Mountain Meadows Massacre Site

While re-reading Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer last fall, I really found myself attracted to the subtitle of the book: A Story of Violent Faith. In support of this Krakauer discusses the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. This historical event has come up in many many accounts of early western history and I feel like I’d always sort of skimmed over the event until that re-reading.

Mountain Meadows was a part of the old Spanish Trail and later part of the California Trail. In 1857, a group of emigrants from Arkansas was attacked by the Mormon militia leading to the murder of 120 emigrants.

When I decided to make my trek to Washington through western Utah, one of the first non-hikes to make it onto my itinerary was a stop at Mountain Meadows (a National Historic Landmark, as of 2015).

Sprocket and I made our way to Mountain Meadows from Cedar City and walked around the cairn monument and then around the field to the west of the monument. My understanding of the event was still sort of superficial but it was still really sobering to be in a spot where over a 100 people had lost their lives.

I didn’t think to order a book focused on the massacre until too close to my departure date so I had Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, and Glen M. Leonard delivered to my mom’s house. I was really glad to delve into a more complete description of the events of the day than I’d had previously so I found the read worthwhile.


But.

All three authors of this account are part of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church. The book admittedly leaves an account of the aftermath of the attack, and what some would call a coverup, “to another day.” It also seems quick to acquit Brigham Young and other church leaders in Salt Lake City.

While I tried to put my finger on what was such a let down about this book, I read through some Goodreads reviews and had to nod heartily when someone suggested that having a single non-Mormon author would have helped address the culpability of the church as a whole.

This book did, however, make me wish I had taken the time to visit the Women & Children’s Memorial Site and the Men’s Memorial Site. When I drove by, I found the separation distasteful but when I finished Massacre at Mountain Meadows, I learned that the separation was historical in nature.

In an attempt to remedy my uneasiness with Massacre at Mountain Meadows,  I ordered a copy of Juanita Brooks’s seminal 1950 book The Mountain Meadows Massacre. Juanita Brooks was also part of the LDS church, however after the publication of her book about the massacre she was estranged from the church (yet not excommunicated).

Brooks’s book feels less readable to me but also feels less willing to simply let LDS leadership off the hook and pin responsibility for the Massacre on those in the southern part of Utah. Brooks does an excellent job in sharing the source material for her research (my copy is a 4th edition) so readers can better draw their own conclusions.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre is a weird chapter in American history. It seems abundantly clear, no matter which account you read, that white people belonging to the LDS church, tried to pin the attack on Native Americans and that innocent victims (who may or may not have poked a stick at the Mormon settlements but definitely didn’t deserve what they got).

On The Page: Pure Land

You know those books that you read breathlessly, hanging on each word but yet rushing on to the next one? Pure Land  was one of those books. I don’t have a whole lot of time to read these days so I got some reading in Thursday night, and then Saturday after I got home from EMT class, I dove into it intending fully to relish the rest of the book.

This is not to say that Pure Land is a happy story. Or a story where you don’t know the ending. It is the intersecting story of Tomomi Hanamure, a Japanese woman deeply in love with America’s West, a young Havasupai man named Randy Wescogame, and the story of the story teller, author Annette McGivney.

Tomomi was murdered on hike to Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon in May of 2006. A regular solo traveler of the United States, Hanamure was lured off the trail by Wescogame and brutally stabbed to death. McGivney entered the story when she wrote “Freefall” for Backpacker in 2007.

Through this deeper telling of the tale of intersecting lives we meet Tomomi’s father, Randy’s father, the woman who compassionately helped Randy come to a confession, and others who have insight into the people involved in this tragic story. It was no surprise what the ending of the story was but yet, it felt necessary to read.

