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Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997: Volume 1, Church Historian, 1971-75

Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997: Volume 1, Church Historian, 1971-75

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Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997: Volume 1, Church Historian, 1971-75

1,439 pages
28 heures
Apr 30, 2018


Leonard Arrington (1917–99) was born an Idaho chicken rancher whose early interests seemed not to extend much beyond the American west. Throughout his life, he tended to project a folksy persona, although nothing was farther from the truth.

He was, in fact, an intellectually oriented, academically driven young man, determined to explore the historical, economic, cultural, and religious issues of his time. After distinguishing himself at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and serving in the army during World War II in North Africa and Italy, Arrington accepted a professorship at Utah State University. In 1972 he was called as the LDS Church Historian—an office he held for ten years until, following a stormy tenure full of controversy over whether the “New Mormon History” he championed was appropriate for the church, he was quietly released and transferred, along with the entire Church History Division, to Brigham Young University. It was hoped that this would remove the impression in people’s minds that his writings were church-approved.

His personal diaries reveal a man who was firmly committed to his church, as well as to rigorous historical scholarship. His eye for detail made him an important observer of “church headquarters culture.”

Apr 30, 2018

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Confessions of a Mormon Historian - Signature Books

Confessions of a

Mormon Historian

… one’s soul surely grows from hard facts bravely met.

—Leonard J. Arrington, May 4, 1988

Confessions of a

Mormon Historian

The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971–1997

Volume 1: Church Historian, 1971–75

Gary James Bergera, editor

foreword by Susan Arrington Madsen

contributions by Rebecca Foster Bartholomew,

Joseph Geisner, and Lavina Fielding Anderson

Signature Books | Salt Lake City | 2018

Confessions of a Mormon Historian

The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971–1997

Vol. 1 Church Historian, 1971–75

Vol. 2 Centrifugal Forces, 1975–80

Vol. 3 Exile, 1980–97

Published in cooperation with the Smith-Pettit Foundation and the Leonard J. Arrington Revocable Trust. Copyright 2018 Signature Books Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Signature Books is a registered trademark. Printed domestically on paper certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Design and typographical composition by Jason Francis.


First Edition 2018

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Arrington, Leonard J., author. | Bergera, Gary James, editor.

Title: Confessions of a Mormon historian : the diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997 / edited by Gary James Bergera ; foreword by Susan Arrington Madsen ; contributions by Rebecca Foster Bartholomew, Joseph Geisner, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Jeffery Ogden Johnson, and Thomas G. Alexander.

Description: Salt Lake City, Utah : Signature Books Publishing, LLC, 2017. | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2017002581 | ISBN 9781560852469 (alk. paper)

Subjects: LCSH: Arrington, Leonard J.—Diaries. | Religion historians—Diaries. | Mormons—Utah—Diaries.

Classification: LCC BX8695.A77 A3 2017 | DDC 289.3092 [B] —dc23 LC

record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017002581


Foreword by Susan Arrington Madsen

Preface by Gary James Bergera

The Leonard J. Arrington Family

Colleagues in the original LDS Church History Division

Chronology by Joseph Geisner and Lavina Fielding Anderson

A Life of Simple Goodness by Rebecca Foster Bartholomew

1 A Pretty Big Order, November 1971–March 1972

2 Some Counsel, April 1972–June 1972

3 Like an Iceberg, July 1972

4 Standing on Two Legs, August 1972

5 Oral Approval, September 1972

6 High Expectations, October 1972

7 Moving into the High-Rise, November 1972

8 Differences of Opinion, December 1972

9 An Undue Emphasis on Words, January–February 1973

10 The Best Job in the Church, March–April 1973

11 Sacrificial Instincts, May–June 1973

12 A False Impression, July–September 1973

13 The Beginnings of Reorganization, September–December 1973

14 Rolling with the Punches, January–March 1974

15 A Little Vision, April–June 1974

16 Hallelujah!, July–September 1974

17 Carrying On, October–December 1974

18 Two Goals, January–March 1975

19 The Better Part of Wisdom, April–June 1975

Appendix: LDS Church Historians and Associates, 1830–1985


Susan Arrington Madsen

My father talked about his diary all the time. For example, each year at the conclusion of our annual New Year’s Eve family meeting, where we wrote down predictions and resolutions for the coming year, he’d say something like, I’d like to gather up all the pieces of paper you have written on and I’ll make copies for my diary. Another time, after I introduced him as a speaker at the LDS Religion in Life lecture series in Logan, Utah, he leaned over, thanked me, and asked, Could I get a copy of that for my diary? As a professor at Utah State University, he routinely copied information from his small pocket-sized appointment calendar into his larger diary.

For a man whose bibliography includes some forty typed pages of published articles, monographs, and books he authored or co-authored, Leonard Arrington’s crowning achievement could possibly be his personal diary, with the accompanying voluminous collection of family letters he wrote, that at certain times served as his diary.

My father was a record-keeper, to be sure. Consider this: the year 1972 found my two brothers and me living away from home. While his official diary documented his professional life, Dad began writing a weekly family letter that year, that he typed at home, sending the same letter to each of the three of us, James, Carl, and myself. In retrospect, it is almost inconceivable that he wrote to us every single week from August 1972 until his death at the age of eighty-one in 1999. Upon being released from his official Church Historian calling, his weekly letters not only bolstered his diary, they became his diary. In doing the math, that adds up to 4,052 times through our adult years that we would go to our mailbox and find a letter from our father, with the very rare exception. The original copy of his diary and letters, housed at Utah State University Special Collections, occupies twenty-six linear feet on the shelf and consists of more than 40,000 pages!

One reason for the breathtaking size of the document is that as the years went by, it became somewhat scrapbook-ish. My father added valentines, thank-yous, get-well cards, funeral programs, news clippings, menus, programs, and tickets to the theater, ballet, and symphony. A trip to the opera would be not only recorded but reviewed, and often he slipped the program into a paper pocket he made for such memorabilia. And, oh yes, we can read about whom he sat by and where that person obtained her master’s degree and the title of his dissertation. The scrapbook elements have not been included in this three-volume edition, but they are available in the manuscript copy at USU.

Be ready for lots of detail. His description of a flight from Salt Lake City to Chicago might include what snack was served mid-flight and the discovery that the person sitting next to him on the plane was a descendant of none other than Peter Maughan, an early settler of Wellsville in Dad’s beloved Cache Valley. Marvelous!

His memory was amazing. My father added hundreds of personal reminiscences of times gone by, anecdotes placed in random order as they occurred to him, including essays on boyhood scouting trips, Future Farmers of America activities, song birds he noticed, and illnesses. Late in life he remembered clearly the time he and his sister Marie, both at a tender age, knocked on their own front door as if they were their parents’ LDS ward teachers. Their mother, Edna, played along and invited them in and sat down to hear their message. These kinds of memories pop up here and there throughout the writings, regardless of the otherwise chronological order of his diary entries.

