From Whitney’s History of Utah, Vol. 4
VIRTUALLY the history of Brigham Young has been told in the preceding volumes; his great life forming the backbone of the general narrative therein contained. The founder of Utah, he was for a period of thirty years the most conspicuous and most consequential personage within her borders and throughout the vast region lying between the Missouri river and the Pacific coast. Preeminently America’s pioneer and colonizer, a statesman, a financier, an organizer of industry and a born leader of men, he was undoubtedly one of the greatest that any age or country has produced.
Brigham Young was a native American, a descendant of the pilgrims and patriots, and first saw light in the little town of Whitingham, Windham county, Vermont, June 1st, 1801. His grandfather, Joseph Young, was a surgeon in the Anglo-American army during the French and Indian war, and his father, John Young, a Revolutionary soldier, serving under the immediate command of Washington. His mother’s maiden name was Nabbie Howe. He was one of ten children, and the youngest but one of five brothers, named in their order as follows: John, Joseph, Phineas, Brigham and Lorenzo.
His sisters were Nancy, Fanny, Rhoda,Susan and Nabbie. The first four married and became respectively Mrs. Kent, Mrs. Murray, Mrs. John P. Greene, and Mrs. James Little. Nabbie died in her girlhood. In religion, the family were Methodists.
Brigham’s early avocations were those of carpenter and joiner, painter and glazier.
At Aurelius, Cayuga county, New York, on the 8th of October, 1824, he married Miriam Works, who bore to him two children, both daughters, who became Mrs. Elizabeth Ellsworth and Mrs. Vilate Decker. He lived at Aurelius for about twelve years, and then moved to Mendon, Monroe county, New York, where his father dwelt.
It was at this time that he first saw the Book of Mormon, a copy of which had been left at the house of his brother Phineas, in the neighboring town of Victor, by Samuel H. Smith, a brother to Joseph Smith, the Prophet. Deeply impressed with the principles of Mormonism, he, in company with Phineas and his friend Heber C. Kimball, visited a branch of the Church at Columbia, Bradford county, Pennsylvania, from which State had previously come several Mormon Elders, preaching the doctrines of their faith in and around Mendon. Subsequently proceeding to Canada, where his brother Joseph was laboring in the Methodist ministry, Brigham presented to him the claims of Mormonism. He then returned with him to Mendon, where they both joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Brigham Young was baptized on the 14th of April, 1832, by Elder Eleazer Miller, who confirmed him at the water’s edge and ordained him an Elder the same evening. About three weeks later his wife Miriam was baptized. She died in the following September, and he, with his two little daughters, then made his home at Heber C. Kimball’s.
His first meeting with the founder of Mormonism was in the fall of the same year, when he visited Kirtland, Ohio, the headquarters of the Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith, it is said, prophesied on that occasion that Brigham Young would yet preside over the Church. A year later he removed to Kirtland, where, in February, 1834, he married Mary Ann Angell, who became the mother of six children, three of whom survive.
Brigham Young was chosen one of the Twelve Apostles—the council or quorum second in authority in the Mormon Church—February 14, 1835, and forthwith he entered upon his eventful and wonderfully successful career. With his quorum he traversed the Eastern States and Canada, making proselytes to the faith and gathering funds for the completion of the Kirtland Temple and the purchase of lands in Missouri, where Mormon colonies from Ohio and the East were settling. When disaffection arose and persecution threatened the existence of the Church and the lives of its leaders, he stood staunchly by the Prophet, defending him at his own imminent peril. Finally the opposition became so fierce, that he as well as the Prophet was compelled to flee from Kirtland.