For me personally, however, McGivney’s weaving of her own family story of abuse and recovery into the book was the most astounding. It seemed a part of the story alone until she mentioned the idea of a trauma bond with an abuser. I finished the book and put it down on my makeshift nightstand. I did what any self respecting Millennial would do and I unlocked my phone and turned to Google. The idea of a bond that pulls the abused tighter to the abuser made my breath catch in my throat. Unlike I would have years ago, I locked the phone, buried my head in Sprocket and went to sleep. The gut punch of years of isolation has finally started to fade with the salve of community, achievement, and progress.

I almost feel like I need to re-read Pure Land. I identified so much with Tomomi and Annette that I feel like I ignored Randy, perhaps the least surface sympathetic character but yet one affected by the deepest, multi-generational traumas. McGivney does an excellent job of making all of the people in the book real and complex.

Pure Land is not just a book about the outdoors, although it is, it’s also about the struggles of the Havasupai tribe and its individual members. It’s also about creating your own life and balancing it with family. It’s about living. A lot of times when I give you an “On The Page” report, I talk about who would enjoy this book. Whoever you are, reading this, go read it.

On The Page: Juan Rivera’s Colorado, 1765

Last summer when my mom came to visit, she bought me a present: Juan Rivera’s Colorado, 1765. Fresh off my trip to OKC where my Spanish colonial history obsession was kindled by stops in Santa Fe and at the Pecos pueblo I had stopped in at Ouray’s Buckskin Bookseller to find a copy of the journals of the Dominguez-Escalate expedition. The owner pointed out this new release from Western Reflections Publishing (yes, I’m still slowly purchasing their entire catalog).

Steven Baker scrupulously traces Rivera’s expeditions to southwestern Colorado. Apparently there was some controversy about whether Rivera had gone to Moab or to Delta. I loved the detailed tracing of his route. I’m a map and geography nerd and the territory traveled by Rivera is my home ground. He passed by Chimney Rock then, on his fall expedition, up through the Dolores River canyon to what is now the west end of Montrose County and then over the Uncompaghre Plateau to Delta.  I find myself just astounded by what they were able to accomplish with such limited information!

This beautiful hard cover wasn’t cheap (thanks Mom!) but it is filled will gorgeous maps drawn by Gail Sargent of each section of the journey as well as photographs of many locations with notations of trails traversed by the expedition.

I’m so glad that this book has joined my library. I think it’s incredibly important to know the history of the area where you live and I learned so much (and added a few hikes to my list and … bonus! they’ll be spring accessible!).

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own.

On The Page: Blood and Thunder

Sometimes when people tell you that they know of a book you should read you just nod and say that your list is really long because their suggestion just isn’t your style. This latest book, Blood and Thunder, wasn’t one of these books. I was sitting around telling my friend Chris about immersing myself in a whole bunch of books about The West this summer and he immediately suggested that I read it. Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides was simply fantastic.

I didn’t know anything about Kit Carson. I didn’t know anything about ho he fit in with the Mexican War, New Mexico’s history, and the Navajo Long Walk. He was just a name that was famous in the west not one that had been involved with a huge swath of the southwest becoming American soil.

Furthermore, Sides weaves Carson’s story with that of John C. Frémont, Steven Watts Kearny, the governors of New Mexico, Navajo leaders, and more. All the stories are carefully woven together and create a wonderful picture of New Mexico and Arizona in the mid 1800s.

While I enjoyed The Earth Is Weeping, it wasn’t wasn’t as readable as Blood and ThunderI started this book just before going to Washington and given some uninterrupted reading time on planes from Montrose to Seattle, I devoured the book and finished it just as my plane landed back in Denver. (I didn’t have any time to read while I was in the Pacific Northwest.)

A sign of an excellent book about history is that it leaves you feeling like you got a pretty complete picture of the topic at hand while also adding to your list of books to read because it raised other ideas and questions that were tangential to the topic. Sides’s Blood and Thunder more than met the standard. In this case, I was quite happy that the next book on my shelf is a biography of Frémont!

