Reading Mormon History: There’s Never Been More

Recent research and publication of Latter-day Saint history has been so unusually active that Mormon history readers have had their hands full trying to buy books, if they take pride in a personal Church history collection, or reading articles, if they just want to be well-informed.

Perhaps the most common type of book representing original research is biography. Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington, who collaborated with William L. Roper to produce William Spry: Man of Firmness, Governor of Utah (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1971), has just published Charles C. Rich: Mormon General and Western Frontiersman (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 1974) as the first in the series, “Studies in Mormon History.” Brother Arrington has also just finished David Eccles: Pioneer Western Industrialist (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1975), a biography of one of the leading Latter-day Saint businessmen of this age. Andrew Karl Larson, whose Erastus Snow: The Life of a Missionary and Pioneer for the Early Mormon Church (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1971) set a high standard, completed and published a small volume of choice letters and human interest incidents, Erastus Beman Snow: Son of the Dixie Cotton Mission (Dugway, Utah: Pioneer Press, 1973).

George S. Tanner has used his retirement time to advantage in writing John Tanner and His Family (Salt Lake City: John Tanner Family Association, 1974). Two books of interest on the challenging pioneer life of southern Utah, Nevada, and Arizona are On the Ragged Edge: The Life and Times of Dudley Leavitt (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1973) and Emma Lee (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1975), both by Juanita Brooks.

The publication of original documents is another source of long-range growth of Church history. One of the most impressive of these is Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons (Deseret Book Company, 1974), edited by Dean C. Jessee, and including an eloquent, touching foreword by J. H. Adamson. The book, containing the fatherly letters to seventeen sons during their missions or university training in the East, not only shows Brigham Young’s affectionate concern, but also contains advice that is still valuable today. Manchester Mormons: The Journal of William Clayton, 1840–1842 (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Peregrine Smith, 1974), edited by James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander, gives unexpected insights into the daily life of new Church members after the introduction of the gospel into Great Britain. Mormon Democrat: The Religious and Political Memoirs of James Henry Moyle (Salt Lake City: The James Moyle Genealogical and Historical Association, 1975), a limited edition edited by Gene A. Sessions, recounts incidents from the life of a powerful force among Utah Democrats and the father of Elder Henry D. Moyle, a late member of the First Presidency of the Church.

Dedicated to the publication of basic works in Utah and Mormon history, a new series has been sponsored by the Tanner Trust Fund at the University of Utah. Starting with Annie Clark Tanner’s A Mormon Mother: An Autobiography, 1st ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Library, 1973), the series has gone on to publish, among others, Dear Ellen: Two Mormon Women and Their Letters, edited by S. George Ellsworth (1974) and Elizabeth Kane’s Twelve Mormon Homes (1975), edited by Everett L. Cooley. These works are exceptionally well produced and provide choice glimpses into the family relations of the pioneer period.

The only traditional treatments of note are Ivan J. Barrett’s Joseph Smith and the Restoration (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 1973) and David E. and Della S. Miller’s Nauvoo: The City of Joseph (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Peregrine Smith, 1974). Covering the sweep of Church history by means of collected essays was The Restoration Movement: Essays in Mormon History (Laurence, Kansas: Coronado Press, 1973), edited by F. Mark McKiernan, Alma R. Blair, and Paul M. Edwards, and J. Keith Melville’s Conflict and Compromise: The Mormons in Mid-Nineteenth Century American Politics (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 1974), which concentrates on Iowa and early Utah territory politics.

Some of the most provocative history writing has appeared as magazine articles. It is impossible to list all of these, but the following give an idea of the work being published nationally: Leonard J. Arrington and Richard Jensen, “Pioneer Portraits: Lorenzo Hill Hatch,” Idaho Yesterdays (Summer 1973); C. Leroy Anderson and Larry J. Halford, “The Mormons and the Morrisite War,” Montana, the Magazine of Western History (October 1974); Charles A. Cannon, “The Awesome Power of Sex: The Polemical Campaign Against Mormon Polygamy,” Pacific Historical Review (February 1974); Marvin S. Hill, “Secular or Sectarian History? A Critique of No Man Knows My History,Church History (March 1974); D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Church and the Spanish-American War: An End to Selective Pacifism,” Pacific Historical Review (August 1974); and Leonard J. Arrington and Dean May, “‘A Different Mode Of Life’: Irrigation and Society in Nineteenth Century Utah,” Agricultural History (January 1975). This last article concludes that Mormon contributions to irrigation and agriculture in the West were less “than has been imagined.”

