Colonel Kane's Mission

When Major Van Vliet returned from Utah to Washington with

Young's defiant ultimatum, he was accompanied by J. M. Bernhisel,

the territorial Delegate to Congress, who was allowed to retain

his seat during the entire "war," a motion for his expulsion,

introduced soon after Congress met, being referred to a committee

which never reported on it, the debate that arose only giving

further proof of the ignorance of the lawmakers about Mormon

history, Mormon government, and Mormon ambition.

In Washington Bernhisel was soon in conference with Colonel T. L.

Kane, that efficient ally of the Mormons, who had succeeded so

well in deceiving President Fillmore. In his characteristically

wily manner, Kane proposed himself to the President as a mediator

between the federal authorities and the Mormon leaders.* At that

early date Buchanan was not so ready for a compromise as he soon

became, and the Cabinet did not entertain Kane's proposition with

any enthusiasm. But Kane secured from the President two letters,

dated December 3.** The first stated, in regard to Kane, "You

furnish the strongest evidence of your desire to serve the

Mormons by undertaking so laborious a trip," and that "nothing

but pure philanthropy, and a strong desire to serve the Mormon

people, could have dictated a course so much at war with your

private interests." If Kane presented this credential to Young on

his arrival in Salt Lake City, what a glorious laugh the two

conspirators must have had over it! The President went on to

reiterate the views set forth in his last annual message, and to

say: "I would not at the present moment, in view of the hostile

attitude they have assumed against the United States, send any

agent to visit them on behalf of the government." The second

letter stated that Kane visited Utah from his own sense of duty,

and commended him to all officers of the United States whom he

might meet.

* H. H. Bancroft ("History of Utah," p. 529) accepts the

ridiculous Mormon assertion that Buchanan was compelled to change

his policy toward the Mormons by unfavorable comments "throughout

the United States and throughout Europe." Stenhouse says ("Rocky

Mountain Saints," p. 386): "That the initiatory steps for the

settlement of the Utah difficulties were made by the government,

as is so constantly repeated by the Saints, is not true. The

author, at the time of Colonel Kane's departure from New York for

Utah, was on the staff of the New York Herald, and was conversant

with the facts, and confidentially communicated them to Frederick

Hudson, Esq., the distinguished manager of that great journal."

** Sen. Doc., 2d Session. 35th Congress, Vol. II, pp. 162-163.

Kane's method of procedure was, throughout, characteristic of the

secret agent of such an organization as the Mormon church. He

sailed from New York for San Francisco the first week in January,

1858, under the name of Dr. Osborn. As soon as he landed, he

hurried to Southern California, and, joining the Mormons who had

been called in from San Bernardino, he made the trip to Utah with

them, arriving in Salt Lake City in February. On the evening of

the day of his arrival he met the Presidency and the Twelve, and

began an address to them as follows: "I come as ambassador from

the Chief Executive of our nation, and am prepared and duly

authorized to lay before you, most fully and definitely, the

feelings and views of the citizens of our common country and of

the Executive toward you, relative to the present position of

this territory, and relative to the army of the United States now

upon your borders." This is the report of Kane's words made by

Tullidge in his "Life of Brigham Young." How the statement agrees

with Kane's letters from the President is apparent on its face.

The only explanation in Kane's favor is that he had secret

instructions which contradicted those that were written and

published. Kane told the church officers that he wished to

"enlist their sympathies for the poor soldiers who are now

suffering in the cold and snow of the mountains!" An interview of

half an hour with Young followed--too private in its character to

be participated in even by the other heads of the church. An

informal discussion ensued, the following extracts from which, on

Mormon authority, illustrate Kane's sympathies and purpose:--

"Did Dr. Bernhisel take his seat?"

Kane--"Yes. He was opposed by the Arkansas member and a few

others, but they were treated as fools by more sagacious members;

for, if the Delegate had been refused his seat, it would have


"I suppose they [the Cabinet] are united in putting down Utah?"

Kane--"I think not."*

* Tullidge's "History of Salt Lake City," p. 203.

Kane was placed as a guest, still incognito, in the house of an

elder, and, after a few days' rest, he set out for Camp Scott.

