The Coming of the Mormons - Jim Kjelgaard - E-Book

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Jim Kjelgaard

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A fascinating readable history about the reasons why the Mormons migrated to the West and how they settled Utah.

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The Coming of the Mormons 

by Jim Kjelgaard

First published in 1953

This edition published by Reading Essentials

Victoria, BC Canada with branch offices in the Czech Republic and Germany

[email protected]

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, except in the case of excerpts by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

The Coming of the Mormons

by

JIM KJELGAARD

1. Trouble In Illinois

In the pleasant city of Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, as they are more commonly known, sat alone in his study. His gentle face was heavy [Pg 4]with worry and his eyes were filled with unshed tears.

Only an hour before a courier had brought more bad news. Thomas Watley, a Mormon farmer who lived three miles from Nauvoo, lay dead in his dooryard with a bullet hole through his head. His home was in ashes. His wife and children were being brought into Nauvoo, where they hoped to find a refuge.

Joseph Smith brushed a hand across his face, and only made more clear the sorrow written there. It was not pity for himself that he felt, or concern for himself. This man, born to be a leader of other men, grieved for all who had fallen like Thomas Watley. He grieved for all the hardships that the Mormons had endured on the long, hard trail that had finally brought them to the banks of the Mississippi.

It had been a dismal, difficult journey that long ago would have broken the hearts of a people less determined and less courageous. Starting in Joseph Smith's boyhood home, the hamlet of Palmyra, New York, it had led to Kirtland, Ohio. From there the Mormons' deter[Pg 5]mination to think and to worship as they saw fit had taken them to Independence, Missouri.

Finally the trail had led back to Nauvoo, and along all of it there had been no peace for the Mormons. Always they had been hated and persecuted.

It was a time of great religious activity, with the various faiths loudly disagreeing with each other. Joseph Smith's claim that he had been visited by Divine Personages was received with great scorn. More abuse was heaped upon him when he declared that he had been visited again, this time by the Angel Moroni. According to Smith, the Angel Moroni revealed to him both the hiding place of the golden plates upon which was written The Book of Mormon and the means for translating them. This roused believers in other faiths to mighty anger.

Joseph Smith, deep in thought, stared at the window of his study and did not even see it.

In the East, the Mormons were persecuted and despised largely because of their religious be[Pg 6]liefs. But what they had suffered in the East was as nothing to what they met on the supposedly free American frontier.

Few Mormons had ever voluntarily harmed, or wanted to harm, anyone. Yet, the evil reputation that had attached itself to them in the East had not only followed them to the West but, like a snowball rolling downhill, had increased all out of proportion. Joseph Smith thought of the reasons for this.

The frontier was a place where almost the only law lay in the rifle a man held in his hands or the pistol at his belt. With the exception of the Mormons, a fair proportion of the people in Illinois were eagerly sought by law authorities elsewhere. Such people could, and would, do anything at all. Then, after they had robbed, pillaged, or even murdered, they said, "A Mormon did it." Because the Mormons already had a bad reputation, few people even listened to anything they said in their own defense.

The Mormons believed in industry and thrift.[Pg 7] They had bought the land where Nauvoo now stood when all others considered it only a malaria-infested swamp. They had drained the swamps, cut the forests, and built a city. By far the most modern and most progressive city on the frontier, Nauvoo was three times the size of struggling Chicago. Border roughnecks who were too lazy to build for themselves wanted to take, by force, what the Mormons had created by hard work.

The Mormons were still hated for their religion, which many ill-informed people considered heathenish. Certain politicians feared the massed strength of the Mormons and the collective votes they could command. Partly because the Mormons did not believe in slavery, Missouri's governor, L. W. Boggs, had given them three days to get out of Missouri. Otherwise, they would be turned over to the mob that was howling for their blood. They had been able to take with them only such goods as their ox-or mule-drawn wagons would hold.[Pg 8]

During the fighting in Missouri, Joseph Smith himself and his brother, Hyrum, had been imprisoned. Joseph and Hyrum had been sentenced to death, but they had escaped their guards and made their way to Nauvoo.

Joseph Smith rested his strong chin in his right hand.

Beyond any doubt, the Mormons themselves were to blame for a part of their troubles. There were a certain few among them who were unable to restrain boastful tongues. The Mormons, they said, would inherit the earth. Was not that the word of their Prophet, Joseph Smith? (It mattered not to them that they had misinterpreted the word, for Joseph Smith had never believed, or taught, that the Mormons were destined to rule the earth. Furthermore, he had always taught tolerance for all people.) It could not help arousing more antagonism when a Mormon told his neighbor, who might not be a Mormon, that he would not have his farm very[Pg 9] long because the Mormons were going to get everything.

