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Summer Suns in the Far West
Chapter IV. Salt Lake City and the Mormons

THE valley of Utah has been called an oasis in the desert. It is surrounded for the most part by lofty mountains, which seem to shut it out from the rest of the world; and for this reason the Mormons claim for their capital the divine protection which was signified by the mountains round about Jerusalem. It was in the hope of being left in peace to develop his peculiar institutions that Brigham Young chose this valley for the settlement of his people. But the construction of the Pacific Railway, which passes through the territory of Utah, put an end to their isolation, and brought them into the very highway of continental travel. When I was in this country nineteen years ago I met Mr. Colfax, then vice-President of the United States, and on my asking how the Government meant to deal with Mormonism, his reply to me was, “I guess the Pacific Railroad will pretty well settle that question.” It is often boasted that Utah was but a desert when taken possession of, and that it is Mormon skill and labour that have turned it into a garden. But this is a great exaggeration. Being obviously the bed of an ancient lake, the plain has mostly a good soil, and it needed only cultivation and irrigation to make it productive, idleness, is strongly denounced by the Mormon authorities, and not wholly on disinterested grounds. One-tenth of the entire produce of every kind is remorselessly claimed by the Church, and idleness would not be a good contributor to the sustentation fund. The Mormons have certainly done well as farmers, but no better than the Gentiles in many other parts of the country.

The settlement was begun in 1847, and Salt Lake City dates from that time. It is now a city of 30,000 inhabitants, but nothing like Omaha or Denver. Brick and timber are nearly the only building materials, and even in the best streets wooden shanties are interspersed with tall brick erections in the way that shows that the stage has not been reached when taste asserts its claims as well as utility. The only remarkable buildings are the Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall, and the Temple—all adjacent. The Tabernacle is a huge, featureless building, like the back of a turtle or an oblong dish-cover: the profane call it “The Church of the Holy Turtle.” It is said to be seated for 12,000. The Assembly Hall is a more architectural erection, and was designed for use in winter, when the congregations are smaller. The Temple is a huge structure, not yet completed, built, you might suppose, of Aberdeen granite, and when finished will be by far the most imposing edifice in all Utah. It is to be used for inaugurations, marriages, or other occasions to which the provannm vulgus are not admitted. It is an imposing structure, but wants harmony and repose, the parts cohering rather than forming a harmonious whole, and the general impression garish rather than venerable.

The population of Utah territory is about two hundred thousand, of whom some fifty thousand are “Gentiles,” the rest Mormons. At first there were no Gentiles, and it is certainly not with the goodwill of the Mormons that they are now so numerous. A friend in New York, Dr. Ellinwood of the Presbyterian "Mission Board, told me he had been three times in Utah. The first time he dared hardly to peep or mutter against Mormonism; the second time he had for a fellow-traveller Brigham Young’s nineteenth wife on her way to the city to expose and denounce Mormonism; on the third he found the Christian Churches, represented by active organizations, doing a great amount of good.

Many causes have contributed to bring respectable Gentiles to Utah. Ogden, which stands a few miles to the north of .Salt Lake City, is a great railway centre; there are many minerals in the territory which the saints cannot develop; some are always renouncing Mormonism; and the capabilities of the valley have attracted outside capitalists, who say, in American phrase, “there are millions in it.” If the effort to be made at the elections next February shall succeed, Salt Lake will become, as Ogden has become, “an American city,” the Mormons will be dispossessed of its government, and then its development is expected to go on very quickly. This consummation is not unlikely, for the recent action of the Federal Government has deprived all polygamists of tin* franchise, and a woman’s suffrage that helped the Mormons greatly has been abolished. Moreover, there are many of the saints themselves who in their secret hearts would not regret a measure that would hasten the “booin'’ under which their property would perhaps double its value. One of the most outstanding and wealthy families of the city -the Walkers -are perverts from Mormonism. The 'Walker House is the best hotel in the place, and the Walker Store is a vast establishment. Old Mr. Walker, I am sorry to say, was a Scotsman, who turned Mormon; but being lulled on by Brigham Young to pay a tithe which he thought too high, he abandoned the connection. His sons, I believe, are all men of wealth and influence.

