I, Joe: Confessions of a Confidence Man
From a ms. unearthed in New Zion Missouri in 2012 after the Republican Convention.
I. The Gods Are Among the People
Came then I. No schooling or Religion, a wild ass’s colt like my daddy before me--that was me when the buckboard stopped in Palmyra Town. They’d smelt the rat back in Bainbridge, found me guilty and fined me as a disorderly person and an impostor. Be it what it would, in Palmyra I was nothing graveled but buoyed up with the flotsam of God.
Came then Isaac Bullard in his bearskin at Woodstock half a dozen hills away, him who thought bathing a sin and hadn’t changed his girdle in seven years. Ann Lee reincarnated Christ, her Shaker halls hardly thirty miles away. Twenty-five miles west in Jerusalem the preacheress Jemima Wilkinson--another Jesus--died and was reborn in 1776 swearing she’d break the Bond of Death and never die again. When she did her body rotted in Jerusalem for nine years but the lawsuits in the Canandaigua courthouse kept her fresh.
Came then Joseph Dylks the Leatherwood God about the time we started up in Kirtland but he was a hairbrain. As proof he was Immortal he claimed no one could harm him but a mob tore out his hair and that showed it wasn’t so. They tried him too but it turned out that in Ohio it was not a crime to be a god.
Came then William Miller who calculated the Advent to the day and flourished even after the Great Year 1843-1844 became the Great Fizzle. And not just for the Millerites because ‘44 was the pinch of the game when obloquy cornered me in Carthage town and assassins smote me low in the dust.
That much I remember. How much time has passed since
then I couldn’t say. I speak to you from the Grave and
without a calendar. The passage of time is sand and
II. Treasures in the Earth
My daddy told me the best time for harrowing up money was in the summer when the heat caused the buried chests to rise. He told me how the Ancient Ones of this country rode camels and the proof was on Cuyler’s farm. There was a cave and heaps of Gold in it and stands of arms and on a peg hanging at one side of the cave a camel saddle. Eight tumuli within twelve miles of my progenitor’s farm.
I had a peep stone I found digging a well for Mason Chase twenty-four feet deep in the ground. Dark it was but in it I could see worlds, my mind as untrammeled as the wide West. I caught sparks from the Methodists at a camp meeting on the Vienna road, studied the Spaniards’ lost silver mine in the Susquehanna Valley, and learned how to lead a black sheep in a circle with its throat cut.
I told farmers where the Gold was in their fields by putting my shew stone in my hat and my face inside the hat to keep out all light but what came from out the stone. I told Josiah Stowel there was Treasure in the root of a stump five feet below the ground and lying beside it we would find the tail feather of a jay. Sure as certain we found the feather though the Gold had moved on down.
Obadiah Dogberry was the Editor of the Palmyra Mirror and said he didn’t need a scry stone to see through me but what he saw was just the man. He saw not the me I truly am.
I tell you I had no thought of Religion just Gold but when enough people never found any I moved on to words and that turned out to be the real Treasure the Lord had laid up for my store.
The Red Sons of Israel
The Mound Builders then was all the rage. Every son of us knew no ignorant savages had built them mounds and left such monuments. It had to be the lost tribe of Ephraim or other of Israel’s sons and those mounds got left from their apocalypse. William Henry Harrison assured us it was so. You remember right before his election he wrote that the last great battle between the peaceful Moundbuilding race and the savage redmen took place on the banks of the Ohio. That was my first notion, to write a history of the Moundbuilders, a book to answer the questions of every farmer with a hummock in his pasture. A history of the Indians was found in Canada at the base of a hollow tree, workers on the Erie Canal dug up brass plates along with skeletons--it was in the air a spirit moving among the mounds.
One day on the creek I found some glittery fine white sand. I tied it up in my frock and taken it home. When they asked what I had in my tote, it came to me to say it was the Golden Bible, and they all believed. How can you resist gulling people who want to be gulled?
I learned a trick from a scryer named Walters who’d read to folks from Caesar’s Orations or something in a tongue he didn’t know or them neither and then translate it as whatever the occasion called for to be served up. When the chariot came for Walters his mantle fell on me.
A lot of the rest of it was foolery and I soon learned better, that there warn’t no need to sacrifice the barnyard cock, though that black sheep walking a circle with its throat cut held folks’ attention for a while. What they really wanted first was to believe in me, and I looked inside myself and found that it was true. I had a gift. In time I’d make a history of the Red Sons of Israel who built the mounds, in due season I would tell them where the Nephites hid their Gold.
