Establishing Zion
Eugene E. Campbell

Chapter 5.
The Outer Colonies

[p.73]The first pioneers to settle any distance from Mormon church headquarters were called in the fall of 1849 to travel 135 miles south of Salt Lake City, where they established a colony near Chief Walker’s band of Ute Indians. Naming their community Manti, after a Book of Mormon city, they were to assist and proselyte the Indians. Settlements were subsequently established in what is now Iron County in 1851, some 265 miles south of Salt Lake City. Later that year San Bernardino, California, more than 600 miles from the center stake, was founded. By December 1854, missionaries to the Indians had founded Santa Clara, Utah, and in 1855 another group of Indian missionaries established a fort at Las Vegas, Nevada, adding yet another link in what appeared to be a “Corridor to the Pacific.”

Other colonies were established in Green River Valley, Wyoming, in the Salmon River country of Idaho, in the Carson Valley area of western Nevada, and at the Colorado crossing at Elk Mountain in southeastern Utah. Unfortunately, with the exception of Manti and the Iron County communities, all of these colonies failed or were in serious trouble by 1857 when the threat of war with the United States government seemed to justify their recall. The motivation behind this ambitious colonial venture and the reasons for its failure form the subject of this chapter.

There is evidence that Brigham Young had initially hoped to create a stronghold in Upper California and in Oregon, including Vancouver Island. Apostle Parley P. Pratt, in a letter to Isaac Rogers, dated 6 September 1845, alluded to such intentions: “I expect we [p.74] shall stop near the Rocky Mountains about 800 miles nearer than the coast, say, 1,500 miles from here and there make a stand, until we are able to enlarge and extend to the coast.” Almost a year later, when asked to furnish a battalion of men to aid in taking California from Mexico in the Mexican War, church leaders saw the request as an opportunity to be the first settlers in that vast territory. “It has always been ‘get out of the way Mormons … we are the old citizens,'” said Brigham Young, according to Apostle John Taylor’s journal for 1 July 1846, “whereas if we go and help take the country we will at least have an equal right, I don’t want anybody to be in those wildernesses and undiscovered [territories?] before we are.” Eight days later, Pratt wrote, “It is the mind and will of God that we should improve the opportunity which a kind providence has now opened for us to secure a permanent home … where we shall be the first settlers and a vast majority of the people.” Taylor had already asserted in his journal, “If we were to bring in 30,000 inhabitants I do not know but we would be the Old Citizens and I do not know but what we would have a lot of land allotted to us. We would have a great story to tell that we fought for the liberties of the country and our children can say our fathers fought and bled for this country.”1

After making his initial exploration of Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young stated on 28 July 1847, according to Wilford Woodruffs journal, that “he intended to have every hole and corner from the Bay of San Francisco known to us.” Later, on 9 March 1849, Young wrote, “We hope soon to explore the valleys three hundred miles south and also the country as far as the Gulf of California with a view to settlement and to acquiring a seaport.” The extensive territory included in the State of Deseret in 1849 is ample evidence of the Mormon plan to acquire control over an area where “scores of thousands will join us in our secluded retreat.” The struggle for survival during the first two years precluded the Saints from carrying out this program, although some exploration of the routes to California was made. But by the fall of 1849, church leaders were ready to begin extensive colonizing efforts, including the inner colonies (previously discussed) and settlements in more distant areas of western North America.

[p.75] Before establishing new colonies, Young felt it was necessary to explore the region more thoroughly. Waiting until after the harvest was completed in mid-November 1849, he called a company of fifty men to organize themselves as the Southern Exploring Company under the leadership of Apostle Parley P. Pratt, with William W. Phelps and David Fullmer as counselors. This company was instructed to explore the valleys southward and to find places for settling the Saints in the southern part of the “mountains of Israel.” Throughout their journey, they kept a careful and complete record of soil conditions, vegetation, streams, timber, pasturage, and any other information that might assist Brigham Young in determining where future colonies should be established. The small company visited Fort Utah (later Provo) and then traversed Utah Valley and Juab Valley as far as Salt Creek (later Nephi). They then left the direct route to California and followed Salt Creek Canyon into Sanpete Valley, reaching Manti only twelve days after Isaac Morley had arrived with his colonists assigned to help Chief Walker’s Utes.

After visiting with the Morley contingent, Pratt and the others continued south and reached the Sevier River, which they estimated to be 149 miles from Salt Lake City. Here they contacted Chief Walker, presenting him with a supply of tea, coffee, sugar, bread, meat, and medical advice. They continued to follow the Sevier River, but by 10 December the temperature had dropped to around 20 degrees below zero and the river had frozen. They managed to make their way into present-day Marysvale and seemed pleased with the valley. As they continued up the Sevier River they discovered an impassable canyon and had to retrace their steps and look for a route across the Wasatch Mountains.

