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Young, Brigham (1801-1877)

Brigham Young (1801-1877)

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Mormon pioneer

A Calling. Born on 1 June 1801 in Whitingham, Vermont, Brigham Young was only marginally successful as a farmer and carpenter before moving on to better opportunities. On 14 April 1832 he converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, being baptized at Men-don, New York. In the Mormon community, Young found a spiritual home and an outlet for undiscovered talents. When on 27 June 1844 a mob lynched Mormon leader Joseph Smith at a jail in Carthage, Missouri, Young was able to unite most of Smiths converts behind him as their new leader.

Exodus. Smiths efforts to develop a separate Mormon community in the midst of American society had led to near war between Mormons and Gentiles. Young reasoned that distance would give the Mormons safety, and he consulted explorers and scouts who had traveled in the West. In March 1845 he decided upon the Great Basin between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada as the Mormons place of refuge. The area, which the Mormons called Deseret (meaning Land of the Honey Bee), seemed fertile enough that they could farm and become economically self-sufficient, but was not so inviting that other settlers might disturb them. On 15 February 1846 Young and a group of pioneers left the Mormon town of Nauvoo, Illinois; they reached the Great Basin on 24 July 1847. The next year Young led a second wagon train to the new territory. After that Young himself never traveled outside Deseret, although he continued to encourage Mormon migration. By the autumn of 1848 approximately five thousand followers had arrived, and in 1849 Young established a Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company to give financial assistance to impoverished potential migrants from England and continental Europe.

Government. Mormon efforts to establish a government were shaped by the efforts of the United States to expand westward. At the same time Young was making his first trip to Deseret, the United States was at war with Mexico. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), the Mexican government ceded land, including Deseret, to the United States. The Mormons hoped that Deseret would quickly become a state, for then they could control the local government. However, Washington politicians hoped to use the Mexican cession as an element in a great compromise over slavery and turned Deseret into the Utah Territory (1850). Many federal authorities were anti-Mormon, and official policy toward the Mormons varied, depending on the personality involved. Democratic president Franklin Pierce appointed Young his territorial governor. Pierces successor, Democrat James Buchanan, not only refused to renew Youngs appointment, but sent twenty-five hundred federal troops to install his choice for territorial governor, Alfred Cumming. Young mobilized his Nauvoo Legion to counter the U.S. Army, and during the Utah War of 1857-1858 the Mormons set grass fires, drove off livestock, and burned government supply wagons in an unsuccessful attempt to halt the advance of federal troops.

Native Tribes. The land Young chose for the Mormons was between that of two large Indian tribes, the Ute to the south and the Shoshone to the north. Mormon teachings held that Native Americans had descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of ancient Israel and thus should be treated with respect. Young also made the practical observation that it was cheaper to feed the Indians than to fight them, and the Mormons attempted to teach their new neighbors how to farm. Finally, Mormons and Native Americans had a common interest in keeping other settlers out. When in 1857 a group of one hundred settlers going from Missouri and Arkansas to California began marauding through Mormon territory, Indians and Mormons, led by John D. Lee, attacked them and killed all but eighteen children in an incident that came to be called the Mountain Meadows Massacre. However, when the Civil War began a few years later, the Indians took advantage of the reduced number of federal troops to attack stagecoaches traveling unprotected along western routes. The Mormons then assisted the federal government by protecting the stagecoaches.

Civil War. During the Civil War, Young allied the Mormons with the Union, but it was not because he opposed slavery or supported equal rights for all races. In fact, Southern Mormons had brought between seventy-five and one hundred slaves to Deseret in 1847. That same year Young forbade Mormons to ordain blacks to the priesthood. (The ban remained in effect until 1978.) Mormon support of the Union, however, was not rewarded, and in 1862 Congress passed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. The law included a clause preventing religious groups advocating polygamy from holding more than a certain amount of property in the territories. Young protected his flock from the laws penalties by putting all church property in his name.

Modern Patriarch. Besides working to establish the church and community, Young did what was expected of him as a Mormon in terms of building up family life. Joseph Smith had introduced polygamy in 1843. At first Young was disturbed by this new doctrine, but he dutifully began taking more wives that same year. Over his lifetime he entered into marriage with fifty-five women. Most of these marriages seem to have been platonic relationships in which the women obtained economic security and a foothold in Mormon society, while Young enhanced his position as an example of Mormon manhood. He did, though, have to provide for all these wives and for his fifty-seven children. To that end, Young traded with goldrushers on their way to California, purchased the real estate of those who were leaving Utah Territory, and made investments in roads and other improvements.

