Register of the LaVell Sorenson Johnson Papers,

Table of Contents

Collection Overview

Collection Inventory+/-

Biographical Note/Historical Note

Content Description

Collection Use

Administrative Information

Collection Overview +/-

Title: LaVell Sorenson Johnson Papers, 1934-1980
Dates: 1934-1980 (inclusive)
Collection Number: Mss B 11
Summary: Correspondence, published and unpublished materials including biographies of early Millard County residents. The collection emphasizes the importance of water in the social and economic development of Delta, McCormick, and other towns born of the boosterism of the early 1900s.
Repository: Utah State Historical Society

Collection Inventory +/-

Box Folder Contents
box , folder : Correspondence
box 1, folder 1 : Correspondence
box , folder : County Histories
box 1, folder 2 : Brooks, Juanita, "Deseret Telegraph"
box 1, folder 3 : Cotterell, Fred, "Water Rights in West Millard County"
box 1, folder 4 : Crafts, Dudley, Speech given in water development meeting, 15 Mar 1965
box 1, folder 5 : Daughters of Utah Pioneers, "Gunnison Massacre"
box 1, folder 6 : Johnson, LaVell, "A Piece of God's Green Earth For Me"
box 1, folder 7 : Johnson, LaVell, "Carey Act Country"
box 1, folder 8 : Johnson, LaVell, "Deseret Telegraph and Telephone"
box 1, folder 9 : Johnson, LaVell, "Dominguez-Escalante Expedition" Millard County Chronicle
box 1, folder 10 : Johnson, LaVell, "Looking Over My Shoulder"
box 1, folder 11 : Johnson, LaVell, "The Last Homesteaders"
box 1, folder 12 : Johnson, LaVell, "My Country-Millard County"
box 1, folder 13 : Johnson, LaVell, "The Watermaster's Stick" Utah Historical Quarterly, 1974
box 1, folder 14 : Johnson, LaVell, Water use in Millard County
box 1, folder 14 1: "West Millard Settlements Conquer Lower Sevier River"
box 1, folder 14 2: "Water" Milestones of Millard
box 1, folder 14 3: "First Explorers (Mormon) and First Dam on Sevier River in West Millard County"
box 1, folder 15 : Union Pacific Railroad, "Immigration to the Western United States"
box , folder : Town Histories (Alphabetical)
box , folder : Callao, Utah
box 1, folder 16 : Murbarger, Nell, "100 Miles From a Dime Store" Salt Lake Tribune, 1956
box , folder : Delta, Utah
box 1, folder 17 : Baker, Gertrude Kendall, "Cross Currents A Family Chronicle"
box 1, folder 18 : Barben, Henrietta Watkins
box 1, folder 18 1: History of Barben Family while living in Burtner (Delta) from 1909 to 1970
box 1, folder 18 2: Discusses the problems of building and maintaining the Burtner Dam and the challenges of farming in Burtner
box 1, folder 18 3: Correspondence dealing with family genealogies
box 1, folder 19 : Billings, Alonzo
box 1, folder 19 1: History of early Delta, ca. 1910
box 1, folder 19 2: Irrigation in early Delta and Deseret
box 1, folder 19 3: Melville Irrigation Company
box 1, folder 20 : Cook, Emily Glenna
box 1, folder 20 1: Correspondence between Emily Cook and Riding Family, May-June 1910
box 1, folder 20 2: Notes on interview with Mrs. Cook, 13 June 1970
box 1, folder 21 : Heise, Frank H.
box 1, folder 21 1: Frank Heise autobiography (holograph and typescript)
box 1, folder 21 2: Family move to Delta in 1912
box 1, folder 21 3: Correspondence discussing the stores in Delta, 1912, Dr. Elizabeth Tracy, early land development and land companies, Oasis Land and Development Company and Delta Land and Water Company
box 1, folder 22 : Burtner Dam
box 1, folder 23 : Johnson, LaVell, "Delta Sugar Factory"
box 1, folder 24 : Johnson, LaVell, "History of the Jolly Stitchers Club"
box 1, folder 25 : Johnson, LaVell, "History of the Jolly Stitchers Club"
box 1, folder 26 : Johnson, LaVell, "Jolly Stitchers Club"
box 1, folder 27 : Jolly Stitcher Club Bylaws
box 2, folder 1 : King, Ralph E., Construction History of Woodrow Hall (Jolly Stitchers Club)
box 2, folder 2 : McCullough, Henry Judson
box 2, folder 3 : Maxfield, Hiett Elijah (Bishop)
box 2, folder 4 : Mercer, Joseph D.
box 2, folder 5 : Nutsch, Fred H.
box 2, folder 6 : Oppenheimer, Wilford J. and Mildred Oppenheimer, Charles, Joseph and Thomas Verda
box 2, folder 7 : Correspondence between William Hale Riding and Ann Emily Cheeseman, ca. 1910
box 2, folder 8 : Shields, Romulus and Cosie
box 2, folder 9 : Steele, John Edward
box 2, folder 10 : Tracy, Elizabeth R. Cahoon, M.D.
box 2, folder 11 : Workman, M. H., "Delta Celebrates 50th Golden Jubilee"
box , folder : Deseret, Utah
box 2, folder 12 : Stephensen, Bruce and Hattie, "The Goats"
box , folder : Ibapah, Utah
box 2, folder 13 : Parrish, Wade (Mrs.), "The Early History of Ibapah, Utah"
box , folder : McCornick, Utah
box 2, folder 14 : Allen, Johnathan, Alexander and Rozilpa Cheney
box 2, folder 15 : Allen, Orin
box 2, folder 16 : Bennett, John
box 2, folder 17 : Brinkerhoff, David A. and Nancy
box 2, folder 18 : Interview with Bunker, Edward Harrison and Ethel Eardley, 11 February 1969
box 2, folder 19 : Cannon, Willard and Spencer Families
box 2, folder 20 : Christensen, Randall and Ida
box 2, folder 21 : Church Organization Officers, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, McCornick, 22 June 1919 to 30 December 1930
box 2, folder 22 : Church, Yvonne Heyborne
box 2, folder 23 : Clark, Carrie
box 2, folder 24 : Clark, Lawrence and Carrie
box 2, folder 25 : Gledhill, Alden and Eva
box 2, folder 26 : Griffiths, Margaret Nielsen
box 2, folder 27 : Hunter, J. Ambrose
box 2, folder 28 : Jefferies, Murray
box 2, folder 29 : Johnson, Evan and Jean
box 2, folder 30 : Johnson, Francis Wells and Eva Stephensen
box 2, folder 31 : Johnson, LaVell, "McCornick Ghost Town"
box 2, folder 32 : Johnson, Oswald, "History of McCornick Water Rights"
box 2, folder 33 : Malouf, Lavon
box 2, folder 34 : Map and location of homes in McCornick
box 2, folder 35 : Stephensen, Bruce and Hattie
box 2, folder 36 : Taylor, Walter Cleon
box , folder : Silver Reef, Utah
box 2, folder 37 : Larsen, Karl Andrew, "Apex Mine and Shem Smelter"
box , folder : Smithfield, Utah
box 2, folder 38 : The History of Smithfield , published by the City of Smithfield, 1927
box , folder : Sugarville, Utah
box 2, folder 39 : "History of Sugarville" (Utah)
box , folder : Sunflower, Utah
box 2, folder 40 : Johnson, LaVell, "Sunflower School"
box , folder : Topaz, Utah
box 2, folder 41 : Johnson, LaVell, "Topaz, Millard County, Japanese Relocation Center,
box , folder : Newspaper clippings
box 2, folder 42 : Miscellaneous newspaper clippings

