Review: The Best of the Frontier Guardian

In late 1847, the Federal Government pressured the Latter-day Saints at Winter Quarters to leave Indian land. The Mormons crossed the Missouri river to settle on the eastern bank and founded the new city of Kanesville, Iowa (later Council Bluffs). Brigham Young directed Apostle Orson Hyde to preside over the settlement and the Frontier Guardian was his organ. Kanesville was a major point of emigration for those outside of the Church as well as those working towards Zion and the Guardian is a significant and generally untapped resource for understanding the period.

The paper endured for three volumes, plus a couple issues in a fourth, and BYU Studies and University of Utah Press [1] have just republished them:

Susan Easton Black, ed., The Best of the Frontier Guardian (Provo: BYU Studies/Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2009). 186 pp. No index. DVD-ROM, The Frontier Guardian. Paper: $19.95. ISBN:978-0-8425-2740-8

This volume comes in two parts: 1) the paperback “best of” and 2) the DVD-ROM complete archive.

The meat of the book are 13 chapters, divided by subject. Guardian extracts are present without introduction and are unannotated. While much of the content in these chapters is available from other sources, it is helpful to read them sequentially and in context of the other material presented in the volume. For example, chapter one’s general epistles of the First Presidency are widely available and all but one of the letters printed in chapter seven’s missionary letters were printed in the Millennial Star.

Among the fairly unique material are some great pieces. For example, Hyde’s disclaiming of vengeful oaths (86), the account of rebaptizing entire inactive branches in New York (127), and counsel on the use of meat are all interesting to my personal research. On the latter, the editor wrote in instructing westward bound emigrants:

Milch [Milk] cows should be taken by all means, as many of them as possible. For bread, milk, butter, and honey constitute the usual food of the Saints. Animal food costs cruelty and blood, and should be used sparingly by those who fear God and respect the works of his hands. Let the shedding of blood, be the result of actual need; for the Lord hath said unto us: “Woe unto him that sheddeth blood when he hath no need!” (145)

The lack of annotation is a great weakness for such an edited volume. Information indicating from where materials were reprinted would have added a great measure of depth. Furthermore, some readers might be confused by the statement on eating meat or scandalized to read that Brigham Young was offering to pay laborers “in coffee, tea” and other commodities (64). Others might be curious why bishops and other Church officers were nominated by congregations before being seconded and then voted upon (78) or why converts were required to give ten percent of all that they owned as tithing upon baptism (87).

Similarly, the lack of introductory material to the chapters limits the accessibility to their full importance. Most readers won’t know the history of the Strangites or the Cutlerites or William Smith. Without some context and direction to further reading, the Guardian extracts will likely feel hollow. Similar context on the Gold Rush would be equally valuable.

The Best of begins with an introduction by volume editor, Susan Easton Black, in which she briefly recounts the history of Mormon newspaper publishing and the history of Orson Hyde. She then moves into a discussion of the Guardian publishing history and its contents. I found Black’s intro generally wanting. Besides a few pointers to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Black relies heavily on period newspapers for citation. [2] These references will surely be a boon to many researchers; however, many readers will feel short shrifted, especially if they are not already familiar with the historical context of Guardian topics. Many readers would also have been benefited by citations of currently available editions of Mormon newspapers and secondary materials. As a side note, readers will find Bill Hartley’s recent paper on the mail in Mormon history a very informative compliment. [3]

The DVD included with the book is the real treat, however. The DVD includes complete PDF images of the original newspaper, PDF typescripts of the newspaper articles, and HTML text versions of the articles. In addition, the DVD includes “Annotations,” which serve as appendices and list such things as the agents of and subscribers to the Guardian, letter notices, and a list of people mentioned. This will surely be helpful to genealogists and other interested researchers.

Article transcripts are also text searchable. The search function is not as handy as those employed by BYU and the UU in their historic newspaper project (no searching by phrase or proximity), but it does allow for wild card searches. In trolling about the transcripts I found several items of interest, but also a great many items reprinted from elsewhere, like Hyde’s April 27, 1845 sermon to the Nauvoo High Priests Quorum and various tracts by Parley Pratt.

All in all, this is a nice volume and a quick read. The inclusion of the DVD adds tremendous value and is worth purchasing.

_________________

  1. A series of volumes have been or are slated for release under these combined publishers, including Jill Derr’s volume on Eliza R. Snow’s Poetry and the Mountain Meadows Massacre documents. Some may consider this an unholy union, but if it keeps the presses afloat in difficult times, more power to them.
  2. There are a few peculiarities in the citations, but generally it is a case of deficiency. E.g., the Nauvoo Journal and Mormon Historical Studies have carried articles on Orson Hyde in relation to topics covered in the intro, but are not mentioned.
  3. William G. Hartley, “Letters and Mail between Kirtland and Independence: A Mormon Postal History, 1831-22,” Journal of Mormon History 35 (Summer 2009): 163-189.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the review.

  2. Thanks for the review, J. Looks like a valuable, if flawed, publication. Oh, is Hyde’s disclaiming of vengeance oaths long? If it’s short, could you send me a transcript of it to my email? Thanks.

  3. Cheers.

    There is also this great missive to emigrants going to SL where Hyde hammers on people saying it is ok to leave late and without extra food. He warns about starvation and tragedy. “Men and Angel’s shall know that we have spoken plainly, and warned faithfully; and our garments, in this respect, are clean.” (pg. 149) It is too bad that this wasn’t universally upheld by all those advising emigrants.

  4. Now I can get rid of the giant photocopies I have of the originals. The things are huge!

  5. Sounds better than I expected. Great review, J.

  6. I wouldn’t have considered buying this without the review, J., but now I want the CD at least. Thanks.

  7. Thanks for the review, J. Sounds like a nice contribution.

  8. To get the DVD with the book sounds like a complete steal for $19.95. Thanks for the review.

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