[See Part 1] This is the second installment hitting highlights in Brigham Young and the Expanding American Frontier. This post covers Brigham's relocation to Ohio shortly after joining the Mormon church in 1832 through the departure from Nauvoo and arrival in Winter Quarters in 1846.
In Chapter Two, author Newell Bringhurst notes Brigham's first real test as a leader. He had been ordained an LDS apostle several years earlier, but the expulsion of the body of the Saints from Far West Missouri in 1839 thrust Brigham into a leadership role. Joseph Smith was at that time being held in various Missouri jails on trumped up treason charges, so it fell to Brigham to take charge of relocating the confused and often destitute Mormons from Missouri to Illinois, a couple of hundred miles east and across the Mississippi.
Brigham displayed effective use of leadership and accomplished a successful relocation of most Mormons to safer territory -- all under rather trying circumstances. But Brigham also displayed loyalty by relinquishing the leadership role to Joseph Smith when, several months later, he escaped custody in Missouri and made his way to Illinois (or was allowed to escape Missouri custody to prevent further embarrassment to the state). When Brigham was called to go to England as a missionary shortly thereafter, he didn't demur due to difficult circumstances, he just went. A modern commentator might say that, unlike many of his LDS contemporaries, Brigham didn't let power go to his head.
Chapter Three, covering events in Nauvoo, notes that Brigham became a Mason in December 1841. The author explains what, to a 21st-century reader, seems like a strange amalgam, early Mormonism and Masonry.
This Mormon interest [in Masonry] resulted because Smith and other Mormon leaders looked toward Masonry as a means to gain social acceptance and protection. On the Illinois frontier, as in other frontier regions, the most successful and powerful men were Masons. Also, the Mormons hoped their association with the Masons would prevent a reoccurence of the anti-Mormon violence that had led to their expulsion from Missouri, relying on the Masonic promise of protection and assistance in times of distress. Another feature of Masonry that appealed to the Mormons was its use of symbolism .... (p. 53.)
The primary result of many LDS leaders becoming active Masons was the inclusion of Masonic symbols into LDS temple ordinances and symbolism. Unfortunatey, reliance on the Masonry connection did little to avoid eventual conflict with residents of Illinois. This came to a head in 1844, culminating in the lynching of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum by a renegade company of the Illinois state militia in June 1844.
Chapter Four covers the end game in Nauvoo, as rising vigilante action by locals forced Mormons in outlying areas to flee to Nauvoo for safety, then forced the evacuation of Nauvoo. On February 15, 1846, Brigham left Nauvoo and headed west, "directing what would become the largest and best organized westward trek of pioneers in American history" (p. 79). Through that winter and a muddy spring, thousands of Mormons streamed out of Nauvoo, across the Mississippi River, and across frigid Iowa. Most ended up at Winter Quarters, a new Mormon settlement built from scratch just across the Missouri from Iowa in unorganized "Indian territory" (Brigham bargained for use of the land with local tribal chiefs). Here, the Mormon talent for community building (both literally and figuratively) kicked into gear:
Winter Quarters was divided into 22 wards with a bishop over each .... Schools were organized "for the education of children curing the coming winter." Young clamped down on all forms of disorderly conduct through a vigilante police force. Serious offenses, including adultery, were subject to the corporal punishment of whipping since the Mormons had no jail. (p. 83.)
But the 300-mile trek from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters was only the prelude to Brigham's finest hour, engineering an epic march of an entire people across the Great Plains and over the Rocky Mountains.