I don’t mean to be crude, I’m just instinctively good at it. I don’t mean to piss people off, but it does come naturally. If I wanted to, I could turn tables on the anti-Mormonists and take the show on the road, fighting fire with fire. I could set the Inquisition and Calvin’s Geneva to music, sing and dance around, mocking the thousands of years of Christian torture, gore, and warfare. I could do it all dressed in silly hats and funny costumes like a pope or a puritan. That’s exactly what Christian America has been doing to Mormonism since its birth, and I mean literally that and worse. While the same Christians, many of them anyway, would be shocked and embarrassed at the same sort of open and utter contempt directed at gays, or Native Americans, or Catholics, or other ethnic or religious minorities, they think nothing when they or any of their fellows squat down and dump any volume or variety of crap all over the Mormons. Accepting at face value that Mormons are somehow uniquely weird or particularly dangerous is to this day still a national bias still sanctioned by federal law.
One of the first crusading, “Christian” federal authorities to impose himself upon the Mormon community by law and force of arms was one Judge John Cradlebaugh, a federalist, Christian reformer, who rode out with Johnston’s army in the Utah War of 1857, and set up shop in Provo. He immediately used the nearby US army to facilitate his desire to convict Brigham Young of masterminding the Mountain Meadows Massacre–as soon as he heard about it. Naturally, neither he nor anyone else at the time knew anything about what really went on, but in his mind it all had to be down to Brigham Young and so that’s all that mattered. Instead of hanging Mormonism however, Cradlebaugh was back-handed by the incoming Christian governor Alfred Cumming for causing trouble and over-stepping his authority. He was also reprimanded by the US Attorney General for terrorizing witnesses and juries by military force. Notwithstanding the friendly disposition of the new, certifiably Christian governor himself, the press of the day, inextricably linked to party-loyal political advocacy, preferred Cradlebaugh’s burlesque version of life under Mormonism:
DAILY CLEVELAND HERALD.
Vol. XXVI. Cleveland, Ohio, Sat., March 24, 1860. No. 71.
Judge Cradlebaugh on Mormonism
One of the Judges of the Territory of Utah is the Hon. John Cradlebaugh of Circleville. He was sent out by Mr. Buchanan at the time Gov. Cumming went out. The Governor turned Mormon, opposed the Judges in their efforts to ferret out Mormon crimes, and the Judiciary were powerless. The Administration sides with Governor Cumming.
Judge Cradlebaugh lately delivered a lecture at Circleville upon Mormonism. We make an extract:
…The little education the children get consists in preparing them for the reception of polygamy. So at variance is that practice with all the instincts of humanity that it has to be pressed upon the people with great assiduity as a part of their religious duty. To prepare the women for the reception of the revolting practice it is necessary to brutalize them by destroying their modesty. The sentiment of love is ridiculed, cavalier gallantry and attentions are laughed at; the emblematic devices of lovers and the winning kindness that with us they dote on are hooted at in Utah. The lesson they are taught, and that is inculcated above all others, is “increase and multiply,” in order that Zion may be filled. The young people are familiarized to indecent exposures of all kinds; the Mormons call their wives their cattle; they choose them pretty much as they choose their cattle; and that great pibk of delicacy, Heber C. Kimball, the next in prominence, as also the next in sin, to Young, calls his women his cows.
…The reverend Mormon bishops, apostles, and the presidents of stakes have as many as they desire, and it is a common thing to see these hoary-headed old Turks surrounded by a troop of robust young wives. The common people take as many as they can support, and it is not uncommon to see a house with but two rooms inhabited by a man, his half-dozen of wives, and a proportionate number of children, like rabbits in a warren, and resembling very much the happy family that we read of — the prairie dog, the owl, and the rabbit. Incest is common….
The ill-assorted children — the offspring of one father and many mothers — run about like so many wild animals. The first thing they do, after learning vulgarity, is to wear a leather belt with a butcher-knife stuck in it; and the next is to steal from the Gentiles; then to ride animals; and as soon as they can, “by hook or by crook,” get a horse, a pair of jingling Mexican spurs and a revolver, they are then Mormon cavaliers, and are fit to steal, rob, and murder emigrants. The women and girls are coarse, masculine and uneducated, and are mostly drafted from the lowest stages of society. It is but seldom you meet handsome or attractive women among them.
…Women that are young and pretty are greedily caught up by the apostles and dignitaries to swell their harems, while the old and ugly are left to care for themselves, or sometimes the prophet forces them on a reluctant husband, that he may avail himself of their labor.
Cradlebaugh’s depiction of plural marriage was vigorously contradicted not only by the Christian governor he followed out to Utah, but a host of other visiting dignitaries and journalists. Cradlebaugh’s testimony however, validated the US government’s united effort to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It rationalized the administration’s controversial decision to send a huge military body to force “civilization” upon the Mormons. Governor Cumming’s testimony on the other hand, made the Buchanan administration and all who supported the Utah Expedition look like bigoted idiots. Easily fixed: Cumming is quickly labeled a turncoat, thus invalidating anything further he might have to say about it.
(When you’re on a witch hunt, it’s always easy to exclude any witness who’s testimony would vindicate the old biddy you want to light up like a Roman candle, by pointing dramatically to the witness and claiming you saw them talking to Satan in the form of their pet kitty or that you saw them transform into a barnyard animal or something.)
The whole Christian recruitment shtick is built around frightening you into signing up. Then frightening you into paying up. Then frightening you into eliminating all of your clergy’s competition so there are no other options out there capable of soliciting your membership and guaranteeing you a heavenly reward. Otherwise: Hell awaits.
