Manifest Destiny

When the first Whites entered the Cache Valley it straddled the Mexico-"Oregon Country" border. While trappers for the fur trade set the groundwork for colonization of the region in the 1820s, by the 1840s it was the doctrine of Manifest Destiny that provided the justification for establishing White settlements. As a National Parks Service historical study notes:

The Mormons of the 1840s through the 1860s were very much a part of the great westward surge that began in the 1820s when fur trappers started exploring the west, searching out mountain passes for vital water sources and continued through the westering activities of traders, missionaries, and land-hungry settlers, to the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The Mormons were part of the idea and the realization of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the great reconnaissance of the west, and they contributed to the growth of white supremacy in the west.

Although it isn't something I learned in any Utah or U.S. history class, or in LDS Sunday school for that matter, it is true that the Mormon pioneers "were part of the idea and the realization of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny ... and they contributed to the growth of white supremacy in the west." In fact, the Mormon pioneers were part of the Intervención estadounidense en México, or the U.S. Intervention in Mexico (the so-called Mexican War).

The theology of Mormonism fit well with the ideology of Manifest Destiny. When the U.S. declared war on Mexico in 1846, the U.S. government worked with LDS church leaders to form the Mormon Battalion. The Battalion was less important in terms of battles fought, than it was for the wagon trail it created through the Southwest as it made the longest march in military history from Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California. While the Mormon Battalion created a trail through the Southwest, the Mormon pioneers created the Mormon Trail into the Salt Lake Valley. These trails opened the way for other Whites to flood into Mexico.

The war from 1846-1848 was an invasion of Mexico by the United States. So many Chicana/os rightly proclaim: "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us." The Mormon wagon trains were as much a part of this war as was the U.S. Army, and in the case of the Mormon Battalion, the two were one and the same.

The above sculpture of a handcart is a proud symbol for many decedents of Mormon pioneers, but it is also a symbol of war, colonialism, and White supremacy. The war didn't end in 1848; it still continues to this day in the form of oppressive policies targeting immigrants, e.g., English-only legislation, raids by U.S. immigration agents, and the militarized U.S.-Mexico border.

The handcart sculpture stands in downtown Logan, Utah, between the Cache County Administrative Office and USU Extension and the Historic Cache County Courthouse, which now functions as the Cache Valley Visitor Center. On the other side of the Historic Courthouse is a monument with the names of Cache County residents who have died in U.S. wars from the First World War to the U.S. invasion of Iraq (listed as "Operation Iraqi Freedom"). There are historical parallels between the invasion of Mexico and the current invasion of Iraq. Both follow the logic of Orientalism/war, one of the three pillars of White supremacy described by Andrea Smith in The Color of Violence (South End Press, 2005). And like the invasion of Iraq, Manifest Destiny was justified on the basis of spreading "democracy." As Smith points out, "In the United States, democracy is actually the alibi for genocide – it is the practice that covers up United States colonial control over indigenous lands."

Re: Manifest Destiny

These trails opened the way for other Whites to flood into Mexico.


This made me think of parallels to how building roads today opens the way for white humans to flood into and take over land where only non-human animals are living now (the previous human residents already having been driven out).