The Mormon creed is very skilfully constructed. It professes to conserve the whole Bible, the whole doctrines of Christs family, and the moral law. To this it adds, as if it were an innocent supplement, faith in the Book of Mormon, in the divine mission of Joe Smith, and in the doctrine that God continues to hold direct intercourse with the head of the Church, thus making him infallible, and making resistance to his orders an unpardonable sin against earth and heaven. The Mormon Government is ostensibly dual—namely, civil and ecclesiastical. But, in point of fact, the rulers of the Church are also the civil rulers and judges of the territory, and this makes their power enormous. Besides the president of the Church (at present Wilfrid Woodruff, a coarse-looking old man, with a most unspiritual face), there are twelve apostles, and a body of elders distributed over the whole Church. There are two hundred and seventy wards in the territory, each of which has its presiding officer; and the wards are subdivided into small districts, superintended in like manner. Thus it happens that the rulers of the Church have the most minute acquaintance with the affairs of every member. Every transaction of buying or selling, every cent of income, every dollar of profit is known, and a tenth must be most religiously paid to the Church, which thus becomes very rich. Nay, the president may announce that he has divine authority for demanding a man’s house, or his land, or whatsoever he has. A woman may be told that she is to many some fellow who already has a dozen wives. If she refuse, she cannot get to heaven, into how many other matters of private life this system of tyranny has penetrated we cannot tell.

The Church has a supreme belief in her missionary function, and in her destiny as the centre of the Church of the future, when all the world shall be converted to Mormonism. Her characteristic hymns are full of this expectation, and no doubt many of her more ignorant people devoutly believe in it. She can requisition foreign missionaries, so many from every ward; and wherever these arc sent, they must go at their own cost, and occupy themselves wholly in making converts. Usually they go about their work very quietly. Again and again I have heard it remarked as strange that so many Scotsmen are Mormons. But I do not wonder. They are not typical Scotsmen. The missionaries go about the slums of our cities, or our mining villages, express much concern for the hard conditions of labour, perhaps during a strike, then picture to them Utah as a land flowing with milk and honey, tell them their expenses will be paid out to the place (to be repaid afterwards), they will get fifteen or twenty acres free, and will rapidly rise to prosperity and wealth. They do not tell them that in other parts of the United States they may have a hundred and sixty acres free, without being subject to the appropriation of a tenth of the produce to the Church. To the religiously disposed they road from the English Bible, sing evangelical hymns, and leave the impression that Mormonism is a peculiarly devout form of Christianity. Often the converts have been told nothing of polygamy; and it is only after their arrival that they have found that neither their bodies nor their souls are their own. On the other hand, the Mormons have the character of being kind, neighbourly, and considerate towards one another; and every effort is made by the Church to stimulate the esprit do corps, and keep the sect united and hearty. Although the territory of Utah is their chief settlement, they are by no means confined to it. They have colonies in most of the Mountain States; and they are very astute in political matters, not attaching themselves formally to either party, but holding the balance between the two. The ablest man among them is said to be a Air. Buchanan, who was their representative in the Senate, and who is extremely skilful in those wire-pulling operations that may conduce to their advantage.

But the political tide has been against them for some years, and is likely to be against them still more in the future. In 1882 Congress declared polygamy to be unlawful; but as there were neither judges nor juries disposed to enforce that law, it became only an example of the folly of laws which are not supported by the general sentiment of a people. It was not till 1882 that more decided steps were taken. The “Edmunds” law of that year was a very stringent one. A body of United States commissioners was appointed to settle the affairs of the territory; and there was established a military fort, Fort Douglass, with a detachment of United States troops, and artillery pointed at the great Mormon buildings, ready, in case of necessity, to reduce them to ruins. Since that time open polygamy lias ceased to be known. Both polygamy and cohabitation with a plurality of women or quasi wives were declared criminal (the former having the severer penalty), and already some three hundred men have been committed to prison, mostly for the latter offence. Others have had to take to the “underground railway,” or to commit their extra wives to its care—in other words, to hide. If you ask where Mr. So-and-So is, it is common to hear that he is “in the underground.” The practice of avowed polygamy is now a tradition of the past. As you ride through Salt Lake City, you are shown the house where Brigham Young lived and died. Adjacent to it is his civil office, and next to it his ecclesiastical. Opposite is the Amelia Palace, a more handsome house, the abode of his favourite wife. Here and there are other houses which used to be occupied by other wives. One large house shows a long range of gables—one. it is said, for every wife that lived in it. In spite of the largeness of his family he died immensely rich. It does not appear that his sons or his daughters have come to honour.

