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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Without Mormon pioneers, we wouldn’t have U2′s The Joshua Tree » Without Mormon pioneers, we wouldn’t have U2′s The Joshua Tree

Without Mormon pioneers, we wouldn’t have U2′s The Joshua Tree

Susan M - October 14, 2007

It would’ve been called something else. Because Mormons named the plant. From desertusa.com: “Mormon pioneers are said to have named this species ‘Joshua’ Tree because it mimicked the Old Testament prophet Joshua waving them, with upraised arms, on toward the promised land.”

It’s really interesting to me how much of the West Mormon pioneers helped shaped. I never thought about it much until moving to California. I’ve been exploring different areas down here, going to a lot of historical spots, and I’m always surprised when I see mention of LDS pioneers. I don’t know why; I guess in Washington State there just weren’t many pioneers? Or maybe I just never visited any historical spots.

Yesterday I drove up north to the west end of the Mojave (I think that’s where I was—near Palmdale), and I stopped in a field to take pictures of a bunch of Joshua Trees. I love these plants.

On our way home, we went past a bunch of huge rocks called Mormon Rocks. There’s a small park there with plaques and a trail, explaining that Mormon pioneers took shelter by the rocks when travelling through the area.

When I visited Las Vegas last year, I was surprised to find out Mormons were the first to settle in that area. I guess I should do some reading about Mormon pioneers in the southwest! Anyone got any books to recommend? I’d love to be able to visit these places and know about the people who were there.

Also, I think it’s funny that the pioneers thought of the trees as waving to them. The desert vegetation really lends itself to anthropomorphism. The pioneers were pretty optimistic, though. I’d be more inclined to think of these trees as gnarled old creatures trying to get me.


  1. Plus, there’s the fact that Bono was so weirded out by the unusual “355 North 300 West” style of addresses in Salt Lake, that he actually wrote a song about that phenomenon.

    He called it, Where the streets have no names . . .

    Comment by Kaimi — October 14, 2007 @ 11:00 am

  2. From what I recall hearing in an institute class once; the land where the San Bernadino public library now sits was once dedicated as a temple site. I’m not sure of the circumstances of its dedication, but it was probally back in the 1850′s.

    Comment by Craig — October 14, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

  3. Susan, this is a really great post and the pictures are fabulous. I tend to agree that if I were to have named those things, I’m not sure that I would have gone to a great prophet.

    I’ve been trying to figure out a good book about Mormon’s in the southwest. There really isn’t a ton of stuff. There is some Mormon Battalion work, some journals from early settlers, etc.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 14, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

  4. How fascinating. I never knew that about Joshua Trees.

    Comment by Summer — October 14, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

  5. Well there you go, J. A book just waiting to be written.

    Comment by Susan M — October 14, 2007 @ 2:47 pm

  6. Part of the reason I enjoyed that album so much when it came out was the Mormon iconography.

    You might enjoy Maureen Whipple, The Giant Joshua (1941), which isn’t a history book but a classic Mormon novel set in southern Utah.

    Or you could read William Wilson’s paper on folklore in The Giant Joshua, here.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — October 14, 2007 @ 4:03 pm

  7. A really good book to read on the Mormon settling of the West is Great Basin Kingdom by Leonard Arrington.

    It also includes a lot on the various interactions between Deseret and the US at the time, which are very very interesting. It’s funny to see that on the Bloggernacle we talk a lot about “inoculation” in terms of not hiding the Church’s historical warts from the members, but wow! Nothing prepared me to find out what the *US* did to the *Saints.* And I’m not talkin’ the Utah War, which didn’t turn out to be a very big deal. If the US still operates the same way it did back then (a bunch of guys who’d like to expand their markets getting the government to dismantle a nation and hand them the contracts, and telling the electorate it’s in the name of democracy… oh dear) it really makes you realize what the rest of the world is so set off about.

    Not that I absolutely know that’s what’s going on right now… it’s just a little creepy is all. : )

    Comment by mellifera — October 14, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

  8. Great pics Susan.

    Comment by Rusty — October 14, 2007 @ 5:38 pm

  9. And I thought church dances were the only connection between U2 and the Mormons. Just one more reason to love this band.

    Comment by cj douglass — October 14, 2007 @ 6:05 pm

  10. I loved passing all the Joshua trees during the six months I served in Mesquite, NV. I thought they looked so cool. It was many months later when I realized they were the same trees as the one on the U2 album. Had I known that, I would taken pictures of them.

    Comment by Kim Siever — October 14, 2007 @ 9:22 pm

  11. Every time I drive through Nevada I would think of U2. I ask my children the question: “Who’s the best band in the world?” They all reply: “U2!!” Yes, they are wise.

    I just didn’t know why they were called Joshua Trees. Thank you for the post!

    Comment by Cheryl — October 15, 2007 @ 2:42 pm

  12. Also, the Mormons seem to be really good about putting up markers and statues EVERYWHERE that has ANYTHING to do with Mormon history.

    The same is true in Southern Alberta, by the way, but not to the same extent.

    Brilliant comment! Made me laugh out loud.

    Comment by Bret — October 15, 2007 @ 2:59 pm

  13. That’s probably true, Bret, but the places I’ve been haven’t seemed to be church-sponsored historical sites, but rather state ones.

    Comment by Susan M — October 15, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

  14. Susan,

    It’s all those corrupt Mormon politicians in the California state legislature>:p

    Comment by Bret — October 16, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  15. .

    Um, “The Streets Have No Names” thing? Not true. Sorry.

    Comment by Th. — October 16, 2007 @ 10:32 pm

  16. Another excellent book that gives some history of the St. George and Mesquite/Bunkerville area is Quicksand and Cactus, a memoir of Juanita Brooks’ life. It’s like Little House on the Prairie, but set in Bunkerville, Nevada around the turn of the century. It gives a good sense of what life was like back then in that place. Every time I drive from Mesquite to Glendale on I-15 I think of her father traveling that distance on horseback three times per week.

    Juanita Brooks also wrote a children’s novel about Jacob Hamblin. He traveled a lot in Utah and Arizona and dealt with the Indians. It’s out of print and ridiculously expensive to buy, but it’s available in libraries and it’s an easy read.

    Comment by Sara R — October 16, 2007 @ 11:14 pm

  17. I have recently discovered the Mormon Rocks and heard a story about the Mormon settlers who lived in the area. They supposedly made a road [where the 15 freeway is] and charged a toll to travelers. Anyone else hear of that?

    Comment by Sharon G. — August 12, 2009 @ 6:41 pm

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