Juanita Brooks's letter from 1961 discussing the details of restoring John D. Lee's Church blessings.

Juanita Brooks

Juanita Brooks, Letter to Asael C. Lambert, December 11, 1961, in The Selected Letters of Juanita Brooks, ed. Craig S. Smith (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2019), 230–233

University of Utah Press
Juanita Brooks, Merritt L. Norton, James Anderson (LDS), David O. McKay, Caroline Williams, Dale Morgan, Jesse Udall, John D. Lee, Delbert L. Stapley
Asael C. Lambert

To Asael C. Lambert, December 11, 1961

Dear A.C.,

Thank you so much for your letter of December 6.

Yes, there is a story behind the last paragraphs of page 376, but I am not sure that I can tell it all. I do not care to tell any of it in public, but to you I will give my version.

The Lee Family Reunion was held at Panguitch a year-and-a-half ago in August. A wonderful crowd was there and a fine spirit. The Panguitch stake house was full to overflowing; Manetta Henrie had just got out her 1200-page book on the John D. Lee descendants, and was the guest of honor.

I was asked to speak. I told them that the Biography was finished, that Arthur H. Clark had accepted it, and that it was scheduled for a spring appearance—last spring. Pre-publication orders would be accepted for $7.50, etc. etc. Then I explained how restless I had been at the long delays on the MMM book, and then finally this item, the most important thing in it, came after it was being set up in the galleys. Dale Morgan found the hand-written letter of the father of two of the victims—It had arrived in D.C. too late to be included in Senate Document No. 42, and was filed, unlisted, among the Indian materials. So, I explained, since so many questions remained unanswered, it might be that there was new material forthcoming for this book also. Immediately after I spoke, a tall, good-looking man stood up in the midst of the audience and made a motion that this body go on record as requesting the re-instatement of John D. Lee into the church. Everyone was saying, “Who is he?” He had voiced the hope of them all, but all supposed that such an request would be futile.

He was Merritt L. Norton, a grandson through Caroline Williams, who is a regular ordinance worker at the Salt Lake Temple. He evidently worked with Apostle Stapley and the president of the Temple. At April conference last spring they called in Judge Jesse Udall of the Supreme Court in Arizona and Bishop Ewart Lee, also of Arizona, and talked the matter over with them. Later the council met, the action was taken, and the ordinances performed.

A copy of the letter of authorization signed by James Anderson, also word that the ordinances were performed, was sent immediately to Miss Ettie Lee, who sent them immediately to me. There was no word of secrecy in Brother Anderson’s letter; in the one from Norton to Miss Lee was the statement that, “You may notify the family,” but the suggestion that this be not given “undue publicity.” Well, the Lee family is pretty large, and the word went like wildfire. Such rejoicing, such tears and prayers of thanksgiving you could hardly imagine. Miss Lee sent all the material with the word that this is just what we have all been waiting for, a fitting climax to the book.

Immediately there was a panic. Norton stated that if this were to appear in print “President McKay would rescind the action.” My answer to him was, “How crazy can you get? He cannot rescind the action!” I felt, like Lady Macbeth that “What’s done is done.” Well, there were long telephone calls from Zion to California to Phoenix, around and around, until at last Miss Lee in tears implored me not to put it in the book. Reluctantly I promised not to use it in the First Edition. I was called in to an interview with Apostle Stapley. He seemed not to hear what I said, but repeated over and over like a broken victrola record the words, “If this appears in print anywhere—in the book, on the jacket, in a review—President McKay will rescind the action.” I could only insist that I had made a promise to keep it out of the First Edition; more than that I would not promise.

Now they put on pressure from another source. I was invited to a meeting of the Lee family in Phoenix; they paid my fare down and back on a jet plane. The meeting was held at the home of Judge Jesse Udall, whose wife is a Lee. Present were the official officers in the Lee organization along with six young Bishops. They each spoke, bore testimony that Pres. McKay was the only man on the earth authorized to speak in the name of God; that he could rescind the action; that if he did, Poor John D. Lee would have to wait out another hundred years. . . .

Well, we decided to make the First Edition 250 copies, identical with the regular one except for this last short item and with the front WESTERN FRONTIERSMEN SERIES IX omitted. These are now all sold out. So far as I know, no mention has been made of this reinstatement. I hope that for the time being, it will be overlooked, though a printed card in the files of the genealogical society has long ago made it public. I enclose a copy. Most of the Lee family have it in their books.

I wish that Jesse (Judge) Udall could know that people like you regard this action as a credit to the church, as a reason for renewed faith in the inspiration and humanity of the Leaders—without connecting the word with me directly. He insisted that it would injure our missionary system, cause apostasy among the converts, and be a terrible thing. I felt that it would bring into good fellowship many who are now estranged, including many of the Lee family.

Thank you for book on BLOOD which may be delivered later today. It did not arrive this morning. I saw the work on THE SERPENT, but do not have a copy. I had hoped to get you a copy of this book, but they gave me only five free ones and they went quickly nearer home. I have ordered and sold one lot of twenty—I mean, I have sold some of them and sent out the others. After the holidays I still expect to send one to you.


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