He next appears at Far West, Missouri, the new gathering place of the Saints, where, after the apostasy of Thomas B. Marsh and the death of David W. Patten, (his seniors among the Apostles,) he succeeded to the Presidency of the Twelve. This was in the very midst of the mob troubles that culminated in the expulsion of the Mormon community from that State. In the absence of the First Presidency, composed of the Prophet, his brother Hyrum Smith, and Sidney Rigdon, who had been thrown into prison, President Young, though not then in Missouri, directed the winter exodus of his people, and the homeless and plundered refugees—twelve to fifteen thousand in number—fleeing through frost and snow by the light of their burning dwellings, were safely landed upon the hospitable shores of Illinois.
His next notable achievement was in connection with the spread of Mormonism in foreign lands. As early as July, 1838, he and his fellow Apostles had been directed by the Prophet to take a mission to Europe, and “the word of the Lord” was pledged that they should depart on a certain day from the Temple lot in Far West. This was before the mob troubles arose, before the Mormons had been driven, and before there was any prospect that they would be. But all was now changed, the expulsion was an accomplished fact, and it was almost as much as a Mormon’s life was worth to be seen in Missouri.
The day set for the departure of the Apostles from Far West (April 26, 1839) was approaching, but they were far away, and apostates and mobocrats were boasting that the revelation pertaining to that departure would fail. Before daybreak, however, on the morning of the day appointed, Brigham Young and others of the Twelve rode into the town, held a meeting on the Temple lot, and started thence upon their mission, their enemies meanwhile wrapped in slumber, oblivious of what was taking place.
Delayed by the founding of their new city, Nauvoo, in Hancock county, Illinois, and by an epidemic of fever and ague that swept over that newly settled section, they did not cross the Atlantic until about a year later, and even then this indomitable man and his no less indomitable associates arose from sick beds, leaving their families ailing and almost destitute, to begin their journey.
Landing at Liverpool penniless and among strangers, April 6, 1840—Mormonism’s tenth anniversary—they remained in Great Britain a little over a year, during which time they baptized between seven and eight thousand souls and raised up branches of the Church in almost every noted city and town throughout the United Kingdom.
They established the periodical known as “The Millennial Star,” published five thousand copies of the Book of Mormon, three thousand hymn books and fifty thousand tracts, emigrated a thousand souls to Nauvoo, and founded a permanent shipping agency for the use of future emigration. The British Mission had previously been opened, but its foundations were now laid broad and deep. The first foreign mission of the Mormon Church, it still remains the most important proselyting field for the energetic Elders of this organization.
Brigham Young, soon after his return from abroad, was taught by the Prophet the principle of celestial or plural marriage, which he practiced as did others while at Nauvoo. He married among other women, several of the Prophet’s widows. It was not until after the settlement of Utah, however, that “polygamy” was proclaimed.
Brigham Young was in the Eastern States, when Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered in Carthage jail, June 27, 1844. The business which had taken him and most of the Apostles from home was an electioneering mission in the interests of the Prophet, who was a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. As soon as they heard the awful tidings of the assassination, they hurried back to Nauvoo.
Their return was timely. The Saints, grief-stricken at the loss of their leaders, needed the presence of the Apostles, but not merely as a means of consolation. Factions were forming and a schism threatened the Church. Sidney Rigdon, who had been the Prophet’s first counselor in the First Presidency, was urging with all his eloquence—for he was an eloquent and a learned man—his claim to the leadership, contending that he was Joseph’s rightful successor; notwithstanding that for some time he had absented himself from Nauvoo and the society of. the Saints, manifesting a disposition to shirk the trials patiently borne by his much suffering associates. Brigham Young, with little learning and less eloquence, but speaking straight to the point, maintained the right of the Twelve Apostles to lead the Church in the absence of the First Presidency, basing his claim upon the teachings of the martyred Seer, who had declared: “Where I am not, there is no First Presidency over the Twelve.” He had also repeatedly affirmed that he had rolled the burden of “the kingdom” from his own shoulders upon those of the Twelve.
The great majority of the people sustained President Young, and followed him in the exodus from Illinois, leaving Elder Rigdon and other claimants at the head of various small factions which have made no special mark in history. Brigham, by virtue of his position in the Quorum of the Twelve, was now virtually President of the Church, though he did not take that title until nearly two years later, when the First Presidency was again organized.
