Establishing Zion
Eugene E. Campbell

Chapter 14.
The Utah War

[p.233]U.S. president James Buchanan, who took office in March 1857, was convinced by May that the Mormons were in rebellion against the federal government. Without properly investigating the situation, Buchanan appointed a new governor to replace Brigham Young and ordered units of the U.S. Army to accompany the appointee. The resulting military expedition was a fiasco for the Buchanan administration and brought suffering to the soldiers, territorial officials, and Mormons called into active duty in the territorial militia (called the Nauvoo Legion) to guard mountain passes against this invasion.1 Although no lives were directly lost, the threat of the approaching army was the primary cause of the tragic Mountain Meadows Massacre. Economic costs for transporting and maintaining the U.S. Army, plus expenditures by the Mormons in raising a defense force and abandoning Salt Lake City and northern colonies, were enormous. Clearly, sending the army was a costly mistake, and the responsibility must be shared by government and Mormon officials alike.

The idea of providing military support for territorial officials in Utah did not begin with Buchanan. Feelings against the Mormons flowed strongly in Washington, D.C., during the winter of 1851-52 when the so-called “runaway” officials began making their reports. [p.234] When territorial secretary Harris was subsequently offered Young’s position, he asked for an armed escort but was refused. Colonel Steptoe led a 175-man military contingent to Utah in 1854 and was so disturbed with the Mormon influence on the Indians that he recommended establishing a force “somewhere in the south in order that the government may assume the entire control of these Indians.”2 Still no one chose such a drastic response to the Mormon problem until territorial associate justice W. W. Drummond’s 1856 letter to Buchanan, asserting that the only solution was to appoint a non-Mormon governor, accompanied by a posse comitatus to support his authority in the midst of a disloyal and rebellious people.

Surprisingly, when Buchanan delivered his inaugural address on 4 March 1857 he made no reference to Utah. Apparently he was unaware of Utah’s challenge to the authority of the federal government. But by the end of April he was convinced of the need for a new Utah governor supported by federal troops. He issued a military order dated 28 May 1857 ordering the gathering of a body of troops at Fort Leavenworth to march to Utah. Buchanan and his cabinet did not expect the Mormons to resist such a military force. In fact, many eastern leaders, including the president and his cabinet, were laboring under the false impression that the Mormons would welcome the soldiers as saviors to redeem them from a living hell. According to such thinking, polygamy had cracked the unity of the Mormon people and, as one editor suggested, “will cause a stampede among the women and be a blow to the Mormon church and crush it to atoms.” Secretary of State Lewis Cass instructed the new governor to offer federal protection to all Utahns who wished it. Washington apparently believed that a large portion of the population would wish nothing more than to escape from the cruelties of Mormondom.

Once the decision to send troops had been made, two problems confronted Buchanan. One was to find a competent governor who would accept the challenge, who was capable, tactful, courageous, and willing to travel 2,000 miles from Washington to govern a community composed of people who had treated federal officers contemptuously in the past. In addition, Washington officials also needed to find new federal judges and a superintendent of Indian Affairs, since the incumbents had resigned or run away from Utah out of [p.235] fear. Not until the second week of June did the government find a suitable candidate in Alfred Cumming, a native of Georgia.

Cumming had been mayor of Augusta and during the epidemic of yellow fever that raged the year of his election (1849) had been an effective administrator. He had served with General Zachary Taylor’s army in Mexico and later at the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. He had been appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs on the upper Missouri and was serving in this capacity when he accepted the appointment as governor of the Territory of Utah. Historian Norman F. Furniss has suggested that Cumming’s initial acceptance was probably conditional, for he journeyed to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, presumably to inspect the preparations for the campaign before agreeing to take the position. Secretary of State Cass did not send Cumming his commission until 13 July.

The second task was to bring together an effective army to make the long trek across the prairies and mountains to Utah. Such an assignment required an effective leader. The initial appointee was General W. S. Harney who oversaw the military in the Kansas uprising, but it was decided to keep him in Kansas. This led to the belated appointment of General Albert Sidney Johnston, a highly regarded officer from the South, who was forced to travel west hurriedly to try to catch up with his troops.

The new governor received his instructions from the secretary of state, whose attitude was essentially peaceful and said that he foresaw no opposition from the Mormons. Still Cumming was authorized to employ a civil posse to enforce obedience, and if that action should fail he could call on the army.

The new governor’s orders were somewhat confused regarding polygamy. Although they advised Cumming to observe the constitutional guarantee of freedom of worship, their wording indicated the administration’s attitude toward the Mormons. “The government,” Cass wrote, “did not intend to interfere with any peculiar opinions of the inhabitants however deplorable in themselves or revolting to the public sentiment of the country.” In plain words, Cumming was instructed to be considerate of the Mormons’ religious opinions and feelings and to use the army only as a last resort. On the other hand, the secretary of war, John B. Floyd, suggested that “prudence” required General Johnston to “anticipate resistance—general, organized and formidable—and that you should shape your movements as if resistance were certain.”

