Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Long Gone: The Mystery of Gubernatorial Absences in South Carolina and Utah

Long Gone: The Mystery of Gubernatorial Absences in South Carolina and Utah

By: William P. MacKinnon - June 25, 2009

South Carolinians, if not most Americans, were mystified in June of 2009 to find that their state governor, Mark Sanford, had gone missing. He had vanished without explanation, leaving behind not only his mystified family but his omnipresent security detail.

For the better part of a week Governor Sanford’s embarrassed staff tried gamely but unsuccessfully to deal with press inquiries. Initially the story was that no one knew where the governor was. Pressed aggressively by reporters, the story morphed into a staff explanation that Sanford must have gone hiking along the Appalachian Trail to recharge his batteries after a stressful legislative session. No one knew on which segment of the Georgia-to-Maine track he had sought renewal or how he could be contacted. Out of the loop, South Carolina’s lieutenant governor was not amused. He commented publicly that “I cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with him for more than four days, and that no one including his family, knows his whereabouts.” A state senator asked who would have been able to authorize use of the South Carolina National Guard in Sanford’s absence. On Wednesday, June 24 a bizarre story emerged that Governor Sanford had reappeared in Charleston after returning unannounced from Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, not South Carolina.

Speculation as to what impact this extraordinary chain of events will have on Sanford’s political career has already begun. It has been fueled by the maverick governor’s months-long refusal to apply for South Carolina’s share of billions of dollars in federal TARP aid at a time when the state’s economy is reeling from the worst recession in seventy-five years. At stake is the viability of Sanford’s possible consideration for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2012, if not his hold on South Carolina’s gubernatorial chair.

Utahns tempted to indulge in a reaction of it-couldn’t-happen-here might wish to recall that it has. In Utah’s case Governor Brigham Young was involved; his unexplained five-week absence from his duties in the spring of 1857 took place on a scale and with a flourish that makes the Governor Sanford episode seem bland. As with Sanford’s disappearance, Governor Young’s absence had an international flavor as well as national political implications.

As early as January 1857 Brigham Young began to drop hints to relatives and church colleagues that he was thinking of a trek north to Oregon Territory to inspect the new Mormon Indian mission — Fort Limhi – on the Salmon River. By spring he decided to do so, and on April 24 Young departed Salt Lake City for Oregon, his first absence from Utah since 1848 and the last one before his death in 1877.

For relatives Young devised a cover story that the trip was for the benefit of his health. It was an incredible explanation given the fact that he had been virtually prostrate since the death of his second counselor, Jedediah Morgan Grant, in December 1856 and the daunting, snowy wilderness awaiting him in the mountains of southern Oregon. To his boss in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of State Lewis Cass, Young offered no explanation. He simply left his post, without either informing Cass or applying for the customary leave of absence, a lapse that later prompted Congress to pass legislation requiring territorial governors to seek such authorization. Unlike South Carolina today, in 1857 there was no lieutenant governor in Utah to assume the territory’s executive duties. Next in the line of authority after the governor was Utah’s territorial secretary, but that position had never been properly filled after the murder of incumbent Almon W. Babbitt in 1856. Nominally in charge of Utah’s executive function during Governor Young’s five-week absence was merchant William H. Hooper, a confidant whom Young had appointed interim territorial secretary without the authority or federal sanction to do so.

Why had Governor Brigham Young embarked on an arduous trek of 1,000 miles – mostly outside of Utah – at the worst season of the year and at a time when he was in poor health? Historian David L. Bigler of Roseville, California, the leading authority on Fort Limhi, has argued that Young was motivated not by the need for a relaxing vacation but by a desire to examine first-hand the terrain in southern Oregon Territory as well as in what later became southwestern Montana Territory. As Bigler sees it, Young viewed Fort Limhi as a way station for a possible mass Mormon migration out of Utah in the event of a renewal of troubles with the U.S. government. Possible destinations for such a move were either the isolated Bitterroot Valley of Montana or a haven on the Pacific Coast. As an indicator of the non-routine nature of this inspection, Bigler notes that Governor Young took with him to Oregon an entourage that included 142 people including the entire LDS Church’s First Presidency, all but one of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles then residing in Utah, six Nauvoo Legion (militia) generals, and two Indian chiefs of the Northern Wasatch Utah and Pahvant Ute tribes. If Secretary of State Cass had not been notified of this visit, neither had Oregon’s governor, George Curry, or his superintendent of Indian affairs.

Whether the government of Argentine took note of Governor Sanford’s recent visit is not known, but we do know that the two foreign powers with possessions on North America’s Pacific Coast – Russia and the United Kingdom – were aware of Young’s trip soon after his return in May. This sensitivity arose as a consequence of rampant rumors that sprang up in California and the Pacific Northwest speculating about a Mormon exodus. So alarmed were the Russians about the possible loss of Russian America (Alaska) to a Mormon seizure, in December 1857 Tsar Alexander II authorized the beginning of negotiations with the U.S. government to sell the colony. British concerns about the defensibility of Vancouver Island – a destination of long interest to the Mormons – was such that Queen Victoria removed the area from the ineffectual administration of the Hudson’s Bay Company and created the crown colony of British Columbia in June 1858.

What followed Brigham Young’s return to Salt Lake City on May 26, 1857 was his replacement as governor and, two days later, the creation of the U.S. Army’s Utah Expedition. The Utah War was on. Two years later, in June 1859, Brigham Young asked Utah’s territorial delegate in Congress, Dr. John M. Bernhisel, to wrote a memo setting forth his conversations over the past several years with President Buchanan. Among the interactions that Bernhisel described was one that probably took place in early 1858. In this White House meeting, nearly a year after Brigham Young’s mysterious, unauthorized departure from Utah’s gubernatorial chair, President Buchanan was still pressing Bernhisel for an explanation as to where exactly Young had gone and for what purpose. They are the same questions being asked in South Carolina today.

William P. MacKinnon
Santa Barbara, Calif.
June 24, 2009



  1. No one knows more about or has done a better job of assembling and interpreting the facts of the Utah War than Bill MacKinnon. Even after years of reading pieces of his manuscript and listening to him detail his reasons for this or that conclusion, reading his At Sword’s Point, Part I: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858 from beginning to end was still a revelation: The story involves so many different individuals and groups acting over such a wide stage (world wide, actually). One by one Bill introduces each piece, gathering the threads of the story and pulling his characters together until by the end of the volume, set during Christmas week of 1857, everything is in place, geographically and philosophically, for the possibility of a grand collision in 1858. Of course I know what’s going to happen in Part II, Bill’s second volume now in the works, but that doesn’t lessen the anticipation for seeing exactly how it will all come about.

    Nevertheless, I’m brash enough to disagree with Bill over certain details, and he was even kind enough to acknowledge by footnote my differing viewpoint in one or two cases. I see our debates in some ways as a continuation of the Utah War itself: I think I understand the 1857 Mormon mindset in ways that he cannot, while Bill sees events from the national perspective. He promises he won’t be offended by my noting our chief differences here:

    1. Purposes of the 1857 grand trek to Fort Limhi: I view this expedition as no different in purpose, although greater in scale, than Brigham Young’s earlier expedition to explore the regions south of the Salt Lake Valley. This was nothing more than an exploration of the territory (“territory” meaning the Saints’ new homeland, the Rocky Mountain region, and not the big-T Territory of federal organization) for the purposes of understanding resources and the potential of planting new settlements. I vehemently disagree with Bigler’s thesis that Brigham was looking for an “escape route” – he had no intention of ever moving his people again, and he expected the Lord to help fight any battles. There would be no need to escape, and I don’t believe the idea ever entered his head. Certainly Bigler has provided no evidence that such was in Brigham’s mind. Rather, in an effort to support a cause and effect relationship between the chronological coincidence of the spring 1858 Indian attack on Fort Limhi and Brigham’s acceptance of Thomas L. Kane’s peace negotiations, Bigler has backtracked through events and artificially inserted that “escape route” notion into the earlier Fort Limhi expedition.

    2. Brigham Young’s actions as governor: Bill consistently writes as though Brigham Young were an ordinary federally appointed territorial governor, and that he violated his obligations by leaving the Territory, by entering another governor’s Territory, by dealing with Indians outside his jurisdiction as Utah’s Indian superintendent, etc. Technically, there’s no doubt that he is right. But Brigham was not a typical federal appointee: Neither he nor his people saw his authority as having been conferred by Washington. He was the leader of “this people” long before the appointment came, and I don’t think it ever occurred to him, or to the Saints, that his duties and authority were constricted by the narrower terms of his bureaucratic appointment – in their minds, the federal appointment was nothing more than federal recognition of Brigham’s existing roles. His obligations were to the people he led, and it occurred to none of them that an arbitrarily drawn line on a map was any barrier to his responsibilities.