In the spring of 1857, it became obvious to Christian America that there was a rapidly growing, attractive, viable, openly blossoming alternative to their national Christian program. It wasn’t scary enough just to say that the Utah Mormons were all fat and happy, but even so, it was still pretty crappy trying to live out there if you weren’t one of them because they make you feel all left-out and that hurts your feelings. The Mormons had to be seen as miserable wretches living like animals. If there weren’t any tangible social consequences to following a living prophet, or taking multiple wives, well, Christian America didn’t really have a case against Mormonism, and no excuse to butt into their business. The prophet had to be despotic and the institution of plural marriage had to be inherently depraved. That was the narrative they had contrived and that was what they needed to sell to the American public.
By 1857, after three decades of trumping up whole states, whole regions full of violent, Mormon-killing mobs via a strategy of non-stop mockery, slander, bold assertion, rumor and innuendo, Christian America as an entire nation called an open war upon the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christian America shouted from the presses and the pulpits that the federal government must eradicate Mormonism instantly, before the entire nation was at Brigham Young’s evil mercy. The more Christian they were, the more the American citizenry believed in the urgency of exterminating Mormonism.
But still, the political and religious classes had to provide this anxious public with a convincing pretext out of which they would appear to organically trigger the sort of overwhelming force and violence required to get the job of Mormon extermination done once and for all. The Christian Movers and Shakers of the American expansion didn’t want to teach the Mormons a lesson, or “contain” the festering Mormon influence upon America’s frontier development. They wanted to be rid of them. Period. And to this end, America’s collective conscience had to be perfectly satisfied that the Mormons really, really had it coming.
It had been hoped after their regional expulsion from the Midwest, that the Mormons would straggle their sorry arses out into no-man’s land, piddle their life’s-blood away into the barren, infertile desert, and soon be sucked dry, only to crumble into piles of their own dust. Christian America would then eventually get around to over-running the waning remnants of Mormonism by sheer force of numbers until the survivors were sufficiently diluted to become politically and socially insignificant—like the Quakers, the Shakers, the Charismatics, and other goofy Christian deviants.
Life did not work according to that plan.
Ten years into what Christian America had imagined would be a hopeless, leaderless, gasping Mormon failure in the desert, quite the reverse was happening. Mormonism was thriving and spreading its culture all across the Intermountain West. Mormonism was converting Europe, proselytizing the cities and farms of Canada and Eastern America. Mormonism was bringing enthusiastic capitalists and cultural diversity by the thousands and tens of thousands into America’s Great Basin. There, Brigham Young was daily transforming these foreigners, American oddballs, dissidents, and former Christians, into productive, patriotic Americans—Americans who rather than look at Mormonism as a threat to the exclusive whims of a Christian Nation, saw their new church, its doctrines and leadership, as the foremost protector of Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of worship, of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness regardless of race, creed, or color.
Christian America couldn’t allow that to go on for very long.
Christian America had spent years inventing legends and rumors of the corrupt, oppressive misbehavior of Brigham Young. An entire class of anti-Mormon literature, newspapers, journals and periodicals, had dedicated itself to the illumination of Brigham Young’s Utah “hell on earth,” and the depravity of his closed, secretive Mormon Empire. Nothing they said or did against the LDS scoundrels however, seemed to prohibit thousands upon thousands of emigrants, Mormon, Gentile, foreign and domestic, from making the exodus out of the teaming crapholes of the Old World and America’s East, and into the fresh, open Mormon territory in the West.
Though quite prepared to believe almost anything said against the puffed-up, conniving Mormon fiend who had appropriated Joe Smith’s bunch of dangerous heretics, for the most part Gentile settlers in the Mormon West found that Brigham Young was not cooperating with the sinister depiction given him by his Eastern critics. No concrete examples of his black thuggery seemed to leap immediately forward to prove their point. To the contrary, many noted scholars and Eastern journalists also roamed freely throughout Utah Territory, up and down the streets of Salt Lake City, and most of these expected to be immediately struck by the beastly spectacle of vile conditions and heinous oppression that Mormon detractors had promised them back East. To the contrary, of the general condition of Mormon society, these professional observers conceded, often reluctantly, with suspicion, incredulity, resignation and disappointment dripping from their pens, that as the Great Gary Keillor boasts of his fictional home town of Lake Wobegon, “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
In the new Utah Mormon society, Brigham Young in all fairness, had a pervasive influence over what everyone thought about everything simply because everyone respected his opinions. Once again, this voluntary association and resulting solid Mormon voting block was unassailable in Constitutional terms. The Mormon church may have effectively infiltrated every element of law and civil government, but that was mostly because almost everyone in Utah Territory was a member of it, in the same fashion that Roman Catholics seem to “infiltrate” and dominate everything in Italy, or Spain, or Mexico. If Utah courts were stacked with Mormon juries and Mormon officers, it was because the criminals and everyone else there were also nearly all Mormons.
In frustration, in the spring of 1857, a few of Mormonism’s enemies in Utah, ran back to Washington DC making the bold assertion that Brigham Young, Territorial Governor, had usurped all the federal officers appointed by Congress. The cry of treason had never failed them before, and it bore fruit once again in this instance. It was tearfully alleged by a handful of failed federal appointees and contractors, who had made the trip back to Washington to air their complaints, that the Mormons were oppressing and pillaging every “Gentile” in the Territory. And thus, as it had transpired in Nauvoo, where the frantic anti-Mormonists sent their earnest Governor Ford up and down, back and forth around the region with his State Militia, on repeated wild-goose chases, urgently trying to rescue his constituents from phantom Mormon outrages, the newly elected US president, James Buchanan, eagerly assembled a large military force, dubbed it the “Utah Expedition,” and sent it on its way to install a Christian governor into Utah Territory, and put down this pretended Mormon unrest and rebellion.
But this was all according to plan, a plan outlined clearly in writing by Buchanan and agents of his ruling Democrat Party:
The author of the letter which is reproduced herein, Robert Tyler, was a son of John Tyler, tenth president of the United States. The Tyler family’s American roots stretched back to the mid-seventeenth century when its first representatives settled in Virginia. …His career was dominated by the law and his political interests:
Phila: April 27, 1857
My dear sir:
The public mind is becoming greatly excited on the subject of Mormonism. The Popular Idea is rapidly maturing that Mormonism (already felt slightly in our large Northern cities) should be put down and utterly extirpated.
