Chapter 12: Years of Conflict
by Gordon B. Hinckley
UNDER the best of circumstances pioneering a wilderness is
a wearisome, laborious task. In the Great Basin of the West it was an
unending struggle against drought, Indians, difficult conditions of travel,
poverty, scarcity of water power, excessive freight rates on merchandise
brought overland, crickets, grasshoppers, and crop failures. Tragedies were
frequent in the fight to secure a foothold in this vast, forbidding country.
One would think that under such conditions there would be
little time for spiritual matters. But the Mormons were ever conscious of
the reason they had come to this region. It was not for adventure; nor was
it to get rich. They had seen more than enough adventure in Missouri and
Illinois, and the lands they had left were far richer than those of the
valleys of the mountains. They had come to worship God and to build up his
Converts from the Nations
It was not uncommon for men suddenly to be called by the
Church to go to distant lands as missionaries. Such labor invariably meant
great sacrifice, both on the part of the missionary and the family at home.
While the father preached the gospel, the mother and children did the heavy
chores, though they were frequently assisted by members of the Priesthood
who took time from their own work.
Converts in large numbers gathered to the colonies in the
mountains. To assist the poor, the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company was
formed in 1849, whereby those needing help might borrow money to care for
their transportation, the money to be paid back as quickly as possible so
that others might be benefited. The fund began functioning in 1850; within
the next thirty years it aided forty thousand people to get to Utah and did
a business amounting to $3,600,000.
Before the coming of the railroad, it was impossible to
find wagons enough to carry all those who wished to cross the plains. Some
of them were so anxious to gather with the Church that they walked, pulling
handcarts more than a thousand miles. Most of those who traveled in this way
reached the Salt Lake Valley safely and as quickly as those who moved with
But bitter tragedy struck two of the handcart companies.
The story of these is tersely told in two markers standing in the
sage-covered country of Wyoming near South Pass. One of them reads:
Captain James G. Willie's Handcart Company of Mormon
emigrants on their way to Utah, greatly exhausted by the deep snows of an
early winter and suffering from lack of food and clothing, had assembled
here for reorganization for relief parties from Utah, about the end of
October, 1856. Thirteen persons were frozen to death during a single night
and were buried here in one grave. Two others died the next day and were
buried nearby. Of the company of 404 persons 77 perished before help
arrived. The survivors reached Salt Lake City November 9, 1856.
While standing in that lonely, tragic spot one may easily
imagine the sorry situation in which these emigrants of 1856 found
themselves—a group of hungry men, women, and children huddled together in
the midst of a bleak and desolate wilderness, weary from walking nearly a
thousand miles, many of them sick from exhaustion and insufficient food, the
handcarts they had pulled standing beside the makeshift tents they had
contrived to erect against the swirling snow.
These two companies had been delayed in their departure
from Iowa City because their carts were not ready as expected. The
authorities in Salt Lake City were not notified of their coming and
consequently had made no preparations to see them through. When early storms
caught them in the western country of Wyoming they found themselves in
Fortunately, they had been passed on the way by two or
three returning missionaries who were traveling in a light wagon. Sensing
the situation, these men pushed on to Salt Lake City with all possible
speed. They found the Church in General Conference, but when Brigham Young
heard their story, he dismissed the meeting and immediately organized teams
and wagons to go to the aid of the stricken emigrants. After pushing through
harrowing experiences themselves, the rescue party reached the Willie
company at Rock Creek Hollow. Leaving aid there, they pressed on to the
Martin company some distance farther east. The tragic experiences of these
two companies were the most sorrowful in the entire movement of the Mormons.
If the story of the handcart pioneers is a sorrowful
chapter in the history of the Mormons, how much more tragic is the story of
the Indians in the history of America. The philosophy that the only good
Indian was a dead one was all too often the creed of men of the frontier. In
marked contrast with this was Brigham Young's policy "that it was cheaper to
feed them than to fight them." His generous treatment of the red men led
Senator Chase of Ohio to remark that "no governor had ever done so well by
the Indians since the days of William Penn."
191Respect for the natives arose out of the Book of
Mormon. This volume declares that the Indians are descendants of Israel.
Their progenitors are known in that volume as the Lamanites, and, in a
prophetic vein, the book speaks of a hopeful future for these people. Not
always have they been benighted, and at some time in the future they will
again become an able and enlightened people.