The exodus began in February 1846.
Expelled from Nauvoo across the frozen Mississippi, armed mobs behind them, and a savage wilderness before, the homeless pilgrims, with their ox-teams and heavily loaded wagons, halted in their westward flight upon the Missouri river, where, in the summer of the same year they filled a government requisition for five hundred men to serve the United States in its war against Mexico. Thus originated the famous Mormon Battalion, whose story is told in another place.
President Young and his associates, after raising the Battalion and witnessing its departure for the West, set about preparing for the journey of the Pioneers to the Rocky Mountains. This company, including himself, numbered one hundred and forty-three men, three women and two children, meagerly supplied with wagons, provisions, firearms, plows, seed-grain and the usual camp equipment. Leaving the main body of their people upon the Missouri, with instructions to follow later, the Pioneers started from Winter Quarters (now Florence, Nebraska), early in April, 1847. Traversing the trackless plains and snow-capped mountains, they penetrated to the very heart of the “Great American Desert,” where they founded Salt Lake City, the parent of hundreds of cities, towns and villages that have since sprung into existence as Brigham Young’s and Mormonism’s gift to civilization. The date of their arrival in Salt Lake Valley was July 24th, a day thenceforth “set among the high tides of the calendar.”
Flinging to the breeze the stars and stripes, these Mormon colonizers took possession of the country, which then belonged to Mexico, as in the name of the United States, and after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, by which, in February, 1848, the land was ceded to this nation, they organized, pending the action of Congress upon their petition for a State government, the Provisional State of Deseret, of which Brigham Young was elected Governor, March 12, 1849. They thoroughly explored the surrounding region, placated or subdued the savage tribes (President Young’s policy was to feed the Indians rather than fight them) battled with crickets, grasshoppers and drouth, instituted irrigation, redeemed arid lands, built cities, established newspapers, founded schools and factories, and made the whole land hum with the whirring wheels of industry. They were emphatically what they styled themselves, “the busy bees of the hive of Deseret.”
There was but one branch of industry that they did not encourage. It was mining. In the midst of one of the richest metal-bearing regions in the world, their leader dis- countenanced mining, advising his people to devote themselves primarily to agriculture. “We cannot eat gold and silver,” said Brigham Young;
“We need bread and clothing first. Neither do we want to bring in here a roving, reckless frontier population to drive us again from our hard-earned homes. Let mining go for the present, until we are strong enough to take care of ourselves, and meantime let us devote our energies to farming, stock-raising, manufacturing, etc., those health-giving pursuits that lie at the basis of every State’s prosperity.”
Such, if not his precise language, was the substance of his teachings upon this point. It was the premature opening of the mines, not mining itself, that he opposed.
Congress denied Deseret’s prayer for Statehood, but on the 9th of September, 1850, organized the Territory of Utah, of which Brigham Young became Governor, by appointment of President Millard Fillmore, after whom the grateful Mormons named the County of Millard and City of Fillmore, originally the capital of the Territory.
Governor Young served two terms, and was succeeded in 1858 by Governor Alfred Cumming, a native of Georgia, Utah’s first non-Mormon Executive. Just prior to Governor Cumming’s installation occurred the exciting but bloodless conflict known as “The Echo Canyon War,” but officially styled “The Utah Expedition.”
It was the heroic crisis of Brigham Young’s life, when, on the 15th of September, 1857, he, as Governor of Utah, proclaimed the Territory under martial law, and forbade the United States army then on our borders (ordered here by President Buchanan to suppress an imaginary Mormon uprising) to cross the confines of the commonwealth. His purpose was not to defy the national authorities, but to hold in check Johnston’s troops (thus preventing a possible repetition of the anti-Mormon atrocities of Missouri and Illinois) until the Government—which had been misled by false reports—could investigate the situation and become convinced of its error.
