|Home English Facebook Donate|
In his History of the Church, Joseph Smith discusses six brass plates “covered with ancient characters” and a skeleton which “must have stood nine feet high” found by nine locals as they explored the area around Kinderhook, Illinois. Joseph Smith wrote, “I have translated a portion of them, and they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth…” Many years later, Wilbur Fugate, a member of the group that found them, claimed to have forged the plates in a hoax intended to expose Joseph Smith.
Overview of LDS position
Joseph’s account of the Kinderhook Plates was significant because the messages inscribed on the ancient artifacts validated the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Early Church historians such as B.H. Roberts supported the accuracy of Joseph’s account and believed the Kinderhook Plates to be genuine.
In 1980, scientists determined that one of the original Kinderhook plates was manufactured in modern times. After this information was released, most LDS defenders claimed that Joseph Smith did not utter the words recorded in Church documents. In 1981, the Church suggested Joseph did not attempt to translate them as previously believed stating, "Where the ideas written by William Clayton originated is unknown."
In 2011, LDS apologists advanced a theory explaining that Joseph attempted a secular translation of the Plates after noticing a similarity between a symbol on the Kinderhook Plates and one on the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" by Joseph Smith.
Overview of Critics' position
Critics maintain that the historical record tells the unvarnished truth of Kinderhook Plate incident. Primary sources from the time show that Wilbur Fugate tricked Joseph into "translating" forged items. The meaningless symbols inscribed on the plates were deciphered by Joseph to opportunistically reinforce the Book of Mormon. Critics assert that this incident raises deep suspicions about Joseph's claims to be a seer and revelator.
Although the saga of the Kinderhook Plates takes up eight pages of the History of the Church, many Latter-day Saints are unfamiliar with the story. In general, those who are familiar were taught to believe one of the following two versions:
Note: Below is the account the editor of the Kinderhook Plates section was taught growing up in the Church by the bishopric in his ward.
In 1843, six small metal plates with strange engravings on them were found by local townspeople in an American Indian burial mound in Kinderhook, Illinois. An LDS elder present when they excavated the mound suggested taking the unusual plates to Joseph Smith to see if he could translate what looked like ancient writing.
After examining the plates, Joseph Smith said the engravings were similar to those on the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. Joseph said these plates told a story about an ancient Jaredite who was a descendant of Ham. Joseph may have intended to do a complete translation of the plates, but died before that could be done.
Several sources at the time published accounts of the Kinderhook Plates. Their discovery, and drawings of the six plates, appeared in the Nauvoo Neighbor (a weekly newspaper edited and published by LDS Apostle John Taylor). The LDS Church newspaper Times and Seasons also ran an article on the plates and their unearthing. Joseph Smith's description of his partial translation is recorded in the History of the Church:
Many years later, a farmer, Wilbur Fugate, claimed to have forged the plates as a hoax on Joseph Smith. Faithful LDS members refuted Fulgate's story and maintained that the plates were ancient artifacts. They also held that the prophet's translation of the plates and the information about the person with whom the plates were found was accurate. Faithful LDS also attacked the credibility of the man who claimed to have forged the plates, as he didn't tell his story until many years after the prophet's death.
The plates were lost during the Civil War. One of the six plates was later discovered in a museum in Chicago. Devout Mormons believe this plate to be a forgery of plate #5, meaning that since all the original Kinderhook plates are still missing, no tangible evidence contradicts Joseph's translation.
Note: This is what most members report being taught.
These members recount a similar story to Version One. The difference here is the conclusion. These members report learning that after one of the original plates was found, tests confirmed it to be one of the authentic Kinderhook Plates. Further testing on the plate revealed that it was not ancient; rather, it was manufactured in the 1800's, in a manner consistent with Wilbur Fugate's account of the hoax he perpetrated on Joseph Smith.
The faithful say that Fugate did indeed attempt a hoax, but that the prophet never fell for it. Instead, a scribe, not Joseph Smith, wrote the brief translation of the engravings. Therefore, the "translation" did not represent Joseph Smith's words. Devout LDS members believe this account, despite the recording of the event in Joseph Smith's official History of the Church.
Note: LDS faithful supported this version until 2011, when apologists advanced a new theory. This more recent explanation maintains that Joseph did indeed start a translation of the Kinderhook Plates—after he noticed a similarity between one of the symbols on the Kinderhook Plates and a symbol that appeared in his "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" (which was made while translating the Egytpian papyrii for the Book of Abraham). Apologists explain that Joseph's interpretation of the Kinderhook Plate inscriptions was merely the result of a "secular translation" attempt, not a "spiritual" or inspired translation. 
During the Civil War, the Kinderhook Plates were apparently lost. In the early 1960's, M. Wilford Poulson, a faculty member at Brigham Young University, discovered one of the original plates in the Chicago Historical Society Museum; however, it was mislabeled as an original gold plate of the Book of Mormon. Eventually, using the Kinderhook Plates facsimiles found in the History of the Church, the plate was confirmed to be “plate no. 5.”
Professor Poulson's investigations led him to claim that the plate found in Chicago was a forgery, and not an original Kinderhook Plate. Tests on the plate were performed in 1960, 1966 and 1969; the results were inconclusive. The plates could have been made in the 1800s, as claimed by the hoaxers, or they could have been much more ancient, as the Church had always claimed.
In 1962, Welby W. Ricks, President of the BYU Archaeological Society, said that the tests proving plate 5 was a forgery put Joseph Smith's work back to the category as "genuine." Ricks also said that Joseph did translate some of the Kinderhook plates, as the Church historically taught.
In 1980, permission was obtained to use the destructive methods necessary to accurately determine the plate’s age. The resulting electronic and chemical analyses resolved that the plate was not of ancient origin. Instead, it was produced in the 1800s in a manner exactly as the hoaxer had claimed. Also, further analysis verified that this could not have been a forgery of the Kinderhook Plates, but was in fact one of the actual plates discovered in Kinderhook in 1843.
To recap, the plates have been verified to have been manufactured in the 1800s. They are not ancient. Their inscriptions are meaningless symbols conceived and invented by hoaxers: they are not letters, words, or linguistic signifiers of any kind.
This outcome raises several troubling concerns. How could the prophet Joseph Smith claim to have translated these invented symbols? Moreover, how can it be true that the made-up symbols themselves provide an account of a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as Joseph decreed? Critics cite this as validation that Joseph could not be a real seer as he claimed. For if he were a real prophet, he would not have attempted to provide a translation of fake plates.
