news_keywords Mining and Mormons: Differences in Cultural Landscapes

Of Mining and Mormons: A Look at the Cultural Landscape Differences Between the States of Nevada and Utah

Of Mining and Mormons:  A Look at the Cultural Landscape Differences Between the States of Nevada and Utah

To the uninformed traveler driving through the United States, a look at the map might suggest little variation as they pass through the arid west. Looking at Nevada and Utah specifically may provoke a similar response due to their similar physical geographies and similar size.

To the uninformed traveler driving through the United States, a look at the map might suggest little variation as they pass through the arid west. Looking at Nevada and Utah specifically may provoke a similar response due to their similar physical geographies and similar size. A drive through the two regions would do little more than highlight some of the differences in density and a few things here and there such as Casinos, Temples, and strange sights and street names. However, zooming by on the interstate, a traveler would miss the details which define the staggering differences between the two states. Upon closer examination, one might be able to see that the settlements around them contain more than meets the eye. These details might explain why the differences between the two states are numerous and why each landscape is so unique even though the states share similar sizes and populations. Analyzing key aspects of landscape development such as first settlement and the reinforcement of individual and social identities, along with interpreting the impacts of decision making on the individual and organizational scale will contribute to the understanding of the cultural landscape differences between each state.

First settlement of these regions has played an important role in their culture and landscape to this day. It is what makes these regions so unique and different from one another and what has set up certain landscape aspects which we can analyze today. Of most import is the Mormon settlement of the Arid West which began in the late 1840s. After being persecuted in the many places they settled and the assassination of their leader Joseph Smith, the Mormons traveled across the California Trail and settled in the Great Basin. There they planned to create new settlements and practice their religion in peace. Led by Brigham Young, the Mormons created new towns, using a layout based on Smith’s “City of Zion” plat which would be prepared for the second coming of their savior (Galli, 2005, p.111). The plat was altered by Brigham Young to better fit the needs of the new Mormon Settlers in the Great Basin.

The Plat serves the religious needs of the people. The temple sits in the center of the town, not just physically, but culturally as well. While also the geographical center, the temple plays a key role in the cities grid system. It functions as the ground zero for streets which radiate out from it, such that it uses numbers and cardinal directions to name streets and indicate where one is in the city. Such a grid strongly creates what Paul

Groth refers to as “reinforcement of individual and social identity” (2014, p. 249). This is exemplified by the central church and religious influence, which are daily reminders of the organization residents belong to, and the rules they should follow. The reinforcement of identity is created through many aspects of culture including the built environment, which can be revealed by looking closely at the landscape.

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[1] The LDS Church sits in the geographical and cultural center of Salt Lake City, UT
In addition to its unique grid system, the Plat of Zion was unique from similar urban forms that had been proposed and planned before because of its “view of town life as a positive good rather than an unfortunate necessity” (Upton, 2005, p.14). The idea of living together in compact urban form was a necessity to the very culture of the Latter Day Saints. Living together side by side allowed the Mormons to cooperate with one another and work together to create their new communities and build necessary infrastructure such as irrigation ditches, fences, and ditches. Living together also helped ward off the dangers of the frontier such as Indians and thieves (Galli, 2005, p.114).

The idea of cooperation and industry are present in the writings of Smith and the Mormon region. When the Mormons proposed their original state to congress, they named it Deseret, a term taken from the Book of Mormon meaning honeybee, symbolizing industry. The Mormons “worked together to build god’s religious kingdom”(Konschnik et. al.). The word and meaning of Deseret appear throughout the region and

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[2] The Zion’s Bank Building and former ZCMI, now part of City Creek in Salt Lake City, UT

 are an important part of the reinforcement of social identity. Small design elements of the built environment of Salt Lake City such as honeycomb pavers around tree plantings and patterned sidewalks indicate the specialness of the place. Small statues with biblical quotes and interpretations offer a similar, if not more explicit reinforcement in Provo. Certain city names such as Nephi are taken directly from the Book of Mormon and indicate the prominence of religion to those who live there daily. Businesses and Organizations such as Deseret Book and Deseret News, as well as Zion’s Bank and the former ZCMI/ZCMI Mall (Zion’s Co-operative Mercantile Institution) both reinforce social identity by existing within the region, and reinforce the individual identity of those that use their products and services. The importance of Deseret in the landscape is well represented even on the state level. Both the state flag and the state highway symbol are

ed169b term paper final5x1 emblazoned with the beehive symbol. Such symbolism on the state level reinforces the theocratic founding of Utah and today reminds current residents of where they came from and where they are supposed to be going.

