Joseph Smith Stone in Hat Routine — Rich Kelsey

Joseph Smith Stone In Hat
Illustration of Joseph Smith gazing at a stone in hat from

Stone in a Hat, Con Game or Divine Purpose?

Years before Joseph Smith, the founding seer, revelator, and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, used a stone in a hat to translate mysterious language on the golden plates, he had become:

“… a famous seer of lost or hidden treasures.”[1]

The obvious question: was Joseph Smith’s stone in a hat routine merely a con game, or could he really see underground?[2]

The answer is found by reading what Joseph Smith told people he saw while gazing at his stone.

LDS Attorney Gordon Madsen’s View:

While speaking of Joseph Smith’s well documented 1826 Glass Looking Trial, LDS Attorney Gordon A. Madsen, said:

“The pivotal testimony, in my view, was that of Josiah Stowell. Both accounts agree on the critical facts. The Pearsall account states: ‘[Joseph] had been employed by him [Stowell] to work on farm part of time; … that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone.’

The Purple account states:

Justice Neeley soberly looked at the witness and in a solemn, dignified voice, said, ‘Deacon Stowell, do I understand you as swearing before God, under the solemn oath you have taken, that you believe the prisoner can see by the aid of the stone fifty feet below the surface of the earth, as plainly as you can see what is on my table?’ ‘Do I believe it?’ says Deacon Stowell, ‘do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief. I positively know it to be true.’” (Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting, BYU Studies, p. 105)

Attorney Madsen Goes On To Say:

“The foregoing considerations lead me to conclude that in 1826 Joseph Smith was indeed charged and tried for being a disorderly person and that he was acquitted. Such a conclusion does nothing to ‘prove’ or disprove the claim that he was reputed to be a ‘glass-looker.’” (Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting, BYU Studies, p. 106)

To maintain that because Joseph Smith was acquitted, the claim that he was reputed to be a ‘glass-looker’ was not proven or disproven, is a misleading statement. Because at the request of Justice Neeley, Joseph Smith exhibited the stone[3] and he readily admitted to being a glass looker when he said:

“… he had a certain stone, which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were.” (Joseph Smith 1826 Glass Looking Trial, Miss Pearsall Account)

Another statement that Joseph Smith made during the 1826 Glass Looking Trial also proves beyond any reasonable doubt that he was a glass-looker:

“With some labor and exertion he found the stone, carried it to the creek, washed and wiped it dry, sat down on the bank, placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye.” (Joseph Smith Jr. Testimony, Purple Account)

Misleading Statement From

“A time line of some key events in the life and ministry of Joseph Smith

… Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a ‘disorderly person,’ South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York. New York law defined a disorderly person as, among other things, a vagrant or a seeker of “lost goods.” The Prophet had been accused of both: the first charge was false and was made simply to cause trouble; Joseph’s use of a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye brought the second charge. Those who brought the charges were apparently concerned that Joseph might bilk his employer, Josiah Stowell, out of some money. Mr. Stowell’s testimony clearly said this was not so and that he trusted Joseph Smith.” (Highlights in the Prophet’s Life, Ensign, June 1994)

The reasoning in the above quote equates Mr. Stowell’s trust in Joseph Smith’s ability to use,

“a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye,”

with Stowell not being bilked out of some money.

Since when does the confidence of gullible people exonerate those who are exploiting them?

“Confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, and greed.” (Confidence trick, Wikipedia)

There is no doubt that Mr. Stowell was convinced that Joseph Smith could see things that others could not see; but, that doesn’t make what Joseph Smith was telling Mr. Stowell true.

According to the 1826 Trial transcripts, Joseph Smith told[4] Mr. Stowell there was a box of treasure buried on his property; and by using a stone in a hat, Joseph Smith showed Mr. Stowell the exact spot where the treasure could be found.

Would You Believe This?

Jonathan Thompson, who testified in Joseph Smith’s defense, explained why the money diggers never got the treasure:

” … Smith looked in hat while there, and when very dark, and told how the chest was situated. After digging several feet, struck upon something sounding like a board or plank. Prisoner would not look again, pretending that he was alarmed the last time that he looked, on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried came all fresh to his mind; that the last time that he looked, he discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk; that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside of the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed.

Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner’s professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but, on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging; that, notwithstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them.” (Joseph Smith 1826 Glass Looking Trial, Miss Pearsall Account, Jonathan Thompson testimony)

Joseph Smith’s Treasure Guardian Mindset:

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out in court is Joseph Smith’s understanding that an Indian had been killed and thrown into the hole beside the trunk to guard it,

“… as he supposed.”