I got in trouble though through comely Emma cause she was the first woman I courted but I couldn’t gull Josiah Hale. After I took and married her I had to bring her back. He told me I was a shiftless fraud and couldn’t support a wife. Joseph wept. I admitted I couldn’t see in a stone now, nor never could, I said I’d get a job, and he let me keep her. For comely Emma, I paid that price.
But folks kept after me to look in my stone--mauger my rectitude, how could I say them Nay? Came home one day with ten quarts of fine white sand tied up in my frock, and when they wanted to know what was in it it came to me to say what I heard about a history found in Canada called the Golden Bible and I told them that’s what it was. They believed it, and that was when I felt the gift. Mighty quick then the next thing came to me was to avow I was commanded to show it to none. This was the Gold of Truth I’d found: folks want to be fooled.
A Marvelous Work and a Wonder
First the way I told it was that a white salamander, then I said an angel named Moroni gave me black clothes, put me on a black horse with a switch tail, and told me where to find the drumlin I later called Cumorah Hill. I was to call out a secret name. The Treasure would be in a stone box, unsealed, and so near the top of the ground the box would beckon me. I harrowed it up and took out the Golden book but when I turned round up started a great toad and smote me on the head with a rock.We wrestled something prodigious. Maugur his demency I never let him go.
The plates was writ in reformed Egyptian, I said, and
only I could read it, but since I couldn’t write, I
set Emma to take down my words and later Martin Harris
who mortgaged his farm. My word-smithing went slow
since nothing could be revised. I’d read Josiah
Priest’s American Antiquities and
Ethan Smith’s The Ten Tribes of Israel in
What I was going to write would be a Marvelous Work and a Wonder, it would be the stick of Joseph taken from the hand of Ephraim, but first I had to read it aloud through the stone held in my hat. Words kept coming to me but slow because I had to get it right the first time. I’m an unlearned man but I felt a flow of pure intelligence.
When the stream ran dry and sometimes it would I had my Nephite prophets quote the Bible. Carpers and cavilers later counted 25,000 words in my book that was bits from the Old Testament--mainly from the chapters of Isaiah used by Ethan Smith.
I admit there was some gravel got mixed with the Gold,
and even a whiff of chloroform--someone counted that I
said “And it came to pass” two thousand times. Neither
Emma nor Martin could punctuate worth a hog slobber
and when we went to press there was hardly a capital
or a comma in the whole shebang. The typesetters broke
up the clauses so that of the first two hundred
sentences 140 of them began with “And.” But I had
high-class murders, battles enough to choke a camel,
and with the Lord of Hosts for me who could be
I whaled the daylights out of the Freemasons. William Morgan was carried off and killed just nine miles from where I lived cause he promised an exposay of their secret rites and oaths. We had trials galore but no convictions till a corpse washed up on the shore of Lake Ontario and people said it was Morgan. We kept the funeral back till election day then held obsequies for the Masonic martyr. Though someone showed the corpse wasn’t Morgan but a man named Monroe the country stayed delirious with hate and the Democrats ran scared.
The writing on the plates, I said, were in “reformed
Egyptian.” Looking back now I see I timed that just
right. It wasn’t till 1837 that this Champion fellow
read the Rosetta Stone
Caractors in ancient Egyptian shorthand was what I called them when I had to show a sample.
Lamanite inscriptions, I’d say, paintings, and hieroglyphs on the rocks of this continent that only I could read. To the Nephite record I added the story of the Jaredites. It told how they had fled the tower of Babel about 2500 BC in eight watertight barges made so they’d sail any-side up with windows in both the top and the bottom. And this was the way of it and how Hebrews first came to North America.
I made some bloopers too. I had John baptizing in Bethbara and Jesus born in Jerusalem but I turned all that to good account by telling my people God preferred the weak things of the world, the unlearned and the despised, as an iron rod to thrash the Nations.
[several missing pages] * * *
Over my corpse the widow of William Morgan of Masonic memory wept. Fearing gentile vandals, they filled the pine box they put into the grave with sand. My people had learned a thing or two. Sand outweighs Gold or Death sayeth not.
My martyrdom showed that God had placed His Seal upon me. My legend became epic then Truth. All traces of fallibility and fraud removed. It glued the Church together and made my mouth words Truth.
No man knows my history.
I was ordained from before the foundation of the world,
From Cumorah Hill to Carthage jail
Gravel and sand