The values of cooperation and sacrifice for the church represented by Deseret are in stark contrast to the individualistic and independent pioneer spirit that many attribute to the frontier lands of the American West. Yet many of these ideals are present over the border in Nevada, where the landscape reinforces greed and independence over sacrifice and cooperation. Just as the names and symbols of Utah reflect the religious history of a new theocracy, the names in Nevada reflect the state’s founding as a land of opportunity for those to strike it rich. While Nevada had previously been viewed as a passing ground by 49ers on their way to strike it rich in California, the discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1858 quickly changed this perception, and the U.S. government cut the Utah Territory in half, and created Nevada (Konschnik et. al.). Understanding the origins of the state answers any questions as to why Nevada bills itself as the Silver State. The elements of the landscape which reinforce the             [3] News Stand in Salt Lake City, UT

individual and social identities of those in Nevada draw from both the influence of pioneer independence and mineral greed.

Images and reminders of frontier life are common, with a number of bars and pubs instead referring to themselves as saloons. One shop had billed itself “The Trading Post.” Names and images such as these are evocative of pioneer life and reinforce the

ed169b term paper final7x1[4] The Goldern Club in Austin, NV

identity of what many view as the “wild west.” This modern identity is clearly seen in the landscape through the gun culture which remains in the state, imprinted in obvious fashions such as gun shops and a dedicated gun room in the State Museum. Town names such as Silver Springs not only represent the reason for which the town was founded but reinforce the idea that many settlements sprang up because of the greed for silver and other precious metals. Businesses such as Golden Club, Silver Enterprises, and The Nugget reinforce the notion of greed in the social identity of communities in the landscape and show the state’s history. Paintings and murals, such as those throughout the main street of Ely, Nevada, further emphasize the importance of such institutions in the landscape by romanticizing early pioneer and mining life on canvasses for all to see. It is the combination of the wild west spirit and the greed of Nevada that lives on in thegaming industry, which today produces half of the state’s total revenue.

Gaming is not limited to Las Vegas and Reno. Even small mining towns try to capture the revenue gaming provides, perhaps highlighting the notion that “Nevada’s economy is run on greed” (Shawn, 2015). This truth is clear in the landscape from the neon lights of casinos to the boom towns gone bust in when mines dried up. Greed permeates the landscape. It is visible through the massive mountains of slag stacked high as a result of open-pit copper mining as one drives into town. Yet it is an invisible institution present in the regions culture as well. For looking at the mine might not reveal that it was once a town. Ely, Nevada and its neighboring town of Ruth are the center of mining activity in White Pine County. However, there isn’t one Ruth, there’s two. As Gerry, an area-native born in Old Ruth explains, the mine kept growing and soon it took over the town. They moved the town a couple of miles away to what is now New Ruth. The culture of greed had permeated itself so physically that hundreds of homes and buildings had to be moved for the extraction of more minerals.

ed169b term paper final8x1[5] Murals depicting pioneer and mining history on Main St in Ely, NV


ed169b term paper final9x1[6] Copper Slag Piles in White Pine County, NV

Ely, Nevada is also an example of privatism’s effect on the Landscape. etablished as a Pony Express station and stage coach stop, Ely was a small town with a courthouse and a post office. However, after the discovery of cooper in 1906, the town boomed and population grew. The private decision in 1907 to extend the railroad to Ely promoted its growth and mining operations, boosting the local economy, but sealing the fate for other towns in the county. Today, White Pine County (of which Ely is the seat) contains more ghost towns than populated towns. Other mining towns have a clear evidence of privatism simply by looking at their plat. Towns such as Eureka and Austin, Nevada have curving, non geometric grids that are historically found in former work camps and work towns.

Settlements such as these are emblematic of the private decisions of individual builders who chose where they wanted to build only to figure out the streets and grid later. This is very unlike Joseph Smith’s Plat of Zion, and Brigham Young’s plans for the Mormon settlements of Deseret, which are top-down plans laid down on the landscape by a higher authority. While many of the boom towns and mining camps were started at first by individuals looking to strike it rich, Mormon settlements originating with Salt Lake City and expanding to other areas in the Utah Territory were carefully planned and then settled by a group of people selected by the church. The differences in the origin of settlements has helped shape the characteristics of the landscape today. White Pine and other Nevada counties have their share of ghost towns, yet in Utah, “Young and the early settlers managed to build more than 700 successful cities and towns in a period of 100 years — a feat not matched even by great empires in world history” (Dalrymple, 2013). The systematic differences in settlement of the two regions have a large influence over the landscape today, and play an important role in reinforcing the individual and social identities of the people who live there.

