March Announcement for the Utah Westerners

“The Long Memory:

Tales from the Utah Westerners’ First Fifty Years”

On our fiftieth anniversary, some of our long-standing “Old Westerners” will recall their long memories of the Utah Westerners. They invite the audience to pitch in as Greg Thompson, Floyd O’Neil, Oscar Olson, Gibbs Smith, and Verne Gorzitze (with Will Bagley moderating) share their combined 236 years of recollections about a few of our outfit’s most revered traditions, best laughs, colorful characters (such as Hal, Nate, Bud, Jerry, and many Daves), perilous adventures, and the long battle to accept women members.

The panel will be moderated by Will Bagley (1987)* who has written more than twenty books on overland emigration, frontier violence, railroads, mining, the invention of digital search technology, and the Mormons. Born in Utah, he attended Brigham Young University and was a President’s Scholar at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he studied writing with Page Stegner and history with John Dizikes.  Most may not know that he has rafted down the Mississippi River, performed country music from Wyoming to Nevada, and in 1979 recorded an album, “The Legend of Jesse James.” Between 2000 and 2004, the Sunday Salt Lake Tribune published more than 200 of his columns and articles. For his many books he has won many major awards.

Gibbs Smith (1974) was invited to speak to the Westerners on Joe Hill, and shortly thereafter, joined. Gibbs is a historian by training, attending both at the University of Utah, and the University of California Santa Barbara. He said: “I have learned a lot from Utah Westerner members by sitting by them at dinner and visiting during our fieldtrips.”

Gregory C. Thompson (1970) is the Associate Dean of the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library for Special Collections and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of History. He received his BS from Colorado State University, BA from Fort Lewis College, and his MS and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Utah. Greg served on the staff of the University of Utah’s American West Center where his research focused on the Ute tribes of Colorado and Utah and he served as a consultant to the San Juan County School District (Utah) and the Southern Ute Tribe of Ignacio, Colorado. Greg has published several monographs on the Ute tribe including Southern Ute Lands, 1848-1899: The Creation of a Reservation; The Southern Utes: A Tribal History; and edited, with Floyd A. O’Neil, A History of the Indians of the United States: A Syllabus.

Oscar Olson (1980) has a passion for southern Utah and its history which began with a float trip down the Glen Canyon in 1962 before Lake Powell was formed. He saw firsthand where John Wesley Powell and his men journeyed down the Colorado, the Dominguez-Escalante Trail, where miners had worked, and the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail. Thus began his lifetime of exploring the many trails and running the rivers of southern Utah.  He has explored probably 98% of the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail by boat, air, and foot.   Oscar knows us well, as he was the driver on the first three Utah Westerners field trips in the 1960s and has been on 29+ field trips, probably half of them as the driver. He has spent virtually his entire lifetime reading about and exploring the American West.

Floyd O’Neil (1969) spent his childhood in the Uintah Basin. He attended Carbon College before moving on to the University of Utah, where he was awarded a B.S. in History and a Ph.D. in History.  He served as director of the American West Center from 1986 to 1996, and is currently Director Emeritus of that organization.

Vern Gorzitze (1970) was born in Salt Lake City, to German emigrant parents. He graduated from West High School and the University of Utah with a BA in Modern Languages (German Literature).  He was drafted into the Army and discharged after two years and was stationed at Ft. Carson, Colorado and Ft. Lewis, Washington. His schooling was interrupted, by being called to “Sell an intangible product” – “door to door” in West Germany. His career was in construction related areas doing Contract Bid Estimating for a multitude of Interior Finishes.  Most recently Vern was granted Emeritus status by Utah Westerners.

*Year joined Utah Westerners.


March 15, 2017 at 9:38 pm Leave a comment

February Announcement for the Utah Westerners


Kenneth L. Cannon II

Almost one hundred years before the breakout hit “Book of Mormon, the Play” hit the stage, a darker, more solemn play about the Mormons was produced on Broadway.  Ken Cannon will describe and analyze the play, its authors and actors, its background, how the critics received it, and the perceptions it conveyed of Utah Mormons to early twentieth-century America.

