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Reviewed by:
  • On Zion's Mount: Mormons, Indians and the American Landscape
  • Ruth Knight Bailey
Jared Farmer. On Zion's Mount: Mormons, Indians and the American Landscape. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008. 472 pp. Cloth, $29.95.

In his introduction to On Zion's Mount Jared Farmer claims that "geographic metaphor" best supports his twofold argument that (1) the work of Utah/Mormon historians runs "inward" and "pools" just like water in their Great Basin, never making it to the sea; and (2) other American historians produce "coast-to-coast" works that make waves at the oceans but fly right over important Utah/Mormon landscapes due to "prejudice or indifference" (14). For this reason Farmer begins his narrative at a Great Basin oasis that eighteenth-century Spaniards mapped as Laguna de los Timpanogos after the Numic-speaking people who lived and hosted large gatherings there (249). Numas living in drier areas called the Timpanogos "Lake People" or "Fisheaters" (25). Outsiders eventually called them "Utahs" or "Utes" as part of a larger group (31).

Farmer also argues that colonists from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differed from other European American colonists in that the Mormon Zionists envisioned "a homeland in a Native American sense—an endemic spiritual geography" (16). He asserts that Brigham Young initially led those Zionists to the Salt Lake Valley rather than the Utah Valley largely because Jim Bridger warned him that the Utes had already claimed the latter.

Farmer uses incredible first-person accounts to describe the "rowdy and rebellious" [End Page 585] Mormon settlers who ignored Brigham Young's counsel to keep a "respectful distance" from the Utes and their lake (64, 67). These records also give "names and voices" to individual Utes who come alive as "many-sided" people with "multiple allegiances and motives" (131). The Book of Mormon identified American Indians as descendants of powerful ancient Israelites who would take the lead in building the New Jerusalem and restoring Indian greatness in time for an imminent millennium. Therefore, Young encouraged assimilation of Indians into the Mormon Zion, but not Mormon assimilation into the everyday indigenous life in Utah Valley. Still, a generation of close interaction took place between the two Utah Valley groups, which Farmer describes as "extensive, intense, intimate, violent, and messy" (365–66). During the famine of 1855–56 lake fish literally saved the lives of Mormons all along the Wasatch Front. In the late 1860s the federal government and Latter-day Saint leadership removed Lake Utes to the Uinta Reservation. Although the agreement gave these Utes continued fishing rights in their homeland, they returned as strangers to find that even the fish in the lake were no longer native.

Early in this story a reader may wonder whether Farmer read the dust jacket on his own book, where several prestigious authors praised his work even after he basically criticized them along with all other historians. However, Farmer's entertaining myth-buster language, organizational skill, and careful documentation keep one reading. Then, detail by detail, it becomes clear that his story, about the Utah Valley liquid center, forms a critical core in a unique and complex scholarly analysis about the making of American landmarks in general.

In the core Farmer proves that, as years passed and later immigrants and descendants lost direct contact with unassimilated Native people, Mormon stories changed. They began to sound more like heroic folk tales based upon the pioneering of Young's first wagon train into the Salt Lake Valley, with nameless Indians giving brave pioneers opportunities to demonstrate generosity and bravery as the pioneers made "the desert blossom like a rose" (127). The "miracle of the fish" was forgotten (130). Here Farmer's statements about former historians become a little more understandable.

Along with the transcontinental railroad, industry and tourism rolled into Salt Lake City. The railroad companies built bathhouses and lake resorts. The tourist maps compared the Great Salt Lake to the Dead Sea, connected by the Jordan River to a modern Sea of Galilee called Utah Lake. Tourists partook of the healing saltwaters, rode by the Salt Lake Temple, and hoped to get a peek at a harem. No trains...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1828
Print ISSN
0095-182X
Pages
pp. 585-587
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-28
Open Access
No
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