Mormon History and the history of Indigenous Peoples: a top 10 list

By November 11, 2013

One of the difficulties with engaging in new fields of inquiry is finding out what books are essential for providing a background in the topic. As part of our month investigating the relationship between indigenous people and the LDS Church at the Juvenile Instructor, we have compiled a list dealing with the top 10 books on Native American, Polynesian, and other native peoples within Mormon history. Compiling the list of books was difficult because it raised issues of how much weight should be placed on different categories. How should we weight syntheses vs. monographs? How much should theory count over information? How do you compare books about different locales and different time periods? How should articles count?

Included with each books is a description of its contents from Amazon.

In no particular order, they are:

Armand Mauss, All Abraham?s Children – “All Abraham’s Children” is Armand L. Mauss’s long-awaited magnum opus on the evolution of traditional Mormon beliefs and practices concerning minorities. He examines how members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have defined themselves and others in terms of racial lineages. Mauss describes a complex process of the broadening of these self-defined lineages during the last part of the twentieth century as the modern Mormon church continued its world-wide expansion through massive missionary work. Mauss contends that Mormon constructions of racial identity have not necessarily affected actual behavior negatively and that in some cases Mormons have shown greater tolerance than other groups in the American mainstream. Employing a broad intellectual historical analysis to identify shifts in LDS behavior over time, “All Abraham’s Children” is an important commentary on current models of Mormon historiography.”

Hokulani Aikau, A Chosen People, a Promised Land ? “Christianity figured prominently in the imperial and colonial exploitation and dispossession of indigenous peoples worldwide, yet many indigenous people embrace Christian faith as part of their cultural and ethnic identities. A Chosen People, a Promised Land gets to the heart of this contradiction by exploring how Native Hawaiian members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons) understand and negotiate their place in this quintessentially American religion.

Mormon missionaries arrived in Hawai?i in 1850, a mere twenty years after Joseph Smith founded the church. Hokulani K. Aikau traces how Native Hawaiians became integrated into the religious doctrine of the church as a ?chosen people??even at a time when exclusionary racial policies regarding black members of the church were being codified. Aikau shows how Hawaiians and other Polynesian saints came to be considered chosen and how they were able to use their venerated status toward their own spiritual, cultural, and pragmatic ends.”

W. Paul Reeve, Making Space on the Western Frontier – “When Mormon ranchers and Anglo-American miners moved into centuries-old Southern Paiute space during the last half of the nineteenth century, a clash of cultures quickly ensued. W. Paul Reeve explores the dynamic nature of that clash as each group attempted to create sacred space on the southern rim of the Great Basin according to three very different world views.

With a promising discovery of silver at stake, the United States Congress intervened in an effort to shore up Nevada?s mining frontier, while simultaneously addressing both the “Mormon Question” and the “Indian Problem.” Even though federal officials redrew the Utah/Nevada/Arizona borders and created a reservation for the Southern Paiutes, the three groups continued to fashion their own space, independent of the new boundaries that attempted to keep them apart.

When the dust on the southern rim of the Great Basin finally settled, a hierarchy of power emerged that disentangled the three groups according to prevailing standards of Americanism. As Reeve sees it, the frontier proved a bewildering mixing ground of peoples, places, and values that forced Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes to sort out their own identity and find new meaning in the mess.”

Jared Farmer, On Zion?s Mount – “Shrouded in the lore of legendary Indians, Mt. Timpanogos beckons the urban populace of Utah. And yet, no ?Indian? legend graced the mount until Mormon settlers conjured it?once they had displaced the local Indians, the Utes, from their actual landmark, Utah Lake. On Zion?s Mount tells the story of this curious shift. It is a quintessentially American story about the fraught process of making oneself ?native? in a strange land. But it is also a complex tale of how cultures confer meaning on the environment?how they create homelands.

