|United States||Deseret / Utah Mormons (Nauvoo Legion)|
|Pres. James Buchanan
Gen. Albert S. Johnston
|Gov. Brigham Young
Gen. Daniel H. Wells
|Casualties and losses|
The Utah War, also known as the Utah Expedition, Buchanan's Blunder, the Mormon War, or the Mormon Rebellion was an armed dispute between Latter-day Saint ("Mormon") settlers in Utah Territory and the United States government. The confrontation lasted from May 1857 until July 1858. While it had mainly non-Mormon civilian casualties, the "war" had no pitched battles and was ultimately resolved through negotiation. Nevertheless, according to historian William P. MacKinnon, the Utah War was America's "most extensive and expensive military undertaking during the period between the Mexican and Civil Wars, one that ultimately pitted nearly one-third of the US Army against what was arguably the nation's largest, most experienced militia."
From 1857 to 1858, the Buchanan administration sought to quell what it perceived to be a rebellion in Utah Territory while the Mormons, fearful that the large federal army dispatched to the region had been sent to annihilate them, blocked the army's entrance into the Salt Lake Valley. While the confrontation between the Mormon militia, called the Nauvoo Legion, and the U.S. Army involved some destruction of property and a few brief skirmishes in what is today southwestern Wyoming, no actual battles occurred between the contending military forces.
Despite this, the confrontation was not bloodless. At the height of the conflict, on September 11, 1857, more than 120 California-bound settlers from Arkansas, Missouri and other states, including unarmed men, women and children, were killed in remote southwestern Utah by a group of local Mormon militiamen. This tragedy was later called the Mountain Meadows massacre. While this incident was undoubtedly connected to the hysteria surrounding the approaching federal army that pervaded Utah in 1857, some historians conclude that the killings were an anomaly instigated by geographically isolated and deeply paranoid local leadership acting without the knowledge of the LDS hierarchy in Salt Lake City, some maintain the existence of a larger conspiracy, while others claim the massacre occurred for plunder. Also during this period was the Aiken Massacre. Six wealthy Californians traveling through the territory were arrested as spies, released, and then murdered.
Other incidents of violence can also be linked to the Expedition, such as an Indian attack on the Latter-day Saint mission of Fort Limhi in eastern Oregon Territory, which killed two Mormons and wounded several others. Historian Brigham Madsen relates that "the responsibility for the [Fort Limhi raid] lay mainly with the Bannock. Above and beyond any influence exerted by trader, soldier, or missionary, a situation existed in February 1858 that gave the Bannock an almost unrivaled opportunity to indulge in their age-old customs of horse stealing and war." Nevertheless, David Bigler concludes that the raid was probably instigated by members of the Utah Expedition who were trying to replenish their stores of livestock, stolen by Mormon raiders. Taking all incidents into account, MacKinnon estimates that approximately 150 people died as a direct result of the year long Utah War, including the 120 killed at Mountain Meadows. He points out that this is roughly equivalent to those killed during the seven year contemporaneous struggle in "Bleeding Kansas."
In the end, negotiations between the United States and the Latter-day Saint hierarchy resulted in a full pardon for the Mormons, the transfer of Utah's governorship from church President Brigham Young to non-Mormon Alfred Cumming, and the peaceful entrance of the army into Utah.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), often called Mormon pioneers, settled in what is now Utah in the summer of 1847. Utah was then legally part of Alta California, Mexico (though the United States had already taken control of the larger previously established settlements in the region in late 1846) and the Mormons had purposely left the United States as a result of severe persecution and mob violence that they had endured in several eastern states. Included in these were the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, which resulted in the Extermination order being issued by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs, and the Illinois Mormon War that occurred after the death of Joseph Smith, Jr.
The Mormons believed that in the empty deserts of the Great Basin they could create a utopian society called Zion without outside interference. Still, the Latter-day Saint leadership well understood that they were not "leaving the political orbit of the United States", nor did they want to. Utah and most of the American Southwest were soon transferred to the American government as a result of the U.S. victory in the Mexican-American War. As well, in 1848 gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California, sparking the famous California Gold Rush. As a result, thousands of emigrants moved west to the gold fields on trails that passed directly through the Mormons' new home. These emigrants brought opportunities for trade, but also ended the Mormons' short-lived isolation.
Thus, in 1849, the Mormons proposed that a huge swath of territory they inhabited be incorporated into the United States as the State of Deseret. The primary concern of the Latter-day Saints was to be governed by men of their own choosing rather than "unsympathetic carpetbag appointees" who they believed would be sent from Washington, D.C. if their region was relegated to territorial status. Based on nearly two decades of hardship, they believed that only through the self-governance entailed in statehood could they maintain the religious freedom that had been denied to them in the United States. However, Congress instead formed the Utah Territory as part of the Compromise of 1850. While this designation kept the Saints under direct federal control, President Millard Fillmore selected Brigham Young, President of the LDS Church, as the first governor of the Territory. Although this appointment came as a relief to the Latter-day Saints, in subsequent years the relationship between the Mormons and the federal government gradually broke down.