Postwar Problems. After the Civil War, Americans resumed their westward expansion, and President Ulysses S. Grant renewed federal efforts that conflicted with Mormon interests. Young continued the task of trying to protect his flock. However, he died unexpectedly after a brief but intense illness, most likely a ruptured appendix, on 29 August 1877.

Source

Newell G. Bringhurst, Brigham Young and the Expanding American Frontier (Boston: Little, Brown, 1986).

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Brigham Young

Brigham Young

Brigham Young (1801-1877), American colonizer and second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, led the Mormons to Utah, colonized it, and served as official and unofficial governor of Oregon Territory.

Brigham Young was born at Whitingham, Vt., on June 1, 1801. When he was three, the family moved to an area of New York where religious mysticism and revivalism were strong. He had only two months of formal education, for the family was poor and rootless. He became a house painter and glazier, and, at the age of 22, a Methodist. He married Miriam Works, and they settled at Mendon, N.Y., in 1829.

In 1832, after studying Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon for two years, Young was baptized into the new Church and became very active in it. The following year he moved to Kirtland, Ohio, to form a Mormon church. He traveled through the eastern United States seeking converts, as well as joining "Zion's Army," a militant Mormon branch.

Rise in the Church

In February 1835, when the Quorum of Twelve Apostles was established as an administrative aid to Prophet Joseph Smith, Young was third in rank. By 1838, when the Mormons were expelled from Missouri, he was senior member of this body and directed the removal to Nauvoo, Ill. In 1839 he went to England on a successful mission, returning to Illinois in 1841 to become the Church's leading fiscal agent. By 1844 he had contracted three polygamous marriages.

In 1844 Smith determined to run for president of the United States, and Young left on a speaking tour in support of this. In Boston that July he heard of Smith's murder two weeks earlier. He returned to Nauvoo to find the membership in panic and virtually leaderless. He rallied the members, defeated Sidney Rigdon for leadership, and began searching for a new location for the Mormons, who were again being persecuted.

Colonizer of Utah

After studying government documents and talking with travelers, Young sent agents to various parts of the West to look for the new Zion. He selected the Great Salt Lake region in the hope that there the believers would not be bothered again by outsiders. The move was accomplished under his leadership in 1846-1847, financed by funds from foreign missions and by the salaries of a battalion of men he sent to serve the U.S. Army during the Mexican War. On Dec. 5, 1847, at Salt Lake City, Young was elected president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, a position he held until his death.

Young planned a grand city at Salt Lake; the Church retained complete control through prior appropriation of available water, and irrigated farming became the backbone of the colony. He sent colonists to establish Mormon communities at strategic locations in the Great Basin area, some 357 towns in all, and sent missionaries all over the world to seek recruits. To assist the approximately 70,000 converts who came from Europe, he established the Perpetual Emigration Fund to extend loans which, when repaid, would assist still more to come. When funds were low, he directed the immigrants to come from St. Louis, pushing their goods in handcarts, but this advice was somewhat discredited when one group died in a snowstorm at Sweet-water River, Wyo., in 1856.

To keep money in the territory, Young urged development of home industries, the Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution. Also, he preached the necessity of hard work and thrift, and he forbade the faithful to engage in mining, fearing the discovery of gold would bring in large numbers of non-Mormons.

Young was a pragmatic leader who sought to strengthen the Church by cooperative means. He loved dancing, singing, and the theater, so these were acceptable; he forbade liquor, tobacco, all stimulants, gambling, and cardplaying. He encouraged polygamy because it was hated by non-Mormons; thus its practice insured Mormon unity against outsiders. Young himself had an estimated 19 to 27 wives and 56 children. He also urged a good educational system, and he established the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah) in 1850.

Political Leader

The Mexican War brought Utah into American hands, so Young gathered a constitutional convention to petition for statehood under the name Deseret. Congress refused, naming it the Territory of Utah, but Young became governor. In 1857 opposition to the Mormons became so strong from Federal officials that he was removed as governor. When he refused to be ousted, a Federal army under Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston was sent to expel him. The so-called "Mormon War" ended in 1858 by compromise; Young gave way to a non-Mormon governor but continued to govern unofficially through his position in the Church until his death in Salt Lake City on Aug. 29, 1877. A domineering tyrant in public, privately Young had been genial and benevolent.