We can place these troubling concerns into perspective by considering another aspect of the Kinderhook Plate saga: the origin of the story. The account of the Kinderhook Plates does not come from an "anti-Mormon" book. Rather, Joseph Smith relates a first-person account featured in the story in the church's official book, History of the Church. The book lists Joseph Smith as its author. Would the true church print a false record of the event in its own history book?
Note: Another apologetic theory was proposed in 2011 and is discussed below under the "Response by the church" section.
From History of the Church by Joseph Smith, Vol. 5, pp. 372-79.
(The portions highlighted in light blue-grey provide context only.)
I insert fac-similes of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook, in Pike county, Illinois, on April 23, by Mr. Robert Wiley and others, while excavating a large mound. They found a skeleton about six feet from the surface of the earth, which must have stood nine feet high. The plates were found on the breast of the skeleton and were covered on both sides with ancient characters.
I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.
I quote the following editorial from the Times and Seasons:-
Circumstances are daily transpiring which give additional testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. A few years ago, although supported by indubitable, unimpeachable testimony, it was looked upon in the same light by the world in general, and by the religious world in particular, as the expedition of Columbus to this continent was by the different courts that he visited, and laid his project before. The literati looked upon his expedition as wild and visionary, they suspected very much the integrity of his pretensions, and looked upon him-to say the least-as a fool, for entertaining such wild and visionary views. The royal courts aided by geographers, thought it was impossible that another continent should or could exist; and they were assisted in their views by the learned clergy, who, to put the matter beyond all doubt, stated that it was contrary to Scripture; that the apostles preached to all the world, and that as they did not came to America, it was impossible that there should be any such place. Thus at variance with the opinions of the great, in opposition to science and religion, he set sail, and actually came to America; it was no dream, no fiction; but a solid reality; and however unphilosophical and infidel the notion might be, men had to believe it; and it was soon found out that it would agree both with religion and philosophy.
So when the Book of Mormon first made its appearance among men, it was looked upon by many as a wild speculation, and that it was dangerous to the interest and happiness of the religious world. But when it was found to teach virtue, honesty, integrity, and pure religion, this objection was laid aside as being untenable.
We were then told that the inhabitants of this continent were and always had been a rude, barbarous race, uncouth, unlettered, and without civilization. But when they were told of the various relics that have been found indicative of civilization, intelligence, and learning,- when they were told of the wealth, architecture, and splendor of ancient Mexico,- when recent developments proved beyond a doubt that there are ancient ruins in Central America, which, in point of magnificence, beauty, strength, and architectural design, vie with any of the most splendid ruins on the Asiatic Continent,-when they could trace the fine delineations of the sculptor's chisel on the beautiful statue, the mysterious hieroglyphic, and the unknown character, they began to believe that a wise, powerful, intelligent, and scientific race had inhabited this continent; but still it was improbable-nay almost impossible, notwithstanding the testimony of history to the contrary, that anything like plates could have been used anciently, particularly among this people.
The following letter and certificate will perhaps have a tendency to convince the skeptical that such things have been used and that even the obnoxious Book of Mormon may be true. And as the people in Columbus' day were obliged to believe that there was such a place as America, so will the people in this day be obliged to believe, however reluctantly, that there may have been such plates as those from which the Book of Mormon was translated.
Mr. Smith has had those plates, what his opinion concerning them is, we have not yet ascertained. The gentleman that owns them has taken them away, or we should have given a fac-simile of the plates and characters in this number. We are informed however, that he purposes returning with them for translation, if so, we may be able yet to furnish our readers with it.
It will be seen by the annexed statement of the Quincy Whig, that there are more dreamers and money-diggers than Joseph Smith in the world; and the worthy editor is obliged to acknowledge that this circumstance will go a good way to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
He further states that "if Joseph Smith can decipher the hieroglyphics on the plates, he will do more towards throwing light on the early history of this continent than any man living." We think that he has done that already in translating and publishing the Book of Mormon, and would advise the gentleman and all interested to read for themselves and understand. We have no doubt, however, but Mr. Smith will be able to translate them.
To the editor of the Times and Seasons.
On the 16th of April last, a respectable merchant, by the name of Robert Wiley, commenced digging in a large mound near this place; he excavated to the depth of ten feet and came to rock. About that time the rain began to fall, and he abandoned the work.
On the 23rd, he and quite a number of the citizens, with myself, repaired to the mound; and after making ample opening, we found plenty of rock, the most of which appeared as though it had been strongly burned; and after removing full two feet of said rock, we found plenty of charcoal and ashes; also human bones that appeared as though they had been burned; and near the encephalon a bundle was found that consisted of six plates of brass of a bell shape, each having a hole near the small end, and a ring through them all, and clasped with two clasps. The rings and clasps appeared to be iron very much oxydated. The plates appeared first to be copper, and had the appearance of being covered with characters.
It was agreed by the company that I should cleanse the plates. Accordingly I took them to my house, washed them with soap and water and a woolen cloth; but, finding them not yet cleansed, I treated them with dilute sulphuric acid, which made them perfectly clean, on which it appeared that they were completely covered with hieroglyphics that none as yet have been able to read.
Wishing that the world might know the hidden things as fast as they come to light, I was induced to state the facts, hoping that you would give it an insertion in your excellent paper; for we all feel anxious to know the true meaning of the plates, and publishing the facts might lead to the true translation.
They were found, I judged, more than twelve feet below the surface of the top of the mound. I am, most respectfully, a citizen of Kinderhook, W. P. HARRIS, M. D.
We, the citizens of Kinderhook, whose names are annexed, do certify and declare that on the 23rd of April, 1843, while excavating a large mound in this vicinity, Mr. R. Wiley took from said mound six brass plates of a bell shape, covered with ancient characters. Said plates were very much oxydated. The bands and rings on said plates mouldered into dust on a slight pressure. ROBERT WILEY, W. LONGNECKER, GEO. DECKENSON, FAYETTE GRUBB, W. FUGATE, W. P. HARRIS, J. R. SHARP, G. W. F. WARD, IRA S. CURTIS, (From the Quincy Whig.)
SINGULAR DISCOVERY.-MATERIAL FOR ANOTHER MORMON BOOK.
A Mr. J. Roberts of Pike County, called upon us last Monday with a written description of a discovery which was recently made near Kinderhook, in that county. We have not room for his communication at length, and will give so much of a summary of it, as will enable the reader to form a pretty correct opinion of the discovery made.
