In our final conversation with Dr. Alex Baugh, we talked about the lessons to be learned from Hawn’s Mill. Who deserves blame in this escalation? What might have helped calm things down? Did Porter Rockwell try to assassinate Governor Boggs?
GT: There was an assassination attempt on his life and a lot of people want to pin that on Porter Rockwell.
Alex: It probably was.
GT: It probably was?
Alex: Yeah, I think it was. He was visiting his in-laws, the Beebes. The Beebes lived in Jackson County. Monte McLaws wrote an article about it years ago. I taught his kids in seminary, actually. But if you line everything up, I think Rockwell, he was definitely there. Did he intend to kill Boggs? I kind of think not. He just wanted to make him–and why do I say that? Well he used a German buckshot pistol. So they were just small pellets, and it didn’t kill him. I mean, it could have, but I don’t think he intended it to. I think he was just upset with what this man did to us. I mean, his indecisiveness, his lack of humanity towards the Mormons. I don’t know what you want to say, I think he probably did it.
GT: Oh, really?
Alex: Yeah, I do. Would he deny it? Well, of course. I guess the folklore around, “If I would have done it, I would have killed him.” Well, that’s just a good round-about there. But Joseph had nothing to do with it. There’s no question there. Even though John C. Bennett and others wanted to pin that on him, there’s no evidence for that. Joseph was not an accessory to the crime. Rockwell acted on his own.
Were you as surprised as me about Porter Rockwell? I knew there was speculation he was a potential assassin of Boggs, but surprised that Baugh acknowledged it.
For the rest of November, we’ll be talking about polygamy. I’m excited to have a non-Mormon polygamy expert on the show.
Larry: I’m Dr. Larry Foster. I’m a professor at Georgia Tech. I’m sort of an oddball at Georgia Tech because I’m probably the only professor who teaches courses in religion regularly. People also wonder why a non-Mormon like myself would have spent at least four decades–more than that really, studying the Latter-day Saints without converting, why not convert? Or non-Mormons saying, “You must know all the dirt? Why aren’t you an anti-Mormon?” So, I’ve actually written a couple of scholarly articles explaining that. I’ll try to explain some of that to you today, if you would like.
GT: That was my first question was, why would a non-Mormon be so interested in Mormonism?
Larry: Yeah, well, it’s sort of a backdoor route. I went to a very liberal, experimental college–Antioch College in southern Ohio in the late 1960s, which was a very turbulent period, as I think most of you remember: the Vietnam War protests, civil rights protests, other sorts of things going on. I thought I was fairly liberal when I went to Antioch, but I decided that I was the last living conservative on earth when I was at Antioch.
But when I was getting ready to do my undergraduate thesis in history, I decided to try and see if there were any other periods in history, when there had been similar sorts of tensions and confusions. I’d seen lots of people experimenting with alternative communal arrangements and read about them and visited different places. My hobby is to just visit new and alternative religious groups and see what they’re like, and so forth. I wondered if there was any other period when things were as turbulent and how they had handled them. I discovered there was a period that was very similar to the 1960s, surprisingly. It was before the American Civil War, in the 1830’s and 1840’s and especially in New York State. New York State was sort of the California of that period of almost anything you could find in present-day-California, you could find in New York State in the 1830’s and 40’s. It was a hotbed of all sorts of religious and political and social experimentation. I decided to look at two groups in that area that was sometimes called the Burned Over District because of so much revivalistic fervor burning over the area repeatedly. So I took two groups that I thought were polar opposites:
The Shakers who were a celibate, Protestant semi-monastic group that basically prohibited sexual intercourse among its members and lived in separate communities apart from the rest of the society, and the Oneida community in Central New York State, which developed a system of complex marriage, in which they argued that all adult members of the community were heterosexually married to each other and could exchange sexual partners within a very complex system of controls that they actually had to make sure that they didn’t–nobody got too excited about any one person formed exclusive relations. Here’s two complete opposites. Shakers are celibate. The Oneida community says, “Go to it for everybody.”
GT: Polyamorous, would that be the way to describe it?
Larry: No, I wouldn’t call it that. It’s much more controlled than polyamorous.
We talk more about all three groups. It was really interesting to see him compare the 1830s to the 1960s! Were you surprised to hear these two decades compared? Are you excited to hear a non-Mormon’s view of polygamy? How much do you know about the Shakers or the Oneida Community?