Conflict, Tragedy and Peace: The Utah War

Conflict, Tragedy and Peace: The Utah War

Conflict, Tragedy and Peace: The Utah War


This article originally appeared in Vol.65, No.3 (2018) of Pioneer Magazine.

by Thomas G. Alexander

On December 8,1857, President James Buchanan1 sent his first State of the Union address to Congress. In it, he explained why the previous May he had discharged nearly all the federal appointees in Utah Territory and ordered their replacements, all non-Latter-day Saints, to travel to the beleaguered territory.2 Buchanan insisted that he had mobilized 2,500 troops to escort the new appointees because Utahns had arisen in “substantial rebellion” against the United States.3 This article will show what led Buchanan to take these actions and, subsequently, to attempt to justify them in his State of the Union speech.

Buchanan dispatched an army called the Utah Expedition to escort new federal appointees to Utah in what is often called the . Even though the Utah War didn’t escalate into full-scale military combat, it had severe direct and indirect consequences including hunger, illness, suffering and death among US soldiers and thousands of civilian evacuees in Utah; significant losses of military equipment, horses and livestock; the murders of two parties of private traders; an attack on the Latter-day Saint settlement at Fort Limhi in Oregon Territory (now in Idaho); and, most tragically, the massacre of at least 120 Arkansas emigrants at Mountain Meadows, Utah.

A collection of personal and official letters containing serious charges against the people of Utah apparently motivated Pres. Buchanan to use military force against Utahns—chief among them letters from W M. F. Magraw, a businessman and personal friend of Buchanan;4 David Burr, Utah Surveyor General; John F. Kinney and William W. Drummond, chief and associate justice of the Utah Territorial Supreme Court;5 and a number of agents and officials in the federal Office of Indian Affairs.6

The alarming charges made in these letters had led to Buchanan’s decision to send the army to accompany his new territorial appointees. Chief Justice Kinney had asserted that an unidentified band of Saints had tried to kill two government officials and that the Latter-day Saints had interfered with public trials.7 David Burr, the Surveyor General, charged that Saints had attacked his employees. (He did not mention in his letter that his surveyors had conducted fraudulent surveys at considerable expense to the US government and Utah’s citizens.)8

Letter postmarked at Salt Lake City on September 1, 1855 and carried under the Magraw contract to Independence, Missouri (see “Central Overland Mail, 1850–1861,” Mails of the Westward Expansion, 1803 to 1861, online).

In October 1856, shortly before Buchanan’s election to the presidency, Magraw wrote an angry letter to President Franklin Pierce stating that “hundreds of good [non-Mormon businessmen] … for years … have suffered repeated wrong and injustice.” These citizens, he wrote, have endured in vain, “patiently awaiting the correction of outrage by that government [in] which it is their pride to claim citizenship?9 He insisted the near future would bring “indiscriminate bloodshed, robbery and rapine” that would reduce Utah Territory to “a howling wilderness,” as “good men” are “liable … to be stripped of their hard earned means … and their [lives] threatened and taken.10

Associate Justice Drummond wrote two lengthy missives and a shorter letter. The longer letters were even more vitriolic than Magraw’s. Drummond depicted Latter-day Saints as corrupt, unpredictable, determined, and dangerous. He made four general assertions against the Saints, claiming that Brigham Young cultivated a despotic state of affairs in which his adherents were induced to mindlessly follow his every command; that the Saints lived by their own laws, disrespecting both the law of the land and the leadership of the nation; that the Saints actively sought to destroy any government imposed upon them except their own and tried to drive away any person who had different views or values; and that these conditions facilitated treasonous and criminal acts by the Saints and their dictator, Brigham Young.11

Both Magraw and Drummond harbored personal antipathies against the Latter-day Saints and their culture, and historians have long questioned their motivations and the reliability of their reports on Utah’s politics and culture. In Magraw’s case, he left the Midwest for Utah in March 1854 with a federal contract to deliver mail between Independence, Missouri, and Salt Lake City. Although Magraw had virtually no experience with mail supervision or western frontier life, his personal friendship with Buchanan had apparently helped him secure the contract.

By early 1856, however, a growing chorus of complaints about the inefficiency and unreliability of Magraw’s service—including persistent rumors of mail-tampering by Magraws employees—led to a Congressional investigation. The Post Office Department terminated Magraw’s contract in late May 1856 and called for bids for a new contractor. Latter-day Saint Hiram S. Kimball, “acting as the agent of a Mormon organization, the B. Y. Express Company, [often called the YX Company] … advanced the lowest bid at $23,000” and obtained the contract in October 1856.12 Magraw’s inflammatory letter written that same month seems to have been triggered by the contract award to the Latter-day Saint firm.13

Drummond likewise developed resentments against the Latter-day Saints after he arrived in Salt Lake City in early 1854. He alighted from the stagecoach in company of a Washington, DC, prostitute traveling under the working name of Ada Carroll, whom he introduced as his wife.14 Both Drummond and Carroll were married to others. Drummond had left his wife, Jemima McClenahan Drummond and their children in Oquawka, Illinois. Carroll was married to Charles Fletcher, a Baltimore school teacher who may have acted as her pimp. After Drummond realized that he and Ada were scorned by the people of the territory, he responded by heaping condemnations on the practice of polygamy. Drummond also became dissatisfied with his out-of-the-way assignment to the second judicial district at Fillmore in south-central Utah. In May 1856 he drove a herd of horses to Carson Valley, Utah (now Nevada), where he began to hold court, even though Carson was in the third judicial district and outside his jurisdiction.

