Review: The Mormon Rebellion

Guest reviewer Polly Aird is an independent historian, and winner of the Ella Turner-Ella Bergera Best Biography Award for her Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector. She is currently serving on the editorial board of the Journal of Mormon History. We welcome her review of this recently released volume.

David L. Bigler and Will Bagley. The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-1858 Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011. 384 pp., illustrations, map, notes, bibliography, index. Hardcover: $34.95; ISBN: 9780806141350

Authors David L. Bigler and Will Bagley make a comment in the preface that is likely to raise LDS eyebrows:

Not until the events of 11 September 2001 did we fully realize the present need for a balanced and accurate reinterpretation of this forgotten struggle [the Utah War]. The United States finds itself engaged in a battle with theocrats, engaging fanatics who are much more dangerous and perhaps even more committed than the religious rulers who had imposed what President James Buchanan called ‘a strange system of terrorism’ on the people of Utah Territory. . . . We hope that some good will come from an honest look at the Utah rebellion of 1857-58, and at the problems the American republic faced and the mistakes it made when it first wrestled with theocracy (xi).

The misreading here, of course, would be to think the authors are comparing radical Muslims with mid-nineteenth-century Mormons. No, what they are saying is that 9/11 came out of virulent fanaticism and, in not dissimilar fashion, the Utah War came out of an uncompromising Mormon theocracy that climaxed in a frightening and dangerous way.

From this opening, Bigler and Bagley review the theocracy instituted by Joseph Smith which led to conflicts in Missouri and Illinois, and those battles in turn to the Utah War. This new millennial-minded religion found it could not live peacefully with its neighbors, and the reason was not simply the oft-repeated story of the persecution of God’s people. The authors show that it was much more complicated and related to the Mormon beliefs of how the Lord intended them to live. In every way, those beliefs clashed with those of their neighbors. Instead of the typical frontier homesteading approach to land ownership, the Mormons saw the land as belonging to the Lord as revealed to Joseph Smith in the plan for the City of Zion, “a place of refuge prior to the Lord’s imminent arrival and a place of peace and divine rule afterward. In the meantime, however, the concept was coercive and hostile toward neighboring landowners, who depended on their property to survive”(13). Although the City of Zion plan was never carried out in Missouri or even Illinois, it served as the inspiration for future city and town development in Utah.

Bigler and Bagley continue, “If the Mormons’ early beliefs about landownership made nearby residents uneasy and nervous, their doctrines regarding American Indians made their frontier neighbors’ hair stand on end” (13). Joseph Smith believed that the American Indians, the Lamanites, would join their Mormon brothers in building the Kingdom of God. Reaffirming this idea in 1857, Brigham Young instructed one of his trusted men to tell the Indians “that if they permit our enemies to kill us they will kill them also” and that the Indians and the Mormon faithful will both “be needed to carry on the work of the last days” (14). Other sources of clashes between the Mormons and their neighbors came from the Mormon view of revealed law versus “man’s law,” the organization of a large militia, bloc voting, and Smith’s announcement of his intent to run for U.S. president.

Before leading the pioneer company west, Young and the Council of the Twelve issued a proclamation “that displayed how little they had learned from the Mormon wars in Missouri and Illinois” (23) and that made the conflict in Utah predictable. The authors write, “This remarkable document sets forth the revolutionary beliefs that compelled an expansionist millennial movement to establish divine rule prior to Christ’s return and to do so within their own lifetimes” (23). Along with President James Buchanan’s 1858 report to Congress, Bigler and Bagley see this proclamation “as the most important source on the causes of the Mormon rebellion. Yet it is also the most ignored” (23).

The Gold Rush of 1849 and the purchase of most of the American Southwest from Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the isolation that Brigham Young had sought. The Mormons found themselves squatters on federal land. President Buchanan wrote, “You have settled upon territory which lies geographically in the heart of the Union. The land you live upon was purchased by the United States and paid for out of their treasury. The proprietary right and title to it is in them, and not in you” (31). Here was a frontal threat to divine land ownership. Year after year, Young directed efforts toward Washington, D.C., to create Utah as a government independent of the U.S.—a sovereign state or an independent entity. In addition Young and the territorial legislature made illegal any law based on legal precedent or on common law, for “in a society where perfect justice was divinely revealed, one did not place one’s trust in manmade law” (48).

The background of how Mormon millennialist thinking shaped the actions of the church leaders distinguishes The Mormon Rebellion from other treatments of the Utah War and gives a framework for understanding the events that took place. William P. MacKinnon’s At Sword’s Point, Part 1 (2008), a documentary history of the Utah War, divides its coverage almost equally between the federal government and the Mormons. The Mormon Rebellion, on the other hand, confines its focus primarily to the Mormon side of the story, thereby adding depth to that part of MacKinnon’s account. And it is well to point out that the history of this period involved beliefs that no longer take precedence in Mormon thought.

After setting the theological stage of Mormon belief at the time, Bigler and Bagley delve into the incidents leading up to the actual conflict, which are likewise covered in MacKinnon’s volume: the “runaway” federal appointees who reported fear for their lives and frustrations at not being able to carry out their duties; Young’s efforts to forge alliances with Indian tribes; the Mormon crusade in Congress to establish independence; policies to increase the population and thereby qualify for statehood (Perpetual Emigrating Fund, handcart scheme, polygamy, and falsifying the 1850 federal census); and the start of the Reformation. “Affronted by Washington’s hostility [to the Mormon wish to be independent], Young crossed the Rubicon and moved to fulfill this vision. On 14 September [1856] he touched off a fiery revival . . . to sanctify the body of Israel and present to the Lord a righteous people worthy of divine favor in the impending conflict with the American republic, which he foresaw and even encouraged” (91).

