an archive of unsettling histories, mythistories, and mystories
from U.S. & Mormon settler colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism
from U.S. & Mormon settler colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism
Manifest Destiny In Your Tap Water: Settler water theft, Indigenous genocide, & ecological destruction
Mormon water management is often praised for reclaiming the Arid West.
In the mid-1800's when John Wesley Powell surveyed the so-called Colorado River, he told D.C. that, because the water is mostly in canyons and the Peoples Indigenous to those lands were already living well with their water systems, settlers should not move into that area.
My mom lives on Tonaquint Drive, about a block from a petroglyph-covered boulder which is surrounded by a mostly white, affluent neighborhood with streets named Geronimo Road., Inca Circle, & Navajo Drive.
Tonaquint People had been living in this valley for millenia, descended from ancient Pueblo People, whose physical history was mostly erased as my People developed this land for themselves. This Boulder is a small remnant of what's been destroyed, unearthed, and built over.
Mormons diverted Nuwu waters for their crops and even though their leaders told them not to, they stole water directly from the Tonaquint People. Through this, Mormons committed genocide against Tonaquint People and then named streets and parks after them (no information is offered about the Tonaquint People at Tonaquint park or it's website) and they refuse to teach this history in public schools. I’d never heard of the People whose land I lived because of until I started this work.
“By direction of Brigham Young in 1869-70,” settlers built a fort over Pipe Spring “for handling the church tithing herds and as frontier refuge from Indians.” These cattle fed the laborers who built the St. George temple.
Cattle are not native to this continent, and large ungulates didn’t live in this area at all.
Mormons politicians worked to convince the Diné to allow the Glen Canyon Dam / Lake Powell to be constructed. (Part of their ongoing Indigenous assimilation project). Through the dam and its lake, we destroyed miles of river ecosystem and ~250 Indigenous sacred sites and objects.
Back home, the county’s sole water source is the Virgin River watershed. This water body is home to the Indigenous and endangered: Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Virgin Chub, Woundfin, and Virgin Spinedace and was on the 2012 “top 10 most endangered river systems in the U.S” list.
In 2015, St. Georgians used 317 gallons of water per person per day. Here in ABQ, we used 129 gallons.
ABQ’s low use is because of a campaign the city ran, which itself is because of a lawsuit won by the Isleta Pueblo. ABQ has some of the highest clean waste water standards because of Indigenous resistance.
Washington County, Utah wants a $2.4 billion pipeline (through Diné and Nuwu lands) to bring water from the Colorado River via Lake Powell to water their expanding suburban lawns and 14(+) golf courses.
How many Indigenous histories were erased as my people built their suburbs, golf courses, churches, and roads?
Lake Powell, at 42% capacity is experiencing a historic 20-year drought (last 10 years at “extreme drought”) that is projected to get worse.
Does a belief in a world-ending Second-Coming discourage care for the land and all its earthlings? Has our mythicultural “dominion over all the earth” led us to destroy it?
For more on Mormons and Water (ab)Use see:
- Neung'we Tuvip - Homeland of the Kaibab People (Kai'vi'vits), & Pipe Spring National Park
- LAND & WATER BACK: A brief & partial history of Mormon water (ab)use
“He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey”
- Deuteronomy 26:9
~44,000-year-old Indonesian cave-paintings of cows
~15,000-year-old Spanish cave-paintings of bees.
~7,000-year-old fermented Mesopotamian milk and Chinese honey
~4,000-year-old hieroglyphs of dairying and apiculture in Egypt.
~21 “milk and honey” 's in the Old Testament
and 2 “golden calves”s
Human interdependence with honeybees and cows is very old. Just not in this land.*
(*Maya do have a beekeeping practice with Indigenous stingless that's at least 2000 years old bees.)
“The honeybee is not a native of our continent. The bees have [gone] a little in advance of white settlers. Indians call them ‘white man's fly,’ and consider their approach as indicating the approach of settlements of whites.”
- Thomas Jefferson
Colonists imported honeybees and cows were into the colonies in 1622 and 1624, respectively. Euro-bees went feral and migrated inland pollinating Euro-grasses which Euro-cows then fed on. European-settlers imported their multi-species relationships to this land which devastated the indigenous ecologies and Indigenous life ways. In addition to military and biological warfare, settlers also practiced the "destroy and replace" logic of settler colonialism ecologically.
