Goodbye, Brig

Brigham D. MadsenBrigham D. Madsen was one of the most accomplished and approachable Mormon historians of his generation. He died on Christmas Eve at 96 years of age.

He had been a professor at Brigham Young University, a vice president of the University of Utah, and was the author of eleven books, three of which were published by Signature. As a young man, he served both an LDS mission and a stint with the Peace Corps.

His most recognized accomplishment was to unravel the mystery of the 1862 U.S. Cavalry raid on a Shoshone camp at the Bear River in Idaho. Facing resistance at every turn, he painstakingly piecing together evidence that this heroic battle, as it had been portrayed, was in fact a massacre of men, women, and children.

He received awards for his major works from the John Whitmer Historical Association, Mormon History Association, Utah Historical Society, and Westerners International. He was also honored by the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters for Distinguished Service and the University of Utah as Distinguished Teacher of the Year.

“Some people are able to compartmentalize logic and reason from supernatural and spiritual beliefs,” he wrote. “I do not have that facility. I do not criticize the compartmentalizers. I, however, cannot surrender my independence and rationality to such a process but must follow the road where reason and evidence take me.”

In many ways, Brig was larger than life. Tall and physically able, he was an intellectual and moral giant as well. Yet he interacted with the staff at Signature Books as if we were colleagues. He treated students and the general public with the same respect. Those curious about the details of his interesting life may want to consult his autobiography, Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Western Historian. See also the thoughtful tribute by Peggy Fletcher Stack in the Salt Lake Tribune.