Archivist Spotlight

Adam Luke is our Archivist at BYU-Idaho Special Collections & Archives. You may ask, “What is an archivist?” An archivist is someone that acquires, arranges, and describes historical materials. (i.e. videos, photos, documents, etc.). Brother Luke did not always know he wanted to become an archivist. In his younger years, he ranged from wanting to be a college football player to an astronaut. Too small for football, he studied history at BYU, and through research in special collections his interest was piqued. Brother Luke continued his education at USU, obtaining his MS in history. He later went on to library school at the University of Texas at Austin, graduating with his MSIS. He now lives in Idaho with his wife, Nadine, waiting for NASA to request the first Mars-chivist.


The Rixida

The Rixida

The Rixida, BYU-Idaho’s yearbook, was first published in 1912 as The Student Rays.  This was not the yearbook that we commonly think of today; rather, it was a precursor to today’s BYU-Idaho newspaper, The Scroll.  However, in 1912 it began to publish information about graduates in a similar manner to today’s yearbooks.  In 1917, Ricks Academy developed a new look for the yearbooks and renamed it The Rixida.  This yearbook was printed until 1999, after which the university made the change to a digital version.  Any publication of The Rixida was discontinued in 2009.

The Rixida contains staff and student photos, activities, clubs, fraternities and sororities, and sport photos and schedules.  If you have a relative who attended Ricks, you may be able to find their photo in a copy!  Copies of The Rixida are available in both Special Collections and the General Collection of the McKay Library.


Hubert Bancroft Collection

Book-keeper, publisher, and historian, Hubert Howe Bancroft was one of the prolific figures of the United States’ history.  His influence would help shape the identity and destiny of the American West.  Bancroft’s works stand as testament of his passion for life, love of mankind, and his desire to positively impact the world in which he lived.  Like many of the West’s figures, Bancroft came from the humblest of circumstances which would prove pivotal to his future success.

Hubert Howe Bancroft was born May 5, 1832 in the Puritan community of Granville, Ohio.  His parents, Lucky Howe and Azariah Ashley Bancroft, were steadfast abolitionists and, like most Puritans, valued hard work as one of life’s greatest virtues.  Long hours on the plow, strict observance of the Sabgath, and a respect for God’s children molded young Hubert’s character and laid a foundation from which Bancroft could build his career.

As adolescence faded into adulthood, Bancroft left the farm and took up work in a bookstore and publishing house that belonged to his brother-in-law, George Derby, in Buffalo, New York.  Bancroft met little satisfaction with his fist posts in the business and eagerly accepted the opportunity to transport and sell a large supply of his brother-in-law’s stock of books in California.  Arriving in San Francisco in 1852, Bancroft immediately sold his wares and took to finding work wherever it  could be found.

After dabbling in several unsuccessful business ventures, Bancroft eventually established his own printing house and bookstore.  Using a loan from his sister (Derby’s wife) and many lines of credit, Bancroft purchased $10,000 worth of books from several East Coast publishing houses and transported them back to California.  With his newly purchased inventories, H.H.Bancroft & Company opened for business in December 1856.  A resourceful businessman, Bancroft immediately found success in his newly established enterprise.  His business quickly expanded, making him a wealthy man.


As the years passed by, Bancroft developed a keen interest in history.  Inspired by the American West of old, Bancroft left his company in the hands of his brother, A.L. Bancroft in 1868 and devoted himself entirely to the publication of an extensive history of the pacific Coast, covering the history of the tropics of Central America to the icy shores of Alaska.  His plan would include the publication of 39 volumes, requiring the help of dozens of collaborators, and span several decades.  Critics of the publication challenged Bancroft’s validity in the facts presented, since he did not acknowledge all those who helped in the collaboration of the 39 volumes.  Many claim that Bancroft was the editor instead of the actual author.

Bancroft’s works, found in the Reading Room of Special Collections, represent a convenient and conventional breakdown of western North American into geo-political units.  He was acting, of course, under the assumption that there would be a better market for the books if the residents of California, Utah, British Columbia, and so on, could clearly see that the history of their particular region was individually covered.  This also allowed the authors to reduce the vast amount of subject matter into workable unites.


