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Leonard J. Arrington Diaries – “Books”

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Six Volume History of Brigham Young

Brother Arrington stated that through Eider Stapley the First Presidency has requested information relative to the six-volume history of Brigham Young which Brother Arrington is proposing to write. Brother Arrington said he provided Elder Stapley with copies of our letter addressed to the First Presidency having reference to this matter.

[Minutes of the Executives of the Historical Department, 10 Feb., 1976; LJA Diary]

Ron Esplin came in today and we had an extended discussion about the Brigham Young materials and the Brigham Young biography. He asked me a number of questions, and I did not give him any definite answers because there has not been a decision yet as to whether we will undertake the six-volume biography of Brigham Young. Until we get a definite answer on that it is hard for us to make a decision. I told him that if we received approval by March or April on the six-volume biography we just might regard me as editor of the biography and list individual authors of each of the volumes. Ron said he was definitely interested in doing one of them on Brigham Young as President of the Church and said he had talked with Dean Jessee and he was interested in doing one on the Brigham Young family. Others also have an interest in participating. He said that Maureen when she finished the Eliza Snow had an interest in working on Brigham Young. He said also that Ron Walker has done quite a bit on Brigham Young. I told him that if we did not get approval on the six-volume I am empowered and authorized by the First Presidency to go ahead with the one- or two-volume biography of Brigham Young and that I had tentatively thought of Dean Jessee as collaborator with me. Ron implied that he would be glad to be a second collaborator on such a volume or volumes.

Ron said that he thought he would have by the end of this month the last Brigham Young records to be catalogued and arranged, and therefore the guide to the Brigham Young collection would be completed. He said that we already have typed the holograph diaries of Brigham Young, and he will have these xeroxed and bound for me. We have also typed the minutes of meetings during the early Brigham Young period and these are now being bound for me. Finally, Sister Romney is almost through typing the office journal kept by Brigham Young’s secretaries–she will probably finish it within three or four weeks. Those will then be xeroxed and bound for me. Sister Romney will then begin the minutes of the School of the Prophets and the journals of Heber C. Kimball.

Ron wishes two secretaries as follows:

1. A secretary to continue the work begun earlier and then suspended of picking out references to Brigham Young in the diaries of associates. This would not include diaries which have many many entries such as the Stout, John D. Lee, Thomas Bullock, and the William Clayton, but it would include the diaries of other associates. He is thinking of a half-time secretary for a period of two months. This would involve an appropriation of $400 to $500. He has in mind such a person who would be willing to do it. I told him I would talk with Davis.

2. Ron Walker has been going through the Journal of Discourses to get all autobiographical and other statements of Brigham Young relating to “culture” and Brigham Young’s attempts to elevate it among the Latter-day Saints. He has already made up several hundred cards and requires secretarial help to make up further. He is now about three-fourths of the way through and thinks that with half-time help for another two months he could finish the job. He is willing to turn these over to us or at least make them available to us. Ron Esplin thinks they would be very valuable and suggests that a half-time secretary for two months should be employed for the purpose. I told him I would discuss it with Davis and Jim.

Ron would like very much to edit a volume or article on Brigham Young’s autobiographical references in his talks, letters, and so on. He quite possibly would prefer doing that to doing a volume for a six-volume biography of Brigham Young and would just as soon do it as collaborate on a one-volume  biography. Ron also suggested that Dean Jessee was very interested in editing the office journals of Brigham Young. Ron thought they should be published, that they were detailed and interesting and not much sensitive material and worthy of independent publication, and thought Dean Jessee was the right person to do it when he finishes the Joseph Smith. I did not mention to Ron the possibility of using Becky Cornwall in connection with the Brigham Young book, but that is back in my own mind.

[LJA Diary; Discussion of Brigham Young History, 3 Feb., 1977]

President Spencer W. Kimball 

Administration Building

Dear President Kimball:

On June 26, 1973, in a meeting between Historical Department executives and the First Presidency, I submitted, among other things, a plan to do a biography of President Brigham Young. Recognizing that there is no adequate biography of that great leader, the First Presidency approved this plan and delegated me to do the job, using such resources as could be provided by the Historical Department. I began the task at that time, with some help from our staff. In addition, because of my own limited time and other assignments given to our staff, I privately employed, at my personal expense, two persons to do some part-time research on President Young.

Now that The Mormon Experience, the book which Brother Davis Bitton and I have been working on since 1973, is off the press and is being well received, both nationally and locally, I am getting some “feelers” from national publishers who are interested in publishing the Brigham Young book when it is ready. I have been estimating all along that the book would be ready by 1982.

We think this is a good time for you to give us some counsel on publication. When I presented the matter to the First Presidency in 1973 and reviewed it in a meeting with your Presidency in 1974, it was understood that we would seek a national publisher. I was also given counsel that I should have the manuscript read in advance by a prominent non-Mormon so as to assure that the book would be received well by non-Mormon readers as well as by our own members. 

If you agree that the earlier understanding with the First Presidency is still desirable, I should like to propose that Alfred Knopf, the publishers of The Mormon Experience, would be a good firm to work with. Brother Bitton and I found them very helpful in connection with our publication of The Mormon Experience, and they were quite willing to allow us to use a style which was favorable to the Church and at the same time acceptable to general readers. They were very good, for example, about allowing us to “stop the presses” long enough to put in the letter of the First Presidency of June 9, 1978, about the revelation on priesthood. They are a good press, well respected, and with excellent marketing connections. (Alfred Knopf is a division of Random House Publishers.) We found their editor, Ashbel Green, to be friendly and knowledgeable. In short, we recommend signing a contract for the publication of the book with Knopf. In the eventuality that Knopf does not offer a suitable contract, I would hope to make the same arrangements with another publisher of comparable stature. It seems very important that this biography be published by someone willing to publish a book favorable to the Church and with a record of successful national distribution.

There is one other matter. Considering my other responsibilities, and the other responsibilities of our staff, I feel the need to employ on a more or less regular basis one or two persons to help me with the research. You will understand the importance of this when I point out the enormous mass of material about Brigham Young, most of which has never before been examined:

4 diaries in Brigham Young’s own hand

29 letterpress copybooks of letters, representing about 30,000 outgoing letters

6 telegraph books, representing about 800 telegrams

48 volumes of manuscript history kept by Brigham Young’s clerks, representing about 50,000 pages

18 volumes of minutes of meetings in which Brigham Young participated, representing about 6,000 pages

9 office journals, with about 300 pages each

And of course thousands of incoming letters, diaries of those associated with him, and many other documents relating to the period–his papers as governor, his papers as superintendent of Indian affairs, the histories of the colonizing companies he sent out, and so on. Also several hundred business records of enterprises he founded and assisted.

Neither I nor my assistants can do all this work; we have other assignments which we must perform. And someone must be employed to sort through his papers as governor, most of which are in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. So I propose that we ask the publisher to grant me an advance in royalties. This advance would permit me to employ one or two research assistants for a year or two to help me go through this mass of material. I think the publisher would be willing to do this. Granting advance royalties is a standard practice resulting from the fact that most authors do not have enough personal wealth to employ the research assistants who help them with their books.

To summarize, I want very much to finish the Brigham Young biography before my retirement. I have enough confidence in myself as a biographer to believe that I can write a biography which is both scholarly to the general reader and inspiring and edifying to Latter-day Saint readers. I should like to sign a contract with Knopf which will include an advance on royalties which will permit the employment of a suitable research assistant. Although I shall have to do virtually all the writing of the biography on my own time (weekends and evenings). I shall be using secretarial and research assistance from out staff and so if I eventually receive any additional royalties, I am quite willing to give half of them to the Mormon History Trust Fund. This means that such royalties will be used to provide fellowships to persons who are doing historical research in the interest of the Church. This would also be a means of repaying the Historical Department for any use that I may make of secretarial services, staff member time, and other facilities. Thus, a good purpose might be achieved at no expense to the Church.

Do these recommended arrangements meet with your approval? Let me add that I should be delighted if you or someone appointed by you would review the manuscript in advance of submission to the publisher in the manner we followed with The Mormon Experience.

We appreciate all that you and the First Presidency have done in the interest of the Historical Department, and we of course are grateful for your leadership and thoughtfulness, and for your working with Elder Durham, who has our full and enthusiastic support as managing director of the Historical Department.


Leonard J. Arrington 

Director, History Division 

[LJA to Spencer W. Kimball, 1 May, 1979]

To: Leonard J. Arrington Date May 11, 1979 

From: Francis M. Gibbons

Re: Biography of President Brigham Young

Dear Brother Arrington:

I have been asked to acknowledge your letter of May 1, 1979, and to advise you that the brethren have approved the recommendation set out in your letter regarding the biography of President Brigham Young, with the understanding that the manuscript be submitted to the First Presidency for review in advance of submission to the publisher.

cc: Elder G. Homer Durham

[Francis M. Gibbons to LJA, 11 May, 1979]


LJA — for the History Division Retreat 

June 29, 1979

2. Brother Durham interprets our instructions as permitting only my name as author. I have asked at various times to permit a co-author or co-authors, but he consistently takes a legalistic position on this, so we’re stuck with it. But I plan to involve all of you:

[Plan for the Brigham Young Biography; LJA Diary, 29 June, 1979]

Received today from Alfred Knopf the signed contract for the Brigham Young biography and also a check for $5,000, representing advance royalties. I shall deposit $2,000 to the Mormon History Trust Fund to support a program of research grants on Mormon history, and shall place the other $3,000 in my own savings account to take care of expenses paid out personally in connection with the writing of the biography. 

[LJA Diary, 4 Sept., 1979]

Monday and Tuesday at the office, busy. Tuesday I went to Rotary, and in the evening did our home teaching. At the office we held our staff meeting and Ron Esplin gave a lecture on Brigham Young and the so-called Adam-God theory. He gave an understandable explanation of the thing, which is the first time I understood what the controversy was all about. I hope he’ll write something up.

[LJA to Carl and Chris, 28 Sept., 1979]

Based on things I have heard, I do not suppose that my Brigham Young biography would be approved by those idiots in the middle management. But, thanks to Elder Durham’s switching us to BYU, I am independent enough that, while I am required to send them a copy of the manuscript, I am not required to pay attention to their suggestions. I also am entitled to personal revelation in connection with this assignment, and that revelation will be my primary guide, not the suggestions of the idiot fringe. I’m talking mighty brave, as you see, to keep up my courage. 

[LJA to Children, 15 Apr., 1981]

I have also learned recently that our division has been subjected to Church security supervision of which we have known all along, since 1972, that Tom Truitt, who thought he ought to be Church Historian, has been picking out everything we have written or said that might be questionable or controversial and forwarding that on to Elder Benson and/or Elder Petersen. In addition to that now it appears that there is additional surveillance of our division. What is most disturbing is the apparent feeling on the part of some that we are letting some historical cats out of the bag. What they ought to realize is that the cats have been out of the bag long before we came in, in 1972 and that our efforts have been to try to minimize the historical impact of those unfavorable facts and to put the lid on other facts that can be found by intense study of Archival material that would damage the Church and all its officers. We certainly have refrained from publishing all the things we have learned i.e., Elder Benson’s grandfather Apostle E. T. Benson was at one time threatened with disfellowshipment by President Brigham Young and in fact came within a hairs breadth of being disfellowshipped. This was well along in his apostleship. This is only one example of it, there are many other facts and interpretations that we have been careful to keep quiet about. I am of course finding many things about Brigham Young that would be better left unsaid and I am trying to be responsible about my assignment to do his biography. 

[LJA Diary, 6 Jul., 1981]

Proposed as the dedication for Brigham Young biography. Dropped.


To Elder Rameumptum J. Moriancumr who, by his stupid regulations and irritating bureaucratic pronouncements, has helped me understand Brigham Young’s impatience with self-important people of his own day, thus provoking some of the colorful language which I am delighted to reproduce in this biography.

[Proposed Dedication for BY Biography; LJA Diary, 1 Jun., 1983]

Learned this morning from Curt Bench of Deseret Book, who has seen the catalogue of Alfred A. Knopf, that BRIGHAM YOUNG: AMERICAN MOSES is listed at $22.95, that the dust jacket has a kind of photograph of a very stern Brigham Young, that the book is listed to be out by April 1, and that Deseret Book would like to send out a flyer about it and wanted some information from me to do so. They would also like to do an autograph party. He wanted quotes from someone about the book. I told him the only people who had to read it were Ron Walker, Ron Esplin, and Davis Bitton. He said he might contact them. He said Knopf are publishing 12,500 in the first edition. A very large printing for a Mormon book; Mormon Enigma only published 7,500 in the first printing. 544 pages in length.

The dual listing of JOSEPH SMITH AND THE BEGINNINGS OF MORMONISM and of BRIGHAM YOUNG: AMERICAN MOSES by the History Book Club, shows that Mormon history is now officially a part of Americas history, well received; and that Mormon scholarship has come of age–that a Mormon scholar can write Mormon history that is generally acceptable to American readers and critics alike. This is an occasion for general rejoicing.

[LJA Diary, 25 Jan., 1985]

I’ve finished with everything connected with BY. The re-reading of the final page proof, the redoing of the index to get it into 1300 lines (I had 1800 lines in my first try), the approval of their dust jacket write-up, and so on. The book is scheduled to be out around the last of March. They are moving everything in order to have copies available to Deseret Book by April conference. The first printing will be 12,500 copies-which seems very high to us. It means the company not only expects a big sale, but is fully prepared to push it to see that it does sell well. The price is $22.95, which is better than we expected. We’d been saying we thought it would be at least $25.00 on account of the size, 544 pages. The book has already achieved one goal. It will be jointly listed with Richard Bushman’s JOSEPH SMITH AND THE BEGINNING OF MORMONISM as a featured item by the History Book Club. So that insures several hundred sales and good advertising nationally. I feel very pleased that they are listing jointly the two books. It shows something about Mormon scholarship. Two noted historians, both active, believing LDS, on the two most important Mormon leaders. A good coincidence that they will both appear in the listing at the same time.

Deseret Book is planning to make an effort to sell the book; will send out its own flyer, have an autograph party, and so on. Too bad Elder Durham isn’t alive to sell the General Authorities on the book. He would have done so. 

[LJA to Children, 25 Jan., 1985]


1. I would like to make clear at the outset that many people have helped in some way with the Brigham Young book. I have tried to make clear my debt to others in the Acknowledgements in the book, and if I have emitted anybody, it is certainly inadvertent. I acknowledge that many of you have helped me. I would go so far as to say that if there is merit in the biography, it is because of the work of many of you. If it doesn’t measure up to what it ought to be, it is my fault, because I am the one who did nearly all the actual writing, and made the choices of what to put in and what to leave out.

2. The book had a long period of gestation. It went through a long phase as a private project, then went through another phase as a Church Historical Department project, and finally ended up as a private project.

3. As far as I can recollect, the first idea for such a book originated with George Ellsworth back in the early 1960s, who had the idea that we ought to edit his papers for publication by the National Historical Publications Commission, much as the Jefferson Papers, Madison Papers, Ulysses S. Grant, etc. He and I proposed to the NHPC and they were enthusiastic and agreed to funding. We wrote to First Presidency, and they declined. I think the reason was that the papers had never been studied and they were fearful that we might find things that were prejudicial, incriminating. The old stereotype existed of Brigham Young and a lot of dirty work behind the scenes. George and I kept this back in our minds and were hopeful that the Historian’s Office would catalog the papers and find that there was no problem; we had confidence that the project would be beneficial to the Church. It was incomprehensible to us why the proposal was not accepted.

4. The next stage was an article by Philip Taylor in the Autumn issue of 1966 Dialogue on why a Brigham Young biography would never be written. I was willing to accept that judgment.

5. The next thing was the Guggenheim grant to Stanley Hirschson to do a biography, which was published in 1969 under the title Lion of the Lord. It was not written from the rich primary sources in the Church Archives, but from the stories in Now York newspapers. I was asked to do a review of it for BYU Studies, and took advantage of the opportunity to see just what manuscript material there was. By then Dean Jessee and Jeff Johnson had been working on manuscripts in the Historian’s Office. And I was able to get a pretty good list of manuscripts and found that all, or nearly all, might be available to a conscientious researcher. Published in BYU Studies in Winter (January) 1970. As I recall, with that information, George Ellsworth and I made another attempt to secure First Presidency approval for publishing the papers, but they did not reply to our request. In the meantime, Joseph Fielding Smith became President of the Church and Howard Hunter the Church Historian.

6. After my own appointment as Church Historian in January 1972, we began to consider the project once more. As a part of our investigation, we found (I think it was Michael Quinn) a large stack of uncatalogued Brigham Young materials in the basement in July 1972, and assigned Ron Esplin to work with Ron Watt and Jeff Johnson in cataloguing the materials and preparing a guide. That project went on and on and was not finally completed until 1980, showing how much there really was.

7. In the meantime, Conference with President Lee in August 1972 at which he first proposes biographies. We study the matter, make practical proposals to him, and the First Presidency approve these in June 1973.

8. On 18 April 1974 I give a Graceland College Convocation talk on BY. Read from BY letters to his sons, to Indian chiefs, and from some of his sermons to illustrate his personality and character.

9. On 23 September 1974. This afternoon at 3 pm Eleanor Knowles brought over the first copies of the first product initiated and produced by our History Division staff: Dean Jessee’s Brigham Young’s Letters to His Sons. We held a little celebration for which Maureen Ursenbach and Chris Croft provided refreshments. We all joined in singing the first part of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” The book is beautiful–splendid binding, excellent paper, fine photographs, a well-made and beautifully-designed book.

10. 1 April 1975. Ron Esplin says it will take several months more to finish a guide to the Brigham Young manuscripts. Thinks we may be able to start our Brigham Young studies about July 1. Ron proposes he do his doctoral dissertation on BY as Church Administrator. Dean Jesse temporarily assigned to do a volume on BY and his family when he finishes his book on JS and his writings. Thought of a Ph.D. candidate doing a dissertation on BY as governor. One volume, Elder Anderson insisted I should be involved. Get Jack Adamson, or Ron Esplin, or Dean Jessee as collaborator. In 1976 we looked forward to

11. /1977 was the 100th anniversary of his birth and we proposed a book on him, to be done by various scholars. Not encouraged. But we did move ahead with things under our control. In Jan LJA and Ron Esplin do a talk for USHS on Secular Leadership of BY, Published in UHQ for Summer 1977.

In March 1977 I give presidential address to Utah Academy on BY and the Utah economy.

