White, Protestant America’s nineteenth century frontier mythology—as most characteristically emblematized in the western—helped define the American character and justify the violent exploitation of the American West by Anglo-Americans. In the last three decades of the 1800s, many observers, Frederick Jackson Turner among them, worried that the frontier was closing and with it the source of America’s greatness, as they supposed. Since Mormons were part of the West, a change in how people imagined the West influenced how they imagined Mormons.
I analyzed relationships between Mormonism and frontier mythologies in the New York Times from 1889 to 1900. I identified three narrative models for situating Mormons relative to the frontier, which I have inelegantly termed “Conquest model with Mormons as foreigners,” “Conquest model with Mormons as forerunners,” and “Turnerian process model.” These models provided ways of reinterpreting the past and present. As Americans came to view the frontier as closed, it became easier for them to view Mormons as pioneering Americans rather than as hostile foreigners. As they came to view Mormons as pioneers rather than enemies, it became easier to imagine the frontier as closed. For others, the closing frontier prompted them to resolve the “Mormon Question” once and for all.
The Conquest Model with Mormons as Foreigners
The conquest model with Mormons as foreigners portrayed Mormons as a hostile, foreign force occupying land Americans wanted.  Their property was to be seized, their political and/or racial otherness to be avoided, and their institutions transformed or eradicated. In short, Mormons were the Indians of the frontier tale. Conquest narratives supported disenfranchising Mormons (placing political and economic power in a few hands), unifying Northern and Southern constituencies in opposition to a common enemy, and shoring up Protestant sensibilities of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality.
As I described in my previous post, the Second Boer War occasioned several references to Mormonism using clear conquest language. Additionally, contributors compared Mormons to the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Turks, called B.H. Roberts “the representative of an alien civilization,” wondered why Mormons weren’t deported like the Chinese, and reported on tourist excursions to see Mormons. 
Inverting Turner, many contributors believed Americanization and moral betterment came through proximity to society, not distance from it. An 1893 editorial argued that “[polygamy] was doomed from the time the civilization of the country closed around the Mormon community in Utah and began to pervade it with the social, educational, and industrial influences of modern progress.” The Mormons had “community” but not “civilization” and their betterment depended on drawing nearer rather than farther away. Another author perceived that pursuing cohabs in situ brutalized Gentiles, “bre[e]d[ing] a wretched stripe of bailiffs.” The author, however, believed the effort necessary and, contra Turner, predicted that “a sort of ‘mailed hand,’ supported by law, [would] squeeze out polygamy” but not the church since it was “built upon superstitions that must lose their hold upon the people as they become more broadly educated and more critical.”  Thus, frontier processes were negative and only state violence and close association with society’s refinements could rescue Mormons.
The Conquest Model with Mormons as Forerunners
The conquest model with Mormons as forerunners treated Mormons as pioneers for Anglo-Saxon civilization rather than as its enemies. It emphasized Mormon skill at irrigating, colonizing, and farming and allowed that Mormons could be made fit citizens by close contact with American society. Functionally, the Forerunner model supported conquest while placating Mormons and conscientious law-abiders. By including and lauding Mormons, it parried Mormon resistance; by muting the conquer-and-destroy language, it skirted objections about taking land or voting rights from Whites and focused moral outrage on polygamy.
A particularly bold commentator described how Mormons could forerun:
Whatever may be said about the moral and theological aspects of Mormonism, experience has demonstrated that [...they] have entirely sound ideas on the subject of developing the material resources of wildernesses. …There will be no mourning, therefore, if the Mormons leave Utah to the Gentiles, and bend their energies to making the Big Horn Valley habitable—for their betters—in due time.
Most were more circumspect but accepted the general plan; witness the interest in Mormon colonization efforts in Wyoming, Mexico, and Canada. Conflict over statehood generated much conquest language. Many pieces argued that one or other of the political parties should court Mormons in order to increase that party’s power both nationally and in the West.  Mormon territory and votes could be “conquered” or co-opted for political profit.
