Saints without Halos
Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton
Chauncey West: Nineteenth-Century Teenager
[p.96]It was New Year’s Eve 1895. Chauncey West and his friends gathered at the Brigham City court house. It seemed the entire community had come to hear
the large bell … strike the old year’s ending. At the last stroke we, or our party, numbering about twelve young Ladies and Gentlemen holding the ropes, started the bells ringing the Old year out and the new year in.
Later we … went over to My cousins and … played tiddy winks untill almost two o’clock. I retired at two o’clock, and arose on the first day, 1895 at 6:30 o’clock in the morning, studied Oratory, by Bulcher, at 8:30 went to work at the B. C. M. & M. A. Store, helped straighten the goods that had been in their late fire as published in my book of rememberances. In the evening went to the New Years Ball, accompanied by L. C. Snow Uncle, Frouie, and Claudie my Sisters. I had a very nice time and enjoyed myself. Danced with Miss Annie Rich one time, Miss Amelia Graehle 1, Miss Hattie Keever 3 times, Miss Flossie Snow, Mrs. Stowl, Miss Ella Jensen, Miss Claudia 3, Miss Tennie Snow. Went home and retired with my Uncle who was my guest from S.L. City—E.G. Snow at two o’clock.
At eighteen, LeRoi C. Snow was Chauncey’s closest friend, and though they were about the same age, also his uncle. When [p.97]LeRoi’s father, Lorenzo Snow, was called to be president of the Salt Lake Temple, they moved from Brigham City to Salt Lake City, where LeRoi became temple librarian. As often as he could, LeRoi boarded the Utah Northern and made the fifty-mile railroad trip to visit his home town friends.
Chauncey was a newcomer to Brigham City. He had grown up in Butte and Anaconda, Montana, where his father was stationed as a railroad conductor. One day a man without a ticket tried to board the train in Colorado. When Chauncey’s father tried to stop him, the man pulled a gun and shot him. Chauncey’s father was buried in Ogden, Utah. Chauncey, his mother, and two sisters moved to Brigham where they could be close to relatives.
Chauncey was a demon for self-improvement. Even on New Year’s Day, after a late night of tiddlywinks, he rose at 6:30 to study before going to work at the Brigham City Merchandise and Mercantile Association. There, Chauncey stocked shelves, sent out advertising flyers, and performed other miscellaneous chores, such as sorting peaches, for $24.50 a month.
In the evenings he attended classes in phonography (shorthand) and civil government, and studied U.S. history at MIA. He also studied phonetics, etymology, geography, oratory, and rhetoric, some of which may have been in connection with the MIA, but much of which seems to have sprung from his own thirst for knowledge. LeRoi loaned him several Church books, including John Taylor’s Mediation and Atonement, B. H. Roberts’s Succession in the Church, and the six-volume Chambers encyclopedia. Chauncey himself worked hard to save $10.50 for the two-volume set of Blackstone’s Commentaries. He devoted many hours to studying this basic legal text, noting “The Latin phrases are the only things that I don’t read, although I studied Latin some, I cannot readily read them.”
The civil government class was something of a debating society, organized along lines similar to today’s Model United Nations. Chauncey was assigned his home state of Montana “to defend hereafter.” Since 1895 was the year of Utah’s constitutional convention, the class organized a mock [p.98]convention, where one of the most hotly debated topics was female suffrage. Chauncey championed the cause, and when the matter was put to a vote, “The house was in disorder. The vote stood 21 to 21. The president decided in favor of woman suffrage.”
Chauncey was an assiduous record-keeper. He maintained a daily journal, a “book of rememberances,” and a “book of my addresses made in public.” His humorous accounts of otherwise mundane events make the diary an entertaining record. For example, one morning he wrote,
at six thirty I was awakened very suddenly by my electric clock and bells.
