Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Match Your Judgment Against Brigham Young’s: The Question

Match Your Judgment Against Brigham Young’s: The Question

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 10, 2012

The Mormon experiment of sending emigrants across the Plains pulling handcarts was short-lived: Ten companies, between 1856 and 1860, made the trek. The “down and back” companies, reported so well here by Kevin Folkman, took over at that point, with emigrants arriving by railroad once the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.

So it’s a little surprising to read a letter from one of Brigham Young’s agents in the Midwest *in 1877* asking about the feasibility of reviving the handcart plan:

There are three families of poor Saints here [Omaha] with some six men including grown up boys. They are determined not to winter here again and have themselves proposed to go to Utah with handcarts with such additional help of a pony or two as they may be able to get.

The question that I feel more especially to ask you is, Is it safe for them to travel the road? Two of these families came back from Utah. They have been pretty roughly handled in this country and now would be glad to get back any way they can. Next time perhaps they will stay.

So what do you suppose was the response of Brigham Young? Make your best guess — Did he say yes? no? What was his reasoning? — in the comments, then come back this afternoon at 3:00 (MST) and see how close you came to his answer.

The ‘ninny who best channels the mind of Brigham Young gets bragging rights and a seat at the captain’s table when we get around to holding our first annual Keepa World Cruise.



  1. I thinking Brother Brigham would have said that the Lord does not command in all things, and instead of being slothful servants, they should seek out their own inspiration.

    That, or he called them on a mission to some other area (perhaps even to stay there in Omaha).

    Comment by Rameumptom — January 10, 2012 @ 7:30 am

  2. I don’t know what Brigham Young would say, but I’d say “take the train!”

    Comment by Researcher — January 10, 2012 @ 7:39 am

  3. I think he would say something like: “If the family has grown boys, let them work and save and buy train tickets for the family to arrive here safely without unnecessary drama on the plains.”

    Comment by Grant — January 10, 2012 @ 7:41 am

  4. It’s no fun agreeing with Rameumptom as that precludes me from sitting at the captain’s table. But if I were Brigham, I would have said, “As long as they leave early enough in the season, it is entirely up to them how they get here.”

    Comment by Last Lemming — January 10, 2012 @ 7:41 am

  5. “Can’t those brethren do simple arithmetic? Is the cost of train fare really more than the cost of the food to sustain them for three or four months on the plains? And what of all the lost wages they might earn here rather than wearing out and wasting their energies on the trail? If the Saints are so devoid of economic sense I fear they’ll fall prey in the future to outlandish investment propositions, multi-level marketing programs run through ward websites and Ponzi schemes operated by former high councilors and seminary teachers! How long, indeed, O Lord! . . .”

    Comment by Mark B. — January 10, 2012 @ 7:51 am

  6. Let them choose, but let them be aware of the risks. They must live with their decision.

    (I have no idea if BY would say that, but I had to write something so I’d be able to follow other responses…)

    Comment by Paul — January 10, 2012 @ 9:18 am

  7. The answer isn’t obvious. If the families had money for train fare, there would have been no letter to President Young asking counsel. The Utah History To Go site says that the PEF was running on fumes at that point: “In 1868, benefiting from a special fund-raising drive and additional resources from Europe, the PEF helped bring 725 immigrants all the way to Utah. The company also aided more than 100 immigrants annually for the entire trip in 1869, 1871 to 1875, and from 1878 to 1881.” Note the absence in that list of the years 1876 and 1877, so any aid would have been personal and not institutional.

    The “returning to the fold” aspect seems likely to have figured in somehow. My guess is that President Young wrote that the journey by handcart would be a lot safer now than it had been twenty years before when thousands had done it, so if the Omaha families thought that their best option they should do it, and the return journey would do good for the wandering souls that yearned to be embraced in Zion’s bosom anew.

    Comment by John Mansfield — January 10, 2012 @ 9:25 am

  8. Lemming,

    Why sit at the Captain’s table, when you can sit at mine? I can be just as snobbish, pretentious, and oblique as any captain….

    If it bothers you too much, I could change my answer to: “If you have to ask, we don’t want you. So just turn around and go back to where you came from.”

    But then, I probably won’t

    Comment by Rameumptom — January 10, 2012 @ 10:25 am

  9. I really can’t decide what he would say. What a fun competition! I look forward to reading all the guesses and then the big reveal at the end.

