Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Mobocracy is rife

Today marks two hundred and twenty years since the birth of the famous Mormon, Brigham Young, who founded Salt Lake City, and who was the first governor of Utah Territory. Sometimes called the American Moses, because of the way he led Mormon pioneers to settle in the arid region, he was also a polygamist who married over 50 times. Although several of Brigham’s journals are known to exist, only one - relating to 1857 - has been published.

Young was born on 1 June 1801 into a Vermont farming family; as a young man he worked as a travelling tradesmen. After converting to Mormonism in the early 1830s, he helped establish a community in Ohio. He was ordained into the church hierarchy; and then, in 1838, he organised an exodus of Latter Day Saints from Missouri to Illinois. The following year, he went to England, where a mission he launched was instrumental in bringing European converts to the church.

When the Mormon leader Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844, Young took command of the church; and, in 1846 faced with mob pressure, he led his followers out of Illinois. It took well over a year before they settled on a site that would become Salt Lake City. In 1849, the Mormons established a provisional state called Deseret with Young as governor; the following year this became Utah.

Although Young was appointed to a second term as governor of Utah in 1854, friction between the Mormons and the federal judiciary led President James Buchanan to replace him in 1857, and an army was sent to establish federal rule in Utah. Young never held office again, but as president of the Mormon church, he effectively ruled the people of Utah until his death in 1877. He married once before converting to Mormonism, but his wife died young; and after his conversion he became a polygamist and had well over 50 partners and as many children. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

It appears Young kept journals for much of his life though only the earliest ones were written in his own hand, the others being dictated or kept by his sons or close associates. Almost all are held in the Mormon Church Archives in Salt Lake City. A full listing can be found in Leonard Arrington’s Brigham Young: American Moses published by University of Illinois Press in 1986 (available to read at Googlebooks).

One of the journals, though, is held by the University of Utah, and this was edited by Everett L Cooley, and published in 1980 as The Diary of Brigham Young, 1857, by the Tanner Trust Fund. It was only printed in a limited edition of 1,250 copies, but the text is available on the website of the university’s J Willard Marriott Library.

Cooley, in his introduction, says the diary is ‘rather brief’ and contains very little new material, and lacks anything personal and intimate. Nevertheless, he adds, it does mark the first printing of a complete diary by Young, and provides ‘a good insight’ into his many interests and activities.

Here is an entry from the 1857 diary considered to be of some importance. Cooley’s notes relating to this entry in the published edition suggest that Brigham Young was already in possession of the information - about approaching troops and the cancellation of the mail contract - and that the arrival of the messengers was staged ‘for dramatic effect - to impress upon the assembled Saints that momentous events were in store for them.’

24 July 1857
‘This day 10 years ago the Pioneers entered Salt Lake valley after a pilgrimage and Search of nearly two years to find a place where the people of God might rest from persecutions for a short time. How cheering were the prospects on that day. They had at last reached a place 800 Miles from where a Settlement could approach them. The country was so barren that none would covet it. 500 of our best men had marched 3000 miles to conquer a title for it. And on every Side were Scores of miles of mountains, which must be past ere our Settlement could be appro[a]ched. Here we have dwelt in peace and prosperity. The Lord has blessed the earth for our sakes. And the ‘Desert’ has ‘truly blossomed as the rose.’

All was hilarity and mirth the morn[in]g guns had been fired 3 rounds in honore of the first presidency - three times three groans were uttered for the Mysouri - the guards & my son John W.[’]s company had been paraded, three ‘rounds’ for the hope of Isreal. The bands were playing and every one at peace, when the news came that A O Smoot, Judson L Stoddard, O P Rockwell William Garr & Judge Elias Smith would be in camp in a few minutes. They came, and were welcomed by the band, & 3 deaf[e]ning cheers.

They were ushered into the Lewt General’s (occupied by my family) Marquee. found that Bros Smoot & Stoddard were from fort Leavenworth 20 days. They informed [me] that a new Governor and entire set of officers had been appointed, 2500 troops with 15 months provision. Sup[p]osed That General [William S.] Harney would commany - to support the officials in their position. I said if General Harney came here, I Should then know the intention of [the] gover[n]ment; And it was carried unanimously that if Harney crossed the South Pass the buz[z]ards Should pick his bones. The feeling of Mobocracy is rife in the ‘States’ the constant cry is kill the Mormons. Let them try it. The Utah mail contract had been taken from us - on the pretext of the unsettled state of things in this territory.

The news helped the people to enjoy themselves. Dancing and mirth continued until a late hour.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on I June 2011.

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