Those words give us a glimpse into Joseph Smith’s mindset during the same time period that “Moroni” was supposedly watching over the golden plates.

LDS Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf talking about a seer stone
Image of LDS Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf from

Today, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are telling us that Joseph Smith’s seer stone was similar to a smartphone. Here is an example:

In reality, most of us use a kind of ‘seer stone’ every day. My mobile phone is like a ‘seer stone.’ I can get the collected knowledge of the world through a few little inputs. I can take a photo or a video with my phone and share it with family on the other side of our planet. I can even translate anything into or from many different languages!” (President Uchtdorf Compares Smartphone To Seer Stones)

What LDS Apostle Uchtdorf said is a clear example of double-talk:


1. language that appears to be earnest and meaningful but in fact is a mixture of sense and nonsense. (Dictionary by Merriam Webster)

Any smartphone app which allows users to see buried chests of treasure and the spirits watching over the treasure would be a game, not reality.

Joseph Smith Quit The Stone In a Hat Routine:

David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, said:

“After the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, early in the spring of 1830, before April 6th, Joseph gave the stone to Oliver Cowdery and told me as well as the rest that he was through with it, and he did not use the stone any more.” (An Address to All Believers in Christ, p. 32)

Note, for the remaining 14 years of his life, Joseph Smith,

“… did not use the stone any more.”


The most likely reason Joseph Smith gave up gazing at a stone was because the stone in a hate routine was simply a ruse that the young Mormon prophet had grown tired[5] of.

The Same Old Story:

The golden plates stories which Joseph was telling his family during the 1820s contained many of the same details as stories Joseph was telling about buried treasure during the same time-frame.

Example: Joseph Smith’s Mother said,

“In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him. Having some further conversation with the angel on this occasion, Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, when he beheld the plates as he had done before. He immediately reached forth his hand to take them, but instead of getting them, as he anticipated, he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and returned to the house weeping for grief and disappointment.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 347)

It’s interesting that Lucy Smith said her son Joseph was


after not obtaining the golden plates the first time he tried to get them.

One might wonder, was Joseph’s weeping just an act, or was his story credible? If his story were true, that would mean “Moroni” really did hurl Joseph back on the ground,

“… with great violence,”

which is one detail many LDS Church members are unaware of!

One thing is certain: Joseph Smith’s neighbor Willard Chase substantiated Lucy’s account,

“… he [Joseph Smith] again stooped down and strove to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously. After recovering from his fright, he enquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders.  He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and you shall have them.” (MORMONISM, p. 242)

Joseph Smith’s neighbor Fayette Lapham gave a similar account, adding more details:

“Taking up the first article, he saw others below; laying down the first, he endeavored to secure the others; but, before he could get hold of them, the one he had taken up slid back to the place he had taken it from, and, to his great surprize and terror, the rock immediately fell back to its former place, nearly crushing him in its descent. His first thought was that he had not properly secured the rock when it was turned up, and accordingly he again tried to lift it, but now in vain; he next tried with the aid of levers, but still without success.

While thus engaged, he felt something strike him on the breast, which was repeated the third time, always with increased force, the last such as to lay him upon his back. As he lay there, he looked up and saw the same large man that had appeared in his dream, dressed in the same clothes. He said to him that, when the treasure was deposited there, he was sworn to take charge of and protect that property, until the time should arrive for it to be exhibited to the world of mankind; and, in order to prevent his making an improper disclosure, he was murdered or slain on the spot, and the treasure had been under his charge ever since.

He said to him that he had not followed his directions; and, in consequence of laying the article down before putting it in the napkin, he could not have the article now; but that if he would come again, one year from that time, he could then have them.” (HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, 1870, p. 308)

The words:

“… dressed in the same clothes,”

are noteworthy. Because, the clothes described earlier in that account were bloody:

“… he [Joseph Smith] had a very singular dream; but he did not tell his father of his dream, until about a year afterwards. He then told his father that, in his dream, a very large and tall man appeared to him, dressed in an ancient suit of clothes, and the clothes were bloody.  And the man said to him that there was a valuable treasure, buried many years since, and not far from that place… ” (HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, 1870, p. 307)

That hardly resembles later accounts of a bedroom vision in which a messenger from the skies appeared in perfectly white clothing:

“The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam.” (Messenger and Advocate, 1835, p. 78)

One might wonder if it’s likely that later golden plates stories evolved out of earlier stories of a dream and a bleeding ghost?

