Juanita Brooks

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Juanita Brooks
Juanita Pulsipher Brooks.jpg
BornJanuary 15, 1898
Bunkerville, Nevada, United States
DiedAugust 26, 1989(1989-08-26) (aged 91)
OccupationHistorian, author

Juanita Pulsipher Brooks[1] (January 15, 1898 – August 26, 1989) was an American historian and author, specializing in the American West and Mormon history, including books related to the Mountain Meadows Massacre, to which her grandfather Dudley Leavitt was sometimes linked.[2]


Dudley Leavitt, grandfather of Juanita (Leavitt) Brooks, photographed riding his horse 'Flax'

Juanita Leone Leavitt was born and raised in Bunkerville, Nevada to Henry Leavitt and Mary Hafen.[3] From a young age she developed an interest in history when, "her brilliant, sensitive, and imaginative mind was saturated from childhood in Mormon lore." [4] In 1919 she married Ernest Pulsipher, who died of Lymphoma (cancer of the immune system and white blood cells)[5] a little more than a year later, leaving her with an infant son. She then received her bachelor's degree from BYU. Her first published work was a poem titled "Sunrise from the Top of Mount Timp," which appeared in the LDS periodical Improvement Era in 1926.[6][7] Brooks died in 1989, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.[8]

Dixie College[edit]

Settling in St. George, Utah, she became an instructor of English and Dean of Women from 1925-1933 at the LDS-backed Dixie Junior College.[9] While on a sabbatical from Dixie College from 1928-1929, she obtained a master's degree from Columbia University.[10] In the same year, 1933, the state of Utah discontinued funding for parochial Mormon secondary education.[9] She resigned from the college after the program was cut and married a widower named Will Brooks. She became stepmother to his four sons. Within five years the couple added a daughter, Willa Nita, and three sons to their family. Juanita Brooks had affectionate relationships with all of her children, including her step-sons, describing her family as "compound-complex". She would sometimes complain that she lacked time to write because of her family, but she also stated that her loved ones were essential to her happiness.[11] Her children spoke highly of their mother at her funeral, telling stories of her nurturing character.[8]

Pioneer Diaries[edit]

For many years Brooks served on the Board of the Utah Historical Society where she devoted herself to unearthing diaries and records of early settlers and organizing a Utah library of Mormon history. According to Shannon Novak, Brooks had been told stories about the massacre from family members as she was growing up and later began collecting diaries from the area during the time period so that she could gather more information about the events that occurred.[12] The diary-collecting project was started under the Works Progress Administration during the Depression of the 1930s; the project's transcripts were eventually cataloged at the Library of Congress.[13] This work brought her into contact with Dale Morgan, who was the supervisor for the Utah Writer's Project under the Works Progress Administration.[6] She continued this work for the Huntington Library as a field fellow in the 1940s.[2][3] These diaries were preserved for others use due to Juanita's diligent pursuit and copying.[13] Dale Morgan introduced her to historian Fawn Brodie, with whom she corresponded for many years.[14]

Quicksand and Cactus: A Memoir of the Southern Mormon Frontier[edit]

Per the encouragement of Dale Morgan, Brooks' colleague in the Works Project Administration, Juanita began writing her autobiography, Quicksand and Cactus in which she describes her childhood and early adulthood through a mix of first and third point narrative. She began the manuscript in 1944 and attempted to get published multiple times through 1949 before temporarily abandoning the project to focus on the publication of The Mountain Meadows Massacre. During her revisions of the script, she took advice from Morgan to concentrate on the chapters on her childhood, as the chapters on her later life showed little enthusiasm from editors. Discouraged by rejections from publication firms, she also chose to fictionalize herself in the later versions of the script, substituting herself for a fictional character, Sal, a revision that has been subject to much controversy in the authenticity of her recount. Brooks defended her revision in a letter to D.L. Chambers stating, "While I can see that it may lose something in authenticity, I hope that it may gain in vitality. I had felt that, to justify the book, the subject of an autobiography should have achieved distinction in some field, while a good story may just be a good story."[15]

Brooks revisited the book in 1970 after returning to Salt Lake City after the death of her husband Will Brooks. The next five years were painstaking to finish the book as Brooks found it challenging to stick to it for long periods of time, and her memory began to falter in regards to her first marriage and early widowhood. In 1977, her children moved her back to St. George and boxed the manuscripts, essentially marking the end of her writing career. The rest of the publication was left up to Trudy McMurrin, Brooks' assigned developmental editor at the University of Utah Press. McMurrin pieced together chapters and ideas, but a lack of dates and unity in style and themes and despite her best efforts, she deemed the work unfit to publish. Juanita's son Karl Brooks took the matters into his own hands and hired Richard Howe to prepare and publish the work. Howe consulted McMurrin, studied Juanita's correspondence with Morgan, and evaluated consistencies among the paper and typewriters used by Brooks to logically order chapters for its final publication. Thus, the autobiography is unfinished by Juanita herself, a tribute to an unfinished quality of Brooks' living personality.[16]

