Research

Wakara’s America

[New title!, reflecting my new argument about Wakara’s fundamental American-ness]

Why Wakara?

Wakara is a central figure in my first book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People.  He is the “Indian” foil against which the Mormons drew themselves and drew their Book of Mormon-inspired mythical “Lamanite.”

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But Wakara was also a very real, flesh and bone historical figure–both a villain and a champion of his own people. As a slave trader, a settler colonialist in his own right, and an infamous horse thief, Wakara was the most influential man–white, black or “red”–in the American Southwest that you’ve never heard of.

This book endeavors to recover his life, and the lives of his ancestors through an exploration of the worlds–natural, political, spiritual–that he lived in. Yet, through a material/cultural approach, with a fair amount of first-person accounts from the author– for example, learning to fish and ride horses like the Utes–I’m attempting to do this “world recovering” outside of–or even against–the “settler colonial archive” in which the histories of Wakara and other American Indians have long been bound, corralled, and sequestered.

Each chapter of the biography focuses on one material object—from “Wakara’s Fish,” the sacred foodstuff of the chief’s tribe that was decimated by the arrival of the Mormons’ irrigation ditches in the mid-nineteenth century, to “Wakara’s Skull,” which late nineteenth-century anthropologists from the U.S. Army Medical Museum dug up from the chief’s elaborate burial site in order to compare its cranial volume with other races.

I’m currently working hard on the first chapter, in hopes of submitting a proposal (which I had the honor of presenting at SHEAR’s first inaugural “second book writers’ workshop” in July 2017) and a chapter to a publisher (whose name rhymes with “Smail”) by next spring.