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An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859 by Horace Greeley (1860)


XXIV.
THE ARMY IN UTAH.

Camp Floyd, Utah, July 21, 1859.

Camp Floyd, forty miles south of Salt Lake City, is located on the west side of a dry valley, perhaps ten miles wide by thirty miles long, separated by high hills from Lake Utah, some fifteen to twenty miles distant on the north-east. This valley would be fertile were it not doomed to sterility by drouth. A small stream takes its rise in copious springs at the foot of the western hills just north of the camp, but is soon drank up by the thirsty plain. Water in this stream, and wood (low cedar) on the adjacent hills, probably dictated the selection of this site for a camp; though I believe a desire, if not a secret compact, to locate the troops as far as possible from the Mormon settlements, had an influence in the premises. No Mormons live in this valley nor within sight of it; though all the roads leading front Salt Lake City, as well as from Provo and the other settlements around Lake Utah, are within a day’s march, and may be said to be commanded by the camp. The soil is easily pulverized when dry, and keeps the entire area enveloped, during summer, in a dense cloud of dust, visible for miles in every direction. I saw it when eight miles away, as I came down from Salt Lake City yesterday. We passed few houses on the way; but distillery and a brewery were among them. We crossed the Jordan by fording, at a point seven or eight miles from the lake, and twenty-five to thirty from Salt Lake City. The stream is here swift and strong, but hardly thirty inches deep, and not more than thirty yards wide. We passed within sight of Provo, but several miles from it. We passed one spring on the route, and two or three brooks running from the high-steep mountains on the east. The drouth was intense, and seemed habitual in summer; there was no cultivation nor industry of any sort on our road, save within twenty miles of Salt Lake City.

The camp is formed of low and neat adobe houses, generally small. I presume there are three or four hundred of them—enough, at all events, to make six or eight Kansas cities. “Frogtown” is a satellite, or suburb, whence grog and other luxuries (including execrable whisky at about ten dollars per gallon) are dispensed to thirsty soldiers who have not already drank up more than their pay amounts to. The valley is covered with sage-bush and grease-wood, as usual; but the camp has been freed from these, and is mainly level as a house-floor. The adobes ware made on the spot by Mexicans; the boards for roofs, finishing off, etc., supplied by Brigham Young and his son-in-law, from the only cañon opening into Salt Lake Valley which abounds in timber (yellow-pine, I believe,) fit for sawing. The territorial legislature—(which is another name for “the church “) granted this cañon to Brigham, who runs three saw-mills therein, at a clear profit of one hundred dollars or so per day. His profit on the lumber supplied to the camp was probably over fifty thousand dollars. The price was seventy dollars per thousand feet, delivered. President Young assured me, with evident self-complacency, that he did not need and would not accept a dollar of salary from “the church”—he considered himself able to make all the money he needed by business, as he had made the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of property he already possesses. With a legislature ever ready to grant him such perquisites as this lumber cañon, I should think he might. The total cost of this post to the government was about two hundred thousand dollars.

The army in Utah has numbered three thousand five hundred men—I believe its present strength is but about three thousand. It is mainly concentrated in this camp, though some small detachments are engaged in surveying or opening roads, guarding herds, etc., in different parts of the territory. I presume this is still the largest regular force ever concentrated upon the soil of our country in time of peace. It consists of the 5th, 7th and 10th regiments of infantry, a battalion of light artillery, and two or three companies of dragoons. I. met, between Bridger and Ham’s Fork, a considerable force of dragoons going down.

