Shoshonean Peoples and the Overland Trails
Dale L. Morgan
Utah State University Press, 2007
When Dale L. Morgan passed away in 1971, the world lost one of its finest historians of the American west. Mormon readers no doubt know his name and his friendships with some of the best and the brightest of the 20th century crop of historians, such notables as Juanita Brooks, Fawn Brodie, Bernard DeVoto and Harold Schindler.
Here are a few facts that some may not know (all gathered from publicly available sources): Morgan was born into an LDS family, but soon severed his affiliation with the Church while maintaining a vital interest in its work and history. As a child, he contacted meningitis, leaving him mostly deaf, causing him to communicate mainly in writing. He disliked sign language as not sufficiently accurate to communicate effectively. Trained in the area of graphic arts, he found himself drawn to the study of history and established friendships that would serve him well later in life.
The current volume contains three works by Morgan dealing with a subject of passionate interest to the author: Indian affairs under the superintendency of non-Indian Americans. Much of this material is previously unpublished. From the dust jacket:
“In [this book], Richard Saunders compiles three important but overlooked works by Morgan. The first selection is Morgan’s best-known article on Indian-white relations, the first substantive study of the Utah Superintendency of Indian Affairs under Brigham Young. Then comes a previously unpublished consideration of early relations between the Western Shoshoni and emigrants across the desert reaches of the Great Basin. The book concludes with an extensive and important set of reports and correspondence from the holdings of the National Archives that Morgan selected and meticulously annotated. Published serially in the Annals of Wyoming, these concern chiefly the Eastern Shoshoni in the face of white encroachment, just before the completion of the transcontinental railroad.”
The aforementioned Richard Saunders, a Morgan biographer, contributes an introductory essay, accompanied by Gregory E. Smoak’s fine observations about the impact of white superintendency over the Indian populations in the Utah valley.
Much of this book reproduces correspondence regarding the ongoing challenge of adaptation to the ever-encroaching white (Mormon) population in lands previously ruled by the indigenous populations. Reading these letters can sometimes be tedious — in some instances, paragraphs span several pages. And, oftentimes, modern readers can have a difficult time relating to the matters being discussed.
We can account for some of this by reflecting on how little we seem to care about this period and the matters so vital to historians like Morgan. But white America, and Latter-day Saints in particular, should be aware of how their perceptions of minorities has been affected by their treatment of the Indian populations in our history. Early Mormons found ways to accommodate the presence of the Indians, even as the Indians, sometimes to their regret, learned to trust the settlers.
Mormon historians are well aware of Morgan’s lifelong interest in, and contribution to, the study of Mormon history. Morgan was a complex man, one who established life-long friendships (as with Fawn Brodie), a man passionate about his work and careful in his research and foot-noting. Historians and students of Mormonism will find much to like in this book.