The Giant Joshua – Chapters Five and Six: Community unity and Native Americans

By Lynne Larson      

“You couldn’t whip the desert without togetherness. The Group Faith — the ability to live outside oneself, to sacrifice oneself for the Common Good. Some day they would be strong enough to afford dissenters — now salvation lay only in complete and disciplined togetherness. Except ye are one, ye are not mine . . . You had to be ruthless to colonize.”

As Chapter Five of The Giant Joshua begins, the relentless rain has eased, but the storm, and with it the swelling of the Virgin River, has struck at the hearts of the people and reminded them that they must stand together to survive, united in their faith and in their willingness to follow strict injunctions. Food supplies have been reduced to a “grim measure.” Sickness has run riot through the camp, and ‘Sheba fears that the burial clothes will mold before she can get a lifeless body ready for the grave.

Still, some soon recognize that the forty-day deluge that has destroyed the new dam and washed away the farm lands, has come with a silver lining. The rain has soaked the ground enough for a city plat to be surveyed and quickly laid out in lots around a public square, with each lot posted at the corners. Gardens can be planted, and green things can grow again. Before long, Abijah is waiting his turn with the other men in the bowery. Each will draw a slip of paper, a lot number, from Apostle Erastus Snow’s old hat, and they, with their families, will all get back to the business of “real living” once again.

In Chapters Five and Six, we find that “real living” for our band of pioneers does indeed involve group faith, unity, and the willingness to strictly follow patriarchal rules, even as various families and individuals “stake out” their own homes and garden plots in Dixie. And Erastus must oversee it all, obliged to keep the people loyal to their God and to the Cotton Mission. He has his work cut out for him.

The “ruthlessness” Erastus required can be seen in the scene in which he cuts off Orson Pratt, Jr. from the Church for his apostacy (more on that below in the notes).

Independent Clory, pregnant now, dreams of a place of her own on Abijah’s designated lot, well removed from Bathsheba’s larger house and garden. “No gospel could ever mean so much to any woman as her own home, her own mate, and a little suckling mouth at her breast,” (p. 139)Whipple tells us. And Clory is determined. “She’d just wait until Abijah had gone one day and take matters into her own hands,” she decides. “She was young, strong. She’d just start digging her own dugout that might someday be a basement, gathering her own willows for a roof that might someday be of real shingles, and if Abijah didn’t like it, he could lump it!” (p. 118-119).

Clory is not the only one who’s chafing in her suppressed circumstances. Freeborn, watching his father’s young wife from afar, yearns to help her shovel, search for willows, do anything to ease her workload and his own shame at Abijah’s autocratic possession of this girl he loves. Free is finally drawn closer, and though his friendship with Clory is only flirtatious and playful, soon Abijah must drag them both before Erastus Snow for disciplinary measures.

We get to know Erastus Snow well in Chapter Five. He “loved Brother Brigham with all his soul and would obey him without question to his death,” but, in spite of himself, Erastus thinks the President’s way with women is hard . . . there is too little recognition of a woman’s gallantry.

As readers, we watch Erastus ponder the well-being of his little flock and are touched by his tenderness. He must worry about his people’s lack of food (he came upon one family dining on an owl!). He must worry about the Native Americans (some tribes are peaceful, but others are aggressive and kidnap children to enslave.) Most of all, he had to worry about the patience of the people. Could he keep them unified in the faith long enough to accomplish their mission? “Men didn’t colonize in a hurry,” he knew. “You had to sink into the feeling of a country; win acceptance, not demand it.”

And so, when blustering Abijah MacIntyre brings his wayward son before him, demanding he severely punish the young man, and Clory, too, perhaps, for her indignities, Erastus has no taste for the lash. “There’s no sin in her,” he tells Abijah, “they’re just young.” And turning to Clorinda, he adds, “beware of giddiness . . . carelessness.” He suggests that Brother Freeborn get himself a wife of his own and clothe himself with the priesthood. Turning to Abijah, he thinks, “There was such a thing as over-righteousness.” He chides him for being over-suspicious, “Brother Mac, you’re like the butterfly who passed up all the flowers in the garden to light on the manure in the backyard.” (p. 133-134). It is all that Erastus can do.

And it isn’t quite enough for Clory, who has been called a ‘slut’ by Bathsheba for an innocent horseback ride, and terribly shamed. When a terror-stricken young squaw hides her toddler under Clory’s wide skirt to save him from a violent Indian seeking a child to enslave, it’s the final blow. Clory thinks of the dangerous world awaiting her own expected baby, and the mounting circumstances surrounding her suddenly collapse, becoming too much to bear. She and Free secretly decide to “escape” the southern settlement and head north. They will make their way back to Salt Lake City on their own.

