Among the Mormons
A nineteenth-century writer meets Brigham Young and explores the “City of Saints.”
The approach to Salt Lake City from the east is surprisingly harmonious with the genius of Mormonism. Nature, usually so unpliant to the spirit of people who live with her, showing a bleak and rugged face, which poetically should indicate the abode of savages and ogres, to flans Christian Andersen and his hospitable countrymen, but lavishing the eternal summer of her tropic sea upon barbarians who eat baked enemy under her palms, or throw their babies to her crocodiles, — this stiff, unaccommodating Nature relents into a little expressiveness the neighborhood of the Mormons, and you feel that the grim, tremendous cañons through which your overland stage rolls down to the City of the Saints are strangely fit avenues to an anomalous civilization.
We speak of crossing the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Salt Lake; but, in reality, they reach all the way between those places. They are not a chain, as most Eastern people imagine them, but a giant ocean caught by petrifaction at the moment of maddest tempest. For six hundred miles the overland stage winds over, between, and around the tremendous billows, lying as much as may be in the trough, and reaching the crest at Bridger’s Pass, (a sinuous gallery, walled by absolutely bare yellow mountains between two and three thousand feet in height at the roadside,) but never getting entirely out of the Rocky Mountain system till it reaches the Desert beyond Salt Lake. Even there it runs constantly among mountains; in fact, it never loses sight of lofty ranges from the moment it makes Pike’s Peak till its wheels (metaphorically) are washed by the Pacific Ocean; but the mountains of the Desert may legitimately set up for themselves, belonging, as I believe, to a system independent of the Rocky Mountains on the one side and the Sierra Nevada on the other. At a little plateau among snowy ridges a few miles east of Bridger’s Pass, the driver leans over and tells his insiders, in a matter of fact manner, through the window, that they have reached the summit level. Then, if you have a particle of true cosmopolitanism in you, it is sure to come out. There is something indescribably sublime, a conception of universality, in that sense of standing on the watershed of a hemisphere. You have reached the secret spot where the world clasps her girdle; your feet are on its granite buckle; perhaps there sparkles in you eyes that fairest gem of her cincture, a crystal fountain, from which her belt of rivers flows in two opposite ways. Yesterday you crossed time North Platte, almost at its source (for it rises out of the snow among the Wind River Mountains, and out of your stage windows you can see, from Laramie Plains, the Lander’s Peak which Bierstadt has made immortal) that stream runs into the sea from whose historic shores you came; you might drop a waif upon its ripples with the hope of its reaching New Orleans, New York, Boston, or even Liverpool. Tomorrow you will be ferried over Green River, as near its source, a stream whose cradle is in the same snow peaks as the Platte, whose mysterious middle life, under the new name of the Colorado, flows at the bottom of those tremendous fissures, three thousand feet deep, which have become the wonder of the geologist, whose grave, when it has dribbled itself away into the dotage of shallows and quick sands, is the desert margined Gulf of California and the Pacific Sea. Between Green River and the Mormon city no human interest divides your perpetually strained attention with Nature. Fort Bridger, a little over a day’s stage ride east of the city, is a large and quite a populous trading post and garrison of the United States; but although we found there a number of agreeable officers, whose acquaintance with their wonderful surroundings was thorough and scientific, and though at that period the fort was a rendezvous for our only faithful friend among the Utah Indians, Washki, the Snake chief, and that handful of his tribe who still remained loyal to their really noble leader and our Government, Fort Bridger left the shadowiest of impressions on my mind, compared with the natural glories of the surrounding scenery.
