B.H. Roberts and Frederick Kesler Diaries Available

J. Marriott Library, courtesy Marriott Library archives

An exciting announcement has been made by the University of Utah Marriott Library. The personal diaries of two prominent Mormon pioneers, B.H. (Brigham Henry) Roberts and Frederick Kesler have been scanned and printed and are now available to the public! Not only are these diaries available at a very reasonable cost, but the library has also made them available free of charge to read online, through the miracle of internet and PDF. (See a sample here).  From the official announcement:

“written in their own hand—[the diaries are] now available to the general public for the first time. The series of 14 diaries offers a glimpse into the personal, business, and religious affairs of two men who helped shape the early history of Utah and the region.”

These diaries have been held and protected in the Marriott’s Special Collections Department. The means to safely and economically share them has been prohibitive, until the advent of the “Espresso Book Machine” (EBM). This new printing machine is a little publishing masterpiece. It can quickly and inexpensively make books, including many as yet unpublished histories, available in a bound paperback format.

courtesy srharris, Flikr.com

“Sometimes referred to as an ATM for books, the EBM was purchased by the library in 2009 and prints the text in black-and-white and the cover in color. It glues the cover into place and trims the entire package to the proper size, in this case, 6” x 9” books.”

Author note: The EBM is equally exciting news! I am in the possession of many priceless family journals and photo albums which are currently sitting on a shelf in my home literally collecting dust. Consequently, I’ve been continually worried about them becoming permanently damaged or lost in one tragic way or another. I have wanted to preserve them, and also find a way to give copies to my children – however, the idea of painstakingly typing up the 40+ volumes by hand and then trying to send to a publisher (not to mention the cost) has been daunting, to say the least. The EBM machine seems a potential answer to my prayers for the preservation and publication of these journals. For any interested, the EBM publishing information is found here.

Returning to today’s announcement; many of the diaries of Roberts and Kesler were actually small pocket-sized notebooks. In fact, according to John Herbert, a Marriott Library Manager, the scans are shown at approximately 200% in the publication! At some points in viewing the online PDF, a tip of a finger of the person carefully holding the diary for the scanning process can actually be detected –  putting both the size, and the fragility, in perspective. Both Roberts and Kesler’s notebooks also contain newspaper clippings, receipts and other scraps and mementos that the author stuffed or pasted inside (the 1800’s version of “scrapbooking”). All of those little items were also scanned and can be read and enjoyed..

Here is a brief overview of the men behind the diaries, with a couple of samples from the series:

B. H. Roberts was born in England in 1857 and immigrated to America in 1866 to join his mother in Salt Lake City, Utah. He spent nearly his entire adult life actively involved in church service. Always outspoken and sometimes controversial, his writings challenged some of the positions and teachings of his church. He was not allowed to fill his seat in the U. S. House of Representatives in 1898 because of his earlier polygamist lifestyle. Here is an interesting entry:

B.H. Roberts, courtesy Marriott archive

1891 “While I was lingering about [outside the train] talking with the passengers, [Elder Taylor] found the Salt Lake papers containing President Woodruff’s Manifesto. As soon as I entered the car he called to me and showed me the papers containing the document, the headlines of which I read with astonishment,” explains B.H. Roberts, reacting to Woodruff’s manifesto disavowing plural marriage (from Roberts’s diary 1890-1893, p. 39).

Roberts diaries are available in four issues spanning 1882-1893 – (found here).

Frederick Kesler may be a less familiar name in Mormon history, but no less important. He was an orphan, millwright, polygamist, warden, bishop, justice of the peace, school trustee, and confidant to President Brigham Young. Born in Pennsylvania in 1816, Kesler moved through Ohio, Mississippi, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois before settling in Salt Lake City in 1851. His full, wide-ranging life is captured in his diaries, written in his own hand, beginning in 1859 and continuing until  the year of his death in 1899.

Frederick Kesler, courtesy Utah Historical Society

Kesler was a very diligent journal keeper. From what I can tell, he wrote an entry every single day of his life for nearly 40 years! Some of the entries are quite mundane and brief, such as “Feeling poorly, I tarried in my office all day“. Other entries include more exciting things, such as this gem:

Sept 1886, 19 S[unday] “I dreamt of Joseph Smith the prophet last night. talked with him shook hands with him when he got in to a little boat (a Shift) & started to cross a Large river but could not see him after getting in the Boat but the river was still there…” Frederick Kesler 1885-1888, page 110

Side Note: Kesler’s dream has some striking similarities to Joseph Smith’s Last dream.

Kesler’s diaries are available in ten volumes spanning from 1859-1899. (found here). While researching this post, I also stumbled across a lovely documentary created by Taylor Van Sickle, one of Kesler’s ancestors, entitled “Finding Kesler”, which is well worth watching.

I am excited to spend more time reading through the diaries of these two fascinating men. Their lives and stories, written in their own hand at the time the events unfolded, are truly a precious legacy. Today I have a renewed desire to continue investing time writing in my personal diaries, archiving photos, and updating scrapbooks so that when I am gone, my life story will remain. President Spencer W. Kimball’s admonition and prophetic promise inspired me at the age of 11 to begin my first diary. My love of writing was discovered, and I am grateful for the therapy and spiritual discovery journal keeping provided. Like Pres. Kimball, I am a strong believer in the power and importance of journal keeping!

Spencer W. Kimball

“On a number of occasions I have encouraged the Saints to keep personal journals and family records. I renew that admonition. We may think them as little of interest or importance in what we personally say or do—but it is remarkable how many of our families, as we pass on down the line, are interested in all that we do and all that we say. . . What could you do better for your children and your children’s children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved? Some of what you write may be humdrum dates and places, but there will also be rich passages that will be quoted by your posterity. Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity.” – President Kimball Speaks Out On Personal Journals, Dec. 1980

The excitement generated by the relase of the diaries of B.H. Roberts and Frederick Kesler are a testament to the value of writing down our own life story while it is playing out. Roberts and Kesler never could have imagined that their little notebooks and scribbles would some day be read and treasured in the future by hundreds – potentially thousands – of people across the globe. Will the words you and I write down ever be considered as important? I feel in my heart that they will be – if not of importance to the world – then at least extremely important and precious to a handful of posterity to come.

And thus, I write. – MoSop


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