Instead of remaining in Carson Valley, however, he next traveled to California. From there he wrote a letter attacking Brigham Young and the Saints which the New York Herald published in part on March 20, 1857.15 Drummond then sailed to Panama, crossed the Isthmus, and traveled by ship to New Orleans. From there on March 30, Drummond sent a letter of resignation to US Attorney General Jeremiah S. Blade, again condemning the citizens and leaders of Utah Territory in sweeping and personal terms.16 While Drummond’s letter to the New York Herald undoubtedly came to Buchanans attention during the Spring of 1857 as he made his decision to send troops to Utah, the letter to Black likely was not seen by the president at that time and did not factor in the decision. Nevertheless, the content and structure of the resignation letter to Attorney General Black parallels the “Utah section” of Buchanan’s State of the Union address in December 1857 and suggests that the president may have used it to articulate his reasons for sending the army to Utah.17

In his address to Congress, Buchanan declared that because Brigham Young served not only as governor and superintendent of Indian Affairs but as “head of the church called the Latter-Day Saints,” and because he “professes to govern its members and dispose of their property by direct inspiration and authority from the Almighty,” his “power has been therefore, absolute over both church and State.” Insisting that the Saints were possessed of a “phrenzied [sic] fanaticism” he derided them as a “deluded people” clinging to “deplorable” and “revolting” beliefs. Buchanan claimed that “they obey [Young’s] commands as if those were direct revelations from Heaven” and made no room for any other, including the laws of Congress.

While Drummond’s letter insisted that Utahns “constantly insulted, harrassed [sic], and annoyed… the federal officials of the Territory” without suffering the slightest consequences, and that while both Church leaders and lay members frequently “traduced the American government” and “slandered and abused” the “chief executives of the nation, both living and dead,” Buchanan went much further, dedaring to Congress that the Saints were nearing “a state of open rebellion,” preparing themselves to retreat “to the mountains and bid defiance to all the powers of the Government” While Drummond melodramatically linked disrespectfulness to wanton destructiveness of property, insisting that because the Saints considered “no law of Congress … binding in any manner,… all records, papers &c. of the supreme court have been destroyed by order of the Church, with the direct knowledge and approbation of Governor B. Young,” Buchanan charged the Saints with disrespecting human life itself.

“Governor Young has by proclamation declared his determination to maintain his power by force, and has already committed acts of hostility against the United States,” Buchanan asserted, “all [former] officers of the United States, judicial and executive, with the single exception of two Indian agents, have found it necessary for their own personal safety to withdraw from the Territory, and there no longer remains any government in Utah but the despotism of Brigham Young.”

Buchanan’s address clearly constituted an exercise in political hypocrisy and cultural myopia. While running for US President in 1856, Buchanan had advocated unfettered religious liberty and strongly endorsed the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), drafted under the theory of popular sovereignty championed by Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas and Secretary of State Lewis Cass. In practice, however, Buchanan apparently believed that these principles did not apply to Latter-day Saints whom he described as a “deluded people” and enemies of the state.18

Telling Congress that, “to spare the effusion of blood,” he had dispatched “an imposing force” of 2,500 men to convince Utahns that “we are their friends, not their enemies,” he then brazenly requested the funding of four additional regiments to assist in this “friendship” effort. Congressional leaders ignored Buchanans request for additional troops and wondered aloud why Buchanan’s contingent of replacement officials required a military escort. Indeed, some began probing the status of the Utah Expedition and its skyrocketing costs at a time the nation could ill afford gratuitous expenses.

On January 27,1858, the House demanded that Buchanan provide documentation of events or occurrences “which gave rise to the military expedition ordered to Utah Territory?19 In response, Buchanan sought help from his cabinet officers in gathering documents supporting his decision. Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and General Land Office provided a letter and papers from David Burr and his employees, and letters from Indian agents and officials about Indian affairs; Attorney General Jeremiah S. Black’s Justice Department provided the resignation letter from William Drummond; while Secretary of State Lewis Cass sent only the letter Magraw had written to President Pierce.20

Buchanan submitted 215 printed pages of documentation to House investigators on February 8, 1858, including the showpiece letters from Magraw and Drummond.21 In addition to the generalized claims mentioned above, Drummond specifically charged “the Mormons” with giving “orders, advice, and direction” to Pahvant Utes to murder Commander John Gunnison and his survey party in October 1853. He further charged that “leading men of the Mormon Church” had ordered that subordinates give “poisoned liquors” to retired Justice Leonidas Shaver (mistakenly called “Leonidas Shaw”). He asserted that the Church’s First Presidency had sent “members of the Danite Band” to murder the party of Almon W. Babbitt, Utah Territory’s Secretary.22

