From the Archives: Native Americans and Frederick Kesler

By December 4, 2013

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:

Courtesy J. Willard Marriot Library.

Courtesy J. Willard Marriot Library.

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[.]

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Fascinating stuff, J. Thanks for sharing. Really great digging!

    Comment by stan — December 4, 2013 @ 9:17 am

  2. Wow, lots of great stuff here, J.

    I suspect that one of the couples receiving their endowment in February 1875 was the Shoshone chief Sagwitch and his wife, who we’ve blogged about before.

    I wasn’t aware that Dimick Huntington, who was known as the “Apostle to the Indians” before Jacob Hamblin claimed the title, used a panorama to teach potential Native proselytes. That’s fascinating; I wonder if the pictures have survived?

    The construction of the font just for Native baptisms–amazing.

    I wonder if we can track down any more information on the visiting Kiowa. If I’m reading the entry correctly, his name was Robert Luke (Young Buffalo [perhaps his Kiowa name]) and he was a sub chief, which suggests he may have been prominent enough to have left traces in Indian Office records. Perhaps a grad student with an interest in the Kiowas could do some digging. I also love that Kesler had Luke write in the diary. In the BY Papers, there is a scrap of paper with Wakara’s attempt at writing. It’s not anywhere as legible as Luke’s writing, since Wakara had received no education, but it does show that Wakara had an interest in learning how to write, and that white Mormons thought enough of the paper to preserve it.

    Comment by David G. — December 4, 2013 @ 10:52 am

  3. Kesler’s handwriting is ambiguous — it’s “Lake” rather than “Luke.”

    Church leaders in Salt Lake write to Brigham Young, who is in St. George for the winter of 1876-77, with this story of Robert Lake:

    We sent you a few days ago bro. Hills letter with regard to the Kiowa Indian, lately arrived at the Malad farm. Bro. Hill was in the Office this afternoon and gives a very interesting account of the manner in which this tribe heard of the Gospel. It appears that last summer, an apostate from Sessions settlement passed through their country, and got in conversation with this young man, in which they talked about ?Mormonism.? The Indian enquired if he had any books regarding our faith and doctrines, but was told he had not, but he had a book which he would let him have. It was ?Bill Hickman?s Confessions.? This Robert Lake (the Indian) read with avidity, and whilst doing so, his grandfather, a chief came along, who requested to know the purport of the book. It appears that this chief by dreams or some other way had an inkling of the idea that the Mormons talked with the Great Spirit. When his grandson told him the contents of the Confessions, and what Hickman acknowledged he had done he said such a man ought to be burned to death over a slow fire. He then directed his grandson to take thirty braves and go after the apostate, find him, and bring him back. This was done, they having traced the man to the neighborhood of Fort Sill. On his arrival a Council of the Chiefs was called, and the man who was in great fear (the Indian does not know his name), was told that if he talked straight, all would probably go well with him. It appears he did answer the questions pretty straight. He told them the prophets of the Mormons did talk with the Great Spirit, also what we were doing for the Lamanites in teaching them the ways of peace and industry, also that if they wanted to go to our Indian farm they must go to Ogden and then they could easily reach it. The Council decided to send young Lake. His grandfather, a few days after, sold fifteen ponies, and he started, going to Omaha and thence by Union Pacific to Ogden. He arrived safely at Ogden, and then commenced to enquire for the Mormons. The first man he met told him they lived in the interior, which word he did not understand, the next man he asked told him there were lots of Mormons at Corinne, and thither he went, at Corinne they told him the Mormons lived away up North, and he continued his journey. When somewhere in the neighborhood of Fort Hall he came across some friendly Indians, who showed him he had been misled, but as he was tired he stayed with them a while, and at their invitation took a long hunting expedition to Salmon river, and only got into camp as related in bro. Hill?s letter. He is shortly coming to the city to be baptized. This is certainly a most remarkable manifestation of the truth of the words of the hymn which says, ?

    ?God moves in a mysterious way
    His wonders to perform.?

    The young man professes a willingness to do anything that is required of him, and would like to see you before he returns. If it should suit hm, would it met your mind for him to go to his home by way of St. George and our settlements in Arizona and New Mexico. He speaks English well, and is acquainted with the people of the Apache and Commanche nations.

    I love Wakara’s “letter.” He actually forms no characters at all, in any language, but just draws lines of up-and-down squiggles. But what’s fascinating is that he had examined enough English correspondence to figure out the structure of a letter: his squiggles mimic the placement of date, salutation, body of letter, and signature, and on the back he even writes some short lines that are sideways to the orientation of the rest of the letter — he has obviously seen letters folded into envelopes and addressed that way. It’s a remarkable document; someone who probably didn’t understand the concept of alphabetic writing had still managed to decipher so much from the appearance of whatever English letters he had seen.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 4, 2013 @ 11:33 am

  4. P.S. I don’t find them in the CHL catalog, but BY also received two photographs of Robert Lake while he was in St. George. Maybe they didn’t make it into the Historian’s Office, or maybe they’re somewhere in the collection but unidentified.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 4, 2013 @ 11:38 am

  5. Thanks for the additional information on Lake and the Wakara “letter,” Ardis! I should know by now that if anyone has done research on these types of things, it’d be you.

    Comment by David G. — December 4, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

  6. Ardis and David, thank you very much for that additional information. Fascinating!

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 4, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

  7. Here is an interesting bit of “news” about Robert Lake, from the Millennial Star (Nov 5, 1894). According to this article, BY sent two elders back with Lake to inquire after the Kiowas’ interest and Lake ditched them along the way. Or so the paper reported. The writer of the article concluded that he was a fraud and possibly not Kiowa. Apparently the elders continued onto Indian Territory and met a Pottawotamie man, Antony Navarr, who also had been baptized in SLC, and they were “encouraged” by some tribes there but not by the Kiowas. It is also reported on in the Deseret Weekly.

    Comment by Stan — December 4, 2013 @ 7:08 pm

  8. Stan that is a really interesting conclusion. That Navarr had been sent on a proselytizing mission to his home tribe is pretty intriguing. I wonder how often that happened.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 5, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

  9. Both of these encounters (with Lake and with Navarr) could function as a really interesting opening to a fascinating larger study. Was Robert Lake sent by the Kiowas to visit the Mormons in SLC? If so, why? If not, why did he claim he was? (Did he claim he was? Or is that simply how others interpreted his visit?, etc. etc….)

    Comment by Stan — December 5, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

  10. Awesome post and discussion. Thanks, J.

    Comment by Christopher — December 6, 2013 @ 3:32 pm


Recent Comments

wvs on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Looking forward to this. Thanks J.”

Daniel Stone on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Thanks much for posting this, Joey!”

Mel Johnson on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “This JWHA will be outstanding, maybe the best ever. I encourage all Restoration historians and cultural studies people to attend along with their friends. The setting at…”

Gary Bergera on George F. Richards' journals: “I remember reading through the microfilms of the Richards's journals in the mid- to late-1970s. Nothing was redacted. They were amazing.”

Jeff T on George F. Richards' journals: “Thanks, Stapley!”

Hannah Jung on George F. Richards' journals: “That is exciting! I had no idea this was in the works! Any idea when the plan is to release the next twenty years of…”