Chapter 5 on the Reformation, chapter 7 on the Mountain Meadows massacre, and chapter 14 on the efforts of U.S. Judge John Cradlebaugh to bring the perpetrators of the massacre and other crimes to justice are particularly succinct and illuminating. Although much of this ground will be familiar to the readers of By Common Consent, a few items will be of particular interest: First, the authors have modified the position Bagley took in his The Blood of the Prophets (2002) about the September 1, 1857, meeting of Brigham Young with the Indian chiefs from the south. Whereas previously Bagley wrote that when Young promised emigrant cattle to the chiefs, they rushed south and were the Indians involved in the massacre, in The Mormon Rebellion, Bigler and Bagley conclude that “whether any of the Indians who met with Young in Salt Lake were on hand six days later at Mountain Meadows to fire the opening volley is uncertain” (171).

Secondly, did William H. Dame or Isaac C. Haight have orders from Salt Lake City’s religious leaders? Bigler and Bagley quote emigrant George Powers who met Col. Dame on Wednesday, September 9, and asked why he did not rescue the Fancher and Baker trains. Dame answered that he “could go out and take them away in safety, but he dared not; he dared not disobey counsel” (174). Since Dame and Haight were the senior priesthood authorities in southern Utah, the authors see this as evidence that they had orders, perhaps from George A. Smith, the most recent apostle with whom they had met. Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Glen M. Leonard, authors of Massacre at Mountain Meadows (2008), give this same quotation but interpret the counsel Dame referred to as the decision of the Parowan council on Monday night to help only if the emigrants should call for assistance (Walker, Turley, and Leonard, 176).

Bigler and Bagley raise an important question in regard to the frantic horseback ride of James Haslam to ask Brigham Young what should be done about the Arkansas emigrants: “Why did southern Utah’s leaders not wait for his orders to arrive? The emigrants trapped at Mountain Meadows were not going anywhere. What made it imperative to kill them rather than wait for Haslam’s return with the purported orders? These men acted as if they already had their orders and hesitated to delay in executing them” (174). Walker, Turley, and Leonard do not address this question directly, but suggest that Haight made the fatal decision to finish off the Arkansas companies to cover up the initial attacks, for if the remaining emigrants reached California and told what had happened, there would be retribution indeed for the Mormons (Walker, Turley, and Leonard, 179, 189). Bigler and Bagley also refer to Juanita Brooks’s Mountain Meadows Massacre (1950) in which she quoted Charles Adams, later bishop of Parowan, who remembered as a teenager when he was preparing the horses for the men leaving the council on early Thursday morning that Dame said, “I don’t care what the council decided. My orders are that the emigrants must be done away with” (Brooks, 80). Walker, Turley, and Leonard do not include this quotation in their book.

Other salient parts of the volume include the authors’ description of Young’s plan to move his people north, possibly to Vancouver Island or even Alaska. The Indian attack on Fort Limhi on the Salmon River put an abrupt end to such thoughts and made Young realize that not all the Lamanites would join forces with them. The effects of Young’s declaration of martial law on September 15, 1857, is also well portrayed. The law forbade travel through the western center of the country without a permit from Young himself. “If Young had wanted to start a war, this was a sure way to do it. By his action, a territory with a population of not over forty thousand had virtually cut in half a nation of more than thirty million” (149).

The authors give their due to Brigham Young and the Mormons:

The stalwarts who made up what they called “The Camp of Israel” were almost all as remarkable as their formidable leader. They were mostly farmers, but the band included architects, blacksmith, carpenters, mathematicians, musicians, former Indian agents, politicians, potters, printers, slaves, and wagonwrights. They came from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and virtually every state in the Union. Men of such caliber were responsible for the success of the Latter-day Saints in settling the Great Basin, where they founded and built more than three hundred villages, towns, and cities. As far as possible in a harsh and arid region where only 4 percent of the land was arable, they made “the desert blossom as a rose.” Brigham Young was one of the greatest leaders in American history, but such men and woman formed the bedrock of his astonishing success: without them, he could have accomplish nothing (26).

When it came to the skill of the Utah militia, the authors write, “Adding to the Mormons’ advantage of terrain was the quality of officers and men in the Nauvoo Legion. Some of them had marched two thousand miles in 1846 from Fort Leavenworth to Los Angeles as members of the Mormon Battalion to occupy Mexico’s northernmost province during the War with Mexico. What most lacked in military training, they made up for in leadership skills gained from building settlements and leading closely organized overland companies to Salt Lake Valley, some from as far away as Denmark. They knew the land they defended and were hardened to the conditions it imposed” (192).

