Dear Mr. Kelly,
Considering your recent comments about Mormons (whom you describe as “morons” and “buffoons”), I thought you might be interested in a recent visit I made to Martin’s Cove, Wyoming. The Cowboy State may not seem to have much in common with Paisley, but the vicissitudes of history can surprise us. I hope a brief glimpse of a tragic tale might temper your feelings about the Mormon faith.
Late in the summer of 1856, a group of around 500 Mormons left Iowa bound for Utah. By October they had reached central Wyoming, too late to avoid the onset of the harsh Wyoming winter. With heavy snow making it impossible to continue on to Salt Lake City, this little company of Mormons sought refuge in Martin’s Cove. Here are the words of one of this unfortunate band:
We found a small ravine since named Martin’s Ravine. Here we made our camp in a clump of willows that grew close together. We settled down as we could not go on farther. We must wait for help or death must come to us. Few of us cared which. In the morning to add to our suffering a heavy snow had fallen upon us. We had camped in a circle so we did not know which way to go or from which we had come. Here we were lost, starving, and buried in two feet of snow. Three days we lived through this…In the morning there were thirteen dead and two more died during the day. While we were preparing to go on, the dead were gathered and placed in one large grave.
I recently visited Martin’s Cove. Had you been there 150 years ago you would have recognised their accents — Scottish, Mancunian, West Country — as the party were largely emigrants from the British Isles. The woman who wrote this terrible account was from Manchester. To the east of Martin’s Cove, another pioneer company also faced disaster. One of their number, James Kirkwood, was from Glasgow. He carried his crippled brother to the camp. When the two finally arrived, James collapsed and died from exposure and over-exertion.
What, beyond the cruel Plains’ winter, caused this disaster? Historians note that these British Mormons left Liverpool (and consequently Iowa) too late to avoid the onset of winter. But there is something more central to this tragedy that should give us pause. These British Mormons earnestly desired a sanctuary to practice their beliefs — a promised land — but their people had continually been forced west. In Missouri, the governor ordered the Mormons to leave or face “extermination”; in Illinois, their prophet was gunned-down, their promised land shattered. The hatred of a few, and the ambivalence of the many, who, dare I say it, thought the Mormons members of a “buffoonish” religion, conspired to bring about a tragic episode of ethnic cleansing. And so the Mormons fled the United States, finding refuge in the Rocky Mountains. But first they had to cross the Plains.
And so it was that in 1856, in Martin’s Cove, many British Mormons faced starvation and death. Many did not survive the snows.
I am a Mormon and, like you, I am a Briton. I do not share some of the conservative social views of my co-religionists, and you are right that the Mormons — like many people of faith — have at times visited their own prejudices on others. History requires us, however, to learn from the mistakes of the past, and your comments do injustice to the sincere faith of a sad group of our compatriots who suffered, cold and alone, at Martin’s Cove.