Crossing the U.S.-Canada Border Without ID–A 1950s Mormon Example

I got a kick out of an excerpt from a letter written by Hugh Nibley (1910-2005), a Mormon educational figure who taught at Brigham Young University for several decades (and a fairly prominent social critic in U. S. Mormon circles). In the letter, Nibley describes passing through Yellowstone National Park and into Canada after having left his wallet and identification at home in Utah. According to his account, Nibley passed because ubiquitous Mormon gatekeepers recognized him, and this was ID enough. In particular, I thought Nibley’s reference to family members as “notorious border-jumpers” interesting–perhaps a reference to family members involved in polygamy who left the United States in the late 19th century to settle in Canada to escape pursuing U. S. marshals.

Here’s an excerpt (read the full story here). Also, read more about the Canadian Mormon Colonies of southern Alberta in Peter S. Morris’ essay “Charles Ora Card and Mormon Settlement on the Northwestern Plains Borderlands”  found in The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests, edited by Sterling Evans.

When we got as far as Logan [UT] I discovered that I had forgotten my pocketbook with all identification, drivers license, money etc. Left it home on the dresser (strangely unlike me). So here we were going to a foreign country without a scrap of identification. The first alarm was at Yellowstone: at the entrance of the park is a formidable sign which says: “Identify yourself” unquote. I broke out into a cold sweat as we drew up to the station. No need for it: the ranger rushed out and greeted us with noisy glee – “Why brother Nibley, of all people, fancy meeting you here!”I had thought I was pretty well known in the four corners country and down into Arizona, but this was a new experience. Still remained the big hurdle: the International Border. I started to tell the man I had no identification when he rudely interrupted: “Are you here on business?”

Foolishly I said yes, since I was going to give speeches. “What kind of business? Oh,” he said,  ”you are going up to Lethbridge for those lectures, you don’t get paid for that do you?”

Me: (indignant) “Of course not!”

“Well, then it isn’t business.”

So on we went: apparently the guard noted a family resemblance with certain relatives that live along the border (some of the boys are notorious border – jumpers). (continued…)

What do you find interesting about this story?

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One thought on “Crossing the U.S.-Canada Border Without ID–A 1950s Mormon Example

  1. Pingback: Borderlands History Blog Turns 1 « Borderlands History

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