Bigler and Bagley write that Brigham Young’s loyalty “first, last, and always, was to God’s Kingdom, the theocratic system Joseph Smith had envisioned as a prerequisite of Christ’s return in the latter days, which were then at hand.” Young believed “that the U.S. Constitution was inspired by God to prepare a land of religious freedom where His kingdom would be established as an earthly entity that would supersede all other earthly realms within Young’s lifetime” (356). As the authors point out earlier in the book, “Prior to the millennium, a theocracy, ruled by God from the heavens above, cannot live within a democratic republic, governed by its people from earth below, without civil warfare. By nature, the two governing systems are incompatible and cannot exit side by side, or one within the other, without conflict” (8-9). The authors conclude that “The death of Brigham Young brought to a close a thirty-year struggle to establish the primacy of God’s Kingdom over the United States and all earthly realms as a condition of the return of Joseph Smith with Jesus Christ. . . It was always his [Young’s] war. . . . Instead he went to his death believing that he would lead his people back to Missouri and live to see Smith return with Jesus Christ” (362-63).

Altogether, this is a remarkable book, one I highly recommend. I do have a few quibbles, however: The index should have been more comprehensive and has led me to note all kinds of additional entries or subentries as I read the book. Grasshoppers mentioned on pages 85, 194, and 260 were actually the Rocky Mountain Locust (Melanoplus sprectus), a now extinct species. The map on page 2 is much too small; it should have been turned upright and spread across two pages.


  1. Thanks for the very thoughtful review, Polly. I was interested to see your favorable perspective as I have heard negative comments about the work until now. Do you think that the 9-11 intro is sensationalistic?

  2. I have not read the book, so based solely on the review:

    It appears from the review that the authors place the fault for the Utah War almost solely on Brigham Young and the millenialist view of Mormonism – and yet, the review also includes the statement that the government considered all of the land occupied by the church members and the Church itself as belonging to the federal government and subject to seizure as such.

    Is there any way, given this foundational claim, that Brigham could have acted differently – and wouldn’t the fault for the war be balanced between the two stated extremes? Wouldn’t it be natural for Pres. Young to see that statement as the foundation of one more Extremination Order just waiting to be written?

  3. Polly Aird says:

    Jonathan, yes, I do think the 9-11 reference was gratuitous and off-putting. It’s a shame as it distracts from their fine account.

    Ray, there is no doubt that Brigham Young, his millennialist views, and his defiant talk of being completely independent of the U.S. was the cause of the conflict. There is no way the U.S. president would have sent some 2,500 troops on an excruciatingly difficult and expensive trek to Utah otherwise. Did some soldiers hope to wipe out the Mormon people? Yes, indeed. But that was not Buchanan’s reason and fortunately General Johnston, who had no love for the Mormons, was an excellent leader who kept his men restrained.

    As for the land belonging to the U.S., that is simply a fact. The Mormons were paranoid about it being taken from them, but as Walker, Turley, and Leonard point out (p. 108 of “Massacre at Mountain Meadows”), the U.S. government recognized squatters’ rights. It was when Young wanted to take Utah out of the U.S. completely that the president reacted.

  4. Trying to proceed delicately here …

    Polly, no conflict is this one sided. Even if their thesis of Brigham Young’s intentions were 100% correct, the “defiant talk” didn’t come out of nowhere, without cause. Bigler/Bagley’s thesis is about as subtle and fair and complete as any fanatical ideology they attribute to Brigham Young personally or the Mormons as a group.

  5. How could Young’s declaration of martial law and closing travel through Utah territory in September of 1857 have “started” the war when the U.S. Army had already been on the road for nearly two months by then?

  6. Polly, you’re talking here with someone who has read most of the stuff said by non-Mormons about Mormons in the 19th Century. I will refrain from any further comments and echo Ardis’ statement that no conflict is that one-sided – and add only that I have a really hard time believing any objective historian (or even one trying to be objective) would assign blame solely to Brigham Young and the Mormons.

  7. I’m a grad student in history at Portland State University and a direct descendant of John D. Lee, though I’m not Mormon. This last term I did a paper on Mountain Meadows and drew heavily from these two authors’ previous work. That said, I was never terribly impressed by it. So I am glad they have revised some of their earlier conclusions, namely about the meeting between Young and the Natives prior to the massacre and about giving the ordinary Mormon pioneers the credit they deserve (this latter idea was one that I emphasized in my paper). These guys have tended to play the Brigham Young Dictator card for all its worth in the past and have been known to erroneously play around with chronology, not to mention jumping to conclusions. Great review! I’ll have to read the book once I recover from Mountain Meadows overload.

  8. Thanks for your review, Polly; I think you point out several of the book’s strengths while still hinting at possible weaknesses. I have to agree that it seems the book seems a bit one-sided and lacking nuance. And Bagley and Bigler generally do not interpret theology much better than, say, someone like Richard Dawkins, so I worry about the first section of the book.

    But I generally find Bagley’s work quite readable and well-researched, even when I don’t agree with his conclusions, so I look forward to reading the book more in-depth myself.

  9. Joe Geisner says:

    Great review Polly. This scholarly critique by you is quite interesting and informative.

    The quality of this review and your recently review of “At Swords Point” makes all the rest of us look pathetic. Quite doing such a great job. :-)

  10. Polly Aird says:

    Ardis is right–I was too flippant in my response. Of course, no conflict is one-sided. Bill MacKinnon in “At Sword’s Point, Part 1” (p. 44) expresses it best: “The Utah War came about not because of a single critical incident during the spring of 1857. Rather, it was the product of nearly a decade of corrosive incidents, deteriorating relations, and grossly differing philosophies of governance–one secular, conventional, and republican while the other was authoritarian, millennial, and theocratic.” Just for the record, Bigler and Bagley end their introduction with: Readers will draw conclusions about the meaning of this story as dramatically different as we have, but we hope our work will shed new light on an important, colorful and largely forgotten episode in America’s past” (9).

