Mormons and the Closing of the American Frontier

By June 18, 2008

White, Protestant America’s nineteenth century frontier mythology—as most characteristically emblematized in the western—helped define the American character and justify the violent exploitation of the American West by Anglo-Americans. In the last three decades of the 1800s, many observers, Frederick Jackson Turner among them, worried that the frontier was closing and with it the source of America’s greatness, as they supposed. Since Mormons were part of the West, a change in how people imagined the West influenced how they imagined Mormons.

I analyzed relationships between Mormonism and frontier mythologies in the New York Times from 1889 to 1900. I identified three narrative models for situating Mormons relative to the frontier, which I have inelegantly termed “Conquest model with Mormons as foreigners,” “Conquest model with Mormons as forerunners,” and “Turnerian process model.” These models provided ways of reinterpreting the past and present. As Americans came to view the frontier as closed, it became easier for them to view Mormons as pioneering Americans rather than as hostile foreigners. As they came to view Mormons as pioneers rather than enemies, it became easier to imagine the frontier as closed. For others, the closing frontier prompted them to resolve the “Mormon Question” once and for all.

The Conquest Model with Mormons as Foreigners
The conquest model with Mormons as foreigners portrayed Mormons as a hostile, foreign force occupying land Americans wanted. [1] Their property was to be seized, their political and/or racial otherness to be avoided, and their institutions transformed or eradicated. In short, Mormons were the Indians of the frontier tale. Conquest narratives supported disenfranchising Mormons (placing political and economic power in a few hands), unifying Northern and Southern constituencies in opposition to a common enemy, and shoring up Protestant sensibilities of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality.

As I described in my previous post, the Second Boer War occasioned several references to Mormonism using clear conquest language. Additionally, contributors compared Mormons to the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Turks, called B.H. Roberts “the representative of an alien civilization,” wondered why Mormons weren’t deported like the Chinese, and reported on tourist excursions to see Mormons. [2]

Inverting Turner, many contributors believed Americanization and moral betterment came through proximity to society, not distance from it. An 1893 editorial argued that “[polygamy] was doomed from the time the civilization of the country closed around the Mormon community in Utah and began to pervade it with the social, educational, and industrial influences of modern progress.” The Mormons had “community” but not “civilization” and their betterment depended on drawing nearer rather than farther away. Another author perceived that pursuing cohabs in situ brutalized Gentiles, “bre[e]d[ing] a wretched stripe of bailiffs.” The author, however, believed the effort necessary and, contra Turner, predicted that “a sort of ‘mailed hand,’ supported by law, [would] squeeze out polygamy” but not the church since it was “built upon superstitions that must lose their hold upon the people as they become more broadly educated and more critical.” [3] Thus, frontier processes were negative and only state violence and close association with society’s refinements could rescue Mormons.

The Conquest Model with Mormons as Forerunners
The conquest model with Mormons as forerunners treated Mormons as pioneers for Anglo-Saxon civilization rather than as its enemies. It emphasized Mormon skill at irrigating, colonizing, and farming and allowed that Mormons could be made fit citizens by close contact with American society. Functionally, the Forerunner model supported conquest while placating Mormons and conscientious law-abiders. By including and lauding Mormons, it parried Mormon resistance; by muting the conquer-and-destroy language, it skirted objections about taking land or voting rights from Whites and focused moral outrage on polygamy.

A particularly bold commentator described how Mormons could forerun:

Whatever may be said about the moral and theological aspects of Mormonism, experience has demonstrated that […they] have entirely sound ideas on the subject of developing the material resources of wildernesses. …There will be no mourning, therefore, if the Mormons leave Utah to the Gentiles, and bend their energies to making the Big Horn Valley habitable—for their betters—in due time.

Most were more circumspect but accepted the general plan; witness the interest in Mormon colonization efforts in Wyoming, Mexico, and Canada. Conflict over statehood generated much conquest language. Many pieces argued that one or other of the political parties should court Mormons in order to increase that party’s power both nationally and in the West. [4] Mormon territory and votes could be “conquered” or co-opted for political profit.