I believe that we can supersede the Negro-Mania with the almost universal excitements of an Anti-Mormon Crusade. Certainly it is a subject which concerns all the Religious Bodies & reaches every man’s fireside with a peculiar interest. Should you, with your accustomed grip, seize this question with a strong fearless & resolute hand, the Country I am sure will rally to you with an earnest enthusiasm & the pipings of Abolitionism will hardly be heard amidst the thunders of the storm we shall raise. Were I President I would put down & cast out this hideous imposture, equally at War with Conscience, Reason & Philosophy, at all hazards. I would take the ground that the case was anomalous & altogether exceptional–without the limits of ordinary Constitutional treatment–& that the principles of the Democratic Party in regard to Territories consequently had no application. The eyes & hearts of the Nation may be made to find so much interest in Utah as to forget Kansas. [Last emphasis mine.]
His Excly ever you friend
James Buchanan Ro: Tyler
Once again, Christian America boldly spelled out its intention to usurp the Constitution and all the obviously protected rights of the Mormon people. And more to the point, where American Christians were gravely divided on the issue of slavery, these Democrat Party schemers proposed to brazenly make war upon the Latter-day Saints, not because of any threat or specific offense, but simply to unite Christian America in rejoicing over the destruction of Mormonism, and by this means, secure the religious crossover vote for their political party. In this however, they only echoed the strategy of the Republicans Party’s first appearance in a national election. The Republican platform featured as its chief planks the “eradication of the twin relics of barbarism: slavery and polygamy.”
President Buchanan naturally, never bothered to investigate or confirm any of the allegations brought to him by the likes of Justice WW Drummond. These allegations included petty complaints like this one, posted in the New York Times April 14, 1857, page 2; paragraph 8:
“I charge the Mormons, and Gov. Young in particular, with imprisoning five or six young men from Missouri and Iowa, who are now in the Penitentiary of Utah, without those men having violated any criminal law in America; but they were Anti-Mormons, poor, uneducated young men, on their way for California….”
Even in his own words it seems hardly worth an invasion, but Drummond bundled his lame litany of personal bitches into a pattern of infamy.
More often than not the complaints of federal judges and law enforcement officers in early Utah Territory came down to not being able to command and manipulate juries and grand juries to convict Mormon desperadoes like Brigham Young, who they had already decreed guilty before leaving Washington, based upon their mighty federal insistence alone. That’s the way federal judges and law enforcement officers worked throughout the American frontier. They were demigods. Federal appointments were usually political rewards, from which the appointee often expected to set up business and political connections through which to graft, bribe, and extort themselves into a sizeable retirement purse. Mormon jurists however, considered the evidence given, and then voted their own minds regardless of federal instructions. Mormon court, civil and political officers did not play the graft game and there were so few “Gentiles” in the system, that though they seemed eager to get a piece of the action, there was just too little influence to peddle and too few Gentile collaborators willing to pay for it.
Unremarkable in every other way, WW Drummond was a Christian “reformer” of some stature, and he very dramatically made his “escape” back to Washington to resign his post. He instantly had Washington’s enthusiastic ear. Washington embraced his rant. It was just what the administration and most of Congress needed to move against Brigham Young. With the additional gripes of a few failed civil contractors thrown in for appearances, WW Drummond’s charges would seem completely credible to the American masses. After all, federal officers don’t lie. (And they actually believed that back then…)
The truth however, is that the history of anti-Mormonism is replete with examples of conspiring Saint-bashers inventing frightening but utterly false tales to elicit public outrage whenever they needed to justify their violence. In some cases they even elaborately faked outrages upon themselves in order to have something suitably horrible to blame upon their uncooperatively peaceful Mormon neighbors. As noted by Governor Thomas Ford in his A Brief history of Illinois:
“In the fall of 1845, the anti-Mormons of Lima and Green Plains, held a meeting to devise means for the expulsion of the Mormons from their neighborhood …. The meeting was held, the house was fired at [by their own people], but so as to hurt no one; and the anti-Mormons suddenly breaking up their meeting, rode all over the country spreading the dire alarm, that the Mormons had commenced the work of massacre and death…. On the eleventh of the month twenty-nine houses were burned [by the anti-Mormons.]”
[Laura A. Cruse, American Republicanism as Shown through Mormon-Federal Conflict, 1846-1890, PhD, Northeast Missouri State University, 1994, page 11, note 9, citing B.H. Roberts, The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965): 346-7)]
We don’t have to guess the purposes of the Utah Expedition. We have the smoking gun on James Buchanan. We have his version of the “Mob Manifesto” and it follows the same Christian pattern used by the “Regulator” committees in Missouri and Illinois. There was no Mormon rebellion.
Buchanan had promised to destroy the LDS church all through his campaign. One of his closest advisors and Democrat Party-wonk, Robert Tyler, clearly plotted with him to use the military conquest of Mormonism as a wag-the-dog diversion from the burning issue of slavery, and thereby gain both the Southern slaveholder’s vote and the overall religious swing vote on top of it. By this strategy they hoped to insure his re-election and maintain Democrat control of Congress. They include in their scheme, in writing, an open admission that they would have to suspend the Constitution in Utah Territory to do so.
The Utah Expedition was nothing more than religiously driven, politically sanctioned, naked aggression against the Mormon church. So of course, not only did James Buchanan take WW Drummond’s ravings at face value, but he also made no effort at all to inform Brigham Young of these charges, solicit a rebuttal, or seek further explanation from Young or anyone else. He made no indication of his intentions at all to anyone in the Territory of Utah. He had already long decided to kill Mormonism. He was only waiting for a pretense.
