Mormon Treatment Of Federal Officers

The next federal officers for Utah appointed by the President (in

August, 1852) were Lazarus H. Reid of New York to be chief

justice, Leonidas Shaver, associate justice, and B. G. Ferris,

secretary. Neither of these officers incurred the Mormon wrath.

Both of the judges died while in office, and the next chief

justice was John F. Kinney, who had occupied a seat on the Iowa

Supreme Bench, with W. W. Drummond of Illinois, and George P.

Stiles, one of Joseph Smith's counsel at the time of the

prophet's death, as associates. A. W. Babbitt received the

appointment of secretary of the territory.*

* Some years later Babbitt was killed. Mrs. Waite, in "The Mormon

Prophet" (p. 34) says: "In the summer of 1862 Brigham was

referring to this affair in a tea-table conversation at which

judge Waite and the writer of this were present. After making

some remarks to impress upon the minds of those present the

necessity of maintaining friendly relations between the federal

officers and the authorities of the church, he used language

substantially as follows: 'There is no need of any difficulty,

and there need be none if the officers do their duty and mind

their affairs. If they do not, if they undertake to interfere

with affairs that do not concern them, I will not be far off.

There was Almon W. Babbitt. He undertook to quarrel with me, but

soon afterward was killed by Indians."

The territorial legislature had continued to meet from time to

time, Young having a seat of honor in front of the Speaker at

each opening joint session, and presenting his message. The most

important measure passed was an election law which practically

gave the church authorities control of the ballot. It provided

that each voter must hand his ballot, folded, to the judge of

election, who must deposit it after numbering it, and after the

clerk had recorded the name and number. This, of course, gave the

church officers knowledge concerning the candidate for whom each

man voted. Its purpose needs no explanation.

In August, 1854, a force of some three hundred soldiers, under

command of Lieutenant Colonel E. J. Steptoe of the United States

army, on their way to the Pacific coast, arrived in Salt Lake

City and passed the succeeding winter there. Young's term as

governor was about to expire, and the appointment of his

successor rested with President Pierce. Public opinion in the

East had become more outspoken against the Mormons since the

resignation of the first federal officers sent to the territory,

the "revelation" concerning polygamy having been publicly avowed

meanwhile, and there was an expressed feeling that a non- Mormon

should be governor. Accordingly, President Pierce, in December,

1854, offered the governorship to Lieutenant Colonel Steptoe.

Brigham Young, just before and after this period, openly declared

that he would not surrender the actual government of the

territory to any man. In a discourse in the Tabernacle, on June

19, 1853, in which he reviewed the events of 1851, he said, "We

have got a territorial government, and I am and will be governor,

and no power can hinder it, until the Lord Almighty says,

'Brigham, you need not be governor any longer.'"* In a defiant

discourse in the Tabernacle, on February 18, 1855, Young again

stated his position on this subject: "For a man to come here [as

governor] and infringe upon my individual rights and privileges,

and upon those of my brethren, will never meet my sanction, and I

will scourge such a one until he leaves. I am after him."

Defining his position further, and the independence of his

people, he said: "Come on with your knives, your swords, and your

faggots of fire, and destroy the whole of us rather than we will

forsake our religion. Whether the doctrine of plurality of wives

is true or false is none of your business. We have as good a

right to adopt tenets in our religion as the Church of England,

or the Methodists, or the Baptists, or any other denomination

have to theirs."**

* Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1, p. 187.

** Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 187-188.

Having thus defied the federal appointing power, the nomination

of Colonel Steptoe as Young's successor might have been expected

to cause an outbreak; but the Mormon leaders were always

diplomatic--at least, when Young did not lose his temper. The

outcome of this appointment was its declination by Steptoe, a

petition to President Pierce for Young's reappointment signed by

Steptoe himself and all the federal officers in the territory,

and the granting of the request of these petitioners.

Mrs. C. B. Waite, wife of Associate Justice C. B. Waite, one of

Lincoln's appointees, gives a circumstantial account of the

manner in which Colonel Steptoe was influenced to decline the

nomination and sign the petition in favor of Young.* Two women,

whose beauty then attracted the attention of Salt Lake City

society, were a relative by marriage of Brigham Young and an

actress in the church theatre. The federal army officers were

favored with a good deal of their society. When Steptoe's

appointment as governor was announced, Young called these women

to his assistance. In conformity with the plan then suggested,

Young one evening suddenly demanded admission to Colonel

Steptoe's office, which was granted after considerable delay.

Passing into the back room, he found the two women there, dressed

in men's clothes and with their faces concealed by their hats. He

sent the women home with a rebuke, and then described to Steptoe

the danger he was in if the women's friends learned of the

incident, and the disgrace which would follow its exposure.