    Ben, I respect your work a lot and wish someone like you would take up the challenge to give a nuanced account of the Mormon theology at work here.

  11. Polly Aird says:

    Jim D–Buchanan had sent the army to install a new territorial governor to replace Brigham Young. Stupidly, he had failed to notify Young, but at any rate, he was convinced that the Mormon people would never accept a civilian replacement for their president. To make sure the federal officials–governor, justices, etc.–would not meet with resistance, he sent the army. Young’s declaration of martial law was of another order of rebellion: It escalated tensions between the federal government and the Mormon leaders and was extremely provocative. As MacKinnon puts it, “From this document would flow, among other consequences, an escalation of the Buchanan administration’s armed intervention in Utah as well as Brigham Young’s little-know indictment for treason” (MacKinnon, 286)

  12. Craig M. says:

    For those of us that are “behind” on the Utah War – is there a certain history that is considered to be the most definitive?

  13. Glenn Thigpen says:

    I believe that the review could be better if some of the assertions were not accepted so implicitly such as “By his action, a territory with a population of not over forty thousand had virtually cut in half a nation of more than thirty million” when it is well established that there were other routes to California that were better and did not lead through Utah, such as the Southern route that led through New Mexico, which was a prize in the war with Mexico. Added to that is the fact that California had a population of less than 93000 in 1850, makes that statement a bit of hyperbole.
    Please note also about the quote from Juanita Brooks’ book concerning Charles Adams, that there is no documentation for the statement, so it is unclear just where she obtained that information and how accurate the quote would be. Noting that fact would have improved the interview also.


  14. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Okay, I need to qualify my remark about the California population a bit. It was some bit less than 380,000 in 1860, reflecting the steady steam of westward movers to that state during the 1850’s. However, the cutting a nation of thiry million in half is still quite a bit inaccurate.


  15. Hmmm sounds to me like someone read a Harry Turtledove novel and then decided to write a ‘history’ book…

  16. Polly Aird says:

    Glenn, you are right about the lack of a source for the Charles Adams quotation. I wonder if any of the research done for Walker, Turley, and Leonard’s “Massacre at Mountain Meadows” turned up anything on this. I wish they had commented one way or another!

    As for the trail to California, yes, there were other trails, but the California Trail through northern Utah and following the Humboldt was the one most highly favored in that period. There was also the route to southern California through Utah that the doomed Fancher and Baker parties took. Michael Landon has an article in the Spring issue of “Overland Journal” that discusses earlier assessments of the numbers on the trail that year and finds the count was vastly underestimated. Nevertheless, by September 15, most emigrant traffic through Utah had ended if the emigrants wanted to get over the Sierra Nevada before first snows.

    But I think the point Bigler and Bagley are trying to make–perhaps in too dramatic language–is that Young had taken national law into his own hands, which was certainly illegal. It was an effort to keep the army from coming into the territory. MacKinnon compares it to South Carolina’s Nullification Ordinance of 1832.

    Craig M.: William P. MacKinnon’s “At Sword’s Point, Part 1” is definitive and goes up to the winter of 1858 when Thomas L. Kane made his remarkable journey to Utah as peace-maker. Norman L. Furniss’s “The Mormon Conflict” (1960) is very readable and an excellent overview.

  17. “Buchanan had sent the army to install a new territorial governor to replace Brigham Young. Stupidly, he had failed to notify Young, but at any rate, he was convinced that the Mormon people would never accept a civilian replacement for their president. To make sure the federal officials–governor, justices, etc.–would not meet with resistance, he sent the army.”

    This alone says to me that it is naive to blame the conflict entirely on Brigham Young and the Mormons.

    Can you imagine being in a place that was, in many people’s eyes, the worst area in the entire country – a Hell you had spent time and tremendous effort making habitable (with multiple hundreds of settlements) after being driven from two much better areas and having your leader and others killed by mobs – and then hearing that an army was marching to displace you once again and take control of your land people – all without notification from the millitary commander of that army?

    I know how bombastic Brigham was, and I know how confrontational the millenialist outlook was, and I am not trying to absolve Brigham of his responsibility for what happened – but I also look at the past history of the Mormon experiences with state and federal governments and government officials (as well as the subsequent disenfranchisement of the Church and jailing of its leaders over polygamy) and wonder what conclusion Brigham could have reached other than, “We’re back to Missouri and the Extermination Order, and this time we have nowhere else to go. If they’ll send an army to drive us out of Hell, what other option do we have than to resist?”

    Polly, how does the book deal with the relatively peaceful ending of the conflict – which, btw, I have a really hard time calling a “war”.

  18. Interesting. On the AML e-mail list, this book received two reviews. The first review came to this conclusion:

    “In addition, the authors’ stated claim is to destroy the Mormon
    mythology surrounding these events. Thus it seems rather hypocritical
    for the authors to use myth and legend to destroy myth and legend. The
    rumor Brigham Young “poisoned” an Indian chief is seemingly presented
    because it fits their bias and not on the strength of the source (p.79).
    In the events preceding the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the authors
    accept a grotesque legend attributed to Albert Smith with little
    dissenting commentary (p. 158). Legends of Lot Smith are used because it
    matches the author’s view of Mormons as “zealous” fanatics (p.212).
    Severely biased descriptions of Thomas Kane are used to discredit him
    and present the army in a better light . . .

