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Making Space on the Western Frontier:: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes

Overview

When Mormon ranchers and Anglo-American miners moved into centuries-old Southern Paiute space during the last half of the nineteenth century, a clash of cultures quickly ensued. W. Paul Reeve explores the dynamic nature of that clash as each group attempted to create sacred space on the southern rim of the Great Basin according to three very different world views.

With a promising discovery of silver at stake, the United States Congress intervened in an effort to shore up ...

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Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes

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Overview

When Mormon ranchers and Anglo-American miners moved into centuries-old Southern Paiute space during the last half of the nineteenth century, a clash of cultures quickly ensued. W. Paul Reeve explores the dynamic nature of that clash as each group attempted to create sacred space on the southern rim of the Great Basin according to three very different world views.

With a promising discovery of silver at stake, the United States Congress intervened in an effort to shore up Nevada’s mining frontier, while simultaneously addressing both the "Mormon Question" and the "Indian Problem." Even though federal officials redrew the Utah/Nevada/Arizona borders and created a reservation for the Southern Paiutes, the three groups continued to fashion their own space, independent of the new boundaries that attempted to keep them apart.

 

When the dust on the southern rim of the Great Basin finally settled, a hierarchy of power emerged that disentangled the three groups according to prevailing standards of Americanism. As Reeve sees it, the frontier proved a bewildering mixing ground of peoples, places, and values that forced Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes to sort out their own identity and find new meaning in the mess.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252031267
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 4/3/2007
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

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Making Space on the Western Frontier

MORMONS, MINERS, AND SOUTHERN PAIUTES
By W. PAUL REEVE

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS

Copyright © 2006 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03126-7


Chapter One

Intersections

In March 1866, the southwest fringe of Utah Territory simmered in a stew of mistrust and anxiety. Euro-American Mormons and non-Mormon miners had come to the southern edge of the Escalante Desert seeking very different gods through very different means. In the process they disrupted the region's long-term inhabitants, the Southern Paiutes. These three disparate communities, thrown together by a variety of forces, quickly found themselves in competition over the area's natural resources. It was a "convergence of diverse people," which in this case proved difficult for all and deadly for some.

In late March, the murder of George Rogers, a lone miner from Kentucky, brought the three groups together in a tragic episode. The events that unfolded highlight each group's ideas about community and how they separately set out to define and defend their differing notions. According to Mormon accounts, an expedition from Panaca, a Mormon town in present-day southeastern Nevada, captured a Paiute named Okus, who upon interrogation confessed to killing Rogers. Okus admitted that he had lain in wait "for five days to kill a man, 'Mormon or gentile,' and get his outfit." He then volunteered to show where he had committed the murder.

As a company of men from Panaca escorted Okus to the murder scene, things grew increasingly complicated. Fifteen armed miners riding toward Panaca, intent upon taking "vengeance on the Mormons for suffering their friend, Rogers, to be killed by Danites," came upon the Mormon group outside of town. Upon learning the nature of the Mormon excursion, the hostile miners joined the entourage in traveling to the place of Rogers's death. After surveying the scene and hearing Okus confess, the miners felt satisfied that it was an "Indian murder" and fixed their anger upon Okus. They forced him from the wagon where he was being held, wrapped one end of a chain around his neck, and secured the other end to a saddle horn. The miners "set off at full speed for Meadow Valley," ten miles distant, with Okus literally in tow. They arrived one hour and ten minutes later, Okus no doubt battered and "quite exhausted through traveling so far at such a speed."

At Meadow Valley, Okus gave the names of two other Indians indirectly involved in the murder, as well as implicating Bush-head, another Native American who reportedly instigated the whole thing. The miners, still bent upon revenge, tracked down the two Indians that Okus named at a nearby Paiute camp and murdered them along with another luckless Paiute who happened to be there.

The entourage returned to Panaca, where the miners prepared to kill Okus. With his death imminent, Okus declared that "he knew he had bad blood in him and that it ought to be poured out but, he asked to be shot instead of hanged." The miners refused. They hanged him, and he "died without a struggle." Still not satisfied, the miners set out for Clover Valley, a Mormon ranching outpost, in quest of Bush-head, whom they "hanged in the presence of [Mormon] settlers and Indians."

Clearly, prejudice on all sides shaped this sad series of events. Beyond its tragic nature, the episode raises intriguing questions concerning nineteenth-century frontier interactions. The death of Rogers forced Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes into a three-headed confrontation that encompassed far more than this single episode; it stretched through space to envelop much of Paiute traditional lands and through time to the beginning of the twentieth century. Rogers's death is symbolic of that larger confrontation because it illuminates key reasons for interactions between the three groups and underscores several points: the way each community viewed its neighbors, the way each group defended differing spatial constructs, each group's contrasting economic identity, and even differing ritualistic notions of death.

This study explores these themes. While ethnographers, anthropologists, historians, and cultural geographers tend to separate the groups of people they study, this work attempts to bring them back together and find meaning at the points where their lives intersected. Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes carved a world for themselves, an intercultural space that each group defined and defended for itself. Those defenses varied in intensity and lacked consistency but persisted for nearly forty years.

