• Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize, Society of American Historians
  • Winner of the Caroline Bancroft History Honor Book Prize, Denver Public Library
  • Winner of the Frances Armstrong Madsen Award, Utah State Historical Society
  • Winner of the Clarence Dixon Taylor Historical Research Award, Charles Redd Center for Western Studies
  • Winner of an Award of Merit, American Association of State and Local History


cover-OZMShrouded in the lore of legendary Indians, Mt. Timpanogos beckons the urban populace of Utah. And yet, no “Indian” legend graced the mount until Mormon settlers conjured it—once they had displaced the local Indians, the Utes, from their actual landmark, Utah Lake. On Zion’s Mount tells the story of this curious shift. It is a quintessentially American story about the fraught process of making oneself “native” in a strange land. But it is also a complex tale of how cultures confer meaning on the environment—how they create homelands.

Only in Utah did Euro-American settlers conceive of having a homeland in the Native American sense—an endemic spiritual geography. They called it “Zion.” Mormonism, a religion indigenous to the United States, originally embraced Indians as “Lamanites,” or spiritual kin. On Zion’s Mount shows how, paradoxically, the Mormons created their homeland at the expense of the local Indians—and how they expressed their sense of belonging by investing Timpanogos with “Indian” meaning.

This same pattern was repeated across the United States. Jared Farmer reveals how settlers and their descendants (the new natives) bestowed “Indian” place names and recited pseudo-Indian legends about those places—cultural acts that still affect the way we think about American Indians and American landscapes.

PUBLISHER: Harvard University Press (2008).


“This stunningly original book proves that geography and our sense of place are mere creations of history, and with it Jared Farmer has proven himself a brilliant trailblazer of the past in the Wallace Stegner tradition.”
Francis Parkman Prize Committee

“Magnificent historical storytelling, both fun and provocative. Ostensibly framed around the creation of a landmark peak in the American West, On Zion’s Mount details the production of memory in the service of forgetting. Transcending the parochial nature of older Utah and Mormon histories, Farmer constructs an intellectual universe around the Mormon-Ute contest for place. He traces the physical and folkloric fallout of that complex history through to twentieth-century raconteurs, promoters, and developers who continued to reinvent the cultural landscape. Farmer is unflinching in his loving but pointed critique of a culture that venerates history and simultaneously clings to historical forgetfulness.”
David Rich Lewis, Utah State University, editor of Western Historical Quarterly

“Few books can match the intellectual pleasure and wonderful writing of this study. Jared Farmer helps us see a world filled with landmarks that we construct in our heads and through our actions. His insights sparkle on every page.”
Clyde A. Milner II, co-author of As Big As the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart

“Beginning with a striking mountain in Utah, On Zion’s Mount opens up a world of connections between landscape, folklore, history, and pop culture. In witty, lucid prose, Jared Farmer illuminates the legends Americans wove to possess Indian land. A great read, this brilliant book will intrigue anyone interested in the past, present, and future of the land we live with and weave stories about.”
Alan Taylor, author of The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies

“This multilayered, beautifully written story explains how nature alone does not create landscapes; people are always complicit. There is no better introduction to this region and to the cultural formation of landscapes than Farmer’s work.”
Richard Lyman Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

“A powerful, fascinating consideration of the ways human cultures shape the places that they live, told as the story of Utah Lake and Mount Timpanogos.”
—Samuel Morris Brown, author of In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death

“Jared Farmer has given us a rich, graceful environmental history, all five senses engaged. With the warmth of a native son, the passionate curiosity of a born scholar, and the perfect pitch of the master storyteller, Farmer introduces us to the heart of Utah, a place long inhabited, used, fought over, mystified, stolen, mythologized, and, it seems, deliberately forgotten. On Zion’s Mount is riveting, a joy to read and to pass along to devotees of the American West.”
Virginia Scharff, author of The Women Jefferson Loved

“Farmer’s brilliant study of the rise and fall of two linked landmarks—Utah Lake and Mt. Timpanogos—opens up the history and memory of American place-making in exciting new ways.”
Philip Deloria, author of Playing Indian

“An intriguing and original book, well written, refreshingly accessible and often entertaining. It is both a history and a meditation on places, memories, and changing identities. I don’t know of another book quite like it.”
Elliott West, author of The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story

“This beautifully written book, at once deeply felt and intellectually rigorous, is about what we sacralize and what we destroy. It is a story about how Mormons invented a mountain and made it sacred, and how they degraded, and then ignored, a lake that had been the center of an earlier Ute Indian world. Both events were as much about the relationship between peoples as about the relationship between people and nature, and neither of these paired events could be understood only locally. Jared Farmer makes Mt. Timpanogos a summit from which to survey the long and tangled relations of Americans with nature.”
Richard White, author of Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America


“This is not a conventional history of Mormon-Indian relations during the second half of the 19th century. Rather, Farmer offers an intellectual interpretation of the Utah Valley and its most identifiable landmark—Mount Timpanogos, which towers above Provo and Orem. He also explains how white people (mostly Mormons) created pseudo-Indian legends that strengthened white claims while reducing the indigenous Ute attachment to the landscape. [Farmer] compares similar legends throughout the nation and explains how they were created to reflect the prevailing ideologies of the day. As an intellectual and cultural investigation, this book ably weaves diverse fabrics of history and folklore into an understandable whole.”