Mormondom being my theme, and my space so limited, I must resist the temptation to give detailed accounts of the many marvellous masterpieces of mimetic art into which we find the rocks of this region everywhere carved by the hand of Nature. Before we came to the North Platte, we were astonished by a ship, equalling the Great Eastern in size, even surpassing it in beauty of outline, its masts of columnar sandstone snapped by a storm, its prodigious hulk laboring in a gloomy sea of hornblendic granite, its deckhouses, shaped with perfect accuracy of imitation, still remaining in their place, and a weird looking demon at the wheel steering it on to some invisible destruction. This naval statue (if its bulk forbid not the name) was carved out of a coarse mill stone grit by the chisel of the wind, with but slight assistance from the infrequent rainstorms of this region. In Colorado l first began to perceive how vast an omission geologists had been guilty of in their failure to give the wind a place in the dynamics of their science. Depending for a year at a time, as that Territory sometimes does, upon dews and meltings from the snow peaks for its water, it is nevertheless fuller than any other district in the world of marvellous architectural simulations, vast cemeteries crowded with monuments, obelisks, castles, fortresses, and natural colossi from two to five hundred feet high, done in argillaceous sandstone or a singular species of conglomerate, all of which owe their existence almost entirely to the agency of wind. The arid plains from which the conglomerate crops out rarefy the superincumbent air stratum to such a degree that the intensely chilled layers resting on the closely adjoining snow peaks pour down to reestablish equilibrium, with the wrathful force of an invisible cataract, eight, ten, even seventeen thousand feet in height. These floods of cold wind find their appropriate channels in the characteristic cañons which everywhere furrow the whole Rocky Mountain system to its very base. Most of these are exceedingly tortuous, and the descending winds, during their passage through them, acquire a spiral motion as irresistible as the fiercest hurricane of the Antilles, which, moreover, they preserve for miles after they have issued from the mouth of the cañon. Every little cold gust that I observed in the Colorado country had this corkscrew character. The moment the spiral reaches a loose sand bed, it sweeps into its vortex all the particles of grit which it can hold. The result is an auger, of diameter varying from an inch to a thousand feet, capable of altering its direction so as to bore curved holes, revolving with incalculable rapidity, and armed with a cutting edge of silex. Is it possible, to conceive an instrument more powerful, more versatile? Indeed, practically, there is no description of surface, no kind of cut, which it is not capable of making. I have repeatedly seen it in operation. One day, while riding from Denver to Pike’s Peak, I saw it (in this instance, one of the smaller diameters) burrow its way six or seven feet into a sand bluff, making as smooth a hole as I could cut in cheese with a borer, of the equal diameter of six inches throughout, all in less time than I have taken to describe it. Repeatedly, on the same trip, I saw it gouge out a circular groove around portions of a similar bluff, and leave them standing as isolated columns, with heavy base and capital, presently to be solidified into just such rock pillars as throng the cemeteries or aid in composing the strange architectural piles mentioned above. Surveyor General Pierce of Colorado, (a man whose fine scientific genius and culture have already done yeoman’s service in the study of that most interesting Territory,) on a certain occasion, saw one of the wind-and-silex augers meet at right angles a window-pane in settler’s cabin, which came out from use process, after a few seconds, a perfect opaque shade, having been converted into ground glass as neatly and evenly could have been effected by the manufacturer’s wheel. It is not a very rare thing in Colorado to be able to trace the spiral and measure the diameter of the auger by rocks of fifty pounds’ weight and tree-trunks half as thick as an average man’s waist, torn up from their sites, and sent revolving overhead for miles before the windy turbine loses its impetus. The efficiency of an instrument like this I need not dwell upon. After some protracted examination and study of many of the most interesting architectural and sculpturesque structures of the Rocky-Mountain system, I am convinced that they are mainly explicable on the hypothesis of the wind and silex instrument operating upon material in the earthy condition, which petrified after receiving its form. Indeed, this same instrument is at present nowise restricted by that condition in Colorado, and is not only, year by year, altering the conformation of all sand and clay bluffs on the Plains, but is tearing down, rebuilding, and fashioning, on its facile lathe many rock strata of the solidity of the more friable grits, wherever exposed to its action. Water at the East does hardly more than wind at the West.
Before we enter the City of the Saints let me briefly describe the greatest, not merely of the architectural curiosities, but in my opinion, the greatest natural curiosity of any kind which I have ever seen or heard of. Mind, too, that I remember Niagara, the Cedar Creek, and the Mammoth Cave, when speak thus of the Church Buttes. They are situated a short distance from Fort Bridger; the overland road passes by their side. They consist of a sand stone bluff, reddish brown in color, rising with the abruptness of a pile of masonry from the perfectly level plain, carved along its perpendicular face into a series of partially connected religious edifices, the most remarkable of which is a cathedral as colossal as St. Peter’s, and completely relieved from the bluff on all sides save the rear, where a portico joins it with the main precipice. The perfect symmetry of this marvellous structure would ravish Michel Angelo. So far from requiring an effort of imagination to recognize the propriety of its name, this church almost staggers belief in the unassisted. It belongs to a style entirely its own main arid lower portion is not divided into nave and transept, but seems like a system of huge semi-cylinders erected on their bases, and united with reentrant angles, their convex surfaces toward us, so that the ground plan might be called a species of quatrefoil. In each of the convex faces is an admirably proportioned doorway, a Gothic arch with deep carved and elaborately fretted mouldings, so wonderfully perfect in its imitation that you almost feel like knocking for admittance, secure of an entrance, did you only know the “Open sesame.” Between and behind the doors, alternating with flying-buttresses, are a series of deep-niched windows, set with grotesque statues, varying from the pigmy to the colossal size, representing demons rather than saints, though some of the figures are costumed in the style of religious art, with flowing sacerdotal garments.
