“I am now informed that over five thousand desire to move from this Territory. . . .”

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 Take, for example, the following unpublished letter written in November 1858 by U.S. Army quartermaster Parmenas Taylor Turnley to Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s committee on the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,
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.


  1. “A Violent Bump in the Road: To California from Scotland via Utah Territory,” The California Territorial Quarterly, Spring 2012.
  2. Box 22, Folder 3, Stephen A. Douglas Papers, 1764-1908, Special Collections Research Center, The University of Chicago Library, Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Was there a response?

  2. 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

    The Mormon had ceased publication more than a year before he wrote this letter, its editors, including Appleby, returned to Utah — as anyone presuming to be so aware of intimate Appleby family matters should know. … But then, he was equally misinformed about Mary Young, the woman Appleby married that November. She was not 17, but was 18-1/2, having been born in March 1840. Nine of the 23 individuals in Appleby’s 6-wagon company were female — and that includes an infant, a 5-year-old, and an 8-year-old.

    If this is indicative of the quality of the rest of Capt. Turnley’s information? It’s certainly easy to make assertions like this when no one with local information can address it, and no one at the receiving end can fairly evaluate it. Even so, had Stephen A. Douglas given it five seconds of consideration, he might have wondered how Turnley could number the wives of every man he met on the street — does anyone believe that every Mormon man Turnley encountered on the street would introduce himself to a hostile stranger by announcing the number of his wives, and where those wives lived?

    I’m not saying that nobody wanted to leave. Some did — after all, “the wicked flee when none pursueth” was a favorite 19th century Mormon saying for a reason. But what is the point of posting a document like this without qualifications, without context, as if it had any reliable probative value?

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Ardis, I agree. The letter is interesting, but there are several aspects of it that have the whiff of either hyperbole or misinformation.

  4. Whiff? The stench of the puddle it wallows in would choke even Bill Hickman at 50 paces.

    (Now *that’s* hyperbole. What this document is, is something entirely different.)

  5. Ardis, you took the words right out of my mouth.

  6. This document would seem to evoke the cultural experience of being outsider or disaffiliated in Utah at the time, at least in terms of how some members of those groups viewed the great Mormon menace. I think it’s useful on those terms, but I agree is largely useless as an attempt to estimate the number of those yearning to disaffiliate and the plight of those who sought to disaffiliate. I suspect snopes.com would not have given this report a thumbs up, but I think it’s probably useful as an example of the kinds of heated rhetoric at the time.

  7. Jacob H. says:

    The charged atmosphere of the insider/outsider dichotomy is fascinating. It seems to be a universal human phenomenon. It would be neat to have a collection of documents like this spanning multiple eras and religious / political situations. Does anyone have any good suggestions?

  8. This isn’t quite jumping to freedom from the temple into the Great Salt Lake and swimming away, but it’s closer to that than any degree of believability.

    As others have said, if this is posted as an example of the hyperbolic anti-Mormonism of the time, it’s a great example. If this is posted as fact . . .

    My favorite quote:

    “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.”

    I’m sure Brother Brigham would have loved to know that. He actually could have used those men from time to time.

  9. And he (and the church) could have used the money!

  10. joe geisner says:

    Two of my favorite people write a blog post together. How cool is this!

    Great work you two.

  11. Polly Aird says:

    No doubt there is hyperbole in what Turnley wrote when it comes to the numbers wanting to leave. But that people asked for help in leaving is quite likely. John Hyde Jr. wrote: “There are large numbers of persons very desirous but quite unable
    to leave Utah, for lack of the necessary means. They are now a thousand miles from civilization. They need two months’ food in advance, when it is more than they can do to provide a week beforehand. They need a wagon to carry that food, when many of them are sleeping in mud-hovels on stick bedsteads. They need a team to haul it . . . . They are poor and helpless, and helpless because they are poor. . . . The Mormons do not use any other physical restraint than by making
    and keeping them poor.” (John Hyde Jr., “Mormonism: Its Leaders and Designs,” New York, W. P. Fetridge & Company, 1857, 21-22, 315-16.) Hyde left the Church, but he had a insider’s view of the situation in Utah. And he left in 1856 before the locust plagues, freezing winters, famine, the Reformation, and the Move South, all of which reduced people to even greater poverty. There is little doubt that many wanted to leave Utah simply to better their economic situation. But there were many who were repelled by the Reformation, the preaching of blood atonement, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and other murders in 1857-58.

  12. Thanks Bill and Polly for introducing this important letter! I’m actually struck by how much Turnley got right, considering his position as an outsider. Yes, there are inaccurate elements and a little rumor-mongering. However I don’t quite see this document the way Parshall does. She first implies that Turnley was “misinformed” regarding Appleby and the newspaper “The Mormon.” But then she pretty much re-states exactly what Turnley stated about the two: Appleby published a newspaper in NY for two years called “The Mormon” but now he’s recently returned to Utah territory. Parshall only adds that Appleby hadn’t published the paper for over a year. So what? That’s not incongruous at all with what Turnley reported. True he later reported to Douglas that “The Mormon” newspaper “is such a sheet in the great Metropolis.” “Is” rather than “was” is a small slip and of no real importance. Turnley simply wanted Douglas to know that the Mormons had been publishing articles about him and he got that point across. In a rather condescending tone Parshall adds that this information should be known by anyone claiming to be “so aware of intimate Appleby family matters.” Well, Turnley did report this fairly correctly, so Parshall’s tone only reflects back poorly on her.

