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North to Alaska: Edward G. Cannon and Kedzie N. Winnie

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 09, 2009

“The first known baptism in Alaska occurred 25 June 1902, when Edward G. Cannon baptized K. N. Winnie in the Bering Sea near Nome.”

This statement is quoted or paraphrased in a number of histories of the Church in Alaska, sometimes with a comment about Elder Cannon’s tabernacle-on-wheels – oh, how I wish I had a photograph of that! – but without any more detail about these two remarkable men. While a great deal remains to be uncovered about their stories, here is more than you have probably ever heard before:


Edward Guise Cannon was born on February 4, 1825, in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He was a veteran of the Mexican War of 1846. He was a Mason. He was a physician, although whether he was professionally trained I do not know. He married Barbara Mook of Grove, New York; how long she lived, or whether they had any children, I do not know. He was baptized in 1871 and sealed to his deceased wife in the Endowment House in 1873 – but again, how he learned of the Church, whether he was first baptized and then came to Utah, or was for some reason already visiting Utah when he learned of the gospel, I do not know.

I do know that he stayed in Utah, and practiced medicine in Ogden and Brigham City, and when he was an old man – past 75 years of age – he somehow took a notion to go to Alaska to pan for gold in one of the gold rushes at the end of the 19th century. He spent a year in the neighborhood of Nome, Alaska, in 1900 or 1901, staking out claims and getting a feel for the country, then returned to Ogden for a season to prepare for moving permanently to Alaska. “There are plenty of opportunities yet open to industrious, energetic men in the vicinity of Cape Nome,” he told the people of Ogden. “Trouble with hundreds is that they go to Alaska expecting to pick up a fortune without effort or labor and when they fail, they return with discouraging reports of the country.” Nome, he said, was far from a primitive wilderness – they had electric lights there, and a telephone system that was better than that of Salt Lake City.

Another major gap in my knowledge of Dr. Cannon’s story is whether, when he returned to Nome in the spring of 1902, he carried with him any formal commission as a Latter-day Saint missionary, or whether as a Latter-day Saint he simply couldn’t help himself, and preached the gospel because he believed it. Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson described Dr. Cannon as “president of the scattered Saints residing on the Seaward peninsula” at the time of his death. In any case, preach he did, and almost as soon as he returned to Alaska he baptized Kedzie Noble Winnie in what must have been the very cold waters of the Bering Sea.

K.N. Winnie was a young man, born July 15, 1874 in Walton, New York. I assume he was in Alaska on a young man’s adventure. Whatever his intentions in going to Alaska, he could hardly have foreseen how he would spend the next eight years of his life, as the missionary companion and devoted friend of Dr. Cannon.

One of their first joint endeavors was the operation of a school for Eskimos, conducted in 1903-04, which is believed to have been the first such organized school for the natives of Nome. In the accompanying picture, Dr. Cannon is the bearded man at the right edge of the group; Elder Winnie is the tall man standing in back. Elder Winnie may have had a particular interest in the native Alaskans; he wrote and sent to the Improvement Era (which apparently did not publish it) an illustrated paper on “the Eskimo, his Origin and Destiny,” written “with the view of doing good by directing the minds of the latter-day Saints throughout the world toward the Eskimo of the north country.”

The two preached the gospel on the streets of Nome and in surrounding settlements. They built Dr. Cannon’s mysterious portable “tabernacle” – Was it simply a wagon in which they traveled? Did it open to display some sort of church-like exhibit? Could it possibly have been large enough for the missionaries to meet inside with an investigator or two? I simply have no clue.

The pair subscribed to the Liahona: The Elders Journal, to which Elder Winnie wrote in 1908:

Nome, July 17

I have received my paper quite regularly and am confirmed daily in the faith by the testimonies of its pages. I know the gospel is true. I was baptized in the Behring Sea, in June, 1902. I knew Joseph Smith was a messenger sent from God before obeying the gospel. I feel the influence of the Spirit of the Lord in my life daily, making me a better man.