Other discussions were straightforwardly acquisitive: “leading men of Wyoming have long cherished the hope that the eastern part of Utah, including Salt Lake City and Ogden and much orchard, pasture, farming, and mineral land, might become a part of Wyoming”; Nevada partisans “want[ed] territory capable of supporting a large and permanent agricultural community. This is to be found in Utah.” Mormons also (seemingly) appeared as agents of assimilation in a satiric suggestion for a Philippine battle commemoration, which placed them with “pawnbrokers, rumsellers…, missionaries, Miller syndicate men, and Tammany Hall politicians, hastening to convey the benefits of benevolent assimilation to the untutored followers of Aguinaldo.” [5]

The Turnerian Process Model
The third model follows Turner’s Frontier Thesis. Turner posited that the process of pressing further into the blank-slate of the open West and overcoming its inconveniences transformed immigrants into Americans. [6] The language of process, therefore, described Mormons as assimilating countrymen enduring struggles honorably and valuing space and farming. The Turner model went even further than the Forerunner model in shifting attention away from conquest and toward inclusion. With the Turnerian model one might speak of Mormonism’s early “challenges” without mentioning that many were caused by other Americans.

Relatively few pieces employed the full Turnerian model. Some emphasized Utah’s availability for settlers and the value of Mormon settlement patterns for “good average living.” A 1900 book review argued for “the conquest of our possessions on this continent” on hybrid Turner/Conquest grounds: cultivating “arid America” was “the best of all fields for the ‘expansion of ideas and the development of institutions'” and “national prosperity in the past came as the rich reward of developing the material resources of the continent.” Mormons rated a mention for “the first employment of irrigation on a large scale by Anglo-Saxons in the Salt Lake Valley”—a distinctly different treatment than the articles describing them as foreigners. [7]

An 1895 piece complained that while Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, “exerted direct influence,” George Q. Cannon was “so impersonal, so indirect, that rarely any public indication of the exertion of his influence is discernible.” For the author, Turnerian frontier directness trumped educated, political maneuvering-never mind that Young’s “directness,” included armed resistance of US policy. In contrast, another author thought Heber M. Wells benefitted from his origin in “a generation which knew nothing of the travels and hardships of the early Mormons, and which, therefore, cannot have the same veneration for the ‘prophets’ or the religion.” [8] The new generation of Mormons fit in better with mainstream America, thus fitting Mormons into a Turnerian narrative of progress and waves of civilization.

An 1892 piece quoted a non-Mormon Utah newspaper to the effect that Brigham Young’s “memory will be revered by the people as they read the story of his life as the pioneer, organizer, and commonwealth.” [9] The NYT editorialists opined that “the reverence which people will have for Brigham Young may depend a good deal on who writes the story they are going to read. If the story is written by a man who tells the truth and is not engaged in the historical whitewash and gliding business, there will not be much room for reverence.” The Herald writer drew upon a historical narrative emphasizing Young’s benefits to Mormons and non-Mormons. Such a historical myth tended to bring Mormons and non-Mormons together in the present, 1892, which unity was good for business and for Utah’s statehood application (which statehood was good for business). The NYT writers, however, recognized that the narrative elided parts of the story.

The three frontier models described above also elided details of the past. Brigham Young, like Turner’s hunters and frontier traders, was far more palatable to “civilized” sensibilities at the distance of a generation and with the historical microscope a few degrees out of focus. The Foreigner model ignored the U.S. citizenship and democratic instincts of many of the Mormons while the Forerunner myth ignored many Mormons’ frequent efforts to distance themselves from the United States. With Utah’s admission as a state in 1896, the frontier separating Mormons from the United States disappeared, at least on paper. Part of the subconscious attraction of the Turner Thesis and the Forerunner model were that they retroactively transformed what had been socially marginal individuals and groups into honored members of society. Thus, Mormons could honor their pioneer heritage, which helped them maintain a sense of separate identity, even as they began to partially assimilate into mainstream American society. Other Americans could honor the Mormon pioneer heritage, which distracted them from Mormons theological otherness, even as they began to partially accept Mormons.