 

On The Page: The Earth Is Weeping

I continued my foray into understanding more about how the American West came to be settled by diving into Peter Cozzens’s The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West. I’d picked this up shortly after it’s publication at a bookstore in the midst of my bookbuying freeze of 2016 (that has long since ended, perhaps problematically for my bank account). After having learned about the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, returning to this book seemed like the right thing to do.

Clocking in at a hefty 450+ pages (plus notes and index) Cozzens delves into a generation of fighting between the army and the tribes of the West. Cozzens explicitly tries to show both the Native American and the white perspectives on the events of the 1860s through 1891. I found this perspective really interesting. While Cozzens is certainly sympathetic to the tribes, looking at the motivations of the army officers was absolutely fascinating.

My main quibble with this book was that some of the descriptions of skirmishes and battles between the tribes and the army were dense. The book does include some maps of the battlegrounds but I still had trouble getting the visualization right (and I find detailed descriptions of military movements kind of boring, I just want the summary).

Another thing I really appreciated about this book is how it put many of the battles and people that you may have heard of (Little Bighorn, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, etc.) into context with each other. It was interesting to see army officers move throughout the country facing different tribes.

This book is definitely not just casual reading and probably won’t appeal to most people but if you’re happy to nerd out with a pretty balanced look at some sad history, its a pretty solid read.

On The Page: Wilderness Wanderers

After I’d finished reading about Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco and the Pueblo Revolt, I wanted to know more about Dominguez and Escalante and their explorations that had been the basis for my favorite Miera y Pacheco map. I knew that Western Reflections Publishing had a couple of books about the expedition so I headed to my local bookstore to pick one up. Turns out the book I was picturing was the actual journals (which they didn’t have) so I ended up with Wilderness Wanderers: The 1776 Expedition of Dominguez and Escalante by Ken Rehyr.

I ate up this slim volume.

Dominguez and Escalante were both Franciscan friars charged with finding a more northerly land route to the Californian settlements (essentially avoiding the el Camino del Diablo, I think?). They also set out to convert as many of the Native Americans along the way as they could (while recognizing that this would be a first contact and that more missionaries would be needed for more long term conversion efforts later).

As it turns out, Dominguez and Escalante’s route remarkably overlaps with my home range. They traveled from Santa Fe up to Durango, then north through Dolores, Egnar, and Nucla before following a Ute guide over the Uncompahgre Plateau to Montrose. They continued over Grand Mesa from Hotchkiss to Battlement Mesa (all these places I know!) before turning west down the Colorado. They headed north through the Book Cliffs to what is now the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. They continued on to Utah Lake, near what is now Provo.

Leaving Utah Lake, they headed down what is today the I-15 corridor. Along the way, near Delta, the missionaries decided that they needed to head south to Santa Fe instead of trying to find their way to California. The weather was turning cold and they were not prepared.

They struggled their way across the Northern Arizona deserts finally finding a crossing of the Grand Canyon at Crossing of the Fathers (submerged under Lake Powell). Once across the Colorado, they managed their way across northeastern Arizona reaching the Oraybi pueblo on Third Mesa where they obtained enough supplies to reach the western most Spanish missions.

I found the story of Dominguez and Escalante incredibly inspiring. Lewis and Clark seemed to have much more of an idea of what to expect than these earlier missionaries. I can’t wait to dive into their journals … but I should probably put a pause on my book buying binge.

I recommend checking out this book while meandering around the greater Four Corners region, especially if you’re not overly familiar with the area. I really enjoyed my visual imagery of each of the places they passed through. I was also super inspired by how the author of the book had visited and rode his horse on much (all?) of the friars route. How cool is that?

On The Page: Southwestern Colonial Histories

I’ve passed through Santa Fe several times but my trip down to the WCWS was the first time that I had time to stop and absorb some of the history in the Plaza. After leaving Santa Fe, I stopped somewhat impulsively at Pecos National Historic Park where I learned more about Pueblo culture of New Mexico and tried to relate it to Chimney Rock.