Further Reading

Works on Young include Frank J. Cannon and George L. Knapp, Brigham Young and His Mormon Empire (1913), a hostile treatment; M. R. Werner, Brigham Young (1925); Susa Young Gates and Lead D. Widtsoe, The Life Story of Brigham Young (1930), which contains excellent material on his family life; Milton R. Hunter, Brigham Young: The Colonizer (1940; 2d ed. 1941); Ray B. West, Kingdom of the Saints: The Story of Brigham Young and the Mormons (1957); and Stanley P. Hirshson's unfavorable portrait, The Lion of the Lord: A Biography of Brigham Young (1969). The last is less a biography than an account of Mormon history, emphasizing the more sensational aspects of Young's life. A good, overall picture of Young and his work is in Thomas F. O'Dea, The Mormons (1957). □

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Young, Brigham

Brigham Young (brĬg´əm), 1801–77, American religious leader, early head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, b. Whitingham, Vt. Brigham Young was perhaps the greatest molder of Mormonism, his influence having a greater effect even than that of the church's founder, Joseph Smith, in shaping the Mormon faith as it exists today (see Latter-Day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of).

Early Life

He was a painter and glazier in Mendon, Monroe co., N.Y., when he was first attracted to the new religion. Baptized as an adult in 1832, he led a group to the Mormon community at Kirtland, Ohio, and in 1835 became one of the Council of Twelve (the Apostles). When the Mormons were persecuted in their Missouri Zion in the late 1830s, Young was one of the few Mormon leaders not placed under arrest, and his abilities as an organizer came to the fore. He was one of the chief figures in the move to Nauvoo, Ill. Sent as missionary to England, he started a community that eventually brought approximately 40,000 émigrés to the United States between 1841 and 1870.

Mormon Leader

After Joseph Smith's assassination (1844), Young was the chief factor in maintaining the unity of the church in the Council of Twelve. From that time forward, he served as the Mormons' spiritual leader. He led the great migration west in 1846–47 and was the director of the settlement at Salt Lake City. He exercised supreme control in the communal theocracy of Mormonism, and his genius, as much as anything else, led to the phenomenal growth of a prosperous community. After the creation of Utah's provisional government, he was also made territorial governor and superintendent of Indian affairs.

When the Mormon practice of polygamy and a more general fear and hatred of Mormon power led to hostilities between the United States and the Mormons, Young defended Mormon interests, particularly during the military expedition against the Mormons called the Utah War (1857–58). He lost his post as governor, but through his able statesmanship, he avoided a real break with the United States. In his old age, he was arrested on charges of polygamy and murder, but he was acquitted and his influence increased rather than diminished until his death.

The exact number of his wives—still a contested figure—and the extent of his fortune were the objects of curiosity and idle rumor nationwide. Accusations of sensuality leveled against him by people who were ignorant of the basic principles of Mormon doctrine were not justified. The most serious charge that can be brought against him is that of condoning the massacre at Mountain Meadows. He did not instigate that crime, but it seems probable that he did protect its perpetrators.

Bibliography

See Susa Young Gates (his daughter) and L. E. Widtsoe, The Life Story of Brigham Young (1930); C. Stott, Search for Sanctuary (1984); L. J. Arrington, Brigham Young (1985); N. G. Bringhurst, Brigham Young (1986); J. G. Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (2012).

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Young, Brigham

Young, Brigham (1801–77) US religious leader, founder of Salt Lake City. An early convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Young took over the leadership when Joseph Smith, the founder, was killed by a mob in 1844. Young held the group together through persecutions and led their westward migration (1846–47) to Utah, where he organized the settlement that became Salt Lake City. He was governor of Utah Territory (1850–57).

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Young, Brigham

Young, Brigham (Mormon leader in 19th cent.): see MORMONS.

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Young, Brigham

YOUNG, BRIGHAM

Second president of the Mormon Church, colonizer of Utah; b. Whitingham, VT, June 1, 1801; d. Salt Lake City, UT, Aug. 29, 1877. His parents, John and Abigail (Howe) Young, were poor and could give him little formal education. After joining the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints (Mormons) in upstate New York in 1832, he rose steadily as a church official, doing missionary work in the East and in England, aiding the beleaguered Saints in Missouri, and organizing their exodus when they were driven from that state in 183839. When Joseph smith was murdered in 1844, Young became church leader and led the Mormon trek to the West. Arriving on July 24, 1847, in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, he started a settlement based on agriculture and embodying Mormon economic and family ideals. Young brought some 70,000 emigrants from Europe, encouraged cooperative economic forms, and developed indigenous industry, with the exception of mining. He repressed internal dissent, advocated plural marriage, and resisted Federal opposition, building a cohesive Mormon community of 140,000 by the time of his death.

Bibliography: m. r. werner, Brigham Young (New York 1925). m. r. hunter, Brigham Young the Colonizer (Salt Lake City 1940). l. h. creer, Founding of an Empire (Salt Lake City 1947). t. f. o'dea The Mormons (Chicago 1957).

[t. f. o'dea]

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Young, Brigham

YOUNG, BRIGHAM

YOUNG, BRIGHAM (18011877), second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter LDS); chief architect of the form of Mormonism that flourished in the intermountain region of the western United States in the nineteenth century and expanded throughout the United States and into many other countries.

Although he insisted on baptism by immersion, which he thought scripture required, Brigham Young joined the Methodists several years before he heard about Joseph Smith's "golden bible." A skilled carpenter, painter, and cabinetmaker, Young came from a family of devout Methodists whose extreme poverty impelled them to leave New England for western New York, a family history that paralleled that of the Smith family. While Mormonism attracted many of his family members, Young held back. He read the Book of Mormon soon after its publication in 1830 but waited two full years before becoming a Latter-day Saint. Thus he was not converted in the very beginning when Mormonism's primary appeal was its claim that it had restored the priesthood of ancient Israel and that it was the only true church of Jesus Christ. He became a follower of the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, in 1832, when the character of the new movement was becoming as Hebraic as it was Christian, given the emphasis being placed on its "gathering" doctrine, its temple-building plans, its patriarchal office, and its assertion that Mormons are God's only chosen people. Convinced that these elements separating Mormonism from traditional Christianity were scripturally correct, Young accepted them wholeheartedly. Moreover, when temple ordinances were introduced that added plural marriage and baptism for the dead to Mormonism, and when the movement organized itself into a political kingdom, he accepted these innovations as well, albeit somewhat less enthusiastically.

After his rebaptism, Young devoted his entire energies to Mormonism. Following a preaching mission in the eastern United States, he moved to Ohio, assisting with the construction of the Kirtland temple and much else. He went with Zion's Camp, a paramilitary expedition that failed to rescue beleaguered Missouri Saints from their enemies, but nevertheless tested the mettle of future LDS leaders. Called to the highest council in Mormondom, the Quorum of the Twelve, in 1835, and made its president in 1841, Young rendered signal service, particularly in organizing the exodus when the Saints were driven from Missouri in 1839 and in establishing a successful Mormon mission in England in the early 1840s. In Nauvoo, Illinois, during the final years of Smith's life, Young served in the prophet's inner circle as the LDS political kingdom was organized and the secret practice of plural marriage instituted.

The struggle for succession to LDS leadership after Smith's murder in 1844 intensified a division within the movement. On one side were Saints who, regarding Mormonism as an idiosyncratic version of primitive Christianity, opposed plural marriage and the political organization of a kingdom in an Old Testament mode; on the other were Saints who supported these innovations as a part of the restoration of the "ancient order of things." Although most historical accounts present Young as the clear winner in this succession struggle, recent demographic studies reveal that he was the acknowledged leader of the latter group, but that he by no means led the whole of the LDS community after Smith's death.

For the thousands who followed him, however, Young managed to effect the transfer of Mormon culture from Illinois to the Great Salt Lake Valley while preserving the vision of Mormonism that Joseph Smith held at the end of his life. He did this by assuming ecclesiastical, political, and spiritual leadership of his followers. In Nauvoo, he took practical charge of the chaotic situation and arranged the departure of the Saints. In 1847, he was sustained as president of the church by those who went west with him. In 1851, the federal government recognized his leadership by appointing him as governor of Utah Territory. From these dual positions of power, he established a new "Israel in the tops of the mountains" in which, in the manner of Solomon of old, he reigned supreme as prophet, church president, and political leader. Unlike Joseph Smith, however, Young was not a prophet who delivered new revelations and added lasting theological elements to the movement he headed. His great contribution was realizing Smith's vision through the creation of a literal LDS kingdom. Even changed, as it was at the end of the nineteenth century, this kingdom continues to animate and inspire Mormonism in much the same way that Solomon's kingdom has animated and inspired Judaism and Christianity across the ages.

See Also

Mormonism.

Bibliography

Until very recently, historical accounts of Young's life and career were either faith-promoting paeans of praise, based on nineteenth-century official LDS publications, or ill-concealed attacks, based on published sources unfriendly to the Mormons. Neither genre has disappeared, but as much of the primary source material on which studies of Young must rely is now available to scholars, new studies presenting a more balanced assessment of this important Mormon leader are appearing. The most significant of these new studies are Leonard J. Arrington's Brigham Young: American Moses (New York, 1985); Newell G. Bringhurst's Brigham Young and the Expanding American Frontier (Boston, 1985); and Ronald K. Esplin's "The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 18301841" (Ph. D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1981). Two valuable editions of primary source materials are Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons, edited by Dean C. Jesse (Salt Lake City, 1974); and Diary of Brigham Young, 1857, edited by Everett L. Cooley (Salt Lake City, 1980). Stanley P. Hirshson's The Lion of the Lord: A Biography of Brigham Young (New York, 1969) is not recommended; despite its reputable publisher and respected author, it is based on published sources, most of which are unfriendly to the Mormons.

The results of recent demographic studies are reported in Dean L. May's "A Demographic Portrait of the Mormons, 18301980," in After 150 Years: The Latter-day Saints in Sesquicentennial Perspective, edited by Thomas G. Alexander and Jessie L. Embry (Provo, Utah, 1983).

Jan Shipps (1987)

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Young, Brigham

Brigham Young

Brigham Young was the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , or the Mormon Church. Young led the Mormons to Utah , and colonized and governed the territory that served as their homeland.

Young was born on June 1, 1801, in Vermont , but his family moved to western New York when he was three. The family lived in poverty, and Young spent his childhood clearing woods, logging, and farming. He received only eleven days of formal education; all his other learning came from reading the Bible. At sixteen Young apprenticed himself to a woodworking shop and became a skilled carpenter and builder.

Seeking a religion

Young's parents were strict Methodists, but Young never accepted Methodism, and looked for a religion that was more suited to him. In 1825 he read the Book of Mormon, written by Joseph Smith (1805–1844). Intrigued, Young began to attend local Mormon meetings. In 1832 he moved to Kirtland, Ohio , to join Smith's Mormon community and church, officially called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Young quickly rose within the new church. In 1835 he was elevated to a position third in seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the administrative body that governed the church with Joseph Smith. By 1838 he had become the senior member of the Quorum, and in 1841 Young took over the job of handling the church's finances.

Years of conflict

Hostility plagued the Mormons throughout their history. Non-Mormon neighbors resented the success of the Mormon communities, and the American public at large feared the peculiarities of their doctrines. Persecution, armed conflicts, and massacres forced the Mormons to move progressively westward from Ohio to western Missouri , and finally to Nauvoo, Illinois . Each move reinforced the group's consciousness of themselves as special people and drew them closer together.

The state of Illinois, desperate for settlers, granted a charter for the Mormon city of Nauvoo in 1840 that established it as a separate city-state within Illinois. With its own mayor, justices, and an independent military, Nauvoo became the second-largest city in Illinois.

Soon conflict erupted with the non-Mormon population. Although it was kept secret, the Mormon leaders, including Smith and Young, practiced what they called “plural marriage”—having more than one wife at a time. Rumors of this practice of polygamy inflamed the hostilities of the non-Mormons around them. Besides, people feared the absolute power Joseph Smith had attained in Nauvoo as religious and political leader. When Smith ordered the destruction of the printing press of a group of Mormons who disagreed with him, mob violence broke out. Smith was arrested and eventually shot to death. In January 1845 the state of Illinois withdrew the charter for Nauvoo and demanded that the Mormons leave.

Taking the leadership role

After a brief struggle for leadership among several Mormon factions, Brigham Young took the top position of president of the Mormon Church. Frustrated by continual persecution, Young concluded that the Mormons must settle outside of American boundaries and become a self-sufficient people. After careful study, he decided the next Mormon home would be in the Great Salt Lake Valley in the Great Basin region, then a remote outpost of Mexico.

Young immediately began to prepare his people for the demanding trek across the country in 1846. He developed a military-style organization in order to ensure that his people would endure the hardships of the journey. Each group of ten families was led by a captain who maintained discipline. The first groups constructed roads and built bridges to make the passage of those that followed easier. They planted crops at strategic places along the course that could be harvested by later Mormon migrants. Because of Young's brilliant organizational skills, twelve thousand Mormons succeeded in reaching their distant destination by 1847.

Deseret

The Mormons soon established the provisional state of Deseret in the Great Salt Lake Valley. Between 1847 and 1857, ninety-five communities were established in the Mormon state. Young introduced the first scientific irrigation system in the United States, allowing agriculture to become the basis of the economy in this dry region.

Deseret was not a democracy. Repeated crises with non-Mormons and the discipline required for the westward migration reinforced the Mormon's earlier tendency toward authoritarian leadership. A theocracy (government ruled by religious authority) emerged with Young as spiritual and temporal leader. The prosperity of the community, in Young's eyes, depended on the cooperation of all members of the group. Individualism was discouraged, while obedience was highly valued.

Young's great organizational abilities mark him as one of the great colonizers. As he set up communities throughout the fertile valleys of the territory, he made sure each group included enough skilled mechanics and artisans to establish viable settlements. In 1868 Young established Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution and other businesses to protect Mormon self-sufficiency. He also established the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which provided loans and jobs for a steady flow of converts and immigrants. From 1849 to 1883, over seventy thousand converts to the Mormon church settled in Deseret.

Governor of Utah Territory

In 1848 Mexico ceded to the United States a large portion of its territory, including the Great Basin area. Only a year after their migration, the Mormons were once again on American soil. Young petitioned Congress to have Deseret admitted to the Union as a state. Congress refused Young's petition and instead gave Deseret territorial status and changed its name to Utah. Young was appointed governor.

In 1852 Young publicly announced Joseph Smith's earlier revelation, which had been kept secret since 1843: that plural marriage was a holy practice and the sacred duty of Mormon leaders. Young announced that he himself had more than twenty wives. The Mormon people were, for the most part, willing to accept plural marriage by this time. The outside world was not.

Mountain Meadows Massacre

In 1857, after being pressured by various territorial officials in Utah, President James Buchanan (1791–1868; served 1857–61) announced that Young would immediately be replaced by a new governor. He also ordered 2,500 troops to Utah, which, based on reports that Mormons were ignoring the laws of the United States, he considered to be on the verge of rebellion. The Mormons, determined not to be driven from another homeland, prepared for war. By the fall they had fortified the mountain passes and burned their supply forts. They also tried to persuade the local Ute Indians to join them as allies against non-Mormons.

In September of that year a large wagon train from Arkansas passed through Mormon territory on its way to California . The Mormons, already in a defensive, warlike state, put together a force of soldiers and Ute allies. They attacked the wagon train and killed its 120 members, a mix of men, women, and young children, in cold blood. The attack, which became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was ordered by unknown Mormon leaders. Young almost certainly knew about the plans for the attack; it is not known if he approved it.

After the massacre Young expressed his willingness to negotiate with the federal government. The new territorial governor was installed without incident, but the friction between Young and the federal government never ceased. In 1862 government authorities sent a second armed force to Utah to watch over the Mormons, particularly to try to stop polygamy. Federal officials, moreover, sought to make new laws that would forever eliminate the practice. In connection with these rulings, Young and others were repeatedly arrested.

Young continued to rule behind the scenes until his death on August 9, 1877. He remained, to some extent, the dictator of a society whose methods, institutions, and ideals were extremely different from those of nineteenth-century American society. He succeeded in bringing his religious, social, and economic system into practice and preserved its identity against a hostile nation. When he died he left behind a fortune, testifying to his practical business skills. He also left behind at least twenty-six wives (some say many more) and fifty-seven children.

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Young, Brigham

Young, Brigham

Born June 1, 1801

Whitingham, Vermont

Died August 29, 1877

Salt Lake City, Utah

Religious leader

Mormon leader Brigham Young led his followers on a trek across the American plains to the Great Salt Lake Valley in present-day Utah.

Through most of the nineteenth century, the American West was considered the land of opportunity. Settlers and entrepreneurs moved westward for the diverse economic opportunities: to dig for gold, to herd cattle, or to farm. Yet for the Mormons, the West offered religious freedom and an escape from the persecution the religious group faced elsewhere. The leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), Brigham Young led his followers on a trek across the American plains to the Great Salt Lake Valley in present-day Utah. There he oversaw the establishment of a Mormon city and agricultural society. Known as Salt Lake City, it quickly became an important stopping point for travelers headed to points further west; it was one of the first major cities in the Rocky Mountain region.

A spiritual journey

Born in Whitingham, Vermont, on June 1, 1801, Brigham Young was the ninth child of John and Abigail Young. Struggling to succeed as farmers, his family moved to western New York when Brigham was three years old. He spent his youth in terrible poverty; in fact, he often had to miss school in order to work long hours on the family farm. In his lifetime he received just eleven days of formal education, but his strict Methodist parents made sure that he read the Bible regularly. Brigham absorbed the strict religious values of his parents and claimed never to have stolen, lied, gambled, drunk alcohol, or disobeyed his parents. Yet as Brigham reached his mid-twenties, he became dissatisfied with the Methodist Church and began to learn about other religions.

At age sixteen Brigham had left home to apprentice as a woodworker in Auburn, New York. He soon became a skilled carpenter and builder. By 1824 he had married Miriam Angelina Works and started a family. During the mid-1820s, western New York was swept by a series of religious awakenings, great outbursts of religious interest spurred by traveling preachers and tent revivals. Historians have called this period the Great Awakening, for these revivals inflated church membership and even inspired the creation of new religious movements. One such movement was started by Joseph Smith (1805–1844) of Macedon, New York, a self-proclaimed prophet and the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Smith claimed to have translated the sacred Book of Mormon from a set of golden plates. His religion offered clear answers to questions about life and the afterlife and promised that it could bring about the salvation of the world through the work of church members, also called Saints. The Mormon Church offered Brigham Young the answers he was searching for, and after the death of his wife in 1832, he dedicated his life to the church.

Becomes Mormon leader

After his wife's death, Young moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where he helped establish a community of some thirteen hundred Saints. Young quickly moved up in the church leadership, eventually becoming one of the senior leaders, or Apostles, of the Mormon Church. However, life as a Mormon was not easy. Outsiders often resented the close-knit, self-supporting Mormon communities, charging that they discriminated against non-Mormons. Also, outsiders were uncomfortable with Mormon religious doctrine and doubted the authenticity of Smith's claim to be a prophet. Persecution from outsiders, which sometimes included attacks on Mormon communities by angry mobs, soon drove the Mormons westward. They settled first in the town of Far West, Missouri, but were driven from there by a militia organized by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs. Then they formed the community of Nauvoo in Illinois, which soon attracted large numbers of Mormons.

Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith

While many religions trace their beginnings to ancient times, the Mormon Church was started less than two hundred years ago by an American named Joseph Smith (1805–1844). At the age of twenty-two, Smith claimed that angels had led him to some golden plates near Indian burial mounds outside his home in western New York. He contended that he then translated the plates, which turned out to be a history by Mormon, an American prophet and historian of the fourth century. This history recounted the story of two Jewish groups who had migrated to North America and whom Jesus visited after his ascension.

Using the Book of Mormon as a guide, Smith founded a restored Christian church and proclaimed himself a "seer, a Translator, a Prophet, an Apostle of Jesus Christ and Elder of the Church." He soon attracted a band of followers whose devotion to Smith's teachings drew the hostility of outsiders. Settling in Kirtland, Ohio, the Mormon community evolved into a communal experiment in which the church held all property and each family received sustenance from a common storehouse.

To his followers, Smith was a prophet whose teachings came directly from God. When he directed them to abstain from tobacco and alcohol, exclude blacks from the Mormon priesthood, or take multiple wives, his words were taken as holy law. To outsiders, Smith was a charlatan, a religious fraud who deceived people in order to increase his own power. This may have been the belief of an angry mob that brutally murdered Smith on June 27, 1844. Brigham Young assumed the leadership of the church that Smith had founded, leading his people to their promised land in present-day Utah and helping to build a religion that thrives to this day.

By 1841, Young had been named president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, a position second only to Joseph Smith. In the early 1840s Smith revealed to his church members a controversial doctrine, the doctrine of plural marriage. Plural marriage called for Mormon men to take many wives, and although Young did not like the doctrine at first—he was quite happy with his second wife, Mary Ann Angell—he deferred to his church superior and began to take on more wives. The policy of plural marriage, or polygamy (having more than one spouse), only increased the anger that outsiders directed at the Mormons. Angry mobs began attacking Mormons living in Nauvoo, and government officials were inclined to look the other way. In 1844 Joseph Smith was imprisoned after a clash with members of a nearby community; a mob broke into the prison and killed Smith. Now the sole leader of the Mormon Church, Young began to look for a safe place to lead his people. He heard of a great valley in the West that contained a large salt lake. There, he thought, the Mormons might live free of persecution.

The journey westward

In 1846 thousands of Mormons, led by Brigham Young, began leaving Nauvoo to journey westward. They didn't travel far that first year, settling on the Missouri River at a place they called Winter Quarters (near present-day Omaha, Nebraska). Young supervised the construction of homes in which to spend the winter and the building of wagons they would need to cross the prairie the next year. In April 1847 Young commanded an advance party of some 150 people who left Winter Quarters to blaze the trail—known as the Mormon Trail—to the Great Basin in Utah.