Now, obviously, this is a very narrow study, drawing on only one newspaper in a tight time-window and without any effort to measure change over time or relative prevalence or any of the other important facets of a solid content analysis, so all my conclusions sport enormous asterisks. That said, I think this post fits in well with Dan Moos’ Outside America: Race, Ethnicity, and the Role of the American West in National Belonging, which describes how Mormon fiction writers in the 1940s constructed a Turnerian past for Mormonism (among other things).

I think the post also complements David G.’s post from Monday—or at least deals with the same general topic of narrating Mormon/non-Mormon power relations. Along those lines… I found a few Mormon constructions of Gentile actions as conquest-driven: “the prosecution and persecution…is political and predatory, not moral. The stranger wants, not only ‘the land and the fullness thereof,’ but he wants the offices that go with possession”; the 1899 rash of anti-Mormon violence in the South was caused “chiefly” by Mormons’ “political opponents, who wish to see Utah reduced again to the position of a Territory.” [10] It might be possible to trace some sort of arc from David’s description through the conquest/frontier language of the turn of the century on to Moos’ ur-pioneers.

This post is a two-thirds condensed version of a paper I presented at the Claremont Mormon Studies Association Conference this April past. I removed the theory and methodology sections and almost all the secondary footnotes and tightened the surviving prose considerably. I learned of Moos’ book after the conference; I’m pretty sure it was at JI but I can’t find where. At any rate, it cost me no small consternation to discover that my new idea wasn’t.


[1] The idea of “conquest language” comes from Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York: WW Norton, 1987), p. 17-32.

[2] All references, unless otherwise identified, are from the New York Times. 11 Feb 1894, ” ‘Love’ at the Arion Ball,” unsigned, p. 13. 04 Dec 1899, “Meet to Oppose Roberts,” unsigned, p. 2. 29 May 1893, “Calls It Discrimination,” unsigned, p. 8. For example: 18 Mar 1892, “Some Clergymen Shocked,” unsigned, p. 2; 23 Sep 1889, “Gentile Against Mormon: The Crusade Under the Anti-Polygamy Act: Strained Relations Between Mormons and Gentile-The Mormon as Martyr,” signed “E.G.D.,” p. 5.

[3] 16 Feb 1893, “Is Utah Fit for Statehood?” unsigned, p. 4. This same article foreshadowed, however, the coming change in Mormonism’s political fortunes with its acknowledgement of Mormon industry and Mormon whiteness: “Its people are, on the whole, more intelligent, more industrious and enterprising, and better fitted to become citizens of an independent State than those of Arizona and New-Mexico, many of whom are of the class known as ‘greaser,’ descendants of the original Mexican population.” See also, 14 Jul 1894, Untitled Editorial, unsigned, p. 4: “As soon as the Mormon Territory began to yield to the influences of the surrounding civilization, which could not be kept from flowing in, polygamy was doomed. Even if the National Government had not adopted the policy of suppression and the Mormon Church had not surrendered its dogma of plural marriage, the practice could not have lasted long. It could only thrive in isolation, and that ceased to be possible. Utah is now in a position to become a thriving and growing State of the Union.” 23 Sep 1889, “Gentile Against Mormon: The Crusade Under the Anti-Polygamy Act: Strained Relations Between Mormons and Gentile-The Mormon as Martyr,” signed “E.G.D.,” p. 5.

[4] 12 Feb 1900, “Topics of the Times,” unsigned, p. 6. 05 Jan 1893, “Mormons Arrive in Mexico,” unsigned, p. 9. 11 Feb 1893, “It May Be a Democrat,” unsigned, p. 1. 21 Jan 1894, “No More States Are Wanted: Mr. P. Donan Frees His Mind on an Interesting Subject,” unsigned, p. 19. In 1893 one L. T. Michener tabulated the number of Mormon voters in the West and concluded that Mormons could determine elections in five states, have strongly influence elections in four, and control sixteen Electoral College votes. 21 Jan 1893, “New States, New Senators: A Plaintive Appeal to the Republican Leaders,” unsigned, p. 10.