    Further, I have seen no evidence whatsoever that Brigham Young even knew the regulations Bill holds him responsible for. Brigham had had no experience with governorship in a secular system. He received no training from his political superiors. He received circulars regarding ongoing federal expectations – how to take the federal census, various reports he was expected to submit with regard to the Indian population – but there is no evidence at all that he received any overall training instructing him that he should not cross a Territorial boundary without first requesting permission or notifying Washington, or that he should contact the governor of any Territory he did happen to enter, or what to do in the case of a Territorial secretary being murdered by Indians while crossing the plains. Bill faults Brigham for violating political obligations without establishing that Brigham was even aware he had such obligations.

    See what I mean about this being a continuation of the Utah War? The same differing perspectives, the same charges of misunderstanding, the same complaints over unfairness, are as alive now as they were in 1857.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 25, 2009 @ 7:20 am

  2. For a territorial governor to leave his post without communicating his intent for five weeks while taking into another territory two tribal chiefs and dispensing gifts to tribes outside his own jurisdiction without bothering to touch base with either the governor or superintendent of Indian affairs in the new place strikes me as defying common sense as well as common courtesy. What did the Flatheads, Bannocks, and Shoshones of Oregon Territory think of the arrival of an entourage from Utah bearing gifts in the company of chiefs from that southern area? I’d argue that Brigham Young was a quick study, and that he didn’t need a government circular or training program to know that he was pushing the envelope of his responsibilities as Utah’s governor.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 25, 2009 @ 7:46 am

  3. I don’t want to interrupt your debate in any way, but bravo to both of you. Very interesting reading.

    Comment by Researcher — June 25, 2009 @ 7:48 am

  4. I understand your point, Bill. I have the advantage of being both a 19th/20th/21st century Mormon and a 21st century American, and I can shift between perspectives now without a lot of effort. When I stand on your side of the looking glass, I agree that objectively you are right. When I step through and stand next to Brigham Young and the people he led, it’s a very different picture.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 25, 2009 @ 8:15 am

  5. This is the same Fort Limhi that was in present-day Idaho, right? The one that was closed shortly after this visit due to Indian troubles and the Utah War? After reading the comments above, it appears that Pres. Young’s visit may have directly contributed to the events that forced it closed. Ironic!

    Does anyone know why Brigham Young never restarted Ft Limhi, or sent colonists to the Bitterroot Range?

    [Clark, I’ve edited your name to distinguish between you and Clark Goble, who comments below.]

    Comment by Clark (2) — June 25, 2009 @ 9:26 am

  6. Thank you Bill and thank you Ardis. Another example of why Keepapitchinin is the best blog out there. As a history buff I always enjoy learning how different events intersect and influence decisions. Fascinating stuff.

    Comment by Joey — June 25, 2009 @ 11:20 am

  7. !!!

    Yes, this post gets three bangs. Wow!

    I have never heard of this expedition, and to suddenly learn about it and the probable ramifications from Moscow to Westminster is astonishing. Thank you!

    Comment by Ben Pratt — June 25, 2009 @ 11:35 am

  8. Thanks to Researcher and Joey. Clark, yes, this is the same Fort Limhi you’ve described. B.Y. ordered its abandonment in early March 1858 after it was raided on February 25, 1858 (the day T.L. Kane arrived in SLC) by approximately 200 Bannocks and Northern Shoshones, with the result being the death of two Mormon farmer-missionaries, wounding of five others, and the loss of hundreds of cattle/horses. I don’t think that Brigham Young’s visit caused these events, but the raid on Limhi was definitely the result of (1) the fact that the mission had been sited in a valley through which many opposing tribes swirled (the raiding tribes felt that the LDS were aiding their enemies) and (2) the Utah War. Bigler makes a pretty good case for the likelihood that the raiders may have been egged-on, if not instigated, by a detachment of civilians and perhaps soldiers sent north from Fort Bridger by Col. Albert Sidney Johnston (Utah Expedition) to buy cattle and horses from among the Flatheads. After the active phase of the Utah War ended in the summer of 1858 none of the former Mormon colonies/outposts (like Fort Limhi) that had been rolled-up in 1857 were restarted. Why I’m not quite sure. California, once an active Mormon area between San Bernardino and San Francisco, had virtually no Mormon presence again until about the 1880s. Bigler believes that the loss of Fort Limhi changed the Utah War strategically in the sense that it prompted B.Y. to realize that he could no longer count on Indian allies in the Utah War (the so-called “battle axe of the Lord”) and closed his northern escape route. As with Ardis’s skepticism about Dave’s view of why B.Y. went north in April-May 1857, I think he over-keys to the Fort Limhi loss as being decisive in the outcome of the Utah War.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 25, 2009 @ 11:43 am

