Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Bill MacKinnon at Sam Weller’s, Sept. 26 (Announcement)

Bill MacKinnon at Sam Weller’s, Sept. 26 (Announcement)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 17, 2008

Who: Western Historian William MacKinnon
What: Lecture, “The Utah War as Context for Mountain Meadows,” and signing copies of his new book: At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858
Where: Sam Weller’s Bookstore, 254 S. Main, Salt Lake City, Utah
When: Friday, September 26, 2008, 6:00 p.m.

This event is free and open to the public.

The Utah War of 1857-58, the unprecedented armed confrontation between Mormon Utah Territory and the U.S. government, was the most extensive American military action between the Mexican and Civil wars. At Sword’s Point presents in two volumes the first in-depth narrative and documentary history of that extraordinary conflict.

William MacKinnon offers a lively narrative linking firsthand accounts—most previously unknown—from soldiers and civilians on both sides. This first volume traces the war’s causes and preliminary events, including President Buchanan’s decision to replace Brigham Young as governor of Utah and restore federal authority through a large army expedition. Also examined are Young’s defensive-aggressive reactions, the onset of armed hostilities, and Thomas L. Kane’s departure at the end of 1857 for his now-famous mediating mission to Utah.

MacKinnon provides a balanced, comprehensive account, based on a half century of research and wealth of carefully selected new material. Women’s voices from both sides enrich this colorful story. At Sword’s Point presents the Utah War As a sprawling confrontation with regional and international as well as territorial impact. As a nonpartisan definitive work, it eclipses previous studies of this remarkably bloody turning point in western, military, and Mormon history.

William P. MacKinnon of Santa Barbara, California, is an independent historian, management consultant, and former General Motors vice president. A widely recognized authority on the Utah War, he has recorded the colorful saga of Utah’s long territorial period and the U.S. Army’s western campaigns.



  1. Ardis, did you attend this lecture? If so, can you provide a summary and review?

    Comment by Rick — September 29, 2008 @ 9:46 pm

  2. Well, I tried to go, but the young kid at Weller’s counter insisted I leave my laptop in a pile of backpacks at the door that anybody could have helped himself to while the clerk’s back was turned, and I had a bad feeling about it. So no, I didn’t get to hear Bill’s remarks. I hear that it was a small but friendly group, that Bill was introduced by Hugh McKell of Bear Hollow Books (a bit of generosity on the part of both Bear Hollow and Sam Weller) and that there was a good discussion, but I can’t report in any detail.

    I did get to hear the Arrington Lecture in Logan on the evening before, and that was good. Bill talked about a number of related books that will be published in the next couple of months, some of his serendipitous discoveries (he defines “serendipity” not as dumb luck, but as the good fortune that comes when a scholar has done his homework and built his networks so that he’s in the right place at the right time for connections to be made), and outlined some of the Utah War-related fields he expects to be plowed by scholars in the next generation. A number of USU students hoping to apply for next year’s Arrington scholarship were taking close notes of Bill’s suggestions for future research — it would be wonderful if next year one of them can report success at, say, searching the Boston-area newspapers of 1857-58 for as-yet-undiscovered letters from boys in the Utah Expedition written to their friends at home.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 30, 2008 @ 1:30 am

  3. I suspect you chose Boston at random, or because there are some well-known universities there with a lot of graduate students.

    But I wonder if papers in Columbia or Charleston or Richmond or Birmingham (or Nashville or Mobile or Jackson) might be more profitable places to search. I’d guess that there were more southerners than northerners in the army in 1857 (certainly the Regular Army’s officer corps at the outbreak of the Civil War four years later was skewed in that direction).

    The commander of the expedition, Albert Sidney Johnston, was from the South (born in Kentucky, he was appointed to West Point from Louisiana)–he died while commanding the Confederate army at Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing to him and his fellow Confederates) in April 1862.