Part of this friction was purely cultural. Members of the LDS Church believed that polygamy or "plural marriage", such as that practiced by some men in the Old Testament, had been instituted by God. It is estimated that 20% to 25% of Latter-day Saints were members of polygamous households, that the practice involved approximately one third of Mormon women reaching marriageable age, and was generally considered the norm among the Church leadership. However, evidence points to the fact that plural marriage was never particularly popular among either Mormon men or women and that those who engaged in the practice viewed plural marriage as a religious sacrament, and not an excuse for sexual excess or the oppression of women despite contemporary opinion to the contrary.
Indeed, polygamy was roundly condemned by virtually all sections of the American public who accused the Mormons of gross immorality. During the Presidential Election of 1856 a key plank of the newly-formed Republican Party's platform was a pledge "to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism: polygamy and slavery". The Republicans plausibly linked the Democratic principle of popular sovereignty with the acceptance of polygamy in Utah, and turned this accusation into a formidable political weapon.
Popular sovereignty was the theoretical basis of the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Basically, it held that the Territories should be free to regulate their own "domestic institutions" without the interference of Congress. Originally, this concept was meant to remove the divisive issue of slavery in the Territories from national debate and transform it into a local choice, thus forestalling armed conflict between the North and South. But, Republican polemics denouncing the theory held that if popular sovereignty protected the "domestic institution" of slavery in the territories, it must also protect the practice of polygamy. Many Americans who were morally or politically prepared to accept slavery viewed polygamy as deeply immoral, and were strenuously opposed to its practice in Utah. Thus, leading Democrats such as Stephen A. Douglas, formerly an ally of the Latter-day Saints, were forced to denounce Mormonism and polygamy just as harshly as the Republicans in order to save Popular Sovereignty from public disrepute. In a public address on June 12, 1857, Douglas declared the Mormons to be "alien enemies" and urged that the "loathsome, disgusting ulcer" of Mormonism that dominated Utah had to be removed from the body politic.
In essence, the Democrats believed that American attitudes towards the LDS practice of polygamy had the potential of derailing the carefully balanced compromise on slavery they had produced to keep the nation from civil war. This compromise had already been strained to the limit thanks to the border war still raging in "Bleeding Kansas." For the Democrats, attacks on Mormonism therefore had the dual purpose of disentangling polygamy from Popular Sovereignty, and distracting the nation from the ongoing battles over slavery. In April 1857, a confidant of the newly elected President, Democrat James Buchanan, wrote to him and urged that an "Anti-Mormon Crusade" would distract the nation from the divisive issue of slavery so that "the pipings of Abolitionism will hardly be heard amidst the thunders of the storm we shall raise."
In addition, the public was incensed by the semi-theocratic dominance of the Utah Territory under Brigham Young. The Mormons believed passionately in the principles of the American Constitution, which they taught had been inspired by God. Young declared that under the Constitution's "broad folds, in its obvious meanings and intents, [the Latter-day Saints] are safe, and can always rejoice in peace." However, Mormon political thought was heavily influenced by a theoretical governmental form dubbed "Theodemocracy." This system was intimately connected with Mormon beliefs in the imminence of Christ's Second Coming. A theodemocracy in its pure form was believed to be the mechanism through which Christ would reinstitute order and rule a global political kingdom that He would initiate upon His return to earth. It proposed the fusion of traditional American republicanism with Biblical theocracy by calling for the use of republican processes to elect ecclesiastical leaders into positions of secular power while maintaining an institutional separation between church and civil governments. It was further meant to sustain full freedom of religion and other basic liberties for all members of society.
Thus, in the time before the Millennium, the collapse of secular governments, and the institution of a pure theodemocracy, the Saints were comfortable with a system in Utah that was strictly republican in organization and formed a constituent part of the United States, but in which their religious leaders served in important secular positions. LDS Church leaders were elevated to these positions either through popular election to the Territorial Legislature, selection as probate judges, or by federal appointment as in the case of Brigham Young. Young taught in 1855 that the Latter-day Saints, "like all good citizens, should seek to place those men in power who will feel the obligations and responsibilities they are under to a mighty people..." In the minds of the Saints, their ecclesiastical leadership was uniquely suited to do just that. Indeed, the Mormons believed that the they were constitutionally guaranteed the ability to select their own government leaders, despite their ecclesiastical position. As Sarah Gordon points out, during the 19th century the "wall of separation" between church and state entailed in Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists applied only to the federal government. Even today, the election of clergymen to political office has been judged constitutionally valid by the Supreme Court.
However, many Americans in the mid-19th century regarded Mormon governance as a violation of American principles, and the press portrayed Young and other Mormon leaders as petty tyrants who were determined to create a separate kingdom in Utah. Many erroneously believed that Young maintained his power through an organization called the Danites, which was blamed for any act of violence in the Territory. The very existence of such a group in Utah is doubted by many authorities. Nevertheless, because non-Mormons in the east would not have consented to theodemocratic rule, they assumed that the Mormons "were oppressed by a religious tyranny and kept in submission only by some terroristic arm of the Church...[However] no Danite band could have restrained the flight of freedom-loving men from a Territory possessed of many exits; yet a flood of emigrants poured into Utah each year, with only a trickle...ebbing back." The recently formed Know-Nothing Party brought into the political discussion a widely felt distrust of foreign immigration, which bristled at the thousands of Mormon converts streaming into Utah from Europe and other locations.
