Friday, February 12, 2010


A few months ago, our friend K. Carpenter brought us a new book by noted Utah author Gerald N. Lund. The book, entitled The Undaunted, The Miracle of the Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers, relates how Bluff was settled. It is because of this gift I have been reading more about the history of our community. As a result, I spent a lot of time thinking about the pioneers who established our fair city. I have considered the elusive outlaws who inhabited the area, the pushy Texas cattle companies and the feisty Native people caught betwixt and between westward expansion and religious expression. The clash of cultures that occurred when that long drawn-out wagon train of down and out Mormon missionaries first rumbled into this little river valley must have reverberated around these red rock cliffs like cannon fire. Each and every one of those groups felt they had inherent rights and privileges in this little patch of heaven. I can just see those diverse groups looking down on the Mormons from their particular vantage point, and asking "What the heck?!"

Navajo Three Yeis Weaving

My wife and kids, who are descendants of Jens Nielson, the first Mormon Bishop of Bluff, are forever getting after me because of my contrasting character. Whenever a controversial issue arises concerning the who, what, where, when, why and how of Bluff, and those involved in Laurie's genesis, I usually side with the opposition. To me, emotional issues are generally the most interesting and rife for stimulating confabulation. Never mind that this form of conversation has a habit of returning to roost on my proverbial back side. Maybe that explains why my rear end is persistently shrinking and my belly growing. Laurie tells me that is what happens when you get old and contrary. I, however, see this type of interaction as research which is necessary to my education and development. My wife views this "character flaw" as "unfortunate aggravation."

Recently Laurie and I became ensnared in a conversation about the impact of the Mormon contingent on the preexisting populations of Bluff. Laurie's argument was that her ancestors introduced a calming and progressive influence upon the land and its people. My reply was, "Yah like lye soap! It may clean your pores, but you are going to loose some hide and hair in the process." Seriously, what would you have thought if a wagon train full of highly industrious and devout, albeit exhausted, pilgrims parked at your favorite summer recreation area and began planting seeds? And what if you were a notorious outlaw hiding among the upended rocks and twisted cedars of this far-flung desolation and were suddenly overrun by scores of proselytizing patricians. When a group of Latter Day Saints moves in next door they often bring cake, then thoughtfully challenge you to change your evil ways.

The Texas cattle companies, so prevalent on the mesa tops and lush mountainsides of southeastern Utah before the Mormon arrival, were bought out and escorted from the area. Not because they wanted to leave, but because they kept loosing top hands to missionary maidens. Many a rank and raucous Texas cowboy was broke, branded and walking in white before he knew what kicked him. These hands were converted from the dark side and dunked in the cleansing waters, all because they were tempted by a pretty, young, trail-tested and endurance-approved saintly sister. Cattle barons could not maintain an inventory of trail bosses in the land of Zion, so they trailed off kickin' horse biscuits and cussin' the brethren for their bovine misfortune.

Later on, and further north, the Mormon immigrants attempted to teach the flinty tough and tenaciously unyielding Paiutes and their equally obstinate Ute cousins conformity through love and understanding. Unfortunately for these Native inhabitants, they were intentionally slow on the uptake and hesitant to give up their free-spirited lifestyle. Love and logic can only be offered and rejected for so long before the offerors realize they have been Polked in the eye. That break down in communications cost Posey a lead stinger in his retreating posterior and a painful demise. For the remaining Native participants, the price of following a misguided prince was internment in a wire cage. Laurie argued that her people suffered and lost as well. Their history also includes tragedies, persecutions and suffering. "No one is perfect," Laurie said, gazing knowingly at me. "At least my ancestors approached the situation with an open mind and compassionate heart", she added. Thinking I had pushed my contradiction far enough, I was reminded how Brother Brigham Young admonished his followers that it was better to feed the Indians than fight them, better to become their friends than incur their ill will.

Currently I am re-reading Indians and Outlaws by Albert R. Lyman. Like Jens Nielson, Brother Lyman was one of the first settlers of Bluff. He is a wonderfully well-spoken writer, and I love his perspective on life and missives about an incredibly trying journey through the Hole in the Rock. His interactions with Posey, the Outlaw of Navajo Mountain, are extremely interesting. One thing I did take issue with was Albert R's perspective on how the Navajo broke so many treaties with the United States government. What was not known then, but is common knowledge today, is that the Navajo did not have a chief. Instead, there were clan leaders, generally a respected elder who spoke for his extended family. There was no one large and in charge of the entire tribe. So, a treaty with one clan was often unknown to and unbinding upon other clans. Thus, such agreements were considered invalid by the vast majority of the tribe. And . . . if you wish to criticize someone for breaking treaties, you might take it up with the U.S. Government. The history books are full of deceit and deception on the part of our trusted leaders, in the name of "Manifest Destiny".

All in all, Bluff is a wonderful place to live and learn; there are still Indians, outlaws, cattleman and Mormons. Although the Saints retreated for a while, to settle better climes to the north, they are moving back with great enthusiasm. The best part about it is that we all get along. Oh sure, we have our differences, and there are some of us who will do our darnedest to stir up a blinding dust-devil of controversy. The community, as a whole, however does its best to learn from its history and grow together in a diverse and adaptive manner. It would be better if more writers had recorded their thoughts and emotions, but at least we have some material from those who did. To ensure historic accuracy for our day and time it is essential we get out our pads and pencils, exciting times are afoot. Just be sure to leave out the nonsense.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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