Earth Notes: Juanita Brooks

Aug 7, 2019

Western writer and historian Juanita Leavitt Brooks was forever and always a child of the frontier. She was born in 1898 in Bunkerville, just barely in Nevada, across the border from southwestern Arizona and Utah.

Juanita Brooks, 1927
Credit Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society

Her parents, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, arrived there as part of a mission to raise cotton. At a young age, Juanita gained a strong sense of place and an abiding appreciation of Mormon culture.

She was widowed after only a year of marriage, and became Juanita Brooks when she remarried Sheriff Will Brooks. She taught school and was mother to a houseful of children, while developing a professional career as a historian.

Brooks wrote and edited fifteen books, often typing at the kitchen table late into the night.  Her mentors and supporters included historians Dale Morgan and Fawn Brodie, along with the dean of western writers, Wallace Stegner.

Though loyal to the church, she sometimes took controversial positions—especially about the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. She wrote a classic book about that Mormon attack on an emigrant wagon train, involving John D. Lee, who was executed for his role in the massacre.

In her autobiography, “Quicksand and Cactus,” Brooks related remarkable details of her childhood—the one-room  adobe house with scrubbed floor, her mother’s handmade curtains, and an Easter hike where she gained a view of what she called “the Wide, Wonderful World” of her homeground.

Juanita Brooks died in Saint George, Utah, in 1989. Through her long, productive life she saw a broader world but stayed deeply rooted in Mormon’s Dixie.