When times were tough, especially while he was serving as LDS Church Historian, Dad was painfully frank in his personal journals in ways he was not when composing his autobiography, Adventures of a Church Historian. He did not hesitate to document his frustrations with those who opposed his projects and who would sometimes resort to seemingly petty comments and actions. For instance, he described one particularly long-winded meeting of the Church Historical Department when someone took up valuable time accounting for how many paper clips the staff was using.

People often marvel at our father’s productivity as a professor, researcher, writer, and organizer. How did he do it? Her name was Grace, our mom, and if she is not the godmother of modern Mormon history, she is surely the person most responsible for clearing the path for Leonard to become the godfather of the discipline. Call her, perhaps, the First Lady of Mormon History. She had stamina, faith, devotion, charm, and ultimately proved a more astute judge of character than our father sometimes was. She knew a villain or a hero when she saw them. Leonard got the bylines and headlines, but the legacy of having built a community of scholars belongs rightly to both of them. As you read about the trials and triumphs of Leonard’s misadventures as Church Historian, be aware of the fact that our mother died of heart failure, combined with some heartbreak, a few weeks before the Historical Department was banished from the Church Office Building and its archives in Salt Lake City and removed to the nether regions of BYU in Provo, Utah.

Some may wonder if Leonard Arrington intended for the general public to read his private writings. That can be answered with a resounding Yes! As my brothers and I watched the great care he used in compiling the entries and the years of thought he put into deciding which archive should be the recipient of the precious records, we became convinced that he fully intended for his diary to be made available to the public after a reasonable amount of time had passed.

If Dad were here, he would remind us to thank his hardworking secretarial assistants who typed entries as he dictated them and transcribed scribbled notes, which preserved much more information than otherwise would have survived. This was due to the work of Kathleen Hardy Anderson, Chris Rigby Arrington, Joanne Woodward Bair, Nedra Yeates Pace, Marilyn Rish Parks, Kathy Gailey Stephens, and Chris Croft Waters, among others.

Finally, Carl, James, and I have been more than pleased to see the care with which the content has been handled by the experienced editor Gary James Bergera, whose explanatory notes are invaluable and who made the published edition more accessible and useable than the original is. We are equally pleased with the contributions of the staff at Signature Books and some outside help, as Gary mentions in the preface, in preparing the transcript, proofing the galleys, overseeing the typography and layout, and creating the index in accordance with our father’s high standards of scholarship and publishing.

It was wise of my father to restrict access to the diary from any and all except his three children until ten years had elapsed since his death, during which time most of the issues that had paralyzed his ability to meet his original goals as Church Historian had became less sensitive and enough people had passed away that information on personal disagreements can be read more with an eye to the lessons of history rather than to resolve current disputes.

As much as Dad publicly held back his anguish, as much as he displayed humble acceptance of decisions he disagreed with, his final words are filled with expressions of gratitude, optimism, and complete honesty. Many people have since credited him with the current trend toward more scholarly, forthright, and fact-based history. But he saw himself as part of a broader movement, rather than as a lone voice in the wilderness. Still, it must please him to know that he is now remembered for having had a monumental hand in laying the foundation for the higher level of scholarship and openness that we are seeing today.


Gary James Bergera

This edition of the Leonard J. Arrington diaries spans three decades, the 1970s through the 1990s, beginning just before Arrington’s appointment as the official LDS Church Historian and continuing through his retirement and almost to his death. He kept daily records before this period, but not with the same detail and self-awareness. In the early 1970s, he began organizing his notes, dictations, and memorabilia into letter-size loose-leaf binders labeled diary, believing the supplementary material might be useful alongside his daily recollections. He abandoned the binders after 1981 but continued to maintain typed entries on loose sheets of the same dimensions.

All of this material was gathered together and acquired by the Merrill-­Cazier Library at Utah State University beginning in 1982. The library’s Special Collections staff disassembled the binders, twenty-four in all, covering Arrington’s youth and academic career through 1981, placing the contents in archival folders and boxes. These items today comprise the Leonard J. Arrington Historical Archives (LJAHA COLL 1), Series 10 (Personal Papers), boxes 21-35. The diary entries after 1981 occupy boxes 36–52. Originally the first two binders contained a variety of autobiographical material such as copies of Arrington’s report cards from elementary school through the University of Idaho; newspaper clippings; school papers, speeches, and debate presentations; diary transcriptions for 1927–42 (gaps for 1932–33, 1938–41); and copies of letters to and from Grace Fort Arrington. Binders 3–7 mostly contained photographic or typed copies of letters between Leonard and Grace spanning his military service during World War II, with some minimal censorship by US authorities. Binders 8–10 included more letters; transcribed entries from Grace’s diary for 1946 and 1959; copies of Leonard’s diary for portions of 1946, 1947, and 1958; and speeches, funeral sermons, academic papers, teaching contracts, theater programs, and selected letters to colleagues and family members.

On January 7, 1959, Arrington began maintaining with greater regularity a more formal diary that was typed and subsequently placed in binders beginning with binder number 9. However, these entries read more like appointment calendars, including brief notes to himself. When it became clear in late 1971 that his career would take a significant turn, his son Carl urged him to document more fully the major events in his life, so thereafter through December 1981 (binder 24), the detailed entries, which were dictated, transcribed, and corrected, were supplemented by copies of letters, minutes of meetings, internal reports, brief excerpts from the diaries of colleagues, copies of speeches, clippings from newspapers and magazines, obituaries, printed programs of history conferences and similar meetings, local and regional church bulletins and announcements, public statements and press releases, theater programs, vacation itineraries, restaurant menus, greeting cards, and scraps of printed material.

The change in the diaries beginning in 1982 may have been prompted in part by the way Arrington’s job had been redefined from Church Historian to director of the Church History Division, followed by the division’s relocation in August 1982 to the campus of Brigham Young University, forty miles to the south, as the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute. Arrington may have come to view his personal activities as having less importance, given his diminishing role in the daily grind of professional history-making, as well as the nearness of his retirement in 1987. As he grew older, he recorded fewer and shorter entries, although still inserting other material to accompany his own thoughts. However, his health, energy, and interest lagged, and he no longer had secretarial support. What seems to be the last formal diary entry, dated January 10, 1997, occurred about two years before his death.

Arrington kept a back-up photocopy of his diary beginning in the early 1980s when he determined he would eventually donate the originals to the Merrill-­Cazier Library. The duplicate copy was originally kept at his house; it became the contents of boxes 53–72 (Series 10) of his papers at the university, and these duplicates proved useful when it was discovered during preparation of the present work that the entries for November 1982–August 1983 were missing among the originals. Luckily they were present in the duplicate copy (box 67, folders 3–13). And equally surprising, where the original version continued to March 1998 (box 52, folder 4), the duplicate copy ended eleven years earlier in mid-February 1987 (box 72, folder 20). Thus the present work draws from both sets of materials, enhanced by Arrington’s regular letters to his children.