[5] 01 Mar 1893, “Wyoming Wants Part of Utah,” unsigned, p. ?. 28 Jul 1889, “A Dying State,” unsigned, p. 4, quoting the Eureka, NV Sentinel. 02 Dec 1899, “Dewey Arch Suggestions,” J. Arthur Holly, p. 9.

[6] Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History (New York: Henry Holt, 1921). Turner was not the first to note the frontier’s closing nor has his theory withstood all scrutiny. For this paper, however, our concern is with the practical consequences of the concept, regardless of its analytical accuracy or provenance. Turner ignored Mormonism except for a passing reference to “the settlements in Utah” (p. 8). Mario S. De Pillis analyzed Mormons using Turner in “The Social Sources of Mormonism,” Church History 37, no. 1 (Mar 1968): 50-79. For briefer comments, see Jan Shipps in Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), p. 34-35, and Patricia Nelson Limerick, “Peace Initiative,” in Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West (New York: WW Norton, 2000), p. 237-242.

[7] 07 Jan 1896, “Salt Lake Celebrates: Civic Demonstrations in Honor of Utah’s Statehood,” unsigned, p. 6. The reported speech was by Governor Heber M. Wells. 03 Jan 1896, “William E. Smythe’s New Scheme: He Tells About the Colony He Hopes to Found in California,” unsigned, p. 6. The book is William E. Smythe’s The Conquest of Arid America. Smythe is also the source for the “good, average living” quote in the preceding sentence. 26 May 1900, “Aridity a Blessing,” unsigned, p. BR15.

[8] The piece also described Joseph Smith as “a bold, strong man, and prophetic beyond cavil” and Brigham Young as “a man of courage, far-seeing, of profound and statesmanlike sagacity.” 13 Feb 1895, “Sold to Republicans: Utah Auctioned Off by George Q. Cannon,” unsigned, p. 1. 05 Jan 1896, “Welcomed by All Parties,” unsigned, p. 16. Another instance of progression appeared in an editorial citing “the change from religious warfare in Utah to legitimate politics.” 17 Apr 1896, “The Mormon Manifesto,” unsigned, p. 4.

[9] 14 Jan 1892, “Art Notes,” unsigned, p. 3.

[10] 23 Sep 1889, “Gentile Against Mormon: The Crusade Under the Anti-Polygamy Act: Strained Relations Between Mormons and Gentile-The Mormon as Martyr,” signed “E.G.D.,” p. 5. 11 Aug 1899, “Mormons in the South,” unsigned, [London, 10 Aug 1899], p. 7. 28 Jul 1899, “Mormon Elders Lynched? A Masked Georgia Mob Takes Three of Them Away-Not Heard from Since,” unsigned, [Atlanta, GA, 27 Jul 1899], p. 1. 29 July 1899, “Mormons Escape Lynching. They Get Away from a Georgia Mob While Crossing a Creek-Were Badly Bruised,” unsigned, [Atlanta, GA, 29 Jul 1899], p. 3. 09 Aug 1899, “Mormons Demand Protection,” unsigned, [Chattanooga, TN, 08 Aug 1899], p. 3. 12 Aug 1899, “Mormon Elders Must Go. Citizens in Virginia Use Switches to Stop Preaching,” unsigned, [Pineville, KY, 11 Aug 1899], p. 5. 16 Aug 1899, “Mormon Elder Sent to Jail. Refused to Pay Poll Taxes, Claiming Exemption as Preachers,” unsigned, [Chattanooga, TN, 15 Aug 1899], p. 7. 03 Sep 1899, “Mob Shoots a Young Woman. She Was Protecting Mormon Elders Whom the Men Had Attacked,” unsigned, [Chattanooga, TN, 01 Sep 1899], p. 17. 05 Sep 1899, “Mob Coerces a Mormon,” unsigned, [Chattanooga, TN, 04 Sep], p. 4.


