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“Collapse” by Greg Brooks

1850 Census Entry

Name: James Brewster

Occupation Listed: Mormon Prophet

Location: Socorro, New Mexico Territory

They didn’t last long past the census—scattered

like so many axles and ashes across the West.

Brewsterites became a footnote in the Mormon story:

a primrose unable to open, an oasis dried before dawn.

Once, he spooled fresh dynamite into the Illinois caverns

of camp ministry and blasted light thru unrighteous dark!

Today, wagons were being retrofitted into coffins.

James began to doubt the vision he had at 10 years old.

By Socorro, there was no one left to listen. No Zion.

No food. Those who managed to survive, abandoned him.

Maybe the visions never stopped—while he fought

in the war, and aged through Reconstruction.

Maybe he held them tighter as tuberculosis festered.

He spotted missionaries in 1905, hailing

from the Brigham sect on a cold Chicago morning.

Old feelings returned: there were stories to share—

good ones, before the leadership crisis. He limped quick—

but the pair glided deep into the city, full of visions

of their own. Preaching. Walking faster after glancing

his way. He couldn’t keep the pace, not anymore.

The Joseph Smith in his skull differed from the one

they knew—half a century too late to convince them.

For every Moses, and every Martyr, for every

well-heeled Brigham, there’s men who return

to digging ditches, using handwritten scripture

to patch their threadbare shirts, in a world

that forgot every meaningful sense of their name.

This piece was published in 2024 as part of the 13th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz by the Mormon Lit Lab. Sign up for our newsletter for future updates.

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