The structure terminates above in a double dome, whose figure may be imagined by supposing a small acorn set on the truncated top of a large one, (the horizontal diameter of both being considerably longer in proportion to the perpendicular than is common with that fruit,) and each of these domes is surrounded by a row of prism-shaped pillars, half column, half buttress in their effect, somewhat similar to the exquisite columnar entourage of the central cylinder of the leaning tower of Pisa. The result of this arrangement is a massive beauty, without parrallel in the architecture of the world. I have not conveyed to any mind an idea of the grandeur of this pile, nor could I, even with the assistance of a diagram. I can only say, that the Cathedral Buttes are a lesson for the architects of all Christendom, a purely novel and original creation, of such marvellous beauty that Bierstadt and I simultaneously exclaimed, “Oh that the master builders of the world could come here even for a single day! The result would be an entirely new style of architecture, an American school, as distinct from all the rest as the Ionic from the Gothic or Byzantine.” If they could come, the art of building would have a regeneration. “Amazing” is the only word for this glorious work of Nature. I could have bowed down with awe and prayed at one of its vast, inimitable doorways, but that the mystery of its creation, and the grotesqueness of even its most glorious statues, made one half dread lest it were some temple built by demon hands for the worship of the Lord of Hell, and sealed in the stone dream of petrifaction, with its priests struck dumb within it, by the hand of God, to wait the judgment of Eblis and the earthquakes of the Last Day.
After leaving Church Buttes and passing Fort Bridger, our attention slept upon what it had seen until we entered the region of the cañons. These are defiles, channelled across the whole breadth of the Wahsatch Mountains almost to the level of their base, walled by precipices of red sandstone or sugarloaf granite, compared with which the Palisades of the Hudson become insignificant as a garden fence. The last poetical man who traverses these giant fissures cannot help feeling their fitness as the avenues to a paradoxical region, an anomalous civilization and a people whose psychological problem is the most unsolvable of the nineteenth century. During the Mormon War, Brigham Young made some rude attempts at a fortification of the great cañon half a day’s journey from his city, and this work still remains intact. He need not have done it; a hundred men, ambushed among the ledges at the top of the canon walls, and well provided with loose rocks and Minierifles, could convert the defile into a new Thermopylae, without exposure to themselves. In an older and more superstitious age, the unassisted horrors of Nature herself would have repelled an invading host from the passage of this grizzly cañon, as the profane might have been driven from the galleries of Isis or Eleusis.
About forty miles from Salt Lake City we began to find Nature’s barrenness succumbing to the truly marvellous industry of the Mormon people. To understand the exquisite beauty of simple green grass, you must travel through eight hundred miles of sage-brush and grama, the former, the homely gray-leaved plant of our Eastern goose stuffing, grown into a dwarf tree six feet high, with a twisted trunk sometimes as thick as a man’s body; the latter, a stunted species of herbage, growing in ash tinted spirals, only two inches from the ground, and giving the Plains an appearance of being matted with curled hair or gray corkscrews. Its other name is “buffalo grass”; and in spite of its dinginess, with the assistance of the sage, converting all the Plains west of Fort Kearney into a model Quaker landscape, it is one of the most nutritious varieties of cattle fodder, and for hundreds of miles the emigrant drover’s only dependence.
By incredible labor, bringing down rivulets from the snow peaks of the Wahsatch range and distributing them over the levels by every ingenious’ device known to artificial irrigation, the Mormon farmers have converted the bottoms of the canons through which we approached Salt Lake into fertile fields and Pasturelands, whose emerald sweep soothed our eyes wearied with so many leagues of ashen monotony, as an old home strain mollifies the ear irritated by the protracted rhythmic clash or the dull, steady buzz of iron machinery. Contrasting the Mormon settlements with their surrounding desolation, we could not wonder that their success has fortified this people their delusion. The superficial student of rewards and punishments might well believe that none but God’s chosen people could cause this horrible desert, after such triumphant fashion, to blossom like the rose.