  1. Edje,

    I think it is interesting that there are books today that utilize each of these narration patterns in continuing to describe 19th century Mormonism. I think you might have identified some patterns that are important to the intellectual history of Mormon representation. I think it would be fascinating to know how aware Mormons in Utah were of these growing perceptions.

    Comment by Joel — June 18, 2008 @ 6:56 am

  2. In should be kept in context that losing area is what territories did. Nebraska Territory and Washington Territory were much larger than the urrent states bearing those names. In 1866, after Nevada had already become a state, it did acquire a big chunk of Utah Territory. However, in 1867, Nevada also acquired a comparable piece of Arizona Territory, and Arizona Territory was orignally part of New Mexico Territory.

    Comment by John Mansfield — June 18, 2008 @ 7:43 am

  3. I am especially interested in your “Mormons as Foreigners” section. Chris and I have been looking at descriptions of Mormons in American travel writing and have kicked around the idea of comparing how Mormons, Indians, and Chinese are described and portrayed. Your comment that Mormons were the Indians of the frontier and observation that Mormons were being compared to the Chinese is fascinating. Sort of related, I’ve felt some writers depict Mormons as a sort of collective prodigal son, which kind of goes along with the Mormons as foreigners idea–they needed to be coerced back into the fold by forced assimilation (but where’s the fatted calf?).
    Great stuff, Ed. Even better the second time around!

    Comment by stan — June 18, 2008 @ 8:02 am

  4. Interesting stuff, Ed. And like Stan mentioned, very helpful to our current research. Do you have any plans to expand the analysis to look at other major national newspapers and potentionally get something published?

    Comment by Christopher — June 18, 2008 @ 9:25 am

  5. Joel: Thanks for the comment.

    >”there are books today that utilize each of these narration patterns in continuing to describe 19th century Mormonism.”

    On the one hand, this strikes me as being normal and to be expected. Frontiers lend themselves to within, on, or beyond categories. On the other hand, these narratives are scandalously simplistic to be the bones of an academic text. Do you have any particular titles in mind?

    >”some patterns that are important to the intellectual history of Mormon representation.”

    I’m sure someone has already written a book about representational categories of which I am not aware (recommendations, anyone?), but it seems to me (after staying up too late last night; caveat emptor) that these three are a subset of an 18-element permutation: within/on/beyond the perceived geographic boundary combined with us/hybrid/them identity combined with permanent/non-permanent identity. So, the Foreigner model describes Mormons as beyond:them:permanent; the Forerunner as on:hybrid:permanent; and Turner (describing the transformation as having already occurred) as within:hybrid:non-permanent.

    >”I think it would be fascinating to know how aware Mormons in Utah were of these growing perceptions.”

    You and me both. My next research task is to expand the non-Mormon analysis temporally, spatially, and genre-ly; then I’ll focus on Mormon perceptions, efforts to influence the perceptions, and any MCR/non-MCR variations.

    Comment by Edje — June 18, 2008 @ 10:07 am

  6. John Mansfield:
    >”…losing area is what territories did.”

    Yes, certainly… but I’m not quite seeing how bringing that reality to the fore changes the analysis. Can you expand? Part of the point is that some folks spoke of “conquering” the whole West, including Utah.

    Also, I think the choice of verb is important here and that the Utah case is somewhat different. I think a statement accurate in more cases would be that territories sub-divided. Montana Territory didn’t “lose” North Dakota and South Dakota, at least not in the same way Utah “lost” territory; Dakota Territory divided into N and S Dakota and Montana Territory (Wyoming and the Nebraska Territory fit somewhere in there also and I’m sure the boundaries were contested and somebody felt like they lost; see also Native-Americans, mistreatment of). Utah’s claim to exceptionalism centers on its population, which dwarfed those of surrounding states and territories, and its strong orientation toward Salt Lake.