By 20 December, the expedition had made its way through the mountains and camped in the northern extremity of Little Salt Lake Valley. At this point they decided to split into two groups. Twenty men on horseback with pack animals, under Pratt’s leadership, planned to explore the Virgin River territory while the remaining men stayed at camp under the leadership of David Fullmer. After leaving Little Salt Lake Valley, Pratt’s group emerged into a much larger valley and camped on Muddy Creek, which became the site of Cedar City. They noted that on the southwestern border of the valley thousands of acres of cedars flourished, with an almost inexhaustible supply of fuel in the form of coal underneath. The scribe reported that “in the center of these forests rises a hill of the richest iron ore. Water, soil, fuel, timber, and mineral wealth of this and Little Salt Lake Valleys, are capable of sustaining and employing from [p.76] 50,000 to 100,000 inhabitants, all of which would have these resources more conveniently situated than any other settlements the company had seen west of the States.”

Continuing south, the explorers crossed the rim of the Great Basin and descended into Utah’s Dixie country where the elevation dropped over 3,000 feet in less than 50 miles and the climate was warm and springlike. The company followed the Virgin River to its juncture with the Santa Clara near present-day St. George, where they arrived on 1 January 1850. Having learned from the Indians that the country further south was not promising, they traveled north up the Santa Clara River to rejoin the camp in Little Salt Lake Valley. They ascended the rim of the Great Basin and spent the night in a valley which subsequently became known as Mountain Meadows. On 7 January, they reached Fullmer’s camp, which had moved to the present site of Parowan. While Pratt and his companions explored the Dixie country, those left in Fullmer’s camp obtained a thorough knowledge of Little Salt Lake Valley and adjacent canyons and mountains. They discovered large quantities of timber and iron ore and were so pleased with the valley that they regretted leaving.

On 9 January, the entire company began the difficult journey home, traveling through valleys that paralleled those through which they had come. They noted an excellent place for settlement on Beaver Creek and also on Chalk Creek, the present site of Fillmore. Unfortunately, snow had begun to fall four days earlier, and on 18 January a foot of snow fell in one night, making it two feet deep on the level. Because of the depth of snow, the group was unable to continue and instead made camp on Chalk Creek. Pratt wrote in his journal:

Snowing severely. We held a council and finding our provisions would only sustain half of our company til spring, and traveling with the wagons was impossible, we decided upon leaving half the company to winter with the wagons and cattle, the other half with some of the strongest mules and horses should attempt to reach Provo, the southern frontier at a distance of upwards of more than 100 miles. The company that remained were mostly young men without families; my counselor David Fullmer being placed in command.

Pratt’s company of twenty men had a difficult time because of the continuing snow storms. Pratt wrote that one morning,

we found ourselves so completely buried in the snow that no one could distinguish the place where we lay. Someone rising began shoveling the others out. This being found too tedious a business, I raised my voice [p.77] like a trumpet and commanded them to arise, and all at once there was a shaking among the snow piles; the graves were opened, and all came forth. We called this Resurrection Camp.

Slowly an advance group made its way into Provo on 28 January, by now entirely without food. The remainder of Pratt’s contingent arrived three days later. Both groups continued to Salt Lake City, arriving on 2 February 1850, without any loss of life, having traveled 700 miles during severe winter weather. Members of the company who were left at Chalk Creek with the wagons, oxen, and cattle arrived at Salt Lake City safely the following March.

This company’s reports helped determine where colonies should be established. During the next ten years, Brigham Young dispatched colonists to practically every site recommended by Pratt’s expedition, and Latter-day Saints were building homes on several of the best sites within the next two or three years. Six months after Pratt’s company returned, Young and his counselors had made arrangements to establish a colony in Little Salt Lake Valley on Center Creek (Parowan).

Two factors contributed to the desire for a line of settlements stretching from the Salt Lake Valley to a seaport in southern California. The first had to do with the dissatisfaction among Mormon leaders with the immigration route then employed. Many of those from England landed in New Orleans, transferred to river packets sailing up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and then made their way west by ox-teams and covered wagons. This was unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons. Transferring from ocean-going vessels to river steamers was expensive, and many immigrants were becoming sick with a strange malady called river fever (probably malaria). Brigham Young, writing in March 1849, added that many immigrants arriving in New Orleans and St. Louis were exposed to bad company and that “few of them reach the body of the church in as good spirits as they started.”

Regarding the need for a better immigration route, Young suggested, during a meeting of the Twelve Apostles on 8 March 1849, that if they could find a practical wagon route up the Arkansas or Rio Grande rivers, the immigrants could avoid contact with the “corrupt apostates and Gentiles that swarm the river ports.” But this would not solve the health problems. He then suggested that they bring immigrants across the Isthmus of Panama or other Central American country and to a designated Pacific coast port. With this plan, thousands of converts from the British Isles and Europe, who were [p.78] being encouraged to build up the Mormon zion in the Great Basin, could avoid much of the expense and many of the difficulties involved in the immigration routes then used. If they could come by sea to a Pacific port and be met there by Mormon representatives, they could be conducted immediately to a Mormon base and sent from there to colonize the region.

