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Lesson Four: Joseph Smith

and the Treasure Guardian: 


The Unofficial LDS Family Home Evening Resource Book




The subject matter and reading level in this lesson is for everyone who is willing and able to understand the truth at any age pre-teen through adult. It is an earnest discussion about treasure guardians, magic and money digging, as recorded in early accounts of Joseph Smith's history. It will take the reader beyond a milk only diet; so, be prepared for a solid meal.




This lesson encourages the family to better understand the beginnings of Mormonism by looking into accounts of Joseph Smith's life during the same time he was being visited by the "angel"1 who was guarding the golden plates. 




Read what a teacher from BYU said about a few early accounts of Joseph Smith obtaining the golden plates:


"Chase's recollection of what Joseph Smith, Sr., told him and the history by Knight both have a folklore tone to them. They both relate ... that for disobeying the orders he was prevented from obtaining the book; that the book appeared, disappeared, and reappeared after he violated orders by laying it down... and that a stone or glass was effective in helping him secure the record at last." (see lesson 1 for documentation)






 Cheesy Funeral Potatoes


cheesy funeral potatoes

Mix up a batch of cheesy funeral potatoes, adding chunks of ham to one half of the batch only; then, serve each family member two separate portions; one with ham and the other without ham. The reason for the separate portions is explained further on in this lesson. 





Read this section of the following BYU study to the family,


"That the Chase account appears in a collection of testimonials published by an anti-Mormon while the Knight narrative comes from a faithful Latter-day Saint whose statement was not published until very recently suggests that the anti-Mormon material cannot be lightly dismissed because of its origin. The anti-Mormon statements have to be checked against what is admitted by the Mormons themselves. Willard Chase very likely heard his story from Joseph Smith, Sr., as he reported this is further evidenced by an independent account published by Fayette Lapham in 1870 of an earlier interview with Joseph Smith, Sr., as to the origin of the golden plates. This report corresponds closely in some respects to what Knight and Chase recounted." (Money-Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretive Suggestion, Marvin S. Hill, BYU Studies, p. 479) [Also see Joseph Smith Papers, Lucy Smith History, pp.44 - 45]


Please keep the last quote in mind while going through this lesson because, in this lesson, we look into the Willard Chase account, the Fayette Lapham account, as well as what Joseph Knight wrote in his history. Also, keep in mind that Marvin Hill maintained,


"... the anti-Mormon material cannot be lightly dismissed because of its origin."


Marvin said that because he realized that many details spelled out in the "anti-Mormon" accounts, are the same as details mentioned in sanctioned LDS works; such as Joseph Knight's history.


Read the following statement to the family:


“For the most part, the quest for buried wealth and its associated belief system have slipped away into a forgotten world. Though strange to us today, treasure-seeking beliefs probably influenced hundreds of thousands of Europeans and thousands of early European Americans. Many early Americans believed that treasures had been secreted in the earth by ancient inhabitants of the continent, by Spanish explorers, by pirates, or even by the dwarves of European mythology. Treasure hunters usually looked for caves and lost mines or dug into hills and Native American mounds to find these hidden deposits. A legend, a treasure map, or a dream of buried wealth initiated the hunt. Local specialists were enlisted to use their divining rods or seer stones to locate the treasure. To hide from the scrutiny of skeptics and the notice of other treasure seekers, they worked under the cover of darkness. Gathering at the designated spot, the treasure seekers staked out magical circles around the treasure. They used Bible passages and hymns, prayers and incantations, ritual swords and other magical items, or even propitiatory animal sacrifices to appease or fend off preternatural guardians of the treasure. Excavation usually commenced under a rule of silence. Should someone carelessly mutter or curse, the treasure guardian could penetrate the circle or carry the treasure away through the earth.” (Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian, Mark Ashurst-McGee, FARMS Review Vol. 18 - 1 p.p. 34-100, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2006)  (see Enchantment Magic and Money Digging)


Tell the family that:


When Joseph Smith was in his late teens and early 20s, he was looked upon as a famous seer:


On this subject read the following quote:


"There had lived a few years previous to this date, in the vicinity of Great Bend, a poor man named Joseph Smith, who, with his family, had removed to the western part of the State, and lived in squalid poverty near Palmyra, in Ontario County. Mr. Stowell, while at Lanesboro, heard of the fame of one of his sons, named Joseph, who, by the aid of a magic stone had become a famous seer of lost or hidden treasures. … as a seer, by means of the stone which he placed in his hat, and by excluding the light from all other terrestrial things, could see whatever he wished, even in the depths of the earth." (CHENANGO UNION, Vol. 30, Norwich, N. Y., Thursday, May 2, 1877, No. 33, Joseph Smith The Originator of Mormonism, Historical Reminiscences of the town of Afton, BY W. D. PURPLE)


