We’re continuing our conversation with
Shannon Caldwell Montez, the author of The Secret Meetings of 1922. We’ll learn more about people who attended these secret 1922 meetings, including apostle Richard Lyman. He was the last apostle to be excommunicated for adultery, or was it polygamy? [Did BH Roberts lost his testimony?] We’ll get into those details. Check out our conversation….
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Richard Lyman Affair – new details from Shannon Caldwell Montez
GT 00:32 One of the things that I found pretty interesting that’s a little bit off topic, but I really want to cover anyway, was the Richard Lyman affair.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 00:45 Yes.
GT 00:48 For two reasons. Number one, he was in these 1922 meetings. Right?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 00:53 [Yes.] And I have to credit him to being one of the people that gave me the list.
GT 00:59 Oh!
Shannon Caldwell Montez 00:59 It was his journal that listed who was at one of the meetings, and Janne Sjodahl’s journal that made another list of people. So, thanks Richard Lyman.
GT 01:11 I was wondering how you said that because that’s a horrible name to spell. And I can see why.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 01:15 I think it’s Sjodahl. I don’t know if I ever say it right.
GT 01:19 SJO, right?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 01:19 Yeah, and actually, so, Richard Lyman, in his journal, it says Shurrdall. And so, I couldn’t figure out who this was until later. I saw an article about Book of Mormon historicity basically written by a man named Janne Sjodahl, SJODAHL.
GT 01:40 Right. He’s Norweigan.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 01:41 Right. And so, SJ. Yeah, all of that. And I was like, “Oh my gosh. That’s probably the guy that [was in the meetings.] Lyman just misspelled his name.” And when I went to that man’s journals, Sjodahl’s journals, that’s when I found the other list.
GT 01:58 Oh.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 01:58 So I know it was the guy because he also mentions this meeting in his journal, and then also then makes a list. So, it is the guy. But I think that may be why these meetings weren’t necessarily discovered. I think people had seen stuff in Lyman’s journals. I don’t know. I don’t know why I was the first one to put all this together.
GT 02:22 So, let me back up just a little bit then. So, there were three meetings with the General Authorities basically. And then there were three other meetings at Moyle’s house and some of the General Authorities like Ivins and Lyman were there as well.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 02:38 I think they’re the only two that were there, and Roberts.
GT 02:41 And Moyle. Wasn’t Moyle a general authority?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 02:43 Moyle was not a general authority. He was big into the Democratic Party, as was B.H. Roberts. But he was not a general authority of the Church. He was very close with many of them. And I think that’s why he was able to attend.
GT 02:59 Because Henry Moyle was in the First Presidency later, but this was a different Moyle.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 03:02 That was his son.
GT 03:03 That was his son. So, his son was in the First Presidency.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 03:05 Yeah.
GT 03:09 And Sjodahl or however you say his name, we’ll talk about him. But first I want to talk about Lyman’s because that is such an interesting [story], and especially you gave more details than I had seen.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 03:21 Really?
GT 03:23 On that whole [situation] with the police and everything.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 03:25 Yeah. I didn’t find that information. I had read an article that was already out. So, I just compiled it but yeah. I read an article that talked about him being in his underwear out in the cold. Right?
GT 03:42 Lyman was one of these more liberal people and then he got involved in kind of polygamy, kind of adultery. Was adultery or polygamy?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 03:55 I think it’s a murky situation for people who grew up with polygamy, grew up believing that there was nothing wrong with it; grew up believing it was the higher law and then suddenly being told that you can’t live this when he meets this woman who would be a great wife. I think he was like, “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t [marry.]” So, what he did with this woman is they promised to be sealed in heaven.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 03:59 “When one of us dies, the other one will get sealed to you,” whoever [lives longest.] So, they had planned on–I mean the church never disavowed eternal polygamy. Our prophet right now has eternal polygamy. He’s sealed to more than one woman. So, he just believed what we still believe is that you can be sealed in heaven. His problem was acting on it on earth while his other wife was still alive.
GT 04:54 And his other wife was the Relief Society General President.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 04:57 Right. Yep. Yes, she was Amy Brown Lyman. I remember hearing about her like 15 years ago in a Church meeting. They talked about different Relief Society General Presidents and hearing that her husband had gotten excommunicated due to adultery. And I was like, “How have I never heard this story?” So, it was kind of fun to come and actually be able to research this even more. I remember looking it up at the time and being like, Wow, that’s crazy.
GT 05:28 Because there’s a new biography on Amy Brown Lyman by Dave Hall, right?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 05:31 Oh, really? Yes. Dave Hall was the expert on this part and Amy Brown Lyman. So, I saw those articles.
GT 05:39 I should mention there’s a David Hall that I interviewed back in January. This is a different guy with the same name.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 05:48 Dave Hall. Yeah, he did so much great work. And so mostly, I’m just telling everyone what he said about this. He has done the great historical work on this.
GT 06:01 Okay, so Lyman was in these 1922 meetings, one of the more intellectually liberal members of the quorum. He meets this woman. Hadn’t she been involved in a polygamous relationship before?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 06:19 She was. She had gotten excommunicated for being in a1904 post Second manifesto, marriage.