Only in Utah did Euro-American settlers conceive of having a homeland in the Native American sense?an endemic spiritual geography. They called it ?Zion.? Mormonism, a religion indigenous to the United States, originally embraced Indians as ?Lamanites,? or spiritual kin. On Zion?s Mount shows how, paradoxically, the Mormons created their homeland at the expense of the local Indians?and how they expressed their sense of belonging by investing Timpanogos with ?Indian? meaning.

This same pattern was repeated across the United States. Jared Farmer reveals how settlers and their descendants (the new natives) bestowed ?Indian? place names and recited pseudo-Indian legends about those places?cultural acts that still affect the way we think about American Indians and American landscapes.”

Todd Compton, A Frontier Life: Jacob Hamblin, Explorer and Indian Missionary – “Frontiersman, colonizer, missionary to the Indians, and explorer of the American West, Jacob Hamblin has long been one of the most enigmatic figures in Mormon history. In this defining biography, Todd Compton examines and disentangles many of the myths and controversies surrounding Hamblin. His Grand Canyon adventures and explorations as a guide alongside John Wesley Powell are well documented, as are his roles as a missionary, cultural liaison, and negotiator to the Indian tribes of southern Utah and Arizona. Hamblin struggled in this latter role, sometimes unable to bridge the gulf between Mormonism and Indian culture. He disavowed violent conflict and ceaselessly sought peaceful resolutions where others resorted to punitive action. He strove above all for mutual understanding in the absence of conversion.

A Frontier Life provides a rich narrative that fleshes out a picture of a sometimes vilified figure, particularly in regard to his connection to the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre, where Compton provides nuanced discussion clarifying Hamblin?s post-massacre role?he was not present at the massacre, but reported on it to both Brigham Young and military investigators. Compton?s engagement with Mormon historiography and previous Hamblin portrayals will make this work of particular interest to both scholars and students. The casual reader will take pleasure in learning of a true pioneer who lived life at the geographical, cultural, and spiritual boundaries of his era. This dramatic, entertaining biography is a truly significant contribution to Mormon history.”

John Alton Peterson, Utah?s Black Hawk War –  “From 1865 to 1867, the warrior Black Hawk, also known as Antonga, led a combined force of Utes, Navajos, and Paiutes in a series of intense stock raids on the Mormon settlements in Utah territory. Black Hawk astutely judged that political conflict between the federal government and Mormon Utah would keep U.S. soldiers from chastising his band. Moreover, the antagonism of Washington toward Utah?s polygamy, theocracy, and isolationism made Mormon leader Brigham Young wary of seeking federal help. In fact, to keep the government from using the war as a pretext for sending more troops to Utah, the Mormons withheld information, making the Black Hawk War an almost secret war as far as the rest of the nation was concerned. As directed by Brigham Young, Utah?s Latter-day Saint citizens mobilized a church militia, the Nauvoo Legion, to repel Indian attacks. Yet Black Hawk and others were able to carry on their activities for almost eight years without incurring the federal military reprisals that Indians on all four sides of the Mormon heartland experienced. Bloodshed on both sides plunged Mormons and Indians into a war of vengeance?years of killing and raiding that continued until federal troops stepped in 1872.

In this unprecedented volume, historian John Peterson provides the first comprehensive analysis of a unique and compelling chapter of western history and of the violent and protracted conflict it engendered. Utah?s Black Hawk War not only explores political intricacies and broader implications, scrutinizing the Mormons’ Indian policies?most notably Brigham Young?s extraordinary “better to feed them than fight them” teachings?but also presents vivid narrative accounts of various raids and battles. The result is a masterfully researched and engagingly written account of Utah?s secret war, a war largely unknown among western history students, scholars, and enthusiasts?until now.”

Ned Blackhawk, Violence over the Land – “American Indians remain familiar as icons, yet poorly understood as historical agents. In this ambitious book that ranges across Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and eastern California (a region known as the Great Basin), Ned Blackhawk places Native peoples squarely at the center of a dynamic and complex story as he chronicles two centuries of Indian and imperial history that profoundly shaped the American West.