  9. Ben, the premise of my book “At Sword’s Point” is that the Utah War story is regional (western) if not international, not just a Utah thing. At the same time that Albert Sidney Johnston was attempted to find remounts among the Flatheads and mountaineers of Oregon territory, he had sent a 60-person detachment south down the spine of the Contenental Divide to New Mexico Territory to buy 1,000 horses/mules and 1,000 sheep. Then there was the Buchanan administration’s plan to inject a second brigade into Utah from the Pacific Coast (perhaps up the Colorado River, perhaps from the Pacific Northwest or across the Sierras) and B.Y.’s March 1858 Move South with destination unknown (perhaps Mexican Sonora say some, but not Ardis). At the time the army was approaching SLC in June 1858, B.Y. was meeting with a two-man delegation representing a huge landowner in Central America that was trying to convince B.Y. that he should flee to the coast of that region. Like Ardis, I don’t think B.Y. had any interest in an exodus to coastal Nicaragua. Then there was the guy who was trying to convince President Buchanan that he could get the Mormons to exit for a haven on an island in the Dutch East Indies. Quite a sweep to this story!

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 25, 2009 @ 11:52 am

  10. I had never heard of this episode either, and this is fascinating stuff. Bill, I really do need to read your book. Of course today, we know a bit more about Governor Stanford’s trip to Argentina than we did earlier.

    I love the point/counter point here between Ardis and Bill. Vague remembrances of Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtin on Weekend Update. Bill, did the possibility of a Mormon Exodus really have an impact on the sale of Alaska to the US? That also is new to me. I had always heard that Russia was fearful of losing it to GB/Canada or the US without compensation, and the sale was an effort to head off such a loss.

    Comment by kevinf — June 25, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

  11. Wow! What a great read. I had no idea about this trip Brigham took in 1857. And a fun way to learn about it, in light of current events. Thanks, Bill MacKinnon

    Do you know (roughly) the route Brigham took from Salt Lake City to Fort Limhi?

    Comment by Hunter — June 25, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

  12. Welcome to my world, everybody. :) Bill is constantly coming up with these totally unexpected, totally unknown connections, and [begin brag] I often get to hear about them before most other people [end brag]. Not only am I lucky in that, I’m also lucky that he’s so confident and generous that he doesn’t hold it against me … I hope … on the very rare occasions when I reach different conclusions and stubbornly refuse to be converted. That doesn’t happen very often, I assure you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 25, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

  13. kevinf, whew! For a minute I thought that you were going to invoke Saturday Night Live rather than Weekend Update. To answer your question, I think the Utah War and fear of a Mormon mass exodus to the Pacific Coast did have an impact on the Russian decision to sell Alaska. Having said that, though, it would be an overstatement to argue that this fear was THE cause. The Russians had been worried about the defense of Russian American and the effectiveness of the Russian-America Company’s stewardship over the area for years. This heated up during the Crimean War with G.B., during which the Russians feared G.B. would seize Alaska and also by an incident in which an Alaskan Indian tribe overran the Russian-American Co.’s lightly defended HQ on Baranoff Island (Sitka Hartbor) in 1855. Fears of an American take-over were fueled by seeing what Americans had grabbed from Mexico (Texas and Alta Calif., including the Salt Lake Valley) during the 1840s. Fear of B.Y.’s arrival on the Pacific with a large, armed Nauvoo Legion was the catalyst for the Russian authorization to negotiation, which came less than a month after the Russian Minister to Washington reported to St. Petersburg on the Lot Smith raid of October 1857 and the minister’s pessissimistic White House visit with Buchanan in late November. Unknown to the Russians, B.Y. wrote two letters on March 5, 1858 to Utah’s territorial delegate in Congress and the head of the LDS British Mission in Liverpool in which he used the same cryptic phrase: “We continue to keep our eyes on the Russian possessions.” Ardis and I disagree on how to interpret this phrase too.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 25, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

  14. Hunter, I’d have to look up the Salt Lake to Fort Limhi route, which was anchored on the south by Ogden and then Fort Hall. Bigler’s book on Fort Limhi and a companion article on it in “Montana” at about the same time would have good maps, I’m sure.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 25, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

  15. Ardis (#12), I’ll deal with you later…heh, heh.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 25, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

  16. Wow! That was an absolutely amazing story. It reminds me, yet again, that when you try to pick out just one thing, you find it’s attached to everything else in the universe.

