This first edition copy of The Book of Mormon with reference pages found in the well at Haun’s Mill is one of 4,000 items from a private collection appraised at $3.2 million. | Kayla McFarland
IDAHO FALLS – More than 4,000 items dating back to the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were recently appraised at a value of $3.2 million and listed for sale.
Among the items in the collection are multiple copies of The Book of Mormon and 33 letters handwritten by past Church President Brigham Young during the settlement of the Salt Lake Valley.
“In my 40 years of appraising LDS works, I have never come across anything quite like it,” Jerry Erkelens, who appraised each of the items, says in a news release. “This collection provides a unique lens into a transformational time for the religion, which helps piece together significant moments within U.S. history.”
The most valuable item in the collection is a first edition copy of The Book of Mormon with reference pages found in the well at Haun’s Mill, a site in Caldwell County, Missouri where 17 church members were killed and another 12-15 were injured in an October 1838 attack.
“There’s water stains on the reference section and so we believe it was pulled out of the well at Haun’s Mill,” Erkelens tells EastIdahoNews.com.
Other than a handwritten note indicating they were found in the well, Erkelens says there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the pages. The value of this item alone is around $100,000.
Erkelens says some of the Brigham Young letters are insightful, which include the church leader’s opinion about the federal government, the U.S. Army, and specific judges in Utah at that time.
“In one letter, he says that U.S. President James Buchanan was Beelzebub (Satan),” Erkelens explains. “In another letter, he talks about how upset he is that the army is guarding some of the federal judges that were summoning him to testify in court.”
Erkelens didn’t provide any context about the specific details of this letter.
A letter written and signed by former Latter-day Saint Church President Brigham Young | Courtesy Kayla McFarland
Another letter references Fort Bridger, Wyoming, which the church purchased in 1855. It was burned to the ground two years later “to keep it from falling into the hands of Albert Sidney Johnston’s advancing federal army during the so-called Utah War,” according to the church’s website.
One of the incidents that occurred during this time is known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which involved an armed militia of church members killing a wagon train of immigrants traveling through Utah on their way to California.
Hearing reports that the Latter-day Saints were involved, Pres. Buchanan sent an army to investigate and find a replacement for Young, who was also serving as Utah’s governor at the time.
“The Mormons tried to prevent the army from coming to Salt Lake and when it became apparent that they couldn’t stop the U.S. Army, Brigham Young gathered up everybody and they moved south and left a few guys (behind) to burn Salt Lake City. But it never happened … and they all returned,” Erkelens says. “Some of the saints burned Fort Bridger and destroyed all of the army’s food and (Young) offered to send them 40 wagon loads of salt.”
Other noteworthy items in the collection include some pamphlets written by early church missionaries Orson and Parley Pratt and several drawings from Jack Sears, a renowned cartoonist and artist in Utah who went on to establish the commercial art department at the University of Utah.
The Church’s early history coincided with the Oregon Trail and the colonization of the West. Erkelens says there are some items in the collection that also provide insight into U.S history, including various books and maps of the region.
Pamphlet written by Orson Pratt. | Kayla McFarland
Who owned the collection?
G. Ralph Bailey, who died in 2007, was the original owner of the collection. As a lifelong church member from Millcreek, Utah, his daughter, Kimberly Best, says her dad loved history and knew many people in Salt Lake. He enjoyed making frequent trips there to see what treasures he could find.
“As a kid, if you were with dad in Salt Lake, we would go into all the little bookstores and pawnshops … and see if they had anything new,” Best says.
He left behind a large collection, which was stored in various places and Best says her mom was reluctant to get rid of it after his passing. When her mom died last year, no one in the family wanted any of the items and they decided to sell it.
Despite the family’s lack of interest in Ralph’s collection, Best says the memories of going to garage sales with him or reading with him in his library is something they will always cherish.
“We have pictures of every grandchild sitting on his lap and reading in our library and they know the importance of books and reading,” she says.
The entire collection is being sold together as one lot. Any questions or offers can be sent directly to Scott Best via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. A bidder’s brochure is available upon request.
Bishop’s Storehouse notes from 1898. | Kayla McFarland
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