    In conclusion, the authors’ research is superb, but their analysis fails
    to provide the proper nuance required of the complex emotions of 1857
    Utah. Their outrageously biased dichotomy leading to a tendentious use
    of sources makes this a book that fails to present “the truth” and one I
    cannot recommend to any kind of historian or member of the church. ”

    However, the publisher complained about such a negative review, so the list had another reviewer, who stated:

    “And an unfortunate aspect of such provocative analogies is that they will easily overshadow and ill serve the rest of the text, diverting attention away from the masterful recounting of details, and possibly playing on already formed prejudices on both sides of the interpretive scale of the reader, or worse, turn them away completely. But while this aspect of the work may bother some readers, it really doesn’t bother me much. I simply would not expect less from the authors, who have a reputation for making such provocative statements. But I did have one issue with “The Mormon Rebellion”. There is simply too much information covered too quickly, and the story feels too big for one book. And while the details add up significantly, such as reports made, surveys measured, meetings held, letters sent, reinforcements assembled, supplies raided, sermons delivered, wagons burned, policies ignored, murders covered-up, and federals ran out of town, I simply wanted more . . .

    In conclusion, while people will agree or disagree with the authors’ claims, one simply cannot ignore this new work. “The Mormon Rebellion” is essential reading on the Utah war and will become a touchstone for further studies. It will provoke, make you think, inspire questions, answer a few, but most importantly create a world long past worth remembering.”

    Interesting, anyway. I have yet to read the book, but from my encounters with other works by Bagley, I tend to think the first review is closer to the truth.

  19. Polly Aird says:

    Ray, Young knew as early as 1855 that he might be replaced as governor, for his term had expired. But as MacKinnon writes, “When Governor Young first learned that President Buchanan was replacing him and sending an army is complicated and shrouded in Mormon mythology as well as federal fumbling” (MacKinnon, 223). He goes on, “Neither President Buchanan nor Secretary of State Cass ever informed Young that he was being replaced. This was a courtesy that galled Young while providing him the wherewithal to claim into the spring of 1858 that he remained Utah’s governor” (225).

    Brigham Young’s reaction and what he told his church members is extremely complicated and can’t be contained in a short paragraph. It you want an unbiased account of what happened in 1857, along with the key supporting documents, I suggest you read Bill MacKinnon’s “At Sword’s Point, Part 1.” It is a brilliant book. I see Bigler and Bagley’s shorter volume, “The Mormon Rebellion” as adding detail about the world view of the Mormons at that time.

    As for whether the conflict can be called a “war,” you are not alone in your assessment. There were no pitched battles as wars usually involved. But if you consider that it was the extremist preaching of Young and George A. Smith that led to the killing of 120 children, women, and unarmed men at Mountain Meadows, the body count is certainly there. Add to that several murders which were directly associated with the conflict and I think there is more than enough reason to call it a war.

    The last chapter in “The Mormon Rebellion” focuses on U.S. Judge John Cradlebaugh who tried to bring the perpetrators of the MMM and other crimes to justice, but in every way possible the Mormons threw obstacles in his way. Nevertheless, the testimonies, affidavits, etc., that he took just two years after the massacre and other killings are among the best primary sources we have to understanding what happened. The epilogue is about when the conflict actually ended. They conclude that the Utah War itself truly ended with the death of Brigham Young. That, of course, does not mean all conflict with the federal government was over by a long shot.

  20. Polly Aird says:

    Ivan Wolfe: Thanks for posting those two reviews. It is well to remember that most of this is Bigler’s work, for he is the one who seeks to understand what happened within the framework of Mormon belief of the time. I agree with the reviewer who wrote, “The Mormon Rebellion” is essential reading on the Utah war and will become a touchstone for further studies. It will provoke, make you think, inspire questions, answer a few, but most importantly create a world long past worth remembering.”

  21. Yes, Polly, “At Sword’s Point” is a brilliant book. I don’t think it justifies the claims these authors appear to make, but it’s an incredible book. It might help in a discussion like this to avoid assuming that we are ignorant of the overall issues and not up to snuff on the scholarship. For example, I never said Brigham didn’t realize the US Government would try to replace him. I said it’s understandable that he would react to an army being sent to accomplish the replacing. After all, what happend the last time an army (of some sort) was supposed to protect a Mormon leader? It’s not paranoia when there’s a real history behind the perception, and that history can’t be ignored (apparently) when assigning blame for complicated events and when using words like “paranoia”. At heart, that’s all I’m saying.

    Fwiw, I don’t think the Utah “war” ended until the end of the 19th Century, at the earliest. It just shifted to a political war, which the Mormons obviously lost. I also think the shift to a political “war” and the subsequent disenfranchisement of the LDS Church ought to be considered when viewing Brigham’s concerns, since it might be seen as evidence that he was right in his assessment of the ultimate intent of the government. It’s easy to say that the President and the US Government were just sending an army to make sure the appointed officials were installed peacefully – but: 1) There certainly were less drastic and confrontational ways to try to do that, at least intially; 2) It is inescapable that the federal governement eventually did, in fact, “destroy” the LDS Church as it existed at the time of the conflict in question. You might say those two events are not related (the Utah War and the Edmunds-Tucker Act+), but it’s just as easy to see the latter as nothing more than a continuation of the former. That’s the difficulty of being an historian, since pre-existing biases and perspectives tend to dictate conclusions and what evidence is used or ignored to reach those conclusions – and it’s why I am wary of claims that appear to be simplistic and one-dimensional about such a complex situation.

