Book recounts observations of early Mormon villages

Saturday , July 12, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN – Brigham Young University sociology professor Howard M. Bahr has been fascinated by what he calls “Mormon villages” and has done extensive research on the topic.

In his new book, “Saints Observed – Studies of Mormon Village Life 1850-2005,” Bahr takes a close look at different settlements in Utah through the eyes of several travelers who had close contact with the Mormon settlements as they passed through on explorations.

He also examines the writings of other researchers who have written about Mormon villages. He was able to find enough in-depth information that he has written a companion to the book, “Four Classic Mormon Village Studies.” Both books were published in 2014 by the University of Utah Press.

Bahr said Mormon villages were thought to be a “place where the Saints could live and raise their children while building a strong faith-based identity.” Villages such as these were common in Europe but very uncommon in the American West, so when observers came upon the groups they were fascinated by them.

The accounts Bahr takes are more than just accounts by “passersby” but a more comprehensive look by those who recorded what they saw and really examined the Mormon village life. Linking the accounts together as Bahr has done provides a deep look at Mormon community life.

“Saints Observed” is based mostly on nine famous travelers’ accounts of life among the Mormons, including Richard Burton, Elizabeth Kane, Howard Stansbury, John Gunnison and Julius Benchley. Bahr’s volume introduces the observers, summarizes and analyzes their observations, and constructs a holistic overview of Mormon village life.

He also goes into detail about Lowry Nelson’s 1923 findings in Escalante, which is a little different village than the bigger villages along the Wasatch Front area.

The book details different settlements and how those in the villages reacted to people who came to examine their life. For example, Howard Stansbury visited “Brown’s Settlement,” later known as Ogden. He writes that there was “quite an extensive assemblage of log gildings, picketed, stockaded and surrounded by outbuildings and cattle-yards, the whole affording evidence of comfort and abundance far greater than I had expected to see in so new a settlement.”

He was met negatively, though, and the people would not even let him buy food. He did find some neighbors who were more hospitable but was surprised by Brown’s Settlement’s negativity. He later concluded that it was partly because of the visitor’s identity as U.S military and because Brown himself was an “ungracious character.”

Bahr said the book grew from a question asked by a University of Utah Press editor if there had been Mormon village studies before the 1920s. Bahr set out to find those studies and was impressed with what he found.

The book is available on and through Barnes and Noble for $29.94.

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