Quinn Rollins's Reviews > Come, Come, Ye Saints

Come, Come, Ye Saints by Douglas L. Powell
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's review
Feb 13, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: history, utah, religion

We have been kicked out of the frying-pan into the fire, out of the fire into the middle of the floor, and here we are and here we will stay. God has shown me that this is the spot to locate his people, and here is where they will prosper. -- Brigham Young

When the Mormons entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, they began the colonization of the Intermountain West. Establishing a headquarters in Salt Lake City, "Brother Brigham" was considered a prophet by his people, so when he said God wanted them to move to the middle of nowhere, they followed his commands. Eventually these Mormon pioneers would build colonies as far north as Alberta, and as far south as Mexico. They had colonies in Idaho, California, Nevada and Arizona, and petitioned Congress to create the State of Deseret, a massive state that would have included the Great Basin and extend down to where San Diego is today. This ambitious plan was scaled back as other states were created, but it makes for an interesting chapter in Western History.

This process of colonization is still evident in many cities in the Western United States, especially along the "Mormon Corridor" that extends along Interstate 15 from Idaho to Las Vegas. Douglas L. Powell, a grandson of Mormon pioneers himself, set out to document the Mormon Colonies in his 2008 photographic journey Come, Come, Ye Saints: Images of the Western Mormon Colonization. The 152-page hardcover is rich with both historic and modern photos, maps, and diagrams that document the process and the lingering evidence of their attempts to "tame the wilderness."

The thirteen chapters are roughly chronological, starting with what the Mormons were doing before they came to Utah, and what led them from their communities in Illinois and Missouri to come to the Rocky Mountains. A chapter is also devoted to pre-Mormon life in Utah, looking at the Ute, Shoshone and Paiute tribes of Native American Indians, and their interactions with Mountain Men, government explorers and others. Starting with 1847, and continuing on until about 1890, the Mormons came by the thousands to Salt Lake City, and then Brigham Young would send them to other communities according to their needs. Their communal living was an asset to many pioneeers, but also a struggle for those who were trying to build their own lives.

The most interesting chapters for me (as a great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Mormon pioneers, and a Utah resident) were The First Year, Exploration and Organization, and The Pattern of Colonization. Reading about the struggles of the early settlers, fighting against an arid climate, crickets, Utes and the United States government, I better understood what my ancestors experienced, but also the general struggle of what first-generation settlers went through in the United States.

Powell, an active Mormon, sees this struggle and survival as faith-promoting, and that might explain why glosses over some controversial episodes in Utah history. There's no mention made of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and very little mention of polygamy, even though both were prominent in the regions he's writing about. This one-sided look at the history makes this more a travelogue for the faithful than a true historic document.

The photography is very good, with Powell's own color photographs interspersed with black and white photos from the Utah State Historical Society and other sources. The settings for these colonies are stunning, in the deserts, the mountains, and the red rock of the Colorado Plateau. Powell's photos are from every season, and show everything from ghost towns like Paria to still-vibrant cities like Salt Lake City, St. George and Logan. The oversized book (10" by 13") has large enough pages to display the high quality photos, sometimes across two-page spreads, but usually with several pictures per page. The captions do a good job of explaining where the pictures are, and often their historic significance.

If you're interested in Westward Migration in general, or the Mormons and what they were doing in the 19th Century in particular, this is an interesting read. Don't look for objectivity, because you won't find it. But for a look at Mormon colonization, their perspectives, and their efforts to make the "wilderness bloom like a rose," it's a good book.

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