Establishing ZionEstablishing Zion
The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869
Eugene E. Campbell

“Establishing Zion is a masterpiece of critical scholarship and represents one of the few attempts to objectively reveal the role of the Mormon church in the American west during the years 1847 to 1869. Recognized by the academic community as one of the foremost authorities on the settlement of the trans-Mississippian West, Campbell fortunately brought to completion this prestigious work just prior to his death in 1986.”
—Fred Gowans, Professor of History, Brigham Young University

on the cover
Unlike previous writers, for whom early Utah was an enlightened, genteel New England society displaced by religious persecution, Eugene Campbell describes a rugged people at the frontier of the nineteenth-century American West. Like other immigrants, Mormon pioneers fought Indians—sometimes taking scalps—battled mountain men, and supported vigilante justice. Responding to what he believed was harassment from federal judges, Brigham Young wrote to Utah’s representative in Washington, D.C., “Tell Mr. Franklin Pierce that the people of the territory have a way—it may be a very peculiar way but an honest one—of sending their infernal, dirty, sneaking, rotten-hearted, pot-house politicians out of the territory, and if he should come himself it would be all the same.”

In the late 1850s, United States president James Buchanan sent 2,000 troops to the desert territory to subdue the reportedly rebellious Mormons. Angry Utahns responded by waging guerrilla warfare and adopting a scorched-earth policy. After the military campaign, Mormon settlers continued to assert their independence in other ways—by refusing to associate with Gentile outsiders, by fixing wholesale and retail prices, and by capitalizing on the homogenous, regimented structure of their community to import half a million immigrants to the new zion.

about the author: Eugene E. Campbell was a professor of history at Brigham Young University until his retirement in 1980. He is the co-author of Fort Bridger: Island in the Wilderness, Fort Supply: Brigham Young’s Green River Experiment, and The Life and Thought of Hugh B. Brown. His articles on Western American and Mormon history won awards from the Utah State Historical Society and the Mormon History Association. Dr. Campbell helped found the Mormon History Association and also served as a consultant to the National Endowment of the Humanities. He completed work on Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 shortly before his death in April 1986.

title page
Establishing Zion
The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869
Eugene E. Campbell
Signature Books
Salt Lake City

copyright page
Copyright © 1988 Signature Books, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah.
Signature Books is a recognized trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved.
Cover and book design by Smith & Clarkson.
Cover Illustration by Rob Magiera.
All photographs are reproduced courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society Library; Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah; and Photo Archives, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Campbell, Eugene E., 1915-1986

Establishing Zion: the Mormon church in the American West, 1847-69 / Eugene E. Campbell.
p. cm. Bibliography: p. Includes Index.
1. Mormon Church—Great Basin—History—20th century. 2. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Great Basin—History—19th century. 3. Great Basin—Church history. I. Title.

BX8611.C28 1988 289.3’79–dc19
ISBN 0-941214-62-1

Publisher’s Foreword [see below]
Introduction [see below]
Bibliography [see below]
01 – Colonizing the Basin
02 – Survival
03 – The Lure of California Gold
04 – The Inner Colonies
05 – The Outer Colonies
06 – The Mormons and the Indians—Ideals versus Realities
07 – Indian Missions and Farms
08 – Pioneer Economics
09 – Church Organizational Development
10 – Religious Doctrines and Practices
11 – The Mormon Reformation
12 – Beginnings of Civil Government
13 – Church versus State
14 – The Utah War
15 – New Colonization—North and South
16 – Economic and Religious Developments, 1858-67
17 – The Civil War Years
18 – The Kingdom Threatened
19 – The Establishment of Zion in Retrospect

Publisher’s Foreword

[p.vii]Eugene E. Campbell was born to Edward and Betsy Ann Bowen Campbell on 26 April 1915 in Tooele, Utah, a small farming community west of Salt Lake City. Following bachelor’s and master’s studies at the University of Utah, he married Beth Larsen in 1939. Together they raised five children. World War II interrupted his doctoral work at the University of Southern California, while he served as a chaplain for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany. After the war, he completed his Ph.D. studies, taught LDS seminary and Institute of Religion classes, and joined the history faculty of Brigham Young University in 1956, where he remained until his retirement in 1980.

As a historian and teacher, Dr. Campbell’s influence was significant and far-reaching. Besides the thousands of undergraduates he taught at BYU, he directed nearly ninety graduate students through their master’s and doctoral programs. In addition, he authored or co-authored several books, including The United States: An Interpretive History, Fort Bridger: Island in the Wilderness, Fort Supply: Brigham Young’s Green River Experiment, and The Life and Thought of Hugh B. Brown. He was an associate editor of Utah’s History and a consulting editor for Utah: A Guide to the State.