[p.236] Despite this advice, the army sent an advance contingent to Salt Lake City under the command of Captain Stewart Van Vliet to procure food for the winter, apparently anticipating a friendly reception. Secretary Floyd had been advised in late May that it was already too late to send troops west. But the secretary, intent on carrying out Buchanan’s instructions, ordered the advance contingents to leave Fort Leavenworth immediately and continued to encourage the other units to leave the post as soon as possible. Thus, the military began moving in a disjointed fashion without effective leadership and with difficulties of geography and supply confronting them.

The slow-moving, ox-drawn supply wagons had been sent ahead in several different segments, and by mid-summer their vehicles, plus huge herds of animals—horses, mules, and cattle—and contingents of the U.S. Army were moving toward Fort Laramie. The trek was no secret to the Mormons. One of the first to learn of the troop movement was Mormon businessman Abraham O. Smoot, in Kansas City at the time. When Smoot delivered the Utah mail to the postmaster at Independence, Smoot was told that they had received instructions from Washington to withhold mail to Salt Lake City for the present because “the unsettled state of things in Salt Lake rendered the mails unsafe.” Smoot, realizing that the BYX Co. was effectively out of business, proceeded to disband its stations and move its stock and property westward. About 120 miles east of Fort Laramie, his party met Porter Rockwell on his way east with more mail. Rockwell returned with the men to Fort Laramie on 17 July. Here they decided that someone should return to Utah as quickly as possible and convey the news, while the rest should bring the BYX property west. Smoot, Judson Stoddard, and Rockwell were chosen. They hitched their best animals to a light spring wagon on the evening of 18 July and left for the 413-mile journey to Salt Lake City. They arrived on the evening of 23 July, having made the journey in five days plus a few hours, only to find that Young and other dignitaries were in Big Cottonwood Canyon near Silver Lake celebrating the tenth anniversary of the arrival of the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley.

Thus the setting for the announcement that Utah was being invaded by a military force was dramatic. Young had invited some 2,500 people to join him for a three- or four-day anniversary celebration. People had begun wending their way to the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon on 22 July, and the next morning Young led a long line of carriages and wagons into the canyon. Before noon the cavalcade had reached the campground at Silver Lake some 8,000 feet above sea level. Early in the afternoon the company camped, [p.237] and soon all were busy with the arrangements for the celebration the following day. A local lumbering company had provided three lumber-floored boweries for afternoon concerts and evening dances. Captain Ballo’s band, the Nauvoo Brass Band, and bands from Springville, Ogden, and Salt Lake City played throughout the day. Several units of the Nauvoo Legion lent a military touch to the celebration. The American flag had been unfurled on two of the highest peaks near the camp and on the tops of two of the tallest trees.

On 24 July the celebration began with the early firing of a cannon, followed by a number of speeches and patriotic songs. At about noon Smoot, Stoddard, and Rockwell, accompanied by Judge Elias Smith, rode into camp with news of “war.” They delivered their message quietly to Young and his counselors, and the afternoon’s merriment went on as usual. About sunset the camp assembled for prayers and Daniel H. Wells made a few remarks about the news from the east, gave instructions about leaving the area the following day, and concluded with prayer.

Remarkably, the people did not panic. Their leaders had already emphasized that “the Lord of hosts is with us,” “we are in the right and in God’s hands,” and “all will be well.” As early as 28 June the Deseret News had reported debates in the East as to whether there was any “necessity of sending troops and officers to establish peace in Utah.” And on 5 July, Young, speaking in the tabernacle, had commented “in regards to troops coming here as has been rumored, should 1,500 or 2,000 come what will we see? You will see that they will ask us to make their soldiers behave themselves until they can get out of this place, which they will do as soon as possible. They are not coming here to fight us, though if they were to, I should pray that the Lord would bring those here that mobbed us in days gone by and just let us look at them. But no, the priests, senators and politicians wish to have innocent soldiers sent here to fight us.”

After considering the best means of resistance, Young recommended a scorched earth policy:

This people are free; they are not in bondage to any Government on God’s footstool. We have transgressed no law, neither do we intend so to do; but as for any nation coming to destroy this people, God Almighty being my helper, it shall not be! … I am not going to permit troops here for the protection of the priests and the rabble in their efforts to drive us from the land we possess. The Lord does not want us to be driven, for He has said, “If you will assert your rights, and keep my commandments, you shall never again be brought into bondage by your enemies.” … They say that the coming of their army is legal; and I say that it is not; [p.238] they who say it are morally rotten. Come on with your thousands of illegally-ordered troops, and I promise you, in the name of Israel’s God, that they shall melt away as the snow before a July sun.… I have told you that if this people will live their religion all will be well; and I have told you that if there is any man or woman who is not willing to destroy everything of their property that would be of use to an enemy if left, I would advise them to leave the Territory. And I again say so to-day; for when the time comes to burn and lay waste our improvements, if any man undertakes to shield his he will be treated as a traitor; for “judgment will be laid to the line, and righteousness to the plummet.” … Before I will again suffer as I have in times gone by there shall not one building, nor one foot of lumber, nor a fence, nor a tree, nor a particle of grass or hay, that will burn, be left in reach of our enemies. I am sworn if driven to extremity, to utterly lay waste this land in the name of Israel’s God, and our enemies shall find it as barren as when we came here.

