Monday, March 30, 2009
Deseret Territory, MMM Part 4
The State of Deseret proposed by the Mormons in 1849 was enormous (solid dark line on map). If approved as a state, it's 265,000 square miles would've comprised 20% of the Union as it existed in 1849. The U.S. approved it as a smaller territory (see dotted line on map), known as Utah Territory, with the provision to be able to divide it into future smaller states. Of course, it was not allowed to retain its original size. By the time Utah was accepted into the Union as a state in 1896, its size had shrunk considerably.
In order to better understand the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, a little knowledge of some of the things going on in the State of Deseret is necessary.
Salt Lake Valley was part of Mexico when the first Mormon pioneers trickled in in 1847. Of course the Mormons knew this. In fact, it was one of the main reasons they wanted to settle there. They wanted to be free of the persecution they had encountered for practicing their religious beliefs in the U.S. Mormons had been killed, their settlements burned out, their rights legislated against, and intimidated and chased out by violent mobs everywhere they tried to live among the U.S. citizens in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. They hoped for political independence by leaving the U.S. territory for a desolate and sparsely peopled area of Mexico.
The Mexican-American War was raging at that time. It culminated with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, giving the U.S. more than a million square miles of territory (all of present day AZ, CA, NV, NM, TX, UT & part of CO & WY). But of course, that isn't the whole story. It never is. Mormon leadership played both sides of the war game. U.S. President Polk was agreeable to a proposal of Brigham Young (the Leader and Prophet of the Mormons after founder Joseph Smith was killed in Illinois) that mormon troops be sent to fight in the Mexican-American War. By providing and outfitting a Mormon Battalion for the war effort, Brigham Young helped to prepare the territory for the upcoming mass migration of mormons into the newly conquered area.
The result was the "Territory of Utah" (still called Deseret by the Mormons) with Brigham Young named as territorial governor. Federal officials were provided and overseen by the U.S. Government.
Throughout the 1850's the likehood of Utah becoming a state had no national political support because:
1. In August 1852, the Mormon Church made a public announcement of the Doctrine of Plural Marriage, which caused a huge amount of anti-mormon feelings across the U.S. (side note: it was also a shock to many foreign converts who had been recruited overseas into giving up everything they owned to live in Deseret; polygamy had been downplayed during recruitment).
2. There had been a 10-yr deterioration in Federal and Mormon relations fueled by many conflicts. Famous Mountain Man Jim Bridger persistently lobbied Washington DC against Utah. Federal appointees found it impossible to function with prosecutors and federal marshals unable to challenge mormon vigilante tactics. In what became known as THE UTAH WAR of 1857-1858, Federal Troops were sent into Utah. Mormons felt like they were under seige and worried that the persecution they thought they had escaped was beginning all over again.
3. A discovery of major gold and silver in Western Utah Territory (now Virginia City, NV) known as the Comstock Lode brought dreams of the wealth of a second Gold Rush to many U.S. citizens. However, Mormons were anti-mining due to a prophesy about retaining the wealth underground for future generations and were thus seen as an obstacle in the path of glittering riches.
These 3 issues inflamed the national perception of Utah's Mormons and its Leaders as immoral, un-American, disloyal, possibly dangerous, and certainly not mainstream citizens.
However, it may have been a 4th issue, Theocracy, that led to outrage and repeated calls for carving up and parceling out of the Utah Territory. Afterall, no other state came under such intense pressure for obliteration as a geopolitcal entity -- not even the post-civil war states of the Confederacy.
The theocratic melding of church leadership and governance was unique in Deseret. Brigham Young and other powerful mormon leaders were completely disdainful and disrespectful of Federal officials. Their form of territorial government was violent. They ruled with absolute power and authority over the even the most mundane aspects of everyday life.
And here is a little-discussed fact: A state of rebellion existed WITHIN Utah during this time. Many Utahns were not happy with the daily realities of theocracy. They wanted to escape the cruelties of mormon society. Escape, however, was almost impossible because the Mormon Leadership had a bloody method of dealing with mormon defections...
This method was the infamous "Blood Atonement". Originally introduced by Joseph Smith, but never published or openly acknowledged, it was restored by Brigham Young during this period, leading to a reign of terror. Blood Atonement means cutting off the head, slitting the throat from ear to ear, which was somehow supposed to provide a means of grace, an atonement for sins committed, that would allow the apostate or deviant a chance to redeem himself or herself in heaven.
