Richard Turley retired in 2020 after working in various roles for the LDS Church. This will be a special treat, because I’m turning the microphone over to Barbara Jones Brown, executive director of the Mormon History Association. Barbara asked me to film the interview for the virtual meetings at the Mormon History Association meetings, and I’m happy to re-release this to the public. We’ll learn more about his time in the Church History Department, and how he was hired just after the tumultuous bombings by Mark Hofmann.
Barbara: So you were I believe you were only 29 years old at that time.
Richard: That’s correct.
Barbara: Was it intimidating to step into this major leadership role, and what was it like for you at that time?
Richard: Well, first of all, I think one of the parts that really appealed to me was that they essentially said, “You’d be in charge. You’d have access to everything 24/7, 365.” So, for someone who had a deep and abiding interest in Church History to know that at any time I wanted, I could go into the collections and handle the personal diaries of Joseph Smith or look at anything I wanted, that was fascinating to me. At the same time, I had a great respect for the people who were running the operation. When I arrived in January of 1986 in the Church History Department, there were good aspects of the department and there were bad aspects. The bad aspects were that I essentially entered a crime scene. The Mark Hofmann bombings had occurred just a little over three months earlier. There were federal, state, county, and city investigators who were trying to find out the motive for those three bombs that went off killing two people and injuring a third.
Richard: So, I walked into a crime scene, and as one who was trained in the law, it was fascinating to me. But [it was] also disturbing that people had been killed and that, obviously, something was going on that we didn’t understand fully.
Moving on to a different crime, Richard Turley’s book “Massacre at Mountain Meadows” was published in 2011. The book ends at the massacre in 1857. He and Barbara Jones Brown are writing the latest installment of the tragedy and this time they will focus on the trials of John D. Lee and aftermath. Barbara and Rick sat down as part of the 2020 Mormon history Association meetings and talk about their collaborative efforts on the upcoming book.
Richard: At the time we were working on the book, we were very optimistic about the schedule, as scholars often are. Sometimes we take on a project, and we think, well, this will be done in a few months or a few years. As it turned out that project which we started around 2000 or 2001, it didn’t wrap up until 2008. Because we actually divided the project into two parts, the first part and the second part. It’s actually continued to this day. So, on the first volume, because your skills as an editor were in high demand for this project, you did a tremendous amount on the book. In fact, I’ve got this copy of the book, Massacre at Mountain Meadows that was inscribed to you by Glen and Ron and me. Ron, put this inscription in which I think reflects the feelings of all three of us. It says, “Every page shows our debt to you with warmest appreciation,” Ronald W. Walker. So, you played a major role in that. When the book was published, and I was continuing to work on the next volume of the set, you and I were working together on it in an editorial sort of role, and then ultimately became co-authors of it. We’re still working on it. For those who remain interested in the topic, I will say, for this audience, that the draft of the book is done. But as was the case with the first volume, it’s too large to meet the page count for Oxford. So, Barbara and I are currently working on trimming it down to get it within the page count so that it can be published, which we hope to do by the end of this year.
Barbara: Great. Well, I for one, I’m really grateful to have that interview, that professional interview with you and grateful for the opportunity I had to work on this project. It led to my going back to graduate school and getting a master’s degree, and really has affected my life. The whole Mountain Meadows project was so meaningful on so many counts. I wonder if you could talk more about the reconciliation process that took place as a result of the book, and about the 150th anniversary when Elder Henry B Eyring, elicited or read an apology. Just talk more about that, and then ultimately achieving National Historic Landmark status for the Mountain Meadows.
Richard: So, writing about the Mountain Meadows was one part of what I think needed to be done with the topic. But, more than that, I think relationships needed to be built and more needed to be done, particularly to recognize and reflect the pain of the descendants and other relatives of the victims of the massacre, as well as to have a kind of catharsis for many of those who were descendants of participants in the massacre. As I mentioned that sort of relationship had begun in the late 80s, early 90s, and it continued. Ultimately, three groups developed to represent those who had been victims of the massacre. Those three groups worked together at times. At other times they worked independently. But ultimately, one of the groups–the group that was the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation, put together a group of proposals that were presented to the Church suggesting that the Church consider having the Mountain Meadows become a National Historic Landmark. That proposal was accepted. All three of the groups worked together with the Church in having that National Historic Landmark recognition occur.