The close observer soon notices a painful deficiency in these green and smiling Mormon settlements. Everything has been done for the farm, nothing for the home. That blessed old Anglo Saxon idea seems everywhere quite extinct. The fields are billowing over with dense, golden grain, the cattle are wallowing in emerald lakes of juicy grass, the barns are substantial, the family-windmill buzzes merrily on its well oiled pivot, drawing water or grinding feed, the fruit trees are thrifty, but the house is desolate. Even where its owner is particularly well off, and its architecture somewhat more ambitions than the average, (though, as yet, this superiority is measured by little more than the difference between logs and clapboards,) there is still no air about it of being the abode of happy people, fond of each other, and longing after it in absence. It looks like a mere inclosure to eat and sleep in. Nobody seems to have taken any pride in it, to feel any ambition for it. Woman’s tender little final touches, which make a dear refuge out of a mud cabin, and without which palatial brownstone is only a home in the moulding clay, those dexterous ornamentations which make so little mean so much, the brier-rose-slip by the doorstep, growing into the fragrant welcome of many Juries, the trellised Madeira-vines, the sunny spot of chrysanthemums, charming summer on to the very brink of frost, all these things are utterly and everywhere lacking to the Mormon inclosure. Sometimes we passed a fence which guarded three houses instead of one. Abundant progeny played at their doors, or rolled in their yard, watched by several unkempt, bedraggled mothers. Owning a common husband, — and of these should feel much interest in the looks of a demesne held by then in such unhappy partnership. The humblest New England cottage has its climbing flowers at the door-post, or its garden-bed in front; but how quickly would these wither, if the neat brisk house-mistress owned her husband in common with Mrs. Deacon Pratt next door!
The first Mormon household I ever visited belonged to a son of the famous Heber Kimball, Brigham Young’s most devoted follower, and next to him in the Presidency. It was the last stage-station but one before we entered Salt Lake, situated at the bottom of a green valley in Parley’s Cañon (named after the celebrated Elder, Parley Pratt); and as it looked like the residence of a well to do farmer, I went in, and asked for a bowl of bread and milk the greatest possible luxury after a life of bacon and salt spring water, such as we had been leading in the mountains. A fine looking, motherly woman, with a face full of character, gray-haired, and about sixty years old, rose promptly to grant my request, and while the horses were changing I had ample time to make the acquaintance of two pretty young girls, hardly over twenty, holding two infants, of ages not more than three months apart. Green as I was to saintly manners, I supposed that one of these two young mothers had run in from a neighbor’s to compare babies with the mistress of the house, after our Eastern fashion, universal with the owners phenomena. When the old lady came back with the bread and milk, and both of the young girls addressed her as “mother,” I was emboldened to tell her that her daughters had a pretty pair of children.
“They are pretty,” said the old lady, demurely; “but they are the children of my son”; then, as if resolved to duck a Gentile head and heels into Mormon realities at once, she added, “Those young ladies are the wives of my son, who is now gone on a mission to Liverpool, young Mr. Kimball, the son of Heber Kimball; and I am Heber Kimball’s wife.”
A cosmopolitan, especially one knowing beforehand that Utah was not distinguished for monogamy, might well be ashamed to be so taken off his feet as I was by my first view of Mormonism in its practical workings. I stared, I believe I blushed a little, I tried to stutter a reply; and the one dreadful thought which persistently kept uppermost, so that I felt they must read it in my face., was, “How can these young women sit looking at each other’s babies without flying into each other’s faces with their fingernails, and tearing out each other’s hair?” Heber Kimball afterwards solved the question for me, by saying that it was a triumph of grace.
