L. E. Odinga interviews William Hyde, who recalls experiences with Martin Harris and the Smith family in Palmyra.

Nov 10, 1888
L.E. Odinga
Scribed Verbatim
2nd Hand

L. E. Odinga, Interview with William Hyde, to the Editor, October 1888, in "'The Birth of Mormonism'," Deseret Evening News 21, no 300 (November 10, 1888): [2]

Deseret Evening News
Joseph Smith, Sr., L.E. Odinga, William Hyde, Joseph Smith, Jr.
Reading Public

On the 4th of October the Chicago Times published an article under flaming headlines entitled 'Tha Birth of Mormonism." It is before us, and we would have inserted it in full were it not that our space Is limited. It would in complete shape make the annexed communication of Mr. Odlnga more intelligible, although it is sufficiently clear without it. A fair idea of the character of the Times' article may, however, be formed by a concise allusion to its constituents. Its basis is claimed to be statements made to a reporter of that paper as well as some writing by Mr. William Hyde, who, as shown in Mr. Odinga's correspondence, lived at Palmyra, New York, at the time the plates which the Book of Mormon was translated, were confided to Joseph Smith. The Times article designates the Smith family as sheep-stealers. It also contains assertions to the effect that Joseph Smith, Sen., and Jun., attempted to obtain money from him and many others on the ground that they would be made wealthy by being directed by the Urim and Thummim to where hidden treasures were deposited. By this means, it is asserted, sums of money were extorted from many people. The article also states that, as a further inducement in Mr. Hyde's case, Joseph Smith, Jr. offered to make him an apostle. It also purports to give an account of a portion of the subsequent history of "Mormonism," citing the removal of its devotees to Kirtland, Ohio, and their establishment later in Illinois, with alleged incidents associated with their career. In this sketch there is no reference to Far West, Missouri. The paper is garnished, after the most approved anti-"Mormon" style with such expressions as, "race of scoundrels," and in one of the headings the plates are called "tables of stone."

Mr. Hyde, who got the credit of the rank falsehoods of the Times article, was greatly chagrined at being so grossly misrepresented himself by being made to appear as a slanderer of the Smith family, and sought to have appropriate corrections made by that paper, but the opportunity to place himself right was denied him.

Following is the communication of Mr. Odinga referred to in the foregoing:

Editor Deseret News:

The feregolng appeared in the Chicago Times of Sunday, Oct. 14, and is a fair specimen of the generality of articles on the subject of Mormonism, with which the eastern press delights to feed popular prejudice as regards said subject. The ignorance of the great masses of the journalists so-called, their unwillingness to properly inform themselves on the subjects on which they pretend to inform the public, their mental imbecillity and willful mendacity is proverbial, but the foregoing article beats the record. To anyone who knows the least thing about Mormonism, its doctrines and history, and the character of its founders, the absurdity of the statements made therein is patent, but to make sure of the falsehood of these statements your correspondend went to interview Mr. Hyde, and the following conversation ensued:

. . .

"Most of the knowledge that I possess as regards Mormonism, and the plates from which young Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, was derived from conversations with Smith, Sr., and Martin Harris. . . . Before entering upon it, I required to be shown the plates of which he spoke, but he said if I saw and handled the plates I would be struck dead. I told him, if this was the case, it was just the kind of death I would want to die. But he would not consent, and thus gave me up. I was also well acquainted with Martin Harris. In fact, we were great friends, and I thought often of him after years. Of late I have often desired to make a journey to California, and on going through Utah, to look for Martin Harris. I know he would have received me with open arms. He often spoke to me of those plates, and I told him that I could not believe that they were what they claimed to be. But he persisted so earnestly in claiming them to be authentic that I was perplexed. I met Martin Harris, several years later, on a steam-boat on Cayuga Lake. He had with him a company of “Saints”—about two hundred of them—bound for Missouri. He preached to the passengers on board, on the “last dispensation” and the Book of Mormon as the word of God, and declared that he often communicated with Christ, as one man with another, and many other statements equally strange. In the course of his sermon, he referred to me, and advised his audience, if they doubted his honesty, to inquire of me concerning his reputation, as I was a townsmen of his and knew him well. The captain of the boat was by my side and enquired of me what sort of a man Harris was. I could not do otherwise than speak well of him; only this I said, that on religious subjects I thought him slightly demented. I was thunderstruck when I heard him speak, and was more perplexed than ever.

. . .

Both Smith and Harris told me that the latter took the plates to Dr. Mitchell, of Philadelphia, a reputed linguist, and well versed in heiroglyphics [hieroglyphics], that the professor recognized in the writing on the plates an account of a highly civilized race that once inhabited this continent."

"Are you not mistaken about the plates—was it not an abstract, or a portion of the writing or characters on one of these plates, that was shown to Dr. Mitchell?"

"No, sir; I remember distinctly to have heard both Smith and Harris say that the latter took the plates to Dr. Mitchell."

"Did this take place before the work of translation had commenced?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you hear of Martin Harris subsequently, that is, after the translation had been entered upon, taking a transcript of some of the writing on the plates to Dr. Anthony of New York, and of this linguist having recognized in the transcript the characteers of some oriential language, but declaring himself unable to read it"

"I never heard of such a translation."

. . .

"Did you ever read the Book of Mormon?"

"I never saw the book. The printer in Palmyra who printed it sent me several proofs, and I read some, but finally grew tired of them and paid no more attention to them."

"You have no connected idea, then, of the contents of the book in question?"

"No, sir."

"Martin Harris told me that the plates were sewed in a silk sack, and were never opened at such occasions, but lay on the table while young Joseph Smith placed the Urim and Thummim in his hat, and then “read” the translation of the writing in the stones."

"Do you know who acted as scribe on these occassions?"

"No, sir."

"Were you acquainted with the early history of Mormonism—if so, what was their standing in the community?"

"Did you learn any particulars about the work of translation?"

"I did not personally know any one else, save Oliver Cowdery; my acquaintance with him was, however, but slight. He was greatly respected by all, as far as I know, as indeed were all the people in those parts, who accepted the new creed. They were, for the most part substantial farmers. Martin Harris was universally looked up to, and I never heard any one say a word against him."

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