    Comment by Mel — June 25, 2009 @ 5:32 pm

  17. This is another great post. I was unfamiliar with this episode. I wish we’d hear more of these stories in church instead of the same water-down, tired Utah territorial era stories we get.

    Inquiring minds want to know how the Mountain Meadows Massacre fits into all of this? Were the Russians and the Fancher party in cahoots? :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — June 25, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

  18. Steve C., the Mountain Meadows massacre “fits in ” in the sense that it was the principal (but not only) atrocity of the Utah War — the attack on Fort Limhi is an example of another one. I don’t believe that MMM would have occurred had there been no Utah War. As for Russians and the Fancher party, this may be the only conspiracy theory that remains to surface about that sad episode.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 25, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

  19. Bill & Hunter, if you don’t mind my butting in here, there is a map (somewhat crude) of the route of the missionaries to Fort Limhi in “Our Pioneer Heritage” (DUP), V.7, p. 146. I believe an interested traveler could emulate the route fairly well with DeLorme Atlases and a willingness to follow some country roads (mostly paved), but much of the distance on Interstates. I have been through most of the country and may even try it if gas prices don’t skyrocket. You would see some interesting places in Idaho like Curlew Valley, Arbon Valley, Groveland, New Sweden, Mud Lake, Terreton, Blue Dome, Leadore and finally, Lemhi (the gentile spelling). (A few minutes north of Lemhi, you can connect to the Lewis & Clark Hwy and, if driving a Hummer, could drive through the Lemhi Pass, which was key to the party’s westward success.) I presume Brother Brigham and his entourage followed the same route as the missionaries. By 1857, it had been traveled somewhat. Comparing the missionary list with BY’s group, I can see some possible guides.

    Comment by Curt A. — June 25, 2009 @ 7:34 pm

  20. Curt, thanks for the travel info. re the route from SLC to Fort Limhi. This may stimulate more than one future road trip among Ardis’s readers. [Side note: my friend Curt A. has an encyclopedic understanding of the individual soldiers who served in the U.S. Army’s Utah Expedition, notwithstanding the fact that his own ancestor, Andrew Jackson Allen, was a Nauvoo Legionnaire who rode with Lot Smith and the Mormon side during the Utah War. After spending the winter of 1950-51 in the incredible cold of North Korean, Curt developed empathy for those also in the U.S. Army who had endured the winter of 1857-58 at Fort Bridger/Camp Scott.] For those wishing to learn morre about the Fort Limhi story, see two publications by David L. Bigler: “Fort Limhi: The Mormon Adventure in Oregon Territory, 1855-1858” (Spokane, Wash.: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 2003); and “Mormon Missionaries, the Utah War, and the 1858 Bannock Raid on Fort Limhi,” “Montana: The Magazine of Western History” 53 (Autumn 2003).

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 25, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  21. Thanks for the follow on about the route, guys. I had been aware of the Mormon connection to the place’s name (Limhi, now Lemhi), but again, was unaware that Brigham and company had gone up for a visit. What a great story. I love it. (Even if there are conflicting implications to be drawn from some of Brigham’s actions.)

    I think Keepapitchinin should set up a re-enactment of this trip. On horses.

    Comment by Hunter — June 25, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

  22. Re #21: and like every good western trek, the Keepa re-enactment group will need a,er, Hunter.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 26, 2009 @ 12:01 am

  23. FWIW, a written description of the route was printed in the June 10, 1857, issue of the Deseret News here (pp. 108-109 [pp. 4-5 on the left sidebar]).

    Comment by Justin — June 26, 2009 @ 8:54 am

  24. Justin, wonderful! Thanks for providing this link.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 26, 2009 @ 9:37 am

  25. I think Keepapitchinin should set up a re-enactment of this trip. On horses.

    Who knows, maybe we will, Hunter. Remember our joking about a year ago that Keepa should convene at Valley Forge? Researcher and I did just that recently (on a warm May day, not the winter campout that was suggested!).

    Limhi, here we come …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2009 @ 9:44 am

  26. Dang, Justin. You’re gewd.

    Thanks. What a great article.

    Comment by Hunter — June 26, 2009 @ 10:50 am

  27. Hunter, I second the motion. Justin’s just won the expedition’s spot as chief scout. Note the explanation for the jaunt to Limhi in the “DesNews”s opening paragraph. Does that sound credible given the season, terrain, and distance involved as well as the medical condition of its leader?

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 26, 2009 @ 11:04 am

  28. Bill are you becoming a regular blogger here with Ardis? (Sorry if this was announced – I’ve been so busy I’ve not kept up with blogs the last couple of months like I used to)

    If so I’m very happy. Great discussion and post.

    Comment by Clark — June 26, 2009 @ 11:19 am

  29. BTW – this is Clark Goble, not the Clark above. (If there’s now an other Clark I’m really going to have to start signing my full name)

    Comment by Clark — June 26, 2009 @ 11:20 am

  30. Clark (#28), no I’m not a regular blogger on Keepa, just a friend of the court who occasionally kibitzes. I admire (and learn from) what Ardis does, and so I read this blog when I can…it’s like eating peanuts.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 26, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  31. Well I hope you continue to post occasionally. As I’ve often said this is probably one of my favorite Mormon blogs and you pair up with it very well.

    Comment by Clark Goble — June 26, 2009 @ 11:34 am

  32. Yeah, Bill, I did notice the funny description of the reason for the trip. (For those who didn’t read the Deseret News article, it reports that Brigham Young and others left Salt Lake “to visit the settlement on Salmon river, to rest their minds, to invigorate their bodies, and to examine the intermediate country.” (emphasis mine)).

    I think the reasons given relating to rest and recreation seem very pretextual, but, on the other hand, I also don’t think this pretext means perforce that the group went to scout out an “escape route.”

    The group clearly seem up to something more than just sharing an R&R visit with the local Saints. For example, the reporter indicates that they attempted to learn more about the latitude and longitude while there, but “[t]he positions of the clouds precluded so good an observation for time as could have been wished, and other duties have hitherto prevented a discussion for the results, which have to be omitted till a future date.” But again, my uneducated eyes don’t read this as anymore an indication of a search for an escape route as for settlement information.

    Comment by Hunter — June 26, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  33. The bit about resting the mind and invigorating the body is very common in BY’s correspondence, sometimes used in discussing the purposes of his preaching trips, which he very much enjoyed as recreation; sometimes recommended as the solution to a problem that someone has written to him about. “Examining the intermediate country” supports very nicely my contention that a major reason for the expedition was to scout out new settlement spots for expanding Mormon settlement northward.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2009 @ 11:57 am

  34. Clark Goble, I assumed that you were the Clark making the earlier comment — I’ve edited his name slightly (Clark (2)) to distinguish him from you.

    I hope Bill will write other posts from time to time, as long as, like any other commenter, I get to kibbitz. Besides, he needs a good excuse to take a break from working on the second volume of At Sword’s Point.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  35. Re rest, BY noted in a May 31, 1857, sermon printed in the same issue of the Deseret News that he had accomplished what he had intended to accomplish: rest the mind and weary the body (here on p. 3) (cf. Heber C. Kimball’s opening remarks printed on p. 4).

    Comment by Justin — June 26, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

  36. I love expeditions and would leave at a moment’s notice if I could get a kitchen pass. But for a reality check, there’s not much there except a marker. Not even the rotted posts like Fort Supply. The route, on roads than come closest to the one used by the missionaries sent to settle, is, by my Streets and Trips software, 373 miles. The scenic return along the Salmon River and down through Sun Valley makes the total mileage 835 long miles and three days by car. Horses? Can you really imagine the saddle cramps for like three weeks? I wonder how many feather pillows Brother Brigham sat on.

    Comment by Curt A. — June 26, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  37. A couple more questions:

    1) Ardis, what IF the idea of an escape route had entered BY’s head? What then? I guess what I want to know is, besides Brigham’s statements that he intended to stay in Utah and fight, what other reasons make you hostile to the escape route idea?

    2) Anybody want to tell me why the company was so large? I mean, 142 people “including the entire LDS Church’s First Presidency, all but one of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles then residing in Utah, six Nauvoo Legion (militia) generals, and two Indian chiefs of the Northern Wasatch Utah and Pahvant Ute tribes,” and including “22 women and 5 boys, with 168 horses and mules, 54 wagons and carriages, and 2 light boats.” Wow! This was no small thing. Are we to attach any significance to this? Or not?

    Comment by Hunter — June 26, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

  38. I just realized that #35 repeats Ardis’ #33. I must be going blind.

    Comment by Justin — June 26, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

  39. Justin, your #35 is independent corroboration of my #33. I hadn’t yet looked at the link, and was recalling remarks in BY’s unpublished correspondence over the years. As happens so often, you came up with a specific example.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

  40. 37: Hunter, the answer to your (1) could be a full post in itself. First, history tries to mirror what did happen; novelists have the option of inventing characters who might have been somewhere, or secret plans that could have been discussed, but responsible historians ought to have very positive evidence before asserting something so key to a book’s argument as the “escape route” thesis is to Bigler’s notions of Fort Limhi as crucial to the outcome of the Utah War. He presents no concrete evidence for such a purpose to the expedition.