Steptoe's declination of the nomination and his recommendation of

Young soon followed.

President Pierce's selection of judicial officers for Utah was

not made with proper care, nor with due regard to the dignity of

the places to be filled. Chief Justice Kinney took with him to

Utah a large stock of goods which he sold at retail after his

arrival there, and he also kept a boarding-house in Salt Lake

City. With his "trade" dependent on Mormon customers, he had

every object in cultivating their popularity. Known as a "Jack-

Mormon" in Iowa, Mrs. Waite declared that his uniform course, to

the time about which she wrote, had been "to aid and abet Brigham

Young in his ambitious schemes," and that he was then "an open

apologist and advocate of polygamy." Judge Drummond's course in

Utah was in many respects scandalous. A former member of the

bench in Illinois writes to me: "I remember that when Drummond's

appointment was announced there was considerable comment as to

his lack of fitness for the place, and, after the troubles

between him and the Mormon leaders got aired through the press,

members of the bar from his part of the state said they did not

blame the Mormons--that it was an imposition upon them to have

sent him out there as a judge. I never heard his moral character

discussed." If the Mormon leaders had shown any respect for the

government at Washington, or for the reputable men appointed to

territorial offices, more attention might be paid to their

hostility manifested to certain individuals.

* "The Mormon Prophet," p. 36, confirmed by Beadle's "Life in

Utah," p. 171.

A few of the leading questions at issue under the new territorial

officers will illustrate the nature of the government with which

they had to deal. The territorial legislature had passed acts

defining the powers and duties of the territorial courts. These

acts provided that the district courts should have original

jurisdiction, both civil and criminal, wherever not otherwise

provided by law. Chapter 64 (approved January 14, 1864) provided

as follows: "All questions of law, the meaning of writings other

than law, and the admissibility of testimony shall be decided by

the court; and no laws or parts of laws shall be read, argued,

cited, or adopted in any courts, during any trial, except those

enacted by the governor and legislative assembly of this

territory, and those passed by the Congress of the United States,

WHEN APPLICABLE; and no report, decision, or doings of any court

shall be read, argued, cited, or adopted as precedent in any

other trial." This obliterated at a stroke the whole body of the

English common law. Another act provided that, by consent of the

court and the parties, any person could be selected to act as

judge in a particular case. As the district court judges were

federal appointees, a judge of probate was provided for each

county, to be elected by joint ballot of the legislature. These

probate courts, besides the authority legitimately belonging to

such tribunals, were given "power to exercise original

jurisdiction, both civil and criminal, as well in chancery as at

common law." Thus there were in the territory two kinds of

courts, to one of which alone a non-Mormon could look for

justice, and to the other of which every Mormon would appeal when

he was not prevented.

The act of Congress organizing the territory provided for the

appointment of a marshal, approved by the President; the

territorial legislature on March 3, 1852, provided for another

marshal to be elected by joint ballot, and for an attorney

general. A nonMormon had succeeded the original Mormon who was

appointed as federal marshal, and he took the ground that he

should have charge of all business pertaining to the marshal's

office in the United States courts. Judge Stiles having issued

writs to the federal marshal, the latter was not able to serve

them, and the demand was openly made that only territorial law

should be enforced in Utah. When the question of jurisdiction

came before the judge, three Mormon lawyers appeared in behalf of

the Mormon claim, and one of them, James Ferguson, openly told

the judge that, if he decided against him, they "would take him

from the bench d--d quick." Judge Stiles adjourned his court, and

applied to Governor Young for assistance; but got only the reply

that "the boys had got their spunk up, and he would not

interfere," and that, if Judge Stiles could not enforce the

United States laws, the sooner he adjourned court the better.*

All the records and papers of the United States court were kept

in Judge Stiles's office. In his absence, Ferguson led a crowd to

the office, seized and deposited in a safe belonging to Young the

court papers, and, piling up the personal books and papers of the

judge in an outhouse, set fire to them. The judge, supposing that

the court papers were included in the bonfire, innocently made

that statement in an affidavit submitted on his return to

Washington in 1857.

* This account is given in Mrs. Waite's "The Mormon Prophet."

Tullidge omits the incident in his "History of Salt Lake City."