I made one jump and landed out of bed on the floor. Then my understanding was clear and I, knowing that if I did not in a minute shut my electric bells off from the strong current, that the batteries would be run down and the neighbors would turn out thinking there was a fire, I jumped spryly in the direction of my electric clock, but I had barely got started toward it in the blind darkness, than I ran against some living thing and turned a summer salt in the air and fell all in a heap and the noise of the gong sounded longer and louder. After I got my understanding I made another attempt, shutting off the electric currant & lighting the lamp, looking for the person that I had fell over, it was a chair.
Chauncey enjoyed Brigham City life, especially the carefree hours with LeRoi Snow and Wallace Boden. One Saturday night, Chauncey and LeRoi “went to Wallace’s to retire for the night. We got to wrasteling for the covering and after about two hours of this work, the bed fell down so we had to sleep on the floor the rest of the night. But in all we enjoyed it, to the greatest of our ability.”
The next day was Sunday—fast Sunday. Chauncey fasted until noon, “as was required of the members of the sunday school.” He was called upon to speak by the Sunday School superintendent, and dutifully recorded the talk in his speech book. After afternoon and evening church services, LeRoi and Wallace went to Chauncey’s, where they again “enjoyed our selves fighting for the bed coverings.”
But as much as Brigham City’s “three musketeers” reveled in raucous horseplay, they also worked at developing cultural [p.99]skills. When invited to Miss Ada Nickler’s home after work (January 2), “we … enjoyed our selves with selections on the organ and playing spelling games which were not only amusement but were of an instructive lesson.” And the morning after the bedsheet tussle, the three rose at six to discuss the Bible.
Intent on developing physical as well as intellectual strength, Chauncey rose at his usual hour on January 9, “and after pertaking of a lively dumb bell exercise, I felt exceedingly strong and refreshed.” Chauncey found fifteen minutes with the Indian clubs and dumb bells would “get my blood in good circulation so I could keep warm, it being a cold, biteing, blistering morning, and rather cold in my room to study for two hours with out a fire.”
One day Chauncey paused to reflect on the sights and sounds of a Brigham City winter:
The sun, although very high and rather low toward the south, shone bright through the [clouds] and made a small effort to rid us of some of [the] winter blanket. Sleighs containing lovers and sweethearts were seen by the dozens, and the sight was a loving one. Fleet horses drawing light cutters were flying past the busy store, the merry bells echoing and reverberating over the frozen snow. In all, this was a beautiful winter day.
Perhaps the most popular form of recreation in the nineteenth century was dancing. Seldom did a month pass without at least one Church-sponsored ball. Chauncey escorted his sisters to the Grand Ball and then returned for Miss Hawes:
I had a fine time, Going to supper at 12, then returning from Mrs. Boden’s Hotel to the dance, or Ball room. We continued dancing until ten minutes to 3, when the Electric lights began to go out. We quickly sent a signal to the Electrician, at the Electric plant, by three shutoffs of the lights, to continue the lights for half an hour. He understanding the City signal, kept the Machinery going for about 45 minutes longer. We abandoned the hall very early in the morning. … I got to bed about 4, (after taking Miss Hawes home), being, or experiencing, a very tired sensation such as all Society ball lovers many times experience. You know!
[p.100]Music was an important part of Chauncey’s life. On Saturday, January 12, he worked through the dinner hour,
in order to get an honorable release to take the musical part in the Sunday School Concert. … We met at Mrs. Squires for practice at half past six and at seven we left for the concert. It was a grand success and lasted late in the night. The Brigham orchestra opened, after which we had prayer, and my string and hormonica band of Brigham, consisting of three guitars, one banjo, two hormonicas, of which I played one and led, ended the program with two selections, being well encored and having to play again. I enjoyed the evening very much and going home, the crowd marched and followed our music.