Finally, among the Mormons there were a number of men who were as hot-headed as anyone else on the border. They would not run from or even try to avoid a fight, but were just as willing to battle their neighbors as the neighbors were to fight them. Joseph Smith himself, seeing his family in danger, would have defended them to the best of his ability and with whatever weapons were at hand.

Again the great sorrow, the all-enfolding sympathy, crept over his face. But it was still not sorrow for himself or sympathy for himself. In all his life this man, strong enough to found a completely new religion and to make it thrive in the face of increasing persecution, had never had a single thought for himself.

From the beginning he had hoped for peace for his people, not the constant war which so far had been their lot. He had sought to lead[Pg 10] the Mormons to peace in New York, in Ohio, in Missouri, and finally, here in Illinois. Apparently peace was hard to find.

Joseph Smith set his jaw and fire glowed in his eyes. He had brought the Mormons this far and he would lead them farther. Never once was there thought of abandoning hope or of surrendering to the enemy. Joseph Smith wrapped himself a little more deeply in the blanket of thought that was about him.

"Take your people to the Rocky Mountains."

Joseph Smith sat up, and for a moment he was startled. He looked about the study. He was alone; there was no one present except himself. Had someone spoken, or had the words arisen from the depths of his own mind? He could see no one, yet he was sure that he had heard clearly.

His troubled mind was suddenly at peace. There was no more questioning, no more soul-searching. He knew, at last, what the Mormons must do and where they must go. To be sure, the Rocky Mountains, and almost everything[Pg 11] else west of the Missouri, was a wilderness. However, by this time some 200 wagons and at least 2,000 settlers had started for the free, fertile lands of the Oregon territory.

The Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains composed the Dark Land. Even so great a man as Daniel Webster, lecturing in the halls of the United States Congress, had pronounced it waste and desert, fit only for wild beasts and savages; the less the United States had to do with it, the better off they would be. And Daniel Webster was not alone in such thoughts.

The West was vaguely known as Oregon, The Great Basin, California. It was a place where no sane man would go by himself, to say nothing of taking with him thousands of men, women, and children, as well as cattle, horses, wagons, seeds, plows, and the numerous other possessions they would need just to keep alive.

Nevertheless, Joseph Smith was happy and he no longer had any doubt. If the Mormons could not live in the United States, and experience had[Pg 12] proven that they could not, they would leave.

Joseph Smith left his study and went to the meeting place of the twelve apostles, the twelve men who were highest in the councils of the Mormon Church. He looked fondly at the twelve. Some of them, notably Heber Kimball and Brigham Young, had been with him almost from the start. Of all the twelve, Brigham Young, who had once walked two hundred and fifty miles through mud and snow to carry Joseph Smith's word to others, was probably nearest his heart. Joseph Smith spoke to the twelve officials.

"We will find our Zion," he said, "in the Rocky Mountains."

And the twelve, who had never known this man to speak falsely to them or to anyone else, believed.

Joseph Smith was never to lead his people to their Promised Land. Never once had the Mormons successfully appealed to duly-constituted[Pg 14] officials for protection of either their persons or their property. In 1844 the Mormons decided that they themselves must fill some posts of authority. They would run Joseph Smith for President of the United States, and use every lawful means in their power to elect him. Some two hundred and fifty Mormon officials, including Brigham Young, went forth to campaign for their beloved leader.

While they were away, Thomas Ford, the Governor of Illinois, caused Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and other leading Mormons, to be arrested and placed in the jail at Carthage, Illinois. On June 27, 1844, a mob of ruffians stormed the jail, and Joseph and Hyrum Smith died in the hail of bullets that were shot into the structure.

[Pg 15]

2. A New Leader

When their leaders were murdered, ten of the apostles were in various parts of the East to do all they could to help elect Joseph Smith to the Presidency. There were no telephone, telegraph, radio, or even any trains that were dependable. Therefore, messages were slow.[Pg 16]

Brigham Young and Orson Pratt, an Elder of the Mormon Church, were in the East when the terrible news reached them.

By trade Brigham Young was a carpenter and glazier. His entire formal education consisted of exactly eleven days in school. Although more schooling would have helped Brigham Young, he was by nature such a strong, forceful, and intelligent man, that lack of education could not keep him from rising to high places. Like Joseph Smith, he was a born leader.

He had allied himself with the Mormons for the same reason that any sincere person devotes his time and energies to any cause. He believed in Mormonism with his heart and soul. Already he had accomplished miracles as a Mormon missionary, making at least one trip to England, and never had he received so much as one penny for this work. Always he had depended on his own resources to support himself and to raise money for the cause he was trying to further.