Monday, December 30, 2013

Questions for Elizabeth O. Anderson, Author of Cowboy Apostle, The Diaries of Anthony W. Ivins



by Seattle Jon:

Signature Book recently published Cowboy Apostle, The Diaries of Anthony W. Ivins, the thirteenth documentary history in their Significant Mormon Diaries Series. As the first stake president of the Mormon Mexican colonies, Ivins' journals are a look at frontier Mormonism like no other. Ivins kept a stunning diary, offering a first-hand witness to the history many of us already know, extending from the famous Cluff expedition which set out to to find the lost Book of Mormon cities, to his attendance of the assassination of John D. Lee, his officiating post-manifesto plural marriages, or dealing with missionary suicides. Ivins was also posthumously inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame, an award that is seemingly out of character considering his position as a Mormon Apostle.

I was given an advance copy of Cowboy Apostle after running into the book's publicist, Tom Kimball, at the most recent Sunstone Northwest. The book was an interesting and compelling read, and I was thrilled when offered the opportunity to ask the editor, Elizabeth O. Anderson, a few questions. Here is what she had to say. Oh, and if the $125 limited edition price makes your heart race, you can buy the book on Kindle for $20.

Seattle Jon: Cowboy Apostle is a catchy title because the two words aren't often seen together. Tell us about the book's title and how it came about.

Elizabeth Anderson: I wanted a title that would encapsulate Ivins as a person, not just as a general authority. In many of his letters home to his wife while on his earlier mission to Mexico, he mentions just wanting to be home ranching and taking care of the family. It is my opinion that he would have been perfectly happy to just be a rancher in southern Utah his entire life. He seemed happiest on a camping or hunting trip. His diaries enumerate how many fish he caught, how many deer he saw and shot, etc., and he was always very solicitous towards his horses. A cattle rancher, he was a consummate outdoorsman. Also, his election to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1958 influenced me--as I don't think any other apostle held that claim to fame--haven't checked that out, though.

SJ: I've always thought of journals as something men write, and diaries as something women write. Here, though, you are publishing Ivins' diaries. Help me out.

EA: I don't think journals/diaries are gender-based--they are more content based. A diary usually records thoughts and events on a daily basis in the "here and now"; whereas a journal often records the same things--but more retrospectively. For example, Ivins might record his travels on his mission to Mexico on a day by day basis, writing each night what happened that day. In his journal, he might record several days events under one dated entry. In Cowboy Apostle I make use of both his diaries and journals, the latter which were probably synthesized from memory or non-extant diaries at a later time.

SJ: Journals/diaries can be difficult to read because of the monotony/repetitiveness of entries. How do you suggest your book be read?

EA: I think taking advantage of footnotes is a tremendous help in reading the diaries. Many times they add information that builds upon what might be a cursory glance at an event recorded by Ivins. When Ivins is in the Twelve and the presidency, the diaries do bog down in areas in repetitive listings of who spoke and for how long -- but one needs to remember that Ivins was trying to give an accurate report -- similar to what a clerk would give. His one word or phrase descriptions offer glimpses of content, if not elaboration. I know everyone would like more detail, especially from his quorum meetings, but it is my understanding that the brethren at the time were counseled to not reveal detail in their diaries for fear sacred and confidential information would be compromised.

SJ: Today's apostles seem tame when compared to Ivins. Will we see others like him in the future, or are his kind in the higher ranks gone forever?

EA: I would agree that Ivins is a very intriguing, dynamic figure. He was quite vocal in politics and involved in so many different areas of business and entrepreneurial activities. Compared to him, modern-day apostles may seem tame, but I would imagine that most of them have also led intriguing and varied lives. I think it is more a matter of time frame than personality. Today's world demands "political correctness" which often inhibits voiced opinions and actions. Ivins lived in a time period when the church was more active in government (albeit, behind the scenes) and leadership could be more vocal with opinions and frustrations. I think in that way he compares with many of his contemporaries like Anthon H. Lund, Reed Smoot and others. Today, our apostles basically have to watch everything they say or do because someone is always waiting to post it on Facebook or Twitter or the media outlets. As a result, the days of "speaking one's mind" may be gone as the hierarchy weave their way through difficult situations the world presents. Ivins and his colleagues could be more forthright and decisive because of the time they lived in--less tame perhaps, but since I am a black and white person, and hate gray areas--I appreciated that openness more! Guess that is why I love him so much after getting to know him so well through his writings.

SJ: Ivins dryly delivers several one-liners in the book - when herding horses with Bro. Jones (I herded the horses all night alone) and the collapse of the bakery oven (The dedication of course did not take place) come to mind. Was Ivins a funny man?

EA: Very!! His diaries include notes at the back with riddles and jokes. My biggest regret is that Ivins's personality does not always come through as much in his diary entries--his letters are fascinating and reveal so much more of his warmth and fun-loving character. The description he wrote to his wife of the oven collapse, for instance was very droll and more entertaining than what he recorded in his diary.

SJ: Did editing Ivins' diaries weaken or strengthen your faith?

EA: I don't think Ivins's diaries affected my faith either way. It was more a matter of gaining an appreciation for a man of his caliber accepting a call from the Lord to, at times, do things he did not want to do. He did not want to go to Mexico, especially that last time as president--but his faith and sense of duty would not allow him to do anything less. I admire him greatly for his integrity and service. It makes me examine my own life and see the failings I have in that area as I would probably not be so willing to "go where you want me to go, dear Lord"!

SJ: Why Signature Books?

EA: I was aware of their significant diary series, and loved my editing work with the Mormon History Association. I had been tutored by Lavina Fielding Anderson, and asked if she thought Signature could use me to edit a diary and she put me on to Gary Bergera. Initially I was given the opportunity to do either Ivins or Charles Penrose and chose Ivins.

SJ: Are you working on something new? What's next?

EA: I am currently co-editing with Jennifer Lund (director of Church Historic Sites), the letters of Sarah Peterson Lund to her husband, Anthon H. Lund while he was on his missions to Scandinavia. I also have hopes of writing a biography of W. W. Phelps, but that is still in initial research stages at the moment. 

Elizabeth Oberdick Anderson is a graduate of Brigham Young University, residing in Utah. A copy-editor, she has published an article on Howard and Martha Coray in the Journal of Mormon History where she is on the editorial staff. She is currently editing a book of missionary letters to Anthon H. Lund from his wife, Sarah Peterson Lund, in collaboration with Jennifer L. Lund. Elizabeth and her husband are the parents of seven children, and grandparents of fifteen.

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