These circumstances were not helped by the relationship between "Gentile" federal appointees and the Utah territorial leadership. The territory's Organic Act held that the governor, federal judges, and other important territorial positions were to be filled by appointees chosen by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, but without any reference to the will of Utah's population. This situation was similar to that of the American Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War, a condition that gave birth to the slogan "Taxation without representation is tyranny."
Some federal officials sent by the President maintained essentially harmonious relationships with the Latter-day Saints, others had severe difficulties adjusting to the Mormon-dominated territorial government and the unique Utah culture. Historian Norman Furniss relates that although some of these appointees were basically honest and well meaning, many were highly prejudiced against the Mormons even before they arrived in the territory, were woefully unqualified for their positions, and some were down-right reprobate. The Mormons therefore had legitimate grievances against their federal representatives. On the other hand, the Latter-day Saints had little patience for the federal domination entailed in territorial status, and often showed defiance towards the representatives of the federal government. In addition, while the Saints sincerely declared their loyalty to the United States and celebrated the Fourth of July every year with unabashed patriotism, they were undisguisedly critical of the federal government, which they felt had driven them out from their homes in the east. Like the contemporary Abolitionists, Latter-day Saint leaders declared that the judgments of God would be meted out upon the nation for its unrighteousness. Brigham Young echoed the opinion of many Latter-day Saints when he declared "I love the government and the Constitution of the United States, but I do not love the damned rascals that administer the government."
The Mormons also maintained a governmental and legal regime in "Zion," which they believed was perfectly permissible under the Constitution (which does not specify a structure for lower levels of government), but which was fundamentally different from that espoused in the rest of the country.
Thus, relations with the Native Americans who often differentiated between "Americans" and "Mormons", acceptance of the common law, the criminal jurisdiction of probate courts, the Mormon use of ecclesiastical courts rather than the federal court system for civil matters, the legitimacy of land titles, water rights, and various other issues were a source of continual dispute between the Latter-day Saints and federal appointees in the Territory. Many of these officers were also appalled by the practice of polygamy and the Mormon belief system in general, and would harangue the Mormons for their "lack of morality" in public addresses. This already tense situation was further exacerbated by a period of intense religious revival starting in late 1856 dubbed the "Mormon Reformation."
Beginning in 1851, a number of federal officers, some claiming that they feared for their physical safety, left their Utah appointments for the east. The stories of these "Runaway Officials" convinced the new President that the Mormons were nearing a state of rebellion against the authority of the United States. According to LDS historians James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, the most influential information came from William W. Drummond, an associate justice of the Utah territorial supreme court who began serving in 1854. Drummond's letter of resignation of March 30, 1857 contained charges that Young's power set aside the rule of law in the territory, that the Mormons had ignored the laws of Congress and the Constitution, and that male Mormons acknowledged no law but the priesthood.
Buchanan was unfamiliar with Drummond's character, which John F. Kinney, the federally appointed chief justice of the territorial supreme court, found to be immoral and ..entirely unworthy of a place upon the bench. While Drummond railed against Mormon morality, he had abandoned his wife and family in the east and kept company with a prostitute whom he had brought from Washington, D.C. Nevertheless, while Chief Justice Kinney may have disapproved of Justice Drummond, he was also no Mormon sympathizer. In reports to Washington, Kinney recited examples of what he believed to be Brigham Young's perversion of Utah's judicial system and further urged his removal from office and the establishment of a one-regiment U.S. Army garrison in the territory. There were further charges of treason, battery, theft, and fraud made by other officials including Federal Surveyors, and Federal Indian Agents. Furniss states that most federal reports from Utah to Washington "left unclear whether the [Mormons] habitually kicked their dogs; otherwise their calendar of infamy in Utah was complete." As these charges matched the general Eastern perception of Mormons at the time, Buchanan failed to investigate these reports or to even contact Young regarding the accusations.
As early as 1852, Dr. John M. Bernhisel, Utah's delegate to Congress, had suggested that an impartial committee be sent to investigate the actual conditions in the territory. This call for an investigation was renewed during the crisis of 1857 by Bernhisel and even by Senator Stephen A. Douglas. However, the President would not wait. Under massive popular and political pressure, President Buchanan decided to take decisive action against the Mormons soon after his inauguration on March 4, 1857.
President Buchanan first decided to appoint a new governor in place of Brigham Young. The position was offered to several individuals who refused, and the President finally settled on Alfred Cumming during the summer. While Young became aware of the change in territorial administration through press reports and other sources, he received no official notification of his replacement until Cumming arrived in the Territory in November 1857. Young received no communications from President Buchanan until late February 1858. Buchanan also decided to send a force of 2500 army troops to build a post in Utah and to act as a posse comitatus once the new governor had been installed. They were ordered not to take offensive action against the Mormons, but to enter the territory, enforce the laws under the direction of the new governor, and defend themselves if attacked. But once again, President Buchanan made no effort to inform Young of the movement of this army or of its intentions, while lurid accounts in the Eastern newspapers gave the Mormons reason to expect the worst.
