Settler Colonialism Among the Mormons

I count on High Country News for compelling stories about my Western homeland but I don’t always get to the articles right away. I had this one marked to come back later but somehow it’s been over a year — Nick Bowlin, “How Mormon history helps explain today’s public-land fights” (Apr. 13, 2020).

It’s got Mormon history, which would usually put it at the top of my reading list, but it’s also got the Bundy’s, and that would put it near the bottom. There’s only so many times I can read about a bunch of wackos.

The article is an interview with Betsy Gaines Quammen, author of American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God & Public Lands in the West (2020).

By way of background, Quammen explains, “But it starts with the fact that the early church history begins with Mormon settlement. There’s no acknowledgment of history beyond when the first Mormon settler arrived. Settlers drank out of a Paiute river; all of a sudden it became a Mormon river. Ownership was established when they settled there. And along with this came the fact that they were persecuted by the federal government, and they came West, and this was a place that had been overlooked by other white settlers. . . . Their acts of settlement and development were forms of sacralizing the landscape.”

Now I’m hooked. I’m ordering the book.  

Good-bye, Mormons

When my Mormon ancestors joined the church and moved west their neighbors weren’t sorry to see them go. It was even worth a poem to celebrate them leaving.

good bye to Mr. Hale, Good by to Mr. Ball,
good bye to Mr. Woodruff, the greatest one of all.
good bye to all the Deacons good bye to all their Church
they Can not get their money, they’ve left them in the lurch
good bye their Book of mormon, good bye their Revelation,
good [bye] to all their fools, and all their Botheration—
good bye to Elder Luce, good bye to Deacon Thomas,
Look not to right or left, till you see the land of promise
good bye to all the Ladies that like this thievish Band
goe taste their milk and honey in the promise land
weil Eat our fish and taters, and tell the same old story
While you travel on, to the great Missouria
Remember old lots wife, was turned into Salt
for looking found Behind her, Commanded not to halt
To now you are pondering right between two Schools
good Bye to all your nonsense, for listening unto fools
Iv’e Bid you all good Bye, for forming Such a lie
the time is soon a Coming we surely all must Die
suppose I should die here and you die in Missouria
which do you Suppose, would be the nearest [to] Glory

A poem found in a Bible owned by a family living on the South Island represents perhaps the only surviving contemporary account of the anti-Mormon sentiments on the Fox Islands. Source: Religious Studies Center, BYU

Jason E. Thompson. “‘The Lord Told Me to Go and I Went’: Wilford Woodruff’s Missions to the Fox Islands, 1837–38”.” Banner of the Gospel: Wilford Woodruff, ed. Alexander L. Baugh and Susan Easton Black (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 97–148.

Gathering the Tribes: Mormons from England

This little BBC piece about Mitt Romney’s Mormon ancestors captures some of the zeitgeist of the lives of many Mormon immigrants from England.

Mitt Romney’s English Mormon Roots

The Mormons “believed that Jesus had visited America, and that he would return there soon.” Their message was, “Jesus is coming – he’s coming to America. We’ll help you get there.” Not only did Jesus visit America, but certain privileged Europeans were actually members of the Ten Lost Tribes, being called to re-gather in the New Zion.


Like the Romneys, my Quarmby ancestors also converted to Mormonism at Preston near Manchester in the 1830s.
John Quarmby was a cloth dresser, a common occupation in this part of England where the main industry was textile mills. The workers struggled to eke out a living. The factory owners became rich. John was also a music instructor, supplementing his meager income. He and his wife Ann had eight children, but lost five of them.  It doesn’t surprise me they looked to religion for comfort.

The Quarmbys converted to Mormonism, but it didn’t turn into the same dream for them that it did for the Romneys. 


John and Ann brought their three surviving children to America in 1845, through the port of New Orleans, then up the Mississippi River to Nauvoo, the Mormon capital. Unfortunately for them, Nauvoo was built on swamp land. John died a few months later of “swamp fever” — malaria. The two older children also died, but their deaths were unrecorded. No one is sure, but according to one family tradition, Ann survived long enough to be expelled from Nauvoo by Gentile mobs, then died of starvation and fever during the winter of 1846/47 at Winter Quarters, outside Omaha, Nebraska.

The only surviving member of the family, little Annie, age 5, was taken in by Bishop Joseph Bates Noble. She made the long trek to the new Zion in Salt Lake City to become one of the Valley’s first pioneers (1847). She told her children and grandchildren that she walked every step of the way alongside the handcart. (I hope that’s an exaggeration, but it might be true.)

Annie Quarmby

As an adult, Annie didn’t know her parent’s names, or even her birthday. Her whole history was lost. The Nobles couldn’t help; she was just an orphan they picked up in all the confusion. How could they be expected to know who she was or where she came from? Her mother had been a member of the Bishop’s Ward, so they got stuck with her. They raised her, and at 15, when she was so ungrateful that she refused to marry her foster father, they made life hell for her until she ran away. 

When I read the story about Mitt Romney and his English roots, I’m happy for him that his family succeeded in America. I just wish we could spend more time celebrating the people for whom a new life in America was a genuine struggle.

Historical Appellate Review

federal-circuitCraig Manson at GeneaBlogie has a new and interesting project, the Historical Appellate Review Project:

You’ve heard the story that Great-Uncle Festus was a no-good horse thief. But was he really? Did he get a fair trial? Did he have a good lawyer or even a lawyer at all? Can his name be cleared all these decades later? We might be able to help!

HARP, the Historical Appellate Review Project, is dedicated to setting the record straight. Using state-of-the-art genealogical and legal research procedures, HARP will investigate your family’s alleged black sheep and let you know if their names might be cleared! In certain cases, we even may be able to go to court and get the official record changed!

I think immediately of great great grandpa Wilford Luce, sentenced in 1862 to a year in prison for his part in an assault of Utah Territorial Governor John Dawson, and Wilford’s brother Jason Luce, executed in 1864 for killing a man in a knife fight. I’ve been told by various folks that both of them were eventually pardoned. I got a copy of the executive order releasing Wilford Luce from prison in December 1862, but I haven’t verified Uncle Jason’s pardon. Maybe it’s time to wrap up that detail.