Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
Ernest Hungate Burgess
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
Ernest Hungate Burgess was born on 3 January 1884 in Pine Valley, Washington County, Utah, to George Martin Burgess and Rhoda Anna Dykes. He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) on 16 February 1892. As a youth he excelled in his studies and graduated with honors from the local public school system. In 1901 the family relocated to Lund, Nevada, but Ernest enrolled at the University of Utah and moved to Salt Lake City.
On 27 June 1904 Ernest received a call to serve as missionary in the Swiss-German Mission of the LDS Church. After arriving on 1 November 1904 he spent two months in Switzerland, learning the German language and culture. He was then transferred to northern Germany and labored in Bremen, but spent much of his time there evading the local police. The LDS missionaries at that time were not allowed by the German government to preach and therefore took care not to be found engaging in this illegal activity. As Ernest remarked, “a policeman visits our Sunday afternoon meetings, and of course we Elders dare not preach but we hold a Bible class Wednesday evenings and a meeting every Sunday evening which the police do not know anything about.”1 On 7 September 1905 he was moved to Hanover but was forced to leave that city in April 1902 due to police pressure.
Despite the government persecution, Ernest was able to convert several people to the gospel, baptizing them into the Church. He disclosed his secret to success in his journal: “I hope to learn by experience and depend more upon the Lord than upon my own powers.”2 On 23 June 1906 Ernest became president of the Berlin Conference an assignment to which he devoted his entire attention. As he remarked soon after, “I am thankful to the Lord that He has blessed us here with the spirit of the Gospel, and pray that He will continue to bless our humble efforts.”3 In addition to building a new meeting hall, Ernest succeeded in growing the branch of the church and increasing the faith of its members. On 1 September 1907 Ernest was released from his missionary duties; he arrived home on 2 November 1907
After his mission Ernest resumed his studies and entered law school at the University of Utah. On 3 June 1908 he married Donna Viola Miles of Salt Lake City, whom he met at the University before his mission; they subsequently enjoyed twenty-three years of life together during which time seven children were born. Soon after their wedding Ernest wrote, “Donna is good to me and I am realizing more all the time that she is a noble woman.”4 After graduating from law school, Ernest relocated to Roosevelt, Duchesne County, Utah, where he worked as principle of the Roosevelt District School and as a real estate agent before becoming county attorney and freelance lawyer. Ecclesiastically he served as clerk of the Duchesne Stake for two years and bishop of the Roosevelt 1st Ward for five years. In 1929 he moved his family to Cedar City, Iron County, Utah, where he would remain for the rest of his life.
In Cedar City Ernest obtained the position of county attorney; he also served as secretary of the Cedar City Chamber of Commerce. Of his law practice his colleagues on the bar remarked, “Ernest stood high in the ranks of attorneys of this state both from a moral as well as a professional viewpoint.”5 In the church he was called to the Parowan Stake Sunday School Board, where he displayed his “strong [beliefs] in the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”6 But tragedy struck the Burgess home on Christmas morning, 1931, when Ernest suddenly collapsed from a heart attack while opening presents with his children. The entire community of Cedar City mourned his passing, and a cousin at his funeral declared that he had always been “honest, energetic, clean in soul and body, and an ideal father.”7
1 Ernest Hungate Burgess, “Diary, 1905-1959,” October 1905. MSS SC 2333, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
2 Ibid., 7 August 1906.
3 Ibid., 17 July 1906.
4 Ibid., 12 June 1908.
5 Iron County Record, “Sudden Death of Ernest H. Burgess Saddens Citizens.” 31 December 1931.
Ancestry World Tree Project. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 20 march 2004 available from http://www.ancestry.com/trees/awt/main.htm
Burgess, Ernest Hungate. “Diary, 1905–1959.” MSS SC 2333, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
________. Private Journal of Ernest Hungate Burgess and Related Family History 1905–1959. Edited by Miles Burgess. n.p., 1984.
Esshom, Frank. Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1966.
Iron County Record. “Sudden Death of Ernest H. Burgess Saddens Citizens.” 31 December 1931.
Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Publishing Co., 1941.
________. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 1. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Co., 1901–1934.