GT 06:26 And was she older than him? I think she was. I can’t remember.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 06:29 I think they were within an acceptable amount. It wasn’t like he was in his 50s and she was a teen. Right? And there were those…
GT 06:38 So he was counseling her about her previous polygamy.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 06:42 Yeah. After she got excommunicated, she wanted to be reinstated as a member of the church. And he was like, “I can help you. I’ll counsel you,” and they hit it off. And I think I really do think they had a chaste relationship for probably for many years, where they were just friends and just enjoyed each other’s company. I think they saw each other, and I think they had both felt unseen a lot of the time. So, I think they just really enjoyed each other and then they ended up enjoying each other too much.
GT 07:18 Do we have any idea? Because it sounds like some of the apostles really tried to humiliate him.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 07:25 Yeah.
GT 07:26 Because why would you call the police on this?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 07:29 Right. And even the police chief later was like, “I had no idea. It was going to be this–” He kind of apologized and said, “I’m sorry. If I’d known it was you, I wouldn’t have participated.”
Shannon Caldwell Montez 07:41 But they just said, “Oh, we’re going to go catch some big wig. And he’s with his mistress.”
GT 07:45 And where did they tell the police? Why would the police need to go barge in this house in the first place?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 07:50 Right. It was for is for publicity. I think they thought it was maybe a political thing. You know, some guy. I think they were really surprised.
GT 08:01 They thought that some guy was having an affair. Maybe?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 08:03 They were told it was a big wig. And that, yeah, he was at the home of his lover, and they were going to break in and catch him in the act of adultery. And when they broke in, they were like, “Oh!”
GT 08:14 They were in bed together.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 08:15 It’s an apostle. Yeah. I mean, he was at least wearing his garments. He was taken outside in just his garments in November, in Utah. So, I mean, if the humiliation wasn’t enough, it would have also been very cold. And it’s surprising, given that he’s wearing these sacred garments that people aren’t supposed to be seen in that they would be taking him outside, not giving him a robe, not covering him up.
GT 08:47 Who were the architects of this raid? Wasn’t Harold B. Lee one of them?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 08:51 According to Dave Hall, he seemed to think it was–I’m working on the details. J Reuben Clark, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Harold B. Lee. Yeah. He’s able to show how that they were the ones that spearheaded this. They were the ones that called the police and said we’re going to do this, and it was just so [embarrassing.] Hearing Richard Lyman talk about it later, like “These guys were my friends. I had seen them earlier that day at a meeting and the fact that they couldn’t just come up to me and say, ‘Are you having an affair? Or are you being inappropriate?'” He’s like, “They never said anything to me. They just showed up at my house, picked me up and took me down to…” Did they take him to the police station, or did they take him to church offices?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 09:53 They just came after him. He was just so [humiliated.] They said there was a streetcar full of armed officers. It wasn’t just one or two. It was like they didn’t–They wanted this to be irreversible. And if they had spoken to him privately, it may have been reversible. And my guess is that maybe stuff like that had happened in the past and been handled privately. He was really shocked and sad to see that his friends had turned him in and not handled this privately.
GT 10:27 I also wonder, because this was after 1933 when the Third Manifesto happened. Was Heber J. Grant trying to make a statement as well? Do we have any indication of that?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 10:39 I don’t think so. I feel like Heber J. Grant was, from my studies, I think he was a little bit more of a team builder, trying to get consensus from everyone rather than like our side versus your side. And there was a bit of a schism there with the conservative apostles and the more liberal apostles. And I’m not the first one to point this out. But just that there was this kind of schism and what happened was the conservatives outlived the liberals, and they were able to replace the liberals with conservatives, because they were higher in the hierarchy. Because again, like Talmage, I think was the first educated apostle. And that didn’t have until 1911, after this controversy with BYU. They were like, “Oh, let’s get an educated guy. So, they can’t say we’re all a bunch of dummies,” not ever taking any academic views into consideration. So, they started getting more people with education. But again, the people that were there previously are higher in the hierarchy. And they become the prophet like Joseph Fielding Smith did. So, he has a lot more power by the end of this whole fiasco.
GT 12:04 So, the conservatives won, basically.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 12:06 Yeah. Yeah. And I talked about it in here, but then number of BYU students believing in literal fall of Adam and in literal Book of Mormon, Adam and Eve, things like that. There were more people believing that in at BYU in the 1930s than there were in the 1970s. So, evolution and things like that were more acceptable in the ’30s in Mormonism than they were in the ’70s.
GT 12:39 Because of Joseph Fielding Smith.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 12:41 Joseph Fielding Smith came out so hard against it, it became a dissident viewpoint to go against him.
GT 12:49 Wow.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 12:50 The church all moved that way.
GT 12:52 And do we have any indication if Amy Brown Lyman knew about this affair of her husband?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 12:58 There were rumors that she did.