The following day, Young’s counselor Heber C. Kimball delivered a characteristically fiery speech: “Send 2500 troops here, our brethren, to make a desolation of this people. God almighty helping me I will fight until there is not a drop of blood in my veins. Good God I have enough wives to whip the United States for they will whip themselves.” Two weeks later, Kimball, backed by Young, added that he would no longer serve the United States as a citizen.

In view of the invasion of our territory by the United States Troops, our mission is to call all the Elders home from the States and Europe that they may take care of their families, and from hence forth Israel will take care of themselves, while the world goes to the Devil. A great exertion will be made to get every family possible out of the States, as should they remain, and difficulties exist between us and the government it would be very unsafe for Saints to remain in the States.… The States evidently have commenced a war with us, and are determined to put an end to us or our religion, neither of which they can do, as they have commenced a job they never can accomplish, we may expect a mighty howling from the regions below. The Gentiles can never again put their yoke on Israel, and some funny times will be seen before they will acknowledge our Independence. One thing is certain, they cannot exterminate the Saints, neither can they make them forsake their religion.

Because of their millennial beliefs, Mormons interpreted the United States’ aggression as the beginning of the federal government’s collapse.3 Military and political action against God’s people would [p.239] be the catalyst that would start the United States on the road to destruction. Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal in December 1857:

I have always believed that the United States in a national capacity and under the form of law seeks to destroy the Church and Kingdom of God from off the earth. They are turning the last key to send the nation asunder and they will be broken as a potter’s vessel and cast down as a nation to rise no more forever. But whenever the rulers of any nation trample their own constitution and laws underfoot and oppress and destroy the weak because they have the power and the people love to have it so, they sow the seeds to their own disillusion and they will reap their own destruction.

Kimball asserted that the United States could not hope to win any battles against the Saints, for the Mormons would subdue any evil military force and would dictate the terms of peace to the fallen political state.4 “With us,” Young said, on 9 August, “it is the Kingdom of God or nothing. And we will maintain it or die in trying, though we shall not die in trying.” Kimball promised the Saints that “this is the Kingdom of God and when they fight us they fight God, and Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost and all the prophets. Set your heart at rest, then you need not be troubled or frightened at all. For as the Lord liveth and we live we will come out victorious.” John L. Butler, in his diary, expressed a similar sentiment, writing, “And there they were, poor ignorant souls didn’t know that they had come to fight the Lord’s anointed and were fighting against God himself. They little knew the power they were fighting against.”

Young and other church leaders decided to resist the approaching army and in effect to defy the U.S. government. Rather than capitulate, they would raze the larger cities and abandon the territory. Publicly they based their hope on the fact that they were the Lord’s anointed and that God would take care of them, but as a precaution Young also sent representatives east to try to settle the matter peaceably.

Young risked the accomplishments of ten years’ hard work and sacrifice on the assumption that the military invasion was designed to destroy the church. He attempted to justify the Saints’ resistance on what historian Norman Furniss termed a “legalistic quibble.” The act creating Utah territory provided “that the executive power and [p.240] authority in and over said territory of Utah shall be vested in a governor who shall hold his office for four years and until his successor shall be appointed and qualified unless sooner removed by the President of the United States,” and that “the Governor and Secretary to be appointed as a force that shall, before they act as such respectably taken oath or affirmation before the District Judge or some Justice of the Peace in the limits of said territory, duly authorized to administer oaths and affirmations by the laws now enforced therein or before the Chief Justice.”

Young had been appointed governor in 1850, and when Steptoe decided not to accept his appointment to replace Young in 1854-55, Young was left in office, although he had not been appointed for another term and could be replaced at the pleasure of the president of the United States at any time. Thus, acting as the chief territorial executive, Young forbade all armed forces from entering Utah and ordered the territorial militia to be in readiness to repel any invaders. He also declared martial law throughout the territory on 5 August:

We are invaded by a hostile force who are evidently assailing us to accomplish our overthrow and destruction.… Our opponents have availed themselves of prejudice existing against us because of our religious faith, to send out a formidable host to accomplish our destruction. We have had no privilege, no opportunity of defending ourselves from the false, foul, and unjust aspersions against us before the nation. The Government has not condescended to cause an investigating committee or other person to be sent to inquire into and ascertain the truth, as is customary in such cases.…

The issue which has been thus forced upon us compels us to resort to the great first law of self preservation and stand in our own defense, a right guaranteed unto us by the genius of the institutions of our country, and upon which the Government is based. Our duty to ourselves, to our families, requires us not to tamely submit to be driven and slain, without an attempt to preserve ourselves. Our duty to our country, our holy religion, our God, to freedom and liberty, requires that we should not quietly stand still and see those fetters forging around, which are calculated to enslave and bring us in subjection to an unlawful military despotism.… This is, therefore,

1st:—To forbid, in the name of the People of the United States in the Territory of Utah, all armed forces, of every description, from coming into this Territory, under any pretence whatever.

