Mormon History

Open Letter to Brigham Young #1 - 1871

Daily Corinne  Reporter - July 15, 1871


(Written expressly for the Corinne Reporter and containing a
true and succinct account of the Reign of Terror in Utah. -- Ed.)

Salt Lake City, July 12, 1871.    

An Open Letter to Brigham Young.

SIR: The company of emigrants slaughtered on the 15th of September, 1857, at the Mountain Meadows, and within your jurisdiction, was one of the wealthiest, most respectable and peaceable that ever crossed the continent by the way of Salt Lake City. They were American citizens -- were within the territory of the United States, and when they encamped by the Jordan river, upon the free, unenclosed and unappropriated public domain, and by the laws of Utah, their stock were 'free commoners' on that domain. The most of those emigrants had unquestionably been farmers, all of them rural in their habits of life; and from the fact that you did not charge them with being thieves, or robbers, or of trespassing upon the rights of others, or disturbing the public peace, or with behaving themselves unseemly, it is fair to infer that they were as upright and virtuous in their habits of thought, and as honest and honourable in their intercourse with others as people from country parts generally are. They came from Arkansas."

When they encamped by the Jordan they were weary and foot-sore, their supply of food was well-nigh exhausted, and their work-cattle nearly 'used up' by the labours of the long and toilsome journey. The necessity rested upon them of tarrying in Utah sufficiently long to rest and recruit their teams and replenish their store of provisions. The harvest in Utah that year, then gathering, was abundant, and mountain and valley were covered with rich and nutritious grasses. What was there to hinder this company from staying as long as they pleased, recruiting their stock, and pursuing their journey when they got ready? And, besides, what had they done that the protection of the law, represented in your person, should be worse than withdrawn from them? that they should be ordered to break up camp and move on? and, worse than all, that a courier should be sent ahead of them bearing your written instructions to the Mormons on said company's line of travel to have no dealing or intercourse with them; thus compelling them to almost certain death by starvation on the deserts? You were at that time the Governor of Utah, Commander-in-Chief of the militia, and Superintendent of Indian Affairs, a sworn officer of the United States and of the Territory, upon whom devolved, and with whom were intrusted grave and important responsibilities, affecting the liberties of the people, the rights of persons and property, and the welfare and happiness of all within the pale of your authority without regard to sect, creed, name, or nativity, or differences between individual opinions. In addition to your magistrature, you were the chief high-priest of almost the entire body of the people, assuming to yourself extraordinary heavenly powers and an unusual amount of spiritual excellence. Without any modification of the term, you were professedly the earthly Vicar of the heavenly Saviour -- of Him who divinely discoursed on earth of mercy and of love, and whose last words were, Father, forgive them!'..."

Not being allowed to remain, this weary, unrested company 'broke camp' and took up their line of travel for Los Angeles. Their progress was necessarily slow. Arriving at American Fork settlement they essayed to trade off some of their worn-out stock for the fresh and reliable cattle of the Mormons, offering fine bargains; and also sought to buy provisions.

What must have been their surprise when they found they could do neither? Notwithstanding that flour, bacon, vegetables in variety, poultry, butter, cheese, eggs, etc., were in unusual abundance, and plenty of surplus stock, not the first thing could be bought or sold! They passed on through Battle Creek, Provo, Springville, Spanish Fork, Payson, Salt Creek and Fillmore, attempting at each settlement to purchase food and to trade for stock, but without success. It is true that occasionally some Mormon more daring than his fellows would sack up a few pounds of provisions, and under cover of night smuggle the same into the emigrant camp, taking his chances of a severed windpipe in satisfaction for such unreasonable contempt of orders; but otherwise there was no food bought by this company thus far. And here it is worthy to remark that up to this time no complaint had been made against these travellers. They had been accused of no crime known to the laws, and, undeniably, it had been a point with them to quietly and peaceably pass through Utah, in the hope of reaching some Gentile settlement where their gold and cattle could buy them something to eat." The query arises here, What caused so strange and unprecedented a proceeding towards this particular company? The custom of the overland emigration at that time was well known; which was, to provision their trains for Salt Lake City, and refit at that place for California. If other trains could rest and recruit, could buy, sell and refit in Utah, why not this?... These people were from Arkansas, a State in which Parley P. Pratt, one of your fellow-apostles, had been killed... But to return. This ill-fated company were now at Fillmore. They had left their camp at the Jordan with almost empty wagons, they had been unable to purchase provisions, as before stated, they had but three or four settlements yet to pass through; and then their way would pass over the most to be dreaded of all the American deserts, where there would be no possibility of obtaining a pound of food. What their prospects, feelings and forebodings were at that time, I leave for your consideration; but, sir, I beg to call your attention to the fact that, at the capture of their train at the Mountain Meadows, their stores were found to be inadequate for the journey in contemplation. They were, indeed, well-nigh exhausted, with the exception of two purchases which I shall describe presently, which purchases were made after they had left Fillmore. There cannot be a reasonable doubt that they were already on short allowance when they reached that settlement.... There have been times, as in late occurrences in Paris, when men's passions have been aroused and excited, especially upon religious differences, and still more especially when associated with the idea of caste or race; outrages and wholesale butcheries have occurred; but here we have in free America a peaceable company of emigrants who were forced untimely into a journey, then half-starved, and finally slaughtered in cold blood! And this was the result of the apparent action of an entire people. Do you expect the world to believe that action to have been spontaneous with them? That the whole people from the Jordan to Fillmore should, of their own free will, uninfluenced, uninstructed, uncoerced, should all as one unite in denying these strangers the right even of buying food? Impossible! This company of Arkansas farmers, travelling with their wives and little ones, had now travelled through and by fifteen different settlements, large and small, peopled by Mormons under your absolute control in all things, and had not been able to buy food. Oh! what a falling off was there from the words of Him who said, 'If thine enemy hunger, feed him!'...