GT 13:01 She never divorced him.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 13:02 She never divorced him. She’s like, “He was a great husband. I loved him.” He’s a good husband. And actually, it was scandalous to stay with a husband, who was being disciplined by the church, because it was almost like you were okay with it. So, she knew a lot of people looked down on her for forgiving him and taking him back, or not divorcing him. These two, their letters were so affectionate. And he was like, “I’m so excited for Amy to come back.” I think they were a really strong pair as far as mentally that I think they really enjoyed the challenge of each other. I think they were a really strong match.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 13:49 She was a very ambitious woman who wanted to do a lot. She seemed to have fewer kids than most and who knows how that happened. But she was General Relief Society president. She was in the Relief Society General Presidency for decades. She got so much done. She’s kind of like the mother of social work in Utah. She was a really, really inspiring woman.
GT 14:16 Kind of a Sheri Dew type?
Shannon 14:17 Yeah. And it was just sad to see her legacy subsumed by the scandal.
GT 14:24 She resigned.
Shannon 14:25 She ended up resigning about a year after the scandal because she realized that she had lost respect in leadership. People were side eyeing her and she’s like, “I can’t lead if nobody likes me anymore.” So, she ended up resigning. She was just like, “It’s too public.” People are too upset by it. So, she stepped down. So, her career in the church also ended with his been removed from the quorum. He wasn’t actually excommunicated, I don’t think. He was disfellowshipped. No, was he?
GT 15:02 I thought he was excommunicated.
Shannon 15:04 He was excommunicated but he did get reinstated. He did get re-baptized. But again, he didn’t get reinstated to apostleship. He just quietly lived out the rest of his days and lost a lot of friends. And I don’t know. it’s a sad story.
GT 15:21 And the other woman?
Shannon 15:22 The other woman, he did keep up the relationship for a while after being discovered. He was like, “I don’t see why everyone has a problem with it.” And that’s why I also think that maybe his wife…
GT 15:37 Was she excommunicated?
Shannon 15:38 They were both excommunicated.
GT 15:40 Okay. And we haven’t checked familysearch.org to see if she’s sealed to him now? 
Shannon 15:50 You know, that would be a great idea. I don’t remember whether or not I did it. So yeah, it said they had the relationship for at least five years and kept it going afterwards.
Sjodahl and Others from 1922 Meetings
GT 16:02 Then Sjodahl, is that how you say his name? Can you talk give us a little biography of him? I thought he was an interesting character in all these meetings.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 16:15 You want the scandal, huh?
GT 16:16 Yes.
Shannon 16:17 Sjodahl was an interesting guy. He was a convert. He grew up in Norway, I believe. He ran the church magazines for a while. He was in these [meetings.] He really loved the archaeology. So, he was in the 1921 meetings. And then again in the 1922 meetings. The 1921 [meetings were] Book of Mormon archaeology meetings. And maybe that is where I actually go into that.
Shannon 16:22 His scandal was that he was basically running the church newspapers and the printing. And it was discovered that he owned a house of ill repute and was probably a patron. He was quietly removed from his job and sent to England and worked on the Millennial Star for about five years, until everything blew over. And then he came back and was back into printing. And that’s why he was at these meetings, because he was still doing different church writings. The scandal was only printed in a Norwegian magazine.
GT 17:36 Oh.
Shannon 17:36 It was really suppressed in the English press. And after five years, everyone had forgotten about it until some guy wrote, I think, a thesis about Sjodahl. And so, I was able to find this guy’s research about him. And yeah, another one where his wife had died. And he was finding other ways to enjoy his life. When the church found out, they didn’t excommunicate him. They sent him abroad, literally, abroad, this time, not just outside of Utah. They sent him to England. And that’s where he really started getting into the archaeology and started printing stuff in England about the Book of Mormon archaeology.
GT 18:20 He was a Meso guy, right?
Shannon 18:22 Yeah. Yeah. He liked all of the [theories.] I think he loved all of it. I think he was trying to make it all work. But yeah, I don’t know. If you like those theories, you probably remember that better than I do. But mostly, I was like, who cares? I say he likes the puzzle more than the doctrine. He was like you. I think Sjodahl, maybe that’s why he just loved picking up all these pieces and seeing if he can put them together and make this puzzle work. In his papers, I remember, he had this really neatly drawn map of what he believed were the Book of Mormon lands and where Zarahemla would have been and things like that. So, he was definitely your geography nerd, as far as Book of Mormon geography.
Shannon 19:21 Okay. Yeah, he wrote a book about it several years later. And that became the foundation of a lot of the limited geography. We think that actually Sjodahl had heard, and if I remember correctly, in his papers, in his journal, he talked about Anthony Ivins giving this limited geography theory in these Book of Mormon geography meetings in 1921. And I think he was blown away by it and thought it was amazing. And then several years later, he wrote a book that did the whole limited geography Mesoamerica, like Yucatan type of theory, and that’s where most people credit Sjodahl with this limited geography but his journals credit Ivins.
GT 20:06 Right.
Shannon 20:06 So yeah, that’s my recollection of how this all goes.
