View of the Mormon Temple in Idaho Falls beyond the Snake River Dam. Numerous Mormon temples can be found in many cities throughout Utah and Idaho as well as almost every state in the Union. Photo taken in 2021 by Ralls Melotte
Chapter Notes, Chap 5 ~ The Mormons
The Mormons played a very important role in the early settlement of the early territories of the Central Western United States. Brigham Young was ultimately responsible for creating 350 towns in Utah and Idaho. These were well planned working communities of families whereas much of the settlement in the West at the time was primarily of men seeking a quick fortune and adventure. The history of Utah and Idaho could have been quite different if Brigham Young had not lead his followers to what we now know as Salt Lake City.
Although some of the following can be found in the Chapter Notes posted in July, I felt enough time had passed that I could go into greater details in my weekly posts for people who haven’t reviewed the Chapter Notes on my website. Understanding the importance of the Mormons influence in Utah and Idaho cannot be understated. In the next few posts I will give a little more background on how this all came about.
Accuracy, objectivity, and fairness without interpretation within these notes is of supreme importance to me. If something doesn’t look right, please let me know. It’s a challenging subject, to be sure.
References of note cited in various sources I read about Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church, particularly the notes for chapters 5 and 6, are primarily from excerpts of works by Richard L. Bushman, D. Michael Quinn, Robert V. Remini and Dan Vogel found in Wikipedia. The specific books by these authors can be found in the bibliography at the end of Cat’s Cafe.
A brief usage guide to the name Joseph Smith — Histories referring to the elder Joseph Smith is generally referred to as Joseph Smith, Sr., and his son who would become the first leader of the Mormons, as simply Joseph Smith. I used their names in the book accordingly, but I have added parenthetical suffixes to keep them straight in these notes. I hope this will help clarify the different generations.
Joseph Smith (Jr.), the first leader of the Mormon Church, was born to Joseph Smith, Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith on December 23, 1805. Throughout his early years, his mother was preoccupied with the subject of religion and was desperate to find what she felt was the “true religion” or “true church.” Like Lucy, Joseph Smith, Sr. and Joseph Smith (Jr.) did not accept any of the conventional religious creeds or churches of the period either, but were at odds with Lucy nonetheless on this subject.
Religious harmony was not the family’s only struggle. Although Joseph Smith, Sr. and Lucy had started out their marriage comfortably as landowners of a farm in Tunbridge, Vermont, their financial situation deteriorated six years later in 1802 when Joseph Smith, Sr.’s mercantile venture exporting ginseng root to China failed. They were forced to sell their farm and become tenant farmers, ultimately moving seven times in the following fourteen years due to various failed farming attempts and other business ventures. Besides farming, Joseph Smith, Sr. would try employment as a cooper, teacher, and merchant, but ran into financial difficulties with each vocation.
A paper prepared by C. Jess Grosebeck states, “From then on , it was though [sic] he [Joseph Smith, Sr.] was a dreamer who detached himself from reality, becoming preoccupied and fascinated with money digging, probably in an attempt to recover a loss he could never fully accept. Through money digging [including actual hunting for buried treasure], he expected to become rich and to find the security he had always wanted for his family.” Joseph (Sr.) and his sons started seeking buried treasure and became interested in magic, common practices in the northeast at that time.
As the parents struggled to find a faith that suited them, they shared their religious visions with Joseph Smith (Jr.) It is not surprising that when their son had what he believed to be his first revelation in 1820 at the age of fourteen, they supported him and encouraged him to follow it. Joseph (Jr.) claimed to have dug up inscribed golden plates from a hill not far from the farm they were working and explained to his parents that he had been told by an angel named Moroni to translate the message written in “reformed Egyptian” on the plates using “seer stones” called the Urim and Thummim, which had been buried with the plates.
In 1830, Joseph Smith, (Jr.) transcribed the Book of Mormon from the golden plates which revealed the 1,000-year history of the Israelites who were, it was written, led from Jerusalem to a promised land in the Western Hemisphere. The resulting 588-page book resembled the Bible in describing the life and times of these people, including a visit from Christ after his resurrection. It went on to explain that around 400 years after the birth of Christ, the last of the Nephites were eliminated by their enemies, the Lamanites, presumably the ancestors of the American Indians.
Joseph Smith (Jr.) organized several dozen believers, including his father, into a new church following the guidance from the golden plates. This body of believers was later organized as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS Church. Male converts were ordained and sent out throughout the world in an extensive missionary program. that resulted in tens of thousands of converts from all over the world by the end of Joseph Smith’s (Jr.) life. For their religious training and protection, these new converts were to gather in settlements called Cities of Zion. All converts were expected to tithe 10 percent of their income to support the aggressive mission program and land acquisition.
The Mormons were not welcome in the communities they moved to because of their beliefs, the practice of polygamy and the dramatic effect of their politics in each community. They were instructed from the pulpit to vote in accordance with the direction of their religious leaders and they represented a large voting block that threatened the remainder of the inhabitants of each community they moved to. Although Joseph Smith, (Jr.) started Mormonism in the northeast, they moved numerous times westward through the various states due to the persecution and anger they inspired in each community they settled in, ending up in Navoos, Illinois, considered the western border of the “settled” United States at the time. Even there, they were faced with hostility.
Joseph Smith (Jr.) and his brother Hyrum were eventually arrested for treason in Carthage, Illinois. During their incarceration awaiting trial, they were shot to death by a mob of angry non-Mormons on June 27, 1844. Since it had been expected that Hyrum would be Joseph Smith’s (Jr.) successor, the Mormons were left with a sudden lack of leadership. It was Brigham Young, (Sr.) that stepped up to take leadership of Joseph Smith (Jr.’s) followers and convince them to leave the United States and U.S. territories and move west to avoid any more conflicts. By the end of Brigham Young’s (Sr.) life, his leadership drew tens of thousands of converts from all over the world to Utah and Idaho. At the time of their departure, the area of Utah was still part of Mexico with very few settlers. This would change shortly after they got there.
Next Friday’s post will review some of the events of Brigham Young’s (Sr.) leadership in the West.
Pre-Review, signed copies of Cat’s Cafe are available now by contacting RallsMelotte.com through this website or at email@example.com and will be available in bookstores and Amazon early in February 2023.