Among the Mormons

A nineteenth-century writer meets Brigham Young and explores the "City of Saints"

Brigham's manners astonish any one who knows that his only education was a few quarters of such common school experience as could be had in Ontario County, Central New York, during the early part of the century. There are few courtlier men living. His address is a fine combination of dignity with the desire to confer happiness, of perfect deference to the feelings of others with absolute certainty of himself and his own opinions. He is a remarkable example of the educating influence of tactful perception, combined with entire singleness of aim, considered quite apart from its moral character. His early life was passed among the uncouth and illiterate; his daily associations, since he embraced Mormonism, have been with the least cultivated grades of human society, a heterogeneous peasant-horde, looking to him for erection into a nation yet he has so clearly seen what is requisite in the man who would be respected in the Presidency, and has so unreservedly devoted his life to its attainment, that in protracted conversations with him I heard only a single solecism, ("a'n't you" for aren't you,") and saw not one instance of breeding which would be inconsistent with noble lineage.

I say all this good of him frankly, disregarding any slur that may be cast on me as his defender by those broad-effect artists who always paint the Devil black, for I think it high time that the Mormon enemies of our American Idea should be plainly understood as far more dangerous antagonists than hypocrites or idiots can ever hope to be. Let us not twice commit the blunder of underrating our foes.

Brigham began our conversation at the theatre by telling me I was late, it was after nine o'clock. I replied, that this was the time we usually set about dressing for an evening party in Boston or New York.

"Yes," said he, "you find us an old-fashioned people; we are trying to return to the healthy habits of patriarchal times."

"Need you go back so far as that for your parallel ?" suggested I. "It strikes me that we might have found four o'clock balls among the early Christians."

He smiled, without that offensive affectation of some great men, the air of taking another's joke under their gracious patronage, and went on to remark that there were, unfortunately, multitudinous differences between the Mormons and Americans at the East, besides the hours they kept.

"You find us," said he, "trying to live peaceably. A sojourn with people thus minded must be a great relief to you who come from a laud where brother hath lifted hand against brother, and, you hear the confused noise of the warrior perpetually ringing in your ears."

Despite the courtly deference and Scriptural dignity of this speech, I detected in it a latent crow over that "perished Union" which was the favorite theme of every saint I met in Utah, and hastened to assure the President that I had no desire for relief from sympathy

with my country's struggle for honor and existence.

"Ah!" he replied, in a voice slightly tinged with sarcasm. "You differ greatly, then, from multitudes of your countrymen, who, since the draft began to be talked of, have passed through Salt Lake, flying westward from the crime of their brothers' blood."

"I do indeed."

"Still, they are excellent men. Brother Heber Kimball and myself are every week invited to address a train of them down at Emigrant Square. They are honest, peaceful people. You call them ‘Copperheads’ I believe. But they are real, true, good men. We find them. very truth-seeking, remarkably open to conviction. Many of them have stayed with us. Thus the Lord makes the wrath of man to praise Him. The Abolitionists—the same people who interfered with our institutions, and drove us out into the wilderness—interfered with the Southern institutions till they broke up the Union. But it’s all coining out right, a great deal better than we could have arranged it for ourselves. The men who flee from Abolitionist oppression come out here to our ark of refuge, and people the asylum of God's chosen. You'll all be out here before long. Your Union's gone forever. Fighting only makes matters worse. When your country has become a desolation, we, the saints whom you east out, will forget all your sins against us, and give you a home."

There was something so preposterous in the idea of a mighty and prosperous people abandoning, through abject terror of a desperate set of Southern conspirators, the fertile soil and grand commercial avenues of the United States, to populate a green strip in the heart of an inaccessible desert, that, until I saw Brigham young’s face clowning with what he deemed prophetic enthusiasm, I could not imagine him in earnest. Before I left Utah, I discovered, that, without a single exception, all the saints were inoculated with a prodigious craze, to the effect that the United States was to become a blighted chaos, and its inhabitants Mormon proselytes and citizens of Utah within the next two years, the more sanguine said, “next summer." At first sight, one point puzzled me. Where were they to get the orthodox number of wives or this sudden accession of converts? My gentlemen-readers will feel highly flattered by a solution of this problem which I received from no lesser light of the Latter Day Church than that jolly apostle, Heber Kimball.

"Why," said the old man, twinkling his little black eyes like a godly Silonus, and nursing one of his fat legs with a lickerish smile, "isn't the Lord Almighty providing for His beloved heritage jist as fast as He anyways kin? This war 's a-goin' on till the biggest part o' you male Gentiles hez killed each other off then the leetle handful that 's left and comes a fleein' t' our asylum’ll bring all the women o’ the nation along with ‘em, so we shall hev women enough to give every one on ‘em all they want, and hev a large balance left over to distribute round among God’s saints that hez been here from the beginnin’ o the tribulation.”

The sweet taste which this diabolical reflection seemed to leave in Heber Kimball's mouth made me long to knock him down worse than I had ever felt regarding either saint or sinner. But it is costly to smite an apostle of the Lord in Salt Lake City; and I merely retaliated by telling him. I wished I could hear him say that in a lecture room full of Sanitary Commission ladies scraping lint for their husbands, sweethearts, and brothers in the Union army. I didn't know whether saints made good lint, but I thought I knew one who 'd get scraped a little.

To resume Brigham for the last time. After a conversation about the Indians, in which he denounced the military policy of the Government, averring that one bale of blankets and ten pounds of beads would go farther to protect the mails from stoppage and emigrants from massacre than a regiment of soldiers, he discovered that we crossed swords on every war question, and tactfully changed the subject to the beauty of the Opera House.

As to the Indians, let me remark by the by, I did not tell him that I understood the reason of his dislike to severe measures in that direction. Infernally bestial and cruel as are the Goshoots, Pi-Uttes, and other Desert tribes, still they have never planned any extensive raid since the Mormons entered Utah. In every settlement of the saints you will find from two to a dozen young men who wear their black hair cut in the Indian fashion, and speak all the surrounding dialects with native fluency. Whenever a fatly provided wagon train is to be attacked, a flue herd of emigrants' beeves stampeded, the mail to be stopped, or the Gentiles in any way harassed, these desperadoes stain their skin, exchange their clothes for a breech-clout, and rally a horde of the savages, whose favor they have, always propitiated, for the ambush and massacre, which in all but the element of brute force is their work in plan, leadership, and execution. I have multitudes of most interesting facts to back this assertion, but am already in danger of overrunning my allowed limits.

The Opera House was a subject we could agree upon. I was greatly astonished to find in the desert heart of the continent a place of public amusement which for capacity, beauty, and comfort has no superior in America, except the opera houses of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. It is internally constructed somewhat like the first of these, seats twenty-five hundred people, and commodiously receives five hundred more, when, as in the present instance, the stage is thrown into the parquet, and the latter boarded up to the level of the former for dancing. Externally the building is a plain, but not ungraceful structure, of stone, brick, and stucco. My greatest surprise was excited by the really exquisite artistic beauty of the gilt and painted decorations of the great arch over the stage, the cornices, and the moulding about the proscenium-boxes. President Young, with a proper pride, assured me that every particle of the ornamental work was by indigenous and saintly hands.

But you don't know yet," be added, "how independent we are of you at the East. Where do you think we got that central chandelier, and what d' ye suppose we paid for it?"

It was a piece of workmanship which would have been creditable to any New York fir, apparently a richly carved circle, twined with gilt vines, leaves, anti tendrils, blossoming all over with flaming wax-lights, and suspended by a massive chain of golden lustre. So I replied that he probably paid a thousand dollars for it in New York.

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