“Saints, and Other Western Wonders: Tourist Interests in the Railroad Age”
by David Walker
There’s a persistent myth that Brigham Young and other Latter-day Saint officials dreaded the transcontinental railroad’s arrival in Utah on account of its inevitably counter-religious influence. But as Young himself declared, “I don’t care anything for a religion which could not stand a railroad,” and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “must, indeed, be a — poor religion, if it cannot stand one railroad.”
The church president had little cause for disappointment, in any case. By the end of the train-building era, the Church had ‘stood’ not one but many railroads, and few could consider it ‘poor’ by most economic, social, or political measures. Latter-day Saint leaders, moreover, learned from their railroading enterprises the managerial strategies and promotional campaigns necessary for defending church legitimacy and longevity in the West, well into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The transcontinental era had mainlined the Church for good.
Drawing from his new book Railroading Religion: Mormons, Tourists, and the Corporate Spirit of the West, David Walker’s lecture tracks this mainlining process, paying special attention to the work done by nineteenth-century railroad officials and tourism agents to mediate the Church of Jesus Christ’s public image and justify its connection to Utahn lands.
About the Speaker
David Walker is associate professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.