Biographical Note/Historical Note +/-

LaVell Sorenson Johnson (1906-1987) has been called "the historian of Millard County," and with good reason. Shortly after moving to Delta in 1934, Mrs. Johnson became interested in local history and for almost forty years she talked with the early pioneers who settled in Delta, McCornick and other nearby communities. Her collection of biographical material represents an impressive reservoir of information about the people who built Millard County. In addition to conducting interviews, collecting biographies and donating them to the Utah State Historical Society, Mrs. Johnson also nominated several sites for the National Register of Historic Places and wrote several histories of water use in the county. She was also active in the social affairs of Delta and was responsible for preserving the records of the Jolly Stitchers Club when they were in danger of being lost.

Mrs. Johnson's grandparents, the John P. Sorensons and John T. Barkers, were Mormon converts who settled in St. Charles, Idaho around 1867. St. Charles followed the Mormon village pattern of government, emphasizing the need for community cooperation in the distribution of land and water. In that small Idaho town, the plot of land assigned to each family was usually fairly small and the amount of water available for irrigation was often barely sufficient to meet their needs. The Sorensons and the Barkers, even though they were early settlers in the area, did not have a great deal of land to spare for their growing families. When it came time for their son, Henry, to begin his own family, there was not much that could be spared.

Henry and Mary Sorenson, who were LaVell Johnson's parents, found that all available land in St. Charles had already been appropriated. There were, however, new land developments opening on railroad land grants near Blackhawk, Idaho. The couple moved to Shelley, Idaho, where LaVell was born on 7 Oct 1906. Although they found land and water in relative abundance, the challenges of breaking a new land took their toll on the health of LaVell's father. The dust of incessant winds caused him to develop serious respiratory problems, and the family moved to Logan, Utah so that he could be closer to medical facilities.

