Great Salt Lake City July 8, 1849.
Perhaps a few lines from a stranger in this strange land, and among a still more strange people will be judged sufficiently interesting to find a place in your columns.
The company of gold diggers which I have the honor to command, arrived here on the 3d inst., and judge our feelings when after some twelve hundred miles of travel through an uncultivated desert, and the last one hundred miles of the distance through and among lofty mountains and narrow and difficult ravines, we found ourselves suddenly and almost unexpectedly in a comparative paradise.
We descended the last mountain by a passage excessively steep and abrupt, and continued our gradual descent through a narrow canon for five or six miles when, suddenly emerging from the pass, an extensive and cultivated valley opened before us, at the same inst., that we caught a glimpse of the distant bosom of the Great Salt Lake, which lay expanded before us to the west-ward, at the distance of some twenty miles.
Descending the table-land which bordered the valley, extensive herds of cattle, horses and sheep were grazing in every direction, reminding us of that home and civilization from which we had so widely departed – for as yet the fields and houses were in the distance. Passing over some miles of pasture land, we at length found ourselves in a broad and fenced street, extending westward in a straight line for several miles! Houses of wood or sun-dried brick were clustered in the vale before us, some thousands in number, and occupying a spot about as large as the City of New York. They were mostly small, one story high, and perhaps not more than one occupying an acre of land. The whole space for miles, excepting the streets and houses, was in a high state of cultivation. Fields of yellow wheat stood waiting for the harvest, and Indian corn, potatoes, oats, flax, and all kinds of garden vegetables, were growing in profusion, and seemed about in the same state of forwardness as in the same latitude in the States.
At first sight of all these signs of cultivation in the wilderness, we were transported with wonder and pleasure. Some wept, some gave three cheers, and some ran and fairly danced for joy – while all felt inexpressibly happy to find themselves once more amid scenes which mark the progress of advancing civilization. We passed on amid scenes like these, expecting every moment to come to some commercial centre, to some business point in this Great Metropolis of the mountains, but we were disappointed. No hotel, sign-post, cake and beer shop, barber pole, market-house, grocery, provision, dry goods or hardware store, distinguished one part of the town from another – not even a bakery or a mechanic’s sign was anywhere discernable.
Here, then was something new. An entire people reduced to a level, and all living by their labor – all cultivating the earth, or following some branch of physical industry. At first I thought it was an experiment – an order of things established purposely to carry out the principles of “Socialism” or “Mormonism.” – In short, I thought it very much like Owenism personified. However, on enquiry, I found that a combination of seemingly unavoidable circumstances had produced this singular state of affairs. – There were no hotels, because there had been no travel; no barbers’ shops, because every one chose to shave himself, and no one had time to shave his neighbor; no store, because they had no goods to sell nor time to traffic; no centre of business, because all were too busy to make a centre.
There was abundance of mechanics’ shops, dress makers, milliners, tailors, &c., but they needed no sign, and had not to point or erect one for they were crowded with business. Beside their several trades, all must cultivate the land or die; for the country was new, and no cultivation but their own within a thousand miles. Every one had his lot, and built upon it; every one cultivated it, and perhaps a small farm in the distance.
And the strangest of all was that this great city, extending over several square miles, had been erected, and every house and fence made within nine or ten months of the time of our arrival – while at the same time good bridges were erected over the principal streams, and the country settlements extended nearly one hundred miles up and down the Valley.
This Territory, State, or as some term it, “Mormon Empire,” may justly be considered one of the greatest prodigies of the age, and in comparison with its age, the most gigantic of all Republics in existence – being only in its second year since the first seed of cultivation was planted, or the first civilized habitation commenced. If these people were thieves and robbers as their enemies presented them in the States, I must think they have greatly reformed in point of industry since coming to the mountains.
I this day attended worship with them, in the open air. Some thousands of well-dressed, intelligent looking people assembled; some on foot, some in carriages and some on horseback. Many were neatly, and even fashionably clad. The beauty and neatness of the ladies reminded me of some of our best congregations in New York. They had a choir of both sexes, who performed extremely well, accompanied by a band who played on almost every instrument of modern invention. – Peals of the most sweet, sacred, and solemn music filled the air, after which a solemn prayer was offered by Rev. Mr. Grant, of Philadelphia. Then followed various business advertisements, read by the clerk. Among these I remember a Call of the Seventeenth ward, by its presiding bishop, to some business meeting – a call for a meeting on the 32d Quorum of the Seventy, and a meeting of the officers of the 2d Cohort of the Military Legion &c.
