Pioneer-era uniforms are ‘a very rare find,’ offering glimpse into story of Erastus Snow, George Woodward

ST. GEORGE — A unique piece of local pioneer and Latter-day Saint history was recently discovered by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and is now on permanent display at the McQuarrie Memorial Museum in St. George.

Teresa Orton, director of the McQuarrie Memorial Museum, shows off the museum’s newest display – military jackets, two of which were worn by Latter-day Saint apostle Erastus Snow, St. George, Utah, July 23, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Displayed in a glass case at the pioneer museum are three military uniforms from the mid-1800s. Two were owned and worn by Latter-day Saint apostle and southwest Utah colonizer Erastus Snow, while the third is believed to have been worn by southwest Utah settler George Woodward.

Teresa Orton, director of the McQuarrie Memorial Museum, told St. George News the uniforms were likely donated to the museum in the 1970s and were “given to us by the great grandson of Erastus Snow, Harold Snow, without any detail.”

“These were just some uniforms that we knew he (Erastus Snow) owned and wore.”

Details surrounding what turned into a unique find didn’t come to light until the local chapter of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers started a project involving a “garment conservationist.” This individual was tasked with looking at the collection of pioneer-era clothing at the museum and determining the general date when the clothes were made, how they were crafted and other details.

“When she took a look at these two uniforms, she became overwhelmed and so exited and started doing research to find out more about them,” Orton said of the two uniforms donated by Snow’s great grandson.

The uniform that caused the most excitement is positioned in the middle of the display: a dense wool military jacket with a velvet collar and two rows of unique buttons running from the collar to the mid-section. Though a dark-green in color, Orton said it was originally painted black, and that flaking paint can be seen on the collar.

The Nauvoo Legion Life Guard button marking the unique nature of the military jacket once worn by Erastus Snow, St. George, Utah, July 23, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

After consulting with some historians with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others, Orton said it was determined Snow wore the uniform while a part of the Nauvoo Legion when the bulk of the LDS church was still situated in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s. Moreover, the buttons on the jacket lend to it being a one-of-a-kind find for the museum.

“They have the words ‘life guard,’” Orton said, “so it’s Nauvoo Legion life guard with a beehive emblem on it”

Life guards in the Nauvoo Legion served as bodyguards to church founder and leader, Joseph Smith; his brother Hyman Smith; and Joseph Smith’s eventual successor, Brigham Young, while in Nauvoo. They also served as law enforcement and local militia.

“We believe Erastus Snow was an officer or enlisted in the Nauvoo Legion Life Guard,” Orton said, adding, “When we found out about it, we were very excited, because this makes it a very rare find.”

The uniform was hand-sewn in the 1840s – before the advent of sewing machines, she added.

Pioneer-era military jackets on display at the McQuarrrie Memorial Museum. Two of jackets were worn by Latter-day Saint apostle Erastus Snow, St. George, Utah, July 23, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The Nauvoo Legion was disband before the Latter-day Saints left Nauvoo following the killing of Joseph Smith in June 1844. It would be succeeded by the local militias that would eventually make up the Utah Territorial Militia, also known as the Mormon Militia, during the Indian Wars of the 1860s.

Snow was a brigadier general in the territorial militia and wore a uniform patterned after the Union Army uniform of the time. The museum has a photo of Erastus Snow wearing the brigadier general jacket while addressing troops in 1865.

“This made it special as well,” Orton said.

A saber that was a put of the general’s uniform is also on display at the museum.

The third military jacket, worn by George Woodward, was also hand-sewn and patterned after a Union Army private’s uniform. However, it was altered with homemade epaulets, or shoulder pieces, and had an eagle emblem from a captain’s hat sewn on the front. Orton said it is believed these modifications note a field promotion for Woodward from private to captain.

Woodward, who lived from 1817 to 1903, was a great supporter of education, Orton said. According o the Washington County Historical Society, Woodward had no children, yet served on the school board during the construction of a school that would take his name.

Outside the McQuarrie Memorial Museum, St. George, Utah, July 23, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The Woodward School still stands today on Main Street in St. George as the old Dixie Academy building, which currently houses the St. George Children’s Museum.

“We’ve been so excited about this new and unique discovery,” Orton said of the jackets.

An important historical aspect of the military jacket is that they serve as a look into the practical, more secular aspect of LDS church and pioneer history that involves day-to-day life.

The military jackets can be viewed at the McQuarrie Memorial Museum at 145 N. 100 East in St. George.

Due to the COVID-19, the museum has reduced its operating hours to Monday-Tuesday and Friday-Saturday from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. Admission is free.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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