God and Man at Martin’s Cove

Here’s a fairly balanced story from the front page of today’s New York Times on the minor controversy surrounding Martin’s Cove in Wyoming. For those new to this story, the land in question is purportedly the place where the Martin and Willie handcart companies were stranded in the winter of 1856, and it is presently owned by the US Bureau of Land Management. When a prior deal giving the Church access to the site expired in 2001, the Church sought to purchase the land outright. The Wyoming senators, however, responding to a some public concerns, worked to block the necessary legislation. The Church then sought a lease of the property, and Congress agreed to a renewable 25 year deal, which was tucked into an energy bill and signed by President Bush in December.

4 comments for “God and Man at Martin’s Cove

  1. What is interesting, of course, is that the vast majority of visitors to Mormon historic sites are — surprise! surprise! — Mormons. There would thus be something a little perverse about stripping Mormon theology out of the interpretation of such sites. An interesting version of this dynamic shows up internally in the church: who gets to interpret church historic sites, the historical department or the missionary department? Of late, the historical department seems to be winning, witness Cove Fort, the Kirtland Flat’s restoration, the Grandin Building, etc. However, since sites are generally staffed by missionaries, the influence of the Missionary Department always creeps back in…

  2. It is interesting that one of the people cited the story made the point about it being “storytelling” and not history. I thought a significant portion of history was *about* stories. Otherwise you just have a few limited dull facts about dates. Such a view of history always seemed to make historic sites rather pointless. They ignore the meaning of the site.

    Further it seems to me that such sites are interesting in connection to ones independent reading. Otherwise why on earth would anyone care about the site in the first place. They get reduced to those “historic site” markers on the side of highways with a short one paragraph account of what happened. Indeed I’d say that the vast majority of historical sites are rather pointless in terms of the way they are administered.

  3. Nate, do you know how does this works? Do Church historians write the brochures and texts for the sites and then just turn in over to the missionary department to run the site? Or does the historical department run the site simply using missionaries as guides? Are we assuming a greater distinction than there really is between the two departments?

  4. My understanding is that the Historical department writes up text and interpretation and provides it to the guides, who are sent by the missionary department. At this point it becomes a bit muddy. Again, as I understand it, the missionaries report to the missionary department, ie they are under the direction of a mission president, etc. However, the historical department provides some training and frequently does “check ups” on sites. Also some sites are more missionary oriented than others. For example, the Grandin Building is staffed by proslyting missionaries. The Museum of Church History and Art is staffed by dossents called on missions who answer only to the historical department staff that run the museum. I think that some sites like Kirtland or Martins Cove fall in between.

    BTW, there are definite institutional distinctions between the missionary and historical departments.

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