GT 20:12 I would send a presentation on all the different geography theories, but you probably wouldn’t be interested.
Shannon 20:17 It’s like platform nine and three quarters to me.
GT 20:22 So anyway, are there any other things from your thesis that we missed? What else do we need to talk about?
Shannon 20:29 There’s so many different types of things to talk about. I feel like, if we look at Amy Brown Lyman, we can talk about the role of women, how they were stronger, and got weakened. We could talk about Richard Lyman, and the whole of whether or not the brethren and are united, and sometimes they will even just undercut each other like that. Harris with the academic freedom types of things; I think it was George Middleton. He was one that I was able to say, he definitely lost his faith in the Book of Mormon after these meetings. Because in the beginning of it, he was a close friend of B.H. Roberts. And in one of the first letters in response to Riter. Let me just make sure it’s Middleton. Because there were two doctors. No, I think it was Middleton. Yeah, it had to have been Middleton.
Shannon 21:40 Richard Lyman had actually written him a couple letters and said, “What do you think about these guys questions?” He asked him these questions about Book of Mormon geography or scimitars, and languages and all of this. And Middleton wrote a response that was similar to what B. H. Roberts started out with. He ended up giving Riter a response to this letter that was pretty similar to what Middleton has started out with. But within a couple of years, we have Middleton taking a trip to South America. And speaking as if this is not Book of Mormon lands. He’s like, “Clearly these people were pagan. They were not worshipping some kind of Christian figure. And he even talks about drinking alcohol on this trip that might have shocked his Mormon friends. But he seems to become an atheist after these meetings.
GT 22:34 Oh.
Shannon 22:36 Or maybe a deist at most, but he definitely was like, “I think there may be a God who organized the Earth, but I don’t think there’s a God that’s involved. And I don’t think Meso-Americans are descendants from proto-Christians.
GT 22:56 Right.
Shannon 22:56 So that was an interesting one, too, as well to see. Because he had a letter so close before, actually really related to this whole incident where Richard Lyman’s like, “Hey, we’re having some questions about Book of Mormon. What do you think about this? I know you’re a history buff.”
Shannon 23:16 And he responds with some really pat answers. But later when B.H. Roberts maybe perhaps complicates those answers. And with all of these meetings and more specific problems, and having a longer discussion about it, I think he really changed his mind and stopped defending the Book of Mormon at all. So, to me that’s an interesting one. But for the most part, I think, partly because at the time, people didn’t leave the Church and get their name removed. That wasn’t even possible until like 1980. If you left the Church, it just was…
GT 23:55 You just quit going.
Shannon 23:57 …quiet. Yeah, you’d have to get excommunicated to get your name removed. And that didn’t happen very often. So, there were several people that I think quit going, perhaps, but did not make a big deal about it.
GT 24:12 When we started, you said you went into this. You wanted to see how people’s–I don’t want to say this wrong, how their testimonies or their beliefs changed, when confronted with challenging material.
Shannon 24:28 Destroying it is not the only change. Things that can show change. Right. I would say Joseph Fielding Smith maybe changed.
GT 24:35 Okay.
Shannon 24:35 Anyway, but yeah, I could see some evidence of change. Did BH Roberts lose his testimony of the Book of Mormon?
GT 24:37 As far as these people that came to these meetings, I know you said people focus on B.H. Roberts. So, would you say B.H. Roberts became more of a nuanced member, or did [BH Roberts] lose his testimony? Or what do you think?
Shannon 24:57 I think B.H. Roberts valued the church. But I think he also was aware and conscious that if you said certain things, you don’t get very far. He warns a couple of students that were going to divinity school like, “Hey, don’t talk about Mormon history, or this isn’t going to work for you.”
GT 25:21 It’s going to ruin your career.
Shannon 25:22 Yeah. So, he would say things like that to people. He seemed to [change.] I mean, yeah, it depends on who you look at. There are accounts of him in the month before he died having a conversation with a friend where he’s like, “Book of Mormon is not what you think. And I tried to have a meeting with the General Authorities.” He talks.
GT 25:49 Was he the one who met with David Whitmer?
Shannon 25:52 No, that was James. That was Moyle.
GT 25:56 Henry Moyle?
Shannon 25:57 No, not Henry Moyle. James Moyle.
GT 25:58 James Moyle.
Shannon 26:00 When he finished law school “abroad” in Chicago or wherever, he went through Missouri on his way home, and he met David Whitmer, and asked him about his experience seeing the plates. And he said that he was really upset at the time that it seemed a lot more spiritual than physical, his experience.
GT 26:32 James was upset because David said it was more of a spiritual experience, not physical.
Shannon 26:36 David didn’t say it was spiritual. He was like “I saw it as I see you,” but also kind of like in another realm. It was kind of like, “I manifest it. I believe it.” I’ve heard people say this: “Whether I see it or not, I know it’s true.” That’s kind of what he was [saying.] I can find it for you.
GT 27:03 What David Whitmer was saying.
Shannon 27:10 But he talks about being a little bit upset that it was not as physical as he would have hoped.
