Gems from the Brigham Young Office Files

    Jay G. Burrup, Church History Specialist/Archivist
    19 April 2018

    Jay Burrup’s three-part series on the Brigham Young Office Files collection concludes with several examples of the interesting and inspiring letters awaiting discovery. Our reference staff is ready to help with your research.

    In my last two posts, I described the Brigham Young Office Files collection and provided some tips for searching its contents. I’ll wrap up this three-part series by sharing a few examples of the rich and personal insights that you can expect to discover.

    Sarah Cooper of Richmond, Utah, wrote to Brother Brigham in 1866. She prefaced her request for his help with these words (transcribed as they appear in the letter): “I Take my Pen in hand to ask a great Favour of you it is the last Resourse I have to flee to.” She then recounted brief details of her family situation and emigration. These were followed by the details of her request: “It was me that wrought [wrote] to You, in Stayley Bridge [England], in 1860 and my Brother Died, and left me 40 Pounds [sterling]. I Paid some Debts, with the rest of the Money we Came to florance [Nebraska] I Brought with me my two Sons and one Daughter, we Paid a Part of our Passage a Cross the Plainse, my son George [h]as been hired to Bishop Merrill two summers and [h]as Promised him the Money but Could not get it for him and his w[h]eat is Frosted, and we have no money to send for my . . . youngest Daughter, She and her husband and 3 Children and his Mother the[y] are at Stailey Bridge, England, the[y] are in Distressed Circumstances and the[y] want to Come to the valley. If you will be so Cind [kind] as to send for them, we shall be very much ablouge [obliged] to you, and if the season is favourable my son George Can Pay for some of it next Fall.”

    Sarah’s letter is likely one of only a few that she ever wrote that have survived the ages. It might be the only one. Fortunately, it is safely preserved in the archival holdings of the Church History Library for Sarah’s descendants and others to read and appreciate. It can even be viewed in the library’s online catalog from anywhere in the world with internet access.

    Elizabeth Whitear Sermon Camm lamented in her April 1859 letter that her two sons, Robert (age 8) and John (age 12), were handicapped because of the frigid tragedy of the ill-fated Martin handcart company. Intense, penetrating frostbite claimed both of Robert’s feet and one of John’s. Elizabeth pleaded with Brigham to help her provide educational opportunities for the boys so that they could, upon reaching adulthood, obtain employment to provide for themselves. She also mentioned that her husband, the boys’ father, was deceased. A clerical filing notation on the back of the letter indicates that Elizabeth was given a verbal reply regarding her plea. An autobiographical sketch that Elizabeth wrote in 1892, available at the Church History Library, provides more details about her sons’ frozen feet and her heart-wrenching role in treating their frostbite.

    Almerin Grow wrote to Brigham Young in 1856, but he didn’t send his letter through the mail. Apparently, Grow first sought a personal audience with the Church leader at the President’s office. When that meeting didn’t materialize, Grow left a note with an office clerk, who subsequently presented it to Brigham for consideration. Grow asked to borrow dental instruments that he thought Brigham might own and lend to him. Grow added that he would return the next day for Brother Brigham’s answer. Unfortunately, because the response was probably given verbally and no record of the reply exists in the office files, we do not know the rest of the story.

    Among the intriguing and somewhat entertaining letters in the office files is one from William Budge of Paris, Idaho, in 1874. Budge later became a member of the Idaho Territorial Legislature, the president of the Bear Lake Stake, and a high-profile spokesman for Church officials and members in Idaho during the tumultuous and venomous anti-Mormon era of the 1880s. In 1874, Budge sent a letter to Brigham detailing a sighting of the purported Bear Lake Monster (akin to Scotland’s fabled Loch Ness Monster). The monster, Budge claims, was seen by himself, William Broomhead, and Milando Pratt. The letter contains no clues that Budge was joking or being facetious; in fact, he was soberly adamant that he and his companions had witnessed firsthand an unidentified animal of some sort moving in the lake, which left the witnesses perplexed. Budge’s letter was loaned to the Deseret News, which published it on the front page of its weekly edition on May 27, 1874.

    Church members occasionally included in their letters, sometimes as postscripts, information about the weather and seasons, as well as more unusual occurrences, such as local fires, earthquakes, and periodic grasshopper infestations, which decimated crops and gardens.

    The motto of the Church History Library is “The Story Lives Here,” so enjoy searching the Brigham Young Office Files to discover some of the 14,000 letters still resting quietly—and mostly undiscovered—in this massive and fascinating collection that brings our ancestors’ and relatives’ stories to life!