    Comment by jks — January 10, 2012 @ 10:27 am

  10. I’m with the “earn your train fare” idea, perhaps with some little bit of “buffetings of Satan” thrown in for good measure, since they chose to “look back” at Sodom and Gomorrah after “putting [their] hand to the plow”. (but, on the other hand… why did they leave… you’re holding back info here that might make a difference). Perhaps even a quote from the poem “Think not when you gather to Zion . . . “

    Comment by Coffinberry — January 10, 2012 @ 11:30 am

  11. PS I really like the idea of a Keepa Cruise…

    Comment by Coffinberry — January 10, 2012 @ 11:32 am

  12. Brigham probably had something to say about how the two families should have stayed the first time, and why should the Church pay for them to come a second time, if they didn’t like it then? “Let them earn their train fare if they can; and when they get here, we will send them on to Arizona, or some other desolate spot that may be more to their liking than the valley of the Great Salt Lake!”

    However, since Brigham Young died in August of that year, he may have been somewhat more mellow, and perhaps paid for their fare out of his own pocket. But only after publicly using them as a bad example in a sermon.

    Comment by kevinf — January 10, 2012 @ 11:52 am

  13. Oh, and I can only assume that there will be lots of sugar at the captain’s table of the Keepa World Cruise.

    Comment by kevinf — January 10, 2012 @ 11:53 am

  14. Why sit at the Captain’s table, when you can sit at mine?

    Well, if you win the contest, you will be at the captain’s table yourself. Are you inviting me to join you? Or am I just missing something?

    I can only assume that there will be lots of sugar at the captain’s table

    OK, I’m definitely missing something.

    Comment by Last Lemming — January 10, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

  15. Oh, yes, there will definitely be sugar — plenty for the captain’s table and lots to pass around elsewhere. And it will, of course, all be beet sugar from Utah and Idaho.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

  16. If it wasn’t for the fact that you can get sugar from sugar beets, they’d be as useless as turnips….

    Comment by Rameumptom — January 10, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

  17. Turnips useless? Don’t tell the Scots! Or the Cornish!

    Comment by Researcher — January 10, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

  18. I agree with Coffinberry on all points. I imagine whatever Brother Brigham said it was colorful and straight to the point.

    Comment by Stan — January 10, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

  19. Ugh, this is so hard! My gut agrees with kevinf’s original guess, which is that Brother Brigham is setting these disobedient ingrates up for a slam. I think he’ll either say “Yes, pulling all of your belongings thousands of miles will give you plenty of time to think of what you’ve done!” or call them on some sort of wacky mission.

    Comment by E. Wallace — January 10, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

  20. Hmm, well I think Brigham was a planner and I wonder if he had little patience with people who didn’t think things through. So I think he would first commend them for their enthusiasm for reaching Zion, but then would remind them that over-eagerness and lack of proper planning caused unnecessary tribulation in the past (although I don’t know that he would put the blame on anyone?), to say nothing of the fact that the church was no longer organized on the trail and had no way stations at which to resupply. They also had no way of communicating with the party should any hardship befall them. Then I think after chastising he’d ask them to instead work and save as much as they could, and he would do whatever was in his power to send enough help for them secure train passage.

    Comment by Meghan — January 10, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

  21. It seems to me that Arrington’s biography noted a number of instances where Young was (privately) rather magnanimous to people who had left the Church and then later wished to return. Based on these, I’d guess that Young used his connections in the railroad business to get these families fare to Utah.

    Comment by JimD — January 10, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

  22. I have no idea what Brother Brigham might have said, but as a Scot I don’t have a problem with turnips being useless. I hate them!

    Comment by Alison — January 10, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

  23. We won’t serve turnips on our cruise, then. But neither will we serve haggis.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  24. Haggis and turnips may be the prime reason one branch of my ancestors dropped their kilts and left Scotland. Joining the church was a close second.

    Comment by kevinf — January 10, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

  25. Okay, okay! No turnips! : )

    And can the cruise be a little shorter than around the world? With work schedules, etc., it might be hard to take off that much time…

    By the way, fun puzzle!

    Comment by Researcher — January 10, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

  26. I really didn’t want to hear about kevinf’s ancestors dropping their kilts.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 10, 2012 @ 7:00 pm

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