Sherb Talk: Betsy Gaines Quammen presents "American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God and Public Lands in The West"

Join author besty Gaines Quammen as she presents her newly published book, "American Zion", which Terry Tempest Williams calls "brilliant and electrifying".


What happens when members of an American religion, one built in the nineteenth century on personal prophecy and land proprietorship, assert possession over public land with guns and a certainty that God wants them to go to war? American Zion explores an incendiary land-use war launched from Bunkerville, Nevada, an hour’s drive from Las Vegas, by a man named Cliven Bundy and his large Mormon family. The Bundys’ conflict traces back to when the first Latter-day Saints came west, bringing militant beliefs, legitimate grievances, and certainty of claiming a God-promised homeland called Zion. During their early years in the West, some Mormon people spilt blood defending their lands. As evidenced by Bundy’s crusade, some are willing to do the same today.

Talking to folks in casinos, roadside diners, living rooms, and on horseback, environmental historian Dr. Betsy Gaines Quammen takes the reader on a journey through the New West, one still haunted by white settlement, violence, and an enduring sense of entitlement. She raises important questions about public lands—the 640 million acres of national parks, monuments, refuges, forests, and wilderness that we as Americans share. By exploring the rights of Native people, the role of the Mormon church, the legend of the cowboy, the state of public lands and the women and men who depend upon them, Quammen demonstrates that Cliven Bundy’s war, one based on religious zealotry, is contributing to an ongoing lawlessness in the West.

Betsy Gaines Quammen is a historian and conservationist. She received a doctorate in Environmental History from Montana State University in 2017, her dissertation focusing on Mormon settlement and public land conflicts. She has studied various religious traditions over the years, with particular attention to how cultures view landscape and wildlife. The rural American west, pastoral communities of northern Mongolia, and the grasslands of East Africa have been her main areas of interest. After college in Colorado, caretaking for a bed and breakfast in Mosier, Oregon, and serving breakfasts at a café in Kanab, Utah, Betsy has settled in Bozeman, Montana, where she now lives with her husband, writer David Quammen, three huge dogs, an overweight cat, and a pretty big python named Boots.

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Established in 1915, the Sherbino has been the heart of Ridgway Colorado, providing a venue for community events ranging from music to poetry. Now in a period of re-birth, the Sherbino continues to standout as the hub of events and community activities in Ridgway and throughout Ouray County. On February 11 2012 the Sherbino incorporated as the Ridgway Chautauqua Society Inc. whose mission is to embody the Chautauqua tradition by producing programs celebrating lifelong learning, the arts, culture and community. Learn more about the Sherbino.

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