Richard: When the meeting occurred that you mentioned with then Elder Henry B Eyring, of the Twelve at that time, now of the First Presidency, the purpose of that meeting was in part to read a statement on the part that had been drafted and signed by the First Presidency, expressing several things simultaneously.
Over the past 30+ years, Richard Turley has worked hard to promote women in the Mormon History field. Barbara Jones Brown sat down with Rick last summer and they share their collaborations together and how Rick has helped promote women.
Barbara: I owe so much to you, because you opened doors for me in terms of my career, to help me achieve the things that I wanted to work on and wanted to achieve, both in first hiring me to be content editor for book one, and then also asking me to join you as your co-author for book two. I know that it’s not just me that you’ve opened those doors for and extended those opportunities to. I’ve seen so many women for whom you’ve done the same thing. Our MHA President-Elect Jenny Lund, for example, other women who worked on Mountain Meadows: Denise Johnson, LaJean Carruth. I wonder if you could talk about all that you have done to help promote women in Mormon History and to promote the field of women in Mormon History, as well.
Richard: Sure. Let’s talk first of all about women working in what was in the Church Historical Department, what is now the Church History Department. We wanted women and men both to be participants in all of the historical endeavors that we had in the Church Historical Department. At the time I arrived at church headquarters, there were very few women who were in the position of being a director. To understand the Church structure, you have the General Authorities, then you have managing directors, then you have directors of divisions. Then you have managers and supervisors and so forth. There were a number of women in some of those positions as supervisors and managers, but there were very few in director level positions. During the 30 years that I was privileged to be in the Church Historical Department, later called the Church History Department, my colleagues and I were able to promote women to the point where we ended up with five women total during that 30 years that I was there who were in director level positions. In addition to that, we wanted women to be reflected in the History of the Church.
Richard: Traditionally, in the United States, and in many parts of the world, history had been written from a male perspective. We wanted history to be written from a women’s perspective. So that led, over time, to the creation of Women’s History part of the Church History Department and women who were hired to write that. I can think of, you know, many who fit into that: Kate Holbrook, Jenny Reader, Lisa Tate and others. In addition to that, I had a meeting at one point with Sheri Dew and with Kathy Chamberlain of Deseret Book and suggested to them that we needed to have more women’s history as part of what was offered to Church members in particular. We got together for dinner at a restaurant in the Joseph Smith Memorial building. We talked it through, and at the end, I was expecting them to sort of take on that project and go do something about it. At the end, they nodded their heads and said, “Yes, we agree with you, 100%. Now, what are you going to do about it?” So I thought, “Well, if the ball is back in my court, then let’s see if we can launch something.”
Richard: So I thought to myself, if I’m going to do this, I don’t want to do this alone. This ought to be a project that a woman is participating actively in. So I thought about our staff. We had a young, recent hire Brittany Chapman, now Brittany Chapman Nash. So, I approached Brittany and asked her if she’d be interested in this kind of a project. Brittany and I worked together on a series. We ultimately produced four books on the subject. She was new at the beginning, and so my name went on to the book first with hers after mine. I ultimately suggested that we maybe reverse that. At a certain point, she came to me and said, “I’m ready for that.” So if you look at the first volume, and the last volume and compare them, the first volume was my name first, her name second. The reality is, she did the majority of the work on those volumes, all four of them. At the end, her name is on top and mine’s underneath, and that’s more appropriate.
 The books are titled, “Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volume 1-4.” Volume 1 can be purchased at https://amzn.to/349gygK . Volume 2 can be purchased at https://amzn.to/3gG37du . Volume 3 can be purchased at https://amzn.to/2KhExU6 . Volume 4 can be purchased at https://amzn.to/3mmxMxO .
We also talk about how Richard set up the Church Historian’s Press. Were you aware of Richard’s promotion of women? What are your thoughts on Richard & Barbara’s work on the Mountain Meadows Massacre? Do you have any thoughts on his work in the Church History Department?