Review: The Diaries of Charles Ora Card: The Utah Years, 1871-1886

By: J. Stapley - October 20, 2007

Donald G. Godfrey and Kenneth W. Godfrey, The Diaries of Charles Ora Card: The Utah Years, 1871-1886 (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2006), 604 pgs.

Charles Ora Card: The Utah YearsThe first thing you realize when you heft The Utah Years is that they are massive. Sure, the volume isn’t bound in cloth (though my copy has held up pretty well) and the paper isn’t the whitest in the world; but for less than $30, it is an absolute bargain.

Without question, The Utah Years is a highly significant volume. Charles Ora Card was very much involved in the doings of Cache Valley. As well as working with several civic organizations, he was the superintendant of construction for the Logan Tabernacle and Logan Temple. During much of these diaries, Card also acted as a presidency member then President of the Cache Stake.

The bulk of the entries start in 1877 after the cornerstone of the Temple was laid. Card was a regular diarist and transcribed the outlines of his business and civic affairs. Most importantly, Card recorded the content of the various Church meetings he attended…and they are legion. As they travel across the territory, one sees the content of meeting after meeting of the stake officers and General Authorities. Quite a number of patterns arise in the frank proceedings. The diaries are consequently an invaluable resource for understanding the dynamics of the age. While not introspective, there are moments of deep poignancy (e.g., when a Bishop of 17 years is released and forgiven by the body of saints for struggling with whiskey).

Among the various topics outlined (hardly exhaustive) are the Word of Wisdom, the Law of Chastity, the role of women in the Church, education, debt, priesthood structure (e.g., the transition of the Aaronic priesthood to boys and the function of the Seventy), temple building and city building. This volume is an important source for all of these research topics, and before its printing was rarely consulted.

I have always remembered Kenneth Godfrey’s review of George D. Smith’s An Intimate Chronicle (Journal of Mormon History 18 [Fall 1992]: 222-227). Godfrey pointed to what he considered deficiencies in the text and wrote:

The standard for Mormon diary editors for me is Juanita Brooks’s exhaustive footnoting in the Hosea Stout diaries, which includes background, additional documentation on the diarist’s life, and full explanations of associates, activities, mission, geography, and cultural milieu. I must admit, however, that few editors could satisfy me completely.

He further added, when considering accuracy of typescripts:

Only through close scrutiny of the originals can a documentary editor produce a manuscript with some confidence that it is error free. Dean C. Jesse, an editor of legendary meticulousness, told me that he reads his typescript at least five times against the original manuscript before it is published.

I think it is fair to judge his work by the same standard. From the perspective of annotation, I found The Utah Years rather lacking. Like Brooks, Godfrey and Godfrey do an excellent job with identifying individuals and including brief background sketches. I was, however, left significantly wanting in the rest of the annotation. The editors like to cite encyclopedias (e.g., the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and Deseret Book’s [2000] Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History). There is a tremendous body of Mormon Studies that was simply not engaged. Moreover, significant events were never cross referenced to other significant diaries or primary sources of the age.

Though the editors do not explicitly state how many times they checked their transcript against the original, it is obvious that they have spent a tremendous amount of time in their travail. They admit to having checked the text “several times” and the editors include descriptions of every holograph transcribed, including the miscellanea that appears in margins and on the covers.

The last entry of the volume is incongruous with the rest of the diaries, but it is exhilarating. In true western fashion, the Marshals appear while Card takes his breakfast to arrest him for cohabitation. Card reaches for his pistol, but chooses to give up and ride with them to jail. When the opportunity arises on the moving train, Card leaps and appropriates a half-broken horse with which he absconds. He rides, then swims and then hides in the willows while the train curls away.

Recommendation Level: Very High. I’m not sure how large the printing was, but Amazon no longer carries it. As The Canadian Years is not to be found on the used market, I recommend picking up a copy while you can.


  1. Thanks for the review.

    Comment by Edje — 10/20/2007 @ 8:11 pm

  2. Thanks J., this is great.

    Probably also worth mentioning that the book shared the Best Documentary Award this year from MHA.

    Comment by Randy B. — 10/22/2007 @ 9:42 am

  3. Thanks for the notes.

    Randy, that is an excellent point.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 10/22/2007 @ 10:18 am

  4. Printing for this volume was limited to 500 copies, so it would be wise for anyone interested to hurry up and get a copy while they are still available.

