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Section 3, Chapter 6 -Mormon Settlement of Southeastern Idaho

Chapter 6:
Brigham Young and the State of Deseret
The "Utah War" and Johnston's Army
Mormon Settlement of Idaho
The Effects of the Civil War in Eastern Idaho
Polygamy and anti-Mormon Laws
  Edmonds-Tucker Act and Idaho Test Oath
   State Boundaries
   The Cities of Zion
   Mormons in Idaho Politics

The Southern Boundary of Idaho

Map showing the borders of the State of Deseret as proposed by the Mormon leaders of Utah in 1849, (after Morgan, 1987).

Brigham Young and the State of Deseret
The Mormon Pioneers, led by Brigham Young to Utah in 1847, were Millennialists who believed the world would soon end. They saw themselves as establishing the new Zion, where they would live in prosperity and autonomy during the prophesied destruction of the rest of godless humanity. The Lord had revealed to them via prophet Joseph Smith that they were God's Chosen People and that the national government was corrupt. From 1847 to 1894 there was recurring political conflict over the issue of whether the Saints were in control of their chosen land of Zion or whether their State of Deseret (or Utah) was subject to external governance from Washington D.C.

The early Mormon leaders were articulate and inspiring writers.

"We have no business but to build up the kingdom of God, and preserve it and ourselves in it. Whether it is ploughing, sowing, harvesting, building, going into the canyon, or whatever it is we do, it is all within the pale of the kingdom of God, to forward his cause on the earth, to redeem and build up his Zion, and prepare ourselves." -Brigham Young, December27, 1857, quoted in Swetnam (1991, p. 7):

"The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but to him that endures faithful to the end." -Joseph F. Smith, September 30, 1877, paraphrasing Ecclesiastes, quoted in Swetnam, (1991, p. 57).

The Provisional State of Deseret was organized by the Mormon Church in 1849. It covered most of the Great Basin and Colorado River drainage basin. It extended on the east to the Continental Divide, and on the west to the Sierra Nevada and to what is now Los Angeles and San Diego. It demonstrated the grand scale with which the Mormon leaders thought and the unrestrained ambition with which they planned for the future.

The Mormons hoped that two states, Deseret and California, would be admitted to the union following the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In this treaty, ending the Mexican War, Mexico ceded what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and Utah to the United States. The State of Deseret was proposed to Congress first in 1849, and three times further in the next 30 years, but the concept of a state organized and run by the Mormon Church was offensive to many Americans.

California was admitted as a state in 1850. In 1851 the Territory (rather than the State) of Utah, which consisted of most of the central and eastern parts of Deseret, was established by Congress. Brigham Young became territorial governor. The choice of the name Utah, commemorating an Indian tribe the Mormons disparaged, was symbolic of the defeat of the Mormons' goals.

The State of Deseret lived on past its official death in 1851 in the Mormon way of life and the Mormon aspiration for home rule. Deseret lingered until the 1880s as a ghost state, with an active legislature (generally the same one that governed the Territory of Utah) that convened directly after the Utah legislature had adjourned. The "Deseret News" is the most visible remnant of the name which meant "honey bee" and was the symbol of the organized, patriarchal, communal system established by the Mormon apostles and pioneers. In many ways the validity of the concept of Deseret is demonstrated in the economic success of Utah and the worldwide expansion of the Mormon religion in the last 100 years.

The "Utah War" and Johnston's Army
Driven by faith and well-supplied with the arrogance of God's Chosen People, Brigham Young and the twelve Mormon Apostles chose not to believe that the nationally mandated territory of Utah would stand. During the 1850s, the refusal by the Mormon leaders to accept the sovereignty of the United States government was seen by many national politicians as a manifestation of disloyalty to the U.S. similar to that being spawned in the secessionist movement of the South.

In 1857-58, a Federal army, led by Colonel A.S. Johnston, and commissioned by President Buchanan, was sent to Utah to establish control over the Mormons. Such an occupation, though certainly politically motivated, was not totally unprovoked. The early Mormons were zealous and proud of it; laws of the United States were sometimes held in disrespect; violent crimes against Gentiles (non-Mormons) were not uncommon. Perhaps the worst offense was the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857 in which a party of Gentile pioneers was decimated by Mormons in southern Utah.

The outcome of the occupation by Johnston's army was death of any reality of the lingering Mormon State of Deseret. Many of the far-flung Mormon settlements, from San Bernardino to Malad City, were abandoned in 1857, as the Saints retreated back to Utah. Salt Lake City was evacuated for a time and Brigham Young threatened to burn it to the ground rather than see it occupied by a "foreign army." In the end, the U.S. government peaceably imposed Governor Alfred Cumming on Utah.

The master plans of the Mormon settlers were elegant and noble. Brigham Young sent these instructions to the new Idaho communities:

"You are commencing anew, the soil, the air, the water are all pure and healthy. Do not suffer them to become polluted...Strive to preserve the elements from becoming contaminated... Keep your valleys pure, keep your towns pure, keep your hearts pure, and labor as hard as you can without injuring yourselves... Build cities, adorn your habitats, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labours you may do so with pleasure, and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations... Your work is to beautify the face of the earth, until it shall become like the Garden of Eden." (Quoted in Arrington, 1979, p. 46).

Mormon Settlement of Idaho
There were six stages of Mormon settlement of present-day Idaho. In 1855, a preliminary settlement was attempted at Limhi (lemhi) between present-day Leadore and Salmon. Fort Limhi was abandoned in 1858, because of Indian hostilities and as part of the retrenchment of Mormon expansion due to Johnston's army. A rush of migrants to Cache Valley occurred in 1860, after the occupation of Salt Lake City by Johnston's army. Franklin was founded in that year. In 1863, migration recurred, this time from Cache Valley to Bear Lake Valley, led by Mormon apostle Charles C. Rich. Within two years 16 separate communities had been founded. The fourth settlement group began in 1873 in what is now Cassia County and resulted in the founding of Elba, Almo, Albion and Oakley. In 1879, large groups moved from Cache Valley into the Upper Snake River Valley. Eleven different communities were settled, including Rexburg, Menan, Salem, and Teton. Finally in the 1940s, and 1950s,  farmers (mormon and otherwise) migrated to the north side of the Snake River following the opening of reclamation projects in the Rupert and Emmett areas.

The Effects of the Civil War in Eastern Idaho
Many Mormons viewed the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 as the confirmation of Joseph Smith's prophecy that the national government was going to fall. The Mormon reluctance to support the Union was met during the war by U.S. Army opposition to Mormon expansion. The California Volunteers, led by Colonel Patrick E. Connor, were sent to Utah to keep watch on the Mormons when regular armed troops went east to serve in the Civil War. Connor hated Indians and to get even for Indian raids on white farmers and for raids on Oregon Trail emigrants, especially at Massacre Rocks along the Snake in the fall of 1862, his army massacred a large band of Shoshoni at Battle Creek north of Preston in January, 1863. This attack was partly designed to open up settlement of the area to non-Mormons (including the Morrisites, who were Mormon apostates), although it had the effect of allowing the Mormon population room to expand also.

The attitude of hostility toward Native Americans was not shared by Brigham Young and the Mormon settlers at least during initial settlement. Brigham noted that it was "manifestly more economical, and less expensive to feed and clothe (the Indians), than to fight them". He urged his followers to treat them with Christian values and respect:

" just and quiet, firm and patient and benevolent, generous and watchful in all your intercourse with them; learn their language so that you can explain matters to them and pay them the full and just reward for their labor, and treat them in all respects as you would like to be treated" (madsen, 1980, p. 30).