In the nineteenth century, Mormonism seemed grist for everybody's mill. Humorists like Artemus Ward and Mark Twain made hay out of polygamy; conspiracy theorists like Thomas deWitt Talmage imputed President Garfield's assassination to the Mormons; pseudo-memoirists like "Maria Ward" recounted their seduction, imprisonment, and torture at the hands of Mormon mesmerists; the Republican jump-started their political party with a promise to expunge the Mormon "relic of barbarism"; and pulp fiction writers and serious novelists alike fueled sales with stories of bloodthirsty Danites, lecherous elders, and grief maddened Mormon wives who murdered competitors.

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