Buchanan’s expedition formed itself in the enemy hinterlands of former anti-Mormon War regions of the Midwest. As it grew, the Utah Expedition shed all pretense of “investigation,” and soon billed itself openly as an army of extermination and revenge. It took very little time for Brigham Young to hear about these developments through unofficial channels. Buchanan’s total lack of communication notwithstanding, it is then alleged by Christian apologists that Brigham Young responded to the news of his termination and a new governor’s appointment by issuing a “declaration of war,” against the United States:
CITIZENS OF UTAH:
We are invaded by hostile forces, who are evidently assailing us to accomplish our overthrow and destruction.
For the last twenty-five years we have trusted officials of the government, from Constables and Justices to Judges, Governors and Presidents, only to be scorned, held in derision, insulted and betrayed. Our houses have been plundered and then burned; our fields laid waste, our principal men butchered while under the pledged faith of the Government for their safety, and our families driven from their homes to find that shelter in the barren wilderness, and that protection among hostile savages, which were denied them in the boasted abodes of Christianity and civilization.
The constitution of our common country guarantees unto us all that we do now or ever claimed.
If the constitutional rights, which pertain unto us as American citizens, were extended to Utah, according to the spirit and meaning thereof, and fairly and impartially administered, it is all that we could ask.
Our opponents have availed themselves of prejudices 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. We know those aspersions to be false, but that avails us nothing. We are condemned unheard, and forced to an issue with an armed mercenary mob, which has been sent against us at the instigation of anonymous letter writers, ashamed to father the base, slanderous falsehoods which they have given to the public; of corrupt officials who have brought false accusations against us, to screen themselves in their own infamy; and of hireling priests and howling editors, who prostitute the truth for filthy lucre’s sake.
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 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 into subjection to an unlawful military despotism, such as can only emanate (in a country of constitutional law) from usurpation, tyranny and oppression.
Therefore, I, Brigham Young, Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Territory of Utah, in the name of the people or the United States in the Territory of Utah,
First – Forbid all armed forces of every description from coming into this Territory, under any pretense whatever.
Second – 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
Third – Martial law is hereby declared to exist in this Territory, from and after the publication of this Proclamation; and no person shall be allowed to pass or repass, into or through, or from this Territory without a permit from the proper officer.
Given under my hand and seal at Great Salt Like City, Territory of Utah, this fifteenth day of September, A.D. eighteen hundred and fifty seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the eighty -second.
(Signed) BRIGHAM YOUNG
In the words of Malcolm X: A man has a right to survive through whatever means necessary. Malcolm said that with an assault rifle in his hands and he’s a “Freedom Fighter.” No so, Brigham Young. Mormonism is still too small a minority for that I suppose.
Buchanan’s so-called Mormon “rebellion,” was just another Christian exercise in the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy. First you declare Mormonism in rebellion. Then you send an army of extermination against them. Then, oddly enough, you find that they rebel from this procedure.
Far from a declaration of war on the United States of America, Brigham Young’s reply to the Utah Expedition only proves once-again that Mormons look upon the Constitution as a Divinely inspired document that guarantees religious and civil liberty to all races, creeds and colors. And yet, the Holy Conspiracy still claims that shortly after publishing this graciously composed, Constitutionally sound, and entirely reasonable statement of territorial defensive policy, Brigham Young decided he’d just pick up the nonexistent telephone, call a few bishops down the three-hundred miles south to Mountain Meadows, and see if his sparse collection of emaciated Mormon lackeys had a spare minute to butcher a randomly selected wagon train full of harmless Christian pilgrims–if any could be found coincidentally camped in the vicinity at that particular moment.
Apparently James Buchanan thought he would just march a large body of artillery and troops out and storm the Salt Lake Valley. I guess he thought it would be that easy. All the way out, this obvious assault force telegraphed its mission at every opportunity to boast of Mormon annihilation. Yet, from the whole of the United States government, there wasn’t any communication of any sort, transmitted in any fashion to the Governor of Utah Territory, explaining the Utah Expedition. All Brigham Young knew, was that it was cursing him and his people all the way from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Bridger, it was armed to the teeth, rolled with heavy artillery, and was swearing the death and destruction of the Mormons. From Brigham Young’s perspective, that pretty much spelled it all out in big block letters.
Brigham Young didn’t need a memo from Washington to explain the Utah Expedition. The Utah Expedition was the memo from Washington. There was very little to misinterpret in that message. The destruction of Mormonism was after all, the key plank in the platform upon which James Buchanan had gotten himself elected.
Brigham Young quickly learned another unsettling bit of information as well: The new governor being inflicted upon them was a man named Alfred Cumming, the same name as one of the most prominent Jackson County Missouri mobocrats. It was also heard that this new governor was from Missouri. Though it turned out that Governor Cumming was a rather nice Christian gentleman from Georgia, and not the Missouri mobber at all, while awaiting the US invasion of Utah, a Mormon campfire song erroneously evolved:
Old Sam has sent I understand
Doo Dah. Doo Dah.
A Missouri ass to rule our land,
Doo Dah, Doo Dah Day…
—Roberts Comprehensive History of the Church Volume 4, pg 396
In the same year of 1857, as the US Army was loading up guns, bombs, and filling out its troops in Kansas, there was also a wagon train making its way past them and on into Mormon country. This was known as the Fancher Party, named for the main family of Christian pilgrims it was transporting to California. They passed through Salt Lake City short on supplies, and very quickly became pissed off that the local Mormons weren’t inclined to sell them the provisions they’d been counting on.
The Fanchers are often billed by their admiring, evangelical, anti-Mormon legacy as wealthy farmers. They are lovingly described by their proponents as simple, God-fearing family-types. And so they were—by East Tennessee Regulator-culture standards that is. Even the most “civilized” of them were seasoned pioneers, frontiersmen, and hard-as-nails rugged. The Fancher Party was made up of simple farmers in the same way Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were simple farmers. It was the Fanchers and their kin who fought the battle of the Alamo.