These charges were potentially the most damning because they were the most specific claims found in the documentation. But all were false. Capt John W. Gunnison had arrived in Utah with a party of about twenty-five men to survey a possible route for a projected transcontinental railroad The Latter-day Saints had no motive for murdering Gunnison or disrupting his expedition. Four years earlier, Gunnison lad spent a year among the Latter-day Saints with Capt Howard Stansbury surveying the Great Salt Lake Valley. Brigham Young had assigned to work with him, and the two became good friends. Gunnison published a book titled The Mormons or the Latter-Day Saints. Although he opposed Latter-day Saint theo-democracy, the book was generally congratulatory, and the Saints considered him a friend of the Church.25

Of even greater significance, Latter-day Saint leaders vigorously supported the construction of a transcontinental rail line through Utah and would not have wished to interfere with Gunnison’s work. Moreover, William Washington Potter, a faithful Latter-day Saint who acted as the expedition’s guide, was one of the eight expedition members killed during the “” on October 26, 1853.

Drummond’s accusation involving the death of Capt Gunnison was reprinted in newspapers across the country. But it was firmly denounced by Lt. Edward G. Beckwith, Gunnison’s second in command. In his official report to the War Department Beckwith declared that any statement “charging the Mormons or Mormon authorities with instigating the Indians to do so if not actually aiding them in the murder of Captain Gunnison and his associates is, I believe, not only entirely false, but there is no accidental circumstance connected with it affording the slightest foundation for such a charge.”24 Moreover, Lt Col. Edward J. Steptoe—whom President Pierce sent to Utah Territory to investigate the massacre—found no evidence of Mormon complicity.25

The charges that Latter-day Saints had murdered or had ordered the murders of former Justice Leonidas Shaver and Secretary Almon Babbitt are perhaps the easiest of Drummond’s lies to refute. President Pierce had appointed Shaver as a justice in Utah in 1852. In contrast with many of the federal justices, Shaver’s kindness and civility quickly earned the respect of the Saints. Shaver settled in Salt Lake City after his judicial term. At the public inquest into Shaver’s death, Dr. Garland Hurt, the Indian agent who “later became an outspoken opponent of Brigham Young,” and Dr. William France testified that Shaver had died of natural causes, likely of a serious inner-ear infection.26 No reliable evidence has surfaced that anyone poisoned him.

A graduate of Ohio State University and a lawyer, Almon W. Babbitt had served in Zion’s Camp and as Kirtland stake president and had emigrated to Utah in 1848. He had differences with both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young over the years on various matters. He had been disfellowshipped four times and was excommunicated in 1854.27 In 1853 President Pierce appointed Babbitt as Utah’s third territorial secretary, but he and Young again disagreed with one another over territorial appointments and disposition of federal funds for Utah.

In August 1856, Cheyenne Indians attacked Babbitt’s party near Ash Hollow, Nebraska, while he was traveling on government business. They killed him and two others and scattered federal monetary drafts, government appropriations, and other documents across the plains. There is no evidence that Latter-day Saints had anything to do with his death. An investigation by US Army Capt. H. W. Wharton, the commander at Fort Kearney, Nebraska, determined that Cheyenne Indians had committed the murders. Wharton’s findings and reports in local and national newspapers were well known before Drummond ever left Utah.28

Contrary to the charges by Drummond and Magraw that Brigham Young held absolute control over the citizens of Utah, there are numerous instances where Church members believed their personal interests were at odds with Young’s directives. Those dissenting members tended to ignore Young’s counsel and often took actions directly opposed to his instructions. For example, Young had tried to reimplement the Law of Consecration and Stewardship in 1854-55. Although he collected many documents deeding property to the Church, he assumed control of none of the property because members pushed back against the program.

As another example, Young tried to implement a policy of defense and conciliation during the Walker War of 1853-54. In violation of Young’s orders, militia commander Col. Peter Conover initiated violent reprisals for certain actions by the Indians. Young removed him from command and appointed Col. George A. Smith in his place. In still another instance, Brigham directed the Saints to “assemble into large and permanent forts” and to send “all surplus stock” not needed “for teams and milk’ to Salt Lake Gty. Many Latter-day Saints from Cedar Gty in the south to Ogden in the north ignored the order, insisting that their livestock was private property not subject to Brigham’s dictates.29

Drummond’s assertion that “Mormons” had destroyed federal court records and imprisoned people illegally was also a fabrication. The deputy clerk of the territory’s Supreme Court, Curtis E. Bolton, showed the records to Governor Alfred Cumming after his arrival in Utah and sent a letter to Attorney General Jeremiah Black—which Buchanan later published—affirming that all court records were “safely in my custody.” Bolton’s letter also provided evidence refuting Drummond’s charges of illegal imprisonments by Young or other Church authorities.30

It is true, as Drummond and several Indian agents such as Garland Hurt reported, that Latter-day Saints proselytized among American Indians and that they encouraged Native Americans to prefer the Saints to other white Americans. Despite building settlements on Ute, Shoshone, Goshute, and Paiute lands and frequently fighting battles with these peoples, the Latter-day Saints continued to view Native Americans as children of Israel and fellow-citizens of God’s kingdom.31 Brigham deplored the indiscriminate killing of Indians. At least from 1852 to 1865 Young consistently directed the Saints to be patient, generous neighbors and to live in peace with all Indians. (Given the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the Indians’ origins, and Brigham Young’s own counsel, it is not surprising that the body of Saints sought for and expected to cement alliances with the tribes of the Utah Territory even though they failed on many occasions.)