Although the Utah Expedition had begun to gather as early as May under orders from General Winfield Scott, the first soldiers did not leave Fort Leavenworth, Kansas until July 18, 1857. The troops were originally to be led by Gen. William S. Harney. However, affairs in "Bleeding Kansas" forced Harney to remain behind to deal with skirmishes between pro-slavery and free-soiler militants. The Expedition's cavalry, the 2nd Dragoons, was kept in Kansas for the same reason. Because of Harney's unavailability, Col. Edmund Alexander was charged with the first detachment of troops headed for Utah. However, overall command was assigned to Col. Albert Sidney Johnston who did not leave Kansas until much later. As it was, July was already far into the campaigning season and the army and their supply train were unprepared for winter in the Rocky Mountains. The army was also dispatched under the mistaken impression that the Mormons would not dare to oppose federal troops, and without clear instructions on how to react in case of resistance.
Just as a misunderstanding of Mormon culture and their governmental system contributed to the Buchanan Administration's decision to send the expedition, the Mormons' lack of information on the army's mission also created apprehension and led to elaborate preparations. While rumors spread throughout the spring that an army was coming to Utah and that Brigham Young had been replaced as governor, this was not confirmed until late July. Mormon mail contractors, including Porter Rockwell and Abraham O. Smoot, received word in Missouri that their contract was canceled and that the Army was on the move. The men quickly returned to Salt Lake City and notified Brigham Young that U.S. Army units were marching on the Mormons. Young announced the approach of the army to a large group of Latter-day Saints gathered in Big Cottonwood Canyon for Pioneer Day celebrations on July 24, 1857. He declared that,
Young's diary entry for the day records,
Early in his administration of Utah, Young famously stated, "We have got a territorial government, and I am and will be the governor, and no power can hinder it until the Lord Almighty says, 'Brigham, you need not be governor any longer,' and then I am willing to yield to another." In 1855 he explained these words saying, "[God] makes Kings, Presidents, and Governors at His pleasure; hence I conclude that I shall be Governor of Utah Territory, just as long as He wants me to be; and for that time, neither the President of the United States, nor any other power, can prevent it." Young firmly believed that God controlled the acts of men, including who the President chose to be governor of Utah. Although Young's secular position made his administration of the Territory simpler, he felt that his religious authority was far more important among a nearly homogeneous population of Mormons who were determined to create a utopian society in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, in 1855 he stated "though I may not be Governor here, my power will not be diminished. No man they can send here will have much influence with this community, unless he be the man of their choice." As his statement of July 24, 1857 makes clear, Young was at first prepared to relinquish his position of governor of Utah Territory.
However, Young and the Mormon community at large feared renewed persecution and possibly annihilation by a large body of federal troops. Many of the Mormon settlers in Utah vividly remembered a pattern of aggression against them whenever they had lived in close proximity to a large number of armed non-Mormons or "Gentiles." This included attacks by both "extra-legal" mobs and state militias when they were settled at Nauvoo, Illinois in the 1840s, during the 1838 Mormon War in northern Missouri, and incident to the Mormon expulsion from Jackson County, Missouri in 1833. This violence had killed the Church's founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., in 1844 and robbed the Mormons of both life and property over a period of nearly two decades. Indeed, in 1838 Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs had gone so far as to issue an Extermination Order against all Latter-day Saints within the state's boundaries and drove thousands across the border into Illinois. This violence continued in the pronouncements of major contemporary newspapers, and the Saints saw its fulfillment on June 23, 1857 when they learned that LDS Apostle Parley P. Pratt had recently been murdered while serving a mission in Arkansas. Young also recalled the problems caused by a group of 300 unruly federal troops that wintered in Utah under Colonel Steptoe from 1854-55. He warned his followers that
Fearing the worst, Young quickly responded to the threat. He asked residents throughout Utah territory to prepare for evacuation, making plans to burn their homes and property and to stockpile food and stock feed. Guns were manufactured and ammunition was cast. Mormon colonists in small outlying communities in the Carson Valley and San Bernadino, California were ordered to abandon their homes and fields and to consolidate with the main body of Latter-day Saints in Northern and Central Utah. All LDS missionaries serving in the United States and Europe were recalled. Fearing possible attack from the west as well as from the east, Young also sent George A. Smith to the settlements of southern Utah to prepare them for action. Young's strategies to defend the Saints vacillated between all out war, a more limited confrontation, and retreat. He stated on August 2,
If total war became inevitable, an alliance with the Native Americans was central to Young's strategy. The relationship between the Mormons and Utah's native inhabitants had been mixed since their arrival in 1847. Although they had fought on several occasions, including the Walker War of 1853-4, Brigham Young had generally adopted a policy of missionary work, education, and conciliation towards native tribes. Indeed, some Mormon leaders encouraged intermarriage with the Native Americans in order that the two peoples might "unite together" and their "interests become one." At least some Mormons and Natives Americans did enter into such relationships, although in the case of the settlers at Fort Limhi in Oregon Territory, the Indian women often rejected the proposals of the Mormon men. In early August 1857, Young wrote to Jacob Hamblin, a missionary to the southern Paiutes, and stated that Hamblin should "continue the conciliatory policy towards the Indians which I have ever commended, and seek by works of righteousness to obtain their love and confidence." However, Young continued that the Indians "must learn to help us or the United States will kill us both."
