Among the Mormons

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

"Capital!" exclaimed Brigham. "I made it myself! That circle is a cart-wheel which I washed and gilded; it hangs by a pair of gilt ox-chains; and the ornaments of the candlesticks were all cut after my patterns out of sheet-tin!"

I talked with the President till a party of young girls, who seemed to regard him ,with idolatry, and whom, in return, he treated with a sage mixture of gallantry and fatherliness, came to him with an invitation to join in some old-fashioned contra-dance long forgotten at the East. I was curious to see how he would acquit himself in this supreme ordeal of dignity; so I descended to the parquet, and was much impressed by the aristocratic grace with which he went through his figures.

After that I excused myself from numerous kind invitations by the ball committee to be introduced to a partner and join in the dances. The fact was that I greatly wished to make a thorough physiognomical study of the ballroom, and I know that my readers will applaud my self-denial in not dancing, since it enables me to tell them how Utah good society looks.

After spending an hour in a circuit and survey of the room as minute as was compatible with decency, I arrived at the following results.

There was very little ostentation in dress at the ball, but there was also 'very little taste in dressing. Patrician broadcloth and silk were the rare exceptions, generally ill-made and ill-worn, but they cordially associated with the great malls of plebeian tweed and calico. Pew ladies wore jewelry or feathers. There were some pretty girls swimming about in tasteful whip-syllabub of puffed tarlatan. Where saintly gentlemen came with several wives, the oldest generally seemed the most elaborately dressed, and acted much like an Eastern chaperon toward her younger sisters. (Wives of the same man habitually besister each other in Utah. Another triumph of grace!) Among the men I saw some very strong and capable faces; but the majority had not much character in their looks, indeed, differed little in that regard from any average crowd of men anywhere. Among the women, to my surprise, I found no really degraded faces, though many stolid ones, only one deeply dejected, (this belonged to the wife of a hitherto monogamic husband, who had left her along in the dress-circle, while he was dancing with a chubby young Mormoness, likely to be added to the family in a month or two,) but many impassive on and though I saw multitudes of kindly, good-tempered countenances, and a score which would have been called pretty anywhere, I was obliged to confess, after a most impartial and anxious search, that I had not met a single woman who looked high-toned, first class, capable of poetic enthusiasm or heroic self-devotion, not a single woman whom an artist would dream of and ask to sit for a study, not one to whom a finely constituted intellectual man could come for companionship in his pursuits or sympathy in his yearnings. Because 1 knew that this verdict would be received at the East with a "Just as you might have expected!" I cast aside everything like prejudice, and forgot that I was in Utah, as I threaded the great throng.

I must condense greatly what I have to say about two other typical men besides Brigham Young, or I shall have no room to speak of the Lake and the Desert. Heber Kimball, second President, (proximus longo intervallo!) Brigham's most devoted worshipper, and in all respects the next most important man, although utterly incapable of keeping coherent the vast tissue of discordant Mormon elements, in case he should survive Brigham, is the latter's equal in years, but in all things else his antipodes. His height is over six feet, his form of alder-manic rotundity, his face large, plethoric, and lustrous with the stable red of stewed cranberries, while his small, twinkling black beads of eyes and a Satyric sensualism about the mouth would indicate a temperament fatally in the way apostleship save that of polygamy, even without the aid of an induction from his favorite topics of discourse and his patriarchally unvarnished style of handling them. Men, everywhere, unfortunately, tend little toward the error of bashfulness in their chat among each other, but most of us at the East would feel that we were insulting the lowest member of the demi-monde, if we uttered before her a single sentence of the talk which forms the habitual staple of all Heber Kimball's public sermons to the wives and daughters who throng the Sunday Tabernacle.

