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The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden: Essays on Mormon Environmental History

The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden: Essays on Mormon Environmental History

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The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden: Essays on Mormon Environmental History

566 pages
8 heures
Apr 12, 2019


Although scholars have increasingly investigated the impact of religion and religious movements on nature, studies of the interactions between Mormons and the natural environment are few. This volume applies the perspectives of environmental history to Mormonism, providing both a scholarly introduction to Mormon environmental history and a spur for historians to consider the role of nature in the Mormon past.
     Since Joseph Smith’s revelations, Mormons have interacted with nature in significant ways—whether perceiving it as a place to find God, uncorrupted spaces in which to build communities to usher in the Second Coming, wildness needing domestication and control, or a world brimming with natural resources to ensure economic well-being. The essays in this volume—written by leading scholars in both environmental history and Mormon history—explore how nature has influenced Mormon beliefs and how these beliefs inform Mormons’ encounters with nature. Introducing overarching environmental ideas, contributors examine specific aspects of nature and Mormon theology to glean new insights into the Mormon experience.
Apr 12, 2019

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The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden - University of Utah Press








The Defiance House Man colophon is a registered trademark of the University of Utah Press. It is based on a four-foot-tall Ancient Puebloan pictograph (late PIII) near Glen Canyon, Utah.


Names: Rogers, Jedediah S. (Jedediah Smart), 1978– editor. | Godfrey, Matthew C., editor.

Title: The earth will appear as the Garden of Eden : essays on Mormon environmental history / edited by Jedediah S. Rogers and Matthew C. Godfrey.

Description: Salt Lake City : The University of Utah Press, [2018] | Includes bibliographical references and index. |

Identifiers: LCCN 2018030659 (print) | LCCN 2018032522 (ebook) | ISBN 9781607816546 | ISBN 9781607816539 (pbk. : alk. paper)

Subjects: LCSH: Environmentalism—Religious aspects—Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—History. | Environmentalism—Religious aspects—Mormon Church—History. | Zion (Mormon Church) | Ecotheology. | Environmentalism—Utah—History. | Environmentalism—West (U.S.)

Classification: LCC BX8643.Z55 (ebook) | LCC BX8643.Z55 E27 2018 (print) | DDC 261.8/80882893—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018030659

The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden is taken from the Mormon hymn Now Let Us Rejoice by William W. Phelps, which was first included in the LDS hymnbook in 1835.

Printed and bound in the U.S.A.


INTRODUCTION: The Promise and Challenge of Mormon Environmental History, by Jedediah S. Rogers and Matthew C. Godfrey

History, Nature, and Mormon Historiography, by Jedediah S. Rogers


The Lion of the Lord and the Land: Brigham Young’s Environmental Ethic, by Sara Dant

Lost Memory and Environmentalism: Mormons on the Wasatch Front, 1847–1930, by Thomas G. Alexander


The Natural World and the Establishment of Zion, 1831–1833, by Matthew C. Godfrey

We Seldom Find Either Garden, Cow, or Pig: Encountering Environments in Urban England and the American West, by Brett D. Dowdle

Mapping Deseret: Vernacular Mormon Mapmaking and Spiritual Geography in the American West, by Richard Francaviglia

American Zion: Mormon Culture and the Creation of a National Park, by Betsy Gaines Quammen


Before the Boom: Mormons, Livestock, and Stewardship, 1847–1870, by Jeff Nichols

The People Cannot Conquer the River: Mormons and Water in the Arid Southwest, 1865–1938, by Brian Frehner

There Are Millions of Acres in Our State: Mormon Agrarianism and the Environmental Limits of Expansion, by Brian Q. Cannon

The Prophet Said to Plant a Garden: Spencer W. Kimball and the Transformation of the Mormon Agrarian Tradition, by Nathan N. Waite

For the Strength of the Hills: Casting a Concrete Zion, by Rebecca K. Andersen

EPILOGUE: On the Moral Lessons of Mormon Environmental History, by George B. Handley

APPENDIX: Righteous Dominion and Compassion for the Earth, by Marcus B. Nash







The Promise and Challenge of Mormon Environmental History

Jedediah S. Rogers and Matthew C. Godfrey

DESPITE ITS LONG-ESTABLISHED PRESENCE in the academy, the perspective of environmental history has made few inroads into Mormon studies. This is true even as dozens of high-quality works on Mormonism appear annually; Mormon studies has perhaps never enjoyed more vitality. This is not to say that writers have ignored environmental themes, but the historians and scholars consciously examining Mormonism within the academic stream of environmental history have been few and are generally not recognized by the field.¹

This is surprising given the prominence of environmental history in the academy and the subsequent way insights from the field have seeped into the literature. Like the new Mormon history, environmental history developed as a subfield in the milieu of the new social history—history from the bottom up. Concerned as its practitioners were with the lives of ordinary people as well as the dynamics of gender, race, and ethnicity, environmental historians added nature as an active actor to the stories they told. The historical subfield developed alongside the American environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of its practitioners, then and now, came to it through their own environmental awareness—a personal connection to the natural world and a commitment to protect it from despoliation. At the same time, historians who embraced this burgeoning field brought to their studies a methodological rigor that drew on the insights of historical geography, cultural ecology, and other disciplinary schools.