GT 27:19 I’m trying to remember. I think, if I remember, right, there were two people who wrote biographies of him: one was Gordon Hinckley, the other was Gene Sessions. Does that sound right? Or am I talking about the wrong person?
Shannon 27:32 Moyle?
GT 27:33 Yeah.
Shannon 27:34 Yeah. Yeah, Gordon Hinckley wrote of biography of James Moyle. And so, in the months before Moyle died, he got up and spoke about how, when he talked to David Whitmer, he was upset at first. And then he turns it into a faith promoting story. And that account was published in the Juvenile Instructor. And I think it maybe had done some damage at the Church because it seems like Hinckley was trying to bury that. That’s my guess.
Shannon 28:15 And also the Hinckley connection. There’s another person that was in these meetings that I could not determine. It was a Mr., a doctor? No, it was a Professor Hinckley. There was a Professor Hinckley at these meetings, but it could have been Gordon B. Hinckley’s father. It could have been his uncle. I just couldn’t be sure which one it was. So, I wasn’t able to determine that. So, I didn’t profile that person. But it feels like maybe Hinckley knew about the Moyle meetings and knew about Moyle’s at the end being a topic that people would be interested in and wanted to frame it in the way he would prefer. That was my guess. Who knows? I would like to spend more time into that. But Gordon B Hinckley’s papers are impossible to get because he hasn’t been dead long enough. So, in about 100 years, somebody can go look this up and I would love that.
GT 29:21 Maybe (chuckles.) And then Gene Sessions, was he the Weber State professor? Is at the same guy?
Shannon 29:29 Yeah.
GT 29:30 I remember him. I went to Weber State, so I remember him at Weber State.
Shannon 29:33 Yeah, I remember writing some emails with him. I had noticed that Moyle had given this talk about being disappointed with David Whitmer’s account. In his journal, it was there and in the biographies, nobody mentioned that. But if you see the papers, they’re there. And I think Dan Vogel is the one that points this out. He has a compilation of Mormon documents, and he sees it there. And so, I personally was like, “Is this for real?” So, then I went and got Moyle’s papers and looked and saw. Yes. In his journal, he does give this other account where he talks about being disappointed.
Shannon 30:23 The other versions, Hinckley’s version and Sessions’ version don’t mention that. I’m sure. I was able to ask Gene Sessions. He was aware of that. I couldn’t ask Hinckley. But I can’t imagine he wasn’t aware of that. Hinckley’s biography is just an interesting thing that I wasn’t able to fully go into. But there’s parts where Moyle in his own letters is like, “I think they’re trying to tell my story in a way that’s not accurate. The Church seems to be following up on my biographer to make sure that I keep it faith promoting. Yeah, so I don’t know. I felt like there was something there.
Shannon 31:15 Heber J Grant goes on and invites Moyle for a ride in his car and is asking him questions about what his biography is going to be about and things like that. So, here’s Moyle, who had had these meetings in his house. People know that he knows things. And I think they’re just trying to make sure that he doesn’t really talk too much about what he knows. And that’s, not only these meetings, but also his David Whitmer experience. I think he maybe seemed like a bit of a loose cannon to church leadership. And so, they wanted to tell his story. So once the biographer died, Gordon Hinckley ended up picking up that biography and finishing it, and it was very faith promoting, I thought. I don’t know. It seems like there was an attempt to frame this guy in a certain way that was only one-sided. And, Moyle does say that he was afraid that his story wouldn’t be told, accurately. So, I don’t know.
GT 32:19 So just in summary, B.H, Roberts, [became] more nuanced, maybe lost his testimony? You’re not sure?
Shannon 32:27 How can we know anyone’s mind? He did seem to have….
GT 32:27 Unless they write it down.
Shannon 32:31 Exactly. And even then, when somebody writes it down, people are going to have different interpretations. What does this word really mean? [It is] based on what they’re hoping the outcome to be. So clearly, I’m going to take a little more critical view of his ultimate conclusion.
Shannon 32:52 The Wesley Lloyd journal talks about and I actually quote the entire entry in the Wesley Lloyd journal about him saying that “the conversation then drifted to the Book of Mormon and the surprising story he related to me. While he was president of the Eastern States mission, a Logan man by the name of Riter persuaded a scholarly friend who was a student in Washington to read through and criticize the Book of Mormon. The criticism was at the time of the discovery of America, there were 50 distinct languages in existence among American Indians, not dialects, but languages as different as English is from Spanish and that all human knowledge indicates that fundamental languages change very slowly. Whereas the time of Book of Mormon the people were supposed to have been speaking all one tongue. The student asked Riter to explain that proposition. Riter then sent the letter to Talmage who studied it over during a trip east. He asked Brother Roberts to make a careful investigation and study. And to get an answer for the letter. Roberts went to work and investigated it from every angle but could not answer it satisfactory to himself and at his request, President Grant called a meeting of the Twelve Apostles and Brother Roberts presented the matter. He told them frankly that he was stumped and asked for their aid in the explanation. In answer they merely stood up and bore testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. George Albert Smith in tears testified that his faith in the Book of Mormon had not been shaken by the question. President Ivins, the man most likely to be able to answer a question on that subject was unable to produce the solution. No answer was available. Brother Roberts could not criticize them for not being able to answer it or assist him. But he said that in a church which claimed continuous revelation, a crisis had arisen where revelation was necessary. After the meeting, he wrote to President Grant expressing his disappointment at the failure and especially at the failure of President Ivins to contribute to the problem. It was mentioned at the meeting by Brother Roberts that there were other Book of Mormon problems that needed special attention. Richard R. Lyman spoke up and asked if there were things that would help our prestige. When Brother Roberts answered no, he said ‘Then why discuss them?’ This attitude was too much for the historically minded Roberts. Then there was a committee appointed to study this problem consisting of Brother Talmage, Ballard, Roberts and one other apostle. They met and looked vacantly at one another.”
