December 31, 2012

A Wolfish History of Religions in the West

by Thomas S. Bremer

Earlier this month the world received news that 832F had been killed.  As reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, a hunter brought down the most famous and widely recognizable of the Yellowstone wolves fifteen miles outside of the national park boundaries in Wyoming.

As someone prone to pondering the cultural significance of Yellowstone’s history, I found myself thinking about 832F, the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon pack, and was surprised by my ambivalence over her death.  Perhaps my mixed feelings reflect a broader cultural ambivalence modern westerners have held in their regard for not only wolves, but wildlife in general.

832F, as the Times reporter Nate Schweber points out in his article, had achieved the status of “rock star” among certain wildlife aficionados.  She was, by my reckoning, a fully aestheticized commodity in a tourist economy of wildlife, national parks, and outdoor adventure.  In eco-tourist discourses on Yellowstone, the image of the wolf has become an iconic figure representing the virtues of biodiversity, wildness, and a benevolent humanity that brings rational science to bear on a compassionate regard for animals. Moreover, the possibility of wolf sightings in the highly managed landscapes of Yellowstone National Park contributes to the authenticity of the park for tourist visitors; to see live wolves in the wild affirms in touristic discourses that Yellowstone is indeed an authentically wild place, and therefore a more appealing tourist destination, itself an ironic development that belies the claim of wildness.

On the other hand, the very wildness of wolves is what threatens another sort of economy and discourse, that of ranchers and wildlife managers in areas surrounding the park.  Particularly for agricultural interests, the wolf represents a dangerous predator whose attacks on livestock imperil the very foundations of western civilization, besides harming their own personal financial interests.  There are plenty of folks in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, as well as throughout the western United States, who are convinced that extermination of wolves is a good thing, in fact necessary for the profitable success of the livestock industries.

As a historian of American religions, I wonder what sort of critical perspective I might contribute to such debates.  I am not sure a good religious history of wolves has been written, although Barry Lopez’s impressive book Of Wolves and Men includes numerous references to cultural traditions and folkloric legends that rely on religious orientations.  Lopez contends, “The truth is we know little about the wolf.  What we know a good deal more about is what we imagine the wolf to be” (3).  As I reflect on the human imagination of the various subspecies of Canis lupus, it seems to me that the critical questions for scholars of religions have to do with how religious orientations, perspectives, assumptions, practices, and images have contributed to and informed various wolfian discourses. 

For those of us interested specifically in the western regions of North America, one discourse with urgent political ramifications has to do with the reintroduction of wolf populations in areas where wolves had been earlier exterminated.  Scholars of religions could help elucidate historical and anthropological perspectives on religious considerations underlying the cultural ambivalence toward wolves that informs both sides of the debate. Insight into the religious aspects of collective attitudes toward the Yellowstone wolves, I surmise, will take us beyond wolves and far outside the park boundaries of Yellowstone, for it ultimately concerns self-understandings of the human relationship to nature, animals, and the places we deem as wild.  Perhaps we might even come to terms with both the sadness and the necessity of losing 832F to the hunter’s skillfully placed shot.

December 29, 2012

Casual Friday

So, in case you didn't notice, December 21, 2012--apparently the last day on one of the Mayan calendars--has come and gone with no apocalypse. At least, not one that I (or anyone I know of) noticed. The world, it seems, has not yet come to an end. But when it does, I know one place where the people will be well prepared.

I stumbled onto Rockland Ranch several years ago when I was driving around the dirt roads near Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. The first time I saw it I just snapped a few pictures and wondered what it was all about. The second time, about a year later, I decided to stop. The man who began the project--which has now become a small community--was away at the time, visiting Salt Lake City, but I talked to one of the people who lived there. He described himself as an Independent Mormon Fundamentalist. He had recently left another community was living there with his family.

The community consists of several rooms blasted into the side of this massive sandstone formation. There is an orchard, water tanks, solar paneling, power generators and fuel reserves. Everything you'd need to carry on in the desert for a good long while after civilization collapses when it eventually does, on some future doomsday.

posted by Stan Thayne

December 24, 2012

The National Christmas Tree: Secrecy, Religious Pluralism & National Unity

By Brandi Denison

This year, the Capitol Christmas Tree, or the People’s Tree, is a 73-foot Englemann Spruce Tree from the White River National Forest in western Colorado.

Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post
The tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree began in 1964, when the House Speaker John W. McCormack located a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. This tree remained for three seasons until it died. In 1970, the Capitol Architect requested another tree from the National Forest Service. Since then, the Forest Service has provided this tree annually. The trees have come from all over the nation, with two other trees from Colorado.

The cutting ceremony of this year’s massive tree was an entanglement of capitalism, Germanic winter celebrations, and Native American ceremonial traditions. Forest Service rangers, Ute elders from Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, Junior Miss Ute Mountain, Santa Claus, and several observers attended the cutting of the tree on November 2. 

In this private ceremony, Ute Elders blessed the tree in the "Sun Dance Way." Bradley W. Hight, who is the vice-chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council told Elizabeth Flock of the US News & World a little about this ceremony, indicating that trees are special to the tribe because they represent "strength, medicine, food, and shelter." However, on the specifics of the ceremony, he said: "I can't talk to you about that. It's kind of secret because it only belongs to us. The Ute Tribe are the only ones who know. . . not even the Secret Service knows."

Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post
After hearing about this secret ceremony, I initially thought that the intersections of capitalism (demonstrated by the presence of Santa Claus), the German tradition of bringing evergreens into the home on Winter’s Solstice, and the secret Ute ceremony create an uncontested display of religiosity, one that is thoroughly American and securely rooted in the pastiche of Western sensibilities. In other words, I figured that the merger of American Indian ceremonies with the traditional Christmas Tree cutting was a way for non-Indians to negotiate the ambiguity of being a society that values both the non-establishment clause and public displays of religion. This is another example, I thought, of what Philip Deloria has termed "Playing Indian."

Further reflection and reading, though, led me to think about the Ute Nation's agency in the ceremony. Rather then being an appropriation of Ute spirituality to negotiate the secular-religiosity of Christmas, the secret ceremony became an opportunity for the Utes to announce their continued presence in and relationship with Colorado's National Forests. From the US Department of Agriculture website, the Ute Tribes used this opportunity to let non-Indians know that:

  • The Tree is on Ute aboriginal lands shared by other migrating tribes who used the forest;
  • The Tree is a sentinel, a landmark in the forest;
  • The Tree is strength to the Ute people;
  • The Tree has provided medicine and food;
  • The Tree has given wood for fire and shelter from the night;
  • The Tree has stood proudly for the Ute people and their lifeway.

Additionally,Gary Hayes, Chairman of the Tribal Council, revealed that part of the purpose the secret ceremony was to bring unity to Washington. With the Christmas tree being lit by John Boehner at the beginning of the fiscal cliffs negotiations unity was (and perhaps continues to be) an elusive goal. Yet, even as the United States government and its citizens are grappling with two very serious and divisive issues (the national budget and gun control), the 73-foot Christmas tree presides over Washington through the Christmas season, having started it's 5,000 mile journey with a secret Ute ceremony. 

This might be an instance of "playing Indian," but it is also an example of an American Indian Nation participating in a national dialogue through the available channels. 