The Sorenson family lived in Logan from 1910 to 1912, then purchased a house in Smithfield. LaVell Johnson's autobiography makes it clear that she acquired her belief in the value of community and family during those early childhood years and it became her inspiration when she wrote about the history of Millard County.

After graduating from Smithfield High School LaVell Sorenson attended Brigham Young College in Logan and received her teaching certificate in 1923. For the next four years she taught second grade in the Cache Valley School District. In 1929, she graduated from the Utah State Agricultural College with majors in history and English. While teaching at North Cache High School the next fall, she met Oswald Johnson, her future husband, who was a vocational education teacher. After their marriage in 1930, both applied for admission to graduate school at the University of Ohio.

According to Mrs. Johnson, the couple enjoyed the year they spent in Ohio, but the reality of the Depression forced them to alter their plans. Heavy mortgages, drought and the general malaise of Utah's economy left Oswald Johnson's parents in serious financial trouble. The Johnson family lived in Provo, but their farm was mortgaged to Salt Lake City banks, many of which had also financed farms in Millard County. When Oswald and LaVell Johnson returned to Utah, they found that loans on the farm equipment and the farm itself were seriously in arrears. Since the banks holding those mortgages also had an interest on farms near Delta, they asked if Oswald Johnson would be willing to do contract baling with the small profits being divided between his family and the bank. Johnson agreed and for four years beginning in 1931 he worked in Delta. His wife was forced to turn her attention from learning and teaching to the demands of housekeeping.

It is apparent, though, that her intellectual curiosity was not dead. When she and her husband first moved to Delta in 1935, they spent a year in the Banque Hotel, where she became acquainted with the old people who used its lobby as a social hall. It was there she became interested in community history and learned about the early history of Delta, McCornick and Sunflower, which are the major topics in her research and writing.

Mrs. Johnson notes in her autobiography that Delta "was a totally different community than we had ever been part of before." She writes that "here we saw, with our own eyes, the ruins of an over-advertised, over-expanded land-boom project." Indeed, the history of Delta is different from the other communities in Millard County. Whereas towns like Deseret and Oasis had been part of Brigham Young's settlement plan, Delta was the child of boosterism. The railroads and land development companies combined their efforts to lure families from other parts of Utah. As a result, the town reflected a heterogenous mixture of non-Mormon and Mormon culture.

The Johnsons purchased their first home in 1936 and four years later they bought their home near Sevier Bend Reservoir. Their struggles to survive the Depression were shared by others in their community but, unlike some, they survived. If the state's financial woes were not enough to make life on the western deserts difficult, the problem of taming the Sevier River was added to their burden.

The Sevier River historically has been a source of heartache to the settlers in Millard County. Flooding in the spring and drought in the summer were constant problems to farmers depending on a consistent source of water for their crops. The answer to the problems lay in the construction of reservoirs that would retain the water in the spring for dispersal during the summer. Since many of the early settlers of Millard County were Mormon, their church adjudicated many of the water disputes before 1900. But as more non-Mormon settlers arrived, water distribution became a matter for the courts to decide. The struggle to find and effectively use water is a major theme that runs through the histories of Millard County communities, and was of great interest to LaVell Johnson.

The social history of Delta also interested her. Although she came from a Mormon background, she did not allow her heritage to limit her investigations to the history of the Mormon Church. Unlike some local Utah histories which tend to ignore non-Mormon contributions, Mrs. Johnson collected the reminiscences of Mormon and non-Mormon alike. Indeed, the relations between the two groups fascinated her. The Jolly Stitchers Club, for example, was a social organization designed to alleviate the loneliness of people isolated by poor communications and unfriendly land. It was to be to the non-Mormon community what the ward was to the Mormons. Soon after the Johnsons moved to Delta, LaVell joined the organization and was instrumental in salvaging its records.

Content Description +/-

The LaVell Johnson Papers consist of one linear foot of material primarily devoted to the history of several communities in Millard County. The collection emphasizes the importance of water in the social and economic development of Delta, McCormick, and other towns born of the boosterism of the early 1900s. They consist of articles and compilations of notes, some of which were actually published in scholarly or popular magazines and papers. There is also considerable correspondence between Mrs. Johnson and various staff members of the Utah State Historical Society, primarily regarding sources and publication of her writings.

The collection is arranged in two basic sections: county and town histories. Each section is arranged alphabetically by community or author. To aid the researcher interested in more general topics or in specific people, the inventory is followed by a general subject index and a name index.

Collection Use +/-

Restrictions on Access:

Restrictions on Access

Administrative Information +/-



Johnson, LaVell Sorenson, 1906-1987.




Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008


2 boxes (1 linear ft.)

Language of the Finding Aid:

Finding aid written in Englishin Latin script

EAD Creation Date: