A Discourse delivered before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, March 26, 1850, by Thomas L. Kane. Se-cond Edition. Philadelphia: King & Baird, Printers.
A PUNGENT, graphic vindication of the personal qualities of the Mormons, by one who has lived among them, known them in their hour of per-secution, and experienced their virtues. The notices of the sect in this vivid discourse com-mence with the author's arrival at Nauvoo, immediately upon their expulsion in 1846. He found remaining on an unwholesome flat of the Mississippi, the last relics of the sick, weak, or decrepid, necessarily left behind,—all that was left, on the spot, of a population of twenty thousand persons, of the possessors in Mis-souri and Illinois of twenty millions of de-spoiled property. The Mormon fortunes are traced from that day—on the prairie, in the wilderness, amid the hardships of winter, in the desolation of fever, in the camp, on the march, in acts of suffering, in heroism, in mutual self devotion until the exultation of the promised land. The Pilgrim Fathers of the East con-tend for a title which falls inevitably to these peers of the old Israelites, the Wanderers over the Wilderness of the West. They have been literally strangers and pilgrims, have had their cruel Pharaohs on waters sometimes compared with the Nile,—the Mississippi. They sum-moned their wives and children for escape, and like the nomades of the East, with their flocks and their tents, and their little ones, traversed the desert. Nerved by an enthusiasm which only religious faith can supply, they conquered every privation. The simplicity of their man-ners, their prudence, their industry, the endur-ing virtues of disaster, have proved the con-quering ones of peace. The mountain-locked lakes of the Rocky Mountains, with the con-necting Jordan, are their Palestine, where they sit down to build up in great prosperity their New Jerusalem. Should they bear wealth as they have borne persecution, they will remain the most extraordinary people on this conti-nent. They are now in the first vigorous formative growth of a new nation developed by a living principle, and that principle is reli-gious enthusiasm. Whatever wretched asso-ciations there may be connected with some of the forms and pretences identified with the early history of the Mormons, this principle is the sound leaven of their character. It is of the faith which "removes mountains."
We must not seek to identify always the principle with the accessories. The purest treasure of this kind, we are told, is committed to "earthen vessels." The charity which we allow to Heathendom, to Mussulmans, to sects nearer home, should cross the Mississippi. We tolerate communities of Shakers and respect their good deeds, honoring in them the motive; but the Mormons, with many of the peculiar virtues of the Shakers, appear cer-tainly a far more liberal and enlightened body.
The basis of their system seems to be a healthy love of industry with a certain com-munity of feeling. The individual is strength-ened by the mass. The most profitable in-vestment of labor is made by system and union. The order of their equipments on their long march secured the respect of the Indians, who preferred to attack less compact bodies. The captain over ten wagons obeyed a captain of fifty, who himself submitted to the ruler of a hundred or the High Council of the Church. At an encampment well ventilated squares and quadrangles were formed. The streets be-tween the outer rows of wagons were shaded with arbor-work for the shelter of invalids and the town promenade after the cheerful perse-vering toil which ruled the day. The mechani-cal genius which this sect possesses, secured by the handicraftsmen of the Eastern States and England, was constantly employed. A road four hundred leagues in length has been laid out through the Indian territory, says Mr. Kane, "with substantial well-built bridges, fit for the passage of heavy artillery, over all the streams, except a few great rivers, where they have established permanent ferries." These labors were encountered with the holiday spirit of the voluntary toils of children. "Every day closed as every day began, with an invocation of the Divine parent. They had the sort of strong stomached faith that is still found embalmed in sheltered spots of Catholic Italy and Spain, with the spirit of the believing or Dark Ages." In sickness and perils they were tried to the uttermost, but faith and charity bore them through.
Our author presents us with numerous cha-racteristic anecdotes, in picturesque terms. This is his account of the consecration of the Nauvoo temple on the approach of the threat-ened exile:
THE TEMPLE AT NAUVOO.
