[Part 1 | Part 2] This post covers Chapters 5 through 8 of John G. Turner's Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Harvard Univ. Press, 2012). This section of the book covers Brigham's assumption of leadership of the Church upon the death of Joseph Smith, his successful relocation of the main body of Mormons from Illinois to unsettled Utah, and the difficult first few years there, punctuated by the 1852 public announcement of the practice of plural marriage by the LDS Church.
Chapter 5, "Prophets and Pretenders," recounts what is known in LDS history as the succession crisis: Joseph Smith had established a variety of power centers within the young church (First Presidency, the Twelve, a Nauvoo stake presidency, blessings and promises actual or alleged given to various individuals) but no clear succession plan. Sidney Rigdon had been away from Nauvoo for some time and had not been part of Joseph's introduction of temple ordinances — his bid for leadership did not convince many Mormons. Hyrum Smith would have had a strong claim to lead the Church, but he perished at Carthage along with Joseph.
Brigham Young took over leadership not as a new President of the Church, but in the name of the Twelve, forming an informal presidency of himself, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards, but not formally establishing that trio as a new First Presidency until 1847. Before the departure of the Nauvoo Mormons to Utah, James Strang attracted several hundred Mormons to his splinter group in Wisconsin, including such high profile Mormons as Martin Harris, William Smith, William McLellin, and William Marks, but that movement quickly developed its own internal difficulties. In the end, Brigham proved himself to be the right man for the job, if the job is defined as maintaining the Church as a cohesive institution and continuing Joseph Smith's legacy.
Chapter 6, "Word and Will," recounts the epic migration of the Mormons across the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains through South Pass, and over the rim of the Wasatch Mountains into the Salt Lake Valley. It was Brigham's finest hour. The status of the Mormons in Nauvoo in 1845 got steadily more precarious -- neither the state nor the federal government was inclined to give physical protection to the Mormons, and attempts at self-defense only raised more armed opposition. There was really no choice but to relocate elsewhere or to scatter into smaller groups around the country (as had been one option after the debacle at Far West in 1838, before the new gathering at Nauvoo). Young opted to go West, and did so as quickly as possible once the Saints were forced out of Nauvoo in early 1846.
Forced to overwinter in Winter Quarters rather than push on to Utah (or some other destination) that summer and fall, it wasn't until the spring of 1847 that the first company of roughly 150 hardy pioneers headed out (including Brigham, several apostles, three women, and three African Americans), followed weeks later by other organized groups that included women and children as well. Bottom line: they all made it, with casualties no worse than most overland companies. Brigham successfully transplanted a body of thousands of Mormons a thousand miles across the heart of the continent with little help from anyone. The Mormons didn't even use the existing Oregon Trail (on the south side of the North Platte River — Mormons stayed on the north side) to avoid conflict with other migrants. The chapter title comes from the first verse of D&C 136, Brigham's only canonized revelation: "The Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West." He was more of a speaking prophet than a writing prophet, but more than anything he turned out to be a stalwart leader when one was sorely needed.
Chapter 7, "A New Era of Things," recounts what Brigham did with the Mormons in Utah once he got them there. It didn't turn out quite like planned — his vision of complete or quasi-autonomy from the US government, coupled with economic self-sufficiency, was never realized. The territorial status of Utah meant the federal government appointed officials, including federal judges, to run the territory. Conflict was the rule rather than the exception, although the appointment of Brigham as the first territorial governor avoided overt conflict for the first few years. But the public announcement of the Mormon practice of polygamy in 1852 undermined whatever political support the Mormons had in Washington. That, plus Brigham's use of inflammatory rhetoric to describe Mormon political claims and to criticize the federal government, pretty much set the terms of unavoidable future conflict, which came to a crescendo in the 1880s, after Brigham's death, and did not fully dissipate until ten years into the 20th century, after polygamy and theocracy were fully discarded. Would anyone then have dreamed that only a century later the LDS Church would be offering up US presidential candidates?
Chapter 8, "One Family," covers Mormon racial doctrine and culture in early Utah. There were African Americans and Native Americans scattered among the Utah Mormons, but they were not full citizens of the kingdom. Barriers to blacks hardened -- despite early ordinations under Joseph Smith, a rule against ordaining black men became a practice, then a doctrine, and temple ordinances were not extended to black Mormons. Native Americans, deemed "Lamanites" following Book of Mormon terms, were in theory held to be descendants of migrated Israelites and eligible for great blessings, but in practice were simply moved farther off the land and away from their traditional access to natural resources with each new wave of colonization north and south of Salt Lake City. Turner is careful to point out that Mormon attitudes on race and culture were little different from that of other contemporary Americans. Still, it is often painful reading for 21st century Americans, whether LDS or not.