Another development promoting the idea of a Mormon corridor to the sea was the creation of the State of Deseret in March 1849. Alerting Apostle Orson Pratt, the church’s mission president in the British Isles, to the possibility of a Pacific port for British and European emigrants, the leaders wrote,

We have petitioned the Congress of the United States for the organization of a territorial government here, embracing a territory about 700 miles square, bounded on the north by Oregon, latitude forty-two; the east by the Rio Grande del Norte; south by the river lying between the United States and Mexico, near latitude, thirty-two; and west by the seacoast and the California mountains.2

The extensive territory claimed by the State of Deseret included the seaports of San Pedro (near Los Angeles) and San Diego, thus providing a Pacific port needed by the leaders for commerce and to expedite immigration.

In the fall of 1850, a company was sent to colonize Iron County with the dual purpose of providing a halfway station between southern California and Salt Lake Valley and to produce agricultural products to support an iron industry. A call for volunteers appeared in the Deseret News on 27 July 1850:

Brethren of Great Salt Lake City and vicinity, who are full of faith and good works, who have been blessed with means, are informed by the Presidency of the Church, that a colony is wanted at Little Salt Lake this fall, and that fifty or more good effective men with teams and wagons, provisions and clothing are wanted for one year.

Seed grain in abundance and tools and all their variety for a new colony are wanted to start from this place immediately after the fall conference to repair to the Valley of the Little Salt Lake without delay. They’re to sow, build, and fence, erect a saw and grist mill, establish an iron foundry as speedily as possible, and do all other acts and things necessary for the preservation and safety of an infant settlement.

Apostle George A. Smith was chosen to head the new colony, [p.79] and on 27 October he issued a call for one hundred men to accompany him. Three weeks later a notice appeared in the Deseret News, giving the names of those who were chosen and calling for an additional one hundred volunteers. Ten days before Christmas, the volunteers rendezvoused at Provo and sustained Smith as president of the company. Traveling to Payson, the group made an inventory which indicated that there were 120 males and 31 females over fourteen years of age, and 18 children under fourteen, for a total of 169 persons. They were supplied with grain, flour, wheat, corn, oats, barley, potatoes, and groceries, as well as a good deal of equipment, some arms, and a sizable number of oxen, horses, mules, cows, and beef cattle. The company left their camp on the Provo River on 16 December 1850 and arrived at Center Creek in Iron County on 13 January 1851. Naming their settlement Parowan, they were joined by other incoming Saints until the population reached 360. They set up winter quarters by placing the wagon boxes in a straight line facing south. A 300-square-foot enclosure of brush reinforced with cottonwoods and adobes provided a fort as well as a corral for the animals. They cleared a field of 500 acres and constructed an irrigation canal. Men acquired ownership of land by drawing for a ten-acre block and were also entitled to a garden plot near the fort.

A company of English, Scotch, and Welsh miners and iron manufacturers was organized at Parowan to begin manufacturing iron. Selecting a site nineteen miles south, where coal and iron ore were plentiful, they began settling Cedar City on 5 November 1851. By the end of the year, the historian of the Iron County settlements wrote,

In the midst of semi-hostile savages and guarding, fencing, farming, and exploring, and building houses, mills, and so on, we have had our prayers answered in the preservation of our lives and property. January 1, 1852 came upon us in the estimation of a pleased God. The whole people were called together in a mighty prayer. We thanked the God of Israel for his past blessings upon our labors, and presently called upon him to bless us in the future and to enable us to maintain ourselves in this desert land, to protect us from the Indians, and to accomplish the mission we were sent to perform, namely the manufacture of iron.

While the farmers attended to cultivation, the iron workers turned to furnace building and accumulating supplies for iron manufacturing. A small amount of iron, sufficient for nails to shoe a horse and a pair of andirons, was produced inside the old fort by means of blacksmith bellows. Although the experiment reassured them they could produce iron, it also revealed that the local coal, and its by-product [p.80] coke, were not suited to this purpose. They were forced to gather and use dried pitch pine and charcoal to try to make a fire hot enough for smelting. Despite the problems, the men worked to haul the ore and stockpile heaps of charcoal and pitch pine.

