where these two missionaries are to labor: “Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss.”5

I do not believe that the phrase “it mattereth not” as used by the Lord in this scripture suggests that He does not care where His servants labor. In fact, He cares deeply. But because the work of preaching the gospel is the Lord’s work, He inspires, guides, and directs His authorized servants. As missionaries strive to be ever more worthy and capable instruments in His hands and do their best to fulfill faithfully their duties, then with His help they “cannot go amiss”—wherever they serve. Perhaps one of the lessons the Savior is teaching us in this revelation is that an assignment to labor in a specific place is essential and important but secondary to a call to the work.

The next verse highlights important qualifications for all missionaries: “Therefore, declare the things which ye have heard, and verily believe, and know to be true.6

The final verse reminds Brother Burnett and all of us from whom a call to serve truly comes: “Behold, this is the will of him who hath called you, your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ. Amen.”7

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In 1838, Steven lost property in Independence and then made (conflated, false) statements about Martin, suggesting Martin never saw the plates. Prior to that (loss of faith and property in Independence) Burnett never would have made such statements, as he was a believing Latter-day Saint.

Stephen Harper discusses the witnesses, Stephen Burnett, and others:

As an early convert in Ohio, Stephen Burnett felt the Holy Spirit and a desire to take the gospel to his relatives. He led his parents into the Church and responded successfully to revealed mission calls (see D&C 75:35; 80). He “was the first one that sounded the glad tidings of the everlasting gospel” in Dalton, New Hampshire.[28]

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But by 1838 Burnett felt completely disillusioned. He felt he had tried but failed to regain the Holy Spirit. Finally he “proclaimed all revelation lies” and left the Church.[29] Burnett wrote candidly to Lyman Johnson, explaining his decisions. “My heart is sickened within me when I reflect upon the manner in which we with many of this Church have been led & the losses which we have sustained all by means of two men in whom we placed implicit confidence,” Burnett wrote, referring to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. He felt that Joseph had used his influence for financial gain and had prophesied lies. He continued his compelling story:

I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it—lo[a]th to give it up—but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in a public congregation that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped & the entire superstructure fell [in] a heap of ruins, I therefore three week[s] since in the Stone Chapel gave a full history of the church since I became acquainted with it, the false preaching & prophecying of Joseph together with the reasons why I took the course which I was resolved to do, and renounced the Book of Mormon with the whole scene of lying and deception practiced by J. S & S. R in this church, believing as I verily do, that it is all a wicked deception palmed upon us unawares[.] I was followed by W. Par[r]ish Luke Johnson & John Boynton all of who concurred with me, after we were done speaking M. Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true.[30]

Burnett gave us a rich metaphor by describing his faith as a building whose foundation had been shattered, leaving only a heap of ruins. Those who share his experience know exactly what he means. One strategy of coping with the devastating loss is to pull what remains from the heap of ruins and try to rebuild something sensible. Burnett and others since have dug into the pile of statements by and about the Book of Mormon witnesses and fashioned an alternative way to interpret the testimonies of the eleven eyewitnesses. Those whose faith in their own spiritual experiences has been shattered doubt that the witnesses had authentic spiritual experiences either, and therefore seek alternative explanations for the testimonies of the witnesses. Acknowledging that “Harris and others still . . . believe the Book of Mormon,”

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A letter from Stephen Burnett claims that Harris never saw the plates at all, and that he only saw them when they were covered with a cloth

The quote in question is from a letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson” on 15 April 1838:

when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel…renounced the Book of Mormon…after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was…[1]

(image below of Emma feeling plates wrapped in a cloth.  Emma never witnessed the plates.  Harris didn’t either until 1829.)

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When Harris said that “he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them,” he was not referring to his experience as one of the Three Witnesses

The comment about hefting the plates repeatedly while they were covered by a cloth refers to the period of time when he was assisting Joseph Smith in the translation – a time during which Harris was not allowed to view the plates. What is missing from Burnett’s account is any mention of Harris stating that he saw the plates as one of the Three Witnesses.

