Forgive me; somehow it slipped my mind that I had started this series. Back to it, then –
Brigham Young was a man of, we might say, decided opinions. We might easily say something much stronger than this – many people have, with good reason. He was excitable – get him in the pulpit, or provide him with an audience in his office, or even have him dictate a letter rather than scratch it out by hand, and he was apt to let his tongue and his temper run away with him when he condemned adultery, apostasy, and marrying outside the faith. There is no shortage of scandalously temperamental, righteously indignant, temperamentally outspoken sayings – however you want to characterize them – that create the public impression of Brigham Young as a dictatorial, harsh, judgmental, overbearing man.
Those are the quotations people love to trot out. These quotations hardly reflect the full man, though.
I like Brigham Young because he preached fire and brimstone … but then he practiced mercy.
Brevet Lt. Col. Edward J. Steptoe, with about 325 soldiers of the U.S. army, spent the winter of 1854-55 in Salt Lake City before marching on to California. While the record reflects mutual respect and even cordiality between senior Mormon and senior military leaders, the record also provides abundant evidence that lesser officers and men preyed on the women of Salt Lake City, too many of whom willingly responded to flattery, novelty, and uniforms. One junior officer even targeted a member of Brigham Young’s own household; if his vulgar letters to a friend at home are to be believed, he achieved a considerable degree of lewd success before the couple was found out and separated. When the army moved on in the spring, as many as 100 women – girls, some of them, only 13 and 14 years old – left with them, to the disgust of the Mormons.
After they had gone, Brigham preached about such men who “would creep into your houses, and try to coax your wives and daughters away from you. What for? Was it to make them more honorable, to give them a better character in the midst of the inhabitants of the earth, sustain them better, and make them more comfortable, and acknowledge them? No – they wanted to prostitute them, to ruin them, and send them to the grave, or to the devil, when they had done with them.” About the women who had accompanied them, “If any wish to go to California to whore it, we will send a company of them off; that is my mind, and perhaps some few ought to go, for they are indeed bad enough. … If they want women to go to California with them, we will send a company of the same stripe, if they can be found, and then both parties will be suited to and for each other. I would rather follow her to the grave, and send her home pure, than suffer my daughter to be prostituted. I will not suffer any female member of my family to be polluted through the corruptions of wicked men.” (JD 2:322)
And yet …
In 1856, Thomas Stayner, an English convert, wrote to Brigham Young about his daughter Elizabeth, who had gone to California with the soldiers. “I have had several letters from her of late, in which she expresses a wish to return here to see her Parents … I should feel much obliged if you would assist me in this (to me) serious business. Knowing a word from you to some person there, would have so much avail in recovering our (at present) lost child in getting her to this place where we might exercise Parental Council and care and where she may be again taught the ways of the Lord.”
Did Brigham Young counsel the parents to forget their daughter, curse her as a fallen woman, say she was better off dead or in California? No, he wrote immediately to Elizabeth, encouraging her to return “to your much afflicted parents who feel like extending their kind and parental care for your benefit.” What’s more, he wrote to Orson Hyde, who would be returning to Salt Lake City that spring: “I received an urgent appeal from Brother Stayner, father to the Miss Stayner, who accompanied the troops to California in the spring of 1855. He says that his daughter desires very much to return, and wished me to devise some way by which that event might be accomplished. I have written a line to her about it.” He asked Hyde to “find a way for her to return to her much afflicted parents, trusting that you will furnish it.”
In the end, Elizabeth Stayner decided to stay in California, where she married and raised a family. Brigham Young, though, had done what he could to smooth her return to Utah and to Mormondom, had she chosen that path.
In the same summer, after the army had left taking so many women and girls with them, John Taylor’s daughter Mary Ann went to her mother to tell her that she wanted to marry James S. Drummond (not the infamous judge William Drummond of 1857, but an unrelated clerk in a general store at Salt Lake). John Taylor was away in New York that year, on a mission as emigration agent and publisher of the newspaper The Mormon. Sister Taylor gave her permission for the marriage, yet both mother and daughter knew that John Taylor would be greatly angered by his daughter’s marriage outside the faith.
