On Fawn Brodie's "No Man Knows My History" & the Polygs in My Backyard

So I recently finished Fawn Brodie’s biography of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, and I rank it as one of the best biographies of an historical American figure I’ve ever read, although T.J. Stiles’s Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War is a close second. Both feature frightening depictions of Independence, Missouri in the pre-Civil War era. The Haun’s Mill Massacre episode and its aftermath—when the Mormons were expelled from Far West, Missouri—should be a movie, and shows the violent and shocking side of frontier life.
What’s most impressive about Fawn Brodie’s explanation and explication of Joseph Smith: She makes the wacky ways of the early Mormons—the gold plates, the seer stones, the invented history of the Native Americans and Jesus in the New World, and polygamy—make total sense. In the East this seems like a quaint, odd corner of American history. In the West it’s part of our daily life. The other day the playground where my daughter slides and swings was full of girls in prairie dresses. Some of them might be Amish or Mennonite, as we have a community of both in Custer County, but we also have a FLDS community here, too, newly formed and growing. One of their 80-acre plots of land is only a couple miles from my house.
The story of how polygamy developed in the Mormon church is odd and rather unremarkable, save for the ego and energy of Joe Smith, and the fact that it has lived on, even after the U.S. government made the Mormons give it up. I’m a fan of HBO’s Big Love, which recently wrapped up its third season. It seems fairly realistic but for the main family of Bill Paxton, Chloe Sevigny, Jeanne Tripplehorn, et al. They seem a bit too glamorous for that world.

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