In a conversation with Denver Snuffer, he claimed that if we threw out all evidence after Joseph Smith died, there is little evidence Joseph practiced polygamy. While I’m sure that’s an appealing tactic of a defense attorney, is that something a judge would allow? I’m excited to introduce Mark Tensmeyer, an attorney from Texas and we’ll talk about rules of evidence. What exactly is hearsay evidence? Mark will explain.

GT:  One of the things that Denver said that I’d really like to question you on is Denver went to Michael Quinn, and said, “Well, if we cut out all the evidence after Joseph Smith died, June 27, 1844, then there’s not very much evidence that Joseph Smith was a polygamist.”  Personally, I think, if I was a defense lawyer, that’s exactly what I would do. I try to throw out as much evidence, especially, of course, bad evidence that wasn’t helping me, as possible. So, I think it’s a great defense tactic. I don’t know that a judge would necessarily buy that. Can you tell us about that?

Mark:  Yes, I can speak to that. First off, the legal rules of evidence ought to be seen in the context of the legal case. I mean, they don’t necessarily apply to weighing and balancing evidence, like in history or in any other situation in real life. We have laws that govern what kind of evidence can be considered, but the law doesn’t give us a lot of direction on how to weigh and balance evidence or what kind of weight to give evidence. So, Denver Snuffer, he said that we ought to just cut off all evidence after Joseph Smith died. I’ve watched that interview.  He said [that] you need to cut that off because you can’t use evidence of what a dead man said after he’s dead. So, in the law, there’s the hearsay evidence about how anything that was said outside of a courtroom setting is hearsay. But that applies to all oral communications. So, since Joseph Smith is dead, everything he ever said, or did pretty much is based on hearsay. So, even Joseph Smith’s denials that he was a polygamist, is based on hearsay. I mean, it’s hearsay.

GT:  Important point, there.

Mark:  A lot of people, well, I mean, this is really the core argument, is they say, “Well, we need to have something that comes directly from Joseph.  We need to have his thoughts on this, not what somebody else thought about him doing.” That’s one of the major points.   But what does that even mean? I mean, he’s not here to tell us. So, everything he said, is hearsay. I mean, when you say, “Well, we have this from Joseph, these articles in the Times and Seasons…” So, we have newspaper articles that quote him, and I think we can be very confident that he actually said those things.

Mark:  But, then there’s other things, too, we can look at to try to get at what he did. So, I watched that interview with Denver Snuffer, where he said, “You can’t get it from a dead man.” I think he might be talking about the dead man statute, which a few states have. In most cases it’s very, very restricted. So, here in Texas, where I’m licensed, it only applies in intestacy cases, where you’re talking about something that the decedent said to a beneficiary about a will or something like that, something of that nature.  That’s really the only place where that applies in Texas. There are hearsay laws. But then there’s all kinds of exceptions to the hearsay laws. One of the exceptions to the hearsay laws is ancient documents law. So, any document is over 20 years old is admissible. So, that would qualify for most of any document we have, as long as it’s found in place where there’s a reasonable chain of custody there, to where it’s found, and whoever said it. A lot of states have that, the ancient documents rule. So, no, I don’t think even using legal things, you could really just cut off the rules at Joseph’s death. Even if you did, there’s still plenty there.

GT:  I just want to point out that in any murder case, the evidence was collected after the crime happened. So, I think it’s kind of a crazy argument to say, “Well, he’s dead.”

Mark:  In any intestacy case, in any inheritance case,  in any probate case, where people are arguing who should be getting what, from this person who’s dead. All the evidence…

GT:  All the evidence is collected after the death.

Mark:  Yes, there’s always going to be a lot. This kind of goes to the idea, in these discussions, it’s very, very easy–I use the term polygamy skeptics, because it’s a neutral term. I don’t like to say polygamy denier, conspiracy theorists or that sort of thing, because I don’t like to be dismissive. Whereas I obviously disagree with these people about how reasonable this outcome is objectively, I do understand that there are some aspects of this, that your average person would find compelling. Your average person, if you went out there and showed them a lot of the arguments that Richard or Pamela Price or Denver Snuffer, or it’s in the Joseph Smith Nauvoo paper, that they would find compelling. I don’t blame people for thinking that Joseph Smith was a monogamist.  That said, I don’t think that objectively it holds up.

