The Diary of
Frederick William Hurst

Web Part 40
historical background

added by Joyce Holt

Frederick's journal, beginning with page 86, mentions Johnston's army and the repercussions it had on the lives of the Saints in both California and Utah. The following relevant information comes from The Restored Church (by William E Berrett, Deseret Book Company, 1965), chapter 36: The Utah War, pages 321-333.

The Latter-day Saints fled to Utah to escape persecution in Missouri and Illinois. State and federal government had done nothing to prevent mobbings, rapes and murders in those states, and so the Saints had little confidence in the merits of government officials.

When Utah and other western areas became a U.S. Territory in 1848, President Fillmore made appointments to federal offices in the territory. Most of his appointees and their successors could sense the Saints' distrust, and reported a total lack of respect for the federal government, national laws and the Constitution. Some of them fabricated outright lies in their reports and claimed the Mormons were murdering any who questioned the authority of the Church.

One report said, "In relation to the present social and political condition of the territory of Utah... There is no disguising the fact that there is left no vestige of law and order, no protection for life or property; the civil laws of the territory are overshadowed and neutralized by a so-styled ecclesiastical organization, as despotic, dangerous, and damnable, as has ever been known to exist in any country, and which is ruining, not only those who do not subscribe to their religious code, but is driving the Mormon community to desperation." This was written by Mr. W. F. Magraw who had been underbid by a Mormon firm for the mail contract between Independence and Salt Lake City.

A federal appointee, Judge William W. Drummond, abandoned wife and children when he came to Utah to fill his post, bringing with him a harlot whom he introduced as his wife. He resigned his post in disgrace when the truth was made known, and later spread a multitude of false accusations against the Saints.

"These rank misrepresentations were relied on by the Federal Government as evidence of Mormon disregard for the law and as an excuse for the steps which followed. All the denials of the accusations seemingly were disregarded, and without waiting for a Federal investigation of the charges President Buchanan acted. On May 28, 1857, a portion of the Federal Army was ordered to mobilize at Fort Leavenworth and proceed thence to Utah.

"While the reports of Judge Drummond and others stirred the President to issue his drastic order, the real causes of the 'war' which followed were largely political.

"In their platform of 1856 the Republican party had adopted a decided stand against the Mormons. This stand is embodied in the party plank adopted at Philadelphia June 17, 1856, which read:

" ' Resolved, that the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign power over the territories of the United States for their government, and that in the exercise of this power it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism--polygamy and slavery.'

"The Republican plan was to throw upon the democratic party, which in their platform defended the right of the territories to determine for themselves the domestic problems of slavery the position of defending also the right of a territory to determine for itself the domestic problems of marriage. So stirred up had the country become over the Mormons and their 'plural marriage' doctrine, that the Democratic party had no desire to carry their platform to its logical conclusion. The 'Expedition' against the Mormons by a Democratic administration would show to the voters of the Nation that the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, were opposed to the Mormon people and their practices.

"John Taylor, who was ... in New York City, during the formative period of the Utah expedition, said later in the year during an address to the Saints in Utah:

" 'The Republicans were determined to make the Mormon question tell in their favor. At the time they were trying to elect Fremont they put two questions into their platform, viz., opposition to the domestic institutions of the South and to polygamy. The Democrats have professed to be our friends, and they go to work to sustain the domestic institutions of the South and the rights of the people; but when they do that the Republicans throw polygamy at them and are determined to make them swallow that with the other (i.e. slavery). This makes the Democrats gag and they have felt a strong desire to get rid of the Mormon question. Some of them, I know, for some time past, have been concocting plans to divide up Utah among the several territories around, and I believe a bill having this object in view was prepared once or twice and came pretty nearly being presented to Congress, but that was not done.... They wish now to steal the Republicans' thunder, to take the wind out of their sail, and to out-Herod Herod. Say they: "We, who profess to be the friends of the Mormons and support free institutions, squatter sovereignty and equal rights, will do more to the Mormons than you dare do; and we will procure offices by that means and save our party." '

"The sending of the 'Expedition' was encouraged by the pro-slavery group on the grounds that it would definitely curtail the move for statehood which had begun with renewed vigor and insistence in 1855.

