Sandra Tanner is well-known as being a critic of Mormonism. (Some would even call her an anti-Mormon.) So why am I, an active Mormon, talking to her? Because she and her husband Jerald were the first people to question the authenticity of the Salamander Letter, a letter forged by Mark Hofmann that threatened the founding stories of the LDS Church. Mark Hofmann met Sandra Tanner with a mind to give greater publicity to his forgeries. Sandra describes her first meetings with Mark. In this first episode, we’ll get acquainted with her, and learn how she met Mark Hofmann.
Sandra: [Mark] comes in and hands me a photo of a paper that is supposed to be a copy of the Second Anointing ceremony, temple ceremony….
this was a big deal to have someone to come in and have a photocopy of a document that purported to be from about the 1912 time period from the Salt Lake Temple about the Second Anointing.
And it was a one sheet thing and it had a rubber stamp across the side that said Salt Lake Temple, which I assume Mark got made at the stamp company here in Salt Lake. And so here’s this document claiming to relate to the Second Anointing thing. And he brings it in to show me. And so this man who, I don’t know, he hasn’t told me his name. No, he can’t tell me his name because he’s from a very prominent family. And when his grandpa died, he was helping his mom clean out the attic and they went through his papers and he found this second anointing paper and realized that, wow, this was something he had never heard about before. And so he didn’t show it to the family and he has this copy and he wanted to give me a copy, but he couldn’t tell me who it was because he was this prominent family and you know, so it’s all on the QT, you know, so, so I’m buying this whole thing.
And I mean not buying in the sense of paying money. We didn’t have it. We had zip money. We never got involved in these documents because we were not in that class of finances. But I realize now he was trying to establish credibility for this piece of paper. And I think by giving me this copy he assumed I would immediately pass it around to people and that would raise the value of it because others were talking about it, knew about it, see? But I didn’t because it had no provenance. I don’t know who this guy was. I don’t know the name of the family.
In part 2, we discussed the fact that her husband Jerald Tanner was the first person to publicly question Mark Hofmann’s fake Salamander Letter. Sandra details how Jerald came to that conclusion.
Sandra: Jerald, realizes this, there’s a story of a document out there that claim to be by Martin Harris about the magic involvement of Joseph in the coming forth of Book of Mormon in a magic setting. So he went back to E.D. Howe’s, “Mormonism Unvailed” that has statements by the neighbors that all talk about the Smiths’ involvement in magic. And so he’s becoming more familiar with getting this fresh in his mind what these affidavits all said. And there had been a BYU Studies article a year or two before that had talked about Joseph Knight, who was an early Mormon at the Smith home at the time that coming out of the Book of Mormon. And he had read that article so he was kind of getting prepped up on his research ahead of time. So when he get that copy of the letter, he’d be able to jump right into an evaluation of it. So he gets the letter–the type copy, not the original and he’s reading through this and the more he looks at it, he says to me, “There’s something wrong. This has got phrases in it that have to come from E.D. Howe and from the Joseph Knight letters. And so someone’s making this up.”
Now I don’t think he was sure that it was Mark, but someone was making up documents. So this is a forgery. And I’m like, “Jerald, everyone accepts Mark’s documents. I mean Dean Jessee at the Church Historians Office is not going to want to accept Mark’s documents that are critical of Joseph Smith that tie him to magic unless they feel they have to. I mean, why would they? Why wouldn’t they be asking these questions?”
Jerald says, “I don’t care. I’m telling you there’s something wrong. The similarities of wording is too much there.”
She also tells her reaction!
Sandra: I’m telling Jerald we could get sued. You can’t just run around saying something’s forgery. Someone’s going to sue us. Mark will sue us for defamation or something, and Jerald says, “He’s not going to sue us.”
I said, “How can you be sure?”
And he says, “Because it’s a forgery. He has no background to prove this document.”
And I said, “Well please don’t lose my house.”
Apparently the Salamander Letter wasn’t Jerald’s first forged document. We’re going to talk about an Oliver Cowdery forgery, unrelated to the Hofmann forgeries, and find out how Jerald Tanner concluded this Cowdery document was fake. It was good training when Mark Hofmann was peddling fake documents.
Sandra: Oliver Cowdery supposedly wrote a little pamphlet, “A Defense in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints,” (long title.) Anyways, there was this Cowdery pamphlet where he talks about, and I think it’s the priesthood restoration, that when the angel came, he sounded very much like the voice of Sidney Rigdon.
And so this would raise questions about the whole scenario of how the Book of Mormon really came about. Was it a conspiracy of Rigdon and Smith or something, you know? And so, here is this BYU professor challenging us that, “I don’t think you can prove the Cowdery defense is a legitimate pamphlet by Cowdrey.”
So Jerald got into a real study of that and finally concluded that Anderson was right. The document, you can’t find anyone mentioning the document before around 1900. And it seemed odd that David Whitmer, Cowdery’s brother-in-law wouldn’t have mentioned such a pamphlet when Whitmer wrote “An Address to All Believers in Christ” in 1887. Whitmer didn’t mention this. And so, we couldn’t. We did a lot of research trying to figure out if the Cowdery pamphlet could have been printed at the date it said in the town it said. I went up to the U and did research on printing presses in this town at the time period and, you know, a lot of minutiae. Anyways, Jerald finally concluded that Anderson was right. There is no evidence that the Cowdery pamphlet goes back to Cowdery.
In doing that research. He had looked at that on wording in the Cowdery pamphlet and he noticed that there were phrases in it that were just like phrases in–Cowdery did a series of letters in the Messenger and Advocate back when he was a faithful Mormon, and Jerald says somebody used the Cowdery letters from the Messenger and Advocate to make this pamphlet. They’ve tried to imitate Cowdery’s writing style by taking phrases from these letters. Although they were in a different context, but the phrasing of Cowdery from these letters to make this document. So, he’d already been down this trail before on trying to figure out through analysis of the content of whether it could really be a forgery or something that the author would have really written. And so, when he looks at the Salamander Letter, he says, “These are phrases. It’s too pat. There are phrases here that are lifted from E.D. Howe from this other early book to make something sound like it’s Martin Harris, but it’s too pat in the picking up of phrases.”
We also talk about the term “anti-Mormon.”
GT: a lot of people call you an anti-Mormon. What do you think of that term?
Sandra: I don’t like the term because I think it implies an animosity towards the whole group. It’s like saying you’re anti-black would imply against blacks in general. I don’t see myself as anti-Mormon. I’m not against the Mormon people. I mean that’s my family. I still have Mormon family that are active, so I don’t see myself as anti-Mormon. I’m anti-Mormonism.
Don’t forget to check out our interviews with Curt Bench, Shannon Flynn, and George Throckmorton on the Hofmann murders. Check out our conversation… What are your thoughts concerning Sandra? Are you surprised Jerald said an anti-Mormon document was forged?