Eastern Visitors To Salt Lake City - Unpunished Murderers

In June, 1865, a distinguished party from the East visited Salt

Lake City, and their visit was not without public significance.

It included Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the House of

Representatives, Lieutenant Governor Bross of Illinois, Samuel

Bowles, editor of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, and

A. D. Richardson of the staff of the New York Tribune. Crossing

the continent was still effected by stage-coach at that time,

and the Mormon capital had never been visited by civilians so

well known and so influential. Mr. Colfax had stated publicly

that President Lincoln, a short time before his death, had asked

him to make a thorough investigation of territorial matters, and

his visit was regarded as semiofficial. The city council

formally tendered to the visitors the hospitality of the city,

and Mr. Bowles wrote that the Speaker's reception "was excessive

if not oppressive."

In an interview between Colfax and Young, during which the

subject of polygamy was brought up by the latter, he asked what

the government intended to do with it, now that the slavery

question was out of the way. Mr. Colfax replied with the

expression of a hope that the prophets of the church would have a

new "revelation" which would end the practice, pointing out an

example in the course of Missouri and Maryland in abolishing

slavery, without waiting for action by the federal government.

"Mr. Young," says Bowles, "responded quietly and frankly that he

should readily welcome such a revelation; that polygamy was not

in the original book of the Mormons; that it was not an

essential practice in the church, but only a privilege and a

duty, under special command of God."*

* "Across the Continent," p. 111.

It is worth while to note Mr. Bowles's summing up of his

observations of Mormondom during this visit. "The result," he

wrote, "of the whole experience has been to increase my

appreciation of the value of their material progress and

development to the nation; to evoke congratulations to them and

to the country for the wealth they have created, and the order,

frugality, morality (sic), and industry they have organized in

this remote spot in our continent; to excite wonder at the

perfection of their church system, the extent of its

ramifications, the sweep of its influence, and to enlarge my

respect for the personal sincerity and character of many of the

leaders in the organization."* These were the expressions of a

leading journalist, thought worthy to be printed later in book

form, on a church system and church officers about which he had

gathered his information during a few hours' visit, and

concerning which he was so fundamentally ignorant that he called

their Bible--whose title is, "Book of Mormon"--"book of the

Mormons!" It is reasonably certain that he had never read

Smith's "revelations," doubtful if he was acquainted with even

the framework of the Mormon Bible, and probable that he was

wholly ignorant of the history of their recent "Reformation."

Many a profound opinion of Mormonism has been founded on as

little opportunity for accurate knowledge.**

* "Across the Continent," p. 106.

** As another illustration of the value of observations by such

transient students may be cited the following, from Sir Charles

Wentworth Dilke's "Greater Britain," Vol. I, p. 148: "Brigham's

deeds have been those of a sincere man. His bitterest opponents

cannot dispute the fact that, in 1844, when Nauvoo was about to

be deserted owing to attacks by a ruffianly mob, Brigham Young

rushed to the front and took command. To be a Mormon leader was

then to be the leader of an outcast people, with a price set on

his head, in a Missouri country in which almost every man who

was not a Mormon was by profession an assassin."

The Eastern visitors soon learned, however, how little intention

the Mormon leaders had to be cajoled out of polygamy. Before Mr.

Bowles's book was published, he had to add a supplement, in

which he explained that "since our visit to Utah in June, the

leaders among the Mormons have repudiated their professions of

loyalty to the government, and denied any disposition to yield

the issue of polygamy." Tullidge sneers at Colfax "for

entertaining for a while the pretty plan" of having the Mormons

give up polygamy as the Missourians did slavery. The Deseret

News, soon after the Colfax party left the territory, expressed

the real Mormon view on this subject, saying: "As a people we

view every revelation from the Lord as sacred. Polygamy was none

of our seeking. It came to us from Heaven, and we recognized it,

and still do, the voice of Him whose right it is not only to

teach us, but to dictate and teach all men . . . . They

[Gentiles] talk of revelations given, and of receiving counter

revelations to forbid what has been commanded, as if man was the

sole author, originator, and designer of them . . . . Do they

wish to brand a whole people with the foul stigma of hypocrisy,

who, from their leaders to the last converts that have made the

dreary journey to these mountain wilds for their faith, have

proved their honesty of purpose and deep sincerity of faith by

the most sublime sacrifices? Either that is the issue of their

reasoning, or they imagine that we serve and worship the most

accommodating Deity ever dreamed of in the wildest vagaries of

the most savage polytheist."