    That’s one. Now we just need the data on the other 2,499.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 30, 2008 @ 9:45 am

  4. You know, just about any newspaper outside the major ones in New York, Washington, Buffalo, New Orleans and St. Louis remain to be searched, and if anybody wants a tidy little project (tidy because it’s limited in time and scope, and can be done at your local library), searching the local newspapers for that period could yield a publishable article with limited labor.

    I’m laughing at your “now we just need the data on the other 2,499” — you’re channeling Bill! He said,

    But this new tool [newspaper digitalization] will pay off only if historians in search of fresh material are energetic enough to determine the home towns of Utah War participants and link them to that town’s newspapers. In which newspapers would I look next? Those published in Salem, Massachusetts and Boston.

    I think he mentioned Salem and Boston because he does know of specific soldiers — chiefly officers, I think — from that area.

    Newspapers are fairly easy to search, after a few minutes getting accustomed to them — in the 19th century they tended to be very short (4 or 8 or 12 pages), with the same kinds of material appearing on the same pages issue after issue, so after you discover that page 1 is always telegrams and page 8 is always advertisements, while page 4 has the local news and letters, then you can skim quickly to the right page and give the merest glance at the less likely pages.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 30, 2008 @ 10:00 am

  5. Mark B., as you can tell from Ardis’s quote from my Arrington Lecture, it was me rather than she who suggested Boston newspapers as a potentially rich hunting ground. Also Salem. My reason for suggesting Salem was that, on the Mormon side, Nathaniel Felt was from there and still had relatives in that town. A Felt descendant has sent me at least one letter from Salt Lake City that a Salem newspaper ran during the Utah War written by Nathaniel. Also from Salem was Albert G. Browne, Jr., who accompanied the Utah Expedition as a correspondent for Horace Greeley’s “New York Tribune.” Browne was the son of one of Salem’s most prosperous merchants/abolitionists, and although he mainly communicated with his family by urging them to read the “Herald,” it’s not inconceivable that he or family members also inserted Browne letters in the Salem paper. While Browne was home briefly in the middle of the Utah War and not writing for the “New York Tribune” it’s possible that he might have been interviewed by his hometown newspaper.
    A number of the New England officers from the Utah Expedition may have written to Boston’s papers to gain maximum circulation (notoriety), and I know that Capt. Barnard E. Bee of the 10th Infantry urged his wife Sophia to visit friends there from their home in South Carolina; when Bee obtained a leave of absence in the fall of 1858, it was to Boston that he headed from Utah. While surveying the Boston newspapers, a sharp-eyed researcher could also keep his/her eyes peeled for information about the authorship of “Mormoniad,” a 100-page epic satire on the Utah written anonymously to lampoon both James Buchanan and Brigham Young and published in the late summer of 1858 by Boston’s A. Williams & Co.
    You quite rightly point out that many of the federal officers were from the South and suggest that papers in that region would be good prospects. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve dipped into the Charleston, SC newspapers and found several. Also the New Orleans “Picayune” was carrying dispatches from one of the war’s civilian correspondents who was also writing for other papers in other cities. Normally, I too would think that the Louisville newspapers would be promising (because that’s where Col. Johnston’s family waited out the war), but Johnston descended like a ton of bricks on his son for sharing one of his Utah letters with a Louisville editor, who ran it. Nonetheless Johnston himself urged one of his West Point classmates in St. Louis to share his Utah letters with St. Louis’s editors but not to associate such material with Johnston’s name directly.
    All of these clues are based on just smatterings of letters of which I’m aware. I haven’t done a systematic search of any of these cities’ newspapers. As I quoted Lee Iacocca at the end of my Arrington Lecture, “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!” Good hunting.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — September 30, 2008 @ 10:57 am

  6. Mark B. (#3) Nashville!? Are you actually suggesting I get off my [expletive deleted] and go look!? The library is a whole 3 blocks away!! And, I’d have to walk!! :)

    Comment by BruceC — September 30, 2008 @ 2:53 pm

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