2nd:—That all the forces in said Territory hold themselves in readiness to march, at a moment’s notice, to repel any and all such threatened invasion.

[p.241] 3d:—Martial law is hereby declared to exist in this Territory.… and no person shall be allowed to pass or repass into, or through, or from this Territory, without a permit from the proper officer.5

Since no announcement of the coming of the army had been sent, Young chose to regard them as an armed mob. Young had also not yet been formally notified that he was being replaced as governor. Declaring martial law, he used whatever technicalities of law he could find to justify trying to prevent the army from entering the territory. When the army finally occupied the Fort Bridger area of Green River County, Cumming expected to take his oath of office from one of the justices there. But Green River County had been disorganized by the Utah legislature and attached to Great Salt Lake County for election, revenue, and judicial purposes. This reorganization was intended to insure that Cumming could not establish a government at Green River and occurred only a few days prior to Cumming’s attempt to establish his position within the territory of Utah.6

Norman Furniss’s study of Mormon speeches and writings during this period suggests that the church did not pursue a single policy in the critical months of late 1857 and early 1858. Its strategy appeared to pass through two phases. The first course, followed from July to early October 1857, seems to have been one of determined resistance to Buchanan’s expedition. When Daniel H. Wells sent out orders to district commanders of the Nauvoo Legion on 1 August, he warned, “In such times when anarchy takes place of orderly government, and mobocratic tyranny usurps the power to rule, the Mormons are left to their inalienable right to defend themselves.” In early September, Young wrote to the Saints in Honolulu that the people of Utah would resist aggression “by making an appeal to God, and our own right of arms,” and later in the month Samuel W. Richards repeated the same sentiments to Thomas L. Kane. As if preparing for a long war, the church recalled its missionaries from abroad, [p.242] closed its outposts in California and Carson Valley, and made other arrangements of a military nature.

Despite this bold talk, however, Mormon leaders had no desire to plunge their people into a struggle with the United States. Their resistance was finally confined to the burning of grass and supply wagons, the stampeding of stock, and other acts designed to slow the advance of the army. Behind this policy lay their belief that if war could be avoided until the winter, the church and government might settle the differences between them peacefully. But if the Nauvoo Legion and the weather both should fail to halt the army at the Salt Lake Valley, Mormon leaders initially planned to fight behind the territory’s natural fortifications, first in Echo Canyon and then in other strongholds.

For a number of years Young had convinced himself that there were many regions in the mountains where his people could hide, retreats capable of concealing the entire church. In mid-September he expressed this belief to Colonel William H. Dame, militia commander in southern Utah, as follows: “In case U.S. government should send an overpowering force we intend to desolate the territory, conceal our families, stock, and all other effects in the fastness of the mountains, where they will be safe while the men waylaying our enemies attack them from ambush and stampede their animals.” Still Mormon leaders did not at first doubt that all would be well. Although at times they cautioned their people to prepare to evacuate and destroy their property, they also believed that such extreme measures would not be required. “Our enemies are in the pit,” the church historian wrote, “and there is fair prospect of their being destroyed without our shedding their blood.”

The Mormon strategy entered another phase in November 1857 when the mood of the hierarchy began to shift from assurance to concern for the future. Even though the army’s tardy departure from Leavenworth, the arrival of winter, and the raids on the army’s supply trains had combined to create the situation the Mormons had desired and an early engagement with the troops had been avoided, U.S. adjutant general James Ferguson reported from Fort Bridger in January that the Mormons were “baffled, crippled and dispirited.” “Without firing of a single gun on our part,” Ferguson continued, “they were most effectively defeated in all their large bravado epilogued in a cold seat around the ashes of Fort Bridger’s supply.”

The Saints had cause for depression. News of the government’s activities was far from encouraging. Instead of reexamining its policy now that the expedition had become winter-bound at Fort Bridger, [p.243] the administration, by January, was preparing to reinforce the army and launch an attack from California on Utah’s indefensible western border. Although a few eastern newspapers had become critical of the government, no significant Gentile demand for negotiation with the Mormons emerged. Despite the euphoria of the previous summer, Mormons now faced the reality of how unprepared they were for any encounter with an organized army. Supplies of clothing were low, production of powder inadequate, and the territorial arsenal dilapidated. Young, Wells, Kimball, and their associates were soon forced to admit the folly of resisting the expedition either in open battle or by a “scorched earth” campaign.

