Frontiersman, colonizer, missionary to the Indians, and explorer of the American West, Jacob Hamblin has long been one of the most enigmatic figures in Mormon history. In a new biography “A Frontier Life: Jacob Hamblin, Explorer and Indian Missionary” Todd Compton disentangles many of the myths and controversies surrounding Hamblin and presents a portrait of a true pioneer who lived life at the geographical, cultural, and spiritual boundaries of his era.
Hamblin served as a guide alongside John Wesley Powell and was a missionary, cultural liaison, and negotiator to the Indian tribes of southern Utah and Arizona. He struggled in this latter role, sometimes unable to bridge the gulf between Mormonism and Indian culture. He disavowed violent conflict and sought peaceful resolutions where others resorted to punitive action. He strove above all for mutual understanding in the absence of conversion. “A Frontier Life” fleshes out a picture of a sometimes vilified figure, particularly in regard to his connection to the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre. 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. Todd Compton specializes in Mormon history and the classics and has published numerous articles and five books in these areas, including “In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith” and “Fire and Sword: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri” (coauthored with Leland H. Gentry).