Saturday, January 24, 2009

Willard Washington Bean

I have recently received some manuscripts from the Church Archives about Cane Creek. The first manuscript I have looked through was written by Willard Bean.

Now some of you may know of Willard Bean as the man tapped by Joseph F. Smith to manage the Smith Family farm in Palmyra for the Church. The Church had purchased the farm with the understanding that the current inhabitant, William Avery Chapman, could stay there until he found a new home. After seven years, Chapman found a new home and Willard Bean and his wife were asked to live there, maintain the farm and become friends with the local people. He also quietly purchased land in the area as it became available, including the Hill Cumorah, the Martin Harris and Peter Whitmer Farms, and the Sacred Grove.

But before this he served a mission in Tennessee. At the end of his mission, in 1895, he was authorized to visit Cane Creek in Lewis County for the purpose of learning as much as possible about the events of August 10, 1884. His charge included securing a photograph of the Conder home, which he was unable to do for lack of an available photographer.

I presume he was selected for two reasons. First he was President of the Middle Tennessee Conference, something like a Zone leader, but with far more responsibility in those days. So he had already been entrusted with considerable responsibility and had proved his ability. Second his brother had been in the area before and had befriended at least two local families. This connection proved valuable in meeting just the right people to learn what he had been asked to learn.

Bean interviewed dozens of people. Some of the interviews he “quoted” in his journal. However for most of his trip he was in “disguise” as a timber businessman. So, at best, he transcribed each night what he could recall from the day. Most of the people he recorded their names although in a few cases only a first name or last name was given. Regardless his detail is remarkable. Only a few details are obviously incorrect, but understandably so considering his methods.

For example, while interviewing a person who was farming the land around the former Conder home, but who was not an eyewitness, Bean was told that Babe Hinson was shot and that his brother (David?) had threatened to shot someone to get them to help carry him away from the farm. In truth it was David who was shot. And Babe was likely the person doing the threatening. But since the story teller was not an eyewitness, and Bean recorded the story later that night, the rolls could have been switched at some point. It doesn’t invalidate the account. It merely underscores the nature of the source. Eyewitnesses are unreliable and second hand eyewitnesses are even worse.

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