AP Photo, J. Scott Applewhite

December 21, 2012

Casual Friday

(from the Thomas Wolfe Society FB page:

"Wolfe and the West"
Boise, Idaho--MAY 24-25, 2013

On June 20, 1938, Thomas Wolfe embarked from Oregon on a two-week car trip that took him through eleven national parks and 4,500 miles of highway
. From this whirlwind tour of the western U.S., he would produce his last piece of writing, A Western Journal. For its 35th annual conference, in Boise, Idaho, the Thomas Wolfe Society invites papers that explore Wolfe’s connection to the West, although proposals are welcome on any theme related to Thomas Wolfe and his work. We are especially interested in ecocritical approaches to Wolfe, as well as considerations of his experience of nature tourism, auto tourism, and our national parks (now threatened by moneyed interests). Other topics might include treatments of Wolfe and Western writers or other writers who had ties to the American West, considerations of Wolfe and literary regionalism, and, more generally, how Wolfe’s experience of the West compares with his lives in the South and the Northeast. 

Please send 250-word paper proposals by January 10, 2013 to: (For email submissions, please include in the subject heading WOLFE PROPOSAL) or snail mail: Dr. George Hovis, Department of English, 322 Netzer Admin. Bldg., SUNY Oneonta, Oneonta, NY 13820

December 17, 2012

There’s No Place Like Home

by Cara Burnidge

In a few short days, I’ll begin the long drive home for the holidays. Fifteen hours and six states later, I’ll complete the trek from the Sunshine to the Sunflower State. Considering how many times I’ve driven from the Florida panhandle to southeast Kansas, you would think that I would have a better answer to the question: Where is home?

Without trying to give Rick Scott more reason to privilege STEM programs over the humanities, let me explain. It’s a more difficult question to answer than you might think because of the odd role Kansas plays in the historiography of the American West. Compasses are not all that helpful: Kansas does not belong to the regional histories of the North nor the South; the East nor the West (ignoring for a moment my own efforts to situate it there). Cultural geographers have changed their minds over time too. Kansas has a part of the West, Midwest, and Great Plains as its identity shifted from a territory on the frontier (even a part of a Gold Rush) to “fly over state.” Setting aside these questions of regionalism, sociologist Robert Wuthnow places Kansas on the nation’s cultural map according to one quality that seems to endure: Kansas is a solidly red state.

It is certainly hard to disagree. As Wuthnow points out in Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland, Kansas has voted Republican in every presidential election between 1968 and 2008 (2). And now we can also include the 2012 election in which Mitt Romney received 60% of the popular vote and only 2 of 105 counties went blue (Douglas and Wyandotte counties for those of you playing trivia at home).  While there certainly are other states that are red, Kansas appears to be quintessentially so. Wuthnow attempts to explain why by examining the religion and politics of the state. Instead of asking “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” and draw attention to the ways religion fuels an ideological conservatism, Wuthnow asserts a “red state religion” in Kansas that is more of a “practical” conservatism. He writes:

“red state religion and politics in Kansas had less to do with contentious moral activism than it did with local communities and relationships among neighbors, friends, and fellow churchgoers” (8).

It feels like Wuthnow’s assertion could be true. Growing up in rural Kansas, I know that the local community can be like an extended family. Next week, when neighbors see my car in the driveway they are likely to come over and catch up, asking about my semester and if I have finished my dissertation yet (so close, I promise!).  I understand Wuthnow’s attempt to draw attention away from a small number of (mostly male) ideological firebrands who catch headlines and toward the more private expressions of religion, especially women, in this red state. 

But the scholar in me thinks twice. For all the complexity that Wuthnow adds to the portrait of this red state, the picture is a little too neat. In particular, I wonder why the “practical” and “ideological” sides of conservatism are depicted as opposing forces at all. It seems possible to me that contentiousness can be the result of local relationships among neighbors, especially those who did not want their neighborhood to include certain neighbors. From battles with border ruffians during the Bleeding Kansas territorial period to Carrie A. Nation smashing saloons to battles over abortion clinics, pragmatic concerns about local neighborhoods are fully a part of the moral activism that has defined this red state. For instance, concern over who belongs to the neighborhood and, therefore, deserves the care and concern of others, caused Social Gospel minister, Charles Sheldon to push his congregants to cross the borders of their own neighborhood and serve the residents of Tennesseetown, the neighborhood that belonged to Exoduster migrants. In other words, is a “neighborly” and practical conservatism all that different from an ideological one?

Wuthnow leaves plenty of room for further scholarship on the complexities of Kansas and I certainly hope we see more examinations of religion in red (and blue) states on the horizon soon. It’s a good thing I have 15 hours ahead of me. 

December 14, 2012

Casual Friday

Call for Participants: Seminar on Religion and US Empire (2013-2015)

We invite applications to participate in a three-year series of research seminars on the history of religion and US empire from the formal inception of the US as a nation-state to the present.  The central aim of this project is to establish a major scholarly assessment of the linkage between religion and American empire.  We plan to address the relative inattention of scholars of religion to the powerful impact that the establishment of empire has made on religion in the US.  Conversely, we will emphasize the role of religion in shaping the history of the US as an imperial state, an area of inquiry that demands further attention.  This seminar series will also develop innovative theoretical approaches to interpreting the larger phenomenon of empire by considering the US state as a paradigm for modern empires.

To achieve this, we are organizing a series of meetings over a three-year period by an interdisciplinary team of twelve researchers to analyze historical data about religion and empire; exchange information, insights, and critiques; develop appropriate theoretical models; provide mutual feedback on resulting manuscripts; and contribute to a co-edited volume on religion and US empire.  We believe the seminar and its products will redirect several ongoing scholarly conversations, support teaching on the topic, and inspire further research on this pressing issue.

The first meeting will take place in fall 2013 (probably in October) at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, courtesy of a generous grant from Creighton's Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society.  We have also secured preliminary funding for the second meeting in fall 2014. We continue to seek funding for two additional meetings in 2015 to complete the series.

Participants will receive food and lodging for three nights and two days and a travel subsidy of up to $400.  In return, each member of the team will agree to participate in all of the meetings, produce an essay for the edited volume, and develop related teaching materials (e.g., a syllabus and bibliography).  We are seeking an interdisciplinary team of participants representing diverse methodological, chronological, and geographical interests related to the problem of religion and empire.  We also hope to identify promising early career scholars as well as established academics.

To apply, please submit the following material in electronic form to Dr. Tracy Leavelle at by 1 February 2013.

* 1-2 page cover letter explaining your interest in the seminar * 1-2 page description of the research and writing you propose to do as part of the seminar * Brief cv of no more than 5 pages * List of three references

We will notify applicants of their status in March 2013.

December 10, 2012

AAR Recap

by James Bennett

The fifth and final session of the Religion in the American West seminar of the American Academy of Religion met during the AAR annual meeting last month in Chicago. It was a fitting end in many ways. Meeting in Chicago provided a nice book end to the seminar, which first meet four years ago when the AAR was last in Chicago. That first meeting was in a cramped conference room without enough seats. This year we were in a large meeting room which, at first felt much to vast but, before long, every seat was filled. Nearly fifty people found their way to this year’s seminar meeting! It was great to see several members who have been with us since the start as well as to welcome so many new participants. The presence of both bodes well for the future.

The session featured four pre-circulated essays. One of the advantages of the seminar format, compared with other AAR sessions, is this pre-circulated format. It not only allows for longer papers since they are read in advance, but it also allows most of the seminar meeting to focus on discussion.