It appeared that a young man by the name of Wiley, a resident in Kinderhook, dreamed three nights in succession, that in a certain mound In the vicinity, there were treasures concealed. Impressed with the strange occurrence of dreaming the same dream three nights in succession, he came to the conclusion to satisfy his mind by digging into the mound. For fear of being laughed at, if he made others acquainted with his design he went by himself and labored diligently one day in pursuit of the supposed treasure, by sinking a hole in the center of a mound.
Finding it quite laborious, he invited others to assist him. A company of ten or twelve repaired to the mound and assisted in digging out the shaft commenced by Wiley. After penetrating the mound about eleven feet, they came to a bed of limestone that had been subjected to the action of fire. They removed the stones, which were small and easy to handle, to the depth of two feet more, when they found six brass plates, secured and fastened together by two iron wires, but which were so decayed that they readily crumbled to dust upon being handled.
The plates were so completely covered with rust as almost to obliterate the characters inscribed upon them; but, after undergoing a chemical process, the inscriptions were brought out plain and distinct.
There were six plates, four inches in length, one inch and three-quarters wide at the top, and two inches and three-quarters wide at the bottom, flaring out to points. There are four lines of characters or hieroglyphics on each. On one side of the plates are parallel lines running lengthways.
By whom these plates were deposited there must ever remain a secret, unless some one skilled in deciphering hieroglyphics may be found to unravel the mystery. Some pretend to say that Smith, the Mormon leader, has the ability to read them. If he has, he will confer a great favor on the public by removing the mystery which hangs over them. A person present when the plates were found remarked that it would go to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, which it undoubtedly will.
In the place where these plates were deposited were also found human bones in the last stage of decomposition. There were but few bones found; and it is believed that it was but the burial-place of a person or family of distinction in ages long gone by, and that these plates contain the history of the times, or of a people that existed far, far beyond the memory of the present race. But we will not conjecture anything about this wonderful discovery, as it is one which the plates alone can reveal.
The plates above alluded to were exhibited in this city last week, and are now, we understand, in Nauvoo, subject to the inspection of the Mormon Prophet. The public curiosity is greatly excited; and if Smith can decipher the hieroglyphics on the plates, he will do more towards throwing light on the early history of this continent than any man now living.
* It is proper here to call attention to the fact that the genuineness of this discovery of the Kinderhook plates is questioned by some anti-Mormon writers, among them Professor William A. Linn in his late work The Story of Mormonism. In which, after citing the fact that both John Hyde and T. B. H. Stenhouse-both anti-Mormon authors-accept the genuineness of the discovery of the Kinderhook plates, which led the first in his Mormonism to insist that "Smith did have plates of some kind," in connection with the putting forth of the Book of Mormon; and the second to say of the Kinderhook plates that they were "actually and unquestionably discovered by one Mr. R. Wiley"-he says:
"But the true story of the Kinderhook plates was disclosed by an affidavit made by W. Fugate of Mound Station, Brown county, Illinois, before Jay Brown, justice of the peace, on June 30, 1879.In this he stated that the plates were a humbug, gotten up by Robert Wiley, Bridge Whitton, and myself. Whitton (who was a blacksmith) cut the plates out of some pieces of copper; Wiley and I made the hieroglyphics by making impressions on beeswax and filling them with acid, old iron and lead, and bound them with a piece of hoop iron, covering them completely with the rust. He describes the burial of the plates and their digging up, among the spectators of the latter being two Mormon Elders, Marsh and Sharp. Sharp declared that the Lord had directed them to witness the digging. The plates were borrowed and shown to Smith, and were finally given to one Professor McDowell of St. Louis, for his museum." (The Story of the Mormons, Linn, p. 87.)
Of this presentation of the matter it is only necessary to say that it is a little singular that Mr. Fugate alone out of the three said to be in collusion in perpetrating the fraud should disclose it, and that he should wait from 1843 to 1879-a period of thirty-six years-before doing so, when he and those said to be associated with him had such an excellent opportunity to expose the vain pretensions of the Prophet-if Fugate's tale be true-during his life time. For while the statement in the text of the Prophet's journal to the effect that the find was genuine, and that he had translated some of the characters and learned certain historical facts concerning the person with whose remains the plates were found, may not have been known at the time to the alleged conspiritors to deceive him still it is quite apparent that the editor of the Times and Seasons-John Taylor, the close personal friend of the Prophet-took the find seriously, and expressed implicit confidence in his editorial that the Prophet could give a translation of the plates. And this attitude the Church, continued to maintain; for in The Prophet, (a Mormon weekly periodical, published in New York) of the 15th of February, 1845, there was published a fac-simile of the Kinderhook plates, together with the Times and Seasons editorial and all the above matter of the text. How easy to have covered Joseph Smith and his followers with ridicule by proclaiming the hoax as soon as they accepted the Kinderhook plates as genuine! Why was it not done? The fact that Fugate's story was not told until thirty-six years after the event, and that he alone of all those who were connected with the event gives that version of it, is rather strong evidence that his story is the hoax, not the discovery of the plates, nor the engravings upon them.
"The plates," says Professor Linn, "were finally given to one 'Professor' McDowell of St. Louis, for his museum." This on the authority of Wyl's Mormon Portraits, (p. 207). And Professor Linn in a note adds: "The secretary of the Missouri Historical Society writes me that McDowell's museum disappeared some time ago, most of its contents being lost or stolen, and the fate of the Kinderhook plates cannot be ascertained." (Story of the Mormons, p. 87 and footnote.)
The significance of the Footnote
Notice how in the footnote, the credibility of the man who claimed he made the plates as a hoax is attacked (see emphasis). The Church asserted that Mr. Fugate shouldn't be believed because he made the claim some 36 years after the event happened. They say this because the Church, at the time, believed the Kinderhook Plates to be real ancient plates and that Joseph translated them correctly.
The account by Robert Wiley
On November 15, 1843 Robert Wiley wrote a letter to J. J. Harding suggesting that he was interested in selling the plates to "the National Institute," and that he was also interested in the "opinions of your different Entiquarian friends." In reference to having the plates examined by "the Antiquarian society at Philadelphia, France, and England," Wilbur Fugate stated:
The following is from page 372 of History of the Church, vol 5. by Joseph Smith.
Notice to the left that it clearly says "Comment of the Prophet on the Kinderhook Plates".
There really is no reason to doubt that Joseph made those comments on the Kinderhook Plates.
To view the complete pages in History of the Church by Joseph Smith that discuss the Kinderhook Plates (1978 ed.): View Pages 372-379
The plate boxed in red was the one that was found and exists today.
Drawings appeared in the LDS Church publications History of the Church and the Nauvoo Neighbor.