From the beginning, environmental historians examined nature as a category of analysis and situated it within the just as amorphous category of culture. Early contending positions centered in one sense on the difference between seeing nature as an autonomous entity with its own set of values independent of humans or, unavoidably, as a product of culture—of human values and assumptions.² The trend now, as the historian Paul Sutter argues, is to complicate the category of nature by seeing all environments as interweaving the natural and cultural in complex ways. Historians identify cultural traces in what was before considered pure nature and detect nature in what once appeared to be thoroughly human landscapes. Departing from earlier scholarship that saw the human-environmental relationship as a tale of declension, today’s practitioners have rejected the notions that environments transformed by human activity are sullied and fallen.³

However they define the nature-culture relationship or speak of nature as an agent similar to humans, environmental historians recognize nature as a vital force—one that acts on the human dominated world and that is unavoidably transformed by human activity. Environmental historians long recognized that while nature once largely set the terms of life, humans have continually modified, altered, and affected it. People have always stood in relation to nature. But the terms of that relationship have fundamentally changed with the Industrial Revolution and the attendant burgeoning population and capitalist economy. In the estimation of the historian Donald Worster, this made the nineteenth century distinct from the eighteenth, giving rise to environmental prophets like George Perkins Marsh, who lamented the destructive force of human society on the environment.⁴ The paradigm shift from a static earth to a vulnerable one was not immediate, but in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries it has become a major way of representing the nation and the earth’s environmental history. Some scholars today contend that we are entering a new geologic epoch—the Anthropocene—suggesting an unprecedented age of human dominance over the planet.⁵

In recent years, scholars have also increasingly investigated the impact of religion and religious movements on nature. Lynn White Jr., for example, argued in 1967 that Western culture’s disrespect for the environment was a result of Judeo-Christian religious thought and culture.⁶ Others saw religion as having a more salutary impact on the environmental movement; Mark Stoll asserted that many environmental leaders had religious backgrounds, although few attended church as adults.⁷ Others, such as philosopher Roger S. Gottlieb, have explored the ways in which religious traditions have addressed the problem of humankind’s destruction of its environment.⁸ Entire journals have been devoted to studying the interplay between theology and the environment.⁹ The connection between religion and nature is a burgeoning field, making the time ripe to examine Latter-day Saints and their past through the lens of environmental history.

Mormonism was born and matured during the past two centuries of industrialization, capitalism, and environmental change. From the beginnings of the church, its members interacted with nature in significant ways—whether perceiving it as a place to find God (as Joseph Smith did by going into a grove of trees to offer the prayer that put into motion his work as a spiritual leader), as a place to build communities that would usher in the Second Coming, or as a place brimming with natural resources they could use to further their economic well-being. One way to examine Mormon environmental history is to see it as a tale of environmental declension, both in perception (the theological shift away from salutary agrarianism) and practice (the transformation attendant with Mormonism’s incorporation into American consumer culture). This sense of loss and decline is an important component of the environmental history of Mormonism, but there are multiple other ways of reading the environment in the Mormon past. We open with a reflection by Jedediah S. Rogers on the themes and tools of environmental history in Mormon historiography—how the terms nature and environment have variously been employed in traditional Mormon history, the catalog of works addressing Mormon themes, and the challenge and revisions environmental history offers to a study of the Mormon past. He shows how geographers and scholars from disciplines outside of history have traditionally taken the lead when examining environmental themes in Mormon country. Despite the relative paucity of historical works on Mormonism and the environment, a handful of texts in recent years represent the promise of the field.