Meanwhile Brigham Young communicated with Mormon agents in England to secure capital for the iron mission. Erastus Snow and Franklin D. Richards succeeded in raising 4,000 pounds sterling for the Deseret Iron Company, organized in Liverpool on 28 April 1852. Young, not yet informed of the success in England, visited the iron colony in Cedar City on 11 May. A superintendent of iron workers and a clerk were elected under his guidance, and work continued until 29 September when the furnace was charged and the entire population gathered in the evening around a huge bonfire. There were short talks, a prayer, and the furnace was fired and the blast turned on. Hours of expectation preceded the crucial moment when tapping would reveal the success or failure of a year’s hard labor. The next morning, the furnace was tapped and “a small quantity of iron run out which caused the hearts of all to rejoice. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb rang through the wilderness to announce the first iron production west of the Mississippi. Before nightfall a committee of five was riding hard towards Salt Lake City, carrying samples of the iron ore to Brigham Young.”

At the same time, Richards and Snow had left England for Utah, where they reported to Young on their work organizing the Deseret Iron Company. He approved what had been done and advised them to go to Iron County and reorganize the iron program. By November 1852, the two apostles were in Cedar City and purchased the entire operation for $2,865.65. They also appointed new supervisors and encouraged James A. Little and Philip K. Smith to open coal mines to fuel the furnace. Within ten days after Little and Smith commenced work, they found several veins of coal. One vein of special richness was traced for several miles along the precipitous side of the mountain far above the valley. A road to this deposit was constructed at a cost of $6,000. It now appeared that all factors necessary for the production of iron were available and that they could begin to produce iron cheaply and rapidly. Unfortunately, such was not the case.

The outbreak of war with Chief Walker’s Utes in July 1853 suspended operations, as colonists had to defend themselves. Two months later, the industry received another blow. Floods swept down Coal Creek, carrying bridges and dams with it. The torrent forced down huge boulders—some weighing twenty to thirty tons. The site [p.81] of the ironworks was inundated to the depth of three feet. Large amounts of charcoal, lumber, and wood were carried away, and the remaining property was greatly damaged.

By April 1855, the iron workers had built a large furnace and were able to make as much as 1,700 pounds of good iron in twenty-four hours, but they were short of laborers and called for an additional 150 men. Brigham Young volunteered to send two teams and teamsters and called for others to go to Iron County. The company continued to function, but circumstances, over which the Saints had no control, finally caused the failure of the iron industry.

Extremely cold weather in 1855-56 hampered the process of manufacturing. Coal Creek was frozen, and snow lay so deep in the canyons that workers could not secure coal for three months. Additional expenses for new machinery were too great for the young company which had made no profits. In September 1857 the Mountain Meadows Massacre occurred (see chap. 14). Cedar City, with a population of between 400 and 900, had furnished most of the men participating in the massacre. In shame and despair, people began leaving the community, and the iron works soon closed down. The following year Johnston’s Army brought a considerable amount of iron products into the territory lessening the demand for the manufactured product. The Deseret Iron Company was disbanded. Cedar City continued to survive even after the iron failure because the settlement also enjoyed an excellent agricultural location. Although almost half of its inhabitants moved, the community became a center for agricultural activity in Iron County.

A few months after the iron missionaries had settled Parowan, they were visited by a large company of Latter-day Saints led by apostles Amasa Lyman and Charles C. Rich, who had been assigned to establish a Mormon colony in southern California near a Pacific port. Lyman had previously been sent to California in the summer of 1849 to look after the church’s interests and to work out a political compromise with the Californians; and Rich had been called to organize a stake in the San Francisco Bay region. Arriving in California in December 1849, Rich carried a letter from Brigham Young instructing both men to investigate the conduct of Samuel Brannan, collect delinquent tithes, receive donations for the Perpetual Emigration Fund, and

take into consideration the propriety or impropriety of continuing to hold an influence in western California by our people remaining in the region, and if so, to gather them into healthy locations in communities [p.82] together, that they might be able to act in concert and receive instructions with facility; otherwise, to gather up all that are worth saving and return to the valley with all speed.

Lyman was also instructed to obtain information regarding good locations for a chain of settlements from Salt Lake to the Pacific Coast.

After spending several weeks contacting church members in the gold fields, Lyman and Rich reported to the First Presidency that “the only suitable place for a colony of the brethren is in the southern part of the state.” Consequently, on 23 February 1851, a number of missionaries were called to establish a settlement in southern California.

Young recorded his reasons for such a colony in his journal:

Elders Amasa M. Lyman and C. C. Rich, with some twenty others, having received my approbation in going to Southern California, were instructed by letter to select a site for a city or station, as a nucleus for a settlement, near Cajon Pass, in the route already commenced from this place to the Pacific; to gather around them the Saints in California; to search out the best route, and establish as far as possible the best location for stations between Iron County and California, in view of a mail route to the Pacific, to cultivate grapes, sugar cane, cotton, and other desirable fruits and products; to obtain information concerning the Tehuantepec route, or any other across the isthmus, or the passage around the Cape Horn, with a view to the gathering of the Saints from Europe; to plant the standard of salvation in every country and kingdom, city and village, on the Pacific and the world over, as fast as God should give the ability.