He also sang in the ward choir and frequently went serenading with his friends. One night, “we, numbering five, consisting of guitars, mandolins, banjo and a harmonica, which I played and also led the string band with, we had a glorious time being invited in a number of places to partake of molasses, candy, popcorn, and refreshments of all kinds and descriptions.” On another occasion, Chauncey and the boys
went to serenade the Bells of Brigham thinking that they were about all in bed. But when we serenaded Miss Rich the daughter of Mr.. Rich the Brigham Banker, they supprizes us by all coming out on the porch to listen, after which Miss Rich kindly invited us in, but we refused, saying we did not expect to go in, thinking them in bed, but she begged and we strongly refused her kind offer, after which we played her another tune. She ran off and barely before we finished, she brought four glasses of wine. I took my glass, but set it back full untouched.
Chauncey was preparing for a mission. He had been baptized and confirmed on Thursday, 3 January 1895 and six days later, “went to meeting to be ordained a deacon, but after the speaking was over it was so late that it was suggested that we post pone the ordaining of deacons.” On January 30, “I went up to be ordained a deacon, but the Bishop did not show up and I, to my sorrow, was again the second time disappointed. I worked in the old shoe factory, sorting peaches.” A month later he attended a meeting of teachers and deacons. “I wished to be ordained a deacon but did not know if that privilege would be granted me or not. It was talked over and Mr. L. Jeppson ordained me a Teacher. I was very glad to be [p.101]ordained as I was into the Aronic Priesthood and intend living a humble life.”
LeRoi had given Chauncey a Book of Mormon for Christmas with the stipulation that he read it every fast day. Rarely did he let a week go by without reading at least a few chapters. At the end of January, Chauncey received “a hint of going to Germany on a mission with L. C. Snow in about one year.” He studied the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Tullidge’s Life of Joseph Smith, and various other works. George Graehle tutored him in German. “At all times in the store when I had nothing to do,” he wrote, “I would grab my German book and learn a few words.”
In early spring Chauncey went fishing with Wallace Boden and Henry Blackburn. A few days later, Chauncey and Wallace “laid on the lawn until late and conversed on astronomy and what could be in the stars that twinkled and sparkled so beautiful away up in the heavens.” At times Chauncey seemed to live in an idyllic world. “This is a bright and beautiful morning,” he wrote, “and Brigham is laden with blossoms of many colors and shapes. This is the first year of many that I have had such pleasure of seeing and smelling the numberless flowers, and I must confess Brigham is a beautiful city of foliage, flowers and homes, and at present is wrapped in beauty.”
The highlight of Chauncey’s year came in April when he took the train for Salt Lake with LeRoi. Stopping briefly in Ogden, they visited relatives and the grave of Chauncey’s father, then continued on to Salt Lake City. Arriving at 9:30 P.M., LeRoi took Chauncey on a tour of the “electric light works, business college, bicycle school, and Christensen’s dancing academy,” before retiring for the night at LeRoi’s home.
The next day, the sight-seeing continued—ZCMI, the Deseret News building, and the hot springs. At general conference, Chauncey saw his uncle George Q. Cannon, his cousin Abraham H. Cannon, his grandfather Lorenzo Snow, and other Church leaders. As for the meeting itself, Chauncey noted only that “one of the apostles, namely Lyman, became so over powered in his speech that he cried.”
[p.102]The sixth of April was a special day, a day of beginnings. After a tour of the city and county building,
I met Grandpa on my way home (to where I were staying), and it was my wish that I be ordained an Elder Of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints, this day, it being the sixty-fifth anniversary of the orginazation of the Church.
I got [stake] president R. Clawson’s consent, and went to the Temple and was ordained in the Temple an Elder by Grandpa, (the President of the Salt Lake Temple) and LeRoie Snow. 7:30 o’clock.
We then went to the concert in the Tabernacle, given by the choir (Salt Lake City Tabernicle choir numbering about one thousand). The large choir singing, and the immense organ screeching, fairly shook the Tabernicle.
I enjoyed the concert, and was well entertained. After it was over we went out, and the Large World’s fair search lights now in the city was turned on us. It was so strong that I would turn my back to it. We watched them (two) for some time, and had them turned on us going home.