Those who dared to flee Deseret were hunted down and blood atoned. Rumors of slayings pervaded the area, yet none were ever reported in the Deseret News, nor was anyone brought to justice. Those who wished to flee found themselves with only one real opportunity ... trying to hook up with one of the Emigrant Trains passing through the territory and hoping they were well beyond Utah's borders before their escape was discovered.
In this pre-civil war period of heightened sensitivity regarding secession, the New York Times published reports of prominent Mormons purchasing young girls for polygamous marriages (which sounded a lot like slavery to abolitionists), along with vague rumors that Brigham Young and the Mormon Leadership were guilty of personal deeds of murder and crime. This news culminated in a bill introduced in Congress to make polgyamy illegal. Presidential candidate Stephen A. Douglas became a most articulate enemy of the Mormons, calling the religion a "loathsome ulcer ... gnawing at the very vitals of the body politic ... (needing to) be cut out by the roots and served over a red hot iron of stern and unfliching law."
Brigham Young alledgedly celebrated the victory of James Buchanan over Stephen Douglas by hauling lead ore from Las Vegas to Salt Lake to manufacture weapons. In an act as seditious as anything happening in the Southern states, Utah announced it would decide which American laws were to be obeyed in Utah. Setting the stage for Federal intervention, newly-elected President Buchanan initiated a forlorn search for a new territorial governor. He ordered troops to mass at Fort Leavenworth and prepare to "invade" Utah.
Brigham Young sent letters to the far-flung outposts of Mormonism, ordering them to sell their property and return home to Deseret. "Bring all the powder, lead and caps you possibly can", Young wrote to the Brethren. Young also ordered loyal Indian Agents, like Jacob Hamblin who lived at Mountain Meadows, to rouse up the normally complacent Indians, "for they must learn that they have either got to help us or the United States will kill us both." He wanted to enlist them as mutual enemies of the detested 'Mericats (local Indian slang for Americans).
At the same time, Young tried to give the impression that bloodthirsty natives would murder outsiders if not for his efforts to restrain them. In reality, nearly all reports of "Indian" massacres in Utah Territory carried with them tales of white-faced natives who used mormon slang words. The Utes (northern utah) were unwilling allies, having been mistreated by Mormons since their arrival among them. The Paiutes (southern utah) were known as a generally peaceful group. President Buchanan presented documents to the 1857 Congress that Brigham Young was "tampering with the Indian Tribes and exciting their hostile feelings against the United States."
Much of Young's posturing was just that, for he fully expected a political solution before Spring of 1858, the earliest the troops from Ft Leavenworth could make it into Utah. Still, he continued preaching war and rebellion, vengeance and blood atonement redemption. On August 5, 1857, as the Fancher Train lodged in the nearby Jordan campsite, Young issued a proclamation to the citizens of Utah declaring, "we are invaded by a hostile force who are evidently assailing us to accomplish our overthrow and destruction."
Young then ordered the mormon settlements along the Emmigrant Path through Utah to hoard their grain and provisions, and to make plans to burn their towns and farms and to flee to the mountains with their families if they were overcome. The result of this proclamation was to fuel the mormon's fanaticism and fear of annihilation and to incite people to revenge and bloodshed.
At this moment of high tension and exhortations to violence, Brigham Young sent Mormon Militia Colonel and Apostle George A. Smith to the southern communties (including Mountain Meadows) to deliver orders to church leaders along the emigrant route to California. "I have been sent by Brigham Young", Smith said to John Doyle Lee, "to find out what you think the brethren would do with any emigrant train passing through this country ... would they be permitted to go their way?" Lee told Smith in no uncertain terms that any emigrant train that passed would be "used up" -- mormon slang for slaughtered. "I believe any train of emigrants that may come through here will be attacked and used up", Lee said. Smith was reportedly "much pleased with this, laughing heartily". Lee said he told Smith "You must inform Governor Young that if he wants emigrants to pass without being molested, he must send orders to that effect", thus making it clear that any desired outcome other than complete destruction should be specifically ordered by the church hierarchy. Lee would later write that he never doubted that his instructions were "to prepare the people for bloody work ... for George A. Smith was one of the twelve apostles of the church ... his orders to me were sacred commands which I considered my duty to obey without question or hesitation." Lee felt Smith's mission from Brigham Young was to order the extermination of the approaching Fancher Train. In fact, Lee believed wholeheartedly that he was under "the direct command of Brigham Young".
...my next post will explore what transpired as The Fancher Train made its way south out of Salt Lake Valley... sorry this saga taking me so long ... if you missed them, scroll down for MMM Parts 1, 2, and 3...