In June 1977 we get BYU to publish a special issue on BY. Finally comes out in spring of 1978. Included:

Becky Cornwall and Richard Palmer on religious and family background. 

Dean Jessee on BY family 

Gene England on Brigham’s Gospel Kingdom 

Jill Derr, on Women 

Stan Kimball on BY and Heber Kimball 

Davis Bitton on George Francis Train and BY 

Larry Coates on BY and the Indians 

Ron Esplin on BY Manuscripts 

Ron Walker, on 1840 letter

12. In Sept. 1978 it became clear that I would be the person to have final responsibility for the biography. I employ Lavina Fielding to help get a packet ready for sending to a publisher. Davis Bitton and I then finishing up our Mormon Experience book,

13. I talk to Utah Valley Historical Society on Brigham Young from the sources: a BY profile.

14. May 1979 proposal to Knopf. Contract signed in Sept 1979 and receive an advance which I promptly spend on getting some help going through the materials–Becky Cornwall, JoAnn Jolley, Linda Wilcox, Gene England.

15. Gene England book comes out July 1980.

16. LJA and Ronald Esplin on Brigham Young and the Twelve, Dec. 1979. 

17. April 1981. Completion of Ron Esplin dissertation on “The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 1830-1841.”

18. Started writing on May 23, 1981, chapter at a time. Entire draft of twenty-one chapters and appendix done by December 23, 1981.

Read by Davis Bitton chapter at a time. 

Then read by Ron Esplin, Ron Walker. 

Sent off to Knopf in Feb 1982.

Then tragedy of Grace’s death. revised

Got back to it in fall of 1982 and/copy back to them in Feb. 1983. 

Final copy back in Summer of 1984.

19. What is new. Ann Landers. Sense of humor. Could be tender. New look at Mountain Meadows Massacre. Many episodes in life amplified by study of primary documents.

20. Plenty of room for new books: The six books we proposed originally. 

[Brigham Young Book, Notes for a talk; LJA Diary, 3 May, 1985]

During our talking you told me about Dad’s request that you write the Brigham Young biography and do it objectively for a general audience through a national publisher. You said he also asked you to submit it to three types of historian.

You expressed a willingness to go back to your journals and reconstruct the conversation with him. I’ll be grateful if you will do that. Some of the things I want to write about, in the story of his administration, are the successes and problems of church history writing during that period. You are, of course, more knowledgeable than anyone else.

When I have talked with him about history or biography, he was concerned about balance. On the one hand he believed in honesty and candor; on the other, he feared giving enemies of the church a handle for unfair criticism. He was willing to have weaknesses acknowledged, but did not want them made the focus.

I know it is an imposition to ask you to go back to your memory and your journal, but I want to be accurate in the picture I try to paint. 

[Edward L. Kimball to LJA; LJA Diary, 23 May, 1989]

Statement on the Brigham Young Biography

Based on a Review of My Diary, 1972-1985

Leonard Arrington

June 11, 1989

In 1972, shortly after I became Church Historian, my staff and I, particularly James Allen and Davis Bitton, Assistant Church Historians, recommended to the First Presidency of the Church, among other things, the preparation of a good biography of President Brigham Young. This seemed to be particularly needed after we had discovered many boxes of Brigham Young material that were in the basement of the Church Administration Building, still unopened, uncatalogued, and previously unknown to LDS historians. The First Presidency counseled us to catalog the material and then return for further discussion.

Because of other assignments and the large mess of Brigham Young-period manuscripts to be examined, we did not complete the cataloguing, even in a preliminary way, until 1977, the one hundredth anniversary of Brigham Young’s death. We then studied the materials for two years, trying to decide whether we should simply edit the papers, or at the rate of, say, one volume per year, write a multi-volume biography, and, if the latter, who should write it.

We finally went to President Kimball the spring of 1979 and proposed a seven-volume biography, each volume to be written by a separate historian, and each to focus on one aspect of President Young’s life–one each on Brigham Young as a colonizer, family man, businessman, Church president, governor, formulator of Indian policy, and contributor to Mormon doctrine and practice. President Kimball listened to us carefully, thought for a moment, then finally shook his head and said, “I would like to see a really good, one-volume biography of Brigham Young before I die.” So that settled that; we put on the shelf our plans for an edition of his papers and/or volumes on his many roles. These plans are still on the shelf.

“Here are the names of three people that we suggest as possible biographers for the one volume,” we volunteered. President Kimball replied, “I don’t want to see the list. I want you to do it,” pointing his finger toward me. He had liked my biography of Edwin D. Woolley, his grandfather, which Camilla had read to him. Sister Kimball told me he’d chuckle every so often and say, “That sure is a good book, isn’t it?” I suspect that because he liked the Woolley biography, he thought I could do justice to Brigham Young. That may be how I ended up with the assignment.

President Kimball recommended finding a national publisher, wanted the biography written in a manner that would make it imperative for libraries to place it on their shelves and specifically instructed me not to send it to Correlation—“They don’t know history the way you do.” He advised me to consult with a variety of historians, both members and nonmembers. As for Mormon historians, he emphasized that I should consult not only with traditional historians but also with what he called “Dialogue-type historians” in order to get “liberal” as well as “conservatives” points of view. He wanted the biography to be honest, objective, many-sided, and to make good use of the information in the previously-unexamined manuscripts we had uncovered. 

President Kimball spoke feelingly of the lack of good LDS history books in most libraries around the country–pointed out that most libraries had only anti-Mormon, or at least unfriendly, books. With all of this material previously unused by any historian, and with my national reputation for telling it like it was, he said I had a marvelous opportunity to present President Young as he was, in his greatness as a prophet, as a leader of his people, and as a human being. President Kimball said the Lord would bless me to do the job well.

Shortly after that meeting our group of historians was transferred from the Church Historical Department to Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History at BYU. The Brigham Young biography would have to be a private project, not an Historical Department enterprise. I borrowed some money and at my own expense hired tour persons part-time, to help go through the mass of formerly unexplored material. The research assistants and I still had full access to the resources in the Church Archives because President Kimball had approved the project. I indicated the help of these and other persons in the acknowledgements at the front of the published biography.

Alfred Knopf agreed to publish the book, which finally appeared in 1985 under the title, Brigham Young: American Moses. The book received good national reviews, was adopted by the History Book Club, and was nominated by the National Book Critics Circle as biography of the year. It didn’t win the top award, but I felt that Brigham Young had finally come into his own. He was finally recognized as a prominent national leader. I was especially glad when Sister Kimball told me that President Kimball was pleased by the book and by its national reception. He had to be especially pleased that the book was placed in several thousand regional and local libraries. The book sold well, both in hardback and paperback.

I must emphasize that President Kimball always encouraged me in my work as Church Historian. He often put his arm around me, told me not to be discouraged by occasional criticisms, and was unfailingly friendly, supportive, and helpful. I had reason to feel that he approved of our work.

I occasionally heard rumors that one or two of the Brethren were less than enthusiastic about some of the things the Historical Department historians were publishing, but President Kimball went out of his way to reassure me. “Our work,” he said, “must have national as well as Churchwide credibility, especially among informed people. We had to write history ‘the right way.’”

I interpreted our move to BYU as a way to preserve our scholarly integrity. As several persons told us, the Church didn’t want to be in the position of “approving” or “disapproving” what we wrote. Under university administration, we could continue our scholarly work in an atmosphere of academic freedom. We did so, and I feel sure that we did our research and writing in a responsible manner, both as to the scholarship and as to the probity.

[Statement on the Brigham Young Biography; LJA Diary, 11 Jun., 1989]

Leonard J. Arrington 

2236 S. 2200 E. 

Salt Lake City, Utah 84109

Dear Leonard,

You have gone the extra mile again. Thank you so much for your careful report on the genesis of the Brigham Young biography. It represents really helpful information.

Your reference to the shifting of historians to the Smith Institute at BYU raises for me the question of my father’s role in that decision. Armand Mauss suggested to me that Dad might have engineered it as a political compromise between allowing the historian’s office to go on as before and radically curtailing its activities. Are you aware of Dad’s role and can you tell me about it?

Your attribution to him of encouraging your work and of being concerned with your scholarly credibility and steering you away from “Correlation” suggests that he might have preferred things to go on as they did during the first years of his presidency.

The change might mean either (1) that he was uninvolved (because of poor health or distraction by other responsibilities), or (2) that he affirmatively desired the change (to protect you against the burden of being official spokesperson or because he was uncomfortable with how much openness had been evidenced), or (3) that he felt the move to BYU was all he had the energy to salvage of the earlier “Camelot,” which was under attack.

I know my questions impose on your good nature, but they are important to the story I want to tell of my father’s life, particularly his presidency years. Are there others I should also ask about the changes that took place in my father’s administration and his role in them?

Most sincerely yours,

Edward L. Kimball 

[Edward L. Kimball to LJA; LJA Diary, 16 Jun., 1989]


I have decided to ask Rebecca Cornwall if she would help me prepare my autobiography after she completes the Woolley biography and her work on the one-volume history of the Mormons.  I propose that the work be done in the first person to assure greater interest, sale, and authenticity.  I propose that it carry my name as author and state on the title page “Edited by Rebecca Cornwall,” or “Assisted by Rebecca Cornwall.”  I propose to pay her for the time she puts in on the volume, at the rate of $3.50 per hour, and propose that she and I split the royalties.  I propose that we turn it over to Deseret Book for possible publication, not as a Historical Department project but as a purely private arrangement.  If Deseret Book does not want it, then try Bookcraft.  If not Bookcraft, then try USU Press.  I doubt that a commercial press would go for it, although it would be a mistake not to try somebody like Ward, Ritchie or Knopf, or someone on that order.

[LJA Diary, 27 Mar., 1975]

Dean has a sore throat which seems to be worse this morning.  Susan and Dean plan to go back to Logan this afternoon or evening.  Mamma and I have an invitation to a study group that meets tonight—a group which has been studying Great Basin Kingdom.  They want to ask some questions.  Tomorrow night I’m supposed to speak to a fireside in Orem.  I don’t know how I got into that—don’t recall who asked me.  But I’ll try to be careful about such invitations this year.  I’m definitely expecting to accept fewer speaking engagements this year so I can put more time into the Brigham Young, the one volume history, etc.  I’ve worked all this week on touching up the Woolley—will probably take at least another week.  Then to the one volume history.  Then, finally, to the Brigham Young.  The one volume history will take at least a month, I think.  Chris works at the U of U towards her masters degree, and works only half-time for me.  I have put in for a new secretary, but have nobody I’m willing to employ yet.  Good secretaries are hard to get!  Christ half-time is better than most of them full-time.

Because I’m not ready to get into the Brigham Young yet, I have asked Becky to do another chapter on my autobiography.  She has finished three—the Arringtons of N.C., the Arrington Conversion and trip to Spanish Fork and Back, and the Arringtons and Corns of Oklahoma.  By Tuesday Becky will have finished the chapter on the Corns of Kentucky and Indiana.  Those four will bring us up to the Arringtons going to Twin Falls.  Then she will work on the early years in Twin Falls.  When the Arrington kids were born and spent their childhood.  That ought to take us to 1931, when I went into the FFA and High School.  I am having her write it as a general family history, rather than emphasize my own role, so that I can circulate all these early chapters among the family and get their suggestions and corrections.  Then, when we work directly on the autobiography, we can focus more on my own experiences.

[LJA to Children, 17 Jan., 1976; LJA Diary]

Becky Cornwall was in this morning. She is chomping at the bit to get into writing fiction–her novel. She therefore wants to terminate as soon as practicable her work for me.  I proposed to her items which I thought absolutely indispensable for her to do because of her own interest, abilities, and expertise. She agreed, therefore, that she would do as a minimum the following:

1. A unit on my experiences in World War II, of which she has already finished chapters on my induction and Ft. Custer and on North Africa. She is now working on the experiences in Italy and thinks she will have the unit completed by the end of May. She agrees to an arrangement whereby I might make these as a unit to be separately bound and copies given to the children, presumably with her name as author.

2. A chapter on my experience at the University of Idaho, which she thinks she can complete the first two weeks of June.

3. A chapter on my experiences at Chapel Hill and at NC State, which she thinks, she can finish by the end of June.

4. A chapter on our family experiences in Italy during the Fulbright professorship of 1958-59. She thinks she could finish this during the first two weeks of July, or two weeks in the fall–perhaps September.

5. A chapter on Brigham Young and his family life which would use material about his wives and children and his relationships with them. She and I both think this will take two months, and she would do it probably during October and November. When we finish my history (i.e., the above mentioned chapters) she would like a month or two out to work on the novel and do the Brigham Young before the end of 1976. I am to pay her at the formerly agreed upon rate for the chapters of my personal history, and she will be paid for the Brigham Young chapter out of Historical Department fellowship funds.

Both Becky and I agreed upon this arrangement because she wishes to turn her attention to her novel. Becky is not necessarily interested in professional recognition or status in the field of history. We did not settle the question of what use we would make of her name in case I publish an autobiography, nor what use we would make of it in connection with the Brigham Young history. Presumably Becky is not particularly interested in whether her name appears on the title page of my autobiography and/or the biography of Brigham Young. If this is her feeling, I will ask her to sign at the bottom of this entry. We both agree that this will be a codicil or amendment to the agreement we entered into previously on my autobiography project and on the Brigham Young biography.  [Leonard and Becky both signed this agreement on 5 May, 1976.]

[LJA Diary, 5 May, 1976]

We made Carl & Chris’ letters available to Dean & Susan and James to read.  We shall be interested in developments with them; apparently they have some important choices ahead.  We sent them today a copy of our Arrington-Corn history.  In that connection, Becky Cornwall has been plowing through my letters to Mamma during World War II in order to do a reasonable summary for posterity of that period of our lives.  She has now prepared one chapter on the pre-overseas period and also one on the North African experience.  She is now working on my experiences in Italy.  The World War II unit is already 80 pages, and may reach up to 125 or 150 pages.  In that event, we may very well do a separate unit on that period and have it separately bound and sent to each of you.  It will be in third person.  It will then be a separate document which I can use as a source when I get to doing the Autobiography.  Mamma and I have gone over what she has already done, and we think you will find it interesting.  This unit will list her as sole author.  Becky does not want to work beyond this fall, so when she finishes the World War II unit, roughly the end of May, she will then do a chapter on the University of Idaho period, the UNC and NC State periods, and the Fulbright to Italy.  That will then conclude her contributions to my history.  I shall furnish you all copies of that much, and then it will go into mothballs, I suppose, until I can get some time to work on it myself—which will not be fore at least a couple of years.  Anyway, I am grateful for what she has done and will do.  I will have spent perhaps $2,000 on it, but I believe it will prove to be worth it.  Or I hope you will think so.

[LJA to Children, 7 May, 1976; LJA Diary]

Becky has now finished the drafts of the four chapters dealing with the war.  We are now thinking that perhaps we will combine them with the high school chapter, and new chapters which she must now write on U of I and UNC, and we’ll thus have a biography that covers 1931 to 1946.  Becky then “wants off” to work on a novel, so we’ll probably simply bind these chapters together, send them to Utah, listing Becky as sole author, and possibly place copies in a few libraries.  We’ll see.

[LJA to Children, 29 May, 1976; LJA Diary]

Becky Cornwall has finished the story of my life, 1931 to 1946, and on Tuesday she will finish the titles of chapters, an essay on the sources, an introduction, etc.  It is a work of collaboration in the sense that I organized and furnished all the materials, she wrote the narrative, and I made corrections and some alterations in the narrative.  But we are going to put it out under her name.  It’s done in the third person, and I can assure you that the interesting style is all hers.  Mamma is now reading it this weekend to sp0ot anything that is incorrect or misleading or improper.  It’s a pretty frank biography; we haven’t held anything back except obviously indecent or improper things.  I think you will all read it as exciting and candid.  We’ll make up a dozen copies or so, send them for you all to read and get your suggestions before turning copies over to any archives or library.

[LJA to Children, 10 Jul., 1976; LJA Diary]

Dear Leonard and Grace,

I have the intuition that Kenny and I are leaving a period of our lives, in interim period between trauma and, hopefully, getting settled and about our life’s business.  Not so much socially, but in our thinking and feeling and personal discoveries, our contact with the Historical Department has been crucial, and our association with you even more crucial.

I can’t speak for Kenny.  He is a quietly profound man and a very good man, not prone to exercise any kind of coercion upon people and a good companion because he’s at his best at home.  But any intellectual conflicts or spiritual unrest in him is a result of living with me, and so he is not so troubled about such things as I am.  I have had a rough emotional background, rough enough that if I had my choice, and felt that people live mostly for themselves rather than to effect their children and grandchildren, I would be comfortable leaving the Church and leaving any reminders or recreations of difficult experiences.  My dilemma has not been whether to separate and find my own happiness or whether to sacrifice and stay with my background, but how to work out the conflicts so that I can be happy as well as make my family happy and stay loyal to my roots.  It has often seemed an impossible object, sometimes improbable, but now it seems very possible and at times fulfilled.

You should know the influence you two have had on us.  The work that Leonard has given me has allowed me to read Mormon history in much greater depth than I otherwise would have done and come to many resolutions about it.  As a boss and editor he has been always positive, stimulating, and gentle with me.  He has seen me at my best and worst and been sometimes disappointed but has accepted me and never intentionally wounded me.

I didn’t get to know Grace until reading the war letters.  I expected her to be what she was, from knowing Leonard, but I didn’t expect such depth and graciousness and I didn’t expect to come away admiring her so much.  I am a feminist to red blood corpuscles because I’ve seen so much evil come from abuse of the sex roles and denial of individuality, but Grace has shown me that there are many ways to be dedicated and disciplined and free, and that some of these ways are not obvious.

Reading the letter was at first, as I wrote in the preface to the biography, an unnerving task.  I became nauseated and had to put them away for a few weeks, for the intimacy was unbearable—not the intimacy between you two, but my getting that close to anyone.  It turned out to be very good therapy—to see you that well and find out that you were both trusting and reliable—both very good.  I’ve lived with mistrust and erratic goodness most of my life, and did not really find out what goodness was until meeting Laurel, and now I want to gradually become good, and help my children to have security and love and acceptance, and make that kind of a marriage.

So I thank you and want you to know how much I love and respect you.