Governor Young, backed by the Utah militia, fully accomplished his design and the affair was amicably settled.
Though no longer Governor of Utah, Brigham Young remained President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon” Church), and as such was the real power in the land. Under his wise and vigorous administration the country was built up rapidly. The settlements founded by him and his people on the shores of the Great Salt Lake formed a nucleus for western civilization, greatly facilitating the colonization of the vast arid plateau known as the Great Basin. Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada (once a part of Utah), Arizona and New Mexico, owe much in this connection to Utah and her founders.
It was presumed by many that the opening of the great conflict between the Northern and the Southern States, would find Brigham Young and his people arrayed on the side of secession and in arms against the Federal government. What was the surprise, therefore, when, on the 18th of October, 1861, at the very threshold of the strife, with the tide of victory running in favor of the Confederacy, there flashed eastward over the wires of the Overland Telegraph line, just completed to Salt Lake City, the following message signed by Brigham Young:
“Utah has not seceded, but is firm for the Constitution and laws of our once happy country.”
At this time also the Mormon leader offered to the head of the nation the services of a picked body of men to protect the mail route on the plains, an offer graciously accepted by President Lincoln. Early in 1862, Utah applied for admission into the Union.
The prevailing prejudice, however, was too dense-to be at once dispelled. Hence, notwithstanding these evidences of loyalty, springing not from policy but from true patriotism, a body of Government troops—the California and Nevada volunteers, commanded by Colonel Patrick E. Connor—were ordered to Utah and assigned the task of “watching Brigham Young and the Mormons,” during this period of national peril.. The insult implied by the presence of the troops—who founded Fort Douglas on the bench east of Salt Lake City—was keenly felt, and considerable friction arose, though no actual collision occurred between the soldiers and the civilians in general. Gradually the acerbities wore away and friendly feelings took their place.
In after years, when President Young was summoned to be tried before Chief Justice McKean, who should offer to become one of his bondsmen but General Patrick Edward Connor, ex-commandant at the Fort, who was then engaged extensively in mining, of which industry he was Utah’s pioneer.
It was twenty-two years after the settlement of Salt Lake Valley when the shriek of the locomotive broke the stillness of the mountain solitudes, and the peaceful settlements of the Saints were thrown open to the encroachments of modern civilization. A new era then dawned upon Deseret. Her days of isolation were ended. Population increased, commerce expanded and a thousand and one improvements were planned and exploited.
Telegraphs and railroads threw a network of steel and electricity over a region formerly traversed by the slow-going ox-team and lumbering stagecoach. The mines, previously opened, were developed, property of all kinds increased in value, and industry on every hand felt the thrill of an electric reawakening. Tourists from East and West began flocking to the Mormon country, to see for themselves the “peculiar people” and their institutions, trusting no more to the wild tales told by sensational traducers.
In the midst of it all, Brigham Young remained the master mind and leading spirit of the time. He had predicted the transcontinental railroad and marked out its path while crossing the plains and mountains in 1847, and now, when it was extending across Utah, he became a contractor, helping to build the Union Pacific grade through Echo and Weber canyons.
Two and a half years earlier he had established the Deseret Telegraph line, a local enterprise constructed entirely by Mormon capital and labor under his direction. In the early “seventies” he with others built the Utah Central and Utah Southern railroads, the pioneer lines of the Territory, and of the first-named road he was, for many years the President.
But while in sympathy with such enterprises and anxious to forward them, he was not to be caught napping by the changes that he knew would follow. Just before the coming of the railroad he organized Zion’s Co-operative Mercantile Institution, a mammoth concern designed to consolidate the commercial interests of his people. In this and in other ways he successfully met the vigorous and in many respects unfriendly competition that surged in from outside sources.
With the increase of the Gentile population came the formation of rival political parties, the first that Utah had known. Non-Mormon churches and newspapers also multiplied, religious and political agitators made the air sulphurous with their imprecation against “the dominant power,” and Congress at regular intervals was asked to exterminate the remaining “twin relic of barbarism” Still, Mormonism, personified in Brigham Young, continued to hold its own.