Part of the problem was financial. The Mormons were unable to raise the necessary money to finance a war. But their lack of arms and ammunition was even more critical. Ferguson’s report claimed that at least a third of potential soldiers were unarmed and many more badly equipped. No gun powder had been manufactured, only a small amount of lead had been mined. Should the army come in force, the Mormons would not be able to resist them. The stationing of troops in Echo Canyon and the building of fortifications had evidently kept the army from attempting entry through the narrow canyon, but a careful look at the terrain would convince military personnel that the fortress was not impregnable. The valley was open, and a few mountain cannons would have overcome Mormon resistance.

In a formal council on 18 March attended by the First Presidency, eight apostles, and some of the military, Young advised the Saints to go into the desert and let the people of the United States destroy themselves. Three days later, in a special conference at the tabernacle, Young told his audience “if we were to open the ball upon them by slaying the United States soldiery just so sure they would be fired up with anger to lavishly spend their means to compass our destruction. Thousands and millions, if necessary, would furnish the means if the government was not able.” Retreat into the uninhabited areas nearby was the only alternative left to the Saints.

As the weather grew milder during March, the fear of a sudden attack from Fort Bridger increased, and additional militia men were called up. By 9 April more than 600 troops were in Echo Canyon and other strategic points east. But the Mormon War passed from aimless marches to negotiation.

The key person here was Colonel Thomas L. Kane, who had befriended the Mormons during their trek west. Young had called upon Kane for assistance the previous year, asking him to urge the [p.244] appointment of Mormons to the vacant territorial positions. Kane, a Philadelphian, now received permission from President Buchanan to act as an independent negotiator in the Utah standoff. Buchanan wrote to Kane, “As you have been impelled by your own sense of duty to visit Utah and having informed me that nothing can divert you from this purpose, it affords me pleasure to commend you to the favorable regard of all the officers of the United States whom you might meet in the course of your travels.” Apparently wishing to apprise himself of the Mormons’ plans before meeting with the civil and military officers at Camp Scott, Kane went by sea to southern California via Panama and hurried to Salt Lake City by way of San Bernardino under the pseudonym of “Dr. Osborne.” By early March he had reached the territory and entered into secret conferences with members of the hierarchy. The situation seemed so serious that Kane believed their best hope was for a truce which would give them time to evacuate the territory. He wrote to his father, “The day may be and probably is passed to make peace, but not to save our poor fellows.”

On the evening of 12 March, Kane reached Camp Scott, Wyoming, near Fort Bridger, too exhausted to dismount from his horse or even to speak. After a lengthy sleep he was ready to persuade civil and military officers that there was no need to attack the Mormons. Admittedly his task was difficult. Camp Scott was a military post, commanded by a humorless individual who wished everyone to observe protocol. Kane had to persuade General Johnston, shocked by the Saints’ apparent treason and irritated at his own embarrassing position, to forego exterminating Young’s followers. Kane faced still other problems of diplomacy. Governor Cumming was jealous of his prerogatives and inordinately concerned about the status of his reputation in the East. Already fretting over his subordinate position in the camp as a civil officer whose powers were negligible in a military garrison, Cumming was a difficult man for sensitive discussions.

Kane spoke first with Johnston, not Cumming, and unfortunately offended Johnston in several ways. Thereafter the military commander refused to communicate with Kane personally. All communications between them were written, even though only a few hundred yards separated the two.

Kane was more successful in dealing with Cumming. The governor accepted the administration’s position that negotiation should precede military force and decided to visit Utah before the army marched. Cumming informed Johnston on 3 April of his intention to [p.245] set out for Salt Lake City within two days. Cumming’s letters to his wife show that he left Camp Scott with little intention to negotiate. Rather, he planned simply to assert the authority of the federal government and carry out the specific instructions given him in Washington.

But the situation was changing in Washington. Captain Van Vliet, of General Johnston’s advance company, had returned to Washington to appraise President Buchanan personally of the situation in the territory. He was accompanied to Buchanan’s office by territorial representative John Bernhisel. Public pressure and more accurate information induced Buchanan to issue a proclamation on 6 April 1858, offering to forgive the inhabitants of the territory for the alleged acts of disloyalty provided they became law-abiding citizens.

Two special commissioners, L. W. Powell and Ben McCulloch, were sent to Utah. Although they were “not authorized to enter into any treaty or engagement with the Mormons,” they brought assurances to the Mormons that the movement of the army to Utah had nothing to do with religion. If the presidential appointees were accepted and the Mormons complied with official laws and acts, there would no longer be any reason to retain the army in the territory except to keep the Indians in check and secure the passage of immigrants to California. The commissioners were instructed to communicate freely and to act in concert with Johnston and Cumming and to avail themselves of the services of Kane. “To restore peace in this matter is the single purpose of your commission,” they were told and were given permission to use “your discretion and wisdom in any communication that you may have with the Mormon people.”

The commissioners held a full and free conference with Johnston and Cumming. Cumming, who had recently returned from Salt Lake City, stated that the local militia had been disbanded except for a few troops under his direction, but the commissioners refused to accept this. In fact, their communication from Camp Scott on 1 June reflected a complete reliance on the army, distrust of the Mormons, and little appreciation of Cumming. Anticipating troop movements, the Mormons had virtually abandoned Salt Lake City and colonies north of Utah Valley just prior to Cumming’s visit. The commissioners saw this as a first step to fighting or as a device to escape contact with military and civil authorities. The government representatives correctly hypothesized that “the great difficulty we will have to encounter in the execution of our commission will be to cause them to submit quietly to the control of the army in Salt Lake Valley.”