The claims of Drummond, Magraw Burr, and Kinney that Latter-day Saints sponsored a culture of violence in nineteenth-century Utah have been echoed in recent years by such historians as Michael Quinn.32 But historical literature often emphasizes incidents of unusual or sensationalized violence and distorts actualities. Unfortunately, we have neither a study that compares violence in Utah with that in other western territories, nor statistical data analyzing violence in the west or in Utah from 1850 to 1880. Nevertheless, Scott Thomas has persuasively shown that most violence in the Utah Territory was general criminal activity—and that the comparatively rare instances of violence linked to religious fanaticism are more appropriately categorized as frontier vigilantism.33

For the period after 1880, statistical data shows that Utah Territory was considerably less violent than nearby territories or states, and Utah experienced no episodes of vigilante lawlessness like those that occurred in California, Wyoming, and Montana.34 While Joseph Smith created or sanctioned a group of personal bodyguards known as “” early in the Church’s history, Leonard Arrington’s research shows that there is no sound evidence of the band’s continued existence after the Saints’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley.35 When the term appears in already- inflammatory depictions of violence in Utah, it is often employed to further sensationalize the narrative rather than to reflect carefully researched fact.36 A comparative study of the relative violence in Utah and that occurring in other territories and states in the West would go a long way to answering the question of whether Latter-day Saints in Utah really exhibited a culture of violence. I believe that such a study would show that Utah was considerably less violent than other western territories.37 Accused of violence, however, Young anticipated that violence would be employed against the Latter-day Saints.

And as early as May 29, 1857, Young heard from George A. Smith that Buchanan was preparing to dispatch an army of 2,000 to 3,000 troops ‘‘to the Territory.”58 Smith and John Taylor, who had gone to Washington, DC, to try to secure the admission of Utah into the Union, witnessed the army’s preparations as they passed through Fort Leavenworth on their way home to Salt Lake City. Throughout that summer, Brigham Young met with civic and Church leaders to plan a response to the approaching army.59

On July 12, after meeting with businessman Feramorz Little, Young wrote that he wished “to avoid hostilities with the United States,” but would “draw my sword in the name of Israel God” before he would “see this people Suffer as they have done heretofore.”40 In a dramatic confirmation of previous intelligence, Abraham O. Smoot, Judson Stoddard, Porter Rockwell, William Garr, and Elias Smith rode into Young’s July 24th celebration in Big Cottonwood Canyon. They reported that the administration had canceled Utah’s mail contract and ordered troops to Utah.  The couriers said that throughout the United States a “feeling of Mobocracy is rife,” and “the constant cry is Toll the Mormons’ ” Defiantly, Young responded “Let them try it”41

In planning for Utah’s defense, Brigham and his associates believed they could hold the army at bay, but worried that their tactics could lead to a military siege. To prepare for such a siege, Brigham stopped discouraging local tribes from raiding emigrant wagon trains as he had previously done. Rather, he sent interpreter to encourage tribal leaders to steal cattle and grain from wagon companies on nearby overland routes. Young began making arrangements to store the stolen grain and livestock that would sustain both whites and American Indians during the siege.

After hearing of these plans, and understanding the importance of maintaining Indian neutrality or securing them as allies, Indian missionary Jacob Hamblin assembled twelve chiefs from the Paiutes and Pahvant Utes and traveled to Salt Lake to meet personally with Young on September l.42 Some tribal leaders were confused by Young’s reversal of policy, even after he justified his directive as a means of survival.45 Most of the Indian leaders refused to ally themselves with the Saints.

On September 8, 1857, US Army Quartermaster Capt. Stewart Van Vliet arrived in Salt Lake City and requested a meeting with Governor Young. He remained until September 15. Confirming that the army was rapidly approaching, Van Vliet told Brigham that he was there to arrange the purchase of supplies for Johnston’s troops. Brigham liked the young officer but informed him that the Saints were willing to furnish nothing but lumber. The conversation ended with Brigham’s re-emphasizing his disdain for Buchanan and for the approaching army.44

Young and militia commander Lt Gen. Daniel H. Wells had already begun mobilizing the Saints. In early August, Young had sent George A. Smith to the settlements south of Salt Lake County to rouse the Saints to arms. Warning the people in each town of the approach of a hostile army, Smith reminded them of abuses endured by the Church in the past, of the hatred of many Americans for the “the Mormons,” of the necessity of refusing to sell supplies to non-Latter-day Saints passing through their settlements, and of the urgency to ready their weapons. He warned that an attack might come from southern California as well as from the north.

