MHA 2011: First Impressions

Re-creation of Mormon Fort in Las Vegas

I’m at the Mormon History Association meetings here in St. George, Utah and thought I would give some first impressions of the conference so far.  Yesterday I had the opportunity to be part of the pre-conference tour, and learned a very interesting thing:

Sin City was first settled by Mormons!

The first non-Indian settlers in Las Vegas were Mormons.  Wanting to improve relations with Indians and make a road to California, Brigham Young sent missionaries into what is now Nevada (it was part of the Territory of Deseret at the time) in 1855.  “Las Vegas” is a Spanish word for “the meadows”.  Water was found there and the Mormons set up the Mormon Fort.  The mission lasted just 2 years, due to the harsh conditions, and the fort was abandoned.

Adobe Hut at Mormon Fort

It is now a state park in Nevada, and I had the opportunity to eat lunch there and take a few pictures of the partially reconstructed fort wall.   A few years later, a man used part of the wall to create this building.  The park ranger said this was Las Vegas’ first foreclosure as the man couldn’t pay the mortgage.  The building was later used to test recipes for concrete for the Hoover Dam.  We were given a book by Fred Woods called A Gamble in the Desert that discusses the Mormon Mission in Las Vegas from 1855-1857.  I’ve just started reading it and it seems like a nice read so far.

We also visited the Clark County Museum and a place called Warm Springs.  Water from Warm Springs is the beginning of the Muddy River, and it is not muddy yet!  Later in the evening, we attended a choir concert at the St George Tabernacle, and listened as a small band dressed up as the Mormon Battalion played some songs.  It was fun to mingle with everyone.

Mormon Batallion Band

This morning, I was able to listen to Newell Bringhust, Ken Driggs, Craig Foster, and Richard Lambert talk about “The FLDS and the outside World”.  Ken discussed “The 1944 Polygamy Raids and the Supreme Court” and outlined legal issues from the Short Creek raid.  He noted that there haven’t been any federal prosecutions of polygamy in our lifetimes.

Opening Reception - St George

Craig Foster’s original title of his paper was “Media Malfeasance?  Misrepresentations of the FLDS”.  During his talk he changed the title slightly, and discussed how the media changed from looking at the FLDS raid in 2008 as a strange criminal oddity, to much more sympathetic.  Craig works at the Church History Library in SLC.

Newell Bringhurst talked about how the FLDS church has changed in light of the raid.  He stated that the FLDS church has much more sympathy in the media and that spokesman Willie Jessop announced that the FLDS church would no longer perform underage marriages.  However, Jessop was soon removed as spokesman, so it is unclear if they will abide that policy if Warren Jeffs is released from jail.  Bringhurst also stated that while the FLDS church was quite insular prior to the raid, they have begun cooperating with other polygamist groups and have talked more with the media to create a more sympathetic view of their church.

The water is quite warm in Warm Springs

Richard Lambert is a former federal prosecutor and noted that all raids in his lifetime have been governed by state, rather than federal prosecutors.  He doesn’t believe that anti-polygamy statutes will be upheld by the Supreme Court and noted that many civil liberties of the FLDS were violated.  Rounding up all the women and children at the YFZ Ranch was a major civil rights violation, and he believes these women and children would be awarded monetary damages if they brought charges.

He felt that federal authorities had learned their lesson from Waco.  Ken Driggs, an attorney from Georgia called the sheriff and persuaded him to be more peaceful in his means when dealing with the FLDS.  He felt he had convinced the sheriff to back-off somewhat, but felt that someone over-ruled the sheriff and there was a much more militaristic raid on the ranch.

partially reconstructed wall of Mormon Fort in Las Vegas

Anyway, it was a really interesting session, and I look forward to more presentations later on today.


3 comments on “MHA 2011: First Impressions

  1. Wow, you’re quick. I have my notes from the sessions I attended but haven’t put them up yet. And it looks like you’re going all out with the tours and stuff. I always wanted to visit the Old Mormon Fort since I would pass it every time I went to the courthouse.

    I’ll be stopping by tomorrow to maybe check out some more sessions. Hope to see you there. If you are doing the down town walking tour I live a block away from Ancestor Square.

  2. Morgan, it was good to get together for lunch!

  3. […] conference.  I can’t recommend it enough.  I gave a longer version of highlights from Days 1, 2, and 3 from my blog, but thought I would give a brief overview of the presentations I found most […]

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