[From The Mormons by Gunnison, 1852]
THERE are a few items of Mormon belief and practice, and the subject of titles to land, to which it may not be amiss to refer. The first thing we notice is the " working of miracles " and curing instantly diseases. Claiming all the gifts vouchsafed to the early church, this performance of miracles becomes a necessary thing, and to their own minds is conclusively done. It is for confirming themselves in the truth, not to demonstrate to " those without," who seek after a sign, that the power is given. Evading poisons, and healing the sick, are the most usual. An eye-witness related to me the following. A mad dog rushed through the streets of the city, snapping at every animal it met, and bit a lad severely. The cattle all died. The Elders were immediately called to the bedside of the doomed boy. Parents, brothers, and relations stood dissolved in grief, awaiting anxiously the spasms and dissolution of the family pet. The chief priest commands silencethe voice of "mighty prayer" ascends in supplicationthe consecrated oil is producedthe child is anointedand the prayer of faith restores the son to his overjoyed parents.
Diseases are held to be demoniac possessions, and by casting out the devil, you can cure the afflicted. Professors in the healing art are of small account in the philosophy of the healthy, and medicines are forbidden by the Prophet, except to the weak in faith, who are permitted a " meagre diet and mild herbs." With inconsistent practice, many make use of the doctor and his drugs, however, and in reply to this, allege that they have not yet attained to a full measure of faith, but hope to improve till they can take up deadly things without injury; and assert that when by accident any Saint takes poison, he escapes harmless. Voluntary trials are " temptings of the Lords " and receive the proper penalty. The Seer teaches the duty of asking for the Elders' hands, yet he is said to employ Gentile doctors to cure the "Ague Fiend," the hardest yet to deal with. This puzzles the faithful, but they get over it pretty well by saying, he has infirmities no doubt, and the devil is allowed to torment for any dereliction of dutybut as Seer, that does not affect him or his revelations.
The equally well-attested miracles of Mesmerism and Monachism are admitted to be realonly that they are done by Beelzebub, who does it to deceive and make those recipients and disbursers of favor believe they have divine power. At the presentation of relics or manipulations, the evil spirit in the person is driven out by a stronger one; and after the wonder is over, returns with a sevenfold violence. Further, the Devil, mistrusting that this power was about to be given again, and angels sent to minister to the Saints, tried to forestall the effect and instructed his imps in the arts of miracle-working. He also gave visions to Swedenborg in order to throw discredit on the Spirit teachings of Moroni, and is now destroying the Mormon testimony in many places by what is called spiritual manifestations.
The dignity of labor is held sacred by the Mormons, and exemplified in their organisation and requirements. A lazy person is either accursed or likely to be; usefulness is their motto; and those who will not keep themselves, or try their best, are left to starve into industry. This is inculcated in their creed, though the prophet Joseph was excused from physical labor at Kirtland, his attention being sufficiently occupied with the govermnent. Every one is expected to work and bring in his tithes, and the president sets the example in the valley, by working at his trade of carpenter, on his own mills in the kanyon. It is a well-devised scheme, and the more flourishing the laborers, the greater is the income of the priests. This income is expended on public works, the temple, the bridges, and public charity, and support of the families of those on missionary duty.
The labor for support of oneself and family is taught to be of as divine a character, as public worship and prayer. In practice, their views unite them so as to procure all the benefits of social Christianity without running into communism. The priest and the bishop make it their boast that, like Paul the tentmaker, they earn their bread by the sweat of the brow; and teach by example on the week-day, what they preach on the Sabbath, concerning the virtue of industry. On the pulpit stand they dispense the word of the gospel, and work harder than when they plant, sow, or reap in the field, or team for wood in the kanyon, or ply the spade, the trowel, or the hammer. This brings all orders together, and makes them acquainted where no art or concealment of feeling is practised, and destroys that distinction of pastor and layman by the difference of dress and demeanor, which keeps them strangers to each other's real sentiments. And it gives the priest the advantage of knowing the turns of thought, the doubts on doctrines, and degree of enlightenment of those who are to be his auditors, and he can adapt his discourse accordingly, and make an impression.