Tammy Heise wrote about religion in the Ghost Dance revival at Wounded Knee in 1973, arguing for the important but generally overlooked role of religion in the occupation and AIM, challenging the tendency to sever religion from a event whose interpretation has been interpreted primarily through the lens of the political. Tom Bremer wrote about the role of religion in the founding of Yellowstone National Park, specifically a millennialist evangelical ethic that resolves the seeming contradiction between the nearly simultaneous acts of Congress that established the National Park System and passed the Mining Act. Sarah Koenig focused on the Northwest with a study of trade and material “goods” and they ways that market exchanges among natives and missionaries were also religious exchanges, thereby offering a commercial history of religion in the American West. Finally, Shari Rabin looked at the experience of Judaism in the American West, exploring the differing ways that Jews experienced the West, from the sense of promise and possibility contained in the ease of mobility to a sense of threat or insecurity that resulted from dispersion. The papers provided rich and often innovative analyses that not only moved forward our particular understandings of religion in the American West, but also intersected each other in interesting ways and collectively advanced and opened new thematic and theoretical issues that helped measure the distance the seminar has traveled.

Quincy Newell, my co-chair in the seminar, and I offered some brief comments about the papers. One of the themes of the seminar has been the ways that we draw attention to the presence of religion in the American West. All of the papers advanced this project of uncovering hidden religion, especially as they challenged prevailing understandings of religion by highlighting mobility over stasis, moving beyond Protestantism, and looking beyond institutions to the everyday lives of people as they lived and moved in the West. In this way, the papers advanced the other major theme of the seminar, to consider how attention to the West deepens our understanding of American religion and religion more generally. We then wondered what might remain hidden that we might want to explore more deeply. The categories of gender and race came to mind as ideas that might further complicate our understanding of the West in these and other studies, and as ideas that might be complicated by our study of the West. Alongside the uncovering of hidden religion what most caught our attention was the power of mobility in these papers: of location and dislocation, of claiming and moving into space as a religious act—an act with political, racial and material implications along with religious ones.

What followed was a robust discussion among the nearly fifty attendees in the room, and the space that at first seemed to large impersonal gave way to a conversation and give and take that illumined and challenged all present. Rudy Busto, who had been present at the first session, pointed out the dramatic shift from those first conversations:  no longer were we expressing insecurity about our project  or justifying the need to undertake such discussion. Five years in, the necessity of the conversation was a given and we were starting to complicate our own analysis and categories in ways that spoke to the significance of studying Religion in the American West across a wide range of disciplines and perspectives.

The most encouraging testimony to the success of the seminar at its conclusion was a clear sense that it wasn’t ending, but only getting going. This took the pressure off of us to develop any sense of summing up or closure in our conversation and comments. But more importantly, enthusiasm for the concrete efforts to organize a permanent AAR program unit, as well of the success of this blog over the last year, confirm that these conversations will continue, and that is the best outcome we could have hoped for.

December 7, 2012

Casual Friday: Kansas or Bust

Over on the Historical Society blog, there was a nice piece by Dan Allosso on Kansas, that large, but often forgotten state. He reminds readers that in the 1850s, the Kansas Territory once encompassed parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Thus, folks were headed to Kansas for what is now called the Colorado Gold Rush.

He also directs readers to the Kansas Historical Society website, which has lots of great online research tools, including "cool things"(like an image of an exoduster flyer & and image of Carrie Nation's hammer) and a digitized Historical Newspaper database.

Thanks to Cara Burnidge for the link!

December 3, 2012

Book of the Month

Jennifer Nez Denetdale. Reclaiming Diné History: The Legacies of Navajo Chief Manuelito and Juanita. Tucson: The University Press of Arizona,2007.

Review by Stan Thayne

Recognition of the value and place of oral traditions in understanding how Navajos perceive their past, how narratives are used to shape their perceptions of the past and their own experiences, and how they convey beliefs and values from ancestors enlarges the historical scope to include those people conventional western history has ignored and excluded. (9-10)

Jennifer Nez Denetdale's stated goal in this work is to counter the colonizing forces of past scholarship, historical and anthropological, done primarily by non-Navajo scholars, by providing a work based in Navajo ways of knowing the past. "Until fairly recently," Denetdale states, "the Navajo past has been largely studied, classified, and written by non-Navajos with reliance on Western categories of historical production for meaning. These renditions of the Diné past have not adequately represented our own perspectives of the past." As, apparently, "the first-ever Diné/Navajo to earn a Ph.D. in history," as her faculty page at the University of New Mexico states, Professor Denetdale sets out to do just this by placing Navajo oral narratives at the heart of her study. But she begins by dismantling some of the distorting tendencies of past scholarship to portray the Diné people as recent newcomers to the American West (as anthropologists have tended to emphasize) or as an aggressive nomadic people who needed subjugating in order to stabilize the region, as historians have often portrayed the Navajo. Both of these views, historical and anthropological, Denetdale explains, have served Euro-American interests by justifying federal displacements, policies, and treatment of Diné people, and by confirming Euro-American understandings of Navajos and Native American peoples. 

At the center of the story, and stories, Denetdale tells is the life of former Navajo chief Manuelito and his wife Juanita, Denetdale's great-great-great grandparents. Past written accounts of Chief Manuelito's life, based primarily on accounts recorded in Spanish, Mexican, and American sources, have tended to diminish any recognition of the role Juanita played in the past of the Diné people, rendering her, with all other Navajo women, virtually invisible (within this historiographical traditionin contrast to Navajo narratives, where they have remained central). Navajo women have remained visible in the Western archive, when they have, primarily through photographs, which is one of the sources Denetdale creatively utilizesfocusing particularly on the way returning these photographs to Diné communities has rejuvenated traditions of story-telling centered around matrilineal clan-based organization. One of the major goals of this work is to re-center Navajo women in representations of the Diné past and present. Clan-based oral traditions about Juanita's life, Denetdale states, "reveal the centrality of women’s roles in Navajo society and illustrate how oral tradition is used to organize social units, connect Navajos to the land, and interpret life experiences and the past" (16).

Navajo creation narratives figure prominently in this work. "Drawing upon a body of studies that interrogates the relationship between 'oral tradition' and 'history,'" Denetdale writes, "I propose that traditional Navajo perspectives on the past are grounded in the creation narratives that contain within them Diné beliefs and values" (7). One of the particularly interesting ways she does this is by demonstrating how narratives told by Diné elders about their grandparents, and in particular about Juanita, "mirror the creation stories in form and motifs" (139). In a particularly enlightening moment in the text she demonstrates how the elders' narratives about their ancestors' return to Navajo Land (Dinétah) from Fort Sumner, where they were held as prisoners from 1863-68, are told in ways that mirror the shape and form of traditional Diné creation stories, and these narratives, told again and again, renew and re-cement Navajo connections to, and claims on, the land of their ancestors (140, 144). "The fact that my grandparents' and my mother's generation retain connections to lands where their ancestors once lived, in spite of these dislocations," Denetdale concludes, "attests to the enduring relationships created and recreated through narratives, narratives that link us as Navajos to the land" (161). And from the fragments of her ancestors' lives, which she collected through her elders' stories, "new stories are woven," continuing the tradition (161).