The other essays are organized according to divisions generally characteristic of the field—i.e., representing ideas and perceptions about nature on one hand and practice and transformation on the other. The essays in Part I, Theology and Ideology, offer contextualized histories of Mormon environmental thought, demonstrating the complexity of applying a nature-based theology in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century West. We begin with Sara Dant’s reflections on the environmental ethic of Brigham Young, the influence such thinking had on Latter-day Saints, and how the Utah Mormons drifted away from Young’s notions as they became more fully integrated into the nation and the economy. The next essay, by Thomas G. Alexander, argues that the Mormon de-emphasis of nineteenth-century environmental teachings during the twentieth century was an act of forgetting in the face of what he calls secular entrepreneurship. The shift to secular entrepreneurship not only resulted in the abandonment of a pioneer environmental ethic but also major landscape transformations. Both essays demonstrate a common theme in the field of environmental history: that myths, beliefs, and ideas about nature are fluid and have on-the-ground consequences.

These essays also suggest a deep association of Mormons to a particular place: the valleys, mountains, and deserts of the Great Basin. In Part II, Perception and Place, the essays bring more specificity to the Mormon connection with what Wallace Stegner called Mormon Country and Donald Meinig referred to as the Mormon cultural region, as well as expound on the connection between Mormonism and other environments. A strength of environmental history is its attention on place and place-making—on the richly textured examinations of people and groups interacting in particular locales. Consider the first two selections in this section: Matthew C. Godfrey’s examination of environmental language in Jackson County, Missouri, and Brett Dowdle’s investigation of foreign environments. Godfrey challenges traditional understandings of early Mormon identity and conflict by detailing Mormon thought and interaction in Missouri. Dowdle, meanwhile, explores the complex environments of Great Britain and Nauvoo, Illinois, showing not just how early Mormon missionaries and converts perceived and acted in these places but also how these places in turn acted on their worldviews and even theology.

The other essays in Part II address environmental concepts of Mormons living generally in the Great Basin. Richard Francaviglia explores how concepts of a spiritual geography influenced mapmaking among the Saints, providing specific examples of maps created in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the Great Basin. Betsy Quammen describes the influence of Mormon culture on the creation of Zion National Park in southern Utah, including how rural Mormons came to embrace the park even though it threatened their economic livelihoods of ranching and farming.

The essays in Part III, Agrarianism and Urbanism, speak to the varying orientations of Mormonism to a pastoral environment on one hand and to urban, industrial environments on the other. These essays are also good examples of historical practice, steeped as they are in the hard data of history beyond belief and perception. Jeffrey Nichols explores the early world of Mormon ranching and the deleterious impacts of livestock on the natural environment in prerailroad and capitalist Utah Territory. As much as Mormons crafted an image as agrarian farmers, his work reminds us that they depended on—and portions of their new homeland were suited for—livestock raising. Most significantly, these animals can help us rethink early Mormon narratives of the Great Basin and the Mormon people’s exceptional relationship to it. Two essays on the Mormon relationship to water, irrigation, and agriculture appear in this section. Brian Frehner takes readers to Mormon settlements in the lower Colorado River basin to detail the challenges posed by the lack of water that at times undermined their attempts to build and sustain communities. Brian Q. Cannon, meanwhile, shows how Mormon discourse into the twentieth century continued to promote agriculture as both a necessary and divinely blessed endeavor, often with devastating consequences for those who attempted irrigation on the region’s remaining submarginal farmland. The Mormon agrarian tradition in the twentieth century and beyond came to be tied up with cultural and environmental forces as well as federal efforts to establish land policy in the West.

The final essays examine the agrarian tradition in the urban context. Nathan Waite illustrates how Spencer W. Kimball, president of the church from 1973 to 1985, promoted the concept of gardening among the Mormon community, believing this to be a way to reconnect an increasingly urbanized population of Saints with the land, and thereby increasing their connection with God. In the last essay Rebecca Andersen argues that Mormons believed God had blessed the hills with sand and gravel so they could build up the Salt Lake Valley, but that extraction of the resource threatened Ensign Peak, one of the earliest natural features of significance in the valley. Hers is an insightful meditation on the juxtaposition of mine and mountain and the attendant suburban landscape that derives from landforms considered to have symbolic significance for Mormons.

The essays herein provide fence posts in a vast field: the possibilities of future scholarship are virtually unending. We conceived this volume to be a scholarly introduction to Mormon environmental history as well as a spur to encourage historians to consider the role of nature in the Mormon past. These essays may be seen both as works of Mormon history that draw on the tools of environmental history and as works of environmental history that focus on a specific religious movement. They introduce overarching environmental ideas to other historians and students of history, while also examining particular aspects of nature and Mormonism. A particularly salient area of study in this collection is the challenge of determining to what extent Mormon theology and belief matters in how people perceive and act in nature. The appendix includes a talk delivered at the University of Utah in 2013 by Marcus B. Nash, in which he provides a window into how Mormon beliefs and theology in the twenty-first century shape views on nature and the environment. This is notable given that Nash is a presiding elder in the LDS church hierarchy. As George Handley eloquently reminds us in the epilogue, environmental histories are moral stories in that they underscore the beliefs and values informing how people act in the world.

