JI Summer Book Club: On Zion’s Mount, Ch. 1

By June 28, 2018

The trick of successful religious and cultural movements is situating ephemeral presence and evolving relation in timelessness. This is equally true for Mormon and Native American identity. The trick for scholars of religious and cultural movements is to simultaneously respect that timelessness and complicate it. Farmer is a successful scholar, and in Chapter 1 of On Zion’s Mount frames both Mormons and Native Americans in the Great Basin by their physical place in the world—literally the space on this planet.

I’m a good candidate for a reader of this volume. When I first picked it up, I was deeply familiar with Mormon worlds and the documentary record, but I’ve read only few works of Native American Studies. The ones I have read have had Mormon or religious valences: Paul Reeve’s Making Space, Todd Compton’s articles and biography of Jacob Hamblin, and Alan Greer’s biography of Catherine Tekakwitha, Mohawk Saint. My parents are also from Central and Southern Utah, and visits to the various National and State Parks have been a regular feature of my life. Both the physical and bibliographic presence have resulted in at a least a passable familiarity with some names and geographic areas: Ute, Paiute, and Shoshone.

In chapter 1 Farmer historicizes and contextualizes the creation of the various Native American identities that were familiar to me. We trace the North American topography and its relationships to the Spanish colonial and Mexican trade, and the stratification of Native identities based on subsistence. In his brief introduction to Mormonism to 1847, Farmer highlights an important aspect that helps render his study so potent: Mormonism’s cosmic conceptions of place, destined to conflict within the mountain confines.

I learned a lot in Farmers short and readable summary of native history. I also really appreciated Farmers expansion of my understanding aspects of Mormon History that I know well. For example, the warm and hot springs proximate to Salt Lake City. I’ve kept files on these spots as places of healings, but I was unaware of the Native uses for the same. It retrospect it makes sense, but I just wasn’t looking for what was there.

I will note that in complicating timelessness, the challenge is to strip the presentist scales from our eyes. I can’t speak to his use of Native sources, however, I did find anachronisms occasionally peppering Farmers narrative and few idiosyncratic readings. [n1] Overall, though, I’ve really enjoyed rereading this chapter, and have been reminded of several important things that I had forgotten. I look forward to the rest.


  1. E.g., on healing in Utah, Farmer points to hydropathy [too early] and bleeding [too late]. Farmer quotes the History of Church for a JS sermon [a personal pet-peeve], and points to DUP periodicals, which as he notes are useful and problematic. The source of both are generally available in the archives and regularly differ greatly from the published versions. Pp. 37, 44, 46, 48.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Good stuff, J. Thanks! I wonder if some of the things you note in your footnote can be traced to Farmer’s historical identity. I don’t think he would consider himself a religious historian, which I think shapes how and why he uses each source. I’ve been thinking about this in my own work recently, anyway.

    Comment by J Stuart — June 28, 2018 @ 11:39 am

  2. Thanks, J!

    “The trick of successful religious and cultural movements is situating ephemeral presence and evolving relation in timelessness.” I think this would be a good thesis to return to for other chapters of the book

    Comment by Jeff T — June 28, 2018 @ 1:09 pm


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