    Second, the sermons of Brigham Young and other leaders are full of statements showing their conviction that Salt Lake Valley was the place where the Saints would remain, at least until they could return to Jackson County. They spoke of the temple under construction as the temple that would stand through the Millennium. There’s an entire doctrine centered around Salt Lake’s position in “the tops of the mountains” — perhaps that could have been transferred in some form to another mountainous region, but it would have required a lot of back-peddling. There is another body of statements from that era that although the Saints would have to defend themselves, they would never again be moved out of their place — there would be no more drivings. Whether any historian believes those prophecies or not, they define the mindset of Brigham Young.

    Third, review what you know of Brigham Young and his career. Nobody had more intimate practical knowledge of what would be required to move a large body of people through the wilderness than Brigham Young: Not only had he superintended the exodus across the plains, but he had earlier shepherded the Saints fleeing from Missouri to Nauvoo, when Joseph was lying in Liberty Jail. Suppose for a moment that Brigham had intended to evacuate Utah for some distant point. Such a move would have been far more difficult than the exodus from Nauvoo had been:

    There were several times more people in Utah than there had been in Nauvoo and environs.

    They were far more poverty-stricken in Utah than they had been in Nauvoo — even getting people from the north of Utah to Provo and points southward during the Move South in a short-term, local evacuation meant that wagons and teams had to make multiple round trips, something that could not have been done had the evacuation site been at a much greater distance (Sonora? Alaska?). Every description of the Saints I’ve seen, from either Mormon or federal sources, at the time of the Move South says that the majority of the people were barefoot and nearly naked. Clothing was already next-to-nonexistent in Utah, with other goods being in equally short supply. This is a people prepared to “escape” somewhere?

    Everyone would have had to go at once. In Nauvoo, thousands of people went to St. Louis or melted back into the general population as they worked over several years to acquire the means to go west. There’s no place in the West for anyone to wait — they all would have had to go at once.

    In Nauvoo, when the decision was made to evacuate and head west, the entire city turned into a wagon shop during the winter. Women sewed canvas wagon tops and tents non-stop. Blacksmiths were in constant work. Wagons and wagon components were built everywhere, including in homes. But there is not the slightest sign — no hint whatsoever — of any similar activity in Salt Lake during the winter of 1857-58. People were asked to eat their vegetables and store their wheat and cattle (transportable food), and boxes were built to cache household goods and grain, but that was all with the anticipation that the people might have to flee to the hills and fight a guerrilla war — still in the neighborhood of Salt Lake, not in some distant point. If any rolling stock was built during the winter, it escapes any presence in the historical record.

    The people were not prepared to move. The alternative is to assume that Brigham, and perhaps other leaders, would abandon the Saints and “escape” themselves. What have you ever seen in Brigham Young’s history that would justify such a suspicion?

    Your (2) could be best answered by a clearer picture of Brigham’s southern expedition, his multiple preaching trips north and south, and his annual winter pilgrimages to St. George late in his life. I don’t have time to look up numbers involved in those expeditions. The trip to Fort Limhi is no doubt the largest such expedition — but is size somehow proof of a secret agenda?

    Bill’s numbers illustrate the size of the expedition, but some of those numbers are red herrings. Church leaders, who were also political and military leaders, were Brigham’s closest colleagues — who else would he go a-camping with? What difference does it make what number were apostles, and what number were Nauvoo Legion generals, when they’re all the same people drawn from the same circle of friends? Doesn’t the number of women present tend to support the idea of a recreational outing, not a military expedition? If 137 adults in your ward drove to a ward party, would you expect fewer than 54 cars? Would you be surprised if there were two motorized toys among them (my analogy to the two light boats, which could have been of practical use on the Limhi expedition, I suppose, but not very practical for use by such a large party)? 168 horses and mules is hardly extraordinary, either, allowing for two horses to pull each wagon, with a small number of the men riding horseback.

    I concede that it’s a large group, but I see no need to read conspiratorial purpose behind that size, and given the size, nothing at all unusual in the makeup and equipment of the party.