Judge Drummond, reversing the policy of Chief Justice Kinney and

Judge Shaver, announced, before the opening of the first session

of his court, that he should ignore all proceedings of the

territorial probate courts except such as pertained to legitimate

probate business. This position was at once recognized as a

challenge of the entire Mormon judicial system,* and steps were

promptly taken to overthrow it. There are somewhat conflicting

accounts of the method adopted. Mrs. Waite, in her "Mormon

Prophet," Hickman, in his confessions, and Remy, in his

"Journey," have all described it with variations. All agree that

a quarrel was brought about between the judge and a Jew, which

led to the arrest of both of them. "During the prosecution of the

case," says Mrs. Waite, "the judge gave some sort of a

stipulation that he would not interfere any further with the

probate courts."

* A member of the legislature wrote to his brother in England, of

Drummond: He has brass to declare in open court that the Utah

laws are founded in ignorance, and has attempted to set some of

the most important ones aside,... and he will be able to

appreciate the merits of a returned compliment some day."

* Tullidge, "History of Salt Lake City," p. 412.

Judge Stiles left the territory in the spring of 1857, and gave

the government an account of his treatment in the form of an

affidavit when he reached Washington. Judge Drummond held court a

short time for Judge Stiles in Carson County (now Nevada)* in the

spring of 1857, and then returned to the East by way of

California, not concealing his opinion of Mormon rule on the way,

and giving the government a statement of the case in a letter

resigning his judgeship.

* The settlement of what is now Nevada was begun by both Mormons

and non-Mormons in 1854, and, the latter being in the majority,

the Utah legislature organized the entire western part of the

territory as one county, called Carson, and Governor Young

appointed Orson Hyde its probate judge. Many persons coming in

after the settlement of California, as miners, farmers, or

stock-raisers, the Mormons saw their majority in danger, and

ordered the non-Mormons to leave. Both sides took up arms, and

they camped in sight of each other for two weeks. The Mormons,

learning that their opponents were to receive reenforcements from

California, agreed on equal rights for all in that part of the

territory; but when the legislature learned of this, it repealed

the county act, recalled the judge, and left the district without

any legal protection whatever. Thus matters remained until late

in 1858, when a probate judge was quietly appointed for Carson

Valley. After this an election was held, but although the

non-Mormons won at the polls, the officers elected refused to

qualify and enforce Mormon statutes.--Letter of Delegate-elect J.

M. Crane of Nevada, "The Mormon Prophet," pp. 4l-45.

After the departure of the non-Mormon federal judges from Utah,

the only non-Mormon officers left there were those belonging to

the office of the surveyor general, and two Indian agents. Toward

these officers the Mormons were as hostile as they had been

toward the judges, and the latest information that the government

received about the disposition and intentions of the Mormons came

from them.

The Mormon view of their title to the land in Salt Lake Valley

appeared in Young's declaration on his first Sunday there, that

it was theirs and would be divided by the officers of the

church.* Tullidge, explaining this view in his history published

in 1886, says that this was simply following out the social plan

of a Zion which Smith attempted in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois,

under "revelation." He explains: "According to the primal law of

colonization, recognized in all ages, it was THEIR LAND if they

could hold and possess it. They could have done this so far as

the Mexican government was concerned, which government probably

never would even have made the first step to overthrow the

superstructure of these Mormon society builders. At that date,

before this territory was ceded to the United States, Brigham

Young, as the master builder of the colonies which were soon to

spread throughout these valleys, could with absolute propriety

give the above utterances on the land question."**

* "They will not, however, without protest, buy the land, and

hope that grants will be made to actual settlers or the state,

sufficient to cover their improvements. If not, the state will be

obliged to buy, and then confirm the titles already given."--

Gunnison. "The Mormons," 1852, p. 414.

** Captain Gunnison, who as lieutenant accompanied Stansbury's

surveying party and printed a book giving his personal

observations, was murdered in 1853 while surveying a railroad

route at a camp on Sevier River. His party were surprised by a

band of Pah Utes while at breakfast, and nine of them were

killed. The charge was often made that this massacre was inspired

by Mormons, but it has not been supported by direct evidence.

When the act organizing the territory was passed, very little of

the Indian title to the land had been extinguished, and the

Indians made bitter complaints of the seizure of their homes and

hunting-grounds, and the establishment of private rights to

canons and ferries, by the people who professed so great a regard

for the "Lamanites." Congress, in February, 1855, created the

office of surveyor general of Utah and defined his duties. The

presence of this officer was resented at once, and as soon as

Surveyor General David H. Burr arrived in Salt Lake City the

church directed all its members to convey their lands to Young as

trustee in trust for the church, "in consideration of the good

will which---- have to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day

Saints." Explaining this order in a discourse in the Tabernacle

on March 1, 1857, H. C. Kimball said: "I do not compel you to do

it; the trustee in trust does not; God does not. But He says that

if you will do this and the other things which He has counselled

for our good, do so and prove Him.... If you trifle with me when

I tell you the truth, you will trifle with Brother Brigham, and

if you trifle with him you will also trifle with angels and with

God, and thus you will trifle yourselves down to hell."*

* Journal of Discourses, Vol. IV, pp. 249, 252.