Co-written by Harvey O’Higgins, Frank J. Cannon’s co-author of his political autobiography, Under the Prophet in Utah, and an unusually talented and broad-ranged New York writer, “Polygamy” is set in 1914 Salt Lake City.  As O’Higgins told the prestigious Drama Society of New York, he wanted to expose the evils of the “national Frankenstein” of Mormonism in the play. The plot revolves around the reactions and challenges created by a decree of the “Prophet” that an up-and-coming Mormon take a polygamous wife.  The play was cleverly presented in a way intended to appeal to Progressive America and feminists and reformers flocked to the production and hailed its message.  “Polygamy” was reviewed (mostly favorably) by all the major theater magazines and newspapers of the day and had a respectable six-month run.  It exhibited a sophisticated, subtle understanding of Mormon culture which was largely lost on Eastern critics and audiences.  Ken’s article on the play was recently published in Utah Historical Quarterly.

Ken Cannon, a member of Utah Westerners, is a corporate bankruptcy attorney and an independent historian.  For many years, he worked for a national, New York-based law firm in its Salt Lake City office, where the firm’s bankruptcy practice was centered.  He is a Fellow in the American College of Bankruptcy, perhaps the highest honor an American bankruptcy lawyer can attain, and is regularly identified as one of the best attorneys in Utah and the Intermountain West.  In addition to his legal practice, Ken currently holds the rank of Adjunct Professor of Law at the S.J. Quinney School of Law at the University of Utah, where he teaches a course on commercial law.  As a historian, Ken has published over twenty articles in scholarly journals on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Utah and Mormon history and American legal history, occasionally winning awards along the way.  His long-term historical projects are a group biography of George Q. Cannon’s three oldest sons (Frank was the second) and editing a slightly fictionalized manuscript of the Bohemian period of Greenwich Village written by Isaac Russell, a Utah Mormon who covered Greenwich Village for the New York Times.  He is married to Ann Edwards Cannon, a writer, and they have five sons, four daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren.

February 14, 2017 at 4:48 pm Leave a comment

January Announcement for the Utah Westerners

The Civil War Years in Utah: The Kingdom of God

and the Territory That Did Not Fight

 Dr. Gary Maxwell

For our January meeting Gary will discuss his latest book The Civil War Years in Utah:  The Kingdom of God and the Territory That Did Not Fight.  In 1832 Joseph Smith, Jr., the Mormons’ first prophet, foretold of a great war beginning in South Carolina. In the combatants’ mutual destruction, God’s purposes would be served, and Mormon men would rise to form a geographical, political, and theocratic “Kingdom of God” to encompass the earth. Three decades later, when Smith’s prophecy failed with the end of the American Civil War, the United States left torn but intact, the Mormons’ perspective on the conflict—and their inactivity in it—required palliative revision. In The Civil War Years in Utah, the first full account of the events that occurred in Utah Territory during that war, John Gary Maxwell contradicts the patriotic mythology of Mormon leaders’ version of this dark chapter in Utah history.

While the Civil War spread death, tragedy, and sorrow across the continent, Utah Territory remained virtually untouched. Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and its faithful—proudly praise the service of an 1862 Mormon cavalry company during the Civil War, Maxwell’s research exposes the relatively inconsequential contribution of these Nauvoo Legion soldiers. Active for a mere ninety days, they patrolled overland trails and telegraph lines. Furthermore, Maxwell finds indisputable evidence of Southern allegiance among Mormon leaders, despite their claim of staunch, long-standing loyalty to the Union. Men at the highest levels of Mormon hierarchy were in close personal contact with Confederate operatives. In seeking sovereignty, Maxwell contends, the Saints engaged in blatant and treasonous conflict with Union authorities, the California and Nevada Volunteers, and federal policies, repeatedly skirting open warfare with the U.S. government.