Shannon 32:35 We do know this happened. We have the letter from this one as well. “But they said they looked vacantly at one another, but none seem to know what to do about it. Brother Roberts finally mentioned that he had at least attempted an answer and they had it in his drawer. That was an answer that would satisfy people that didn’t think but a very inadequate answer to a thinking man. They asked him to read it and after hearing it, they adopted it by vote and said that was about the best they could do. After this, Brother Roberts made a special Book of Mormon study, treated the system problem systematically and historically, and in a 400 typewritten page thesis set forth a revolutionary article on the origin of the Book of Mormon and sent it to President Grant. It’s an article far too strong for the average Church member but for the intellectual group, he considers or considers it a contribution to assist in explaining Mormonism. He swings to a psychological explanation of the Book of Mormon and shows that the plates we’re not objective, but subjective with Joseph Smith, that his exceptional imagination qualified him psychologically for the experience which he had in presenting it to the world, and the Book of Mormon, and that the plates with the Urim and Thummim, were not objective.” So he’s, again saying they didn’t exist.
Shannon 36:30 This guy is saying B.H. Roberts believed they didn’t exist. He explained certain, literary difficulties in the book as the miraculous incident of the entire nation of the Jaredites, the dramatic story of one man being left on each side, and one of them finally being slain. Also, the New York flat hills surrounding the great civilization and another part of the country. We see none of the cliffs at the Maya or the high mountain peaks or other geographical environments with the early American civilization that the entire story laid in New England, flat hills surrounding. There are some things which has made Brother Roberts shift his base on the Book of Mormon. Instead of regarding it as the strongest evidence we have of church divinity, he regards it as the one which most needs bolstering. His greatest claim for the divinity of the Prophet Joseph lies in the Doctrine and Covenants.” So, he’s basically saying Joseph Smith, at the end of his life, this is weeks before he died, and I’m sorry. You can cut that whole part out.
Shannon 37:25 But weeks before he died, Roberts was saying, “I don’t believe there was a physical Book of Mormon. There was no urim & thummim. I think Joseph Smith…
GT 37:36 There were no plates.
Shannon 37:37 …came up with his imagination. He came up with this, and he was an imaginary guy. And he was maybe prophetic. If you look at the D&C and things like that, he was very visionary. But this was all visionary. This was not physical. This is not actual Book of Mormon history. This is not history. This is imaginary.
GT 38:01 That’s what Roberts felt.
Shannon 38:03 That’s where he told this guy. And I’ve seen critics talk about this later and say, well, “Wesley Lloyd got a couple of details wrong.” But it’s like, how would Wesley Lloyd know all of these details if Roberts had not told him? “Oh, I had this meeting with President Grant.” We have letters from B.H. Roberts to President Grant. We can show historical documents that show that all these meetings happened. And the letters from B.H. Roberts to President Grant saying, “I’m so disappointed,” and “How are we going to attack this if we can’t even answer it?” So, we do see that this whole incident happened. He’s explaining it in great detail. Wesley Lloyd was not there. He was not in the hierarchy. He was not in this room when it happened. So he knew too many details to have not been told this.
Shannon 39:02 So to say, “Oh, he got everything right, except for B.H. Roberts attitude.” That doesn’t seem plausible to me. He wrote this at the time. He wrote this within days of talking to B.H. Roberts, so I’m going to count that as a credible witness. Because to me, I don’t need the church to be true. Whereas somebody who maybe is needing the church to be true will try to say, “Well, he’s not a reliable witness, because he got something wrong of Talmage.” Or he names somebody in these meetings that wasn’t there. This is over a decade after, and he’s getting it secondhand. Sure.
Shannon 39:44 But this is Roberts saying “I had this incident that was really upsetting to me.” And “I don’t think the Book of Mormon is true. I don’t think it’s physical. I don’t think it’s literal. I think Joseph Smith was a prophet, but I don’t think he was a translator of the Book of Mormon.” That’s, I think, where he ended up. So, I believe he lost his faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
GT 40:07 Okay.
Shannon 40:08 I’m not going to say he thought it was garbage and the whole church was a fraud. I wouldn’t go that far. But I would say I know a lot of Mormons who are in that camp, that don’t believe it’s literally true. So, I’m not going to say he became an apostate. But I do believe that he also had reasons that he couldn’t just let the whole thing go. In a different situation, he may have been someone who walked off and let it go.
