The Southern Expansion

This article originally appeared in Vol.54, No.4 (2007) of Pioneer Magazine.

by Susan Lofgren

The colonization of the Church began years before the Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley. The Prophet Joseph Smith founded more than a dozen settlements in Missouri, Illinois, and eastern Iowa. More towns were established in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska until virtually all the Saints were forced to evacuate by 1853.

Following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, President carried on the colonization movement. As defined by historian Dale Beecher in “Colonizing the West,” Brigham Young determined that “the saints must occupy an area large enough to accommodate an influx of tens of thousands of church members. Its borders must reach out to mountains or deserts to provide a barrier that would keep ‘gentile’ colonies away. ” 1

During the first 10 years after the Saints were established in the Salt Lake Valley, approximately 96 settlements were founded by the Mormons.

Historian Leonard J. Arrington clearly defines this colonization process established by Brigham Young. The planting of colonies involved a three-phase sequence:

“(1) Preliminary exploration was undertaken by companies appointed, equipped, and supported by the church;

“(2) a colonizing company was appointed to found the settlement; and

“(3) the company was expected to pattern its community institutions after those of Salt Lake City—which, in turn, were patterned after those of Winter Quarters, Nauvoo, Far West, and Jackson County Mormon colonization, in contrast with contemporary colonization of the far western frontier, was the directed movement of an entire new community according to plans carefully worked out by Church authorities, rather than the result of the spontaneous and independent movement of individuals.

Calls to participate in the founding of new colonies were usually issued from the pulpit in a session of the general conference. In most cases, the names of the leaders and all other colonizers were specified. Each company was carefully selected to include men with the skills and equipment needed to subdue the wilderness and establish a workable community life.  In the case of some of the more difficult colonization projects, church leaders gave them a special sanctity by designating them as “missions.” This clothed the project with special purpose and determination and implied that none should leave the assignment without a specific “release”.2

Brigham Young’s ultimate goal was to establish settlements as a means of territorial self-sufficiency.  “So far as we have learned the resources of the country, “said Brigham Young in 1863,” we are satisfied that we need not depend upon our neighbors abroad for any single necessity of life, for in the elements around us exists every ingredient of food and raiment.” 3

In 1850, a colony was established at Parowan to serve as a supply base on the Salt Lake to California route. This colony of farmers, frontiersmen, and men experienced in mining coal and working with iron began the iron industry. By November 1881, a group of 35 men skilled in mining and manufacturing were called to found the “” at Cedar City—20 miles south of Parowan.

Also, during the early 1850s, exploring parties were sent out from Parowan and Cedar City to explore the Santa Clara and Virgin River basins as possible areas for producing agricultural products*

Following the Utah War and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Mormon leaders continued to expand the southern colonies to further self-sufficiency. The history of the “Cotton Mission” provides the most “striking illustration of the role of economic independence in Mormon colonization.” 4 (See “Lives Out of Reach” in Pioneer magazine [Autumn 2002]: 2-7; and “The Cotton Mission” [Septembcr/October 1994]: 16-19.)

1 Dale Beecher, “Colonizing the West,” Pioneer magazine, 5L #1 [2004]: 3-8.

2 Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900 (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1958), 89.

3 Sermon, April 20, 1863. Journal of Discourses (Liverpool, 1854-1886), 10:225

4 Arrington, 216

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