[p.246] McCulloch and Powell next entered the valley for a first-hand look at the situation. They suffered personal discomforts with the rest of those who camped in the heart of the city, where they had the alternative of boarding at the Globe Hotel or continuing their camp life. Cumming was an exception who lived with his wife in the Staines Mansion, later known as the Devereaux House. Cumming, who had been respectfully received and afforded every facility in the conduct of his office, proclaimed that the new federal civil regime was fully recognized. This satisfied one of the three basic demands made of the Mormons by the president—obedience to the Constitution and laws. The second required the Mormons to accept the presidential pardon and pledge themselves to become good citizens. Since they believed that they were already good citizens and were not guilty of any offense, they quibbled about this requirement but finally agreed to it.

The largest problem was the disposition of the army. Mormon resistance had made the army a symbol of federal authority, and thus the troops had to be permitted to enter the valley and establish a military base. The commissioners gained General Johnston’s promise that he would not move his troops from Camp Scott until they had negotiated with Mormon leaders. However, the embittered general began to move the troops toward Utah on 4 June, prior to the agreed time. This action angered both Mormon leaders and the peace commissioners, but the Mormons finally bowed to the inevitable and agreed to permit the army to enter their stronghold if they would promise to establish their base a considerable distance from any Mormon city.

On 14 June, Cumming issued a proclamation in which he pronounced that “peace is restored to our territory. The full and free pardon had been accepted.” “Fellow citizens,” he said, “I offer you my congratulations for the peaceful and honorable adjustment of recent difficulties, the resumption of normal order was desired. Those citizens who have left their homes I invite to return as soon as they can do so with propriety and convenience.”

Meanwhile, the army, which had left Camp Scott on 13 June, was approaching the Mormon capital. Crossing Muddy Creek at the Bear River, the men tramped down Echo Canyon and on 26 June entered the valley. Before the column reached Salt Lake City, General Johnston issued orders to his regimental commanders preventing anyone from leaving ranks on the march. At the same time he instructed quartermasters and commissary officers to keep their herds [p.247] from trespassing on private property. Having taken these precautions, Johnston sent his forces through the city. From his hiding place, Robert T. Burton saw the first men arrive at 10:00 a.m. and watched until the rear guard had passed through the empty streets at 5:30 p.m. The church historian noted that the army marched in strict order and discipline and that one soldier, Philip Saint George Cook, removed his cap as he rode through the city out of respect for the Mormon Battalion, which he had commanded more than a decade ago. One particularly memorable moment occurred when a soldier rode up to the band master, perhaps as they were passing Brigham Young’s house, and whispered a request, “One-Eyed Rily,” an obscene ballad popular at the time.

In order to prevent his men from disturbing the semi-deserted city, Johnston ordered the column to cross the Little Jordan River west of the settlement and had a guard posted on the bridge to prevent any soldier’s return. He was nevertheless aware that this could serve only as a temporary camp since the forage along the modest stream could not support his animals for more than a few weeks. He also knew that the Mormons, assembled in a congested throng near Provo, might soon return home.

The strategy of abandoning the city had been submitted to the church members at a special conference on Sunday, 21 March 1858. Young explained that the approaching crisis required the removal of all women, children, and grain before laying the city and country to waste. A company of 500 families, comprised of those who had never previously been driven from their homes, was given the honor of leading the hegira. Quickly thereafter, the highway reaching southward was dotted with migrating groups, livestock, and what possessions could be carried. Empty wagons from southern communities proceeded in the opposite direction to assist the teamless from the northern settlements.

When word arrived on 8 April that Kane had persuaded Cumming to come to Salt Lake City and assume the duties of his office unattended by the army or military escort, the tension was relieved but the move south continued unabated. Though many of his group did not recognize the significance of the move and delayed their departure, Brigham Young threatened punishment for those who did not comply with his order.

Young had labored under the false impression that there were huge oases in the southwestern deserts, even though David Evans had uncovered no such places during a thorough search in the mid 1850s. Two parties under George W. Bean and William H. Dame, [p.248] containing more than 100 men, scoured the desolate reaches west of Parowan for non-existent sanctuaries. Although Bean left 45 men to establish a farm in one place, neither detachment found valleys capable of supporting 500,000 people or even a fraction of that number. The failure of these missions did not prevent the exodus, for when the men finally returned, Bean in April and Dame in June, the great move south was already under way.

The Mormons’ decision to leave their homes was not irrevocable but was contingent upon the action of Johnston’s soldiers. The strategy allowed a few sturdy men to remain in each village and town. In Provo, the church would wait to discover the army’s disposition, and if by word or deed the troops should reveal fanatical hatred of the Mormons, the demolition of all buildings would be ordered. Yet Young hoped that such desperate measures would not be necessary, for he did not order the immediate destruction of Mormon homes and had the foundation of the temple concealed rather than razed.

