Vardis Fisher–Idaho’s Local Maverick Author


Vardis  Fisher was born to an LDS family near Rigby Idaho. After graduating from the University of Utah in 1920, Fisher earned a Master of Arts degree (1922) and a Ph.D. (1925) at the University of Chicago. He was married three times, first to Leona McMurtrey (m. 1917–1924), second to Margaret Trusler (m. 1928–1937), and finally to Laurel Holmes (m. 1940). Unfortunately, the first two marriages were racked with strife and disappointment, leading to his first wife’s suicide and his second wife demanding a divorce. He is well known for his fictional Testament of Man series, which tracks humankind and society from the very beginning to the modern day.

Of late, few books of his remain in print. His writings received mixed feelings—some overwhelmingly positive, and some very negative. His writing is very detailed, flowery, and highly skilled, and the pictures he paints with his words are vivid and dream-like. As a man he was very precise but had some very strange ideas about the way the world works. F. Scott Fitzgerald once claimed that Fisher was a better writer than the other American Writers of the time.

He regarded the Testament of Man series to be his most important work. Strangely, it has received the least attention. One major critic, Marilyn Grunkemeyer, who brought an anthropologists background to the table, found some of his readings “toxic.” She said that for her, one of his last works Orphans of Gethsemane (1960) was the “literary equivalent of being beaten steadily with a stick.” That said, she noted that it was a valuable reading experience and would recommend it, but that it was an endeavor to be taken with care.

Despite his LDS roots, he never claimed the religion as his own, though some of his writings have been interpreted as having LDS roots. Whatever his real feelings toward religion are, he remains one of the best writers produced by Idaho. The BYU-Idaho Special Collections department has copies of every one of his 35 books–some of which had only 200 copies printed. Come take a look! Having read several of his books, I can definitely recommend them as an interesting, thought provoking read.

“Say folks I sure had quite an experience”: Thomas Neibaur and WWI

June 28 marks 100 years since WWI began. With the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on June 28, 1914, war spread throughout much of the world for the next four years. The war would reach rural Eastern Idaho, placing a young Thomas C. Neibaur of Sugar City, Idaho “somewhere in France.” Neibaur enlisted in the Idaho National Guard, stating in a letter to his mother on June 10, 1917,

Well dear mother I am not sorry that I joined when I did altho I am very young and have had no experience away from home but still I feel that I am serving my country and I feel as if that was the next thing to serving my God.


Medal of Honor

Neibaur was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic acts during the war.

Considering it his duty as a citizen, Neibaur enlisted and was stationed in Boise and then Sandpoint, Idaho. He routinely wrote home, encouraging his family while also sharing his love for them. On June 2, 1917, he wrote from Sandpoint,

I sure would like to be back home with you again, but still I realize that I am serving my country in time of need, and I remember the words of Sir William Wallace, ‘God armeth the patriot.’

Neibaur went from Idaho to New York then New Jersey for training. He reached France sometime early in 1918, and was transferred to an existing division made up of individuals from the South. Missing his old company, he remarked of his new comrades on April 18, 1918, “Of course they are good fellows and all that but still they have different ways that seem a bit funny to me.”

Neibaur would also mention briefly “a few pretty exciting times” in the trenches, which surely worried his family as is apparent when he wrote from “somewhere in France” on May 28, 1918:

Now dear mother do not worry because I tell you I have been to the trenches as there is not much danger the worst thing is the gas and we have good gas masks to protect us. The only thing is getting them on in time.

On October 1918, Neibaur wrote home what must have been startling news to his family. He opened the letter mentioning that he hadn’t received any recent correspondence from home, probably because the post was slow and because he had “been on the front for a long time then got wounded and am now in a hospital nursing a leg with three machine gun wounds in it.” Later in the letter, Neibaur briefly described how he got injured:

Say folks I sure had quite an experience I was captured and was in the hands of the Germans for about half an hour but I watched my chance and when they were not looking I recovered my gun and took ten of my captives prisoners after I was wounded three times.

In Còte de Châtillon, Neibaur had volunteered with two others to take out a pocket of German machine guns. After some action where his two companions were killed and he injured, Neibaur, while injured, was able to take out several Germans until his gun jammed. Upon retreating, he was eventually captured, but, as described in his letter home, found an opportunity to make his captors the captives. It was that action that brought him the Medal of Honor, presented by General Pershing himself. On January 3, 1919, after several months of recovery, and what must have followed several less-than-detailed letters home, he wrote,

I suppose you were very much surprised to hear that I received a medal for bravery but you know you never did get me excited about anything and I always had a cool head.

BYU-Idaho’s Special Collections and Archives is fortunate to hold several original letters from Neibaur to his family. The passages above are all taken from these letters. To read the letters, visit Special Collections & Archives, room 220 in the McKay Library, and ask for manuscript collection 98 (MSSI 98: Thomas Neibaur Papers). You can view the finding aid online here: Neibaur Papers

One more reason SPC is awesome!

In the Brigham Young University-Idaho Special Collections department, one of our responsibilities is to keep a record of talks, speeches, and devotionals given on our Campus. Our audio records alone go all the way back to the 1960’s! Scanning through these can reveal some absolute gems, like the following life and death experience related by Elder F. Enzio Busche, on February 3, 1981.