"At Fillmore their store of provisions was too scanty to allow of delay; and so soon as they found they could do no trading there they moved on, and in due course reached Corn Creek. Here they saw the first kindly look and heard the first friendly word since they left the Jordan. And, strange to say, those friends were Indians! They sold the emigrants 30 bushels of corn -- all they had to spare -- and sent them away in peace.

"The company passed on from Corn Creek, and, reaching Beaver, they found the same order of non-intercourse, the same prohibition as to trading as before; and, passing on, they came to Parowan, but were not permitted to enter the town. Now be it known, and the books will show, that the General Government had paid twenty-five thousand dollars in gold coin for the surveying and opening of this road which passed directly through the town of Parowan, and upon which this company was travelling and had travelled all the way from Salt Lake City, passing through American Fork, and all the principal settlements on the route. They had passed through those settlements without let or hindrance; but here they were forced to leave the public highway and pass around the west side of the fort wall. When they reached the stream abreast of the town they encamped, and tried, as before, to trade for food and fresh cattle, but failed. There was a little Englishman who was determined to sell them some provisions; but Bishop Lewis's son and Counsellor advanced before him, and, pressing the edge of a bowie-knife against his throat, compelled him to retreat without realizing his humane intentions. There was a grist-mill at Parowan, the first the company had 'struck' since they left Corn Creek. They made application to have the corn ground which they had bought of the Indians, but were flatly refused.

Now, sir, why were these emigrants refused permission to enter and pass through Parowan? However unpleasant it may be to you, this question will probably yet be asked in such form and by such authority that you will feel constrained to answer. You are quite competent to give the answer, so is your aide-de-camp and Brigadier-General, George A.   So is Wm. H. Dame, the colonel of the regiment forming a part of the militia under your supreme command -- that same regiment that afterwards fell upon that same unoffending company at Mountain Meadows and destroyed them. But you will not answer until compelled. Then let me suggest that Parowan was the legitimate headquarters of that particular regiment; that it was the place of residence of Colonel Dame; that there was a certain military appearance inside the walls that it would not "be prudent for the emigrants to see or suspect, for their destruction had been decreed, and they must be taken at a disadvantage. And, further, the emigrants hitherto had encountered only a passive hostility, now it was to be active; and they must not be permitted to enter the town where their unoffending manners and quiet deportment might win upon the sympathies of the people.

The emigrants made their way to Cedar City, at that time the most populous of all the towns in Southern Utah. Here they were allowed to purchase fifty bushels of tithing wheat, and to get the same, and also the corn, ground at John D. Lee's mill. No thanks, however, for this seeming favour; for the authorities that pretended to sell that wheat knew that they would have the most of it back in less than a week; at least they knew that it would never leave the Territory. But, waiving that, still this company of one hundred and twenty souls, or thereabouts, had not to exceed forty-nine hundred pounds of provisions, less than forty days' rations, all told, to take them to San Bernardino, in California.

Now, sir, I have consulted with one of the old pioneers of the road from Cedar City to the Mojave river, one whose judgment and experience are worthy of respect; one who saw that company in Utah as they were passing along on the Territorial road, and knew the condition of their teams. I asked him how long it would have taken them to go from Cedar to the Mojave? He reflected, then answered, 'Sixty days.' From there to San Bernardino would have taken six to ten days. Here was a company made up of men, women and children, with at least one child to be born on the road, whose mother would require a little rest and at least some comfort, forced to undertake this journey under circumstances beyond their control, but altogether under yours, who were obliged to put themselves on short allowance on the start....

Note: The full content of the above "Argus" letter remain undetermined. See Will Bagley's book, Blood of the Prophets, which quotes from C. W. Wandell, in regard to Parley P. Pratt, on page 98, as follows: "[the widow Pratt] recognized one or more of the [Fancher] party as having been present at the death of Pratt." In a note on his page 404, Bagley cites this quote from Mrs. Pratt, as coming from the Wandell "Argus" letter, published in the Reporter of July 15th.