    Parshall then criticizes Turnley’s error regarding Mary Young’s age at the time of her marriage to Appleby. I admit he erred by a good eight months at most. That still doesn’t detract at all from the fact that Appleby was 46 – three years older than Mary’s father, Ebenezer Russell Young Sr. Turnley was correct in that Mary Young came to Utah in Appleby’s company. What Turnley failed to note was that Appleby also married Mary’s sister, Margaret, who was in the same company. At issue here is ecclesiastical abuse of position. The company arrived in Salt Lake on October 17 and two weeks later, and an aged Appleby (who co-presided over the company) married a girl from the same company. Appleby obviously was courting her during the overland journey, while also as her ecclesiastical leader. I find that extremely inappropriate and immoral behavior, as did Turnley. Turnley was also “intimate [enough of] Appleby family matters” that he was basically correct about Appleby’s aged wife and their grown children, who were all Mary’s age or older. He said there were four such grown children, when in fact there were only three, but Joseph Smith Appleby was 12, and on the verge of pubescence, and Turnley may have counted him. (I myself was 6’2 and shaving at that age.)

    Turnley did err in the composition of the pioneer company – and resorted to some scandalous innuendo, which is unfortunate. He said the Appleby company was composed of “some 30” people, with 20 of them allegedly women. However the company only had 25 people, and only 9 of them were women – about half of what he claimed.

    I also take issue with Parshall’s simplistic implication that only “the wicked” wished to leave Utah. First of all, we all sin and miss the mark. Therefore, “only the wicked” stayed in Utah as well. Secondly, there were a lot of kind, generous, compassionate, loving, humble, thoughtful, moral people who got to Utah and found that Mormonism wasn’t for them. Innocents, like the Parrishes (who are my very close relatives), were murdered by fellow ward members under the orders of Bishop Aaron Johnson of the Springville Ward in the spring of 1857. Why? Because they tried to leave Springville without ecclesiastical permission. Their murder was a monstrous miscarriage of justice perpetrated by so-called Christians and Saints. The Mountain Meadows Massacre followed six months later. I believe there were roughly 38,000 people living in Utah in November 1858. I can easily see 5,000 of them (about 13%) wanting to leave, after such atrocities (and others) had been committed upon innocent people.

    Again I thank Bill and Polly for adding this important document to our growing understanding of the turbulent, violent, and frightening era of the Reformation and the Utah War, and how human beings variously negotiated their quest for religious freedom within a theocratic tyranny, along a broad spectrum. Now we too can begin the process of finding this document’s strengths and weaknesses (its “probative value”), and place it in its context. Personally, as I research the 1857 murders of my 2nd great uncle, William Rice Parrish (and that of his son Beason), and their impact on Utah/Mormonism, this document is invaluable!

  13. Ardis E. Parshall says:

    And the reason you refer to me as “Parshall” while calling them “Polly” and “Bill” is …?

  14. I composed a calmer, more grammatically polished response to this letter than my comment #2, but posted it at Keepa rather than here due to its length.

    Because the conversation started here, and because Keepa’s comment policy will prevent the participation of some who may wish to respond, I’d be happy to publish that post/comment here if BCC administration prefers it.

  15. Connell, I think you’re missing the main point Ardis is making.

    Historians shouldn’t take much stock into the eyewitness accounts of events and conditions sources actually witness unless their rendering of events and conditions they’re privy to only by hearsay is absolutely and thoroughly fact checked by modern historiographic and journalistic standards.

  16. J. Stapley says:

    Sure, Ardis. Bring it over here. I think it is very fair.

  17. Attacking someone’s condescending tone means you don’t have a substantive argument.

  18. Polly Aird says:

    I apologize to any BCC reader who took this post to be just an anti-Mormon screed. And doubtless it needed more context. Both Jonathan Stapley and Todd Compton have reviewed my book, “Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector” in earlier posts on BCC (search for the title or my name). Peter McAuslan, whose biography it is, never left off his love for the Mormon people. But having seen close at hand some of violence, having heard bishops preach blood atonement, and having been consistently told to obey one’s file leaders whether they were right or wrong, he had had enough. With his parents and four brothers and their families (his sisters and their families all stayed, at least for a time), he applied to the army for an escort out of Utah. His fears are reflected in the Turnley letter above. In their family group was a one-month-old baby and a pregnant wife. With oxen and wagons they could not move quickly on the California trail west. Indians had been attacking small wagon trains because their scant food supplies in the desert had been badly impacted by so many wagon trains headed to the California Gold Rush and by thoughtless earlier emigrants on the trail killing an Indian here and there. Obviously, this story is not just a simple “I got hoodwinked by the Mormons and escaped with an army escort” story. As with all human lives, many factors and experiences went into the McAuslans’ decision to convert and then to leave.

    For those interested in why formerly faithful members wanted to leave in mid-19th century Utah, see my award-winning article, “‘You Nasty Apostates, Clear Out’: Reasons for Disaffection in the Late 1850s,” Journal of Mormon History 30:2 (Fall 2004), 129-207. (The quote in the title comes from Brigham Young.)

    I also think it well to remember that Mormonism of that period was vastly different from the faith today. The giving up of polygamy, once one of the fundamental tenets of Mormonism, is an indication of the great changes in the Church.

    The point of including the Turnley letter on a BCC post is that rightly or wrongly, Turnley exemplified much of the fear and the problems in Utah. As previously unknown to Bill MacKinnon and myself, the letter seemed worthwhile to have it reach a wider audience than just a small journal in California.

  19. “Attacking someone’s condescending tone means you don’t have a substantive argument.”

    That’s an amusingly self-referential statement.

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