As Johnstons forces drew closer, Young and Wells also sent troops under and several other militia commanders to burn the army’s wagon trains in order to deny sustenance to the troops and slow their movements.45 When Smith’s troops prepared to bum one set of wagons, the commander, Mr. Dawson, pled “For God’s sake, don’t bum the trains!” Smith confidently replied, “It is for his sake that I am going to bum them.”46

These events accompanied the most tragic and abominable event of the Utah War—the of September 7-11,1857, during which a large body of Latter-day Saint militiamen and a few Paiute allies killed 120 or more men, women, and children of the Baker- Fancher wagon train, bound from Arkansas to California. Such historians as William Wise, Sally Denton, and Will Bagley have argued that Brigham Young ordered the massacre. Other historians, including Juanita Brooks, Ronald Walker, Richard Turley, and Glen Leonard, together with Young’s four scholarly biographers—Leonard Arrington, Newell Bringhurst, Stanley Hirshson, and John Turner (one Latter-day Saint, one cultural Mormon, and two non- LDS)—have argued that Young did not.47

William MacKinnon believes with Michael Quinn and Juanita Brooks that, because of an environment of defensiveness, anxiety, and fear created throughout the territory in 1856-57, territorial leadership bears some responsibility for the massacre. In contrast, Ronald Walker argues that Young was a pacifist Leonard Arrington believes that Young and others used fiery language as a rhetorical device, not as directive. MacKinnon, the preeminent authority on the Utah War, believes that Young deserves a “Scotch verdict” on the charge of ordering the massacre.48 After examining the evidence, McKinnon concludes that the case against Young has not been proved. My own judgment is that a reasonable interpretation of the evidence leads to the conclusion that Young did not order the massacre and that leaders of the Iron County Militia were responsible.49

It is known that several Church leaders in Cedar City, led by Laban Morrill of Johnson’s Fort, convinced Stake President Isaac Haight to send an urgent letter to Brigham Young to ask if the Arkanasas emigrants should be “chastized.” The hard-riding messenger, James Haslam, arrived in Salt Lake City while Young was meeting with Capt Van Vliet.

After reading Haight’s letter, Young wrote in reply,

“In regard to the migration trains passing through our settlements, we must not interfere with them, until they are first notified to keep away. You must not meddle with them. The Indians we expect will do as they please, but you should try and preserve good feelings with them?”50

Haslam immediately returned to Cedar City, but arrived September 13, two days after the bloody massacre had occurred.

Church leaders had sought means to checkmate the US government’s threats against them even before the army’s dispatch. Brigham Young and other authorities corresponded with Thomas L. Kane, a prominent Pennsylvania political figure who knew Buchanan and who had assisted the Latter-day Saints in the past. In March and April 1856, after learning that Buchanan might send an army to Utah, Kane wrote letters to Buchanan on behalf of the Latter-day Saints, urging the President not to dispatch the army. Buchanan claimed he did not receive the letters.

During the early months of 1857 it became very difficult for Kane to carry out initiatives on behalf of the Latter-day Saints because he struggled with both family tragedy and personal challenges. His older brother, the famous Arctic explorer, Elisha Kent Kane, had died in February in Havana, and Thomas mourned as the family returned Elisha’s body by railroad from New Orleans for burial in Philadelphia. Adding to his family’s anguish, Kane’s father-in-law experienced both emotional and financial collapse, and Kane himself suffered from a prolonged illness. These setbacks led him to retire into seclusion for several months.51

He did not meet personally with Pres. Buchanan until November 1857. After a lengthy discussion, as historian Matthew Grow has noted, Buchanan offered Kane an official appointment, which Kane declined. In December 1857 Buchanan praised Kane’s “philanthropy but noted that if Kane traveled to Utah, it would be without official sanction.52

After meeting with Buchanan, Kane traveled to Utah at his own expense to attempt to mediate the tense and dangerous state of affairs. Because of threats to his personal safety, Kane traveled pseudonymously as botanist Dr. Anthony Osborne. He sailed to central America, crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and sailed to southern California. For portions of the overland route from southern California to Salt Lake City, he traveled with assistance from several Latter-day Saint women and from Amasa Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.53

Reaching Salt Lake City on February 25, 1858, Kane met with Brigham Young and other Church leaders. After first resisting. Young then accepted Kane’s offer to “go to the army” and negotiate. Young concluded that Kane traveled under the Spirit’s influence, and that “all would be right”

On March 8, 1858, Kane left Salt Lake City—escorted by Latter-day Saint scouts—with the object of meeting with Governor Cumming at the army’s winter quarters at near burned out Fort Bridger.54

As Kane was leaving the Valley, Young received disturbing news that Bannock and Shoshone raiders had attacked a pioneer settlement at Fort Limhi, an outpost in the Salmon River country of Oregon Territory (now in Idaho). The Indians may have been urged on by a federal contractor, Benjamin F. Ficklin. They killed at least two settlers, injured others, and stole horses and livestock. Grieved at heart, Brigham instructed the settlers to abandon the fort and return to Utah.55

In the meantime, Kane arrived at Camp Scott, met first with a dubious Col. Johnston, and then with a more pliable Cumming. In spite of Johnston’s opposition, Kane induced Cumming to accompany him to Salt Lake City to meet with Young. The two left Camp Scott on April 5,1858, escorted by Latter-day Saint militiamen, and they arrived in Salt Lake City on April 12.56

Recognizing the importance of the opportunity, Brigham Young and other Church leaders greeted Cumming as Utah’s governor. Kane told Young confidentially that “he had caught the fish, now you can cook it as you have a mind to.” To cement promises to Young and to nurture bonds between the Saints and their new governor, Kane drafted important letters to Secretary of State Lewis Cass and House Speaker James L. Orr which Cumming signed. These missives confirmed as lies most of the prominent charges that federal officials had lodged against Young and the Latter-day Saints57