In addition to the drawings of the plates and accounts published in the History of the Church by Joseph Smith and the article published in the Times & Seasons newspaper, other evidence demonstrates that the Church accepted the Kinderhook Plates and Joseph's translation as genuine until 1980 when the plates were conclusively shown by analysis to be a hoax. (Stanley B. Kimball, professor of history at Southern Illinois University, was a high councilor in the St. Louis Missouri Stake employed Professor D. Lynn Johnson of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University to conduct the tests. The results of their analysis was reported in the August 1981 Ensign.)
Broadside published in 1843 by Church leaders
The Nauvoo Neighbor press published a broadside with facsimiles of the plates on June 24, 1843. This is two months and a day after they were "found" on April 26, 1843:
A close-up of the text: http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/IL/kndrfac2.jpg
Copy of the broadside: http://www.amaranthpublishing.com/brassplates.gif
Note that it mentions that a translation of the plates, as well as facsimiles of them, will be published in Times and Seasons as soon as Joseph Smith has finished translating them.
Note also, that the publishers are "Taylor and Woodruff," Apostles at the time and later the 3rd and 4th presidents of the Church.
The LDS magazine Improvement Era, 1904 issue
New Witnesses for God by B.H. Roberts
Famed General Authority and Assistant Church Historian B.H. Roberts believed the Kinderhook Plates to be genuine. In the passage below, he attacks the credibility of the man who claimed to have forged the plates:
William Clayton Journal
On 1 May 1843, William Clayton, one of Joseph Smith's secretaries made a tracing of one plate in his journal and recorded the following regarding him seeing the plates and Smith's comments relating to the translation of part of the writings:
Joseph Smith-Seeker after Truth, Apostle John Widtsoe
"May 1. Translates a portion of certain brass plates discovered at Kinderhook, Iowa." (John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith-Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God, p. 366)
LDS Publication of The Improvement Era, September 1962
Welby W. Ricks, president of the BYU Archaeological Society, wrote the following in 1962:
Ricks, Welby W., "The Kinderhook Plates," The Imporvement Era (September 1962). http://archive.org/stream/improvementera6509unse#page/n21/mode/2up (the article is on multiple pages).
The Times and Seasons
Aside from the original article shown above, the LDS Church newspaper Times and Seasons ran subsequent articles on the Kinderhook Plates:
A similar quote in History of the Church: "A person present when the plates were found remarked that it would go to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, which it undoubtedly will." (History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.378)
The Nauvoo Neighbor
The Quincy Whig
The Prophet was a Mormon weekly periodical, published in New York. On the 15th of February, 1845, there was published a fac-simile of the Kinderhook plates. This is also mentioned by LDS writer Stanley B. Kimball.
Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association Manual 1904-1905
A section of this manual presents four items intended to confirm both Joseph Smith's translation powers and the reality of ancient Hebrews in the Americas.
Readers should note that today, these items are either lost or verified forgeries.
The Manual's Kinderhook section defends Joseph Smith's partial translation. Its editors suggest that the testimony of Wilbur Fugate, who admitted creating the plates as a hoax, must be false, primarily because only he out of the three "discoverers" blew the whistle on the forgery. Moreover, the editors express suspicion of Fugate because he waited 36 years to confess his part in the supposed hoax. Why, they ask, did he not confess his supposed hoax immediately after the release of Joseph Smith's initial translation?
According to LDS writer Stanley B. Kimball, the Cchurch also published missionary pamphlets in the 1800s with the story of the Kinderhook Plates—apparently to be used as a conversion tool.
Commentary on the Book of Mormon
George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl wrote:
Those Gold Plates! by Apostle Mark E. Peterson
In 1979, apostle Mark E. Peterson published a book entitled, Those Gold Plates! Overall, the book reproduces arguments and evidence intended to confirm the Church’s unilateral acceptance of the truth of Joseph Smith’s translations. In the first chapter, for example, Peterson explains that various ancient cultures that have written records on metal plates. Then Peterson claims,
Rough Stone Rolling by LDS historian Richard Bushman
Pro-LDS historian Richard Bushman supports the idea that Joseph started a translation of the Kinderhook Plates. He addresses the Kinderhook Plates in his book, Rough Stone Rolling (emphasis added):
Notice Bushman’s comment, “he did not swing into a full-fledged translation.” This assertion is significant because it implies that Smith did perform some kind of translation of the artifacts. Bushman also intimates that Joseph became aware he was stepping into a trap, which was why he backed off on further translation. The statement that 'the trap did not quite spring shut' implies the trap had sprung shut somewhat, but that Joseph managed to extricate himself before it snapped. The more startling inference here is that Joseph was both aware of and responding to a perceived hoax. If Joseph were actually exercising divine powers as prophet to translate, he would not need to be concerned about being hoaxed or trapped in any way.
While several other LDS apologists insist that Joseph had nothing to do with the Kinderhook Plates translation, Richard Bushman’s scholarship is equitable enough to acknowledge that Joseph did begin to translate the Kinderhook Plates. And while Brother Bushman’s account is not as direct as the historical record could convey, we applaud him for his scholarship.
In sum, Bushman’s approach is laudable because he accepts the available evidence and relies on it to reach a conclusion, instead of defending the Church at all costs. Note also, in at least one instance Bushman counters what most apologists claim—that everyone ignored the Kinderhook Plates and did not believe they were real—when he writes:
Reference: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman, p 490.
Critic's comment: Even if you do not believe that Joseph was fooled by the Kinderhook Plates in 1843, the LDS Church itself was fooled for the next one hundred and thirty years. The Kimball article [Ensign, Aug. 1981, 66-74] mentioned the Church's response each time the issue of the plates came up, but it failed to recognize that each response up to 1981 was the same, that the plates were genuine. Why would God allow his prophet, seer, translator and revelator perpetuate the hoax for so long? Why was 1981 the year to end the hoax?
Letter from Mr. Wilbur Fugate to Mr. James T. Cobb, in Salt Lake City:
Mound Station, Ill., June 30, 1879.