His course on arriving there, on March 10, was again

characteristic of the crafty emissary. Not even recognizing the

presence of the military so far as to reply to a sentry's

challenge, the latter fired on him, and he in turn broke his own

weapon over the sentry's head. When seized, he asked to be taken

to Governor Cumming, not to General Johnston.* "The compromise,"

explains Tullidge, "which Buchanan had to effect with the utmost

delicacy, could only be through the new governor, and that, too,

by his heading off the army sent to occupy Utah." A fancied

insult from General Johnston due to an orderly's mistake led Kane

to challenge the general to a duel; but a meeting was prevented

by an order from Judge Eckles to the marshal to arrest all

concerned if his command to the contrary was not obeyed.

"Governor Cumming," continued Tullidge, "could do nothing less

than espouse the cause of the `ambassador' who was there in the

execution of a mission intrusted to him by the President of the

United States."**

* Colonel Johnston was made a brigadier general that winter.

** Kane brought an impudent letter from Young, saying that he had

learned that the United States troops were very destitute of

provisions, and offering to send them beef cattle and flour.

General Johnston replied to Kane that he had an abundance of

provisions, and that, no matter what might be the needs of his

army, he "would neither ask nor receive from President Young and

his confederates any supplies while they continued to be enemies

of the government" Kane replied to this the next day, expressing

a fear that "it must greatly prejudice the public interest to

refuse Mr. Young's proposal in such a manner," and begging the

general to reconsider the matter. No farther notice seems to have

been taken of the offer.

Kane did not make any mistake in his selection of the person to

approach in camp. Judged by the results, and by his admissions in

after years, the most charitable explanation of Cumming's course

is that he was hoodwinked from the beginning by such masters in

the art of deception as Kane and Young. A woman in Salt Lake

City, writing to her sons in the East at the time, described the

governor as in "appearance a very social, good-natured looking

gentleman, a good specimen of an old country aristocrat, at ease

in himself and at peace with all the world."* Such a man, whom

the acts and proclamations and letters of Young did not incite to

indignation, was in a very suitable frame of mind to be cajoled

into adopting a policy which would give him the credit of

bringing about peace, and at the same time place him at the head

of the territorial affairs.

* New York Herald, July 2, 1858. For personal recollections of

Cumming, see Perry's "Reminiscences of Public Men," p. 290. What

is said by Governor Perry of Cumming's Utah career is valueless.

In looking into the causes of what was, from this time, a backing

down by both parties to this controversy, we find at Washington

that lack of an aggressive defence of the national interests

confided to him by his office which became so much more evident

in President Buchanan a few years later. Defied and reviled

personally by Young in the latter's official communications,

there was added reason to those expressed in the President's

first message why this first rebellion, as he called it, "should

be put down in such a manner that it shall be the last." But a

wider question was looming up in Kansas, one in which the whole

nation recognized a vital interest; a bigger struggle attracted

the attention of the leading members of the Cabinet. The

Lecompton Constitution was a matter of vastly more interest to

every politician than the government of the sandy valley which

the Mormons occupied in distant Utah.

On the Mormon side, defiant as Young was, and sincere as was his

declaration that he would leave the valley a desert before the

advance of a hostile force, his way was not wholly clear. His

Legion could not successfully oppose disciplined troops, and he

knew it. The conviction of himself and his associates on the

indictments for treason could be prevented before an unbiased

non-Mormon jury only by flight. Abjectly as his people obeyed

him,--so abjectly that they gave up all their gold and silver to

him that winter in exchange for bank notes issued by a company of

which he was president,--the necessity of a reiteration of the

determination to rule by the plummet showed that rebellion was at

least a possibility? That Young realized his personal peril was

shown by some "instructions and remarks" made by him in the

Tabernacle just after Kane set out for Fort Bridger, and

privately printed for the use of his fellow-leaders. He expressed

the opinion that if Joseph Smith had "followed the revelations in

him" (meaning the warnings of danger), he would have been among

them still. "I do not know precisely," said Young, "in what

manner the Lord will lead me, but were I thrown into the

situation Joseph was, I would leave the people and go into the

wilderness, and let them do the best they could.... We are in

duty bound to preserve life--to preserve ourselves on earth--

consequently we must use policy, and follow in the counsel given

us." He pointed out the sure destruction that awaited them if

they opened fire on the soldiers, and declared that he was going

to a desert region in the territory which he had tried to have

explored "a desert region that no man knows anything about," with

"places here and there in it where a few families could live,"

and the entire extent of which would provide homes for five

hundred thousand people, if scattered about. In these

circumstances "a way out" that would free the federal

administration from an unpleasant complication, and leave Young

still in practical control in Utah, was not an unpleasant

prospect for either side.

A long Utah letter to the Near York Herald (which had been

generally pro-Mormon in tone) dated Camp Scott, May 22, 1858,

contained the following: "Some of the deceived followers of the

latest false Prophet arrived at this post in a most deplorable

condition. One mater familiar had crossed the mountains during

very severe weather in almost a state of nudity. Her dress

consisted of a part of a single skirt, part of a man's shirt, and

a portion of a jacket. Thus habited, without a shoe or a thread

more, she had walked 157 miles in snow, the greater part of the

way up to her knees, and carried in her arms a sucking babe less

than six weeks old. The soldiers pulled off their clothes and

gave them to the unfortunate woman. The absconding Saints who

arrive here tell a great many stories about the condition and

feeling of their brethren who still remain in the land of

promise.... Thousands and thousands of persons, both men and

women, are represented to be exceedingly desirous of not going

South with the church, but are compelled to by fear of death or


Governor Cumming, in his report to Secretary Cass on the

situation as he found it when he entered Salt Lake City, said

that, learning that a number of persons desirous of leaving the

territory "considered themselves to be unlawfully restrained of

their liberty," he decided, even at the risk of offending the

Mormons, to give public notice of his readiness to assist such

persons. In consequence, 56 men, 38 women, and 71 children sought

his protection in order to proceed to the States. "The large

majority of these people;" he explained, "are of English birth,

and state that they leave the congregation from a desire to

improve their circumstances and realize elsewhere more money for

their labor."

Kane having won Governor Cumming to his view of the situation,

and having created ill feeling between the governor and the chief

military commander, the way was open for the next step. The plan

was to have Governor Cumming enter Salt Lake Valley without any

federal troops, and proceed to Salt Lake City under a Mormon

escort of honor, which was to meet him when he came within a

certain distance of that city. This he consented to do. Kane

stayed in "Camp Eckles" until April, making one visit to the

outskirts to hold a secret conference with the Mormons, and,

doubtless, to arrange the details of the trip.

On April 3 Governor Cumming informed General Johnston of his

decision, and he set out two days later. General Johnston's view

of the policy to be pursued toward the Mormons was expressed in a

report to army headquarters, dated January 20:--

"Knowing how repugnant it would be to the policy or interest of

the government to do any act that would force these people into

unpleasant relations with the federal government, I have, in

conformity with the views also of the commanding general, on all

proper occasions manifested in my intercourse with them a spirit

of conciliation. But I do not believe that such consideration of

them would be properly appreciated now, or rather would be

wrongly interpreted; and, in view of the treasonable temper and

feeling now pervading the leaders and a greater portion of the

Mormons, I think that neither the honor nor the dignity of the

government will allow of the slightest concession being made to


Judge Eckles did not conceal his determination not to enter Salt

Lake City until the flag of his country was waving there, holding

it a shame that men should be detained there in subjection to

such a despot as Brigham Young.

Leaving camp accompanied only by Colonel Kane and two servants,

Governor Cumming found his Mormon guard awaiting him a few miles

distant. His own account of the trip and of his acts during the

next three weeks of his stay in Mormondom may be found in a

letter to General Johnston and a report to Secretary of State

Cass.* As Echo Canon was supposed to be thoroughly fortified, and

there was not positive assurance that a conflict might not yet

take place, the governor was conducted through it by night. He

says that he was "agreeably surprised" by the illuminations in

his honor. Very probably he so accepted them, but the fires

lighted along the sides and top of the canon were really intended

to appear to him as the camp-fires of a big Mormon army. This

deception was further kept up by the appearance of challenging

parties at every turn, who demanded the password of the escort,

and who, while the governor was detained, would hasten forward to

a new station and go through the form of challenging again: Once

he was made the object of an apparent attack, from which he was

rescued by the timely arrival of officers of authority.**

* For text, see Tullidge's "History of Salt Lake City,"

pp. 108-212.

