This afternoon, halfway through a wonderful presentation by David Whittaker on the relationship between Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane, I realized that I probably should have brought my laptop so I could have taken notes to share. As a form of repentance, I figured I should post the remaining schedule on what should be a very interesting lecture series over the next six months:
Thomas L Kane
Exhibition Lecture Series
Thursday, September 11, 2pm: “‘My Dear Friend': The Correspondence between Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane,” by David J. Whittaker.
Wednesday, October 8, 3pm: “Thomas L. Kane and the Mormons at the Missouri, 1847-1852,” by Richard E. Bennett.
Wednesday, November 12, 3pm: “Thomas L. Kane and the Utah War,” by William P. MacKinnon.
Wednesday, December 10, 3pm: “Thomas L. Kane and the ‘Mormon Problem’ in National Politics,” by Thomas G. Alexander
Wednesday, January 14, 3pm: “Twelve Mormon Homes: Touring Utah with Elizabeth & Thomas L. Kane in 1872-73,” by Lowell “Ben” Bennion and Thomas Carter.
Wednesday, February 11, 3pm: “Tom and Bessie Kane & the Mormons,” by Edward A. Geary.
Thursday, March 12, 2pm: “Thomas L. Kane and Nineteenth-Century America,” by Matthew J. Grow.
All of the lectures will be held in the BYU Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium, and there is a corresponding exhibition in the Special Collections starting next month. Both the exhibition and the lecture series are co-sponsored by the L. Tom Perry Special Collections and BYU Studies, and BYU Studies plans to publish all the papers as a book. This is in honor of the Thomas L. Kane Papers Collection they have accumulated over the last couple decades, a collection that sounds very impressive.
A couple scattered notes on David Whittaker’s presentation today:
There are over 120 letters between Brigham Young and Thomas Kane. These letters were pretty consistent from 1846 until 1877, with a few busy years (including during the Utah War in 1857) and a few quiet years (while Kane fought in the Civil War). Some letters were as short as a few lines, while others are as long as nine pages. Almost all of them are very personable and informative. Dr. Whittaker read some longer sections, and they reminded me of BY’s letters to his sons: they present a much different man than we usually think of. He was very kind, sympathetic, and showed great love towards Kane. In one letter he expressed how much he wished Kane would join the Church, but then said something like, “it doesn’t matter, I’m sure you’ll join it in the spirit world.”
Since Kane was so kind to the Mormons, many non-Mormons believed that he was secretly baptized. Even Kane’s wife seemed to think so, writing in a letter after her husband’s death about how the Mormons performed some dunking ritual on him. However, Whittaker says it is pretty clear that Kane never became a member (Cannon was baptized for him a year after Kane’s death), and thinks the incident Kane’s wife is referring to was probably a baptism for health. Whittaker went into Kane’s spirituality a little bit, but not in great detail.
Later on in their relationship, Kane decided he wanted to write Brigham’s biography, so he started gathering information on him and had BY write several almost autobiographical letters so he could get a better background.
Kane might have been the one to convince BY to start the Brigham Young Acadamy. During his stay with Young in St. George in the winter of 1872, it seems one of their most common conversations was on education. Then, their next few letters continued the discussion, with BY finally making the decision to start the school the next year. When Kane heard the news, he said he was thoroughly delighted by it.
BY didn’t tell Kane about polygamy for quite some time. Then, when Kane was helping Jedediah Grant formulate a letter concerning Utah’s “runaway judges,” and helping the Mormons refute the bad things being said about them, Grant finally informed him that the polygamy rumor was true. In Kane’s next letter, he boldly told Young that this practice was wrong, but since it was in such a bold and up-front way, they still respected each other and their friendship didn’t miss a beat. It seems that once Kane got it off his chest, all was ok.
Elizabeth had a hard time getting used to the Mormons. She was very hesitant when they went to live in St. George for the winter. Then, one day when Kane wasn’t feeling really well (he struggled with health all his life), Elizabeth returned from a walk to see BY kneeling at her husband’s bedside praying for him while Kane slept. This touched her so deeply that she wrote in her journal that night that she wanted to erase everything negative she ever said about the Mormons.
Whittaker said many more fascinating things, but I’m sure this is enough to whet your whistle.
 I was privileged to have my wife with me at the lecture, and after Whittaker talked about baptisms for health, mentioning that when the tabernacle was originally built there was a night a week set apart for healt baptisms, my wife leaned over and we had the following conversation:
Her: So, they would take the sick people and baptize them all in the Tabernacle’s font to make them feel better?
Her: So, your telling me that the way they came up with to heal the sick was to gather them all together, baptize them one by one, and thereby turn the commonly-used baptismal font into a sickness-filled pool?