"If it could be made to appear that the Mormons were in rebellion against the United States, whether the facts supported that view or not, the danger of Utah as a new 'free state' would be inevitably postponed.

"Thus it was that the charges of Drummond were eagerly seized upon. An investigation was neither desired, nor made, for fear that the true state of affairs might not warrant the political expediency offered.

"The cries of conspirators in Utah for the removal of Governor Young led President Buchanan to appoint new territorial officers. Alfred Cumming was appointed as Governor and accompanied the 'Expedition' West from Fort Leavenworth."

On July 24, 1857, news came from the east that "a United States army and supply trains were on the plains enroute to Utah. The exact purpose of the army was unknown, but the rumors were that they were coming 'to suppress the Mormons.'

"The difficulty of communication in those days and the isolation of the Saints in the Utah valleys made it possible for the 'Army' to be well under way to the West before the Utah people became aware of it."

"Preparations for 'war'... went quietly forward. ... August 1, 1857, General Wells reported to the officers and men of the Nauvoo Legion the approach of an army to invade Utah. He instructed the district commanders to hold their respective divisions of the militia in readiness to march at the shortest possible notice to any party of the territory. They were cautioned to 'Avoid all excitement, but be ready.'

"Word was also sent throughout the settlements to conserve the grain supply, to use none for the feeding of cattle, and to sell none to emigrant trains for that purpose.

"The members of the Apostles' quorum presiding over the missions were recalled home and nearly all the elders on missions were recalled....

"The people in the outlying settlements of San Bernardino, California, Carson, Nevada, and on the Salmon River in Idaho, were ordered to dispose of their property and return to Salt Lake Valley...

"By way of further preparation, expeditions were sent out to locate the best places in the mountains for making a determined resistance to armed forces. Colonel Robert T. Burton of the Nauvoo Legion was sent on August 15, with a small detachment to the east, presumably to protect the incoming Mormon emigrants, but in reality to learn the location, strength, and equipment of the United States army, and to report their progress from day to day by 'riders.'

"A volunteer company was called to proceed northward and establish a settlement near Fort Hall. This was in reality a detachment of militia to watch the northern route into Utah in the event the 'Army' attempted to enter from that direction.

"General Wells, with the main body of the militia, proceeded to Echo Canyon and fortified that natural barrier sufficiently to withstand a considerable force of troops.

"The attitude of Brigham Young during this crisis was a firm and determined one. When the news reached him at Silver Lake he had said:

" 'Liars have reported that this people have committed treason, and upon their representations the President has ordered out troops to assist in officering the territory. We have transgressed no law, neither do we intend to do so; but as for any nation coming to destroy this people, God Almighty being my helper, it shall not be.' "

"It was unfortunate that the purpose of the administration in sending the Expedition to Utah was not understood by the Church leaders. Could they have known the nature of the splendid officers and personnel of the expedition and been aware of the instructions to them from the war department, many of the complications which followed would not have occurred. But the Saints had no way of knowing those facts and the government had taken great pains to keep them in the dark rather than to inform them. Thus it was easy for a people who had endured so much in the way of persecution to believe the ribaldry of the rank and file of the camp.

"Some of Burton's command of Scouts, disguised as California emigrants, mingled constantly with the camps of the Utah Expedition. Their reports were to the effect that the soldiers were boasting they would drive and plunder the Mormons and 'scalp old Brigham.'

"Elder John Taylor said to Vice President Schuyler Colfax in 1869:

" 'We had men in all their camps, and knew what was intended. There was a continual boast among the men and officers even before they left the Missouri river, of what they intended to do with the Mormons. The houses were picked out that certain persons were to inhabit; farms, property, and women were to be distributed. "Beauty and Booty" was their watchword. We were to have another grand Mormon conquest, and our houses, gardens, orchards, vineyards, fields, wives and daughters to be the spoils.'