After this came a lengthy discourse from Mr. Brigham Young, President of the society – partaking somewhat of politics, much of religion and philosophy, and a little on the subject of gold – showing the wealth, strength and glory of England growing out of her coal mines, iron, and industry – and the weakness, corruption and degradation of Spanish America, Spain, &c. growing out of her gold, silver &c., and her idle habits.
Every one seemed interested and pleased with his remarks, all appeared to be contented to stay at home and pursue a persevering branch of industry, although mountains of gold were near them. The able speaker painted, in lively colors, the ruin which would be brought upon the United States by gold, and boldly predicted that they would be over thrown because they had killed the Prophets – stoned and rejected those who were sent to call them to repentance, and finally plundered and driven the Church of the Saints form their midst, and burned and desolated their city and temple. He said God had a reckoning with that people, and gold would be the instrument of their overthrow. The Constitutions and laws were good, in fact, the best in the world, but the administrators were corrupt and the laws and Constitutions were not carried out – and therefore they must fall. He further observed that the people here wo’d [would] petition to be organized into a territory, under that same Government; notwithstanding its abuses – and that if granted, they would stand by the Constitution and laws of the United States; while, at the same time he denounced their corruption and abuses.
But, said the speaker, we ask no odds of them, whether they grant us our petition or not! We never will ask any odds of a nation who has driven us from our homes. If they grant us our rights, well – if not, well; they can do no more than they have done. They, and ourselves, and all men, are in the hands of the great God, who will be right and work together for good to them that serve God.
Such, in part, was the discourse to which we listened in the strongholds of the mountains. The Mormons are not dead nor are their spirits broken. And if I mistake not, there is a noble, daring, and Democratic spirit swelling in their bosoms, which will people these mountains with a race of independent men, and influence the destiny of our country and world for a hundred generations. In their religion they seem charitable, devoted, and sincere – in their politics, bold, daring, and determined – in their domestic circle quiet, affectionate, and happy – while in industry, skill, and intelligence, they have few equals, and no superiors on earth.
I had many strange feelings while contemplating this new civilization growing up so suddenly in the wilderness. I almost wished I could awake from my golden dream, and find it but a dream; while I pursued my domestic duties as quiet, as happy, and contented as this strange people.
Since writing the foregoing, I have obtained a copy of one of the Mormon songs, which impressed me deeply this morning, being sung to a lively tune, accompanied by the band.
Lo the Gentile chain is broken;
Freedom’s banner waves on high;
List ye nation: By this token,
Know that your redemption’s nigh;
See on yonder distant mountain,
Zion’s standard wide unfurled,
Far above Missouri’s fountain –
Lo, it waves for all the world.
Freedom, peace and full salvation,
Are the blessings guaranteed;
Liberty to every nation,
Every sect and every creed.
Come! ye Christian sects, and Pagan,
Pope, and Protestant and Priest;
Worshippers of God and Dagan –
Come ye to fair Freedom’s Feast.
Come ye sons of doubt and wonder,
Indian, Moslem, Greek or Jew –
All your shackles burst asunder;
Freedom’s banner waves for you.
Cease to butcher one another,
Join the Covenant of Peace;
Be to all a friend and brother –
This will bring the world’s release.
Lo! our King the Great Messiah,
Prince of Peace shall come to reign;
Sound again, ye Heavenly Choir:
“Peace on earth, good will to men.”
Please excuse these hasty and imperfect lines, written while seated on a trunk of goods with the paper spread on a parcel of clothing, and the wind blowing sufficiently to carry away the sheets before they are signed.
A STRANGER IN QUEST OF GOLD.
[Defiance, Ohio, Democrat, 10 November 1849, with additional material from a reprint in the Frontier Guardian, 9 January 1850, citing an earlier publication in the New York Tribune of unstated date. I do not know the date and paper of its first appearance.]