Bill Shepard is an amazing Mormon historian, and a former president of the John Whitmer Historical Association. He is also a Strangite. In our first conversation with Bill, we will get acquainted with him, and learn more about these other Mormons, & James Strang, a prophet many of you may not have heard of.
GT: Welcome to Gospel Tangents. I’m excited to have an amazing historian and I’m going to start this a little bit differently. But, first of all, could you tell us who you are?
Bill: Bill Shepard, I’m a life-long Strangite. Maybe more importantly, I’m a historian.
GT: Yes. You were the president of the John Whitmer Historical Association.
Bill: In 2008, yes. We had John Whitmer [Conference] at Voree, Wisconsin or Burlington, Wisconsin. We had a nice turnout of people, including Mike Quinn and Roger Launius.
GT: So, you’ve been doing this for a long time. You’ve got a really awesome book. Do you want to show the camera? Your book was published in 1977!
Bill: This was basically intended to get out the positive things about James J. Strang and his teachings. It basically [tells] why the other Mormons sects are not correct. So if I would redo it, I would redo it a lot more professionally at this point in time. But it does have the positive things showing James J. Strang’s teachings. I think they’re quite significant.
GT: Well, let’s do a few things here. I don’t normally do this but tell me the name of your church because I think a lot of my listeners will be very surprised to hear the name of your church.
Bill: It’s actually the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite). We had to put the appendage on. We couldn’t use the term Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for obvious reasons.
GT: In fact, I think the only difference between your church name and my church name is I have a lowercase d, and you’ve got a capital D with no hyphen.
GT: We have a hyphen, lowercase. So that’s pretty funny. So would you call yourself a Mormon?
Bill: Oh, very definitely. We are asked many times, just like the LDS Church or Utah Mormons are asked, “Are you Christians?” [We have the] same problem, same identification, same basic goals. Strangites accept Joseph Smith certainly. They break, of course, with the transition to the Twelve Apostles into Brigham Young. So there was a critical period there when Joseph Smith died in that the Brighamite church did not have a prophet. Now the Strangites claimed that an angel had appeared to [James J. Strang] at the time that Joseph Smith was martyred and ordained him to be a prophet. It’s interesting to think that in this early period, the Strangites had a song by John Hardy. It wasn’t theirs, but it was “A Church Without a Prophet is not a church for me.”
GT: Oh, wow.
Bill: Of course, at that point in time until the 27th of December, 1847 the Brighamite church reorganized with Brigham Young as a prophet as their head.
 The book is called “James J. Strang: Teachings of a Mormon Prophet.” It is out of print and can be hard to find at a reasonable price.
We will learn more about Strangite beliefs. Following James Strang’s prophetic call, he sought to gather people to his movement. Strang’s Mormon missions included trips to Kirtland, Ohio, home of the temple, and he tried to gather people to Wisconsin as the new promised land. Historian Bill Shepard will describe more about these missions by James Strang.
Bill: Strang is going to go to Kirtland, I think in September of 1846. They’re going to sweep Kirtland. The people are going to join him. They established a High Council of Presidency over there. Strang has keys to the temple, and so everything looks rosy.
GT: Oh, wow. So he was really making inroads in Kirtland.
Bill: Yes, in Kirtland and in the east, wherever he would go. [For] the Mormons, this fit the bill, because this was primitive Mormonism. Strang, in my view, unwisely dealt with some people that had been malcontents in Joseph’s church which was disastrous for his cause: John C. Bennett, William E. McLellin, George J. Adams, William Smith. So, in retrospect I would think he would look back and say, “Oh, why did I do this?”
GT: Martin Harris, didn’t he join with Strang for a while?
Bill: That triumphant mission of Strang out east, the three witnesses and most of the eight witnesses–now I realize that some of them would be dead–but they acknowledged Strang. They acknowledged him. So for a brief instant, and I would say it’s very short, Strang is going to make these grandiose [claims.] He is attracting a lot of people.
GT: People who didn’t like Brigham Young and polygamy.
Bill: Right. Exactly, and secret societies. Any of that. Many of them do not gather out to Voree, however. They choose to give their allegiance from a distance. Several things happened. One thing happened, I look at the picture, and the person did him the most damage was William E. McLellin. William E. McClellan had been cut off in 1837.
Were you aware of Strang’s early missionary successes? What do you know about Strangites?