As I was leaving Pecos, I made a stop in the bookstore and bought Miera y Pacheco: A Renaissance Spaniard in Eighteenth-Century New Mexico since I was pretty sure I would finish Under the Banner of Heaven during the trip (I wasn’t wrong). I’d learned about Miera when I visited the Telluride Historical Museum’s map exhibit last winter and fell in love with his 1778 map of the southwest he complied after the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition.

While the text of Kessel’s text is a little on the dry side I definitely made a list of places that I want to visit next time I’m in Santa Fe. I didn’t realize that in addition to being a cartographer, Miera also made altar screens and other religious objects. (It seems that there’s still a couple in the area.) I also learned a lot more about how Santa Fe was established and how the relationship of New Spain to New Mexico worked.

Not surprisingly, Miera y Pacheco made me want to know more about all the things he was involved in, especially the Dominguez-Escalante expedition (for which Domniguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and their canyons are named). It’s easy to forget that colonial Spanish history really did affect this area and I’m excited to continue to learn more.

Also driven by visiting Pecos (and then a little bit by reading about Miera and his historical context) was needing to know more about the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Pecos Pueblo had a very large mission church before the Revolt but after the “bloodless” return of the Spanish a much smaller mission church was built. Wanting to know more about how that revolt came to be and how it affected the colonization of New Mexico, I ordered a copy of David Robert’s The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove The Spanish Out of the Southwest.

The Pueblo Revolt didn’t contain as much information as I had hoped about the events leading up to the Revolt. It rehashed in a more condensed way the history of the Spanish in New Mexico (which was helpful!) and told the story of how the revolt occurred as well as how the Spanish reconquered New Mexico. Roberts very explicitly states that he isn’t necessarily trying to create a “balanced” tale of how the Spanish and the Puebloans both contributed to the bloodshed in the Revolt which I found refreshing; I find it pretty hard to buy that the blame should be evenly shared in this case.

I’ve purchased another couple of books as a result of my current colonial history obsession and I can’t wait to read them and share them with you!

(Clearly, I’ve released myself from book buying restriction because a) I’ve met some financial goals and b) because they only need to move across the yard next time…)

On The Page: Under The Banner of Heaven

In early May, High Country News published a piece on the polygamous Mormon community of Short Creek. This reminded me of Jon Krakauer’s Under The Banner of Heaven. I’d read this book a long time ago, back in college. I didn’t remember a whole lot about it and I’d learned much more about the history of the West, traveled through Mormon Country, and generally figured I was in a better place to absorb the book.

I wasn’t wrong. Getting deeper into Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith was a lot easier for me now that I could picture the country on the Utah-Arizona border where Short Creek’s FLDS community is located. I’ve also read more about other exploration of the west. For example Krakauer suggests that perhaps Mormons who had been involved with the Mountain Meadows Massacre may have been involved with the killing of William Dunn and the Howland brothers who abandoned John Wesley Powell before they descended Separation Canyon (historians have long believed it was the Shivwits Band of Payutes who killed the explorers).

Also fascinating is the revisionist history of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Church, more commonly known as the Mormons. I honestly found this uneasy relationship between fundamentalist Saints and the mainstream branch of the religion more fascinating than the central narrative of Ron and Dan Lafferty’s crimes.

Ron and Dan struck me as “typical” religious nuts of any stripe. Killing their sister-in-law, Brenda, and her daughter because God told them to was just the culmination of a descent into increasing extremism. Brenda had stood up to Ron and Dan as they attempted to rope her husband Allen into their delusions.

I devoured this book on my trip down to Oklahoma City. Despite being really tired (definitely recovering from the end of the school year!) I was pretty happy to find a quiet spot and do some reading. Like all good books, this one lengthened my reading list but I learned a lot about how pieces of western history fit together.

