Photograph by Scott Beadles
“The greatest inheritance of man is a posterity; the greatest inheritance of a posterity is a Christian Ancestry – that these greatest inheritances may live in record, this volume is issued.”
– From the Title Page of Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah
Title: Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah
Author: Frank Esshom
Published: Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah Pioneers Book Publishing Company, 1913
Call Number: F825 E78 1913
Happy Pioneer Day! What better way is there to celebrate Pioneer Day than to look at some photographs and biographies of the Utah pioneers themselves? Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah makes it easy to get an idea of who these pioneers were. Compiled by Frank Esshom over the course of six years, Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah is a collection of 6,482 photographs and biographies published in an edition of 5,000 copies in 1913. In the preface, speaking on reasons why he is proud of the work, the author wrote, “… it will live as a memorial to those men whose deeds were rapidly being forgotten. The story of the leaders has been told repeatedly, but that of the rank and file, the ones who did the actual pioneering and building has not been told before. This will cause them to live on perpetually, and each succeeding generation will know their labors; their deeds will increase in miraculousness; their valor will be more greatly appreciated; their heroisms stand out unprecedented, showing the quality of the men who dared to turn their faces toward an unknown desert and to build homes, and an empire.” (page 11)
Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah is organized into three sections. The first section contains the photographs of the men profiled. The second section is comprised of their biographies, arranged alphabetically by the earliest male head of household by that name, followed by entries for his male descendants. The biographical entries typically list vital information, date of arrival in Utah, marriages and children, LDS church office held, occupation, and other information of interest. The third section includes a chronological history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the ancestry of Joseph Smith, Junior.
The two primary faults in this collection of biographies are that some of the records contain inaccuracies (no source data is included) and that there were approximately 70,000 pioneers – meaning this work contains only about ten percent of them. Many of those were, of course, women, who probably lost husbands or fathers along the way. Many stories of the “rank and file” who actually did most of the pioneering and building did, even after this book’s publication, go untold.
But let’s not be too hard on Esshom’s work. Despite its lack of completeness, what was gathered and published was actually quite extraordinary under the constraints of the time it was compiled. Describing the process used to gather the information for this book the author wrote,
“After a year of gathering material and data in Salt Lake City, a year was spent in Weber and Utah counties in the same quest. Then a thorough search was started, as a beginning to the end; the Bishop of every ward from Yellowstone National Park and Upper Oregon on the north and northwest to Vernal, Emery and St. George on the south and southeast in Utah, was visited. … [the bishop] gratuitously furnished the author with the names of the Pioneers who had died in his ward, and the names of their representative male descendants, also the names of the Pioneers who were living in his ward and the names of their representative male descendants. … After this organization was perfected, the author, assisted by a corps of solicitors visited each house in every ward in all of the stakes in the territory above mentioned, where a Pioneer or the descendant of a Pioneer lived as given by the Bishop of the ward, or could be secured from inquiry, and gathered the portraits and genealogies as complete as it was possible to so do, and arranged for the information unobtainable at that time to be sent to him. The gathering of this data, which could be acquired in no other manner, probably required more than fifty thousand calls, the assistance of every photographer in the territory, [and] the traveling of thousands of miles, which was made over every kind of roads in all kinds of weather, and by every mode of conveyance.” (page 11)
It is no wonder the preface for Francis Marion Lyman points out that, “In nineteen hundred and eight, after a year’s labor gathering data for the Pioneers’ history, the vastness of the undertaking dawned upon its promoters and depressed them to almost stupidness.” (page 6)
It’s a miracle we have what we have in this one volume of Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. So grab your favorite cast iron cooking device, fry some flatbread, and discuss your pioneer heritage with the family on this Pioneer Day. Then come check out Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah and see how close Frank Esshom got with the records of your pioneer ancestors. It’s fun for every pioneer-heritaged family.
~ Contributed by Jon Bingham, Rare Books Curator