Ecology and Mormon Settlement in Northeastern Arizona

  • William S. Abruzzi


The process of colonization has been important in the ecological understanding of evolution since Darwin’s observation of the radiation of finch species as they colonized new island habitats. Human colonization processes, however, though historically documented, have rarely been interpreted using ecological concepts and models. Abruzzi provides a start in filling this gap with a reinterpretation of the history of Mormon colonization of northeastern Arizona in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Like other modern human ecologists, he takes great care to delineate details of local differences in environment and economy among the different settlements. In this arid region, perhaps the most critical variable is water availability, through rainfall as well as surface and groundwater, which are partially dependent on rainfall and also affected by geological features such as landform and soil characteristics. While drought was a periodic problem, flooding, which caused dam failures, was a significant problem that varied among communities. The physical environment, while directly affecting the potential and the limitations of human settlement, provides only part of its context here. The other significant factor is the social environment, both locally and at a distance. The relationship between the colonists and their home base in Salt Lake City is significant both in that the Mormon Church provided subsidies for the colonies and in that it laid down directives for local community interaction and interdependence. When individual communities suffered from crop failure or the destruction of a dam, they could acquire resources from their neighboring communities, which had been obliged by the church to set aside part of their production for tithes, and to share with their needy brethren. This interdependence provided for viability of vulnerable local communities over the long run. Other cooperative enterprises were also established among the settlements, though each eventually failed after initially prospering, perhaps because, unlike tithing, they did not incorporate all the settlements and hence were too small and too subject to local environmental problems. Eventually, other social and environmental conditions altered the context of Mormon colonization, as non-Mormons migrated into the area in numbers.


Human Ecology Church Leader Lower Valley Colorado River Basin Intermediate Elevation 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • William S. Abruzzi
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyPennsylvania State UniversityAbingdonUSA

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