On Zion’s Mount is a well-researched, thoughtful exploration of how landscape is produced by societies as a result of certain historical conditions. The book deserves praise for challenging memories that are built on first forgetting.”
Salt Lake Tribune

On Zion’s Mount is an important book for historians of the American West and the nation as a whole. It offers an engaging look at how twentieth-century American popular culture configures, and then reconfigures, place as the stage upon which all history takes place.”
Richard G. Francaviglia, Journal of American History

“Just as Mt. Timpanogos is more than a simple landmark, this book is far more than the history of a mountain peak. Farmer weaves together multiple historical narratives to produce a book that is both intellectually rigorous and pleasurably accessible. This work is a study in American and Mormon pioneering and Mormon-Indian relations even as it serves to explicate the intricate relationship among geography, memory, and societal construction in the years following that initial pioneering.… He has written a book that will engage historians of multiple fields and will make significant contributions to multiple historiographies.”
John P. Bowes, American Historical Review

“Farmer’s central achievement is his persuasive and careful demonstration of the process by which cultural needs and values shape how people visualize, give meaning to, and relate to the natural world. This thought-provoking micro-history convincingly illuminates the varied ways in which Americans have imbued the physical environment with cultural meaning over the past two centuries.”
—Matthew J. Grow, Reviews in American History

“Some readers may be predisposed against the claim that this book speaks to the world outside Utah. They may be inclined to resist Farmer’s effort to position Mormons, Indians, and an unfamiliar mountain at the center of North American history. Perhaps, however, Farmer can persuade them otherwise. On Zion’s Mount is an engrossing, sensitive, beautifully written book, at once enlightening, very funny, and heartbreakingly sad. It has much to teach us all.”
—Mark Fiege, Western Historical Quarterly

“This splendid volume is a tour-de-force of historical scholarship that all lovers of Utah history will want to read. Ambitious, imaginative, theoretically sophisticated, and highly engaging, this volume tells the story of the creation of Mount Timpanogos as a cultural landmark and the concomitant fading of Utah Lake and the Lake Utes from most Utahns’ historical memory. This book’s breadth, wit, eloquence, and creative reinterpretation of local history in light of key developments in American cultural history make it a must-read.”
Brian Q. Cannon, Utah Historical Quarterly

“Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, critics regularly bemoaned what they regarded as the New Mormon History’s exceptionalist viewpoint. Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount may finally shatter that perception. Or, alternatively, it may finally convince observers that a paradigm superseding the New Mormon History now exists. Despite surface appearances, On Zion’s Mount is anything but parochial. As a work of cultural history, it shows, better than almost any book I have read, Mormon culture’s participation in larger trends. But Farmer’s book demonstrates why any attempt to understand (especially Utah) Mormon culture must also center American culture. American culture cannot be taken for granted as it is in so many books; it needs to be ‘made strange’ through analysis as much as Mormon culture must be. As a surprisingly illuminating history, On Zion’s Mount has few peers. One almost has to go outside Mormon history altogether—to books like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale—to see other examples of how important and fascinating a seemingly small and insignificant topic can be.”
Ethan Yorgason, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

“Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount pushes scholarship on Mormonism in exciting new directions. Indeed, his scope is dizzying: Farmer is equally at home with discussions of Mormon thought as he is with geology, American naming practices, Indianist literature, Alpine hiking clubs, and freshwater trout fishing. Because he has engaged such disparate fields, the book will appeal to a broader cross-section of scholars. It is a new kind of Mormon studies—one demonstrating deeper learning, evincing more complete mastery of the Mormon experience’s contexts, and written with such grace that scholars with little interest in Mormonism will laud it as a major scholarly accomplishment.”
J. Spencer Fluhman, Safundi

“Jared Farmer provides both the genealogy of a myth and a compelling case study in how communities can transform their understandings of landscape in the service of group identity. Ostensibly the history of a specific mountain, Farmer’s book explores the interplay between geography and culture, offering insight into how communities create identity by inventing traditions that alter their understandings of the landscape and, ultimately, themselves. An original and enlightening book.”
—John Perryman, South Carolina Review

“Farmer’s work represents interdisciplinarity at its best. Trained as an environmental historian, Farmer adeptly moves between environmental studies, cultural history, religious studies, and Native American studies. Farmer uses the story of Mount Timpanogos as a prism, refracting the larger narratives of collective memory (and forgetfulness), of the formation of national identity, and of the interactions of cultures and religious traditions with the spaces they inhabit.”
—Sara M. Patterson, Journal of the American Academy of Religion