    Again, I haven’t read the book, but it appears from the review and your comments that the authors blame Brigham and Mormonism almost completely for the conflict that occurred. I simply disagree, even though I agree totally that there was at least an equal share of blame that is legitimate to assign.

  22. Oh, and “adding detail about the world view of the Mormons at that time” doesn’t have to be coupled with blaming them almost entirely for what occured – which, again, is my primary concern. I love seeing more detail about worldviews, but they do nothing to foster real understanding of those views if the historical context that framed them is ignored.

    If all a book does is add details without contextualizing those details in a properly balanced or more comprehensive way, the result often is nothing more than the other side of the completely apologetic coin. Trying to cover too much in too short a work requires the elimination of “non-essential detail” – but those details only are non-essential if they don’t support the thesis the authors are presenting. For a different thesis, those details might be paramount. Elimination of competing details only strengthens one particular narrative – which might make a more compelling argument, but it’s not solid history in the most academic sense of the term.

  23. Polly Aird says:

    Ray wrote, “It might help in a discussion like this to avoid assuming that we are ignorant of the overall issues and not up to snuff on the scholarship.”

    I certainly apologize if I sounded condescending in any way. I had no idea the readers of BCC were all up to date on the issues and scholarship. Forgive me.

  24. Polly, thanks for the review. I haven’t read this, so I am looking forward to getting my hands on it. However, my experience of reading Will Bagley’s previous work is that he is a careful and thorough researcher, but seems totally committed to leaping over any metaphorical hedge, fence, or castle wall when it comes to drawing conclusions about Brigham Young and blaming him for Mountain Meadows, the 1856 handcart tragedies, and just about any other bad event of the 1847 to 1877 era. Brigham Young mirrors the circumstances of the 30 year span of his leadership in Utah. There is a lot more subtlety, complexity, and incongruity in both the man and the time than most of us learned growing up. It sounds like there is a lot of good information to be gained from this book, but my past experience with Bagley’s efforts have taught me, as with all historical research, to pack a critical lens for the journey, and look hard at the analysis and conclusions.

  25. Polly Aird says:

    Kevin F: Don’t forget that Dave Bigler is the primary author here. Another careful researcher. It’s always a good idea to “pack a critical lens for the journey”!

  26. Polly, noted. I think you said that in the OP or in a previous comment. It just goes to show the emotional baggage that Will Bagley has unfortunately picked up along the way for me and some others. I’ve seen but not read much of Bigler’s work, other than perhaps an article or two, so I’m less familiar with him. I promise to give this a fair read.

  27. andrew h says:

    Ivan Wolfe said “However, the publisher complained about such a negative review,” but he is mistaken, at least in part. I am on the AML review panel and I am friends with Jeff Needle who oversees the panel, contacts all of the publishers, and edits all of the reviews.

    Members of the AML panel, including myself (and I think that I was the first one!) complained about the negativity of of the first review. After WE complained to Jeff he agreed to contact the publisher and ask if they would be willing to send out a second review copy and they agreed.

    That is the story behind the second review form the AML.

    I have my own feelings on Mormon Rebellion, some positive, some negative, but I have a paper to write in my masters program so my further comments will have to wait.

  28. Polly, I have to admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that my hackles went up a bit upon seeing the title – and having Bagley as an author with what I see as an incredibly biased title . . .

    I probably read your review through the lens of those raised hackles, since picking a title can be simply an attempt to sell books, but it also generally is a reflection of the foundational thesis of the book. To use “rebellion” as the active noun in a title that appears to place the entire blame on the Mormons, and to call the conflict a “Civil War” (with all the negative connotations that accompany that reference for most readers) pushes buttons for me that make it hard to believe the content isn’t another example of my reservations about much of Bagley’s other work – as others have mentioned.

    I should have been clearer about that upfront, so please accept my apology in that regard.

  29. PS. The picture didn’t help at all. Just saying.

  30. Polly Aird says:

    Ray, thanks for your apology. It’s appreciated. I can see why your hackles went up with the title, picture, and co-author!

  31. I’ve really liked the Kingdom in the West series and have several volumes from it in my library. However I have to admit that the “everything is Brigham Young’s fault” axe that Bagley has makes me a little wary. I think to people like me who are interested in this history but are not well enough versed to tell what is historically controversial or distorted are a little loath to put our trust in Bagley. I enjoyed Bigler’s prior volume about the theocracy in Utah but recognized it was a bit biased in places as well. And I’m actually pretty open to people not favorable towards the Church in history. (I rather like Vogel’s stuff even though I obviously disagree with it strongly)

  32. To add I probably will eventually get this one anyway. But I’ve been so busy the past couple of years I’m way behind on my reading. At Sword’s Point is sitting here beside my bed only partially read so I’ll definitely finish that one first.

  33. andrew (#27)

    well, it wasn’t made very clear on the list. All that went out on the list (or to the reviewers) was that the publisher felt another review needed to be done. I may not have had all the facts, but based on what AML gave us, I was fairly justified in the conclusion I reached. Plus, negative reviews are part of the territory. Unless the claims made in the review were unfair, I don’t see why the board wanted to have another review.

  34. andrew h says:


    Forgive me, I should have provided more details before. I sent in that posting from my cell phone. That means no spell check and trying to type with my big fat thumbs on a small android keyboard. Because of this I was briefer than I should have been.