On August 30 and September 1, Young met with Native American delegations and "gave" them all of the livestock then on the northern and southern trails into California (the Fancher Party was at that time on the southern trail). This was perhaps a means of bribing them for support against the United States and avoiding raids against Mormon settlements, as well as a chance to close the overland trails through Utah Territory. Indeed, Young believed that "Gentile" emigrants had already whipped the Indians into a frenzy through ill-treatment, and this may have been an attempt to mollify them in the face of an approaching army. He stated that "the Gentile emigrants shoot the Indians wharever they meet with them & the Indians now retaliate & will kill innocent People." Young publicly urged the emigrant wagon trains to keep away from the Territory in sermons on August 16, and again one month later. However, the Indians seemed hesitant to fight American troops, preferring to "raise grain" while the Mormons fought. Whether or not Young's attempts to ally with the Native Americans led to the infamous Mountain Meadows massacre in southern Utah on September 11 is a question of fierce disagreement among commentators. Yet despite Young's efforts, some Native groups did attack Mormon settlements during the course of the Utah War, including a raid on Fort Limhi on the Salmon River in Oregon Territory in February 1858 and attacks in Tooele County just west of Great Salt Lake City.
However, despite his tough rhetoric, it seems clear that Young hoped that he could keep "Johnston's Army" out of the Utah Territory without resorting to bloodshed. He counseled church members on September 13,
Young's diary entry for July 26 remarked that after discussing with other Mormon leaders what policy to follow in regards to the approaching army, "We prayed for our Enemies."
In early August, Young activated the Nauvoo Legion. This was the Utah militia under the command of Daniel H. Wells, and consisted of essentially all able-bodied men between 15 and 60. Young ordered the Legion to
Young hoped that these delaying actions would buy time for the Mormon settlements to prepare for either battle or evacuation, and hopefully create a window for negotiations with the Buchanan Administration. Thus, in mid-August, militia Colonel Robert T. Burton and a reconnaissance unit were sent east from Salt Lake City with orders to observe the oncoming American regiments and protect LDS emigrants traveling on the Mormon trail.
It was not until early September that Brigham Young received any communication from the federal government. On July 28, 1857, U.S. Army Captain Stewart Van Vliet, an assistant quartermaster, and a small escort were ordered to proceed directly from Kansas to Salt Lake City, ahead of the main body of troops. Van Vliet carried a letter to Young from General Harney and he was ordered to make arrangements for the citizens of Utah to accommodate and supply the troops once they arrived. However, Harney's letter stated only that the Military Department of Utah had been formed, that troops were on the way, and that they needed supplies. It did not mention that Young had been replaced as governor, nor did it detail what the mission of the troops would be once they arrived and these omissions sparked even greater distrust among the Saints. On his journey, reports reached Van Vliet that his company might be in danger from Mormon raiders on the trail. The Captain therefore left his escort and proceeded alone.
Van Vliet arrived in Salt Lake City on September 8. Historian Harold Schindler states that his mission was to contact Governor Young and inform him of the expedition's mission: to escort the new appointees, to act as a posse comitatus and to establish at least two and perhaps three new U.S. Army camps in Utah. Conversing with Van Vliet, Young denied complicity in the destruction of the law offices of U.S. Federal Judge Stiles and expressed concern that he (Young) might suffer the same fate as the previous Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith, to which Van Vliet replied" "I do not think it is the intention of the government to arrest you," said Van Vliet, "but to install a new governor of the territory". Van Vliet's instructions were to buy provisions for the troops and to inform the people of Utah that the troops would only be employed as a posse comitatus when called on by the civil authority to aid in the execution of the laws. Van Vliet's arrival in Salt Lake City was welcomed kindly by the Mormon leadership. Van Vliet had been previously known by the Latter-day Saints in Iowa, and they trusted and respected him. However, he found the residents of Utah determined to defend themselves. He interviewed leaders and townspeople and "...attended Sunday services, heard emotional speeches, and saw the Saints raise their hands in a unanimous resolution to guard against any 'invader.'"  Van Vliet found it impossible to persuade Mormon leaders that the Army had peaceful intentions, especially after the receipt of Harney's ambiguous letter. He quickly recognized that supplies or accommodations for the Army would not be forthcoming. But, Young told Van Vliet that the Mormons did not desire war, and "if we can keep the peace for this winter I do think there will be something turned up that may save the shedding of blood." However, marking a change from earlier pronouncements, Young declared that under threat from an approaching army he would not allow the new governor and federal officers to enter Utah. Nevertheless, Van Vliet told Young that he believed that the Mormons "have been lied about the worst of any people I ever saw." He promised to stop the Utah Expedition on his own authority, and on September 14 he returned east through the Mormon fortifications then being built in Echo Canyon (see below).
