- The Homestead Act enabled the Mormon migration and occupation of Utah, after they were forced out of Illinois.
- John Smith, Brigham Young’s father was the founder of the Mormon Church officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints
- The Mountain Meadows Massacre to date, posthumously taints the exemplary leadership demonstrated by Brigham Young in leading the Mormons out of Illinois and the preservation and success in Utah.
The Homestead Act
In 1862, the Homestead Act becomes law. It significantly contributes to the opening up of the western region by providing highly subsidized public land for all including freed slaves. The requirement was for people applying for land to put up self-sustaining homes (homesteaders) and could apply for up to 160 acres of land. Once successful after the five years, the homesteaders applied for confirmation of title for land. The Mormon migration and occupation of Utah was under the terms of the Homestead Act.
Brigham Young and exile to Utah
John Smith, Brigham Young’s father was the founder of the Mormon Church officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. Smith was executed by an angry mob of religious extremist while he was in prison. He and the Mormon Church are forced to vacate their homes in Illinois to Salt Lake valley in 1847. However, in their journey to present-day Utah, a group of Mormons under the leadership of Brigham executes 120 unarmed non-Mormon emigrants.
Mountain Meadows Massacre
President James Buchanan received multiple reports of Utah’s disloyalty and therefore sent a group of soldiers to go assert federal authority over the state of Utah. For the Mormons, memories of their fate in Illinois drive them into fear and panic. Brigham Young, who at the time is both Governor and head of Church, prepares his people to fight the oncoming army. His representatives travel across the area impressing upon his people not to sell trade to the Gentiles, meaning non-Mormons. He asks Natives Indians to join him in a possible fight against the federal army and sanctions Indian raids against non-Mormon wagons trailing the territory.
A group known as the “Arkansas Company” having come from the Arkansas state, founded themselves repeatedly clashing with the Mormons settlers at it made its way through the settlement. In anger due to frustration for not being able to access supplies for their company, some of them apparently made threats against the settlement’s mayor Isaac Haight. Haight orders John D. Lee to recruit local Paiute Indians to ambush the Arkansas Company. On 7 September at the Mountain Meadows, Haight and the militia attacked the company as they camped to rest and freshen their animals before heading off to San Bernardino across the desert.
During the attack, it became obvious the emigrants outnumbered the militia though the latter managed to seize the wagon and provisions of the company were carrying along with them. Haight also tried to blame the incident upon the Indians, but the company was able to see through the disguise during the ambush and knew that the Mormons were involved.
Haight through a letter request for Brigham Young advice but instead of waiting for a response plans the execution of all the people in the company. Haight tricks them into journeying without their weapons, at the pretext that the mayor would protect them from the Natives. The emigrants are attacked, mercilessly stabbed and throat slashed. Some are shot at point-blank range. The Mormons butchered women and the wounded and most of the children. The corpse and the wagons were looted and local families took in the surviving children.
Haight was tried and executed for the massacre, but many still hold Young responsible for the incident. His leadership style was very authoritative and it is difficult to imagine Haight would orchestrate and execute such an action without the approval of Brigham Young. The massacre posthumously continues to taint his reputation.