    Comment by Edje — June 18, 2008 @ 10:31 am

  7. Stan: >”Chris and I have been looking at descriptions of Mormons in American travel writing and have kicked around the idea of comparing how Mormons, Indians, and Chinese are described and portrayed.”

    Good luck! A possible comparison group might be the Cajuns, who were the subject of some pretty vivid “foreign”-travel writing in the late 19C and who pre-emptively returned the favor by keeping their language and pejoratively calling everyone else (what translates as) Americans and Yankees. I might throw something up about a Cajun/Mormon comparison next week (no promises).

    >”I’ve felt some writers depict Mormons as a sort of collective prodigal son…(but where’s the fatted calf?).”
    I, too, await my, er… reparations check. On the other hand, there was much feting in the two years between statehood and the BH Roberts non-seating; it’d be interesting to look for prodigal son references then.

    >”Great stuff, Ed. Even better the second time around!”

    Thanks. There was considerably less stammering and sweating this time.

    Comment by Edje — June 18, 2008 @ 10:51 am

  8. Chris: “…plans to expand the analysis to look at other major national newspapers and potentionally get something published?”

    Yes. I hope to have something sent out within the next year.

    Also, in case it might be useful, I’ve emailed the original paper with all its footnotes to you and Stan.

    Comment by Edje — June 18, 2008 @ 10:57 am

  9. Edje,

    I think Timothy Marr’s The Cultural Roosts of Islamicism might be a good example of the Mormons as Foreigners Model while Worster’s Rivers of Empire serves as a good example of the Mormons as Forerunners Model. Off the top of my head I can’t think of an example of the third model of interpretation. Both of the above monographs treat Mormons with much more nuance than the 19th century NYT, but I think that the narrative models still appear.

    Comment by Joel — June 18, 2008 @ 11:06 am

  10. Possibly much of of correlated Church history follows the third model?

    Comment by Joel — June 18, 2008 @ 11:09 am

  11. Fascinating stuff, Ed. I’m remembering that Klaus Hansen discusses the “Turnerification” of Mormonism in books and dissertation during the first third of the 20th century in Mormonism and American Culture, but I don’t recall him going into a lot of detail. Also, I was flipping through Gustive Larson’s Prelude to the Kingdom the other day, and found that it was thoroughly Turnerian in its discussion of Mormon conquests over nature. Oh, I’d love a copy of the paper too. :)

    Comment by David G. — June 18, 2008 @ 11:32 am

  12. Joel: I’m not familiar with Marr, but I think your other two examples fit the bill. Thanks.

    Comment by Edje — June 18, 2008 @ 11:33 am

  13. David: Thanks for the book nods. Good Lord willin’ an’ the creek don’t rise, your copy of the paper will arrive shortly.

    Comment by Edje — June 18, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  14. Here are some territorial populations in 1860: Utah, 40,273; New Mexico, 93,516; Colorado, 34,277, Nevada, 6,857. In 1870: Utah, 86,786; New Mexico, 91,874; Colorado, 39,864; Nevada State, 42,491; Arizona, 9,658. Utah’s population wasn’t dwarfing its neighbors’ when it was losing territory. I doubt the Comstock Lode was much oriented toward Salt Lake City.

    Comment by John Mansfield — June 18, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  15. John, if you’re not aware of it, Paul Reeve deals with the shifting boundaries between Utah and its neighbors during the 1860s in Making Space.

    Comment by David G. — June 18, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

  16. John: I was thinking of the 1890s and of Wyoming and Nevada—matching the articles I cited that spoke of those two states taking parts of Utah. (See also Arizona and Idaho.)

    Re-examination of my #6, however, reveals that I didn’t write that. So, I apologize, and let’s try again. In #6, replace the “lose” and “lost” with, mutatis mutandi, “the conversation about taking from” and otherwise reorient the comment to refer to 1890s Wyoming and Nevada with their present-day boundaries, speaking of taking parts of present-day Utah.