[Rebecca Cornwall to Leonard and Grace Arrington, 27 Jul., 1976; LJA Diary]

Becky Cornwall has decided she would like to finish my biography before she takes on other tasks, so she will begin tomorrow with the period 1946-1952. Then 1952 to 1958, Then 1958-59 in Italy. Then 1959 to 1971. Finally, a chapter on the period since our removal to SLC. I shall have to make a number of dictations for her to use. And of course she will have my diary entries, clippings, and letters and other documents. . We estimate it will take her about 3 months, in other words, until the end of the year. Then she may do some things for the Brigham Young biography. I’ll be glad to have the personal history finished. Just what we will do with it, I’m not sure. I doubt it has general enough interest to be published. But at any, rate, we’ll get copies to you folks and well decide whether to put copies in a few local libraries, etc.

[LJA to Children, 12 Sep., 1976; LJA Diary]

I received yesterday the bound volumes of my biography, 1931 to 1946, by

Becky Cornwall, It runs to 303 pages typed. I mailed a copy to Carl & Chrisyesterday. Will wait to give Susan and Dean their copy when they come forThanksgiving unless they direct me differently. James’ copy will be herefor him to pick up or peruse whenever he wants it. Nobody has read any partof it but Mama and Becky and me. The preface indicates Maureen, but shehad to get another manuscript out of the way and so I decided to go aheadwith it without her help and suggestions. BUT I DO WANT SUGGESTIONS FROMALL OF YOU, if you have any. Basically, I would like to know whether youthink I should give copies to place in U of U Lib, BYU Lib, USU Lib, UtahHistorical Society Lib, and Church Archives, or whether we should keepthis within the family, It’s more personal than any LDS biography everpublished, but maybe not too personal to place in libraries. What do youthink? Becky is now working on 1946 to the present, but really not doingmuch on it now. She is editing for publication the Vickie Burgess Olsenessays right now. She ought to be through with that in a week or so, thenwill presumably get back to my biography. I shall sit tight on the 1931-46volume until I hear from you all as to what you think about putting it inarchives and libraries. Since much of it will be in the “finished” biographywhich Becky will probably do, then your suggestions about other aspects willalso be welcomed.

[LJA to Children, 27 Oct., 1976]

BYU History

Yesterday President Ernest Wilkinson spent an hour with me in the late afternoon in the office and then invited Grace and me to eat dinner with him and his wife in the Alta Club. It appears that Bob Thomas and Dallin Oaks, sensing the problems involved in him writing about his and the Oaks administration for the third volume of the BYU history had recommended that a co-editor be appointed with him for the third volume. Specifically they had recommended Frank Fox as the co-editor. President Wilkinson said that he had not responded directly to President Oaks and Dr. Thomas on the matter, but that he was totally opposed to this arrangement. In the first place, he wasn’t sure that he and Roy Bird, with the assistance of our editorial committee of Thomas, Fox and Arrington, could not take care of any problems that arose. In the second place, he was totally opposed to a collaboration with Frank Fox. Frank Fox was too young and inexperienced. He had already indicated that his approach was completely different than that of President Wilkinson and President Wilkinson had read his book on Madison Avenue and World War II, which was so sophisticated and so filled with “clever” words and sophisticated expressions that it was not lucid or understandable or even interesting to the people who will be reading the BYU history. 

After giving the matter careful thought, President Wilkinson had decided

to ask me if he might suggest my name to be co-editor with him. His reasons

for doing this were (a) He was now inclined to agree with President Oaks and Dr. Thomas that readers of the third volume would assume his prejudicial point of view whether or not it existed and that it would be more believable if a co-author be also listed; (b) unlike Dr. Fox, I had carefully read through all the chapters in volume one and volume two and was well acquainted with the first two volumes; (c) I had had lots of experience in these matters; and (d) he had built up respect for my competence and judgment. He almost pled with me to agree to this. He also said he had not mentioned it to anyone but Roy Bird and did not expect to do so until I responded one way or the other. He also said that he was putting $50,000 of his own money into support of the three-volume history and he thought he was entitled to some consideration whatever arrangements were determined upon. He said Bob Thomas would not be a satisfactory co-editor because he did not have the time and would not take the time.

I responded to President Wilkinson that I would think the matter over and talk to him later about it. I told him I saw no reason for an immediate decision on the matter since he and Roy Bird should go ahead and make the best draft possible of volume three to submit to our committee and all of this would have to be done whether or not there was a co-editor. I hope I left the impression with him that I thought the decision could wait until after he and Roy Bird had finished their revision of the third volume and then I could make a determination after seeing that and the problems it might present. He told me that he could not see why it would take any more time on my part than I would have to give to it in my capacity as a member of the reviewing committee, and as mentioned earlier, he thought it would probably protect him and the university  from charges of tendentious and prejudicial writing.

I must confess that despite our completely different social philosophy and despite some of his personal characteristics which I disdain, perhaps even loath, I have developed a genuine affection for him. Perhaps it is because of his forthright honesty, his sincerity, his pluck, and his courage in ignoring stupid bureaucratic procedures and policies. Because of this affection, it will be difficult for me psychologically to refuse his request, and I can also see benefits to BYU of the arrangement he proposes. Nevertheless, it offers dangers and disadvantages to me personally and to my position as Church Historian, so I am not certain yet how to respond.

[LJA Diary, 27 Aug., 1975]

Last night Elder Neal Maxwell telephoned. I told him confidentially about the visit to my office of President Ernest Wilkinson and of his request that I serve as co-editor of the third volume of the BYU history. I told him that while I would be glad to do this if requested, I thought it would be impossible for me to accept the assignment without the approval of my ecclesiastical superiors. Elder Maxwell agreed with this, and he asked my permission to discuss the matter with President Oaks and if President Oaks agreed, they would then request approval from Elder Joseph Anderson and/or our advisors, Elder Hunter and Stapley. He said he would attempt to get back to me with an indication of whether I should plan to accept the assignment before he leaves for his mission tour this coming Monday. I expressed appreciation to him for his consideration of this matter.

[LJA Diary, 12 Sep., 1975]

On Friday, October 31, 1975, Grace and I were driven to the airport by Davis Bitton and took off for Palm Springs, California. We were met at the airport by Dr. and Mrs. Ernest Wilkinson and drove to their home 2617 Jacaranda Road, Palm Springs 92262. We remained there until Saturday, November 8, when they drove us to the airport and we returned to Salt Lake City. We remained there a week and one day.

The purpose of going there was for me to work with President Wilkinson on the Centennial History of BYU. I read drafts of the chapters for volume 3 each day–from roughly 5 am to 9 pm with the exception of meals, visits, etc. and Sunday. On Sunday we went to High Priests meeting, Sunday School, and Fast Meeting. One evening we had a visit from William (Bill) Geddes and his wife. Another evening from June and Avon Rich Smart and their daughter and son-in-law, the Sweets. We also had a nice chat on Friday with Clair Stout, brother of Reed Stout, who was in Washington,D.C. for many years and is a neighbor of Roland Rich Woolley. Also one with Lorin and Barbara Moench, and their daughter and son-in-law, Rodney and Bobby Snow. We also became acquainted with others in Palm Springs. We took out an hour just before lunch each day to swim in the pool near the Wilkinson condominium and to get some sun. This was good for Grace, who seemed to get much better. We also saw the George Eyres. She is Afton Crowley Eyre, sister of Ariel Crowley. She had a reminiscence of her father, Clarence Crowley, dated Sept. 1, l899, of his visit to the Arringtons in Tennessee, and of baptizing Aunt Sis. “You caint read Mormonism out of my Bible.” said Grandpa’s mother! She will send me a xerox of the excerpt from the journal, and will encourage Arid to send me a xerox from the original diary from which it was written.

Dr. Wilkinson and I agreed to make 4 volumes of the BYU history. We finished the manuscript for volume 3, 14 chapters, and it was ready Saturday to mail to Roy Bird. Preliminary drafts of volume 4 sent to Bruce Hafen. 

Having lived with Ernest and Alice Wilkinson for a week, here are a few observations. First, it is clear that President Wilkinson is a very bright man. He is a clever observer of human nature, he understands consequences and anticipates them, he is imaginative in working out means and ends, he is perceptive in work and conversation. He is prejudiced, to be sure, or biased, or has a particular set of values that do not equate with those of the majority of intellectuals. But he is very bright–of that there is no doubt. Second, he is a hard worker. He puts himself into a cause and works for it long and hard and effectively. While he cannot do it today, it is obvious that he has put himself into his work to the extent of up to 20 hours per day. He not only works but knows how to work. Third, he is sincere. He believes in what he does, and believing in what he has done and is doing he is not above intrigues to accomplish them.  This is to his credit since he could not have achieved his desirable goals without some intrigue, and without loading the scales in his favor by “lawyers’ evidence.” Fourth, one sees two kinds of Ernest Wilkinson. The public Wilkinson is firm, bull-doggish, belligerent, hard, suspicious and serious. The private Wilkinson is friendly, accommodating, full of good humor, hopeful, dedicated, considerate, compassionate.

Alice Wilkinson is long-suffering, gracious, ladylike, a little formal, loyal, accommodating. She has obviously had a tough life, since her ideas, goals, and activities, are subordinated to the wishes of her husband who has been demanding, sometimes thoughtless and inconsiderate, sometimes perhaps even cruel.

The two of them have reared fine children.

Suffice it to say, Grace and I developed a good deal of affection for each of them. We spent as long as an hour or two at the table talking about people and history and the Church, and much of every evening. A very pleasant and profitable week with two people that we very much admire. 

[LJA Diary, 9 Nov., 1975]


Incidentally, I’ve taken a job to edit a man’s book for the University of Utah Press, and this will pay me several hundred dollars.  So maybe I’ll have enough to pay your expenses even if I’ve already spent the money you’ve sent me!  I’m also anxious to work with you on your article for Dialogue.  I got a few ideas to add to it in case you need a few more.

[LJAD, letter to Carl, 19 August 1969]


Dictated:  December 9, 1971 (Thursday)

My involvement in the biography of William Spry occurred as follows.  Sometime in 1969 I received a letter from Roland Rich Woolley saying that he had a typescript of a biography of William Spry by William Roper and would I be willing to read it.  For doing so he would be glad to send me a check.  I replied that I would be glad to read it.  It was then mailed to me and I read the biography through and wrote a long critique.  I suggested that before the biography was publishable certain enumerated things should be done.  I noted that Everett Cooley had previously read the typescript, and the next time I saw him I asked him about it.

Sometime later I received another communication, I think by telephone, from Roland Rich Woolley thanking me for my criticisms and saying that he would be in touch with me further about it.  He apparently showed my criticisms to his nephew, Denis McCarthy, in Salt Lake City and to a friend, Reed Stout in San Marino, California.  Sometime later—perhaps several months later—I received a letter from Mr. Woolley asking me to review the Spry biography in accordance with my suggestions.  This was somewhat of a surprise since I had never supposed that I would be asked to do so.  He enclosed in the letter a check for $300 and indicated that more would be forthcoming.

I replied that I would be glad to work on the revision but wanted his approval to ask Tom Alexander to help me.  I also asked him to send me the criticisms and suggestions of others who had read it.  He seemed very hesitant about approving Tom Alexander to help me, but indicated that I might employ Tom to assist provided I was completely responsible.  Tom agreed to look at the manuscript and sent back suggestions.  I asked him to write a preliminary draft for a chapter on Spry’s administration.  He did write such a draft.  He also made a number of suggestions for additional paragraphs in other chapters and for some changes in wording.  I went through the entire manuscript rewriting part of it and revising other parts.  Also added new chapter on Spry as a missionary based upon my own research in Church Archives.

The entire manuscript, after an extensive revision, was retyped by JoAnn Bair in Phoenix.  I sent this revised manuscript to Mr. Woolley, who had it read by Mr. Stout, by his wife, and perhaps by others.  They made a few minor suggestions but indicated their satisfaction with the revised version.  Mr. Woolley then said he wished the biography to be published by Utah State Historical Society, and he would pay for the cost of publication and then give them all returns on the book after publication.  The Utah State Historical Society, Charles Peterson, Director, then read the manuscript.  I think they asked Tom Alexander on their board of editors to read it also.  I know that Charles Peterson and Marjorie Ward read it completely.  Possibly Everett Cooley also.  Charles wanted to do it in collaboration with University of Utah Press and have the book listed as one of the Western History series.  So someone from University of Utah Press also read it.  

After writing up the suggestions received from these readers I rewrote much of the book, and then it was retyped.  At that point Charles and Mr. Woolley asked me to have my name listed as co-author.  When I was in Los Angeles I looked up William Roper and asked him if he would have any objections.  (I had also sent him a copy of my revisions and had his suggestions.)  Mr. Roper said he had no objections, in fact welcomed it.  Mr. Woolley was very insistent that my name appear as co-author.  He offered the tempting bait of financing a biography by me of his grandfather, Charles C. Rich.  With all of these considerations I gave my approval for my name to be listed.  However, I realized the book would not add to my reputation, and that it might subtract from it.

Transcribed by RaNae Allen

Corrected by LJA 12/13/71

[LJAD, LJA Diary, 9 December 1971]


Dictated:  December 10, 1971 (Friday)

During the summer of 1970 ElRoy Nelson, Vice President and Economist of First Security Corporation and a personal friend, telephoned me to say that George Eccles was interested in talking with me about doing a history of First Security.  He asked if I was interested, and I replied yes.  He then suggested that I prepare a memorandum of agreement for the preparation of such a history and send a copy to him and to Mason Smith, Vice President in charge of Public Relations for First Security.  I prepared such a memorandum and sent it to them.  They made various suggestions for changes, and I then reworked it, and at that point submitted a copy to Reed Durtschi (department head), Dean Collier, (College of Business), Vice President Dee Broadbent, and Vice President Wynne Thorne.  With a corrected and more complete proposal for agreement I then met in Salt Lake City with ElRoy, Mason, and George Eccles.  Present also, though quite accidentally, was William F. Edwards.  I took along with me a copy of a number of my publications.  We talked for an hour or two about the proposition.  A few days later George Eccles sent a check to Utah State University for the first installment of the First Security Project, which should be completed in time for publication in 1973.

After I had begun the First Security project—perhaps two or three months later—I was visited at the office by Nora Eccles Treadwell and her business manager Dick Harrison.  They wanted me to write a biography of Mrs. Treadwell’s father, David Eccles.  They had made inquiries about who was a suitable person to write a biography, and they were finally led to me.  I am not certain whether or not they already knew that I was working on the First Security history.  I think they did not know it.  I told them I was definitely interested provided there were no objections from George and Marriner Eccles.  Mrs. Treadwell said she would take care of them; “they will not dare to offer any objections after I tell them.”  She said she wanted to inform them herself in person, and would do so within the next week.  They asked me to prepare a memorandum of agreement.  I did so immediately and sent them a copy.  They replied by telephone that it looked all right.  I then went to various university officials obtained their instructions about drawing up the agreement and sent a revised copy of the agreement to Mrs. Treadwell and Mr. Harrison.  Within a short time Mr. Harrison was back on campus to work out final details in person.  A grant of $25,000 was to be made to the Development Fund of Utah State University, which, after indirect costs were taken out, would be applied toward funding the research, writing, and publication of a biography of David Eccles.  I am paid nothing out of this grant—the entire fund goes to pay for research assistants, secretarial help, publication, and so on.

Shortly after this agreement, which was completely unexpected, Roland Rich Woolley telephoned me that all arrangements had been made for me to write the biography of Charles C. Rich, and that he had already mailed me a check for first payment.  He asked me to draw up a plan, which I did.  This involved a grant of $6,000 to Utah State University, which would be used in financing the research for the book.  In addition, Mr. Woolley would pay me something occasionally for my own time on the book.

As a result of these three agreements—none of which I had a right to anticipate or expect—I find myself fully occupied through 1973 in trying to complete all three.  I have employed graduate and undergraduate research assistants, and have used the expense budgets to take care of travel, Xerox, purchase of research books, and other costs incidental to the three projects.  It would have been much nicer if they had come a year at a time; but I could hardly turn down the David Eccles biography, when it dovetailed so well with the First Security history.  And I could hardly turn down the Charles C. Rich biography, since I had urged it so strongly upon Mr. Woolley at the time I was working on the William Spry biography.  I feel confident that I can complete all three projects satisfactorily, if my good health holds out.

Transcribed by RaNae Allen

Corrected by LJA 12/13/71

[LJAD, LJA Diary, 10 December 1971]

14 January 1982



You have some oblique references in your family letter to the introduction you were asked to write for The Utah Legacy but no explanation of what the project consisted of. Would you dictate a paragraph of so about whose project it was, how you got involved, and why the introduction was so hard to write? (took two weeks longer than you expected.) Also, I recall that after you wrote it they wanted it two pages longer?

The Utah Legacy was a private project of Charles Barrett, a young man from California, LDS, who wished to do a pictorial volume on 100 prominent Utahans. He hoped it would sell well, and it just might. He asked for suggestions of persons to do the writing. I gave him some; others gave him some; and he accumulated 20 or 30 people who, for remuneration, agreed to do feature articles on 100 Utahans in their various fields. Also articles on cities and areas–SLC, Ogden, Provo, Southern Utah, Eastern Utah, etc. I’ve read much of it and it is quite good. It will be a respectable volume. I do not know when it will be out.

At his invitation I wrote the introduction. I wrote one that I thought was just right. He wanted it a little longer–he found he had allowed more space for it than originally planned. He also wanted some changes in it based on the nature of the papers that had been written. I agreed to it and wrote another draft, longer and modified. He liked it but wanted a few more changes. I worked on them and finally got it done to his satisfaction. I feel good about it though, in my judgment, it is more dry than the one I initially did. I do not know when it will come out. Presumably, pretty soon. In my judgment it will not be controversial; i.e., the treatments of the people and places are fair and balanced. But I haven’t seen the article on the Church so don’t know what to expect. Church people were hesitant to cooperate with him, since he had no track record, so he had a Presbyterian minister write the LDS article. Serves our Public Information people right! I still think it will be good and fair. 

[To Leonard from Lavina; LJA Diary, 14 Jan., 1982]

On Tuesday I was called to the Governor’s Office to talk to him about doing a biography. One person has offered to do it free of charge, and I would charge $20,000. Frankly I think he would like me to do it, but there’s the expense. He may ask me simply to help out the one who wants to do it free. (He’s a lawyer, not a historian.) I’ll keep you informed how it turns out. 