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For years after Harris is said to have made the comment related by Burnett, he used clear language to assert that he had actually seen the plates. For example, Martin Harris said in the presence of 12-year-old William Glenn:

Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.[2]

Harris told Robert Aveson,

It is not a mere belief, but is a matter of knowledge. I saw the plates and the inscriptions thereon. I saw the angel, and he showed them unto me.[3]

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George Mantle recalls what Martin Harris said while he was in Birmingham on a mission for the Strangites. This was well after Martin had left the Church:

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting that he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when he was asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: ‘Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.’[4]

These statements are much clearer regarding Martin’s experience with the place than Burnett’s account of him claiming to have seen the plates while they were covered as a “city through a mountain”.  Critics dismiss direct evidence in favor of hearsay.

Another fellow who’s on record dismissing Martin’s account is a Palmyra pastor, John Clark, who considered Joseph a fraud.  The problem with Clark’s account is that he never interviewed Martin. Instead, Clark’s statements dismissing Martin got into the historical record, despite being 3rd hand.
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Really, you ask? Really. Clark never heard Martin. Not 1st hand. Neither did Clark hear from the person who supposedly heard the account from Martin. Not 2nd hand. Clark claims to have heard from the person who heard from the person who heard from Martin. 3rd hand. However, worse than that is that the 3rd-hand individual isn’t named. He or she is anonymous. Hummmm. Lots of credibility to this charge of Martin’s denial?  Nope.
In fact, such a pastor would have lots of motive to distort the record. It seems he did just that, knowingly or unknowingly.
Here’s the dialogue that ended up in the historical record: Did Martin Harris tell people that he did not see the plates with his natural eyes, but rather the “eye of faith”?
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A former pastor, John A. Clark, said that a “gentleman in Palmyra” told him that Harris said that he saw the plates with the “eye of faith”
John A. Clark, a former pastor who considered Joseph Smith a fraud and the Book of Mormon “an imposture,” states,
To know how much this testimony [of three witnesses] is worth I will state one fact. A gentleman in Palmyra, bred to the law, a professor of religion, and of undoubted veracity told me that on one occasion, he appealed to Harris and asked him directly,-”Did you see those plates?” Harris replied, he did.
“Did you see the plates, and the engraving on them with your bodily eyes?” Harris replied, “Yes, I saw them with my eyes,-they were shown unto me by the power of God and not of man.”
“But did you see them with your natural,-your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Harris replied,-”Why I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see any thing around me,-though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.[1]
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John A. Clark did not interview Martin Harris – he was repeating what someone else told him.  The source cited is “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270.
However, rather than being an interview between Clark and Harris, as implied by the title of reference work using in the citation, Clark’s actual statement clearly says that he received his information from a “gentleman in Palmyra…a professor of religion,” who said that he had talked with Harris. This is not an interview between Clark and Harris.
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Larry E. Morris notes that the “claim that ‘Harris told John A. Clark’ is not accurate. This is not secondhand testimony but third-hand—’he said that he said that he said.’….As if that weren’t enough, Clark does not name his source—making it impossible to judge that person’s honesty or reliability. What we have is a third-hand, anonymous account of what Martin Harris supposedly said.” (Larry E. Morris, FARMS Review, Vol. 15, Issue 1.)

Clark’s account mixes elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as one of the Three Witnesses and portrays Harris as contradicting himself

The two elements that are mixed together in Clark’s account are the following:

  1. Martin Harris said that he only saw the plates through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his experience as a witness.
  2. Martin Harris saw the plates uncovered as one of the three witnesses.

Note also that the date assigned to these comments places them prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, yet Clark’s statement appears to include elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as a witness. Harris “saw them” with his eyes when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, but he only saw them through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his being a witness. Clark’s third-hand hostile relation of another hostile source, makes no distinction between these events, and instead portrays Harris as contradicting himself.