Dr. Campbell also wrote more than a dozen scholarly articles, which were published in a variety of journals. Two of his essays received special recognition from the history community. “Brigham Young’s Outer Cordon: A Reappraisal,” published in 1973 in the [p.viii] Utah Historical Quarterly, won both the Mormon History Association Best Article Award for that year and the Utah State Historical Society’s Dale L. Morgan Award for the best scholarly article published in the Quarterly. Three years later, Dr. Campbell became the first person to win the Morgan award twice, this time for an essay he co-authored with his son Bruce, “Divorce Among Mormon Polygamists: Extent and Explanations.” Others of Dr. Campbell’s accomplishments include co-founding the Mormon History Association, acting as president of the Mormon History Association, serving as a consultant to the National Endowment of the Humanities, and winning the Utah State Historical Society’s most distinguished honor, being named Historical Society Fellow.

At the time of his death in April 1986, Dr. Campbell was at work on what he believed would be his most important contribution to Mormon and western studies, a history of the first twenty years of the Mormon church in the American West. Commissioned in late 1972, Dr. Campbell’s history was to have been part of the Mormon church’s much anticipated sesquicentennial sixteen-volume series, “A History of the Latter-day Saints,” to be issued under the direction of the LDS Church Historian. By early 1981, however, the multi-volume history project had been terminated and the various authors allowed to seek publication of their respective manuscripts on their own.

Signature Books first contacted Dr. Campbell about the possibility of publishing his history in 1981. At the time, he voiced an interest in pursuing publication with Signature Books, a desire he reiterated in 1985, less than nine months before his death. Following Dr. Campbell’s passing, his family, represented by his daughter Mary Ann Payne, was approached. The Campbell family expressed their commitment to publication and agreed to make available Dr. Campbell’s manuscript for review and editing. Final arrangements—including the signing of a contract—were made in June 1987.

Upon receipt of the manuscript, it became apparent that Dr. Campbell had completed research on his history in 1981-82 and had virtually finished writing by 1984-85. The manuscript necessitated only the normal amount of content and copy editing required of any other manuscript being prepared for publication. Dr. Campbell already had established the order of the contents and written drafts for every chapter—some even existed in more than one version. In editing the various drafts for publication, preference was given to the most recent version. The only unresolved question was the issue of documentary references. Dr. Campbell had provided endnotes for [p.ix] some, but not all, of the chapters. For consistency’s sake, bibliographic references, where they existed, were incorporated into the body of the chapter text rather than appear as footnote, endnote, or parenthetical citations. Full source citations can be found in the bibliography. Readers wishing to consult the original manuscript will find it located in the Eugene E. Campbell papers at the archives and manuscripts division of Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

Dr. Campbell was aided at various times during his research by colleagues and students, notably Fred Gowans, James Jacobs, Paul Peterson, and David Whittaker, as well as by the staffs of the LDS church historical department, the BYU library, the University of Utah library, and the Utah State Historical Society. Leonard J. Arrington, Fred Gowans, Brigham Madsen, D. Michael Quinn, and David Whittaker kindly agreed to read the edited manuscript for content. As historians of considerable expertise, their cooperation was especially important. Also essential was Gene’s family, especially his wife, Beth, who supported him throughout the ten years he devoted to the project. At Signature Books, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Ian G. Barber, Gary J. Bergera, Connie Disney, Deborah Hirth, Richard Ouellette, Ronald Priddis, Susan Staker, and Richard S. Van Wagoner were responsible, at various stages, for editing, verifying the references, or production.

Of his early history of the Mormons in the American West, Dr. Campbell once wrote, “There is something about pioneer stories that catches the attention of young and old alike. Probably more books and articles have been written about these years than any other comparable period in church history. Sensing this, I find myself looking for new approaches to or revised versions of these oft-related events. And yet I know that major change is sometimes resented and even viewed as destructive of faith to some.

“So this is the challenge I face: How do I bring a fresh, new approach to a subject that has been heard many times before by church members without upsetting their faith or—better yet—while strengthening their faith? Let me suggest one rule that I learned over twenty years ago while I was an LDS institute director in Logan, Utah. One of my colleagues suggested a number of rules he had developed during his years as a teacher. But the one I remember best, and which I have tried to incorporate into the following history, is this: ‘I will never knowingly teach my students something they will have to “unlearn” later on.'” [p.1]


When the Mormons began colonizing the Rocky Mountains during the mid-nineteenth century, more than mere geography had changed for them. In the Great Basin, they were no longer outcasts but “pioneers.” Although the term initially referred to members of the 1847 advance company, Mormons who made the journey later the same year also came to be known as the “Pioneers of ’47.” And by the 1870s, virtually everyone who had “gathered to Zion” before the completion of the transcontinental railroad could lay claim to the title “pioneer.” It became a symbol of Mormonism, embracing such qualities as courage, dedication to the cause, physical endurance, resoluteness, ingenuity, and faith. Even those who ridiculed Mormon beliefs admired the Saints’ pioneering accomplishments. This “pioneer heritage” has become a source of pride and unity in Mormon culture.

Some historians have suggested that the Mormons’ pioneer experience in the American West made possible the survival and future expansion of their Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a desert environment demanding ingenuity, and with little outside “interference” during the first generation, the Mormons established their church on a solid foundation from which they could successfully meet later problems ranging from the federal polygamy persecutions of the 1880s to the civil rights and identification crises of the 1960s.