Through colonization, the Holstein cow (most common dairy cow) and the European honeybee are now on every continent expect Antarctica.
The first Mormons settlers imported 13 bee hives, 887 cows, and many seeds into Indigenous lands intent to make this “wilderness blossom” into a land of milk and honey.
Like the Mormon population, the cow population exponentially grew in the early decades of invasion. By 1850 Utah had ~12,000 cattle. Forty years later, ~280,000 cattle helped colonize this land. Today there are over 1 million cows in so-called Utah, with ~ a million of acres of land covered by monoculture cattle-feed crops, limiting land for biodiversity.
Symbolically, the beehive also spread over the land. It’s all over church and state owned stuff as when Mormons were forced to name the lands they’d stolen “Utah” instead of “Deseret,” a Book of Mormon word for “honeybee,” they kept the Beehive, a symbol of their secularized Kingdom of God.
We treated this land like we imagined it: pure, virgin, untouched, empty. (The first step is to white-out.) Then we/they imported plants and animals and the symbolic meanings we/they attach to them.
We destroyed Indigenous peoples, plants and animals, and their interdependent ecologies and manifest destinied an industrialized monoculture in our Land of Milk and Honey.
There are ~20,000 bee species in the world.
~4,000 of them are native to the so-called U.S.
~10% of these bees have yet to be described.
~1,100 species are native to so-called Utah.
~1 in 6 bee species is endangered.
No cattle are Indigenous to this land.
Native bees pollinate ~80% of the world’s flowering plants . Many of those plants evolved a specialized relationship with a specific bee species. The tiny “Perdita meconis” is one for a native white poppy which grows only in the gypsum-rich soils in Nuwu lands (Wash Co., UT).
After millenia of interdependence, both are endangered after a few decades of mining, off-roading, urban development, and bee keeping.
Euro honeybees escape their hives and go feral. Feral bees, as generalist, out-compete native pollinators, especially Indigenous specialists. Native plants, without their bees, die off.
Native bees pollinate about 80% of the world's flowering plants.
About one-third of our food is dependent on trucking honeybees to pollinate monocultures, like almond, cherry, apple, raspberry, or avocado orchards (worth ~$3 billion in services) which increasingly spreads feral honeybee populations across the land.
Ongoing domestication of this bee and cow (to increase the milk and honey we get from them) has had negative impacts on their lives, too. Modern dairying is a quotidian horror and our pesticide use created a Colony Collapse Disorder epidemic
Simultaneously, the global number of beehives has doubled since 1960 and cows occupy about 60% of the biomass of mammals (humans, 36%. wild mammals, 4%). And about 23% of native bees here have died off due to habitat loss and pesticide use (amid a 75% global decline in insects).
Indigenous Peoples as only 5% of the world's human population protect 80% of the planet's remaining biodiversity on about 25% of the land.
Human relations with cattle in the arid west is a source of Indigenous genocide, catalyst for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the leading cause of species endangerment and environmental devastation and directly responsible for the ongoing massacre of wolves, bear, coyotes, foxes, snakes and on and on and on
In our pursuit of happiness, as we attempt(ed) to white-out multiplicities of Indigenous lives to build our Land of Milk and Honey on stolen lands. We spread our milk and honey all over the world creating extinction-level biodiversity imbalances, while erasing interconnected cultural, linguistic, and ecological diversity / relationships.
I grew up in so-called “Utah’s Dixie” (Nuwu land). Until I started this unsettling I’d never had an Indigenous, Black, or Brown Mormon-affiliated friend. I think these two facts are related.
Many of my fellow settlers from Utah's Dixie will argue til red in the face that Utah's use of Dixie isn't about enslavement or the Confederacy, but strictly about the mission to grow cotton in these Nuwu lands in the Mojave Desert. But, one, this argument ignores the fact that the association between the word Dixie and cotton IS about enslavement, no matter when the Confederacy rose. And, two, even if the roots of Utah's Dixie weren't about enslavement and the Confederacy (they were) they grew to become associated, especially during the civil rights era when this church spoke in open defiance of the rights of Black people / Africans in the U.S.
