Mormon History

Mitt Romney's Traitorous Ancestor - 1857

I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers - I will be true to them and to my beliefs. Mitt Romney December 6, 2007


Romney ancestor fled Army, joined LDS Church

By Lee Davidson
Deseret Morning News

September 8, 2007

It may not be what a presidential candidate would want historians discussing, as they did Friday. But exactly 150 years ago, an ancestor of Mitt Romney deserted from U.S. Army troops sent to put down a purported Mormon rebellion in Utah.

Carl Heinrich (Charles Henry) Wilcken, Romney's great-great-grandfather, would give Mormons information about approaching troops, eventually joined the LDS Church and ultimately became a bodyguard and confidant of two church presidents.

The middle name of Romney's father, former Michigan Gov. George W. Romney (also once a presidential candidate), is Wilcken, after that soldier-ancestor.

The little-known soldier in the little-known "Utah War" was a topic Friday at the annual Utah State History Conference. Several seminars focused on the 150th anniversary of that "war," in which President James Buchanan sent troops against Mormons in 1857-58 after ex-officials convinced him that Mormons would not submit to federal law.

Mormons saw that as a renewal of persecution and sent militia to face the army in what was essentially a mini-civil war four years before the real thing between North and South. Little shooting occurred, as Buchanan eventually gave amnesty to Mormons as they accepted a non-Mormon governor and a permanent garrison of U.S. troops.

Amateur historian Steve Richardson presented a paper Friday that discussed Wilcken, who he said had previously been awarded the Iron Cross by the king of Prussia for service in its war against Denmark.

After that war, Denmark attempted to draft former Prussian soldiers living in its acquired regions of Scheswig-Holstein. So Wilcken decided to leave and join friends in Argentina but had only enough money to make it to New York.

Richardson said Wilcken was unable to find work, so he joined the U.S. Army and was sent on the "Utah expedition."

"He was unhappy with the lack of discipline of the soldiers," Richardson said. "He had a low opinion of other soldiers," as they talked about possibly hanging or jailing Mormon leaders and "appropriating" their wives and daughters.

Wilcken saw poor protection by U.S. troops, which allowed Mormon militia to burn forage in front of the approaching army. LDS soldiers also burned many of the federal supply wagons and ran off the army's livestock. Soldiers had little to eat. Their winter camp in Wyoming would be one of the hardest in the history of the U.S. Army.

Wilcken decided to desert and head for Salt Lake City. But, Richardson said, Wilcken reported a spiritual experience that delayed that action for a day and possibly saved him from being jailed or shot.

As he was about to desert, he said he "heard a voice calling his name" his real name, not the assumed name he used to enlist. Two other times as he was to leave, he heard his name called and stopped. Wilcken later learned that the cavalry had been on patrol all night watching Mormon camps and likely would have caught him.

Richardson said, "That night, he had a dream telling him to ask his captain for permission to go out hunting the next day, and he would meet some friends." He did exactly that, deserted and met Mormons who escorted him back to their lines. That was on Oct. 7, 1857, 150 years ago next month.

Richardson said Wilcken was impressed with Mormons and their lack of the cursing and fighting that he had seen with U.S. troops. Wilcken provided Mormons with information about conditions of the U.S. Army and went to Salt Lake City.

Historian William P. MacKinnon added that Wilcken's U.S. Army captain, John W. Phelps, wrote in his diary about Wilcken's disappearance and "talked about what a fine man he was and how different he was from another man who deserted."

MacKinnon noted that Phelps, who would become a Union general in the Civil War, ran for president in 1880 but received only a few hundred votes. Wilcken's Romney descendants have done better than that in their campaigns for president.

Wilcken was baptized into the LDS Church only two months after he deserted the Army and later had plural wives. In later years, he became a messenger and bodyguard for LDS President John Taylor, who was, at times, in hiding during federal anti-polygamy crusades. He also was a bodyguard for President Wilford Woodruff, who succeeded John Taylor and ultimately led the church away from the practice of polygamy.

Mitt Romney's campaign declined comment on the story.