Bancroft’s publication eventually became a success, selling more than 6,000 sets–234,000 volumes as a whole, with a gross return of more than $1,000,000.  He miraculously managed to recoup on his great investment and did not sustain a loss.

Concerning the success of Bancroft’s collection, Biographer John Walton Caughey wrote, “What is more important, this large sale gave the Works excellent availability.  Ever since publication, the set has been easily accessible to readers, students, and researchers.  No library need be without it, and in the book markets today, it may be had to prices ranging sometimes below a dollar a volume.  This current availability is, in a direct way, a tribute to the success of the sales program initiated by Bancroft, elaborated by Stone, and carried out by their enthusiastic cohorts.


Caughey, John Walton. Hubert HOwe Bancroft, historian of  the West.  Berkley: U of California P, 1946, Print.

Templeton, Tegan.  “The Book of Wealth.”  The Book of Wealth. (accessed May 8, 2014)

BYU-Idaho Education Week 2016

Education Week is a three-day long conference hosted by BYU-Idaho each summer.  The conference is family friendly and aims to support individuals on their quest to become lifelong learners.  This year’s Education Week will take place on July 28-30.  Multiple classes will be held in Special Collections, including:

  • Music and the Printed Word: Exploring the History of LDS Hymnals, presented by Adam Luke
  • Printing the Restoration: Mormon History as Seen Through Original Printed Works, presented by Adam Luke
  • History of the King James Bible, presented by Brooks Haderlie
  • Grandma, Are You There? Finding Family Records in the McKay Library Archives and Special Collections, presented by Laurie Frances
  • Martin Luther as a Forerunner to the Restoration, presented by Brooks Haderlie
  • Treasures of the Vault, presented by Laurie Frances

Education Week is a wonderful experience.  For additional information on classes, schedules, and prices, please go here.   We would love to see you this week!

Graduation–then and now

Congratulations to all Spring 2016 graduates!





John Powell

John Wesley Powell was born at Mount Morris, New York, on March 24, 1834.  He found an interest in natural history at a young age that grew into a life-long study and pursuit.  As a younger man, he travelled through Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, and along the Mississippi River.  On his explorations, Powell gathered organic matter, such as plants and minerals.  These collections later provided him with connections to colleges in Illinois.


John Wesley Powell, 1869. Image Source:

At the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Powell enlisted into the Twentieth Regiment of Illinois with the Union, and received commissions that eventually promoted him to Major.  While commanding the artillery lines, during the Battle of Shiloh, a minié ball struck his right forearm and shattered the bone, causing him to lose a great portion of that arm.  Powell experienced pain from that arm for the rest of his life.  While recovering from his injury at home with his new wife, Emma Dean Powell, he served as a recruiting officer.  Once sufficiently recovered, Powell continued to fight and command in the siege of Vicksburg, the Atlanta Campaign, and the Battle of Nashville.  Throughout all the Civil War, Powell continued to collect natural history samples for later study.  After the war, Powell became a professor of geology at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, and a later geology lecturer in Normal, Illinois.  Later he would become a curator for the Illinois Natural History Society Museum.

Powell went on several expeditions in his life–perhaps his most famous being the first excursion down the Green and Colorado Rivers, and through the Grand Canyon.  The journey started out with four boats and then men on May 24, 1869.  However, at Lodore Canyon, Utah, a boat holding scientific instruments and a quarter of the expedition’s supplies was lost to the rapids.  They entered the Grand Canyon on August 5th, but soon thereafter abandoned another boat because of a near-sinking which spoiled much of the remaining food and supplies.  Three members of the party left the expedition due to low morale from the distressing situations of dealing with the dangerous rapids and misfortunes with the boats.  The departing members set out for a nearby settlement, but were killed by members of the Shivwits band of the Paiute Indian people who believed the three to be a part of a group of miners who had killed a woman of their tribe.  Powell learned of their misfortune a year later.  The expedition ended the day after the tree men left, on August 28, 1869.  Throughout his life, Powell led additional excursions on and near the Grand Canyon, creating maps and writing books about the experiences.

