Vickie Speek is the premier expert on the life of James Strang, an early Mormon leader. We’ll talk about Strang’s vision, calling as a prophet, the plates and revelations he was involved with, and whether they might have been forged. You won’t want to miss this conversation.
Mormon Road Leads to James Strang
Vickie 01:40 Bill Shepard is a Strangite. And at the time, when I wrote my book, I was a member of the LDS church. And I had never heard of James Strang before. At the time, my family was living in Northern Illinois. And I was learning how to make baskets. It was a big deal back then it was really a big fad making homemade baskets. I decided that I needed some basket material. And the nearest basket making place was in Burlington, Wisconsin, which was about 30 miles away from our home. So I drove over to the basket craft place. And I noticed that it was on the corner of highway and Mormon Road,
GT 02:29 Mormon Road?
Vickie 02:30 Mormon Road.
GT 02:31 Oh, wow. That caught your radar.
Vickie 02:34 [I thought], “No, not Mormon Road. I am like a sixth or seventh generation Mormon. And I had never heard of Mormons in Wisconsin. Never in any of my seminary classes and any of my church classes, college classes. I’d never heard about Mormons in Wisconsin.
GT 02:54 Right.
Vickie 02:54 So I went down the road. And that’s when I learned about James Strang and the Strangites.
Early Life of James Strang
Vickie 18:01 But in January 1844, James Strang was a lawyer. And he went to Ottawa, Illinois, to litigate some kind of case that was there. And he was friends with the Sanger family that lived in Ottawa. Aaron Smith was also there, and he invited James Strang to go to Nauvoo. So Strang and Aaron Smith, both with went to Nauvoo, where they met up with Joseph Smith. And I know that James Strang had dinner with Joseph Smith and his wife Emma. And they talked about the Church. And it turned out that James Strang was baptized by Joseph Smith, in the unfinished basement of the Nauvoo Temple.
Strang’s Letter of Appt to Wisconsin
Vickie 22:56 This is called the Letter of Appointment. And basically, it’s two pages written on three sides. And then the envelope was the back of the fourth side. And some people say that it was merely Joseph Smith telling James Strang to go up and start a stake, or a ward or branch in Voree, and that he should be in charge of it. But James Strang said that he was supposed to be the leader. But it really shouldn’t have surprised Strang to get that letter. Because the letter was written on June 18. And it was mailed on June 19. It arrived in Burlington, I believe on July 4. But on June 27, Joseph Smith and his brother were murdered. And at the very time that they were murdered, an angel came down to James Strang and anointed him to be the leader of the church. At the very moment that Joseph Smith died.
GT 24:21 So I want to ask you a little bit about this Letter of Appointment. Because when I read it, it reads very vague. It doesn’t read to me as Joseph Smith saying, “James, you’re the number two. You’re going to be in charge.”
Vickie 24:39 Even though you’ve only been a member of the church for four months.
GT 24:42 Exacrtly. I mean, that’s kind of strange, right? I know John Hamer has said, if anybody was going to be the next Prophet after Joseph Smith, it was going to be Hyrum. But of course Hyrum was killed at the same time Joseph was, and that’s what threw it open for almost anybody. Do you think James Strang took advantage of the situation?
Vickie 25:06 Now you’re asking me to take a biased opinion. Right? You’re forcing me into an opinion.
GT 25:13 I know. That’s what we have to do. Right? As a reporter, you can respect that.
Vickie 25:18 Yes. My personal opinion is that James Strang went to Nauvoo for the first time, and he saw the things that Joseph Smith had done with Nauvoo, and how this country boy, Joseph, had become the leader of these people. And James Strang thought, “Well, I’m a whole lot smarter than Joseph Smith. I can do this too.” And he went back to Wisconsin, and he did copy everything that Joseph Smith did in Nauvoo, including finding buried records and having them translated, including visions, including baptisms, including everything that Joseph Smith had done.
First Mormon Forgery?
GT 26:36 You know, the Letter of Appointment, I will tell you from personal experience, if you want to tick off a Strangite, ask him whether the Letter of Appointment is a forgery. But I feel like, as a good reporter/journalist/whatever/podcaster, I have to ask the question. Do you have an opinion on that?
Vickie 27:00 I do. I think it’s a forgery.
GT 27:01 Okay.
Vickie 27:02 I think that somebody sent a letter to James Strang. And there was the envelope page. Page number four had a blank page on the other side of it. So whoever wrote that letter, kept the envelope page, and wrote their own letter on three sides, the three other pages and put it together. Because the two pages of paper do not match. They’re not from the same tablet. And understand that Joseph Smith had scribes who would sign his letters for him, copy his letters for him. But apparently, the block printing of Joseph Smith’s name on the letter is something that’s very unusual that most people have never seen before.
GT 27:58 So it doesn’t look like Joseph Smith’s signature.
Vickie 27:59 It does not look like Joseph Smith signature.
GT 01:17 Can you talk about some prominent members that LDS people will recognize?
Vickie 01:21 John E Page, and William Marks, and Martin Harris.
GT 01:27 Martin Harris, especially.
Vickie 01:28 Martin Harris, yes. He actually served a Strangite mission to England.
GT 01:34 I’m trying to remember Joseph Smith Papers [editor.] Why am I not thinking of him? Robin Jensen. I think he has an ancestor who served a string admission with Martin Harris. So that’s pretty interesting.
Vickie 01:51 Yes. And that’s what Robin did his doctorate thesis on.
GT 01:56 Oh, I didn’t know that.
Intro to Strangite Polygamy
GT 04:15 Okay. Well, one of the questions I wanted to ask you, I’ll ask it in two parts. For how long was James Strang supporting monogamy? And then polygamy was eventually introduced. I know there is another set of scriptures that we’ll talk about here in a minute. So that’s part one. Part two is, who do you think may have introduced Strang to the idea of polygamy? I think the two biggest culprits are probably John C. Bennett and William Smith. So, I know that’s a long question.
Vickie 04:59 I think that they introduced polygamy to James Strang. But in actuality what happened is a James Strang fell in love.
GT 05:13 Just like Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger.
Vickie 05:14 He met an 18 year old woman, a schoolteacher, Elvira Fields. She was not overly beautiful, but she’s very handsome and healthy looking. She was extremely intelligent, probably his equal as a female in intelligence. And I think it was love at first sight.
GT 05:37 Really?
Vickie 05:38 He fell in love. And he knew that he could have her because Joseph Smith had more wives.
GT 05:45 Oh, so you don’t think it was John C. Bennett or William Smith.
Vickie 05:45 No. I think they were the ones that said, “Well, yeah, you can have her.”
GT 05:53 Look at Joseph and Fanny and all the other 30 wives.
Vickie 05:55 Right. So Strang was against polygamy until he met Elvira. And then they were soulmates.
GT 06:06 What year was this, approximately do you think?
Vickie 06:08 1849. He met her in 1848 at conference in Voree. Then she went back home to Michigan.
How familiar are you with James Strang? Are you familiar with his dabbling in polygamy?
My formative years were spent in Michigan. Beaver Island SP, in Lake Michigan, was the place to go and see where the US Navy began the expulsion of the Mormons (Strangites). King Strang was shot, and the Navy evacuated the murders. The Strangites eventually all left the island. Growing up, I wasn’t aware of all the permutations of Mormonism.
Another fascinating interview! So much new information for me and so interesting.