Mr. Cobb: -
I received your letter in regard to those plates, and will say in answer that they are a HUMBUG, gotten up by Robert Wiley, Bridge Whitton and myself. Whitton is dead. I do not know whether Wiley is or not. None of the nine persons who signed the certificate knew the secret, except, Wiley and I. We read in Pratt's prophecy that "Truth is yet to spring up out of the earth." We concluded to prove the prophecy by way of a joke. We soon made our plans and executed them, Bridge Whitton cut them (the plates) out of some pieces of copper; Wiley and I made the hieroglyphics ** by making impressions on beeswax and filling them with acid and putting it on the plates. When they were finished we put them together with rust made of nitric acid, old iron and lead, and bound them with a piece of hoop iron, covering them completely with the rust. Our plans worked admirably. A certain Sunday was appointed for digging. The night before, Wiley went to the Mound where he had previously dug to the depth of about eight feet, there being a flat rock that sounded hollow beneath, and put them under it. On the following morning quite a number of citizens were there to assist in the search, there being two Mormon elders present (Marsh and Sharp). The rock was soon removed, but some time elapsed before the plates were discovered. I finally picked them up and exclaimed, "A piece of pot metal!" Fayette Grubb snatched them from me and struck them against the rock and they fell to pieces. Dr. Harris examined them and said they had hieroglyphics on them. He took acid and removed the rust and they were soon out on exhibition. Under this rock [it] was dome-like in appearance, about three feet in diameter, there were a few bones in the last stage of decomposition, also a few pieces of pottery and charcoal. There was NO SKELETON found. Sharp, the Mormon Elder, leaped and shouted for joy and said, Satan had appeared to him and told him not to go (to the diggings), it was a hoax of Fugate and Wiley's, - but at a later hour the Lord appeared and told him to go, the treasure was there.
The Mormons wanted to take the plates to Joe Smith, but we refused to let them go. Some time afterward a man assuming the name of Savage, of Quincy, borrowed the plates of Wiley to show to his literary friends there, and took them to Joe Smith. The same identical plates were returned to Wiley, who gave them to Professor McDowell, of St. Louis, for his Museum.
STATE OF ILLINOIS,
W. Fugate, being first duly sworn, deposes and says that the above, letter, containing an account of the plates found near Kinderhook, is true and correct, to the best of his recollection.
Subscribed and sworn to before me this 30th day of June, 1879.
Jay Brown, J. P.
Note: Wiley's name stands first and Fugate's last of the nine signers of the "certificate" touching the excavation.
The 1981 Ensign article 'Kinderhook Plates' by Stanley B. Kimball makes it clear that the plates were a hoax and the plates were likely made in the 19th century.
Although the Church acknowledged that the Kinderhook Plates are a hoax, some true-believers supported the idea that plate #5 that was rediscovered and first testing in the 1960s was a forgery of the original.
Some true believers have claimed that the rediscovered plate was measured and compared to an early tracing of the original Kinderhook Plates. They were reported to be of different sizes leading some to conclude that someone had forged the rediscovered plate to make it appear like one of the Kinderhook Plates dug up in 1843.
However, what they failed to realize was that the tracing they compared it to was from a publication that resized the tracing so it would fit on the page.
Both the critics of the Church and faithful LDS apologists now both agree that the plate currently in possession of the Chicago Historical Society is one of the original plates found in Kinderhook in 1843. This is no longer in dispute. The analysis and conclusions are verified in the August 1981 Issue of the LDS magazine The Ensign:
Many people think the lone surviving plate was destroyed when they did the destructive testing, but it's actually still in the Chicago Historical Society.Here's a letter from the collection manager of the CHS to one of the contributors of MormonThink:
In an interview with Steve Benson (President Ezra Taft Benson's grandson), Apostle Neal Maxwell reportedly said the following:
William Clayton was the LDS scribe that Joseph used recording most of the Church's history. Many LDS members that know about the Kinderhook Plates problem respond by saying that it was William Clayton that recorded the Kinderhook Plates event so perhaps he did it without Joseph's input and merely recorded what he may have thought Joseph did with the Kinderhook Plates. Here is some background information on William Clayton.
From the Institute for Religious Research:
Clayton: Intimate Confidante of Joseph Smith
From his conversion to the Mormon Church at age 23 in Preston, England in 1837, to his death in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1879, William Clayton is described as "never swerving in his belief in the church and its leaders" by George D. Smith, editor of An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (p. xvii). In his fifty-page introduction to Clayton's life and journals, George D. Smith includes descriptions of Clayton from close associates and family members who uniformly remember him as a serious, meticulous and dependable person. His daughter spoke of him as "methodical, always sitting in his own armchair, having a certain place at the table. his person was clean and tidy; his hands small and dimpled" (p. liii). G.D. Smith writes:
Long after his death, Clayton was remembered as "the soul of punctuality"; his daughter remembering his "love for order, which he believed was the first law of heaven . he would not carry a watch that was not accurate" (p. xvi).
Mormon leaders recognized Clayton's gifts and abilities early on, for after being a member of the LDS Church for less than six months he was named second counselor to the president of the British Mission (p. xvi), and later became the first branch president of Manchester (BYU Studies, 27:1, p. 47).
At Clayton's death, Joseph F. Smith, who would become the sixth President of the LDS Church, noted Clayton's achievements:
He was a friend and companion of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and it is to his pen to a very great extent that we are indebted for the history of the Church. during his acquaintance with him and the time he acted for him as his private secretary, in the days of Nauvoo (p. lx).
LDS scholars who have studied Clayton's life have noted his "meticulous detail that was the hallmark of his writing" (p. xx), and also that,
There would appear to be nothing or no one to detract from Clayton's ability to accurately record the words of Joseph Smith, and every reason to believe he did so accurately and reliably.
Therefore, one can understand why the leaders of the LDS Church when compiling an authoritative history of the life of Joseph Smith and the Church, would accept without question the accuracy of Clayton's journal entry for May 1, 1843 that stated:
I have seen 6 brass plates which were found in Adams County... President Joseph has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found & he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven & earth (Intimate Chronicle, p. 100, emphasis added).
As LDS leaders constructed a history of Joseph's life with words recorded by him and others, it would have been easy to justify modifying Clayton's May 1, 1843 entry so it read as follows when incorporated into the History of the Church:
If one does not accept Clayton's journal entry at face value, about the only alternative is to imply that Clayton did not hear Smith make these statements, but instead was willing and capable of inserting speculative and unsubstantiated ideas and falsely attributing them to Joseph Smith.While this can be granted as a possibility, it certainly seems improbable and highly implausible given what we know of Clayton's life and character and the high level of confidence placed in him by Joseph Smith and subsequent LDS leaders and scholars.
Equally important in assessing the accuracy of Clayton's journal entry is the existence of corroborating historical evidence related to Clayton, Joseph Smith and the Kinderhook Plates. For example:
Thus, numerous historical sources indicate Clayton's May 1, 1843 journal entry is accurate, and that Joseph considered the Kinderhook Plates ancient artifacts and began a translation of them. This historical evidence, coupled with a complete lack of any evidence to the contrary, was sufficiently convincing that for over 130 years no Mormon seems to have questioned or contested the authenticity of these bell-shaped brass plates.