They were right, evidently: Mary Ann went to California with her husband. The next year, she wrote to her father:
I scarcely know how to write, things are so changed scince I last saw you but I suppose you have heard all. Mr Drummond has writ[t]en to you some time science but as yet recd no answer, I hope dear Father you will not deny him one, he is very anxious to hear from you, as well as my self[. N]othing would give me more pleasure than to hear that you were not angry with me … my Husband is a very good man and kind to me
Mary Ann reminded her father of something he already knew:
do not think that I went against the counsel of Brigham[. H]e asured Dear Mother that you would had you been here Done the same thing
And she was right in saying she had not disregarded Brigham’s counsel. At the time of the marriage, Brigham had written to John Taylor to explain the situation and to ease the father’s burden the best he could:
In regard to Mary Ann, your daughter, marrying Mr Drummond, and my counsel upon that subject, I wish to make a few remarks.
She seemed determined to go with the gentiles, and keep their company, regardless of the remonstrances of her friends, and when Sister Taylor came to me to know what should be done about it, I told her that if he wanted to marry her, and she was a daughter of mine, I should let him do so, and I believe yet that it is much better for her to do as she has, than to do like some others that I could mention.
I do not believe that a faithful Elder as you are, and have been, will lose their children; when she has experienced enough of the world, she will be glad to return, and perhaps bring her husband with her, He is a very good looking man, and has been very highly recommended by Judge Kinney, who states that he is of a good family, and respectable character
I do not know to what extent Mary Ann and her father were ever reconciled. She stayed in touch with her family, naming her first child after her mother; letters to and from Mary Ann were carefully preserved by her brother George.
Margaret (“Maggie”) Curtis, who married B.H. Roberts, wrote about an incident involving her older brother, Theodore:
In the course of time my brother, in harmony with the custom of our Church, respecting its young men, was sent to England on a mission.
All men are not equal to bearing the strain that a mission imposes upon them, most of them win their fight for their faith when brought in contact with the world, but it pains me to say that my brother was not among those who thus succeed. Of a keen intellectual temperament, he read widely before and while on his mission and paid much attention to the works of historians and philosophers, some of whose works make for doubt rather than for faith. This resulted first in doubts, then in unfaith, which he frankly confessed to his mission associates. In this frame of mind, of course, he was unsuited for the work of a missionary and the authorities of the British mission advised his return home, but in their unsympathetic policy towards him, furnished means for his fare only to New York. Here he landed without friends or money. In a short time he was stricken with typhoid fever. He wrote me of his condition.
Maggie wanted to bring her brother home and begged her father to send the means for Theodore to buy a ticket. He refused. After praying for a way to get him home, Maggie went to see Brigham Young. He was not home; she waited for his return, but returning in the company of others, he did not see her standing near his door and the young girl was too shy to call out to him. She was still lingering near the door, wondering what to do, sometime later when Brigham came out to look at the sunset.
Courage came to me and I spoke to him. Doubtless noting my distress he led the way into his office and then I told him the whole story. He quickly remarked, “The brethren should have paid his passage back to his home, where he started from.”
I said, “Yes, but perhaps you do not know that he has lost faith in our Church and its message to the world.”
“That makes no difference,” he said, “they should have sent him home.”
He asked me if I had any money. I told him no but I had a fine set of furs which I would sell if we could find a buyer. Then he inquired if my father had the means. I said, “Yes, but he refuses to send it to him.”
He said, “Go and tell your father to come to me, now, this evening [putting his hand tenderly on my shoulder], and don’t suffer any more. Money shall be telegraphed to your brother this night, and I promise you that he shall live, and come home to you. When he lands here, bring him to me.” The money, supplied by my father, was telegraphed that night and in due time my brother arrived in our city, thin, weak, and pale.
Although he was older than I was, I felt that I must take his mother’s place. So I urged him to go with me to meet President Young. An interview was arranged. Upon entering this great man’s presence, my brother received a most hearty welcome. The president shook hands with him, called him by his given name – Theodore. – it was like a father welcoming home his son. The interview that followed I cannot write, language fails me. The gentle admonition, his encouraging words, his blessing upon my brother came form the divine spirit in Brigham Young’s soul.
Theodore Curtis eventually regained his faith, sometime after he was welcomed home by his president.
Brigham Young could preach the gospel in unmistakable terms and call sin what it was … but if you were one of his people, if you wanted to come home – even if you had not yet returned to the church, as none of these three young people had – he wanted you home.
And that’s one more reason I like Brigham Young.