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Willis E. Robison journals

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSS 1591

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of five journals dating from October 15, 1882 to July 31, 1884. While the journals cover the period indicated, volume 4 and 5 cover gaps within volume 3. The original journals end just previous to the Tennessee Massacre. A typescript of the journals is also included. There is also a typescript from a missing journal covering August 10, 1884 through August 20, 1884 (the period just after the massacre). In November 1898, Robison published an account of these events and their aftermath in The Improvement Era. This article plus additional items related to this period in Church history have been photocopied and added to the collection.


  • 1882-1884


Conditions Governing Access

Open to public research.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to publish material from Willis E. Robison collection must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.

Biographical History

Willis E. Robison (1834-1937) was a Latter-Day Saint pioneer, missionary, public servant, and farmer.

Willis Eugene Robison was born to Benjamin Hancock Robison and Lillis A. Andree on March 1, 1834 in Crete County, Illinois, where the family had settled soon after the martyrdom of the prophet Joseph Smith. In April of 1854, Benjamin and Lillis sold their home and headed for Utah, arriving in Salt Lake City in August of that same year. The family stayed a short time in Salt Lake, then continued on to Fillmore, Millard County.

It was in Fillmore that Willis grew up and received the rudiments of his education. He attended school in the winter and worked on the farm the remainder of the year. At the age of twenty Willis married Sarah A. Ellet and soon thereafter they moved to Scipio, Millard County. Willis remained in Scipio until he was called in 1882 to serve as a missionary in the Southern States Mission.

While serving in Tennessee Elder Robison witnessed and was a victim of the growing animosity towards the members of the Church within the boundaries of the Southern States Mission. Hatred towards the missionaries was so strong in this area that two of his companions were slain.

Upon hearing the conflicting rumors surrounding the deaths of his comrades, Elder Robison thought it appropriate that he go to Cane Creek, Tennessee, the sight of the massacre, and obtain the true facts of the killings for himself. Because he feared that he might fall into the hands of the mob, he disguised himself as a migrant cotton worker looking for a job. When he arrived at the James Condor home, the sight of the attack, he was told that Elder John Gibbs, Elder William Berry, and the two sons of Brother Condor had been murdered. The same night Elder Robison arrived in Cane Creek he was encouraged to leave. If the mob had found him in the Condor home it would have meant death to all present. His departure from Cane Creek was aided by a thick fog fell, enabling him to travel undetected.

The bodies of the martyred Elders were recovered by the acting Mission President of the Southern States Mission, B.H. Roberts, who also traveled in disguise. Elder Robison was assigned to escort the caskets to Utah. During the trip home Elder Robison faced a variety of problems including constant ridicule and nearly having to leave the caskets behind because a conductor threatened to not to let them on the train.

After Robison returned from his mission he led an active life in the Church and the community. In 1889 he was called to be a Bishop in Loa, Utah, and was elected to represent Beaver and Paiute Counties in the Utah House of Representatives. In 1892, he was responsible for splitting the large Paiute County in half, and naming the new county Wayne, after one of his sons. In 1893 the Wayne Stake of the L.D.S. Church was organized and Willis Robison was called as its first president.

While living in Wayne County Robison's service to the community continued. He was elected Superintendent of Schools three terms in a row and he was also chosen as a member of the Constitutional Convention which framed the Utah State constitution. Willis Robison died on July 17, 1937 at the age of eighty three.


1 box (0.5 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



Handwritten missionary journals and typescripts. The items describe Robison's experiences while serving in the Southern States Mission of the Mormon Church. In particular the journal relates information about the slaying of John H. Gibbs and William S. Berry, two Mormon missionaries in the mission; the subsequent investigation of the slayings by Robison and his mission president B.H. Roberts; as well as other stories of persecution towards Mormons.


Arrangement is primarily chronological with miscellaneous items placed at the end. The photographs were photocopied and the originals were transferred to the Photoarchives.

Other Finding Aids

Folder-level inventory available online.

Custodial History

This collection was acquired by BYU Library in March, 1989, from Frank Robison, a grandson of Willis Robison.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired; Frank Robison; March 1989.


19th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts.


Further information on the history of the Southern States Mission of the L.D.S. Church can be found in the following works:Lamar C. Berrett, "A History of The Southern States Mission, 1830-1860" (Master's Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1960).William Hatch, `There Is No Law'... A History of Mormon Civil Relations In The Southern States, 1865-1905 (New York: Vantage Press, 1968).Leonard J. Arrington, "Mormon Beginnings in The American South," Task Papers in L.D.S. History, #9 (Salt Lake City: Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1976).

Processing Information

Processed; David J. Whittaker; February, 1991.

Register of Willis E. Robison journals
David J. Whittaker, Duane H. Zobrist II, and Todd Kim
February, 1991
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States