“On Zion’s Mt.”: Redd Lecture by Jared Farmer

By April 10, 2008

The latest in the Redd Center lecture series at BYU was given by Jared Farmer, Professor of History at SUNY-Stony Brook, who we had as a guest blogger here at our very own JI a week ago. Farmer spoke about his latest book, On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape, recently published by Harvard University Press. As David G. pointed out in his introduction a week ago, the book is a cultural and environmental history of Mt. Timpanogos and Utah Lake–the jewel and the bog, respectively, of Utah County. At least, that’s how they are popularly perceived in the valley today. But things were, at one time, quite different.

As a Utah County native myself–born and raised in Orem–I can vouch for the accuracy of Farmer’s depiction of Timp and Utah Lake in the popular local psyche (Farmer is a son of Provo himself). Utah Lake, as I understood it in my childhood anyway–much the same way Farmer described it–is a shallow stinky carp-infested cesspool where water skiers (those who can’t afford to go to Powell) skim over floating cow pies if not dead and bloating cows (apparently a lot of dead cows float across the lake). Timp, on the other hand, situated at the northern head of the valley, is the crown jewel of Utah County. With a cave at its bosom (with a stalactite heart), a year-round (some years) pseudo-glacier under summit’s shadow on the north face, Redford’s Sundance on its shoulder, and a prostrate Indian Princess’s skyline profile discernible to those in the know–Timp is the mythic monument and ultimate playground of Utah County and just may be the most celebrated peak in the state (though at 11,750 ft., it’s not the highest: Kings Peak and Nebo are both 13,000+ peaks).

This scenario, however, is nearly an about-face from the Indian days of yore. When the Timpanogos Indians–the Fish-eaters–inhabited the valley, Utah Lake was the center place–both literally and metaphysically. At that time it was a pristine lake brimming with large Bonneville Cutthroat Trout and the (now nearly extinct) June Sucker. The Timpanogos Indians dwelt at the mouth of the Provo River where they could catch all the fish they needed and more. It was a perfect setting and was, at the time, the place, with the Salt Lake Valley of eventual Mormon favor being, in Farmer’s words, “the second-best place”–a place the Indians, apparently, didn’t want (it was apparently a neutral zone, or something like that). The mountain, so far as Farmer has found, may not have even been given a name by the native inhabitants of the valley. Water was the sacred and vital aspect of their geographic cosmology.

Things changed however: first with the Mormon establishment of Fort Utah, followed by development of Provo, the native Timpanogos Indians were displaced and Utah Lake as a fishery was eventually all but destroyed. Though the lake served for a time as a recreation area, over time improper disposal of waste, overgrazing in nearby fields, general mismanagement of the ecosystem, the introduction of carp, and the placement of a steel plant on the banks transformed Utah Lake into grey-hued bog impugned with the dismal image described above. As Utah Lake diminished in local consciousness, Timp was simultaneously exalted. After the original inhabitants were displaced, the Mormon inhabitants of the valley–the new “natives”–shifted their focus to the north and through a little legend spinning and annually performed ritualistic summiteering (put on by BYU), a new valley focal point was formed. Farmer traces this historical development along with the rowdy and raucous and largely forgotten history of Provo’s early days in a fascinating narrative that blends cultural and environmental history with folklore and memory. For the rest of it, I’ll let you read the book, which is exactly what I plan to do…as soon as finals are over.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. I thought the biggest problem with Utah Lake was (1) the untreated sewage that for decades was pumped into it and (2) the introduction of carp than ate the trout changing the organic dynamics.

    Comment by Clark — April 11, 2008 @ 12:25 am

  2. Thanks for doing this writeup Stan. I thought this was an excellent lecture and the book a must read.

    Comment by Jared T — April 11, 2008 @ 4:18 am

  3. Excellent writeup, Stan, better than anything the publisher has put out. I was generally aware of the importance of Utah Lake’s abundant fish to the Indians and to Mormon settlement — it saved us during one of our early starving times — through D. Robert Carter’s award-winning “Fish and the Famine of 1855-56,” Journal of Mormon History 27:2 (Fall 2001), 92, and it sounds like Jared’s book is essential context for that, and much more.

    Despite wearying of years of commuting (a thing of the past, thankfully), one of the daily compensations was the first late-afternoon view of Utah Valley from the top of Point of the Mountain. A very little imagination erased the crust of human occupancy, leaving the sweep of the land’s contours and the gleaming sheet of Utah Lake. Utah Valley truly is one of the jewels of western geography, and I’m looking forward to reading Jared’s history.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — April 11, 2008 @ 6:49 am

  4. Thanks for the write-up, Stan, and for the personalized narrative of the nastiness of Utah lake in contemporary Utah county conciousness. This really is a cutting-edge work, and I expect to begin listing it with Paul’s Making Space and Kerstetter’s God’s Country, Uncle Sam’s Land as among the most important works to place Mormonism in a wider western framework.

    Comment by David G. — April 11, 2008 @ 9:44 am

  5. My primary connection to Utah county was the four years I spent there while at BYU.

    Thinking about this topic, I find it interesting that the only references to Utah Lake that I heard during that time were in connection to Sabbath breaking and drowning.

    Rather a harsh reputation?

