“One Harmonious Whole,” chapter 23 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)
Chapter 23: “One Harmonious Whole”
Susie Young had always been a sickly child. By the time she turned nine years old, in the spring of 1865, she had survived pneumonia, whooping cough, and other serious illnesses. She would wheeze when she ran too fast or played too hard. Sometimes her father, Brigham Young, would gently take her in his arms, hold her close, and softly say, “Wait a minute, daughter. Don’t get in such a hurry. Take time to breathe.”1
Susie rarely wanted to wait a minute. Something was always happening in the house she shared with many of her father’s wives and most of his younger children. The long two-story home was called the Lion House, and it stood next door to her father’s office, a block east of the temple site in Salt Lake City. The upper floor of the Lion House had many bedrooms and sitting rooms for family members. On the ground floor were more bedrooms and a large parlor for entertaining guests and holding family prayers. In the basement were storage rooms and cellars, a laundry room and kitchen, and a dining room large enough to seat the entire family.
On the front balcony of the home, keeping vigil over the street, crouched the regal statue of a lion.2
Nearly thirty of Susie’s fifty-five brothers and sisters lived there at one time. Sometimes the family also took in orphans, including Ina Maybert, a girl from India. A neighborhood boy named Heber Grant often played at the house with Susie’s brothers and joined the Youngs for family prayers. He was the only child of Rachel Ivins and Brigham Young’s former counselor Jedediah Grant. In the wintertime, Heber liked to grab hold of Brigham’s sleigh and let it pull him across the ice.3
The Young family tried to keep an orderly household, with a strict schedule for meals, schooling, and prayers. But that did not stop Susie and her siblings from sliding down banisters, running up the stairs, and playing hide-and-seek.4 As a small girl, Susie thought it was perfectly normal to have such a large family and for her father to live with more than a dozen wives. In fact, her family was not typical even among plural families, which were usually far smaller by comparison. Unlike her father, most men in the Church who practiced plural marriage had only two wives.5
Her own mother, Lucy Bigelow Young, was a devoted parent who showered her with care and love. Zina Huntington Young and Emily Partridge Young, two of her father’s wives who lived for a time in the Lion House, were like second mothers to her. So too was her father’s wife Clara Decker Young, who often stayed up late to chat and give advice to Susie and her sisters.6
Another wife, Eliza Snow, was a poet who studied books in her spare time and encouraged Susie’s budding creativity. Eliza was intelligent, eloquent, and extremely self-disciplined. Her bedroom, sitting room, and writing table were tidy and carefully arranged. Some people thought Eliza was cold and aloof, but Susie knew her to be kind and tender—especially when nursing the sick.7
The Lion House was not always free of conflict, but the family tried to make their living arrangement a success. Brigham did not like comparing plural marriage to the customs of the world. “It is from heaven,” he told the Saints. “The Lord has instituted it for an express purpose of raising up a royal nation, a holy priesthood, a nation peculiar to Himself, one that He can own and bless.”8
“If I ever had a trial on the earth of my faith, it was when Joseph Smith revealed this doctrine to me,” he testified further. “I had to pray unceasingly and I had to exercise faith, and the Lord revealed to me the truth of it, and that satisfied me.”9
The joy he felt in bringing his many children up in the gospel of Christ was a fruit of that faith.10 In the evening, he would ring a bell, calling everyone together for family prayers. “We thank Thee for our homes in these peaceful vales, and for these mountain fastnesses which Thou has preserved as a gathering place for Thy people,” he would often pray, speaking gently to the Lord with real love in his voice. “Bless the poor, the needy, the sick and afflicted. Comfort the hearts of those that mourn. Be a stay and a staff to the aged and a guide to the youth.”11
Brigham often pondered on the Saints’ welfare. Times were changing, and construction was now underway for a railroad that would span North America.12 He had invested money in the venture, certain the railroad would make travel to and from Utah faster, cheaper, and less tiring for missionaries and emigrants. Yet he knew it would bring more temptations to the territory, and he wanted to prepare the Saints spiritually and economically for its arrival.13
He also wanted to fortify his own family, so that spring, Susie and her siblings learned that he had hired Karl Maeser to be their private schoolteacher. Some of Susie’s brothers bristled under Professor Maeser’s instruction and dropped out of school. But Susie was captivated by his lessons.
Books, especially the scriptures, came alive in the classroom. Professor Maeser encouraged the Young children to ask questions and puzzle out solutions to problems. Though she was ever eager to learn something new, Susie sometimes became frustrated when she made mistakes in her schoolwork.14
Professor Maeser was patient. “Only those who have the courage to make mistakes,” he told her, “ever learn worthwhile lessons and truths.”15
Johan Dorius was working that spring as a shoemaker in Fort Ephraim. He and his brother Carl had been home from their Scandinavian missions for two years. Before leaving Denmark, they had hoped to bring their mother back with them. But since Ane Sophie’s new husband was not willing to leave Copenhagen, she had decided to stay. Disappointed, the brothers had sailed from Denmark a few days later with a company of three hundred Saints.
Since returning to Utah, Johan had been trying to earn money. During his absence, his wife, Karen, had built a two-room house on their empty lot in Spring Town, cultivated crops, and kept a yard full of livestock. Karen had looked forward to joyful days with her husband and children in the new home, but soon after Johan’s return, he had received permission to marry a second wife, a Norwegian convert named Gunild Torgersen. Karen was sorely tried by the new arrangement, but she was sustained by her faith in the Lord. Since their house now proved too small, the family moved to a large city lot in Ephraim within the year.16
Around that time, tensions between the Saints and the Ute Indians in Sanpete Valley increased. With more emigrants gathering to Utah, towns grew rapidly and new settlements often cut the Utes off from traditional sources of food and water. Some settlers also kept large herds of cattle on acres of grasslands in central Utah, further pushing the Utes out of the area.17
Aware of these problems, Brigham Young urged the Saints to feed the Indians and treat them kindly. “We are settled upon their lands, which materially interrupts their success in hunting, fishing, etc.,” he wrote one Church leader. “For these reasons, it behooves us to exercise toward them all possible kindness, liberty, patience, and forbearance.”18
Although Brigham hoped to inspire greater compassion for the Indians, food was already scarce in some settlements, and few Saints were eager to share their provisions. When settlers refused to share their food, the Utes often resorted to raiding cattle for sustenance.19
Violence finally erupted in the spring of 1865 after peace talks between the Saints and Utes in Sanpete Valley ended badly. Within weeks, a band of Utes led by a man named Black Hawk began raiding cattle and killing settlers.20 The conflict grew worse as spring turned to summer. In June, Brigham and the United States government tried to persuade Ute leaders to move the tribe to a reservation—land set aside by the government for Indians to live on—but attacks on settlements continued. Brigham then ordered the militia to stop the raiders while doing no harm to women, children, or peaceful Ute men. Yet both sides attacked each other more viciously.21
On the afternoon of October 17, Johan Dorius watched in horror as Black Hawk and his men attacked a young Danish couple, their infant son, and a young Swedish woman in the fields outside of Ephraim. After Black Hawk’s men rode off to raid the settlement’s cattle, Johan and several Saints rushed out to the fields. The couple was dead, and the Swedish woman was dying, but somehow the infant boy was unharmed. Johan picked him up and carried him back into town.22
With the militia in pursuit of Black Hawk’s band, Church leaders ordered the Saints in Sanpete Valley and the surrounding areas to act cautiously and defensively. But overwhelmed by fear and mistrust, some Saints in the thick of the conflict disregarded their words.23
Six months after the attack on Fort Ephraim, Church members in a small, poorly fortified community called Circleville captured around twenty peaceful Paiutes, whom they suspected to be spies for Black Hawk. The settlers bound the men and held them under guard in the local meetinghouse. The women and children, meanwhile, were placed in an empty cellar. When some of the Paiute men tried to escape, the settlers shot them and executed the remaining captives, one by one, including the women and older children.24
Brigham strongly condemned the violence. “When a man shoots down an innocent Indian, he is guilty of murder,” he said.25 Brigham blamed the Saints, not the Utes, for the conflict. “If the elders of Israel had always treated the Lamanites as they should,” he declared, “I don’t believe we should have ever had any difficulty with them.”26
Widespread violence continued to rage between the Saints and Indians in central Utah for another year. Saints in smaller communities moved to larger towns, and settlers posted guards to protect their cattle. After the Saints stopped a major Indian raid in July 1867, Black Hawk and two chiefs surrendered to government agents. Some Utes continued to raid the Saints’ cattle, but the conflict was virtually over.27
Later that year, on October 6, the Saints held their general conference for the first time in a spacious new tabernacle just west of the temple site. The First Presidency had announced plans to construct a larger meeting place on the temple block in 1863. The oval building was topped with a large dome shaped like a turtle shell. Forty-four sandstone piers supported the dome, which veteran bridge builder Henry Grow fashioned from an arching latticework of wooden trusses, bound tightly together with wooden pegs and strips of rawhide. Since the innovative design used no interior columns to support the massive ceiling, the Saints at conference had an unobstructed view of the speakers at the pulpit.28
That fall, Brigham Young continued to follow the progress of the railroad. The American Civil War had ended with a Northern victory in the spring of 1865, giving the railroad project fresh momentum as the nation looked westward for new opportunities. Brigham served on the board of directors of one of the railroad companies, but his support for the venture did not remove his anxiety about the changes it would bring to the territory—and its economy.29
In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord instructed His people to “be one,” share economic burdens, and “stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world.”30 Over the years, Brigham and other leaders had employed various efforts to unify the Saints and keep them tethered to one another. One effort was the Deseret alphabet, a phonetic system designed to fix perceived problems with English spelling, teach young Saints to read, and help immigrants learn English rapidly and feel at home in Utah.31
Also, to achieve economic independence for Zion, Brigham began promoting a cooperative movement among the Saints. In his sermons, he frequently encouraged Church members to grow their own food, make homespun clothes, and build mills, factories, and foundries. He also criticized merchants in and out of the Church who came to the territory to sell hard-to-find eastern goods at a profit, thus enriching themselves instead of the cause of Zion.32
Knowing the railroad would bring even more merchants and goods to compete with the Saints’ home industries, Brigham pleaded with Church members to support local businesses and seek financial independence from outside markets.33 For him, the Saints’ economic salvation was as important as their spiritual salvation. An attack on Zion’s economy was an attack on Zion itself.
Brigham also began seeking ways to strengthen the Saints through institutions within the Church. In 1849, Scottish Saint Richard Ballantyne had organized the valley’s first Sunday School. Since then, many wards had operated Sunday Schools independently of each other, often using different textbooks and lesson material. Recently, however, George Q. Cannon had founded the Juvenile Instructor, an illustrated magazine with gospel lessons that could be used in Sunday Schools at low cost to teachers and students. In November 1867, Brigham and other Church leaders selected George as president of a Sunday School Union to encourage wards and branches throughout the Church to organize Sunday Schools of their own.34
The basic, foundational classes of the Sunday Schools catered mostly to the young boys and girls of the Church. For the grown men in the Church, Brigham decided to organize a School of the Prophets in each of the larger towns of the territory. Nearly thirty-five years earlier, the Lord had commanded Joseph Smith to organize such schools in Kirtland and Missouri to foster unity and faith among priesthood holders in the young Church and to prepare men to proclaim the gospel.35
Brigham wanted the new School of the Prophets to nurture greater spiritual unity and devotion among the men of the Church. He believed it could help them understand the importance of economic cooperation, covenant keeping, and Zion building before the coming of the railroad.
A School of the Prophets opened in Salt Lake City on December 2, 1867. In the weeks that followed, Brigham urged its members to run their businesses in ways that would benefit the Saints instead of outsider merchants. “We are to be one and to understand each other,” he taught. And he condemned Church members who purchased goods when and where they pleased, regardless of the needs of Zion.
“They have no business in this kingdom,” he declared.36
Six days after organizing the School of the Prophets in Salt Lake City, Brigham spoke to bishops about reorganizing ward Relief Societies, which had largely disbanded during the threatened conflict with the United States Army ten years earlier. Brigham hoped that ward Relief Societies would promote greater unity among the Saints by helping the neediest members.37
Since the bishops knew little about the purpose of Relief Societies, he asked Eliza Snow to assist them in organizing societies in their wards. Eliza was honored to help. Few people understood the purpose of the Relief Society as well as she did. As the secretary of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Eliza had written careful minutes of the meetings, recorded Joseph Smith’s teachings to the women, and preserved them in a record book.
Eliza enjoyed working with the bishops, and they appreciated her help.38 When Brigham told her the following spring that he had another mission for her, she did not ask what it was. She simply said, “I shall endeavor to fulfill it.”
“I want you to instruct the sisters,” Brigham told her. He believed the women of the Church needed Eliza to help them understand the Relief Society’s role in building Zion.
Eliza felt her heart beat faster. Teaching the women of the Church was an enormous assignment. Women in the Church did not usually speak in public meetings outside of testimony meetings. Now Eliza would be expected to visit every settlement in the territory, meet individually with each ward and branch Relief Society, and speak publicly.39
Shortly after her meeting with Brigham, Eliza published an article in the Deseret News. “What is the object of the Female Relief Society?” she asked her readers. “I would reply—to do good—to bring into requisition every capacity we possess for doing good, not only in relieving the poor but in saving souls.”
Drawing on the records of the Nauvoo Relief Society, she urged the women to step forward and embrace their duties. “If any of the daughters and mothers in Israel are feeling in the least circumscribed in their present spheres,” she wrote, “they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good.”40
On the afternoon of April 30, 1868, Eliza visited the Female Relief Society of the Salt Lake City Thirteenth Ward. About twenty-five women were present, including Zina Huntington Young, Emily Partridge Young, and Bathsheba Smith, all of whom had belonged to the Relief Society in Nauvoo. The ward’s newly called Relief Society president, Rachel Grant, conducted the meeting with her two counselors, twin sisters Annie Godbe and Margaret Mitchell.41
Now forty-seven years old, Rachel Grant had lived in Nauvoo in the early 1840s, but she had not belonged to the original Relief Society. Learning about plural marriage had tried her faith severely, and she returned to live with her family in the eastern states after the death of Joseph Smith. She had remained in contact with missionaries and other Church members, however, and had decided to come to Utah in 1853 after much prayer and soul-searching. Two years later, she married Jedediah Grant as a plural wife and bore her only child, Heber, nine days before her husband’s untimely death. Since then, she had cared for Heber with the meager income she earned working as a seamstress.42
After opening the Relief Society meeting, Rachel called upon Eliza to instruct the women. “The prophet Joseph Smith anticipated great results from the formation of Female Relief Societies,” Eliza told the women, “that much good might be done by the sisters in visiting the sick and afflicted.” She encouraged them to conduct orderly meetings, do good works, and care for one another.
“The society should be like a mother with her child,” she explained. “She does not hold it at a distance but draws it near and folds it in her bosom, showing the necessity of union and love.”
When Eliza finished speaking, Rachel said that she was proud of the women and that she hoped they would gain strength by meeting together. Eliza then encouraged the women to open their mouths. She testified that they could find strength in speaking to one another.
“The enemy is always pleased when we do not overcome our feelings of timidity and keep our tongues from speaking words of encouragement and determination,” she said. “When that diffidence is once broken through, we soon gain confidence.”
“The time will come,” she promised, “when we will have to be in large places and act in responsible situations.”43
As wards and branches organized Relief Societies, Eliza met with Sarah Kimball, another founding member of the Nauvoo society, to outline the duties of Relief Society officers.44 She then began visiting Relief Societies throughout the territory, often drawing on the minutes of the original Relief Society to instruct the women in their duties. “This organization belongs to the organization of the Church of Christ, in all dispensations when it is in perfection,” Eliza taught the women of the Church. When she could not visit Relief Societies personally, she wrote them letters.45
Brigham, meanwhile, organized more branches of the School of the Prophets and counseled their members to study all types of knowledge and become one in heart and mind.46 In April 1868, he went to Provo to establish a school under Abraham Smoot, whom he had sent with John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Joseph F. Smith, and others to reform the rowdy, unruly town. While there, Brigham and Abraham urged the members of the Provo school to do business primarily with each other, thus keeping their resources and profits with the Saints.