Let us briefly consider the history and position of this little army:

In the earlier half of 1857, it was concentrated in Kansas; late in that year, the several regiments composing it were severally put in march toward the Rocky Mountains. The Mormons soon full learned that this band was to be launched against them, and at once prepared to give it a warm reception; the army had no information on the subject, save general report. Detained in Kansas to give effect to Governor Walker’s electioneering quackeries, it was at length sent on its way at a season too late to allow it to reach Salt Lake before winter. No commander was sent with it; General Harney was announced as its chief, but has not even yet joined it. It was thus dispatched on a long and difficult expedition, in detachments, without a chief, without orders, without any clear idea of its object or destination. Entering Utah thus as no army, but as a number of separate, straggling detachments, neither of which was ordered to protect the supply-train, which followed one or two marches behind them, the soldiers had the mortification to learn, about the first of October, that those supply-trains, without even an armed corporal’s guard in their vicinity, had been surprised and burnt by a Mormon band, who thus in effect made war on the United States. Indignantly, but still without a leader and without definite orders, the army struggled on to Bridger, one hundred and thirteen miles from Salt Lake, which the Mormons abandoned on its approach. Bridger is many thousand feet above the sea level, and the ground was here so buried in snow that its gaunt animals died by hundreds, and the residue were unable to drag the baggage over the rivers and steep mountains which still separated it from Salt Lake. So the regiments halted, built huts to shelter themselves from the winter’s inclemency, and lived through the snowy season as they might on a half allowance of beef from their lean, gristly animals, without salt.

Spring at length came; the order to march, long hoped and impatiently waited for, was given; they had been promised a warm reception in the narrow defiles of Echo Cañon by Lieutenant-General Wells and his Mormon host, and they eagerly courted that reception. If General Wells were able, as he boasted, to send them to the right about, they would have nothing to do but to go. They had grown rusty from inaction, and stood ready to be polished, even by so rough an implement as General Wells. But news came that the whole affair had been somehow arranged-that Colonel Kane, Brigham Young, and Governor Culming had fixed matters so that there would be no fighting—not even further train-burning. Yet the Mormons fled from Salt Lake City in anticipation of their entering it; they were somehow, required to encamp as far from the Mormon settlements as possible; and they have ever since been treated by the federal executive as though they had volunteered to come here in defiance of, rather than in obedience to, that executive’s own orders.

Whether truly or falsely, this army, probably without an individual exception, undoubtingly believes the Mormons as a body to be traitors to the Union and its government, inflexibly intent on establishing here a power which shall be at first independent of, and ultimately dominant over, that of the United States. They believe that the ostentatious, defiant refusal of Brigham Young, in 1857, to surrender the territorial governorship, and his declaration that he would hold that post until God Almighty should tell him to give it up, were but the natural development of a polity which looks to the subjugation of all earthy kingdoms, states, empires, sovereignties, to a rule nominally theocratic, but practically autocratic, with Brigham Young or his designated successor as despot. They hold that the instinct of self-preservation, the spirit of that requirement of the Federal Constitution which enjoins that each state shall be guaranteed a republican form of government, cry out against such a despotism, and demand its overthrow.

The army undoubtingly and universally believes that Mormonism is, at least on the part of the master spirits of “the church,” an organized, secret, treasonable conspiracy to extend the power, increase the wealth, and gratify the lecherous appetites of those leaders, who are using the forms and terms of religion to mask and shield systematic adultery, perjury, counterfeiting, robbery, treason, and even murder. It points to the wholesale massacre at Mountain-meadows, the murder of the Parrishes, and a hundred more such, as instances of Mormon assassination for the good of the church, the chastisement of its enemies, or the aggrandizement of its leading members—to the impossibility of bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice, to the territorial laws of Utah which empower Mormon functionaries to select the grand and petit jurors even for the United States courts, and impose qualifications which in effect secure the exclusion of all but Mormons from the jury-box, and to the uniform refusal of those jurors to indict or convict those who have committed crimes in the interest of Mormonism,* [* Judge Cradlebaugh asserts that on the list of jurors recently imposed on him for the investigation at, Provo of the Parrish and other murders, he knows there were not less than nine leading participants in those murders.] as proof positive that all at tempts to punish Mormon criminals by Mormon jurors told officers must ever prove abortive, and demands of the federal government that it shall devise and put in execution some remedy for this unbearable impunity to crime. It is uniformly believed in camp that not less than seventy-five distinct instances of murder by Mormons because of apostacy, or some other form of hostility to “the church,” or mainly for the sake of plunder, are known to the authorities here, and that there is no shadow of hope that one of the perpetrators will ever be brought to justice under the sway of Mormon “popular sovereignty” as now established in this territory. The army, therefore, turns an anxious eye to Washington, and strains its ear to hear what remedy is to be applied.