As far as Young was concerned, the colony got off to a bad start when the pioneers gathered at Peeteneet Creek (later Payson) to prepare for their journey. Instead of a small company of twenty or thirty, Young found 437 volunteers. He was so upset to find “saints running to California, chiefly after the God of this world,” that he was unable to address them.

Disappointment also awaited the pioneers in California. When Lyman and Rich arrived at Isaac Williams’s Chino Ranch, which earlier had been offered for sale at a reasonable price, they found that Williams had increased the amount. In desperation, they abandoned the Williams’s ranch and agreed to pay the Lugo brothers $77,500 for their Rancho Del San Bernardino and immediately left for northern California to contact Mormons in the gold fields to secure funds for a down payment. Subsequent payments, with significant interest [p.83] penalties, plagued the community for the next six years. Ultimately, Young recalled the apostles who had acted as trustees and persuaded Ebenezer Hanks to take over their obligations.

Despite the inauspicious beginning and heavy indebtedness, the San Bernardino community prospered, attracting many of the men and women who had migrated to San Francisco with Sam Brannan, as well as former Mormon Battalion soldiers and a few Saints from the gold fields. A church estimate for 1856, reported in the Western Standard, put the population of the San Bernardino colony optimistically at 3,000, making it the second largest Mormon colony in the West.3 Benjamin Hayes, a non-Mormon from Los Angeles, visited the settlement in 1854 and gave the following report:

This city continues to flourish steadily. It is certainly one of the best, if not the very best tract of land in California; well-wooded, with abundance of water, and the soil adapted to every species of culture. This year the wheat was raised in a common field, amounting to near 4,000 acres, and averaging thirty-two bushels to the acre. They have a fine flouring mill in operation and the streams from the mountains might turn the machinery of the largest manufacturing town in the whole world. This rancho alone would comfortably sustain 100,000 souls and the neighboring ranchoes as many more. At least one hundred new buildings have been put up within the last four months, principally adobe—some of them very fine. We noticed particularly the mansion of President Lyman and the new hotel of our excellent host, Bishop Crosby. Already about two-thirds of the city lots have been sold. There is a great demand for mechanics, particularly carpenters, whose wages are $3.00 per day. Very soon they expect to begin building with brick.

Despite this prosperity, Brigham Young discouraged Utah Saints from going to California. In a letter to John Eldridge in July 1854, Young wrote, “If it so be that nothing else can satisfy your feelings but to go to San Bernardino, why go—and do the best you can, and do not complain if you see the day that you wish to return to this country more, and are less able than now.”

In March 1855, Young made one attempt to relieve the San Bernardino colony of debt by trying to organize a cattle drive in Utah, as described in the following circular to all church leaders and members in Utah:

[p.84] Owing to the scarcity of money in that country [San Bernardino], and the hardness of the times, our brethren having no prospect of being able to meet this debt in time to save the ranch, we have, therefore assumed to help them raise the required amount.

It is to this end that we address this circular to you, that we may receive your assistance to accomplish this object.

We propose to drive sufficient cattle to California in order to obtain the means that we cannot raise in this Territory, and make up the deficiency the brethren of the ranch cannot supply; and we wish the brethren to let us have money, cows and oxen as they can spare, either on tithing or as a loan until the property of the ranch be made available to refund it.

Apparently there was little positive response to this request for there is no record of such a drive being made or of Young’s ever having pursued the project further. The debt remained, as evidenced by the call at the June conference in San Bernardino for men to go “to every county in California and preach the gospel and to raise $35,000.00, the amount yet due on the mortgage.”

By this time, the colony was also suffering from other problems, which became so serious that Brigham Young called his apostles home and wrote the colony off as a failure several months before he became aware of the approach of the U.S. Army. These difficulties included a California court’s ruling that allotted the colonists less than half of the land they had purchased, troubles with squatters, apostasy—because of differences over the governance of the colony—difficulties with the Indians, and anti-Mormon sentiment because of polygamy.

Young, in addressing the church’s 1857 April conference in Salt Lake City, shared his feelings on the situation. According to the Deseret News, he explained:

We are in the happiest situation of any people in the world. We inhabit the very land in which we can live in peace; and there is no other place on earth that the Saints can now live without being molested. Suppose for instance, that you go to California. Bros. Charles C. Rich and Amasa Lyman went and made a settlement in Southern California, and many were anxious that the whole church should go there. If we had gone there, this would have been about the last year any of the Saints could stay there. They would have been driven from their homes. Were he here to tell you the true situation of that place, he would tell you that Hell reigns there, and it is just about time for himself and every true Saint to leave the land.

[p.85] Prior to this prediction, Young had informed Lyman and Rich that they had been called to serve the church in Europe and were required to wind up their affairs in San Bernardino. After they left, no leader was sent to replace them. A few months later, when word was received of the approach of the U.S. Army, orders were sent to “forward the Saints to the valleys as soon as possible,” thus ending official church connection with the colony.