“We are challenged to grow to that level of understanding that we can finally say, “I know Him.”

“I must admit that I had a period in my life, for about three years where life was so tough, so unbelievable, and impossible to describe that I could only survive from one day to another. I identified myself with Stechmolv from Herman Hesse; The young man that accused the world, and accused the man, and even accused God for the unrighteousness, for the hopelessness of life and became a candidate for suicide, and could not live one day without the hope”

“Life went on; when everything’s destroyed people have a lot of work to do, and we were working hard building the society.”

“If only someone would show me a place and show me a way. But there was so little hope because I had seemed to have tested everything. At this stage, I became sick, very sick. I had a liver disease that developed in a stage, that when I was brought to the hospital– the doctors talked to my wife that I would not be able to survive; that I would die within the next days.”

“The instance that I am now prompted to tell you now about is the most sacred and the most serious experience that I’ve had in my life. Three days later, after this experience when I was still in agony and despair and fear, I was put in the German hospital into the bathroom. That was the place during those times that they put the dying people because it’s easy after they’ve passed away to clean them in the bathtub. In this moment of preparing for death, the treatment was taken away from me. Nobody was visiting me on this day; people are hesitant in visiting dying people. The nurses did not show up. In this moment, there was at the left corner of the ceiling a white light, more brilliant than can be described and it shocked me. A voice speaking to my ear, loud and clear, “When you now can pray, you will recover.” I was shocked, because I did not know what experience this was; but the authority and power was more than anything I’ve experienced in life. It was more real than any other real thing I’ve ever experienced. The authority was unquestionable. “What shall I do with this?” “What can I do with this?” I didn’t know how to pray. I just knew the Lord ’s Prayer we had learned in school was not meant (by the voice he heard). As I was listening, as I was preparing myself, and it was praying out of myself I was able to speak– maybe the most beautiful prayer that a person can give. In German there are four words translated into English; “Thy will be done.”

Come on in to the SPC to get the rest of the story, and remember to keep your own records!

From Spencer W. Kimball: “From time immemorial the Lord has counseled us to be a record-keeping people. Abraham had a book of remembrance, and Adam had one…Adam spent much effort being the school teacher for his children…And they kept their books of remembrance. How else do you think Moses, many hundreds of years later, got the information? These records had been kept, and he referred to them and got the history of the world, which wasn’t in any library other than that. Can you see your responsibility?” (Dec. 1980 New Era).

Elder Busche and his Wife

This Day In History: The Teton Dam Flood

Thirty-eight years ago today, the Teton Dam collapsed, flooding much of the valley immediately below the dam. The flood resulted in lost homes, property, and even life, but resilience and service became common themes in the immediate aftermath. To record and preserve the experiences of the community, Ricks College, the Idaho State Historical Society, and Utah State University joined to interview people affected by those events. These oral histories serve as a memory of the event and aftermath, giving personal perspective and insight into that day in June, 1976.

Along with the description of our Teton Dam Collection, we recently made most of the transcripts of those oral history interviews available online. To read transcripts from those interviews, follow the link above to the collection. To see more from our Teton Dam Collection, come to Special Collections on the second floor of the McKay Library and ask to see MSSI 2: The Teton Dam Collection.

Chair left over from the flood

Chair left over from the flood

Rosetta Stone, Hieroglyphs, and the first Article of Faith!



We see a lot of students pass by our replica of the Rosetta Stone, marvel at it for a while, and pass on. Well, today we were thinking of ways to help students be able to “bring it home” a little. Above is a phonetic version of the first Article of Faith using Egyptian Hieroglyphs. The handouts located above the stone and to the left will show the following cartouches:

Because the Rosetta stone is written in Hieroglyphs, Greek, and Demotic, historians were able to translate the entirety of the stone–they knew Greek, and were able to figure the rest out. Try the link below to formulate your own phonetic hieroglyphs!


New Collection: I Can Hathez Olde Hatt

We’re pleased to announce a new collection: Animals with Hats! We’re calling it MSSI 04-01: “Ye Olde Animalz luv Hatz” Collection.

After looking through old pictures we discovered something: People have been dressing their pets for a long time. This isn’t just an Internet-era craze. Here are a couple images to give you an idea:

Horses with Top Hats

These horses are ready for a day in the city.

Dog in a Baseball Cap

This dog sports the cap of his favorite stickball team

We’re looking to add to this collection. If you discover your that your ancestors dressed up their mastodon and carved that image on a stone, we’ll take it!

The Snore Form

Part of an archivist’s work is determining value in records to see if they are worthy of long-term preservation. Only a small percentage of an organization’s records are deemed as having that value, and are typically preserved over time to allow for continued access. Archivists gauge different values—historical, administrative, legal, evidential—to determine long-term significance of records. Such value is sometimes referred to as archival, enduring, or continuing value, and is determined by examining the content in the records.

