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Utah War - Deseret

In the 1820s Joseph Smith started the Mormon religion in New York state. Smith based the religion on what he said were god's words to the ancient people of America. Many people became members of the Mormon church. Other people laughed at some of their different beliefs. This led to trouble. Smith had to move his people many times. For a while, they settled in Illinois state, in a town they built and called Nauvoo. The church split when Joseph Smith said that Mormons could have more than one wife. The split led to violence and great public opposition to the Mormons. Smith was arrested and put in jail. A mob attacked the jail and killed Smith and his brother. The governor of Illinois ordered the Mormons to leave.

Brigham Young became the new leader of the Mormons. He told his people that he had seen their new home in a dream. He said it was a wide, beautiful valley in the west. He said he would recognize it when he saw it. The Mormons left Illinois in the spring of 1846. There were more than 15,000 people, and many wagons and farm animals. The trip west was hard. Many of the people died. After months of slow travel, they stopped to make their winter camp. Reportedly the findings of the expeditions of General John C. Fremont in 1844 and 1845 were instrumental in attracting the Mormons into this domain of Indians and fur trappers.

Explorers visited the camp. They told Brigham Young about a great salt lake in a wide valley on the western side of the Rocky Mountains. From the way they described it, Young believed it was the valley of his dream. He started to move his people toward the Great Salt Lake as soon as the winter snows melted. They arrived in the summer of 1847. Brigham Young looked out over the valley. "This," he said, "is the right place." The Mormons wasted no time. Two hours after arriving, they began to prepare the ground for planting. The lake water was too salty to use. So they built a system of canals to bring water down from the mountains. The first few years were difficult. Cold weather and insects destroyed their crops. Yet the Mormons continued to work hard to make their settlement a success. They refused to think of leaving.

After years of persecution in the Midwest they realized the advantages of self-government, but the land they had come to belonged to Mexico. In 1848 the United States won the Mexican War, and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed which ceded Utah to the United States.

At first, the Mormons were ruled only by the laws of their church and by their leader. Then gold was discovered in California. Many non-Mormons passed through the Salt Lake area on their way to the gold fields. Some of them stayed. It soon became clear that new laws were needed to govern the growing population.

The Mormons asked Congress to approve a territorial government for their land. In 1849 a constitutional convention proposed the State of Deseret, a Mormon word meaning "honey bee." The Mormons claimed a large area. It encompassed the entire Great Basin and east to the Continental Divide, including, besides the present state of Utah, most of present Nevada and Arizona and parts of southern California (with the port of San Diego), Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, and Idaho. The US Senate passed a bill in 1850 providing for the organization of Utah Territory, though shrinking its borders. The US Congress to accept the name Deseret. Instead, Congress called it Utah, after the Ute tribe of native American indians that lived there. One reason for the refusal of Congress to grant statehood to Deseret was the lack of 60,000 eligible voters required for admission as a state. Moreover, Congress objected to the huge size of the proposed state.

As a compromise, Brigham Young was named governor of the new Utah territory. Most of the new territorial officials were Mormons, too. Only four were not Mormon.

Governing the territory was not easy. There were disputes during the administrations of several American presidents. As a result of one dispute, the four non-Mormon officials returned to Washington. The Mormons then formed their own territorial government with a legislature and courts. Other federal officials were sent to Utah. Some of them were not prepared for the job. Usually, they did not stay long.

Some of the officials made many charges against Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders. They said Mormons refused to recognize the power of the federal government. They said Mormons put the words of Young above the laws of congress. They said the church had a secret organization to take the lives and property of those who questioned the power of the church. There were charges that Mormons had burned the papers of the supreme court of the territory. And there were charges that Mormons were responsible for indian attacks on some officials.

During the territorial period, from 1850 to 1895, Utah's governors were appointed by the president of the United States. With the exception of Brigham Young, all the governors were outsiders and non-Mormons. Often referred to as carpetbaggers, most had practiced law and pursued political office before arriving in Utah. A patronage appointment, the governorship of Utah was a difficult and geographically remote assignment, and some of those willing to accept posts in the western territories were of marginal ability and character.

President Franklin Pierce decided he should make someone else governor of Utah. The man he chose, however, did not want the job. Instead, he urged the president to let Brigham Young remain. President Pierce agreed.

Acting on rumors that the Mormons were rebelling against federal authority, President James Buchanan replaced Brigham Young as governor in 1857. Buchanan sent a 2,500-man military force to accompany the new governor Alfred Cumming to the territory, starting the Utah War.

The prospective Utah War in 1857 caused a population boom in Utah and Cedar Counties because many Salt Lake area residents moved south and sought refuge in Provo and nearby settlements. But the war had its biggest economic impact in Cedar County where the occupying army, under General Johnston, was settled. This was important because the U.S. Army purchased horses, food, and other supplies from the settlers, providing local residents with a monopoly on the major source of money in the entire Utah Territory.

Settlers in the town of Milton supplied feed for the horses of Mormon troops stationed in canyon passes watching for Johnston's Army. Lot Smith of Stoddard blocked Echo Canyon, burned US Army supply trains, and stampeded government horses and cattle. This forced the soldiers to stop for the winter before reaching the salt lake valley. The soldiers could do nothing until spring. The Federal troops under Cumming wintered at Camp Scott, Wyoming.

In Washington, efforts were made to settle the dispute. A man named Thomas Kane asked President Buchanan to let him go to Utah. Kane was an old friend of the President. He also was a friend of the Mormons. He had spent much time with them during their long trip to Utah ten years earlier. Kane feared what might happen to his Mormon friends if fighting started. He told President Buchanan that he did not want a job or money. He only wanted a chance to be useful. The president agreed to let him try to settle the dispute.

Thomas Kane arrived in Salt Lake City, the territorial capital, early in 1858. He found that the Mormons had decided not to fight. Instead, they were preparing to search for a new home. They talked of moving to Mexico or perhaps to an island in the South Pacific.

When the Federal troops finally marched through Salt Lake City on June 26, 1858, they found it abandoned by the Mormons. On orders of Brigham Young, Salt Lake City was almost abandoned when Cumming arrived. The army proceeded to a site 40 miles southwest of the capital where they built Camp Floyd. Cumming was determined to avoid violence, and the so-called Utah War was quickly settled. Kane talked with Brigham Young. Then he went to the army camp to talk with Governor Cumming. The governor agreed to go to Salt Lake City with Kane. The two men went alone, without any soldiers.

The Mormons welcomed Cumming, but continued their preparations to leave. Cumming called a public meeting. He said he was in Utah to represent the federal government. He said he was there to make sure the people of the territory obeyed the constitution and the laws of the United States. He said he would not use military force until every other way had failed. Above all, said Cumming, he would not interfere with the Mormon religion. He urged the Mormons not to leave the land they had worked so hard to build. Brigham Young agreed to stay.

Governor Cumming returned to the army camp. He told the commander that the Mormons had accepted him. He said military force would not be needed. A few days later, two representatives of President Buchanan arrived. They brought news that the president would not act against Mormons who accepted the rule of the united states government. Brigham young and the other Mormon leaders made a statement. They said they wished to live in peace under the constitution and the laws of the United States. The dispute was over. Brigham Young continued to lead the Mormon church. But the governor ruled the territorial government. The two jobs were separate and would remain that way.

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Page last modified: 16-10-2017 12:41:14 ZULU