It's not hard to find something mildly relevant when Googling a topic of interest, but every once in a while you strike gold. Here's a gem I just stumbled across: the Utah Army National Guard history page. It starts: The Utah National Guard was formally organized March 24, 1894, however its predecessor, the Nauvoo Legion, dates back to 1849. I wouldn't have expected the Utah National Guard to claim the Nauvoo Legion as its official predecessor. And it gets more interesting from there.
Here is the site's summary of the Nauvoo Legion's activity in Illinois:
The heritage of the Utah National Guard comes from the Nauvoo Legion, which was organized by the Mormons in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1840 under a special charter granted by the Illinois legislature. It was a special militia organization formed to protect the community, but it could not prevent the killing of the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, nor did it make a determined stand to defend the community from mob violence and that plunged Illinois into a state of open warfare. After the Mormons were driven from Nauvoo, the Nauvoo Legion was reorganized in Utah.
Veterans of the Mormon Battalion expedition, plus members of the Nauvoo Legion from Illinois who made the trek to Utah, combined to form (as authorized by an act of the territorial government of Utah) a new militia, again designated the Nauvoo Legion but which might more descriptively be called the Utah militia. They had a few skirmishes with the local Native Americans, then took on the big boys in 1857:
The Nauvoo Legion also served against the United States government in what was called the Utah War of 1857-58. With a total force of approximately 6,000 members, several units of the northern Utah force were mobilized to stop the entry of Albert Sidney Johnston's army into Utah. The army had been sent by President James Buchanan to quell what in the East had been described as a rebellion of the Utah people against the government. The Nauvoo Legion held Johnston's forces at bay near Fort Bridger until an agreement was worked out for the army to pass through Salt Lake City and establish a post at Camp Floyd, about forty miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
I sense a little pride there: not many state militias can claim to have taken on the US Army. If holding off the Army — and doing so with almost no loss of life on either side — was its great moment of glory, the Nauvoo Legion also had its worst episode that same year:
In 1857 a major blotch on the generally honorable service of the early militia took place when Nauvoo Legion members of the Iron County Military District participated in the murder of 120 immigrants of the Fancher Party that was moving through Utah to California. This tragic event became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Later, the Nauvoo Legion became an item of contention in the struggle between Mormons and the Feds for political control of the territory:
By 1870 the Nauvoo Legion became embroiled in political problems between the federally appointed territorial officials and the local Mormon religious leaders. It was felt that the militia took its orders from the religious leaders of the church and paid little heed to the orders of the government. One manifestation of this was an incident of 1870 when the Governor of Utah, J. Wilson Shaffer, removed the commander of the Nauvoo Legion, Daniel H. Wells (a Mormon) and replaced him with Colonel Patrick Connor (a non-Mormon). This was later followed by the Nauvoo Legion marching in public parades even though the Governor had issued orders not to parade. This led to charges of treason and a threat to execute the Soldiers who violated these orders. This never happened, but it did lead to continued controversy over the Nauvoo Legion.
As noted at the site, the Nauvoo Legion, Utah's militia, was then disbanded in 1887 in connection with the Edmunds-Tucker Act, then reconstituted by the territorial government as the Utah National Guard in 1894.
This just has to be the most interesting National Guard history of any state (although I don't intend to read the other 49 to support my conjecture). I stumbled onto the Utah site while doing some online research (i.e., surfing) for my theme of the week: Militias in Mormon history. The topic is more interesting than you think, as militias were used to attack the Mormons, and the Mormons, in turn, organized militias to defend themselves. Don't forget they are expressly provided for in the Second Amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Sounds good. So how did dueling mililtias end up ranging back and forth across Missouri and squaring off in Illinois in an undeclared state of local civil war? I'll tackle that question in upcoming posts planned for later in the week.