"Westward the course of Empire takes its way"
SALT LAKE CITY was a real city for that day. It was not an electrically wired
and telephonic town, for all those and related conveniences were then unknown to
the multitude. The telephone was yet in its infancy and a curious toy to the initiated
in electricity. It was a city of twenty-five thousand people, mainly Mormons by
religion and emigration from the prairie west, with a thin fringe of others locally
known by way of contrast as Gentiles.
The further strange thing was that most of these adventurous Gentiles were Jews. The Hebrew is an enterprising shopman and into these new valley communities and freshly organized mining camps, he had pushed his way to sell his goods,-and he was making good at his trade as he always does on the frontier.
There was a sprinkling of the South; men of broken fortunes since the close of the Civil War- who could not endure the changes made by the emancipation of the colored man, and who preferred to face their poverty in new surroundings. Thus their pride could not be offended or trampled on by former slaves.
There were men of the cowboy and hunter class with belted waist-line and prominent gun,- not exactly gunmen, for these were usually of the professional gambler class, but men who knew how to use a gun and based their claims upon a gun. Then again the investor and the traveller were there in ever-increasing numbers, nosing out the golden opportunities always found in a newly-opened country.
For it must be remembered that up to the time of the close of the Civil War, Utah Territory was a closed section to all save those whose affiliations with the dominant religion of the region were cordial and sympathetic.
The soldier was then in his camp on the environs of the city but this military host was resident as a military police, keeper of the peace, and main reason why Uncle Sam was recognized as overlord of these mountain valleys. Outside of these residents, the rest-a vast majority-were the peculiar people known among themselves as the Latter-Day Saints.
As I stood on Main Street, Eastside, that first day in Salt Lake City, I recalled with a thrill that I had seen that identical spot in a very inferior picture some eight years before. It was at a show given by Artemus Ward of humorous fame, in a lecture given by him in the Egyptian Hall, London. This gifted fun-maker was in the last stages of pulmonary tuberculosis, with hatchet features telling of the swiftly approaching end. Yet his eyes were bright and his speech alight with humor. With wit he rehearsed his story of the Mormons, and apologized for the unusual inferiority of these picture daubs to illustrate Utah scenes. He showed with comical enthusiasm, "the Main Street, Eastside," which he further explained was "the eastside of Main Street, Salt Lake City"; and the one story brick block, faithfully pictured, was the very block and corner where I now stood recalling this former introduction. This sad-faced funmaker was long gone to his rest, but his laugh seemed to echo about the locality.
The climate here is genial. Something of the oriental was given to the looks of the city by the wide streets, lined with mountain ash shade trees, by whose roots water courses bubbled. Little brooks flowed down each side of the principal streets, keeping green in the heat of the summer the park-like spaces between the walks and the roadway proper.
Much good judgment and taste was evidenced in the platting of the city by its first settlers, and it is the more remarkable since the settlement was made in great privation and after a long overland journey. Somehow religious enthusiasm refines and exalts taste and gives an impulse to look well in one's appearances.
The old time poverty of the first days was evidenced by an occasional adobe house of small and mean build here and there amid edifices of the popular style, clapboarded, Venetian shuttered, and wide-verandaed buildings of the days before the Civil War.
I was in search of a newly-married couple to whose hospitality I bore letters of introduction. Dr. Welch and his bride, whose cherry-colored cheeks bespoke her youthfulness, were settled on Second South Street, near the city's center; and it was not long before I was seated at their table and enjoying their talk. The Doctor was a soldier of the late war and bore traces of the privation and strain of that awful strife between brothers.
Already the seeds of a fatal disease were at work, which within a few years were to cut him down in the prime of life. War is not alone deadly at the cannon's mouth but it slays long after the fight. The roll is not complete that gives the long list of wounded and killed in a battle's campaigns, but in the tragedies of incomplete lives, as in this case, where a young bride lost her love and hopes soon after marriage. We knew nothing of this coming shadow as we chatted of Utah's present condition and future prospects.
While these young people were, in a sense, newcomers themselves, yet their experiences in this western territory amid Mormon surroundings afforded me much good advice and direction for my own course of action.
I had made up my mind not to antagonize everything that I did not approve. In this I departed somewhat from the course pursued by many recent visitors and writers from the days of Artemus Ward to the year of my own arrival in Salt Lake City.
Of course Artemus Ward was a humorist, using incorrect spelling to throw the spell of fun over his readers; and I recalled his account of his experience with Utah wives, as follows:-
"'Cum and hev wives sealed to yu!' said a bunch of strappin' yung wimen tu me, wen I kim out of ther meetin' house. 'Kum and build up Zion in our midst. We welkum yu!'
"'No yer don't!' sez I, a tearin' myself loos frum ther buksum arms, 'Nary a seal frum me!' and I fled the sene, gatherin' up my coat and hat, and left the city, which is inhabited by the most onprincipuled and dishonust pepul which I ever met.' "
Now this statement, with others printed in fun, and read wherever Artemus Ward's books were read, caused great wrath among the Mormons. They had to face many gross caricatures and misrepresentations of their peculiar doctrines and practices, on the part of subsequent writers and visitors who too freely followed the example of the Yankee showman, Artemus Ward.