As with any autobiographical text, Arrington’s diary is a construction of self. In his case, it may be more self-consciously so than usual, as readers will discover. Arrington does not shy away from offering judgments, including his perceptions of other people, usually balanced by his own self-analysis, in which case he could be his own best defender and most knowledgeable critic. It would be tempting to believe that the portrayal he sometimes presents of himself as a jovial, Idaho-born chicken farmer was more or less an accurate portrait. However, his interests went far beyond the soil and livestock of the American west. He was, in every sense, an intellectuel engagé, who enjoyed art and the theater, appreciated Italian opera, was knowledgeable and curious about current national and world affairs, and was broad-minded. His attachment to the fundamental religious claims of his church was unwavering, and yet he was apprehensive of authoritarian dogma. He avoided drawing conclusions too quickly, even while holding strong opinions. He both celebrated and was leery of modernity. He was optimistic to a fault and generally non-confrontational, sometimes to his own detriment. He was victimized by, committed to, and yet in important ways transcendent of his time and culture.

During the early stages of preparing his diaries for publication, I made two decisions. First, I would not attempt a facsimile reproduction that showed strikeouts and compared original drafts to final versions. Instead, I would silently make the corrections Arrington indicated and consider the final version to be what he intended for readers, only occasionally adding, as needed, a bracketed word or two for explanation, etc. Second, I extracted all the entries labeled diary or that were understood to be such, without the supplemental material.

As soon as the decision to publish the diaries was reached and an electronic scan was made available, historian Ardis E. Parshall prepared a preliminary transcript of the diaries. Following her transformation of the scans to text files, I proofed—and reproofed—the transcription, in some cases, where entries were missing from the originals, requesting photocopies or scans of the backup copies. In every case, the USU library graciously provided everything I asked for. In formatting the text, I standardized the dates, arranged entries into chapters, created chapter titles, added annotations, etc. Some readers may notice that not every secondary source is given a bibliographic citation. This is intentional. Works not appearing in the bibliography of sources consulted (in the back matter of the third volume) are assumed to be commonly known and easily identifiable. In addition, mid-way through the project, a decision was reached about how best to present the titles of books, etc., mentioned in the text of the entries. Because of an inconsistency as to the use of italics and underlining in the originals, I agreed to present all such titles in normal, or roman, type. Finally, the index was a group effort and reflects a spectrum of interests and decisions about what to include. Our goal was to supply entries and page references that we believed would be of greatest interest and utility to researchers. We did not attempt to index every proper noun nor every page on which a name, etc., appears.

As I chose which people to identify in the footnotes, I limited myself to individuals who were significant in Arrington’s narrative and passed over those mentioned only briefly. Anything I cited or quoted beyond diaries, including letters, minutes of meetings, etc., is identified by date since virtually everything comes from his diaries, or what is now considered to be his papers, arranged by date. In a few instances, I redacted names of living people connected to incidents where identifying them might be an unnecessary invasion of privacy. Any significant errors in the annotations are probably connected to the identification of people, whose information was sometimes difficult to locate and to piece together. Where I misstate the facts of anyone’s life, I offer in advance my apology to readers.

The letters sometimes reveal more than the diaries about Arrington’s personal side. In his daily entries, he focused on professional and intellectual interests. The letters often complement the diaries, and I occasionally quote from them, as may be useful, in the footnotes. Other scholarly context was provided by Rebecca Foster Bartholomew, whose sketch of Arrington’s life up to 1971 is an important addition to this project; by Joseph Geisner and Lavina Fielding Anderson, who contributed a three-part chronology; by Thomas G. Alexander, who provided a personal appraisal in the afterword; and by Jeffery Ogden Johnson, who compiled a comprehensive bibliography of Arrington’s publications.

I also received valuable assistance from family members Carl W. Arrington, James W. Arrington, and especially Susan G. Arrington Madsen, as well as from a longtime friend of the Arringtons, Lance S. Owens; and from librarians at the Merrill-Cazier Library: Ann Buttars, Bradford R. Cole, Daniel Davis, and Robert Parson; and individuals who proofed the manuscript: Christine Rigby Arrington, Bryan R Buchanan, Richard L. Jensen, and again Susan Arrington Madsen.

I benefitted greatly from information and assistance provided by James B. Allen, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Marilyn Barney, Ronald O. Barney, Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Curt A. Bench, Landon Bench, Ronald Bitton, R. Lanier Britsch, Kenneth L. Cannon II, Jill Mulvay Derr, Ronald K. Esplin, Klaus J. Hansen, William G. Hartley, Loretta L. Hefner, Michael W. Homer, Robin Scott Jensen, Dean C. Jessee, Scott G. Kenney, Glen M. Leonard, F. Dean Madsen, H. Michael Marquardt, Brandon Metcalf Jr., Brent Lee Metcalfe, Alan L. Morrell, Clinton Pumphrey, D. Michael Quinn, Ronald W. Read, Brent M. Rogers, William D. Russell, John R. Sillito, Sheri Slaughter, William W. Slaughter, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Ronald W. Walker, Christine Croft Waters, Anne Wilde, and Larry T. Wimmer.

Lastly, for their skill and care in transforming the manuscript into printed form, as well as for their many years of support and friendship, I appreciate George D. Smith, Ron Priddis, and the staff of Signature Books. As always, they edited my editing, proofed my proofing, fact-checked my facts, and significantly enhanced the presentation of the final product.

The LDS Church History Department has in recent years made important contributions to LDS scholarship. This is something I and others have benefitted from, and I suppose I could not exaggerate the degree to which Arrington and his associates in the Church History Division in the 1970s laid the groundwork for the professional, caring, expert attention the current staff gives to preserving our shared history and intellectual culture.

I dedicate this work to the memory of Grace Fort Arrington.