In a speech delivered at the Old Tabernacle in Salt Lake City Cumming pledged his service and well-wishes to Utah residents and promised his assistance to any residents who wished to leave the territory. Young also promised dissatisfied residents that Church leaders would “help you away.” During 1858 and 1859, about 230 residents would leave the territory. Kane and Cumming remained in the Salt Lake Valley until May 13, when they left to return to Camp Scott.58

In view of the army’s imminent advance on Utah’s central settlements. Young had considered escape to the north —perhaps to Fort Limhi or to Montana—or alternatively to the southwest to the White Mountains of western Utah (now Nevada). Abandoning these alternatives, he decided to instruct northern Utah Saints to move south to Provo and beyond. On May 21, less than two weeks after Kane and Cumming left Salt Lake City to return to Camp Scott, Young initiated what would be known as the “Move South”. While most Saints moved to Utah County, some traveled as far south as Fillmore, where they printed the Deseret News for a time. Small groups remained in Salt Lake City and other northern communities to set homes and fields afire should confrontations with the soldiers ensue.59

After Kane and Cumming left the valley, and as the Move South continued, an intervention took place on June 7 that built upon the mediation of Kane and Cumming and brought the Utah War to an end before it ignited into direct conflict. Two commissioners appointed by Pres. Buchanan arrived in Salt Lake City. These were Lazarus W. Powell, Senator-elect and former governor of Kentucky, and Maj. Ben McCulloch, a former Texas Ranger and US Marshal, to whom Buchanan had previously offered Utah’s governorship.

On June 11 Powell and McCulloch convened a meeting with Young and other leaders that turned into an often- acrimonious two-day conference. Shortly after the meeting opened, Latter-day Saint leaders were presented with an amnesty proclamation from Buchanan that the commissioners insisted was a take-it-or-leave-it offer. Young was shocked to discover that it was headed by a list of so-called “Mormon” crimes, many originating in the false charges that had plagued the Saints for so long. Indeed, in the estimation of the Latter-day Saint leaders the list included only two truthful allegations:

“The Mormons… have organized an armed force,” and “A train of baggage wagons… was attacked and destroyed by a portion of the Mormon forces.”

George A. Smith would later observe that the document contained at least forty-two lies.60

Nevertheless, on condition of pledged fidelity to the US Government, the document also offered to Latter-day Saints unconditional pardons for all war-related offenses, including treason. Buchanan instructed the commissioners that Utah leaders, acting for themselves and on behalf of Utah’s residents, must either accept or reject the document because the commissioners had no authority to negotiate terms or language. In the waning afternoon of June 12 Young accepted the terms of the document with this comment: “If a man comes from the moon and says he will pardon me for kicking him to the moon yesterday, I don’t care about it; I’ll accept of his pardon.”61

Just over two weeks later, on June 26, the army marched through a nearly deserted Salt Lake City. After camping west of the Jordan River, the troops moved on to Cedar Valley, where they established Camp Floyd, named after Secretary of War John Floyd. At the time, this was the largest military installation in the United States.62

Over the next several weeks, Saints from the northern settlements returned to their homes and lands, and the “Utah War” was effectually over.

Thomas G. Alexander is a past president of the National Society of the and the Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr. Professor Emeritus of Western American History at Brigham Young University. He expresses his appreciation to Robert Folkman and A. Keith Lawrence for their assistance in editing this article and to William Tanner for his patient supervision of the project.

