Winter 1996, Volume 13.1
Neila C. Seshachari
Utah's public life is bubbling with literary, cultural, and social activities, all in celebration of its statehood centennial, which falls on 4 January 1996. The announcement, last year, of the 2002 Winter Olympics to be held in Salt Lake City has added euphoria and more dizzying activity to the exhilaration already spawned by the centennial. While centennial activities stem mainly from the arts and humanities, the Olympics have given an impetus to business and entrepreneurship. Utah is a veritable beehive again, living up to the image that nineteenth-century Mormon leaders bestowed upon their new settlements in 1847, when they settled here in "Zion."
Everywhere projects of one kind or another are under way—feverish building of infrastructures (roads, bridges, ice rinks, and other structures needed for the Winter Olympics) or centennial projects focusing on literature, folklore, history, fine arts, visual arts, diversity of cultures, indigenous industry, anything connected with what Utah was and is today. Life in Utah must seem chaotic to an outsider.
But, as official billboards advertise, "Utah [is] a pretty, great state." Here, geological evidences of Utah's ancient uniqueness abound. The three most awesome ones are: 1) The geological remains of the huge, prehistoric fresh water Lake Bonneville which has shrunk into the Great Salt Lake—the world's largest salt water lake which was mistaken for the Pacific Ocean by the trapper Jim Bridger in 1824; 2) the well-preserved skeleton of a mammoth found in central Utah; and 3) two of the world's largest dinosaur graveyards that attract tourists and scientists alike.
Utah's first inheritors were, of course, the Native Indians: the Desert Gatherers, the Anasazis (aptly, the Ancient Ones) and the Fremonts, who disappeared from their habitat mysteriously around 1300 A.D., leaving behind only undecipherable and tantalizing petroglyphs and other archeological remains. The Diné (Navajo), Paiutes, Goshutes, and Utes (after whom the state is named) still live here.
Utah's recorded history is replete with interesting tales of the earliest explorers, the Spanish Fathers Domingez and Escalante, who were in Utah briefly in 1776, trying to find a short cut from Santa Fe in New Mexico to Monterey, California. Then came the colorful mountain men in search of beaver pelts, and other explorers, the most famous of whom is Captain John Charles Fremont, whose government reports inspired Brigham Young to lead the Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City in a journey reminiscent of the biblical Exodus.
Mountain men have left their mark on the state. When a mountain man gathered more pelts than he could carry, he would bury them to retrieve later. Cache Valley in northern Utah gets its name from the French "cache" (to hide). Mountain men held rendezvous, of course, where racing, shooting, inventing tall tales became the tradition—one that continues to this day. Weber county in Utah commemorates the name of American trapper, John H. Weber. The city of Ogden is named after another mountain man, Peter Skene Ogden, though he never reached its city limits.
Contrary to what most Utahns believed and taught their children until recently, the Mormons were not the first ones to settle in Utah. Some mountain men, like Miles Goodyear, had made home in Utah. Goodyear settled at the confluence of the Ogden and Weber rivers, which falls within the city limits of Ogden, and called his home Fort Buenaventura, which is now a state park.
Today, Utah is on the brink of a Neuzeit, a new time, when the seemingly uncomplicated life in Utah is being invaded from all over not just by world wide webs and e-mail networks, but by real people who bring with them different world views and practices. The life of "the pioneers" is no longer the pristine life it was considered to be. Tony Kushner's Angels in America is currently showing in Salt Lake City, produced by a local theatre! Its spotlight in conversations across the state is temporarily eclipsed by the woes of Utah's Congressional Representative Enid Green Waldholtz.
This issue of Weber Studies attempts to present Utah writers, both expatriate and currently living here, in their variety of world views. It depicts the aspirations, anxieties, and artistic/intellectual expressions of these writers as Utah approaches its statehood centennial date. One of our contributors, A. J. Simmonds, died suddenly under tragic circumstances in June 1995, even as he was giving finishing touches to his article. His was the last voice contact I made on the telephone before I went on a week's vacation that month, and before I heard about his death on the local television news three days later. I thank his colleagues at the Archives of Utah State University for sending the article they all knew he was readying for publication in Weber Studies.
Also, this centennial issue is the largest we have published to date. We thank one of our wellwishers and benefactors, who gave us a generous contribution to print additional signatures, contingent on our keeping the donor's name anonymous! Only at the peril of being disowned and disinherited can I divulge the name ofoops!I can't risk that. With genuine threats to the very existence of support agencies like the NEA and NEH, we will have to rely more on you, our readers, to support the arts and humanities. In this year of Utah's centennial, however, artists and art lovers can be justifiably proud that the state has supported all arts—literary arts, as well as visual and performing arts—for a hundred years. The centennial of the Utah Arts Council is not too far behind