The Leonard J. Arrington Family

Immediate family

Leonard James Arrington, 1917–99

Grace Fort, 1914–82, married 1943, LDS temple sealing 1948 (sole daughter of John William Fort, 1880–1964, and Nina Myrtle Haithcock, 1893–1980, married 1911)


James, b. 1948, married Elisa Rasmussen 1981 (children: Joseph,

Susannah, Katherine); married Colleen Johnson 2009

Carl, b. 1951, married Christine Rigby 1975 (children: Alexis,


Susan, b. 1954, married F. Dean Madsen Jr. 1974 (children: Emily, Daniel [died], Rebecca, Sarah, Rachel)

Harriet Horne, 1924–2013, married 1983 (previously married Frederick Sorensen, Gordon Moody)

Parents and siblings

Noah Wesley Arrington, 1889–1968

Edna Grace Corn, 1894–1960, married 1913


Leroy Wesley, 1914–95, married Mary Nix 1936 (children: Mary,

Patty Jean)

Thelma Eileen, 1916–17

Leonard James (see above)

Marie, 1919–2009, married Ezra Bud Davidson 1937 (children: Milton, Deanna, Charles, Jerry)

Kenneth Richard, 1923–2017, married Juanita Nix 1942 (child: Farlin), div.; married Doris Viola Baldwin 1952 (children: Richard, David, Jeffrey, Steven)

Asa Wayne, 1925–2005, partner since 1965 Keith O’Toole

Doris (Dodie) Elaine, 1927–2007, married Everett Shelley 1966

Donald Charles, 1929–2008, married Cleone Baird 1933 (children: Douglas, Donna Lou, John)

Ralph Marvin, 1930–2012, married Virgie Potter 1936 (children: Connie Sue, Sally, Lisa, Brenda, Nancy, Amy)

Ross Lamont, b. 1934

Based on biographical information supplied by Susan Arrington Madsen.

Colleagues in the original LDS Church History Division

Allen, James Brown

Born 1927. PhD in history, University of Southern California, 1963. Employed by LDS Church Education System, 1954–63, in the campus-­ministry LDS Institutes of Religion at Long Beach and San Bernardino; joined Brigham Young University religion faculty, 1963. Assistant LDS Church Historian, 1972–79; president, Mormon History Association, 1972–73. Chair, Department of History, BYU, 1981–87; Lemuel Hardison Redd Professor of Western American History, 1987–92 (BYU); historian, Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History (BYU and LDS Church History Library), 1992–2005.

Beecher, Maureen (Ursenbach)

Born 1935. PhD in comparative literature, University of Utah, 1973. Editor of publications, LDS Church Historical Department, 1972–80. Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith Institute / Professor of English, BYU, 1981–97; founding president, Association for Mormon Letters, 1976; president, Mormon History Association, 1984–85. Retired, 1997.

Bitton, Ronald Davis

Born 1930. PhD in French history, Princeton University, 1961. Taught at University of Texas–Austin, 1959–64; University of California–Santa Barbara, 1964–66; University of Utah, 1966–95. President, Mormon History Association, 1971–72; Assistant LDS Church Historian, 1972–80. Visiting professor, BYU–Hawaii, 2005–2006. Died 2007.

Esplin, Ronald Kent

Born 1944. PhD in history, Brigham Young University, 1981. Research historian, Church Historical Department, 1972–80. Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith Institute, 1980–85, and managing director, 1986–2002. BYU Professor of Church History and Doctrine, 1986–2002; president, Mormon History Association, 2006–07. Managing editor, Joseph Smith Papers Project, 2005–12, and general editor, 2012–16.

Hartley, William George

Born 1942. Masters degree in history, Brigham Young University, 1969; additional coursework, Washington State University, 1970–71. Research historian, LDS Church Historical Department, 1972–79; historian, Joseph Fielding Smith Institute, 1980–2005. BYU Associate Professor of History, 1980–2009. Founding president, Mormon Trails Association, 1991–93; president, Mormon History Association, 2000–01. Co-editor, Joseph Smith Papers Project, 2013–14.

Jensen, Richard Louis

Born 1943. Masters degree in history, Ohio State University, 1972. Joined Church Historical Department 1972; transferred to Joseph Fielding Smith Institute, 1980; returned to Church History Library, 2005. President, Mormon History Association, 2011–12. Senior writer, research historian, review editor, Joseph Smith Papers Project, 2008–15.

Jessee, Dean Cornell

Born 1929. Masters degree in church history, Brigham Young University, 1959. Joined LDS Church Historian’s Office, 1964; transferred to Church History Division, 1972; historian, Joseph Fielding Smith Institute / Associate Professor of Church History, 1980–99; president, Mormon History Association, 1980–81. General editor, Joseph Smith Papers Project, 2001–13.

Leonard, Glen Milton

Born 1938. PhD in history, University of Utah, 1970. Managing editor, Utah State Historical Society publications, 1970–73. Senior research historian, Church Historical Department, 1973–78. Director, LDS Museum of Church History and Art, 1979–2007; president, Mormon History Association, 2012–13.

Walker, Ronald Warren

Born 1939. PhD in history, University of Utah, 1977. Taught in LDS Institutes of Religion in San Francisco Bay Area and University of Utah. Joined Church Historical Department, 1976; historian, Joseph Fielding Smith Institute / Professor of History, BYU, 1980–2006. Interim director, Charles Redd Center for Western History, 1989–90; president, Mormon History Association, 1991–92. Died 2016.


Joseph Geisner and Lavina Fielding Anderson

Readers may benefit from this three-part chronology at the front of each of the three volumes, summarizing how events in Arrington’s life unfolded in the context of what was happening simultaneously in the church, the country, and the world. Arrington is referred to by his initials, LJA.


January 6. The church releases apostle Howard W. Hunter as Church Historian. N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency meets with LJA and calls him to the office of Church Historian, assigning him Alvin R. Dyer as an advisor. Dyer had been a member of the First Presidency under David O. McKay.

January 14. Tanner announces LJA’s appointment. As part of a major restructuring, several of the church’s bureaucratic departments are reorganized under a handful of managing directors. The Church Historical Department, formerly the Church Historian’s Office, will include the archives, library, and history divisions, and soon a fourth division, Arts and Historic Sites, all under LJA.

January 25. LJA’s request for Jim Allen and Davis Bitton to serve as assistants is approved by Dyer. Allen is on the faculty of BYU, Bitton at the University of Utah. Dean Jessee is moved from the library to the history division.

February 21. US President Richard Nixon visits mainland China.

March. Allen and Bitton accept the call. The Church History Division also hires Ron Esplin, Bill Hartley, Gordon Irving, Richard Jensen, Michael Quinn, and Maureen Ursenbach (later Beecher), and at a later date Bruce Blumell, Glen Leonard, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Dean May, Jill Mulvay (later Derr), Gene Sessions, and Ron Walker.

March 22. The US Congress approves the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which is never ratified, in part because of LDS opposition.

April 6. LJA is publicly presented to the church’s general conference and sustained as Church Historian. About this time, Dyer suffers a stroke from which he will only partially recover. His role with the Historical Department is reduced to occasional meetings with LJA in Dyer’s car in the underground parking lot of the Church Office Building.

April 27. Apostle Boyd K. Packer calls LJA into his office to advise him about how to appropriately write church history. LJA’s approach will prove to be more nuanced, with consideration of inside and outside sources and the perspectives of different disciplines in what will popularly become known as the New Mormon History.

summer. Bitton launches an oral history program in consultation with Gary Shumway, under the immediate direction of Bill Hartley.

