John Turner assumed a tall task when he decided to write a biography of Brigham Young, a larger than life personality who, after Joseph Smith, was the defining figure in nineteenth-century Mormonism. Young was a key participant in the church’s founding years and was the driving force behind the Mormon settlement of the Great Basin. As Amanda noted in her contribution to this roundtable, the sheer scope of Young’s life required Turner to not only familiarize himself with a mountain of primary sources, but also the extensive and growing secondary literature on various facets of the second Mormon prophet’s life and environment. She also fairly notes that no biographer (except, perhaps, Richard Bushman) can be reasonably expected to competently cover all parts of a subject’s life equally, which will doubtless leave some readers disappointed. Brigham Young’s engagement with and impact on the Natives of the Great Basin was one area that Turner sought to contextualize within a broader secondary literature and, for the most part, he was highly successful.
Although Turner sprinkles references to Native Americans throughout the book, he includes two extended interpretations of Mormon-Indian relations in Chapter 8 (207-18) and Chapter 12 (341-49). Drawing on recent scholarship by Ned Blackhawk, Jared Farmer, W. Paul Reeve, and others, Turner demonstrates that even before the arrival of the Mormons, the Great Basin’s Natives had already experienced European colonialism in the form of horses, diseases, and integration into slave-trading economies. Into this context, the Mormons arrived with distinctive theological beliefs about Indians, seeing them as descendants of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon, cursed for their ancestors’ wickedness and recipients of God’s promised blessings in the latter days. Turner describes Young’s vacillations between a policy of chastising Indians and seeking conciliation, as well as Mormon efforts to stop the Indian slave trade and purchasing Native children. Turner also examines the Bear River Massacre of 1863, the removal of many Utah Natives to the Uintah Basin, and the Black Hawk (Antonga) War (1865-1872). Turner concludes that
when he first came to the Great Basin, Young had envisioned a much different future for the region’s Indians. “Joseph committed to me the keys to open the gospel to every Lamanite mission,” Young had stated. That optimistic and expansive vision of Indian redemption had quickly foundered upon conflicts over Zion’s scarce resources and the daunting cultural gap between the Mormons and their prospective Indian converts. Thereafter, Young articulated a much more modest prediction that only a tiny “remnant of Israel” would embrace the Gospel. (348-49)
While Mormonism tempered how the Latter-day Saints approached their relations with Natives, in the end, the story of displacement and replacement by the new settler majority was nearly identical to other parts of the West.
Because Turner is a religious historian, he highlights important elements that other scholars might not have noted. For example, Turner compares the Puritans’ changing ideas toward Natives (from Israelites waiting to be saved to Amalekites needing to be displaced) with the Latter-day Saints’ own shifting views toward Indians (209). Turner also contextualizes Young’s 1850 experience of speaking in tongues during a meeting with various indigenous leaders–who claimed they understood Young’s words–within Young’s earlier encounters with ecstatic religion in the church. Specifically, Turner recalls Joseph Smith’s 1835 vision that that Young would speak to hostile Natives in their own language (214). Lastly, Turner pays close attention to Sally (Kahpeputz), a Native woman who was raised as a servant in Young’s household. Although Young claimed to have treated her like one of his own children, it is apparent that she was seen differently than his other (white) children. She eventually married Kanosh, an important Native ally to the Mormons, and as both were endowed, they were buried in their temple robes (215-16; 348).
Like other reviewers, I found Turner’s treatment sound, but it will likely leave some experts in Mormon-Indian relations wanting more or asking why he emphasized some points rather than others. I found it noteworthy, for example, that Turner devotes substantial space to physical violence between settlers and Natives (the Black Hawk War itself receives almost seven pages). Yet aside from one brief mention (210), Turner essentially ignores the more subtle tools of Mormon colonialism, such as missions, farms, and intermarriage. As Patrick Wolfe has noted, “invasion is a structure, not an event,” and these more “benign” forms of colonialism were ultimately more effective in the long run in removing Natives from their lands and encouraging assimilation. Aside from this point, however, I found Turner’s analysis of Mormon-Indian relations to be thought-provoking and engaging.
 Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (December 2006): 388.