Based on narratives Denetdale collected primarily from her own relatives, this is a very personal work, which is something Denetdale is very upfront about. "As a Diné scholar, I follow the paths of other Native scholars who have begun the process of remapping and reclaiming our territory, geographical and cultural" (10). Telling stories of her own people, from their perspective, Denetdale statesdrawing from critical studies by other Indigenous scholars such as Haunani-Kay Trask and Linda Tuhiwai Smith and scholars such as Edward Saidis one way that Indigenous and colonized peoples can resist and counter the forces of colonizing discourses by asserting their own traditions, their own ways of knowing, and their own claims to the land.

November 30, 2012

Casual Friday: New article by Quincy Newell!

Quincy Newell has published a new article in the most recent issue of the online journal Religion Compass, titled: "Religion and the American West." She identifies four areas of interest for scholars of the American West and the challenges that we face. This is an excellent overview of the field and provides a framework for future scholarship. For those of you preparing your PhD comps list, it should be at the top of your list.

On another note, we are sad to announce that Quincy has handed over her co-editor status of the blog. She worked hard throughout the year to bring new contributors on board, to increase our readership, and ensure that we continued to bring you interesting and relevant blog posts. We'll miss her and we wish her the best of luck for her future endeavors! (And hope that she'll continue to write blog posts once in a while!)

November 26, 2012

Call for Contributors: RAW enters a new phase

by the Editors

Five years ago the Religion in the American West Seminar at the American Academy of Religion was created. Since seminars at the AAR run as five-year non-renewable terms, the RAW Seminar at the AAR came to a close last week with its final meeting occurring at the AAR annual conference in Chicago (for a list of presenters see here). As we noted previously, we have proposed the creation of a Religion in the American West Group, which would allow us to continue meeting for the next five years with the option of renewing (for info on AAR program unit types, click here). We will keep you updated as that effort develops. In the meantime, the blog continues!

In the midst of these changes, the Religion in the American West blog enters a new phase. Thus, it seems appropriate to issue a call for new and continuing contributors. If you have contributed to the blog in the past, please continue to do so! If have not contributed in the past but you do research and writing on religion in the American West (or would like to), please contact us ( welcome your contributions! In particular, we would like to hear from you if you have presented in the past as part of the RAW Seminar at AAR, or if you would like to be a part of the RAW Group in the future. But we welcome anyone who would like to propose a topic and contribute a post. Are you writing on a topic relevant to the American Westthesis, dissertation, article, book projectand want to test out an idea, get some feedback? Try posting it to the blog! Did you come across an interesting primary document during your last trip to the archives and want to share it? Please do. Read a good book recently and want to write a review? The blog's a great place for reviews. Interesting field experiences? Please tell us about it. Saw something while travelling through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexicoeven California!, etc.and snapped a photo? Please send it in for our Casual Friday posts, where you don't have to have a fully developed idea or post to go along with it! We welcome your reflections on any aspect of religion in the American West(s)and the study thereof!

Got something to contribute? Have a query? Suggestion? Comments? Send them to us at

or comment below!

We hope to hear from you soon!

November 23, 2012

Casual Friday

Graduate Student Fellowships at the
Western Historical Quarterly
Applications are now welcome for the
S. George Ellsworth Fellowship
For 2013-2014, a total stipend of $14,000, tuition awards, health insurance, and summer research funds will be awarded.
The Editorial Fellow must enroll in USU's master's program in history. Duties at the Western Historical Quarterly (WHQ) include 20 hours a week, beginning in August, helping to select, prepare, and copy read manuscripts. The fellowship may be retained for a second year, depending upon satisfactory progress toward the master's degree and acceptable completion of editorial assignments. During the summer of 2014, the editorial fellow will work 20 hours a week at the WHQ, with time off for research.
Applicants should send a letter of interest and a writing sample directly to the editor of the WHQ. The full application, including three letters of recommendation to the USU School of Graduate Studies, will suffice to complete the needed materials. All documents should be postmarked no later than 1 February 2013. Applicants will be notified in early April.
NOTE: The S. George Ellsworth Fellowship and the Robert M. Utley Fellowship are awarded in alternating years.
Funding for WHQ fellowships is provided by:
  • Western Historical Quarterly
  • USU School of Graduate Studies
  • USU Department of History
  • Robert M. Utley Endowment
  • S. George Ellsworth Endowment
Please address correspondence to:
Western Historical Quarterly

0740 Old Main Hill
Utah State University
Logan, UT 84322-0740

or send email to:
For more information on the WHQ and editorial fellowships please visit our website, .

November 19, 2012

My Dinner with Jon (Huntsman)

by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

Last week the electioneering ebbed, Democrats heaved sighs of relief, and Republicans began their tortured explanations of the outcome of the presidential race.  Bloggers of things Mormon began to air their own anxieties about the future:  what would Mitt Romney’s loss mean for Mormon studies? 

More important, and at the risk of driving this academic-narcissism-in-the-guise-of-soul-searching into the ground, is what it might mean for the study of religion in the American West.  Enough about Mormon Studies . . . what about us?

Without wading too far into the numbers, it seems quite evident that the evangelical distaste for a Mormon candidate—and more pointedly, the southern evangelical distaste—was vastly overinflated.  Yes, Romney won Utah and Idaho and Arizona, but look at that solid Mormon South!  Equally important is the fact that, even with large numbers of Mormons on the West Coast, he didn’t stand a chance there.  So was his problem a regional thing, a religious thing, or some of both?

Years ago sociologist Armand Mauss used survey data to suggest that there are profound differences in the outlooks and attitudes of LDS who live west of Utah (he was looking at California in particular).  I was reminded of this, and of the complexities of regional and religious identities, when I met Governor Jon Huntsman recently.

Huntsman came to the university where I work to deliver the Weil Lecture on American Citizenship, a series that has brought in a wide variety of illustrious figures of many political persuasions beginning with William Howard Taft in 1915.  I was asked to attend a dinner in Huntsman’s honor and to introduce him before he spoke, an invitation at which I jumped.  I’ve been curious for a long time about his background and his relationship to the Mormon tradition.  He is a descendent of Mormon pioneer stock who served a mission, but who now seems actively to resist the urgings of the press to gauge his level of piety.  Unlike other Republican candidates during the primary season who fell over one another to express their sincere love of Jesus, Huntsman consistently demurred when provoked to discuss his faith.  He and his wife have two adopted young daughters, one from China and one from India, and they are raising them as Buddhist and Hindu, respectively.  What’s up with that?

This might well be my chance to figure it all out, I thought. 

The details, as it turned out, are far more interesting that I had thought.  Gov. Huntsman, you see, is a California Mormon.  In fact, he and I were born one month and about 20 miles apart in the Bay Area.  One of his grandfathers was the mayor of my hometown, and ran the local hardware store there.  When he was an infant Huntsman’s parents moved to southern California, where the young Jon was raised.  We had a lovely conversation about these early connections.

I mentioned to him, by the way, that I also studied Mormons.  But that really didn’t seem to interest him. When queried from the audience by a campus minister about how he understood the appropriate place of religious faith in the political world, Huntsman talked of ecumenism, tolerance, and celebration of difference.  Nary a word about deep personal faith, even of the very private sort.

