The Diaries of L. John Nutall, 1879-1892, edited by Jedediah Rogers

September 23, 2007

L. John Nuttal acted as a temple recorder to LDS Church President Brigham Young, then as private secretary to Presidents John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff.

In that unique role he traveled often with LDS Church presidents, attended hundreds of meetings, answered private correspondence and overheard many conversations, which he recorded in his diaries.

It's not surprising that the editor and the publisher consider Nuttal's diaries to be one of the most significant in 19th-century Mormon history. Hence, "The Diaries of L. John Nuttal."

Nuttal served as a missionary in Great Britain, then as a bishop and stake president in Kanab, and also became heavily involved in financial decisions concerning church property, including Brigham Young's estate. Finally, church leaders called him to stay in Salt Lake City permanently, a decision he accepted, although he preferred living in Kanab.

As a polygamist, Nuttal lived underground for at least six years, beginning in the 1880s. He was bothered by long absences from his family, including his 18 children, and he suffered various health problems: a face rash, which he treated with sour cream and stewed cranberries; a stomachache he treated by drinking "about a wine-glass full" of squeezed carrot juice. Nuttal also had a strong aversion to the sedentary life of office work. When President Woodruff suffered abdominal problems, Nuttal waited on him, shaved him, kept his journal and attended to some of his office duties.

He also served in a number of community capacities such as a regent of the University of Deseret and as an incorporator and stockholder of the Deseret News. He died at the age of 70.

Most of Nuttal's diaries and papers reside in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections of Brigham Young University, while his work regarding the First Presidency can be found in the LDS Church archives.

Nuttal was most often likely to write in his diaries about business dealings, political maneuvering and church-leadership decisions. The editor calls the 28 diaries "a rich cache," especially with regard to the activities and business of the church's First Presidency.

This is important because the papers of the First Presidency are still unavailable to researchers — and Nuttal was the only secretary to the presidency who kept a diary.

Nuttal portrays John Taylor as "strong-willed and demanding," but who also had a "warm and personable side" and displayed "kindheartedness, generosity and compassion."

Nuttal's diary is very important for understanding the atmosphere and discussions that led to the Manifesto issued by Woodruff, which banished the practice of polygamy in 1890.

The diaries demonstrate that Nuttal was a devout Mormon who took all his offices and callings in the church as a sacred trust. He prayed frequently and considered his life to be primarily a spiritual undertaking.

These diaries are fascinating to anyone with any familiarity to LDS history and a desire to know more.

Jedediah Rogers and Signature Press both deserve kudos for shepherding such a dynamic work to publication.

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