Other discussions were straightforwardly acquisitive: “leading men of Wyoming have long cherished the hope that the eastern part of Utah, including Salt Lake City and Ogden and much orchard, pasture, farming, and mineral land, might become a part of Wyoming”; Nevada partisans “want[ed] territory capable of supporting a large and permanent agricultural community. This is to be found in Utah.” Mormons also (seemingly) appeared as agents of assimilation in a satiric suggestion for a Philippine battle commemoration, which placed them with “pawnbrokers, rumsellers…, missionaries, Miller syndicate men, and Tammany Hall politicians, hastening to convey the benefits of benevolent assimilation to the untutored followers of Aguinaldo.” 
The Turnerian Process Model
The third model follows Turner’s Frontier Thesis. Turner posited that the process of pressing further into the blank-slate of the open West and overcoming its inconveniences transformed immigrants into Americans.  The language of process, therefore, described Mormons as assimilating countrymen enduring struggles honorably and valuing space and farming. The Turner model went even further than the Forerunner model in shifting attention away from conquest and toward inclusion. With the Turnerian model one might speak of Mormonism’s early “challenges” without mentioning that many were caused by other Americans.
Relatively few pieces employed the full Turnerian model. Some emphasized Utah’s availability for settlers and the value of Mormon settlement patterns for “good average living.” A 1900 book review argued for “the conquest of our possessions on this continent” on hybrid Turner/Conquest grounds: cultivating “arid America” was “the best of all fields for the ‘expansion of ideas and the development of institutions’” and “national prosperity in the past came as the rich reward of developing the material resources of the continent.” Mormons rated a mention for “the first employment of irrigation on a large scale by Anglo-Saxons in the Salt Lake Valley”—a distinctly different treatment than the articles describing them as foreigners. 
An 1895 piece complained that while Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, “exerted direct influence,” George Q. Cannon was “so impersonal, so indirect, that rarely any public indication of the exertion of his influence is discernible.” For the author, Turnerian frontier directness trumped educated, political maneuvering-never mind that Young’s “directness,” included armed resistance of US policy. In contrast, another author thought Heber M. Wells benefitted from his origin in “a generation which knew nothing of the travels and hardships of the early Mormons, and which, therefore, cannot have the same veneration for the ‘prophets’ or the religion.”  The new generation of Mormons fit in better with mainstream America, thus fitting Mormons into a Turnerian narrative of progress and waves of civilization.
An 1892 piece quoted a non-Mormon Utah newspaper to the effect that Brigham Young’s “memory will be revered by the people as they read the story of his life as the pioneer, organizer, and commonwealth.”  The NYT editorialists opined that “the reverence which people will have for Brigham Young may depend a good deal on who writes the story they are going to read. If the story is written by a man who tells the truth and is not engaged in the historical whitewash and gliding business, there will not be much room for reverence.” The Herald writer drew upon a historical narrative emphasizing Young’s benefits to Mormons and non-Mormons. Such a historical myth tended to bring Mormons and non-Mormons together in the present, 1892, which unity was good for business and for Utah’s statehood application (which statehood was good for business). The NYT writers, however, recognized that the narrative elided parts of the story.
The three frontier models described above also elided details of the past. Brigham Young, like Turner’s hunters and frontier traders, was far more palatable to “civilized” sensibilities at the distance of a generation and with the historical microscope a few degrees out of focus. The Foreigner model ignored the U.S. citizenship and democratic instincts of many of the Mormons while the Forerunner myth ignored many Mormons’ frequent efforts to distance themselves from the United States. With Utah’s admission as a state in 1896, the frontier separating Mormons from the United States disappeared, at least on paper. Part of the subconscious attraction of the Turner Thesis and the Forerunner model were that they retroactively transformed what had been socially marginal individuals and groups into honored members of society. Thus, Mormons could honor their pioneer heritage, which helped them maintain a sense of separate identity, even as they began to partially assimilate into mainstream American society. Other Americans could honor the Mormon pioneer heritage, which distracted them from Mormons theological otherness, even as they began to partially accept Mormons.