"The Mormons outside Nauvoo were indeed hard pressed; but inside the city they maintained themselves very well for two or three months longer. "Strange to say, the chief part of this respite was devoted to completing the structure of their quaintly devised but beautiful Temple. Since the dispersion of Jewry, probably, history affords us no parallel to the attachment of the Mormons for this edifice. Every architectural element, every most fantastic emblem it embodied, was associated, for them, with some cherished feature of their religion. Its erection had been enjoined upon them as a most sacred duty: they were proud of the honor it conferred upon their city, when it grew up in its splendor to become the chief object of the admira-tion of strangers upon the Upper Mississippi. Be-sides, they had built it as a labor of love; they could count up to half a million the value of their tithings and free-will offerings laid upon it. Hardly a Mormon woman had not given up to it some trinket or pin money. The poorest Mormon man had at least served the tenth part of his year on its walls; and the coarsest artisan could turn to it with something of the ennobling attachment of an artist for his fair creation. Therefore, though their enemies drove on them ruthlessly, they suc-ceeded in parrying the last sword-thrust, till they had completed even the gilding of the angel and trumpet on the summit of its lofty spire. As a closing work, they placed on the entablature of the front, like a baptismal mark on the forehead—
THE HOUSE OF THE LORD:
BUILT BY THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS.
HOLINESS TO THE LORD!" Then, at high noon, under the bright sunshine of May, the next only after its completion, they consecrated it to divine service. There was a carefully studied ceremonial for the occasion. It was said the high elders of the sect travelled fur-tively from the Camp of Israel in the Wilderness; and throwing off ingenious disguises, appeared in their own robes of holy office, to give it splendor.
"For that one day the Temple stood resplendent in all its typical glories of sun, moon, and stars, and other abounding figured and lettered signs, hieroglyphs, and symbols: but that day only. The sacred rites of consecration ended, the work of removing the sacrosancta proceeded with the rapidity of magic. It went on through the night; and when the morning of the next day dawned, all the ornaments and furniture, everything that could provoke a sneer, had been carried off; and except some fixtures that would not bear removal, the building was dismantled to the bare wall.
"It was this day saw the departure of the last elders, and the largest band that moved in one company together. The people of Iowa have told me, that from morning to night they passed westward like an endless procession. They did not seem greatly out of heart, they said; but, at the top of every hill, before they disappeared, were to be seen looking back, like banished Moors, on their abandoned home, and the far-seen Temple and its glittering spire."
A great agency in sustaining the emigrants was their band of music:
THE MORMON ORCHESTRA.
"Well as I knew the peculiar fondness of the Mormons for music, their orchestra in service on this occasion astonished me by its numbers and fine drill. The story was, that an eloquent Mormon missionary had converted its members in a body at an English town, a stronghold of the sect, and that they took up their trumpets, trombones, drums, and hautboys, together, and followed him to America.
"When the refugees from Nauvoo were hasten-ing to part with their table-ware, jewellery, and almost every other fragment of metal wealth they possessed that was not iron, they had never a thought of giving up the instruments of this favorite band. And when the battalion was enlisted, though high inducements were offered some of the performers to accompany it, they all refused. Their fortunes went with the Camp of the Taber-nacle. They had led the Farewell Service in the Nauvoo Temple. Their office was now to guide the monster choruses and Sunday hymns; and like the trumpets of silver made of a whole piece, 'for the calling of the assembly, and for the jour-neying of the camps,' to knoll the people into church. Some of their wind instruments, indeed, were uncommonly full and pure toned, and in that clear dry air could be heard to a great distance. It had the strangest effect in the world to listen to their sweet music winding over the uninhabited country. Something in the style of a Moravian death-tune blown at day-break, but altogether unique. It might be when you were hunting a ford over the Great Platte, the dreariest of all wild rivers, per-plexed among the far-reaching sand bars and cur-lew shallows of its shifting bed,—the wind rising would bring you the first faint thought of a melody; and, as you listened, borne down upon the gust that swept past you a cloud of the dry sifted sands, you recognised it—perhaps a home-loved theme of Henry Proch or Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn Bar-tholdy, away there in the Indian Marches!"
