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)
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)