LDS writer Stanley B. Kimball summarized the extent of LDS acceptance of the Plates as follows:
The ruse was a success. Appealing to what Joseph Smith "says," Joseph Smith's trusted confidant William Clayton wrote that Smith began a translation:
"I have seen 6 brass plates... covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. Prest J. has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth." (William Clayton's Journal, May 1, 1843, as cited in Trials of Discipleship - The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon, p. 117)
Author Brent Lee Metcalfe points out that "when Clayton recorded his diary entry on the Kinderhook plates he was... "
On this issue Don Bradley writes:
But given that Clayton was in Smith's company for much of the day, we have good reason to trust him when he reports that "Prest J. has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found," even though Clayton otherwise got some particulars wrong on the digging up of the plates (which Smith may have misunderstood as well). The whole incident gives us a number of reasons to pause before accepting the prophetical calling of Joseph Smith and the validity of Mormonism. In a direct sense, it shows us that Smith was not a very discerning man. Apparently he was just as gullible as many of those who followed him. If men such as Bridge Whitten, Robert Wiley, and Wilburn Fugate could hoodwink Smith, could an angel claiming to be a messenger from God not also deceive him? Even if we could excuse Smith's lack of discernment, it does not take away from the fact that Smith insisted he had the ability to "translate" the bogus pieces of metal. Whether Smith knowingly tried to deceive his followers or was deluded himself is of little consequence; certainly it shows he is not a man worthy of people's trust.
Critic's Comment: It is very convenient for LDS faithful to blame all of the translation problems, such as the Kinderhook Plates and the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language by Joseph Smith, on the scribes, but the facts simply don't support it.
If all of Clayton's journals and diaries that he scribed for Joseph are rejected, there would be very little, if any, Church history published from Joseph's lifetime. The LDS apologists are selectively picking and choosing which journal entries they wish to include as the "official" history of the church.They can't have it both ways.
Also, some LDS apologists are playing up the tiny differences between the William Clayton statement and the PP Pratt statement (both found in Grant Palmer's book An Insider's View of Mormon Origins) regarding the skeleton mentioned. The apologists nitpick that Clayton's account talking about the skeleton doesn't agree with what the hoaxer William Fugate said. However, Fugate and everyone else, all said that there were bones there (after all it was an Indian burial mound). So where did the bones come from? - well a skeleton of course. Clayton may have connected the dots from the bones to the skeleton but that's a far cry from saying that Clayton made up the part about a descendant of Ham.
If the apologists applied the same reasoning to declaring everything false because of some minor inconsistencies, then they would have to declare the First Vision a fraud as it has much greater inconsistencies between the various renditions of Joseph's First Vision.
We have not been able to find an official Church response. However, the Kinderhook Plates are discussed in the August 1981 Ensign. (The Ensign is considered by many within the church to be nearly as important as scripture and the First Presidency approves the articles).
The Ensign article makes the assertion that the Kinderhook Plates were a hoax but Joseph never fell for it.
Joseph Smith did not make the hoped-for translation.
Where the ideas written by William Clayton originated is unknown.
Editor comment: This was the position taken by most LDS apologists from 1980 - 2011 that Joseph never attempted to translate the plates and it was perhaps just the writings of William Clayton. However, as shown above, from 1843 until 1980, the Church seemed to accept the Kinderhook Plates as genuine along with Joseph's translation as given in History of the Church by Joseph Smith, vol 5, pages 372-379.
Also, The Ensign article has a lot of good, historical information on what happened to the plates not mentioned on this site, so it's definitely worth reading for anyone that wants to know more details about how the plates ended up in the Chicago Historical Society.
Why wasn't this ever the Church's position before scientists proved the plates were fake? If the Kinderhook Plates were really just a hoax, then why didn't the Church ever say that in the first 130 years since the Kinderhook Plates were unearthed? It's clear from the evidence above that the Church leaders believed the Kinderhook Plates were real and that Joseph translated a portion of them. Why did it take finding evidence that proved the Kinderhook Plates were fake to have the Church change their mind on whether or not Joseph tried to translate them? The Church only seems to change their beliefs (like the limited geography theory of the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, location of Hill Cumorah, American Indians are the principle ancestors of the Lamanites, etc.) when contradictory evidence disproves their recorded history. This seems inconsistent with a church run by modern-day prophets with modern revelation.
Regarding specifics in the Ensign article: First, Stanley Kimball makes this statement: "These accounts have generated much controversy for more than a hundred years since the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, the question being twofold: (1) are the Kinderhook plates authentic? and (2) did Joseph Smith attempt to translate them?"
Good questions. Kimball sets out to try and answer them.
He first establishes that the plates are in fact NOT authentic through various testing methods. Good, science at work. Thank you.
He then tries to establish that Joseph Smith never attempted to translate them. Honestly, this appeared to me to be a lot of hand waving and basically just saying that we're interpreting the documented account incorrectly - that it doesn't actually mean what it says.
And then it says "Since coming to public awareness in 1920, this plate has undergone a number of tests. For example, in 1953 it was examined by two engravers who made an affidavit stating that "to the best of our knowledge this Plate was engraved with a pointed instrument and not etched with acid" - a conclusion which contradicted the letters claiming the plates to be a hoax, and which therefore fueled the hopes of those who wanted the plates to be proven genuine."
"Fueled the hopes of those who wanted the plates to be proven genuine."
Why, may we ask, would anyone hope they were proven genuine IF JOSEPH NEVER ATTEMPTED TO TRANSLATE THEM?
The double standard was blatantly obvious to us. If testing showed the plates were of ancient origin, the Church's answer to the second question would have been the exact opposite: That Joseph DID attempt to translate the plates. They would have agreed entirely with the documented accounts! Kimball tried to treat these as two separate questions, each with their own independent answer, but that isn't the case.
There is no way that Kimball or anyone else would have taken the position that Joseph did NOT try to translate the plates had testing shown the plates were of ancient origin.
Joseph never translated the Kinderhook Plates. The account that is recorded in the History of the Church was recorded by one of Joseph's scribes, William Clayton. Mr. Clayton may have just recorded what he thought the prophet or some others had said. No one can prove conclusively that Joseph made those statements. Mr. Clayton assumed the 1st person position in writing this portion of the History of the Church and this was not written by Joseph Smith.
