Joseph Smith has been known for over a century as a famous
Mormon figure and as well as the Mormon creator and leader. Joseph Smith was
born on December 23rd of 1805 (PBS). His parents were Joseph and
Lucy Smith. Joseph spent much of his life on tenant farms doing labor work.
Joseph Smith never had an actual form education. Even though he lacked a formal
education, Smith was instructed in reading, as well as writing and math (PBS). The Kinderhook Plates are certainly tied with
Joseph Smith, and an infamous archaeological hoax.
One main question
that comes to mind is, exactly what were the Kinderhook Plates? The Kinderhook
Plates were a set of six plates that were engraved with what appeared to
perhaps being ancient writing (fairmorom.org). To better understand the
Kinderhook Plate Hoax, I feel background information on Joseph Smith is very
important. It is also important that the Golden Plates are discussed as they
led to the creation of the Kinderhook Plates themselves thus being in relation
directly with the Kinderhook Plates.
Smith did lack a formal education, he often read the bible, and when reading
the bible he came upon scripture that read for whose would needed wisdom,
should read the bible and ask of God (PBS). So, that is what Joseph Smith did.
In the year 1823,
Smith claimed he was visited by an angel. This angel was named Moroni. This
angel told Smith about Golden Plates (not Kinderhook Plates quite yet), moving
ahead to 1827, Smith began translating these thin Golden Plates. With these plates
Smith began to translate; “The Gift of God” (PBS, Book of Mormon Title Page).
Joseph Smith when he was visited by the Father and Jesus Christ, he was told
that he should not join any churches, thus him creating his own. In 1830 (April
30th), Smith created his own church, known as the Latter-day Saints. Smith,
after creating his own church, became its first President (PBS). Smith himself
had married in 1827, to Emma Hale. Emma Hale Smith is well known in the Mormon
Emma Hale Smith
herself was known to be a strong person. According to, “What You Didn’t Know
About Emma Smith” Rosner, “Her
mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith, said of her: “I have never seen a woman in my
life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to
month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal, and
patience, which she has ever done; for I know that which she has had to endure
…”(What You Didn’t
Know About Emma Smith | LDS Living). However, both Joseph
Smith and Emma Hale Smith’s lives were surrounded by much controversy, even
though Emma Smith was liked by many people. This controversy led to the
One main controversy with Joseph Smith was
the discovery of the Golden Plates. Using Occam’s razor, one can draw that the
plates never existed. Smith never gives a weight for the plates. According to
Kimball; “Given these dimensions, we can conclude that the plates were
one-sixth of a cubic foot. Since gold weighs 1,204 pounds per cubic foot, we
can agree with LDS Apostle John Widtsoe who said “If the gold were pure, the
plates would weigh two hundred pounds, which would be a heavy weight for a man
to carry, even though he was of the athletic type of Joseph Smith.” Though
several illustrations of the plates depict what looks like a virtual compressed
set of metal sheets, Mormons often insist that handmade gold plates would not
lay perfectly flat, thus allowing for air gaps between the leaves, making them
much lighter. This argument ignores the fact that gold…” (http://www.equip.org/article/problems-with-the-gold-plates-of-the-book-of-mormon-2/).
The plates would have literally been a block of gold, thus making them extremely
heavy and thus impossible for a man himself to carry, Smith claimed he carried
them himself, many believe this would be near impossible.
This would have made it extremely hard for
anyone to carry, even Joseph Smith himself. Many Mormons have come up with
theories as to how he could have carried these, all leading up to the
Kinderhook Plate Hoax. A part of the Mormon argument is that the plates would
not be flat, therefore easier to handle. Air would somehow make the plates
lighter to carry. According to McGeever, if Smith was given God’s help to carry
the plates he would have credited God for doing so, which Smith did not.
Moving into the Kinderhook Plate Hoax, the
year was 1843. It was May and the location was Nauvoo, Illinois. News spread
through the printed press. An article was reported through the publication
called the Church publication “Times and
The discovery was a big deal for the people of Kinderhook and they wanted to
know more about it.
According to the “Times and Seasons”; these plates were found near an Indian Mound.
The plates were discovered by a merchant whose name was Robert Wiley. He
commenced a large spot and began to dig. At first, he had claimed to find much rock;
he was not alone and had citizens to help with digging. Robert Wiley and fellow
citizens also claimed to find human remains (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/08/kinderhook-plates-brought-to-joseph-smith-appear-to-be-a-nineteenth-century-hoax?lang=eng).
Wiley dug about ten feet deep, and then rain began to fall. Much of what they
had claimed to find had been burnt, including bones, there is still debate on
how this happened.
Through this pile of dirt and human remains
a bundle of six brass plates was found. Each plate was in a bell shape; with
holes on the end (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/08/kinderhook-plates-brought-to-joseph-smith-appear-to-be-a-nineteenth-century-hoax?lang=eng).
Each plate also had two clasps. The iron on the plates was much oxidized. Some
plates seemed to be made of copper.
Wiley and the citizens noticed there was
what appeared to be ancient writing on the plates. Although, it was agreed upon
that the plates be cleaned. According to Kimball, “It was agreed by the company
that I should cleanse the plates: accordingly I took them to my house, washed
them with soap and water, and a woolen cloth; but finding them not yet cleansed
I treated them with dilute sulphuric acid which made them perfectly clean, on
which it appeared that they were completely covered with hieroglyphics that
none as yet have been able to read” (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/08/kinderhook-plates-brought-to-joseph-smith-appear-to-be-a-nineteenth-century-hoax?lang=eng).
