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“Embellished with Parks and Groves”: Washington Irving in Missouri

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 02, 2011

Because I do so little reading of early Church history (history generally begins for me on July 24, 1847), I don’t know how well this may already be known — it was new to me, at least.

In 1832, Washington Irving, the noted writer (Rip Van Winkle, Legend of Sleepy Hollow), returned to America after nearly two decades residence in Europe, and made a trip with friends and government officials deep into Indian territory on the Plains. He wrote a letter to his sister, Catherine Irving Paris, while he stayed for a day or two in Independence, Missouri. As I read it, I suddenly realized that all I’ve ever heard of the Mormon experience in Missouri is our clashes with other people — nothing at all about the beauty of the land as Joseph Smith and his colleagues would have seen it so soon after Irving passed through.

Independence, Mo., Sept. 26,1832.

My Dear Sister

We arrived at this place the day before yesterday, after nine days’ travelling on horseback from St. Louis. Our journey has been a very interesting one, leading us across fine prairies and through noble forests, dotted here and there by farms and log houses, at which we found rough but wholesome and abundant fare, and very civil treatment. Many parts of these prairies of the Missouri are extremely beautiful, resembling cultivated countries, embellished with parks and groves, rather than the savage rudeness of the wilderness.

Yesterday I was out on a deer hunt in the vicinity of this place, which led me through some scenery that only wanted a castle, or a gentleman’s seat here and there interspersed, to have equalled some of the most celebrated park scenery of England.

The fertility of all this Western country is truly astonishing. The soil is like that of a garden, and the luxuriance and beauty of the forests exceed any that I have seen. We have gradually been advancing, however, toward rougher and rougher life, and are now at a little straggling frontier village, that has only been five years in existence. From hence, in the course of a day or two, we take our departure southwardly, and shall soon bid adieu to civilization, and encamp at night in our tents. My health is good, though I have been much affected by the change of climate, diet, and water since my arrival in the West. Horse exercise, however, always agrees with me. I enjoy my journey exceedingly, and look for still greater gratification in the part which is now before me, which will present much greater wildness and novelty. The climax will be our expedition with the Osages to their hunting grounds, and the sight of a buffalo hunt.



2 Comments »

  1. I’m no Washington Irving, but my first visit to Missouri was just a few years ago and I was impressed by the beauty even in our time. Modern-day KC and Independence itself may leave a little to be desired, but that rolling, green lawn behind the LDS (our) visitor’s center, which was part of the original “Temple Lot” is a hint. Far West in its empty desolation surrounded by green hills and farms is warmth to the soul. Adam-ondi-Ahman has a wild and beautifully haunting quality to its wooded hills.

    I had visited Palmyra country just before moving to Utah in one of my previous residential periods here. Upstate New York is such a beautiful, green country too. I was in a Gospel Doctrine class in Bountiful and they were going on about the great blessings of living here in garden-like “Zion.” I raised my hand and said, “I thought we lived in a desert – in exile.” I got some funny looks and they went on.

    Comment by Grant — September 2, 2011 @ 8:40 am

  2. Always nice to read about places from a different point of view than what may be the normal for LDS folks! I agree with Grant, it is beautiful there in Missouri (haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Upstate New York yet, it seems every time I plan to go and visit I lose my job) and to quote my BYU Professor of Geography, BY said when he reached Utah, “this is a disgrace, I mean, the place, drive on” or so I have heard…grins.

    Comment by Cliff — September 2, 2011 @ 10:21 am

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