Welcome to the eighth installment in the JI’s fourth annual summer book club. This year we are reading Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard UP, 2008). Check back every Thursday for the week’s installment. Or, you can find them here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Please follow the JI on Facebook and Twitter.
I was eight the first time I remember hiking the Timpanogos Cave National Monument. After a hike, intermittent stops for Fruit-by-the-Foot, and what seemed like an eternal wait, my family and I stepped into the dimly lit tunnel that took me into the cave. I was a little nervous that my fanny pack would bump the wall and ruin some spectacular stalactite or stalagmite, which would lead to my immediate dismissal from the Cub Scouts. Towards the end of the tour, the guide pointed to an enormous formation with a light illuminating it from behind. “This is the ‘Great Heart of Timpanogos,'” she said. She told us the legend of Utahna and sent our group back down the mountain, with me thinking about the poor princess who had been willing to give her life for her people to survive a drought.
I don’t remember hearing the story again until the summer after I read On Zion’s Mount in a Utah history course at BYU. Suddenly the Heart of Timpanogos didn’t seem so full of wonder and sacrifice, it felt like a painful reminder that the mountain was more than a tourist attraction–it was a place shaped by the interactions of indigenous people and Mormon settlers. Moreover, it was a place whose value and meaning was shaped by the nation in which it is found.
Farmer opens Chapter 8, “The Rise and Fall of a Lover’s Leap” by tracing the legend of Timpanogos from Eugene “Timp” Roberts’ first published telling in 1922 back to the early nineteenth century. It turns out that the “Lover’s Leap” was first relayed by Zebulon Pike as he explored the Mississippi River and slowly gained traction in American folklore through the remainder of the century. The Lover’s Leap was part of what are called “Indian Legends,” stories told about indigenous peoples by whites. Farmer suggests that there are three primary reasons for their long-lasting influence in American lore. First, they played into trends of nationalism, Romanticism, and antiquarianism. Second, they were shaped and re-shaped by changing conceptions of marriage and gender. Third, they reflected American racial violence and its accompanying guilt.
Farmer’s analysis of nineteenth-century literature on leaping lovers and postcolonial authors is excellent, examining the ways that regional landmarks became representative of coalescing nationalism. Similarly, his exploration of America’s racial violence and its accompanying racial guilt associated with indigenous peoples strikes the right balance of precision and melancholy when telling the story of white violence and colonialism.
I’d like to focus on Farmer’s second argument, that the Lover’s Leap was a story that reflected the move from arranged marriages to companionate marriages. I should say, from the start, that I think Farmer’s analysis is spot on. I think that Protestant (and Catholic) women affixed their own gendered frustrations regarding marriage, sexuality, and women’s autonomy to Indian women. Part of this was projecting. It was “safe” to say that a non-white woman was bothered by her marriage arrangements or had been betrayed by men she had trusted, but not wanting to be mixed up with suffragists or other radical women, they chose to not voice their objections as themselves. What is storytelling, if not using the didactic nature of oratory to express emotion, especially deep pain or joy?
I was left wondering, though, how Farmer’s analysis would have been shaped by considering the Utah and Mormon contexts of Timpanogos and Roberts’ adoption of the Lover’s Leap in 1922. Mormons had made plural marriage an excommunicable offense in 1904 during the Reed Smoot Hearings and reiterated their threat in 1911 with the release of the Third Manifesto. Despite these new penalties, the LDS Church was still full of polygamists, both those with living spouses and those that were born to polygamous unions. How did plural marriage shape the ways in which the Lover’s Leap became a part of Utah’s folklore? Was it coincidence that Roberts published Utahna’s legend as the second generation of Mormons that had never been asked to practice plural marriage began to climb Timpanogos while they were students at BYU? Or did it reflect the ways in which many Mormon women viewed plural marriage as an Abrahamic sacrifice?
Farmer convincingly argues that the Legend of Utahna’s Leap was a “particular death at a particular place.” Perhaps, two generations after the Woodruff Manifesto was announced and one year before the last of Utah’s so-called Indian Wars, Eugene Roberts was responding to the death of the slow demise of a marriage system and the end of a string of longstanding military conflicts against indigenous peoples. After all, Farmer says, “legends take place” (italics mine). He also makes it clear that legends, though designed to be timeless, are told in time.