[See Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3] This is the fourth and final installment drawing on material in Newell Bringhurst's Brigham Young and the Expanding American Frontier. This post covers events between the Civil War and Brigham's death in 1877.
As I've tried to bring out in the prior three posts, the arc of Mormon history is firmly embedded in the larger stream of American history — religion, migration, conflict, and assimilation are themes of American history as well as of Mormon history. But Brigham Young is unique, an American original. He left his stamp not only on Mormonism but also on the "Mountain West," that broad swath of America that lies between the Great Plains and the West Coast.
He was a colonizer. Not content to people the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham sent out organized groups of Mormons, often newly arrived immigrants, to establish new settlements to the north and south. This was not done by whim or hazard, but with planning and support. It was unlike any other settlement effort of the era.
After the emigrants became acclimated to the area, they were either dispatched to established communities or assigned to help found new communities. Thirty-two such settlements were established during the years 1852-57, bringing to ninety-six the total number of communities established since the arrival of the first pioneers [in 1847]. In setting up these colonies, Young took a common sense approach, realizing that newly arrived emigrants could not do the job themselves. Thus, he included both new and experienced frontiersmen along with a mix of industrial and agricultural workers. (p. 118.)
The results were stunning. San Bernadino, for example, was founded by Mormons in 1851, and by the mid-1850s there were 3000 Mormons living there.
Brigham Young was also a historical figure of interest to writers and intellectuals of his day. In 1859 Horace "Go West, young man" Greeley went west himself, travelling to Salt Lake City and famously interviewing Brigham Young for the New York Tribune.
A year later a young Samuel Clemons passed through Salt Lake City on his way to Nevada (escaping the Civil War), where he first failed at mining, then worked for a newspaper and published his first story using the Mark Twain pseudonym. He eventually wrote Roughing It based on his adventures in the West, still a funny book almost 150 years later. Here's how Bringhurst summarized the encounter between the two during Twain's visit to Salt Lake City.
Twain was on the whole favorably impressed with the Mormon leader, describing him as a "quiet, kindly, easy mannered, dignified, self-possessed old gentleman of fifty-five or sixty," with "a gentle craft in his eye that probably belonged there." ... When Twain got up to leave with his brother, Young, according to [Twain], "put his hand on my head, beamed down at me in an admiring way and said to my brother, 'Ah—your child, I presume? Boy or girl?'" (p. 152-53.)
Twain might have been the brightest American of his generation. Sounds like Brigham held his own.
While I could add some quotes about mining and the railroad, I think I've written enough to give the reader some appreciation for Brigham as a religious leader and a historical figure. Here is how author Bringhurst tied together Brigham's accomplishments as a leader and the broader frontier themes he referenced throughout the book.
In overall terms, Brigham Young personified the larger American frontier. His continuous westward migration into upstate New York, then to the midwest, and finally to the far west paralleled that of countless other uprooted American throughout the nineteenth century. ... Finally, the stark reality of Mormonism's shrinking frontier domain, so painfully evident by the time of Brigham Young's death in 1877 underscored the fact that the larger American frontier was rapidly coming to an end, a development officially acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Census in 1890. (p. 219.)
The passing of Brigham Young and the end of the 19th century were truly the end of an era — the era of the frontier, migration, and settlement — for both the United States and for the LDS Church. What came after that for the LDS Church (Utah statehood, partial assimilation into mainstream American culture, continued growth, and surprising worldly success as a people) would mark a new chapter in LDS history.