But though the Mormons were patient and generous, there
was occasional trouble. Herds of horses and cattle were a temptation the red
men often could not resist. The natives raided settlements, and two serious
outbreaks involved large losses of property. However, in view of the vast
territory which they settled, the Indian troubles of the Mormons were few
indeed. The history of their relations with the natives has proved the
wisdom of Brigham Young's policy.
The Utah War
Although the Mormons had little trouble with Indians, they
were to suffer from another oppressive measure. On July 24, 1857 the
inhabitants of Salt Lake City were celebrating both Independence Day and the
tenth anniversary of their arrival in the valley. Many of them had gone into
one of the mountain canyons adjacent to the city for this purpose.
In the midst of the festivities a dust-laden and weary
horseman hurriedly rode to Brigham Young's tent. He brought ominous news.
The United States was sending an army to crush the Mormons! At least that
was the story picked up from the soldiers, passed on the way west, who
boasted of what they would do once they reached Salt Lake City.
This had come about largely because two disappointed
applicants for government mail contracts had sent to Washington stories that
the Mormons were in rebellion against the United States. As was later
proved, their stories were absurd. Yet, on only the thin fabric of their
tales, the President had ordered twenty-five hundred soldiers to put down a
Though Brigham Young had properly been installed as
governor of the territory, he had been given no notice of the coming of the
troops. Not knowing what to expect, the Mormon leaders made preparations.
They determined that no other group, armed or otherwise, should again
inhabit the homes which they had built. They concluded that if it became
necessary they would make Utah the desert it had been before their arrival.
Men were dispatched to do what they could to delay the
army and play for time in the hope that something might be done to turn the
President from this madness. The prairie was burned and the cattle of the
army were stampeded. The bridges which the Mormons had built were destroyed
and the fords dredged. But no lives were taken. Because of this carefully
executed plan, the army was forced to go into winter quarters in what is now
But the Mormons were not entirely without friends. Colonel
Thomas L. Kane, brother of Elisha Kent Kane, the famed Arctic explorer, had
become acquainted with the Saints when they were moving across Iowa. He had
witnessed the injustices they had suffered. He petitioned the President and
received permission to go to Utah to learn the true state of affairs.
Largely through his efforts, the President was persuaded to send to Utah a
"peace commission" in the spring of 1858.
Brigham Young agreed that the army should be permitted to
pass through the city, but should not encamp within it. And lest there
should be any violation of this agreement he put into effect the plan
originally decided upon.
When the soldiers entered the valley they found the city
desolate and deserted except for a few watchful men armed with flint and
steel, and sharp axes. The homes and barns were filled with straw ready to
be fired in case of violation, and the axes were ready to destroy the
The people had moved to the south leaving their homes to
be burned, as they had done on more than one occasion previously. Some of
the army officers and men were deeply affected as they marched through the
silent streets, realizing what their coming had meant. Colonel Philip St.
George Cooke, who had led the Mormon Battalion on its long march and knew of
the wrongs previously inflicted on these people, bared his head in reverent
Fortunately there was no difficulty. The army encamped
forty miles southwest of the city. The people returned to their homes. The
event has gone down in history as "Buchanan's Blunder."
A Man at Work
Joseph Smith had been succeeded by a man as peculiarly
fitted in his day to lead the Church as the Prophet had been in his own.
Brigham Young, called by one of his biographers "the Modern Moses," had led
Israel to another Canaan with its Dead Sea. An interesting description of
this man is given by Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who
interviewed the Mormon leader in 1860:
Brigham Young spoke readily, with no appearance of
hesitation or reserve, and with no apparent desire to conceal anything; nor
did he repel any of my questions as impertinent. He was very plainly dressed
in thin summer clothing, and with no air of sanctimony or fanaticism. In
appearance he is a portly, frank, good-natured rather thick-set man of
fifty-eight seeming to enjoy life, and to be in no particular hurry to get
to heaven. His associates are plain men, evidently born and reared to a life
of labor, and looking as little like crafty hypocrites or swindlers as any
body of men I ever met.
In 1861 the famed Pony Express was begun. Mail, which
first had been carried from the East in slow, ox-drawn wagons, and later on
the Overland Stage, now reached Salt Lake City in six days from St. Joseph,
Missouri. The arrival of each pony was an event, and the news that reached
the West by this means was of tremendous significance. The Southern States
had seceded. America was torn by Civil War.