The field of environmental history has recently blossomed, to evoke a religious and environmental notion. Environmental historians have found a niche in history departments around the country, and some have offered a fresh rendering of general histories through an environmental lens, in the case of Mark Fiege’s recent survey of U.S. history.¹⁰ It is high time the insights from this vital field are carried into Mormon studies—and certainly in the process environmental history will benefit, too, from close inspection of a major religion’s interactions with the natural world. We hope this volume leads to a greater understanding of Mormonism’s connection to the natural world by critically challenging historical narratives and contemporary perspectives. It is, however, a starting point to move the conversation forward, enliven the study of Mormonism, and infuse the field of environmental history with rich perspectives from a religious community.


Jedediah S. Rogers

EARL POMEROY, A PROMINENT mid-twentieth-century historian, identified the dominant emphasis on the environment in western American history as evidence of the field’s backwater status. He criticized western history for its environmental determinism—that physical environment has dominated western life and has made the West rough and radical—and the de-emphasis of the spread and continuity of ‘Eastern’ institutions and ideas. Any student of western history will recognize the genesis of this emphasis—Frederick Jackson Turner’s influential (but by midcentury much discredited) 1893 frontier thesis. In Turner’s rendering, western history played out on the soil of a continually receding West. As settlers moved westward, encountering wilderness and savagery, they adapted to the environment and gradually transformed the landscape and advanced civilization. Pomeroy criticized this outmoded paradigm and the accompanying environmental theme of western history that had helped Turner in his generation to integrate the story of the West into a more convincing pattern and had appealed to Americans in a nationalistic and ostensibly democratic era.¹

Pomeroy weighed in on the classic debate that Turner broke open—the West’s influence on American character and institutions. By midcentury western historians had mostly rejected Turner’s ideas, even as they acknowledged his continued influence on the field. Other imaginative and theoretical historians, most notably Walter Prescott Webb and James C. Malin, had continued to point to the environment’s prominence in western history—Webb in his work on technology and innovation in arid environments and Malin in his social science research on ecology and history.² Due in part to their influence on the writing of western history as well as to the perception of a place with wide open spaces and grand scenery, the environment continued to occupy a central place in western history narratives. The field’s close association with environmental history—a subfield that grew out of the social ferment and activism of American environmentalism—also affected its prominence. The field of American environmental history was from inception tied to the West. The earliest environmental histories addressed the careers of conservation pioneers, the politics of environmental protection, and the genesis and development of environmental thought. Many of these had a western American orientation.

Pomeroy could rightly have addressed Mormon history in the same stroke as western history. Long associated with Utah and western history, traditional Mormon history exhibited an insularity that branded it as a field of study. Before the mid-twentieth century, Mormon history rather unimaginatively borrowed from concepts originally expressed by Turner and subsequently taken up in varying form by other western historians, though neither Turner nor his principal intellectual student, Ray Allen Billington, had much if anything to say about the Mormons.³ Prior to the fracturing of the historical profession with the new social history in the 1960s, Mormon history was, largely, western history. After that time, Mormon history did not come to associate with environmental history as western history later did. For Mormon historians, the environment often implied those aspects beyond history’s core scope, useful for understanding but not essential to the story. The term nature was a stale category, continually being manipulated, sometimes presenting obstacles but not possessing any compelling motive or force. Early works of Mormon history considered the environment insofar as it was a backdrop or an obstacle to overcome. In describing the community’s religious history, some early Mormon historians associated natural or environmental explanations as faithless and dismissive of heaven’s guiding hand.

Although the new Mormon history since midcentury has moved toward understanding the past as a series of natural rather than supernatural events, Mormon scholars have been relatively slow to apply the methods and insights of environmental history. One reason may be that the contemporary LDS Church’s policies and doctrinal emphasis say relatively little about environmental issues of the day—urban pollution and blight, the whittling away of open spaces to development, extinction of species, preservation of wilderness, or the changing climate. Many Mormons, along with a broad coalition of other Christians, embrace conservative political discourse that make environmentalism a partisan issue. This may explain the relative slowness of some Mormons who write history to adopt environmental history, which has long been associated with environmental activism. A greater attention by Mormons to environmental issues may give lift to the study of environment in our histories. But here scholars can lead the way, too: by writing nature into Mormon history, by showing the deep connection of early Mormonism to an environmental ethic, by demonstrating the centrality of land and water to the Mormon story, scholars can lead a re-envisioning of our history and our connection to natural forces at play.