Priests are made without regard to their learning or acquaintance with booksand the object is gained of suiting every capacity; if a man finds his intellectual strength insufficient in one place, he must seek elsewhere for his sphere of action. They understand that apparent candor and simplicity in the propagandist, are more likely to attract the attention of the uncultivated mass than the finest parade of ability and scholarship. Many are ready to enter upon an argument with, or express their opinions before, one of their own calibre, but distrust the professional polemic, and attribute his success in a disputation to ingenious sophistry, and remain unconvinced when unable to reply. Hence the frequent disclaimer of Mormons, of learning and rhetoric, and reliance on the " moving of the spirit"interior teachings, the commands of God, and sense of duty, are the alleged springs of their mission. Thus Forsden. last Year in Sweden. began his preaching by laying hands on his brother who was ill, and thus curing him, attracted attention from the neighbors. To those he related in his simple manner, the story of the Prophet in the West, and restoration of miraculous gifts to saints. Curiosity was excited among a few peasants, and the news spread over the city; then he harangued at the street-corners, which caused his arrest by the magistrate and a reprimand. He repeated his preaching, and was again taken up and fined and ordered to cease his heretical work; but meekly replied that he simply preached Christ crucified, and being commanded of God to do it, must obey him rather than man. Spectators were moved by his simple submission to such views of higher law at the risk of imprisonment or of life. Punished, he glorified his Lord aloud in praise and song, for being worthy to suffer, and was finally taken forcibly across the channel to Denmark, but left several disciples to spread his doctrines.
Involuntary labor by negroes is recognised by custom, those holding slaves, keep them as part of their family, as they would wives, without any law on the subject. Negro caste springs naturally from their doctrine of blacks being ineligible to the priesthood.
The Mormon missionaries address the cupidity, as well as the religious hopes and fears of those they address. Travelling from city to city, calling at the houses, and talking to those on the wayside familiarly, and working occasionally at some trade for support, they stealthily introduce the subject at heart, and take many unawares. It is usual to use the Socratic method, and ask if the former church had not gifts, if there were not promised "signs following," and if any church now shows themthen they follow up by exposition of their doctrines, and claim at the Zion of America to have all the promises. If the listener is not a man of wealth, he will be told that the command is to gather to the mountains, where the finest land is offered for a few shillings, just enough to pay for surveying and recording a title to a farm. To the peasantry of Europe this is a powerful, an irresistible argument. Accustomed to see the aristocracy owners of the soil, they yearn to call a parcel of ground their own, for it conveys a feeling of translation from serfdom to princedom; and perhaps such make the firmest patriots in this new empire. And the doctrine of every woman a husband, every Magdalen pure when baptised, will secure many of the softer sex; so that we may not be surprised at the sudden conversion of whole families, and tens of thousands, as the popular eloquence falls on the ears of those who emerge from factories, workshops, and collieries. Glad news to such is the command to go to the mountains, where they become lords of the soil; and, by a simple declaration, can be aided thither from the "perpetual charity fund'" which is liberally supplied by the happy ones already at the land of promise. The assertion of the president of the stake in England may well be credited, who says that thirty-five thousand are enrolled in the Liverpool "stake," and ready to come over, but not one tenth have the means to reach the mountains. Three hundred thousand are the estimated Mormons in England and Wales. Zealous beyond measure to proselyte, trusting to further instruction when they return with their converts, to the teachers, whose official dignity carries a prestige of authority, the street preachers "cry aloud and spare not," baptize by scores all who express a willingness to be called by "that name" in which they glory. Many come back with lungs exhausted and health impaired by such exertions, and often will they point out to you the passer-by, and say "that is the holy man who exhausted his strength by preaching in the open. air in London, this word of the Latter Days"or the hero of a missionary army in some part of the world.
They issue a right of occupancy from the State Register's office. This is contingent on the grant of the general government, of course, and forms one of the subjects on which they may come into collision with the supreme authority. They will not, 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.
In the extensive territory of Utah, probably not one acre in ten thousand is fit for profitable cultivation, and only the fertile strips will recompense the surveying. The immense pasturage around cultivable spots will be fed in common, and of course never purchased by individuals.
When the Mormons arrived in the valley, they did not quarrel about the fertile, eligible plats, but put a portion under cultivation jointly, and made equitable distribution of the proceeds of the crop, according to wants, labor, and seed bestowed. The city was laid off into lots and numbered; and by mutual consent they were assigned by the Presidency, who selected according to their judgment, placing those in the vicinity that they wished for good neighborhood, and allotting off the balance. Each individual paid a small sum to meet the expense of surveying and recording. A section on the south of the city, six miles square, called the "Big Field," was fenced at public cost, and divided up into five acre lots, with convenient lanes between, and those who would actually work them, were allowed to choose, or receive by lot, from one to eight of these. A Poor Farm of forty acres is in the centre, controlled by the bishops. All lines of division and boundary are run with the cardinal points. The present limits of farms will doubtless be recognised, though the United States' surveys should make different boundaries: by purchase in a tract by the State, or from a common fund, individuals will be secured in their vested rights. When the lands are offered in the market, public sentiment will allow no bidders against the Presidency.