Now, obviously, this is a very narrow study, drawing on only one newspaper in a tight time-window and without any effort to measure change over time or relative prevalence or any of the other important facets of a solid content analysis, so all my conclusions sport enormous asterisks. That said, I think this post fits in well with Dan Moos’ Outside America: Race, Ethnicity, and the Role of the American West in National Belonging, which describes how Mormon fiction writers in the 1940s constructed a Turnerian past for Mormonism (among other things).
I think the post also complements David G.’s post from Monday—or at least deals with the same general topic of narrating Mormon/non-Mormon power relations. Along those lines… I found a few Mormon constructions of Gentile actions as conquest-driven: “the prosecution and persecution…is political and predatory, not moral. The stranger wants, not only ‘the land and the fullness thereof,’ but he wants the offices that go with possession”; the 1899 rash of anti-Mormon violence in the South was caused “chiefly” by Mormons’ “political opponents, who wish to see Utah reduced again to the position of a Territory.”  It might be possible to trace some sort of arc from David’s description through the conquest/frontier language of the turn of the century on to Moos’ ur-pioneers.
This post is a two-thirds condensed version of a paper I presented at the Claremont Mormon Studies Association Conference this April past. I removed the theory and methodology sections and almost all the secondary footnotes and tightened the surviving prose considerably. I learned of Moos’ book after the conference; I’m pretty sure it was at JI but I can’t find where. At any rate, it cost me no small consternation to discover that my new idea wasn’t.
 The idea of “conquest language” comes from Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York: WW Norton, 1987), p. 17-32.
 All references, unless otherwise identified, are from the New York Times. 11 Feb 1894, ” ‘Love’ at the Arion Ball,” unsigned, p. 13. 04 Dec 1899, “Meet to Oppose Roberts,” unsigned, p. 2. 29 May 1893, “Calls It Discrimination,” unsigned, p. 8. For example: 18 Mar 1892, “Some Clergymen Shocked,” unsigned, p. 2; 23 Sep 1889, “Gentile Against Mormon: The Crusade Under the Anti-Polygamy Act: Strained Relations Between Mormons and Gentile-The Mormon as Martyr,” signed “E.G.D.,” p. 5.
 16 Feb 1893, “Is Utah Fit for Statehood?” unsigned, p. 4. This same article foreshadowed, however, the coming change in Mormonism’s political fortunes with its acknowledgement of Mormon industry and Mormon whiteness: “Its people are, on the whole, more intelligent, more industrious and enterprising, and better fitted to become citizens of an independent State than those of Arizona and New-Mexico, many of whom are of the class known as ‘greaser,’ descendants of the original Mexican population.” See also, 14 Jul 1894, Untitled Editorial, unsigned, p. 4: “As soon as the Mormon Territory began to yield to the influences of the surrounding civilization, which could not be kept from flowing in, polygamy was doomed. Even if the National Government had not adopted the policy of suppression and the Mormon Church had not surrendered its dogma of plural marriage, the practice could not have lasted long. It could only thrive in isolation, and that ceased to be possible. Utah is now in a position to become a thriving and growing State of the Union.” 23 Sep 1889, “Gentile Against Mormon: The Crusade Under the Anti-Polygamy Act: Strained Relations Between Mormons and Gentile-The Mormon as Martyr,” signed “E.G.D.,” p. 5.
 12 Feb 1900, “Topics of the Times,” unsigned, p. 6. 05 Jan 1893, “Mormons Arrive in Mexico,” unsigned, p. 9. 11 Feb 1893, “It May Be a Democrat,” unsigned, p. 1. 21 Jan 1894, “No More States Are Wanted: Mr. P. Donan Frees His Mind on an Interesting Subject,” unsigned, p. 19. In 1893 one L. T. Michener tabulated the number of Mormon voters in the West and concluded that Mormons could determine elections in five states, have strongly influence elections in four, and control sixteen Electoral College votes. 21 Jan 1893, “New States, New Senators: A Plaintive Appeal to the Republican Leaders,” unsigned, p. 10.