Their trail partners on the other hand, were essentially a border-gang from Missouri who called themselves the “Wildcats.” These were not fun nick-names that some New-Gentrified, farmer-rednecks gave themselves to make their card-club sound daring while they relaxed over a mint-julep and played gin rummy after working their enslaved negroes in the fields all day. These weren’t whimsical Christian plowboys who entertained themselves in the off-season by putting buggies on barn roofs or pranking the Amish by painting their buckboards in bright colors. The Wildcats didn’t just go about the countryside scribbling mean, anti-Abolitionist epithets on outhouse walls. This was a self-described, hard-core, seasoned, Missouri band of Regulators, a violent, murdering, brutalizing vigilante squad, well versed in torture, torment, death and destruction. While the Wildcats were heading to California for gold, gambling, whores and fortune, their Missouri brothers were staying behind giving us “Bleeding Kansas,” the brutish, pro-slavery border war that actually delayed the departure of the Utah Expedition just long enough to allow Mormonism to prepare a very successful defense.
Even so-called “neutral” historians have always wondered why these “simple Christian farmers” would fall into the company of cutthroats and ruffians. Honestly, only the latter-day anthropological simpleton could have a problem reconciling this nonexistent conflict of identities. Still, this is a puzzle many historians on both sides have continuously used to prove either this or that point: that the two were entirely separate, disinterested parties only very briefly together out of necessity and security, or that the Fanchers and Bakers and other “family” elements of the train were just as profane and rowdy as the Missourians. Neither is true.
For most purposes, the Fanchers, Bakers, a few other amalgamated families and friends, were indeed a cut well above the Missouri “pukes.” (A regional nick-name at the time.) What seems astoundingly ignorant to me however, as a hack-writer and amateur historian of highly dubious qualifications, is that nobody has ever noticed that these ostensibly disparate groups of people are to the contrary, ethnic brethren. They’re all Scots-Irish, East Tennessee, Protestant, Fundamentalist kinfolk, from the same genetic, religious, ideological and cultural seed. While the Fanchers may have fled the Tennessee hills to find more productive land, a few more manners and a little more prosperity in Arkansas, it has always been the landed-Gentry, the Church-going Fancher types, who have enabled, directed, and validated the violence of the hillbilly Regulator-types. Coarse social elements like the Missouri Wildcats have always been groomed and exploited by Christianity’s more refined citizens, to “regulate” their society according to their common desires and prejudices whenever violence is wanted and the hands of the “civil” must not be stained with the blood of infidels. The Wildcats were idiot cousins to the Fanchers perhaps, but cousins just the same—cousins of a common ethnic and religious experience.
And keep in mind also, that as the “good Christian” Fanchers were heading for California, their “good Christian” contemporaries, Abolitionist settlers under John Brown, were in turn, personally hacking up the Fancher’s pro-slave Tennessee brothers in Kansas, and then dressing up in their best Sunday suits for respectable photographs, and sharing the Communion of the Saints like innocent angels. Violence was just a thing “good Christians” did back in the day. Just a thing they still do.
As they made their way through Salt Lake City, down the Wasatch Front and through the lower, distant Mormon settlements, the Fanchers became increasingly more disgruntled at not getting all the supplies they wanted, and paying high prices for anything they did manage to buy off the Mormons. The Bakers, the Fanchers, Wildcats, or whoever–began to shoot their mouths off about the huge army that was boasted to be right on their heels, an army that would soon put the Mormons in their place. It was then that Utah’s Mormon survivors of previous Christian military actions begin to think they recognized some of the mouthy Wildcats as having been part of the mobs and rogue militias who had burned and slaughtered them out of Missouri and Illinois.
In the fall of 1857, after several years of drought and bad crops, Mormons in Utah did not want to sell their scarce provisions to anyone, much less the same smart-mouthed, murdering Missouri bastards who’d driven them into that wilderness. Now, you can say the Fanchers themselves were from Arkansas all you want, but they were the same Appalachian, East Tennessee, Andy Jackson rednecks Mormons knew all too well from previous persecutions. There were 70 men and boys in their company who were imposing riflemen. They were healthy, and strongly built from years of heavy frontier farm work. The Fancher Party had additional older girls and women who could shoot plenty good too. They had at least 11 hard-core “Regulators,” as ruthless and competent a band off semi-professional killers as the American frontier had ever seen. They outgunned and outnumbered every single one of the settlements they passed through in the lowest, hottest, deadest stretches of the Mormon sphere of influence.
With a Born-Again army of invasion on its way, and all communication lines cut by the federal government, the Mormons of southern Utah were in a very conservative frame of mind. Mormonism was hunkering down for an extended fight and expected to be soon cutoff from all supply lines. To them, the Fancher Party did not look like a Sunday School class fellowshipping its way to California. They looked like trouble.
There are of course, pro-Fancher, “sainted hillbilly” versions of this wagon train, where there never were any “Wildcats” and the Fanchers are portrayed as a small, unarmed, helplessly naïve Bible-study group. But the fact remains that the very territories they were emigrating from were full of mixed, migrating groups of Ruffian and “good Christian settler” components, and they were indeed shooting the hell out of “Redskins,” Abolitionists and Freestate competitors all over Kansas, Missouri, and “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma. They were all Appalachian spin-offs, trying to get their share of the open land and goodies for the cause of slavery and King Cotton. They were a tough crowd. Not only did this ethnic, religious, political, combination of “Fanchers” and “Wildcats” win Texas for slavery, but only a few years later this same lot would beat the mighty Union to a near-defeat in one of the bloodiest Civil Wars in history, with nothing but a few rifles, their fighting skill and sheer bravery.