SINCE THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, observers have equated pioneer-era Mormon country to a common American motif—the agrarian myth. In this form of the myth, farmers diverted water from streams that originated on snowy mountain peaks and carefully laid out their farms in square sections with straight-lined canals and laterals. In his travelogue To the Rockies and Beyond, first published in 1878, the journalist Robert E. Strahorn witnessed the villages of thrifty Mormon farmers, usually almost buried in foliage, orchards and grain fields, and nestled under the sheltering walls of the Wasatch, with the glorious vista presented by the lake in front.⁴ The newspaper editor William E. Smythe, writing in 1905, praised the Mormon irrigation system and cooperative efforts to reclaim the desert.⁵ These nineteenth and early twentieth century accounts fed the idea of Mormons as masters of agriculture in a dry region and helped give form to a lasting powerful motif of the Mormons’ physical settlement of the West. The image of a Mormon village at the base of the Wasatch Mountains powerfully represented order, permanence, and godliness.

The work of Strahorn and Smythe differed from nineteenth-century ethnographic studies that emphasized Mormon life and community over the physical appearance—and mastery—of the Mormon village. Beginning in the 1920s, Mormon village studies, many originating as master’s theses, teased out environmental themes. Lowry Nelson’s work represents a broad academic approach; beyond the usual parochial works on Mormonism and grounded in scholarly observation and research, his work demonstrates attention to the village beyond Mormonism and situates Mormon land settlement in the context of settlement elsewhere in the United States. Nelson helped define the genre of Mormon village studies that flourished through the 1950s. The studies by Nelson, Edward C. Banfield, Henri Mendras, Thomas O’Dea, Wilfrid C. Bailey, and others generally emphasized economy, lifestyle, and identity over environmental influence or impact. The physical aspects of the village are shown to reflect—and reinforce—the character of the Saints: righteous, orderly, insulated. There, it was argued, boys and girls developed a strong Mormon identity.

No writer better made this point than the venerated novelist and historian Wallace Stegner, who wrote about Mormons in the early 1940s with affection. In Mormon Country Stegner begins with a meditation on the Lombardy poplar, the Mormon tree, commonly lining Mormon canals, roads, and boundaries between fields and farms. He calls attention to the tree not for its ecological presence on the landscape but as an emblem of Mormon group lifesymbolic, somehow, of the planter’s walking with God and his solidarity with his neighbors. Stegner thought the tree an apt representation of a people who look Heavenward, but their roots are in earth.

Stegner was not the only one, though arguably the most eloquent, to point to the materiality of Mormon doctrine and culture. The idea is that Mormons are more earthly, their communities more bounded in earthly expression and perhaps in nature itself, than are other western groups—religious or otherwise. Stegner’s Mormon Country makes the point by detailing how Mormons took the ideas of the Heavenly City and introduced it to their own homes and communities. He describes the distinctive culture that developed in a landscape that the Mormons made their own. Stegner’s attention to place and to issues of materiality foreshadowed his later work as an eloquent writer on western issues, particularly conservation. But it would be a stretch to call this a work of environmental history; Stegner is interested in the place, and in the ensuing transformation wrought through Mormon industry and agriculture, but the reader will find no mention of ecology, hydrology, or the complex interplay between Mormon society and environmental change. His work is, rather, a blending of sociological observation, historical interludes, and thoughtful musings. Thus, though dated and rough in parts (They were not pioneers of the itchy-footed and free-elbowed sort⁸), it remains a classic and required reading in Mormon studies.

In essays and books published after Mormon Country, Stegner demonstrated his commitment to conservation.⁹ From this ideological position, he and his better known contemporary Bernard DeVoto were sometimes critical of Mormon social and economic systems and practice that denuded the landscape and harmed the environment. Although they built communities that diverged from the boom-and-bust pattern common throughout the West and built a social system that departed from the capitalism of the American mainstream, by midcentury Mormons as a group had departed from many of the pioneer practices and tenets that made them distinctive. Both writers admired the Mormons’ irrigation systems, communal energy, and industry—DeVoto wrote of the conquest of the arid land that succeeded repeatedly in areas identical with areas where non-Mormon attempts have failed—even as they loathed the contemporary conservative culture that bemoaned federal protection. These critiques would later be repeated by an ideological successor, Edward Abbey.¹⁰

