Pioneer of Southern Utah and Las Vegas – John Steele papers

John Steele (1821-1903), pioneer of Southern Utah and Las Vegas, Nevada

L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce the availability of a new digitized collection: John Steele papers (Vault MSS 528). This collection contains three boxes full of diaries, notes, correspondence, dictionaries, surveys, bonds, certificates, horoscopes, and military orders related to a prominent pioneer of southern Utah and Nevada. The correspondence was to and from John Steele, other family members, and acquaintances. The materials document the activities of the Steele family, John’s militia and Mormon Battalion activities, his missions to England and to the Indians, his migration to Utah, and his life in Utah and Nevada. Also included is a dictionary of the Southern Paiute language created by John Steele. Materials dated 1816-1989.

John Steele was born March 21, 1821 in Hollywood, Ireland, to John and Nancy Steele. At the age of fifteen years, John began to learn the trade of boot and shoemaking, and started a business in Belfast. At age nineteen he met Catherine Campbell, and they married on January 1, 1840. Their first daughter, Mary Campbell Steele, was born on December 23, 1840.

Because of poor economic conditions in Belfast, John moved his family to Glasgow, Scotland where he found work. John investigated the Mormon faith and was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April 1843, and about a month later he baptized his wife Catherine. Their family migrated to the United States in 1845 to join the rest of the Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois.

In 1846 John and his family left Nauvoo, and with other members of the church, headed for Council Bluffs, Iowa. There John enlisted in the Mormon Battalion, but did not make the journey to California. Instead, he and his family left Santa Fe to join the rest of the Saints journeying to Utah, and arrived in Salt Lake City on July 29, 1847.

In 1849, John was called by George A. Smith to go to Iron County, where he was to start an agricultural base for the iron works in Cedar City, and to defend the wagon train. They arrived in Iron County in 1851, where they founded the city of Parowan. That same year, John was elected marshal, where he served two years, heading several expeditions against Indians who were stealing and killing cattle.

After two terms as marshal, John was elected Mayor of Parowan in 1853. Shortly after this John was called as County Recorder, and also was asked to fill the vacant position of Judge of Iron County.

In 1855, John Steele was called to go to the Las Vegas Mission to investigate for Brigham Young the prospect of opening lead mines in the area. At Las Vegas, John set up a fort and started a garden. In 1856 he took over as Postmaster and also was asked to preside over the Las Vegas Mission. While there John and the other men did some investigating for Brigham Young into the prospect of opening lead mines in the area.

John Steele home, Toquerville, Utah, ca. 1900

In 1862 John moved his family to Toquerville, Utah. While there John was called on a Indian mission to the Moqui Nation [Hopi] in the company of Jacob Hamblin and others. He also served as a Major in the Battalion’s 10th Regiment under the command of Col. Daniel D. MacArthur of St. George. On April 15, 1868, John was commissioned as Justice of the Peace in Toquerville, and again in 1869. He was soon after elected to the office of County Surveyor for Kane County in 1873, and as County Assessor in March of 1874, and again for the year of 1875.

John and his son Mahonri Moriancummer were both called to serve missions to England in 1877. From his return in 1879 to his death on December 31, 1903, John Steele remained active in several Southern Utah civic and Church functions, acting as Bishop in Parowan and assisting with the construction of the Manti Temple.

Shipwreck accounts from Tokugawa Japan

One of the more recent additions to BYU’s Rare Japanese Collection is a manuscript which recounts the adventures of Japanese sailors shipwrecked in Vietnam in 1794. The 16-man crew of the fishing vessel Daijomaru spent a year in Vietnam before making their way to Nagasaki via Macao, Canton, and Saho. The manuscript describes the shipwreck and their observations of Vietnam’s people, flora and fauna, climate, and geography, as well as descriptions of the cities they visited on their return home. The manuscript has been cataloged under the title Annan wa 安南話 and is now available for research. It complements two other manuscript accounts of accidental visits to foreign shores by Japanese sailors in our collections: Kamoshitoka tsūshōuke zusho 加模西杜加通商請図書 and Roshiajin Nagasaki hyōraitsu kakinuki 魯西亞人長崎表来津書抜, which record the experience of two groups of sailors shipwrecked in Russia around 1793 and 1805, respectively.

Image from Kamoshitoka tsūshōuke zusho annotated by former owner Harry Bruning.

Image from Annan wa.


Mormon economic history exhibit – Church History Symposium, March 1, 2018

For those who are planning to attend the upcoming Church History Symposium at BYU on March 1, L. Tom Perry Special Collections will have on display a special exhibit of artifacts and documents from our collections related to the Symposium’s theme of Mormon economic and financial history.  On exhibit will be original Mormon currency from the Kirtland Safety Society Bank, Nauvoo House Association stock certificates, and early Utah paper currency. The exhibit will also show documents related to financing the construction of the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples, including a Hyrum Smith diary, and the Provo Tabernacle. Also shown will be documents related to other Mormon financial or economic enterprises in 19th Century Utah, such as the Bishop’s General Store House, ZCMI, local co-operatives and the United Order.