    Everything that Jeff posts to the AML he cross posts to several other lists including a yahoo group called “The Mormon Library.” Quite a few of us ML’ers are also on the AML review board and Jeff often recruits new reviewers from the ML ranks. The morning that Jeff posted the first review of “Mormon Rebellion” to the ML I read it about 7 am mtn time. I then sent in a response to what I saw as several flaws in the review. By about noon quite a few folks on the ML, several of whom review for Jeff and the AML, had also complained that the first review was negative, biased, one sided, and uninformed.

    When Jeff requests review books for the AML panel usually 2 copies are sent out. One goes to Jeff so he can use it to edit the review if necessary, and one goes to the reviewer, on rare occasions there will be 3 copies sent out so 2 reviews can be done. Sometimes the publisher requests this, and sometimes Jeff does. With “MR” there were initially only 2 copies sent. One to Jeff and one to the first reviewer. We complained so much on the ML about the first review that Jeff agreed to go to the publisher and see if they would send out another review copy.

    Once they agreed to do this Jeff posted to the AML, the ML and where ever else he may send requests to asking for a volunteers to do a second review. I do not know if those that were on the AML who were not also on the ML at the time knew about the controversy or Jeff’s request to the publisher. But that is why the second AML review came about. You don’t need to believe me. The ML posts are archived and are public record, you may join and examine the records if you wish, or just ask Jeff, if you have reviewed for him before, I am sure he would be happy to tell you the whole story!

  35. andrew h –

    I believe you, I just was stating that it wasn’t made very clear on the AML list. Thanks for more of the story.

  36. Rob Briggs says:

    Aird: “Whereas previously Bagley wrote that when Young promised emigrant cattle to the chiefs [in the September 1, 1857 meeting in SLC], they rushed south and were the Indians involved in the massacre, in The Mormon Rebellion, Bigler and Bagley conclude that “whether any of the Indians who met with Young in Salt Lake were on hand six days later at Mountain Meadows to fire the opening volley is uncertain” (171).”

    That is progress. The idea that the Paiutes immediately left SLC and “starting riding hard” for southern Utah to participate in the massacre is a strong assertion resting on a very thin reed of evidence. (“Riding hard” is from Krakauer in “Under the Banner of Heaven,” making explicit what Bagley implied in BOTP.) By making that acknowledgement, they weaken substantially Bagley’s “targeting” thesis (i.e., that BY targeted the Arkansas company).

    In the Indian powwow with BY on 9/1/1857, there were mostly Pauvant Utes and a few Paiutes present. The Pauvant Utes were a horse culture and rode their horses back to Corn Creek. But no Pauvant Ute was at MM. On the other hand, prior to the 1860s, the Paiutes were not a horse culture. The first time that any Indian Agent reported horses among the Paiutes was in the late 1860s. I can find no mention of them in the 1850s. So the Paiutes in SLC did not ride hard for MM because they had no horses. Further, it is inconceivable that the Utes let the Paiutes hitch a ride with them since there was a mutual antipathy between them. (The Utes raided the Paiutes for slaves for the slave markets in New Mexico.)

    Polly, I enjoyed the review very much.

    Best, Rob

  37. Polly Aird says:

    Rob, thanks for adding your comments as you are so familiar with southern Utah and the MMM. This is a valuable addition about the Pauvant Utes and Paiutes and the former having no horses at this point. I believe Bagley was adhering closely to Juanita Brooks here in “Blood of the Prophets,” but I’m glad he’s not just stuck there! Even the targeting thesis is softened.

  38. Polly Aird says:

    In thinking about the Indians some more, I’m wondering how the Paiute chiefs got to SLC to meet with Brigham Young without horses? It’s not reasonable to think that they trotted alongside Pauvant Utes or George A. Smith.

    And in the interest of clarity, I should have quoted earlier Bigler and Bagley’s full paragraph about Young “giving” the Indians cattle on the southern route (as he had a few days earlier to the chiefs on the northern road to California):

    “Whether any of the Indians who met with Young in Salt Lake were
    on hand six days later at Mountain Meadows to fire the opening volley
    is uncertain, but Thomas L. Kane and several historians [notably Tom
    Alexander] include Tutsegabit on their list of those who were present.
    One of them, Walker’s brother Ammon, extorted cattle from a wagon
    train after Indians allegedly assaulted and seriously wounded two of
    the party’s leaders while a third was ‘grazed by two or three
    bullets.’ This singular attack took place in broad daylight in the
    streets of the Mormon settlement at Beaver on Wednesday morning, 9
    September. What is clear is that in ‘giving’ tribal leaders under
    his jurisdiction the property of other people, Superintendent of
    Indian Affairs Brigham Young violated the law and endangered the lives
    of emigrants on all the roads to California.”

    The last sentence certainly is a salient point, usually lost in the “who did what” chronology.

  39. I don’t want to get into a MMM who’s who list here, but Tutsegabit was in Salt Lake City on 1 September. According to Demmick Huntington, Tutsegabit was back in Salt Lake on the tenth and was ordained to the office of Elder. James Haslem made the trip to Salt Lake in three days by riding night and day and changing out horses on the way, a distance of three hundred or so miles. Tutsegabit possibly could have made it to MM by the seventh, although it is uncertain that he had a horse. The Piedes are reported to have been an agrarian type and did not have horses. I do not know this for a fact.
    In any event, it would have been difficult for Tutsegabit to be back in Salt Lake on the tenth, even with a horse, unless he rode night and day as did Haslem.
    To be fair, Wilford Woodruff reports the ordination of Tutsegabit on the 16th of September, but does not say how long Tutsegabit had been in Salt Lake. There is no record of him actually leaving Salt Lake.