To the Mormons this tragic news was confirmation of the
prophecy issued by Joseph Smith on December 25, 1832. Though Utah was not a
state, in loyalty she was tied to the Union. That loyalty was expressed by
Brigham Young in the first message sent over the Overland Telegraph in
October 1861: "Utah has not seceded, but is firm for the constitution and
laws of our once happy country."
On May 10, 1869 the Union Pacific Railroad, building west
from the Missouri River, and the Central Pacific, building east from
California, met at Promontory, Utah. For the Mormons it meant the end of
isolation and ox-team journeys across the plains. And it also meant a better
understanding of them and their work with the coming of thousands of
visitors to witness the miracle they had wrought in the desert. The picture
which the cross-country traveler saw in these valleys was truly interesting.
Here were scores of neat little cities, surrounded by irrigated fields and
beyond these, range lands well stocked with cattle. And on Temple Square in
Salt Lake City was a great Tabernacle, and also the partially completed
Ground had been broken for the Temple in 1853. A stone
quarry was opened in Little Cottonwood Canyon twenty miles south of the
city. Hauling the granite, however, posed a serious problem. During the
early years of construction four yoke of oxen required four days to make a
round trip in hauling each of the huge foundation stones.
When the army came to Utah, the excavation was filled and
the foundation covered to give the site the appearance of a newly plowed
field, and construction was not resumed until the policy of the government
had been determined. The work was executed with great care, for as Brigham
Young said, "the building was to stand through the Millennium."
While the Temple in Salt Lake City was in course of
construction, similar structures were undertaken at St. George, 325 miles
south; at Manti, 150 miles south; and at Logan, 80 miles north.
In 1863, while work was going forward on the Salt Lake
Temple, construction of the Tabernacle on Temple Square also was undertaken.
This has become one of the famous buildings of America.
In dimensions the Tabernacle is 250 feet long by 150 feet
wide and 80 feet high. The problem of building a roof over this area was
serious because neither steel rods, nails, nor bolts were available. First,
the forty-four buttresses of sandstone were laid up. These were to become in
effect the walls of the building, with doors between. Each of these pillars
is twenty feet high, three feet wide and nine feet through. On these was
constructed the huge roof.
It was formed by building a vast bridgework of timbers in
lattice fashion. These were pinned together with wooden pegs and bound with
rawhide to prevent splitting. This trusswork occupies a space of ten feet
from the inside plastered ceiling to the outside roofing. No interior pillar
supports the roof.
As a fitting complement to this vast auditorium, Brigham
Young requested a magnificent organ. The assignment was given Joseph Ridges,
an organ builder who had joined the Church in Australia.
Difficulty was experienced in securing suitable timber of
long, straight grain. This was hauled by ox team three hundred miles from
Pine Valley near St. George, and was laboriously shaped by skilled artisans.
With the completion of the building and the organ in 1870,
a choir was organized. This was the beginning of the famed Tabernacle Choir
which has become known throughout the nation in recent years by reason of
its weekly radio broadcasts from Temple Square.
The Death of Brigham Young
In 1875 the President of the United States, Ulysses S.
Grant, visited Utah. On his arrival in Salt Lake City he was driven through
the streets thronged with people. He had accepted as true the falsehoods
concerning the Mormons which were still circulated in the East, and while
passing long lines of rosy-cheeked children who were waving and cheering, he
turned to the governor who was his host and asked, "Whose children are
these, Governor?" "Those are Mormon children," the governor replied. To this
the President remarked, "Governor, I have been deceived."
Brigham Young by this time was a man seventy-four years of
age. He was in good health, but the trial of the years was telling on him.
Life had been a constant struggle from the time he had joined the Church in
1833. In summing up the results of that struggle he wrote an article for the
editor of a New York paper in response to a request for a summary of his
I thank you for the privilege of presenting facts as they
are. I will furnish them gladly at any time you make the request. The result
of my labors for the past 26 years briefly summed up are: The peopling of
this territory by the Latter-day Saints of about 100,000 souls; the founding
of over 200 cities, towns and villages inhabited by our people, the
establishment of schools, factories, mills and other institutions calculated
to improve and benefit our communities.
My whole life is devoted to the Almighty's service, and
while I regret that my mission is not better understood by the world, the
time will come when I will be understood, and I leave to futurity the
judgment of my labors and their result as they shall become manifest.
The end of his labors came on August 29, 1877. A few days
earlier he had fallen seriously ill of what medical men have since thought
was appendicitis. His last words as he lay dying were a call to the man he
had succeeded—"Joseph . . . Joseph . . . Joseph . . . "