Under the auti-polygamy statute enacted by Congress in July, 1862, but one attempt was made to prosecute the Mormon leader. This was in March, 1863, when a plot was said to be forming to arrest him by military force and run him off to the States for trial. He forestalled the success of the scheme—if such a scheme existed—by surrendering to the United States Marshal and going before Chief Justice Kinney in chambers, where he was examined and held to bail, but subsequently discharged, there not being sufficient evidence to justify an indictment.
The charge in this case was that of marrying a plural wife, the only act made punishable by the law of 1862, which was silent as to the maintenance of polygamous relations. Thenceforth that law remained a dead letter, no attempt being made to enforce it, the Mormons regarding it as unconstitutional, as it trenched upon a principle of their religion, and many non-Mormons, including noted editors, jurists and statesmen, sharing the same view. In 1874 a test-case was instituted, under President Young’s sanction, to secure a decision from the Supreme Court of the United States, but that decision, sustaining the law’s constitutionality, was not rendered until eighteen months after his death.
But while measurably safe from prosecution under the anti-polygamy act, the Mormon leader and his compeers were not free from judicial harassments. In the fall of 1871 President Young and others were prosecuted before Chief Justice McKean under a local law enacted by the Mormons themselves against the social evil, adultery and other sexual sins, and never intended to apply to polygamy or association with plural wives,which was the head and front of their offending. These prosecutions, with others, were stopped by the Englebrecht decision of April, 1872, in which the court of last resort held that the grand jury which had found the indictments was illegal.
A few years later Judge McKean had the Mormon leader again in the toils. Under his fostering care had arisen the case of Ann Eliza Young vs. Brigham Young, in which the plaintiff, one of the defendant’s plural wives, sued him for divorce and alimony. The Judge in his zeal went so far as to give Ann Eliza the status of a legal wife, deciding against all law and logic that the defendant should pay her alimony pendente lite, to the amount of nearly ten thousand dollars. Failing to promptly comply with this demand— which set the whole country in a roar—the venerable founder of Utah was imprisoned by order of court in the Utah penitentiary. Sentence was passed upon him March 11, 1875 —the term of imprisonment being twenty-four hours—and just one week later the storm of censure resulting from this act culminated in McKean’s removal from office.
In the autumn of the same year President Grant visited Utah, the first Executive of the Nation to set foot within the Territory. The most interesting incident of his visit was a cordial interview between him and President Young, who with a party welcomed the Chief Magistrate at Ogden and rode in the same train with him and his suite to Salt Lake City. This was the first and only time that Brigham Young met a President of the United States.
The closing labors of President Young’s life, following a vigorous and partly successful effort to re-establish the “United Order,” (a communal system introduced by the Prophet Joseph Smith) comprised the dedication in January and April, 1877, of the St. George Temple—the first Temple erected by the Saints since leaving Nauvoo; also a reorganization of the Stakes of Zion, beginning with St. George Stake on April 7th, and ending with Box Elder Stake on August 19th of that year. To effect the latter organization, he made his final trip beyond the limits of Salt Lake City.
President Young died at his residence, the historic Lion House, August 29, 1877.
He left an estate valued at two and a half million dollars, most of which was divided among the members of his family. These were numerous, but their number, for sensational effect, has been grossly exaggerated. His children at his death numbered about forty. Six of his widows survive. The majority of his families dwelt in the Lion and Beehive houses, where each wife with her children had separate apartments, and where, contrary to facetious report, all dwelt together in amity. The Gardo House, a handsome and stately modern mansion, surnamed by non-Mormons the “Amelia Palace,” and pointed out to’ tourists as the “home of the favorite wife,” was in reality the President’s official residence, erected mainly for the entertainment of distinguished visitors.