** "In course of time Cumming discovered how the Mormon leaders

had imposed upon him and amused themselves with his credulity,

and to the last hour that he was in the Territory he felt annoyed

at having been so absurdly deceived, and held Brigham responsible

for the mortifying joke."--"Rocky Mountain Saints," p. 390.

The trip to Salt Lake City occupied a week, and on the 12th the

governor entered the Mormon metropolis, escorted by the city

officers and other persons of distinction in the community, and

was assigned as a guest to W. C. Staines, an influential Mormon

elder. There Young immediately called on him, and was received

with friendly consideration. Asked by his host, when the head of

the church took his leave, if Young appeared to be a tyrant,

Governor Cumming replied: "No, sir. No tyrant ever had a head on

his shoulders like Mr. Young. He is naturally a good man. I doubt

whether many of your people sufficiently appreciate him as a

leader."* This was the judgment of a federal officer after a few

moments' conversation with the reviler of the government and a

month's coaching by Colonel Kane.

Three days later, Governor Cumming officially notified General

Johnston of his arrival, and stated that he was everywhere

recognized as governor, and "universally greeted with such

respectful attentions" as were due to his office. There was no

mention of any advance of the troops, nor any censure of Mormon

offenders, but the general was instructed to use his forces to

recover stock alleged to have been stolen from the Mormons by

Indians, and to punish the latter, and he was informed that

Indian Agent Hurt (who had so recently escaped from Mormon

clutches) was charged by W. H. Hooper, the Mormon who had acted

as secretary of state during recent months, with having incited

Indians to hostility, and should be investigated! Verily, Colonel

Kane's work was thoroughly performed. General Johnston replied,

expressing gratification at the governor's reception, requesting

to be informed when the Mormon force would be withdrawn from the

route to Salt Lake City, and saying that he had inquired into Dr.

Hurt's case, and had satisfied himself "that he has faithfully

discharged his duty as agent, and that he has given none but good

advice to the Indians."

* Tullidge's "History of Salt Lake City," p. 206.

On the Sunday after his arrival Young introduced Governor Cumming

to the people in the Tabernacle, and then a remarkable scene

ensued. Stenhouse says that the proceedings were all arranged in

advance. Cumming was acting the part of the vigilant defender of

the laws, and at the same time as conciliator, doing what his

authority would permit to keep the Mormon leaders free from the

presence of troops and from the jurisdiction of federal judges.

But he was not all-powerful in this respect. General Johnston had

orders that would allow him to dispose of his forces without

obedience to the governor, and the governor could not quash the

indictments found by Judge Eckles's grand jury. Young's knowledge

of this made him cautious in his reliance on Governor Gumming.

Then, too, Young had his own people to deal with, and he would

lose caste with them if he made a surrender which left Mormondom

practically in federal control.