Upon returning to the main body of the army, Van Vliet reported that the Latter-day Saints would not resort to actual hostilities, but would seek to delay the troops in every way possible. He also reported that they were ready to burn their homes and destroy their crops, and that the route through Echo Canyon would be a death trap for a large body of troops. Van Vliet continued on to Washington, D.C. in company with Dr. John M. Bernhisel, Utah Territory's delegate to Congress. There, Van Vliet reported on the situation in the west and became an advocate for the Latter-day Saints and the end of the Utah War.
As early as August 5, 1857 Young had decided to declare martial law throughout the Territory and a document was printed to that effect. However, historians question the intent of this proclamation as it was never widely circulated, if at all, and while copies of the document exist, there is no mention of it in any contemporary sources. One commentary opines that "during most of August the Mormon leaders had not precisely focused on a strategy for dealing with the approaching army; and after the first proclamation was struck off, they likely had second thoughts about a direct confrontation with the federal government. On August 29, Brigham Young instructed Daniel H. Wells to draft a second proclamation of martial law." On September 15, the day after Van Vliet left Salt Lake City, Young publicly declared martial law in Utah with a document almost identical to that printed in early August. This second proclamation received wide circulation throughout the Territory and was delivered by messenger to Col. Alexander with the approaching army. The most important provision forbade "all armed forces of every description from coming into this Territory, under any pretense whatsoever." It also commanded that "all the forces in said Territory hold themselves in readiness to march at a moment's notice to repel any and all such invasion." But more important to California and Oregon bound travelers was the third section that stated "Martial law is hereby declared to exist in this Territory...and no person shall be allowed to pass or repass into, through or from this territory without a permit from the proper officer."
The Nauvoo Legion finally made contact with federal troops in late September just west of South Pass. The militia immediately began to burn grass along the trail and stampede the army's cattle. In early October, Legion members burned down Fort Bridger lest it fall into the hands of the army. A few days later, three large Army supply trains that were trailing the main army detachments were burned by Mormon cavalry led by Lot Smith. Associated horses and cattle were "liberated" from the supply trains and taken west by the militia. Few if any shots were fired in these exchanges, and the Army's lack of cavalry left them more or less open to Mormon raids. However, prisoners were captured by both sides, and the army began to grow weary of the constant Mormon harassment throughout the fall. At one point, Colonel Alexander mounted roughly 100 men on army mules to combat the Mormon militia. In the early morning of October 15, this "jackass cavalry" had a run-in with Lot Smith's command and fired over 30 bullets at the Mormons from 150 yards. No one was killed, but one Mormon took a bullet through his hat band, and one horse was grazed. In addition, through October and November, between 1,200 and 2,000 militiamen were stationed in Echo Canyon and Weber Canyon. These two narrow passes lead into the Salt Lake Valley, and provided the easiest access to the populated areas of northern Utah. Dealing with a heavy snowfall and intense cold, the Mormon men built fortifications, dug rifle pits and dammed streams and rivers in preparation for a possible battle either that fall or the following spring. Several thousand more militiamen prepared their families for evacuation and underwent military training.
Colonel Alexander, whom his troops called "old granny", decided not to enter Utah through Echo Canyon due to Van Vliet's report, news of the Mormon fortifications and a propaganda campaign by Brigham Young. But determined to fulfill his orders to enter the Territory, he decided to move around the Mormon defenses and enter Utah from the north along the Bear River. However, Alexander's force was stopped by a heavy blizzard in late October. Colonel Johnston took command of the combined U.S. forces in early November, but by this time the command was hampered by a lack of supplies, animals, and the early onset of winter. Johnston was a more aggressive commander than Alexander but this predicament rendered him unable to immediately attack through Echo Canyon into Utah. Instead, he settled his troops into ill-equipped winter camps designated Camp Scott and Eckelsville, near the burned-out remains of Fort Bridger, now in the state of Wyoming. Johnston was soon joined by the 2nd Dragoons commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, who had accompanied Alfred Cumming, Utah's new governor, and a roster of other federal officials from Fort Leavenworth. However, they too were critically short of horses and supplies. On November 21, Cumming sent a proclamation to the citizens of Utah declaring them to be in rebellion, and soon after, a grand jury was formed at Camp Scott, which indicted two Mormon prisoners, Brigham Young, and over sixty other members of the Mormon hierarchy for treason. Johnston awaited resupply and reinforcement and prepared to attack the Mormon positions after the spring thaw.