Such another triumph was Mrs. Heber Kimball herself. She was a woman of remarkable presence, in youth must have been very handsome, would have been the oracle of tea fights, the ruling spirit of donation visits, in any Eastern village where she might have lived, and, had her home been New York, would have fallen by her own gravity into the Chief Directress’s chair of half a dozen Woman’s Aid Societies and Associations for Moral Reform. Yet here was this strong minded woman, as her husband afterward acknowledged to me, his best counsellor and right hand helper through a married life reaching into middle age, witnessing her property in that husband’s affections subdivided and parcelled out until she owned but a one-thirtieth share, not only without a pang, but with the acquiescence of her conscience and the approbation of her intellect. Though few first wives in Utah had learned to look concubinage in the face so late in life as this emphatic and vigorous natured woman, I certainly met none whose partisanship of polygamy was so unquestioning and eloquent. She was one of the strangest psychological problems I ever met. Indeed, I am half inclined to think that she embraced Mormonism earlier than her husband, and, by taking the initiative, secured for herself the only true wifely place in the harem, the marital after thoughts of Brother Heber being her servants rather than her sisters. She was most unmistakably his favorite.
One day in the Opera House at Salt Lake, when the carpenters were laying the floor for the Fourth of July Eve Ball, Heber and I got talking of the potpourri of nationalities assembled in Utah. Heber waxed unctuously benevolent, and expressed his affection for each succeeding race as fast as mentioned.
“I love the Danes dearly! I’ve got a Danish wife.” Then turning to a rough-looking carpenter, hammering near him, — “You know Christiny, — eh, Brother Spudge?”
“Oh, yes! know her very well!”
A moment after, — “The Irish are a dear people. My Irish wife is among the best I’ve got.”
Again, — “I love the Germans! Got a Dutch wife, too! Know Katrine, Brother Spudge? Remember she couldn’t scarcely talk a word o’ English when she come, — eh, Brother Spudge?”
Brother Spudge remembered, and Brother Heber continued to trot out the members of his marital stud for discussion of their points with his more humble fellow polygamist of the hammer; but when I happened to touch upon the earliest Mrs. Heber, whom I naturally thought he would by this time regard as a forgotten fossil in the Lower Silurian strata of his connubial life, and referred to the interview I had enjoyed with her on the afternoon before entering the city, his whole manner changed to a proper husbandly dignity, and, without seeking corroboration from the carpenter, he replied, gravely,
“Yes! that is my first wife, and the best woman God ever made!”
The ball to which I have referred was such an opportunity for studying Mormon sociology as three months’ ordinary stay in Salt Lake might not have give me. Though Mormondom is disloyal to the core, it still patronizes time Fourth of July, at least in its phase of festivity, omitting the patriotism, but keeping the fireworks of our Eastern celebration, substituting “Utah” for “Union” in the Buncombe speeches, and having a ball instead of the Declaration of Independence. All the saints within half a day’s ride of the city come flocking into it, to spend the Fourth. A well to do Mormon at the bead f his wives and children, all of Whom are probably eating candy as they march through the metropolitan streets in solid column, looks to the uninitiated like the principal of a female seminary, weak in its deportment, taking out his char for an airing.
Last Fourth of July, it may be remembered, fell on a Saturday. In their ambition to reproduce ancient Judaism (and this ambition is the key to their whole puzzle) the Mormons are Sabbatarians of a strictness, which would delight Lord Shaftesbury. Accordingly, in order that their festivities might not encroach on the early hours of the Sabbath, they had the ball on Fourth of July eve, instead of the night of the Fourth. I could not realize the risk of such an encroachment when I read the following sentence printed on my billet of invitation
“Dancing to commence at 4 P.M.”
Bierstadt, myself, and three gentlemen of our party were the only Gentiles whom I found invited by President Young to meet in the neighborhood of three thousand saints. Under these circumstances I felt like the three-thousandth homeopathic dilution of monogamy. Morality in this world is so mainly a matter of convention that I dreaded to appear in decent polygamic society, lest respectable women, owning their orthodox tenth of a husband, should shrink from the pollution of my presence, whispering, with a shudder, “Ugh! Well, I never! How that one-wifed reprobate can dare to show his face!” But they were very polite, and received me with as skilfully veiled disapprobation as is shown by fashionable Eastern belles to brilliant seducers immoral in our sense. Had I been a woman, I suppose there would have been no mercy for me.