K.N. Winnie

While in Nome, Dr. Cannon’s home on Front Street (Elder Winnie apparently lived elsewhere) served as headquarters for the church. Its walls were decorated with mottoes: “Truth is eternal,” “The works of God continue,” “Improvement and progression have one eternal round,” “Be temperate in all things,” “The glory of God is intelligence,” “No man can be saved in ignorance.” Exactly how much Church activity existed in Nome is another unknown – there must have been a few other members, or a significant amount of investigator interest, because Elder Winnie reports holding meetings in the winter of 1908-09 for both whites and Eskimos (separate meetings, evidently), and the two men sought a permanent meeting place outside of Dr. Cannon’s home, a goal met by 1910, when Elder Winnie replied to “a scurrilous article on Prest. Brigham Young” which had appeared in Nome’s newspaper, The Daily Gold Digger,:

The only reason why any attention is given to a story of this character is that the warning voice may be sent out to the honest in heart of this place to beware of ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing,’ to beware of ‘them that loveth and maketh a lie.’ The glory of God is intelligence. Prejudice is the result of ignorance, of which this story is a sample, and is very misleading to say the least, from beginning to end and is of the unreliable, imported, manufactured kind.

A case where the facts (which could have been easily obtained) have been so garbled and twisted as to poison the minds of the people against honestly investigating for themselves ‘Mormonism, its Origin and Destiny.’ To the well informed man or woman, to those who have traveled, to those who know the Mormon people (not from a car window) dealt with them, lived with them, know that Joseph Smith was no mystic or charlatan, and that Brigham young was no soldier of fortune or adventurer. Truth is mighty and will prevail.

The Latter-day Saints are here to do all the good they can, and as has been stated before in the Nome papers are permanently located in their new meeting house on Lane’s Way near Fourth street, where a goodly supply of church literature may be obtained for the asking.

Edward Guise Cannon died in Nome in November 1910, two or three months shy of his 86th birthday.

Elder Winnie moved to Utah, where by 1913 he is described in one source as “of Salt Lake City.” On June 21, 1916, he married Sarah Witney, a girl from New Zealand, in the Salt Lake Temple. He was endowed the same day – he had served as a missionary for eight years on the strength of his baptism and his priesthood ordination, without benefit of temple blessings. He and Sarah lived in Goshen and Springville, Utah County, where they raised a family of at least four daughters and three sons, some of whom may still be living.

Kedzie Noble Winnie died in Payson on February 8, 1954, and is buried in Springville.



18 Comments »

  1. Ardis, thank you. I just returned from a road trip up to Alaska on my first visit to the state. Your article is well timed, and stimulates my imagination all the more after having visited there. While I was there, I briefly perused a history of the Anchorage saints, but I didn’t see any information quite like this.

    Comment by mpb — June 9, 2009 @ 9:37 am

  2. Did Brother Jenson get the name of the peninsula wrong, or is it some blasted spell-checker that never knew or has long forgotten William H. Seward, who as Secretary of State arranged the acquisition of Alaska from the Russians?

    Comment by Mark B. — June 9, 2009 @ 11:03 am

  3. Thanks for your enthusiasm, mpb. I learned from a missionary companion who insisted on visiting the tourist bureau on the afternoon of every transfer day that threw her into a new city, so that she could learn something about the new place to make her feel at home. If you make a second trip to Alaska, take Elders Cannon and Winnie along in your memory. It may be that no permanent local organization grew out of their efforts so that they are unknown in the region today … but they were there.

    Jenson got it wrong. You’re right, Mark, it should be Seward.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 9, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  4. Wonderful!

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 9, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  5. Back in my first year at college, the bishop of the student ward told about a missionary who left from the ward who was disappointed to receive his mission call to Alaska, because his patriarchal blessing said that he would preach the gospel in foreign lands. The bishop said that he assured the young man that despite being part of the United States, Alaska was very much a foreign land.

    Thank you for this interesting post — fascinating to hear about the church in all of these places so far distant from the center of the church in Utah.

    Comment by Researcher — June 9, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

  6. Thanks.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — June 9, 2009 @ 2:01 pm

  7. He married Barbara Mook of Grove, New York; how long she lived, or whether they had any children, I do not know. He was baptized in 1871 and sealed to his deceased wife in the Endowment House in 1873.