After the assignments were made, persons commenced the usual speculations of selling according to eligibility of situation. This called out anathemas from the spiritual power, and no one was permitted to traffic for fancy profit: if any sales were to be made, the first cost and actual value of improvements were all that was to be allowed. All speculative sales are made sub rosa. Exchanges are made, and the records kept by the Register. The land belongs to the Lord, and his Saints are to use so much as each can work profitably.
We must not forget that these occupants hold themselves the Lord's stewards, who are bound to look after his interest, by making any unfruitful portion of the heritage produce food for his saintsand, having found a waste tract unoccupied as it should be, (for the miserable Utahs are of no account on this supposition) and imparted to it by the actual labor of their sinews all its present value, it is doubly theirs, by right divine and subjugation. And truly they have a claim by conquest from the roving Indians. They first settled on the war-grounds of Snake-Diggers and Utahs, interposing between belligerents. Wars are waged continually between the bands or sub-tribes, which, with disease, is fast destroying them. But when the Mormons extended north and south, they encroached on hunting and fishing grounds, and the usual winter camping places, and scared off the game. The Shoshones have consulted discretion, and, though threatening attack, have " kept the peace." Not so the Utahs. In the winter of 1849 they became insolent in Utah Valley, killed cattle and boasted of it, entered houses and frightened women and children, took provisions forcibly, and compelled those on the farms to retire within the fort. Complaints of these things were sent to head-quarters, and after all peaceable overtures were disregarded, the Utah war was resolved upon.
Two companies from the City of Salt Lake joined the forces in Utah valley, and proceeded to attack the quarters of the Indians. The latter were well posted in the dry channels of the Timpanogos, and screened by a cottonwood forest and thick willow clumps, but were finally driven out by the cannon and rifles at long shots, after three days' skirmishing. The soldiers retired every night to the fort, a mile distant from the battle-field. One young man of the assailants was killed. The Indians decampcd the third night for the mountain kanyons, now filled with snow; and the measles being among them, the exposure killed many. " Old Elk," the terror of the mountains, was found dead on the trail. He had long boasted that no single person or trapper could live with him in the valleys, and numbers are supposed to have fallen under his rifle. A party was driven up Table Mountain, but were induced to come down and surrender. They were guarded in camp until the morning, and then ordered to give up their weapons. They refused to do this, and acting in a sullen and hostile manner, were fired upon and nearly all killed immediately. A few broke through the line of sentinels and endeavored to escape by crossing the lake on the ice, but were chased down by horsemen and " ceased to breathe." Our informant was an actor in the terrible scene, and seemed disposed to paint it in as soft colors as possible. A like chastisement was given the year previous to a small band of Shoshones, and a second has since been inflicted on the Utahs, and the chief, Patsowits, caught and killed by the bowstring; and this thorough work makes such an impression on them that they will fear to offend, which is the humane policy. Had public sentiment sanctioned a similar policy with the Seminoles, what sacrifices of blood and treasure would have been avoided!
About forty were killed by powder and measles; and the band of old " Stick-in-the-head," a chief of note, was so thinned that they immediately begged for peace. A large number of prisoners were taken, mostly women and children, carried into Fort Utah, and lodged under the cannon platform in tents until they could be distributed among the families in the valley. They were fed bounteously on beef, and it was a sight for a painter to see this motley group feast on the generosity of the capturers. Squaws and children were generously taken into the houses, and the trial made to teach them domestic service. But it was a failure: they soon deserted the comforts of the white man's house for the snowy home of the kanyons.
It is a curious matter of reflection, that those whose mission it is to convert these aborigines by the sword of the spirit, should thus be obliged to destroy thembut they stoutly affirm that these people will yet, under their instruction, fulfil the prophecy that `'a nation shall be born in a day; " and when they have completed the destined time, will listen to the truth and become " a fair and delightsome people."
This tribe consists of several bands under different chieftains, united by a common language and affinities as well as by numerous intermarriages. They range over a large region of country, extending from California to New Mexico. They are a superstitious race, and have many cruel customs. Some tribes are reputed good warriors.