Well, we may give them this comfort without any insincerity. Let us return to where ho stands gazing down on the parquet. Like any Eastern partygoer, he is habited in the “customary suit of solemn black,” and looks very distinguished in this dress, though his daily homespun detracts nothing from the feeling, when in his presence, that you are beholding a most remarkable man. He is nearly seventy years old, but appears very little over forty. His height is about five feet ten inches; his figure very well made and slightly inclining to portliness. His hair is a rich curly chestnut, formerly worn long, in supposed immitation of the apostolic coiffure, but now cut in our practical Eastern fashion, as accords with the man of business, whose métier he has added to apostleship with the growing temporal prosperity of Zion. Indeed, he is the greatest businessman on the continent, the cashier of a firm of eighty thousand silent partners, and the only auditor of that cashier, besides. If I today signified my conversion to Mormondom, tomorrow I should be baptized by Brigham’s hands. The next day I should be invited to appear at the Church Office (Brigham’s) and exhibit to the Church (Brigham) a faithful inventory of my entire estate. I am a cabinetmaker, let us say, and have brought to Salt Lake the entire earnings of my New York shop, twenty thousand dollars. The Church (Brigham sole and simple) examines and approves my inventory. It (Brigham alone) has the absolute decision of the question whether any more cabinet-makers are needed in Utah. If the Church (Brigham) says, “No,” it (Brigham again) has the right to tell me where labor is wanted, and set me going in my new occupation. If the Church (Brigham) says, “Yes,” it further goes on to inform me, without appeal, exactly what proportion of the twenty thousand dollars on my inventory can be properly turned into the channels of the new cabinet shop. I am making no extraordinary or disproportionate supposition when I say that the Church (Brigham) permits me to retain just one-half of my property. The remaining ten thousand dollars goes into the Church Fund, (Brigham’s Herring-safe,) and from that portion of my life’s savings I never hear again, in the form either of capital, interest, bequeath. able estate, or dower to my widow. Except for the purposes of the Church, (Brigham’s unquestionable will,) my ten thousand dollars is as though it had not been. I am a sincere believer, however, and go home light hearted, with a certified check written by the Recording Angel on my conscience for that amount, passed to my credit in the bank where thieves break not through nor steal, it being no more accessible to them than to the depositor, which is a comfort to the latter. The first year I net from my chairs and tables two thousand dollars. The Church (Brigham) sends me another invitation to visit it, make a solemn averment of the sum, and pay over to that ecclesiastical edifice, the Herring safe, two hundred dollars. Or suppose I have not sold any of my wares as yet, but have only imported, to be sold by and by, five hundred Boston rockers. On learning this fact, the Church (Brigham) graciously accepts fifty for its own purposes. — Being founded upon a rock, it does not care, in its collective capacity, to sit upon rockers, but has an immense series of warehouses, omnivorous and eupeptic, which swallow all manner of tithes, from grain and horseshoes to the less stable commodities of fresh fish and melons, assimilating them by admirable processes into coin of the realm. These warehouses are in the Church (Brigham’s own private) inclosure. If success in my Cabinet-making has moved me to give a feast, and I thereat drink more healths than are consistent with my own, the Church surely knows that fact the very next day; and as Utah recognizes no impunitive “getting drunk in the bosom of one’s family,” I am again sent for, on this occasion to pay a fine, probably exceeding the expenses of my feast. A second offence is punished with imprison It as well as fine; for no imprisonment avoids fine, this comes in every case. The hand of the Church holds the souls of the saints by inevitable purse strings. But I cannot waste time by enumerating the multitudinous lapses and offences which all bring revenue to the Herring-safe.
Over all these matters Brigham has supreme control. His power is the most despotic known to mankind. Here, by the way, is the constitutionally vulnerable point of Mormonism. If fear of establishing a bad precedent hinder the United States at any time from breaking up that nest of all disloyalty, because of its licentious marriage institutions, Utah is still open to grave punishment, and the Administration inflicting it would have duty as well as vested right upon its side, on the ground that it stands pledged to secure to each of the nation’s constituent sections a republican form of government, something which Utah has never enjoyed any more than Timbuctoo. I once asked Brigham if Dr. Bernhisel would be likely to get to Congress again. “No,” he replied, with perfect certainty; “we shall send as our Delegate.” (I think he mentioned Colonel Kinney, but do not remember absolutely.) Whoever it was, when the time came, Brigham would send in his name to the “Deseret News,” whose office, like everything else valuable and powerful, is in his inclosure. It would be printed as a matter of course; a counter-nomination is utterly unheard of; and on election day would be Delegate as surely as the sun rose. The mountain stream that irrigates the city, flowing to all the gardens through open ditches on each side of the street, passes through Brigham’s inclosure: if the saints needed drought to humble them, he could set back the waters to their source. The road to the only cañon where firewood is attainable runs through the same close, and is barred by a gate of which he holds the sole key. A family man, wishing to cut fuel, must ask his leave, which is generally granted on condition that every third or fourth load is deposited in the inclosure, for Church purposes. Thus everything vital, save the air he breathes, reaches the Mormon only through Brigham’s sieve. What more absolute despotism is conceivable? Here lies the pou-sto for the lever of Governmental interference. The mere fact of such power resting in one mans irresponsible hands is a crime against the Constitution. At the same time, this power, wonderful as it may seem, is practically wielded for the common good. I never heard Brigham’s worst enemies accuse him of peculation, though such immense interests are controlled by his one pair of hands. His life is all one great theoretical mistake, yet he makes fewer practical mistakes than any other man, so situated, whom the world ever saw. Those he does snake are not on the side of self. He merges his whole personality in the Church, with a self-abnegation which would establish in business a whole century of martyrs having a worthy cause.
