Keller, George

Biography

photo of  George Keller

George Keller began his life in Manti, Utah as “Joseph Anderson.” In 1880, a Swedish convert to Mormonism, Matilda Burckman Anderson, gave birth to a boy of mixed racial descent.[1] According to Keller family histories, Matilda’s white husband, Carl August Anderson, became so infuriated over the birth and the affair that it revealed that he left Matilda and told her she could not rejoin him if she kept the baby. A young teenage girl, Annie Keller, heard about the plight of the young boy and convinced her mother they should adopt him. So, at 15 months old and against the opposition of Jacob Keller, the oldest boy in the Keller family, but to the pure joy and excitement of the three youngest girls (Louise, Eliza, and Millie), the Hans Jacob and Anna Regina Keller family adopted Joseph Anderson and renamed him “George Keller.”[2]

Family histories, written long after George’s childhood, indicate George was accepted immediately as one of the family and doted on by his loving brothers and sisters. They report that his adopted mother, Anna, loved him very much and George never spoke an unkind word about her.[3] Though adopted by the Kellers, he was not included in family photographs, and his mother’s autobiography and journal only spoke of “one living son,” referring to Jacob, Jr. She failed to mention George at all. George is also absent in the family’s Manti South Ward membership records. The other children, including Daniel and Emma Keller who died in infancy, are listed in the Manti South Ward’s records, but George’s name fails to appear.[4] On the celebration of his 86th birthday, The Ephraim Enterprise reported George was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1888, and even graduated seminary as a teenager, but if true these events are not noted in Manti ward records.[5] In fact, seminary did not begin in Utah until 1912 when George would have been 32 years old making it improbable that he graduated, or even attended.[6]

Later accounts recall that as a child George was smart, attractive, and kind.[7] He had a gift for music and played the organ, harmonica, and guitar. He was the same age as his cousin and friend John Keller, and attended school in Manti during the winters and worked on the Keller farm in the summers.[8] Though family histories indicate he had a “normal childhood,” they also point to the more insidious racism Keller faced as “the only colored boy in Manti.”[9] Dona Peterson, a reporter for The Ephraim Enterprise, described some of his childhood experiences as “not so pleasant” and referenced his biracial status as the reason.[10] Though no specific details are given, context from local newspapers reveals negative regional attitudes about Blackness in Sanpete County in the late nineteenth century. In 1886, when George would have been almost six years old, the Manti-based newspaper The Sentinel published an article titled “Miscegenation Facts.” It argued that any mixing of races contaminated “the white standard.”[11] Clearly George’s biracial status was not a marker of pride in Manti. Additionally, notices in local newspapers reveal that plays and entertainment sometimes featured blackface and minstrel characters. One such play occurred in 1896 when Keller was a teenager. Manti locals held a production of “Millie the Quadroon,” a racist play about a biracial main character that featured several actors in blackface and a slave-driver villain.[12] It is no wonder that a cousin, Albert Daniel Keller, remembered that as a child George would “spend hours at the wash basin with soap and water trying to wash off the black.”[13]

Another hardship in Keller’s young life was the death of his adoptive father in 1892. According to family reports the 12-year-old George Keller was driving a load of hay with his father, Jacob Hans Keller. Jacob slipped and fell to the ground where he hit his head on a pitchfork resulting in his death.[14]

In adulthood George found his footing as a talented sheep and cattle foreman in Wayne County. Newspapers track his travels between Loa, Torrey, Richfield, and Manti, Utah, and detail his time working for a ranch in Emery County.[15] He worked as foreman for various ranchers and businessmen including Emery King, Rasmus L. Madsen, J. Leo Bown, and Cameron Brinkerhoff.[16] Ranchers used the nearby Henry Mountains as a resource in managing their livestock, and the work of rounding up cattle or sheep was long and exhausting.[17] George is not listed in any households in the 1920, 1930, or 1940 censuses in Wayne County, perhaps because of the transient nature of his work. He traveled back and forth between the Henry Mountains and the rural towns of Loa, Torrey, and Teasdale, as he herded sheep and cattle in the deserts and mountains of Southern Utah.