(Webmaster note: Mormon Harry Reid would have made a great 19th century anti-Mormon)

Bill Number: S. 3313 (IS)
Bill Title: Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act of 2008 (Introduced in Senate)
Sponsor: Sen Reid, Harry   View all legislation sponsored by this member.
Introduced: 2008/07/23
Latest Major Action: 2008/07/23 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Notes: There are no notes for this Bill

S 3313 IS


2d Session

S. 3313

To establish a Federal Polygamy Task Force, to authorize assistance for victims of polygamy, and for other purposes.


July 23, 2008

Mr. REID introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


To establish a Federal Polygamy Task Force, to authorize assistance for victims of polygamy, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the `Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act of 2008'.


Congress makes the following findings:

(1) Despite the fact that polygamy has been illegal in the United States for over 100 years, the practice of polygamy involving underage marriages is growing. Sizable polygamist communities exist in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, and are expanding into other States.

(2) Polygamist communities are typically controlled by organizations that engage in widespread and systematic violations of State laws and the laws of the United States in order to enrich their leaders and maintain control over their members.

(3) The crimes perpetrated by these organizations include child abuse, domestic violence, welfare fraud, tax evasion, public corruption, witness tampering, and transporting victims across State lines.

(4) Due to the systematic and sophisticated nature of these crimes, State and local law enforcement agencies would benefit from the assistance of the Federal Government as they investigate and prosecute these organizations and their leaders for violations of State law. In addition, violations of Federal law associated with polygamy should be investigated and prosecuted directly by Federal authorities.

(5) The work of State and Federal law enforcement agencies to combat crimes by polygamist organizations would benefit from enhanced collaboration and information-sharing among such agencies.

(6) The establishment of a task force within the Department of Justice to coordinate Federal efforts and collaborate with State agencies would aid in the investigation and prosecution of criminal activities of polygamist organizations in both Federal and State courts.

(7) Polygamist organizations isolate, control, manipulate, and threaten victims with retribution should they ever abandon the organization. Individuals who choose to testify against polygamist organizations in Federal or State court have unique needs, including social services and witness protection support, that warrant Federal assistance.


(a) Establishment- There is established within the Department of Justice a Federal Polygamy Task Force, which shall consist of the Deputy Attorney General, the United States attorneys from affected Federal judicial districts, representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and any officer of the Federal Government whom the Deputy Attorney General considers necessary to strengthen Federal law enforcement activities and provide State and local law enforcement officials the assistance they need to address the illegal activity of one or more polygamist organizations.

(b) Purposes- The Federal Polygamy Task Force established under subsection (a) shall--

(1) formulate effective responses to the unique set of crimes committed by polygamist organizations;

(2) establish partnerships with State and local law enforcement agencies to share relevant information and strengthen State and Federal efforts to combat crimes perpetrated by polygamist organizations;

(3) assist States by providing strategies and support for the protection of witnesses;

(4) track the criminal behavior of polygamist organizations that cross State and international borders; and

(5) ensure that local officials charged with protecting the public are not corrupted because of financial, family, or membership ties to a polygamist organization.


The Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (42 U.S.C. 10601 et seq.) is amended by inserting after section 1404E the following:


`(a) In General- The Director may make grants as provided in section 1404(c)(1)(A) to State, tribal, and local prosecutors' offices, law enforcement agencies, courts, jails, and correctional institutions, and to qualified public and private entities, to develop, establish, and maintain programs for the enforcement of rights and provision of social services (including witness protection, housing, education, vocational training, mental health services, child care, and medical treatment) for an individual who is exploited or otherwise victimized by practitioners of polygamy.

`(b) Authorization of Appropriations- In addition to funds made available under section 1402(d), there are authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section--

`(1) $2,000,000 for fiscal year 2009; and

`(2) $2,500,000 for each of the fiscal years 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

`(c) False Claims Act- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, amounts collected pursuant to sections 3729 through 3731 of title 31, United States Code (commonly known as the `False Claims Act'), may be used for grants under this section, subject to appropriation.'.


Section 506(a) of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 3756(a)) is amended--

(1) in paragraph (1), by striking `and' at the end;

(2) in paragraph (2), by striking the period at the end and inserting `; and'; and

(3) by adding at the end the following:

`(3) $2,000,000, to be granted by the Attorney General to States and units of local government to investigate and prosecute polygamist organizations that violate Federal, State, or local laws.'.