On The Page: The Secret Knowledge of Water

I didn’t discover the wonders of the desert until I was well into my twenties. My former partner took me to Moab and introduced me to its cranky bee-drinking bard, Ed Abbey. After that, I was hooked. The Colorado Plateau is actually considered a “semidesert” but I’ve also learned to love the Sonoran Desert and have learned to “not hate” the Mohave Desert. While mountains have my heart, it’s no accident that the mountains that I inhabit are so close to the desert and that I make regular pilgrimages to those parched lands.

Fellow Western Slope resident, Craig Childs writes about the deserts of the American West in a way that resonates with me more than anyone else, including Cactus Ed. Childs incorporates history, science, and landscape in a way that makes my Western loving nerdy heart sing.

The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert delves into the intimate relationship between the desert and water. Throughout the book, Childs looks at both still water hiding in remote canyons to sustain life and the dramatic floods that rip through the arroyos and canyons of the desert tossing boulders.

I find myself getting pulled into writing like this both as someone who follows along with Craig on his adventures and seeing places through his eyes but also as someone who has walked (albeit more superficially) through some of the same landscapes.

The book opens with Childs discussing his exhaustive study of watering holes in just one range of Arizona’s Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. The Cabeza Prieta feels incredibly remote and has always seemed very dry to me; however, because I’m a hiker with a peakbagging problem, I have spent more time on the rocky spines of the mountains than probing the quiet canyons just below them. As is usual with Childs’s writing, the scene is made strikingly visible even to those who haven’t visited the locations he describes.

He discusses how ignorance of where to find water in some of America’s driest country can easily lead to death and gives the briefest outline of the history of traversing the El Camino Del Diablo. I was excited to learn more about Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and how he successfully traversed the Camino repeatedly by listening to natives of the area. (The peak for which he is namesake is one I really wanted to climb when in the Ajo area and is pictured below but then the western side of Organ Pipe National Monument was closed to the public; it’s since reopened, I guess it’s time to go back!)

After discussing hidden water holes in the southern deserts of Arizona, the scene shifts north to the Colorado Plateau. While some more standing water is discussed, the story shifts to moving water in the canyons surrounding the Grand Canyon.

Childs impetuously watches flash floods from close range and makes the reader imagine standing on hot desert rock when thunderstorms open up and let water course down the dry falls and canyons. (I was really distracted in this section by the fact that I haven’t been to the Grand Canyon. I’m going to have to figure out when to get down there…)

While I live on the edge of the Colorado Plateau, I was still born in the northwest and learned to love the outdoor in the wet temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest so I am still fascinated with the extremes of the desert. The Secret Knowledge of Water was a book that gave me a deeper understanding of how life survives in the desert. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the southwest.

On The Page: No Shortcuts to the Top

I can’t remember where I picked up my copy of No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks by Ed Viesturs but it was on my bookshelf of “you must read all of these things before you’re allowed to buy any new books” so I started it a few months ago. Like of its kin, this was a pretty quick, easy, and inspiring read about chasing a BIG dream.

It had been awhile since I’d read a major expedition memoir and this was a memoir about a whole series of expeditions. This book was a really enjoyable read. Viesturs is candid and his story is human and suprisingly relateable considering that most readers will probably never attempt the world’s highest peaks. (It probably also didn’t hurt that the book was written with legendary outdoor writer David Roberts. Check out this article about Roberts in Outside if you’ve never read any of his work.)

Reading about Viesturs evolution of his 8,000 meter summits goal was really inspiring. It makes my county highpoint goals seem really tiny but the way that Viesturs spoke about his expeditions and goals somehow also struck home. I think this is the strength of No Shortcuts to the Top: that Viesturs speaks about the rarified air of some truly difficult, dangerous, and remote peaks

I was a little put off by the descriptions of Viesturs film projects (he was on the IMAX Everest documentary expedition that was on the mountain during the 1996 disaster. I’m glad that Viesturs was able to find ways to make his passion pay for itself but it all just felt a bit heavy handed towards the end.