In vicinity of the Salt Mountain in Youab Valley is a remarkable well or circular pit, at the bottom of which is a spring of water which rises a few feet and finds an outlet in the loose strata. It is called by the Utahs, Pun-gun. They fancy in this resides a child, that comes to the surface at the setting of the sun; and when one approaches, it cries and screams for help, making most frightful contortions; but should any attempt to aid the child to escape, they would be carried to the lower regions. It is the ghost cave of the Indians, and in it is the Blue Beard of the squaws which frightens into obedience unruly pappooses. Near this spot occurred a tragedy which may exemplify their religious notions. The witness of the scene thus relates it. He was travelling the trail, and seeing a village of the Utah, he turned toward it for curiosity and trade. Passing among the lodges, he heard a low wail within one of the wigwams. He stopped before it, and presently a lad of fourteen years apparently, came out sobbing bitterly, and sat down, placing his face in his hands and resting them upon his knees. Several Indians collected about the place, and in silence appeared to be waiting for some event of importance. He heard a sound like that of loading a rifle within the lodge. An exclamation of satisfaction escaped from a robust brave, as he emerged from the narrow entrance, as though he was now sure of accomplishing some desirable object of long contemplation.
The boy sprang up with a piteous shriek at the sound, then as if resigned to his fate, he cast one lingering look at the snow-capt hillsthen dropping his head, closed his eyes to the light of day, and was shot through the heart by the unrelenting savage.
On inquiry, the trader was told that this boy was a prisoner, taken long since from a neighboring tribe and that he was sent off to take care of his master, who had that morning died. Such prisoners they keep to accompany the deceased to the happy hunting-grounds in the spirit world.
When they have no captives, if a person of note dies, and a stranger is with them, the rights of hospitality are disregarded, and the visitor must be sacrificed to the manes of the departed. This requires the trading bands to be vigilant and in force; for should a runner come in with the news of any killed in battle with their enemies, the most friendly feelings would be instantly converted into those of destruction, to satisfy their religious custom. When a chief dies, his lodge is burned, the horses and dogs are killed, and all his arms and cooking utensils are buried with him. Burial-places are sought high up the Canyons, usually in clefts of rock; and boulders are heaped around, leaving a small opening, into which food is thrust for several weeks after the sepulture.
Chieftainship descends from father to son. A late chief, acting on the plurality law, left above thirty sons, most of whom have small clans under them. His true successor is a fine brave Indian, with the largest band immediately around him; and he exercises control over all when he chooses. He is a friend of the Mormons. A half-brother of his, named Walker, has become rich and celebrated for his success in stealing horses from the Mexicans. He has a large drove of cattle, with many followers. He lately located near the San Pete settlement, and professed a strong desire to learn agriculture from his civilised neighbors, and promised conformity on the part of his band. This is the man who, regarded in the mountains as a petty adventurer, has often been so romantically eulogised in the States, and furnishes a theme of praise among the Mormons, being esteemed a trophy to the power of their religion, a kind of first-fruits of their policy. But ore this he may have resumed his robber habits, and frustrated the intention of his Mormon friends of making him the head chief of the tribe.
The different tribes of the Utahs are frequently at war with each other, and they have an eternal national war with the Shoshones. The Mormon settlements partially interpose between the two great tribes, exerting an influence upon both, and ensuring them a controlling power ultimately. But the most eligible position for a commanding influence over the mountain tribes, is to be chosen in the Green River Basin, either on Black's Fork, where Fort Bridger is built, for a defensive trading post, or on the Colorado or branches. It could control and aid the emigrant travel to Oregon and California, as the routes must fork in that section. The Snakes or Shoshones, estimated at several thousands, are on the north. The (Rows are to the north-east. This band numbers eight hundred lodges, and is under the most military and severe training A principal chief governs despotically. He has a council of ten, which is convened every night to relate the occurrences of the day, and give plans for the morrow. On the march no one is permitted to leave the ranks without the signal of the chief When camp is to be made, the chief who is always two hundred yards in advances halts and throws down his horse-trappings, and no one is to come nearer "his medicine" than a prescribed distances without call. His lodge is set up by the squaws, and others then encircle it. Death is the penalty of disobedience. Sub-parties are sent off for plunder, under similar discipline. The Sioux tribe is on the east of the basin; the Oglallahs, or Cheyennos, to the south-east, and the universal Utahs to the south, all of which need no further description.
