I have decided to work my way through the Frederick Kesler diaries, conveniently available through the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library, both digitally and by on-demand printing. I just finished the 1874-1877 diary, which included several items relating to Mormon interactions with Native Americans. And while I have no real expertise in Native American history, I thought that the following items would be of interest to the regular readers of the JI, particularly in light of the recent wonderful content. Those more skilled than I may be able to use the material to probe conceptions of blood, literacy, newspaper exchanges, evangelism and more.
Kesler was a prominent Bishop in Salt Lake City, polygamous husband, farmer and businessman. His 1874-1877 diary includes numerous references to “the Lamanites.” For example, on February 22, 1875, when his son was endowed at the Endowment House, Kesler noted that two Native American couples were participating in the liturgy at the same time. He wrote letters to and subscribed to several Native American newspapers. In fact, glued to the inside marbled paper at the end of the volume is the published letter he wrote to a Cherokee newspaper:
I take much interest in reading your paper and pleased to see you stand firmly, and boldly contend for the right, of your people, who have been in bygone years ill-treated by the United States Government. You may have forced upon you a Territorial government and your former Treaties and Land Title set aside, as well as every principle of justice, and honor trampled under foot by those who should protect and defend your Race in all of their just rights. But let that be as it may, all will in the end be right. There is a bright future for the Red Man, as he is of the House of Israel. I full well know their origin as well as their great Future which will be glorious.
Kesler was reading the Book of Mormon during this time, and he notes on occasion church leaders speaking about the future of the Lamanites. But there were also some more proximate interactions for Kesler to ponder over, which likely reinforced his enthusiasm.
On March 15, 1875, Kesler notes in his diary that he went “to D. B. Huntingtons to select a place for the Baptising of the Lamanites which he wants near his Dwelling[.] there seems to be quite a stir amongst the Lamanites[.]” Three days later, Kesler met at his ward school house with Presidents Young, Wells, and Cannon and held a meeting with the Indians: “D. B. Huntington was interpreter. the indians manifest a desire to go farming & of living more as we do[.]” The day after these meetings, March 19:
Prst Young & his Councilers met in council with the Lamanites in our ward School House 50 or 60 indians ware presant a few of our Breathern ware presant[.] a Small panarama got up by D. B. Huntington was exhibited commencing with adam & eve in the garden of Eaden with several interesting circumstances or insidences which transpired from then until the time that the angle moroni delivered the plates unto Joseph Smith. each picture was Explained unto them. they ware verry timely & good Council
Kesler’s March 20 entry simply states: “Looking after materials for indian House & font to Baptising them in[.]” In the following days Kesler secured wood, piping, and the services of carpenters to construct this house and font. Then on Sunday, March 28, Kesler attended the dedicatory services for the font. I’m not exactly sure why they didn’t use the endowment house font, in which Kesler frequently baptized people (first baptisms as well as for the renewal of covenants). The details about this font are, however, liturgical gold. At the end of the dedicatory details, Kesler notes that it was “the first Font build & Dedicated by the Holy priesthood for the Baptizing of the remnants of Jacob in this last dispensation & by myself[.]” In the following days, Kesler records baptizing in it.
A couple of years later, on February 16, 1877, Kesler noted that he “had an interview with an Indian of the Kiowa Tribe from the Indian Teritory[.] he was sent By his tribe to visit the mormons[.] He can read & write good english & is about 3/4 white Blood[.] He left his tribe last June & has been sometime in the Northern part of our teritory Reading the Book of Mormon & investigating our Doctrine[.] He was Baptised yesterday & Confirmed[.] my interview with him was quiet interesting.” The following day, this convert attended the regular meetings of Kesler’s ward and spoke to a large crowd. Then on Wednesday, this Indian convert, still unnamed in Kesler’s diary, came to Kesler’s home for dinner and wrote in his diary:
the above is the Hand write of the young man that has been sent out to see us by his Nation the Kiowa Indians he has much to learn about the great work that the Lord has commenced in these last days I pray him safe to his own Nation & that he may be instrumental in doing a great work amongst his people the Lamanites[.]