Nineteenth-century developments in America, and to a lesser degree in Europe, provide important contemporary context for the [p.2] Mormon experience in the Great Basin. The Saints’ migration from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Rocky Mountains began early in 1846, the “Year of Decision,” according to Bernard DeVoto. The Oregon controversy with Britain would be settled later that year, but difficulties with Mexico would soon lead to war. The subsequent enlistment of a battalion of more than 500 Latter-day Saint men, known as the Mormon Battalion, as part of the United States Army would force the pioneers to halt temporarily on the banks of the Missouri River. Large-scale migrations to Oregon and California also marked the year, and before its close the tragic Donner-Reed party would become marooned in the Sierra snows after blazing a route through the Wasatch Mountains into the Salt Lake Valley which the Mormons would follow the next year.

In April 1847, when Mormon leader Brigham Young’s pioneer contingent left Winter Quarters (near present-day Omaha, Nebraska) for the Great Basin, the U.S. war with Mexico was still undecided. In fact, federal troops began advancing into the interior of Mexico on the same day the Mormons left Winter Quarters. However, troops did not enter Mexico City until 14 September 1847, almost two months after the Mormons arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley. California was subdued by early 1847, and members of the Mormon Battalion served as occupation troops; but ownership of Upper California, including the Rocky Mountain Great Basin, would not be decided until after the Mormons began to settle there.

The California discovery of gold in January 1848 would lead to important changes in the Far West, the nation, and the world. Ironically, the discovery ended Mormon dreams of isolation and indirectly dimmed hopes of political autonomy. The gold rush of 1849 brought such a sizable population to California that the region’s application for statehood could hardly be denied. This led to the Compromise of 1850, which gave statehood to California and made Utah a territory, subject to federally appointed officials. The resulting conflict between Mormon leaders and federal officials postponed Utah statehood for forty-five years and ultimately threatened the existence of the Latter-day Saint church.

The popular sovereignty formula proposed as a solution to slavery in the territories kept the Mormons in the national spotlight. When the Republican party linked the Mormon practice of polygamy with slavery in 1856 as “twin relics of barbarism,” prejudice against the Mormons increased, making it easy for disgruntled federal officials to convince national leaders that the Saints were disloyal citizens in rebellion against federal authority. The resulting [p.3] “invasion” of the territory by the U.S. Army in 1857 and ensuing Mormon resistance created a confrontation that could have ended Mormon civilization in the Great Basin. Fortunately, the difficulty was settled peacefully.

National involvement in the Civil War would give the Latter-day Saints a few years of respite, but after the war, a Congress bent on reconstructing the South also found time to try to “reconstruct” the Mormons. Although the Wade, Ashley, Cragin, and Cullom bills, designed to “Americanize” the Mormons, would fail to pass both the House and Senate, they were warnings of things to come.

The transcontinental railroad, delayed by the Civil War, was completed with the help of the Mormons. And with the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, on 10 May 1869, the early pioneering period of the Mormons came to an end.

Throughout these twenty years, thousands of Mormon converts poured into the territory. Many came from the British Isles, Scandinavia, and other parts of Europe. These were only a fraction of the millions of emigrants who left Europe as a result of the overpopulation and social dislocation following industrial growth and political upheavals. But the Mormon emigrants wanted not only to better themselves economically and socially but also to build their Kingdom of God in preparation for the second coming and millennial reign of Jesus Christ. By 1869, nearly 100,000 Mormons had colonized the Great Basin and contiguous areas, establishing about 250 towns. But their leader, Brigham Young, had only a few years to live, and their existence as a legal institution was being threatened. Only time would tell whether the foundations of the kingdom they had helped to establish could withstand federal opposition while nurturing the changes necessary for survival and growth.

When the pioneers first began plowing the soil of the Great Salt Lake Valley in mid-1847, they were in Mexican territory which might or might not eventually belong to the United States. Still, Mormon leaders spoke confidently of becoming part of the Union. Apparently they made no contact with Mexican officials about colonizing the region, although they knew enough of Mexican policies to realize that they would be expected to become Roman Catholics. They were primarily concerned with finding a place of refuge and isolation for their followers and were confident that they could deal with the question of national allegiance later.

The story of Mormonism’s two-fold struggle—the colonization of the Great Basin and surrounding areas as a place of refuge and the confrontation with desert, Indians, and federal officials as the [p.4] Saints tried to establish their Kingdom of God within the geographical and political structures of the United States—forms the subject of this book. Details about immigration, Mormon missionary endeavors in various parts of the world, and social and cultural developments during this period are discussed only in passing.

What follows is an interpretation of a major movement in the history of the American West. It is a story which, I believe, needs to be understood both by Latter-day Saints, who may recognize reasons for their heritage of persecution, and by non-Mormons, who may not understand the pride Mormons feel in their pioneer heritage and the possessiveness they sometimes exhibit for the Great Basin area. If nothing else, such an understanding can lead to tolerance—a necessary first step toward a fuller appreciation of the Mormon community which is today made up of so many diverse elements. [p.4]


Unless otherwise noted, all unpublished manuscripts are housed in the archives of the Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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