    Back to the 1860s: You are clearly correct about Utah’s relative population and the losing of territory. Although I’m sure the losses irked President Young, they fit the general model of dividing territories around population growth. However, the 1860s divisions provide the backdrop for labeling the 1890s proposals as conquest-driven. Removing the western-Colorado and the eastern-Nevada deserts from Utah in the 1860s strikes me as a fundamentally different sport than claiming northern Utah for Wyoming when the populations of Salt Lake City and Ogden alone were almost equal to the entire population of Wyoming.

    Comment by Edje — June 18, 2008 @ 3:00 pm

  17. David: Making Space just keeps on coming up in conversation. Maybe I should make good on the money I spent to buy it brand new and read it.

    Comment by Edje — June 18, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  18. Well worth the read. Paul does a fantastic job of applying postcolonial theory to Mormon interactions with others, arguing that there existed a hierarchy of Americanness which regulated power relations between Nevada miners (and their allies in D.C.), Mormons, and Paiutes.

    Comment by David G. — June 18, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  19. Edje, thanks for taking the trouble to clarify my misreading.

    Comment by John Mansfield — June 18, 2008 @ 3:34 pm

  20. David,
    If I ever get any royalties for Making Space (an unlikely prospect) I’ll be sure and cut you in for all of the kind endorsements you give. Thanks.

    Edje, really fascinating research. I hope you do publish it. I’d love a copy of the paper if you are willing. It dovetails nicely with some of my current research. We are getting at some of the same issues but through very different routes.

    As for the diminishment of Utah, John makes a good point about territories being frequently divided, or realigned for a variety of reasons. What I’ve come to understand is that James Ashely, chairman of the US House Committee on Territories had a great deal to do with much of this realignment. He played fast and loose with the cartographer’s pen throughout his tenure. The shape of the present US West owes a considerable amount to him. Montana and Idaho, Utah and Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado, all took their present forms under his sometimes heavy hand. If he would have had his way, Montana would have been above Idaho, or vice versa, and Utah would have ceased to exist.

    The issue of population goes back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. A territory was supposed to have 60,000 population before application for admission as a state. There were no racial or religious provisions one way or another, yet in application there were (John’s 1870 population numbers are most telling, with Utah and NM with the largest populations, yet both kept out of the Union longer than the rest). Nevada is admitted as a State 20,000 people shy of the mark while Utah and New Mexico are denied admission. Clearly something more than simple territorial divisions was taking place. Especially if you consider the 1866 border move it is important to consider the reasons given on the floor of the House for this move. I believe there is clear evidence of bias built into the Utah/Nevada border, more than the normal losing of territory and as such fits within Edje’s “conquest” model just as well as his 1890s examples. The Utah/Arizona acquisitions both passed Congress in 1866. (Both territorial delegates argued against the moves, to which one Congressman replied, “I hope by all means we will give Nevada a slice.”). The Utah/Nevada border shift took effect immediately upon passage in Congress because the Nevada constitution contained a provision allowing for Nevada to move its border one degree of longitude with no additional consent from the Nevada legislature necessary. The Arizona transfer had to wait for the Nevada legislature to approve it, which it obviously did in 1867. Note that the two affected territories had no say in the process. James Ashley presided over the transfer. By 1869 he attempted to reduce Utah to 20,000 square miles with the aim of eliminating it altogether. Given Ashley’s public scorn for Mormons, this is clearly not your typical loss of territory. I argue in Making Space that power (who has it and who does not) is key to understanding this process.

    Bill MacKinnon has a great article in the UHQ 71 (Spring 2003), “Like Splitting a Man Up His Backbone” which deals with the rest of Utah’s border losses, some of which were typical territorial adjustments.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — June 18, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

  21. Interesting dynamics of perspective. I likes.

    Comment by BHodges — June 18, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  22. Paul: Thank you very much for your corrections, expansions, and elaborations.

    Your copy of the paper is in the mail.

    Comment by Edje — June 18, 2008 @ 10:38 pm


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