Chauncey attended all sessions of general conference, visited the theater, the Deseret Museum, the science building at the University of Utah, and attended a class in “Doctorernal Theology” at the LDS College. Then he and LeRoi had lunch in the temple and were given an extraordinary tour.
We … went in the six towers as far as we could safely get. We almost went to the top of the west middle tower, up past the last strait projection. I never care to be in a nicer place than the Temple. When we came back down I sat in the chair maid for the President of The Temple, (my Grandpa). It was as soft and easy as life could wish to rest upon. I walked over the top of the Temple. We came out after three hours walking and seeing. I went through as thoroughly as anybody and more than visitors and workers.
He returned to the temple the following day and was baptized on behalf of fourteen deceased persons. “I then went around in the Temple for a while, and enjoyed myself very much under its holy roof.”
On April 10 Chauncey arrived at the temple at 8:50 A.M. and attended a preliminary meeting in the annex. “It was fine. I then prepared myself to go through the Temple. It was the crowdest day that there had ever been in the Temple, I getting [p.103]through the first one, at about 4:30.”
The next morning Chauncey “went through [the temple] for a dead person,” in a shorter, six-and-a-half-hour session.
On Saturday morning Chauncey and LeRoi went for a bicycle ride with three young ladies:
The Girls looked very neat in their tight fitting waists and bloomers. I rode along the side of Miss Abbie Wardrobe and enjoyed the trip very much. We returned after about one and a half hours ride with our partners. Then leaving them at home we started for Beck’s Hot Springs and had a fine trip. We went around the sloping bicycle track and then returned. We then started for the Fort, namely Fort Douglas. We had a hard ride going up, but coming down, I just sailed.
Then they took the 2:00 P.M. train to “Saltair Beech,” toured the magnificent ball rooms, and floated in the salty lake.
After twelve days in Salt Lake City, Chauncey returned to work in Brigham City and decided to take the qualifying examination for public school teachers. “Grandpa … was pleased and said, That is right, the store is no place for you.” The exam took nine hours. “I have not been over the questions or work that were given for examination for about four years,” Chauncey wrote, “and not knowing in time to get to study thoroughly, I may not get a very high percent, but I think I will get a certificate for teaching.”
While he waited for the results, Chauncey studied every subject he could to prepare for a teaching career. But when his score arrived, it was “just two percent too low to get the certificate. I regretted it very much … It was my ignorance in regards to the questions asked.”
But this setback did not diminish Chauncey’s desire to improve. The following Sunday, he spoke in church. “I were also asked by the Superntendant, and aproved by the vote of the Sunday School to administer the Sacrament (with another gentleman) For the following Month. I sang in the choir. I went to meeting in the [Brigham City] Tabernicle and enjoyed it very much. Grandpa spoke. Just before meeting, I being a little early, I wrote in my memmorandum book as many Gems of Noted Orators and Writers that I could think of. I wrote [p.104]seventeen before meeting began.”
It must be conceded that Chauncey West was not a typical young man. His attention to the development of all sides of his personality—intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual—was extraordinary for a young man of any era.
Chauncey was also extraordinary because of his special relationship to “dear old Grandpa,” Lorenzo Snow, whom he described as “over 87 years old and spry as can be.” On 28 April 1895, the young man had a conversation with his grandfather that he surely never forgot: “Last night Grandpa told me how he came to join the Church and said he had eaten and drunk at the table of Joseph Smith, the seer, translater, interpreter, and prophet. And Grandpa said he knew this church was a true church, and had it direct.”
Chauncey wrote little about his family. References to his mother and sisters are rare. But this entry discloses something of the relationship: “This day I made Mamma present of an overcoat, letting her pick out any one she wanted in the store.”
It is unfortunate that the only significant source on this remarkable young man covers such a short period of time. But in his six-month diary we have a picture of the possibilities that his time and place presented, and a glimpse of that rare quality of self-motivation that has always distinguished the best of the Latter-day Saints.