Powell's second Grand Canyon expedition.  Image source:

Powell’s second Grand Canyon expedition. Image source:

In all his travels, Powell strived to make sure he had the best possible relations with the Native Americans.  He spent much time with them and learned how to speak several of their languages.  When tensions were high between the white settlers and the Natives, Powell did what he could to bring peace to both sides.  He even did this between himself and the Shivwits band that killed the three men who left the first Colorado River expedition.

Towards the end of his life, Powell became the first director of the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution, which was founded in 1879.  He held this position until his death.

John Wesley Powell died in his home in Haven, Maine on September 23, 1902 at the age of 68.  He is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Lake Powell, Powell Plateau at Grand Canyon National Park, and Powell Mountain at Kings Canyon National Park in California all commemorate the explorer’s name.

Powell in 1873 presenting a mirror to a Ute woman; an 1873 meeting with the Paiute people.  Image source:

Powell in 1873 presenting a mirror to a Ute woman; an 1873 meeting with the Paiute people. Image source:

John Wesley Powell authored a number of books contained in this library, including
Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States, with a More Detailed Account of the Lands of Utah: with Maps (SPC USR HD 1671.U5 A4 1879)
Down the Colorado; Diary of the First Trip through the Grand Canyon, 1869 (Oversize F788.P886)
The Exploration of the Colorado River (F788.P886-1969)
The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons (F788.P88 1961)
Feel free to ask an employee for assistance in finding these items.

The House Miscellaneous Documents of the Annual Reports of the Bureau of Ethnology in the Special Collections Reading Room were published while Powell was director of the Bureau.  Powell was one of several contributors to the reports.  A majority of the contents consist of information on American Indian culture, their way of life, tools and weapons used, music and art, hunting and fishing methods, religion and sacred rites, folk tales, traditions, and the actions thereof.  Research and images on petroglyphs throughout numerous parts of the world are also presented.  Other information in these reports come from expeditions and explorations of various people in the Bureau of Ethnology and their related field work and study.


Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, s. v. “John Wesley Powell,” accessed March 30, 2014,

Science, New Series, Vol. 16, No. 406 (Oct. 10, 1902), pp. 561-567


The Vardis Fisher Collection

Vardis Fisher, March 31, 1895-July 9, 1968

Vardis Fisher, March 31, 1895-July 9, 1968. Image source:

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 diasappointment, leading to his first wife’s suicide and his second wife demanding a divorce.  He is well known for his Testament of Man series, which tracks humankind and society from the very beginning to the modern day.

Of late, few of his books 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 he had some very strange ideas about the way the world works.


One of his contemporaries was F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was given a large centennial recognition–a postage stamp with his face on it.  Vardis Fisher, who (he would claim) was a better writer than the other American writers of the time, received almost no attention at his centennial, even though he was appointed Dean of the Western Literature Association.  He was also the first recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award in 1965.

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.


The Special Collections Department in the McKay Library houses the Vardis Fisher collection, which includes copies of every one of his 35 books, some of which only had 200 copies printed.  His files, notes, and papers can be found in MSSI 5.

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 feelings toward religion, he remains one of Idaho’s best writers.


The Caxton Press



The Caxton Printers Ltd. 1907. Founders J.H. and A.E. Gipson to the far right. Image source:

In 1895, a seed of industry was planted in newly-founded Caldwell, in the infant state of Idaho.  Albert E. Gipson moved his family from Colorado to establish a publishing company.  The name and emblem of William Caxton, England’s first printer, was adopted out of respect for Caxton’s reputation as a printer, writer, historian, and free press proponent.

In 1913, Caxton acquired the Western Book and Manufacturing Company of Logan, Utah.  The Idaho company became the exclusive printing and binding company west of Kansas City.