On the distant margins of empire, Great Basin Indians increasingly found themselves engulfed in the chaotic storms of European expansion and responded in ways that refashioned themselves and those around them. Focusing on Ute, Paiute, and Shoshone Indians, Blackhawk illuminates this history through a lens of violence, excavating the myriad impacts of colonial expansion. Brutal networks of trade and slavery forged the Spanish borderlands, and the use of violence became for many Indians a necessary survival strategy, particularly after Mexican Independence when many became raiders and slave traffickers. Throughout such violent processes, these Native communities struggled to adapt to their changing environments, sometimes scoring remarkable political ends while suffering immense reprisals.”

R. Lanier Britsch, Unto the Islands of the Sea – “A history of missionary work by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, particularly in the Pacific Islands.”

Scott Christensen, Sagwitch – “The Northwestern Shoshone knew as home the northern Great Salt Lake, Bear River, Cache, and Bear Lake valleys-northern Utah. Sagwitch was born at a time when his people traded with the mountain men. In the late 1850s, wagons brought Mormon farmers to settle in Cache Valley, the Northwestern Shoshone heartland. Emigrants and settlers reduced Shoshone access to traditional village sites and food resources. Relationships with the Mormons were mostly good but often strained, and the Shoshone treatment of migrants, who now travelled north and south as well as west and east through the area, was increasingly opportunistic. It only took a few violent incidents for a zealous army colonel to seek severe punishment of the Northwestern Shoshone on a winter morning in 1863. The Bear River Massacre was among the bloodiest engagements of America’s Indian wars. Hundreds of Shoshone, including Sagwitch’s wife and two sons, died; he was wounded but escaped. The band was shattered; other chiefs dead. The following years were very hard for the survivors. The federal government negotiated a treaty with them but failed to get Sagwitch’s signature when, en-route to the sessions, he was arrested and then wounded by a white assassin. With the world around him changed, Sagwitch sought accommodation with the most immediate threat to his people’s traditional way of survival-the Mormons occupying the Shoshone’s valleys. This, then, is also the story of the conversion of Sagwitch and his band to the Mormon Church. Though not without problems, that conversion was long lasting and thorough. Sagwitch and other Shoshone would demonstrate in important ways their new religious devotion. With the assistance of Mormon leaders, they established the Washakie community in northern Utah. Though efforts to secure a land base had an uneven history, they partly succeeded, and the story of these Shoshone’s attempts at rural farming diverged significantly from what happened on government reservations. When Sagwitch died, his death went almost unnoticed outside of Washakie, but his children and grandchildren continued to be important voices among a people who, after experiencing near annihilation, survived in the new world into which Sagwitch led them.”

Matt Kester, Remembering Iosepa ? ?In the late nineteenth century, a small community of Native Hawaiian Mormons established a settlement in heart of The Great Basin, in Utah. The community was named Iosepa, after the prophet and sixth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph F. Smith. The inhabitants of Iosepa struggled against racism, the ravages of leprosy, and economic depression, by the early years of the twentieth century emerging as a modern, model community based on ranching, farming, and an unwavering commitment to religious ideals. Yet barely thirty years after its founding the town was abandoned, nearly all of its inhabitants returning to Hawaii. Years later, Native Hawaiian students at nearby Brigham Young University, descendants of the original settlers, worked to clean the graves of Iosepa and erect a monument to memorialize the settlers.?

Thoughts? What did we forget or leave out?

Article filed under Historiography Race


  1. Thanks for putting this list together, Amanda. I think Mormon-Native relations is ironically both an old and a young field. We need more of this type of list-making and historiographical thinking.

