10 – Salt Lake City, UT

Episode 10: Unified Through Listening, Caring and Understanding with Jewel Cummings

Jewel Cummings describes a Great America that is a unified country through listening, caring and understanding each other.

She is a college student studying accounting and is a return missionary from southern Germany and Salzburg, Austria. She loves the warm weather of Southern Utah.

Jewel grew up in Mill Creek neighborhood in Salt Lake City, Utah with five younger sisters. She enjoyed the diversity and amenities of Salt Lake City. Her mission to Europe during the COVID virus was an exceptional experience. These foundational experiences of family and her faith taught her the value of listening to people and hard work.

Links to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:



Salt Lake City, UT: THE GREAT AMERICA OF 1847-1857

Salt Lake City was great from 1847-1857, its founding decade. Though the city, which serves as a financial, political and spiritual center of the Inland West, has long been prosperous and known for its livability as a community, it was in those earliest years that the utopian dreams of its founders came closest to being fully realized. Left more or less alone, adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or “Mormons”) were allowed to build a new society in the Great Basin, and this period of relative autonomy would continue to shape the sect’s relationship with its neighbors.

Fleeing bigotry and mob violence in Missouri, LDS President Brigham Young led a band of followers across the Great Plains, eventually arriving, on July 24, 1847, at the shores of the Great Salt Lake in what was nominally Mexican territory, where Young famously declared “this is the right place” (or “this is the place” in some accounts). The surrounding valley reminded Young of accounts of the geography of the Holy Land, with the brackish water of the lake evoking the Dead Sea. An adjacent river was dubbed the Jordan to complete the biblical analogy.

Like many religious groups that emerged out of the “Great Awakening” of the early 19th Century, the Mormons practiced what we would now call “intentional community.” The new settlement, initially called “Great Salt Lake City” would be laid out in keeping with previous neatly planned Mormon communities in Illinois and Missouri, with some modifications by Young. Large blocks of 660 feet on a side were laid out to accommodate the new settlers’ farms and gardens. The streets would be 130 feet wide, reportedly to allow farmers to turn ox-driven wagons “without having to resort to profanity.” At the center of the city a square was set aside for a temple. Though the actual building would not be completed for decades, this prominent location symbolized the church’s central role in the life of the community

Like other new religious communities of the era, the Mormons in the Midwest lived under a collectivist model. Though this was never fully emplaced in Utah, resources were largely shared through the church, which reinforced a sense of common purpose. An elaborate and well-maintained system of canals kept the farms and gardens irrigated and green. All of this required a level of central planning which was largely unknown elsewhere in the country.

The settlement of the war with Mexico in 1848 put the town in the United States. Federal officials, perhaps wanting to avoid the violence that had occurred in Missouri, tended to accommodate the Mormons as a government was organized in the new territory. Young was appointed Territorial Governor, and most of the elected and appointed political leaders also held positions of leadership in the church, creating what in some ways was a theocratic governing model. Under this relative autonomy, the Mormons hoped that they could finally live in peace.

This utopian dream, however, was meant to include only church adherents. Upon arrival, the Mormons saw what they believed to be an unpopulated valley, but this was because a smallpox epidemic had devastated the native Shoshone months before. Future interactions with native tribes were largely friendly, church leadership recognizing that these were potential allies, but they were marginalized and even converts could not hope for more than second-class status at best. Non-Mormon settlers, who became more plentiful as Salt Lake City became a key stop on an important route to California, also found themselves regarded as outsiders, and were regarded with indifference or hostility by church members. Their grievances would bring unwelcome attention to the Mormon experiment in Salt Lake City.

This era of relative autonomy would come to an end in the summer of 1857. A year before, the platform of the new Republican Party opposed the “twin evils of polygamy and slavery,” reflecting a growing national distrust of the Mormons, with particular suspicion focused on the unusual practice of plural marriage, though their communitarianism were also a source of mistrust as well. Responding to public pressure, newly elected Democratic President James Buchanan sent a new slate of appointed officials with an escort of some 2500 soldiers, about a sixth of the regular army. The subsequent “Utah War,” which consisted mostly of Mormon guerrillas harassing federal troops by destroying supplies and blocking roads, would finally be settled in April, 1858, when the Mormon leadership agreed to accept the authority of non-Mormon federal appointees.

The historical memory of the early years of hostility and oppression from the American mainstream has contributed to a sense of common cause among Mormons. This solidarity has assured their continued prominence as a political and cultural force in the western states. Likewise the legacy of what they accomplished in the Salt Lake Valley during the decade when they had a degree of self-determination, remains an inspiration as well and a reminder of what they could achieve as a community.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

9 – Cedar City, UT

Episode 9: A Melting Pot of Diversity, Acceptance and knowledge with Tamra Borchardt-Slayton

Tamra Borchardt-Slayton describes a Great America that is a melting pot of diversity, acceptance and knowledge, where people actually listen to each other instead of fighting.

She is the Chairperson for the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.

Tamra grew up in rural Enoch, Utah on a road past where the pavement ended. Although, Enoch acts as a suburb of Cedar City, it is actually its own town. Growing up, there was no gas station or store in Enoch so they would drive ten miles into Cedar City for supplies. She was one of very few minority students at her school, but loved the family and farm community she grew up in.

Link to the Paiute Tribe of Utah: https://www.utahpaiutes.org

Cedar City, Ut: The Great America of 1918-1941

Local historians in Cedar City, Utah, point to the period between the two world wars (1918-1941) as a time when the town showed its best as a community. In those years, residents came together to embrace a new economy and to save the town from collapse during the darkest years of the Great Depression.