Though an integral part of the Wayne County ranching community, Keller continued to face difficulties as an adult. In the 1920s Ernest Madsen named Keller a co-defendant in a dispute over sheep. Keller worked as the foreman for Rasmus L. Madsen and Ernest accused Rasmus of stealing over 100 sheep from him in the 1910s.[18] In January 1929, Keller again was in trouble with the law when Edgar Larsen accused Keller and his bosses, Melvin and Vernon Lee, of stealing grain. As a result, Keller left town quickly, abandoning his riding outfit in the process.[19] A warrant was issued for his arrest on 2 January 1929 and George was found by the sheriff a month or so later in Green River. He eventually pleaded guilty in Wayne County court.[20] Though these ranching disputes caused Keller difficulty during his career, he seemed to be caught in the middle of conflicts between ranch owners and events outside of his control. Overall those who worked with him commented on his honesty and work ethic. One acquaintance, Paul Smith of Manti, repeatedly commented that, “George could be trusted with any amount of money.”[21]

George maintained relationships with his siblings and their families, especially the family of his brother Jacob Keller, throughout adulthood. He spent time living with Jacob and his wife Dorthea at the family’s Manti farm.[22] His nieces and nephews, especially the children and grandchildren of Dorthea and Jacob, remembered George fondly. Writing of her uncle, Kathryn Belle Keller Stevens, a grandniece, stated, “I have always considered him as one of the Keller boys and as my Uncle George. I will always be glad that he’s a part of our family.”[23] When Jacob died, he listed George as an adopted brother in his obituary, demonstrating the closeness of their relationship.[24]

Though George had the love and support of his siblings, other records indicate that he felt a loneliness throughout his life. On his WWII draft card in 1942 he listed his employer, Emery King, as the person who would always know his address.[25] On his WWI draft card in 1918, though living in Loa, Utah, not too far from Manti, he wrote “none” when prompted to delineate his nearest relatives.[26] In 1910 while living with Jacob and Dorthea Keller on the Keller farm, the census lists his relationship as “none” to his adopted brother.[27]

A defining moment in George’s life occurred Christmas of 1948. While traveling to the Henry Mountains, Keller fell into a snow drift and was stuck there all night, until a girl on her way to work in Richfield found him “nearly frozen to death and summoned help.”[28] He spent over a month in the hospital where he had to have several fingers amputated. He recovered at the home of his nephew and his nephew’s wife, Jesse and Vera Keller. At the end of his life George remembered the kindness of the hospital attendants who helped him, even though he was afraid they would reject him when they saw him.[29]

This fear of rejection by hospital staff reveals the way he continued to grapple with racism and his biracial status throughout his life. He never married nor had children, something his adopted sister Mary Keller attributed to his race. She wrote, “he has studiously shunned his own race, as well as all women. He remarked to Jacob [his adopted brother] that he would not marry and probably bring children into the world to suffer as he had suffered because of his color, and that he would not marry the white girl who would have him, although he had such opportunities.”[30] In addition to his own ideas about race and marriage, in Utah during most of his lifetime interracial marriage was outlawed through Utah’s anti-miscegenation law.[31] He lived most of his adult life in Wayne County where no Black men or women were counted in the census.[32]

In the last years of his life he lived in The Mayfield Manor, a Mayfield rest home, where he was celebrated by the local community. On the occasion of his 86th birthday in 1966, Dona S. Peterson chronicled his life in The Ephraim Enterprise.[33] The following year, the South Sanpete County DUP honored George at their annual convention. They presented special remarks in his honor and gifted him an engraved silver tray.[34] The Mayfield Manor held a party with a short program in honor of his 87th birthday.[35] These commemorations demonstrated the influence George had in Sanpete County. Those who loved him wanted his life to be remembered and celebrated. Additionally, towards the end of his life he seems to have had some reconciliation with his birth family. His half-brother from his biological mother, John A. Anderson, listed George Keller as a surviving relative in his 1960 obituary. Despite this, in 1966 Peterson reported that George was still looking for answers about his biological family and prompted newspaper readers to contact her with any information.[36]