GT 40:39 I know one of the other things you said at the end of your thesis was a lot of people focus on B.H. Roberts, because he did the big study and everything. And you did mention other people like Joseph Fielding Smith. It affected him in that he became even more faithful…
Shannon 40:58 Intransigent. Yeah.
GT 40:59 …and fundamentalist and that sort of a thing. What about others in the meeting? Can you give any generalizations for others in the meetings?
Shannon 41:08 It’s so hard because for the most part, their journals aren’t available. I did see George Albert [Smith.] Or they didn’t keep journals. Not everyone did that. I remember looking at George Albert Smith. In the Lloyd account, George Albert Smith got up and cried and testified that he knows that Book of Mormon is true. And I can see in his journal or is his diary. It’s not a journal. He’s not writing about his feelings. He just saying this. But like, immediately after he had a really bad stomachache, and he was someone that’s known to have a lot of anxiety. So, I think in he had a bad headache and stomach ache and was missing meetings and stuck in bed for a while. I think he found this very upsetting.
Shannon 41:55 But again, what do you do when this is your job, and your religion and everything rides on this? I think you work as hard as you possibly can to make it work. I don’t think many of these men had the luxury of just saying, “Oh, well. Oops. I was mistaken.” They would lose all credibility in pretty much every circle that they ran in. They would lose their entire community. And even as someone who did not have a lot of prestige and validation from my Church community, as a woman who was not in leadership, but I still lost a lot, and I had so much less invested. So, I can see why this may have been more than I want to say these people could handle. And that’s why they buried it for so long. And that’s why 100 years later, we’re still talking about these because it was on the shelf.
GT 42:53 It’s literally 100 years later.
Shannon 42:56 Yeah, it’s been 100 years now. When I wrote this, I was like, “Oh, I should have waited a couple of years.” But now it’s been a couple years. So here we go.
Takeaways from the Secret 1922 Meetings
GT 43:05 So can we give any generalizations? I mean, would it be safe to say the apostles and general authorities who were in the meeting either rejected it completely like Joseph Fielding Smith? Or maybe I shouldn’t say rejected it, but put it on a shelf, maybe, and just ignored the issues, while others became more nuanced? Let’s just talk about that group first. Is that a good generalization?
Shannon Caldwell Montez 43:34 It’s hard to say. Again, it’s so hard to say because I couldn’t access actual records. So maybe I could find talks.
GT 43:45 So, you’re not able to answer that question.
Shannon 43:47 To go through 20, I don’t even remember how many people were in the room with the general authority meetings. My mind had at least 20 people.
GT 43:55 In the Moyle meetings.
Shannon 43:55 General Authorities, I think it was 27 or something like that. That was the 12 plus the presidency of the 70s. So maybe 17-21 people, something like that. Their stuff, those papers are just so much harder to access. So, I can’t. I really can’t say. It does seem that the Church as a whole for a minute, tried to [say,] can we embrace science and faith and make this work? And I think after a few years, they started to just say, “You know what?” Faith only. If it comes as a question of faith or science, go with faith.
Shannon 44:45 You can see Frederick Pack, one of my favorites. And we’ll talk about him. He was a scientist, and he wrote a book a few years later, about 1925, so after these meetings. It really did a good job for a lot of intellectuals at the time, balancing faith and science. And so, it looked for a minute like maybe the Church could make this work. But then we get people like Joseph Fielding Smith, who was like, “Absolutely not.” I think Joseph Fielding Smith was really threatened by intellectuals. And he wanted to show that his status was higher as a man of faith. And because I think he hadn’t even graduated high school. So, for him, he has to go on the cultural cachet that he has, which is “I’m a son of an apostle. I’m a descendant of Hyrum.” So, he’s going to use his cred as hard as he can. Whereas someone like Talmage, who is lower than him can’t use quite the same amount. And that’s the way the church ended up. I do feel like there was a reaction and that certain things were put on shelves.
Shannon 46:01 And yeah, if you even talked about B.H. Roberts years later… Was it Brigham Matson or it was a different Brigham? There’s two Brigham’s. One did a biography of B.H. Roberts and the Church tried to keep B.H. Roberts [quiet.] They wanted him to go out in history. It wasn’t until the B.H. Roberts Papers were actually published that they let the biography of Roberts be published, and even then it was [kept quiet.]
Shannon 46:43 Oh, Truman Madsen. So, I get confused. There’s Brigham Madsen and Truman Madsen. Truman Madsen was the pro-Church B.H. Roberts biographer, and then we had Brigham Madsen, who was the one who published the B.H. Roberts Papers, which were kind of damaging to the Church.
GT 47:03 In 1985, is that the book?
Shannon 47:04 in ’85.
GT 47:05 Okay.
