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How Jerald Tanner Identified Fake Salamander Letter (Part 2)

Jerald Tanner was the first person to publicly question Mark Hofmann’s fake Salamander Letter.  His wife Sandra details how Jerald came to that conclusion.

Sandra:  Jerald, realizes this, there’s a story of a document out there that claim to be by Martin Harris about the magic involvement of Joseph in the coming forth of Book of Mormon in a magic setting. So he went back to E.D. Howe’s, “Mormonism Unvailed” that has statements by the neighbors that all talk about the Smiths’ involvement in magic. And so he’s becoming more familiar with getting this fresh in his mind what these affidavits all said. And there had been a BYU Studies article a year or two before that had talked about Joseph Knight, who was an early Mormon at the Smith home at the time that coming out of the Book of Mormon. And he had read that article so he was kind of getting prepped up on his research ahead of time. So when he get that copy of the letter, he’d be able to jump right into an evaluation of it. So he gets the letter–the type copy, not the original and he’s reading through this and the more he looks at it, he says to me, “There’s something wrong. This has got phrases in it that have to come from E.D. Howe and from the Joseph Knight letters. And so someone’s making this up.”

Now I don’t think he was sure that it was Mark, but someone was making up documents. So this is a forgery. And I’m like, “Jerald, everyone accepts Mark’s documents. I mean Dean Jessee at the Church Historians Office is not going to want to accept Mark’s documents that are critical of Joseph Smith that tie him to magic unless they feel they have to. I mean, why would they? Why wouldn’t they be asking these questions?”

Jerald says, “I don’t care. I’m telling you there’s something wrong. The similarities of wording is too much there.”

She also tells her reaction!

Sandra:  I’m telling Jerald we could get sued. You can’t just run around saying something’s forgery. Someone’s going to sue us. Mark will sue us for defamation or something, and Jerald says, “He’s not going to sue us.”

I said, “How can you be sure?”

And he says, “Because it’s a forgery. He has no background to prove this document.”

And I said, “Well please don’t lose my house.”

Check out our conversation…. and don’t forget part 1 describing how Sandra met Mark Hofmann.

Jerald Tanner was the first to determine the Salamander Letter was fake.
Jerald Tanner was the first to identify the fake Salamander Letter.
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Salamander Letter & Other Forgeries

Curt Bench (owner of Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City) knew Mark Hofmann very well, having purchased many artifacts and documents from him.    Hofmann’s most famous forgery was known as the White Salamander Letter. The letter threatened to re-write Mormon history and fooled many experts in Mormon history.

It was just such a different take on the traditional story as one could imagine, and so he [Mark Hofmann] had claimed to have gotten it back east, a letter that came into his hands through a compatriot of his when actually later we find out that Mark created the document.  It kind of turned Mormon history on its head and then you have people squaring up on each side, the scholars that are trying to make sense of it and others saying there’s no way that could be true.

Mark didn’t just fool Mormon experts.  He actually tried to sell something to the Library of Congress and many of those experts were fooled as well.

Oath of a Free Man which was the first printed item in America that he tried to sell to the Library of Congress for $1 million to $1 million and a half.  He completely created that.  He has the plates made for it.  He printed it and altered letters and kind of rubbed them down so they looked old.  He did all kinds of things and the Library of Congress was doing tests on it, and the American Antiquarian Society was another that looked very closely at buying that, and that was a huge deal when that failed to sell because Mark owed so many people money because of his schemes and a lot of it was over the McLellin Collection which nobody ever saw but there was a lot of talk about and a lot of money that changed hands over it.  Because that failed to sell, The Oath of a Free Man, Mark was in a world of hurt financially and had to come up with money.

It’s amazing the number of experts Hofmann was able to fool.  Don’t forget to check out Part 1 of our conversation.  What do you think?

White Salamander Letter & Other Forgeries