    I located the family (I think) on the 1870 census in De Soto, Nebraska. Edward (listed as a farmer) and Barbara had three younger individuals living with them, although I had trouble with some of the names.

    [Rulee?] Lucy (22) (b. Mich.) (at home)
    [Cremean?] George (11) (b. Wisc.) (at school)
    Cannon[?] Lilly (2) (b. Neb.)

    I’m confused by the 1873 sealing. The 1880 census in Wanship, Utah, lists an Ewd G. (52, Doctor, b. Kentucky) and Barbary[?] E. (50, b. New York) Cannon living with Lillie M. (11, b. Nebraska).

    Comment by Justin — June 10, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  8. Bravo, Justin! I could be — and evidently am — wrong about Barbara having been deceased by 1873; my only source was a secondary one. The family certainly moved around. I’ll see what I can do to track these presumed family members.

    Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 10, 2009 @ 9:06 am

  9. A few pieces of worthless trivia I feel compelled to add:

    Regarding separate services: Alaska did have institutional segregation. “No Dogs or Natives” was a common sign in restaurant windows up through WWII, at least.

    #3 Don’t feel bad about the peninsula being named wrong. Nome got it’s name from a cartographer who wrote ‘Cape Name?’ off the point, and when gold was discovered at the place, the scrawl was interpreted as “Cape Nome.”

    #5: U.S. soldiers stationed in Alaska get “foreign duty” pay added to their regular stipend.

    What’s up with the phrase “..his origin and destiny” Both Cannon and Winnie use it in their quotes. Is is a play on the name of J.F. Smith’s book?

    Comment by Clark — June 10, 2009 @ 11:29 am

  10. According to “A Gathering of Saints in Alaska” by Jasper and Basongame (p.9) “They worked together proselytizing [sic] the gold settlements with their ‘chapel on wheels’ a converted wagon which served as a mobile meetinghouse.” No original source is cited.

    The book also states that there has been a Mormon presence in Nome since the gold rush but “only as the members sought each other out” (p.114) Regular meetings began in the late 1960s, and a formal branch organized Nov. 20, 1978.

    Comment by Clark — June 10, 2009 @ 11:42 am

  11. Thanks for this, Clark. I think their description of the tabernacle is probably as much a guess as mine all were. As for the Mormon presence, I wish I could lay my hands on a couple of quotations I have from missionaries of the ’40s or ’50s who talk about how many Mormons they were finding as they traveled around, who would acknowledge their membership privately but didn’t want to have anything to do with organizing formal meetings. I guess that fits in very well with your second paragraph.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 10, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  12. This has been a very interesting post, both the original story from Ardis and the comments. Thank you all.

    Comment by Maurine — June 10, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

  13. Ardis,
    Drawing in part from missionary journals I have written a piece about the early days of the Anchorage, Alaska Branch ( in 1941 my Dad, Joseph Tippets, was made the first branch president). let me know a best way and I will send the article to you.
    I was born in Anchorage in January of that same year. John Tippets

    Comment by John Tippets — August 27, 2009 @ 6:43 am

  14. John, if you don’t mind sharing with more than Ardis, and your history extends into the ’50s, I’d be very interested in looking at it. My wife’s family moved to Anchorage in ’56, and still live there today.

    Comment by Clark — August 27, 2009 @ 8:18 am

  15. Kedzie Nobel Winnie is my grandfather. Is there any way to get copies of the phoooootos in this blog.
    Thanks Doug

    Comment by Doug Wood — January 10, 2012 @ 8:19 am

  16. Sure, Doug, I’ll be glad to send them to the address you’ve left with your comment. It will be sometime this afternoon before I can do it, but they’ll come.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2012 @ 8:48 am

  17. Ace Parshall, Mormon Detective, strikes again!

    Comment by bfwebster — January 24, 2014 @ 10:01 am

  18. “A Gathering of Saints in Alaska” is not the most reliable book for Alaskan history of the Church. Alas, it’s what we have and all we’re likely to get. It is, however, mostly right, as far as it goes.

    It’s main problem was it tended to rely on the memories of only certain people, rather than digging up original documents and doing archival research. Thus, local ward/branch politics and self-centered recollection dominate what gets emphasized or even reported.

    Comment by Ivan Wolfe — January 24, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

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