July. Quinn discovers in the Church Administration Building basement boxes of uncatalogued records dating to Nauvoo, Illinois, and from the presidency of Brigham Young.

July 2. Church President Joseph Fielding Smith dies at age ninety-five.

July 7. Harold B. Lee becomes the new church president. He names as his counselors N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney.

August 8. Presidents Lee and Romney express tentative support for LJA’s intent to publish books for outside and inside audiences and articles for in-house magazines and professional journals. The centerpiece of LJA’s program is a sesquicentennial history of the church in sixteen volumes, accompanied by two one-volume histories for (1) church members and (2) the general public. A series of reference books for specialists was wanted so that scholars could consult the most significant documents remotely, rather than having to travel to the archives. These endeavors would be supported by a Mormon History Trust Fund, with financing from a Friends of Church History organization, that would grant research fellowships and fund or support publication of the books. The Historical Department would house the offices and host meetings of the trust fund. President Lee thinks it is a good idea and blesses LJA to realize success.

August–September. The last US combat ground troops leave Vietnam. Eleven Israeli athletes are murdered at the International Olympics games in Munich.

September 13. The First Presidency formally approves, by letter, the projects Arrington had suggested in August and to which the president had given his verbal approval.

autumn. Edyth Romney, a secretary, retires from the Historical Department. She nevertheless agrees to continue, by means of a modest stipend from the Mormon History Trust Fund, transcribing holographic manuscripts for use by scholars.

October 12. The late-president Joseph Fielding Smith’s son-in-law, Bruce R. McConkie, is called to the apostleship.

November. The Church Historical Department moves into the three-story east wing of the new twenty-eight-story Church Office Building. The library occupies the first floor, the archives reading room and offices the second floor, and the archival storage the third floor of the wing. A dedicatory service is held mid-month, and at the end of the month more than 500 people attend the first meeting of Friends of Church History. One of the apostles finds this an unwelcome development and blocks the group’s formal organization, leaving LJA feeling embarrassed and humiliated. In another area of the church organization, the young men’s and young women’s Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) is reorganized with male priesthood oversight for both programs, the girls’ program renamed Young Women.

December. Dyer is replaced as the history advisor by Joseph Anderson, an assistant to the Twelve Apostles and prior personal secretary to (a) President Heber J. Grant, 1922–45, and (b) the First Presidency, 1945–72.


January. Secret peace talks resume in Paris after a month of heavy bombing of North Vietnam. Four Watergate burglars plead guilty in federal court. The US Supreme Court rules, in Roe v. Wade, that first-trimester abortions are legal. Nixon suspends US offensive action in Vietnam and announces an accord ending the war.

February 11. The church’s 600th stake is organized in Southampton, England. A month later a stake in Seoul, South Korea, becomes the first in mainland Asia.

spring. The last edition of the late-president Joseph Fielding Smith’s Essentials in Church History is published by Deseret Book.

April 14. Acting FBI director Patrick Gray resigns after admitting he destroyed evidence in the Watergate scandal.

May. Nixon confesses his role in the Watergate cover-up. In the LDS world, the Manila Philippines Stake is organized.

May 14. LJA writes to the First Presidency that publisher Alfred A. Knopf is interested in a one-volume history of Mormonism, that an objective description of the church’s history and doctrine is wanted.

May 31. Florence Smith Jacobsen is appointed curator and director of the arts and sites division of the Church Historical Department.

July. The First Presidency authorizes LJA’s work on a short history for New York publisher Alfred A. Knopf, for a general audience. This work, The Mormon Experience, is co-authored by Davis Bitton.

August. LJA and wife, Grace, accompany the First Presidency and other general authorities to a regional church conference in Munich.

November 14. Jill Mulvay is hired as a part-time employee to interview the women’s auxiliary president, Belle S. Spafford, and children’s auxilliary president, LaVern Watts Parmley.

December. Michael Quinn publishes a short article in the Ensign magazine about Edward Partridge, the 1830s LDS bishop of Missouri, and Newel K. Whitney, the 1830s LDS bishop of Ohio, eliciting high-level criticism for contradicting the view that Partridge was the Presiding Bishop over the entire church, even though the office of Presiding Bishop did not exist until 1847. President Lee dies at age seventy-four and is replaced by seventy-­eight-year-old Spencer W. Kimball, who retains Tanner and Romney as counselors.


April 1. The Ayatollah Khomeini calls for an Islamic republic in Iran. Four days later the onetime US Secretary of the Treasury under US President Nixon, David M. Kennedy, is appointed by the LDS First Presidency as its special representative to foreign governments to ask for formal recognition of the church abroad. He will serve for sixteen years.

April 6. Former CIA agent Neal A. Maxwell is sustained as an assistant to the Twelve Apostles and later as an apostle. Five days after his appointment, L. Tom Perry is called to the Quorum of the Twelve.

April 20. Reed Durham’s Mormon History Association presidential address in Nauvoo outlines the relationship between Freemasonry and the LDS temple ceremony. Durham, a member of the Institute of Religion faculty in Salt Lake City, is required by the church to write a retraction. The fallout exacerbates the growing suspicion among general authorities that LJA advocates a revisionist form of history that will be detrimental to the church.

May 9. The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee begins formal hearings on President Nixon’s activities, approving two articles of impeachment on July 21.

May 29. Wanting to avoid bureaucratic editing and censorship from the Church Correlation Committee, LJA seeks authorization for a screening committee consisting of LJA, his two assistants, and history division editor Maureen Ursenbach. To that end, he meets with the First Presidency, two apostles (Hunter, McConkie), history advisor Joseph Anderson, assistant managing director of the Historical Department Earl Olson, and archivist Donald Schmidt.

July 12. President Belle Spafford of the church’s female Relief Society opposes ratification of the ERA in a speech in New York City.

August. Nixon resigns as US president. Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller assume office as president and vice-president.

September. The Church College of Hawaii is renamed Brigham Young University–Hawaii. The church divests itself of fifteen hospitals in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming and transfers them to the Intermountain Healthcare corporation.

September 23. The first publication to emerge from LJA’s history division appears. It is Dean Jessee’s edition of ninety-five letters Brigham Young dictated or written to thirteen of his sons, 1854–77. The compilation sells out of 10,000 copies in four weeks. Although LJA envisions the book as part of a Heritage Series, no other book ever appears in the series.

October 3. Spafford is succeeded as Relief Society president by Barbara B. Smith. LDS President Kimball’s landmark address, Lengthen Your Stride, urges regional representatives to gain foreign-language experience and expand their cultural activities as a bridge to foreign countries and their diplomats.

October 14. Packer writes a four-page letter to the First Presidency about inappropriate material in Brigham Young’s Letters to His Sons: (1) the use of tobacco and (2) conflict over Young’s will. Hunter informs him that the letter should have come to him and was a breach of church protocol, but Packer becomes more outspoken in opposing publication of any uncomplimentary details about church history.

October 15. LJA receives the manuscript of what will be published as Women’s Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900, prepared by Kenneth Godfrey, Audrey Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay.

November. President Kimball dedicates the temple in Kensington, Maryland, near Washington, DC. Davis Bitton publishes Wit and Whimsy in Mormon History. LJA finishes the manuscript for Charles C. Rich: Mormon General and Western Frontiersman; he sees another book published, David Eccles: Pioneer Western Industrialist.


January. President Kimball launches a series of solemn assemblies in the US and Canada for stake presidencies, high counselors, and bishoprics, at which the Twelve administer the sacrament and instruct the lay officers on current policies regarding divorce, homosexuality, polygamy, Sunday shopping, and tithing. Kimball revives second anointings for selected couples, although the practice will languish again after his administration. In more secular news, the International Women’s Year begins, greeted by an unsigned editorial in the LDS Church News opposing the ERA. The Utah legislature will soon oppose it as well.

February 20. Margaret Thatcher is elected leader of the British Conservative Party.

April 30. The last US helicopter leaves the US embassy grounds in South Vietnam. Saigon surrenders.

May. The First Presidency announces six supervisory areas in the world and the assignment of six assistants to the Twelve for regions outside the United States and Canada. This creates a new level of administration in foreign places between the stake or mission organization and the Quorum of the Twelve. As part of this change, the apostles are assigned as advisors over one area each, with a rotation every three years to prevent them from getting too close to the local people or to the assistants assigned to the areas. This is in keeping with the precedent established by the US State Department.

June 7. Spencer W. Kimball resigns from his managerial and corporate responsibilities to better serve the spiritual needs of the membership. His counselors and the apostles will continue in corporate management roles until 1996 and beyond.

A Life of Simple Goodness

Leonard James Arrington to 1971

Rebecca Foster Bartholomew



If you are a Mormon, your history begins not with yourself but with your begats. Thus a biography of Leonard James Arrington (1917–99)—perhaps the most important Mormon historian of the second half of the twentieth century and as loyal a Latter-day Saint as ever professed the faith—has its roots in Great Britain rather than in southern Idaho. Leonard’s paternal ancestors were Irish, his maternal side Scotch-Irish, both lines Americanized early enough to qualify him several times over as a Son of the American Revolution.

However, his partial namesake James Arrington (ca. 1760–1831) may well have served on the British side of the war. It is assumed that when he arrived in the colonies, he took advantage of Parliament’s 1778 allowance of Irish Catholics to enlist since His Majesty’s army was desperate for manpower. For their part, the young Irishmen were eager to sign up, war having disrupted trade and wrought havoc upon the cost of living. Even if he was not a soldier, James could have emigrated as an indentured servant. At any rate, at war’s end he stayed and headed south with other emigrants, stopping when he got to North Carolina. By 1790 he was farming fifty acres on a tributary of Bull Creek between the present-day towns of Marshall and Mars Hill. His farm was similar to hundreds of others nestled between Madison County’s dales and steep ridges, with views of steeper mountains tinged blue by distance. West Bull Creek was a mere stream, but James’s property comprised an amenable amount of bottomland soon rich with corn, tobacco, and vegetables. The region remained wild enough that forty years passed before he had to register his farm and pay taxes on it. James was no dummy and perhaps had a sense of humor, for on the tax form he discounted his holding as two ridges and a mountain.

Meanwhile, James had begat William Arrington (1795-1869), who grew up and relocated twenty miles south, near present-day Asheville. Records show William gave his father seven grandsons and five granddaughters. Of these, James Jr. died in the Civil War, while Silas, the youngest boy, had a disappointment of some kind in his youth that left him lame, quiet, and of a religious turn. He avoided purchasing land in order to be free to preach, which for eighteen years he did over the North Carolina border in Tennessee. On weekdays he worked rented acreage and on Saturday walked to whatever church needed him, preached Sunday morning, then walked home Sunday afternoon. He took his message straight from the Bible, considered himself lacking authority to baptize but demonstrating, according to accounts, a gift of healing.

Silas and his wife Mary produced three children. Their youngest, and only son, was Leonard’s grandfather, Lee Roy Arrington (1857–1946), known to everyone as Lee. Although he grew up in Tennessee, at age thirteen he returned with his parents to the original family homestead in North Carolina. When of age, learning Priscilla Siller Oliver (1857–1949) had lost her young husband and babies to cholera, Lee went back to Tennessee and eventually married her, settling over the state line on the Tennessee side of the hills. No longer opposed to acquiring property, he proved to be an up-and-comer like his great-grandfather, so that within three years he was able to buy seventy acres of bottomland. After several more years, he increased this to 300 acres, built seven curing barns, and acquired a farm wagon and a fine team of mules. As he acquired a reputation as the squire of Read Hill, his neighbors voted or appointed him to be a justice of the peace to perform weddings and adjudicate civil disputes. It was during one such case that he became acquainted with the Mormon elders.

Siller was converted by the Mormon message right away, followed by Lee’s oldest daughter Lee Anner. What, besides a good feeling in their hearts, drew these women to Mormonism is unknown. Had some tragedy discontented them with orthodox Christianity? Then why did Siller and Lee donate land for Silas’s Free Will Baptist Church? Were they of an ecumenical bent? Did they identify with the unschooled nature of the frontier prophet Joseph Smith? Perhaps they did, since they were all but illiterate themselves, and it is possible that the missionaries played up, on top of their gentlemanliness and clean living, the glories of the high mountain valleys they called home where orchards and gardens were said to blossom as the rose. This much is known: Siller began to rue her husband’s livelihood in tobacco farming. Once respectful neighbors now goaded them for harboring Mormons in their house. They began to develop a desire to gather to Zion.

Lee leased his farm in 1900 and sold most everything else. Even at that, he ran out of cash in Colorado and had to wire the missionaries to loan him the rest of the fare. Trusting that God would reward them for obeying His gospel, they thought, after their first few weeks in Spanish Fork, one county south of Salt Lake City, that their future looked promising. And then their hopes began to unravel when everyone but Lee came down with smallpox. Under quarantine, Lee could not work. Siller had barely recovered when her newborn son died from hemorrhage of the bowels. On the heels of these blows, Lee received word that his father had died. When he and his sons at last were able to find employment, they came up against Utah’s historically low wages. Bruce found a job, but one good railroad salary could not feed two parents and ten siblings. Lee’s high status in Tennessee bought him no credit in Utah. He saw little prospect in renting a farm in Spanish Fork. Even if he had had money, most of the good land along the Wasatch Front had long since been taken up. If not for canned tomatoes they had brought with them from Read Hill, along with the openhandedness of local Mormons (one man brought them half a beef), the family might have starved. After eighteen months in Utah, they admitted defeat and returned to Tennessee.

