The Utah War
July 24, 1857 – 150 years ago this month – President Brigham Young was celebrating with Salt Lake Valley settlers in Big Cottonwood Canyon, east of present-day Sandy, Utah. Seeing it as a holiday, as Utah residents and church members do elsewhere today, they were commemorating exactly a decade before they entered the valley.
In the midst of the festivities, Salt Lake City Mayor Abraham Smoot approached President Young, hurried home from a trip east. Mayor Smoot had some ominous news: A US force of 2,500 soldiers was approaching the Utah Territory to end an alleged Mormon insurgency and replace President Young as regional governor.
The news was not entirely unexpected, as rumors were circulating, which stemmed from years of tension and conflict between the settlers and union-appointed regional officials. Reporting to the administration in Washington, the office holders bore tales of Mormon disobedience.
With no telegraph lines to provide immediate news, (Brigham) Young first learned that the crisis was coming to a head when copies of eastern newspapers were found in late May through snow-capped mountains, BYU history professor Ronald W. Walker said during a panel presentation at the Mormon History Association conference in Salt Lake City on May 25 of this year.
His fears were confirmed, and not wanting to diminish the joy, President Young waited until nightfall, then informed the celebratory settlers of what he had learned.
Thus began the culmination of a chain of events that reflected consequences that sometimes resulted in miscommunication or interrupted communication, cynicism, prejudice, distortion, mistrust and political indolence.
The military war ultimately resolved without blood loss, which became known as the Utah War, was costly for both sides, with no real winner. But there are elements of heroism in the saga. This can be seen in the unified resolve of the saints, led by President Young, to leave and burn their settlement rather than be seen as another example of government-sponsored persecution. And Colonel Thomas L., a Mormon friend and benefactor from his days on his trek to the Salt Lake Valley. Courage was shown in the philanthropic work of Kane, who used his influence with the federal government to mediate a peaceful settlement.
Soon after settling in their valley, the latter sages appealed to the US government for statehood—and the attendant rights of democratically elected self-government. What they found instead was regional government, which brought with it a slate of federal appointees, including governors, regional judges, and marshals.
President Young was appointed the first regional governor, but
Other appointees were less appetizing to the Mormon settlers. Interpreting unity among church members as “theism” in defiance of federal authority, these appointments attempted to change the culture and, when forbidden, took place in Washington, D.C. I sent an adverse report to the National Government.
In his presentation to the Mormon History Association, Brother Walker, noting that revisionist historians have blamed the stress on the singularity of Mormonism, put the matter in a wider context, saying that the doctrine of popular or squatter sovereignty was widely used in Western regions. Was acclaimed from, not just in Utah. This theory held that a community was ready for self-government from the time it was settled. “For Mormons, haunted by their experience with hostile magistrates in the American West, popular sovereignty was tailor-made,” he said.
One federal appointment in particular, Associate Judge William W. Drummond alienated the residents by invading the jurisdiction of the area’s probate courts and bringing in a prostitute as his mistress, sometimes sitting on the bench with her. Arrested for sending his servant on a horseshoe, who had made unfavorable public remarks about him, Drummond was freed on bail, then fled the area. His resignation letter to US President James Buchanan contained a number of general and specific charges against President Young and Mormons.
This all happened against a political backdrop in which the National Republican Party, founded in 1854, urged Congress to prohibit the “twin remnants of barbarism: polygamy and slavery” in areas. A newly elected U.S. The President, James Buchanan, a Democrat, was sensitive to the sentiment and vowed to replace Brigham Young as Utah’s territorial governor.
Alexander, BYU Professor of American History Emeritus at the Mormon History Association conference, said, “Buchanan acknowledged the lies, misrepresentation and unsubstantiated allegations of carpet baggers and reprobates, while justifying sending armed forces to Utah.”
US The president did not send any prior notice of his intention to replace Brigham Young as governor or regarding the approach of the troops, and in fact, he suspended mail service in the area.