When Martin Harris said that he had seen the angel and the plates with his “spiritual eyes” or with an “eye of faith” he may have simply been employing some scriptural language that he was familiar with. Such statements do not mean that the angel and the plates were imaginary, hallucinatory, or just an inner mental image—the earliest accounts of Martin Harris’ testimony makes the literal nature of the experience unmistakable.

Rather than being hallucinatory or “merely” spiritual, Martin claimed that the plates and angel were seen by physical eyes that had been enhanced by the power of God to view more objects than a mortal could normally see (cf. DC 76:12DC 67:10-13).

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Joseph Smith was an eyewitness to what Martin Harris said at the exact moment that the manifestation took place. He reported that Martin’s words were: “Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld“. [6] Another eyewitness, named Alma Jensen, saw Martin Harris point to his physical eyes while testifying that he had seen both the angel and the plates. [7]

Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to a skeptical author in November 1829, and spoke for both himself and Harris on the question of whether there was some trickery or “juggling” at work:

“It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven. Now if this is human juggling—judge ye“.[8]

Lost manuscript: 116 pages

Brief explanation:

Wonderful podcast:

Episode 74: What was on the Lost 116 Pages? with Don Bradley

Was it 116 pages?

Interestingly, 116 pages were the number of pages — dictated by Oliver Cowdery — needed to get up to Mosiah 3.  The lost manuscript contained the Book of Mormon narrative from Lehi through Mosiah 2.

Martin Harris’ brother, Emer (distant ancestor of Dallin Harris Oaks), reported that the lost manuscript consisted of over 200 pages.

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Contrary to what people may know (and not discovered till the 1990s), Joseph resumed translating from Mosiah to the end of Moroni.  Only then did they use the small plates of Nephi to complete their task and add the (now) first books in this scripture.

Book of Mormon Witnesses: 3, 8, and others

From the fun-loving, light-hearted 3 Mormons:

Jeff at Latter-day Saints Q & A shares his insights:

I’ll take a moment to debunk common comparisons with Bigfoot.

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Critics frequently compare LDS witnesses to those who claim to see the virgin Mary (or Bigfoot or still others).  Similar?  Not more than superficially.

Do 3 or even 8 people see Mary or Bigfoot simultaneously?  Hear Mary’s voice together?  Videotape Bigfoot in daylight hours? See a table full of Catholic relics, shown to the 3 one by one? Then hear God command them to testify?

No.  From my experience, Bigfoot and Mary witnesses are similar: no lasting evidence.  And testimonies almost always wilt under cross-examination or sustained questioning.

These elements are what provide such strong support for the Book of Mormon witnesses, the 3 and the 8.  Ditto for the testimony of 8 witnesses.

Testimony of the 3 Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Oliver Cowdery

David Whitmer

Martin Harris

Testimony of the 8 Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer

Jacob Whitmer

Peter Whitmer, Jun.

John Whitmer

Hiram Page

Joseph Smith, Sen.

Hyrum Smith

Samuel H. Smith

Keith Erekson shares his thoughts:

Brett McDonald at LDS Truth Claims YouTube channel created these videos relative to the witnesses.  Brett has done his homework.

Brian Hales debunks the anti-Mormon claims against the Book of Mormon witnesses.

Part II:

Did the witnesses leave the church?  Yes.  Deny their testimony?  No.

More insights from Jeff:

From Saints Unscripted:

Bigfoot vs. the 11 Book of Mormon Witnesses

Before we get to the Bigfoot discussion consider watching this video.

The video summarizes the background of the witnesses and the approach our critics often take:

We could talk at length about Bigfoot;  the Easter Bunny;  claims of three ghosts in the Bisbee, AZ Copper Queen HotelUFO sightings in Roswell, NM;  and other similar events.

There’s no doubt some people believe they see ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, etc.  Few, but they’re out there.  There’s also no doubt some people seek attention, create hoaxes, etc.  Probably more than those who genuinely think they saw a UFO, but jokesters, promoters, and elaborate schemers are out there, for sure.