The Mountain Meadows Massacre[edit]

Brooks' study of diaries and other personal journals enlivened her historiography, and her subsequent works reflected her scrutiny of such sources. Brooks went on to write numerous historical articles as well as a variety of family narratives including a biography of her pioneer grandfather Dudley Leavitt and a biography of her sheriff husband, Uncle Will Tells His Story.[2] Brooks' notable books on Mormon history include The Mountain Meadows Massacre (1950) and John D. Lee: Zealot, Pioneer Builder, Scapegoat (1961). She also edited Hosea Stout's diaries. Brooks' book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre broke new ground. It was the first comprehensive account of the incident using modern historical methods. Juanita would write after the kids were in bed, often starting at 11:00 PM or midnight, and working for a few hours, then sleep but still get up with the family in the morning to get them all off to school and work. She would write while they were away by keeping her ironing handy; when someone would come over she would cover the typewriter with ironing and then iron until the visitor left. She seemed to have a great deal of ironing, and never seemed to get it finished.[13] This inspired Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a famous historian and professor: "For a young Mormon mother struggling to define an intellectual life, it was great to know that a renowned historian had once hid her typewriter under the ironing. Juanita Brooks' example taught me that housewives could be thinkers, too." [17]

Brooks' interest in the Mountain Meadows Massacre impacted her life in a good way. The topic "gave unity to her life very much like the unity a plot gives a novel."[11] More importantly, it has led her to receive a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. This helped her to further her research on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and other topics.[2]

While living near the area in Southern Utah where the massacre occurred, Brooks investigated the events thoroughly but found no evidence of direct involvement by Brigham Young. However, she did charge Young with obstructing the investigation and with provoking the attack through his incendiary rhetoric, calling him "an accessory after the fact."[18] Brooks suggested that Young became so fearful of federal invasion that he created a hothouse atmosphere where the militia saw threats everywhere.[19]

Tension with the LDS Church[edit]

Brooks was a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but anticipated excommunication upon the publication of the Mountain Meadows book.[6] Although Church authorities discouraged Brooks from pursuing her study of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, her book on the subject received critical acclaim.[20] No official disciplinary action was taken against Brooks by the Church, but Brooks said she bitterly resented the atmosphere of disgrace which descended upon her and her loyal husband and she initially felt ostracized from both her local congregation and Church officials for her investigations into Mormon history.[8][21][22] She was, however, blacklisted from official LDS Church periodicals.[2] Levi S. Peterson, Brooks' biographer, wrote that while she would state her opinion fearlessly, she often felt conflicted and guilty in her choice to oppose church leaders.[23] Confronted by two great virtues which had come into conflict- the good name of the Church on the one hand and truth on the other Juanita chose truth. She later went on to address why she published her work despite the backlash she was receiving; Brooks stated, "This study is not designed either to smear or to clear any individual; its purpose is to present the truth. I feel sure that nothing but the truth can be good enough for the church to which I belong."[8]

She received a distinguished service award from the Utah Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Letters.[2] In honor of Juanita Brooks, a scholarship endowment is being established at Dixie State University, formerly Dixie College.[24]


