JI Summer Book Club: Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount

By June 21, 2018

Back by popular demand, the Juvenile Instructor will be hosting its Fourth Annual Summer Book Club in 2018! This year’s book is Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard UP, 2008).[1] The selection of Farmer’s book continues our ongoing emphasis on biography. The first two years, we read and discussed Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and then Newell and Avery’s Mormon Enigma, biographies of Mormonism’s founding couple. Last year, we read Ulrich’s A House Full of Females, a group biography of several women (and a few men) of the movement’s first generation. On Zion’s Mount is perhaps best understood as the biography of a place—Mount Timpanogos—and how it became such a prominent landmark in Utah.

Over the coming weeks, JI bloggers will walk readers through Farmer’s argument, beginning with an ethnohistorical account of the Great Basin’s Indian nations. For Timpanogos Utes and other Natives, the most notable landmark in what would later be called Utah Valley was not a mountain, but rather the fresh-water lake that provided life-giving fish and sustenance. For the Native inhabitants of the place, the peak that would later be called Timpanogos was not “legible” as a landmark. After the arrival of Mormon settlers, the lake would be overfished (and later polluted) and the Indians displaced to a reservation. Farmer contends that it was the descendants of those settlers who created and imagined Mount Timpanogos as a cultural landmark, first through federal map-making and then through turn-of-the-century recreational hiking. It was in this context that legends and myths about Indian maidens were attached to Mount Timpanogos. Farmer’s work is notable in that he extends the narrative well beyond the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, thereby connecting two centuries often interpreted by historians in terms of their discontinuity.

We chose On Zion’s Mount in part because few other works on Mormonism published by a major university press have received less attention in the Mormon History Association or Mormon Studies circles more broadly. Emblematic of this neglect was the failure of the Journal of Mormon History—the flagship periodical in the subfield—to publish a review of On Zion’s Mount until seven years after its publication.[2] To be fair, Farmer does not primarily identify as a historian of Mormonism, but rather as a historian of the American West, the environment, and Native America (among other subfields), and he has not frequented MHA on an annual basis. But the slowness of JMH to review On Zion’s Mount does exemplify to some degree the field’s persistent parochialism.[3]

Inversely, On Zion’s Mount has received more praise in the wider historical profession than almost any other recent work on Mormon history, having been awarded, among several prizes, the prestigious Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. The book resonated so widely in the historical profession because Farmer sought to place the story of Mount Timpanogos specifically, and the Mormon story more generally, into the broadest possible frameworks. He notes in the book that “the main story of Utah’s formation—settlers colonizing Indian land, organizing a territory, dispossessing natives, and achieving statehood—could not be more American” (14). On Zion’s Mount therefore exemplifies recent efforts to use Mormon history to answer questions that are pressing in larger fields, such as the overlapping histories of the American West, Native America, the environment, the cultural landscape, and American religion. We hope you’ll join us as we explore On Zion’s Mount over the coming summer. Watch for new installments each Thursday.


[1] Used copies of both the hardback and paperback are starting at around $10 on Amazon.

[2] See JMH 42, no. 2 (Apr. 2015): 264-268. I will note, however, that the JI highlighted On Zion’s Mount in 2008 and we published a review of the work in 2009. My review of the book appeared in Mormon Historical Studies in 2010.

[3] Farmer himself explored some of the reasons for this parochialism in “Crossroads of the West,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 1 (Jan. 2015):156-173. Embarrassingly, Farmer had to point out in his essay that JMH had not yet published a review of his book.

Article filed under Announcements and Events Book and Journal Reviews Categories of Periodization: Accommodation Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism Categories of Periodization: Origins Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period Environmental History Memory Mormon History Association Race


  1. Thanks, David. I’m excited to dig into this again!

    Comment by Jeff T — June 21, 2018 @ 4:40 pm

  2. Is there a reading schedule that goes along with the posts? I’ve had this book for a few years, but didn’t start reading it until I saw this post. Looking forward to digging into the book.

    Comment by Curtis C — June 26, 2018 @ 9:46 am


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