This exhibit will be in the main lobby of Special Collections on Thursday, March 1, and thereafter in the Special Collections Reading Room, until the end of March. Please stop by to see these amazing documents!

For more information about the Church History Symposium, click here.

Black History Month Exhibit

Special Collections’ new exhibit for February celebrates Black History Month by featuring items by and related to figures who led and inspired the Civil Rights Movement, from Langston Hughes to Muhammad Ali. Fighting Back: Resistance in the American Civil Rights Movement is on display now in our reference area through February 28, 2018. The exhibit was curated by Special Collections’ Winter Semester undergraduate interns.


California Gold Rush – Lewis B. Rock diary

A woman with three men panning for gold during the California Gold Rush (found on Wikipedia)

L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce the availability of a new digitized collection: Lewis B. Rock diary (MSS SC 161). This is a handwritten diary of a man involved in the California Gold Rush. In his diary, Rock writes about his voyage by ship from Boston to San Francisco and his subsequent experiences in the gold fields of California in 1850. This is a great item for anyone wanting to do more research on this fascinating period of history in the American West!

For more items on the California Gold Rush found in Special Collections, go to this site.

Meet a book artist: Thomasina Taylor

Special Collections recently acquired several miniature books published by Thomasina Taylor, a Utah County-based printer and bookbinder, for our Fine Press Collection.

Thomasina in her studio with some of her miniature books and fine bindings.

As an undergraduate, Taylor worked as a student employee in L. Tom Perry Special Collections. Her experiences sparked an interest in books which led her to pursue a joint Master’s of Library Science/Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Book Arts at the University of Alabama. Since graduating, she’s returned to Utah, setting up a small studio in Spanish Fork. She enjoys letterpress work and historic bindings. Her work can be found in the library catalog by searching for the name of her press, Ilene Books.

Founder’s Lecture for Wilson Folklore Archives

On January 25, 2018 the annual Founder’s Lecture sponsored by The William A. Wilson Folklore Archives and The Charles Redd Center for Western Studies was held. Lisa Gabbert a professor from Utah State University gave a presentation on Infanticide at St Ann’s Retreat up Logan Canyon. The Retreat originally started as a private series of homes.  As time went by it was sold eventually making it in to the possession of a Utah diocese. The nuns primarily came to rest. Eventually rumors started of the nuns becoming pregnant by the monks. When their children were born, supposedly the nuns drowned them in the swimming pool where it was possible to hear the little babies crying. In the last part of the 20th century some young people broke into the retreat and were taken captive by a group that was trying to protect St. Ann’s.  The group was put into the empty swimming pool and attached to each other in a way that every time they moved was painful. The police came and tried to make sense of the situation. Eventually the “protectors” spent time in jail for their treatment of their captives.

Today the retreat is covered by barbed wire and there is a Facebook page with photos of people trying to get into the retreat and asking if anyone knew the identities of those in the picture.

We have St. Ann’s stories in our archive if you are interested in reading more.

Please plan to come participate in next year’s January lecture.

Frankenstein turns 200

Mary Shelley’s famous tale of horror, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, made its first appearance in print on Jan. 1, 1818.  The novel gained notoriety almost immediately as another entry in the wildly popular genre of Gothic fiction, and has stood the test of time as a literary classic and one of the first pieces of science fiction.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the novel has been reinterpreted many times, both in print and and on film. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the novel, we’ve created a a creepy portrait gallery of Mary Shelley’s monster from our print and archival collections:

Illustration by Everett Henry from the 1934 edition published by the Limited Editions Club (call number: Limited Editions Club Collection 1934 no. 7):

Illustration by Barry Moser from the 1983 Pennyroyal Press edition (call number: Vault Collection Quarto 094.2 P385 1983):

Boris Karloff and Dwight Frye in Frankenstein (Universal, 1931), from the Film Stills Collection:

Ilona Massey, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Boris Karloff from Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (Universal, 1943), Film Stills Collection:

Accessing Student Newspapers

The student body at Brigham Young University has produced a range of newspapers, starting with the BYA Student in 1891. While the library has worked to scan these publications for easy online access, system limitations have reduced searchability of the text. To help improve access, the University Archives has been developing a keyword index of text from these student publications–available at Currently, the index includes content from between 1891 and 1957. Additional years will be added in the coming months.

The index will support searches for university history projects, or for genealogical research. Entries are linked to the scanned copy of the original newspaper.

Collecting Nativity Scenes

Many people collect different types of Christmas decorations from ornaments to nativity sets. Many nativity sets are made in factories but reflect the art of the country. Others are made with natural materials by hand.Here is a Polynesian nativity made of Polynesian materials.

Often when you think of Nativity Scenes from Egypt, you think of olive wood.  However, these two nativity sets are carved from camel bones. 

While Egypt is a Muslim country they cater to the tourist and nativities are easily available. However, Mali in West Africa is a Muslim country where if you want a Nativity you must pay a carver to custom make it. This is a large set with many animals as part of it. My daughter has done extensive work in Mali and knew a man who was acquainted with a local carver and was able to get this set made for me.

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