  • A Mormon Chronicle: The Diaries of John D. Lee. Robert Glass Cleland, editor, and Juanita Brooks, editor. Huntington Library Press, reissue June 2004 (Paperback, 868pp), 3 Volumes in 1 book. ISBN 0-87328-178-0. First published in 1955.
  • Dudley Leavitt,: Pioneer to Southern Utah. Self-published, St. George, Utah. January 1942.
  • Emma Lee. Utah State University Press, Logan, Utah, 7th Printing 1984. ISBN 0-87421-121-2. First published in 1975.
  • Frontier tales; true stories of real people. Western Text Society, Special publication – 1972.
  • History of the Jews in Utah and Idaho 1853–1950. Salt Lake City, Utah, Western Epics, June 1973.
  • Jacob Hamblin, Mormon apostle to the Indians. reissue 1980.
  • John Doyle Lee: Zealot, Pioneer Builder, Scapegoat. Utah State University Press, Logan, Utah, reissue November 1992 (paperback, 404 pp). ISBN 0-87421-162-X. First published in 1961.
  • Lore of faith & folly. Cheney, Thomas Edward, Austin E. Fife, and Juanita Brooks, eds. Bay Country Publishing Corp, 1971.
  • The Mountain Meadows Massacre; University of Oklahoma Press (Tdr) reissue May 1991; (softcover, 318 pages). ISBN 0-8061-2318-4. First published in 1950.
  • On the ragged edge: The life and times of Dudley Leavitt. Salt Lake City, Utah, Utah State Historical Society, 1973.
  • Quicksand and cactus: A memoir of the southern Mormon frontier. Logan, Utah, Utah State University Press, reissue 1982.
  • On the Mormon Frontier: The Diary of Hosea Stout, edited by Juanita Brooks. First edition 1964. Published by University of Utah Press. Republished in 1974 by University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Juanita's daughter-in-law was the great granddaughter of Hosea Stout).
  • Uncle Will Tells His Story, published by Taggart & Company, Salt Lake City, Utah. 249 pages. Only 2,500 copies were printed. (Uncle Will is the biography of her husband, written as though he was telling her stories of his life. According to Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City, Utah, Juanita Brooks was the first-place winner of the Utah State Institute of Fine Arts Creative Writing Competition for autobiography in 1969).
  • The Christmas Tree, published by Peregrine Smith Inc., One small edition, 1972 Hardcover, Jaunita and sister, Charity, manage to wrest a Christmas "tree" from the treeless Nevada desert where they live.


  1. ^ Her name was spelled Waneta on census rolls when she was a child. [1] (1910 NV Census, p68B:70)
  2. ^ a b c d e f American Women Historians 1700s–1990s: A Biographical Dictionary, Jennifer Scanlon, Shaaron Cosner. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996 ISBN 978-0-313-29664-2
  3. ^ a b Despain, Matthew; Gowans, Fred R. "Juanita Brooks". Utah History to Go. utah.gov. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  4. ^ Arrington, L. (1966). Scholarly studies of Mormonism in the twentieth century. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 1(1), 15-32.
  5. ^ "Riding Herd: A Conversation with Juanita Brooks", Davis Bitton, Maureen Ursenback, n/d. http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V09N01_13.pdf
  6. ^ a b c Bringhurst, Newell G. (1994). "Juanita Brooks and Fawn Brodie—Sisters in Mormon Dissent". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 27: 103–127.
  7. ^ Brooks, Juanita (1926). "Sunrise at the Top of Mount Timp". Improvement Era. 29: 1124.
  8. ^ a b c d Peterson, "In Memoriam Juanita Brooks", 'Sunstone Magazine' Oct. 1989
  9. ^ a b Alder, Douglas D. (2011). A Century of Dixie State College (PDF). Dixie State College. p. 6. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  10. ^ "Juanita Brooks". wchsutah.org. Retrieved 2018-01-29.
  11. ^ a b Peterson, Levi S. (1989). "Juanita Brooks, My Subject, My Sister". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 22: 16–28.
  12. ^ Novak, Shannon A.; Rodseth, Lars (23 February 2018). "Remembering Mountain Meadows: Collective Violence and the Manipulation of Social Boundaries". Journal of Anthropological Research. 62 (1): 1–25. JSTOR 3630719.
  13. ^ a b c Peterson, Levi S. (1988). Juanita Brooks: The Life Story of a Courageous historian of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. University of Utah Press. p. 158. ISBN 9781607811510.
  14. ^ Bringhurst, Newell G. (1999). Fawn McKay Brodie: A Biographer's Life. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 89. ISBN 0806131810.
  15. ^ [2] "Juanita Brooks's Quicksand and Cactus: The Evolution of a Literary Memoir" Peterson, Levi S. Dialogue Journal 1979
  16. ^ Peterson, Levi S. "Juanita Brooks's Quicksand and Cactus: The Evolution of a Literary Memoir." Dialogue Journal, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 145–155., http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V20N01_147.pdf.
  17. ^ Article in the "Journal of Mormon History"
  18. ^ Causes and Effects, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, Juanita Brooks, University of Oklahoma Press, 1987 ISBN 0-8061-2318-4
  19. ^ Defense of Zion, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, Juanita Brooks, University of Oklahoma Press, 1987 ISBN 0-8061-2318-4
  20. ^ Peterson, Levi S. (1994), "Brooks, Juanita", in Powell, Allan Kent (ed.), Utah History Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, ISBN 0874804256, OCLC 30473917
  21. ^ Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright (2005), David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, ISBN 0-87480-822-7, p. 53.
  22. ^ Peterson, Levi S. (1988). "Juanita Brooks as a Mormon Dissenter". The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal. 8: 13–29. JSTOR 43200808.
  23. ^ Bush, L. (2004)
  24. ^ "Lawmakers approve university status, name change for Dixie State", "Deseret News", February 13, 2013


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