Thus, even conservation-minded writers at midcentury characterized Mormon settlement of the West as uniquely successful. Whereas settlers’ initial perceptions of the western landscape were typically of an unbounded, plentiful nature, only after lived experience did they adapt their impressions to the realities of a hardscrabble land.¹¹ Nineteenth-century Mormons created a counter narrative. DeVoto acknowledged that jubilant Mormons told the world as early as 1849 that they had made the desert blossom as the rose and had widely incorporated the phrase in their daily talk.¹² Both pioneers’ and travelers’ accounts depicted the Mormon enterprise to transform a dry, pest- and predator-infested desert into a productive homeland. Early histories of Utah contributed to what Jared Farmer has called the desertification of Zion by validating these popular folktales. By the mid-twentieth century the remaking of Utah’s land of lakes as a desert was complete.¹³ In a 1949 centennial history of Utah, after describing the lifesaving qualities of irrigation, Wain Sutton argued that were it not for a wise provision of nature—the mountains—few inhabitants would have been able to live in that desert region, while failing to acknowledge that a sizable Ute population were subsisting largely on trout from Utah Lake at the time of the Mormons’ arrival in the Great Basin. Although irrigation demanded trial and error, the end result was a marvelous success, as reflected in the words of Herbert E. Bolton: Irrigation was one of the signal contributions of the Mormons to the upbuilding of the Great West. Without it, starvation was as certain as death in old age so the Mormons built reservoirs in the mountains, ran ditches and great canals across the valleys, and poured the life giving waters of the Wasatch upon the thirsty soil of the sunbaked desert; causing it to bloom like the rose.¹⁴

After midcentury some histories diverged from the earlier historiography by de-emphasizing the miraculous landscape transformation. Joel Ricks, a professor of history at Utah State University, was an important voice. In Forms and Methods of Early Mormon Settlement in Utah and the Surrounding Region, 1847 to 1877, Ricks propounded that Great Basin settlement required modifications from earlier Mormon colonization in the West. The landscape and available resources dictated their economic enterprise. The Mormons’ first fort was made of adobe, not wood. Agriculture required irrigation. The physical design of Salt Lake City, with its square-grid, ten-acre blocks extending from the temple site, copied the pattern established by Joseph Smith. Admittedly, Ricks primarily tells a tale of plow[ing] the hard sod to plant their crops and erect[ing] a fort to shelter them from the weather and from the menace of the lurking Indian.¹⁵ But readers will glean new insights from his examination of geography and environment in Mormon settlement. Consider the seemingly ordinary observation that [l]ack of rainfall and the distance between streams made it necessary for Brigham Young to explore large areas of land for expansion. Could it be that the expansive state of Deseret—the Mormons’ inland empire—was as much a product of environmental contingencies as geopolitical aspirations? Unfortunately, Ricks does not elaborate.¹⁶ Like earlier writers, he, too, tied the success of Mormon settlement to the fundamental character of the settlers and the church, but he also examines the physical features and the Indians [that] did much to influence the process of colonization.¹⁷

The classic and most complete work on Mormon pioneering is Leonard J. Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-Day Saints, published in 1958. Signaling the arrival of the new Mormon history, of which he became the most prominent practitioner, Arrington writes in his preface that his work provides a naturalistic treatment of certain historic themes sacred to the memories of the Latter-day Saints. He was probably the best known of a new generation of Mormon scholars looking beyond God to explain the arc of the past. This new crop attributed events not to a divine source but to natural explanations. Arrington offered a materialistic, rationalist approach to nineteenth-century Mormonism, reasoning that [a] naturalistic discussion of ‘the people and the times’ and of the mind and experience of Latter-day prophets is therefore a perfectly valid aspect of religious history, and, indeed, makes more plausible the truths they attempted to convey. That Arrington found it necessary to pause and highlight this point is a statement on previous literature and sensibilities more than anything else. For Mormons who might be troubled by his approach, he rightly contends that it is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish what is objectively ‘revealed’ from what is subjectively ‘contributed’ by those receiving the revelation.¹⁸

Great Basin Kingdom addressed themes with an environmental, materialistic bent—land tenure, resource development, landscape architecture, and accompanying impacts to the land. Arrington’s subsequent Building the City of God, cowritten with Feramorz Young Fox and Dean May, went beyond the popular trope that Mormons were more cooperative than other western groups to illustrate the institutionalized establishment of communal programs—the United Order, ZCMI, Zion’s Central Board of Trade, and the welfare program of the twentieth century—in the LDS Church. Whereas Great Basin Kingdom detailed nineteenth-century economic and cooperative enterprises, this new volume carried the tradition into the twentieth century, offering a corrective to the idea that Mormonism in this era abandoned its communal ethos in favor of the American capitalistic system, though it may have overplayed the cooperative tradition in Mormonism.¹⁹ By showing the temporal apparatus and orientation of the LDS Church, Arrington perpetuates the view that Mormons settled in a place where others would have failed. In terms of water use and the husbandry of other resources, the communal impulse never entirely subsumed the early Mormon tradition of private property.²⁰

