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Mountain Meadows affidavit Hofmann forgery?

Published September 10, 2010 1:46 pm

LDS Church • Mountain Meadows affidavit now in question.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mormon bomber Mark Hofmann's calling card has popped up again, signaling that the forger's handiwork may be more widespread than previously believed.

But this time, instead of bogus documents surrounding the origins of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an embarrassing affidavit on the Mountain Meadows Massacre has surfaced.

Just shy of the 25th anniversary of Hofmann's deadly Salt Lake City-area bombing spree, a written record quoted by historians has become the focus of an investigation.

"The 1924 William Edwards affidavit" seems to give insights into the 1857 attack by Mormon settlers and American Indians in southern Utah that resulted in the deaths of 120 men, women and children in an Arkansas wagon train. The paper was tied to Hofmann two years before the admitted forger killed Steven Christensen and Kathleen Sheets in separate 1985 bombings.

A probe by two historians for the LDS Church paints the document as a forgery. But not everyone is convinced.

Although it may not carry the significance of the so-called "Salamander Letter" or other perplexing documents Hofmann forged to pry large sums from wealthy LDS buyers, the single-page account does hearken back to another sensitive subject for Mormons.

Dated May 14, 1924, the affidavit is purportedly from William Edwards, then an 82-year-old Beaver County resident. In it, he states that in September 1857 — at age 15 — he accompanied about 30 men to Mountain Meadows, "Where, we were told, an Indian massacre of a emigrant train had been consummated, and our services needed to bury the dead."

"We arrived at said Mountain Meadows early in the evening only to find John D. Lee and several other white men already present, and the said emigrants alive and well and fortified against the Indian siege," the affidavit reads. "After surveying the situation for some time, we were called to a council of white men by said John D. Lee and by him ordered to assist the Indians in their purposes."

The document is cited by David L. Bigler and Will Bagley in their 2008 tome, Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The pair didn't know of the Hofmann connection.

But in a review of the book this spring, historian Polly Aird warned that the Edwards document came to the Utah State Historical Society through Hofmann go-between Lyn Jacobs and, thus, may be questionable. She was tipped to problems with its authenticity by Gary Topping, the society's former curator of manuscripts.

"She showed me a copy of her review," Topping said Wednesday, "and I suggested that she might mention that the document was in question."

When he received the affidavit in 1983, Topping noted its source — as is the norm. But in ensuing years, the label linking to Hofmann had become separated from the affidavit.

Surprised by Aird's revelation, LDS Church historians Richard E. Turley Jr. and Brian D. Reeves sought to test the authenticity of Edwards' affidavit.

Turley had also quoted the document, along with co-authors Ronald W. Walker and Glen M. Leonard, in the 2008 Massacre at Mountain Meadows.

But this week, Turley and Reeves said in a letter to Philip F. Notarianni, director of the Utah Division of State History, that forensic experts had determined that the Edwards affidavit was a fake.

George J. Throckmorton, the forensic analyst who cracked other Hofmann forgeries, concluded that Edwards' signature was traced. Another expert, Peter Tytell, determined that the document was prepared on a typewriter that wasn't available until 1950.

But Bagley isn't sure. Neither Edwards nor notary public F.E. Woods, who signed as a witness to the statement, have been discredited. And Bagley wondered why Hofmann would go to the trouble to research a forgery that he sold for a pittance.

"I have to accept the possibility that it was a forgery," Bagley said. "But I won't be convinced until they can show me that the context was incorrect."

The Edwards affidavit will remain in state archives with a notation that it came from Hofmann, Notarianni said. The letter from Turley and Reeves will accompany it.

For Turley, there is no question that it is a forgery. Hofmann, he said, often "salted" the historic record with lesser documents to set the stage for bigger sales, as he did with a phony "Book of Common Prayer," which led to the sale of the "Salamander Letter."

"It's sad that a person of apparent talents would use them to murder and drastically affect" the historical record, he said.

Hofmann is serving a life sentence at Utah State Prison.

csmart@sltrib.com

Lee's fate

• Shortly after the Sept. 11, 1857, Mountain Meadows Massacre, John D. Lee was arrested at Fort Harmony.

• He was tried in Beaver and acquitted by a jury.

• Two decades later, Lee was tried again in Beaver, but this time he was convicted and sentenced to death.

• On March, 23, 1877, the sentence was carried out at the massacre site. Lee asked members of the firing squad to aim at a paper target in the shape of a heart he had pinned on his coat while he sat on his open casket.

• The Mountain Meadows Massacre incites debate to this day about Lee's involvement and whether he was acting on orders from LDS higher-ups.

• Lee is buried in Panguitch.

To view the affidavit, go to:

http://history.utah.gov/events_and_news/press_room/forgery.html