The best known of President Young’s sons are Brigham Young, President of the Twelve Apostles; Hon. Joseph A. Young, deceased; John W. Young, once a member of the First Presidency, !now a noted business man, and Colonel Willard Young, of the United States Army, who commanded a regiment of Volunteer Engineers during the war with Spain.
Among the President’s grandsons is Major Richard W. Young (like his Uncle Willard a graduate of West Point) who recently won laurels in the Philippines. He commanded the Utah Light Artillery at the capture of Manila, and was subsequently one of the judges of the supreme court at that place. Another grandson, Brigham S. Young, is a member of the Salt Lake City Board of Education; another is John Willard Clawson, the painter; and still another, George W. Thatcher, Jr., musician. Elder Seymour B. Young, of the First Council of Seventy; Judge LeGrande Young; Brigham Bicknell Young, vocalist; Dr. Harry A. Young, killed in the Philippines, and Private Joseph Young, who died in the same cause, are among the President’s nephews. Corporal John Young, slain in battle near Manila, was his grand-nephew.
Two of President Young’s daughters have been mentioned. In addition might be named, Mrs. Luna Thatcher, Mrs. Emily Clawson, Mrs. Caroline Cannon, Mrs. Zina Card, Mrs. Maria Dougall, Mrs. Phebe Beatie, Mrs. Dora Hagan, Mrs. Eva Davis, Mrs. Nettie Easton, Mrs. Louisa Ferguson, Mrs. Susa Gates, Mrs. Mira Rossiter, Mrs. Clarissa Spencer, Mrs. Miriam Hardy, Mrs. Josephine Young, Mrs. Fannie Clayton and others.
The most noted grand-daughter is Emma Lucy Gates, the singer.
Brigham Young, like Joseph Smith, was a warm friend of education. Among the monuments left to perpetuate his memory are two noble institutions of learning, namely, the Brigham Young Academy and the Brigham Young College, the former at Provo, fifty miles south, and the latter at Logan, ono hundred miles north of Utah’s capital.
He also projected the Young University at Salt Lake City, but died before perfecting his plans concerning it. Believing that man, in order to be fully educated, must be developed mentally, physically, morally and spiritually, he provided that religion and manual training should be included in the curricula of the institutions he founded. In the trust deed endowing the Brigham Young College with ten thousand acres of land (worth now about $200,000) it was prescribed that no text book should be used which misrepresented or spoke lightly of the divine mission of our Savior or of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
The founding of these institutions was not the sum of President Young’s labors in the cause of education. The entire school system of the State, crowned with the University of Utah, is largely the result of his zealous efforts in this direction.
Among the President’s many talents was a genius for architecture, some of the evidences of which are the St. George, Logan, Manti and Salt Lake Temples, and the Salt Lake Tabernacle. As early as 1862 he built the Salt Lake Theatre, at the time of its erection the finest temple of the drama between St. Louis and San Francisco.
The Brigham Young Memorial Building, one of a group of structures belonging to the Latter- day Saints University, founded by the Church at Salt Lake City, was erected with means raised from the sale of lands whereon he proposed placing the Young University; said lands being donated by his surviving heirs for that purpose.
A mere sketch, this, of the life and character of Utah’s illustrious founder. You who would peruse him more fully, pore over the annals of Mormonism during its first half century; you who would witness his works, look around you—they are manifest on every hand. He was not only a Moses, who led his people into a wilderness, but a Joshua who established them in a promised land and divided to them their inheritances.
He was the beating heart, the thinking brain, the directing hand in all the wondrous work of Utah’s development, and to a great extent the development of the surrounding States and Territories, transformed by the touch of industry from a desert of sagebrush and sand, into an Eden of fertility, a veritable “Garden of the Lord,” redolent of fruits and blossoming with flowers. Brigham Young needs no monument of marble or bronze. His record is imperishably written upon the minds and hearts of many tens of thousands to whom he was a benefactor and friend.
His name and fame are forever enshrined in the temple of history, in the Pantheon of memory, in the Westmintster Abbey of the soul.