Utah territorial records clearly expose the myth of the Fancher Party’s oft-touted Christian purity. They are plainly recorded moving through the Salt Lake and Utah Valleys clearly united with the Duke Party. The Dukes were unequivocally boasted to be from Missouri. The Dukes bragged of some 11 self-identified members of a volunteer militia called the “Wildcats.” The “Wildcats” were in fact “regulators” or vigilante mobs that enforced Darwinian-Democracy’s Christian “cultural” mandates through extra-legal violence and murder in period vernacular. If not the mob that killed Joseph Smith, they were of the same type and pedigree. Whether or not they had any direct action against the Missouri or Nauvoo Saints is uncertain. That they inherently hated the Latter-day Saints is not debatable.
The Duke and Fancher parties were repeatedly recorded travelling and negotiating for supplies and camp space together as a combined train. It is often claimed by pro-Fancher “historians” that the Wildcats actually left the slower moving Baker-Fancher train shortly after Salt Lake City. In this scenario, it is therefore contended that the Fanchers and other emigrant families were utterly innocent of any offense that might have precipitated their demise at Mountain Meadows. But then again, the irony of these sorts of pioneering wagon train disasters, is that the hellfire of Native and local vengeance usually falls upon the train immediately following the arse-holes who initiate all the trouble.
Neither the Mormons nor the Indians responsible for their destruction would have had any clear way to distinguish their ideological or physical separation from the Duke Party Wildcats. Frankly, to the Mormons, they were all hillbilly rednecks. They all spoke with the same East Tennessee twang. They all prayed to the same vengeful, anti-Mormon God, and cursed heathen Indians and the Latter-day Saints as their common enemies. To the Indians, they were all “shwop.” Indeed, the local Indians only had two names for white men: shwop, and Mormon. Mormons were their friends. Shwop were their enemies.
While the Fundamentalist legacy of the Fancher Party may be convinced they see the whole matter of Mountain Meadows with crystal clarity, in all honesty, the only thing clearly evident in the surviving jumble of half-facts, bigoted personal opinion, and bold speculation, is that there was a massive culture clash that ensued when the Fancher train passed through southern Utah. This time however, it wasn’t the hillbilly rednecks who had the entire region’s social and governmental establishments bent decidedly in their favor. This time, things did not go their way. This time they could not just beat up, shoot up, or string up the offending Mormons and take what they wanted away from them like they had done for two generations in Missouri and Illinois, or like they were doing in Kansas to the Abolitionists and Freestaters.
Occam’s razor, the once-popular burden-of-proof test states: “Simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones.” Rather than attempt to empirically validate that theory, I’ll just say that for my money, I think what happened to the Fancher Party at Mountain Meadows in the Fall of 1857, was that this particular wagon load of hillbillies crapped on exactly the wrong group of Mormons at just the wrong time, in absolutely the wrong place.
This narrative is a good summary of the main players and events connected with the Mountain Meadows Massacre:
In August of 1857 a wagon train of immigrants from Arkansas and Missouri known as the Fancher Party began to take the trail through Utah on their way to California. Due to the war preparations in the Utah territory they were unable to purchase many of the provisions they needed and had planned to buy in Salt Lake City. Out of frustration, this train began to lash out at the Saints threatening to take news of the insurrection to California and bring back troops. Additionally, some of the immigrants began to boast that they had participated in the Missouri persecutions (including Haun’s Mill) and some sources indicate that one immigrant claimed to be carrying the gun that killed Joseph Smith.[xvi] As the train moved through Salt Lake City and on to the southern settlements, some immigrants began to steal provisions that they were unable to buy out of sheer desperation. The Fancher party’s frustration combined with the anger, paranoia and thirst for vengeance by the southern Saints created an environment ripe for violence. In speaking of the actions of some of the southern Saints when they became aware of the Fancher party, its claims and activities; Juanita Brooks explains:
Immediately following the regular church service, a special meeting was called of the Stake High Council. Isaac C. Haight, as the highest in religious authority [stake president] and the one in command of the military organization in the town, was in charge of this indignation meeting. The local officers wanted the help of the militia to enforce the law, and various members expressed themselves freely as to what should be done with regard to the emigrant company. Some felt that the travelers should not be allowed to get away with such defiance.
A resolution was presented and passed to the effect that we will deal with this situation now, so that our hands will be free to meet the army when it comes. After it was passed, Laban Morrill and others began to ask questions. What, specifically, did the brethren mean by dealing with the situation now? Arrest and punish the offenders? Some felt that this would do no good; it would only mean men to guard them and food to feed them, and no one any better off.
So, it was suggested that they be done away with. Ever since the days of Missouri and Nauvoo, ever since the martyrdom of their prophet, the Saints had been taught that they should never cease to importune the Lord to avenge the blood of the prophets. Now, here were the men who had boasted openly and defiantly that they had helped to kill Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. One had displayed the pistol which fired the fatal shot. All had laughed to scorn the attempts of the local officers to arrest them. [Because the Fancher train outgunned and outnumbered the whole region.] Should they forget the oaths of vengeance which they had taken and sit back weakly while such as these taunted them? (emphasis added)[xvii]
Entire books have been written in an attempt to explain the events of September 11, 1857.[xviii] For sake of brevity, I will offer only the essential details. A group of Indians[xix] and zealous Mormons led by Isaac Haight and John D. Lee (both leaders of the Church in southern Utah) attacked the Fancher party at Mountain Meadows on or about September 7th. [Actually, Lee was not a bishop as popularly assumed, he was an elder, led a tiny branch in a very small settlement, and was a liaison to the Native Americans as an agricultural advisor.] Apparently, the Fancher party was better-armed than had been expected and withstood the initial assault. The fighting went on for several days but on September 11, a group of Mormon men approached the party under the pretense of peace offering to escort the group safely to the next settlement on the condition that the immigrants disarm and walk away protected by the company of Mormons. The Fancher party agreed to the request and was marched about one-half mile from their wagons when a signal was given by Mormon leaders and all members of the immigrant party, with the exception of those children who were not yet old enough to speak, were summarily shot and killed.