    This comment is way too long and is being posted without being re-read. I hope it’s coherent, and that I haven’t overlooked too many parts of your questions.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

  41. By the way, anyone wanting more information about Bill’s book At Sword’s Point, Part 1 and where it can be purchased can find that information here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  42. Re Ardis’s #40, I’m not going to make the case that Brigham Young’s trek to Fort Limhi and back was for the purpose of seeking out an escape route for a mass exodus. That’s Dave Bigler’s argument, and he can defend it if he so wishes. I’d guess that by now he’s aware of this dialogue. But I do think that his argument is sufficiently interesting/relevant that Keepa readers should be aware of it, as apparently many have not been.
    What I will assert, by way of comment on Ardis’s post, is that the Limhi trek was indeed important/significant and highly unusual, not just routine or business as usual. It was not undertaken for the purposes represented. Ardis likens the trek north to earlier treks south and dismisses the significance of both its size and the composition of its participants. These factors were indeed signifcant because they: (1) took place at a highly unlikely time and climate for a recreational trip;(2) stripped Utah Territory for five weeks of virtually its entire leadership (civil, religious, and military); and (3) placed B.Y. in a position of being incommunicado at the very time he was anticipating both his own removal as Utah’s governor and the likelihood of an armed intervention by the federal government. If Governor Brigham Young had wanted to benefit Utah by traveling, he could have headed east in April 1857 to lobby the new president in Washington rather than heading north as he did. (It was during this very five-week period that the Buchanan administration decided Utah’s fate, and two days after he returned to Salt Lake City General Winfield Scott issued orders to organize the Utah Expedition.)
    I agree with Ardis that the Mormon people were not prepared in the spring of 1857 for a mass exodus to the Bitterroot valley or the Pacific Coast. Neither were they prepared for any of the things B.Y. asked them to do, some of which were very unusual like asking 30,000 of them to abandon their property after preparing it for destruction while heading south for an undisclosed location. If it would have seemed foolhardy for a leader to ask people in this condition to flee to a northwestern destination of unspecified location, so too were the preparations that he took for them to flee to fictive desert oases in what is now central Nevada where they could hole up, raise crops, and conduct a fighting retreat as the army advanced. In the winter of 1857-58 two such exploring expeditions were sent out to the deserts, and they returned with the message that the oases ididn’t exist.
    I also agree with Ardis that B.Y. frequently said/wrote that he did not want to leave Utah (as for coastal Central America), but he did not always say what he meant, especially if he thought the church’s best interests were at stake. Oh, and by the way in January of 1858 — after T.L. Kane had left for Utah, Utah’s territorial delegate in Congress visited President Buchanan to privately float a proposition by which the feds would “buy out” the Mormons with the understanding that they would remove from Utah to an island in the Dutch East Indies. The dark architect of this plan — probably unknown to B.Y.– was Walter Murray Gibson, a nut about whom volumes more could be written but a man to whom B.Y. later (1860s) gave a commission to negotiate on behalf of the LDS Church with any foreign government in the world. (Gibson later became leader of the Mormon community in Hawaii, foreign minister of the Kingdom of Hawaii and a guy so out-of-control that an apostolic delegation from SLC had to be sent to Hawaii to wrestle control of the Mormon presence there from him.)
    Ardis comments that B.Y. would never abandon his people, and I agree. Yet in his secret March 21, 1858 discourse setting forth what became the Move South he did say that he was of a mind to just leave and go into the fictive desert oases, leaving behind any Latter-day Saints who did not care to follow him. It was a very unusual evocation of the shepherd/sheep figure of speech.
    Who said Utah/Mormon history is dull!

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 26, 2009 @ 8:39 pm

  43. Bill, I thought you had decided that the undocumented report of Bernhisel’s presentation of Gibson’s reputed plan was not reliable — no?

    I realize this back-and-forth makes for entertaining blogging, but I’m afraid I now have to step away from the forthing part of it. Anyone who wants to continue discussing this with Bill is of course welcome to, as long as he is willing to entertain questions.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2009 @ 9:06 pm

  44. […] The case of the disappearing guv’nor. (It’s not the one you’re thinking about.) […]

    Pingback by Notes From All Over - through June 27 | Times & Seasons, An Onymous Mormon Blog — June 27, 2009 @ 8:30 am

  45. Yes, Ardis and Bill, “entertaining blogging” indeed! This has been one my favorite Keepa post/comment exchanges. A sincere thanks for taking the time and effort to lay out the different aspects of the Fort Limhi trip. Wonderful stuff.

    Thanks again.

    Comment by Hunter — June 27, 2009 @ 11:58 am

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