Dixie College’s Civil Rights era yearbooks feature images mock enslavement-auctions, white students in Blackface, and the Student Body Pres. receiving a Conf. Battle Flag. (The number of things named/built to memorialize the Confederacy spiked during Civil Rights Era)
In 1952, Brown vs. Board of Education is being argued
In 1952, Dixie Junior College’s sport teams start calling themselves Dixie “Rebels”
In 1954, based on Brown vs. Board of Education, the supreme court rules that racial segregation in public schools in unconstitutional.
In 1955, Emmett Til was brutally murdered and Rosa Parks is arrested for riding a bus.
In 1956, The school makes a Confederate soldier its mascot and other white supremacists in the U.S.'s Dixie bomb four Black churches and the homes of civil rights leaders King, Ralph Abernathy, and E.D. Nixon.
In 1960, Dixie begins flying the Confederate flag as a school symbol and Ruby Bridges starts attending a formerly segregated school in New Orleans.
In 1992, people in Los Angeles rebelled after the cops who were caught on tape beating Rondey King were acquitted.
In 1994, Dixie officially drops its use of the Confederate flag as a school symbol.
In 2008, while I was at student, Dixie College changed their Confederate mascot to a "Red Storm."
In 2012, Dixie removed their multi-figure bronze Confederate soldier statue in 2012.
In 2021 they're dropping the name entirely.
As Utah historian Will Bagley said, "The name Dixie reflects the sympathy that the southern Utah and the Mormon people felt for the Confederacy."
Robert Dockery Covington was called by Brigham Young in 1857 to lead settlers to Nuwu lands (Washington, UT) and grow cotton. Covington was chosen because he had experience in the field. Before Utah, he owned people and forced them to grow cotton for him in Mississippi.
The Sheriff of Utah's Dixie Albert Washington Collins enjoyed entertaining fellow settlers with sharing stories about how he whipped and raped the people his family used to own, breed, and profit from.
Both men were vocal Confederate sympathizers.
Covington’s statue stands in the Washington City Museum courtyard in a round of statues depicting founders of Utah's Dixie, right next to the park I grew up playing in, and to the chapel I went to church in.
Washington City Museum also has a statue of John D. Lee, the man held responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but brought that statue inside the Museum.
Why is Lee's statue hidden inside and not Covington's? Why do we white people seem to be able to be justly ashamed of ourselves for white on white crime but never the for the violences we enact on Indigenous, Black, Brown, and Asian peoples.
From 1884-today everyone in my family line has been born and buried in Nuwu (Southern Paiute) land. Nuwu are descendants of Ancestral Pueblo People. They’ve been with their lands since time immemorial and still occupy parts of their lands in reservations my people helped corral them into.
Unfortunately, my People's settler violence was not new for the Nuwu.
Beginning with Spanish colonization, some Indigenous tribes assimilated to Spanish enslavement economies, exchanging stolen Indigenous people for Spanish horses which made these equestrian tribes more powerful and dominant. Nuwu people did not assimilate to the Spanish economy and so were preyed on by other Indigenous tribes with Spanish horses and sold into enslavement at Spanish markets in Santa Fe.
Mormon settlers also participated in this human trafficking and enslavement buying stolen Nuwu women and children and making them work in Mormon houses. Mormons called their Indigenous enslavement practice "adoption" and Mormon historians will claim that Mormon settlers were good to the people they'd enslaved, but other historians identified that over half of these "adoptees" died in their early 20s.
Mormon settlers continued this violence through genocide against Tonaquint and Kaibab Nuwu. Mormon settlers excessively diverted Tonaquint waters as they tried to make this edge of the Mojave desert "blossom as a rose" and in the process desiccated Tonaquint land and starved the people. In Kaibab lands the Mormon church overgrazed their cattle which depleted the native seeds, drove away the game animals, and desiccated this oasis in the desert. Through this my people caused mass death, killing 90% of the Kaibab people in under 40 years.
Large ungulates like cattle aren't indigenous to the so-called Southwest. So, as settlers overgrazed these lands they desertified them. The tumbleweeds and sagebrush that symbolize the West for so many People today are only dominant in these lands because settlers overgrazing their cattle displaced the native grasses.