On this subject, the sons of Rev. Nathaniel Lewis explained:

[In the early stories] “there was not one word about ‘visions of God,’ or of angels, or heavenly revelations. All his [Joseph Smith’s] information was by that dream, and that bleeding ghost. The heavenly visions and messages of angels, etc., contained in Mormon books, were after-thoughts, revised to order.” (The Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, p.1)

Embarrassing Details:

Before the Internet, embarrassing details, such as Joseph Smith using a stone in a hat[6] were difficult to find.

Oh how things have changed!

Images of Joseph Smith’s seer stone, also known as a “glass” back in the day, are out of the vault:

Joseph Smith seer stone
Photograph by Welden C. Andersen and Richard E. Turley Jr.

Stone In a Hat Admission:

This latest seer stone in a hat admission has no doubt caused many to take a closer look into the LDS faith:[7]

Joseph Smith stone in hat routine
Illustration of Joseph Smith with golden plates and a stone in a hat from

A Picture of a Stone in a Hat Is Worth a Thousand Words: 

The way the LDS Church portrayed a young Joseph Smith gazing at a stone in a hat is not a true picture of Joseph Smith’s well documented stone in a hat routine! Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Isaac Hale, Willard Chase and Joseph Lewis, who was a neighbor of the Smith family, all claimed that Joseph Smith put the seer stone in a hat and then put his face in the hat.[8]

Here is an example:

David Whitmer wrote: “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo. p. 12)

Yet today the LDS Church is portraying Joseph Smith looking at a stone in a hat with his face not even touching the hat; and, he is using his hand to block out the light instead. Perhaps Church leaders are concerned that having their founding prophet’s face buried in a hat would seem unusual so they misrepresented what actually took place to make Church history a bit easier to accept?

Stating The Obvious:

Over the years The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sterilized the over-the-top lifestyle and activities Joseph Smith was once known for. Using misleading images of the Book of Mormon translation process is just one example.

Articles of interest:

■ LDS Urim and Thummim — Rich Kelsey

■ First Vision of Joseph Smith — Rich Kelsey

Full Article Index / LDS Series


1. “There had lived a few years previous to this date, in the vicinity of Great Bend, a poor man named Joseph Smith, who, with his family, had removed to the western part of the State, and lived in squalid poverty near Palmyra, in Ontario County. Mr. Stowell, while at Lanesboro, heard of the fame of one of his sons, named Joseph, who, by the aid of a magic stone had become a famous seer of lost or hidden treasures. … as a seer, by means of the stone which he placed in his hat, and by excluding the light from all other terrestrial things, could see whatever he wished, even in the depths of the earth.” (CHENANGO UNION, Vol. 30, Norwich, N. Y., Thursday, May 2, 1877, No. 33, Joseph Smith The Originator of Mormonism, Historical Reminiscences of the town of Afton, BY W. D. PURPLE)

2. “… a young fellow By the name of Docter Benton in Chenengo County to sware out a warrent against Joseph for as they said pertending to see under ground. A little Clause they found in the york Laws against such things.” (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, Dean C. Jessee)

3. “On the request of the Court, he [Joseph Smith] exhibited the stone. It was about the size of a small hen’s egg…” (Purple Account, Joseph Smith Jr. Testimony, 1826 Glass Looking Trial)

4. “Mr. Thompson, an employee of Mr. Stowell, was the next witness. He and another man were employed in digging for treasure, and always attended the Deacon and Smith in their nocturnal labors. He could not assert that anything of value was ever obtained by them.

The following scene was described by this witness, and carefully noted: Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences [something believed to have magical powers]. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm.” (1826 Trial, Purple Account, Jonathan Thompson Testimony)

5. “His father-in-law (Mr. Hale) addressed Joseph, in a flood of tears: “You have stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have followed her to her grave. You spend your time in digging for money — pretend to see in a stone, and thus try to deceive people.” Joseph wept, and acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false. He then promised to give up his old habits of digging for money and looking into stones.” (Peter Ingersoll Testimony of Joseph Smith)


“In October 1825, Josiah Stowell of South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York, made his way up the newly-opened Erie Canal to visit his oldest son, Simpson Stowell, in Manchester, Ontario County, New York. By this time, Joseph Smith, Jr.’s, activities as a treasure seer were well known in Palmyra and Manchester.  For years, Josiah had attempted to locate a lost Spanish silver mine along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.  This mutual interest in treasure seeking drew Stowell to the Smiths’ Manchester residence. Stowell was amazed by young Joseph’s ability to see distant places in his seer stone and therefore hired him on the spot” (I.A.15, JOSEPH SMITH HISTORY, 1839, 8; I.B.5, LUCY SMITH HISTORY, 1845, 1853:91-92; IV.F.l, BAINBRIDGE [NY] COURT RECORD, 20 MAR 1826).