Who else would have been able to make these grand claims? Why would a scribe think this Indian was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven & earth? Why not a descendant of Noah or Abraham? This seems way too unusual and too specific to be made by anyone other than the Prophet Joseph Smith. Also, Joseph's scribe William Clayton, was a trusted, official scribe for the church and was noted for being a stickler for details and accuracy and not in the habit of making stuff up and attributing it to Joseph.
The latest apologetic defense is to say that Joseph tried to do a secular translation of the plates because one of the characters from the Kinderhook Plates resembles a character from the book Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language by Joseph Smith. This is on FAIR's website and was presented at FAIR's conference in 2011 by Don Bradley.
Don Bradley's presentation: http://www.fairlds.org/wp-content/uploa ... tion-1.pdf
The theory is interesting but sheer speculation. The apologists have been trying to distance Joseph from the Grammar & alphabet of the Egyptian Language by Joseph Smith (GAEL) ever since the Egyptian language was deciphered by Egyptologists. Much like the Kinderhook Plates, the apologists have always said that the GAEL was merely the scribe's writings and did not come from Joseph Smith. The reason they have always taken that stand is that the GAEL is pure nonsense according to every Egyptologist.
Like many apologetic responses, this explanation just brings up other problems. This theory seems to suggest that the GAEL is accurate and there is absolutely no Egyptologist in the world that says that it is anything other than rambling nonsense. Even LDS Egyptologists will not defend that document. So in attempting to solve the Kinderhook Plates problem, the apologists create an even greater problem by validating the GAEL.
Here's a sample from the GAEL:
Egyptian Alphabet First Degree
Beth Ba=eth This character is from the first degree It has an arbitrary sound or signification which is Beth; and also a compound sound which is Za and comprise one simple sentence for its signification It is only increased or lessened in its signification by its connection with other characters. one connection with another character, gives it a compound signification, or enlarges the sentence. Two connections increases its signification still: Three increases it still: Four increases still and five still. This is as far as a sentence can be carried in the first degree. In its arbitrary sound it may have more sounds than one, but can not have more than five sounds. When it is compounded with others, it can only have one sound.
Every character in this alphabet is subject to the above restrictions
Iota or Ki
[From page 19: Beth Ka - a large garden, a large vall[e]y or a large plain. This ought to have been inserted between Iota and Zub Zool oan on the opposite page.]
The signification of Beth is man's first residence Of Iota - The eye: of Zub Zool oan, The beginning of time:
Ah- broam The Father of the faithful. The first right- The elder
Ki Ah broam That which goes before, until an other time, or a change by appointment, The first, faithful, or father, or fathers.
Iota netahoch ah que a mark of distinction [p. 20] qualifying different degrees, increasing or lessening the power of the sentences according to the[i]r signification as for instance
Iota nilahoch ah que: (as in the margin) signifies "I saw twenty five persons," or it signifies twenty five persons''
Ah lish the name of the first being
Also, there is no part of the Book of Abraham or the Grammar & alphabet of the Egyptian Language by Joseph Smith that talks about a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth. Find that phrase in the BOA or in the GAEL.
Timeline of LDS historian/apologist beliefs:
1843 - 1980
Church supported that the Kinderhook Plates were real as was Joseph's brief translation. This is verified by Pro-LDS historian Richard Bushman:
1980 - 2011
LDS apologists acknowledged that the Kinderhook Plates were a hoax but claimed Joseph never fell for it. They believed that Joseph's scribe, William Clayton, did not actually write what Joseph said. In the August, 1981 Ensign it simply states:
2011 - present
The LDS apologists (at least on FAIR's website), have reversed their long-standing position and now believe that Joseph did indeed start a translation of the Kinderhook Plates (just as the critics have been saying all along). However, they now believe that Joseph tried to do a secular translation of the Kinderhook Plates after seeing a similarity between one of the symbols on the Kinderhook Plates and one from the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" by Joseph Smith.
If Joseph Smith made up the story about Gold Plates then wouldn't he know that he was being tricked by the Kinderhook Plates?
We think that Joseph Smith was like most everyone else at the time - he also probably believed the Kinderhook Plates were real. They looked real. It was a convincing hoax with some effort put into it. Everyone seemed to think they were real at the time. They were put on display at a museum probably as an ancient Native American artifact. Take in mind that the experts that examined them in the 1960s couldn't even come to any definitive conclusion and it wasn't until 1980 that the plates were proven to be a hoax using modern, scientific, destructive testing methods. So it's easy to believe that Joseph believed the plates were real also.
Assuming JS wasn't an actual prophet, he probably still thought the Kinderhook Plates were real plates probably from the Indians just like everyone else did. It's not like the Kinderhook Plates verify the BOM or anything. They could be a cookbook for all he knows. But it's the same situation as if he was a real prophet, everyone wants an answer from the man that claimed to have translated some other ancient plates. He had to give them one. Plus it was an opportunity to make it seem more credible that he was a prophet. So he makes a quick diagnosis of the plates, just like he did with the Book of Abraham papyri and the Greek Psalter, and he pronounces a quick explanation of what they were.
Why didn't Joseph do more with the plates?
Perhaps Joseph planned to use the Kinderhook Plates more in the future but was killed just a year later before he could really do anything substantial with them. He was of course very busy then with all the problems caused by polygamy and high-ranking leaders turning against the church in 1843. Joseph hardly had time to do another translation as he was still working on the Book of Abraham and the New translation of the Bible. Also, he didn't really need the Kinderhook Plates as he could have also used the Book of Joseph papyri to bring out new material if he wanted or have no physical source like he did with the Book of Moses.
Also, translations sometimes take time - Joseph spent several years translating the relatively short Book of Abraham, unlike the much larger Book of Mormon that reportedly took 80-90 days to transcribe. The argument that he didn't complete the translation and therefore did not fall for the hoax is incredibly flimsy. It took him seven years to complete the Book of Abraham, so why are apologists claiming that not finishing this translation in less than a year is some evidence of his prophetic calling?
It's also possible that Joseph began to have second thoughts on the plates and suspected that they were maybe a hoax after all. This may be evident by the following quote from the August 1981 Ensign article on the Kinderhook Plates (emphasis added):
The Ensign verifies how busy Joseph was at the time. Also, Joseph said, "...he would not agree to translate them until they were sent to the Antiquarian society at Philadelphia, France, and England." Perhaps Joseph was still waiting for a definitive statement from the Antiquarian Society stating the plates were authentic before he would attempt a full translation as he didn't want to take the chance that he was being set up.
Why didn't the hoaxers come forth right after Joseph did his translation?