The RLDS Church has historically claimed Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy.  We’ll talk about Joseph Smith, III’s views on the topic, as well as modern-day beliefs. 

Mark:  So, the argument they have, there’s a book that was written in 1900 that’s the most comprehensive book on the RLDS part of a narrative. It’s written by a man by the name of Willard Smith, who’s not a relation to the Smith family. But it’s the most comprehensive thing that I think [is out there] and what he argues is, and I think this is reflective of the other things. He put it together, where a lot of those arguments are that Brigham Young starts polygamy. He and Heber C. Kimball and others marry these women at the Nauvoo Temple, and then they seal these women to Joseph for eternity, to themselves for time. Then, later, to legitimize polygamy, they influence these women, or maybe these women want to do it just because they want to support it anyway, to say that they were married to Joseph while he was alive. So that’s the argument they use. As time goes on, and more contemporary evidence comes to light. There are things like the Expositor.  Joseph Smith, III hardly ever mentioned the Expositor, and I don’t think he really even knows the content of it.

GT:  He was just a young boy then, right?

Mark:  He was. In the Temple Lot case deposition, he was asked about the Expositor, and he remembered it being destroyed. He remembered hearing about it being destroyed. But he was asked, “Did you ever see it?”

He said, “Well, I saw a portion of it. I saw an excerpt a long time ago, but I hadn’t actually seen it again until now.”

I got a bunch of transcripts of his letters at Community of Christ Archives. He had heard about William Law’s statements to the Salt Lake Tribune that were done in the 1880s.  He said he didn’t think that William Law really had known anything or had said anything before that. So, as time goes on, there’s the Apostle Paul Hansen from the RLDS Church in the 1920s who really looked out for a lot of documents. He found a bunch.  He found a lot of really great stuff that didn’t come from Brighamites, about Joseph Smith and polygamy. A lot of it was contemporary.  I love reading his letters.  He said, “I’m not really I’m ready to say that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, but there’s a lot of evidence here that I really don’t know how to explain.”

GT:  So he was the B.H. Roberts of the RLDS Church.

Mark:  He was private about all of his stuff. We have it in here. He said, “We don’t need to go shout this from the rooftops,” is one of the things he said.  “But if anybody asks us about it, we shouldn’t be afraid of our own minds. We shouldn’t be afraid to embrace the truth, if that’s what the truth is.”  Joseph Smith, III’s son–and there’s Frederick M. Smith is the president of the RLDS church, then it is Israel A. Smith, who is president. I don’t know when the years are.  He was president for part at least part of the 1950s. He really, really tries. He has a spiritual experience. He really drives home that Joseph Smith was not oblivious that his grandfather was not… But, he tries to adjust the narrative. He admits that there was a revelation on marriage that was probably about sealing.

GT:  Oh.

Mark:  He does, but he thinks that this was something that was altered…

GT:  By Brigham.

Mark:  By Brigham Young to be what we know as section 132. So, he says that, and then it’s in the 1980s, when this really comes to a head. Here’s the president of the [RLDS] Church at the time, Wallace B. Smith asked the official church historian, Richard Howard, to write a paper that really gets to the bottom of this.  He does, and he does even a brilliant genius thing, where he writes a paper on Joseph Smith’s polygamy and he only uses publicly available sources like the Expositor, like the article in the Nauvoo Neighbor that details Joseph and Hyrum’s reactions to the Expositor. Then, he uses evidence that he collected from a lot of different places; evidence that came from people that were not Brighamites, so, people like Sidney Rigdon, people like William Marks. He makes the case from that, that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. He puts all these arguments in there and in the end of the paper, comes up with the conclusion that, “Well, we at least know Joseph did sealings for eternity. He may or may not have done polygamy, so, kind of reflecting the RLDS position.”

A lot of his contemporaries were like, “Well, the body of your paper was great.  The conclusion just is off. A lot of people suspected that maybe that was like an editorial mandate, because this was originally supposed to be published more in the official channels in the RLDS Church, and finally, they said, “Well just publish it in the John Whitmer Journal.”

GT:  Well, that’s interesting.

Mark:  Yeah, and so a lot of people suspected it was an editorial mandate. Newell Bringhurst wrote an article about that, that was part of the Persistence of Polygamy series.[1] He interviewed Richard Howard. Howard is still alive and still working.

GT:  He’s still alive, I think.

Mark:  Yes, he is.  You ought to get him.

GT:  I do need to get him on.