Responding to news heard at the 24 July celebration, in August 1857 church leaders issued a proclamation to the citizens, which said: “We have been attacked by a hostile force, which has apparently overthrown us.” Throwing and attacking to complete destruction….The government is not condescending to send an inquiry committee, or other persons to investigate and find out the truth, as is customary in such cases…. Our duties to ourselves and families require that we go unmotivated and unwilling to be killed. Trying to protect ourselves.”
President Young assembled the Territorial Militia (called the Nauvoo Legion) and ordered that no grain or other staples be sold to the migrants.
Meanwhile, through a messenger, President Young contacts Colonel Kane and asks him to intervene with the government.
In September, President Young declared martial law in the area and instructed bishops in the communities to be prepared to burn everything if necessary.
Earlier that month, Captain Stewart Van Vliet of the Quartermaster Corps arrived in Salt Lake City to obtain food and fodder for the incoming army, the first official word to reach the area. They were treated decently, but did not succeed in making arrangements. Returning to Washington, he advocated for reconciliation.
By the end of the month, Gov. Young had drawn about 1,100 militia men to General Daniel H. Wells was sent to the South Pass in present-day Wyoming, where he was to prepare for the arrival of the army. Led by Major Lott Smith, a Mormon battalion veteran, 44 attackers instructed the troops to harass, burn supply trains, drive cattle, and set fire to fodder. They also burned down two major outposts: Fort Bridger and Fort Supply.
They were so successful that, when the commanding officer, Albert Sidney arrived at Johnston in November, the army was forced to winter in pitiable conditions near the burned Fort Bridger.
Meanwhile in the East, support for this “Utah campaign” was waning. By the end of the year, Colonel Kane, Captain Van Vliet and Utah Congressional Representative John M. Bernhisel had won with President Buchanan to unofficially send Colonel Kane to Utah. Upon his arrival in February, he was gladly received by church leaders. He persuaded them to allow the replacement governor, Alfred Cumming, to enter the city, albeit without military escort.
In March, Colonel Kane approached American troops camping. Rejecting his Nauvoo army escort, he entered the camp alone; A guard’s bullet nearly hit him. Enraged, Colonel Kane rejects Colonel Johnson’s apology and engages Alfred Cumming in negotiations, assuring the newly appointed governor that he will be safe if he boarded Salt Lake City without a military escort.
In doing so, Governor Cumming was given a grand welcome by President Young, who transferred the records and seals of the Governor’s office to him.
Still distrustful of the government’s intentions, Brigham Young and the Latter-day Saints continued the mass “Move South” executions that had already begun.
Richard D. Pole, a former professor of history at the BYU, now deceased, wrote: “President Young announced on March 23, 1858, that all settlements in northern Utah should be abandoned and to burn when the army arrived. The evacuation began immediately. Although it was previously thought of as likely to be permanent, the move south was turned into a tactical and temporary maneuver soon after word came that Kane had sent Cumming to Salt without an army. Lake City was persuaded to come. Still, at least in numbers, it dwarfed earlier Mormon flights from Missouri and Illinois: about 30,000 people reached 50 miles or so in Provo and other cities in central and southern Utah. There they lived in shared and immediate housing until the end of the Utah War” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p 1500).
Due to mounting criticism over what has gone down in history as “Buchanan’s blunder”, the US president sent a peace commission to the region. Commissioners Ben McCulloch and Lazarus W. Powell offered the pardon on the condition that the Latter-day Saints reaffirm their allegiance to the government.
Church leaders eventually accepted the offer. Under the terms of the agreement, the army marched peacefully through the city and then established a garrison to the west and south of the city called Camp Floyd. Soldiers were stationed there until the start of the Civil War in 1861.
The “Utah Campaign” was a costly endeavor for the federal government and an unnecessary adversity for the Latter-day Saints.
This put an upper hand on the region, triggering a wartime frenzy that led to the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre in September 1857.
And, as noted in the Brother Pole’s Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry, it strained capital and morale, hindered and undermined missionary efforts in Europe, and reduced immigration.
“With no telegraph lines to provide immediate news, (Brigham) Young learned for the first time that the crisis was coming to a head when copies of the Eastern newspapers found their way through the Snowy Mountains in late May.”