    As far as B.Y breaking the law, that really is not in dispute. As Polly has noted, B.Y may have been aware that he could be replaced as governor, but the fact that he had reports of an army coming his way, and not a small one at that, and with the reports that had been garnered by the spies that B.Y sent among the troops concerning the intent of the army, he was maybe a little more worried about preservation than the law.


  40. Rob Briggs says:

    Polly, they had at least one buggy & one wagon & possibly more. There were only a couple Paiutes & they most likely rode in Hamblin’s wagon. G.A. Smith came down in a buggy (300 lb. G.A. Smith couldn’t make a 600 mile journey on horseback!!). Jacob Hamblin and Thales Haskell went up and back in a wagon (until they heard the reports of Indian trouble on the way back and Hamblin ditched the wagon for a horse so he could ride ahead).

    At least one sources says that between September 1 and mid-September, these Indian “chiefs” (head men is probably a better term) visited Great SLC and environs — in other words they did what most Indians did when they visited the white man’s city, The whites showed them the wonders of their cities so as to inspire them to emulate the whites. A very common 19th-century practice.

  41. Will Bagley says:

    How did the Paiutes get to Salt Lake? Maybe they rode in Kanosh’s mule wagon. Maybe they rode their own horses, since the Journal of Jacob Hamblin, 1854–1859 (Dale L. Morgan typescript, Utah State Historical Society, A 567-1) shows they’d had them since 1854:

    [Sanpitch] stayed with the Piedes eight or ten days; bought three girls of the Tonaquints, (as they call themselves after the Indian name of the stream,) he gave one horse and two guns. Two of them the Tonaquints bought of a more distant tribe. The Indians that got them for Sanpitch gave one gun for the two. The Indian said that the girls father & Mother cried to see them go; but they had nothing to eat and it would be better for the children than to stay & starve. I saw the tears fall fast from the eyes of the oldest of the three; a girl about ten or twelve years old.

    I hate to use the R word, but if anyone wants to lecture me about “horse Indians,” I will. What the entire population of this blog knows about Southern Paiutes you could put into the shortest paragraph of this masterwork:

    I recently learned that some other book has won the Utah State Historical Society’s Francis Armstrong Madsen Best History Book Award for 2011, but as I told Kent Powell, I thought Hebner and Plyler’s book deserved it.

    The certainty of faithful ignorance about Mountain Meadows matters, especially the timing of events like Tutsegabit’s ordination, is touching. Mormon sources give three dates. Huntington dated the event to 10 September. Writing to William Dame on 13 September, George A. Smith said, “We ordained Tutsegabbotts an Elder this Evening.” Diarist Wilford Woodruff recorded Tutsegabits’ ordination on 16 September 1857, the date followed in BOTP.

    What do they teach young Mormon scholars these days? Mastery of the Cheap Shot 405? Hearing David Bigler compared to Richard Dawkins is astonishing. I’ve met maybe five authentic Christians in my life, and he’s one of them. Who could be better qualified to interpret Mormon theology honestly than a former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Do I think “that the 9-11 intro is sensationalistic?” No. I think it’s true. “The United States finds itself engaged in a battle with theocrats, engaging fanatics who are much more dangerous and perhaps even more committed than the religious rulers who had imposed what President James Buchanan called ‘a strange system of terrorism’ on the people of Utah Territory.'” That’s a fact.

  42. Polly Aird says:

    Todd Compton in his post “Editing Gentry ‘Fire and Sword'”, posted on BCC today includes the sentence, “The Mormon disillusionment with secular law and politics lead to further occasional rejections of and struggles with secular and political law in Nauvoo and Utah, including the Council of Fifty in Nauvoo and Utah, the practice of polygamy, and Brigham Young’s defiance of a U.S. president and the U.S. army during the Utah War. I believe if you want to understand these important historical events and institutions in Utah and Mormon history, the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri provides absolutely essential background.”

    This meshes perfectly with the thesis of “The Mormon Rebellion” –that to understand the Utah War, you need to understand what happened in Missouri and Illinois and how BY became so defiant of the U.S. government and so anti-U.S. law. The Last Days were upon them and the U.S. government would soon be taken over by the Kingdom of God and God’s laws. Young saw his defiance–his rebellion–against the government as the beginning of God’s rule on earth.

  43. Again, Polly, as I said in the “Editing Gentry” thread, the same can be said about the role of the government’s continued rejection of Mormon attempts to secure justice. Todd Compton’s post clearly shows two entities with plenty of blame to go around, while the Bigler and Bagley book seems to place the blame almost entirely on Pres. Young and the Mormons.

    I honestly don’t see how those two orientations mesh perfectly.

  44. Will, fwiw, firing broadside cheap shots at an entire community in a comment deriding focused cheap shots by a few commenters . . . I sincerely hope you understand the irony.

  45. Polly Aird says:

    Ray, have you read Bigler and Bagley’s book? I think you will find blame is not all on the Mormons by any means. Todd Compton’s post on “Editing Gentry” simply adds context to the Mormon side of the equation.