It is not Erastus who changes Clory’s mind, nor her faith in Brigham Young. Her friend Palmyra Wight comes with her husband David, and the bargain David makes with the weeping Clory lends itself to Whipple’s theme: “I know how you girls feel,” says David. “You’re sick of loneliness and flies and the bad water and the lack of lawns and trees—-but, great guns, we’ll get those things! This isn’t a woman’s country yet, I admit, but give us time! I can’t leave. A man whom Brother Brigham has trusted doesn’t leave a mission unless he’s carried out feet first!  . . . So, I’ve made a bargain with Pal. She said if I could show her one pretty thing in all this desert, she’d stay. And I’ll keep my word, too. If you don’t like what I’ve got to show you, I’ll help you both go north . . .” (p. 170).

Mormon scholar Eugene England loved quoting this section as an example of the potential of Mormon society and literature to proclaim peace and to be inclusive of the stories of other peoples.

“Whipple clearly shows the problems and failings of the pioneer polygamists, such as abuses of male power and position, tendencies to violence, and mean-spirited jealousies, and she promotes her own liberal ideals, such as the possibility of learning about beauty and non-violence from Native Americans like Chief Tutsegabbet: To keep the protagonist Clory and her friend Pal from running away from the hardship and bleakness of Zion in St. George, the friend’s husband David promises to show them one thing of beauty. On the way Tutsegabbett, who is serving as guide, tells them the legend of Neab and Nannoo, two lovers who had tried to stop their people from burying the sick and older Indians in caves to die. When Nannoo becomes sick, the tribe, despite Neab’s pleas, takes her to be put in a cave, and Neab goes in with her, and pledges to intercede with the gods for them:

‘His people begged him to come out, but when the women rolled the boulder back into place, Neab was there to keep Nannoo company. . . . The voice stopped. . . . Tutsagabbett pulled up his pony and waited for the others to catch up with him. . . . [He] spread wide his arms: [God], pleased with his servant, set his footprint before the cave of Neab to show his stubborn people the way.’

Then he shows them a huge basin in the lava rock filled with sego lilies: ‘Sown as thickly as a desert sky with stars. Poised like heavenly butterflies there on the grim lava surface as if they needed no roots, would float upward with a breath.’ Tutsegabbett continues: ‘The [tribe] resolved never to fight on a battlefield where sego lilies grew: thus the sego lily became an emblem of peace. … [God] and his mighty footstep before the cave of Neab. Neab, who did not run away.’” (Eugene England, “Good Literature for a Chosen PeopleDialogue, 39.1, Spring 1999, p. 81-82).

The final paragraph of Chapter Six marks Clory’s decision to remain in Dixie, and we as readers can use these pages to consider the reasons she and her fellow pioneers kept that commitment, in spite of the extraordinary challenges facing all of them.

“Clory bent over and brushed her cheek against the blossoms. When she looked up, David mutely questioned her; and although her face was tremulous with tenderness, her smile flew banners.” (p. 174).    


Suggested Questions and/or Points of Discussion:

  1. Is Clory’s relationship with Free natural and human or more of a stereotypical ploy by Whipple, as some critics have suggested, to help sell more books?
  1. Why is ‘Sheba so jealous of Clory, and how does Whipple demonstrate these characteristics?
  1. Compare and contrast the leadership styles of Abijah MacIntyre and Erastus Snow, and the marriages of David and Palmyra Wight with that of the MacIntyres. What did Whipple accomplish with these characters?
  1. What do you think of Whipple’s portrayal of Native Americans? Does it go beyond the offensive stereotypes routinely used in literature of the day?

Primary theme question: Is the beauty of nature, brotherhood, and faith strong enough in our own lives to keep us upright in the storm and true to our convictions?


Notes—by Andrew Hall

Maurine Whipple’s portrayals of Native Americans

Whipple attempted to integrate Native Americans in her work to a degree previously unseen in Anglo-Mormon literature. Although her interest in and regard for Native Americans was notable for its time, she never created any Native Americans with inner lives or character arcs, and even her positive depictions leaned heavily on noble savage stereotypes.

Whipple grew up in Anglo-dominated Southern Utah society which had some interest in Indian lore, but little tolerance for actual Native Americans in their presence. Except for Jacob Hamblin’s diaries, few of the Southern Utah pioneer diaries and accounts she read in preparation for writing The Giant Joshua paid much attention to Native Americans beyond the danger they posed to the community. However, she made the choice to actively include Native Americans in her novel, as well as other works she wrote in the following years.