[As an aside, he wowed the packed audience of young students (many budding business majors).  They cheered his statements about collaboration across political boundaries, about the corrosive role of money in elections, and about the necessity for the U.S. to negotiate with international partners rather than trying to bully them into submission.  He talked with particular passion about the importance of China, a subject about which, as a former U.S. Ambassador and a fluent speaker of Mandarin, he knows a great deal.

I have to say, he impressed me, too.  My jaw clenched a bit when he talked about a limited federal government.  But there was no getting around his centrist politics, his belief in the reality of climate change, and his apparent openness to dialogue.  I suspect that many of us there saw, for the first time in a long while, a way to move forward through partisanship to a shared future.  One colleague of mine even asked him the glaringly obvious question:  why does he remain a Republican when his own club seems to have revoked his membership card?]

Political questions notwithstanding, I was initially frustrated by my failure to gain much traction on his religious self-understanding.  Yet as I thought more about it later, I realized that he, in fact, was like many of the Mormons—and Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and Buddhists—that I had grown up with in California in the 1960s and 1970s.  We put a premium on toleration (although we didn’t call it that—in fact, we didn’t call it anything), in part because we had to in order to find common ground as friends and neighbors.  We lived in a region with longstanding communities of Japanese, Chinese, South Asians, Irish and Italian Catholics, and other migrants to the mobile society of the post-World War II coastal industries.  We had no established majority of one particular religious group, and that diversity made a difference in how we thought about religion itself.  It’s hard to describe or to capture, but we wore our religion differently there—certainly, it was different from what I’ve encountered in the Northeast and the South.

From a distance, too, I think that form of religiosity can look a lot like Sheilaism, to use Robert Bellah’s characterization of “do it yourself” faith.  Or, when pressed by journalists for a statement or a faith stance, it can look like indifference.  Pollsters, with their targeted questions framed in other contexts, might well call these people “nones.”  For me, at least, and those I grew up with, it was not any of these things.  We had commitments to religious institutions—sometimes to several, and that was okay.  We may well have family members, as I do, who are Jungian Catholics, born again evangelicals, secular humanists, Buddhists, and mainline Protestants. 

We speak a different religious language as a result.  And that’s the language I heard Jon Huntsman speaking (when he wasn’t breaking into Mandarin).  I’m not saying it is the wave of the future; indeed, his dismal showing among Republicans would suggest otherwise.  It’s not Mormon in the Utah style, but neither is it a turning away from that faith. And it may reflect a particular era of California’s history that has now been overtaken by the western Southerners that Darren Dochuk so engagingly describes. 

But it should prompt us to search for more nuanced ways of thinking about western religiosity, ways that don’t bind us solely to denominational or confessional frameworks.  Let’s get busy constructing some new paradigms that capture cultural affiliations outside those already designated as “religion.”  It’s the “all or nothing” framework, one encouraged rhetorically by those who would like to corner the market on faith as a branding mechanism, that stops us from recognizing the very commonalities that may well be our salvation.

November 16, 2012

Casual Friday: The Columbus of Denver

When I was in Denver for the Western History Association conference last month, I was wandering around downtown and noticed a few monuments in a park. Two of them didn't surprise me, bronze sculptures titled "Bronco Buster" and "On the War Path": stereotypical images you expect to see in the West.

A third monument, not far from the other two, however, surprised me. It was not something I was expecting to see in Denver. It is a monument to Columbus. He apparently had four arms and four legs.

What was even odder than the image, however, was the wording on the plaque. Here's the text, placed there in 1970:
Italian Visionary and Great Navigator 
This bold explorer was the first European
to set foot on uncharted land, on a West Indies
beach in 1492. His four voyages brought Europe
and the Americas together, forever changing
history. A new nation was to rise. A new
Democracy was born.
In researching a little about the monument, I discovered that Denver has apparently become the host of two annual Columbus Day parades, one honoring Columbus with the other being a counter demonstration. During a 1989 demonstration the monument was splashed with fake blood, for which AIM activist Russell Means was tried and found not guilty for defacement of the monument.

So, for those of you more familiar with the patriotic and religious makeup of Colorado, what is this monument doing in downtown Denver?

November 12, 2012

The Religion in the American West Guide to the 2012 AAR

Friends! AAR is upon us! Herewith, our guide to the AAR -- the sessions we think you might be interested in if you are interested in religion in the American West. We've tried to be exhaustive, but we've probably missed something (or many things) -- so help us out by leaving more information in the comments.

On Saturday, November 17, you'd probably be interested in...
9:00-11:30 a.m.
A17-124 Mormon Studies Group
The Mormon Heritage Industry: Reading the Mormon Past in Popular Media

McCormick Place West-184A
Grant Underwood, Brigham Young University, Presiding
Megan Goodwin, University of North Carolina: "'Common Sense is No Match for the Voice of God:' Krakauer’s Misreading of Elizabeth Smart"
David Newman, Syracuse University: "As in Utah, so in Arabia: Orientalizing Mormonism in 2007's September Dawn"
Colleen McDannell, University of Utah: "Obsessed by History: The Heritage Industry and the Mormons"
Responding: Patrick Mason, Claremont Graduate University
Business Meeting: James McLachlan, Western Carolina University

1:00-3:30 p.m.
S17-230 SBL Latter-day Saints and the Bible Section
McCormick Place West-474A
David Seely, Brigham Young University, Presiding
Gaye Strathearn, BYU: "Interpretations of the 'Image of God' in Biblical and LDS Thought"
James F. Berlin, LDS Church-Translation Division: "Joseph Smith's Recovery of Biblical Angels"
Eric A. Eliason, BYU: "Joseph Smith, Folk Magic, and the Bible"
Shon D. Hopkin, BYU: "Ritual, Ordinance, and the Law of Moses"
Dana M. Pike, BYU: "Fair as the Moon and Clear as the Sun: The Song of Songs in the Latter-day Saint Religious Tradition"
(Let's colonize the SBL [Society for Biblical Literature], shall we?)

4:00-6:30 p.m.
No question here. You clearly want to go to:
A17-331 Religion in the American West Seminar
(Re)Sacralizing the American West

McCormick Place South-503A
Sara Patterson, Hanover College, Presiding
Shari Rabin, Yale University: "Between Manifest Destiny and Diaspora: American Judaism in the Era of Westward Expansion"
Sarah Koenig, Yale University: "Material 'Goods': Towards a Commercial History of Religion in the American West"
Thomas Bremer, Rhodes College: "The Evangelical Origins of National Parks and a Religio-Aesthetic Vision of the American West"
Tammy Heise, Florida State University: "Real and Imagined Territories: Restoring the Independent Oglala Nation and Reviving the Ghost Dance Ritual at Wounded Knee in 1973"
Responding: James Bennett, Santa Clara University & Quincy Newell, University of Wyoming
Go here for instructions about how to get the papers for this session.

On Sunday, November 18, you'd probably be interested in...
9:00-11:30 a.m.
A18-124 Native Traditions in the Americas Group
Absent, Disappearing, and Persisting: Representations of Native Traditions

McCormick Place West-192A
Jason Sprague, University of Iowa, Presiding
Suzanne Owen, Leeds Trinity University College: "Indigeneity and the 'Absent Other' in Representations of the Beothuk"
Sarah Dees, Indiana University: "Comparative Philology and the Scholarly Representation of Native American Religions"
Andrea McComb, University of California, Santa Barbara: "From Franciscans to Tourists: Pueblo Patron Saints' Feast Days and the Colonization of New Mexico"
Responding: Michael Zogry, University of Kansas
Business Meeting: Michael Zogry, University of Kansas & Mary Churchill, Sonoma State University

A18-129 Religion and Popular Culture Group
Reimagining Secularization Theory in the Study of Religion and Popular Culture

McCormick Place North-127
Shanny Luft, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, Presiding
David Walker, Yale University: "Railroading Rituals: Mormons and Tourists in the American West"
Jeffrey Scholes, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs: "Relating Sports and Religion in a Post-Secular World"
Brandon White, Emory University: "Secularized Starfleet?: Religion in Popular (Sci-Fi) Conceptions of the Future"
Denis Bekkering, University of Waterloo: "Unfaithful Fans of Televangelists: Between Recreational Christianity and Antifandom"

1:00-2:30 p.m.
A18-215 Childhood Studies and Religion Group
Preparing the Next Generations: Catholic, Evangelical, and Mormon Youth in the Twentieth Century

McCormick Place West-184A
Amy DeRogatis, Michigan State University, Presiding
Natalie Rose, Michigan State University: "Ensuring the Future: Mormon Courtship at the End of Plural Marriage, 1890-1920"
Karen Johnson, University of Illinois, Chicago: "Race, Religion, and Civil Rights: Catholic Youth and the Push for Interracial Justice in 1930s Chicago"
Rebecca Koerselman, Michigan State University: "Gender Goes Camping: The Construction of Feminine and Masculine Identities in Postwar Evangelical Summer Camps"
Responding: Susan Ridgely, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh

If you read and/or contribute to this blog, you also might be interested in:
A18-234 Wildcard Session
The Blog that Dares Not Speak Its Name: New Media and Collaborative Scholarship

McCormick Place West-196B
Kathryn Reklis, Fordham University, Presiding
This panel will explore engagements with new media as a potential horizon in the academic scholarship of religion both in terms of content (what is studied/written about), form (how it is studied/written), and audience (for whom it is studied/written). In particular, we will examine the interactive, ad hoc, immediate nature of blogging as a new form of collaborative scholarship and a form particularly suited to the analysis of and engagement with new objects of study. The panelists, all working in academic fields of theology or philosophy, converse about their collaborative work exploring the core questions of their disciplines and experimenting in new forms of trans-disciplinary scholarship by writing a blog about popular visual culture together.
Natalie Wigg-Stevenson, University of Toronto
Martin Shuster, Hamilton College
Travis Ables, Eden Theological Seminary
Responding: Shelly Rambo, Boston University

3:00-4:30 p.m.
A18-266 Indigenous Religious Traditions Group and Latina/o Religion, Culture, and Society Group
Crossing Boundaries: Healing and Walking in Mexico and the Southwest

McCormick Place South-501A
María Del Socorro Castañeda-Liles, Santa Clara University, Presiding
Brett Hendrickson, Lafayette College: "Curanderismo in the United States: Anglo American Interest in Mexican Folk Healing"
Seth Schermerhorn, Arizona State University: "Walking to Magdalena: O’odham Taxonomies of Movement and the Category of Pilgrimage"
Angela Anderson Guerrero, California Institute of Integral Studies: "Mysticism within the Tradition of the Mexicayotl"

There are lots of interesting sessions on Monday (11/19) and Tuesday (11/20) as well, but we didn't see any that looked like they engaged the subject of religion in the American West. (Of course, we were just skimming session themes and paper titles, so we likely missed something. Leave it in the comments!)

If you're traveling to AAR, travel safely. We'll look forward to seeing you there!

November 9, 2012

Casual Friday: Altar Call

Last week, we asked for AAR members to write letters of support for our proposal to turn the seminar into a permanent group. We heard from several of you already, so thanks for your support! For those of you who would like to write a letter, but haven't done so, now is your chance!

Please take 5 minutes to compose a letter, indicting your interest in and support of this group and email it to either or If you have questions about the letter, don't hesitate to ask either one of us.

If you have ideas about the directions that this group could take in future sessions, please submit those as well.

Thanks in advance for your support!

November 5, 2012

Book of the Month

James K. Wellman, Jr., Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Reviewed by Susanna Morrill

[T]his study is a moral project, mirroring and comparing moral worlds for readers to see themselves more clearly and judge their own moral worldviews in the relative light of these worlds (284).

In the spring, I’ll be teaching for a second time my class on religions of the Northwest. I’m looking forward to again using James Wellman’s book, Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest. The title of the book captures the project quite effectively. Wellman compares and contrasts twenty-four thriving evangelical congregations in western Washington and Oregon with ten thriving mainline liberal Protestant congregations from the same area. The uneven balance of the comparison tells the story that Wellman is trying to explain: Evangelical congregations are the far outstripping liberal congregations in financial and membership growth despite, as Wellman points out, the well known reputation of the Pacific Northwest as a bastion of liberal social and political life (xiii).

Published in 2008, the book is an explanatory aftermath of the media buzz about evangelical influence in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004. Wellman proposes that the Northwest is an ideal laboratory for exploring these national trends because the region has no dominant religious tradition. Mainline liberals and evangelicals have a level playing field and he can witness how these groups interact with each other and wider culture without one having an undue advantage over the other. I might moderate this contention a bit. As noted above, Wellman himself argues that the liberal Protestant groups seem to fit with the wider culture of the Northwest and I think, in agreement with Killen and Silk, this is partially because mainline liberal Protestants played a large role in creating the elite, dominant culture of the Northwest.

This, however, is a minor point in terms of the effectiveness of Wellman’s argument. Using qualitative sociological data and theorists (such as Peter Berger), Wellman sets out to answer three main questions: What are the religious worldviews of each group? How are these worldviews created and sustained? How can we understand the clash of these two worldviews (xii)? Wellman and his associates observed the services of each of the congregations, interviewed the senior pastor and an international missionary (if available) of each group, and also interviewed a representative focus group of members of the congregations.

I found Wellman’s book quite useful for my class and invigorating for my own thinking on the religious landscape of the region. Wellman writes in a clear and accessible style with a minimum of sociological jargon, though also communicating that his work is theoretically grounded. At the beginning of the book, he provides compact and useful background information about the history of the mainline liberal and evangelical Protestant traditions, as well as the religious and cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest. In his discussion of the Pacific Northwest, he offers a useful challenge to the contention (made in Killen & Silk’s The None Zone, among other places) that nature religion is the civil religion of the Northwest.

My students and I found most useful the way he breaks down the worldviews of each group and then, very systematically demonstrates how these different worldviews shape respective beliefs and practices of members. He begins with what he calls the moral core of mainline liberal Protestants versus evangelical Protestants—the foundational beliefs that shape how believers see the world. For evangelicals it is a personal and intense relationship with Jesus Christ; they believe he died to save them from their sins (60). For mainline liberals, the moral core is a more abstract belief that Jesus is an example of openness and inclusiveness that all are called to follow (63). From these core beliefs, Wellman traces the moral values of each group. For liberal Protestants these values are principally “modernism and personal autonomy,” while for evangelicals it is “stringent personal and scriptural traditionalism (67).” Using the qualitative data he has collected, Wellman argues that this core and these values shape how members create moral projects and they structure how members engage with Jesus, the Bible, ritual, organizational structures, leadership style, mission, social service, and political views on issues such as abortion, the environment, gay marriage, and the Iraq War. As an active mainline liberal Protestant, Wellman is particularly strong in expressing in a rather passionate way the complicated and little studied theological views of this group of traditions.

