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Brigham Young University Studies Vol. 24 (1984)
The past year intensified the study of the Prophet’s early life because of the release of two “treasure letters” seeming to illuminate the pre-Book of Mormon period. The questionable letter of Joseph Smith to Josiah Stowell in 1825 has a “clever spirit” guarding a treasure hoard. The questionable 1830 letter from Martin Harris to William W. Phelps claims that Joseph spoke of a salamander and “old spirit” at the hill in 1827, though Joseph’s real experience could be obscured by such a singular secondhand report. Publicity on these documents has stimulated research and reevaluation, some of it asserting a lifelong interest of the Prophet in paranormal discovery of riches. This paper examines the basis of such claims after 1827 and finds them wanting. Editor’s Note: The online version of this article was revised after it became public knowledge that the 1830 Martin Harris letter referred to in the article was a Mark Hofmann forgery.