Chapters Five and Six include several encounters between Clory and Native Americans. While gathering willows for her dugout, she meets a Native American man, who badly frightens her. She runs in a panic and tells Free that she had been accosted by a “bad Injun”. When she tells Free that the man had repeatedly said “Tucuben noonie!” to her, Free laughs and explains that the phrase means “We are friends”, a common Paiute greeting.

Clory faces a real threat from a Native American in the following chapter. Earlier in the chapter it was explained that the local Paiutes were peaceful “root diggers”, but that peoples from neighboring areas sometimes would come into the area and try to steal Paiute children to sell as slaves. A Paiute woman runs into Clory’s dugout, hands her a small child, and runs away. Clory, grasping the situation, hides the child under her hoop skirt. A kidnapping Native American then bursts in, looking for the child. Clory bravely stares him down, and the man leaves. The woman returns and collects her child. The incident is Clory’s final straw, she decides to leave the community. (This was based on a true story about Ann Chatterly MacFarlane).

Finally, there is the scene described above, when Paiute Chief Tutsegabbet (a real life historical figure, usually spelled Tutsegabits), tells Clory and Pal the legend of a heroic young chief who sacrificed himself for his wife and for the community, and shows them the beautiful basin of sego lilies. It is probably the most significant and positive portrayal of Native Americans in the novel. Later in the novel another Native American character, Buck, will teach Clory how to make buckskin gloves in order to earn money while her husband is away on a mission.

P. Jane Hafen, a Taos Pueblo/Mormon scholar of Native American culture, in her study of Native American images in Mormon arts gave The Giant Joshua a passing grade for its depictions—full of noble savage stereotypes, but better than any other Mormon art at the time. “Whipple is careful to make tribal distinctions, but without the creation of a functional character, there is little room for Native American values, nor should there be. The book is the story of Clorinda Maclntyre, whose incidental encounters with Indians were perceived largely on the basis of her imagination.” (P. Jane Hafen. A Pale Reflection: American Indian Images in Mormon Arts. BYU Department of Humanities MA Thesis, 1984, p. 49).

Whipple did study scholarship on Native Americans in preparation for writing the novel, although that study appears to be limited to the words of white scholars. I have not found any instances in which she spent significant time talking to Native Americans themselves about their culture. In The Giant Joshua acknowledgements, she thanks Dr. Vasco Tanner, a zoologist at BYU, and Albert Reagan, an anthropologist at BYU, for her “Indian material.”  Veda Hale, Maurine’s biographer, claims, “Much of what she wrote about Indians in the area, unfortunately, had to be cut to shorten the book.” (Veda Hale, Swell Suffering: A biography of Maurine Whipple, p. 132).

Whipple and others of her generation appear to have been unaware of the negative impact the St. George settlement had on local Paiute society. Edward Leo Lyman has written, “The settlement of St. George in 1861, and a simultaneous lessening of missionary activity among the Tonaquints seemed to have, in [Jacob] Hamblin’s words, further influenced “the feelings of the Indians toward the Saints [to become] more indifferent and their propensity to raid and steal returned.” . . . He also attributed the decline of the formerly hospitable relationship with the Tonaquints to the “great number of animals brought into the country by the settlers.” Their cattle and horses, he reported, “devoured most of the vegetation that had produced nutritious seeds [on] which the Indians had been accustomed to subsist.” Ethnobotanists later established that this had been their most essential food source. Consequently, when Paiute children went hungry in the ensuing winters, the Indians spent much time discussing with Hamblin and other missionaries these disastrous changes, displaying increasingly greater resentments. Mormon livestock men usually did not understand that almost in a single year their cattle essentially destroyed the grass seed supply that had been the staple of the diet for many of the native inhabitants. The Dixie pioneers also had difficulty making a living and adding to their burden, they found themselves besieged by the begging of their impoverished Indian neighbors. Both the good early chronicler, James G. Bleak, and the equally respected more recent historian, Andrew Karl Larson, completely reflected the Dixie Mormons’ seeming indifference to this problem and never voiced much empathy with the Native American viewpoint on the question. But Jacob Hamblin had naturally been more sympathetic and earlier noted that “those who had caused the troubles were completely oblivious to what had occurred.” He confessed having grieved many times to see the Indians with their little ones “glaring upon” the plenty enjoyed by the settlers. He attempted to raise the sensibilities of the Latter-day Saints on the matter and encouraged more generosity toward the neighboring Native Americans, but lamented that he had experienced little success.” (Edward Leo Lyman, “Southern Paiute Relations With Their Early Dixie Mormon Neighbors”. Dixie State University Juanita Brooks Lecture, 2010, p. 6-7.)