    Comment by David G. — November 11, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

  2. Since it is NATIVE AMERICAN MONTH, I will include books regarding Native American and Mormon interactions.

    Navajo Tradition, Mormon Life: The Autobiography and Teachings of Jim Dandy by Robert S. McPherson, Sarah Burbank and Jim Dandy

    Navajo Land, Navajo Culture: The Utah Experience in the Twentieth Century by Robert McPherson

    Dineji Nakee Naahane: A Utah Navajo History by Clyde Benally

    The Northern Navajo Frontier, 1860-1900: Expansion Through Adversity by Robert McPherson

    Mormon Settlement in Arizona by James McClintock

    Shoshonean Peoples and the Overland Trail: Frontiers of the Utah Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1849-1869 by Dale Morgan, Richard Saunders Jr. and Gregory Smoak

    The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre by Brigham Madsen

    Sagawitch: Shonshone Chieftain, Mormon Elder, 1822-1887 by Scott Christensen

    Beneath These Red Cliffs: An Ethnohistory of the Utah Paiutes by Ronald Holt

    Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes

    Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald Walker, Richard Turley, and Glen Leonard

    Boundaries Between: The Southern Paiutes, 1775-1995 by Martha Knack

    The Southern Paiutes: Legends, Lore, Language, and Lineage by LaVan Martineau

    Mormons, Indians, and the Ghost Dance Religion of 1890 by Garold Barney

    Nothing really

    On Zion?s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape by Jared Farmer

    Termination?s Legacy: The Discarded Indians of Utah by Warren Metcalf

    Utah?s Black Hawk War by John Alton Peterson

    The Trial of Don Pedro Leon Lujan by Sondra Jones

    As if the Land Owned Us: An Ethnohistory of the White Meda Utes by Robert McPherson

    History of Utah?s American Indians edited by Forrest Cuch

    Violence over the Land: Indian and Empires in the Early American West by Ned Blackhawk

    All of Abraham?s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage by Armand Mauss

    Indian Depredations in Utah by Peter Gottfredson

    Comment by Mr. Smallcanyon — November 11, 2013 @ 11:13 pm

  3. Thanks for the mention! I owe a lot to many of the books listed, such as Peterson’s Black Hawk War, Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount and Reeve’s Making Space.
    What about articles? The following are remarkable achievements and gave me guidance, though I don’t agree with all of them 100 per cent.
    –Brooks, Juanita. ?Indian Relations on the Mormon Frontier.? Utah Historical Quarterly 12 (Jan.-April 1944): 1-48.
    –Peterson, Charles S. ?The Hopis and the Mormons, 1858-1873.? Utah Historical Quarterly 39.2 (spring 1971): 179-93.
    –Peterson, Charles S. ?Jacob Hamblin, Apostle to the Lamanites and the Indian Mission.? Journal of Mormon History 2 (1975): 21-34.
    –Smiley, Winn Whiting. ?Ammon M. Tenney: Mormon Missionary to the Indians.? Journal of Arizona History 13.2 (summer 1972): 82-108.
    –Stoffle, Richard W. and Michael J. Evans. ?Resource Competition and Population Change: A Kaibab Paiute Ethnohistorical Case.? Ethnohistory 23.2 (spring 1976): 173-197.
    –Walker, Ronald W. ?Native Women on the Utah Frontier.? Brigham Young University Studies 32.4 (fall 1992): 87-124.
    –Cannon, Brian Q. ?Adopted or Indentured, 1850-1870: Native Children in Mormon Households.? In Walker and Dant, Nearly Everything Imaginable, 341-57.
    –Jones, Sondra. ??Redeeming the Indian?: the Enslavement of Indian Children in New Mexico and Utah.? Utah Historical Quarterly 67.3 (summer 1999): 220-41.
    –Christy, Howard A. ?Open Hand and Mailed First: Mormon Indian Relations in Utah, 1847-52.? Utah Historical Quarterly 46 (summer 1978): 216-61.
    –Duffy, John-Charles. ?The Use of ?Lamanite? in Official LDS Discourse.? Journal of Mormon History 34 (winter 2008): 118-67.