The story that follows is therefore complicated and messy. It rethinks the early version of America's frontier experience, which emphasized progress and triumph, while it simultaneously moves beyond newer ideas about the West as a place of declension, conquest, or dependence. There is no frontier line or successive waves of civilization here but rather a meeting place where three worlds collided and struggled to coexist. It is a story of interethnic and cross-cultural connections viewed through the lenses of power, space, and place. Nineteenth-century Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes came together in the 1860s on the southern rim of the Great Basin. Over the ensuing four decades they fashioned a world-between-worlds where they acted out the "drama of life on the edges." An integral part of that drama was the way in which each group shaped its own identity in part as a response to its interactions with the other two groups.

As the historian Richard White notes, western communities, try as they might to live by their own values and customs, were "always being flooded by a larger governmental and economic sea or invaded by members of adjoining communities." "Members of any communities," White contends, "inevitably had to embark upon the sea surrounding their neighborhood, village, or township. And at sea, the rules that obtained within island communities proved inappropriate." In keeping with White's metaphor, the myriad of interactions between Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes chronicled here are episodes at sea. They teach important lessons about how each group viewed the other as well as the identity each invented for itself.

To understand why Mormons, miners, and Paiutes left the boundaries of their communities in the first place, it is essential to ascertain the nature of those boundaries, how they were formed, and the meaning they embodied for each group. What cultural notions of land and space were the three groups so intent upon defending? What significance did the parched land on the southern rim of the Great Basin hold for each community, and why were its members willing to kill and be killed for this desert soil? The answer has less to do with the actual dirt itself than with the three very different worldviews that dug, plowed, grazed, and mined that dirt with symbolism.

The task, therefore, is to catch that symbolism and decipher its message for each community. Certainly a crash of economies occurred when Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes met, but the nature of the contest between them reaches beyond the economic to the sacred. The Paiutes were more than simply economic beings intent upon protecting traditional hunting, gathering, and farming places; they were spiritual beings with distinct notions of their privileged spot in the universe. When the Mormons and miners invaded that spot, it was more than an affront to the Paiute economy; it was a shaking of the Paiute cosmos.

The Paiutes first began defining their space around ad 1300. Then, in 1862, a group of Mormon ranchers invaded that space and later built Hebron, an outpost on the Mormon fringe but at the Paiute center. Finally, in 1864, restless prospectors, pushing east from the California gold fields, poured into that same space and eventually founded Pioche, Nevada, an 1870s mining boomtown (see figure 1). Each arrival marked a transition in meaning for the land.

The real significance of the story, however, is the rich cross-fertilization that took place, as each group found ways to adjust to the other two while simultaneously clinging to core aspects of their respective cultural identities. As their lives increasingly intersected, it is clear that the story of any one of these three groups cannot be fully understood without the other two. It is also evident that each group's cosmology shaped its exchanges with the others so that the contest over resources and land that ensued was physical as well as spiritual.

In that light, sacred notions of space for these three groups serve as bookends (chapters 2 and 7) for the story told here. It begins as each group came to the same geographic place, worldview in tow. Upon arrival, the Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes each followed rituals of possession designed to claim the land and reorient it toward respective notions of sacredness. Those starkly different ideas about sacred space drove the ensuing conflict. This point becomes abundantly clear by the end as we witness other rituals, this time of sickness, death, and dying, that highlight in haunting ways the deep cultural and spiritual divides that separated the three groups.

In between those bookends, the story also underscores lessons about power and the making of space, especially as the federal government intervened to muscle borders in heavy-handed attempts to push American progress. Federal power notwithstanding, the resilience of the three communities is striking as each one shaped its own world in meaningful ways. The three central chapters (4, 5, and 6) focus upon the dynamics of the interaction between the Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes. Each chapter seeks to understand how each group viewed the other two through time and space, with the Southern Paiutes, Mormons, and miners, respectively, serving as lenses into the other two. A hierarchy of Americanness emerged that favored the miners as the embodiment of American progress, industry, and quest for wealth. Mormons and Southern Paiutes, however, valued community over individualism and celestial rewards over material gain, ideals that placed them well outside prevailing standards of what it meant to be an American.

By 1902, when an earthquake hit the region, it symbolized a rumbling of change that was already pulling the three groups in different directions. By then, the intensity of the competition for land had diminished, and the Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes had reinvented their space, to varying degrees, in ways that reflected the new realities of each group's vastly altered world.

* * *

Shifting relationships of power played a significant role in the way that this story unfolded, as did its timing. The first consequential three-headed interaction between Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes took place in 1864, during the Civil War, which virtually guaranteed that the federal government would become a power broker in the ensuing drama. Union policy during the war "embodied a spirit of national economic activism unprecedented in the antebellum years." The power and role of the federal government mushroomed to include a national paper currency, an enormous debt, a banking system, a consolidated telegraph industry, and land grants to railroads and settlers, as well as a greatly expanded bureaucracy and budget. It was, as the historian Eric Foner suggests, "the birth of the modern American state." The economic policies of this emerging nation-state "originated in the crucible of war" and "aimed first and foremost to mobilize the nation's resources in order to finance the conflict."