    Comment by Christopher — 10/22/2007 @ 3:25 pm

  5. P.S. Great review, J. It seems that one of the most difficult tasks for editors in publishing primary source material like this is including just the right amount of annotation. Some readers prefer minimal notes and cross-references (i.e. Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents series), while others seek to demonstrate mastery of all primary and secondary source material ( I hear this is one of the hold-ups on the Joseph Smith Papers).

    Comment by Christopher — 10/22/2007 @ 3:31 pm

  6. Thanks for the heads-up on the printing, Chris. All the more reason to act fast. I tend to like well reasoned footnotes. I’m not certain that the average reader of the this volume will benefit all that much from a citation to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. I tend to think that the audience of such a work (and for the JS Papers) will appreciate robust and scholarly citations to appropriate primary sources and helpful analyses.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 10/22/2007 @ 4:38 pm

  7. Agreed. I also like well-reasoned footnotes that point me to other relevant primary source material and that demonstrates significant familiarity with secondary literature. I showed your review to Devan Jensen, Executive Editor for the RSC, and he felt like the critiques of the Card Diaries were very fair. He agreed that over-citing the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, for instance, is something their publications could improve upon in the future.

    It still seems like a delicate balance needs to be maintained between too-much and too-little annotation. If the purpose of the project is to publish a critical edition of previously published material (i.e. Lavina Anderson’s Lucy’s Book), it seems particularly helpful to provide in-depth commentary and cross-referencing. However, if the goal is to provide previously unpublished material for interested researchers (as was the case with the Card Diaries and with the JS Papers), it seems like a much more complex situation in deciding how much annotation too include.

    Comment by Christopher — 10/22/2007 @ 5:43 pm

  8. One clarification: I realize that the intent of the JS Papers is not solely to provide previously unpublished material for interested researchers, and that large portions of what will be published are already available in different formats. However, because a lot of the documents are being published for the first time, it only further complicates the issue of how much annotation is appropriate.

    Comment by Christopher — 10/22/2007 @ 5:49 pm

  9. Christopher, I very much appreciate your perspective and thoughtful comments. I think we are in agreement. I appreciated the MHA presentations on the JS Papers and their discussion on annotation (it is available for download if folks are interested)…and if I remember right, they are suppose to announce a publisher for the project this fall…

    Comment by J. Stapley — 10/22/2007 @ 5:54 pm

  10. Thanks, J. I’ve now ordered a copy. Do you have a copy of the Canadian Years? I wonder how the two volumes compare.

    Comment by Justin — 10/22/2007 @ 6:55 pm

  11. Justin, I don’t own a copy, but I spent a couple of weeks with one this summer (ILL). If I remember correctly, there is even less annotation. I remember seeing several references to the EoM, as well. I also don’t think there was as much information about the individual holographs…as I only had them for a few weeks, I was just trying to burn through them and take notes like crazy.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 10/22/2007 @ 7:05 pm

  12. I came across a review of the Canadian Years by William Hartley. Apparently Hartley also thinks the gold standard is Brooks’ work on the Stout diaries (see p. 224).

    Comment by Justin — 10/24/2007 @ 1:27 pm

  13. Hartley makes a fair assessment, Justin. Thanks for the link.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 10/24/2007 @ 2:12 pm

  14. I recently received my copy of the Utah Years. Strange binding, but I’ve enjoyed looking through it.

    Comment by Justin — 10/30/2007 @ 10:58 am

  15. It is strange, isn’t it. I’m not sure I have seen any book similarly bound. As I said above, though, it has held up pretty well.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 10/30/2007 @ 11:03 am

  16. Other books published by the RSC are similarly bound, but thankfully that trend seems to be ending. The last two books they’ve put out have gone with the more traditional cloth w/ dustjacket.

    I’ve actually also seen similar binding from more respected academic presses like U of Illinois Press and Oxford. It appears they use this cheaper binding (with the glossy finish and no dj) for second and printings of some hardcover books. My copies of John Wigger’s Taking Heaven by Storm and Terryl Givens’s Viper on the Hearth, for example, both have this binding.

    Comment by Christopher — 10/30/2007 @ 12:04 pm

  17. As a late addition to this discussion, the book is currently on sale at the BYU Bookstore for $16.99. Unfortunately this sale doesn’t appear to be available on the bookstore’s website, but if there are any interested buyers in the greater Provo area, this is quite the steal.

    Comment by Christopher — 12/6/2007 @ 11:27 pm

  18. Thanks for the heads-up Christopher. That is the bargain of the year, no question.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 12/6/2007 @ 11:29 pm

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