We get another glimpse of this Band on the Anniversary of the Pioneers' arrival in the Valley of Deseret, commemorated the 24th July, 1849 :—
"The Great Band was there too, that had helped their humble hymns through all the wan-derings of the Wilderness. Through the many trying marches of 1846, through the fierce winter ordeal that followed, and the long journey after over plain and mountain, it had gone unbroken, without the loss of any of its members. As they set out from England, and as they set out from Illinois, so they all came into the valley together, and together sounded the first glad notes of triumph when the Salt Lake City was founded. It was their right to lead the psalm of praise. Anthem, song, and dance, all the innocent and thankful frolic of the day owed them its chief zest. 'They never were in finer key.' "
Of the feeling of community, stronger than the love of life which sometimes ruled the Mormon, we have this graphic anecdote:—
THE PURSUER OF THE CAMP.
"I remember a signal instance of this at the Papillon Camp.
"It was that of a joyous-hearted clever fellow, whose songs and fiddle tunes were the life and de-light of Nauvoo in its merry days. I forget his story, and how exactly it fell about, that after a Mormon's full peck of troubles, he started alter us with his wife and little ones from some 'lying down place' in the Indian country, where he had contended with an attack of a serious malady. He was just convalescent, and the fatigue of marching on foot again with a child on his back, speedily brought on a relapse. But his anxiety to reach a place where he could expect to meet friends with shelter and food, was such that he only pressed on the harder. Probably for more than a week of the dog-star weather, he labored on un-der a high fever, walking every day till he was en-tirely exhausted.
"His limbs failed him then; but his courage holding out, he got into his covered cart on top of its freight of baggage, and made them drive him on, while he lay down. They could hardly be-lieve how ill he was, he talked on so cheerfully—‘I'm nothing on earth ailing but home-sick: I'm cured the very minute I get to camp and see the br thren.'
Not being able thus to watch his course, he lost his way, and had to regain it through a wretched tract of Low Meadow Prairie, where there were no trees to break the noon, nor water but what was ague-sweet or brackish. By the time he got back to the trail of the High Prairie, he was, in his own phrase, ‘pretty far gone.' Yet he was resolute in his purpose as ever, and to a party he fell in with, avowed his intention to be cured at the camp, ‘and nowhere else.' He even jested with them, comparing his jolting couch to a summer cot in a whitewashed cockloft. 'But I'll make them take me down,' he said, 'and give me a dip in the river when I get there. All I care for is to see the brethren.'
"His determined bearing rallied the spirit of his travelling household, and they kept on their way till he was within a few hours' journey of the camp. He entered on his last day's journey with the energy of increased hope.
"I remember that day well. For in the even-ing I mounted a tired horse to go a short errand, and in mere pity had to turn back before I had walked him a couple of hundred yards. Nothing seemed to draw life from the languid air but the clouds of gnats and stinging midges; and long after sundown it was so hot that the sheep lay on their stomachs panting, and the cattle strove to lap wind like hard fagged hunting dogs. In camp, I had spent the day in watching the invalids and the rest hunting the shade under the wagon bodies, and veering about them, like the shadows round the sun-dial. I know I thought myself wretched enough, to be of their company.
"Poor Merryman had all that heat to bear, with the mere pretence of an awning to screen out the sun from his close muslin cockloft.
"He did not fail till somewhere hard upon noon. He then began to grow restless to know accu-rately the distance travelled. He made them give him water, too, much more frequently; and when they stopped for this purpose, asked a number of obscure questions. A little after this he discover-ed himself that a film had come over his eyes. He confessed that this was discouraging; but said with stubborn resignation, that if denied to see the brethren, he still should hear the sound of their voices.