[LJA to Children, 2 Apr., 1992]

Let me explain for this record how the David Eccles book happened to be written. I had received a contract with First Security Corporation to write a history of the First Security Corporation for its 40th anniversary (1973). A short time later, perhaps about the summer of 1970, I received a telephone call from a Mr. Richard Harrison that he wished to have a conference with me. (I was then at Utah Stake University.) I agreed to the conference, and with him came Nonie Eccles Treadwell. (At the time Mr. Harrison, I learned, was the business manager of Mrs. Treadwell, whose husband was very ill—had been ill for many months.) They said they had contacted the University of Utah (didn’t say who there) about writing a biography of David Eccles. They did not get any enthusiasm there, and they had heard about me. Wondered if I would be interested in doing a biography of David Eccles under an arrangement whereby they would pay me nothing, but would make a grant to USU which then might be willing to ask me to do the biography. I said I would be interested. I told them of the First Security assignment, which they apparently didn’t know about. I told them I would be personally interested, that it would fit right in with my First Security assignment, that I would have to get clearance with First Security and with Utah State University officials. Mrs. Treadwell said she personally would talk to her brothers George and Marriner Eccles and would make sure that they would not oppose my doing the project. But she told me that this was “her project” and that I was not to circulate drafts of chapters or of a final manuscript to George and Marriner, because she did not want them deciding what was to be in the book.

I mentioned the project to Mason Smith, public relations vice president of First Security, under whose direction I was proceeding on the First Security history: He said that Nonie had mentioned it to George and Marriner, and George to him, that they were not in a position to oppose me doing the project, that they would insist upon my meeting their deadlines, that they would not grant me interviews for the David Eccles biography, that they would really wish that I did not do the biography, but under the circumstances they supposed I would have to go ahead—at least I should not represent them as being opposed to my doing the project.

I also discussed the matter with Read Durtschi, my department head; Rex Collier, my dean; and with Wynne Thorne, the research vice president. They were all favorable to my doing the project. They however felt I should teach at least half time–carry on with my indispensable classes, which were history of economic thought and economic history of the United States, and a graduate seminar in economic history and history of economic thought. I also discussed the matter with Dee Broadbent, financial vice president of USU, who told me the university might be willing to consider doing it for 25 percent overhead.

I then wrote a proposal to Mrs. Harrison, within a week after she was in my office, in which I proposed a $25,000 grant to the university for Western History Studies, of which $10,000 was to be saved for printing the book, and $15,000 for expenses, including portions of my salary. They wrote back their acceptance. They then returned to Logan, entered into an agreement with Dee Broadbent and Wynne Thorne, which was duly signed and check made out. I immediately employed some student assistants under terms of the grant: Brad Morris, Annette Haws, Chris Rigby, George Daines, and others. They worked during the summer and fall of l970 and during 1971. We accumulated good files on each of the enterprises with which David Eccles was associated, and I had task papers written on each of these. I also had some task papers on various aspects of David Eccles’ life: Chris Rigby did one on his family life, George Eccles on his business career, Brad Morris on his experience as a councilman and mayor of Ogden.

I sent Xeroxes of all these papers, together with other pertinent information from the files–perhaps as many as two or three hundred separate papers—to JoAnn Bair, who lived in Phoenix at the time. I asked her, at the rate of $2.50 per hour, to make a connected narrative of David Eccles’ life—in other words, a first draft of a biography. I sent her some books on early Scotland, etc. She did a 120-page draft, I think during the winter of 1970-71. On this basis I prepared a talk to give to the Eccles Family Reunion, held at Huntsville Utah, in the summer of 1971. I also gave a couple of talks: (a) to one of Grace’s literary groups in Logan, thinking I might get some feedback; (b) to the Lions Club of Ogden, for the same reason.

My appointment as Church Historian delayed completion of the project to some extent, but I did go through all the papers and revise the JoAnn Bair biography, and prepare a draft of a complete biography during 1972. This I sent to the Harrisons, who in turn provided one to Joe Quinney. I also sent one to Cleone Eccles. The Harrisons made a few relatively minor suggestions. Cleone Eccles’ critique suggested less on the settlement of the estate. She also made suggestions on other “touchy” items. She wanted to be sure that I gave sufficient treatment to his role as churchman. She thought I ought to go to Oregon to interview Jack. Joe Quinney was extremely critical. Said the man did not come through. Too much on the businesses. I think he was the one who suggested to the Harrisons that they ought to get Wallace Stegner to look at it. I prepared a new chapter on David Eccles the man, and touched it up here and there, and then sent it to Wally Stegner. His critique was several months forthcoming, and the critique was a wonderful manual on how to write biography.

I then asked Maureen Ursenbach, who had literary training and abilities, to go thru and make suggestions based on Stegner’s critique. I paid her some privately, on the theory that she would do the work on her own time, not on Hiotrica1 Department time. She worked for two or three weeks, mostly on her own time. She actually rewrote some portions, and did some editorial work on the remainder. She made it a far better work. Chris Croft then retyped this, and I went through the entire manuscript—probably working the equivalent of three or four weeks full-time. It was then retyped again. I then sent copies to Cleone Eccles, the Harrisons, and Joe Quinney. (In the meantime, I had interviewed additional people, made a visit to Baker, Oregon, and done additional work.) Joe Quinney made absolutely no response. (I telephoned him later, and I think wrote him, asking for any suggestions, if any. No response.) The Harrisons made a few minor suggestions. Cleone made a few additional suggestions to her son Justin just before her death of cancer.

USU then said they were ready. I suggested Yale University Press and received USU permission to send it there. I did so, and in about four months got a decline to publish from them. I then got an o.k. to send to University of Washington Press, and after a few months a decline from them. They said it was too favorable to D. Eccles–too friendly. I then proposed Perregrine Smith. Gibbs Smith and wife read it and wanted very much to do so. I suggested they write USU for approval of a plan. They made a proposal on the financing, which I supported with letters giving reasons and justification. I also talked personally with Jerry Sherratt, and Gibbs Smith talked personally with him. Ultimately, they were unable to reach agreement. Jerry decided USU would publish it. I said I would agree only if they promised to have it properly designed, printed on high grade paper, fine binding, etc. Jerry agreed to all of this. So they went ahead. The published work is the product. As a production, the book itself–paper, binding, design, photographs, etc. are far better than we would have had from any other press. I am very pleased with the USU work, which [was] supervised by Jerry and by Mary Washington. I should also say that I made three contacts with Albert Eccles to secure his support of what I wrote about him and his mother in the published work. I am now told he is disappointed, but he certainly gave his approval to what I put in.

[LJA Diary, 8 Jun., 1975]

Let me explain how I happened to write Beet Sugar in the West. In July 1965, Keith Wallentine, public relations officer of Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, approached me about writing a history of the U&I Company, for publication in connection with the company’s 75th anniversary, which would be in 1966. He asked me whether I was interested and how it could be arranged. I told him I was very interested, and that the best arrangement would be for the company to pay half my salary for a year, and pay all costs to the university, in return for which the university would grant me half-time off, and create a project under which the project could be financed. I discussed this with Wynne Thorne, the research vice president of the University, who pointed out that the university would require at least 25 percent overhead. (This was later raised to 54 percent, but I think did not apply to the beet sugar project.) I wrote a letter to the company making a proposal, and the company agreed to the entire arrangement. I think the total appropriation amounted to $15,000. We asked for too little, but then this was our first and we did not have the experience. I do not recall how the company happened to ask me. Perhaps it was Bion Tolman who suggested my name. Perhaps the company had previously talked with Wynne Thorne. Perhaps the company was wanting someone from USU and just happened, thru USU connections, to come to me. At any rate, I was delighted with the arrangement.

I said that I would need to have access to the company’s records, and I went to the secretary-treasurer, Bill Cockayne, who said I could use the minutes of the board of directors. I then arranged for a quarter off, as I recall, and spent the quarter at a desk in the company’s office taking notes from the minutes of the meetings.  This was fall of 1965. I also acquired from Keith Wallentine copies of material collected by Walter Webb after he had retired from the company. I also used at USU the collection of their company magazine. Finally, I went to Philadelphia and stayed a couple of weeks going through the materials of Lewis Ware and Dan Gutleben. These were also very rich.

From the beginning I had two aspects: the history of each of the company’s factories, and the history of the company itself and its various operations. I solved this by collecting histories of each of the factories and put them in an appendix, and made the main narrative of the book on the basis of a chronologica1 history of the company.  Gutleben and Ware and Webb made the task much easier and made the narrative far more interesting. It would have been far more succinct and far less detailed and interesting if I had used only material in the minutes and in the company magazine.

The book could have been better if I had had more time. The book had to get to the press by April 1, 1966.  And I may have pressed that a little by going to May 1. Anyway, it had to be out by fall of 1966. I did the research in the office the fall of 1965, went to Philadelphia during the late winter of 1965-66, made a quick tour of the company’s five factories in the winter of 1965-66, while they were still in operation. I spent two or three days at each factory. I was given complete cooperation at each place, although I had the feeling that the Garland factory had sponsored a kind of history of that operation to be done by the wives of one of the officials. She was a little jealous of it, and I did not get to see it, nor have I to this day heard anything from it. I could have benefited from whatever they had, but did not have access to it. Despite that, I wrote a reasonably good chapter on Garland which I think is one of the best in the book.

Anyway, I got the book done on time, the press did a good job. The company bought 2,000 copies to distribute, the press made an extra 500 to sell. I have received royalties only on the 500, which doesn’t amount to even $25 per year. So it was not financially remunerative to me. The book had good reviews. I enjoyed doing it. The actual writing was done during the spring of 1966, and I turned out a chapter almost every week. I feel reasonably proud of the book.

[LJA Diary, 8 Jun., 1975]

I had a conversation the other day with Becky Cornwall about her work for me.  A few people have raised questions about the ethics involved in having her do so much toward the Woolley biography and her name not appearing as a co-author.  I discussed this very frankly with Becky, as I had done earlier, to be certain she had no change of opinion.  She repeated to me again in the strongest language that she had no interest in having her name listed as a collaborator and that she thought that the credit that I had given her in the intended preface was both accurate and sufficient to her.

[LJA Diary, 16 Oct., 1975]

Great Basin Kingdom

Up till now I have been reading another one of those books as background for my work.  The more I read the more I am beginning to get integrated about the agriculture vs. politics; or any either/or proposition.  They all work together and reinforce each other.  My Doctor’s dissertation can be on “The Economic Achievements of the Mormon Church”; or on “The Economic Achievements of the Rocky Mountain West” (which is almost the same thing).  Either would require almost the same kind of analysis that I have been thinking about for my book on “How We Make a Living”, for it would have to start with the natural resources then a description of their achievements in the different fields such as heavy industry, light industry, mining, agriculture, chemistry, etc.  In any case it would show both man’s adjustment to underlying economic facts and (well, my train of thought has been broken.  Dr. Shulenberger came by and has stood in the door talking with me for over an hour—another one of those interruptions.  The thing that makes me impatient is that all of the times I talk to people like this, I am making valuable contacts—valuable for the future.  But I ought to be in Idaho, where I can make good use of the contacts that I make.  I often feel that I am kind of wasting a lot of the time I spend with people here because when the time comes to “cash-in” on their friendship, I shall probably be in Idaho.  No doubt that is a very mercenary way to look at friendship and so I apologize.

[LJAD, letter to Grace, July 6, 1942]

Talk Given By


Provo Library—League of Utah Writers

May 23, 1973

…With respect to this personal thing, let me mention five or six things that might be interesting.

The first is that I grew up outside of the Mormon culture in Twin Falls County, Idaho, where there were hardly any Mormons in the region.  My father was a member when I was born, my mother became a member shortly thereafter.  I was reared in a LDS family but we did not know Mormon community life.

I became interested in procuring material for public communication into the Future Farmers of America.  I grew up on a farm and my only goal in life was to be a good farmer.  I tool vocational education all years of junior high, all years of high school, and that is what I majored in in college.  They have a public speaking contest.  I prepared myself by reading for the public speaking contest each year I participated:  this was excellent training in writing.

Then, when I was a junior in high school, I was nominated to be president of the State FFA.  My closest buddy, also a farmer [Howard Annis] and a person ambitious just as I was, I thought that he wasn’t quite as forward as I was, not quite as pushy, and was more retiring.  I thought I would try to do something to get his name before people so he would get to be State Future Farmer president and to be a National American Farmer.  So, I prepared an article about him to submit to the American Farm Youth Magazine, and it was printed in the American Farm Youth Magazine while I was a senior in high school, and that’s my first publication.  No money.

Then, I went to the University of Idaho and majored in agriculture.  After one year, I discovered that they required two years of chemistry and one year was enough with me.  So I switched over to a social science curriculum to major in agricultural economics.  Then, I found out that even when you major in ag economics, you have to have two years of chemistry.  So, I switched over to pre-law.  The Dean of the Law School thought that everyone in pre-law had to have all the economics that he could stand.  I took economics, liked it, and stayed in it.  I went on to North Carolina to do graduate work in economics.  I was the first westerner to be admitted to the graduate program at the University of North Carolina and have a fellowship there.  I wanted to go there because my father was from there, my grandfather, and all the rest of the family back to the 1700s are all from North Carolina.

I wanted to go back to learn, to get acquainted with Southern culture.  I fell in love with it, saw that there was such a thing as a Southern culture.  I saw that Western culture was something different from Southern culture, and went, therefore, with leaps and bounds.  North Carolina was the center of a Southern regionalism movement in the depression years when I was there.  They were encouraging Southern art, literature, drama, theater, history, and economics.  They were encouraging people to do studies about the South.

I got immersed in Southern regional culture, so when we started thinking about doing a Doctor’s dissertation, I wanted to do something about the South.  The regional people, people dominated by regional interest that I talked to about it, said, “You missed the whole point of regionalism.  You’re not supposed to come down and study the South.  We don’t want any Yankees down here telling us about our history and culture and economics.  You ought to do the West.  Nobody has ever done a good study of Western economics.”

So, I got a job at a Southern university, North Carolina State College in preparation, I took some classes in rural sociology.  It happened that there are a number of Mormons who are known most prominently of the rural sociologists in the United States.  That includes T. Lynn Smith, a graduate of BYU, Lowry Nelson, and others.  I read their books and got interested in them.  T. Lynn Smith and Lowry Nelson in their texts had a little section on Mormon village.  That was something completely new to me!  I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a Mormon culture or a Mormon village.  I got interested in it and started looking in magazines to see what there was about the Mormons.  Surprisingly, I found some very nice things.  I found articles by Bernard DeVoto in Harper’s Magazine; that marvelous little essay on “Jonathan Dyer, Western Frontiersman”.  One of the nicest portraits of a Mormon ever done.  I saw an article by Juanita Brooks on “The Water’s In!” up near a Mormon community in southern Nevada.  Another article was by Louis Larson on “Notes of a Polygamist Boyhood,” or something like that.  All of these interested me a great deal because although a Mormon, growing up in a Mormon home, this was fascinating.  I wrote a couple of papers for a class about this and compared the Mormon culture with some other cultures and so on.

Along came World War II, and I went overseas for three years during the war.  When I came back after the war, I went back to have my conferences at the University of North Carolina about my Ph.D. dissertation.  The people said, “Okay, get you a job in some university, and go out there and study.  Get some topic on Western economics.”  So, I applied at twelve Western universities.  I was offered jobs at three of them.  The best offer of all of them was from Utah State Agricultural College.  So, I went there.  I applied at BYU, University of Wyoming, and University of Utah—no offer from any of them.

So I went to Utah State University in 1946.  The first thing I did was to go to Salt Lake City for a conference with John A. Widstoe.  I figured, “Here is a man who has been a college president, he knows what it is to write a dissertation, very knowledgeable man, has written lots of books on his own.  He’ll give me good advice.”  So, I went in for a conference with him.  He was the one that suggested that I study “The Contribution of the Mormons to Western Economics Development.”  He laid it all out chapter by chapter.  “You’ve got to have a chapter on irrigation, got to have one on the sugar industry, got to have one on this and that and so on.”  He just set it all out.  Now he said, “You’ll have to do most of this work in the archives of the Church.  Let me give you some practical advice.  Now don’t go in there and say, “I want everything you have on Mormon economic enterprises.”  You go in there and tell them that you’re interested in studying Mormon culture and Mormon history.  Begin by asking for some printed books about Mormon history—doesn’t matter if you’ve seen them before or not.  Ask for some printed books.  Spend a day or two looking at them.  Then, ask for some old newspapers.  They’ll bring them out and you’ll look at them for two or three days.  Then ask them what their basic source of material on Mormon history is.  Now they’ll say, “The Journal History of the Church”.  You’ll say, “May I look at the first volume?”  They’ll bring it to you and you’ll use that.  When you finish that, go back and get the second volume, the third volume, and stay there until you finish the Journal History of the Church.  Considering things like they are in the Church archives, you have to be like the camel which poked his head in the tent and gradually moved along until gradually it carried the tent away with it.”  Nobody ever suggested that through this procedure one would become the Church Historian.

I did that and eventually I found that there wasn’t any problem in using the Journal History of the Church.  I went through this day-by-day, beginning July 22, 1897, day by day until 1900.  That took me four summers to do, working there eight hours every day.  Nobody was there to check on notes, nobody was there to question anything.  I just went through it and indexed all of it for economic enterprises and matters.  That’s the basic source of the economic history studies that I’ve done since.

When I first went there, I went to see A. William Lund, the assistant Church Historian.  His practice was to tell a few funny stories and then to say, “Now you have to go talk with Br. Joseph Fielding Smith before you can use anything.”  That was enough to discourage two-thirds of the people, and so they leave.  Well, I don’t know why I wasn’t discouraged, but I was very apprehensive.  I went to see Joseph Fielding Smith, and he was very curt with me and certainly very busy that day.  I explained what I wanted, and he said, “Well, go ahead and use our stuff.”  So, that was my permission. (1946)

I went to see one other person for advice:  Dr. Leland Creer of the University of Utah, Professor of History.  I told him what I proposed to do, and he said, “Young man, you will make a great mistake if you do anything beyond 1857.  Concentrate all your work on the period before ’57.  There are too many controversies after that.”  This should have influenced me, but it didn’t.  I just dismissed that.

During the winter, I would organize all these notes that I made and began to write them up.  By 1949, I had done enough to where things were shaping up, so I took a year’s leave of absence without pay to go to the University of North Carolina.  I finished all my oral exams, and all my written exams.  In two of these classes I turned in some papers that I had written on the basis of my research in Salt Lake City. One of the professors was good enough to say, “You know, this is quite interesting, actually.  Maybe you ought to think of publishing it.”