By the end of 1866, Radical Republicans had solidified their control of the federal government and would spend the next eleven years attempting to define the shape of post-Civil War America-the West and all. For Republicans, the task involved not only plowing new "free soil" ideals into the former slave soil of the South but digging meaning into the semi-barren expanses of the American West. By virtue of winning the Civil War, northerners won the right to redefine the nation. "Union victory in the war," the historian James M. McPherson writes, "destroyed the southern vision of America and ensured that the northern vision would become the American vision."

In the West, that vision involved solving the "Mormon Question" and the "Indian Problem." As the victorious party of the Civil War, the Republican party, especially during Radical Reconstruction (1867-77), won the right to define those two "problems" and to attempt to legislate their solutions. In doing so, Republicans created a definition of what it meant to be an American that was filtered through a predominantly northern and Protestant worldview. That definition held far-reaching implications, even for the three cultural groups thousands of miles away vying for control of the southern rim of the Great Basin.

The lessons that follow, then, stretch well beyond Mormons, miners, and Southern Paiutes to encompass the nation. While the characters in this drama lived their lives in relative obscurity upon a remote geographic stage, their actions speak loudly of national trends in politics, economics, and culture during the last half of the nineteenth century. Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner aptly named the post-Civil War era the Gilded Age (1865-1901). Their novel of the same name chronicled and condemned the political fraud, business corruption, land speculation, jury tampering, and bribery that they witnessed permeating American society. While more recently historians have somewhat tempered or even attempted to revise that vision, this study bears it out. The desert expanses of southwestern Utah and southeastern Nevada form the unlikely backdrop for the weaving together of several major strands that form the broader fabric of Gilded Age America. There, among the sagebrush and cactus, nationalization and the growth of federal power, corrupt politics, no-holds-barred laissez-faire capitalism, and enforced cultural homogenization played out in sometimes exaggerated ways.

James M. Ashley, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio and the Radical Republican who led the charge to impeach President Andrew Johnson, embodies the growth of federal power and its impact upon the West. Ashley held significant authority over the West as chairman of the House Committee on Territories. As such, he led Congress to draw political boundaries that aimed to separate Mormons from miners and later endeavored to redraw the West altogether. In a little-known episode in 1869, he even attempted to eliminate Utah from the map and thereby solve the Mormon Question for good. Radical Republicans in Congress viewed federal power as expansive and wielded it in ways that not only reconstructed the South but remodeled the West.

Fraud, greed, and corruption form integral parts of this story, too. Those forces found their way, in perhaps disproportionate doses, to the southern rim of the Great Basin in the 1860s and 1870s. The pages that follow are replete with crooked governors, Indian agents, lawyers, jurors, and local officials. Most public servants used their jobs for personal gain rather than the common good. Individualism and an attendant quest for wealth seemed to dominate public attitudes. Alexis de Tocqueville, a French observer of American life, noticed this phenomenon already at play in the early 1830s: "It is odd to watch with what feverish ardor the Americans pursue prosperity and how they are ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they may not have chosen the shortest route to get it.... [Americans] clutch everything but hold nothing fast, and so lose grip as they hurry after some new delight. Love of comfort has become the dominant national taste. The main current of human passions running in that direction sweeps everything along with it." It was a trend that only accelerated over time and came to typify Gilded Age America.

Tocqueville's individualism and materialism fed and was fed by America's postwar manufacturing boom. As the historian Sean Dennis Cashman put it, during the Gilded Age "the promise of American life lay in its industrial future." America's 1876 Centennial Exhibition outside Philadelphia embodied that notion. Machinery Hall become one of its central attractions, as nearly ten million visitors awed over the giant Corliss engine housed there. The mammoth steam-driven device weighed almost 1.7 million pounds, yet ran without noise; its fourteen-hundred-horsepower capacity powered all the exhibits inside Machinery Hall, where its peaceful churning became a symbol to the crowds of the relentless march of "American industrial progress." That progress pushed America from a second-rate industrial power in 1860 to surpass Britain, France, and Germany by 1890. The number of people engaged in manufacturing more than doubled from 1870 to 1890. The same held true for people in mining, construction, transportation, and public utilities. This boom was optimistically tied to the West, where America's treasury of gold, silver, and copper lay buried, many believed, for the taking.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Making Space on the Western Frontier by W. PAUL REEVE Copyright © 2006 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments     ix
Intersections     1
Making Space     10
Power, Place, and Prejudice     33
"Listen Not to a Stranger"     63
"To Hold in Check Outside Influences"     85
"The Out-Post of Civilization"     113
"Dead and Dying in the Sagebrush"     136
Transformations     157
Notes     169
Selected Bibliography     209
Index     223
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