May Announcement for the Utah Westerners

Day of Infamy: The Sand Creek Massacre and the Creation of the Sand Creek National

Historic Site by Dr. David Halaas

There were many atrocities in the American West, but the slaughter at Sand Creek stands out because of the impact it had at the time and the way it has been remembered. Or rather, lost and then rediscovered. Sand Creek was the My Lai of its day, a war crime exposed by soldiers and condemned by the U.S. government. It fueled decades of war on the Great Plains. And yet, over time, the massacre receded from white memory, to the point where even locals were unaware of what had happened in their own backyard.
On November 7, 2000, the United States Congress authorized the establishment of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site so that the impacts of this pivotal episode in America’s history may be understood and never forgotten.

Dr. Halaas retired from Pittsburgh’s Senator John Heinz History Center (in Association with the Smithsonian Institution), and holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Colorado. Former historian/curator at the Library of Congress and Colorado State Historian, he is author of over sixty articles, and has written six books, including Halfbreed: The Remarkable True Story of George Bent; and Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: A Ledgerbook History of Coups and Combat. Currently consultant to the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Dr. Halaas has testified on the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre before committees of the United States Senate. In 1998, he was invited to the White House Oval Office to witness President Bill Clinton sign the landmark legislation leading to the creation of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site


July 11, 2017 at 5:51 pm Leave a comment

April Announcement for the Utah Westerners

Alma Richards: Olympian

Larry Gerlach

In 2016 the University of Utah Press published Alma Richards: Olympian by Larry Gerlach, our speaker for April.  Larry’s compelling biography recounts and interprets the life of Alma Richards, who in 1912 became the first and only Utahn and Mormon to win an Olympic gold medal in the 20th century.  Instead of recounting the particulars of Alma’s life, however, Larry will talk about more general topics–why he wrote the book, the nature of biography, what impressed him most about Alma and, finally, what he learned from the project. This will be a fascinating presentation by one of the outstanding historians of Utah and sport.

Larry Gerlach is Professor Emeritus of History, University of Utah.  His eclectic teaching and research interests—early America, especially the Revolution; the history of sport in America, notably baseball; the Olympic Games; and Utah history—are reflected in his publications, which include Blazing Crosses in Zion: The Ku Klux Klan in Utah, The Men in Blue: Conversations with Umpires, and The Winter Olympics: From Chamonix to Salt Lake City.  Larry has received numerous awards for his writing, research, and teaching.

July 11, 2017 at 5:48 pm Leave a comment

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

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