When I got off of that leave, I came back to Salt Lake City and went in and had a talk with Harold Bentley, who was the editor of Utah Humanities Review that started in 1947.  I asked him whether he would be interested in an article that might deal with some aspect of Mormon economic history.  He spent about an hour with me, and nearly all the time he spent was telling me how important it was that things be well written.  That was quite discouraging, and I think it was meant to be.

I found that Bill Mulder, who was a professor of English at the University of Utah and had been an associate editor of the Improvement Era, was coming up to Logan for something.  I called him up, told him who I was, and asked him if he could stay at our house that evening.  He said he would be glad to.  So while he was in our house—a captive audience—I hauled out this little essay that I’d written.  I asked him to tell me quite frankly and bluntly—could I write or couldn’t I?  He read it over and said, “You know, if you had a little of Wally Stegner’s account, he would have done this to this, done that to that.  If you would just do that, I think that could run in the Humanities Review.”  (By now it’s the Western Humanities Review.)

So, I did this little thing, did that little thing, and sent it in, and he accepted it for publication in the Western Humanities Review.  It was called something about “A Chapter in Mormon Desert Conquest”.  Anyway, it dealt with the success of the building of dams down in Deseret, Utah, in Millard County.   They built a dam, then it washed out.  They built another dam, and it washed out.  They built another one, and it washed out.  There’s a whole succession of these, and how they finally solve the problem.  I tried to cover these. It’s a dramatic story of Mormon attempts to conquer the desert.  It was published and got nice response from it.  So, I’m always grateful to Bill Mulder because he’s the one who recruited me right at the crucial stage.

About the same time as that, there came on our campus, George Ellsworth.  George Ellsworth just had finished his degree in 1950 at Berkeley, California, and had written a nice long write-up about him.  I thought, “Boy, that sounds like somebody that I ought to get to know.”  He showed up in December in time for our first faculty party—our faculty Christmas dinner.  He was going to start teaching in Denver.  I was the chairman of this Christmas dance, so I got a chance to meet everybody.  As soon as he said, “I’m George Ellsworth.”  I said, “I want to talk to you.”  So, we traded dances even though his wife was twice as tall as I am.  This gave me a chance to invite them over to our house, which we did, and I said to him, “You know, we ought to get people like us together to write papers and present them.”

So, we agreed that evening to do so and formed a group of four couples called the Church History Club:  George Ellsworth and his wife, Eugene Campbell and his wife—he was teaching at the Institute of Religion in Logan, Wendell Rich and his wife, and Grace and I.  (Grace is my souvenir from North Carolina.)  Each of us would pick up a paper and read it.  We would give copies in advance so that they could read it over and then make criticisms.  So, I submitted a piece to them.  They made criticisms, I went home, and worked on it. I gave one as a paper to the Utah Academy.  It was received well there, so I sent one to the Pacific Historical Review and they published it.  Then I presented another one a little later, which I sent off to the Western Humanities Review, and that was the second published there.  I published another one in the Utah Historical Quarterly on “Coins and Currency in Early Utah.”  They were just starting up, the Utah Historical Quarterly, as a new magazine, and so I published a couple of articles there.

By now it was about time for me to get my dissertation put together, so I took a month’s leave of absence without pay from USU.  I stayed at home and lived upstairs in our house just on a 24-hour basis.  I just wrote, went to sleep, got up and wrote, went to sleep, and so on.  We had little children at the time, and Grace looked after all of them, so all their good qualities came from Grace during that period.

I wrote my dissertation, took it back, and it was accepted.  They suggested that I publish it—finally send it in for publication.  I rewrote it, added to it, and so on, and submitted it to the Committee on Research in Economic History of the Economic History Association in 1954.  They suggested a number of things that ought to be done with it; but, somehow or other, I felt they weren’t enthusiastic enough about it.  So I worked on it, carved out some more articles out of it, which I published.

Then, I got a leave of absence to go to the Huntington Library and spent a whole year there doing nothing but working on that book.  I completely rewrote the work.  People say that it is a product of my dissertation, but only in the most general sense.  It’s a very basic change from when I first started out for the library.  I wrote one chapter a month.  I was there for 13 months and finished 13 chapters.  This was published by the Harvard University Press and subsidized by the Committee on Research in Economic History.

Unfortunately, all the glory that one gets when his book comes out missed me because I was in Rome, Italy, on a Fulbright.  I didn’t even see it till three months after it was out in the States.  I never had a chance to get all the glories and things that happen when you publish something and it first comes out and everybody shakes your hand and tells you it’s great even though they haven’t seen it yet.  I missed all that.

After writing that, I continued to write some articles for professional publications because that is how I managed to get support on my projects from Utah State University.  I tried to get ten articles published each year, and on that basis, USU gave me a research grant each year, and some time off, and so on.  So that worked out very nicely.

As time went on, I got interested in Mormon history.  I went to UCLA for a year as a visiting professor.  During that year, I got interested in literary history.  My graduate assistant, the one assigned to work with me [Jon Haupt], had a Master’s in literature—a very bright young man.  He got me interested in literary history and I have been interested in it ever since.  That added a new dimension on to my work.

[LJAD, talk given by LJA to the League of Utah Writers at the Provo Library, 23 May 1973]

The story of the writing of my dissertation is given in my diary for July 3, 1972.  After completing the dissertation, my advisor, Dr. Milton Heath of the University of North Carolina, said that it was such an interesting analysis of regional economic development that I should submit it to the Committee on Research in Economic History for publication in their series.  This special committee of the Economic History Association was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.  They had published books on economic policy in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Missouri, and he thought they might include a book on Utah because of its uniqueness.  Upon returning to Utah State University, I worked for a year revising and expanding it for that purpose.  About the year 1954 I sent the revised draft to Dr. Arthur H. Cole, who at that time was chairman of the Committee on Research in Economic History.  Cole was president of the Economic History Association and a professor in the business school at Harvard.  Cole asked Professor Lewis Atherton of the University of Missouri to read the manuscript carefully.  Atherton had a fellowship that year at Harvard.  Professor Atherton wrote a six-page critique of the manuscript.  In general he was pleased and wished to see the manuscript published, but he also expressed some concerns.  I worked with the manuscript during 1955 and was not satisfied with it.

I decided it would be helpful to take a Sabbatical leave from USU to work on the manuscript more thoroughly—especially to use other archival sources.  I applied for a fellowship at Yale University so that I might use that collection.  Yale’s fellowship program was discontinued that year, but they offered me a part-time teaching position which would supplement my Sabbatical pay and would enable me to make out financially.  At the same time I applied for a fellowship at the Huntington Library.  The Huntington Library agreed to give me a six-month fellowship.  I thereupon wrote to Yale and asked them if they would give me a part-time professorship for half the year.  They agreed to do so.  I therefore applied for a Sabbatical from USU for the school year 1956-57 to spend six months at Huntington and six months at Yale.  We left Logan under that arrangement to live in Pasadena.  Actually we found a home in Altadena, immediately north of Pasadena, and lived there for three months and then moved to a home on Linda Vista above the Rose Bowl for the remainder of our stay there.

After I began work at Huntington Library I was invited by the director, John E. Pomfret, to attend with him a meeting of historians of Southern California.  He seemed to have been in charge of the program and he arranged for me to spend 15 or 20 minutes telling what I was doing at Huntington.  He seemed to be impressed with the importance of my project; on the drive home he told me that he would be glad to give me a full 12-month fellowship to remain at Huntington—together with a private workroom of my own across from that of Allan Nevins—if I would remain there.  I happily agreed to do so and wrote Yale to cancel my arrangement there.  I thereupon blocked out completion dates for each tentative chapter in the book and began the task of completely reworking and rewriting it from the beginning.  I organized it chronologically, not topically, as had been true of the draft that had earlier been sent to the Committee on Research in Economic History.  I converted a description of Mormon economic policies and programs into a chronological narrative.

I sent chapters back by mail to my secretary in Logan to type as each one was completed.  Roughly I allowed one month per chapter.  By the end of the summer of 1957, when it was necessary for me to return to USU, I had completed the new Great Basin Kingdom.  I sent a copy off to George Ellsworth to read and criticize, and awaiting his reply, began work on editing the diaries of Hosea Stout—a task which I worked on a few weeks until I learned that the Utah State Historical Society under Dr. A. R. Mortensen was undertaking editing of this diary themselves.  George Ellsworth sent his critique in a short period, and I had time to make all of the suggestions he recommended while I was still at Huntington.

Upon returning to Logan in the fall of 1957, I had the entire manuscript retyped and sent it to the Committee on Research in Economic History.  After it had been read, presumably by all members of the committee, they accepted it for publication through Harvard University Press.  Herbert Heaton, a member of the committee, told me he read it and recommended it.  The Committee agreed to put up $10,000 to finance the publication of 1,500 copies.  I was to get 10 percent royalties on any books sold after all costs had been taken care of.  During the school year 1957-58 I considered all of the suggestions of the Harvard Press editor, went through the galley proof and page proof, and while I was teaching summer school at BYU during the summer of 1958 I did the index, which required two weeks full-time.

In the meantime I had been awarded a Fulbright professorship at the University of Genoa and elsewhere in Italy for the year 1958-59 and left in September of 1958.  The book was published some time in October of ’59, but I did not see a copy of it until December as it had been mailed to me by sea.

The mountains of notes that I had accumulated during the period of my thesis and writing articles for professional publications were the basis for Great Basin Kingdom, but I found it necessary to use the printed and other materials in the Huntington Library.  These greatly enriched the volume.

The basic theme of the book was the methods by which Brigham Young and his associates managed to support the augmenting community of Latter-day Saints in a semi-arid region, and how, after the death of Brigham Young, his successors managed to preserve some of the more unique aspects of the Mormon way of making a living.

It should be emphasized that this was strictly an individual project. At no time did I have any research assistants helping me with this work nor did I have the advantage of xerox duplication. Everything had to be copied out laboriously on the typewriter.

Great Basin Kingdom was well received. I have a folder full of reviews of the book, all but one or two of which were favorable. The one I liked best was by Rodman Paul and it appeared in the Journal of American History, which at that time was probably called the Mississippi Valley Historical Review. The review by Richard Poll in BYU Studies gave perhaps the best summary of the book.

I entered the book in the Pacific Coast Branch American Historical Association Awards Contest and won the $100 prize for the best first book by a Western historian in 1958-59. The book also won an award of merit from the American Association of State and Local History. The book has since been regarded by many as one of the most important on Mormon history to be published in this century.

Some years after it had been published, Tom Alexander and James Allen at BYU said they would like to use it as a textbook but it was too expensive. They asked about the possibility of a paperback. I talked with Bruce Nichols of the University of Nebraska Press, who expressed an interest. I thereupon wrote to Harvard and requested them to allow the University of Nebraska Press to run it as a paperback. They agreed to do so, and it has now done through six printings and is widely used as a reference in American historical and Western historical classes.  The book went out of print as a hardback in 1974.

One interesting aspect is that many Mormon students upon reading Great Basin Kingdom have wondered how a “non-Mormon” could write such a fair book. On the other hand, many non-Mormon readers have wondered how a “Mormon” could write such a fair book. Even today students make similar comments to their instructors. This is a supreme compliment and if the impartiality is there it is because I recognized that I would be writing for the readers of the Committee on Research in Economic History, none of whom were Mormons or had much knowledge of Mormon history. 

[LJA Diary, 22 Mar., 1976]

As others celebrate and honor you in regards to the anniversary of the publication of Great Basin Kingdom, let me add my own recollection of my experience with the book. It must have been in 1970 when I was a freshman at Utah State that I finally settled down to devour the text. It was at a time when I was reading voraciously. About this same time I was reading a lot of black radical literature for school, so it must have been the spring quarter when I had that class from the black Marxist professor in Black History. I read Franz Fanon, Eldridge Cleaver, James Baldwin and a collection of poetry called Blackfire edited by LeRoi Jones (he has an African name now). I was feeling fairly radicalized myself and was writing my regular column for Student Life. I suppose I was about as educationally radicalized as you could get at a Shangri-La like USU in Cache Valley. It was the spring, I recall, of Kent State. And the spring, for me, of the Aggie Joker

I’m not sure why I picked up Great Basin Kingdom. I suppose my personal identification with you was almost at its peak as I found myself studying economics at your home institution. I suppose, also, that reading other “ethnic” literature prompted a desire in me to understand the roots of my own culture.

I remember reading the hardbound edition, which I carried with me to Bolivia and re-read over the span over the time of my time in South America and, on several occasions, lent to fellow elders. I remember Elder Blodgett read it, as did Kevin Barnhurst.

The first time through in Logan I remember spending hours transfixed in this tan lean-back reading chair that I’d bought for $15. By this time I was living down in the old Henryites section of our house. I remember spending days and days poring over each page. I’m not a fast reader (still) and I recall being impressed with how densely packed each paragraph was with information. It certainly provided a brilliant sweep of the story and marvelous details. I especially enjoyed the detailed lists of what the pioneers and colonists took with them to create settlements. My other stark memory was the anger and indignation against the federal government and all of the unfair “carpet bagging” takeovers that took place in the wake of the polygamy scandal. I suppose this episode fueled my already-existant anti-government feelings that were created by the war in Vietnam.

I’m sure the book created in my own character a foundation for my own faith, which I suppose for some time was founded on cultural identity. The heritage of the pioneer story creates deep roots, though I recall feeling a bit odd since my own roots were only two generations deep on one side and half a generation deep on mom’s side.

Since I was not an avid reader of Mormon history in any case, Great Basin Kingdom has loomed large in my own mind. To me it remains your most important contribution and will glow brighter as the years go on. If a person had to settle on a single volume to describe Mormonism, the book seems an inevitable choice.

It remains something of a touchstone in the firmament of my own Mormon identity. Perhaps because of that I have trouble with the modern church that, I believe, has forsaken the basic value of “integrity” that was the cornerstone of the early kingdom. In matters of theology, the Mormon Flame seems an ever smaller-though distinct-candle in my church. My own mystical bent and life experience show me that there are still greater basins in the kingdom of spirit. But I am only 36, and at the fulcrum of mortality, and one can never second guess fate or second guess from which direction the winds of belief will blow next. I remain open to nurturing breezes from whatever quarter, but fortified against the cold gales of unenlightened, dogmatic blather. Anyway, from this tiny Atlantic isle where so many of our forebears departed to help make desert blossom bloom, I toast the book and the man.

Much love,


[Carl to LJA and Harriet; LJA Diary, 13 May, 1988]

It is clear that Mormon history is now passe’. Not a single reporter was assigned to cover the MHA meetings in Logan. Not a single article about it being held in either Deseret News or Salt Lake Tribune. While pages devoted to a local real estate convention. Not a word on the historians. Nor was there any mention of the Great Basin Kingdom Symposium. Oh, well…

[LJA to Children, 18 May, 1988]

I have been asked to say a few words about how I happened to write Great

Basin Kingdom. Doing so will give me the opportunity of giving credit to several people that were particularly helpful.

It was my good fortune to do my graduate work at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University, in Chapel Hill and Raleigh. When I went there, in 1939, the South was going through a cultural renaissance, and North Carolina professors were leading the way. There were a group of poets, novelists, playwrights, and journalists reasserting the legends and historical incidents of the Old South–John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Paul Green, Thomas Wolfe, W. J. Cash, W. T. Couch, and Jonathan Daniels; there was the scholarly concentration on regional studies by Howard W. Odum, Rupert Vance, Samuel H. Hobbs, C. Horace Hamilton, and other sociologists; and there was Milton S. Heath, my graduate advisor, in Economics. Heath always insisted that as I became immersed in Southern studies, I should expect to return to the West and do studies of the economics and history of my native region.

While exhilarating in this intellectual ferment, to my great surprise, in the spring of 1941, I read the description of a Mormon village in T. Lynn Smith’s Sociology of Rural Life. With mounting excitement I read similar commentaries about Mormon life in the works of other sociologists, both Mormons and non-Mormons. I found studies of Mormon communities by Lowry Nelson, which led me to a search for other articles and books on the secular aspects of Mormon life–works by historians, economists, historians, and folklorists. I was particularly fascinated to find an article published by Richard T. Ely in Harper’s in 1903 on “Economic Aspects of Mormonism.” I happened to meet Ely in the annual convention of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia in December 1941, and mentioned to him how much I enjoyed that article. He then gave me a personal lecture on the importance of the Mormons in American history and their praiseworthiness as a people. It was all a heady brew (that’s not a very good image, is it?) for an aspiring graduate student who happened to be an Idaho Mormon chicken farmer.

All of this did not jell, however, until I was in Italy during World War

II. In July 1945, two months after the surrender of Germany, I was located at Milan and began to think about what would happen when I was finally discharged and could return to North Carolina to complete graduate work and write a dissertation. I find in my files the carbon of a letter I wrote at that time to Dr. John A. Widtsoe, former president of the Utah State University and the University of Utah, and then an apostle of the LDS Church, in which I asked him if he thought a dissertation on the economic institutions and activities of the Mormons would be practical. He replied, in a letter I still prize, that such a study would be desirable, that there was ample material, and that he was aware of the difficulty of gaining access to the materials in the Church Archives. With respect to the latter, he wrote that if, at the beginning of my research, I asked them only for printed materials, and as the days and weeks went by, gradually progressed on to theses, scrapbooks, ward records, diaries, and name files, and if I patronized the library regularly, worked quietly, and kept my nose clean, he was sure that, in the end, they would give me access to everything I wanted to see. This, of course, is what eventually happened, and I was able to examine a large number of documents that had previously not been seen by any professional scholar.

At any rate, with this encouraging response, I planned, upon my return to Chapel Hill and Raleigh, to do a dissertation on some aspect of Mormon economics. My graduate advisor approved, wrote letters of support to economics departments in Western universities, and I finally received an appointment to Utah State University, where I remained for twenty-six happy years.

