Sad news: David Bigler

Jeff Nichols's picture

I'm sorry to report the death of David L. Bigler, the author and editor of important studies in Western, especially Utah, history. His good friend and frequent collaborator Will Bagley was kind enough to write the following appreciation.



David L. Bigler

Writer and independent historian David L. Bigler died at age ninety Wednesday evening, January 31, 2018 near his home in Roseville, California with his beloved wife, Evah at his side. As with his friends Juanita Brooks, LeRoy Hafen, and Brigham D. Madsen, the cause was the historians’ curse, Alzheimer's disease.

Trained in journalism at the University of Utah, Mr. Bigler was a naval veteran of World War II and Korea. For his contributions to its community and special collections, Southern Utah State College (now Southern Utah State University) awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters in 1979. He spent his thirty-six year professional career with U.S. Steel, rising to become its director of public affairs before retiring in 1986 “to devote full time to the study of America’s western emigration and Mormon history in the West.”

Bigler began his publishing career with a 1967 article in the Utah Historical Quarterly, “The Crisis at Fort Limhi, 1857,” which revealed his ability to replace barnacle-incrusted interpretations with original insights using his talent as a gifted researcher and narrative historian. Mr. Bigler wrote five and co-authored three books about the American West covering subjects ranging from the California gold discovery to the impact of Mormon theocracy from 1847 to 1896 to the Native peoples of today’s Idaho and Montana and to overland emigration. He won best book awards from Westerners International, the John Whitmer Historical Association and Western Writers of America.

Utah’s Tanner Trust Fund and the University of Utah’s Marriott Library published a collection of his articles, “Confessions of a Revisionist Historian: David L. Bigler on the Mormons and the West, with an appreciation by Polly Aird” in 2015. “The world is a smaller, less generous place now,” wrote Ms. Aird on learning of his death. Dave was universally considered a kind, thoughtful and considerate colleague and friend.

Many regard Bigler’s 2007 Western Historical Quarterly article, “The Aiken Party Executions and the Utah War, 1857-1858,” as the definitive study of murders carried out by Latter-day Saint gunmen Porter Rockwell and Bill Hickman.

As a respected and beloved public historian and contributor to the historical community for five decades, Dave Bigler was a Fellow and Honorary Life Member, Utah State Historical Society; a former director, Utah Board of State History; a founder and long-time president of Utah Westerners; and president of the Oregon-California Trails Association, 1993 to 1995.

“David’s friendship, gracious generosity, and good nature seemed unending. He enriched my life in many ways, smoothing the rough patches and lifting up the good works of even those with whom he disagreed,” wrote publisher Robert A. Clark. “Vaya con Dios.”

—Will Bagley





Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith, ed., University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 1990; paperback edition, Utah State University Press, Logan, 1996.

Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896, The Arthur H. Clark Co., Spokane, Wash., 1998; paperback edition, Utah State University Press, Logan, 1998.


A Winter with the Mormons: The 1852 Letters of Jotham Goodell, ed., The Tanner Trust Fund, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, 2001.


Fort Limhi: The Mormon Adventure in Oregon Territory, 1855-1858, The Arthur H. Clark Co., Spokane, Wash., 2003; paperback edition, Utah State University Press, Logan, 2003.


Confessions of a Revisionist Historian: David L. Bigler on the Mormons and the West. Ed. by Will Bagley, with an appreciation by Polly Aird. Volume XVI of Utah, the Mormons, and the West Series. Salt Lake City, Utah: Tanner Trust Fund and the Marriott Library, 2015.


Army of Israel: Mormon Battalion Narratives, ed., with Will Bagley, The Arthur H. Clark Co., Spokane, Wash., 2000; paperback edition, Utah State University Press, Logan, 2000.


Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, ed., with Will Bagley; The Arthur H. Clark Co., Norman, Okla., 2008.


The Mormon Rebellion, America’s First Civil War, 1857-1858, ed., with Will Bagley, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Okla., 2011.







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