Winner of the Juanita Brooks Prize in Mormon Studies


“A magnificent new biography which will immediately become not only the

standard biography of Jacob Hamblin, but also one of the greatest biographies

in the fields of Mormon and Utah history. Exhaustively researched

and documented, and judiciously interpreted.”

—Gary Topping, author of Utah Historians and the Reconstruction of Western History


from the cover: 


Frontiersman, colonizer, missionary to the Indians, and explorer of the American West, Jacob Hamblin (1819–1886) has long been one of the most enigmatic figures in Mormon history. In this defining biography, Todd Compton examines and disentangles many of the myths and controversies surrounding this man who over the years has taken on a larger-than-life persona.


Born on an Ohio farm, Hamblin converted to Mormonism in 1842. A few years later he joined the pioneers crossing the plains to Utah, from where he would go on to play key roles in the exploration of the Colorado River, the settling of southern Utah and northern Arizona, and Mormon-Indian relations. His Grand Canyon adventures and explorations as a guide and interpreter for John Wesley Powell are well documented, as are his roles as a missionary, cultural liaison, and negotiator with the Indian tribes of southern Utah and Arizona. Hamblin struggled in this latter role, sometimes unable to bridge the gulf between Mormonism and Indian culture. He disavowed violent conflict and ceaselessly sought peaceful resolutions where others resorted to punitive action. He strove above all for mutual understanding in the absence of conversion.


A Frontier Life provides a rich narrative that fleshes out a picture of a sometimes vilified figure, particularly in regard to his connection to the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which a group of pioneers from Arkansas—men, women, and children—were murdered as they passed through Utah on the way to California. Compton provides nuanced discussion clarifying Hamblin’s post-massacre role—he was not present at the massacre, but reported on it to both Brigham Young and military investigators and also helped cover it up.


Compton’s engagement with Mormon historiography and previous Hamblin portrayals will make this work of particular interest to both scholars and students. The casual reader will take pleasure in learning of a true pioneer who lived life at the geographical, cultural, and spiritual boundaries of his era. This dramatic, insightful biography is a truly significant contribution to Mormon history and to the history of the American West.


Errata Sheet