Polly Aird and William MacKinnon are both award winning authors in Mormon History. This post was pulled together between them to highlight an interesting never before published document.
William P. MacKinnon, in a recent review of Polly Aird’s book, Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector: A Scottish Immigrant in the American West, 1848-1861 (Arthur H. Clark Company, an imprint of the University of Oklahoma Press, 2009), brings to light a previously unknown 1858 letter from an army quartermaster to U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas about the number of Mormons wishing to leave Utah Territory but not having the means. [n1] Quoting from Bill’s review:
In the summer of 1859 Peter McAuslan, part of his extended family, and a group of some forty other families left Utah heading west on the northern route [to California]. Although their fearful departure was not quite under cover of darkness, Aird argues that it is the only known instance of the U.S. Army providing an escort for religious refugees.
Although Aird’s book does not discuss it, there were U.S. Army officers in Utah who advocated without success a more active role for the military in helping potential refugees like the McAuslans to flee Mormonism. Take, for example, the following unpublished letter written in November 1858 by U.S. Army quartermaster Parmenas Taylor Turnley to Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s committee on the territories. Here Captain Turnley by-passed the military chain of command to urge directly that Douglas introduce legislation in Congress to permit army quartermaster and commissary officers to furnish destitute Utah apostates with draft animals and rations sufficient to enable them to reach the Missouri River. The next spring the McAuslans would exit Utah heading in the opposite direction, but the thrust of Turnley’s unsuccessful proposal was to replicate for eastbound departees the very sort of aid that would facilitate a head start for Peter and his family in their 1859 flight to California. In the course of making his case to Douglas, this obviously irate quartermaster shed light on the societal pressures and atmosphere catalytic to the McAuslan family’s decision to depart Utah.
CAP. P.T. TURNLEY, Salt Lake City,
To SEN. STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS,
16 NOVEMBER, 18581 [n2]
I am constantly in receipt of letters from various persons (Mormons in this Territory) saying they are desirous of leaving this country and leaving the Mormon church, also that they have been desirous of so doing for several years past, and have made the attempt, but have always been prevented by reason of the Church claims on them for their emigration expenses out here being unsettled their outfit of wagons, oxen & Provision have been levied on by the Church officers—which, of course so crippled the parties that they could not move. I am now informed that over five thousand desire to move from this Territory, back to the Eastern states when the season opens next summer. But, they are fearful to open their mouths at present, yet they make inquiries as to the possibility of getting help either from the Government, or Individuals. I have promised more than fifty of these people that I would address a letter to you asking you to bring forward a resolution authorizing the Quarter Masters Department to furnish them the teams necessary, and the subsistence Department to furnish the subsistence absolutely required to enable them to reach the Missouri river. Many of them are in the most abject state of poverty, while, at the same time they are indebted to the Church for their emigration here, as well as their subsistence since then. The power of this church is ter[r]ific. It works secretly—and with certainty. It has unbounded money power, too, and keeps in its service (as well in the old states and in Europe) as here, many men of power and influence. It is not a thing of a day, nor of a year. This Mormon subject has yet to be dealt with by the people of the United States; and it is a fearful power, far exceeding in importance anything that has ever sprung up on this continent. It is a subject that must be taken hold of soon, for it involves every thing we regard most sacred. One half of the human family are utterly deprived of every right. I mean the women; and yet their attachment to it—tho not universal—is still surprising. Scarce a man I meet on the street that has not from 3 to 8 wives—living in different parts of the city—some live out on country farms. These women are visited weekly by the Bishop of their Ward who announces the duties, and proclaims the anathamas on the derilect. All that are cut off from the church are first required to make an assignment to the church of all their property—which is invariably done, while they are yet ignorant of their fate. Now, I am constantly in receipt of definite and reliable information concerning these people, and the tremendous power of this “Theocracy” over their minds and their means, and I tell you of a truth that our people at home are in utter ignorance of the true state of affairs. (The Governor here, must be, beyond a doubt entirely committed to the influence of this church; this is strictly private) Old Mr. [William I.] Appleby—who has been for two years on a mission to N. York city engaged publishing the “Mormon” [newspaper]—lately arrived—with some 30 converts 20 of whom are females and yesterday he took one of them sweet 17 to alter [the altar] in Marriage! This in the presence of his true wife & 4 grown children! Now, Appleby & his wife were from & raised in New Jersey, within 20 miles of Phila! Mrs A. says but little, but is distressed out of mind, and fear only keeps her quiet.
I enclose a letter out of dozens to me, from seceding Mormons who wish to leave. You can see what he says, I enclose you also a scrap (by accident torn up) of the “Mormon” published in N. York. It has devoted its columns to you, for some time past, and I send it to you that you may know there is such a sheet in the great Metropolis.
I believe, if a little aid is given to the poor here, they would all leave the Territory for their old homes in the states.
[P.S., written across top of first page:] I send you our newly started paper “Valley Tan”, the first anti-Mormon paper ever permitted in this valley, and this would be cured at once, if the Troops were not here.
- “A Violent Bump in the Road: To California from Scotland via Utah Territory,” The California Territorial Quarterly, Spring 2012.
- Box 22, Folder 3, Stephen A. Douglas Papers, 1764-1908, Special Collections Research Center, The University of Chicago Library, Chicago, Illinois.