Just for the record, the bold emphasis above is mine. I wanted to clearly note that the text actually deals with the Brethren urging the Saints to pray to the Lord to do all the avenging. The actual Mormon canon on the subject of raining death upon your fellow man is:
79 And it shall come to pass, that if any persons among you shallakill they shall be delivered up and dealt with according to the laws of the land; for remember that he hath no forgiveness; and it shall be proved according to the laws of the land.
—D&C Section 42, 9 February 1831
According to most accounts, the Fancher Train also seems to have pissed off just the wrong group of Indians, at just the wrong time, at just the wrong place. We can argue ignorantly and inconclusively forever, who provoked or nudged the Indians into open attack, the Fancher crew themselves or diabolical Mormon instigators. Again, my money’s on the simple explanation: the Fanchers pissed off both the Indians and the Mormons. The Indians wanted to go to war, the Mormons said, go ahead, knock yourselves out–we don’t like them anyway and we have bigger fish to fry. When the Fanchers proved tougher than expected, the Indians joyfully invited the local Mormons to help them actively and personally in the war party.
Assuming all of this, we’re still short of any half-intelligent motivation for the particularly cold-blooded strategy executed so efficiently by the Mormons to conclude the hostilities at Mountain Meadows. It can be deduced that the Mormons sought to overcome the superior position and fighting instincts of the wild and wooly Fancher gang, who had by then thoroughly dug in, out-smarted and outshot the Indians. But the most logical explanation for the Mormon decision to go beyond simple defeat to total extermination however, seems to be that there was a daring nighttime escape by two brave souls of the Fancher Party during the initial Indian-only part of the siege on Wednesday, 10 September. These escapees encountered three unidentified white men near the Mormon settlement of Pinto, who they approached for assistance. Instead of finding help, they were shot at, and one of the Fancher crew was killed on the spot. The second fled, slipped back, re-entered the Fancher stronghold, and eventually perished with the rest of his companions.
By Thursday, 11 September, a rally call from John Lee had gathered ‘round him as many as fifty or sixty Mormon combatants, most of whom were very young men and older boys. It is often claimed that Lee used the Mormon “militia” against the Fanchers, again anachronistically assuming that the Fanchers were helpless weaklings facing a large Mormon military assault. Quite untrue. Alone, Lee’s meager, unproven force was not sufficient to overcome the Fancher’s entrenched position and experienced riflemen. The Indians, no strangers to warfare, hadn’t been doing so well even with their greater numbers. The night before and again that morning, Lee’s party debated what to do about the situation. While in these deliberations, and while still waiting for direct word from the courier sent to get instructions from Brigham Young, this troubled Mormon war party heard the story of the Pinto shooting.
Now, according to the Mormon attackers–the only surviving witnesses to these events–up until they heard the Pinto news, the affair at Mountain Meadows had been an Indian attack. Lee and crew had been reluctantly entangled in the operation as advisors. It was clear that most of them still had deep reservations about getting directly involved in the whole mess. However, the business of hostile whites shooting at escaping members of the Fancher’s crew, now clearly incriminated the Mormons. That changed the tenor of the Mormon deliberations. At that point, it was thought that allowing any of the Fancher Party to live and retell that story in California would bring federal troops from the south who would fall upon their indefensible southern settlements within a week or two. Also, their Indian brothers were becoming more and more offended at the Mormon reluctance to help the war party out.
The thing you have to understand about the Missouri Wildcats and the Mormon claims that they were conjuring up threats of militant boogey men, is that the Mormons knew that the boogey man really did exist. They had seen him often. He really did come and take your supplies by force if he wanted them and leave you unarmed and starving. He did burn you out of your house, and he did rape your women, kill your friends and children, and hack people into bits. More to the point: The boogey man who routinely came upon the Mormons to take their stuff by force, raining leaden hellfire, almost always had an East Tennessee accent, called himself a “simple country farmer,” claimed to be a “God-fearing Christian,” and had friends who formed gangs they titled with heroic names like “Wildcats,” and “Regulators.” The Mormons also knew that when you called for help from state and federal troops, most of the time they showed up with the same hick accents, were members of the same secret vigilance clubs, and rather than rescue you, they helped the boogeyman destroy everyone and everything you ever loved.
Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church V 4, pg 153, 372
Pro-Fanchers often deny it, but a fair part of this nightmare is firmly rooted in the fact that at least some number in that ill fated company took great pleasure in openly baiting the local Mormons:
…When passing through Provo, 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, the emigrants decided to stop and let their animals rest. An area just west of the town had been marked off, by the local settlers, as use for animal feed during the upcoming winter. The emigrants allowed their livestock to wander into this area, and after seeing this the local settlers asked the party to move on to another area a few miles to the west; even offering to help them move. One of the party’s leaders refused saying “This is Uncle Sam’s grass…We are staying right here.”, so the settlers gave them the option of fighting or leaving; the party left. After camping the night, the Baker-Fancher party continued to pass through Utah over the next few weeks, arriving near Cedar City on Thursday, September 3, 1857.
Cedar City was the last major settlement where emigrants could stop to buy grain and supplies before a long stretch of wilderness leading to California. When the Baker-Fancher train arrived there, however, they were turned a cold shoulder once again; important goods were not available in the town store, and the local miller charged an exorbitant price for grinding grain. As tension between the Mormons and the emigrants mounted, a member of the Baker-Fancher train was said to have bragged how he had the very gun that “shot the guts out of Old Joe Smith“. Other members of the party reportedly bragged about taking part in the Haun’s Mill massacre some decades before in Missouri. Others were reported by Mormons to have threatened to join the incoming federal troops, or join troops from California, and march against the Mormons….
If we are to deny the Mormon claims of these continued provocations, the mystery here, is that the Fancher Party would not have been singled out of a whole season of wagon trains simply because Mormons and Indians just naturally hated good, peaceful Christians. The “Virginal Fancher” apologists can only keep insisting that Brigham Young ordered their execution because he’s evil. They can’t however, come up with a logical reason for ordering this particular action against this particular wagon train at this particular time.
