Will Bagley

Will Bagley

Will Bagley is a Utah historian. He specializes in early pioneer History of Utah and of the West. He was born in Salt Lake City in 1950.

Bagley was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but has publicly stated that he "never believed the theology since [he] was old enough to think about it.


Bagley attended Brigham Young University in 1967-68, and then he transferred to University of California at Santa Cruz, where he obtained his B.A. in History in 1971. While at UCSC he received the California State Scholar and President’s Scholar awards. He considers an integral part of his education a trip he took in 1969, on a homemade raft of logs and barrels, on the Mississippi River from Illinois to New Orleans. After graduation he spent three years in North Carolina studying the local Bluegrass music and culture, and playing in a band.


Bagley has published extensively over the years and is still active. He is the author of books and of many articles and reviews in professional journals, such as the Western Historical Quarterly, Utah Historical Quarterly, Overland Journal, The Journal of Mormon History, and Montana The Magazine of Western History. His column, History Matters, appeared every Sunday for four years (2000-2004) in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Editorial work

He served as editor of News from the Plains, the newsletter of the Oregon-California Trails Association, for two years.

Continuing its hundred-year tradition of letting the people of the West recount their own history, in 1997 the Arthur H. Clark Company launched a new historical series, KINGDOM IN THE WEST: The Mormons and the American Frontier. Bagley is editor of this projected 15-volume series. . The series presents essential source documents that look at the West through Mormon eyes and the Mormons through Western eyes. Published volumes describe the Mexican War, the conquest of California and the gold rush, the Brigham Young pioneer party of 1847, European visitors to “Zion,” and Mormon polygamy. Nine volumes have appeared, most recently Michael W. Homer’s On the Way to Somewhere Else: European Sojourners in the Mormon West and B. Carmon Hardy’s Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy, Its Origin, Practice, and Demise.


As a member of the Utah Speakers Bureau, Will Bagley has made dozens of presentations throughout the state. He has given academic papers at the annual conventions of the Western History Association, the Mormon History Association, Sunstone Magazine, the Oregon-California Trails Association, the Communal Studies Association, and the Center for Studies on New Religions. He participated in Claremont McKenna College’s “The American West” lecture series. Mr. Bagley was a Research Associate at Yale University’s Beinecke Library in 2000 and has served as a historical consultant for National Geographic magazine, the National Park Service, the Wyoming State Historical Preservation Office, the Nevada Humanities Council, and for more than a dozen documentary films that have appeared on A&E Television, the History Channel, and PBS. He has worked on historical interpretive design for the Bureau of Land Management.


Will Bagley is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Utah Rivers Council, Westerners International, and the Oregon-California Trails Association. He currently serves on the boards of the Friends of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah and the Utah Westerners. He established The Prairie Dog Press in 1991 to publish A Road from El Dorado. The press eventually expanded into a consulting business that has handled book design and typesetting, publishing, historical research, and contract writing. The press has worked with the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Marriott Library, the History Channel, and PBS.


  • 1991 Evans Manuscript Prize.
  • Wagon Award 1993. Highest award for service to the Utah Crossroads Chapter of the Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA).
  • Stephen F. Christensen Award for Best Documentary from the Mormon History Association for 1997.
  • 1997 Best Article of the Year from the Mormon History Association.
  • 1998 T. Edgar Lyon Award for Best Article of the Year in Mormon History from the Mormon History Association.
  • 1998 First Place, Non-Fiction Book, and Publication Prize, Utah Arts Council Original Writing Competition.
  • 1999 National Certificate of Appreciation for special efforts in historic preservation, Oregon-California Trails Association.
  • 2001 Utah Military History Award from Utah State Historical Society.
  • 2002 For the book Blood of the Prophets. Utah Arts Council’s Original Writing Competition Publication Prize, the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award, the Denver Public Library’s Caroline Bancroft History Prize, Westerners International’s Best Book Award, the John Whitmer Historical Association’s Smith-Petit Best Book Award, and the Western History Association’s John W. Caughey Prize for the year’s most distinguished book on the history of the American West.

List of books by Will Bagley

  • Editor, A Road from El Dorado: The 1848 Trail Journal of Ephraim Green (Salt Lake City: The Prairie Dog Press, 1991).
  • Editor, Frontiersman: Abner Blackburn’s Narrative (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992).
  • Roderic Korns and Dale L. Morgan, eds., West from Fort Bridger: The Pioneering of Immigrant Trails across Utah, 1846–1850, revised and updated by Will Bagley and Harold Schindler (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1994).
  • Pat Bagley and Will Bagley, This is the Place: A Crossroads of Utah’s Past (Carson City, Nevada: Buckaroo Books, 1996). A children’s book exploring Utah history.
  • Bagley, Will, Scoundrel's Tale: The Samuel Brannan Papers (Arthur H. Clark Company, February 1999)
  • Bagley, Will, ed. “A Bright, Rising Star”: A Brief Life of James Ferguson, Sergeant Major, Mormon Battalion; Adjutant General, Nauvoo Legion. Spokane, Washington: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 2000.
  • Bagley, Will. Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

Blood of the Prophets

Bagley wrote the book Blood of the Prophets, which deals with the Mountain Meadows massacre. Blood of the Prophets is the winner of the following awards:

  • Spur Award, Western Writers of America
  • Caughey Book Prize, Western History Association
  • Caroline Bancroft History Prize, Denver Public Library
  • Co-Founders Best Book Award, Westerners International.
  • 2003 Best Book Award, John Whitmer Historical Association

Brigham D. Madsen, a fellow Utah historian, wrote: “While the word ‘definitive’ is often overused, this account of the killings merits that distinction. Bagley’s book ranks as a Mormon historical classic.”, Western Historical Quarterly.

The New York Review of Books praised the work as “an exhaustive, meticulously documented, highly readable history that captures the events and atmosphere that gave rise to the massacre, as well as its long, tortuous aftermath. Bagley has taken great care in negotiating the minefield presented by what remains of the historical record.”

FARMS (a Mormon studies institute at Brigham Young University) criticized Bagley's conclusion in the book that Brigham Young ordered the massacre.

Work in progress

Bagley is working on books about Mormon-Indian relations, a multi-volume history of the Oregon-California Trail, and a biography of Judge Wilson McCarthy, president of the D&RGW Railroad.



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