Every ward of this city of the Saints had its meeting house. The sound and aroma of religion were more evident than those of education. To go to meeting was the acme of life and it was truly surprising to see with what zeal the crowd attended these meetings when nothing but the commonplace occurred.
In those days and in that religious life there was no need of a fulsome and flaming advertisement to draw the crowd. Just the announcement, and like the flies settling on the kitchen back-door, the crowd came and settled in their seats to remain to the last.
It all goes to show what suffering and sacrifice for one's religious faith will do for the first adherents of a religion. Opposition to the follies of faith seems to strengthen those follies. We read that the "blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," as in the times of the early Christian persecutions.
I was soon seated in a packed row of people in the rear of one of the ward meeting houses. I was anxious to see these people at one of their everyday services. They seemed to the eye to be just like common people such as you meet in any church gathering. Plain, clean, simple and just ordinary bright folks.
They evidently took their religion seriously and not as a social function. I imagine, as most of them were middle aged, that they felt all they had passed through to win a home and place for their faith. They evidently regarded the broad-built, and bearded men, on the platform, as inspired teachers, and listened to some very ordinary talk quite spell-bound.
Of course there were some young people there; the vacant-eyed youth and the giggling girl who had only to glance at each other to see something funny in that simple fact. No religious meeting would be complete without that rear appendage of risible youthfulness; and the huge joke of pinning John's pants pocket to Eliza's skirt flounces. Such opportunities for rare and rich calf-love as a church meeting afforded, could not be overlooked even in such a serious gathering as a Mormon ward house meeting.
An Apostle spoke at this gathering. He rejoiced in the common name of Smith, and yet it was almost a royal name in that locality. For was not Joseph Smith the Seer, Revelator and Leader of these Latter Day Saints?
This apostle was a relative of the martyr of this church who fell the victim of a Missouri mob of fanatics, who did nothing more by their crime of murder than to feed the flame of a hated faith. He was a tall, bearded man. Here let me remark that almost all these men of leadership were apostolically bearded. It seems the part of all religious reformers or zealots to cultivate long hair, both on the head and the face. The razor-cleaned manly countenance of to-day was then a sign of infancy and lack of manhood. The hairy man was the popular man, and no thought was given to the lack of sanitation of mouth, nose, head, neck or collar in those days when "germs" were ignored.
Apostle Smith was eloquent in the longwinded, adjectival way of speech. He certainly was well up in stock phrases and popular platitudes; and brought the handclap now and then like any political ward speaker. Experiences, scripture, recount of past persecutions, the claims of their faith and exhortations to live their religion constituted the subject matter of this address.
They had the long prayer as well as the long speech. The Apostle Snow, a man of snowy head in keeping with his name, led this devotion. It reminded me of the long prayer of Pastor Wilkins, in the days of my earliest youth, who prayed about forty minutes, with rousing shouts at times as if the Lord was inattentive to his words, while my little legs hung aching from a hard seat; forcibly kept still by a mother's hand placed on them during this solemnity of the church service.
Another Apostle, Orson Hyde by name as I recall it, then spoke. We were in Zion and the headquarters was prolific of leaders, and many of the Apostolic twelve and a multitude of Patriarchs of the Church were always available for what was voluble.
In this last speaker I beheld a typical Mormon as I had imagined him to be. He was heavy set and "bearded as the pard," rather coarse of feature and more carnal than spiritual in his general appearance. His heavy voice and dogmatic manner were in keeping with himself and his subject, as he thundered denunciations of divine wrath on the Gentiles who were invading this religious city and bringing in their corruptions. He meant the mining camp morals of the adjacent canyons and gulches; and also the wicked eastern world which the Mormon had shaken off and which had persecuted him from city to city. It was the regular religious tirade which makes splendid copy for the Speaker who talks in meeting to meeting-house people, and which invariably concluded the proceedings of these ward meetings.
I took a stroll about the town. There were two good hotels. The Walker House, which was kept for the aliens who came to Zion. That is to say the miner, the millionaire, the tourist and the gambler. All were well-dressed men who gathered here and defensively spoke against Mormonism as though this atmosphere of religion was likely to rob them of their unbelief. It was rather funny to hear so many, whose religion was homeopathic indeed, talking so religiously. It was in the air then and shows how psychologically catching the religious idea is even when we do not like it. It spreads like measles and we have to have it before we can get over it. I laughed at this ridiculous ridicule. Some of these Mormon-haters indulged in much of this kind of talk while discussing topics of which they had such small experience.
The other hotel was the Townsend House, a much more ancient structure and the gathering place of the Mormons and those of Mormon sympathies. Here the talk was of the past and the persecutions by the people of the States; and certain disloyal and seditious sayings were very common. The wounds of the past were not healed and the arm of authority, in the form of Camp Douglas, with its regiment of United States regulars, was a constant subject of heated speech.
It was very evident that two sides were here, and no fence between them of sufficient width for a comfortable seat for the non-committal, easygoing man who wanted to be friendly with all and a foe to none.
The new element, known as Gentile in the phraseology of this region, had its belligerent news-sheet, the Salt Lake Tribune. It had able men devoted to its sarcastic bitter gibes at the territory's majority of people. To offset this sheet the Mormon church had The Deseret News, and it was just as ably edited and just as caustically worded as its opponent. It was a real treat in comparative hatred to read both these papers in one morning.
Next: Chapter III: Pilgrims to a Modern Zion