This was a particularly tragic loss to the church because a number of the colonists refused to obey the call to return. An estimated 5 percent of those who obeyed the church leaders returned to San Bernardino within a year or two, including stake president Seeley. Those who remained were regarded as “apostates,” and no effort was made to reclaim them. Apparently, Young sensed from the start that southern California was no place for a large colony of Saints and permitted it to grow without giving it strong support, especially after the need for a Pacific port colony diminished.

The establishment of San Bernardino proved to be important to the Mormon corridor. With a base on the Pacific and a midway settlement in Iron County, the corridor’s key stations were in place. Provo, of course, was directly on the route, and by the summer of 1851, Lehi, American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Springville, Spanish Fork, Salem, Payson, and Santaquin had also been established in Utah County. Nephi and Mona in Juab County were settled before the end of 1851, as was Fillmore in Millard County. Paragonah and Harmony in Iron County were both established in 1852. However, there was still a 375-mile stretch without colonies between Harmony and San Bernardino. Nothing was done about this until 1855, when at April conference thirty men were called to establish an Indian mission at Las Vegas Springs. This was a strategic location on the route to southern California and was a logical part of any plan to connect Salt Lake City and San Bernardino.

George Washington Bean wrote in his autobiography he understood that the colonists would “teach those wild Piede Indians the blessings of peace and industry and honesty and kindred principles.” Isaac Haight, president of the Cedar City Stake, after visiting with the missionaries en route to Las Vegas, wrote to Erastus Snow as follows:

From the knowledge that I have of most of the men who compose that mission, I feel sanguine that much good will be done to better the condition of these poor and degraded sons of the desert, not only their temporary condition, by teaching them how to plow, plant, sow, etc., [p.86] and raise their own living without depending upon the precarious means of subsisting on the little game that exists in the sterile regions, and of killing the cattle and horses of travelers, but also in their spiritual condition, by delivering them from the gross superstition of their fathers and bringing them to a knowledge of the covenants that the Lord made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with Lehi, Nephi, and Moroni.

This indicates that the work with the Indians was probably uppermost in the missionaries’ minds since no mention was made of a Mormon corridor.

En route to Las Vegas Springs, the missionaries met Rufus Allen and four members of the Southern Utah Indian Mission who had been sent to explore the Colorado and were waiting at the Muddy River for the missionaries in order to cross the desert with them. Bean reported that members of Allen’s group were baptizing Indians by the hundreds and giving them new names such as Thomas, Rufus, and Isaac.

After arriving at the springs and choosing a location for a fort, the missionaries built a bowery and held their first Sabbath meeting. President Bringhurst said that he hoped the Elders would feel the responsibility of their mission and would remember “to set an example before the Lamanites of sobriety and industry and in short, everything requisite to civilize and enlighten the degraded sons of promise.”

Brigham Young wrote to the Las Vegas missionaries counseling them to be patient with the Indians and asserting that he would rather abandon the mission than pursue “such a course as will lead to angry and hostile feelings at every little annoyance caused by their folly, theft, etc.” Church leaders decided to strengthen the mission by sending twenty-nine additional men called at a special conference on 24 February 1856. The circumstances leading to the call were related by Apostle Heber C. Kimball in a letter to his son William.

There has [sic] been courts in session here for weeks and weeks, and I suppose that one hundred and fifty or two hundred of the brethren have been hanging around; with the council house filled to the brim. This scenery continuing for a long time, one day brother Brigham sent Thomas Bullock to take their names, for the purpose of giving them missions, if they had not anything to do of any more importance. So brother Brigham counseled me to make a selection—for Los [sic] Vegas some thirty … another company of forty eight to go to Green River … thirty five or so to Salmon River.… These are all good men but they need to learn a lesson.

[p.87] Thus many of the missionaries assigned to Las Vegas Springs were reluctant. Life at Las Vegas was further complicated by the arrival of lead-mining missionaries under Nathaniel V. Jones. Jurisdictional disputes between Jones and Bringhurst led to Bringhurst’s disfellowshipment. The miners succeeded in smelting only about 9,000 pounds of lead because they were handicapped by lack of water and food, by threatening Indians, and by the presence of a substance which made the ore very hard. The missionaries guess that the contaminant was silver was verified later when the rich Potosi silver mines were discovered.

Released from their mission, the mining missionaries started for home on 18 February 1857, and the Indian missionaries were informed that they were free to return home on 23 February. Some stayed on until September when it was decided that the “mission should be dropped on account of the thieving disposition of the Indians.”