The moral effect of the system is such as might be easily foreseen. Avowedly lit was devised for the purpose of placing under regulation those tendencies which elsewhere lead to all manner of licentious irregularity. The hymns sung in worship contrast it triumphantly with such practices. But the effect has been the very opposite. What, indeed, can be the effect on young men when they see their father going oil' to San Francisco to visit one of his wives, or away to Nevada after another? Mutatis mutandis, they will follow his example. He claims for it the sanction of religion, but they see that there is precious little of religion about it; and if there be, it is a religion which they despise, so that very probably they become unbelievers. The whole relations of the sexes are thrown out of joint. Illegitimacy is said to be very common, but as the statistics are wholly in the hands of the Church, the facts are not known precisely. Profanity, falsehood, and similar vices abound. Many prosecutions for polygamy have broken down, because even where it was notorious, the witnesses swore the other way.

The scene within the Tabernacle on a Sunday afternoon is very striking. All the congregations meet in their parish churches in the morning; but in the afternoon there is a mass meeting in the Tabernacle, where they celebrate their communion. The galleries were unoccupied, but the vast area was filled. I should suppose there might be seven thousand present. One could not but be struck with the plainness of their appearance. They evidently belonged to the hard-working classes, and the less cultivated of them, for there was hardly an intellectual countenance among the whole. The rulers of the Church occupied benches on a platform, whore the desk and books were placed. The services, as in other churches, were singing, prayer, preaching, and the communion. There were two preachers, both energetic and effective. Their sermons were apologetic, for there were seven hundred excursionists that day in the city, and many of these were present. T should rather have heard a sermon from the Book of Mormon, and exhortations such as one is told are often addressed to the peculiar people to keep them stanch and firm. The communion was a painful spectacle. Bread and water were handed round the immense audience, and partaken of with the utmost nonchalance, no token of reverence being apparent even on the benches occupied by apostles and elders. The children partook along with their parents, and were even obliged to do so. A poor child in front of me, tortured with ophthalmia, struggled hard to keep down her head, but her mother would not allow her, and shook her into compliance.

When I went to call on the Presbyterian minister, I found him occupying as his study an apartment which had formerly been occupied by one of the three wives of a polygamist. He took down four well-scored books from his shelves, and asked me if T knew them. Two of these were Mr. Stalker’s books on the “Life of our Lord” and the “Life of St. Paul,” for the latter of which he had an extraordinary appreciation. Another was the “Personal Life of David Livingstone,” whom he regarded as the greatest missionary since St. Paul. The fourth was “The Public Ministry and Pastoral Methods of our Lord.” I could not but express a strange pleasure at finding my books doing duty in the citadel of the Mormons. I told him that I had been disappointed that the book on our Lord’s ministry, which I had thought would be a useful one, had fallen dead at home; but that I had found compensation for that disappointment in many testimonies I had received from ministers in the United States and professors of pastoral theology, including Dr. Hastings of Union Seminary, New York, and President Fisk of Chicago, to the interest with which they had road it. Dr. M‘Niece (surely this must be a corruption of M‘Niesh) occupies a good position and exercises all excellent, influence. We attended his church on Sunday morning, and I preached for him in the evening. There was a second Presbyterian church in the city in the course of formation. Most of the Gentile churches seem to he in a vigorous state. These churches are doing good work also through their schools. The public schools and school-books are pervaded by Mormonism. Denominational schools are inevitable, and they appear to be very efficient. One of these which I saw was a collegiate institution, under charge of the Presbyterian Church, admirably conducted, a sort of secondary school, with from two to three hundred young persons. Altogether from fifteen hundred to two thousand children are being taught in them, and I was informed that forty per cent, of these were of Mormon origin, but very likely to abandon the system altogether.

If polygamy dies out, will Mormonism survive? Possibly it will, and it may give no little trouble. The essence of Mormonism is that it is a priestly government, subordinating the political to the spiritual, and bringing to bear on its objects a power which is virtually that of spiritual infallibility. It has intrenched itself very strongly, has acquired great wealth, is very intolerant, and has inspired the mass of its people with a wonderful faith in the reality of its claims. Such a system will not easily pass away. Its mischievous influence may be perpetuated for a long time to come. It is like one of those noxious weeds that have their roots deep in the ground, and that are ever cropping up on every side, let the farmer do what he may.

A drive through Salt Lake City and its suburbs, including Fort Douglass, is exceedingly enjoyable. The ranges of snow-clad mountains that close in the view gleam brightly in the sunshine, and the green plain all around is full of tranquil beauty. Certainly “every prospect pleases—” Is it necessary to complete the couplet 

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