Whipple’s other writings which include Native Americans (with links to the texts) include:

  1. The Time Will Come”, an unpublished 1941 short story about a mother living in a Southwestern town, worried about her son entering the military and the seemingly mindless patriotism of the community. Although she “hates Indians”, she climbs up into ancient Pueblo cave dwellings and sees a vision of the Native Americans who lived there. She thereby learns that maternal grief is centuries old and universal.
  1. Utah Wonderland: Navajo Blessing”. An essay from around 1945 describing in detail a Navajo blessing ritual that she attended in Monument Valley. 
  1. Two of her unpublished novels, The Arizona Strip and Cleave the Wood feature white male protagonists who have so immersed themselves in Paiute life that they frequently speak in Paiute phrases. Jim, the protagonist of Cleave the Wood (the son of Clory from The Giant Joshua) had fled St. George as a boy and lived among cowboys and Native Americans on the Arizona Strip. A friend describes Jim in this way, “There would be a cosmic quality to a man who loved such a land . . . where coyotes had loped and Indians roved since time began . . . White men would move across these surfaces as parasitically as ants across an elephant; only an Indian belonged here, serene or disturbed as the seasons and as much at home as they. And it came to him that this was the elusive quality about [Jim]: He was like an Indian in that he had integrated himself with his environment. This place accepted him.” Cleave the Wood also features, however, a scene in which Jim and his friends “playfully” desecrate items they found in a Native American burial cave.
  1. Candles of the Lord, the script of an outdoor Easter pageant. The play focused on local Native American cultural events, combined with scenes from the Book of Mormon and Bible. St. George institutions made provisional plans to produce the pageant in both 1963 and 1976, but the productions ended up being cancelled both times.

A note on “slut”. Bathsheeba, reacting to the friendship between Clory and her son Freeborn, insults Clory using an interesting wordplay that modern readers might miss.

“I says to myself when I dropped my dishrag this morning, ‘It’s a sure sign, ‘Sheba, a bigger slut than you is coming to visit you,’ and she’s here.”

The OED gives two definitions for “slut”. The first, older meaning was “a woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance.” The second definition, “a woman of a low or loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a hussy,” is the one usually used today. In the British Isles a “slut” could also refer to a rag. Bathsheba sets up the attack by mentioning dropping a dishrag, and thereby calling herself a “slut” in the “dirty or untidy” sense, and then saying “a bigger slut than you is coming,” referring to Clory as “a woman of low or loose character”.

James G. and Jane T. Bleak as sources: One of Whipple’s main sources was James G. Bleak’s The Annals of the Southern Mission. Bleak was the official Church historian of the Cotton Mission and St. George, and he completed his massive project in 1900-1907. An annotated version was recently published. Although then unpublished, there were extant copies in St. George which Whipple, Juanita Brooks, and other historians used. Bleak’s wife, Jane Thompson Bleak, who Whipple knew and thanked in her book acknowledgments, was a major source for the depiction of Clory.

Orson Pratt, Jr’s apostacy: The speech Whipple has Orson Pratt, Jr. give to the Council about his disbelief in Joseph Smith as a prophet is taken nearly verbatim from The Annals of the Southern Mission. Pratt was the son of Sarah Bates Pratt, who had lost her belief in the Church after a dispute with Joseph Smith over an accusation that he proposed entering a polygamous relationship with her. She secretly taught her children to distrust the Church, and five of her six living children, including Orson Pratt, Jr., eventually left the Church. Richard C. and Mary C. Van Wagoner point out two inaccuracies in The Giant Joshua—that Orson Pratt, Jr.’s wife did not turn against him, and he was not the haunted figure that Whipple portrays him as.

Maurine check-in: Maurine was home in St. George in September 1939, after spending the summer at the Yaddo Artists’ Colony. She quickly produced Chapters Five and Six in September and October.


  1. keepapitchinin says:

    While my reservations about The Giant Joshua are increasing chapter by chapter, Maurine Whipple’s inclusion of Native characters is one of the factors that shows her great skill as a novelist. Her Indian characters have a real role in the narrative, often being a low-key signal to some major shift in Clory’s behavior or outlook — they aren’t trotted out as comic relief or as a convenient, extraneous way to shift the scene. Even their repeated appearance more or less in the background as beggars in various settings serves to signal the fluctuating fortunes of the pioneers and, for an attentive reader, might indicate the devastating effect of the loss of their ability to be self-sustaining due to the arrival of those pioneers.

    It’s probably not the way descendants of those Native Americans would prefer to have their ancestors modeled … but then, neither is the depiction of Mormon pioneers in any way fair, historical, or favorable.

  2. I’m loving reading this book and the blog posts about it. Thank you! I’m not sure I would have ever stumbled upon The Giant Joshua without this.

%d bloggers like this: