“The Chambers of the Lord,” chapter 19 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)
Chapter 19: “The Chambers of the Lord”
On September 13, 1857, Johan and Carl Dorius pulled their handcarts into Salt Lake City side by side with their wives, Karen and Elen. Having discarded extra baggage along the trail to lighten their loads, they and their company entered the city in the same threadbare rags they had been wearing for weeks. Some of the women had replaced their worn-out shoes with rough burlap cloth wrapped around their feet. Still, after months on the trail, the emigrants were grateful to be in Zion and proudly flew the Danish flag from their lead handcart.1
As the emigrants made their way through the city, Saints brought out cakes and milk to welcome them. The Dorius brothers soon spotted their father in the crowd. Nicolai greeted them joyfully and introduced his new wife, Hannah Rasmusen, who was also from Denmark. The brothers and their families then rolled their handcarts to a campground in the city, unloaded their few belongings, and followed Nicolai and Hannah back to a small, comfortable home at the south end of town.2
Nicolai and Hannah had traveled west in the same wagon company as one another two years earlier. Hannah had been married then, but her husband abandoned her and their teenage son, Lewis, along the trail. Knowing the pain of a failed marriage, Nicolai could sympathize with her. They were sealed in the Endowment House on August 7, 1857, and Lewis soon adopted the Dorius name as his own.3
While Johan, Carl, and their wives rested from their journey, Saints throughout the territory were preparing for the coming army. Taking no chances, Brigham Young declared martial law on September 15 and issued a proclamation forbidding the army from entering the territory. Although messengers from the army insisted that the troops were coming simply to install a new territorial governor, the Saints’ spies had visited the army’s camps and heard soldiers boasting about what they would do to the Saints once they reached Utah.4
Harrowed by the memory of militias and mobs plundering homes, burning settlements, and killing Saints in Missouri and Illinois, Brigham was prepared to evacuate the valley and destroy Salt Lake City if the army invaded. “Before I will suffer what I have in times gone by,” he declared in mid-September, “there shall not be one building, nor one foot of lumber, nor a stick, nor a tree, nor a particle of grass and hay that will burn left in reach of our enemies.”5
He continued to speak about the matter in the days leading up to the October conference. “Let us walk in the precepts of our Savior,” he told the Saints. “I know that all will be made right, and an all-wise, overruling Providence will bring us off victorious.”6
Although they did not speak English, Johan and Carl Dorius attended a general conference for the first time on October 7. At the close of the meeting, Brigham offered the benediction. “Bless Thy Saints in the valleys of the mountains,” he prayed. “Hide us in the chambers of the Lord, where Thou hast gathered Thy people, where we have rested in peace for many years.”7
One week later, Nicolai and Hannah moved to Fort Ephraim in Sanpete Valley, where Nicolai’s daughters Augusta and Rebekke lived. Johan and Karen, meanwhile, stayed in the city with Carl and Elen. Like most Saints who migrated to the valley, they were rebaptized to renew their covenants. They also began preparing to receive the temple ordinances in the Endowment House.
Johan and Carl were also on hand to defend the city.8
Around this time, John D. Lee met with Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in Salt Lake City to report on the massacre that had taken place at Mountain Meadows. Much of what John told them about the Arkansas company was misleading. “Many of them belonged to the mob in Missouri and Illinois,” he lied. “As they traveled along south, they went damning Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and the heads of the Church.”9
John also repeated a false rumor about the emigrants poisoning cattle and provoking the Paiutes. “The Indians fought them five days until they killed all their men,” he claimed, saying nothing about the Saints’ own participation. “They then rushed into their corral and cut the throats of their women and children, except some eight or ten children which they brought and sold to the whites.”
Concealing his own role in the attack, John claimed that he had gone to the meadows only after the massacre to help bury the bodies. “It was a horrid, awful job,” he reported. “The whole air was filled with an awful stench.”
“It is heartrending,” Brigham said, believing the report.10 John wrote out his account of the massacre two months later and sent it to Salt Lake City. Brigham then included long extracts from the letter in his official report of the massacre to the commissioner of Indian affairs in Washington, DC.11
Meanwhile, rumors of the massacre spread to California. Within a month of the massacre, the first detailed account of the killings appeared in a Los Angeles newspaper.12 Other papers soon picked up the story.13 Most of these reports speculated that Saints had been involved in the attack. “Who can be so blind as not to see that the hands of Mormons are stained with this blood?” one editorial asked.14
Ignorant of the Cedar City Saints’ leading role in the massacre, George Q. Cannon treated these reports with contempt. Writing as editor of the Western Standard, the Church’s San Francisco newspaper, he accused reporters of stirring up hatred against the Saints. “This continual abuse and piling on of false charges,” he wrote, “we are tired of hearing. We know that the Mormons in Deseret are an industrious, peaceable, God-fearing people, and that they have been most foully abused and vilified.”15
Around this time, missionaries throughout the world began returning home, responding to Brigham Young’s call to help their families and protect Zion against the army. On October 22, eighteen-year-old Joseph F. Smith and other elders from the Hawaiian mission arrived penniless at the Western Standard office. George gave Joseph an overcoat and warm blanket and sent him and his companions on their way.16
A little over a month later, on December 1, apostles Orson Pratt and Ezra Benson arrived at San Francisco with elders from the British mission. Knowing the president of the United States had declared the Saints to be in open rebellion against the government, the apostles had traveled under assumed names to avoid detection on their way to Utah. In the city, they called on George and urged him to return with them to Zion.
With so much hostility directed at the Saints in California, George needed no prodding. He had already finished printing the Book of Mormon in Hawaiian, one of his mission’s main objectives. “I leave San Francisco without a sigh of regret,” he wrote in his journal.17
Meanwhile, many Saints, hearing that bands of men were attacking Church members to avenge the Mountain Meadows massacre, fled California in small companies.18 Joseph F. Smith found work driving a team of cattle to Utah. One day, he was gathering firewood when some men rode into camp and threatened to kill any “Mormon” they found.
Some men in camp hid in the brush beside a nearby creek. Joseph almost fled into the woods as well, but then he stopped himself.19 He had once encouraged his sister Martha Ann to “be a Mormon, out and out.”20 Shouldn’t he do the same?
Joseph walked into camp with firewood still in his arms. One of the riders trotted up to him with a pistol in his hand. “Are you a Mormon?” he demanded.
Joseph looked him in the eye, fully expecting the man to shoot him. “Yes, sirree,” he said. “Dyed in the wool. True blue, through and through.”
The man gazed back at Joseph, bewildered. He lowered his pistol and seemed for a moment to be paralyzed. “Shake, young fellow,” he then said, reaching out his hand. “I am glad to see a man that stands up for his convictions.”
He and the other riders then turned and rode out of camp, and Joseph and the company thanked the Lord for delivering them safely from harm.21
While many California Saints left for Utah immediately, others were not prepared to leave. Several families had also built homes and profitable businesses in San Bernardino, the largest settlement of California Saints. They took pride in their beautiful farms and orchards. No one was eager to see years of hard work go to waste.22
Among them were Addison and Louisa Pratt, who had lived in the town since returning from the Pacific Islands in 1852. Louisa was willing to move again, no matter how much she prized her home and orchard in California. But Addison was more hesitant to leave. The crisis in Utah bore down on him like a weight, and he had grown sullen.
Addison had faced several disappointments during the last five years. He had tried to serve another mission in the South Pacific, but the French protectorate government at Tahiti all but banned him from preaching. His former companion Benjamin Grouard, moreover, had drifted away from the Church.23
Addison also preferred California’s warm climate to Utah’s often unpredictable weather. And he was fiercely loyal to the United States. If American soldiers invaded Utah, he did not think he could fight them in good conscience.
His unwillingness to move bothered Louisa. Their three oldest daughters were now married. Two of them, Ellen and Lois, were planning to move to Utah with their husbands. Ann, the youngest daughter, also wanted to go. Only Frances and her husband were staying in California.24
At night, while all of San Bernardino slept, Louisa often went outside to water the trees in her orchard, which were just beginning to bear fruit. “Must I go and leave them?” she wondered. To the north, a canyon road wound up the dark mountain to the top of a high pass. On the other side of the mountain lay hundreds of miles of sterile desert. Choosing to make the arduous journey to Utah would be easier, she felt, if Addison were more eager to go.25
As she reflected on the choice before her, Louisa felt her heart beat with love for the Church. At baptism, she had promised to unite herself with the Saints. And she knew if Church members chose to go their own way, they would soon become a community of strangers. Her decision became clear. She would go back to Utah.
Louisa and Ann left California in early January with Ellen, Lois, and their families. Nothing Louisa said could convince Addison to go with them. He simply said that he would join her in the valley the next year, perhaps bringing Frances and her husband with him. He then traveled with his family over the mountain and made sure they had a place in a wagon company.
For days afterward, Louisa and her daughters wept for the loved ones they had left behind.26
By late March 1858, United States troops, now under the command of General Albert Sidney Johnston, were camped on the outskirts of Utah Territory. Trying to slow the troops’ advance, the Saints’ militia had spent part of the fall raiding the army’s supplies and burning wagons and forts. The raids had frustrated and humiliated the soldiers, who spent the winter hunkered down in the snow beside the charred ruins of their wagons, surviving on poor rations and cursing the Saints.
That winter, Thomas Kane, the Saints’ trusted eastern ally, had also come to Salt Lake City, taking a risky sea voyage to California via the Isthmus of Panama and then coming overland to Utah. With the unofficial support of President James Buchanan, he met with Brigham and other Church leaders before going to the army camps to try to negotiate peace. The leaders of the army, however, scoffed at Thomas’s talk of peace.27
“Our enemies are determined to blot us out of existence if they can,” Brigham told the Saints at a special conference in Salt Lake City.28 To save lives and perhaps win sympathy from potential allies in the eastern states, he announced a plan to move the Saints living in Salt Lake City and surrounding areas to Provo and other settlements farther south.29 The bold move would upend the lives of many Church members, and Brigham was not entirely certain that it was the right choice to make.
“‘Can a prophet or an apostle be mistaken?’ Do not ask me any such question, for I will acknowledge that all the time,” he declared. “But I do not acknowledge that I designedly lead this people astray one hair’s breadth from the truth, and I do not knowingly do a wrong, though I may commit many wrongs.”30
Brigham believed it was best to act decisively rather than risk having the Saints endure the same horrors they had experienced in Missouri and Illinois. Within days, he called five hundred families to move south immediately and plant crops for the thousands of Saints who would follow. He also sent men to scout out a new place to settle and instructed the Saints in southern towns to prepare to receive the exiles.31 Soon the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley were loading wagons and preparing to move.32
A few weeks later, Alfred Cumming, the newly appointed governor of Utah Territory, arrived in Salt Lake City at the invitation of Thomas Kane. As a gesture of peace, he came without an army escort.33 Alfred was fifty-five years old and had served the United States government in various capacities during his career. He also seemed to lack the usual prejudices toward the Saints.
Upon entering Salt Lake City, he saw people loading furniture and goods into wagons, gathering together livestock, and heading south. “Don’t move! You shall not be hurt!” Alfred cried out to them. “I will not be governor if you don’t want me!”34 His words did nothing to change their minds.
While in Salt Lake City, Alfred and Thomas investigated some of the charges of rebellion made against the Saints and met with Brigham and other Church leaders. After a few days, Alfred was satisfied that the charges had been exaggerated.35
More than a week after his arrival, he spoke to a congregation in Salt Lake City. “If I err in my administration,” he told the Saints, “I desire, friends, that you will come and counsel me.” He acknowledged that the Saints had been grossly misrepresented outside of Utah and promised to perform his responsibilities in good faith.36
When he finished, the Saints were still wary, but Brigham stood up and voiced his support. It was a lukewarm welcome, but Alfred had reason to hope the Saints would accept him as their new governor.37
Despite the governor’s reassuring words, the road south to Provo was choked with wagons, carriages, and livestock for forty miles or more.38 Brigham’s family occupied several buildings in Provo. Other Saints had little idea where they would live once they reached the southern settlements. There were not enough homes for everyone, and some families had nowhere to live but in wagons or tents. And with the army still on the way, many people wondered how soon they would see smoke rising from the Salt Lake Valley.39
On May 7, Martha Ann Smith Harris moved with her mother-in-law and the rest of the Smoot family to a place called Pond Town, about fifteen miles south of Provo.40 Before leaving Salt Lake City, Bishop Smoot placed five kegs of gunpowder in the foundation of his house to make it easier to destroy if the army seized the city. Other members of the Sugar House Ward followed the Smoots to Pond Town, and Bishop Smoot and his counselors soon recommended organizing a new ward there.41
The move interrupted Martha Ann’s usual routine of spinning and weaving, milking cows, making butter, teaching school, and helping her mother-in-law learn to read and write. But it also gave her and everyone else in the family new work to do.42 The Saints in Pond Town and other settlements gathered near fresh water, built shelters, planted crops and gardens, and set up shops and mills.43
The spring winds blew cold at first, and the crude shelters did little to keep out the elements.44 Poor water and supply shortages plagued the temporary settlements, but most Saints were content to be away from the army. In time they adjusted to their new homes.45
Most of Martha Ann’s family on the Smith side moved south, but her brother Joseph, newly returned from Hawaii, remained in Salt Lake City to serve in the militia with other young men, including Johan and Carl Dorius. “I am doing little or nothing here now,” Joseph reported in a letter. “The city, houses, and country look deserted and lonely.”46
Martha Ann heard little from her husband, William, who was still on a mission in England. He had last written her in late November 1857, soon after Brigham Young had called the missionaries home. “Martha dear, my mind is full of reflection, and I hardly know where to commence,” William had written. “From present prospects, I will cross the raging main shortly to my home in the West.”
“So goodbye, love,” he had added, “till we meet.”
In his letter, William had indicated that he would be home in the spring. But spring was nearly over, and Martha Ann had seen no sign of him.47
Before the move south, around eight thousand people had lived in Salt Lake City. Midway through June, only around fifteen hundred people remained. Most of the houses and shops had been abandoned and their doors and windows boarded up. The Saints’ gardens were green and flourishing nicely despite the lack of care. Sometimes the only sound in the city was the faint trickling of the irrigation ditches lining the streets.48
A government peace commission arrived around this time and offered Brigham Young and the Saints full pardons from the president for their crimes, whatever they might be, in exchange for obedience to the government. The Saints did not believe they had committed crimes, but they accepted the pardons nonetheless.
In the eastern United States, people continued to mistrust and misunderstand the Saints. But now that government officials had visited Utah and Brigham had peacefully yielded his governorship to Alfred Cumming, many easterners no longer believed the Saints were in rebellion.49 Newspaper editors who had been critical of Brigham Young were now critical of President James Buchanan.
“The Mormon war has been unquestionably a mass of blunders from beginning to end,” wrote one reporter. “Whichever way we look at it, it is a great mass of stupid blunders.”50
On June 26, 1858, the army marched into Salt Lake City. The place looked like a ghost town. There was grass growing in the streets and in the dooryards of houses. Before leaving, the Saints had buried the temple’s foundation to protect it from plundering soldiers. When the troops passed by the temple lot, they saw what looked like a plowed field.51
At the end of the Utah War, as the crisis came to be known, Brigham Young encouraged everyone to return to their homes. Many Saints started back northward in early July. At a narrow point where the mountains divided the Utah and Salt Lake Valleys, they watched the army marching toward them. The troops were headed for Camp Floyd, a new outpost in a remote area called Cedar Valley, forty miles southwest of Salt Lake City.52
As the army passed near the Saints, some soldiers harassed the young women or the men who traveled in carriages with their plural wives. Eventually the road became too congested, so returning Saints waited three hours for the army to pass. When the roads finally cleared, the Saints continued home.53
The move south had scattered the Church like crumbs across the southern valleys, and it would take time and means to gather them back north. As the Saints returned home, they found their houses, farms, and public works in disarray. Many wards had stopped functioning. Most Relief Societies and Sunday Schools had disbanded altogether.54
When the Smoot family left Pond Town in mid-July, Martha Ann drove a team of horses for her in-laws. On July 12, as she rounded the mountain and drove into the Salt Lake Valley, she saw a figure in the distance riding toward her on a white mule. They drew closer together, and to Martha Ann’s surprise, the rider was her husband, William, home from his mission.55