Collective memory of this consequential period in American history, Maxwell argues, has been ill-served by a one-sided perspective. This engaging and long-overdue reappraisal finally fills in the gaps, telling the full story of the Civil War years in Utah Territory.

Gary was born and raised in Salt Lake City where he attended East High School, graduating in the same class as Bob Bennett, Jake Garn, Henry Eyring, Richard Middleton and Don Gale.  He attended medical School at the University of Utah and interned at the Salt Lake County General Hospital.  He served in the US Army reserves which included two years of active duty at Coco Solo Hospital in the Panama Canal Zone.  Gary’s completed a five-year residency in General Surgery and one year transplantation research at the University of Utah Medical Center.  He served on the faculty at the University of Utah from 1961 to 1986 where he was influential in teaching surgery to large number of students and residents.  He performed several hundred kidney transplants at the University of Utah Medical Center, including the first done in children.

 Always in the academic world Gary moved to North Carolina in 1985 to become a faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Program Director of General Surgery at Wilmington’s New Hanover Regional Medical Center.  He continued teaching medical students and residents in general surgery with special emphasis in Trauma.   He has traveled to Equador several times with surgical teams to perform surgery in underserved populations. 

January 9, 2017 at 1:49 pm Leave a comment

December Announcement for the Utah Westerners

Craig Wirth

Craig will be discussing his broadcasting career in Utah and present video clips of some of his favorite Utah stories.

Craig Wirth is Communications Director of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. Originally from Great Falls, Montana.  He started working behind the scenes at Channel 4 in 1970, while a student at the University of Utah. He eventually moved to Wisconsin where he graduated from the University of Wisconsin in urban affairs and covered the state legislature for WTMJ in Milwaukee.  He returned to Utah where he again worked for Channel 4.  He has also worked in the New York and Los Angeles television markets for which he has won four Emmy Awards for his outstanding work.  He was inducted into the Utah Broadcasting Association Hall of Fame in 2012.  Besides his ongoing work in television he is also the Communications Director for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Communications Department at the University of Utah. Craig considers himself to be a “story teller” who loves history.  His specialty is telling the stories of daily life in Utah.  His popular feature “Wirth Watching” (Sundays nights on Channel 4) has run for many years.


January 9, 2017 at 1:45 pm Leave a comment

November Announcement for the Utah Westerners



Bill MacKinnon will speak about the Utah War and his recently published work: ‘At Sword’s Point, Part 2,’ the concluding book of his two-volume documentary history of the Utah War of 1857-1859.

Bill’s Part 2 picks up the war’s action in January 1858 and takes the reader through Thomas L. Kane’s gratuitous trip west to try to end further bloodshed, U. S. Army Capt. Randolph B. Marcy’s epic trek from Fort Bridger to New Mexico to remount the Utah Expedition, Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives’ ascent of the Colorado River in search of an invasion route into southern Utah, President Buchanan’s plans to open a second front from the Pacific Coast while planning a related incursion into northern Mexico and the acquisition of Spanish Cuba, Gen. Winfield Scott’s bizarre attempt to supersede Albert Sidney Johnston, Brigham Young’s  quixotic efforts to raise a whole new force (the Standing Army of Israel) for a spring assault on Forts Bridger and Laramie, the massive Move South toward Sonora of 30,000 Mormon refugees, and Buchanan’s surprise dispatch of peace commissioners armed with stiff terms and a blanket presidential pardon to end the military phase of the war.

MacKinnon will focus on the war’s regional and even international sprawl as well as the truth and errors of its enduring mythology while sharing his conclusions about who started the war, its winners and losers, leader accountabilities, the impact of the war on individual participants, and the societal forces unleashed by the conflict that changed Utah, the West, and America forever. Attendees are urged to come prepared with the questions they have always wanted to ask about our country’s greatest and most expensive military adventure between the Mexican-American and Civil wars.