The cultural values that are reinforced in each state play into what Pierre Bordeau calls Habitus. That is “a set of internalized dispositions that that incline people to act and react in certain ways.” (Stevens, 1998. p. 57). It is the cycle of influence between culture and individual agency. The built environment is an important part of this influence and represents the “past and present power relations and symbol systems that are laid down, overtime, in the ordinary everyday landscape” (Groth, 2014, p.250). In addition to the built environment of the two states, Habitus is revealed in other forms of the differing culture. For instance, “Utah has the lowest infant mortality rate, lowest cancer death rate, lowest rate of new cancer cases, and the lowest percentage of adults who smoke of any state in the nation” (Packham, 2008). On the other hand, “Nevada fares worse than the average for all US states on a majority of indicators, including notably the percent of adults who are binge drinkers and the percent of adults who do not exercise regularly” (Packham). Such differences are also perceivable in what it means to be American in both states.

Congress viewed many of the Mormons’ beliefs and practices as unamerican, and as such continuously refused admittance to the union and “punished” the Mormons by slicing through their claimed territory every time valuable minerals and metals were found. The history of nonrecognition by Congress and the desire to be a part of the Union lead to certain “Americanisms” in the Utah landscape not seen elsewhere.

ed169b term paper final11x1[7] Utah Capital Building in Salt Lake City, UT
One example is found in the state capital building, which uses a dome that is an exact scale replica of the United States Capitol. Another is found in the state flag, which mixes the beehive of Deseret with the eagle and the American Flag. Even in small-townveterans memorials, it seems there is a large effort put forth into being American; flying large quantities of flags where only one or two might be needed. One does not see the same types of displays in Nevada, perhaps because its foundation is inherently American, or perhaps instead of struggling to join the Union, it was pushed into it. However, with all their differences in both the built environment and culture, the states do have similarities as well.

Though Brigham Young discouraged the Mormons from mining, he wavered on his stance. There are many mining towns in Utah as well and it is an important part of the economy. The Bingham Canyon pit-mine is one of the largest in the world. However, whereas the primary reason for settlement in Nevada was mining, this is not the case in Utah. Therefore, mining and its related industries are much less represented in the cultural landscape of Utah than of Nevada. Additionally, there is a lot of ranching and some agriculture that occurs in the rural areas of both states.

The two states make up an important part of our country that is growing at a fast pace and that provides important religious and recreational experiences and raw materials to the rest of the world. From its founding, Nevada has been a place to take from the land, a representation of its foundation on greed based on deposits of gold, silver, and other valuable minerals. Those that live and move there buy into the economy of greed in the belief that they too might strike it rich whether through mining or gaming. Whereas the Nevada ideal of greed led to dried up towns and booms and busts, the Utah ideal of sacrifice led to the creation of successful towns and a continuous hope for their society. In Utah the Mormons believe that one day the apocalypse will come and are always prepared for such an event. Ironically, boom and bust cycles have made it look like the apocalypse has already struck in many parts of Nevada. Yet despite their differences, these two states will continue to grow side by side, harmonizing as separate regions in the distinct American Cultural Landscape.
road[8] The Arid American West, US 50, Nevada


“Brigham Young – Facts & Summary.” 2015. Accessed April 14.

Dalrymple, Jim. 2013. “Urban Designers in Salt Lake City Praise Innovations of the ‘Mormon Grid.’” The Salt Lake Tribune, June 13.

“Ely.” 2015. Accessed April 14.

Galli, Craig. 2005. “Building Zion: The Latter-Day Saint Legacy of Urban Planning – BYU

Studies.” BYU Studies Quarterly 44 (1): 111–36.

Gerry. 3/22/2015. Conversation with Gerry, worker at the White Pine County Chamber of Commerce

Groth, Paul. 2014. “Key Processes of Cultural Landscape Change.” Critical Spaces: Contemporary Perspectives in Urban, Spatial, and Landscape Studies, ed. Alexandru Calcatinge (Vienna: Lit Verlag Gmbh & Co.): 237-254.

Konschnik, David, Amber Engelmann, Laura Casey, and Rick Velleu. A Mormon State. How the States Got Their Shapes. History Channel. Accessed April 5.

_____________ How Nevada Got Its Shape. How the States Got Their Shapes. History Channel. Accessed April 5.

“Mapping Salt Lake City | Stories, Memories & History – The Grid.” 2015. Accessed April 14.
Glassman 14

Packham, John. 2008. “A Tale of Two States Revisited: How Nevada, Utah Compare.” Reno Gazette‐ Journal, October.

Shawn. 3/22/2015. Conversation with Shawn, Historian/ Museum Administrator for Nevada Northern Railway.

Stein, Mark. 2008. How the States Got Their Shapes. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

The Economist. 2013. “Silver Dollars,” May 18.

Stevens, Garry. “Chapter 2: The Sociological Toolkit.” In The Favored Circle: The Social Foundations of Architectural Distinction, 36-67. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998.

Upton, Dell. 2005. “What the Mormon Cultural Landscape Can Teach Us.” The Journal of Mormon History 32 (2): 1–29.

Zorn, Roman. 2015. “Nevada State, United States.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed April 7.


All images featured in this paper were taken by AJ Glassman, March 2015.

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