The cut of Brigham’s hair led me away from his personal description. To return to it: his eyes are a clear blue-gray, frank and straightforward in their look; his nose a finely chiselled aquiline; his mouth exceedingly firm, and fortified in that expression by a chin almost as protrusive beyond the rest of the profile as Charlotte Cushman’s, though less noticeably so, being longer than hers; and he wears a narrow ribbon of brown beard, meeting under the chin. I think I have heard Captain Burton say that he had irregular teeth, which made his smile unpleasant. Since the Captain’s visit, our always benevolent President, Mr. Lincoln, has altered all that, sending out as Territorial Secretary a Mr. Fuller, who, besides being a successful politician, was an excellent dentist. He secured Brigham’s everlasting gratitude by making him a very handsome false set, and performing the same service for all of his favorite, but edentate wives. Several other apostles of the Lord owe to Mr. Fuller their ability to gnash their teeth against the Gentiles. The result was that be became the most popular Federal officer (who didn’t turn Mormon) ever sent to Utah. The man who obtains ascendency over the mouths of the authorities cannot fail erelong to get their ears.
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,” he 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.
“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.
The lake from which the city takes its name is about twenty miles distant from the latter, by a good road across the level valley bottom. Artistically viewed, it is one of the loveliest sheets of water I ever saw, bluer than the intensest blue of the ocean, and practically as impressive, since, looking from the southern shore, you see only a water-horizon. This view, however, is broken by a magnificent mountainous island, rising, I should think, seven or eight hundred feet from the water, half a dozen miles from shore, and apparently as many miles in circuit. The density of the lake-brine has been under- instead of over-stated. I swam out into it for a considerable distance, then lay upon my back on, rather than in, the water, and suffered the breeze to wail me landward again. I was blown to a spot where the lake was only four inches deep, without grazing my back, and did not know I had got within my depth again until I depressed my hand a trifle and touched bottom It is a mistake to call this lake azoic. It has no fish, but breeds myriads of strange little maggots, which presently turn into troublesome gnats. The rocks near the lake are grandly castellated and cavernous crags of limestone, some of it finely crystalline, but most of it like our coarser Trenton and Black River groups. There is a large cave in this formation, ten minutes’ climb from the shore.
I must abruptly leap to the overland stage again.
From Salt Lake City to Washoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the road lies through the most horrible desert conceivable by the mind of man. For the sand of the Sahara we find substituted an impalpable powder of alkali, white as the driven snow, stretching for ninety miles at a time in one uninterrupted dazzling sheet, which supports not even that last obstinate vidette of vegetation, the wild-sage brush. Its springs are far between, and, without a single exception, mere receptacles of a salt, potash, and sulphur hell-broth, which no man would drink, save in extremis. A few days of this beverage within, and of wind-drifted alkali invading every pore of the body without, often serve to cover the, miserable passenger with an eryipelatous eruption which presently becomes confluent and irritates him to madness. Meanwhile he jolts through alkali-ruts; unable to sleep for six days and nights together, until frenzy sets in, or actual delirium conies to his relief. I look back on that desert as the most frightful nightmare of my existence.
As if Nature had not done her worst, we were doomed, on the second day out from Salt Lake, to hear, at one station where we stopped, horrid rumors of Goshoots on the warpath, and, ore the day reached its noon, to find their proofs irrefragable. Every now and then we saw in the potash-dust moccasin-tracks, with the toes turned in, and presently my field-glass revealed a hideous devil skulking in the mile-off ledges, who was none other than a Goshoot spy. How far off were the scalpers and burners?