"After this, which was when he was hardly three miles from our camp, he lay very quiet, as if husbanding his strength; but when he had made, as is thought, a full mile further, being interrogated by the woman that was driving, whether she should stop, he answered her, as she avers, ‘No, no; go on!'
"The anecdote ends badly. They brought him in dead, I think about five o'clock of the after-noon. He had on his clean clothes; as he had dressed himself in the morning, looking forward to his arrival."
The Utah Chief, "Walker," is well pen-cilled:—
A GENTLEMAN INDIAN.
"If accounts are true, the Utahs are brave fel-lows. They differ obviously from the deceased nations, to whose estates we have taken it upon ourselves to administer. They ride strong, well-limbed Spanish horses, not ponies; bear well cut rifles, not shot-guns, across their saddle-bows; and are not without some idea of military discipline. They carry their forays far into the Mexican States, laying the inhabitants under contribution, and taking captive persons of condition, whom they hold to ransom. They are, as yet at least, little given to drink; some of them manifest con-siderable desire to acquire useful knowledge; and they are attached to their own infidel notions of religion, making long journeys to the ancient cities of the Colorado, to worship among the ruined temples there. The Soldan of these red Paynims, too, their great war chief, is not without his knightly graces. According to some of the Mor-mons, he is the paragon of Indians. His name, translated to diminish its excellence as an exercise in Prosody, is Walker. He is a fine figure of a man, in the prime of life. He excels in various manly exercises, is a crack shot, a rough rider, and a great judge of horse flesh.
"He is besides very clever, in our sense of the word. He is a peculiarly eloquent master of the graceful alphabet of pantomime, which stranger tribes employ to communicate with one another. He has picked up some English, and is familiar with Spanish and several Indian tongues. He rather affects the fine gentleman. When it is his pleasure to extend his riding excursions into Mex-ico, to inflict or threaten outrage, or to receive the instalments of his black mail salary, he will take offence if the poor people there fail to kill their fattest beeves, and adopt other measures to show him obsequious and distinguished attention. He has more than one black-eyed mistress there, according to his own account, to whom he makes love in her own language. His dress is a full suit of the richest broadcloth, generally brown, cut in European fashion, with a shining beaver hat, and fine cambric shirt. To these, he adds his own gaudy Indian trimmings, and in this way contrives, they say, to look superbly, when he rides at the head of his troop, whose richly caparisoned horses, with their embroidered saddles and harness, shine and tinkle as they prance under their weight of gay metal ornaments."
Such is Mr. Kane's picture of the modern exodus. It is followed by an enthusiastic ac-count of "the most wonderful prosperity" of Deseret. We cannot pursue the unexampled detail. Its history lies before us in the daily newspapers, in every record of good deeds to the California emigrants. An appendix vindi-cates the Mormon character from idle slanders, and guarantees the good faith and principles of the present leaders, Governor Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Secretary Wil-lard Richards.
Here are materials for study and reflection. In the rapid movement of the last few years, this Mormon problem has been overlooked; but it now rises before us demanding solution. It is a strange story of domestic manners, of religious fanaticism, of a want of the times to these Mormons, both social and religious; and, if we go back to the first period of its dismal persecutions and alleged corruptions in Illinois, a sad reckoning of frontier crimes and evils, over which civilization makes its pathway of glorious progress—and at what cost?
But at every stage of Mormon development we are deficient in information. The subject has attracted far too little attention. Passing before our eyes almost, we are less informed of this movement than of the foreign internal or international difficulties of European states, or of past events, which are comparatively matters of idle curiosity. Mr. Kane's address is an important contribution, and well calcu-lated to stimulate inquiry; but enough remains to be done. To western rulers, and to the officers of our western army, we may look for an authentic, dispassionate review of the events which have passed before them. The sources of Mormon influence must be sought in the social history of England, and what is worthy in the system be sifted from the chicanery and corruptions, the miserable pretensions of the spiritual founders of this creed.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.