Author Interview With Betsy Gaines Quammen

Ramona Mead
5 min readAug 16, 2020

I’m thrilled to bring you this interview with my dear friend Betsy Gaines Quammen. Her first book, American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God, & American Lands in the West, was published in March of this year.

Betsy is an environmental historian and writer. She received a PhD from Montana State University where she studied religion, history and the philosophy of science. Her dissertation focused on Mormon history and the roots of armed public land conflicts occurring in the Unites States. She is fascinated at how religious views shape relationships to landscape.

Wildlife protection is her passion, having over the years helped establish conservation projects in Mongolia, Bhutan and throughout the American West. Betsy worked for the East African Wildlife Society in Kenya; in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming on grizzly bear conservation, ecosystem protection and grazing issues and served as a board member of the national Sierra Club concentrating on threats to wildlife and public land.

Betsy lives in Bozeman, Montana with her husband, writer David Quammen, three huge dogs, an overweight cat and a pretty big rescue python named Boots.

Image from Betsy Gaines Quammen

Author Interview: Betsy Gaines Quammen

Ramona Mead: This book obviously required a ton of research. How many hours do think you invested in pouring over documents and interviewing people?

Betsy Gaines Quammen: Seven years of work — my dissertation actually became American Zion. The hardest work I did was crafting an academic tome into a readable and hopefully entertaining manuscript for a broader audience.

RM: How did you become so interested in this particular person/family?

BGQ: I was researching the roots of public land feuds in southern Utah and Nevada and the history of Mormon settlement. There is a reason that land wars are more fierce in this region. Latter-day Saints have a notion that these lands are theirs given by God. That’s what Mormon prophet Joseph Smith promised and Brigham Young delivered. They built Zion, sacred land, over Indigenous lands. What we consider public lands — parks, wilderness areas, national forest and BLM land — some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints see as their own. Cliven Bundy…

Ramona Mead

Avid reader, writer of true stories, book hoarder, eternal optimist