The failure to maintain a colony at Las Vegas was a sign that the dream of a Mormon corridor had been forsaken, since this desert oasis was the most strategic location between the Virgin River and California. That Brigham Young recalled apostles Rich and Lyman without replacing them was further evidence. In fact, on 29 January 1855, in a letter to Parley P. Pratt, Young wrote, “I am not particularly disappointed that there is no place in California for the gathering of the Saints. If the whisperings of the Spirit are to come to the Valley of the mountains, it is a happy whispering to you, to them, and very satisfying to me.”4 In Young’s April 1857 conference address, he admitted that it was time for every true Saint to leave California and “gather” to the stronghold in the Great Basin.

Thus, within a period of six years, Young’s vision of a 700-square-mile empire stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, with colonies established on a line from the Salt Lake Valley to a seaport, had dwindled to an isolated stronghold in the Great Basin. Other than the financial and legal problems already discussed, what factors led to the abandonment of this dream?

[p.88] In addition to the local problems in San Bernardino, Mormon immigration officers in Europe had been unable to charter ships willing to sail around Cape Horn to a Pacific port. Nor were they able to make arrangements for crossing the Panama or other Central American country. And since the railroads were extending their lines into Iowa, it seemed more advantageous to have the European Saints land in one of the eastern ports such as Boston or New York City and take the train directly to Iowa, where they could be outfitted for a relatively easy trip to the Salt Lake Valley. This lessened the need for a colony near a Pacific port, although such a port could continue to aid the Saints coming from Australia and the Pacific islands, as well as missionaries going to and from the Pacific and Asian missions, and could provide a base for securing supplies from ships docking in San Diego or San Pedro.

Another factor leading to the abandonment of the corridor was the rejection of the State of Deseret by Congress and the creation of the Territory of Utah in 1850, whose territorial boundaries encompassed a much smaller region than that claimed by Deseret. The California ports were not to be part of Mormon territory.

Brigham Young’s emotional attachment to the Great Basin may have been a third factor. Although he talked of colonizing large areas, he became convinced that God had led him to the Salt Lake Valley and that the future of the church lay in the Great Basin. Returning to it in 1848 from Winter Quarters, he never left it again. His winter trips to St. George, though technically beyond the Great Basin, were certainly part of the region.

But perhaps the principal reason for abandoning San Bernardino was that already discussed—the recognition that the Saints would not be the “old settlers” of California, as they had once hoped, and that they could not survive in areas they did not dominate. Also, the fear expressed in an 1855 letter to Charles C. Rich that the Saints would begin to “strike hands with the enemy of all righteousness” if they remained in California may have also caused Young to reconsider his plan.

Even as Young was retreating from his dream of planting colonies “all the way to the Pacific,” he became involved in a colonizing venture in Carson Valley. Although within the Great Basin and part of Utah territory, Carson Valley was 400 miles west of Salt Lake City and was already settled by non-Mormons.

Despite regular contacts with Carson Valley from the time of James Brown’s visit there in September 1847, Mormon leaders had not tried to colonize the region. During the summer of 1850, a small [p.89] trading post known as “Mormon Station” was established on the Carson River where the city of Genoa, Nevada, was later located. But the name “Mormon Station” was misleading, because it is doubtful that any of the seven partners who established the post were devout Mormons. They were part of a group of eighty men who had left for the California gold fields in April 1850 with Abner Blackburn as guide. Blackburn had been with Captain Brown in 1847 and had gone back to the gold fields with his brother Thomas in 1849. The Blackburn brothers’ parents were Mormon, and Abner had been a member of the Mormon Battalion. However, they were out of harmony with Young’s policy and were certainly not acting for the church when they helped establish “Mormon Station.”

When trade dwindled, the partnership dissolved, and the two Blackburns and Hampton Beattie decided to go to Salt Lake by way of Fort Hall. They arrived in Salt Lake City in October 1850 and spread word about the attractiveness of Carson Valley, including Blackburn’s story that there was gold in the area. This information interested Mormon merchants John and Enoch Reese, who made plans to set up a trading post in the valley. Arriving at “Mormon Station” in June 1851, John Reese bought out a Mr. Moore who had acquired it from the seven partners a few months earlier. Reese prospered but became apprehensive when he heard that Mormon leaders planned to set up a civil government in the region. He then began actively promoting the annexation of the valley by California.

It was not until 1855 that Mormon leaders showed any active interest in Carson Valley,5 and by that time it was too late for Mormons to become the original settlers since numerous non-Mormons already occupied the area. Carson County had been created in January 1854 by the Utah Territorial Legislature but was attached to Millard County for “election revenue and judicial purposes.” The act authorized Brigham Young to appoint a probate judge, and on 17 January 1855 he wrote to Orson Hyde, asking him to take the position and to serve as ecclesiastical leader of the Mormon community as well.

