Sojourners to the Mormon West: Historian Michael Homer on Seeing Mormonism and Utah through European Eyes

Date: August 2, 2021 (Season 3, Episode 9; 01:03:32 minutes). Click here for the BuzzSprout version of this Speak Your Piece episode. The above illustration is of Great Salt Lake City’s South Temple Street. Looking eastward to the foothills, It shows what was, and is now, the most famous street in Utah, visited by nearly all sojourners to Salt Lake City. Are you interested in other episodes of Speak Your Piece? Click here for more episodes.

Podcast Content:

In this episode of Speak Your Piece, historian Michael W. Homer speaks of the deeply influential published accounts about Utah by European travelers during the 19th and early 20th centuries who largely visited Utah while “on the way to somewhere else.” Many European travelers had personal encounters with the famous 2nd Mormon prophet, and with numerous others inside and outside the faith. While these accounts have been documented and found in Europe, their influence was and is vast, not just in Europe, but around the world, inspiring other works of opinion and fiction, including movies, plays and television programs, even to the present.

Podcast Episode:

With the increased literacy levels, and advances in printing technology, information hungry Europeans “ate up” periodicals, novels, guide books and travel accounts, especially about North America. European travelers sojourned to the USA, and marveled at such popular landscapes as Niagara Falls, the Hudson River, Shenandoah Valley, the Appalachian Mountains and Great Lakes. The appeal of the Western Frontier was equally as strong, first into the Transappalachian West, and thereafter towards the Transpacific world of California at mid-century. Frequently the Mormons were a topic of interest, as they moved from New England to the interior West, eventually locating in, as Brigham Young described in 1854, as the “natural great central depot…” and the “natural diverging point or crossing place” for the West (letter, BY to Thomas Kane, 01.31.1854).

Michael Homer’s publication, On the Way to Somewhere Else: European Sojourners in the Mormon West, 1834 – 1930 is a collection of first person printed primary sources, some never published before, offering fascinating new evidence of European perspectives on Mormonism and the American West. This engaging conversation between Michael Homer and Brad Westwood, will help modern Utahns understand how deeply entrenched perspectives and biases continue to influence contemporary views of Utah.

Topics Discussed in Time:

  • Minute: 00:0004:10  Introduction: Western and Mormon historian Michael W. Homer is introduced, he is a practicing trial lawyer and avid collector of rare western Utah and Mormon historical materials. This episode discusses Homer’s published work entitled, On the Way to Somewhere Else….” a work containing accounts of 19th and early 20th century European travelers and writers who wrote detailed accounts, either historical or fictional accounts, about Mormons. Some have never been published before.   
  • Minute: 04:1010:30   Homer narrates how the idea for On the Way to Somewhere Else emerged. Homer traveled and searched for travel accounts and primary sources by connecting with collectors, libraries and bookstores across Europe. He discovered many travel accounts that had not been translated or published in English before.
  • Minute: 10:3014:08  Homer describes the type of travelers that visited Utah during the 19th and early 20th century.
  • Minute: 14:0820:35  Why were travelers fascinated with Salt Lake City, Utah? Mormonism during the 19th and early 20th century was much different than today. Stories about polygamy interested many visitors from Europe. Homer reads an account by Dominican priest Mazzuchelli and his conversation with Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.
  • Minute: 20:3522:35  Those who wanted to visit the prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints required a letter of introduction. To outsiders, Brigham Young was considered the pope of Mormonism. Rudolph Schleiden, a member of the German Reichstag, commented that Young had the appearance, to him, of a bank or railway president rather than a prophet.  
  • Minute: 22:3531:00 Who are some of the most prominent European Travelers? Homer reads excerpts from Italian diplomat Leonetto Cipriani, and French feminist Olympe de Joaral Audouard. Cipriani had an interesting conversation with LDS Church leader John Taylor about the abolition of polygamy while Audouard expressed great admiration towards Brigham Young, describing him as, “both pope and emperor”. She believed that Young inspired his subjects as far as to maintain, “his rule with neither needle guns or a standing army.”
  • Minute: 32:2038:23 Prominent novelists such as Arthur Conan Doyle (Author of the many Sherlock Holmes books) wrote about Mormonism in a fictional context. Doyle’s fictional story, A Study in Scarlet, was the most widely read account about nineteenth-century Mormonism. Other prominent authors include French authors Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Duplessis and Pierre Benoit, are discussed.
  • Minute: 38:2343:37   On Our Way to Somewhere Else also explores stories of Europeans who converted to Mormonism. Former Dominican friar, Louis Bertrand converted to the LDS church and was involved in the French translation of The Book of Mormon and other church publications, including a hymn book.
  • Minute: 43:3748:00   Homer shares contemporary travel accounts and discusses how European socialists viewed Utah.  
  • Minute: 48:0053:04   European fantasy accounts of the mountain west and Utah were not only popular in the 19th century but also in the 20th century. Author Jules Verne, included fictional accounts of fantasy trips to Utah, and created Mormon characters in his novels.
  • Minute: 53:0401:03:32 Homer speaks about the story The Eye of Utah written by author Georges Simenon, an interesting work of fiction where a young French girl travels to Utah. Homer also describes fantasy and fiction stories written by Italian travelers and novelists including author Oriana Fallaci, who wrote a story titled A Hat Full of Cherries in which her great grandmother visits Salt Lake City, Utah in 1865.

Bio: Michael W. Homer is a Salt Lake City attorney, longtime past chair of the Utah Board of State History, Honorary Italian Vice Consul and board chair and member for the University of Utah’s Willard Marriott Library. Mr. Homer is a well known proponent of Utah history, an avid collector of Mormon historical materials, and among other publications, the author of Joseph’s Temples: The Dynamic Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism. 

Additional Resources & Readings:

Visit the link to purchase your own copy of On Our Way to Somewhere Else: European Sojourners in the Mormon West, 1834 – 1930..

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