Fortunately, the lull in hostilities during the winter provided an opportunity for negotiations, and direct confrontation was avoided. As early as August 1857, Brigham Young had written to Thomas L. Kane of Pennsylvania asking for help. Kane was a man of some political prominence who had been helpful to the Mormons in their westward migration and later political controversies. In December, Kane contacted President Buchanan and offered to mediate between the Mormons and the federal government. In Buchanan's State of the Union address earlier in the month, he had taken a hard stand against the Mormon "rebellion", and had actually asked Congress to enlarge the size of the regular army to deal with the crisis. However, in his conversation with Kane, Buchanan worried that the Mormons might destroy Johnston's Army at severe political cost to himself, and stated that he would pardon the Latter-day Saints for their actions if they would submit to government authority. He therefore granted Kane unofficial permission to attempt mediation, although he held little hope for the success of negotiations. Upon approval of his mission by the President, Kane immediately started for Utah. During the heavy winter of 1857-1858, he traveled under the alias "Dr. Osborne" over 3,000+ miles from the East coast to Utah, first by ship to Panama, crossing the isthmus via the newly constructed (1855) Panama Railway, and then taking a second ship to San Francisco. Upon learning that the Sierra passes were blocked for the winter, he immediately took a ship to San Pedro, the unimproved harbor for what is now Los Angeles. He was met there by Mormons who took him overland through San Bernardino and Las Vegas, to Salt Lake City on the strenuous southern branch of the California Trail, arriving in February 1858.
Details of the negotiations between Kane and Young are unfortunately unclear. It seems that Kane successfully convinced Young to accept Buchanan's appointment of Cumming as Territorial governor, although Young had expressed his willingness to accept such terms at the very beginning of the crisis. It is uncertain if Kane was able to convince Young at this time to allow the army into Utah. However, in early March Kane traveled to the Johnston's winter base at Fort Bridger. Although his relationship with Colonel Johnston was poor, he eventually persuaded Governor Cumming to travel to Salt Lake City without his military escort under guarantee of safe conduct. As they descended Echo Canyon to Salt Lake city, Kane and the Mormon militia men successfully fooled Cumming as to the size of the armed contingent lining the canyon, something of which Cummings later complained bitterly. Cumming was courteously received by Young and the Utah citizenry in mid-April, and was shortly installed in his new office. Cumming thereafter became a moderate voice, and opposed the hard-line against the Mormons proposed by Colonel Johnston and other federal officials still at Camp Scott. Kane left Utah Territory for Washington, D.C. in May to report to President Buchanan on the results of his mission.
Despite Thomas Kane's successful mission, tension continued throughout the spring and summer of 1858. Young was willing to support Cumming as governor, but he still feared persecution and violence if the army entered Utah. Indeed, as the snows melted, approximately 3,000 additional U.S. Army reinforcements set out on the westward trails to resupply and strengthen the Army's presence. In Utah, the Nauvoo Legion was bolstered as Mormon communities were asked to supply and equip an additional thousand volunteers to be placed in the over one hundred miles of mountains that separated Camp Scott and Great Salt Lake City. Nevertheless, by the end of the winter Young had decided to enforce his "Sevastopol Policy", a plan to evacuate the Territory and burn it to the ground rather than fight the army openly. Members of the Hudson's Bay Company and the British government feared that the Mormons planned to seek refuge on Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia. David Bigler has shown that Young originally intended this evacuation to go northwards towards the Bitterroot Valley now in Montana. However, the Bannock and Shoshone raid against Fort Limhi in February 1858 blocked this northern retreat. Consequently, at the end of March 1858, settlers in the northern counties of Utah including Salt Lake City boarded up their homes and farms and began to move south, leaving small groups of men and boys behind to burn the settlements if necessary. As early as February 1858, Young had sent parties to explore the White Mountains on what is now the Utah/Nevada border where, he erroneously believed, there were valleys that could comfortably harbor up to 100,000 individuals. Residents of Utah County just south of Salt Lake were asked to build and maintain roads and to help the incoming inhabitants of the northern communities. Mormon Elias Blackburn recorded in his journal, The roads are crowded with the Saints moving south. ...Very busy dealing out provisions to the public hands. I am feeding 100 men, all hard at work. Even after Alfred Cumming was installed as governor in mid-April, the "Move South" continued unabated. The movement may have included the relocation of nearly 30,000 people between March and July. Historians Allen and Leonard write:
In the meantime, President Buchanan had come under considerable pressure from Congress to end the crisis. In February 1858, Senator Sam Houston of Texas stated that a war against the Mormons would be
On April 1, Senator Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania declared that he would support a bill to authorize volunteers to fight in Utah and other parts of the frontier only because
Therefore in April, the President sent an official peace commission to Utah consisting of Benjamin McCulloch and Lazarus Powell, which arrived in June. The commission offered a free pardon to the Mormons for any acts incident to the conflict if they would submit to government authority. This included permitting Johnston's Army into the Territory. The commissioners further assured that the government would not interfere with their religion. They also hinted that once the new governor was installed and the laws yielded to, "a necessity will no longer exist to retain any portion of the army in the Territory, except what may be required to keep the Indians in check and to secure the passage of emigrants to California." While all these private assurances were inducements for the Latter-day Saints to bend to federal will, Buchanan maintained a tougher stance in his public statements.
