How Early Mormons Shaped Utah

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MITT ROMNEY'S run for president has drawn new attention to Mormonism, but if you really want to learn about the church and its roots in Utah, the Romney you may want to talk to is the candidate's distant cousin Clive.

Clive Romney (he and the Republican nominee share a great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney) is a passionate promoter of Mormon and Utah pioneer history. As the executive director of Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts, Clive Romney writes and produces songs and stories about Utah history and the Mormon faith and helps lead tours that show how early Mormons shaped the state -- not always for the better.

Mr. Romney's newest passion is promoting the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area, established by Congress in 2006 with a mission to preserve the area's history and to generate economic development. It includes natural areas like Bryce Canyon National Park as well as entire towns platted to encourage sharing resources, reflecting an early Mormon philosophy called the United Order. The heritage area includes six rural counties in south-central Utah that are threaded by Highway 89. Mr. Romney and others provide tours in the area, but travelers are free to explore on their own.

Below are edited excerpts from a conversation about what he sees as important stories told through the Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area.

Q. What will a tourist learn about Mormonism and Utah history in the heritage area that they might not learn in Salt Lake City?

A. If you go to Temple Square in Salt Lake, you learn all about the doctrines of the Mormon Church. If you go to the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area, you see the doctrines put into practice on the ground. The mind-set affected how the people interacted with the territory. For instance, you see all of these almost carbon-copy town plats, where they laid down a grid pattern and they surveyed it. People drew lots to find out what lot of land was going to be theirs, and then they put up their cabins or, in many cases, stone homes. These pioneers built for the future, so there are a lot of old stone homes.

Q. Why was the platting important?

A. It was called the plat of Zion. These were all viewed as little miniature experiments in Zion, in building Zion in each little town. Some of them even were communal living. They were called the United Order, a way of living where everybody just deeded over all of their belongings to the church and then they were given back as they needed: whatever they needed for living, according to what their assigned tasks were in a community. If they were a cattle herder, then they needed a horse. If you wove cloth for clothes, you didn't really need a horse because you could walk from house to house.

Q. What impact did Mormon pioneers have on Utah's natural environment?

A. Some places have really blossomed as the rose, which is a biblical phrase that they kind of took as their mandate, to make the desert "blossom as the rose."There were some that were pretty barren and now they've got farms, homes, trees. But there were other places where the valleys historically had hip-high grass all the way through the valleys and up into the mountains, and by overgrazing, those have been damaged. The pioneers were not nearly as knowledgeable as we are today about the effect people have on the land. Utah is still struggling in some areas to repair the damage that was done. Some places may never be the same.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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