I spent April 18 through May 5, 2010 in our Park City, Utah home. My original plan was to fulfill a teaching assignment at Utah State University in Logan during the first week, spend the second week attending the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference in Salt Lake, spend a few days working on the Miller Eccles website, then return home. Dawn stayed home as she had classes to teach and had already traveled quite a bit recently.
The first week went according to schedule, as I drove to Logan and back (a three-and-a-half hour round trip) on Tuesday and Thursday (May 20 and 22) to teach in Dr. Philip Barlow’s Mormon Studies class. Dr. Barlow specializes in American religious history and religious geography. After graduating from Weber State University, he obtained a masters and then a doctorate in theology at Harvard Divinity School. Phil and I serve together on the board of directors of Dialogue Foundation, publisher of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. While visiting in his office we had a nice opportunity to discuss issues related to same-sex marriage and to get to know each other better.
Phil’s office is on the third floor Old Main, the iconic and historic building that a visitor first sees when approaching the college. It was there when my parents graduated from Utah State. Both of us treasure opportunities to exercise, so we walked up and down the stairs each time we went to Phil’s office.
When I appeared in Logan on Tuesday I took the persona of Justin Butterfield, the United States Attorney for the District of Illinois in 1843. I even wore my nineteenth-century lawyer outfit, complete with stovepipe hat. I told the story of Missouri’s attempt to extradite Joseph Smith to stand trial for his alleged participation as an “accessory before the fact” to the attempted murder of ex- Governor Lilburn Boggs. I sought to speak in the voice of Butterfield, explaining the facts as he might, if he were delivering the lecture. I think that speaking in the first person helped the students visualize what the Illinois political climate was like in those days.
On Thursday I assumed the role of a scriptwriter, pitching an idea for a possible movie. The script would be based on a paper I’m preparing (which in turn is based on a presentation I gave at a Mormon History Association conference) titled “’Kidnapping’ at Palestine Grove: Missouri’s Third Attempt to Extradite Joseph Smith.”
The third extradition attempt lends itself to a film treatment because it contains plenty of action, excitement and humor and would have scenes in several disparate Illinois locations, such as Palestine Grove, Paw Paw Grove, Nauvoo, Springfield, and on the Illinois River. I livened the presentation up a bit as I asked for suggestions on who I should ask to play the key roles. I had previously asked Matt and Dawn to give me some of their ideas, which I found very helpful.
I inserted pictures of my casting choices into my PowerPoint: Bradley Cooper (as Joseph Smith), Sandra Bullock (as Emma Smith), Billy Bob Thornton (as Missouri Sheriff Reynolds); Jude Law (as Carthage Constable Wilson), Edward Norton (as the scribe William Clayton), Viggo Mortensen (as the bodyguard Stephen Markham), Alan Rickman (as the attorney Cyrus Walker) and Clint Eastwood (as the old man David Town, who tells Sheriff Reynolds to “sit down and shut your face” when the party is in Paw Paw Grove and Reynolds is trying to prevent Joseph from preaching).
What do you think of these choices?
Of course, I used PowerPoint presentations both days to illustrate and amplify my lectures. I had a wonderful experience, meeting groups of students both days for lunch and visiting with Phil Barlow after class. The students were attentive and seemed engaged. The class was longer than usual (about an hour and a half), so I was able to leave ample time for questions, which provided some interesting discussion points.
On Tuesday I had a chance to visit my uncle and aunt, Vern and Nancy Ashcroft, who live in North Logan, and to have dinner with Phil and his lovely wife, Debbie at Hamilton’s Steak & Seafood, one of Logan’s nicest restaurants. I ordered citrus rubbed salmon, fresh dill, capers, artichokes, sweet and russet potato fries & roasted root vegetables. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it!
On the way back to Park City I stopped in Salt Lake and picked up the audio version of Gerald Lund’s The Undaunted (the book I’m reviewing for The Journal of Mormon History) and took some pictures of Temple Square, where the tulips were especially colorful.
It was an enjoyable week – and would have been even more so if I didn’t know that I would have to prepare for my appearance in Cambridge at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government the following week to speak on a panel titled “Is Marriage a Right?” Being an apprehensive person by nature and having a tendency to overprepare most things, the overhang of this event sucked every ounce of energy and every minute of free time as I tried to determine what approach I would take.
But more about that in my next blog post.
 Phil is author of the book Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion, and co-authored the New Historical Atlas of Religion in America, a fascinating and beautifully-produced book filled with maps showing the dispersion of various religions across our country.
 It is the case on which my BYU Studies article titled The Boggs Shooting and Attempted Extradition: Joseph Smith’s Most Famous Case was based.