Back home, another farmer had supplanted Lee as Read Hill’s leading tobacco supplier. Lee sold his leased-out farm and by steps moved to Chattanooga, hired out as a teamster, and saw his older children find jobs in woolen and cotton mills at 25–45 cents a day, where they endured occasional taunts about their religion. The family shared a common purpose: they were saving up for a new farm. In 1905 a tract of Indian Territory opened to homesteaders, and the next year Lee and several of the boys visited Faxon, Oklahoma, to scope out a homestead for sale. They liked what they saw. The Jesse Corn family, who lived down the road, invited them to dinner.

Soon Lee’s new barns, outbuildings, fields, and equipment shone with the well-kempt order that was his custom. His cotton, wheat, wild hay, and cattle fattened. Once again he obtained and bred horses for both love and profit. His sons stuck around longer than filial duty dictated, hiring out as laborers when cash was needed. The family attended Faxon’s community church and participated in its social life, so that some time passed before neighbor Florence Corn learned that her neighbors were Mormon. The Corns were of higher social standing. Florence had, among her brothers, a college professor, a doctor, and a Methodist minister, putting her (though perhaps not her husband) several cuts above the Arringtons, who besides not being true Christians were relatively poor—not to mention being rough-edged hillbillies with little education. Nevertheless, the Corn and Arrington children played together and attended the same school.


If Lee’s son Noah took any satisfaction in being a fourth-generation American, Florence’s daughter Edna was able to take even more pride in being seventh-generation. The young woman’s fifth-great-grandfather likely exiled himself from Britain during the persecution of the Scotch-Irish Protestants. A hundred years before James Arrington disembarked in Philadelphia or Baltimore or wherever it was he landed, Edna’s fourth-great-grandfather Edward Corn (1680–1754) had weaned himself from his father’s Maryland farmstead and settled in the wilds of western Pennsylvania. Edward Corn farmed for fifty-one years, produced five sons and a daughter (four lived to maturity), and died in 1754.

The records show all of Edward’s children but the fifth to have been born in Maryland. That child, George Corn (ca. 1725–1801), was recorded as having been born in Yohoganie County, Virginia, probably due, not to a move, but because the border changed. The original land grants in southwest Pennsylvania, northwest Virginia, and western Maryland overlapped. This was resolved in 1784 by surveyors who were brought in from outside the region to ensure impartiality. If this is what happened, George Corn did also eventually move from Redstone Township, but not because of the boundary dispute. The land was not good. When he heard reports from soldiers who had served on the Kentucky frontier of great forests, lush canebrakes, beautiful streams, numerous salt licks, amazing soil, abundant deer, bear, and yes, buffalo—all for the taking—he was interested. Not only were veterans being paid in land, but also, with the frontier now defused, promoters were selling thousand-acre tracts to civilians. George Sr. and his three living sons bit.

They may have made several forays into the new country before relocating for good in 1780. In any case, family tradition says it took five days by houseboat to float 320 miles from Pennsylvania to Fort Sims near present-day Louisville. The houseboat was a precursor to the true flatboat invented two years later by a neighbor in Pennsylvania. Houseboats and flatboats alike were intended as one-way transport, disassembled at their destination and recycled into makeshift dwellings on the new homestead.

That first year in Kentucky, the Corns stayed close to Ft. Sims. Next year they moved four miles southwest to Shawnee Run where they cleared enough stumps for one crop. Their third year they deemed it safe to remove another eight miles to a branch of Cane Run that paralleled the Ohio River. With an entrepreneurial spirit that would resurface in his Idaho descendants, George Corn the elder, at fifty-five, devised a plan to ensure security in old age: he subdivided his thousand acres and sold parcels for 50 percent of the income from crops grown on it. He maintained a continuing interest in the property, too, by securing a good will bond to convey half of said land in fifteen years back to him. As steep as the cost was, it appealed to young settlers who lacked funds for a down payment. Corn calculated that his sharecroppers would also limit Indian movement across his land.

He calculated well. The income from farming and selling real estate allowed him to build a small fort and trading post known as Corn’s Station where his own kin received wholesale prices and neighboring farmers had a point of departure for tobacco and dairy shipments to New Orleans and upriver to the Northwest Territory. George bequeathed plenty of acreage for his sons and sons-in-law, where grandchildren worked alongside slaves, and within a decade he was grooming his fourth son, Solomon, to be his heir.

The frontier had pushed farther west by the time George died in 1801 in his seventy-sixth year. Solomon Corn (1750–1828) had lived his entire life in Mercer County, Kentucky. When he was sixty-two and the War of 1812 excited a manufacturing boom in the Northeast, it produced the opposite effect in the South. The Southern industries could not compete with low-cost goods ferried in by steamboat from New England, and the less money local people had, the less they were able to pay for agricultural products. At the same time, the area farther west was being cleared of indigenous people as Kentuckians spread out in all directions. The Corns decided it was time to move on.

The youngest son in Solomon’s family was Jesse Corn (1783–1852), twenty-six, already widowed and remarried, and with two small children when he crossed the Ohio into Dubois County, Indiana, along with some of his brothers and cousins. From 1818 on he transformed himself into a substantial Indiana corn, hog, and tobacco farmer, selling his goods by flatboat upriver and down. His oldest son, Jesse Mosby (c. 1815–67), was just a toddler when the family relocated. He grew up in Ireland township in the sunlight of his father’s prosperity; he died there like his father.

Jesse M. Corn’s oldest son, James (1853–1925), was born in Ireland Township and attended Indiana’s common schools. By the time he was eight years old, the state had developed into an industrial and railroad center. When he was fourteen, the age at which his father might have taken over his training, Jesse died, leaving James in the care of his mother and sisters. At twenty-one he inherited the family farm; someone finagled an appointment for him as the town postmaster, as well. At twenty-six he married a fifth-generation Dubois County girl, Florence Elizabeth Kelso (1856–1921). Florence was a hard worker, a good cook, and of strong will though not strong enough to dissuade James from acquiring his brother’s notes and losing his inheritance.

Thus in middle age he found himself, like his predecessors George and Jesse, looking to a new country as a way to reboot. James entered the Tennessee land drawings. Unfortunately, he never got anything. He waited in vain for the Kiowa–Comanche lottery. In 1900 he and Florence sold their belongings and left green prosperous Indiana forever, stopping for a time in Hennessey, Oklahoma, where James worked and a daughter taught school. When they were able, they made a down payment on a 160-acre farm outside Faxon, 140 miles south. He never would prosper in that dry country. Florence was unhappy with the country and with him. She left at one point, taking the children with her, but must have changed her mind because the family was together when the Arringtons arrived. Five of James’s six living children left Faxon as soon as they could manage it.