"It was natural in the face of such reports and without an acquaintance with the sealed orders to the expedition commander, that the Saints expected the worst. Repeatedly they had been driven until there was no further place to which to flee. They decided to resist further persecution to the last drop of their blood.

"Such was the situation when Captain Van Vliet, advance courier of the 'Army,' arrived in Salt Lake City in September. On the 9th of that month the Captain met with the leading Church authorities... Van Vliet was seeking arrangements for food and forage, etc., for the army when it arrived in the city. The assurances of Van Vliet that the army was not coming to make war was not convincing to the Church leaders. The captain was courteously informed that no hostile army would be allowed to enter the territory. Federal officers would be welcomed without troops, if they came in peace. The attitude of the Saints is shown in the report of Van Vliet to his superiors:

" 'In the course of my conversation with the Governor and the influential men of the Territory, I told them... that they might prevent the small military force now approaching Utah from getting through the narrow defiles and rugged passes of the mountains this year, but that next season the United States Government would send troops sufficient to overcome all opposition. The answer to this was invariably the same: "We are aware that such will be the case; but when those troops arrive they will find Utah a desert. Every house will be burned to the ground, every tree cut down, and every field laid waste. We have three years' provisions on hand, which we will cache, and then take to the mountains and bid defiance to all the powers of the Government..." '

"Captain Van Vliet was impressed with the sincerity and orderliness of the Mormon people and felt convinced that the whole 'Expedition' was a mistake. His report to the Secretary of War, delivered personally at Washington, D.C., opened the way for the sending of a peace commission.

"After the departure of Van Vliet from Salt Lake City, Governor Young issued a proclamation declaring the territory under martial law. General Wells made his headquarters in Echo Canyon and commenced raising additional forces, amounting to 1,250 men at that place."

General Wells sent scouts to delay the march of the army with instructions to "...annoy them in every possible way. Use every exertion to stampede their animals and set fire to their trains. Burn the whole country before them, and on their flanks. Keep them from sleeping by night surprises; blockade the road by falling trees or destroying the river fords where you can. ... Keep your men concealed as much as possible, and guard against surprise... Take no life, but destroy their trains, and stampede or drive away their animals at every opportunity."

"The government cavalry, which at times attempted to pursue Lot Smith's forces, were easily outrun because of the lighter equipment and better condition of the latter's mounts.

"The only shots of the war were fired by a party of United States cavalry, under Major Marcy, who came near to capturing Major Smith. The shots did no more damage than the killing of two horses, however...

"Early in November, 1857, General Johnston arrived at the main 'Army' camp on Hamm's Fork...

"...the command moved toward Fort Bridger. The distance was less than 40 miles, but the army found it a barren desert. The grass for their stock was burned. The road was obstructed at every conceivable point. Fuel other than sagebrush could not be found. In addition, the troops faced one of the severest blizzards of the winter. The oxen weakened from lack of forage and many died. The journey took them 15 days. When they reached Fort Bridger they found it in ashes, as well as Fort Supply 12 miles away."

"The failure of the Army to reach Salt Lake Valley in 1857 proved the undoing of the whole political scheme behind the Expedition. The excessive cost of the Expedition and the ill-conceived haste with which it had been begun, aroused criticism over the entire nation."

When the federally appointed governor arrived in Salt Lake City he was greeted cordially and recognized as governor. "He reported to Washington the true state of affairs and the deliberate falseness of Drummond's charges."

In April 1858 President Buchanan sent a peace commission with a proclamation that: "... declared the Church leader to be in a state of 'rebellion' and 'treason,' yet in order to prevent the shedding of blood, granted a pardon to all who would submit to the authority of the federal government."

"Brigham Young declared that the Church leaders were not guilty of treason or rebellion, but would accept the pardon.

"It was agreed that the Army would be allowed to pass through the city unmolested, providing they were not permitted to stop and would camp at least forty miles away."

In June of 1858, the army established a permanent camp in Cedar Valley and remained there until the outbreak of the Civil War when it was abandoned.

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supplemental material added by Joyce Holt