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Pioneer Diaries

The Series
The J. Willard Marriott Library Pioneer Diaries draw on the rich manuscript holdings of the library's Special Collections department to make unique and historically significant Utah documents easily available to the general public for the first time.
     The series begins with sets of diaries written by Frederick Kesler and B.H. Roberts, offering glimpses into the personal, business, and religious affairs of two men who helped shape the early history of both the state and the region.
     Future plans include the publication of pioneer diaries by other Utah men and women, both famous and obscure, each offering a unique perspective on a fascinating and formative period in the history of the American West.
     All diaries are also available for purchase at

Frederick Kesler
Born in Crawford County, Pennsylvania on January 20, 1816, Frederick Kesler was baptized into the Mormon Church in 1840 at age 24. A skilled millwright, Kesler built Iowa’s first flour mill at age 19 and continued building mills throughout the Midwest until 1851 when he and his first wife moved west to Salt Lake City with the Orson Pratt Company. In addition to numerous mills, Kesler was instrumental in building the Nauvoo Temple, as well as a ferry boat in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which ferried Mormon pioneers west from Illinois.
     In Salt Lake City, Brigham Young called upon Kesler to build mills for the church. He fulfilled this calling until 1865 when an accident left him with a broken leg and hip, which never healed. For 16 years, he was director of the Utah Territory’s penitentiary where he also worked for a time as warden. He served the community as a justice of the peace, a school district trustee, and as bishop of Salt Lake City’s Sixteenth Ward from 1856 until his death in 1899.
     Kesler had three wives, Emeline Parker, whom he married in 1836; Jane Elizabeth Pratt, whom he married in 1853; and Abigail Snow, whom he married in 1858. He fathered 30 children, 15 sons and 15 daughters. Seven of his daughters died as infants and three more children, two boys and one girl, died as teenagers. Emeline and Abigail divorced Frederick in 1872. Jane Elizabeth survived him. He died in Salt Lake City on June 12, 1899, at age 83.

B. H. Roberts
Brigham Henry (B. H.) Roberts was born in Warrington, Lancashire, England in 1857. At age five, his mother, a Mormon convert, immigrated to America with her two youngest children, leaving Roberts and his sister in the care of a Scottish Mormon family. Four years later, in 1866, Roberts and his sister re-joined their mother in Salt Lake City with the last group of pioneers to cross the plains entirely by wagon. Roberts was baptized into the Mormon Church in 1867.
     As a teenager Roberts was a miner and blacksmith apprentice and then attended the teachers college at the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah).
     In 1880 he was called on his first church mission and his life pattern of working for the Mormon Church was firmly established. He served as president of the Southern and Eastern States Missions, was assistant editor of the Church’s publication, the Millennial Star, held the position of president of the First Council of Seventy, and authored numerous books and articles about Mormon theology.
     Roberts had three wives with whom he fathered 15 children. In 1886, federal authorities charged him with cohabitation and he evaded arrest by fleeing to England. He surrendered in 1889 and served six months in the Utah Territorial Prison. A year later, the Mormon Church, issued its manifesto abolishing polygamy. Soon after, Roberts declared himself a Democrat and at times, his outspoken support of his party brought him into conflict with Church leadership. Roberts was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1898, but was denied his seat because of his polygamous marriages. Roberts died from complications from diabetes in 1933 at the age of 76.

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