Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Co-chair

Eric Reimer, Katie Kane

Commitee Members

Christine Whitacre, Nancy Cook


Almo Massacre, historiography, Idaho history, Mormon history, mythopoetics


University of Montana


In this essay, I examine the evolved narrative associated with the Almo Massacre, in which 295 overland emigrants, camped at the Silent City of Rocks along the California Trail, were said to have been massacred by a vast accumulation of united Indian nations. This examination includes a review of the historic context of the initial telling – America’s overland migration and the ensuing interaction between both non-Indian emigrants and Indian inhabitants and also between Gentile and Mormon emigrants; the story’s origins in the oral tradition and its evolution to written form; and the modern debate concerning the historic accuracy of the massacre account. In an example of narrative erosion, historians, archaeologists, and regional tribes argue that the massacre never happened. Members of the local Mormon community argue that it did. In addition to the introductory examination of the story’s erosion (from stable history to myth), I consider the poetics of the myth—the symbolic (and consistently Manichean) representations of emigrant, Indian, Gentile, and Mormon accumulation and dissemination and the degree to which these symbolic representations “map” to landscape; the importance of silence and anonymity to the myth’s meaning; and the content of the myth’s narrative form. I conclude that the myth is not only a local mistake but also a significant and representative example of the national symbolic: that it tells a complex story of nation building and of the tensions and contradictions inherent to all imagined communities. America is an (im)migrant nation – the one-as-many – founded on the contradictory national rhetoric of the many-as-one. The Silent City’s landscape and the story that it stages convey this inherent tension.

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© Copyright 2007 Ann Emmons