Archivists often judge the intrinsic value of records as well, meaning the record is important because of its physical form; relationship or associations to people, places, or events; or the processes that went into its creation. Think of materials like the original Declaration of Independence, where the content has been repeated many times, but the original document has intrinsic value based on its affiliations and manner of creation.

Sometimes, records have additional values that we might consider, such as oddity or hilarity. One example we located recently in our campus archives: the Confidential Statement on Snoring.

The Snore Form. Not sure how confidential it was considering people signed their names to it.

The Snore Form. Not sure how confidential it was considering people signed their names to it.

Rexburg Temple

Currently on display are building materials of the Rexburg Idaho Temple. It is so neat to watch how temples all around the world are built and the purposes of them. Here at BYU -Idaho Special Collections and Archives we have multiple items that document this wonderful occasion. From photos to correspondences to paper napkins from the refreshment tent and more.

Be sure to stop by on your way to class at our display cases in the hallway on the 2nd floor of the McKay Library and see some of the neat materials we have to share with you!


This Month In Campus History: Fire!

Late one Saturday night on February 1, 1908, alarming news interrupted a social of the academy commercial class being held on the first floor of the Academy Building: the roof, the roof, the roof was on fire!

In The Spirit of Ricks: A History of Ricks College, 1888-1997 (available in the McKay Library and the Special Collections reading room), David L. Crowder detailed the response of teachers, students, and townspeople in saving the Academy Building. James Anderson, a teacher at the college, saw flames leaping from the building roof and ran to the Academy. Anderson and three students, Claude Ellsworth, Joe Loveland, and J. William Jardine, alerted the academy commercial class on the first floor and climbed to the attic to stop the fire. Attendees of the social brought a pan of hot chocolate to toss on the fire, while the four men used overcoats to beat the flames. Ellsworth went so far as to step onto the roof to toss burning shingles to the ground and pour water from buckets handed him by a quickly formed bucket brigade. Several well-mined yet misguided townsfolk also came to help, trying to save chairs, typewriters, and pianos by throwing them away from the flames and down the stairs (the typewriters were ruined, but the pianos were saved when others intervened). The fire was out by the time the fire department arrived and the academy commercial class returned to their social and to make another batch of hot chocolate (Crowder, 27-28).

The Academy Building in 1906. Notice how it rises above the surrounding sagebrush; easy to see flames on the roof.

The Academy Building in 1906. Notice how it rises above the surrounding sagebrush; easy to see flames on the roof.

A picture of the class of 1908. Unsure of who here, if any, was involved in putting out the fire.

A picture of the class of 1908. Unsure of who here, if any, were involved in putting out the fire.

As detailed in the Minutes of the Board of Education in Bannock Stake (available by request in the Special Collections reading room), later that month the Executive Committee of Ricks Academy authorized the purchase of overcoats for the young men “who were first at the scene of the fire . . . and whose overcoats were practically destroyed in fighting the flames” (Minutes, 204). From the minutes, it appears Anderson and Loveland both received coats (the committee authorized $30 for the purchase), as Ellsworth said he had lost no coat. The next meeting President Heath reported that Ellsworth had felt slighted because he had not received the same recognition as others and it was agreed that Ellsworth should also receive a coat (another $15 was allowed to be paid for a coat). Good thing, too. If February then was like it is now, living without a coat would be miserable here this time of year.

For more information, visit us to see our Campus Photo Collection for additional images of the Academy Building and various class photos. You can also read David Crowder’s account of the fire in The Spirit of Ricks: A History of Ricks College, 1888-1997, available for checkout in the library or for reading in Special Collections (call number LB2369.R68C76 1997). Additional details are available in the Minutes of the Board of Education of Bannock Stake Commenced in 1888, available in Special Collections (call number: LD4711.R52M6).

The Fulcher/Smith Correspondence

The Fulcher/Smith Correspondence collection is a wonderful glimpse into the lives of two early Latter-day Saint pioneers. Mary Eade Fulcher was born January 28, 1829 in Carlton Colville of Suffolk England, a small town lying near the eastern coast on England.  Mary was raised a member of the Church of England, however of Mary her grand-daughter wrote “Mary’s heart had been touched when she heard the Mormon missionaries teach the gospel.”

A decade before Mary’s eventual conversion to Mormonism, Brigham Young had issued the call for all the saints to organize and head west. A missionary by the name of R. Bently, in an attempt to convince her to head Young’s call, wrote “I feel the more, the necessity of your exerting yourself to try and get away this year, seeing you have so near enough money.” Elder Bently then prompted her to “sell your bed, and I think that will bring you enough so that you can get through. There are thousands of people that go through without a bed, who are not so strong and vigorous as you are and they do first rate.”


On May 12, 1862 Mary boarded the William Tapscott, and set sail for the United States.  After arrival, Mary traversed the plains of the west by foot and eventually settled in Farmington, Utah. There she married Elkanah Andrew Smith of Oxford County, Maine. She became his second wife and together they would have three lovely daughters.

Mary’s three daughters Catherine, Mary, and Esther later married and relocated to Idaho. Because of their generosity, Special Collections now houses Mary Eade Fulcher’s correspondence to and from her family and loved ones. To access digital copies of the correspondance follow this link:


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