If Joseph really did do some sort of translation of the Kinderhook Plates, why didn't the hoaxers come forth right afterwards and prove the prophet wrong?
From the August 1981 Ensign:
The Ensign implies that the hoaxers were unaware of what Joseph said in 1843, since little was published publicly, so they probably didn't know what, if anything Joseph said beyond the newspaper accounts. It wasn't until 1856 that the statement attributed to Joseph appeared in print, and only in the Deseret News in Utah a thousand miles away - so who knows when they became aware of it?
The people that made the plates were undoubtedly hoping Joseph would say more about the plates than he did. They were probably waiting for him to write a sequel to the Book of Mormon from the Kinderhook Plates, like was rumored at the time. Imagine how much more amazing the hoax would have been had Joseph actually written an entire book instead of just a simple paragraph like he did. The prospect of a much longer, detailed translation would likely be enough for the hoaxers to hold their tongues until this thing played out. Perhaps they hoped a future prophet would make more of them. More than likely, they had their fun and let it be. Joseph didn't give them the "big bang" they had hoped for but anything other than Joseph denouncing them as a fraud, or simply saying he didn't know what they were, is still evidence Joseph lied about the Kinderhook Plates even if he didn't say more than a paragraph about them.
There's also the possibility that Wiley or Fugate sold the plates. On November 15, Robert Wiley wrote a letter to one J. J. Harding suggesting that he was interested in selling the plates to "the National Institute." If they had sold the plates, they could hardly then proclaim that they were a hoax and have to give the money back.
Did he say the following or didn't he?""I insert fac-similes of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook... I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found.He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and that he received his Kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth."Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church, v. 5, p. 372
If Joseph said the above, as all reports indicate, then Joseph made that up which calls into question the credibility of his other claims.If he never said that then there must be a credible explanation as to why everything and everybody said he did, including the official church scribe William Clayton who was with him on that very day!
Why do you spend so much effort in proving that the Church taught that Joseph did start a translation of the Kinderhook Plates when apologists at FAIR acknowledge he did? From FAIR's site:
MormonThink's primary focus is to respond to the average LDS member and what they believe. The average members that we've talked to (that even know about the Kinderhook Plates) still defend the Kinderhook Plates by saying that Joseph didn't really even attempt to translate them and that the scribe was not using Joseph Smith's words. Many apologists might have switched to the secular translation theory but most members have not (and of course the church is silent on the issue) so this is why we don't scrap everything above to only discuss the new theory proposed by Don Bradley. The LDS view does not revolve around FAIR and what they personally believe. FAIR is in the minority of LDS membership on beliefs about many things (like Global Flood for example). The general purpose is to discuss what most true-believing members believe are appropriate responses to the critics' issues. That being said, we do add the latest apologetic defenses as we become aware of them (as in the preceding paragraphs) but as long as a significant amount of members cling to the old defenses, we will still include the critic's commentary on those defenses.
Since the plates from the Book of Mormon were taken back by the angel, there is nothing tangible to look at to see if Joseph translated the plates correctly. So it is prudent to look at all the documents Joseph claimed to have translated. The Kinderhook Plates are especially interesting as they were also engraved on actual metal plates just like the Book of Mormon. All the evidence that shows Joseph had been the one to explain what the plates mean come from LDS Church sources, so why should they not be believed? The only way the church can come away from the Kinderhook Plates issue unscathed is if the plates were actually real, ancient records, but the LDS Church has already acknowledged in the Ensign that they were a hoax.
Read the section of the LDS book History of the Church by Joseph Smith, vol 5, pages 372-379, and then decide for yourself if Joseph started a translation of the Kinderhook Plates. Also check out the footnotes where the faithful LDS are trying to destroy the credibility of the person that claimed he made the plates as a hoax. They do this because they believed the plates were real and that Joseph did translate them. Assistant Church historian and General Authority B.H. Roberts believed the plates to be real and defended their authenticity. Also, pro-LDS historian Richard Bushman, in his book Rough Stone Rolling, relies on the evidence to indicate that Joseph Smith did start a translation of the fraudulent Kinderhook Plates.
In addition to the Kinderhook Plates, Joseph also misidentified the skeleton. The implications are obvious, if he just made up this story, then how can he be trusted with the other translations he claimed are correct. As Charles A. Shook well observed-in a personal letter to the author-"Only a bogus prophet translates bogus plates."
Both the critics and defenders of the faith have compelling points to make. The editors of this section give their own opinion:
I first learned about the Kinderhook Plates when I was growing up in the Church. A member of the bishopric, a rather brilliant fellow who gave the most interesting lessons, taught an entire Gospel Doctrine lesson on the Kinderhook Plates. It was a fascinating lesson. It was the only time I can recall the Kinderhook Plates being brought up in church. He taught it as a faith-promoting story. He taught that Joseph did indeed do a brief translation of the Kinderhook Plates, and that they were real and that there probably was an Indian chief, perhaps an ancient Jaredite, a descendant of Ham, and these plates told about him, and Joseph translated them correctly.
His assertion was that the people who claimed to have forged the plates as a hoax were lying. He maintained that the one plate that was found later was a forgery of one of the original ancient Kinderhook Plates. He said something about they had measured the plate, and it was of a different size than the original plates were reported to have been. This must have been before the destructive testing was done on the one surviving plate.
Now that the recovered plate has been proven to be one of the original Kinderhook Plates, and that it was indeed made in the 1800s, and that there never were any authentic Kinderhook Plates, I wonder what that teacher now thinks about it.
Sometimes I wonder if I were Joseph Smith and was a real prophet, or at least everyone thought I was, and some people put some ancient-looking plates in front of me and asked me if I could tell what they were, what would I do? Everyone would be expecting me to say something wondrous, and yet if I said I didn't know, then my reputation might be somehow diminished. We do know some faithful LDS who admit that Joseph likely did translate the symbols on the plates, even though they were a forgery, yet they cannot explain why. If Joseph did misrepresent himself about the Kinderhook Plates, for whatever reason, we wonder what else he may have misrepresented about himself?
Mormon Expression did an entire podcast on the Kinderhook Plates. It gives a good introduction and summary of the issue. The compiler for MormonThink's Kinderhook Plates section was invited to be on the podcast as well. Please listen to Mormon Expression Podcast # 189
Supporting the critics:
Supporting the church
Note: The Ensign article has a lot of good, historical information on what happened to the plates not mentioned on this site, so it's definitely worth reading for anyone that wants to know more details about how the plates ended up in the Chicago Historical Society.