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Obviously, we don’t have to believe every claim someone makes.  We should, instead, weigh evidence.  Treat the Book of Mormon witnesses or Bigfoot as any other claim.  Is it credible, does it stand the test of time, was the witnesses subject to interrogation, etc.?

I’ll focus this thread on Bigfoot, as this is the most common claim put forward by critics:  that Bigfoot sightings are just as credible as the Book of Mormon witnesses.

A few years ago in an online forum we were discussing the Book of Mormon.  To support LDS positions I mentioned the 11 witnesses. Someone replied that belief in Bigfoot (& associated claims) had as much reliability as the Book of Mormon witnesses. 

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Others have since mentioned Santa, unicorns, UFOs, apparitions of Mary, Nessy the Loch Ness Monster, and other figures many swear they’ve seen (but probably haven’t).

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I asked him a few questions, poking him gently about his assertion. I’ll list some of my questions below:

– Has Bigfoot ever been seen by more than 1 guy at a time?

A group of witnesses that simultaneously see an event has more credibility than a single person.  Most Bigfoot sightings are reported by single individuals, but some groups have made the same claims.  In fact, large groups of people have formed communities to share their Bigfoot stories.

This link, among many other details, discusses 3000 people represented by a Southern California marketing firm (owned by a fellow named Matt Moneymaker).  All 3000 insist they saw Bigfoot.  So, large numbers of people are on record with the same claim.

In fact, a YouTube video about Bigfoot on Animal Planet has an entire family participating in a Bigfoot hoax at the same time.  So, large and simultaneous groups are possible.  Is this proof, however?  Well, have groups of 3000 and entire families been mistaken before and/or been involved in hoaxes?

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This link shows some of history’s greatest hoaxes, fooling millions of people.

Oh, but before you think everyone saw the Bigfoot, you should know that Bigfoot was made up in the 1950s.  See this link’s final paragraphs.  And read the hilarious paragraph after this awesome 1950s image.

Knowing that Bigfoot was made up, but still claimed to be real decades after the hoax, demonstrates that people in groups big and small  can fib, seek attention, be convinced of falsehoods, etc.  Credibility and the test of time matter.

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“After Bigfoot tracker Ray Wallace died in a California nursing home last year, his children finally announced that their prank-loving dad had created the modern myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to create a track of giant footprints in a northern California logging camp in 1958.”

– Did the Bigfoot sighting and associated claims last the test of time?

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David Whitmer (image above) lived 60 years after seeing plates, other objects, and angel that day in 1829. All 11 witnesses suffered economically, socially, politically, and in other ways;  yet, didn’t deny their claims.

The Book of Mormon witnesses were persecuted, families kicked out of homes, wives raped, assets seized, and on and on.  Any Bigfoot claimant go through that much and stick to his story?  Never heard of one claiming to see Bigfoot get persecuted to this extent and stand by his story.

This link shares information of Martin Harris’ consistent testimony throughout his life.

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Text in image:  Dale Lee Wallace displays the original feet his uncle Ray Wallace strapped on to help make Bigfoot tracks in 1958.

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Review link about Ray Wallace in this story:  Search for Bigfoot Outlines the Man Who Created Him.  

“No region in the country has a lower percentage of churchgoers than the Pacific Northwest. But ask people here about the existence of a camera-resistant, grooming-challenged, upright biped known as Bigfoot or Sasquatch and the true believers shout to the misty heavens in affirmation.

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So it came as a considerable blow when the children of Ray L. Wallace announced that their prank-loving pop had created the modern myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to stomp a track of oversized footprints in a Northern California logging camp in 1958. Mr. Wallace, 84, died on Nov. 26 at a nursing home in Centralia, Wash.

”This wasn’t a well-planned plot or anything,” said Michael Wallace, one of Ray’s sons. ”It’s weird because it was just a joke, and then it took on such a life of its own that even now, we can’t stop it.”

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– Did the Bigfoot claimant crack under cross-examination and provide repeated, consistent statements?