Having once decided to leave their homes, the Mormons set about the task with characteristic vigor: church officials packed their records for removal to Provo, the Deseret News press was sent to Fillmore, and grain in the tithing house was distributed among the villages in the southern part of the territory. On 1 April, while Cumming was making his way across the snowy Wasatch Mountains, Brigham Young, George A. Smith, Heber Kimball, and Daniel Wells left Salt Lake City for Provo, their possessions piled high in fifteen wagons. Others, still boarding up the windows of their homes, would follow close behind. Plagued by a scarcity of forage and by rains and, at times, snow, with their women and children unprotected in open carts, the Saints stoically pressed on.

Some historians have set the number involved in this move at 30,000. One enthusiastic diarist returning from a mission to Hawaii said that the flight from Nauvoo looked like a small rivulet by the side of a mighty river compared to the 75,000 men, women, and children now in one continuous line of travel. Cumming recognized that the Mormon evacuation threatened his own goals of removing all obstructions to peace before the army should resume its march into the Salt Lake Valley. If the Saints continued to abandon their homes he could not maintain that the situation in the territory was serene. He could not even be governor if there was no one to govern. Cumming’s appeals to Young to halt the exodus were unsuccessful when the latter expressed his intention to stay away himself as long as his church was threatened by the army. In desperation [p.249] Cumming visited Provo and the Saints’ other temporary homes, hoping to bring the people back by a direct appeal. When he arrived at the campground on the Provo River bottoms (called Shanghai by some), Cumming was pained by the scenes of great trial and suffering. On the public square the church had erected buildings for Young and other members of the hierarchy, but the majority of the Saints were forced to construct whatever cover they could on the treeless expanse. Families with wagons used them as rudimentary houses, others less fortunate made tents out of cloth, built boards or log huts, and fabricated shelters out of willow branches and twigs. Some could only burrow holes into the ground. In this fashion, several thousand Mormons lived in squalor for two months, awaiting instructions to march or to return home.7

Once settled on the Provo bottoms a number of Saints became discontented and talked of going back. Yet in spite of the discomfort and occasional grumbling, Cumming received little attention when he urged the Mormons to retrace their steps. Although Young never disclosed his reasons for ordering his followers home, his motivation was clear. Initially he had commanded the Saints to leave their northern settlements lest the army attack in angry remembrance of past frustrations. Once he learned that Johnston’s soldiers were under rigid discipline, the major reason for the move vanished. His people, plagued by bad water, flies, dirt, and lack of food, could not remain forever in their makeshift huts. One trusted Mormon in fact had informed Young on 1 July of his plan to return to Ogden as soon as possible. Young knew that others would follow and undoubtedly wished to announce the official end of the exodus before his people abandoned Provo of their own accord. In addition, Gentile sympathy seemed to have been won. Although Eastern editors continued to condemn the Saints’ religious beliefs and practices, they praised their heroism.

Whatever the outcome, the church was now forced to send its people back to their homes and crops. Thus the Saints, plodding on foot or bouncing in wagons, finally encountered General Johnston’s [p.250] army. Unsure of the proper route to Cedar Valley, the army had marched back and forth between the Wasatch and Oquirrh Ranges until they became entangled with the almost endless line of returning Mormons. The soldiers looked with scorn upon the ragged poverty of the people, and the latter made little effort to conceal their resentment of this new persecution, but neither made a threatening gesture.

Although the Utah War was settled peaceably, several unfortunate consequences followed. One indirect but tragic result was the massacre of 120 immigrants on 7-11 September 1857 at Mountain Meadows, thirty-five miles southwest of Cedar City. About the same time that word was received in the small southern Utah settlements of the approaching U.S. Army, the Fancher Train, a party of California-bound immigrants composed of families from Arkansas and a group of horsemen who called themselves the “Missouri Wildcats,” made their way through central Utah following the southern route to California. Unwise actions by party members, including failure to keep their animals under control and the expression of anti-Mormon sentiments, antagonized the Saints, who had been stirred to a war hysteria by the fiery preaching of Apostle George A. Smith and others. At Cedar City, local citizens, who had been ordered to husband their supplies, refused to sell food to the Fancher train. The angry immigrants expressed hope that the invading army would punish the Mormons and threatened to raise another military force when they arrived in California. Leaving Cedar City, they travelled to Mountain Meadows where they stopped to rest their livestock before the long journey across the Nevada-California desert.

Attracted by the herds of fat cattle and apparently encouraged by some Mormons, a band of Indians had followed the train and decided to attack the immigrants at their encampment. The attack failed, and the Indians turned to their friends and allies, the Mormons. A meeting was held in Cedar City under the leadership of stake president Isaac C. Haight, and proposals were made to wipe out the immigrants before they could get to California and carry out their threats. Calmer heads prevailed, and a rider was sent to Salt Lake City to obtain Brigham Young’s advice. His written instructions to let the immigrants pass were received on 12 September, one day too late.

Local leaders decided they could not wait for Young’s advice; it would be too dangerous to let the Fancher party spread word in California that the Mormons were aiding the Indians in attacking immigrant trains. John D. Lee, the Mormon in charge of Indian Affairs [p.251] in southern Utah, became involved. Under a flag of truce, Lee convinced the immigrants to lay down their arms. Then Mormon militia men, acting under military orders, killed the disarmed immigrant men. The Indians were permitted to kill the women and older children, apparently because the Mormons were concerned about the “shedding of innocent blood.” Seventeen small children were spared and ultimately, with government help, returned to relatives in Arkansas.

Federal attempts to apprehend and punish the participants failed as the tight-knit Mormon society closed ranks and protected its members. Lee was apprehended almost twenty years after the massacre and, following two trials, was executed by a firing squad at the scene of the crime. Other leaders such as Isaac Haight experienced such community disapproval that he was disfellowshipped and spent much of his life hiding from federal officials. However, William H. Dame, another local Mormon leader, was able to convince Mormons and non-Mormon federal officials of his innocence and continued to serve in important church positions. This tragic massacre increased the Mormon reputation of fanaticism and made relationships with federal officials even more difficult.

Although the army established Camp Floyd a considerable distance from principal settlements, Salt Lake City soon felt the impact of army personnel and camp followers. Saloons and houses of prostitution became common, and drunken brawls on the streets were routine. Army personnel were usually controlled by their officers, but many were discharged at Camp Floyd and became a threat to local communities. Church historian B. H. Roberts devoted the chapter “A Chapter of Horrors” in his Comprehensive History of the Church to describe such problems. While his view is one-sided, there can be no doubt that the puritanism that had characterized the Mormon communities changed substantially as a result of the military presence, their suppliers, and camp followers.

A more serious result of the invasion was the antagonistic attitude and actions of some of the newly installed territorial officials. Cumming made an honest effort at conciliation on the basis of Buchanan’s pardon, but the new federal judges, especially Delany R. Eckles, Charles E. Sinclair, and John Cradelbaugh, attempted to punish the Mormons for treason and polygamy, as well as for the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Cradelbaugh intimidated the people of Provo, where his court convened, with the presence of a detachment of 100 soldiers to guard prisoners. Such actions set the tone for [p.252] difficulties and misunderstandings that continued until after the abandonment of polygamy and the issuance of the Manifesto in 1890.8

Although the Utah expedition brought some economic prosperity to the Mormons, this could hardly compensate for the negative influences in the sheltered Mormon settlements. General Johnston’s army was an unfortunate episode that could have been avoided. Leaders on both sides share the blame equally. [p.253]


1. The freighting company of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, which carried the supplies for the 2,500-man federal army, suffered severe economic losses at the hands of Mormon raiders.

2. As early as March 1856, Young’s counselor Jedediah Grant commented that the Mormons were tired “of this eternal threatening with the armies of the United States.”

3. Believing that the Second Coming was near, Brigham Young prayed daily that the Lord would hasten his work. Heber Kimball was quick to predict that neither the Latter-day Saints nor the Kingdom of God would ever be obliterated. But “nations that raise the weapons of war against this people shall perish by those weapons.”

4. Such optimism led Kimball to speculate that “Brother Brigham Young will become President of the United States.”

5. A similar proclamation was also issued on 15 September.

6. While criticizing Young’s “legalistic quibbling” for resisting the U.S. army, Norman Furniss respected Young’s fear of undisciplined troops. Describing them as men “drawn from” less-stable elements of society “who were persuaded to enlist in the unpopular army” because of desperate poverty, Furniss asserted that many were “exceedingly stupid” and “so depraved that they would sell their last article of clothing for liquor.” Many officers were so prejudiced that they voiced their desire to destroy Mormonism by executing their leaders and despoiling their followers. In addition, Mormon leaders had good reason to fear the impact on their community of the hundreds of teamsters, wagon-masters, camp followers, and other civilians accompanying the army.

7. Mormons have since insisted that despite the misery, sacrifice, and even loss of life accompanying the exodus, the people yielded cheerfully to their church’s wishes. Some, though, were less cheerful than others. Many left their homes, not in reply to Brigham Young’s mandate but because of social pressure. When, in September 1857, Young had spoken of possible flight from Utah, he warned that if anyone attempted to protect his property, he would be “sheared down.” Having decided that the interests of the church did indeed demand flight or at least a semblance of it, Young carried out his warning.

8. Further adding to Mormon-Gentile differences was the publication of the Valley Tan, an anti-Mormon newspaper owned by territorial secretary John Hartnett and edited by Kirk Anderson. Anderson, formerly of the Missouri Republican, arrived in Salt Lake City in September 1858 and produced his first issue early in November. Bitterly anti-Mormon, his newspaper circulated primarily in Camp Floyd and survived only eighteen months.