One might argue with Wellman’s breakdown of moral cores versus moral values or with the issues that he chooses to focus on. However, I found this breakdown very useful because he gives students a structure with which to talk about the slippery concept of worldview and proposes a way to look at how the internal beliefs of groups and individuals are translated into real world action. He gives us good tools to work with and argue about. He brings students into the religious worlds of folks they might not understand. Because of his clear expository style, I found students able and willing to engage critically with his categories and argument.
Occasionally the book reads as a very much a product of its time. For example, the section on the Iraq War seems to focus on an issue that is more specific than, say, abortion or gay marriage. But even here it speaks to the wider shift in the American religious landscape—the possibility that, as Wellman notes, evangelical Protestantism may become the establishment religion of the country (10). For a class, some of the later discussion about how values play out in belief and action can become repetitive because Wellman argues convincingly that we see clear patterns of connections between moral cores and values and ways of being in the world—we begin to be able to predict what he, in fact, finds.

This is an excellent book and an excellent resource for class. Wellman speaks with great clarity to one of the major issues in the contemporary U.S. religious landscape. His work can be read with a regional focus, or it can be read more widely as, he suggests, a laboratory experiment for the country as a whole. It engages the reader because, as the opening quote suggests, Wellman is intent on presenting to the reader a practical roadmap into two important Protestant traditions in this country, a roadmap that will allow the reader to better understand, interact with, and talk about these traditions in their day-to-day lives.

November 2, 2012

Casual Friday: Left Behind

Spotted outside Green River, Wyoming, in August 2012:

Photo by Quincy D. Newell.  Click image to enlarge.  It's worth it.
One has to wonder: who's paying the billboard company for this? Has anyone else seen these signs since May of last year?

Casual Friday: New AAR Group

By Brandi Denison and Brett Hendrickson

We’re proposing a new AAR group and we need your help!

As many of you know, this blog grew out of a 5-year long seminar that met at the annual American Academy of Religion conference. This seminar is meeting for this last time next month.

Thanks to the hard work of the co-chairs, Quincy Newell and Jim Bennett and the steering committee, Tisa Wenger, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Sara Patterson, and Roberto Lint Sagarena, those of us researching and teaching in this area have a place to meet like-minded scholars. We know that we are not the only ones who have benefitted immensely from the seminar’s discussions.

We’re not ready to end the conversation this year and we hope you aren’t either. That’s why we’re currently working on a proposal for a new group. Unlike a seminar, a group does not have a limit on the number of years it can meet.

In order to help us make the case for the new group, we need letters of support from current AAR members. Please take 5 minutes to compose a letter, indicting your interest in and support of this group and email it to either or If you have ideas about the directions that this group could take in future sessions, please submit those as well.

Let’s keep this conversation going!

October 29, 2012

Review of Anne Hyde's award-winning new book

Reviewed by David Grua

Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860, by Anne F. Hyde. History of the American West Series. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011. xiii-xv, 628 pp.

The great project of turning the West into part of the United States, initiated in 1803 and begun   in earnest in the 1840s, had made little progress in many places. Much remained flexible and contingent about life on its complex border into the second half of the nineteenth century. Residents of the West seemed quite ambivalent about nationality, easily claiming new citizenship when it served personal or business needs. During a time when no one knew which nation or empire would finally impose control, effective trade was the sole source of power. And it continued to be a world defined by personal connections. (30)

So argues Anne Hyde, Professor of History at Colorado College, in Empires, Nations, and Families, winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize earlier this year. Although the first word in her title is “empires,” the Spanish, French, and British empires play only a small role in her work. Empires certainly claimed title to much of the land that would become the western United States, but Hyde contends that empires, and later nations (Mexico and even the United States), exercised very little actual control west of the Mississippi prior to the 1860s. Power rested instead in the hands of indigenous nations and Euro-American fur traders who successfully tapped into Native kin networks via marriage and ceremonial gift-giving. As Hyde suggests in the excerpt above, empires and nations came and went, while elite fur trading families and Native nations maintained control in the region.

Hyde’s focus on families, rather than empires and nations, allows her to bring in a host of new actors who would normally not appear in syntheses, most notably women and children. While keeping one finger on the evolving political and military chronologies that form the backbone of narrative histories, Hyde keeps nine fingers, figuratively speaking, on families in various subregions of the emerging West—the Pacific Northwest, California, the Southwest, Texas, the Central Plains, and the Great Lakes. What she finds is a mixed-race world, with Euro-American men married to indigenous and Mexican women who provided the essential contacts for their husbands to create their trading networks. Their mixed-race children lived comfortably within the worlds of their mothers—dominated by powerful Native nations such as the Comanches, Cheyennes, and Navajos. Some mixed-race children also functioned well in the worlds of their fathers, although many faced discrimination among Europeans and Euroamericans. It was not until the United States conquered northern Mexico in the late 1840s that this fur trade economy that had created relative equality among various peoples began to unravel, although it would take decades for the United States to impose full sovereignty in the region.

Relatively speaking, religion is absent from Hyde’s text, as she prefers to analyze trade networks rather than religious ties. Certainly, she mentions Catholic and Protestant missionaries, but few receive extended treatment. On multiple occasions, she states in passing how religious ordinances such as baptisms and marriages tied families together across racial and ethnic divides, but rarely does she take the opportunity to further explore these ideas. The exception in Empires, Nations, and Families is Mormonism. The Latter-day Saints were latecomers in Hyde’s story, only making an appearance when the fur trade and its accompanying world was on the decline, soon to be replaced by a settler society that had no need for harmony among Euro-Americans and Natives.

In a provocative interpretive shift, Hyde chooses to portray Mormons, not as encroaching settlers displacing and replacing the indigenous peoples of the Great Basin, but as an Indian-like people who interrupted rather than reinforced the broader colonial processes of American settlement:

 One surprising native group was the Mormons or Latter-day Saints, who replaced the Osages in   terms of public worry and press attention on the Missouri frontier. Like the Osages, they were small in number but effective in getting the attention of imperial or national officialdom. Taking the analogy further, like many Native nations, the Mormons traveled in family groups, did business almost exclusively with their kin, and took great pleasure in refusing to do things the “American way.” Maybe a better comparison is to see the Mormons as more like the Comanches. Similar in numbers, eventually arranged across a forbidding piece of isolated desert landscape, they controlled trade and travel in the region using kinship connections, price controls, and fear.
 Mormons and Indians disrupted Anglo-American assumptions about how settlement should  occur and who should benefit from it. Unlike Native societies, however, Mormonism developed out of the heart of Anglo-American culture and religion and operated as a sort of shadow critique, which is why it upset people so much. In the same year that young Mariano Vallejo and his family fled the coast of California because of rumored French pirates landing in Monterrey, another family left New England for upstate New York [i.e., the Smith family]. Less romantic than pirates, but equally infamous and misunderstood, the Mormon religion that would come out of this move to the eastern edge of the western frontier would prove even more unsettling. (358)

After making this initial comparison, however, Hyde does not fully develop her Mormon/Indian thesis as the text progresses, although the assumption remains implicit throughout.