Wiley, claimed he cleaned the plates. He also saw the hieroglyphics, and said
no one had yet been able to read them.
No one was able to read the supposed
hieroglyphics. Many people were very excited by the discovery of the plates. These
plates were considered very important, even after Smith’s death (https://greatandspacious.com/2017/07/04/why-the-kinderhook-plates/).
Because of the excitement, the plates were brought to Nauvoo. Many felt the
plates could be very important. It of course was known that if anyone could
read them, surely Smith could.
and Seasons” promised they would publish news once they translated the plates,
and they promised they would notify the public as soon as the context was of
the plates was known. It was thought that these plates could prove some of the Book of Mormon to be true. At first, it
was said that was man that actually had owned the plates had apparently taken
People waited for the Times and Seasons to release the translation of the plates. There
were also thoughts that perhaps the plates were actually written by Smith
On May the 1st Clayton whom was Joseph Smith’s secretary stated “I have
translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person
with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of
Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of
heaven and earth.” (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/08/kinderhook-plates-brought-to-joseph-smith-appear-to-be-a-nineteenth-century-hoax?lang=eng)”.
It is known that Clayton often wrote things for Smith himself, so it is hard to
know who actually wrote certain things. It is hard also for many people to know
where Clayton even came up with his ideas. Some to this day, still say Clayton
wrote them, others say Smith did.
Many years later by 1912, many reports came
out that the plates were in fact, not real. Apparently, a blacksmith had
admitted he was the one who wrote on the plates. However, it was not cut and
dry either. Reports had also said that Wiley was actually the one who wrote on
the plates, not a blacksmith. And as we already know, Wiley was the one who
“discovered them”. Still, much debate went on.
Later, it also came out that nitric acid
was actually put on the plates before putting them in the ground. Than later
much truth came out about the plates. A man named Bridge Whitton admitted they
made the plates to prove Smith was a joke and went on to tell the story about
how exactly they did it, and the reasons behind why they did it was now coming
out a man named Fugate was also in on the hoax.
It was also know that a lot of Smith’s
writing was actually from other people’s writings. Although this was really not
uncommon, Smith was not alone in this. In the nineteenth century, many people
wrote “biographies” for other people. More evidence came out further proving
the plates were not real. A letter written by Fugate was discovered and he was
Many years passed and people still
questioned the plates. One of the many reasons this went on for so long to due
to the fact that certain testing was not invented at the time they plates were
discovered. This prolonged the process is revealing whether or not they were
authentic. It was not until the year 1920 that some testing came out to prove
the plates to be real or fake.
By the year 1920, only one plate was
currently remaining. This also caused some problems, but nonetheless it was a
“real” Kinderhook Plate, so it was fine to test. It was later discovered that
Wiley sold the other plates to some museum. Ultimately, the Chicago Museum
ended up with the last plate. It was
gifted to them. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/08/kinderhook-plates-brought-to-joseph-smith-appear-to-be-a-nineteenth-century-hoax?lang=eng).
Some questioned the plates themselves. Were
they really even engraved at all? Were they just drawn on? Some said if they
were engraved, than they could be ancient, the possibly is there. Then of
course the material they were made out of was questioned. Were they even really
copper? Metal? What could they be made out of? Again, this was a hard question
to answer back when they were discovered.
Testing ultimately could and would prove
the plates to be fakes. But ultimately, how was this done? Testing the metal
proved the plates to be a nineteenth century hoax. But still further examining
was performed. Some explained Smith was able to read them because he used Egyptian
language in order to make out the language. Smith said he just used Egyptian
lettering and was able to read the plates from there to try to explain himself.
Wiley also admitted they used beeswax and
acid on the plates to get the lettering to stick. It was not until the 1970’s
that the metal was tested and of course it revealed that the plates were really
just copper. Some people believed Smith’s explanation as he did mention an
Egyptian Pharaoh in the translation.
More evidence that were plates were bogus
is that Clayton’s cousin got involved. Cautt, Clayton’s cousin also claimed to
see all six plates. They both have different stories about actually even seeing
the plates. Another man named Pratt also claimed to see them. Again Clayton is
important because he worked with Smith much of the time, especially the last
two years of Smith’s life (https://www.fairmormon.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Don-Bradley-Kinderhook-President-Joseph-Has-Translated-a-Portion-1.pdf).
Their stories, of course did not match up.
There were many small differences seen
between Clayton and Pratt, Clayton said some “persons” discovered them, while
Pratt said it was just a gentleman. Some things were somewhat similar, such as
Clayton saying they were brass, and Pratt said appearing of brass. Clayton had
noted that the skeleton body was nine feet high; while Pratt had a different
explanation. Pratt said it was made of cement. One major difference between
Pratt and Clayton were the feet they said the mound was. Clayton said only six feet,
while Pratt said fifteen feet underground. Which brought me to “A Demon Haunted World”, “The evidence
is crummy,” I kept saying. “There’s a much simpler explanation” (Sagan 1996:
Using Sagan’s theory, this evidence is
non-solid and crummy as well. A simpler explanation would be that the
Kinderhook Plates were simply fake, and they were simply made to trick Joseph
Smith. Ultimately here, a hoaxer got hoaxed. The Kinderhook Plates can teach us
much about Joseph Smith, as well as the hoaxers themselves.
First, we can realize that Joseph Smith
himself was able to get himself hoaxed, even though many excuses were made for
him later. Second, that technology was able prove the Kinderhook Plates were
fake, which hopefully will prevent hoaxes from happening in the future. Taking
what we learned from class, hoaxes matter much more than just the hoax
themselves, but the fact that powerful people can have a big impact what on we
see as real and fake.