“War Chief Joseph” by Helen Addison Howard, printed by The Caxton Printers in 1941

J. H. Gipson said the company did not intend to become a book publisher, but rather drifted into the publishing field.  Early on, Caxton printed a few books for aspiring authors, mostly paper bound.

Most publishers were then located in the eastern US.  Gipson realized it was hard for new writers, particularly those from the West, to attract the attention of eastern presses.  His idea was to give writers assistance–printing their books and distributing them to reviewers.  “Probably the real reason was that all of us love books and wanted to have some part in making them,” Gipson said.


“The Big Blowup” by Betty Goodwin Spencer, published by The Caxton Printers in 1958

On March 17, 1937, a paper stock room caught fire.  Workers were unable to put out the blaze.  By evening the plant was gone, including books and company records.  But Caxton soon was back in business, using local presses in rented buildings.  Within sixty days a new building was completed–the structure that still houses the business offices.

Gipson made good on his pledge.  Several Caxton authors, including Vardis Fisher and Ayn Rand, received international recognition for their work.


“Spirit Rocks and Silver Magic” by Phyllis A Manning, published by The Caxton Printers in 1962

The Caxton publishing department has produced some of the best-known titles in Western Americana.  Two books, Yellow Wolf, and Hear Me, My Chiefs! first published a half century ago, are still in print today.  The two volumes are considered foundation books for any study of the Nez Perce Indians and that tribe’s epic attempt to flee to Canada in 1877.

Today Caxton continues to release new titles about people, places, and events that shaped the West.  BYU-Idaho’s Special Collection has a large collection of titles published by Caxton throughout its history, including the books shown above.


Logo from

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: So what exactly is Special Collections?

A: BYU-Idaho’s Special Collections and Archives is the area in the library that houses items unique to university history, the history of the Upper Snake River Valley, changes in recordkeeping, and anything related to specific areas of campus curriculum.  So basically, we hold the library’s more rare and valuable books and things specific to the history of Eastern Idaho.

Q: What are archives?

A: Archives are documents created in the course of life.1  These may be seemingly normal things such as thank you notes or wedding announcements or more special things, like the minutes of the meeting that started a 128 year-old university.  Governments, libraries, universities, and even some businesses keep archives.1  Archives are ever growing: as of June 2016, BYU-Idaho’s physical archives consist of 118 collections of materials collected by presidents and employees of the school.  These archives are used in research, and they preserve the history of the university.


A portion of BYU-Idaho’s Archives

Q: What do you have in Special Collections?

A: Some of our more unique items include an original King James Bible, Egyptian Shabti, and a World War II sword.  These items are either donated to or purchased by the University to aid in student learning and success.


Special Collections is home to many historically     significant books.

Q: So what do employees do?

A: Student employees are assigned or choose projects to assist in the preservation of the collections and archives.  Projects include digitizing archives, preserving books, transcribing devotionals, planning exhibits, and updating finding aids.  Our main goal is to ensure the integrity of the collections and archives while making them available to the public.

Q: Am I allowed to go in Special Collections?

A: Absolutely!  We love visitors.  Whether you want to come in to study or to view a current exhibit, students and community members are always welcome to come in.  Because we are located in the quiet section of the library, our doors may not be open, but (during operating hours) they are always unlocked. We have open houses twice a semester and host classes and forums that you are welcome to join.


You never know what you might find in Special       Collections!

Q: How do I get a job at Special Collections?

A: We keep a fairly small number of employees and are not always hiring.  However, there is no harm in trying!  To apply, please bring a current resume to McKay 220.



  1. National Museum of American History.

This Day in Idaho History

June 15, 1860: The first white settlement in Idaho was founded.

Franklin, Idaho was founded by Mormon Pioneers.  Only one mile inside of Idaho, it was originally thought to be on the Utah side of the border.  Originally, thirteen families arrived in the spot that would become Franklin.  Today, the town consists of about 830 people.


Here 10 Of The Oldest Towns In Idaho… And They’re Loaded With History


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