Friday, May 03, 2013

Mormon Mentions: Barbara Taylor Sissel

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture. 

I recently finished Evidence of Life, a mystery by Barbara Taylor Sissel set in the Texas Hill Country.  According to Wikipedia, this region in Central Texas includes parts of San Antonio, Austin and surrounding areas.  In the novel, Dennis Henderson, the sheriff of Bandera County, is discussing the history of the region with the main character, Abby Bennett:
They were crossing a field when he asked her if she was aware that Mormons were some of the first settlers around.
Abby answered she hadn't heard that.    
- (Page 138; text taken from an advanced uncorrected proof)
If you grew up in The United States, chances are you learned about the Mormon pioneers at some point in your schooling.  A quick refresher:  Because of intense—and often violent—religious persecution in some portions of the U.S., early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were forced to leave their homes in search of a place where they would have true freedom to worship as they pleased.  Joseph Smith, who the people respected not just as the church president, but also as a prophet of God, revealed that place to be far away in the Rocky Mountains.  Between 1847 and 1869, an estimated 70,000 Mormon pioneers from all over the country and the world made the exhausting (and often fatal) journey to the Salt Lake Valley.

Within weeks of arriving in the valley, groups of settlers were sent to colonize the whole area.  According to The Pioneer Story at LDS.org:
Within ten years of Brigham Young's death in 1877, Latter-day Saint colonies ranged from Cardston, Alberta, Canada to northern Chihuahua, Mexico; from Laie, Hawaii and San Bernardino, California to southern Colorado. Today monuments to such settlements—many of them the first nonnative communities in the state—dot the western landscape, throughout Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Montana, Idaho, Texas, Wyoming, and Canada and Mexico.
As for central Texas, it appears (from a quick Google search) that it was settled by Lyman Wight, a disgruntled Mormon pioneer who left the main body of the church because of disagreements with Brigham Young, Joseph Smith's successor as president and prophet.  Along with about 200 of his followers (called "Wightites"), they arrived in Texas in 1845, where they established several colonies.

Not only are pioneers revered among their descendants (me included) for their great faith and bravery, but they're also recognized by historians for their hard work and perseverance in settling much of the country.  For more information on Mormon pioneers in general and their role in the settling of Texas in particular, please visit the following excellent sites:

The Pioneer Story at LDS.org (the official church website)
"Mormons" at the Texas State Historical Association's page
Hill Country History from the Texas Historical Commission  

*Book image from Barnes & Noble; pioneer image from LDS.org

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