  1. James Buchanan was the fifteenth President of the United States, in office from March 4, 1857, to March 4, 1861. He defeated the incumbent, Franklin Pierce, for the nomination at the 1856 Democratic National Convention and then defeated Republican John C. Fremont in the national election.
  2. The first part of this essay is based on Thomas G. Alexander, “Carpetbaggers, Reprobates, and Liars: Federal Judges and the Utah War (1857-58),” The Historian 70 (Summer 2008): 209-38. Buchanan’s address is found in House Executive Document 1,35th Cong., IstSess. (8 Dec 1857), Serial 942.
  3. In October 1858 there were 2,791 soldiers stationed at Camp Floyd, the greatest number of troops ever stationed at the post See Thomas G. Alexander and Leonard J. Arrington, “Camp in the Sagebrush: Camp Floyd, Utah, 1858-1861,” Utah Historical Quarterly 34 (Winter 1966): 19.
  4. William P. MacKinnon, “The Buchanan Spoils System and the Utah Expedition: Careers of W. M. F. Mag raw and John M. Hockaday, Utah Historical Quarterly 312 (1963): 127-50.
  5. Burr, Kinney, and Drummond were appointees of US President Franklin Pierce who served 1853-57.
  6. House Executive Document (hereafter HED) 71,35th Congress, 1 st Session (1858), Serial 956,114-215.
  7. David Burr to Jeremiah Black, March 20, 1857, and John F. Kinney to Black, n.d., but probably in 1858, National Archives Microfilm, M680, Reel 1.
  8. James M. Edmunds,”Territory of Utah,” 1861 Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office to the Secretary of the Interior, see Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum webpage, on line. This report states that the late surveyor”of Utah Territory, identified as “David H. Burr, against which sworn allegations of fraud had been preferred,” together with “Charles Mogo, deputy surveyor did not appropriately ensure that their employees followed laws governing the surveys”—and affirms “great delinquency” in the accuracy of surveys performed, together with “great remissness” in overseeing the work of deputy surveyors.
  9. Reprinted in MacKinnon, “Buchanan Spoils,” 131.
  10. Ibid.
  11. See William W. Drummond to Jeremiah S. Black, 30 Mar 1857, HED (1858), Serial 956,212-4; see also Donald R. Moorman, Donald R. and Gene A. Sessions, Camp Floyd and the Mormons: The Utah War (1992),12-6.
  12. MacKinnon, “Buchanan Spoils,” 134.
  13. Ibid.; Moorman and Sessions, 10.
  14. Jemima Drummond to “Brother and Sister [Mr. and Mrs. Silas] Richards,”4 Sep 1856, Deseret News, 20 May 1857; Hosea Stout, On the Mormon Frontier: The Diary of Hosea Stout, 1844-1889 (2009), entry for 17 May 1856,2:596; Ronald W. Walker, “Proud as a Peacock and Ignorant as a Jackass’: William W. Drummond’s Unusual Career with the Mormons,” Journal of Mormon History 42 (July 2016): 3,7.
  15. Walker,”Proud as a Peacock,”27.
  16. See Drummond to Black, 20 May 1857; see also Drummond’s cover letter, Drummond to Black, 2 April 1857, HED (1858) Serial 956,212. It was actually an earlier letter that apparently moved Buchanan to send the Utah Expeditions letter Drummond wrote while in California, but that letter has been lost. Nevertheless, newspaper reports of the California letter and the letter Drummond sent to Black from New Orleans help establish the claims of the earlier letter. See Moorman and Sessions, Camp Floyd and the Mormons, 12-6.
  17. Historian William MacKinnon attributes an additional pseudonymous letter attacking the Mormons and Thomas L. Kane to Drummond’s authorship. See William P MacKinnon, ed, At Sword’s Point, Part I:A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858 (2008), 120.
  18. Historians estimate that more than 200 men were killed in Kansas during the bleeding 1850s. For the 1850 Democratic platform see John Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project, hosted by UC Santa Barbara, online.
  19. HED 71 (1858), Serial 956.
  20. MacKinnon, “Buchanan Spoils,” 130.
  21. Ibid.
  22. See Drummond to Black.
  23. Emerging from Gunnison’s year among the Saints was his book, The Mormons, or, Latter-day Saints, in the Valley of The Great Salt Lake (1852). Some historians supportive of Drummond have pointed to this text as a hated target of Utah Territory leaders and Saints—but they seem not to have read Gunnison’s text carefully. Neither an expose nor a defense, the text, as a rule, respectfully examines Latter-day Saint culture and doctrine. While it portrays the Saints as unique and even unusual, it generally withholds judgment, even regarding the Saints’ practice of polygamy. Perhaps the severest judgment is reserved for the Saints’ youth, whose serious religiosity Gunnison questions, and whom he pronounces the “most lawless and profane” of any he has ever encountered (160; see 159-62). But the text hardly would have stirred widespread anger or resentment among Church leaders or members.
  24. Robert Kent Fielding, The Unsolicited Chronicler An Account of the Gunnison Massacre, Its Causes and Consequences, Utah Territory, 1847-1859 (1993), 207.
  25. Fielding, 255-6.
  26. Norman F. Furniss, The Mormon Conflict, 1850-1859 (1960), 38. See also Alexander, “Carpetbaggers, Reprobates, and Liars: Federal Judges and the Utah War, The Historian, 70 (Summer 2008), 224, n. 52; Deseret News, 4Jul1855.
  27. Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C Wa \ker,ABook of Mormons (1982), 8,9.
  28. Flarold Schindler, Orrin Porter Rockwell, Son of God, Man of Thunder (1966), 236-39; B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 4:212-4; and HED 364,36th Cong., 1st Sess. (1860), Serial 1069.
  29. Howard A. Christy, “The Walker War, Defense and Conciliation as Strategy^to/) Historical Quarterly 47 (Fall 1979): 404-6.
  30. Curtis E. Bolton to Jeremiah S. Black, 26 Jun 1857, HED 71 (1858), Serial 956,214-5.
  31. Armand L Mauss, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (2003), 41-73.