Then, read what a man working for Joseph Smith's employer, Mr. Stowell, testified to in court:


"Smith had told the Deacon [Mr. Stowell] that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences [something believed to have magical powers]. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm." (Purple account, Jonathan Thompson Testimony, 1826 Trial)


Also, read the following section from the same witness:  


"... the last time that he [Joseph Smith] looked, on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried came all fresh to his mind; that the last time that he looked, he discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk; that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside of the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed." (Jonathan Thompson testimony, Tuttle account, (NY) Court Record, 20 March 1826)


Explain to the family that the saying,


"as he supposed"


is interesting, because it demonstrates that Joseph Smith had the understanding that the spirit of a dead man could keep watch over buried treasure.


Mention to the family that both Mr. Stowell and Jonathan Thompson testified in Joseph Smith's defense in court:


 Josiah Stowell said,


“... that the prisoner possessed all the power he claimed, and declared he could see things fifty feet below the surface of the earth…” (1826 Trial, Purple account)


Jonathan Thompson stated,


“... he believes in the prisoner's professed skill...” (1826 Trial, Tuttle account)


Then, tell the family,


"Just because someone believes firmly in something does not mean it's true."


Ask the family members:


"For example: Does anyone of us believe that people can see underground by looking in a stone today; or, that treasure guardians exist in today's world?"


Listen intently and answer any questions that may arise.


Explain that,


"The world Joseph Smith lived in was brimming with folklore; and, back then people believed that spirits had buried treasure under their charge."


Then, read the account of Joseph Smith obtaining the gold plates by Willard Chase:


"In the month of June, 1827, Joseph Smith, Sen., related to me the following story: "That some years ago, a spirit had appeared to Joseph his son, in a vision, and informed him that in a certain place there was a record on plates of gold, and that he was the person that must obtain them...


On the 22d of September, he must repair to the place where was deposited this manuscript, dressed in black clothes, and riding a black horse with a switch tail, and demand the book in a certain name, and after obtaining it, he must go directly away, and neither lay it down nor look behind him. They accordingly fitted out Joseph with a suit of black clothes and borrowed a black horse. He repaired to the place of deposit and demanded the book, which was in a stone box, unsealed, and so near the top of the ground that he could see one end of it, and raising it up, took out the book of gold; but fearing some one might discover where he got it, he laid it down to place back the top stone, as he found it; and turning round, to his surprise there was no book in sight. He again opened the box, and in it saw the book, and attempted to take it out, but was hindered. He saw in the box something like a toad, which soon assumed the appearance of a man, and struck him on the side of his head. -- Not being discouraged at trifles, he again stooped down and strove to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously. After recovering from his fright, he enquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders. He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and you shall have them. This spirit, he said was the spirit of the prophet who wrote this book, and who was sent to Joseph Smith, to make known these things to him. Before the expiration of the year, his oldest brother died; which the old man said was an accidental providence!

Joseph went one year from that day, to demand the book, and the spirit enquired for his brother, and he said that he was dead. The spirit then commanded him to come again, in just one year, and bring a man with him. On asking who might be the man, he was answered that he would know him when he saw him." (MORMONISM. 242-243)


Explain that Joseph Smith had told a similar story to his close friend Joseph Knight:


"And after he had Covered the place he turned round to take the Book [golden plates] and it was not there and he was astonished that the Book was gone. He thot he would look in the place again and see if it had not got Back again. He had heard people tell of such things." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History)


Then, tell the family that when Joseph Smith told Joseph Knight:


"He had heard people tell of such things."


he was most likely referring to stories of chests full of treasure; and, the magic2 woven into those early American folktales.


Joseph Knight also wrote:


"Then he looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History)


Joseph Knight was speaking about what Joseph Smith had told him:


"he looked in his glass"


to find out who the right person was to bring with him to obtain the gold plates.


Mention to the family that back in Joseph Smith's time, a "glass" was another way to describe a seer-stone. (see documentation)


Also mention:


"A man named Fayette Lapham spoke of an interview with Joseph Smith, Sr., about the golden plates; which maintains that the person guarding the "treasure" appeared to his son Joseph Smith in bloody clothes, and told him,


"... he was murdered or slain on the spot and the treasure had been under his charge ever since." (INTERVIEW WITH THE FATHER OF JOSEPH SMITH... BY FAYETTE LAPHAM)


Tell the family:


"That story sounds a lot like the account of enchantments and bleeding ghosts spelled out by Joseph Smith's neighbors — Joseph and Hiel Lewis:"


"The statement that the prophet Joseph Smith, jr. made in our hearing, at the commencement of his translating his book, in Harmony, as to the manner of his finding the plates, was as follows.