Shannon 47:05 So, those two. Truman Madsen wrote the book, Defender of the Faith: the B.H. Roberts Story. He just had to make sure he was defending the faith. If you know anything about B.H. Roberts is that he had a very strong testimony. And then we have Brigham Madsen publishing papers and letters where B.H. Roberts is clearly in the journal entry with Wesley Lloyd. He’s clearly not as firmly planted in the way that they want. I feel like Roberts personally felt that he was planted in a very good way. But if they only wanted literal truth, literal Book of Mormon, literal golden plates, I don’t think B.H. Roberts was on board with any of that. He was not a literalist, as some would have liked.
GT 47:57 As far as the other meetings with the intelligentsia, was it pretty similar? A lot of people put it on the shelf, became less little literalistic. A few people fell away. Is that right? Just quietly?
Shannon 48:13 It’s hard to say what fell away is. Most people are not writing what their Church attendance is. A couple of people did write biographies that seemed a little more deist rather than Mormon. So, I would say, they may not have felt affiliated with Mormonism to the same extent, such as Middleton, who said, “I don’t necessarily respond to any certain type of faith. I’m just thinking my own things.” And so, he, yeah. Some people just seem to–I don’t know. I think Mormonism was as much an identity as it was a belief. And I feel like I’m an example of that. I still love my Mormon heritage, my Mormon roots. Whether or not I believe in the literal religion, and even if I believe that the religion is toxic, it needs to change, because I’m a Mormon, I care about that. Because it’s my people. I still feel like it’s my people. So, if something needs to be fixed, I want it to be fixed. I don’t want it to do harm.
Shannon 49:24 So I think maybe all these people were, in their own ways trying to work for its ultimate good, or at least trying not to harm it, or leave it alone. I don’t think anyone wanted to make a scandal out of it, including B.H. Roberts. So, again, history is never black and white. It’s just so nuanced, and people don’t tell you their own mind most of the time. So, I’m not going to speak for B.H. Roberts. I’m just going to look at the documents. I can have my own opinions, but I can’t say for sure what he thought. He loved Joseph Smith. He thought he was inspiring. I guess we can say that even at the end, he was saying that to Wesley Lloyd. As much as he’s like, “I don’t believe in the literal Book of Mormon. I believe in Joseph Smith.” So, he didn’t lose his testimony in the Church, I would say. But he definitely doesn’t have the type of testimony that the Church wanted him to have at that time.
GT 50:25 All right. Well, are you working on any other projects in history?
Shannon 50:32 I don’t know. I may turn this into a book. I got overwhelmed. Right out. I just needed a break. I don’t know. It was a lot. And it was really exciting. But I don’t know. I’m still figuring out the next step for me. I’m teaching history at the community college and enjoying that.
GT 50:52 At Salt Lake Community College?
Shannon 50:54 No, at WNC which is Western Nevada College in Carson City. And I teach at UNR [Nevada-Reno] also just part-time teaching American History. And it’s got its own heartache. So, I becoming a historian was kind of a really bad idea. Because I love history, and now I’m just so sad about it all the time. Whether it’s American history, or Mormon history, there’s a lot of closets with lots of skeletons in all of our histories, so it’s depressing. I’m no fun at parties, because I’m always telling sad stories. So, this is one of them. It’s not all sad. But it’s not all [good either.] I have no tolerance for people trying to make it all one or the other. I do fall more on the [spectrum], well, maybe sometimes religions need to change and even possibly die. But that doesn’t mean that they weren’t valuable. And I don’t know. Who knows what to do at this point?
GT 51:58 Do you enjoy teaching?
Shannon 51:59 I do love teaching. It’s been a lot of fun.
GT 52:02 Even depressing history?
Shannon 52:05 I love depressing kids. I love teaching at the college level, because I can get the real history and see them just be like depressed. Not really. It’s not fun to get them depressed. But it does help them feel history and understand how hard it is, just like right now. Things feel confusing and difficult. They’ve always been confusing and difficult. And sometimes we get it right. And sometimes we get it really, really wrong. And now is no different. And so don’t ever think you know everything. Just always have a little bit of doubt in the back of your mind and be like I couldn’t be wrong. Because if you talk about conservatives and liberals in history, sometimes they got it right. Sometimes they got it wrong on both sides. And so you never know for sure until history judges whether or not you were on the right side. So always be willing to say “I could have been wrong. I could be wrong here.” Always be willing to doubt your assumptions. And that’s I guess what I’m enjoying is introducing doubt about everything you thought you knew. So, I do like it. Long answer there for a short question.
GT 53:19 All right. Do you have any last thoughts before I let you go?
Shannon 53:21 I think I’ve had too many thoughts.
GT 53:26 Well, Shannon Caldwell Montez I really appreciate you being here on Gospel Tangents and sharing your wonderful research. So, thank you.
Shannon 53:33 Yeah, sorry it was a little rusty so often. It’s been a little while. COVID messed up all of us all.
GT 53:41 I know it did.
Shannon 53:42 Yeah.
GT 53:43 All right. Well, thanks again.
Shannon Caldwell Montez 53:44 All right, thanks.
 I checked familysearch.org and he only had 1 wife as of Sept 28, 2022.
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