The Mormon policy toward the surveyors soon took practical shape.

On August 30, 1856, Burr reported a nearly fatal assault on one

of his deputies by three Danites. Deputy Surveyor Craig reported

efforts of the Mormons to stir up the Indians against the

surveyors, and quoted a suggestion of the Deseret News that the

surveyors be prosecuted in the territorial court for trespass. In

February, 1857, Burr reported a visit he had had from the clerk

of the Supreme Court, the acting district attorney, and the

territorial marshal, who told him plainly that the country was


They showed him a copy of a report that he had made to

Washington, charging Young with extensive depredations, warned

him that he could not write to Washington without their

knowledge, and ordered that such letter writing should stop. "The

fact is," Burr added, "these people repudiate the authority of

the United States in this country, and are in open rebellion

against the general government.... So strong have been my

apprehensions of danger to the surveyors that I scarcely deemed

it prudent to send any out.... We are by no means sure that we

will be permitted to leave, for it is boldly asserted we would

not get away alive."* He did escape early in the spring.

* For text of reports, see House Ex. Doc. No. 71, 1st Session,

35th Congress.

The reports of the Indian agents to the commissioner at

Washington at this time were of the same character. Mormon

trespasses on Indian land had caused more than one conflict with

the savages, but, when there was a prospect of hostilities with

the government, the Mormons took steps to secure Indian aid. In

May, 1855, Indian Agent Hurt called the attention of the

commissioner at Washington to the fact that the Mormons at their

recent Conference had appointed a large number of missionaries to

preach among the "Lamanites"; that these missionaries were "a

class of lawless young men," and, as their influence was likely

to be in favor of hostilities with the whites, he suggested that

all Indian officers receive warning on the subject. Hurt was

added to the list of fugitive federal officers from Utah, deeming

it necessary to flee when news came of the approach of the troops

in the fall of 1857. His escape was quite dramatic, some of his

Indian friends assisting him. They reached General Johnston's

camp about the middle of October, after suffering greatly from

hunger and cold.

The Mormon leaders could scarcely fail to realize that a point

must be reached when the federal government would assert its

authority in Utah territory, but they deemed a conflict with the

government of less serious moment than a surrender which would

curtail their own civil and criminal jurisdiction, and bring

their doctrine of polygamy within reach of the law. A specimen of

the unbridled utterances of these leaders in those days will be

found in a discourse by Mayor Grant in the Tabernacle, on March

2, 1856:--

"Who is afraid to die? None but the wicked. If they want to send

troops here, let them come to those who have imported filth and

whores, though we can attend to that class without so much

expense to the Government. They will threaten us with United

States troops! Why, your impudence and ignorance would bring a

blush to the cheek of the veriest camp-follower among them. We

ask no odds of you, you rotten carcasses, and I am not going to

bow one hair's breadth to your influence. I would rather be cut

into inch pieces than succumb one particle to such filthiness

.... If we were to establish a whorehouse on every corner of our

streets, as in nearly all other cities outside of Utah, either by

law or otherwise, we should doubtless then be considered good


* Journal of Discourses, Vol. III, pp. 234-235

Two weeks later Brigham Young, in a sermon in the same place,

said, "I said then, and I shall always say, that I shall be

governor as long as the Lord Almighty wishes me to govern this


* Ibid., p. 258.

In January, 1853, Orson Pratt, as Mormon representative, began

the publication in Washington, D.C., of a monthly periodical

called The Seer, in which he defended polygamy, explained the

Mormon creed, and set forth the attitude of the Mormons toward

the United States government. The latter subject occupied a large

part of the issue of January, 1854, in the shape of questions and

answers. The following will give an illustration of their tone:--

"Q.--In what manner have the people of the United States treated

the divine message contained in the Book of Mormon?

"A.--They have closed their eyes, their ears, their hearts and

their doors against it. They have scorned, rejected and hated the

servants of God who were sent to bear testimony of it.

"Q.--In what manner has the United States treated the Saints who

have believed in this divine message?

"A.--They have proceeded to the most savage and outrageous

persecutions;... dragged little children from their

hiding-places, and, placing the muzzles of their guns to their

heads, have blown out their brains, with the most horrid oaths

and imprecations. They have taken the fair daughters of American

citizens, bound them on benches used for public worship, and

there, in great numbers, ravished them until death came to their


Further answers were in the shape of an argument that the federal

government was responsible for the losses of the Saints in

Missouri and Illinois.

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