George died in 1968 at the age of 88. The Manti South Ward hosted his funeral with Bishop J. Wallace Wintch presiding. His niece, Ellen Munk Crawford, spoke and nephews, grandnephews, and work associates served as pallbearers.[37] Though the Manti South Ward planned and officiated his funeral, he is not listed in their 1968 death records, nor the Mayfield Ward’s death records for that year.[38]

After his death, both his biological and adopted families have embraced him. They have recorded his life through genealogy and family history work and completed his Latter-day Saint temple work, sealing him to both adopted and biological parents through proxy temple ceremonies.[39]

By Emily Larsen

Primary Sources

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection. Manti South Ward, Part 1, Segment 1. CR 375, digital images 28-30. Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection. Manti South Ward, Part 2. CR 375, digital image 632. Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection. Mayfield Ward, Part 2. CR 375, digital image 467. Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Court Remands Sheep Dispute,” The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), 7 Aug, 1931, 24.

“DUP Ladies Hold May 6th Confab,” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 12 May 1967, 5. 

Emery County Progress (Castle Dale, Utah), 5 May 1917, 9.

“George Keller Buried at Manti,” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 8 August, 1968, 2.

“George Keller Observes 86th” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 4 February 1966, 2.

 “Gunnison Valley News,” The Gunnison Valley News (Gunnison, Utah), 11 May 1967, 3. 

“High Court Sets Aside Sheep Case Judgment,” The Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 19 June 1928, 13. 

“Jacob Keller Passes Quickly After Busy Day,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 1 April 1938, 1.

“John A. Anderson,” The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah), 21 July 1960, 24.

“John A. Anderson Brought for Burial,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 28 July 1960, 11.

“Justice Court Held at Teasdale,” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 18 January, 1929, 6.

“Local and Personal,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah),19 July 1912, 5.

“Local and Personal,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 16 August 1912, 5.

“Local and Personal,” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 15 February 1929, 7.

“Madsen v Madsen” S3638, Case 1811, Utah Supreme Court Records, Utah Division of Archives and Records Service.

“Manti,” Emery County Progress (Castle Dale, Utah), 24 August 1912, 5.

“Manti Couple Hold Fiftieth Wedding Fete,” The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), 26 October, 1936, 9.

The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 4 March 1949, 4.

“Millie, the Quadroon,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 14 February 1896, 1.

“Miscegenation Facts,” The Sentinel (Manti, Utah), 1 January 1886, 2.

“R.L. Madsen Loses Sheep Marking Case,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 13 March, 1925, 1.

“R.R.,” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 30 December, 1948, 6.

“Sterling Notes,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 2 May 1967, 3.

“Thursday Services to Eulogize George Keller, 88,” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 1 August 1968, 3.

“Torrey” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 25 October 1928, 9.

“Torrey” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 11 January 1929, 3.

“Torrey,” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 1 February 1929, 3.

“Torrey: Local and Personal,” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 15 February 1929, 2.

United States. 1880 Census. Utah Territory, Sanpete County, Manti.

United States. 1900 Census. Wyoming, Albany County, Lookout Precinct.

United States. 1910 Census. Utah, Sanpete County, Manti.

United States. 1920. Census. Utah, Wayne County.

United States. 1930. Census. Utah, Wayne County.

United States. 1940. Census. Utah, Wayne County.

United States. Utah. Local Board NO. 33, Wayne County, Loa, Utah. World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942. George Keller. National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri.

United States. Utah. Wayne County. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. George Keller. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

“Utah vs. Lee, Lee, and Keller.” Wayne County Court Records.

 “Verdict in Sheep Case Reversed,” The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), 19 June 1928, 14.

“Wayne County Court Decision Set Aside,” The Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 19 June 1928, 7.

Secondary Sources

Cherry, Louise Keller. “Recollections of My Brother Jacob Keller.” Memory on FamilySearch.org. Accessed Apr 11, 2021.

Keller, Albert Daniel. “Albert Daniel Keller 1890-1875: Ancestry and Life to 1966.” Memory on FamilySearch.org. Accessed Apr 11, 2021.