    Comment by Todd Compton — November 12, 2013 @ 1:00 am

  4. Thanks, Corey. That’s a helpful bibliography. Todd, nice “top 10” list of articles. I would argue that Ron Walker’s article on Wakara and Ute accommodation to Mormon settlement should be included on any “top 10” list of articles. I would probably bump Duffy’s article off your list to make room for it.

    Comment by David G. — November 12, 2013 @ 9:21 am

  5. David: My list of articles is actually pretty personal–those that influenced me in my Hamblin book. So there’s a bias toward southern Utah. (The Ammon Tenney article wouldn’t be important to most historians.) But let’s not knock anyone off! John-Charles would never forgive me! Let’s expand the canon . . . (Like Corey did for books. For books I was going to suggest The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre by Brigham Madsen, but Corey has listed it already.)

    Dale Morgan’s article on Brigham as Indian agent might also be considered. But it would be easy to make another list of ten articles just as important as these, for different reasons. Five more articles, David, in addition to Walker on Wakara?

    Comment by Todd Compton — November 12, 2013 @ 10:09 am

  6. This is really helpful, especially for those of is interested in the subject but not specialists. Thanks, Amanda (and others who have made subsequent suggestions).

    One question: Has anyone done any good work on Mormon attitudes towards/interactions with indigenous peoples in Latin America (or anywhere outside of the intermountain West and Pacific islands, really)?

    Comment by Christopher — November 12, 2013 @ 10:55 am

  7. Indeed, Todd. Any list is going to be subjective and based on an author’s particular interests. You could easily create separate lists for Mormon-Shoshone, Mormon-Ute/Paiute/Goshute, and Mormon-Navajo/Hopi/Apache relations, just for Mormon interactions with Great Basin/Southwest Natives.

    Chris, Stuart Parker (who is slotting to guest post later this month) includes Margarito Bautista in his book manuscript (due out sometime with Kofford). Bautista, as you may be aware, was a Mexican nationalist who drew inspiration from “Lamanismo.” Stuart also looks at “Lamanism” in other Anglo Restorationist traditions, so his book should be a real contribution.

    Comment by David G. — November 12, 2013 @ 11:24 am

  8. Thank you for the list. So far I’ve only read Reeve and Peterson, but I’m looking forward to reading Todd’s biography of Jacob Hamblin.

    And thanks to the commenters, including Mr. Smallcanyon, for the additional suggestions, since I occasionally run into stories about the Piutes in Washington County, Utah, and really need a more comprehensive exploration of the history than the little bits and pieces the pioneers left in their diaries and histories.

    Comment by Amy T — November 12, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

  9. Thanks for the lists. Farmer’s book was an eye opener for me. I’ll add my appreciation for Todd’s Hamblin biography. I’m about halfway through it myself. He’s done a great job in the retelling of Jacob Hamblin’s story with a lot more nuance than the previous treatments, and effectively tells how the influx of Mormon settlers impacted the Native American peoples, rather than the other way around.

    Comment by kevinf — November 12, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

  10. Todd: I was to lazy to start listing books regarding missionary – indian relations, which is also very limited, but needs mention, including your book.

    And just as important is the longer list of articles about Native – LDS relations, thanks Todd.

    David: quit cyber bullying Todd….lol….

    Amy: Reeve’s ideas and role he assigns to the Paiutes is interesting. Peterson’s discussion on other tribes besides the Utes in his book is also interesting. If you’re working on the Paiutes, i would probably recommend people start with Cuch’s edited work. Cuch went to each tribal group represented in Utah and had the tribe present their own history.

    Comment by Mr. Smallcanyon — November 14, 2013 @ 3:27 am

  11. A very useful list. Thanks.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — November 17, 2013 @ 10:52 pm

  12. This is very helpful. Thanks!

    Comment by Stan — November 18, 2013 @ 9:27 am


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