The first afternoon-stage that day was a long and terrible one. The poor horses could hardly drag our crazy wagon, up to its hubs in potash; and yet we knew our only safety, in case of attack, was a running fight. We must fire from our windows as the horses flew.
About four o’clock we entered a terrible defile, which seemed planned by Nature for treachery and ambush. The great, black, barren rocks of porphyry and trachyte rose three hundred feet above our beads, their lower and nearer ledges being all so many natural parapets to fire over, loop-holed with chinks to fire through. There were ten rifles in our party. We ran them out, five on a side, ready to send the first red villain who peeped over the breastworks to quick perdition. Our six shooters lay across our laps, our bowie knives were at our sides, our cartouch-boxes, crammed with ready vengeance, swung open on our breast-straps. We sat with tight-shut teeth, only muttering now and then to each other, in a glum undertone, “Don’t get nervous, don’t throw a single shot away, take aim, remember it’s for home!” Something of that sort, or a silent squeeze of the hand, was all that passed, as we sat with one eye glued to the ledges and our guns unswerving. None of us, I think, were cowards; but the agony of sitting there, tugging along two miles an hour, expecting to hear a volley of yells and musketry ring over the next ledge, drinking the cup of thought to its microscopic dregs, — that was worse than fear!
Only one consolation was left us. In the middle of the defile stood an overland station, where we were to get fresh. horses. The next stage was twenty miles long. If we were attacked in force, we might manage to run it, almost the whole way, unless the Indians succeeded in shooting one of our team, the coup they always attempt.
I have no doubt we were ambushed at several points in that defile, but our perfect preparation intimidated our foes. The Indian is cruel as the grave, but be is an arrant coward. He will not risk being the first man shot, though his hand may overpower the enemy afterward.
At last we turned the corner around which the station-house should come in view.
A thick, nauseous smoke was curling up from the site of the buildings. We came nearer. Barn, stables, station-house, all were a smouldering pile of rafters.
We came still nearer. The whole stud of horses, a dozen or fifteen, lay roasting on the embers. We came close to the spot. There, inextricably mixed with the carcasses of the beasts, lay six men, their brains dashed out, their faces mutilated beyond recognition, their limbs hewn off, — a frightful holocaust steaming up into our faces. I must not dwell on that horror of all senses. It comes me now at high noonday with a grisly shudder.
After that, we toiled on twenty miles farther with our nearly dying horses; a hundred miles more of torturing suspense on top of that sight branded into our brains before we gained Ruby Valley, at the foot of the Humboldt Mountains, and left the last Goshoot behind us.
The remainder of our journey was horrible by Nature only, without the atrocious aid of man. But the past had done its work. We reached Washoe with our very marrows almost burnt out by sleeplessness, sickness, and agony of mind. The morning before we came to the silver mining metropolis, Virginia City, a stout, young Illinois farmer, whom we had regarded as the stanchest of all our fellow passengers, became delirious, and had to be held in the stage by main force. (A few weeks afterward, when the stage was changing horses near the Sink of Carson, another traveller became suddenly insane, and blew his brains out.) As for myself, the moment that I entered a warm bath, in Virginia City, I swooned entirely away, and was resuscitated with great difficulty after an hour and a half’s unconsciousness.
We stopped at Virginia for three days, saw the California of ’49 reenacted in a feverish, gambling, mining town, descended to the bottom of the exhaustlessly rich “Ophir” shaft, came up again, and resumed our way across the Sierra. By the mere act of crossing that ridge and stepping over the California line, we came into glorious forests of ever-living green, a rainbow affluence of flowers, an air like a draught from windows left open in heaven.
Just across the boundary, we sat down on the brink of glorious Lake Tahoe, (once “Bigler,” till the ex-Governor Of that name became a Copperhead, and the loyal Californians kicked him out of their geography, as he had already been thrust out of their politics,) a crystal sheet of water fresh-distilled from the snow-peaks, its granite bottom visible at the depth of a hundred feet, its banks a celestial garden, lying in a basin thirty-five miles long by ten wide, and nearly seven thousand feet above the Pacific level. Geography has no superior to this glorious sea, this chalice of divine cloud-wine held sublimely up against the very press whence to was wrung. Here, virtually at the end of our overland journey, since our feet pressed the green borders of the Golden State, we sat down to rest, feeling that one short hour, one little league, had translated us out of the infernal world into heaven.