As for the Native Americans, well, Christian America has been billing them as mindless, murdering savages from the days of Jamestown onward. The Indian part of the story isn’t hard for Christian America to pass off as commonplace barbarity even if they want to claim the Mormons recruited them to do the dastardly deed. Oddly enough, the Fancher apologists sometimes go so far as to claim fantastically, that there wasn’t a single Indian involved at Mountain Meadows, it was all Mormon, from start to finish, conception to completion.
Apart from the fact that the Fancher apologists so desperately want to portray their Christian martyrs as even saintlier than the Saints, the story of their battle with the Indians and their Mormon accomplices—or vice-versa–is fairly heroic. According to their assassins, they shot like professionals and could have held off the attack for as long as they had ammunition.
The Fancher Party had sunk their wagons up to the axles and chained them in a circle. In this strong defensive posture, yhe Indians who engaged them initially, made little progress and took high losses. The Mormon conspirators estimated that their combined Indian and Mormon forces would still take weeks to finish them off, and then again, only with high losses. The Fancher Party, whoever they were, whatever else they were, constituted a very serious force to be reckoned with in the deserted wilds of southern Utah Territory. If the Fancher Party had decided to come into town and take their provisions from the Mormons by force, they could have done just that.
Was this a likely eventuality? Yes. For all they knew, they were indefinitely stuck with waning provisions, in a desert hellhole, impatiently waiting for word to come back from Salt Lake City, so the local Mormon authorities could decide whether they should let them pass through or not. And if not, then what? But the Fancher faithful are no different than the Mormon apologists in this regard–the Fanchers can’t just be examined as normal human beings, they have to be adored as sainted, Christ-like aberrations you’d never encounter in real life anywhere, much less within a hearty, frontier, rednecked, hillbilly-pioneering tradition.
The Fanchers probably had no great fear of the pitiful Yankee Mormon locals. They knew from long reputation that Latter-day Saints never went to fighting unless it was the absolute last resort. And then only after weeks of leadership meetings followed by public assemblies, a lot of voting, speeches, counseling, and handwringing. The Missouri asses the Fanchers joined up with certainly would never have worried about being discrete in their utterations. The Missouri mob-militias hadn’t been afraid to take on the well-armed Mormon “Danites” who banded against them at Gallatin and Far West. They showed no fear of the huge, well-outfitted Nauvoo Legion, or the Illinois State Militia Regulars who defended the Mormons at the fall of Nauvoo. They had a long history of undertaking open warfare against the Saints with childish glee, as if the bigger the battle, the better the sport.
It appears indeed, that the Wildcat faction of the Fancher Party actually kept increasing its provocative rhetoric as their train grew more and more distant from the Mormon stronghold of Salt Lake City. While the Wildcats were amplifying and perfecting their taunts, it was also becoming widely known that the Fanchers were from Arkansas and the local Saints had recently learned that their beloved Mormon apostle and charismatic missionary, Parley P Pratt, had been stabbed to death back there in the Fancher’s home state by a jealous “good Christian” husband who said he was afraid Pratt was trying to convert his wife so he could help her run off to Utah with his kids. And then the southern Utah Saints learned Brigham Young had declared martial law, just about the time the Wildcats were bragging about shooting Joe Smith’s guts out.
Even “neutral” historians today still leave you with the impression that the Fanchers were a tiny handful of starving Christian pilgrims, humbled by the surrounding Mormon military might. That’s not however, what our infamously anti-Mormon Judge John Cradlebaugh argued in his report to president Buchanan:
…I have lately visited the southern settlement of this Territory, particularly the place where 119 emigrants were massacred, at the Mountain Meadows on the 10th of September, 1857. Eighty or more white men were engaged in that affair. Warrants are now in the hands of the Marshal for forty of them. The entire population within 150 miles of the Meadows does not exceed 1,100 — with not more than 200 of an adult male population.
Cradlebaugh’s estimate is actually an argument for giving him a federal marshal and a few troops and he could easily thrash the hell out of his whole southern district until he got to the bottom of it all. This also concurs with John Lee’s claim that all he could muster was his handful of local church leaders and some fifty or sixty older boys to make up his allegedly fierce “militia.”
Mountain Meadows is not Nauvoo, it isn’t even anywhere near Salt Lake City. St. George and Cedar City, the two largest settlements closest to Mountain Meadows, were rough villages at the time. (Some say still are…) The Fanchers were already nearly ready to fight in Provo, and the handful of old farts and youngsters that John D Lee barely managed to scrape together some 250 miles south of there in the desert, was not the Nauvoo Legion. It was the Fancher Party that represented a concentration of frontier hardiness and aggression as it passed through southern Utah, not the local Mormons. The Fancher Party, with or without any Missouri Wildcats, could have easily taken any Mormon town in southern Utah at the time without breaking a sweat. Any two or three of them.
Today, you have all the leisure and resources to casually research this little group of emigrants from “Arkansas.” John D Lee and Isaac Haight had neither, squatting around a council fire, with an army of extermination on the way and a bunch of Indians nagging at them in the wilds of southern Utah. Perception is reality. The last experience these isolated and utterly exposed Mormons had with the likes of the Fanchers and probably the Wildcats themselves, in Missouri and Illinois, was twice-attempted genocide. In Missouri, it remained legal by standing executive order to shoot Mormons on sight until 1976.
To the Mormons on the lowest fringe of Utah Territory in 1857, living under threat of federal invasion and extermination in the undefendable southern extreme of the Mormon dominion, the Fancher Party was perceived to be the boogeyman. A large, belligerent, smart-assed, well-armed boogeyman.
On 11 September, 1857, on the Mountain Meadows of southern Utah, a small group of panicked, pissed-off and disoriented local Mormons killed the boogeyman. That’s what Mountain Meadows is all about.
Why is this so hard to believe?