One of the difficulties with engaging in new fields of inquiry is finding out what books are essential for providing a background in the topic. As part of our month investigating the relationship between indigenous people and the LDS Church at the Juvenile Instructor, we have compiled a list dealing with the top 10 books on Native American, Polynesian, and other native peoples within Mormon history. Compiling the list of books was difficult because it raised issues of how much weight should be placed on different categories. How should we weight syntheses vs. monographs? How much should theory count over information? How do you compare books about different locales and different time periods? How should articles count?
Included with each books is a description of its contents from Amazon.
In no particular order, they are:
Armand Mauss, All Abraham’s Children – “All Abraham’s Children” is Armand L. Mauss’s long-awaited magnum opus on the evolution of traditional Mormon beliefs and practices concerning minorities. He examines how members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have defined themselves and others in terms of racial lineages. Mauss describes a complex process of the broadening of these self-defined lineages during the last part of the twentieth century as the modern Mormon church continued its world-wide expansion through massive missionary work. Mauss contends that Mormon constructions of racial identity have not necessarily affected actual behavior negatively and that in some cases Mormons have shown greater tolerance than other groups in the American mainstream. Employing a broad intellectual historical analysis to identify shifts in LDS behavior over time, “All Abraham’s Children” is an important commentary on current models of Mormon historiography.”
Hokulani Aikau, A Chosen People, a Promised Land – “Christianity figured prominently in the imperial and colonial exploitation and dispossession of indigenous peoples worldwide, yet many indigenous people embrace Christian faith as part of their cultural and ethnic identities. A Chosen People, a Promised Land gets to the heart of this contradiction by exploring how Native Hawaiian members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons) understand and negotiate their place in this quintessentially American religion.
Mormon missionaries arrived in Hawai‘i in 1850, a mere twenty years after Joseph Smith founded the church. Hokulani K. Aikau traces how Native Hawaiians became integrated into the religious doctrine of the church as a “chosen people”—even at a time when exclusionary racial policies regarding black members of the church were being codified. Aikau shows how Hawaiians and other Polynesian saints came to be considered chosen and how they were able to use their venerated status toward their own spiritual, cultural, and pragmatic ends.”
W. Paul Reeve, Making Space on the Western Frontier – “When Mormon ranchers and Anglo-American miners moved into centuries-old Southern Paiute space during the last half of the nineteenth century, a clash of cultures quickly ensued. W. Paul Reeve explores the dynamic nature of that clash as each group attempted to create sacred space on the southern rim of the Great Basin according to three very different world views.
With a promising discovery of silver at stake, the United States Congress intervened in an effort to shore up Nevada’s mining frontier, while simultaneously addressing both the “Mormon Question” and the “Indian Problem.” Even though federal officials redrew the Utah/Nevada/Arizona borders and created a reservation for the Southern Paiutes, the three groups continued to fashion their own space, independent of the new boundaries that attempted to keep them apart.
When the dust on the southern rim of the Great Basin finally settled, a hierarchy of power emerged that disentangled the three groups according to prevailing standards of Americanism. As Reeve sees it, the frontier proved a bewildering mixing ground of peoples, places, and values that forced Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes to sort out their own identity and find new meaning in the mess.”
Jared Farmer, On Zion’s Mount – “Shrouded in the lore of legendary Indians, Mt. Timpanogos beckons the urban populace of Utah. And yet, no “Indian” legend graced the mount until Mormon settlers conjured it—once they had displaced the local Indians, the Utes, from their actual landmark, Utah Lake. On Zion’s Mount tells the story of this curious shift. It is a quintessentially American story about the fraught process of making oneself “native” in a strange land. But it is also a complex tale of how cultures confer meaning on the environment—how they create homelands.
Only in Utah did Euro-American settlers conceive of having a homeland in the Native American sense—an endemic spiritual geography. They called it “Zion.” Mormonism, a religion indigenous to the United States, originally embraced Indians as “Lamanites,” or spiritual kin. On Zion’s Mount shows how, paradoxically, the Mormons created their homeland at the expense of the local Indians—and how they expressed their sense of belonging by investing Timpanogos with “Indian” meaning.
This same pattern was repeated across the United States. Jared Farmer reveals how settlers and their descendants (the new natives) bestowed “Indian” place names and recited pseudo-Indian legends about those places—cultural acts that still affect the way we think about American Indians and American landscapes.”
Todd Compton, A Frontier Life: Jacob Hamblin, Explorer and Indian Missionary – “Frontiersman, colonizer, missionary to the Indians, and explorer of the American West, Jacob Hamblin has long been one of the most enigmatic figures in Mormon history. In this defining biography, Todd Compton examines and disentangles many of the myths and controversies surrounding Hamblin. His Grand Canyon adventures and explorations as a guide alongside John Wesley Powell are well documented, as are his roles as a missionary, cultural liaison, and negotiator to the Indian tribes of southern Utah and Arizona. Hamblin struggled in this latter role, sometimes unable to bridge the gulf between Mormonism and Indian culture. He disavowed violent conflict and ceaselessly sought peaceful resolutions where others resorted to punitive action. He strove above all for mutual understanding in the absence of conversion.
A Frontier Life provides a rich narrative that fleshes out a picture of a sometimes vilified figure, particularly in regard to his connection to the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre, where Compton provides nuanced discussion clarifying Hamblin’s post-massacre role—he was not present at the massacre, but reported on it to both Brigham Young and military investigators. Compton’s engagement with Mormon historiography and previous Hamblin portrayals will make this work of particular interest to both scholars and students. The casual reader will take pleasure in learning of a true pioneer who lived life at the geographical, cultural, and spiritual boundaries of his era. This dramatic, entertaining biography is a truly significant contribution to Mormon history.”