Heber, took a vivid interest in Bierstadt's and my own eternal welfare. He quite laid himself out for our conversion, coming to sit with us at breakfast in our Mormon hotel, dressed in a black swallowtail, buff vest, and a stupendous truncate cone of Leghorn, which made him look like an Italian mountebank-physician of the seventeenth century. I have heard men who could misquote Scripture for their own ends, and talk a long while without saying anything; but he, so far surpassed in these particulars the loftiest efforts within my former experience, that I could think of no comparison for him but Jack Bunsby taken to exhorting. Witness a sample:

"Seven women shall take a hold o' one man! There!" (with a slap on the back of the nearest subject for conversion). "What d' ye think o' that? Shall! Shall take a hold on him! That don't mean they sha'n't, does it? No I God's word means what it says. And therefore means no otherwise, not in no way, shape, nor manner. Not in no way, for He saith, 'I am the way and the truth and the life.' Not in no shape, for a man beholdeth his natural shape in a glass; norm no manner, for he straightway forgetteth what manner o' man he was. Seven women shall catch a holdon him. And ef they shall, then they will! For everything shall come to pass, and not one good word shall fall to the ground. You who try to explain away the Scriptur' would make it fig'rative. But don't come to ME with none o your spiritooalizers Not one good word shall fall. Therefore seven shall not fall. And of seven shall catch a bold on him, and, as I jist proved, seven will catch a hold on him, then seven ought, and in the Latter Day Glory, seven, yea, as our Lord said un-tew Peter, 'Verily I say un-tew you, not seven, but seventy times seven,' these seventy times seven shall catch a hold and cleave. Blessed day! For the end shall be even as the beginnin', and seventy-fold more abundantly. Come over into my garden."

This invitation would wind up the homily. We gladly accepted it and I must confess, that, if there ever could be any hope of our conversion, it was just about the time we stood in Brother Heber's fine orchard, eating apples and apricots between exhortations, and having sound doctrine poked down our throats with gooseberries as big as plums, to take the taste out of our mouths, like jam after castor-oil.

Porter Rockwell is a man whom my readers must have heard of in every account of fearlessly executed massacre committed in Utah during the last thirteen years. He is the chief of the Danites, a band of saints who possess the monopoly of vengeance upon Gentiles and apostates. If a Mormon tries to sneak off to California by night, after converting his property into cash, their knives have the inevitable duty of changing his destination to another state, and bringing back his goods into the Lord's treasury. Their bullets are the ones which find their unerring way through the brains of external enemies. They are the heaven-elected assassins of Mormonism,—the butchers by divine right. Porter Rockwell has slain his forty men. This is historical. His probable private victims amount to as many more. He wears his hair braided behind, and done up in a knot with a backcomb, like a woman's. He has a face full of bulldog courage, but vastly good-natured, and without a bad trait in it. I went out riding with him on the Fourth of July, and enjoyed his society greatly, though I knew that at a word from Brigham he would cut my throat in as matter-of-fact a style as if I had been a calf instead of an author, he would have felt no unkindness tow me on that account. I understood his anomaly perfectly, and found him one of the pleasantest murderers I ever met.) He was mere executive force, from which the lever, conscience, had suffered entire disjunction, being in the hand of Brigham. He was everywhere known as the destroying Angel, but he seemed to have little disagreement with his toddy, and took his meals regularly. He has two very comely pleasant wives. Brigham has about seventy, Heber about thirty. The seventy of Brigham do not include those spiritually married, or "sealed" to him, who may never see him again after the ceremony is performed in his back office. These often have temporal husbands, and marry Brigham only for the sake of belonging to his lordly establishment in heaven.

Salt Lake City, Brigham told me, he believed to contain sixteen thousand inhabitants. Its houses are built generally of adobe or wood, a few of stone, and though none of them are architecturally ambitious, almost all have delightful gardens. Both fruit and shade trees are plenty and thrifty. Indeed, from the roof of the Opera House the city looks fairly embowered in green. It lies very picturesquely on a plain quite embasined among mountains, and the beauty of its appearance is much heightened by the streams which run on both sides or all the broad streets, brought down from the snow-peaks for purposes of irrigation. The Mormons worship at present in a plain, low building, 1 think, of adobe, called the Tabernacle, save during the intensely hot weather, when an immense booth of green branches, filled with benches, accommodates them more comfortably. Brigham is erecting a Temple of magnificent granite, (much like the Quiney,) about two hundred feet long by one hundred and twenty-five feet wide. If this edifice be ever finished, it will rank among the most capacious religious structures of the continent.

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