Mark:  He confirmed that that was true, that he had some editorial oversight from committees. So, it was a compromise. He has since gone on record, on a lot of other things about Joseph Smith being a polygamist. That, really [solidified things.] When I read Paul Hansen’s letters, and I read that that says that it completely destroys the myth that polygamy wasn’t happening when Joseph Smith was alive. I mean, Joseph Smith, III asked his mother, in that last year, “Was there anything like polygamy revelation?”

She says, “No, I didn’t hear anything of that nature.”

Well, the Expositor explains the revelation pretty clearly.

GT:  Right.

Mark:  Joseph and Hyrum, give a partial admission to it in the Nauvoo Neighbor, the article published there. So, she’s not forthcoming there about that.

[1] Part 1 can be purchased at  Part 2 can be purchased at

Polygamy skeptics claim that a religious group out of Maine introduced LDS apostles about spiritual wifery, and those apostles (not Joseph) introduced polygamy into the Church.  Is there good evidence for this?

Mark:  So, what they is that they come up with this new narrative that the Quorum of the Twelve were rogue, pretty much from the beginning. So, around here is where, as far as I’ve been able to tell, and I’d be interested in seeing documentation and maybe someone can show talking otherwise, this is when they say, “Well, the Quorum of the Twelve, they’ve encountered and they’re influenced by the doctrine of the Cochranites during their missionary travels in the early to mid-1830s, in May. [This is] another group of people that practices spiritual wifery.

GT:  Yeah, the Cochranites, I’m glad we’re talking about that because that is a big issue.

Mark: He [Jacob Cochran] gets put on trial for lewdness in 1819, and Jacob Cochran goes to jail for four years. During that time, the movement kind of falls apart. A lot of these very charismatic movements, they fall apart when their leader is no longer available. Charismatic movements are started around one person.  It happens a lot.  People thought that was going to happen to Mormonism, and it didn’t.

GT:  Right.

Mark:  But, for a lot of these, especially smaller groups, then that that’s what happened, and it did. So, what happened is, is that there’s a couple of groups that still have congregations up, through the 18–, I don’t know for the next few decades. Jacob Cochran gets out of prison, and he doesn’t really lead a church anymore, even the church that still kind of believes his doctrine. He has a group that he wants to go settle in New York, and they go. I haven’t really heard what really happened with that. So that’s pretty much it.

GT: The Cochranites only lasted for a decade? Is that what you’re saying?

Mark:  Their heyday is only about three years long. And then they’re around…

GT:  So, 1816 to 1819. So, this pre-dates the First Vision.

Mark:  I think they are around. There are remnant groups that are around into the 1840s in the area, but nowhere near to the same size. It is interesting. One of the things that the two elders say a lot is that the area is just totally turned off to gifts of the Spirit type things or any of those things that Mormonism [supports], like revelation.

Mark:  I mean, you can look at circumstantial evidence and connections in a lot of other places, too. Another one that Richard and Pamela Price may have said was that there’s Augusta Cobb, who’s Brigham Young’s second plural wife. She gets baptized by Samuel and Orson in that mission in Boston before they go to Saco. But it’s a day or two after that they baptize her that there’s that incident in Boston, where there was those Cochranite people expressing Cochranite doctrine in a meeting that they had. So, they say, “Well, that means that she was a person that was well acquainted with Cochranism.”  I really don’t see that really being a connection. Again, Agnes Coolbrith is also in that same group that gets baptized. She’s actually from that area. She actually becomes a plural wife to Joseph Smith. So, if you’re going to argue circumstantial evidence and exposure leads to this and that, then I think that’s a much stronger connection than anything.

GT: To Joseph.

Mark:  Yeah, to Joseph.  So, when it comes to the Cochranites, that’s something I don’t particularly find compelling. There’s another thing they say is, “Well, the apostles did foot washing in England. You even have William Clayton, who has never been there so they must have picked up that and footwashing from the Cochranites, which they did.  Foot washing is a very common Christian practice.

GT:  Right. There’s a lot of people who do it.

Mark:  It’s in the Bible. I mean, yeah.  I don’t know. I don’t think that they really needed the Cochranites, that anybody really needed them to learn about polygamy or anything like that. I mean, it’s in the Bible.

Are you familiar with Cochranites? What are your experiences with polygamy skeptics? Were you aware the RLDS/Community of Christ changed their position on Joseph’s polygamy?