[See Part 1 | Part 2] This is the third installment, drawing on material in Newell Bringhurst's Brigham Young and the Expanding American Frontier and covering events between the arrival in the Salt Lake Valley and the Civil War.
Brigham Young was part of the first company of 159 pioneers that headed out of Winter Quarters in April 1847. But they were headed across the established Overland Trail, not into an uncharted wilderness. In fact, just after crossing South Pass whose path should they cross but the legendary mountain man and scout Jim Bridger, who "described the entire region [of the Salt Lake Valley] as barren" (p. 93). Next, Mormon adventurer Sam Brannan, travelling east from San Francisco, found the company near the Green River and talked up California as a destination. But bouyed by better reports about the Salt Lake Valley from Miles Goodyear, who had already settled near present-day Ogden, Brigham pointed the Saints toward the Great Salt Lake. No sooner did that initial group of Saints settle in the Salt Lake Valley than the territory passed to the United States in February 1848 under the terms of the Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo. By September 1848, when Brigham Young returned a second time to the valley, 5000 Mormons had settled there. He never travelled east of the Rocky Mountains again.
The themes of the next 50 years were politics and polygamy. Politically, hopes from statehood faltered in the face of rising sectional conflict over the admission of new states in the territory acquired from Mexico. Instead, Utah was made a territory under the terms of the Compromise of 1850, with President Millard Fillmore sensibly but surprisingly appointing Brigham Young as territorial governor. But when the doctrine and practice of plural marriage by the LDS Church was first publicly announced in 1852, a groundswell of public opposition against the Church resulted. Direct armed conflict with federal troops loomed in 1857, as a small army under the eventual command of Colonel Albert Sydney Johnston of Kentucky headed west to install a new territorial governor. They made slow progress and wintered at what was left of Fort Bridger in Wyoming.
Despite forceful rhetoric that winter, Brigham Young eventually received Alfred Cumming of Georgia, the newly appointed territorial governor, cordially in Salt Lake City in April 1858 (p. 146). The troops later marched through an evacuated Salt Lake City in June, but no violence ensued (these were federal troops, not a ragtag state militia). Managing to avoid a fight the Saints would have probably lost badly is, I think, Brigham's second greatest accomplishment. Ironically, shortly thereafter both Colonel Johnston and Governor Cumming sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Johnston died on April 6, 1862, fighting against the Union at the Battle of Shiloh.
The biggest story of those first fifteen years in the valley were that the Mormons survived. Under Brigham's leadership, they survived the journey to the valley; they survived the crickets; they survived the California Gold Rush; and they survived the Utah War. Then, as we shall see in Part 4, they began to spread and prosper.