She devotes four subsections in two chapters to Mormonism, which is better than average for western history surveys. In her chapter on the U.S.-Mexican War, Hyde dedicates ten pages to a discussion of Mormon origins through the Latter-day Saint sojourn in Winter Quarters (in present-day Nebraska) in the mid-1840s (359-69). Although sound overall, this section contains multiple minor errors and head-scratching assertions, that makes the reader wonder how closely she read her sources.[1] For example, she claims that at the age of 12, Smith was apprenticed out to a newspaper printer. There is no evidence for this that I am aware of, and it is unclear where the idea came from (359). She makes no mention of Smith's First Vision (traditionally dated at 1820), preferring to start her account of Smith's visions with the appearance of the angel Moroni in 1823 (359). Hyde asserts that Smith reburied the Book of Mormon plates, per Moroni’s instructions. Again, this runs contrary to all available documentary evidence, which has Smith giving the plates to Moroni, thereby removing them to a heavenly sphere (360). She omits mention of the importance of the Book of Mormon in shaping early Mormon understandings of Indians as descendants of the Lamanites, a puzzling omission given her emphasis on Native peoples. In addition, she misses the significance of the Book of Mormon in causing early Mormons to settle in Missouri in an attempt to build what the text calls Zion or the New Jerusalem (360). She claims that polygamy was a primary source of anti-Mormon violence in Missouri in the 1830s. While Smith had taken a few plural wives by the time the Mormons were expelled from the state in 1838-39, polygamy was little-known outside of inner church circles and there is little to no evidence that anti-Mormons cited Smith's marital situation(s) as a reason for their opposition (361). In addition, Hyde asserts that Smith openly practiced polygamy in Nauvoo, Illinois, whereas in actuality the Mormon Prophet strenuously sought to hide the practice and publicly denied it (364, 365). Examples could be multiplied. The best that can be said here is that Hyde is in good company, as most surveys that treat Mormons make similar errors. Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought is a notable exception [2].

The most compelling element of this section is Hyde’s use of Mary Haskins Parker (Richards) to explore how a literate Mormon woman experienced Mormonism, after her 1840s conversion in England and migration to Nauvoo. Hyde traces Parker’s marriage to Samuel Richards and her husband’s dedication to building the temple even though the Latter-day Saints would soon leave Nauvoo. In the temple, the couple would receive “the rites that. . .stood at the heart of Mormon religion” (366). Hyde then discusses the couple’s preparations to depart the city, while Samuel prepared to leave his wife for a mission, a hardship that prepared Mary for the difficulties that awaited at Winter Quarters.

Later in the chapter, Hyde discusses the Mormon Battalion, the all-Mormon military unit of the U.S.-Mexican War (388-92). The Battalion impacted Mary because her brother-in-law, Joseph Richards—who was supposed to help her on the trail—“voluntarily” enlisted and died before returning to his family. By narrating much of this section from the perspective of a Mormon woman, Hyde successfully integrates Mormons into her family-centered approach that runs through the entire work.

Mormons return to Hyde’s analysis in a later chapter on the United States’ struggles to impose its authority on the new territories. She devotes ten pages to 1850s Utah (452-62), in the context of other crises in the territorial system in Gold Rush California and Bleeding Kansas. This section contained fewer noticeable errors, perhaps reflecting Hyde’s background as a western historian who has doubtless taught on the subject. Here she resumes the the story of the recently-arrived Richards family and their efforts to establish a home in Utah territory. Hyde describes Mormon communalism, tithing, and other practices [3]. In addition, she explores the Richards family’s experience with plural marriage, as Samuel took six additional wives in the 1850s. Hyde then describes the growing conflict with federal officials over land, Indian policy, and polygamy. Only here does Hyde mention the Latter-day Saints’ distinctive beliefs regarding Indians as Lamanites, who as the Battle Axes of the Lord would help the Mormons destroy Gentile [i.e., non-Mormon] America, and Young’s instructions for missionaries to intermarry with the Natives. She concludes the section with a discussion of the Utah War and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Her interpretation of the murders is closer to that of mid-twentieth century Mormon historian Juanita Brooks, who argued that the killings resulted from the fear and paranoia of local leaders, rather than as premeditated plot devised by Brigham Young in Salt Lake City, a hypothesis advocated most recently by Will Bagley. Hyde follows both Brooks and Bagley in arguing that Young's hyper-vitriolic rhetoric created an atmosphere that made the massacre possible and that Young was complicit in covering up the murders and protecting the murderers.[4]

Later in the chapter, Hyde returns to Mountain Meadows (484-88) in a section on Western violence that also includes the 1862 Dakota War and the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. Only here does she cite Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Glen M. Leonard's Massacre at Mountain Meadows: An American Tragedy (Oxford, 2008), which was written by three practicing Mormon historians, supported by a small army of LDS scholars at the church's archives. Hyde takes issue with Walker, Turley, and Leonard's argument that, aside from one fateful week in September 1857, the Mormon perpetrators at Mountain Meadows were upstanding citizens and ordinary pioneers, using the claim to make a broader argument about the tendency among white settlers (and their descendants) to simultaneously employ violence while claiming innocence:

A nation of squatters who used violence to establish rights and to dispossess other people needs to recognize itself in these actions. Anglo-American settlers, however laudable their individual intentions, chose to settle on land owned by others and demanded that the U.S. government use all of its power to remove them, making these ‘ordinary nineteenth-century frontiersmen’ into killers. [The conflicts discussed here] compel us to consider them as logical productions of the culture that housed them: the world Euro-Americans worked so very hard to situate in the North American West. (484-85)

Although Hyde describes the concept of “blood atonement” and other doctrines preached by Mormon leaders in the 1850s that provided a context for the killings, Hyde does not conclude that the violence was a product of Mormon culture. Rather, the massacre was “an episode that could be described as collateral damage when the federal government tried to impose its will on the wayward Mormons” (485).

Hyde’s extensive treatment of Mormonism—although flawed in places—is laudable and noteworthy. As in the work as a whole, Hyde’s attention to Mary Richards and her family expands the number of actors in important ways. Comparing Mormons to Indians presents an intriguing interpretive move, although she does not fully develop this angle. Consulting recent works by Paul Reeve and Jared Farmer would have likely helped to clarify the Latter-day Saints’ complex relationships with Indians and other Anglo-Americans.[5] Overall, Hyde’s Empires, Nations, and Families is a fantastic work that will make a lasting contribution to the historiography of the American West and will provide new ways for religious scholars to situate Mormonism in the history of the West.

[1] Her sources for this section include Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, 2nd Ed. (New York: Knopf, 1971), Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints (New York: Knopf, 1979), Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987), D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), and Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005).

[2] See David W. Grua, “Mormonism in Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought,” Dialogue:  Journal of Mormon Thought 42, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 177-82.

[3] Hyde relies here on Leonard J. Arrington, Feramorz Y. Fox, and Dean L. May, Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992).

[4]  Here she relies primarily on Juanita Brooks, The Mountain Meadows Massacre (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962), Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), David L. Bigler, The Forgotten Kingdom: Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896 (Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark, 1998), Will Bagley, Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002), William P. MacKinnon, ed., At Sword's Point: A Documentary History of the Utah War, 2 vols. (Norman: Arthur H. Clark, 2008), and David Bigler and Will Bagley, eds., Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre (Norman: Arthur H. Clark, 2008).

[5] W. Paul Reeve, Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006) and Jared Farmer, On Zion's Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008).