The 11 witnesses provided over 200 personal statements & interviews, each time confirming the same details.  LDS and non-LDS interviewers applied lots of pressure and prodded the witnesses, testing them from every possible perspective.

Con artists tend to wither when threatened.  Their testimony wavers and they tell the truth.  Some people have mental conditions; others are motivated by fame, attention, money, and fanfare; and still other explanations contribute to seeing ghosts, Bigfoot, UFOs, etc.

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– What were the circumstances of the Bigfoot sighting?  And was the testimony consistent?

I encouraged the fellow in the discussion to please find a clear, not fuzzy, not quickly ducking into the woods Bigfoot sighting with 3 or more witnesses.  Each reported Bigfoot sighting tends to go like this:  one guy is alone in the forest near dusk.  Neither he nor we can see what is out there.  His gray, blurry, and shadow-filled video is typically far from conclusive. 

You can review scores of videos at the Sasquatch YouTube channel linked at the bottom of this post.  All are fuzzy.  Not one is conclusive.

In contrast, the 11 witnesses to the Book of Mormon were reporting what they saw in broad day light.  Their corroborating testimonies never wavered.

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– Did people in Joseph’s area think he had golden plates?

Yes.  Many folks persecuted and tormented Joseph for the plates they genuinely believed he had.  Several men followed Joseph on the night he secured the plates from the hill and hounded him consistently.  Many people hefted the plates while they were in a pillow case, and knew it was something very dense.

Martin Harris didn’t see the plates till the summer of 1829 near Fayette, NY,.  Before that time, when Martin lifted the pillow case he commented that, given the density/weight, Martin knew Joseph had either lead or gold plates.  And Joseph, according to Martin, certainly lacked the credit for lead.

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Further evidence, Joseph excommunicated nearly all the 11 witnesses at some point. Had this been a hoax or conspiracy — with so many of these men mad at him on 1 or many occasions — these witnesses would have turned on Joseph. If it had been a grand hoax or elaborate scheme these men would have told the world of their great fraud.

Human nature would have ended this conspiracy, had it been one.  More than one of the witnesses at one point or another said Joseph was fallen or at least mistaken.  Several left the Church angry and disappointed.  Others among the witnesses had major disagreements with each other and Joseph. But none of them denied holding the plates (the 8 witnesses), seeing the angel (the 3 witnesses), seeing the objects on the table (the 3 witnesses), etc.

– Did anyone touch Bigfoot during a sighting?

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The 8 witnesses held the plates. They flipped through the metal pages. The 3 witnesses saw the angel turning the pages of the plates. Most Bigfoot sightings see the elusive furry creature from great distances.  And the camera images — no surprise!  — are always very fuzzy.

– How credible are folks claiming to have seen Bigfoot?

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Martin was a highly successful farmer and public servant. David Whitmer was a successful business owner and mayor of Richmond, MO. Oliver Cowdery was a respected attorney.

Conclusion: it’s much, much easier to believe in the 11 witnesses than in those claiming to see Bigfoot.

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Update from 1/2019:

See this fun National Geographic report.  I’ll provide selected quotes:

“But the vast majority of scientists still believe Bigfoot is little more than supermarket tabloid fodder. They wonder why no Bigfoot has ever been captured, dead or alive.”

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“Many of the sightings and footprints, meanwhile, have proved to be hoaxes.

After Bigfoot tracker Ray Wallace died in a California nursing home last year, his children finally announced that their prank-loving dad had created the modern myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to create a track of giant footprints in a northern California logging camp in 1958.”

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Hilarious.  A tracker himself created the myth out of thin air!!!

Dennett says he’s not surprised by the flood of Bigfoot sightings.

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“It’s the same kind of eyewitness reports we see for the Loch Ness Sea Monster, UFOs, ghosts, you name it,” he said. “The monster thing is a universal product of the human mind. We hear such stories from around the world.”

P.S.  If Joseph Smith had been a fraud, why would he have chosen to produce ancient artifacts on 2 separate occasions?   3 guys see an angel holding plates with lots of stuff on a nearby table.   A few days later, 8 guys hold what Joseph has long been claiming to have translated — the Gold Plates.  He didn’t have to show all this stuff.

