(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 9-24-15)
In late October of 1830, roughly six months after the publication of the Book of Mormon, four LDS missionaries — including Parley Pratt, who had known Sidney Rigdon previously — came through Kirtland, Ohio, where Sidney had built up a communal church, and introduced him to both the Book of Mormon and Mormonism. Rigdon was a devout and studious preacher of the Bible, even naming one of his sons after the great 14th-century reformer and Bible translator John Wycliff.
Meanwhile, almost from its first publication, it had become obvious to those who knew them both that Joseph Smith lacked the education and ability to have written the Book of Mormon. Accordingly, critics seeking an alternative human explanation for the book needed a secret ghostwriter, and they soon imagined that they’d found him in the much better educated Sidney Rigdon. Sidney’s supposed first encounter with the book, they decided, must have been mere play-acting.
In 1865, more than two decades after Sidney’s excommunication, John Wycliff Rigdon, who, as a young adolescent, had followed his parents out of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, interviewed his father about the Book of Mormon.
"I concluded,” he later wrote, “I would make an investigation for my own satisfaction and find out, if I could, if he had all these years been deceiving his family and the world, by telling that which was not true, and I was in earnest about it. If Sidney Rigdon, my father, had thrown his life away by telling a falsehood and bringing sorrow and disgrace upon his family, I wanted to know it and was determined to find out the facts, no matter what the consequences might be.”
In his mid-30s by this time, John hadn’t seen his father for a considerable while. Among other things, though, he’d visited the Mormon settlements in Utah, which, he said, “had not impressed me very favorably toward the Mormon church, and as to the origin of the Book of Mormon I had some doubts.” So he came right to the point:
“You have been charged,” he said, “with writing that book and giving it to Joseph Smith to introduce to the world. You have always told me one story; that you never saw the book until it was presented to you by Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery; and all you ever knew of the origin of that book was what they told you and what Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed to have seen the plates had told you. Is this true? If so, all right; if it is not, you owe it to me and to your family to tell it. You are an old man and you will soon pass away, and I wish to know if Joseph Smith, in your intimacy with him for 14 years, has not said something to you that led you to believe he obtained that book in some other way than what he had told you. Give me all you know about it, that I may know the truth.”
His father, he recorded, raised his hand above his head and slowly said, with tears running down his cheeks, “My son, I can swear before high heaven that what I have told you about the origin of that book is true. Your mother and sister … were present when that book was handed to me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of that book was what Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me, and in all of my intimacy with Joseph Smith he never told me but one story, and that was that he found it engraved upon gold plates in a hill near Palmyra, New York. … I believed him, and now believe he told me the truth.”
Afterward, John recalled, his father also declared “that Mormonism was true; that Joseph Smith was a Prophet, and this world would find it out some day.” And, years later, just before her own death, John’s mother confirmed Sidney’s account, “for she was present at the time and knew that was the first time he ever saw it, and that the stories told about my father writing the Book of Mormon were not true."
Impelled by those conversations, John ultimately moved to Utah and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At his death in 1912, he was buried in Salt Lake City.