Hyde, accompanied by ten or so colonizing missionaries, arrived at Mormon Station in June 1855 and was favorably impressed by the Reese establishment. He wrote to Young on 19 June that “this [p.90] country has been neglected quite long enough if Utah wishes to hold it. It is a great and valuable country.” Hyde also recommended the establishment of a settlement in Ruby Valley as a half-way base which would enable the Mormons to control the area and to explore the valleys to the north and east.6

Hyde eventually established a mill and became involved in other economic enterprises, both for himself and in behalf of the church. He became convinced that the only way the Mormons could survive in the region was to gain a balance of power politically and urged Young to send more colonizing missionaries to achieve control. Young responded by calling about one hundred “missionaries” and their families in April 1856.

The colonizing group, numbering approximately 250, left for Carson Valley in mid-May and most reached their destination by 2 July. Their arrival increased the fears of non-Mormon settlers who had already expressed opposition to Mormon dominance by petitioning that the region be annexed to California. Matters worsened when Mormon officials tried to help John Reese collect debts from non-Mormons, who resisted. Hyde felt that Reese’s claims were questionable and urged him to cease litigation. When Reese continued to “refuse counsel,” he was excommunicated.

On 16 October 1856 Hyde wrote to Young, describing the attitudes of the Gentile citizens towards the Mormon settlers.

The old citizens, that is a portion of them, have become highly mobocratic. They are going to regulate all matters. They are going to lynch the assessor and collector till he pays back any taxes that he may have collected and costs that have been paid in any law case must be refunded. No man that is a Mormon can live who has more than one wife, everything must be regulated; and to this end they are said to be enlisting the Indians. They already have from six to ten, and they say they intend to bring 300. This is the talk.

Hyde’s solution was for church leaders to send more men, but when he received a letter authorizing him to appoint a new probate judge [p.91] and return to Salt Lake City, he quickly settled his affairs and left the valley on 6 November 1856, never to return.

Hyde’s successor, Chester Loveland, was instructed on 3 January 1857 to be “wise and prudent” and to live in peace and without contention. If that were impossible, the missionaries should dispose of their property and return to Salt Lake. Young made it clear that he did not intend to send any more “missionaries” to that region.

A period of uncertainty followed, one filled with rumors that the missionaries would be called home soon. Young informed Loveland on 3 June that “you were not and are not recalled from your mission, only as in all places and at all times if there be any who would rather not stay, let them return to this place.” But Young’s letter was not received until August. By 5 September the missionaries had received word that they were all recalled due to the approach of the U.S. Army.

Young was probably ill-advised to try to control Carson Valley after it was already inhabited, and he seems to have recognized this when he heard of the resistance to actions of elected Mormon officials. This would be the last of the major colonizing ventures under Brigham Young, although Indian missions would be established in 1855 at Elk Mountain (Moab), Fort Lemhi, Fort Bridger, and Fort Supply. The next two chapters examine the relationship between the Mormons and the original settlers of the Great Basin—the Indians. [p.93]


1. This desire to be the first settlers came out of the Saints’ earlier difficulties in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois and prompted their dicision to colonize the Great Basin rather than the settled areas of California. Brigham Young’s apparent approval of Samuel Brannan’s colony remaining in San Frnacisco and the British Saints’ colonizing Vancouver Island indicates that he wanted to establish colonies throughout the West, not just the Rocky Mountains.

2. Initially, church leaders had considered applying for a territorial government of their own, but by August 1849 they had decided to apply for statehood.

3. The 1860 census identifies Salt Lake City as having a population of 8,100; Provo, 2,030; Ogden, 1,463; and San Bernardino, 567. This raises some question about the accuracy of the church’s estimate four years earlier, as well as the percentage of Mormons who refused to return to Utah in 1857-58.

4. Two days later, Young advised Charles C. Rich, “Your Gentile neighbors will steadily continue to increase upon your hands, [and]…either the Saints will imbibe the spirit of the world and strike hands with the enemy of all righteousness, or the two spirits will come in contact with each other and mobocracy will be the consequence.” He recommended that Rich and Lyman sell out and return to “these peaceful vales” as soon as possible.

5. The lack of Mormon influence in the area may be seen in a letter printed in the Deseret News, in July 1853 by a prominent Mormon visitor, Edwin D. Woolley, who reported, “It is the most God-forsaken place that ever I was in, and as to Mormonism, I can’t find it here. If the name remains, the Spirit has fled. I have my doubts whether Mormonism can exist in the country as far as I have been.”

6. Hyde indicated that he felt a church representative should stay in the valley throughout the winter and agreed to do so if Young would send him a wife. he wrote, “If you think it is not wisdom for anyone to come to me from the Lake, may I get one here?…Women are scarce here and good ones are scarcer still!” One of Hyde’s plural wives, Mary Ann, joined him in Genoa for the winter and helped to establish a homestead. Later, Hyde proposed to leave Mary Ann with her sister, since he had “taken up a good ranch that will do for both” and did not know what “my future destiny may be.”