Manifestly, the recent responses from that quarter are not calculated to allay this anxiety. The official rebuke recently and publicly given to the federal judges here, for employing detachments of troops to arrest and hold securely Mormons accused of capital crime, elicits low mutterings of dissatisfaction from some, with a grave silence on the part of many whom discipline restrains from speaking. As the recent orders from Washington are understood here, no employment of federal troops to arrest or secure persons charged with or even convicted of crime is allowed, except where the civil power (intensely Mormon) shall have certified that the execution of process is resisted by a force which it cannot overcome by means of a civil posse. How opposite this is to the orders given and obeyed in the fugitive slave cases at Boston, etc., need hardly be indicated. Very general, then, is the inquiry in the army, Why were we sent here? and why are we kept here? What good can our remaining do? What mischief can it prevent? A fettered, suspected, watched, distrusted army—an army which must do nothing—must not even be asked to do anything in any probable contingency—what purpose does it subserve beyond enriching contractors and Mormon magnates at its own cost and that of the federal treasury? Every article eaten, drank, worn, or in any manner bought by the soldiers, costs three to ten times its value in the states; part of this extra cost falls on the treasury, the residue on the troops individually. Their position here is an irksome one; their comforts few; home, family, friends are far away. If the policy now pursued is to prevail, they cannot be needed in this territory. Why, then, are they kept here? Brigham Young will contract, and make money by contracting, to put down all resistance to this policy at one-tenth the cost of keeping the army here: why, then, not withdraw it?

I have not so bad an opinion of the Mormons as that entertained by the army. While I consider the Mormon religion, so called, a delusion and a blight, I believe many of its devoted adherents, including most of those I have met, to be pure-minded, well-meaning people; and I do not believe that Mormons generally delight in plunder or murder, though the testimony in the Mountain-meadows, Parrish, and one or two other cases, is certainly staggering. But I concur entirely in the conviction of the army, that there is no use in its retention here under existing orders and circumstances, and that three or four companies of dragoons would answer every purpose of this large and costly concentration of troops. The army would cost less almost anywhere else, and could not anywhere be less useful.

A suspicion that it is kept here to answer private pecuniary ends is widely entertained. It is known that vast sums have been made out of its transportation by favored contractors. Take a single instance already quite notorious: twenty-two cents per pound is paid for the transportation of all provisions, munitions, etc., from Leavenworth to this point. The great contractors were allowed this for transporting this year’s supply of flour. By a little dexterous management at Washington, they were next allowed to furnish the flour here —Utah flour—being paid their twenty-two cents per pound for transportation, in addition to the prime cost on the Missouri. As Utah has a better soil for growing wheat than almost anything else, they had no difficulty in sub-letting this contract at seven cents per pound net, making a clear profit of one hundred and seventy thousand dollars on the contract, without risking a dollar, or lifting a finger. Of course, I expect contractors to bargain for themselves, not for the government, but somebody is well paid for taking care of the public’s interest in such matters. Has he done his duty?

