The Mormon Temple Lot Case : Space, Memory, and Identity in a Divided New Religion
University of Texas at Austin
Mormonism is among the most studied religious phenomena of American history. Yet little attention has been devoted to one of its most telling and, at the time, most famous chapters, the "Temple Lot Case" of 1891-1896, a legal battle over sacred space, cultural memory, group identity, and judicial intervention in religion. The suit involved three rival Mormon sects: Granville Hedrick's Church of Christ, based in Independence, Missouri; Joseph Smith III's Reorganized Church, based in Lamoni, Iowa; and Brigham Young's LDS Church, based in Utah. In previous decades, the churches had forged distinct identities from one another, stemming from their divergent interpretations of Mormonism's founding prophet, Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844). The "Hedrickites" lionized the teachings of Smith's early years, the "Josephites" emphasized the moderate teachings of Smith's middle years, and the "Brighamites" institutionalized the controversial semi-secret teachings of Smith's final years. In 1891, the Reorganized Church filed suit in the Eighth Federal Circuit Court for possession of the Temple Lot Smith dedicated at Independence in 1831. The Hedrickites owned it, the Josephites thought they had a better claim to it, and the Brighamites sought to prevent the Josephites from obtaining it. The Reorganized Church presented evidence demonstrating it was the rightful successor of Joseph Smith's church; the Hedrickites and Brighamites countered with evidence of their own. The case produced an array of notable witnesses, including elites from Mormonism's founding generation, leaders from its divided second generation, and figures from Missouri's colorful past. Newspapers from the New York Times to the Anaconda Standard followed the suit closely. The present work is the first book-length study of the Temple Lot Case. It offers one of the most in-depth treatments of a U.S. religious property suit to date. It chronicles the establishment and fragmentation of arguably America's most successful native-born religion. It examines the contestation of an American sacred space. And it traces the differentiation of collective memory and identity among competing religious siblings.