The trek to Utah was an arduous one. The day began at five o'clock in the morning with breakfast and prayer, followed by hours of crossing bumpy prairie and rapid rivers; it ended with lights out at nine o'clock at night. On June 1 the party arrived at Fort Laramie, the largest outpost on the Oregon Trail. It was there that the group received the valuable advice of mountain man Jim Bridger (1804–1881; see entry), who helped Young determine the best path to the Great Salt Lake Valley. The Mormons followed the Oregon Trail to Fort Bridger, in southwestern Wyoming, and then made their way down through the mountains and into the Great Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Here, in this wide valley ringed with mountains, Young hoped his people could find peace to build their religious community.

Building a thriving community

Young's party was the first in a great exodus of Mormons who traveled west to the Great Salt Lake Valley in the coming years. Guided by Young, who assumed the title of prophet in 1847, the Mormons planted crops and built homes after their arrival in the area, creating a thriving Mormon community. Young shuttled back and forth for several years, encouraging the further migration of Mormons from the eastern United States. Moreover, Mormon missionaries to Europe recruited many hundreds of people, paying their way to come to America and join the great "Zion," or religious community. By 1848 more than five thousand settlers lived in the valley.

In the isolated Great Salt Lake Valley, the Mormons found the freedom from persecution that they long desired. However, their isolation would not last. The American victory in the Mexican-American War (1846–48; a war fought between Mexico and the United States primarily over the southern border of Texas, but in which the United States gained large amounts of territory in the Southwest) made Utah a United States territory, and President Millard Fillmore (1800–1874) named Young governor of the territory in 1850. This secular (nonreligious) authority combined with Young's religious authority made him the powerful ruler of the Utah Territory. Newspaper editor Horace Greeley (1811–1872) visited the territory in 1859. In his subsequent book, An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859, Greeley remarks that Young "carries the territory in his breeches pocket without a shadow of opposition." The Mormons also came into contact with great numbers of travelers heading west to California—especially after the gold rush of 1849—and were able to profit by selling supplies to the travelers. Yet as the Mormons had learned earlier, such contact with the outside world did not bode well for the Mormons' future.

Soon the Mormons living in Salt Lake City were under attack from outsiders. Government officials appointed to positions in Utah complained that Young's influence was too strong and that he was leading a theocracy, a government in which church and state are one. Moreover, the official adoption of plural marriages in the 1840s created a public outcry against Mormon immorality and rekindled charges that Mormons believed that they could live outside the law. In 1857, convinced that the Mormons were considering rebellion, President James Buchanan (1791–1868) sent two thousand troops to Utah to install a new governor, Alfred Cumming. Fearful of renewed persecution and bloodshed, Young ordered the Mormons to evacuate Salt Lake City and hide in Mormon communities to the south. In June 1857, after the U.S. troops marched without attack into Salt Lake City, a peace commission negotiated a deal that made Cumming governor but left the real power in Young's hands. The "Mormon War" was over, and life returned to normal.

Under Young's leadership, the Mormons continued to develop a society in Salt Lake City that favored church members. They settled the best land in the territory, and voted church members into significant positions of power. In 1868 Young established the Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, a group that ensured that Mormons retained the best access to goods and services. For church members, Salt Lake City and the other Mormon communities that dotted the territory were ideal places to live. Towns were safe, there were no rowdy drinking and gambling houses, and a strict code of morality prevailed. At long last, the Mormons had succeeded at creating their dream.

Brigham Young died after a brief illness on August 29, 1877. At the end he called out "Joseph! Joseph! Joseph!" which his family believed to be a greeting to church founder Joseph Smith. Young left behind twenty-six wives and fifty-seven children. Thousands of mourners filed past his casket, which was placed in the Mormon Tabernacle (a great church building). They called Young the American Moses, for he had led his people to the promised land. The Mormon Church officially abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890; six years later Utah was admitted to the Union as the forty-fifth state. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is today one of the fastest growing religions in the world.

For More Information

Books

Arrington, Leonard J. Brigham Young: American Moses. New York: Knopf, 1985.

Bernotas, Bob. Brigham Young. New York: Chelsea House, 1992.

Bringhurst, Newell G. Brigham Young and the Expanding American Frontier. Boston: Little, Brown, 1986.

Greeley, Horace. An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859. New York: Knopf, 1964.

Sanford, William R., and Carl R. Green. Brigham Young: Pioneer and Mormon Leader. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1996.

Web Sites

"Brigham Young." [Online] http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/wpages/wpgs400/w4young.htm (accessed on May 16, 2000).

"Brigham Young." [Online] http://www.mala.bc.ca/~mcneil/youngb.htm (accessed on May 16, 2000).

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