Bill MacKinnon is an independent historian living in Montecito, Santa Barbara County, California, who has researched, and written about Utah’s turbulent territorial period since 1958. He has been a member of the Utah State Historical Society since 1963 and is now both a fellow and honorary life member of that organization as well as a member of OCTA’s Crossroads (Utah) Chapter. He is a past president of the Mormon History Association and former sheriff of the Santa Barbara Corral of the Westerners. In his other careers as a business manager and community volunteer, he has been a vice president of General Motors Corporation, president of his own consulting firm, chairman of Children’s Hospital of Michigan, and a trustee of public and private educational, philanthropic, and health care organizations. He is an alumnus or veteran of Yale, Harvard, and the U. S. Air Force.

January 9, 2017 at 1:41 pm Leave a comment

October Announcement for the Utah Westerners

Utah, Nels Anderson, and the World War I Experience
Kent Powell

With the Centennial Anniversary of the United States entry into World War I less than six months away, we have asked Kent Powell to talk about two recent University of Utah Press books which he has edited on Utahns and World War I. The first book, Utah and the Great War: The Beehive State and the World War I Experience is a collection of seventeen articles that look at military involvement, the impact on communities, women, Native Americans, German-Americans and other immigrants, conscientious objectors, flu epidemic victims, and the battle over the League of Nations. The second book, Nels Anderson’s World War I Diary, is a remarkable contemporary account of military service on the Western Front in France and during the American occupation of Germany after the war. An adopted Utahn, Nels Anderson became an internationally recognized sociologist. He is known to students of Utah history for his path breaking book, Desert Saints: The Mormon Frontier in Utah published by the University of Chicago Press in 1942 and his influence on prominent Utah historians Juanita Brooks and Dale Morgan.

Allan Kent Powell grew up in Huntington, Emery County, Utah, and earned a Ph.D. in History from the University of Utah. In 2013 he retired as managing editor of the Utah Historical Quarterly and as senior state historian at the Utah State Historical Society where he was employed for forty-four years. His most recent book, Utah and the Great War: The Beehive State and the World War I Experience, was just published by the University of Utah Press. He edited Nels Anderson’s World War I Diary, which received the Army Historical Foundation’s Distinguished Writing Award for 2013. Other edited books include: A German Odyssey: Helmut Horner the Journal of a German Prisoner of War, Utah Remembers World War II, the Utah History Encyclopedia and the twenty-nine volume Utah Centennial County History Series. He has authored numerous articles and several books including The Next Time We Strike: Labor in the Eastern Utah Coal Fields and Splinters of a Nation: German Prisoners of War in Utah. He has been a member of the Utah Westerners since 2004 and in 2014 was made a Fellow of the Utah State Historical Society.

October 10, 2016 at 1:55 pm Leave a comment

September Announcement for the Utah Westerners

John M. Browning:  American Inventor and Gun Maker

Presented by Lenny Rees

Historian, Browning and Winchester

John Moses Browning (1855-1926) was born in Ogden, Utah.  He was a firearms designer who developed military and civilian firearms, cartridges and gun mechanisms.  He started at age thirteen working in the gun shop of his father, Jonathan Browning (1805-1879).   He also developed automatic and semi-automatic firearms and had 128 gun patents.  He was awarded his first patent at the age of twenty-four.  Other significant contributions include: development of modern automatic and semi-automatic firearms; improvements to single-shot, lever-action and slide-action rifles and shotguns; development of the first autoloading pistols; development of the first gas-operated machine gun; as well as contributions to the development of automatic cannons.   Many of his guns were copied and are still manufactured.  Lenny Rees will be speaking on John M. Browning’s history, the company that he founded and his work in the firearm industry.

Lenny Rees retired from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in December, 2007.  He started working for Browning as customer service agent in January, 2008.  In the spring of 2015 he accepted the position as historian for Browning and Winchester, where he enjoyed working in “dusty books and microfiche records.”  Rees lives in Roy, Utah and with his wife Sonja.  He has five daughters, fifteen grandchildren and seven grandchildren.


September 12, 2016 at 1:42 pm Leave a comment

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