Some of the best and most sustained work on the environment within Mormon history is by geographers. The origins of environmental history reach back to that discipline; under the pioneering work of Carl Sauer, scholars in cultural geography and its subfield cultural landscape studies sought to understand how places are defined and transformed through human agency. Cultural geography is very often rooted in history, since landscapes and their meanings develop over time. An early important piece on Mormon cultural landscape studies is D. W. Meinig’s 1965 essay on what he called the Mormon culture region. Meinig identified regional patterns and the processes which created them in Mormon country. By bringing specificity to the spatial dimensions of Mormon settlement and western expansion, he concludes that in building their Zion in the mountains, the Mormons have left their stamp upon districts within and along the North American cordillera from a corner of Alberta to a corner of Chihuahua.²¹ Richard V. Francaviglia added to this notion in his classic work The Mormon Landscape (1978) in which he argued that Mormons transformed a difficult environment into a distinctive cultural landscape. As a geographer, he was not as interested in the process of transformation as in the end result—the distinctive features that characterize Mormonism’s built environment. When discussing the creation of the Mormon landscape, his principal concern was the conscious act of designing a unique Mormon look—on the visual, not the ecological, elements.²²

For environmental historians, the geographers’ major contributions have been in revealing the contrast between the physical characteristics of a place and the ways settlers perceive and experience that place. In contradistinction to Meinig, Richard H. Jackson of Brigham Young University speaks of geography in terms of Mormons’ spatial positioning and changing ideas of a place. Beginning with his 1970 dissertation, Myth and Reality: Environmental Perception of the Mormon Pioneers, 1840–1865, an Historical Geosophy (Clark University), Jackson richly detailed Mormon perceptions of the new Great Basin homeland. In a 1988 Utah Historical Quarterly essay Jackson argues that founders of Salt Lake City considered their new settlement a complement to the Great Salt Lake. He postulated that the name of the new settlement—Great Salt Lake City—reflected the earthy pragmatism of Brigham Young, resulting in a pairing of physical and cultural geography unrivaled in America.²³ In another essay, Jackson placed the Mormon enterprise to transform their environment in the context of nineteenth-century efforts to plant trees and crops to fulfill the belief that rain follows the plow in the arid West. But rather than examine environmental change, Jackson principally documented a number of firsts—Mormons’ initial reactions to the Great Basin and early attempts at irrigation.²⁴

In more recent works, Francaviglia’s contribution is to show how landscape is variously imagined by peoples and groups. Mapping and Imagination in the Great Basin contrasts the bleak European American depictions of the region with the indigenous knowledge of the Shoshone, Paiute, and Washo of a land that gave sustenance.²⁵ Francaviglia demonstrates in Mapmakers of New Zion that Mormon mapmaking blended local knowledge of terrain with cultural—and, in this case, theological—notions of geography and place. But whereas the Mormons would develop a deep understanding of their new homeland to produce their own geographic representations, they originally came to know it through the work of others. This helps explain, as Francaviglia wrote, how in the mid-nineteenth century church leadership moved westward so confidently into country they knew so little about.²⁶

This work on landscape by geographers complements a couple of important books by architectural historians writing about Mormon city planning and the built environment as both concept and physical space. Thomas Carter’s Building Zion: The Material World of Mormon Settlement is the best of them—a deep study into the land and community of central Utah’s Sanpete Valley and the environmental and cultural design elements long associated with that area. It went beyond the landscape studies of Nelson and, later, Francaviglia and Jackson to make landscape a more dynamic process than a static category. Carter identified the dominant features of the Mormon landscape—wide streets, carefully laid out lots on a grid, low population density, temple as a sacred center—and explored the values, ideas, and beliefs manifest in that landscape. Although not a work of environmental history per se, Carter’s interest in how diverse elements—ideology, economic system, material objects—all came together in the creation of a community and in the imprint of Mormon and American values on the landscape reflect the dominant mode of environmental history. His exploration of the fundamental connection between . . . the conceptual Zion and the material Zion goes to the heart of environmental history’s project to blend the conceptual and the physical.²⁷

Through increasingly sophisticated narratives and methodologies, we see the religious imperatives that powered Mormon communalism and industry and led to confounding irrigated and industrialized landscapes. Take Mark Fiege’s groundbreaking Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West. In his framing, religious and cultural ideals may have endowed the agricultural landscape of southern Idaho—predominantly Mormon in the nineteenth century—as an Eden but also obscured the confounding ecosystem of the irrigationists’ making. The canals were clogged with plants and silt, the fields infested with insects, the waterways reduced in flow. All this challenged farmers and the very myths that they created about their homeland and their place in it. The strength of this work is in its ability to explain the varying relationship between ideas about nature and environmental realities. Paradoxically, in this case, the attractiveness of the Garden of Eden myth may have increased in proportion to the inability of Idahoans to ever attain it.²⁸

