fight for homeland

The Gathering: A Symbiotic Relationship of Mormonism and Utah, Part II

Is it a human right to have the ability to transform space into place? Do we have the right to fight for a space that we have laid ownership?

Read Part I here.

III. The Fight For Homeland

Though the establishment of a place as the homeland was secure at this point in Mormon history, the fight to maintain their homeland continued until the 20thcentury (Alexander, 37). Since the defining element of Mormonism — and the expression of their values — rested within their communal belief in the gathering at Zion, various threats against their established place were troubling and the fear of a loss of place shook their sense of identity (Holmes, 46). Tuan’s theoretical conception of “crowding ” is expressed again, due to the cross-purposes of the U.S. Army, the Native Americans, other groups of American immigrants, and the Latter-Day Saints (Tuan, 61).

Essentially, the conflicted notions that “Babylon ” had of the Latter-Day Saints crowded them within their own homeland. Where they once felt a spaciousness to explore their own religious identity, they now felt outside imposition that momentarily disconnected their identity from their homeland (65). Two events that highlighted this sense of crowding and the Mormons’ continued struggle to maintain the Great Salt Lake and greater Utah Territory as their homeland were the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the “Mormon War ” of 1857-58 (Taves, 175; 187).

In July 1857 — on the tenth anniversary of the Saints’ settlement at Zion — news reached the Saints of the U.S. Army’s anger toward the religious grouping and their intention to “put down the ‘Mormon rebellion.’ ” Hostility toward the religious settlers had grown over the ten years due to a refusal to partake in trade relations — since the Latter-Day Saints intended initially to establish a self-sufficient community, outside of the United States (178). Though they had initially sought freedom from the United States — due, in part, to the overwhelming hostility they faced as they fled from state to state in their early, developing years — the Latter-Day Saints had come to accept themselves as part of the New World, viewing their homeland as established within the U.S. landscape (176).

The establishment of Utah as a territory in 1851, with Young as its governor, served to solidify the Latter-Day Saints as a state-enclosed religious community, a patriotic band of believers. With the society of Zion settled within the Utah territory, it came as a surprise that their religious grouping was considered a rebellion by the U.S. Army at all. Despite this, U.S. Army leaders, Haight and Lee, coordinated an attack on the Mormons at the Mountain Meadows, encouraging Native Americans to rob the Mormons of their wagons and cattle to appear as though the massacre was the fault of the Native Americans (177). Ultimately, the U.S. Army grew suspicious of the Mormons’ teachings and comfortability with their place, and sought to rupture the symbiosis of people and place.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre was an introductory dispute stemming from the hysteria caused by the Mormon settlement in Utah. The “Mormon War ” of 1857-58 was a continuation of these disputes and the culmination of Tuan’s theoretical notion of “crowding ” (Tuan, 51). The “Mormon War ” had various causes, including: hostile opposition to the settled lives of the Latter-Day Saints due to their beliefs, their nonexistent relationships with the Native Americans and the Gentiles — who passed through during the Gold Rush — and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 (Taves, 188).

Though there were various reasons for the “almost universal aversion and hatred ” against Mormons, the overwhelming factor leading to this war was the Gentile-Mormon hostility that had persisted since the establishment of Zion within the Utah territory (190; 187). Young expressed to his saints that hostility toward religious groups has persisted throughout time and that they were no different; crowding of beliefs is common and the Saints were unfortunately experiencing the uncomfortableness of this phenomenon in reality (Tuan, 60).

Further, though the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo meant the Mexico Cessation from numerous present-day states, including Utah, and the protection of Mormons under United States law, the relationship between Mormons and the rest of the United States remained rocky (Taves, 218). For instance, during the Gold Rush, as travelers passed through Utah and documented their experiences of the Mormon kingdom, they expressed opinions that were rather anti-Mormon (200). With tensions rising between the Mormon kingdom and the rest of the United States, a war between the two occurred wherein Mormons experienced a crowding of outside opposition that led to displacement from their homeland, Zion (Tuan, 65).

The insertion of the federal government into the local affairs of the Mormon settlements in the early years of the establishment of the Zionic community in Utah initiated what became known as the “Mormon War ” (Taves, 187). Ultimately, the U.S. Army imposed an invasion and conquest of Mormon territory, claiming they must uphold civil authority, due to the unruly relationships between the Mormons and the rest of the world (196). The basic function of the mission, as dictated by U.S. Army, was to ensure that the law was being upheld within the Utah territory.

On September 15th, Young announced to the Zionic community that they had been invaded, while the morning of September 24th marked the first actual engagement between the U.S. Army and the Mormons (199). The following year marked a period when the Mormons were displaced from their homes, having to evacuate the valley and relocate south, where they temporarily established a new Zion (203). Though the Mormons could eventually move back to their home in Utah, their Zionic community was shaken and “the valley didn’t exactly return to ‘normal’ ” (206). The connection that the Saints felt to their sense of place had been momentarily broken due to the “conflicting activities [that] generate[d] a sense of crowding, ” as they were thrust into a state of fear within the reality of having to reestablish a homeland (Tuan, 64).

IV. Conclusion

great salt lake, antelope island
Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island

Throughout the history of the Latter-Day Saints, the concept of place has been integral to their religious identity. From Smith’s first vision wherein he uncovered the gold plates and learned of the mission to establish a Zionic community ready for Jesus’ return, the conceptualization of a place for the end times was crucial to those who believed in Smith’s message. As the Saints traipsed across America, the promised land, seeking a site to call home, they experienced hatred, outrage, and unrest everywhere they had hoped to establish themselves for the first seventeen years of their history.

It was not until they reached the Great Basin, the Great Salt Lake, the eventual state of Utah, that the Latter-Day Saints were able to experience a real sense of spaciousness that allowed them to rest, to settle, to cultivate a real sense of home.

Yi-Fu Tuan, 60

The valley offered potential for self-sufficiency and a sense of homeland where they would not be bothered by other Americans, the Gentiles, and those hostile to their beliefs. The valley offered sanctuary from the oppression of the states, where the Saints could grow as a community and establish themselves within their own homeland. They made themselves comfortable with their place, their mythical space (86).

Though place had always been integral to the Mormon religious identity, it was not until their settlement in Utah that Mormons became who they are today. The mutually interactive experience of Mormons and Utah created a symbiotic relationship whereby, “without the Mormons, Utah would just be another Wyoming or Nevada. And without its Utah experience Mormonism would be just another small denomination in American Protestantism ” (Poll, 165). The symbiotic relationship of place and religious grouping is so inexplicably interconnected for Mormonism and Utah that the two cannot be understood without the other.

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