Cedar City was founded by Mormons in 1851 as a hub for iron and coal mining in the region. It was a fairly modest community, with a population of less than 1500 at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, it remained growing and prosperous as an economic center for the region.

Expansion of nearby Mukuntuweap National Monument into Zion National Park in 1916 was seen as an opportunity by the town’s leadership. In 1919, the local chamber of commerce raised money to build an elegant hotel, El Escalante, to serve and attract tourists. Transportation would remain a problem until 1923, when the Union Pacific Railroad built a spur to the town to serve local mines and agriculture.

Tourism quickly exploded, and the hotel hosted thousands of visitors every year, including celebrities and President Warren G. Harding. The Union Pacific purchased El Escalante and ran a tour company, the Utah Parks Company, out of the hotel and adjacent depot. A vehicle fleet, first of Model T Fords, but of busses by the late 1930s, would take visitors to national parks as far away as the Grand Canyon.

Even with this new industry, the Great Depression (1929-1939) would hit Cedar City as hard as it did most other places, but resident’s willingness to come together as a community helped the town survive through the crisis. One such occasion occurred in 1931, when state regulators ordered the closure of the Bank of Southern Utah, the main financial institution in the town and the surrounding region, for not having enough cash on hand to cover its deposits. Residents raised $90,000 to re-open the bank and held a ball to celebrate its survival. This incident, and others like it, remain part of local lore as an example of Cedar City’s unique solidarity and resilience as a community.

This solidarity, however, tended not to include the local Southern Paiute tribe, who remained on the fringes of the community and the economy. Under a series of Federal and State policies intended to force assimilation of tribal people, the Southern Paiute had become landless and destitute, serving largely as laborers for local Mormon families and exploited as tourist curiosities. This state of poverty and dependence would continue for decades until the focus of Federal Indian policy moved to one of building tribal self-governance.

With the expansion of auto travel after World War Two, rail travel declined in importance, though Cedar City remained a “Gateway City” to the National Parks of Southern Utah. The town continues to embrace tourism and has dubbed itself “Festival City U.S.A.” for the numerous arts and cultural events that have located there. This was all made possible by the vision of the town’s leaders a century ago.

The rapid postwar growth of the town in the subsequent decades meant the loss of the community’s character as a scrappy small town. However, a spirit of civic pride remains from those days as the town continues to find inspiration in their forbearer’s willingness to set individual concerns aside to work together as a community.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

8 – Lander, WY

Episode 8: Where People Take Good Care of the Environment with Louisa Hunkerstorm

Louisa Hunkerstorm describes a Great America where people take really good care of the land, water, air and environment.

She is an educator who currently works at Central Wyoming College. In the past, she has worked as an outdoor educator and in other teaching and learning settings. She is a proud Wyomingite, a parent of two little kids, cross-country skier, and a lover of literature and beautiful places.

Louisa grew up in Wyoming on a farm, 30 minutes away from school and other amenities. She used her imagination and spent lots of wonderful time playing out in nature. This experience of growing up with a deep connection to the land lead her to a career in outdoor education. After many travels and adventures she returned to Lander to share her knowledge and raise her own family.

 The book by Rick Bass that Louisa mentions in this episode is “The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness.”

Louisa works at Central Wyoming College

Lander, WY: THE GREAT AMERICA OF 1983-2007

Lander, Wyoming, experienced a heyday from the mid-1980s to the 2000s, as the city recovered from the economic blow of a mine closure to become an internationally known center of the emerging outdoor recreation industry. The city of less than 8000 residents is an example of a successful shift from extractive industry to ecotourism and tells a story of the American West in transition.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Lander served as a railroad hub for ranching, farming and mining in the region. By the 1960s, nearby iron mines dominated the economy and local affairs. This came to an end in 1983, when the last of the mines closed as the American steel industry collapsed nationwide. The streets of Lander were soon lined with for-sale signs as families went elsewhere to find employment.

But the foundations of a new economy were already in place. Already a destination for tourists for hunting opportunities and dude ranches in the Wind River Country, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), which specialized in outdoor skills and eventually, environmental education, was established in 1965. It moved into a permanent headquarters in downtown Lander in 1971, and expanded rapidly through the 1970s and 80s as outdoor recreation came into its own as an industry nationally. By the 1980s, Lander became a focus for what would come to be called ecotourism as other outdoor programs and environmentally-oriented nonprofits like the Nature Conservancy would establish themselves there. In the 1990s and the 2000s, Lander achieved a reputation as a “college town without a college” for a youth-oriented culture and an active arts scene which belied its relatively small population, even becoming home to a well-regarded record label and an NPR affiliate. 

Lander, however, faces a problem common to other towns dependent on a tourism economy, namely housing. While after the closure of the mine, there was plenty of housing available, this would not last as NOLS and the tour companies expanded. The community has been hard-pressed to house the seasonal workers the tourist industry needs, and the shortage of affordable housing has increasingly made attracting permanent employees a challenge. This would become a perennial issue as local leaders continue to struggle to address this need.

Lander’s status as a “college town without a college” ended in 2007, when Wyoming Catholic College was founded there, attracted by the unique cultural vibe of the place. The city remains a center for outdoor recreation and the spectacular scenery of central Wyoming assures its future vitality as a community. However, recent efforts by state and county officials to attract investors to re-open the iron mine, something which has been met with a certain ambivalence in Lander, show that there are still those in leadership who have not accepted the new economy. This will doubtless be a source of tension in the future.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian