The dangers of the first company's migration were surpassed by those of parties who subsequently braved the terrors of the plains. In their enthusiasm to reach the gathering place of their people, many of the Latter-day Saints set out from Iowa, where railway facilities had their termination, with hand-carts only as a means of conveyance. Today there are living in the smiling vales of Utah, men and women who then as boys and girls trudged wearily across the prairies, dragging the lumbering carts that contained their entire provision against starvation and freezing. Such handcart companies were organized with care; a limited amount of freight was allowed to each division; milch cattle and a very few draft-animals, with wagons for conveying the heavier baggage and to carry the sick, were assigned. The tale of those dreary marches has never yet been told; the song of the heroism and sacrifice displayed by these pilgrims for conscience sake is awaiting a singer worthy the theme. Wading the streams with carts in tow, or in cases of unfordable streams, stopping to construct rafts; at times living on reduced rations of but a few ounces of meal per day; lying down at night with a prayer in the heart that they wake no more on earth, a prayer which had its fulfilment in hundreds of cases; the dying heaving their parting sighs in the arms of loved ones who were soon to follow, they journeyed on.
The inevitable catastrophes and accidents of travel robbed them of their substance. Hostile savages stampeded their cattle, or openly attacked and plundered the trains. But on they went, never swerving from the course. These later companies needed no chart nor compass to guide them over the desert; the road was plain from the marks of former camps, and yet more so from the graves of friends and loved ones who had started before on the road to the earthly Zion and found that it led them to the martyr's entrance to heaven, graves that were marked perhaps but by a rude inscription cut on a pole or a board. And even these narrow lodgings had not been left inviolate; the wolves of the plains had too often succeeded in unearthing and rending the bodies. Every company thus made the course the plainer; each of them added to the silent population of the desert; sometimes half a score were interred at one camp, and of one company over a fourth were thus left beside the prairie road. Now we traverse the self-same track in a day and a night, reclining on luxurious cushions of ease, covering fifty miles while dining in luxury; and we avert the ennui of the journey by berating the railway company for lack of speed.
Relief trains were continually on the way between the valley of the Salt Lake and the Missouri; and the remnants of many a company were saved from what appeared to be certain destruction by the opportune arrival of these rescuing parties. Such relief came from those who were themselves destitute and almost starving. Brigham Young with a few of the chief officials of the Church, and aids, returned eastward on such an errand of rescue within a few weeks after first reaching the valley. The region to which the early settlers came was in no wise a typical land of promise; it did not flow spontaneously with milk and honey.
Drought and unseasonable frosts made the first year's farming experiments but doubtful successes, and in the succeeding spring the land was visited by the devastating plague of the Rocky Mountain crickets. They swarmed down in innumerable hordes upon the fields, destroying the growing crops as they advanced, devouring all before them, leaving the land a desert in their track. The people scarcely knew how to withstand the assault of this new foe; they drove the marauders into trenches there to be drowned or burned; men, women and every child that could swing a stick, were called to the ranks in this insect war; and with all their fighting, the people forgot not to pray for deliverance, and they fasted, too, for the best of reasons.
And as they watched, and prayed, and worked, they saw approaching from the north and west a veritable host of winged creatures of more formidable proportions still; and these bore down upon the fields as though coming to complete the devastation. But see! these are of the color that betokens peace; they are the gulls, white and beautiful, advancing upon the hosts of the black destroyers. Falling upon the people's foes, they devoured them by the thousand, and when filled to repletion, disgorged and feasted again. And they did not stop till the crickets were destroyed. Again the skeptic will say this was but chance; but the people accepted that chance as a providential ruling in their behalf, and reverently did they give thanks.
Today the wanton killing of a gull in Utah is an offense in law; but stronger than legal proscription, more powerful than fear of judicial penalties, is the popular sentiment in favor of these white-winged deliverers. Every year come these graceful creatures to spend the springtime in the fields and upon the lakes of Utah; and right well do they feel their welcome, for they are habitually so tame and fearless that they may almost be touched by the hand before they take flight.
By the autumn of 1848, five thousand people had already reached the valley, and the food problem was a most difficult one. The winter was severe; and famine, stark and inexorable, threw its dread shadow over the people. There seemed to be an entry in the book of fate that every possible test of human endurance and integrity should be applied to this pilgrim band. Without distinction as to former station, they went out and dug the roots of weeds, gathered the tenderest of the coarse grass, thistles, and wild berries, and thus did they subsist; upon such did they feast with thanksgiving, until a less scanty harvest relieved their wants.
It was at this time that the gold fever was at its height, a consequence of the discovery of the precious metal in California, in which discovery, indeed, certain members of the disbanded "Mormon" Battalion, working their way eastward, were most prominent. Some of the "Mormon" settlers, becoming infected with the malady, hastened westward, but the counsel of the Church authorities prevailed to keep all but a few at home. These people had not left the country of their birth or adoption to seek gold; nor bright jewels of the mine; nor the wealth of seas; nor the spoils of war; they sought and believed they had found, a faith's pure shrine. But the gold-seekers hastening westward, and the successful miners returning eastward, halted at the "Mormon" settlements and there replenished their supplies, leaving their gold to enrich the people of the desert.
But of what use is gold in the wilderness! In the old legend a famishing Arab, finding a well filled bag upon the sand was thrilled with joy at the thought of dates--his bread; and then was cast into the depths of despair when he realized that he had found nothing but a bag of costly pearls. The settlers by the lake needed horses and wagons, tools, implements of husbandry and building; and gold was valuable only as it represented a means of obtaining these. Gold became so plentiful and was withal so worthless in the desert colony that men refused to take it for their labor. The yellow metal was collected in buckets and exported to the States in exchange for the goods so much desired. Merchandise brought in by caravans of "prairie schooners," was sold as fast as it could be put out; and strict rules were enforced allowing but a proportionate amount to each purchaser.
Within a few months after the first settlement of Utah, public schools were established; and one of the early acts of the provisional government was to grant a charter to the Deseret University, now known as the University of Utah.
Up to 1849, Utah had no political history. Settling in a Mexican province, the contest to determine its future ownership by the United States then in progress, the people in common with most pioneer communities established their own form of government. But in February, 1848, the treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo gave California to the United States; months passed, however, before the news of the change reached the west. Early in 1849, a call had been issued to "all the citizens of that portion of Upper California lying to the east of the Sierra Nevada mountains" to meet in convention at Great Salt Lake City; and there a petition was prepared asking of Congress the rights of self-government; and pending action, a temporary regime was established, under the name of the Provisional Government of the State of Deseret.
"Utah" was not the choice of the people as the name of their state; that word served but to recall the degraded tribes who had contested the settlement of the valleys. Deseret, a Book of Mormon name for the honey bee, was more appropriate. The petition of the people was denied in part, and, in 1850 was established the territorial form of government in Utah. Concerning the period of the provisional government, such men as Gunnison, Stansbury, and other federal officials on duty in the west, have recorded their praises of the "Mormon" colonists in official reports. But with the un-American system of territorial government came troubles.
At first, many of the territorial officials were appointed from among the settlers themselves; thus, Brigham Young was the first governor; but strangers, who knew not the people nor their ways, filled with prejudice from the false reports they had heard, came from the east to govern the colonists in the desert. Of the federal appointees thus forced upon the people of Utah, many made for themselves most unenviable records.
Some of them were broken politicians, professional office-seekers, with no desire but to secure the greatest possible gain out of their appointment. With effrontery that would shock the modesty of a savage, the non-"Mormon" party adopted and flagrantly displayed the carpet-bag as the badge of their profession. But not all the officials sent to Utah from afar were of this type; some of them were honorable and upright men, and amongst this class the "Mormon" people reckon a number who, while opposed to their religious tenets, were nevertheless sincere and honest in the opposition they evinced.
In the early part of 1857, the published libels upon the people received many serious additions, the principal of which was promulgated in connection with the resignation of Judge Drummond of the Utah federal court. In his last letter to the United States attorney-general, he declared that his life was no longer safe in Utah, and that he had been compelled to flee from his bench; but the most serious charge of all was that the people had destroyed the records of the court, and that they had resented, with hostile demonstration, his protests; in short, that justice was dethroned in Utah, and that the people were in a state of open rebellion.
With mails three months apart, news traveled slowly; but as soon as word of this infamous charge reached Salt Lake City, the clerk of the court, Judge Drummond's clerk, sent a letter by express to the attorney-general, denying under oath the judge's statements, and attesting the declaration with official seal. The records, he declared, had been untouched except by official hands, and from the time of the court's establishment the files had been safe and were then in his personal keeping. But, before the clerk's communication had reached its destination, so difficult is it for stately truth to overtake flitting falsehood, the mischief had been done. Upon the most prejudiced reports utterly unfounded in fact, with a carelessness which even his personal and political friends found no ample means of explaining away, President Buchanan allowed himself to be persuaded that a "Mormon" rebellion existed, and ordered an army of over two thousand men to proceed straightway to Utah to subdue the rebels. Successors to the governor and other territorial officials were appointed, among whom there was not a single resident of Utah; and the military force was charged with the duty of installing the foreign appointees.
With great dispatch and under cover of secrecy, so that the Utah rebels might be taken by surprise, the army set out on the march. Before the troops reached the Rocky Mountains, the sworn statement from the clerk of the supreme court of Utah denying the charges made by Judge Drummond became public property; and about the same time men who had come from Utah to New York direct, published over their own signatures a declaration that all was peaceful in and about the settlements of Utah. The public eye began to twitch, and soon to open wide; the conviction was growing that someone had blundered. But to retract would be a plain confession of error; blunders must be covered up.
Let us leave the soldiers on their westward march, and ascertain how the news of the projected invasion reached the people of Utah, and what effect the tidings produced. Certain "Mormon" business agents, operating in Missouri, heard of the hostile movement. At first they were incredulous, but when the overland mail carrier from the west delivered his pouch and obtained his receipt, but was refused the bag of Utah mail with the postmaster's statement that he had been ordered to hold all mail for Utah, there seemed no room for doubt. Two of the Utahns immediately hastened westward.
On the 24th of July, 1857, the people had assembled in celebration of Pioneer Day. Silver Lake, a mountain gem set amidst the snows and forests and towering peaks of the Cottonwoods, had been selected as a fitting site for the festivities. The Stars and Stripes streamed above the camp; bands played; choirs sang; there were speeches, and picnics, and prayers. Experiences were compared as to the journeyings on the plains; stories were told of the shifts to which the people had been put by the vicissitudes of famine; but these dread experiences seemed to them now like a dream of the night; on this day all were happy. Were they not safe from savage foes both red and white? There had been peace for a season; and their desert homes were already smiling in wealth of flower and tree; the wilderness was blossoming under their feet; their consciences were void of offense toward their fellows. Yet at that very hour, all unbeknown to themselves, and without the opportunity of speaking a word in defense, these people had been convicted of insurrection and treason.
It was midday and the festivities were at their height, when a party of men rode into camp and sought an interview with Governor Young. Three of them had plainly ridden hard and far; they gave their report;--an armed force of thousands was at that hour approaching the territory; the boasts of officers and men as to what they would do when they found themselves in "Mormon" towns were reported; and these stories called up, in the minds of those who heard, the dread scenes of Far West and Nauvoo. Had these colonists of the wilderness not gone far enough to satisfy the hatred of their fellow-citizens in this republic of liberty? They had halted between the civilization of the east and that of the west, they had fled from the country that refused them a home, and now the nation would eject them from their desert lodgings.
A council was called and the situation was freely discussed. Had they not seen, lo, these many times, organized battalions and companies surpassing fiendish mobs in villainy? The evidence warranted their conclusion that invasion meant massacre. With tense calmness the plan of action was decided upon. It was the general conviction that war was inevitable, and it was decided to resist to the last. Then, if the army forced its way into the valleys of Utah on hostile purpose bent, it should find the land as truly a desert as it was when the pioneers first took possession. To this effect was the decision:--We have built cities in the east for our foes to occupy; our very temples have been desecrated and destroyed by them; but, with the help of Israel's God, we will prevent them enriching themselves with the spoils of our labors in these mountain retreats.
There seemed to be no room for doubt that war was about to break upon them; and with such a prospect, men may be expected to take every advantage of their situation. Brigham Young was still governor of Utah, and the militia was subject to his order. Promptly he proclaimed the territory under martial law, and forbade any armed body to cross its boundaries. Echo Canyon, the one promising route of ingress, was fortified. In those defiles an army might easily be stopped by a few; ammunition stations were established; provisions were cached; boulders were collected upon the cliffs beneath which the invaders must pass if they held to their purpose of forcing an entrance. The people had been roused to desperation, and force was to be met with force. In the settlements, combustibles were placed in readiness, and if the worst came, every "Mormon" house would be reduced to ashes, every tree would be hewn down.
With an experience of suffering that would have well served a better cause, this picked detachment of the United States army made its way to the Green River country; and there, counting well the cost of proceeding farther, went into camp at Fort Bridger. Many of the troops had almost perished in the storms, for it was late in November, and the winter had closed in early. Colonel Cooke reported to the commandant that half his horses had perished through cold and lack of food; hundreds of beef cattle had died; yet the region was so wild and forbidding that scarcely a wolf ventured there to glut itself upon the carcasses. In Cooke's own words we read that for thirty miles the road was blocked with carcasses--and "with abandoned and shattered property, they mark, perhaps beyond example in history, the steps of an advancing army with the horrors of a disastrous retreat."
With the army traveled the new federal appointees to offices in the territory. Cumming, the governor-to-be, issued a proclamation from his dug-out lodgings, and sent it to Salt Lake City by courier; he signed it as "Governor of Utah Territory." This but belittled him, for by the very terms of the Organic Act, to uphold which was the professed purpose of his coming, he was not governor until the oath of office had been duly administered and subscribed. A few days later he went before his fellow-sufferer Eckles, the appointee for chief justice of Utah, and took an oath; but why did he swear so recklessly when the one before whom he swore was no more an official than himself?
The army wintered at a satisfactory distance from Salt Lake City, and such a winter, according to official reports, the soldiers of our nation have rarely had to brave. It was soon apparent that they need fear no "Mormon" attack; orders had been issued to the territorial militia to take no life except in cases of absolute necessity; but General Johnston and his staff had more than their match in battling with the elements. Communications between Governor Young and the commandant were frequent; safe conduct was assured any and all officers who chose to enter the city; and if necessary hostages were to be given; but the governor was inexorable in his ultimatum that, as an organized body with hostile purpose, the soldiers should not pass the mountain gateway. In the meantime, a full account of the situation was reported by Governor Young to the President of the United States, and the truth slowly made its way into the eastern press. President Buchanan tacitly admitted his mistake; but to recall the troops at that juncture would be to confess humiliating failure.
A peace commissioner, in the person of Colonel Kane, was dispatched to Salt Lake City; his coming being made known to Governor Young, an escort was sent to meet him and conduct him through the "Mormon" lines. The result of the conference was that the "Mormon" leaders but reiterated their statement that the President's appointees would be given safe entry to the city, and be duly installed in their offices, provided they would enter without the army. This ultimatum was carried to the federal camp; and to the open chagrin of the commandant, Governor Cumming and his fellow appointees moved to Salt Lake City under "Mormon" escort, after a five months' halt in the wilderness.
I believe that strategy is usually allowed in war, and I am free to say the "Mormons" availed themselves of this license. At short intervals in the course of the night-passage through the canyon, the party was challenged, and the password demanded; bon-fires were blazing down in the gorges, and the impression was made that the mountains were full of armed men; whereas the sentries were members of the escort, who, preceding by short cuts the main party, continued to challenge and to pass. On their arrival, the gentlemen were met by the retiring officials, and were peaceably installed. The new governor called upon the clerk of the court, and ascertained the truth of the statement that the records were entirely safe. He promptly reported his conclusions to General Johnston that there was no further need for the army. It was decided, however, that the soldiers should be permitted to march through the city, and straightway the "Mormons" began their exodus to the south.
Governor Cumming tried in vain to induce the people to remain, assuring them that the troops would commit no depredations. "Not so," said Brigham Young, "we have had experience with troops in the past, Governor Cumming; we have seen our leaders shot down by the demoralized soldiery; we have seen mothers with babes at their breasts sent to their last home by the same bullet; we have witnessed outrages beyond description. You are now Governor of Utah; we can no longer command the militia for our own defense. We do not wish to fight, therefore we depart." Leaving a few men to apply the brand to the combustibles stored in every house, at the first sign of plunder by the soldiers, the people again deserted their homes and moved into the desert anew.
But the officers of the army kept their word; the troops were put into camp forty miles from the settlements, and the settlers returned. The President's commissioners brought the official pardon, unsolicited, for all acts committed by the "Mormons" in opposing the entrance of the army. The people asked what they had done that needed pardon; they had not robbed, they had not killed. But a critical analysis of these troublous events revealed at least one overt act--some "Mormon" scouts had challenged a supply train; and, being opposed, they had destroyed some of the wagons and provisions; and for this they accepted the President's most gracious pardon.