Both Joseph Sr. and Jr. accompanied Stowell back to South Bainbridge, and after gathering a small band of treasure seekers proceeded on to Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, where on 1 November 1825 “Articles of Agreement” were drawn up and signed stipulating how the treasure would be divided among the interested parties (V.E.I, ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT, 1 NOV 1825). According to Isaac Hale, at whose home the money diggers boarded, the company disbanded about 17 November (V.A.1, ISAAC HALE STATEMENT, 1834). Although Smith’s later accounts limited his treasure seeking activities to this one episode in Pennsylvania, he apparently continued similar ventures in Chenango and Broome Counties until his arrest and court hearing in March 1826.

Peter Bridgeman, a nephew of Josiah Stowell who evidently believed Smith was conning his uncle, issued a warrant accusing Smith of being “a disorderly person and an Impostor.” While the court’s findings remain a matter of controversy, conclusions of innocence or guilt are less important than evidence of Smith’s continued employment as a treasure seer (IV.F.l, BAINBRIDGE [NY] COURT RECORD, 20 MAR 1826; IV.F.2, ALBERT NEELY BILL OF COSTS, 20 MAR 1826; IV.F.3, PHILIP DEZENG BILL OF COSTS, 1826; see also IV.C.2, ABRAM W. BENTON REMINISCENCE, MAR 1831; and IV.D.2, WILLIAM D. PURPLE REMINISCENCE, 28 APR 1877).  (excerpt – Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 4, Signature Books)

7. “Joseph had had this stone for some time. There was a company there in that neighborhood, who were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients.  Of this company were old Mr. Stowel–I think his name was Josiah–also old Mr. Beman, also Samuel Lawrence, George Proper, Joseph Smith, jr., and his father, and his brother Hiram [Hyrum] Smith. They dug for money in Palmyra, Manchester, also in Pennsylvania, and other places.  When Joseph found this stone, there was a company digging in Harmony, Pa., and they took Joseph to look in the stone for them, and he did so for a while, and then he told them the enchantment was so strong that he could not see, and they gave it up.” (Interview with Martin Harris in Tiffany’s Monthly 1859)


Isaac Hale:

“I first became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr. in November, 1825. He was at that time in the employ of a set of men who were called ‘money diggers;’ and his occupation was that of seeing, or pretending to see by means of a stone placed in his hat, and his hat closed over his face. In this way he pretended to discover minerals and hidden treasure. His appearance at this time, was that of a careless young man — not very well educated, and very saucy and insolent to his father.

Smith, and his father, with several other ‘money-diggers’ boarded at my house while they were employed in digging for a mine that they supposed had been opened and worked by the Spaniards, many years since. Young Smith gave the ‘money-diggers’ great encouragement, at first, but when they had arrived in digging, to near the place where he had stated an immense treasure would be found — he said the enchantment was so powerful that he could not see.” (TESTIMONY OF ISAAC HALE, Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe’s 1834 book, p.262-263)

Willard Chase:

“Manchester, Ontario Co. N. Y. 1833.

I became acquainted with the Smith family, known as the authors of the Mormon Bible, in the year 1820. At that time, they were engaged in the money digging business, which they followed until the latter part of the season of 1827. In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me; the latter of whom is now known as the Mormon prophet. After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity.

I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat. It has been said by Smith, that he brought the stone from the well; but this is false. There was no one in the well but myself. The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alledging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but would lend it. After obtaining the stone, he began to publish abroad what wonders he could discover by looking in it, and made so much disturbance among the credulous part of community, that I ordered the stone to be returned to me again.  He had it in his possession about two years.

I believe, some time in 1825, Hiram Smith (brother of Joseph Smith) came to me, and wished to borrow the same stone, alledging that they wanted to accomplish some business of importance, which could not very well be done without the aid of the stone. I told him it was of no particular worth to me, but merely wished to keep it as a curiosity, and if he would pledge me his word and honor, that I should have it when called for, he might take it; which he did and took the stone. (Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe’s 1834 book, pp. 240-249)

Martin Harris:

Take your stone.’ I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat– the old white hat–and placed his face in his hat.  (Interview with Martin Harris in Tiffany’s Monthly)

Joseph Lewis:

“Their digging in several places was in compliance with peeper Smith’s revelations, who would attend with his peep-stone in his hat, and his hat drawn over his face, and would tell them how deep they would have to go; but when they would find no trace of the chest of money, he would peep again, and weep like a child, and tell them the enchantment had removed it on account of some sin or thoughtless word; finally the enchantment became so strong that he could not see, and so the business was abandoned. (The Amboy Journal, Amboy, Illinois, Wednesday, April 30, 1879)

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