BYU Studies has continued its interest in Mormon history with James B. Allen, “Personal Faith and Public Policy: Some Timely Observations on the League of Nations Controversy in Utah” (Autumn 1973); Donald Q. Cannon, “Topsfield, Massachusetts: Ancestral Home of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Autumn 1973); Richard H. Cracroft, “Distorting Polygamy for Fun and Profit: Artemus Ward and Mark Twain Among the Mormons” (Winter 1974); Peter Crawley and Richard L. Anderson, “The Political and Social Realities of Zion’s Camp” (Summer 1974); Leland H. Gentry, “The Danite Band of 1838” (Summer 1974); Gordon Irving, “The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830–1900” (Spring 1974); Louis Reinwand, “Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Historian” (Autumn 1973); Ronald W. Walker, “The Keep-A-Pitchinin, or the Mormon Pioneer Was Human” (Spring 1974); Buddy Youngreen, “Joseph and Emma” (Winter 1974); Gary L. Bunker and Davis Bitton, “Mesmerism and Mormonism” (Winter 1975); R. Lanier Britsch, “The Closing of the Early Japan Mission” (Winter 1975); J. Christopher Conkling, “Members Without a Church: Japanese Mormons in Japan from 1924 to 1948” (Winter 1975); Steven Pratt, “Eleanor McLean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt” (Winter 1975); Truman G. Madsen, “The Meaning of Christ—The Truth, The Way, The Life: An Analysis of B. H. Roberts’ Unpublished Masterwork” (Spring 1975); and Dale F. Beecher, “Rey L. Pratt and the Mexican Mission” (Spring 1975).

It should be noted that BYU Studies often publishes a column entitled, “The Historian’s Corner,” which contains significant documents. One example is the Autumn 1974 issue with a letter to Forest and Stream from President Wilford Woodruff, describing some of his fishing experiences.

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought recently included Davis Bitton and Gary L. Bunker, “Phrenology Among the Mormons” (Spring 1974) and Duane E. Jeffery, “Seers, Savants and Evolution: The Uncomfortable Interface” (Autumn 1974).

The Utah Historical Quarterly, although not primarily devoted to Church history, has always included valuable articles relating to it. Among those published recently are Fred R. Gowans, “Fort Bridger and the Mormons” (Winter 1974); W. Ray Luce, “The Mormon Battalion: A Historical Accident?” (Winter 1974); P. T. Reilly, “Kanab United Order: The President’s Nephew and the Bishop” (Spring 1974); Ronald W. Walker, “The Commencement of the Godbeite Protest: Another View” (Summer 1974); Chris Rigby, “Ada Dwyer: Bright Lights and Lilacs” (Winter 1975); Miriam B. Murphy, “Sarah Elizabeth Carmichael: Poetic Genius of Pioneer Utah” (Winter 1975); and Maureen Ursenbach, “Three Women and the Life of the Mind” (Winter 1975), a sensitive study of Hannah Tapfield King, Martha Spence Heywood, and Eliza R. Snow.

The Mormon History Association in its first issue of Journal of Mormon History in 1974 published Davis Bitton, “Mormonism’s Encounter with Spiritualism”; D. Michael Quinn, “The Evolution of the Presiding Quorums of the LDS Church”; Jan Shipps, “The Prophet Puzzle: Suggestions Leading Toward a More Comprehensive Interpretation of Joseph Smith”; and Ronald W. Walker, “The Stenhouses and the Making of a Mormon Image.”

Besides the titles already mentioned, there have been Church history articles in the Church magazines and a series of short profiles in Church News (1975). Special issues of magazines, other volumes of primary source material, biographies, general interpretive histories, and a sixteen-volume history of the Church, to be published between 1977 and 1980, are also in the mill. Although much remains to be done, it is safe to say that never has LDS history been the subject of so much interest to professional historians, retired teachers, writers, artists, and a large group of history buffs, all of whom continue to find inspiration in the dramatic history of the restored Church.

[photo] From Manchester Mormons: The Journal of William Clayton, 1840–1842

Davis Bitton, a professor of history at the University of Utah, is also Assistant Church Historian. He lives in the Federal Heights Ward, Salt Lake Emigration Stake.