John Alton Peterson, Utah’s Black Hawk War – “From 1865 to 1867, the warrior Black Hawk, also known as Antonga, led a combined force of Utes, Navajos, and Paiutes in a series of intense stock raids on the Mormon settlements in Utah territory. Black Hawk astutely judged that political conflict between the federal government and Mormon Utah would keep U.S. soldiers from chastising his band. Moreover, the antagonism of Washington toward Utah’s polygamy, theocracy, and isolationism made Mormon leader Brigham Young wary of seeking federal help. In fact, to keep the government from using the war as a pretext for sending more troops to Utah, the Mormons withheld information, making the Black Hawk War an almost secret war as far as the rest of the nation was concerned. As directed by Brigham Young, Utah’s Latter-day Saint citizens mobilized a church militia, the Nauvoo Legion, to repel Indian attacks. Yet Black Hawk and others were able to carry on their activities for almost eight years without incurring the federal military reprisals that Indians on all four sides of the Mormon heartland experienced. Bloodshed on both sides plunged Mormons and Indians into a war of vengeance—years of killing and raiding that continued until federal troops stepped in 1872.
In this unprecedented volume, historian John Peterson provides the first comprehensive analysis of a unique and compelling chapter of western history and of the violent and protracted conflict it engendered. Utah’s Black Hawk War not only explores political intricacies and broader implications, scrutinizing the Mormons’ Indian policies—most notably Brigham Young’s extraordinary “better to feed them than fight them” teachings—but also presents vivid narrative accounts of various raids and battles. The result is a masterfully researched and engagingly written account of Utah’s secret war, a war largely unknown among western history students, scholars, and enthusiasts—until now.”
Ned Blackhawk, Violence over the Land – “American Indians remain familiar as icons, yet poorly understood as historical agents. In this ambitious book that ranges across Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and eastern California (a region known as the Great Basin), Ned Blackhawk places Native peoples squarely at the center of a dynamic and complex story as he chronicles two centuries of Indian and imperial history that profoundly shaped the American West.
On the distant margins of empire, Great Basin Indians increasingly found themselves engulfed in the chaotic storms of European expansion and responded in ways that refashioned themselves and those around them. Focusing on Ute, Paiute, and Shoshone Indians, Blackhawk illuminates this history through a lens of violence, excavating the myriad impacts of colonial expansion. Brutal networks of trade and slavery forged the Spanish borderlands, and the use of violence became for many Indians a necessary survival strategy, particularly after Mexican Independence when many became raiders and slave traffickers. Throughout such violent processes, these Native communities struggled to adapt to their changing environments, sometimes scoring remarkable political ends while suffering immense reprisals.”
R. Lanier Britsch, Unto the Islands of the Sea – “A history of missionary work by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, particularly in the Pacific Islands.”
Scott Christensen, Sagwitch – “The Northwestern Shoshone knew as home the northern Great Salt Lake, Bear River, Cache, and Bear Lake valleys-northern Utah. Sagwitch was born at a time when his people traded with the mountain men. In the late 1850s, wagons brought Mormon farmers to settle in Cache Valley, the Northwestern Shoshone heartland. Emigrants and settlers reduced Shoshone access to traditional village sites and food resources. Relationships with the Mormons were mostly good but often strained, and the Shoshone treatment of migrants, who now travelled north and south as well as west and east through the area, was increasingly opportunistic. It only took a few violent incidents for a zealous army colonel to seek severe punishment of the Northwestern Shoshone on a winter morning in 1863. The Bear River Massacre was among the bloodiest engagements of America’s Indian wars. Hundreds of Shoshone, including Sagwitch’s wife and two sons, died; he was wounded but escaped. The band was shattered; other chiefs dead. The following years were very hard for the survivors. The federal government negotiated a treaty with them but failed to get Sagwitch’s signature when, en-route to the sessions, he was arrested and then wounded by a white assassin. With the world around him changed, Sagwitch sought accommodation with the most immediate threat to his people’s traditional way of survival-the Mormons occupying the Shoshone’s valleys. This, then, is also the story of the conversion of Sagwitch and his band to the Mormon Church. Though not without problems, that conversion was long lasting and thorough. Sagwitch and other Shoshone would demonstrate in important ways their new religious devotion. With the assistance of Mormon leaders, they established the Washakie community in northern Utah. Though efforts to secure a land base had an uneven history, they partly succeeded, and the story of these Shoshone’s attempts at rural farming diverged significantly from what happened on government reservations. When Sagwitch died, his death went almost unnoticed outside of Washakie, but his children and grandchildren continued to be important voices among a people who, after experiencing near annihilation, survived in the new world into which Sagwitch led them.”
Matt Kester, Remembering Iosepa – “In the late nineteenth century, a small community of Native Hawaiian Mormons established a settlement in heart of The Great Basin, in Utah. The community was named Iosepa, after the prophet and sixth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph F. Smith. The inhabitants of Iosepa struggled against racism, the ravages of leprosy, and economic depression, by the early years of the twentieth century emerging as a modern, model community based on ranching, farming, and an unwavering commitment to religious ideals. Yet barely thirty years after its founding the town was abandoned, nearly all of its inhabitants returning to Hawaii. Years later, Native Hawaiian students at nearby Brigham Young University, descendants of the original settlers, worked to clean the graves of Iosepa and erect a monument to memorialize the settlers.”
Thoughts? What did we forget or leave out?