Most writing about Mormonism and agriculture lacks the ecological complexity of Fiege’s work, and more surely can be done to rethink Mormonism’s agrarian, pastoral past. What seems to be clear from existing scholarship is Mormon spiritual life in the nineteenth century was as much if not more accurately represented by irrigation canals and well-watered fields as by Sunday worship. Mormons reconfigured geography to correspond to religious doctrine and organization imperatives and to reflect their community’s core values. By the twentieth century, however, religious devotion in the Mormon community had oriented inward. The image of Mormon devotion was no longer primarily physical—of the pastoral scene, irrigated fields, and religious architecture.

FROM AN ENVIRONMENTAL PERSPECTIVE, the history of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Mormonism in the West is generally cast in a declensionist narrative. Along the Wasatch Front the agrarian village pattern gave way to suburban sprawl and strip malls connected by multilane freeways. For all of the evident economic and technological gains, Mormon country has confronted ecological problems: physical scars on the land, polluted air, overpopulated communities. Ecological problems in Zion generally correspond to the Americanization of Mormonism and the transition from an isolated pioneer sect to a powerful global church.

Although over the last century Mormon country has become less distinctively Mormon, scholars have attempted to tease out the religious responsibilities and dimensions of ecological problems. When environmentalism flowered into a political movement in the last half of the twentieth century, religion came into the crosshairs of scholars and activists searching for causes of the world’s ecological decline. In an influential essay published in 1967, Lynn White Jr. argued that Judeo-Christian religious thought and culture not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends. Some religions interpret the biblical creation story as God setting humans above nature, thus giving them dominion over the earth and its resources. This anthropocentrism created a hierarchy of humans holding dominion over other living things. Critics of these ideas argue that a mere summation of the idea from Old Testament language is insufficient to indict Christianity and several thousand years of history. Critics charge White with neglecting another central strain of Judeo-Christian environmental thought: the idea that humans are to be stewards, or caretakers, of the earth and other animals. White countered that this strain, popular in the twentieth century, was not dominant in the past two millennia.²⁹

A handful of historians and writers have applied these ideas in a Mormon context. Dan Flores, John B. Wright, and Max Oelschlaeger have suggested that Mormon doctrine has contributed to a particularly virulent strain of anti-environmentalism in the church. Oelschlaeger argued that the only denomination that has formally stated its opposition to ecology as part of the church’s mission is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.³⁰

Dan Flores’s essay Zion in Eden: Phases of the Environmental History of Utah explored the environmental consequences of Mormon thought and practice by using ecological studies to reflect on the overcutting of ponderosas, lodge-poles, and Douglas firs and detailed plant succession and the invasion of nonnative species in Mormon country. He contested Leonard Arrington’s statement that Mormon policy on resources seems to have protected Utah from the abuses and wastes which characterized many frontier communities in the West and instead offers his own assertion: Zion was yearly becoming less productive and more unstable. What Flores sometimes failed to do was directly connect ecological problems with Mormon religion and culture. The observations that Mormons paid too little attention to the tenuous nature of the natural forces that held Zion together and that contemporary Utah seems less open to environmental sympathies than virtually any other part of the modern Rocky Mountain West are insightful but fail to fully address the matter.³¹

On the other side are Mormon scholars pointing to an environmental ethic deeply embedded in Mormon scripture and discourse. A host of scholars and writers, beginning with the historian and theologian Hugh Nibley, demonstrated not just environmental sensibility but a holistic environmental ethic in the writings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, and other early church leaders. These authors pointed to scriptural utterances like that in the Pearl of Great Price of Enoch weeping for the earth’s pain for the sickness of my children and the filthiness which is gone forth out of me; to surprising statements of Young reverencing crickets as creatures of God welcome to "nible [sic] away" on his crops; and to Spencer W. Kimball’s more recent injunctions to beautify properties and care for the land as evidences of a once-dominant but still lingering thread of a salutary Mormon environmental ethic.³² The theological emphasis on materiality, redemption, the fusion of secular and sacred, the temporal kingdom of God, and the imperative to make the land blossom as the rose bolstered Church teachings on the stewardship of resources, gardening, and the treatment of animals. Indeed, early Mormon theology and teaching emphasized a land ethic that if not ecocentric

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