This was a perfectly consistent statement of the Mormon position,

a simple elaboration of Young's declaration that, to give up

belief in Smith as a prophet, and in his "revelations," would be

to give up their faith. Just as truly, any later "revelation,"

repealing the one concerning polygamy, must be either a pretence

or a temporary expedient, in orthodox Mormon eyes. The Mormons

date the active crusade of the government against polygamy from

the return of the Colfax party to the East, holding that this

question did not enter into the early differences between them

and the government.*

* Tullidge's "History of Salt Lake City," p. 358.

In the year following Colfax's visit, there occurred in Utah two

murders which attracted wide notice, and which called attention

once more to the insecurity of the life of any man against whom

the finger of the church was crooked. The first victim was O. N.

Brassfield, a non-Mormon, who had the temerity to marry, on

March 20, 1866, the second polygamous wife of a Mormon while the

husband was in Europe on a mission. As he was entering his house

in Salt Lake City, on the third day of the following month, he

was shot dead. An order that had been given to disband the

volunteer troops still remaining in the territory was

countermanded from Washington, and General Sherman, then

commander of that department, telegraphed to Young that he hoped

to hear of no more murders of Gentiles in Utah, intimating that,

if he did, it would be easy to reenlist some of the recently

discharged volunteers and march them through the territory.

The second victim was Dr. J. King Robinson, a young man who had

come to Utah as assistant surgeon of the California volunteers,

married the daughter of a Mormon whose widow and daughters had

left the church, and taken possession of the land on which were

some well-known warm springs, with the intention of establishing

there a sanitarium. The city authorities at once set up a claim

to the warm springs property, a building Dr. Robinson had

erected there was burned, and, as he became aggressive in

asserting his legal rights, he was called out one night,

ostensibly to set a broken leg, knocked down, and shot dead. The

audacity of this crime startled even the Mormons, and the

opinion has been expressed that nothing more serious than a

beating had been intended. There was an inquest before a city

alderman, at which some non-Mormon lawyers and judges Titus and

McCurdy were asked to assist. The chief feature of this hearing

was the summing up by Ex-Governor J. B. Weller, of California,

in which he denounced such murders, asked if there was not an

organized influence which prevented the punishment of their

perpetrators, and confessed that the prosecution had not been

permitted "to lift the veil, and show the perpetrators of this

horrible murder." *

* Text in "Rocky Mountain Saints," Appendix I.

General W. B. Hazen, in his report of February, 1867, said of

these victims: *There is no doubt of their murder from Mormon

church influences, although I do not believe by direct command.

Principles are taught in their churches which would lead to such

murders. I have earnestly to recommend that a list be made of

the Mormon leaders, according to their importance, excepting

Brigham Young, and that the President of the United States

require the commanding officer at Camp Douglas to arrest and

send to the state's prison at Jefferson City, Mo., beginning at

the head of the list, man for man hereafter killed as these men

were, to be held until the real perpetrators of the deed, with

evidence for their conviction, be given up. I believe Young for

the present necessary for us there" *

* Mis. House Doc. No. 75, 2d Session, 39th Congress.

Had this policy been adopted, Mormon prisoners would soon have

started East, for very soon afterward three other murders of the

same character occurred, although the victims were not so

prominent.* Chief Justice Titus incurred the hatred of the

Mormons by determined, if futile, efforts to bring offenders in

such cases to justice, and to show their feeling they sent him a

nightgown ten feet long, at the hands of a negro.

* See note 70, p. 628, Bancroft's "History of Utah." When, in

July, 1869, a delegation from Illinois, that included Senator

Trumbull, Governor Oglesby, Editor Medill of the Chicago

Tribune, and many members of the Chicago Board of Trade, visited

Salt Lake City, they were welcomed by and affiliated with the

Gentile element;* and when, in the following October, Vice

President Colfax paid a second visit to the city, he declined the

courtesies tendered to him by the city officers.** He made an

address from the portico of the Townsend House, of which

polygamy was the principle feature, and was soon afterward drawn

into a newspaper discussion of the subject with John Taylor.

* In an interview between Young and Senator Trumbull during this

visit (reported in the Alta California), the following

conversation took place:--"Young--We can take care of ourselves.

Cumming was good enough in his way, for you know he was simply

Governor of the Territory, while I was and am Governor of the


"Senator Trumbull--Mr. Young, may I say to the President that you

intend to observe the laws under the constitution?"

"Young-Well-yes--we intend to."

"Senator Trumbull--But may I say to him that you will do so?"

"Young--Yes, yes; so far as the laws are just, certainly."

** "Mr. Colfax politely refused to accept the proffered

courtesies of the city. Brigham was reported to have uttered

abusive language in the Tabernacle towards the Government and

Congress, and to have charged the President and Vice President

with being drunkards. One of the Aldermen who waited upon Mr.

Colfax to tender to him the hospitality of the city could only

say that he did not hear Brigham say so."--"Rocky Mountain

Saints," p. 638.

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