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Book review: 'Latter-day Saints in Tucson' recounts Mormon influence in southeast Arizona

By Cecily Markland

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, June 22 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

"LATTER-DAY SAINTS IN TUCSON," by Catherine H. Ellis, Arcadia Publishing, $21.99, 127 pages (nf)

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints influenced the history of Tucson, Ariz., making their mark even years before 1899, when the first Mormon settlers began farming in that area. In fact, a monument now stands in downtown Tucson, testament to the fact that the Mormon Battalion marched through that area nearly five decades earlier.

These incidents and many other events and contributions are chronicled in the recently released book, “Latter-day Saints in Tucson,” by Catherine H. Ellis. The book, part of the “Images of America” series, provides an interesting compilation of 200 pictures, with corresponding captions giving a sense of the strong Mormon influence in the entire Southwest region.

Among the events and activities pictured is the Mormon Battalion and its legacy. Chapter 1 explains the formation of the battalion at Council Bluffs, Iowa, where Brigham Young pled with the Saints to respond to the government’s call to provide 500 able-bodied men to join the U.S. Army and march to California. Captions explain, “Battalion members blazed trails through miles of rugged terrain, suffering hunger, thirst and exhaustion”; but they arrived in Tucson in December of 1846, where they spent three days before heading out again to follow the Santa Cruz and Gila rivers to Southern California. It is believed that the battalion hoisted the first U.S. flag over Tucson. In addition, some who returned to colonize the area had been members of the battalion.

The book also depicts Binghampton, an early Mormon settlement along the Rillito River, in what is now Tucson. There, the extended Bingham family not only established homes, they put in a reservoir, dug a “gravity ditch” and began farming. This paved the way, as explained in the book, for other settlers to farm and to survive in the harsh desert conditions

Later chapters in the family-friendly pictorial history describe contributions the Latter-day Saints made as the church grew in that area, illustrate the founding of the University of Arizona and LDS Institute of Religion and detail influences the Mormons had in their community.

Throughout the book are surnames, many still commonly heard in the Tucson area today, creating a deeper understanding of the families that were a part of the area’s roots. In addition, the author uses the short captions and chapter introductions to effectively illustrate how the Mormons made a difference and what the depicted events meant to the development and heritage of the Southwest.

Cecily Markland is a freelance writer, book editor, publicist and author of "Hope: One Mile Ahead" and the children’s book "If I Made a Bug." She owns Inglestone Publishing and produces cecilymarkland.com, a calendar of LDS events in Arizona.

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