Edna Grace Corn (1894–1960), the bright, spirited, auburn-haired apple of James’s and Florence’s eye, was born in Ireland, Indiana, the last of eight children (a ninth was stillborn). Her mother instilled pride in her offspring for their genteel Dubois County roots: Edna’s older sister was a teacher, her uncles were in the professions, and the family was solid, mainstream Christian. Living within walking distance of each other, the Corns and Arringtons attended church together at Faxon’s only Protestant congregation. Edna Corn and Callie Arrington were best friends. Edna’s cousin Mary Kelso gave the girls music lessons. The Corn children participated with the Arringtons in songfests at an organ bought with money Callie’s older brother Bruce had sent home.

At age fifteen Edna was escorted home from a party by Callie’s oldest brother, Noah Wesley Arrington (1889–1968). Noah was then twenty—black-haired, blue-eyed, sturdy, and deliberate but also quiet. Born first out of ten children in a backwoods area on the Tennessee–North Carolina border, Noah had been eleven when the family moved to Utah, sixteen when they arrived in Faxon. He worked almost as hard as his father, had a better eye for the main chance when it became available, and thought himself worthy to vie for the Corns’ youngest daughter. He drove Edna in his carriage to community socials held at the schoolhouse. Almost every Friday night that winter, young people (young teens to newlyweds) met in someone-or-other’s parlor and played games set to music. Edna and Noah dated, went out with others, and then dated again. After a year they were pretty thick and thinking about a future together—or alone when Noah threatened to join the navy once when they argued.

Noah spent the summer of 1909 with the cotton harvest until he realized that this line of work would see him thirty before he got his own farm. The next several summers he followed the wheat harvest from Texas to Kansas and worked winters in Chattanooga, all this time sending Edna postcards, his signature progressing from sincerely to your friend to a true friend. One postcard was enclosed in a box with a gold bracelet. In autumn 1912 he asked Edna to marry him, something they subsequently disclosed to his parents but not to hers.

The spring of 1913 Noah worked some rented farmland across the road from his parents and acquired a few chickens, livestock, and a remarkable dog named Woolly who fetched water in a pail. At eighteen, Edna had just finished eleventh grade. Her next step was to be to attend summer school in Lawton to get a head start on her teacher certification program. On June 1, Edna Corn and Callie Arrington rode the train to Lawton, ostensibly to find Edna a place to board for the summer. Instead, they met Noah at the station and drove to see a Presbyterian reverend, a friend of Bruce’s, who married them. Next morning they phoned Edna’s parents from Aunt Sarah Kelso’s house; the day after that, they returned to Faxon to be forgiven. I’m not surprised, said Edna’s father, not entirely concealing his feelings. Edna’s mother accepted the marriage as a fait accompli.

With this lukewarm endorsement behind them, the newlyweds began setting up house on Noah’s farm and raising a cotton crop, but before long they were headed to Twin Falls, Idaho. The Snake River had been dammed to render tens of thousands of barren acres of desert arable. Three of Noah’s siblings were already in Magic Valley. When the young couple arrived, they stayed with Noah’s older sister Lee Anner and W. O. Fisher until Noah found work at the Independent Meat Company. Edna cleared their tiny company house of bedbugs before Leroy was born in it on January 1914.

In the spring Noah rented twenty acres and built a house on another nearby parcel. Edna helped him clear sagebrush, dig irrigation ditches, and plant wheat. Their harvest income bought a horse, a few chickens, and some ducks. Noah hired out as a farmhand for additional cash. On a single day in February 1916, he raced against time to complete the first room of the house, hauled Edna with little LeRoy and their belongings by wagon from the old house (taking seven hours through hub-deep mud) to their new home, and hurried back to town to fetch a midwife and teenaged helper before Edna, who had gone into labor, delivered her second baby, Thelma Eileen, at 3:00 that afternoon.

Noah acquired another few acres that fall, which he and Edna cleared and planted for wheat. In between crops, he took odd jobs so that they fared well enough to add onto the house and accumulate a down payment toward their own farm. At the same time, Noah helped his brothers build a four-room house and barn for their parents when they followed the family to Idaho in the wake of crop failure back in Oklahoma. With money from the sale of his Faxon farm, Father Arrington purchased five acres southeast of Twin Falls and rented additional pasture for his cows and ever-present horses. Bashfully illiterate, father and mother Arrington, Lee and Siller, became familiar figures as she peddled her garden vegetables and he sold honey to local grocers and households. Each day Lee could be seen sauntering from his corner lot down the lane to his pasture to milk his cows.

Life was still primitive on Idaho farms in the early twentieth century. No electricity and no telephones until Franklin D. Roosevelt inaugurated his rural electrification program in 1936. Compared even to North Carolina and Oklahoma, health care in Magic Valley was backward and dental care unheard of. The public sanitation campaigns of the late-1800s Europe had yet to reach the United States. Noah’s and Edna’s children would catch almost every disease known to childhood except polio—not only measles, mumps, and tonsillitis, but diphtheria, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhoid, and whooping cough—attributable to a cistern that drew untreated water from the irrigation canal for culinary purposes, Leonard later surmised. These conditions may have caused the family’s first tragedy when toddler Thelma fell off her wagon, scraping and infecting her back with spinal meningitis. She died in January 1917, six months before Leonard’s birth.


On July 2, 1917, when Leonard James (Jimmie) Arrington was born, his family was in an unfinished house on rented land. Whether the landlord insisted Noah buy or move, or whether Noah decided it was time to improve their standard of living, he made a down payment on some land of his own when Leonard was one. The new permanent holding stood several miles farther east of the city on the road to Shoshone Falls. The previous house was requisitioned as a granary by a neighbor, and the Arringtons moved into an existing structure on their new land that still lacked a porch and as yet boasted only one habitable room.

No doubt Noah, who established a pattern of frugality and putting the farming first, was resourceful enough to improve his family’s quarters. But he was more likely to invest any surplus income in another cow, horse, or mule rather than the house, and use the animal as collateral for another $50 loan from the local bank so he could buy seed, a farm machine, or a few more acres. In this way he accumulated over time a substantial fleet of machinery and some 500 acres of irrigated, very productive land.

The good life was slow in coming, however. Neither the Arringtons nor their neighbors were especially surprised at this—Idaho was the frontier, after all, and they were all pioneering. Naturally there would be obstacles. But few reverses would be as devastating as the Spanish influenza pandemic that reached the valley in the fall of 1918 shortly after they moved onto the new farm. Worldwide some 10–20 percent of those who contracted the flu died. This pandemic ultimately took 50–100 million victims—ten times

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