 01 Mar 1893, “Wyoming Wants Part of Utah,” unsigned, p. ?. 28 Jul 1889, “A Dying State,” unsigned, p. 4, quoting the Eureka, NV Sentinel. 02 Dec 1899, “Dewey Arch Suggestions,” J. Arthur Holly, p. 9.
 Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History (New York: Henry Holt, 1921). Turner was not the first to note the frontier’s closing nor has his theory withstood all scrutiny. For this paper, however, our concern is with the practical consequences of the concept, regardless of its analytical accuracy or provenance. Turner ignored Mormonism except for a passing reference to “the settlements in Utah” (p. 8). Mario S. De Pillis analyzed Mormons using Turner in “The Social Sources of Mormonism,” Church History 37, no. 1 (Mar 1968): 50-79. For briefer comments, see Jan Shipps in Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), p. 34-35, and Patricia Nelson Limerick, “Peace Initiative,” in Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West (New York: WW Norton, 2000), p. 237-242.
 07 Jan 1896, “Salt Lake Celebrates: Civic Demonstrations in Honor of Utah’s Statehood,” unsigned, p. 6. The reported speech was by Governor Heber M. Wells. 03 Jan 1896, “William E. Smythe’s New Scheme: He Tells About the Colony He Hopes to Found in California,” unsigned, p. 6. The book is William E. Smythe’s The Conquest of Arid America. Smythe is also the source for the “good, average living” quote in the preceding sentence. 26 May 1900, “Aridity a Blessing,” unsigned, p. BR15.
 The piece also described Joseph Smith as “a bold, strong man, and prophetic beyond cavil” and Brigham Young as “a man of courage, far-seeing, of profound and statesmanlike sagacity.” 13 Feb 1895, “Sold to Republicans: Utah Auctioned Off by George Q. Cannon,” unsigned, p. 1. 05 Jan 1896, “Welcomed by All Parties,” unsigned, p. 16. Another instance of progression appeared in an editorial citing “the change from religious warfare in Utah to legitimate politics.” 17 Apr 1896, “The Mormon Manifesto,” unsigned, p. 4.
 14 Jan 1892, “Art Notes,” unsigned, p. 3.
 23 Sep 1889, “Gentile Against Mormon: The Crusade Under the Anti-Polygamy Act: Strained Relations Between Mormons and Gentile-The Mormon as Martyr,” signed “E.G.D.,” p. 5. 11 Aug 1899, “Mormons in the South,” unsigned, [London, 10 Aug 1899], p. 7. 28 Jul 1899, “Mormon Elders Lynched? A Masked Georgia Mob Takes Three of Them Away-Not Heard from Since,” unsigned, [Atlanta, GA, 27 Jul 1899], p. 1. 29 July 1899, “Mormons Escape Lynching. They Get Away from a Georgia Mob While Crossing a Creek-Were Badly Bruised,” unsigned, [Atlanta, GA, 29 Jul 1899], p. 3. 09 Aug 1899, “Mormons Demand Protection,” unsigned, [Chattanooga, TN, 08 Aug 1899], p. 3. 12 Aug 1899, “Mormon Elders Must Go. Citizens in Virginia Use Switches to Stop Preaching,” unsigned, [Pineville, KY, 11 Aug 1899], p. 5. 16 Aug 1899, “Mormon Elder Sent to Jail. Refused to Pay Poll Taxes, Claiming Exemption as Preachers,” unsigned, [Chattanooga, TN, 15 Aug 1899], p. 7. 03 Sep 1899, “Mob Shoots a Young Woman. She Was Protecting Mormon Elders Whom the Men Had Attacked,” unsigned, [Chattanooga, TN, 01 Sep 1899], p. 17. 05 Sep 1899, “Mob Coerces a Mormon,” unsigned, [Chattanooga, TN, 04 Sep], p. 4.