Leland H. Gentry and Todd M. Compton. Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2010. Hardcover, 7×10″, 641 pages.
Many Mormon dreams flourished in Missouri. So did many Mormon nightmares. The Missouri period–especially from the summer of 1838 when Joseph took over vigorous, personal direction of this new Zion until the spring of 1839 when he escaped after five months of imprisonment–represents a moment of intense crisis in Mormon history. Representing the greatest extremes of devotion and violence, commitment and intolerance, physical suffering and terror–mobbings, battles, massacres, and political “knockdowns”–it shadowed the Mormon psyche for a century. Leland Gentry was the first to step beyond this disturbing period as a one-sided symbol of religious persecution and move toward understanding it with careful documentation and evenhanded analysis. In Fire and Sword, Todd Compton collaborates with Gentry to update this foundational work with four decades of new scholarship, more insightful critical theory, and the wealth of resources that have become electronically available in the last few years. Compton gives full credit to Leland Gentry’s extraordinary achievement, particularly in documenting the existence of Danites and in attempting to tell the Missourians’ side of the story; but he also goes far beyond it, gracefully drawing into the dialogue signal interpretations written since Gentry and introducing the raw urgency of personal writings, eyewitness journalists, and bemused politicians seesawing between human compassion and partisan harshness. In the lush Missouri landscape of the Mormon imagination where Adam and Eve had walked out of the garden and where Adam would return to preside over his posterity, the towering religious creativity of Joseph Smith and clash of religious stereotypes created a swift and traumatic frontier drama that changed the Church.