Keller, George (L4B8-94R). Ordinance Records on FamilySearch.org. Accessed Apr 11, 2021.

Mackey, David G. “George Keller: A Good Man in a Rough & Lonely Country The Story of Sanpete’s Nearly Forgotten Man of Color,” in Rattlesnakes and Axe-heads: The Almost Forgotten History and Lore of Sanpete. Manti, UT: Sanpete Legacy Research, 2010.

Mason, Patrick Q. “The Prohibition of Interracial Marriage in Utah, 1888-1963.” Utah Historical Quarterly 76 (Spring 2008): 108-131.

Munk Crawford, Ellen, and the Keller Siblings.“The Life History of Jacob Keller and Anna Regina Hemman Keller.” Memory on FamilySearch.org. Accessed Apr 11, 2021.

Munk, Mary Keller. “George Keller.” Memory on FamilySearch.org. Accessed Apr 11, 2021.

Murphy, Miriam B. A History of Wayne County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1999.

Peck, Florence Westenskow. “Annie Regina Keller History. Memory on FamilySearch.org. Accessed Apr 11, 2021.

Stevens, Kathryn Belle Keller. “Uncle George.” Family History Courtesy of Callene Keller Braithwaite.


[1] “Joseph Anderson” is listed as an infant son in the “Matilda Anderson” household in 1880. A possible father is a Black man named “Chris” living in the “Christian Nelson” household as a servant and documented in the census. United States, 1880 Census, Utah Territory, Sanpete County, Manti.

[2] The stories of C.A. Anderson’s ultimatum, Annie Keller’s advocacy for the adoption, and the other siblings’ reactions are recounted in several family histories. See supplement written by the children of Jacob and Anna R. Keller and Ellen M. Crawford in “The Life History of Jacob Keller and Anna Regina Hemman Keller”; Kathryn Belle Keller Stevens, “Uncle George,” family history courtesy of Callene Keller Braithwaite; Albert Daniel Keller, “Albert Daniel Keller 1890-1875: Ancestry and Life to 1966," page 11-12; Louise Keller Cherry, “Recollections of My Brother Jacob Keller”; and Florence Westeknskow Peck, “Annie Regina Keller History,” page 3.

[3] Keller Siblings, “The Life History of Jacob Keller and Anna Regina Hemman Keller”; Belle Keller Stevens, “Uncle George”; and Keller Cherry, “Recollections of My Brother Jacob Keller.”

[4] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Manti South Ward, Part 1, Segment 1, CR 375, digital images 28-30, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[5] “George Keller Observes 86th” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 4 February 1966, 2.

[6] For a brief history of Latter-day Saint seminary see Casey Paul Griffiths, “A Century of Seminary,” September 2012, at ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

[7] See “George Keller Observes 86th” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 4 February 1966, 2.; Keller Siblings, “The Life History of Jacob Keller and Anna Regina Hemman Keller”; and Kathryn Belle Keller Stevens, “Uncle George.”

[8] Keller Siblings and Munk Crawford, “The Life History of Jacob Keller and Anna Regina Hemman Keller”; and Kathryn Belle Keller Stevens, “Uncle George” and Albert Daniel Keller, “Albert Daniel Keller 1890-1875: Ancestry and Life to 1966.”

[9] Albert Daniel Keller, “Albert Daniel Keller 1890-1875: Ancestry and Life to 1966,” 12.

[10]“George Keller Observes 86th” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 4 February 1966, 2.

[11] “Miscegenation Facts,” The Sentinel (Manti, Utah), 1 January 1886, 2.

[12] “Millie, the Quadroon,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 14 February 1896, 1.

[13] Albert Daniel Keller, “Albert Daniel Keller 1890-1875: Ancestry and Life to 1966,” 12.

[14] See Keller Siblings and Munk Crawford, “The Life History of Jacob Keller and Anna Regina Hemman Keller” and “Terrible and Fatal Accident,” The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah), 7 October 1892, 3.

[15] “Local and Personal,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 19 July 1912, 5; “Local and Personal,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 16 August 1912, 5; “Manti,” Emery County Progress (Castle Dale, Utah), 24 August 1912, 5; Emery County Progress (Castle Dale, Utah), 5 May 1917, 9; “Torrey” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 25 October 1928, 9.