“Every member has an influence,” Abraham said, “and we should use it in the proper direction.”47
A few weeks later, Brigham’s counselor Heber Kimball was in a buggy accident in Provo. He was thrown violently from the cab and struck his head on the ground. He lay there for some time, exposed to the chilly air, until a friend found him. Brigham hoped that Heber, one of his oldest friends, would recover from the accident. Heber had a stroke in early June, however, and died later that month, surrounded by family.
His death occurred eight months to the day after his wife Vilate’s death. “I shall not be long after her,” Heber had prophesied at her passing. At Heber’s funeral, Brigham chose to pay a simple tribute to his friend and counselor’s righteousness.
“He was a man of as much integrity,” he declared, “as any man who ever lived on the earth.”48
At the time of Heber’s death, railroad workers—among them many Chinese immigrants, former slaves, and Civil War veterans—were rushing to complete the transcontinental line. In August, Brigham encouraged the men in the Church to assist in the construction. Once the two railroad lines merged north of the Great Salt Lake, he hoped to build a connecting line through Salt Lake City and other points south to speed up travel between the settlements and to haul stone for the temple.49
One night after family prayers, however, Brigham shared his anxiety about the railroad with some of his wives, friends, and older children. “We left the world, but the world is coming to us,” he said. The Sunday School, School of the Prophets, and Relief Society were in place to support and strengthen the Saints. But had he and his generation done enough to prepare the youth for what was coming?
“They will not have the same kind of trials their fathers and mothers have passed through,” he said. “They will be tried with the pride and follies and pleasures of a sinful world.” If his generation did not help young people develop faith in Jesus Christ, worldly temptations could lead them astray.50
Ultimately, Brigham trusted that the gospel of Jesus Christ would continue to unite and protect the people of God, including the youth.
The restored gospel, he reflected at the start of 1869, “has sent forth its teachers to the ends of the earth, has gathered people of almost every tongue and creed under heaven, of the most varied educations and the most opposite traditions, and welded them into one harmonious whole.”
“A creed that can take the heterogeneous masses of mankind and make them a happy, contented, and united people,” he stated, “has a power within it that the nations know little of. That power is the power of God.”51
In March 1869, the townspeople of Ogden crowded onto high bluffs to get a view of the tracklayers for the railroad. The track had finally come to the heart of the territory, one railroad tie and stretch of steel at a time. Soon the trains would arrive, belching black smoke and gray steam into the sky.52
Brigham visited the Saints in the southern settlements later that year. There were now Sunday Schools, Schools of the Prophets, and Relief Societies in many of the towns he visited. At his request, the Saints were also opening new stores, called “cooperatives” or “co-ops,” to promote economic cooperation rather than competition among the Saints. Brigham wanted every town to have a co-op store to provide the Saints with their basic needs at a fair price.53
In early May, he counseled the Saints of central Utah to live by every word of God. “It is not proven that people are the saints of God because they live in these valleys,” he said. “If we want to prove to God or men that we are saints, then we must live for God and none else.”54
The eastern and western railroad lines finally met the following day, May 10, 1869, in a valley west of Ogden. The railroad companies rigged telegraph wires to the hammers that drove the last spikes home on the line. Each blow of the hammers sent an electric pulse down the telegraph wire to Salt Lake City and other cities across the nation, proclaiming that a railroad now connected the Atlantic and Pacific shores of the United States of America.55
The Saints in Salt Lake City celebrated the event in the new tabernacle on the temple block. That evening, all the public offices and buildings kept their lights aglow long after hours to illuminate the city. On a hill north of town the Saints lit a massive bonfire that could be seen for miles.56