Our recollection of the precise language may be faulty, but as to the substance, the following is correct:


He said that by a dream he was informed that at such a place in a certain hill, in an iron box, were some gold plates with curious engravings, which he must get and translate, and write a book; that the plates were to be kept concealed from every human being for a certain time, some two or three years; that he went to the place and dug till he came to the stone that covered the box, when he was knocked down; that he again attempted to remove the stone, and was again knocked down; this attempt was made the third time, and the third time he was knocked down. Then he exclaimed, 'Why can't I get it?' or words to that effect; and then he saw a man standing over the spot, which to him appeared like a Spaniard, having a long beard coming down over his breast to about here. (Smith putting his hand to the pit of his stomach) with his (the ghost's) throat cut from ear to ear, and the blood streaming down, who told him that he could not get it alone; that another person whom he, Smith, would know at first sight, must come with him, and then he could get it. And when Smith saw Miss Emma Hale, he knew that she was the person, and that after they were married, she went with him to near the place, and stood with her back toward him, while he dug up the box, which he rolled up in his frock, and she helped carry it home ..." (The Amboy Journal, April 30, 1879, page 1.)


Mention that Hiel Lewis went on to say,


"I, [Lewis] with Joshua McKune, a local preacher at that time, I think in June, 1828, heard on Saturday, that Joe Smith had joined the [Methodist] church on Wednesday afternoon, (as it was customary in those days to have circuit preaching at my father's house on week-day). We thought it was a disgrace to the church to have a practicing necromancer, a dealer in enchantments and bleeding ghosts, in it. So on Sunday we went to father's, the place of meeting that day, and got there in season to see Smith and talked with him some time in father's shop before the meeting. Told him that his occupation, habits, and moral character were at variance with the discipline, that his name would be a disgrace to the church, that there should have been recantation, confession and at least promised reformation. That he could that day publicly ask that his name be stricken from the class book, or stand an investigation. He chose the former, and did that very day make the request that his name be taken off the class book." (The Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, p.1)


Explain to the family,


"Early versions of Joseph Smith's treasure guardian stories are like the funeral potatoes with ham, while later accounts without certain details are like the funeral potatoes without ham."


Then, ask the family members,


"Who likes their cheesy potatoes better with ham?"


Kindly respond to the answers given.


Then, let the family know,


"We can learn more about Joseph Smith's accounts of obtaining the golden plates by studying those accounts."


Ask the family,


 "Would anyone care to learn more?"


Compliment those who want to study the subject further; and then, plan the next lesson.




FHE Index



Other articles of Interest:


1. Excerpts from LDS.org: Joseph Smith's Use of Seer Stones

2. Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts

3. Enchantment — Magic and Money Digging 

4. Those Mysterious Golden Plates




1. "I fell into transgressions and sinned in many things which brought a wound upon my soul and there were many things which transpired that cannot be writen and my Fathers family have suffered many persicutions and afflictions and it came to pass when I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was by night and he called me by name and he said the Lord had forgiven me my sins and he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days and deposited by th[e] commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them and he revealed unto me many things concerning the inhabitents of of the earth which since have been revealed in com mandments & revelations and it was on the 22d day of Sept. AD 1822 and thus he appeared unto me three times in one night and once on the next day and then I immediately went to the place and found where the plates was deposited as the angel of the Lord had commanded me and straightway made three attempts to get them and then being excedingly frightened I supposed it had been a dreem of Vision but when I considred I knew that it was not therefore I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul why can I not obtain them behold the angel appeared unto me again and said unto me you have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave unto you therefore you cannot now obtain them for the time is not yet fulfilled..." (Letterbook I, Joseph Smith Papers) (Note: This angel speaks of "Maroni" [Moroni] yet he was clearly not referring to himself - see documentation)


2. "When the Manchester treasure seekers came looking for the plates, they brought divining rods and seer stones to assist them—the same kind of objects Joseph, and later Oliver, used to receive revelation." 'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God': Joseph Smith's Account of the Angel and the Plates, Larry R. Morris, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2005).


treasure guardians, guardian, lds, joseph smith history, moroni, golden plates, fhe lesson