When Governor Cumming was introduced to the congregation of

nearly four thousand people he made a very conciliatory address,

in which, however, according to his report to Secretary Cass,* he

let them know that he had come to vindicate the national

sovereignty, "and to exact an unconditional submission on their

part to the dictates of the law"; but informed them that they

were entitled to trial by their peers,--intending to mean Mormon

peers,--that he had no intention of stationing the army near

their settlements, or of using a military posse until other means

of arrest had failed. After this practical surrender of

authority, the governor called for expressions of opinion from

the audience, and he got them. That audience had been nurtured

for years on the oratory of Young and Kimball and Grant, and had

seen Judge Brocchus vilified by the head of the church in the

same building; and the responses to Governor Cumming's invitation

were of a kind to make an Eastern Gentile quail, especially one

like the innocent Cumming, who thought them "a people who

habitually exercised great self-control." One speaker went into a

review of Mormon wrongs since the tarring of the prophet in Ohio,

holding the federal government responsible, and naming as the

crowning outrage the sending of a Missourian to govern them. This

was too much for Cumming, and he called out, "I am a Georgian,

sir, a Georgian." The congregation gave the governor the lie to

his face, telling him that they would not believe that he was

their friend until he sent the soldiers back. "It was a perfect

bedlam," says an eyewitness, "and gross personal remarks were

made. One man said, 'You're nothing but an office seeker.' The

governor replied that he obtained his appointment honorably and

had not solicited it."** If all this was a piece of acting

arranged by Young to show his flock that he was making no abject

surrender, it was well done.***

* Ex. Doc. No. 67, 1st Session, 35th Congress.

** Coverdale's statement in Camp Scott letter, June 4, 1858, to

New York Herald.

*** "Brigham was seated beside the governor on the platform, and

tried to control the unruly spirits. Governor Cumming may for the

moment have been deceived by this apparent division among the

Mormons, but three years later he told the author that it was all

of a piece with the incidents of his passage through Echo Canon.

In his characteristic brusque way he said: 'It was all humbug,

sir, all humbug; but never mind; it is all over now. If it did

them good, it did not hurt me.'"--"Rocky Mountain Saints," p.


Young's remarks on March 21 had been having their effect while

Cumming was negotiating, and an exodus from the northern

settlements was under way which only needed to be augmented by a

movement from the valley to make good Young's declaration that

they would leave their part of the territory a desert. No

official order for this movement had been published, but whatever

direction was given was sufficient. Peace Commissioners Powell

and McCullough, in a report to the Secretary of War dated July 3,

1858, said on this subject: "We were informed by various

(discontented) Mormons, who lived in the settlements north of

Provo, that they had been forced to leave their homes and go to

the southern part of the Territory.... We were also informed that

at least one-third of the persons who had removed from their

homes were compelled to do so. We were told that many were

dissatisfied with the Mormon church, and would leave it whenever

they could with safety to themselves. We are of opinion that the

leaders of the Mormon church congregated the people in order to

exercise more immediate control over them." Not only were houses

deserted, but growing crops were left and heavier household

articles abandoned, and the roads leading to the south and

through Salt Lake City were crowded day by day with loaded

wagons, their owners--even the women, often shoeless trudging

along and driving their animals before them. These refugees were,

a little later, joined by Young and most of his associates, and

by a large part of the inhabitants of Salt Lake City itself. It

was estimated by the army officers at the time that 25,000 of a

total population of 45,000 in the Territory, took part in this

movement. When they abandoned their houses they left them tinder

boxes which only needed the word of command, when the troops

advanced, to begin a general conflagration. By June 1 the

refugees were collected on the western shore of Utah Lake, fifty

miles south of Salt Lake City. What a picture of discomfort and

positive suffering this settlement presented can be partly

imagined. The town of Provo near by could accommodate but a few

of the new-comers, and for dwellings the rest had recourse to

covered wagons, dugouts, cabins of logs, and shanties of boards--

anything that offered any protection. There was a lack of food,

and it was the old life of the plains again, without the daily

variety presented when the trains were moving.

In his report to Secretary Cass, dated May 2, Governor Cumming,

after describing this exodus as a matter of great concern,


"I shall follow these people and try to rally them. Our military

force could overwhelm most of these poor people, involving men,

women, and children in a common fate; but there are among the

Mormons many brave men accustomed to arms and horses, men who

could fight desperately as guerillas; and, if the settlements are

destroyed, will subject the country to an expensive and

protracted war, without any compensating results. They will, I am

sure, submit to 'trial by their peers,' but they will not brook

the idea of trial by 'juries' composed of 'teamsters and

followers of the camp,' nor any army encamped in their cities or

dense settlements."

What kind of justice their idea of "trial by their peers" meant

was disclosed in the judicial history of the next few years. This

report, which also recited the insults the governor had received

in the Tabernacle, was sent to Congress on June 10 by President

Buchanan, with a special message, setting forth that he had

reason to believe that "our difficulties with the territory have

terminated, and the reign of the constitution and laws been

restored," and saying that there was no longer any use of calling

out the authorized regiments of volunteers.

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