Thanks to the esteemable Dallas Robbins (see comment number 9), for the past two years or so mine has been the email of choice for folks interested in finding out whether Cain is actually Bigfoot.
This has not been entirely a bad thing. Gmail’s pretty good about spam, and I’ve made a few interesting acquaintances. Their ranks, with one notable exception, are rather less wacky then you might expect. (I found the same to be true of the MUFON people, who asked me to present the paper at one of their Salt Lake City conferences.) They are also somewhat more numerous. Fortunately, the paper is now published,* and I can simply refer my new friends there (after assuring them – to their occasional disappointment, that I cannot provide them a smoking Bigfoot gun).
In any case, because I enjoy blogs that reproduce primary sources, I’ve decided to reprint my correspondence with one such investigator below. I’ve removed his name and everything he wrote, so what’s here are my words, slightly edited.
This hopefully will also provide interested readers with a survey of the paper.
On August 31, 2007, at 10:46 AM, Correspondent notes that he saw my email on the above link, and requests a copy of the paper.
On August 31, 2007,at 1:15 PM, I wrote:
I’m overwhelmed by the interest I’m getting in the paper. Unfortunately, I’m not distributing it right now because it’s in the publication process – it’ll appear in the next issue of the Journal of Mormon History.
I can, however, summarize it:
The paper is based on David Patten’s story of encountering Cain, whom he described as very tall and covered in dark hair, in 1835, as described in a letter published in Lycurgus Wilson’s biography of Patten. Spencer Kimball copied the letter in Miracle of Forgiveness. I found evidence, including a poem referencing the event by Eliza R. Snow and records of Quorum of the 12 meetings, that this story was widely circulated in the 19th century. In Church Archives I found a similar story; a page marked “from the papers of E. Wesley Smith,” mission president in Hawaii in the 1920s and brother of Joseph Fielding Smith, describing Wesley’s meeting with Cain, and explaining that his brother told him of David Patten’s encounter.
I tied all this evidence, together with numerous folktales about Cain, into 19th century Mormon conceptions of evil, arguing that a physical, embodied Cain represented the very material conception of the struggle between good and evil that Mormon leaders expounded upon then – Heber Kimball being harassed by demons in England and such. More recently, however, particularly after the ban on African men holding the priesthood has been lifted, such conceptions of evil have shifted; Cain is no longer seen as literally the father of the African race, as folk doctrine once held, and evil is now experienced as wrong action rather than in terms of demonic, physical confrontation. Thus, Cain’s identification as Bigfoot has provided Mormons with a way to assimilate the claims of folktale with new conceptions of what Cain, the embodiment of evil, should be like.
On August 31, 2007, at 2:35 PM, Correspondent asked three follow up questions – first, he wanted further information on the E. Wesley Smith story; secondly, he inquired whether I’ve read Seth Lester’s Clan of Cain; thirdly, he wondered if Cain, in any of his appearances, had made claims to being translated, and further, why those he appeared to would take any such claims as truth (him being Cain, Master Mahan, son of perdition and all).
On August 31, 2007, at 3:18 PM, I replied
1) I indeed have read Clan of Cain, and mention it in the paper. Lester begins the novel by fictionalizing Patten’s story in a prologue, then jumps forward to the present day. He bases his bigfoot mythology on the Patten story, and gives Cain a family of other bigfoot-type creatures. It was published by Booklocker, which is an internet semi-vanity press. You can order it via Amazon or booklocker.com.
2)As to Smith – I don’t have the materials on hand, but the gist of it is as follows: the manuscript I cite is in Church Archives; it describes Wesley being attacked by a huge, hairy creature, whom Smith drives off in the name of Christ and by the power of the priesthood. He then goes to Joseph Fielding Smith, who tells Wesley that it was Cain, and gives him a copy of Patten’s own story, which would seem to imply that Fielding believed it, if the manuscript is to be believed.
Anyhow, I’ve purposely avoided making my own judgment calls about truth claims here – indeed, I avoid making arguments about it in the paper in favor of merely discussing the ways Mormons have thought about the folklore. However, none of the sources I’ve dug through describe Cain as being translated; rather, they discuss his state as a “curse” – Cain himself, in the Patten story, describes himself as a “very miserable creature, who could not die;” JFS, in the Wesley Smith story, uses similar wording that I don’t want to try to reproduce from memory. It is true that virtually all assume Cain has a body; there’s some minor theology going on about his relationship to Satan because of that. The state of that body, though, would lend credence to the curse rather than translation theory – he’s warped and animalistic, universally describes as hideous and almost subhuman. Far from a translated body.
*Journal of Mormon History, Fall 2007. Subscribe!