I went there in the summer of 1946, began research immediately in the LDS Archives, and continued with that research in the summers of 1947, 1948, and 1949. I worked through the Journal History, day by day, 1847 to 1906. I returned to North Carolina for completion of graduate course work in 1949-1950, finished language requirements, took the preliminary oral and final written exams, and wrote several essays on Mormon economic policies and institutions in preparation for the dissertation, which I finished in the spring of 1952 and took the final oral. (1. Women 2. Extent of coop institutions 3. Diaries of ordinary people, not just BY)

At that time, my advisor, Dr. Heath, thought I should give serious consideration to publishing an expanded version of the dissertation through the Committee on Research in Economic History, which had a grant from Rockefeller to publish several volumes on American Economic History through Harvard University Press. Upon Dr. Heath’s recommendation, that Committee sent me a grant to work on the manuscript, and I finally finished an 800-page manuscript in the summer of 1954. Under the title, “Building the Kingdom: Mormon Economic Activities in the West, 1847 to 1900” I sent the manuscript off to the Committee and it was read by Lewis Atherton, Edward Kirkland, and Herbert Heaton. They wrote long commentaries, with many helpful suggestions, both specific and general. I worked through them and had a manuscript ready within a year. But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that the manuscript was, in the words of my colleague, George Ellsworth, a wonderful piece of research from which a splendid history could be written. It was too detailed, it didn’t have any central theme, it was, to be honest, tedious and dull. I was due for a sabbatical from Utah State, so my department head and I decided to use it rewriting the book. I applied for a six-month fellowship to the Huntington Library and a six-month fellowship to Yale. Both were granted, so we headed first for Southern California in the fall of 1956. Huntington was good enough to give me an office, opposite from that of Allan Nevins, I am proud to say, and I began the new work. Huntington was excited with what I was doing and soon promised a full-year fellowship, so we ended up not going to Yale. At the rate of one chapter per month, I wrote Great Basin Kingdom, completing it in the fall of 1957. It was accepted with hardly any alterations by the Committee, and it was published by Harvard Press in 1958. Some of my colleagues were surprised that it was more history than economics. So was I. But not chagrined. My fellow economists were as pleased as I.

That is not the whole story of the book, however. When I had begun my work on Mormon economics in the summer and fall of 1946, I was fortunate to have helpful interviews with several Utah scholars and oldtimers. I was able to talk with William Wallace, often called the father of Utah irrigation, who was old enough to have been with his father when he had a private consultation with Brigham Young in the 1870s. Charles C. Richards, then 96, told me about some financial dealings of the Church I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. So did LeRoi C. Snow, secretary to the Church’s First Presidency at the turn of the century. I talked with Ephraim Ericksen, Joseph Geddes, Feramorz Y. Fox, Preston Nibley, Dale Morgan, Wilfrid Poulson, T. Edgar Lyon, Leland Creer, A. C. Lambert, Juanita Brooks, with my department head, Evan Murray, and other Mormon scholars whose names will be familiar to many here tonight. When I went back East in 1949 I was able to have interviews with Oscar and Mary Flug Handlin, Frederick Merk, and Arthur H. Cole, each of whom did not hesitate to stress the importance of the Mormons in American history and to emphasize that I must follow through. Cole, a typical Harvard man, even offered to get me a job in a respectable eastern university so I wouldn’t have to remain at that “agricultural college out in, where was it, Utah or Idaho or somewhere!”

A red-letter event occurred in December 1950, when I met George Ellsworth, who had come to join our faculty in the Department of History. It was very exciting to me, and I was all a-tingle. With a brilliant mind, sound training in history at Berkeley, a precise writing style, and helpful manner, George was just the person to tutor me in the intricacies of Mormon history, literature, and historiography. With Gene Campbell, who had just come to the Logan Institute of Religion and who had a Ph.D. in history from the University of Southern California, and Wendell Rich, also at the Institute in Mormon philosophy, we formed a little group that met once a month in our homes to read papers and benefit from each other’s scholarly criticism. I also took two seminars from Professor Ellsworth. What I learned from him was indispensable in writing Great Basin Kingdom. He was a great and generous teacher, and when I finished the draft chapters, I sent them to him, and his comments were very helpful. I owe much to him, and I am happy he is here so that I can acknowledge all this in his presence.

Other important and profitable conversations were held with Thomas O’Dea, Bill Mulder, Austin and Alta Fife, Richard Poll, Gus Larson, Russell Mortensen,

Everett Cooley, and Merle Wells. There are evidences of all these conversations in Great Basin Kingdom and other things I published afterward. I should also mention my students, some of who are here this evening, from whom I learned a great deal—about Utah, about Mormonism, and about the art of communication. In regard to the reception of the book, I need to say three things. The first is that it came out in the fall of 1958 when we were on a Fulbright in Italy. I didn’t see a copy of the book until the week after Christmas, and of course did not return until the following July, so there was no promotion, autograph parties, no presentation occasions. As far as I am aware, not a word about it was said in any of the Salt Lake newspapers.

The second thing is that as the book began to be sold and read, particularly by historians and graduate students, I began to get letters, complimenting me on the book and then asking me, ever so timidly, ever so obliquely, whether I was a Mormon. They suggested that they had been unable to determine my religious affiliation by reading the book. If I was a Mormon, why wasn’t the treatment more faith-promoting; if I was a Gentile, how could it be so even-handed and fair? Among those in the audience this evening is a professor at BYU who assigned the book to the forty students in his History of Utah class and required them to write a review of it. Then, on the final exam, he asked them to assess whether the author of the book was a Mormon. He sent me a copy of their responses. Roughly half of them concluded I was a Mormon, the other half that I was not. This was perhaps the supreme compliment that a book like this could have been given. (Insert John Hughes)

One other episode deserves mention. No less a person than that distinguished political scientist, Edward C. Banfield, author of The Moral Basis of a Backward Society and other important books, now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, came all the way to Logan to meet me to determine whether I was a Mormon and to what extent a faithful one. We invited him and his wife to dinner, of course, and as soon as we knelt in front of the table to have our prayer, he was ready to go home; he had his answer. Whether this surprised or pleased him, we were never able to determine, but it was clear that the book had made him sufficiently curious to learn whether a book like Great Basin Kingdom could have been written by a historian and social scientist who was also an orthodox Mormon.

All of this is interesting in view of the fact that when I went to the Church Historical Department as Church Historian in 1972, one of my colleagues thought I should be sure that the Church Library had copies of all my publications. So I went through the cardex there to see what they had. Sure enough, they had Great Basin Kingdom. Off to one corner of the cardex was the notation, “a”. I was anxious to find out what that meant, and finally learned that a little “a” in the corner of the index card meant “anti-Mormon.” Why would it have been classified as anti-Mormon? I asked. “Well,” one person replied, “it was a scholarly book, which meant it wasn’t designed to be faith-promoting; and if it wasn’t for the Church, then, by classification, it had to be against. Moreover, it didn’t go through a Church reading committee, which meant it wasn’t approved. And if it wasn’t approved, then, by definition, it must be…” well, you get the story. Needless to say, that policy was scrapped, and I hope it hasn’t been revived since I left the Historical Department!

Many years ago, Thomas A. Edison said, half in jest I suspect, that genius was one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. A more modern inventor declared that, in his opinion, a successful invention was twenty percent inspiration, forty percent perspiration, and forty percent luck. Well, I think the element of luck should be given some consideration, but certainly there is plenty of perspiration in producing a book that has a lifetime of more than two or three years. If it is innovative, there must also be present some boldness, some audacity. And if that were true in the case of Great Basin Kingdom it must have come from the encouragement of those who pushed me on: Lowell Bennion, George Ellsworth, Grace Arrington, Milton Heath, Franklin Harris, Evan Murray, Milton Merrill, John Hughes, Charlie Stewart, and others.

As an economist, one of my favorite people was and is John Maynard Keynes, who could not only do economics, but could write it as well. Bertrand Russell once said of him that when Keynes concerned himself with politics and economics he left his soul at home. “This is the reason for a certain hard, glittering, inhuman quality in most of his writing,” wrote Russell. This, looking at it from my point of view, was a compliment. To say it another way, realities are not as dangerous as conceits, and one’s soul surely grows from hard facts bravely met. Personal preoccupations and didactic motives may be worthy, but they should not be allowed to repress our intellectual musings or our independent efforts to report our findings honestly and with due consideration to imperfect humanity. Only by our industry, imagination, and self-criticism will our community move toward greater knowledge and understanding and a more thoughtful uncertainty concerning our human heritage. Just as we must oppose in the strongest way shoddy scholarship, prejudicial writing, and fearful timidity in dealing with essential facts, we must be resolute in defending our right and obligation to preserve our credibility and our reputation for integrity.

Acknowledging that we sometimes poke ashes with embers, the Lord will surely prefer us to err on the side of honest disclosure. “God,” according to Moffatt’s translation of the prophet Isaiah, “does not need our lies”–our prettied-up pictures of events and personalities of the past. Writers of great fiction as well as writers of passages in Holy Writ make crystal clear that God is in the position of having to depend upon human instruments somewhat less than perfect in working out His purposes.

The renowned Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, has observed: “The neglect of truthfulness leads to hypocrisy, but the exaggeration of truthfulness leads to destructive fanaticism.” Whether as historians or as educators, we must guard against both. May our works of scholarship be marked by thorough research and superior writing, giving our readers new experiences, expanded horizons, and more profound understandings of our common past. 

[Leonard Arrington Remarks for Great Basin Kingdom Symposium Banquet; LJA Diary, 4 May, 1988]


by Leonard J. Arrington

Presented to Friends of the Library, University of Utah, March 8, 1992

When Laurel Thatcher Ulrich gave her marvelous Friends of the Library talk last month she began with a scripture. I should also like to begin with a scripture, this one from Matthew 10:16 in the New Testament, a scripture, I think, intended for historians:

“Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” And, as Arthur Henry King observed, “We are told first to be wise as serpents because otherwise we won’t last long being harmless as doves.” Laurel entitled her presentation, “Epiphany in a Broom Closet.” My story might justly be entitled, “Epiphany in the Room of a College Dormitory.”

It all began in the spring of 1939, fifty-three years ago, when I was a senior at the University of Idaho. The University had sponsored a Religion in Life week at which about a dozen nationally known speakers from the Federal Council of the Churches in Christ, the National Intercollegiate Christian Council, the Council of Church Boards of Education, the Student Christian Volunteer Movement, the Moscow Inter-Church Council, and the Moscow LDS Institute gave afternoon lectures and conducted discussions on religion. There were representatives of the major Christian churches and also representatives of the Jewish and Buddhist faiths. Each of the speakers was invited to stay with a particular fraternity, sorority, or dormitory, to participate in evening “rump sessions” and to “hold forth” in a public discussion each afternoon at four. General assemblies at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday for all students and faculty were well attended because university classes were dismissed. The most eloquent of the featured speakers was Dr. Benjamin Mays, then dean of religion at Howard University, who presented the opening general assembly talk in our Field House. The son of black sharecroppers, Dr. Mays cautioned us not to confine our minds within a narrow orthodoxy. “Keep the purposes of God and the needs of His children foremost,” he urged.

I find the following account in my diary written after his talk. “The great events of history add grandeur to our lives. Like the mountains, they make us feel our insignificance, but they free the immortal mind, let it feel its greatness, and release it from the earth.” Clearly, whether these are May’s words or someone else’s (and I have since seen a similar statement by Hilaire Belloc), I was inspired by this man who went on to become president of Morehouse College, a black university in Atlanta founded at the end of the Civil War, and died recently at the age of eighty-nine. One Morehouse graduate who took his advice to heart was Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who called Mays “My spiritual mentor and my intellectual father.” Mays gave the eulogy at King’s funeral.

Religion in Life week taught me how to present and discuss religious questions before a public body. These educators were frank, open, and informative. They were neither dogmatic nor opinionated. They listened, were respectful of students and their questions, and discussed religious issues in a manner that was serious, meaningful, and sometimes eloquent. They did not avoid difficult problems, were willing to express personal opinions, and were skilled in utilizing humor to maintain interest and good feeling. There was no attempt to convert, no downgrading of dissenting opinions, no attempt to play on the emotions. These informal addresses were good models for me as I later made presentations to young people’s groups in my own and other churches, and in my articles on religious subjects for various professional and semi-professional publications.

At the end of the week, trying to reconcile my training in economics with my religious beliefs, and feeling inspired, I sat at my dormitory room desk and prepared an outline for a book I proposed to write someday on the social philosophy and practices of the Latter-day Saints. I still have that outline.

That fall I enrolled in graduate school at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Two years later, in the spring of 1941, I was asked to substitute for a professor of economics at North Carolina State University in Raleigh who had suffered a heart attack. As a concession for me to do this the department at Chapel Hill allowed me credit toward the Ph.D. for courses I might take at N.C. State in agricultural economics and rural sociology.

In connection with these seminars at North Carolina State, I read all the works in the field of rural sociology, a relatively new discipline at the time. This reading produced two results: First, I became acquainted with the regional studies conducted by Dr. Howard Odum, founder of the Department of Sociology at Chapel Hill, who had just published the monumental Southern Regions of the United States, an exhaustive analysis of the Negro, the cotton and tobacco mill worker, the tenant and sharecropper, the small farmer, and indeed all aspects of the social economy of the South. He had followed this up with a study of American Regionalism, which, I noted, was very scanty on the Mountain West. I thought this is where I might contribute by doing a book on the human problems of the Mormon West. I envisioned studying the social economics of the West much as Odum and his associates had studied the social economics of the South. The emphasis would be on people, particularly rural people.

Second, I discovered in this reading the interest of scholars in Mormon culture. This impression was triggered by the description of the Mormon village in T. Lynn Smith’s Sociology of Rural Life. Smith was the current president of the Rural Sociology Society, and I did not realize at the time that he had graduated from BYU and had gone to Minnesota to study under Lowry Nelson. I was delighted to find in the N.C. State Library copies of studies of Mormon communities in Utah by Lowry Nelson–studies that later were combined and published by the University of Utah Press as The Mormon Village. This led me into a search for other articles and books on the secular aspects of Mormon life–works by historians, economists, and literary figures as well as by sociologists. I was excited, fascinated, driven. Though not a large literature, it was thrilling for me to discover. I read in Harper’s magazine Bernard De Voto’s brilliant essay on his Mormon grandfather, Samuel Dye of Uinta, Utah, near Ogden, published under the title, “Jonathan Dyer, Frontiersman.” Then I found, also in Harper’s, an article by Juanita Brooks entitled “The Water’s In,” about Mormons in Bunkerville, Nevada. In 1942 Wallace Stegner published his marvelous little book, Mormon Country, with delightful essays on Mormon life. Finally, I discovered an essay on the Mormons by that grand old man of economics, Richard T. Ely, “Economic Aspects of Mormonism” published in Harper’s in 1903.

It was a sparse literature, but set exactly the right tone, was well written, and suggested what a comprehensive treatment might be able to do.

Then came World War II and I became involved, first as an economist for the North Carolina Office of Price Administration and then as a private in the United States Army. I was sent to North Africa for a year and a half, then to Italy for another sixteen months. During those three years overseas I inevitably experienced a certain nostalgia for the West, and wanted very much to get started on a study of the economic activities of my own people. I wrote to Dr. John A. Widtsoe, formerly president of Utah State University and the University of Utah and a respected writer and scholar, about the possibilities of a doctoral dissertation on the subject. He replied with a very honest letter. It would make a great dissertation, he said, there was so much that could be said, and so much in the Church Archives that bore on the subject. He noted that there were problems getting access to the material, but he suggested that I proceed very quietly, ask at first only for printed works, then for the Journal History of the Church, and, as I built their confidence in me as a reliable scholar, gradually move into the manuscript sources. He was sure, to use his image, that I could proceed as the Arabian camel that first stuck its nose in the tent, then its face, then its front, and, moving in gradually, eventually carried away the whole tent. As you can guess, this bashful Idaho farm boy did not react against engaging in such a campaign.

After my discharge in January 1946, I accepted a teaching position at Utah State University and spent each summer for the next ten years doing research at the Church Archives in Salt Lake City. The archives were then more or less open, and it was exciting to be working on a new approach to Mormon history–following the economic activities, the economic programs, the way of life of the Latter-day Saint people.

Laurel Ulrich last month described her delight in finding the diary of Martha Ballard–how, in this single source, she had found the basis for describing the workings of the colonial New England economy, the medical history, and the social history of the region. There was a similar excitement for me. I found far more than I ever supposed, far more than the Church Library people realized they had: There were the records of dealing in coin and currency, of the construction of irrigation canals, of church property ownership and management, of Church farms, of building projects, of immigration. There were tithing accounts, books of donations for this cause and that, ledger books of ZCMI, the Deseret Telegraph, railroad contracts, Relief Society enterprises, sugar companies, iron works, and coal mines. In short, there was an essentially complete record of every important undertaking in which the Mormons were involved, and virtually none of them had been previously examined by any scholar. I could hardly wait to begin writing up the multitude of stories that could be told. From notes taken during the summer I wrote articles during the school year while I was teaching at Utah State, and soon had more than half a dozen articles ready to submit.

But I was still a little unsure of myself. Could I write well enough? Did I know how to present the material in a way satisfactory both to scholars and to “ordinary” readers like my parents, neighbors, and non-academic friends?

And here I need to interject a word about my research. I was, of course, an economist, and economists are normally pictured as dry-as-dust people who are especially interested in numbers, prices, statistics; and abstract theory. I have never been able to forget the charge that economists would make marvelous life guards because they could go down deeper, stay down longer, and come up dryer than anybody else. But I struggled to prove that that didn’t apply to me. My training in North Carolina had impressed me with the human drama of events. Commentators had led me to believe that pioneer Mormons were tense and humorless, that their journals were very succinct, matter-of-fact, and devoid of humor. That, I am glad to say, wasn’t my experience at all. As I went through the hundreds of diaries, record books, minutes of meetings, speeches, and letters of pioneers and church officials I found many examples of jesting, satire, parody, wordplay, hyperbole, and jokes. This was particularly true of women pioneers, who saw the humor in situations that the men missed, or perhaps the women were more open in recording local happenings.

Every week I ran across incidents and statements that brought chuckles. I have written on this aspect of my research elsewhere, but let me give an example. I found in the archives approximately thirty thousand letters signed by Brigham Young during his thirty years as Mormon leader. About ten thousand of these were responses to individuals who had asked his advice on some personal matter. It is clear that pioneer Utahns considered him to be a wise advisor, so they asked for his opinion. Did he think they should buy a certain piece of property? Should they import a bull this year? Should their daughter accept a proposal for marriage from a certain person the church leader knew? A woman’s husband mistreated her, should she get a divorce? And so on. To most of these Young gave serious, well-intended answers. But he had fun in the process. When one person complained about something, Young replied: “Brother Jensen, I have already taken care of that matter, so don’t fret your gizzard about it.” Stating that she had become a spiritualist, Elizabeth Green wrote to Young in 1851 to ask that her name be removed from church records. Young wrote in reply:

Madam: We have your letter of December 28 asking that your name be erased from the records of the church. I have this day examined the records of baptisms for the remission of sins in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and not being able to find the name of Elizabeth Green recorded therein I was saved the necessity of erasing your name therefrom. You may therefore consider that your sins have not been remitted you and you are free to enjoy the benefits therefrom.