[16] “George Keller Observes 86th” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah) 4 February 1966, 2. 

[17] For more information on ranching history in Wayne County see Miriam B. Murphy, A History of Wayne County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1999), 149-192.

[18] “R.L. Madsen Loses Sheep Marking Case,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 13 March, 1925, 1; “Verdict in Sheep Case Reversed,” The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), 19 June 1928, 14; “High Court Sets Aside Sheep Case Judgment,” The Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 19 June 1928, 13; “Wayne County Court Decision Set Aside,” The Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 19 June 1928, 7; “Court Remands Sheep Dispute,” The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), 7 Aug, 1931, 24. “Madsen v Madsen” S3638, Case 1811, Utah Supreme Court Records, Utah Division of Archives and Records Service.

[19] “Torrey” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 11 January 1929, 3; “Justice Court Held at Teasdals,” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 18 January, 1929, 6; “Torrey,” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 1 February 1929, 3; “Local and Personal,” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 15 February 1929, 7; “Torrey: Local and Personal,” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 15 February 1929, 2.

[20] Utah vs. Lee, Lee, and Keller, 1929, Wayne County Court Records

[21] “George Keller Observes 86th” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 4 February 1966, 2. See also Mary Keller Munk, “George Keller”; Albert Daniel Keller, “Albert Daniel Keller 1890-1875: Ancestry and Life to 1966.”

[22] George is documented in the 1910 census living in the Jacob and Dorthea Keller household, and family histories document that he lived with them often after the death of his parents. See United States, 1910, Census, Utah, Sanpete County, Manti, 1910.

[23] Keller Stevens, “Uncle George.” 

[24] See “Jacob Keller Passes Quickly After Busy Day,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 1 April 1938, 1; George is also listed as an adopted brother in the wedding anniversary celebration of his adopted sister Mary Keller Munk and her husband Christian Munk. See “Manti Couple Hold Fiftieth Wedding Fete,” The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), 26 October, 1936, 9.

[25] United States, Utah, Local Board NO. 33, Wayne County, Loa, Utah, World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, George Keller, National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri.

[26] United States, Utah, Wayne County, World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, George Keller, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

[27] See United States, 1910, Census, Utah, Sanpete County, Manti.

[28] “George Keller Observes 86th” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 4 February 1966, 2. See also “R.R.,” The Richfield Reaper (Richfield, Utah), 30 December, 1948, 6; and The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 4 March 1949, 4.

[29] “George Keller Observes 86th” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 4 February 1966, 2.

[30] Mary Keller Munk, “George Keller.”

[31] On Utah’s anti-miscegenation law see Patrick Q. Mason, “The Prohibition of Interracial Marriage in Utah, 1888-1963,” Utah Historical Quarterly 76 (Spring 2008): 108-131.

[32] See United States, 1920, Census, Utah, Wayne County. United States, 1930, Census, Utah, Wayne County. United States, 1940, Census, Utah, Wayne County

[33] “George Keller Observes 86th” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 4 February 1966, 2.

[34] “Gunnison Valley News,” The Gunnison Valley News (Gunnison, Utah), 11 May 1967, 3; “DUP Ladies Hold May 6th Confab,” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 12 May 1967, 5.

[35] “Sterling Notes,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah, 2 May 1967, 3.

[36] “John A. Anderson Brought for Burial,” The Manti Messenger (Manti, Utah), 28 July 1960, 11; “John A. Anderson,” The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah), 21 July 1960, 24; “George Keller Observes 86th” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 4 February 1966, 2.

[37] “George Keller Buried at Manti,” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 8 August, 1968, 2; “Thursday Services to Eulogize George Keller,88,” The Ephraim Enterprise (Ephraim, Utah), 1 August 1968, 3.

[38] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Manti South Ward, Part 2, CR 375, digital image 632, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Mayfield Ward, Part 2, CR 375, digital image 467, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[39] George Keller (L4B8-94R), ordinance Records on FamilySearch.org.

Documents

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