By Emily Olsen, Jan. 18, 2023, Sanpete Messenger
Sanpete County, Utah
A former Manti High School English teacher pursued a special project each year with her students during the 1970s and 1980s.
Dixie Dorius Bond Evans assigned students, as part of a writing skills exercise, to record the oral history of a member of their community, such as a friend or family member. They were also required to transcribe a written copy of the history “word-for-word how they talked,” Evans said.
“Oral history writing teaches the student to interview, transcribe, write, edit, and publish his or her material,” Evans writes in an index of the oral histories. “The resulting manuscript preserves in written form a capsule portion of a person’s life and thoughts, while retaining and recording the flavor and speech patterns of a geographic area.”
Today Evans, now 82, and still an active educator at the Northridge Learning Center/Dorius Academy, holds the copyright of the transcripts of 300 such oral histories in 16 volumes that she collected from students over 12 years, a project called Generations Sanpete. The histories are spoken in first-person by each subject about their early memories of living in Manti, Ephraim, and other Sanpete communities.
As a Sanpete native with Mormon pioneer ties and a mother of three children, Evans is invested in preserving and remembering the history of the community.
“These histories contain valuable experiences. The experiences and hardships these people endured are the bedrock of the communities that we enjoy today,” she said.
Preserving the culture of rural Utah is also important for urban areas of the state. “Rural settlers, those dedicated generations who colonized areas such as Sanpete County, form a broad and stable base, allowing the more fluid, urban groups their instability,” she explains.
Sanpete County’s rural nature provides an historical and literary snapshot into Utah’s past. “Writers, historians, and folklorists see rural Utah, and particularly Sanpete County, as an extremely rich area for discovering and recording cultural history,” Evans writes. “Through oral history, a person’s past is effectively changed into his written history, and gives the subject a community identification as important as a sense of nationalism.”
Although Evans cautions readers that these oral histories capture memories, opinions and observations which may or may not be historically accurate, the collection provides context and depth that is often absent from a basic factual history.
“A mixture of memories, opinions and facts offer a better portrait of our cultural understanding,” she writes. “To the quiet, invisible, hardworking, country people then, I dedicate these articles and hope they will use it as a reference source for their genealogy work, for their reading enjoyment, and for their search for meaning and understanding in their lives.”
In each month during 2023, the Sanpete Messenger will feature an oral history from the Generations Sanpete project.
To order individual transcripts of oral histories collected in the Generations Sanpete project, contact Dixie D. Evans, at (801) 390-9777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of names.