To the woman who complained that her husband had told her to go to hell, he replied simply, “Don’t go, sister, don’t go!” To the frontiersman who asked him to “bless me with a wife,” Young said, “Brother, I know of no woman worth a groat who would be willing to put up with your wild unsocial ways.”

In January 1947, shortly after I began my researches, the University of Utah inaugurated a new regional quarterly called the Utah Humanities Review. The first issue carried articles by Bill Mulder, just returned to the English department from service as naval Communications Officer in Okinawa, who wrote on C. C. A. Christensen; Albert Mitchell, just returned to the university after completing his Ph.D. in speech at the University of Wisconsin, who wrote on the pioneer players and plays of Parowan; Lester Hubbard, specialist in 18th century English literature who wrote on the songs and ballads of the Mormon pioneers; and Charles Dibble, an authority on the Aztecs, who wrote on the Mormon mission to the Shoshoni Indians. Succeeding issues carried articles by Pearl Baker, G. Homer Durham, Helen Zeese Papanikolas, Stanley Ivins, Hector Lee, Lowell Lees, Halbert Greaves, Austin Fife, Rex Skidmore, Elmer Smith, Juanita Brooks, Sterling McMurrin, Harold Folland, Meredith Wilson, Dale Morgan, Leland Creer, and others. I was fascinated and read every word. I finally worked up courage enough to pay a visit to Hal Bentley, the editor, to explain what I was doing, and to ask if he would be interested in publishing one or two of my articles. He said he was interested, all right, but the articles had to be well-written. Knowing that I was an economist, he repeated that insistence several times in our conversation. Well, I needed someone to level with me–could I write well enough for the Humanities Review?

I read in our Logan paper one day that Bill Mulder, assistant editor of the Review (which by then had become the Western Humanities Review) was going to present a talk in that Athens of Northern Utah. I telephoned to invite him to spend the night with us. He agreed. We had a nice dinner, but before he went to bed I trotted out one of my essays–one on the building of a dam at Deseret, in Millard County. Bill presumably read it before he went to sleep and the next morning said he liked it, would accept it provisionally, but said it could be made a little more artistic. What would Wally Stegner do with it? he asked. How would he begin it, how would he conclude it? and so on.

Well, I fussed with it a little while and then sent it in and he published it under the title “Taming the Turbulent Sevier: A Story of Mormon Desert Conquest.” By then I had another article on “Zion’s Board of Trade, A Third United Order” which he also published the same year. Soon there was one on the Law of Consecration and Stewardship in early Mormon history that he published followed by one on the economic role of Mormon women that was quite possibly the earliest attempt to introduce Mormon women into the secular study of Mormon history. At the same time I published an account of the Deseret Telegraph in the Journal of Economic History, an article on “Property Among the Mormons” in Rural Sociology, and articles on “The Transcontinental Railroad and Mormon Economic Policy” and “The Settlement of Brigham Young’s Estate” in the Pacific Historical Review.

All of these essays were on particular episodes and practices. How to get a theme to tie it all together? The virtuosity of Mormon leadership was evident, and their articulated goal of building a Kingdom of God was also unmistakable. But how to explain it all? Identifying a unifying factor was like trying to berth an ocean liner without tugs at night. The necessary inspiration came to me also in a kind of epiphany, this also involving Bill Mulder. Bill and Sterling McMurrin had organized in 1950 the Mormon Seminar, which met every Thursday afternoon on the U of U campus to explore in critical fashion different aspects of Mormon life and thought. Each week they brought in authorities to talk on such subjects as Mormonism and evolution, Mormonism and psychiatry, the Book of Mormon and the pre-Columbian Indians, polygamy, Mormonism and literature, Mormonism and education, and so on. In March 1951 they invited me to talk on Mormon economic history. This “call” forced me to focus seriously on the meaning of all my research. Influenced by my readings in American history, I decided that in pioneer Utah were leaders such as Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, Daniel H. Wells, and others, who had been brought up in America in the decades before the Civil War, who had been imbued with American ideals prevalent during those years, and who had remained in relative isolation in the Great Basin while the rest of America struggled through the Civil War, followed by the period of reconstruction that featured an overweening emphasis on private property, individualism, and free enterprising capitalism. Here was a theme for my dissertation. Clearly, the basic social and economic objectives of the Latter-day Saints were determined during the first three years after the founding of the church in 1830. They included the gathering of church members into one place, the village form of settlement, group economic independence, comprehensive resource development to prepare the earth for the Millennium, unified action and solidarity, and equitable sharing of the product of cooperative endeavor. Church officials attempted the redistribution of wealth and income, were charged with the regulation of property rights, involved the church in many types of business ventures, and assumed the ultimate responsibility for the development of the Mormon economy. The institutions and devices established to implement basic church policies, in general, were flexible, pragmatic, and provisional.

The following cut out:

After the settlement of the Great Basin in 1847, population growth was stimulated by the establishment of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, which over a forty-year period assisted some 80,000 European and American converts to come to the desert Zion. In choosing emigrants attention was paid to occupational skills and the labor needs of Mormon communities. The company also imported large quantities of machinery and supplies.

Church members who came to settle in the Great Basin were given garden-size home lots in surveyed villages, and small, equal farming lots around the town on lands that were irrigated by means of cooperatively constructed canals. Property rights were conditioned upon use, and basic natural resources such as water, grazing lands, forests, and mineral deposits were publicly owned or allocated as stewardships to religious leaders.

Construction of public works was directed by a church- appointed superintendent who organized the labor force, established service shops, and erected forts, meetinghouses, social halls, temples, wagon roads, railroads, and communal storage facilities. The Public Works specifically provided labor for the unemployed and newly-arrived immigrants and promoted the development of infant industries.

Theocratic market regulation included a variety of price- and wage-fixing measures, including occasional prohibitions against commercial exchange with non-Mormons. The church promoted the establishment of concerns to market the products of town and country at favorable prices, including a large and profitable importing and wholesaling chain. Strong religious sanctions operated to insure that these and other business enterprises, whether publicly or privately financed, carried out the social aims of the church.

End of cut section

While the mobilization of capital and the application of administrative controls on the Mormon frontier resembled the contemporary devices of large-scale corporations and holding companies, the continuity of organized cooperation and careful long-range group planning stood out in sharp contrast with the individualism and short-sighted exploitation that often characterized the mining, cattle, wheat, and lumber frontiers of the Far West. As one Western historian wrote, the reigning philosophy was every man for himself, comparable to what the elephant said while he was dancing among the chickens. Whereas dominant American thought after 1865 held that superior results were to be achieved by laissez-faire institutions and policies, the seemingly unique policies of Mormon leaders, emphasizing as they did the welfare of the group, were nevertheless consistent with those commonly advocated and applied by secular government in the ante-bellum America that cradled Mormonism.

So I set out during the winter of 1951-52 to write the dissertation while on six-months leave without pay from USU. I finished the degree in 1952. “We respect your partisanship,” my major professor said at the defense; “but we particularly praise you for not letting it cloud your scholarship and judgment.” The dissertation, entitled, “Mormon Economic Policies and Their Implementation on the Western Frontier, 1847-1900,” included eleven more or less independent essays: the historical and philosophical roots of Mormonism, the economic mind of Mormonism, the principle of consecration and church finances, the principle of stewardship and property institutions, the principle of gathering and the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, church public works, the principle of solidarity and the frontier market, the principle of economic independence and the coming of the transcontinental railroad, religious sanction and Mormon entrepreneurship, and the role of the Mormon Church in the economic development of the West.

Dr. Milton S. Heath, my major professor, encouraged me to submit the dissertation for publication by the Committee on Research in Economic History, of which he was a member. I revised and expanded it and submitted it in 1954. The readers praised it and made various suggestions. As I reworked it, however, I could see that instead of focusing on economic policies I would have to do a chronological narrative that would focus on the development and evolution of Mormon institutions, practices and policies. I was granted a sabbatical leave from USU in 1956-57 and arranged for a fellowship at Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery to supplement my income since sabbatical pay was only 60 percent of base salary. I spent the year writing what turned out to be an economic history of the Mormons. Emerson wrote that nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. My work may not have been great, but the enthusiasm was certainly there. Completing one chapter a month, I finished it in a year.

The rewritten work, originally called Building the Kingdom and now called Great Basin Kingdom, was then resubmitted in 1957 to the Committee on Research on Economic History which arranged for its publication by Harvard University Press. The book expanded on ideas picked up from Bill Mulder–his study of Scandinavian Mormons; Tom O’Dea on Mormon sociology; Sterling McMurrin on theology; and Feramorz Fox on Mormon economic organization. I also profited from conversations with Lowry Nelson, Hal Bentley, Richard Poll, George Ellsworth, Dale Morgan, Gene Campbell, Juanita Brooks, Gus Larson and Ed Lyon. Above all, the book, built on the indescribably rich and complete Western collection of the Huntington Library.

An honest, youthful assessment of the published book was made by a nephew of mine who was still in high school, and who was induced to read the book by my brother. He wrote, “Dear Uncle Leonard, I think you were a pretty good writer not to make the book no duller than it was. Your loving nephew, Farr.”

Which reminds me of similar compliments I received from another nephew in 1972 when I was appointed Church Historian. He wrote to say: “We saw you on TV last night for the first time. My Dad says not to worry. You are a lot smarter than you look. Anyway, I want you to know that I’m going to be a historian myself some day. My Dad says I should finish grade school first, because I need an 8th grade education to be as smart as you. In school tomorrow we have a test about polecats. I think of you often.


When my economic colleagues at USU held a farewell dinner for me in 1972 their toast was as follows:

Here’s to Professor Arrington, he’s honored; given a chair. 

It’s not his head they’re honoring, and that’s fair.

Use your best part, Leonard. Rest it there!

In general, Great Basin Kingdom was praised by colleagues, American historians, American sociologists, and others. I will just cite one–the flattering judgment of a fellow economist, Jonathan R.T. Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Northwestern University, who says he still requires his graduate students to read it as an example of good economic history. He called Great Basin Kingdom “a giant structure of deep and trustworthy scholarship and judgment with an analysis that is thorough, carefully laid out, and free of theoretical error.” “The economic story”, he wrote,” is a masterpiece that made the Mormon Zion live again for readers all over the world and for generations to come.” Wouldn’t that be enough to warm the cockles of an author’s heart?

The local reception was especially interesting. A. William Lund and the LDS Church Historian’s Office viewed it as a secular treatment with naturalistic explanations of the people and the times. It was not down the line of traditional Mormon history, which was sprinkled with supernatural explanations. Although I received complimentary letters from people like John A. Widtsoe, G. Homer Durham, and even Ezra Taft Benson, A. William Lund decided if it wasn’t pro it must be anti, so he put a little letter “a” on the index card in the Church Historian’s Office. One day I asked someone at the Church Historian’s Office what the “a” meant. He said it designated an anti-Mormon work. The label remained that way until I was appointed Church Historian, when, at the request of Elder Howard Hunter, a new card was inserted without the “a.” President Harold B. Lee assured me that “Great Basin Kingdom was a monument to LDS history, the finest thing on LDS history since B. H. Robert’s Comprehensive History was first published beginning in 1906.”

Colleagues used it in Utah history classes: at BYU, Jim Allen; at USU, George Ellsworth; at the U of U, David Miller. Each independently asked his students to read the book, write a report on it, and, among other things, speculate on whether Arrington was a Mormon. Each of the three professors then reported the students’ reactions. About half of the students at each institution thought I was a Mormon and the other half thought I could not be because the book was written so dispassionately. I regarded this as a profound compliment. There is a school today that contends that Mormon historians, if they are real Mormons, should so declare it, and should engage in what my editor at Alfred Knopf called “cheerleading.” I tried not to do that in Great Basin Kingdom.

The following cut out:

Today’s publishers usually want an author to declare his affiliation. In The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, a book recently out of print but now out in a new updated second edition by the University of Illinois Press, Davis Bitton and I identified ourselves as “believing and practicing members of the Church, who have sought to understand, as scholars of any faith or no faith would seek to understand. While preserving proper scholarly objectivity, we say, we have availed ourselves of insights from a variety of disciplines. To the non-Mormon reader, who might believe us unduly favorable to the Mormon point of view, we can only say that we have tried to be fair and have called them as we have seen them. To the Mormon reader, who might be surprised at our frank recognition of problems within the faith, at our willingness to assign blame to Latter-day Saints, and at our sincere goodwill to the historical opponents of Mormonism, the answer is really the same.”

End of cut section

In 1963, some five years after Great Basin Kingdom appeared, I received two notices that were exciting. The first was word that the book had been placed in the President’s library in the White House, the only book dealing with the history of the Mountain West and one of four books on the history of the American West as a whole. The second was an invitation from the University of Texas to give two lectures on the Mormons in their television series of seventy addresses on the History of American Civilization. The Ford Foundation had agreed to finance the series to be directed by that grand old man of American history, Walter Prescott Webb. Apparently, Webb had been very impressed with Great Basin Kingdom and in this televised series that included such people as Arnold Toynbee, Richard Hofstadter, Arthur Schlesinger, Dumas Malone, C. Vann Woodward, Allan Nevins, Arthur Link, Henry Steel Commager, and other noted historians, he had also invited me.

My first lecture was on “The Significance of the Mormons in American History” and the second was on “The Mormon System of Cooperation.” The series was widely used in university classes. Many young historians, in seeing my name card at a historical convention, have said they saw me in the Webb American Civilization series.

A follow-up was the invitation to give the annual luncheon address to the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, held at U.C.L.A. in 1964. Not long after, I received an invitation to join the U.C.L.A. faculty as Professor of Western History, to take the place of John Walton Caughey who was retiring. Wanting to stay in Utah, however, I did not accept the offer.

The hardback of Great Basin Kingdom was exhausted in 1965. There was a paper reprint in the Bison series of the University of Nebraska Press. The eighth printing has now been exhausted and the Harvard Press has asked for bids from three university presses that have expressed an interest: University of Utah Press, Utah State University Press, and University of Illinois Press. Presumably one of these will publish an updated paperback later this year.

In 1988, on the 30th anniversary of the appearance of the book, the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies at Utah State University and the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University sponsored a symposium called “Great Basin Kingdom Revisited.” They invited prominent national historians, sociologists, economists, geographers, and literary historians to comment on the book and its impact on Western studies. The eight papers delivered at the symposium, which was held in Logan, have since been published by Utah State University Press under the symposium’s title, Great Basin Kingdom Revisited.

The writing of this book led me in many directions: I have done studies of such Federal programs in Utah as reclamation projects, defense installations, and New Deal programs. With collaboration, I have done book-length biographies—of William Spry, Charles C. Rich, David Eccles, Edwin D. Woolley, Brigham Young, Harold Silver, Charlie Redd, Alice Merrill Horne, and many shorter biographies in other books and journals.

I have done business histories of U & I Sugar Company, Tracy-Collins Bank, Hotel Utah, and Steiner Corporation. I have also been interested in women’s history and have published Sunbonnet Sisters, Mothers of the Prophets, and a study of rural LDS women. Laurel Ulrich mentioned the article I published in the pink issue of Dialogue entitled “Blessed Damozels: Women in Mormon History.” Laurel said that one of her readers was impressed with how much freedom Martha Ballard had. People who study Mormon women find the same thing. How free they were.

During the past two years I have written a history of my native state of Idaho, commissioned by the Legislature of Idaho, which I hope will be published by the University of Idaho Press within the next few months.

My experience of almost fifty years in the field of Western economic history and biography has confirmed the worthwhileness of Mormon studies. Whether one’s interest is the relation of religion to economic life, the appropriateness of certain institutions for survival in a semiarid region, the importance of the role of women, or the virtues of cooperation and community-mindedness, a study of the Mormon experience is rewarding. We now have a rich literature, one that grows richer every year. There has been a flurry of studies on the sequel, Twentieth Century culture, the most recent being a history of the Mormon Welfare program by Bruce Blumell and Garth Mangum, just recently accepted by the University of Utah Press. I hope, myself, in the years ahead to do a book on the economic programs of the New Deal of the 1930s, 

The following cut out:

with chapters on the accomplishments of the Public Works Administration, Agricultural Adjustment Administration, Rural Electrification Administration, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, civil Works Administration, National Youth Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and so on. 

End of cut section

Above all, I think I have demonstrated that the historian, if he cannot be wise as a serpent, can, if he is honest, resourceful, and industrious, be harmless as a dove. 

[Great Basin Kingdom Revisited; LJA Diary, 8 Mar., 1992]

Mormon Experience

11 January 1967

Elder Nathan Eldon Tanner

The First Presidency

47 E. South Temple St.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Dear President Tanner:

You will recall an occasion last spring with Brother Lyman Taylor, then Librarian at Brigham Young University, introduced me to you, and we chatted for the greater part of an hour about means by which the Church might improve its image in the nation’s history books.  As president of the Mormon History Association, and as a member of the presidency of Utah State University Stake, I had an interest I improving the scholarly references to the Church and to the Latter-day Saints.  I think Dr. Taylor may have mentioned that I had written various things about the Church for profession magazines, that I had published a large book:  GREAT BASIN KINGDOM:  AN ECONOMIC HISTORY OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS, and that I was serving as a editorial advisor to Dialogue:  A Journal of Mormon Thought.

During the past few weeks I have been exchanging correspondence with Alfred A. Knopf, of the Knopf Publishing Company, who has been urging me to write a history of Utah and the Mormons.  Such a book, he writes, would “fill the biggest single gap in Western history,” and he is very interested in publishing it.  I have not made application to do this, but he has urged me to do so on the basis of work that I have already done, recommendations of other scholars, etc.  So far as I am aware, this is the first time that a major national publisher has asked an active Mormon to write a major work on the history of his people.  I have written to Utah State University, to which I return this fall after a year’s leave to teach at U.C.L.A., and they have agreed to reduce my teaching load and in other ways to support the research.  I also have a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, which will assist with the costs of the project.