Brigham Young accepted Buchanan's terms and pardon, although he denied Utah had ever rebelled against the United States. Buchanan's proclamation was also unpopular among the Mormon rank and file. Arthur P. Welchman, a member of a company of missionaries that was recalled due to the war, wrote of the document:
On June 19, a newly arrived reporter for the New York Herald somewhat inaccurately wrote, "Thus was peace made - thus was ended the 'Mormon war', which...may be thus historisized: - Killed, none; wounded, none; fooled, everybody." At the end of June 1858 the Army troops under General Johnston entered the Salt Lake Valley unhindered. Riding through the still empty streets of Salt Lake City on June 26, an embittered Johnston was heard to say that he would have given "his plantation for a chance to bombard the city for fifteen minutes." Lt. Col. Charles Ferguson Smith stated that he "did not care a damm who heard him; he would like to see every dammed Mormon hung by the neck." Philip St. George Cooke, who had led the Mormon Battalion during the Mexican War, merely bared his head in respect.
In early July, the Mormons from the northern settlements began to return to their homes after it was clear that no more reinforcements were being sent into Utah from either the east or west. Johnston's Army settled in Camp Floyd, in a valley 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City and separated from Provo (the second-largest city in the territory) by Utah Lake and a small range of mountains. This remote location, neighbor only to a few farms and ranches, was chosen to decrease friction between the troops and the Mormons. The Army and the Mormons continued in a fragile co-existence until the troops left in 1861 when called back east for service in the American Civil War.
Although Eastern editors continued to condemn the Mormons' religious beliefs and practices, they praised their heroism in the face of military threat. By the time Governor Cumming was securely placed in office, the Utah War had become an embarrassment for President Buchanan. Called 'Buchanan's Blunder' by elements of the national press, the President was criticized for:
However, the people of Utah lost much during the brief period of conflict. Largely due to the Move South, the settlers' livelihoods and economic well-being were seriously impacted for at least that year and perhaps longer. Field crops had been ignored for most of the two-month long planting season and livestock herds had been culled for the journey. A year's worth of work improving their living conditions had essentially been lost. Some poverty would be widespread in the territory for several years. A number of Mormon settlements in Idaho, Nevada and California would not be resettled for decades and some were permanently abandoned.
In addition, Utah was under nominal military occupation. Historian Leonard J. Arrington noted that "the cream of the United States Army" jeered and reviled the Utah settlers. Relations between the troops, their commanders and the Mormons were often tense. Fortunately, the near isolation of Camp Floyd kept interaction to a minimum, as troops stayed on or near their base. Settlers living near the 7,000 troops quartered in Cedar Valley did sell the troops lumber for building construction, farm produce and manufactured goods. When the army finally abandoned Camp Floyd in 1861 at the outbreak of the American Civil War, surplus goods worth an estimated four million dollars were auctioned off for a fraction of their value. However, in 1862, new troops arrived and built Fort Douglas in the foothills east of Salt Lake City.
One consequence of the Utah War was the creation of the famous Pony Express. During the war, Lot Smith and the Nauvoo Legion burned roughly fifty-two wagons belonging to outfitters Russell, Majors and Waddell. The government never reimbursed the outfitters for these losses, and in 1860 they formed the Pony Express to earn a government mail contract to keep them from falling into bankruptcy.
In the aftermath of the Utah War, Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in 1858. But every significant bill that they passed fell before the votes of southern Democratic Senators or suffered a presidential veto. The federal government remained stalemated and little could be done. By 1860 sectional strife split the Democratic Party into northern and southern wings, indirectly leading to the election of republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Popular Sovereignty, the defense of which had been a major cause of the Utah Expedition, was finally repudiated when the resolution of the slavery question sparked the American Civil War. Yet with the start of the Civil War, Republican majorities were able to pass legislation meant to curb the Mormon practice of polygamy such as the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862. However, President Abraham Lincoln did not enforce these laws; instead Lincoln gave Brigham Young tacit permission to ignore the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act in exchange for not becoming involved with the American Civil War. General Patrick Edward Connor, commanding officer of the federal forces garrisoned at Fort Douglas, Utah beginning in 1862 was explicitly instructed to not confront the Mormons. In March 1863, Judge Kinney issued a writ against Young for violation of the Suppression of Polygamy Act. The writ was served by the United States marshal and the prisoner promptly appeared at the state-house where an investigation was held. A $2,000 bail bond was posted awaiting the decision of the grand jury. The all Mormon grand jury refused an indictment citing a lack of evidence for Young's marriage to Amelia Folsom in January of that year.
In the end, the Utah War started a slow decline for Mormon isolation and power in Utah. The Latter-day Saints lost control of the executive branch and the federal district courts, but maintained political authority in the Territorial Legislature and the powerful probate courts. In 1869 the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, and soon large numbers of "Gentiles" arrived in Utah to stay. Despite this, complete federal dominance was slow in coming. Brigham Young maintained a "shadow government" for years, although "theodemocracy" in Utah gradually died out. Conflict between the Mormons and the federal government, particularly over the issue of polygamy, would continue for nearly 40 years before Utah was finally made a state in 1896, and was perhaps not fully resolved until the Smoot Hearings of 1904-1907.