Where I was raised in so-called Utah's Dixie, Indian Agent, Mayor, and Mormon Apostle – Anthony W. Ivins, with one of the largest herds on See’Veets Eng land, persuaded the people to move from their homeland along the north rim of the so-called Grand Canyon to lands left vacant after the Tonaquint genocide.
This was also an attempt to assimilate Nuwu, to get them move closer to settlers and learn to “live like white people." These assimilation programs are ongoing:
This 1875 photograph, “Baptism of Shivwits Indians,” shows a See Veets'Eng man being baptized by Mormon leader Daniel D. MacArthur in front of 130 other See Veets'Eng People. Nearly every person in the image is next-to-naked and has a bob-style haircut.
Shannon Martineau Anderson, a See Veets'Eng member says, "When you're in mourning you cut your hair... (If) you look at the pictures before the 1800's, we had long hair, that was before death hit us... every one of them (in this photo) had recently lost...an immediate family member."
Earth and Heaven: An Ecological History of the St. George Temple – or one People's earthly material is another's stolen land and life.
Or if we thank the people for their labor, why not thank the land for its labor? Or does faith in a patriarchal, creationist God make it harder to directly relate with the (feminized) land? Or does belief in Jesus's Second Coming and its related terraphobic myths of antecedent global destruction cause its believers to do little about the intersecting climate, biological diversity, and extinction crises?
To understand settler-colonialism, first understand that everything is land and that Christian and Western philosophy helps us ignore this.
“Land is life. Thus contests for land can be contests for life.” - Patrick Wolfe
The oldest continually used Mormon temple was built with and on stolen Nuwu land and caused the genocide of the Kaibab Nuwu. Its website doesn’t mention this, but does say that Mormons “used earthly materials to rise above the material and the earthly.”
Its foundation is Nuwu basalt cut from the mesas to its west. Its walls are Nuwu sandstone cut from the endangered desert tortoise habitat to its north. Its roof and steeple are Nuwu ponderosa pines cut from a sacred Nuwu mountain to its south. Its decor is made from cotton seeds grown in Nuwu soils and irrigated with Nuwu waters, and from silk taken from silkworms, who were boiled alive after being fed on mulberry leaves grown in Nuwu land.
This temple’s website offers no thanks to the Nuwu for their land, nor to the silkworms, mulberry trees, cotton plants, ponderosa pines, sandstone, or basalt. Though they do express gratitude to their God who “didst provide.”
Laborers who built this temple were paid mostly in cattle meat and dairy. The cattle (paid to the church as tithes) lived on Kaibab Nuwu grasses and waters at Pipe Spring.
When Jacob Hamblin first saw this oasis the grasses were belly high to a horse. 30-years later he wrote, “The Kaibab are in very destitute circumstances; fertile places are now being occupied by the white populations. The grass and plants that produced food for natives is all eat out by stock.”
In 40-years, the Church who grazed the cattle that fed the laborers who built the temple caused mass death among the Kaibab Paiutes, more massive by % of population lost than the prior ~400 years of Spanish colonization.
This temple’s website says that the work done within “rise(s) above the material and the earthly” toward something sacred.
Patrick Wolfe says that “settler colonialism destroys to replace”
Mormon Prophet Brigham Young once said, "There are multitudes of spirits in the world. Everything we see (...) has got its own peculiar spirit (...) Is there life in these rocks and mountains? (...) There is."
Yet today, this church refers to these stones as raw material. Why and when did the earth become so lifeless in Mormonism?
Additionally what stories are being unspokenly told when we cover black basalt and red sandstone with white plaster to render them pure and holy?
I am nicholas b jacobsen, an artist, researcher, historian, educator, and organizer. I am a trans-non binary Euro-settler raised in the Nuwu lands of so-called Utah. My family has been Mormon and Utahn for as long as either of those concepts have existed. My ancestors sacrificed everything--their identities, homelands, jobs, health, & safety to become Mormon, Utahn, U.S. American, & white--to settler their Zion. I take it as my personal responsibility to unsettle what my ancestors settled. and to help my fellow settlers do the same through writing, art, and community building.