*This article is being offered free as a courtesy to lds.org as it was footnoted in an expanded Gospel Topic on their site.
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.
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.