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P.P.S.  There’s absolutely no evidence Joseph understood how to smelt and form metal plates.  Nor was he a hypnotist — something else critics claim he likely was involved in.  In addition, 2nd sight isn’t a real thing.  Critics bring up 2nd sight from time to time…

Brian Hales debunks Dan Vogel and the CES Letter’s claims against the Book of Mormon witnesses:

Part II:

LDS critics often ignore the 200+ accounts given by LDS sources.  That is bad scholarship.  Would you like it if someone ignored all your personal claims, which are supported by others, and talked over you?  Telling you what you really experienced?

Yet, this is exactly what many LDS critics often do.  They ignore LDS witnesses and seemingly believe anything early LDS critics say about the witnesses.  Even when they know nothing about those early LDS critics.

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To rely more on testimony from LDS critics, especially excommunicated Stephen Burnett (often cited by critics), and downplay the LDS witnesses themselves would create legal problems for an attorney in court.

A judge wouldn’t appreciate an attorney withholding exonerating information if — as in the case of the 3 witnesses — the witnesses were credible and their accounts were intentionally suppressed.  Such an attorney would be sanctioned in court.

The CES Letter and other anti-Mormon tracts usually share nothing from the Book of Mormon witnesses.  But they do mention ex-communicated members’ second-hand stories about Martin Harris, Palmyra-area pastor’s third-hand account about Martin Harris, and other less credible sources.  No proper defense of the witnesses themselves by allowing their personal narratives — over 200 total are available — to be told.  The 11+ witnesses’ own stories would exonerate them, giving a personal and credible side of the story.  Not only what church enemies say.

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Remember the Duke lacrosse trial?  The DA was disbarred and prosecuted for burying exonerating information about the athletes.

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Judge-imposed sanctions are penalties placed upon a party who is found in violation of the rules of court procedure.   Burying exonerating evidence, as occurred in the Duke lacrosse case, and often done by LDS critics, would get one sanctioned in court.  My attorney brother suggested the judge doesn’t like to learn an attorney hid (exonerating) information to make his/her case more appealing.

These sanction penalties often take the form of fines, including paying for opposing attorney’s fees, or the dismissal of the legal claim.

Brett McDonald discusses the strength of the Book of Mormon witnesses  below:

For Bigfoot diehards: Rocky Mountain Sasquatch Organization YouTube Channel.

Interesting article: So, Why Do People Believe in Bigfoot Anyway?

“With only 16 percent of Americans Bigfoot believers, you might just write them off as crazy. But contrary to popular assumption, folklore experts say, Bigfoot believers may not be as irrational as you’d think.”

Reason 1: They think they saw Sasquatch, and they want to prove to themselves and the world that they’re not “crazy.”

Reason 2: Their tribe believes in Sasquatch, so it would be weird if they didn’t.

Reason 3: Believing in Bigfoot keeps hope alive that people can be self-sustaining—and that humans haven’t totally destroyed the environment beyond repair.

Reason 4: Lack of proof doesn’t disprove that Bigfoot exists, so it’s hard to declare—with certainty—that Bigfoot is fake.

Witnesses — why they’re essential & a focus on Martin Harris…

This talk was given in April 1999.  You can find the talk here and watch below.

Ample opportunities presented themselves for each of the 3 witnesses to deny or deviate from their public testimonies.  They never did.  1837 brought the Kirtland bank problems.  Martin was excommunicated at this time.  He was rebaptized in 1842.  Martin stayed in Kirtland till 1870, looking after the Kirtland Temple.  In 1870 he moved to Utah at the age of 87.

There is hope for each of us, even if we’ve strayed from a favored position.

FYI:  Dallin H. Oaks is a descendant of Martin Harris’ older brother, Emer Harris.  Harris is Elder Oaks’ middle name.  Elder Oaks provides personal insight into the life of Martin Harris.