But the task cannot be accomplished—indeed, I should not even attempt it—without some assurances that primary materials can be made available for my use in the Church Office Building.  I do not think such a history as that proposed by Mr. Knopf can be written from newspaper accounts, published speeches of the General Authorities, and so on.  One would need to have copies of certain correspondence, diaries of certain leaders, minutes of certain meetings, certain financial records, and similar data.  Some of this would be in the Church Historian’s library and some would be, perhaps, in the office of the First Presidency.  I think that those who know me can testify that I would handle such materials responsibly.  I have devoted most of the past 20 years to writing about the Church, and what I have written furnishes a pattern.  Moreover, I have remained active in the Church, serving as Senior President of the 368th Quorum of Seventies, as High Councilman of Utah State University Stake, and as Second Counselor to President Reed Bullen of Utah State University Stake.  I regard this opportunity as a splendid chance to demonstrate that Mormon scholars can write responsibly and professionally about their faith, their Church, and their people.  It would also offer opportunity for an antidote for the works by hostile writers, such as Whalen, Turner, and others.

If there is any means by which the Church could make available some of the materials indicated, I would propose to go ahead and sign the contract with Alfred A. Knopf, and would propose to begin research on a full-time basis in the Church Office Building this fall—in September.

With respect and best wishes.


Leonard J. Arrington

Visiting Professor

[LJAD, letter written to Elder Nathan Eldon Tanner of The First Presidency, 11 January 1967]

6 March 1967

Dr. M. R. Merrill

Utah State University

Dear Milt,

Thank you very much for your friendly and informative letter.  We trust that everything turns out well so far as the budget and the legislature is concerned.

Our leave thus far has been a very pleasant one.  Our own knowledge of the West and its people have been broadened, and professionally it has been profitable for me to become acquainted with many other persons with similar interests.  The family has enjoyed many new places, new faces, and new experiences.  Grace, who loves the beach, expects to spend much time there during late spring and the summer.  The schools in Pacific Palisades are considered superior to Logan schools—excellent teachers and an excellent program—and this has been good for the children.  None of the three is a scholar; they’re essentially “B” and “C” grade students.  But they are learning a great deal that will be useful.  One advantage is that we live in a predominantly Jewish area of Los Angeles; and they insist upon good, thorough education, with bright teachers.  Even in the case of seminary, the teacher is a downtown lawyer (Stanford grad) who hasn’t been brought up in the church school system and therefore has a fresh and intellectual approach, with lots of lively discussion. I don’t know whether our kids will be able to stand the Logan seminary bunch next year!

Professionally, I have enjoyed very much this year in the history department.  I had an undergraduate class last quarter in “The American West,” which forced me to read all the important works in Western History.  And I really enjoyed it. This quarter I have two graduate seminars in the American West—one for first year graduates and the other for Ph.D. candidates.  20 students each.  We have worked on several interesting topics.  Next quarter I have a Senior Seminar and an advanced Ph.D. seminar—again, in the American West.  The students are taken from the top one-eight of the graduating classes and so they are about the equal of the top third at USU.  However, the best at USU are about equal to the top students here.  The students here are somewhat frustrated by the lack of contact with their professors, and this partly explains why our USU graduates do so well in competition with these kids when they go away to graduate school.  This doesn’t include the emotional stability, which eventually works to the advantage of our USU graduates.

Several opportunities have opened to me since coming here.  For one thing, I have just signed contract with Alfred A. Knopf to write a history of the “Mormons”, with emphasis on the post-Brigham Young period.  The first Presidency of the Church (without any commitment on my part have agreed to open up the archives to me on an unrestricted basis for the purpose of writing this book.  It is to be one-volume, 500-page affair, and I must complete it by Jan. 1970.  In addition, there has been correspondence with the University of Washington Press about bring out a volume of my essays, and a Utah reader.  The latter two are not definite yet.  Right now I am working on the economic history of the West in the 20th century, with emphasis on Federal programs.  I have been working on this in scattered fashion, without knowing exactly how to handle it, but I thin I have finally worked out a way to handle the huge bulk of material in a succinct and interesting manner.  I may end up with only a few publishable articles or a monograph, instead of a book.  My present plan is to work on the economic history here and at Huntington until the last of August, then move the family back to Logan for them to attend school, and I would spend most of the fall quarter in Salt Lake City in the Utah Historical Society and the Church Historian’s Library.  Assuming that the Administration and Board have agreed to the request previously made, I would return to the campus officially on January 1, 1968 to resume teaching and research.

You mentioned in your letter that, no doubt, if I were in Logan I would be in position to give advice.  My three principal pieces of advice from here are:  set up a rotation system for deans so that they will not remain forever at their posts; set up a publications program (one manuscript I sent in three years ago is still sitting), and get a lively new president lined up who can do as well as President Chase has done in furthering the cause of the university.

Now that I have that off my chest—and it is offered partly in humor and partly in all seriousness—there is one question that came up that perhaps you can help me with.  The other day I was reading an article, “Les Mormons” in the Revue des Sciences Politiques by M. Morgan Richards, whose name is new to me, which mentions in a footnote (freely translated from the French!) that the Soviet government chose a Mormon expert to give it counsel with respect to its agricultural program.  The Richards article was published in [date illegible]; therefore, it would appear that a Mormon may have been an advisor in the collectivization of Soviet agriculture!!  Now assuming this is true, who was this Mormon expert?  I have banished the thought that it may have been Ezra Taft Benson!  Do you have any idea who it was or how I can find out?

Incidentally there are a lot of interesting things going on here politically, which affect the university, but I assume you are getting top coverage of this in the Tribune and elsewhere.


Leonard J. Arrington

[LJAD, letter written Milton R. Merrill, Utah State University, 6 March 1967]




SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH 84111               25 Sep. 1967

Permission is hereby granted to use the facilities of the Historian’s Office Library-Archives for the following:

Name Leonard J. Arrington

Purpose book

Subject History of the Mormons

The following materials may be used:

1.  Printed books 5.  Journal History – microfilm through

2.  Microfilms of newspapers 1870, original vols. After 1870

3.  Minutes of public meetings 6.  Maps

4.  Manuscript Histories

Earl E. Olson

Assistant Church Historian

In consideration of the courtesy granted to me for the use of these facilities and materials, I agree to the following:

1.  Copies, which I make of unpublished materials, will be submitted to the Church Historian or Asst. Historian for approval before I take them from the Library-Archives.

2.  I will furnish upon its completion a copy of my book to the Historian’s Office Library-Archives.

3.  The research subject listed above will be reserved for my use for two years from the above date.  If additional time is needed to complete my project, I will make special arrangements with the Church Historian or Assistant Historian for an additional period of six months or one year.

Signed Leonard J. Arrington

School or business address Permanent address

Street Utah State University 810 No. 4th East

City Logan Logan, Utah

State Utah

School or Organization   Utah State University

Special permission is hereby given to use the following manuscript materials:

Item Date Initials

All original source materials as approved in the 

Letter from President Tanner dated 10 Jan. 1967

See also minutes of First Presidency meeting

Dated 17 January 1967 25 Sep 1967 E. E. O.

[LJAD, Permission from the Office of the Church Historian to use specified materials, 25 September 1967]

Leonard’s immediate responsibilities on which he will need help are:

1. A chapter on “This Is the Place” for a British publication on the

American West.

2. A chapter for Nibley’s PRESIDENTS OF THE CHURCH on President Spencer

W. Kimball.

3. Preliminary drafts of chapters for a one-volume history of the Mormons to be prepared by Davis and Leonard for publication by Alfred Knopf. A book intended primarily for non-Mormon university students and the intelligent reading public. 

[Dean May; LJA Diary, 2 Jan., 1974]

11 January 1967

Elder Nathan Eldon Tanner

47 E. South Temple St.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Dear President Tanner:

You will recall an occasion last spring when Brother Lyman Tyler, then Librarian at Brigham Young University, introducedme to you, and we chatted for the greater part of an hour aboutmeans by which the Church might improve its image in the nation’shistory books. As president of the Mormon History Association,and as a member of the presidency of Utah State University Stake,I had an interest in improving the scholarly references to theChurch and to the Latter-day Saints. I think Dr. Taylor mayhave mentioned that I had written various things about theChurch for professional magazines, that I had published a largebook: GREAT BASIN KINGDOM: AN ECONOMIC HISTORY OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS and that I was serving as an editorial advisor to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

During the past few weeks I have been exchanging correspondence with Alfred A Knopf, of the Knopf Publishing Company, who has beenurging me to write a history of Utah and the Mormons. Such a book,he writes, would “fill the biggest single gap in Western history,”and he is very interested in publishing it. I have not made application to do this, but he has urged me to do so on the basis of work that I have already done, recommendations of other scholars,etc. So far as I am aware, this is the first time that a majornational publisher has asked an active Mormon to write a major work on the history of his people. I have written to Utah StateUniversity, to which I return this fall after a year’s leave toteach at U.C.L.A., and they have agreed to reduce my teachingload and in other ways to support the research. I also havea grant from the American Council of Learned Societies which willassist with the costs of the project.

But the task cannot be accomplished-indeed, I should noteven attempt it-without some assurances that primary materialscan be made available for my use in the Church Office Building.I do not think such a history as that proposed by Mr. Knopf canbe written from newspaper accounts, published speeches of theGeneral Authorities, and so on. One would need to have copiesof certain correspondence, diaries of certain leaders, minutesof certain meetings, certain financial records, and similardata. Some of this would be in the Church Historian’s Libraryand some would be, perhaps, in the office of the First Presidency. I think that those who know me can testify that I would handle such materials responsibly. I have devoted most of the past 20 years to writing about the church, and what I have written furnishes a pattern. Moreover, I have remained active in the Church, serving as Senior President of the 368th Quorum of Seventies, as High Councilman of Utah State University Stake, and as Second Counselor to President Reed Bullen of Utah State University Stake. I regard this opportunity an a splendidchance to demonstrate that Mormon scholars can write responsibly and professionally about their faith, their Church, and their people. It would also offer opportunity for an antidote forthe works by hostile writers such as Whalen, Turner, and others.

If there is any means by which the Church could make available some of the materials indicated, I would propose togo ahead and sign the contract with Alfred A. Knopf, and wouldpropose to begin research on a full-time basis in the ChurchOffice Building this fall–in September.

With respect and best wishes.


Leonard J. Arrington

Visiting Professor

[Letter to President Tanner, 11 Jan., 1967]

Leonard Arrington to Write History of Church

President Tanner called attention to a letter he had receivedfrom Leonard Arrington of Logan reporting that he has been asked bya publishing company to write a history of Utah and the Mormons.He states that this is the first time of which he knows where a publishing company has asked a Mormon, especially an active Mormon,to write a history of this kind. He states that he would be glad to doit but would not wish to attempt it unless he is permitted to get information from primary sources such as the Historian’s Office, andthat he would need copies of correspondence, diaries, minutes ofcertain meetings, etc. President Brown and President Tanner bothfelt that it was an opportunity for us to have a professional writerwho is a devoted Church member prepare such a history. It wasagreed that authorization may be given to use the materials in theHistorian’s Office, with the understanding that he could not take anyof these materials out of the office, and that if he wanted anythingfrom the First Presidency’s office ft would have to be cleared first by the First Presidency. 

[First Presidency’s Meeting, 17 Jan., 1967]

Dr. Leonard J. Arrington

Department of History

University of California

Los Angeles, California 90024

Dear Brother Arrington:

Since receiving your letter of January 11, 1967 I have discussed the whole matter with the First Presidency, and with President Joseph Fielding Smith’s approval I am authorized to tell youthat it will be quite in order for you to arrange with Earl Olson ofthe Historian’s Office to use material available in that office andlibrary.

It must be clearly understood that none of the material can betaken from the library, but may be used by you there. As I explainedto you over the telephone, any information which you might requirefrom the office of the First Presidency would have to be cleared itemby item with the First Presidency.

I should be glad to help you in this regard when it is needed.

Yours sincerely,

N. Eldon Tanner

[Letter from President Tanner, 18 Jan., 1967]

Elder Joseph Anderson

Assistant Managing Director

Historical Department

Dear Brother Anderson:

In 1966-1967, when I was a visiting professor of western history at theUniversity of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Alfred A. Knopf, publisher,asked me to prepare a one-volume history of the Mormons. Mr. Knopf hadpublished Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History, and I had the feeling thathe wanted to publish something about the Church which was more friendly–andalso something which treated the history of the Mormons in the West. Iwrote the First Presidency at that time to say that I would like to preparesuch a work, but could not do so without access to materials in the ChurchArchives. The First Presidency granted me this access in their letter ofJanuary 18, 1967 (attached).

In the years that followed, despite my full-time work as a professor atUtah State University, I spent many days and weeks, especially during thesummers, working in the Church Archives. Nevertheless, so many new thingsin Church history were being uncovered that the work was never completed.Mr. Knopf, who is now 92 years of age, has written to me recently to ask ifI would please complete the work. In view of my present position I do notfeel that I can respond to him without consulting with you.

The work Mr. Knopf and I had in mind was designed primarily for non-

Mormons–for secular historians, university students, and the general reading public whodesire an “objective” history of Mormonism. We wanted it to be the kind ofbook which would be acquired by libraries and used as a standard reference onthe LDS Church. Unfortunately, a large number of libraries in the UnitedStates carry just four books on the Church: W. A. Linn, Story of the Mormons(1902), a viciously anti-Mormon work; Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons by aRoman Catholic sociologist; The Year of Decision by Bernard DeVoto, which is basically sympathetic with Mormon achievements but not its doctrine; andNo Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie. I am sure the Church is not happyto be represented exclusively by such works.

If you agree, I should like to go full-speed ahead in completing theone-volume work previously contemplated, and I should like to use the facilitiesof the Historical Department in doing so. This would not, of course, requireany change in budget or personnel requests. The book will pay royaltiesto the author. I propose that one-half of the royalties earned on the volumebe retained by me in payment for work I have already done on the book, andthat the other half be turned over to a trust fund to be used to support thework of our Church History Division which cannot be paid for out of ourapproved budget.

If you approve this project, I should like to attempt to complete itwithin a year; that is, by June 1, 1974. I should also expect to specificallystate in the preface that most of the writing was done before I was calledto be Church Historian; hence this should be regarded as an individual workand does not necessarily reflect the views of the Church or the Historical Department.

I have put the request in the form of a letter in case you wish touse it in consulting with our Historical Department advisors. Yourcounsel would be much appreciated.


Leonard J. Arrington

[Letter to Joseph Anderson, 14 May 1973]

Elder Joseph Anderson

Historical Department

Dear Elder Anderson:

Your letter of June 7, 1973 gave further information to therequest of Leonard J. Arrington to use the facilities of theHistorical Department to complete a one-volume work on thehistory of the Church.

This letter will constitute approval for Brother Arrington tocomplete this one-volume work on the history of the Churchwith the understanding that there be obtained a formal assignment from Brother Arrington to the trust fund of one half ofthe royalties to be realized from the sale of this book. Thismoney would then be used to support the research and writingprogram of the History division.

Sincerely yours,

Harold B. Lee

N. Eldon Tanner

M. G. Romney

The First Presidency

[Letter to Joseph Anderson from First Presidency, 2 July 1973]

President Harold B. Lee

First Presidency

47 E. South Temple

Salt Lake City, Utah 84111

Dear President Lee:

Recently Elder Joseph Anderson discussed with you the matter of ourpublication, Essentials in Church History by the late President JosephFielding Smith. Eider Anderson has suggested that I write to you sothat an official determination can be made regarding this book, which iscopyrighted by the Church.

As you likely are aware, President Smith depended on his formerassociates in the Historian’s Office to keep the material in the bookup-to-date. He always gave final approval to changes, but in lateryears this became a rather matter-of-fact approval. Brother ThomasTruitt of the department has been updating the material for a numberof years.

During March we reached the point in our inventory where a reprint was needed, and so we asked Brother Truitt to do the necessary updating,and to prepare, material from which a biography of you could be writtenin somewhat abbreviated form as you begin your presidency. BrotherTruitt has now prepared this material, and it is my understanding thatArthur Haycock has this draft information.

In the process of Brother Truitt’s preparation of the changes, hissuperiors became aware of the matter, and it was ultimately suggestedby Leonard Arrington, Church Historian, that this book now become theresponsibility of the Historical Department, especially since it iscopyrighted in the name of the Church.

Brother Arrington, Elder Anderson and I have discussed this matterat length, and we would like to recommend that under the direction of theHistorical Department, the present book be updated and that for about two years we perpetuate this book with only the necessary changes. Then,during this two year period, the Historical Department could proceed withthe work to produce a new single-volume history of the Church to replace Essentials

It is felt that in spite of the new multiple volume history of the Church which is being prepared toward a 1980 publication date, there will always be the need for a concise, one-volume history such as Essentials.

I have spoken with members of the Smith family, who will bereceiving in a trust fund the roya1ties for Essentials and other booksby President Smith and they are completely in accord with thissuggestion.

Your immediate consideration of this proposal to perpetuate Essentials for only two more years, and the undertaking of a newvolume after that will be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely yours,

Wm. James Mortimer



cc: Elder Joseph Anderson

Leonard Arrington

Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr.

[Letterto President Lee from Wm. James Mortimer, 24 May 1973]

I am proceeding as rapidly as possible on the one-volume history for Knopf. Have finished going thru five chapters. Becky has finishedthe first chapter in the Logan portion of my biography and familyhistory. I suspect she will not get much done this month, with Christmasand all. What she has done so far is fine. Incidentally, I received aglowing letter from S. Dilworth Young about the Woolley biography. Heliked it very much. I think that’s the first letter I received fromany General Authority complimenting me on one of my books. I knowPresident Lee liked GREAT BASIN KINGDOM, but he told me so orally,Aside from that, I think none have been read by any General Authorities.I have been told that Brother Benson and Brother Petersen did not likeBUILDING THE CITY OF GOD, but I feel sure that neither read it-oneof their assistants or friends just pointed to some passages they wouldnot like and that formed their impression of the book. Deseret Bookdefinitely feels to encourage us in the kind of books we write andpromises they will continue to publish them, Did I tell you theyreported that they had sold 6,000 copies of BUILDING THE CITY OF GOD beforeNovember 1? By Christmas there ought to be a far higher sale. Very pleasing.We continue to get good reports about STORY OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS,and Deseret Book continues to feature it and advertise it. I think we reallydid something great with that book, and I continue to feel that it was amajor breakthrough to get it published and distributed. About 15,000 copiessold so far. 

[LJA to Children; 4 Dec., 1976]