Again, pursuant to a recent order from Washington, the Assistant Quartermaster-General here is now selling by auction some two thousand mules—about two-thirds of all the government owns in this territory. These mules cost one hundred and seventy-five dollars each, and are worth today one hundred and twenty-five to one hundred and fifty dollars. I attended the sale for an hour or so this forenoon; the range of prices was from sixty to one hundred and fifteen dollars; the average of the seven hundred already sold about seventy-five dollars. Had these mules been taken to California, and there properly advertised and sold, they would have brought nearly cost; even at Leavenworth, they must have sold for at least one hundred thousand dollars more than here, where there is practically no demand and no competition for such an immense herd; and; after every Mormon, who can raise a hundred dollars or over, shall have supplied himself with a span of mules for half their value, one or two speculators will make as much as they please, while the dead loss to the people will be at least one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Nobody here has recommended the sale of these mules; they were being herded, under the care of detachments of the army, at no cost but for herdsmen, and they could have been kept through next winter, in secluded mountain valleys, at a cost of about ten dollars per head; whereas the army can never move without purchasing an equal number; and they can neither be bought here nor brought here for two hundred thousand dollars more than these animals are now fetching. Somebody’s interest is subserved by this sale; but it is certainly not that of the army nor of the people. The order is to sell seven hundred wagon’s as well; but these would not bring thirty dollars each, while they cost at least one hundred and thirty, and could not be replaced when wanted even for that, while the army cannot move without them, and keeping them costs absolutely nothing. Who issues such orders as this, and for whose benefit?

Look at another feature of this transaction. There is at this moment a large amount due to officers and soldiers of this army as pay, in sums of forty to five hundred dollars each. Many of those to whom this money is due would very much like to take mules in part-payment, either to use while here, to sell again, or to bear them and their baggage to California, or back to the Missouri, on the approaching expiration of their terms of enlistment. In many instances, two soldiers would doubtless club to buy a mule on which to pack their blankets, etc., whenever their time is out. Hundreds of mules would thus have been bought, and the proceeds of the sale considerably augmented, if the government, by its functionaries, had consented to receive its own honest debts in payment. But no! on some ridiculous pretense of ill-blood between the pay and the subsistence bureaux of the War department, this is refused—it would be too much trouble to take certificates of soldiers’ pay actually due in payment for these mules; so the officers and soldiers must purchase of speculators at double price, or go without, and the mules be sold for far less than they would have brought, if those who must have them had been enabled to bid directly for them. Two or three speculators reap a harvest here at the sore cost of the soldiers and the treasury.

But it will be said that forage is dear in Utah. It would suffice to answer that idle mules obtain, save in winter, only grass growing on the public lands, which may as well be eaten in part by government mules as all by those of the Mormon squatters. But let us see how it costs so much. There have recently been received here thirty thousand bushels of corn from the states at a net cost, including transportation, of three hundred and forty thousand dollars, or over eleven dollars per bushel. No requisition was ever made for this corn, which could have been bought here, delivered, for two dollars per bushel, or sixty thousand dollars in all. The dead loss to the treasury on this corn is two hundred and eighty thousand dollars, even supposing that the service required it at all. Somebody makes a good thing of wagoning this corn from the Missouri at over ten dollars a bushel. Who believes that said somebody has not influential and thrifty connections inside of the War department?

I will not pursue this exposition; Congress may.

Let me now give a sample of retrenchment in the public service in this quarter:

The mail from Missouri to Salt Lake has hitherto been carried weekly in good six-mule wagons; the contract time being twenty-two days. The importance of frequent and regular communication with head-quarters, at least so long as a large army is retained here at a heavy extra cost, and because of some presumed public necessity is evident. Yet the new Postmaster-General has cut down the mail-service on this important central route from weekly to semi-monthly. But the contractors, who are obliged to run their stages weekly because of their passenger business, and because they have to keep their stock and pay their men, whether they work or play, find that they cannot carry the mail every other week so cheaply as they can every week. For instance, a mail from the states now often consists of twelve to sixteen heavy sacks (most of them filled with franked documents), weighing as many hundred pounds. Double this, and no six-mule team would draw it at the requisite pace, and no mail-wagon stand the jerks and jolts of an unmade road. So they say, “please let us carry the mail weekly, though you only pay us for carrying it semi-monthly.” But no! this is strictly forbidden! The post-master at Salt Lake has express written orders to refuse it, and of course he at St. Joseph also. And thus all this central region, embracing, at least a dozen important military posts, and countless Indian agencies, is reduced to a semi-monthly mail-service, though the contractor would gladly make it weekly at the same price!


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