A fort and Indian agency, on this neutral or war-ground of all these tribes, would communicate with each. All their plans could easily be discovered. They could be played off against each other, and advantage taken of their animosities. If a humane policy is the proper one, then here is the place for a pacificator, and the interposition of good offices to prevent their internecine contests. And no more influential person could be found in an agency there, than the enterprising man already connected with them by marriage and habit, and who now resides as a trader at Fort Bridger.
The builder of Fort Bridger is one of the hardy race of mountain trappers who are now disappearing from the continent, being enclosed in the wave of civilisation. These trappers have made a thousand fortunes for eastern men, and by their improvidence have nothing for themselves. Major Bridger, or "old Jim," has been more wise of late, and laid aside a competence; but the mountain tastes, fostered by twenty-eight years of exciting scenes, will probably keep him there for life. He has been very active, and traversed the region from the head-waters of the Missouri to the Mel Norteand along the Gila to the Gulf, and thence throughout Oregon and the interior of California. His graphic sketches are delightful romances. With a buffalo-skin and piece of charcoal, he will map out any portion of this immense region, and delineate mountains, streams, and the circular valleys called " holes," with wonderful accuracy; at least we may so speak of that portion we traversed after his descriptions were given. He gives a picture, most romantic and enticing, of the head-waters of the Yellow Stone. A lake sixty miles long, cold and pellucid, lies embosomed amid high precipitous mountains. On the west side is a sloping plain several miles wide, with clumps of trees and groves of pine. The ground resounds to the tread of horses. Geysers spout up seventy feet high, with a terrific hissing noise, at regular intervals. Waterfalls are sparkling leaping, and thundering down the precipices, and collect in the pool below. The river issues from this lake, and for fifteen miles roars through the perpendicular Canyon at the outlet. In this section are the Great Springs, so hot that meat is readily cooked in them, and as they descend on the successive terraces, afford at length delightful baths. On the other side is an acid spring, which gushes out in a river torrent; and below is a cave which supplies "vermilion", for the savages in abundance. Bear, elk, deer, wolf, and fox, are among the sporting game, and the feathered tribe yields its share for variety, on the sportsman's table of rock or turf.
Another region he visited and trapped in, lies to the west of the Del Norte, and north of the Gila. This he represents as once the abode of man, where there are gigantic ruins of masonry, which he describes with the clearness of a Stephens. Trees have grown over these destroyed towns, and fruits and nuts load their branches; and among the animals are the wild boar and grizzly boar. His own words are: " this fertile place is large enough for three States, and is the most delightful spot that ever God made for man." As a guide for explorers the services of that man would be invaluable.
The public attention has been called in Missouri to the feasible line of road from Western Missouri to the Great Valleyand where the proper track for the Pacific Railway may be found if built from the Missouri river near Independence. This route would take the line of the Kanzas, up the Republican fork and across to the South Platte, and thence along the Lodge Pole Creek to the south terminus of the Black Hills, where they would be turned; and then across the rich Laramie plains, leaving the Medicine-Bow Mountains on the south, and crossing the North Platte into the South Pass, over the Coal Basin, skirting the Bear River Mountains at the northern base, near Bridger's Fort; and through the Bear and Weber Kanyons, which are represented by the mountain men as level and practicably and confirmed by distant views as probably correct, issue upon the Kamas prairie to the Timpanogos, and course down its banks to the Valley of Lake Utah.
It is not always reliable information which we gain from the mountain travellers; but, from the descriptions given me by them, the best route from Utah lies through the passes to Seveir Lake, and south-west to the depression in the Sierra Nevada north of Los Angeles, where the Tulare valleys are entered, and from which a port is to be selected on the Pacific. The Mormon settlements nearer the rim of the basin, may incline the road more south, and would not much increase the distance. This wonderfully level track across the country strikes the mind with surprise. One scarcely is conscious of a hill on the road, while the immense mountains are ever before and around him.
The difficulty this work will encounter lies in the accumulation of snow in the Weber and Timpanagos kanyons' during winter; exploration and observation are required to settle its presumed practicability and the amount of this impediment. Such a road, within our limits, would be the crowning work of the century and indeed of all antecedent time, so gigantic is it in its conceptions; and it would be so wonderful in its results on trade and the destinies of the race, that all other human efforts sink in insignificance before it. It would strike the centre of the great valley of the Mississippi, and the commerce and the travel that should come from Asia would there divide, to take its appropriate destination for the Gulf of Mexico or the St. Lawrence; or on the many lines of internal communication to the Atlantic seaboard.