  32. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (1994), 79-103 (here, Quinn argues that the Mormons were pacifists until they were violently attacked by their neighbors in Missouri). In The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (1997), 241 -61, Quinn argues that Mormons in frontier Utah initiated violence against their enemies, internal and external. See also Robert N. Baskin, Reminiscences of Early Utah (1914); William Adams Hickman and J. H. Beadle, eds. Brigham’s Destroying Angel (1872).
  33. Scott K Thomas, “Violence across the Land: Vigilantism and Extralegal Justice in the Utah Territory”MA thesis, Brigham Young University, Provo, UF, 2010.
  34. Margaret Werner Cahalan and Lee Anne Parsons, Historical Corrections: Statistics in the United States, 1850-1984 (1986), 16,30; Walter White, Rope and Faggot, A Biography of Judge Lynch (1929), 254-9; Richard Maxwell Brown, Strain of Violence: Historical Studies of American Violence and Vigilantism (1975).
  35. While serving as Church Historian, Leonard Arrington examined the alleged existence of a band of”Destroying Angels” or “Danites!” Arrington found that although a band of Danites had existed in Missouri, no such organization existed in Utah; nevertheless, Brigham Young did have a group of Minutemen who responded to dangerous situations. See Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young:American Moses (1985), 5,65,250,251,253-5,260. Also see Alexander L Baugh, A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri (2000), 36-43; Richard Maxwell Brown, ed. American Violence (1970), especially 33-55; and Michael Feldberg, The Turbulent Era: Riot & Disorder in Jacksonian America (1980), especially 33-129.
  36. Chad Orton, “John D. Lee, W. W. Bishop, and Mormonism Unveiled? paper, Utah Valley Historical Society, 9 Feb 2016. See, for example, the usage of”Danite”in J. H. Beadle, ed. Brigham’s Destroying Angel: The Life, Confessions, and Startling Disclosures of the Notorious Bill Hickman, The Danite Chief of Utah (1872), 83,87,92,97; or in John D. Lee and W. W. Bishop, eds. Mormonism Unveiled; or, The Life and Confessions of John D. Lee (2001), 232,276-93.
  37. Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., A Behavioral Approach to Historical Analysis (1969), 314.
  38. Brigham Young, Diary of Brigham Young, 1857, ed. Everett L. Cooley (1980), 50-51.
  39. Young, Diary, Cooley ed„ 17,18,21,24, 26,28-29,38,62 entries for 9,10,14,19,21, and 23 Jun; 6 Jul; and 20 Aug 1857).
  40. Young, Diary, Cooley, ed., 42,12 Jul 1857.
  41. Young, Diary, Cooley, ed., 48-49,24 Jul 1857.
  42. William P. MacKinnon, “Lonely Bones’: Leadership and Utah War Violence.”Journal of Mormon History 33 (Spring 2007): 121-78; see also William P. MacKinnon, ed. At Sword’s Point, Part 1.
  43. Huntington journal, 1 Sep 1858,CHL
  44. Woodruff; Journal, ed. Kenney, entries for 9 and 12 Sep 1857,5:91,92-3.
  45. MacKinnon, ed. At Sword’s Point, Part 1, 355-6.
  46. B. H. Roberts, / Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century 1,6 vols. (1930), 4:282.
  47. William Wise, Massacre at Mountain Meadows (1976); Sally Denton, American Massacre (2003); Will Bagley, Blood of the Prophets (2002); Juanita Brooks, The Mountain Meadows Massacre (1962); Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr. and Glen M. Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows (2008); Richard E. Turley Jr. and Barbara Jones Brown, After the Massacre (forthcoming, 2019); Stanley P. Hirshson, Lion of the Lord (1969); Newell G. Bringhurst, Brigham Young and the Expanding American Frontier (1994); Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (1985); John G. Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (2012).
  48. Scottish criminal law allows a verdict of not proven, in addition to verdicts of guilty or not guilty.
  49. MacKinnon, “Lonely Bones”; MacKinnon, ed., At Swords Point, Part 2; D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (1997); Brooks, Mountain Meadows Massacre; Walker,Turley, and Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows; Arrington, Brigham Young; Thomas G. Alexander, Brigham Young, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Latter-day Saint Investigation of the Mountain Meadows Massacre (2007); Thomas G. Alexander, Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon (forthcoming 2019).
  50. MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part 1,327.
  51. MacKinnon, ed., At Sword’s Point, Part 2, 112.
  52. Matthew J. Grow, liberty to the Downtrodden”: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer (2009).
  53. MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, 203-9; Edward Leo Lyman, Amasa Mason Lyman: Mormon Apostle and Apostate—A Study in Dedication (2009).
  54. MacKinnon, At Sword’s Paint, Part 2,211 ff
  55. 5his the Fort Limhi settlers did, but by the time they reached Cache County, they discovered a string of abandoned communities stretching all the way to the Point of the Mountain in southern Salt Lake County. The “Move South” had already occurred, but Fort Limhi settlers were eventually reunited with extended families. See William G. Hartley, “Dangerous Outpost: Thomas Corless and the Fort Limhi/Salmon River Mission,” Mormon Historical Studies, 2 2\ 152-8.
  56. See Charles S. Peterson,”A Historical Analysis of Territorial Government in Utah under Alfred dimming, 1857-1861,”MAthesis, Brigham Young University (1958); Matthew J. Grow and Ronald W. Walker, The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L Kane (2015); Matthew J. Grow, liberty to the Downtrodden”: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer (2009); MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part 2,364-5.
  57. MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part 2, 436-7,450-5.
  58. MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part 2, 423-32; 441.
  59. See Richard D. Poll,”The Move South,” BYU Studies, 29.4 (Oct 1989): 65-88.
  60. LeRoy R. Hafen, and Ann W. Hafen, Mormon Resistance: Documentary Account of the Utah Expedition, 1857-1858 (1958); MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part 2, ch. 16.
  61. Michaels. Durham, Desert Between the Mountains (1997), 220; MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part2,534.
  62. Moorman and Sessions, Camp Floyd, introduction.
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