Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Against the Grain:Memoirs of a Western Historian


Associated Press, Bob Mims
For most of his 82 years, Brigham D. Madsen has mined historical truth, chipping away layers of legend to unearth the real, often raw, always compelling stories of the frontier's Indians, soldiers, explorers, and settlers.

But that truth, Madsen will tell you, has proven a harsh muse. Fourteen books, numerous articles, and scholarly awards are the milestones of an intellectual and spiritual journey through the region's past that have brought him both pleasure and pain.

Along the way, Madsen unearthed one of the worst butcheries of Indians in the Old West; exposed as fable a long-accepted account of an emigrant massacre; and concluded that the Mormon faith he held dear was founded on fictional, if inspirational, scripture.

"That's the historian's burden," he said. "You ask yourself, 'What are going to be the results of this?' . . . But you have to give the truth as you see it.

"If the evidence says such and such happened, then I'm going to tell it the way it is," he said. "History can be dangerous."

If so, Madsen has proven well-suited for the job. Even in his ninth decade, he remains a rough-hewn bear of a man, as comfortable with his past as a construction worker as he is as a renowned University of Utah emeritus professor of history.

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