    Comment by Researcher — April 11, 2008 @ 11:13 am

  6. Thanks for the summary, Stanley. I, too, found the lecture fascinating and look forward to reading the book.

    Comment by Christopher — April 11, 2008 @ 11:50 am

  7. Thank you for the interesting summary.

    While waterskiing at Utah Lake in the late 1980s, I recall catching decent air after I skied over a dead Suri (long-haired) alpaca (they have trouble swimming in the turbid waters). I was glad that the yuppies spent their weekends at Powell. Utah Lake was more for the hardcore skiers.

    The Seinfeld episode in which Kramer becomes an avid swimmer of the East River reminds me of old times at Utah Lake.

    JERRY: What is that smell?

    KRAMER: That’s the East River.

    JERRY: You’re swimming in the East River? The most heavily trafficked, overly contaminated waterway on the eastern seaboard?

    KRAMER: Technically Norfolk has more gross tonnage.

    JERRY: How could you swim in that water?

    KRAMER: I saw a couple of other guys out there.

    JERRY: Swimming?

    KRAMER: Floating. They weren’t moving much. But they were out there.

    Comment by Justin — April 11, 2008 @ 11:54 am

  8. Thanks for the review. I agree that this is much better insight than what the publisher has offered and what the author’s guest post indicated. I’m looking forward to seeing this work.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 11, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  9. I hope I have represented Farmer’s lecture at least fairly accurately–I’m afraid of what he might think of it, were he to read it (any corrections are more then welcome if you do, Jared). It is obviously sprinkled by my own recollections, melded, as memory always does, with my recollections of his lecture filtered thru my senses into befuddled words. At least twice removed from the source.

    One thing I forgot to mention: the self-styled “quixotic dream” of the lecturer: Farmer hopes to one day see a trout monument, similar to the seagull monument of Temple Square fame, arise somewhere in Utah Valley–any thoughts or suggestions for where it might be erected?

    And one more item: during the lecture I raised my hand as one of the few who could actually see the Indian princess’s profile in Timp’s summit skyline; but to qualify that a little more, I can only see it from the north side of Timp, ie, from upper Provo Canyon, Deer Creek, or the Heber Valley (probably because those are the points from which my dad or grandpa pointed it out to me, along with the legend about her lying down to sleep; and one more reflection: the heart, in the cave, is in an odd place (on the north-west end, in AF Cyn), biologically speaking, given that her head lies to the east–that’s what I thought as a kid anyway, after visiting the cave).

    Anyone else able to see it?

    Comment by Stan — April 11, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

  10. Stan, I can see it, but only sometimes. I remember being able to see it much clearer as a child.

    Comment by Christopher — April 11, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

  11. The part of the lecture that caught my attention best was when Jared described how Mount Timp became the icon it is. In the heyday of the hiking craze in the early 20th century, Provoites sought to create a national icon the likes of Pike’s Peak or Mount Ranier, and a BYU faculty member (name??) set out to create this national landmark. Jared described the boosterism that occurred, quite overtly, with pamphlets remarking that though many had passed Timp before, seeing it as an ordinary mountain, it was this individual who had the gift of sight to recognize it for what it was–a Wonder Mountain! With time people stopped having to remind each other that Timp was a special place. Jared concludes that this boosterism had mixed results. Though failing to establish the mountain as a national icon (On a google search, Mount Timpanogos comes up 57,000 times and Mount Ranier 27 million), they did succeed in creating a local icon that aided in building a community identity.

    Comment by Jared T — April 11, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

  12. a BYU faculty member (name??)

    Eugene Roberts, BYU’s Athletic Director at the time.

    Comment by Christopher — April 11, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  13. That’s it. Thanks, Chris.

    Comment by Jared T — April 11, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

  14. Having lived in both Provo and the Pacific Northwest, there really isn’t a comparison between Timp and Ranier.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 11, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

  15. Having lived in both Provo and the Pacific Northwest, there really isn?t a comparison between Timp and Ranier.

    Timp’s that much better, huh? 🙂

    Comment by Christopher — April 11, 2008 @ 2:05 pm

  16. […] Or a review of his recent guest lecture at BYU. […]

    Pingback by Virtual Oases, April 13 « The Exponent — April 14, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

  17. A tip for JI readers…

    Comment by Jared T — April 15, 2008 @ 7:54 pm

  18. Dang, that’s a good deal. And free shipping…

    Comment by David G. — April 15, 2008 @ 8:01 pm

  19. They had two…had.

    Comment by Jared T — April 15, 2008 @ 8:02 pm

  20. They had another. Thanks for the heads up!

    Comment by Randy B. — April 15, 2008 @ 11:35 pm

  21. Nice Randy, thanks for reading 🙂

    Comment by Jared T — April 15, 2008 @ 11:46 pm

  22. […] lore. I would comment more generally on the book but the busy bloggers at Juvenile Instructor beat me to the punch and even got the author to do a guest post with selections from the book. So I’ll settle for […]

    Pingback by Times & Seasons » Pioneers and Indians in Utah Valley — August 11, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

  23. […] Indians, and the American Landscape, which we’ve discussed before on the blog. See also here. Farmer’s book has won a ton of awards, most notably the Francis Parkman Prize from the […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Book Review: Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape — December 19, 2009 @ 1:38 am


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