Neither Johnny Lingo nor the Eight-Cow Husband Fought in the Mormon Cow War

By August 13, 2009

Moving onward, ever onward, through the simile and metaphor zoo, we arrive at Bos primigenius, “civilization’s most important animal,” the cow. [1] Mormonism’s pre-eminent bovine octet first lumbered across a public screen in 1969 when Johnny Lingo used them to buy a bride, perpetuate his culture’s patriarchal commodification of women, and teach us that if we’re nice and/or Machiavellian enough we’ll get a hot wife. Or something. [2] Fittingly for a Mormon-produced film, plurality dominated the plot.

Random cows with no known relation to fictional South-Sea traders.

As I’ve explained before, I’m abusing my position as a perma to focus my thesis writing, get positive reinforcement, and maybe even some critical feedback. That is, I’m posting zero- and first-drafts of my current research. At some point I hope to take a machete and go on a frenzied, verbiage-slaughtering rampage to rein in all this prolixity. [3] Until then… you’ll survive. (See also: Cow, don’t have a.) To facilitate skimming and/or skipping, I give you, “The Table of Contents”:

  • Herds, Dupes, and Identity: Some cow imagery portrayed Mormons as stupid, caught up in a herd-mentality, or depraved. Such formulations placed Mormons outside the bounds of Whiteness, American-ness, and true wo/manliness. From the Early Republic to the Progressive Era, however, cultural values changed, and so did the symbolic tools for constructing identity.
  • Mormon Beef, the Mormon Cow War, and Civilization’s Boundaries: Successfully portraying rivals and enemies as less-civilized or out-and-out savage conveyed economic and political power—and especially land rights. The “bovinicity” of the MCW and Mormon Beef are tangential, but both incidents illustrate multi-directional contestation of civilizational boundaries.
  • The Progressive, Assimilating Golden Calf: Sectarian strife often included accusations of profit-mongering, of “dancing round the golden calf.” Over the nineteenth century, Mormons became richer and thus more susceptible to such critiques; Progressive ideals and the continued democratization of “mainstream” American Protestantism made it worse. On the other hand, capitalism ran/runs deeply in American culture so—paradoxically—criticizing Mormons for economic success included them more fully in the American body politic. Mormonism’s “tribe-to-trust” transition kept nasty comments in the newspapers, but fundamentally changed the stakes of anti-Mormon critique.
  • The Contradictory Galloping Golden Calf: None of the above came off neatly, easily, or quickly. Various ideas, trends, and motifs overlapped and contradicted one another. Some cognitive disjunctions in constructions of Mormon gender, economic strength, and nationality made the othering of Mormonism more, rather than less, culturally useful; some contradictions were features, not bugs.

What I judge to be humorous quips/anecdotes from the sources appear in notes 9, 13, 24, and 34.

I haven’t decided if the next installment will focus on India, Hinduism, and Sepoys or Octopuses, Leviathans, the Otherwise-tentacled, and Spiders.

Herds, Dupes, and Identity [Back to TOC]

In 1854 Benjamin Ferris denigrated Mormon men for taking “as little care of their wives as of their children; and of both, less than a careful farmer in the States would of his cattle.” Male Mormons neglected their duties so thoroughly that “nowhere out of the ‘Five Points’ in New York city [could] a more filthy, miserable, neglected-looking, and disorderly rabble of children be found” than in Salt Lake. [4] The inability to provide for a family, whether through incompetence, unwillingness, or bondage, indicated less-than-full American-ness, manliness, and Whiteness. [5] Irish immigrants from the Five Points—not-yet-White, not yet American, and not Protestant—completed the invidious comparison. [6]

Besides the individual dishonor, in both the Early Republic and the Victorian Era, the fate of the nation rested ideologically on the strength of its homes, though for different reasons. “Republican virtue” called for independent, yeoman farmers (male, of course) to support the nation by participating civically, maintaining social honor, and pursuing individualist happiness. The later Victorian ethos, as exemplified by Ann Eliza Young’s 1875 exposé, focused more on men’s “finer feelings and sensibilities” than their actions. [7] She intoned that, under polygamy, man “regarded women’s suffering with utter indifference; he did not care for their affection; their tears bored him, and angered rather than touched him.” Perhaps most damningly, “he lost all respect and chivalrous regard…, and spoke of his wives as ‘my women,’ ‘my heifers,’ or, if he, a Heber Kimball, ‘my cows.’” [8]

Kimball’s statement about his conjugal “cows” generated gobs of copy. [9] The earliest I’ve identified comes from John Hyde, Jr, who used it, along with other actions, in 1857 to demonstrate that polygamy caused men to “lose all decency or self-respect, and degenerate into gross and disgusting animals.” [10] As above, early references focused on deeds while later usage emphasized sentiments. An 1890s author wrote, “When President Kimball calls his numerous wives his ‘cows,’ he but reflects the Mormon idea of woman in the social scale.” [11]

Other observers mixed commentary on Mormonism’s Progressive credentials—in this case, sensitivity to women’s social position—with descriptions of presumed intellect. For example, naturalist John Muir described groups of Mormon women “on the streets…, looking as innocent and unspeculative as a lot of heifers” as well as a speech about “the good things of life” that “enumerated fruitful fields, horses, cows, wives, and implements, the wives being placed as above, between the cows and implements, without receiving any superior emphasis.” [12]

A much earlier observation of a group of Mormon immigrants took the evil-leader / duped-follower tack, emphasizing Mormonism’s collective features: “In the countenances of these there was no cast that betrayed a character, either of particular saintliness or sin. In most of them, the expression was simply stolid and bovine; and it was evident that these were the mere cattle of the herd.” [13]

Most bulls have two horns, however, and Mormons and their supporters also employed rhetorical bovines; enter Ambrose Bierce, setting newspapers on fire in 1890:

[T]he Mormons have abjured polygamy and promised to obey the law; yet the reverend gentlemen mentioned find in this action provocation for new calumny and fresh insult. It is clear that nothing will ever sate the bovine rage of these orthodoxen [sic] but the driving forth of this harmless people into the desert again, the shooting of their leaders, and the flogging of their women. [14]

Cow imagery, from “cattle” or “orthodoxen,” could convey an “un-American” collectivism, a “non-White” intellectual level, and a position of social subordination.

Mormon Beef, the Mormon Cow War, and Civilization’s Boundaries [Back to TOC]

The non-Johnny-Lingo Mormon bovines most familiar to present-day audiences probably come from the “Mormon Cow War” and the Liberty Jail “Mormon beef” diet. Both episodes reveal contestations of savagery and civilization.

In 1854, a stray cow from a Mormon immigrant train met up with an inexperienced Army officer’s enthusiastic stupidity and sparked a battle between the soldiers and local Sioux, resulting in the deaths of all twenty-nine involved soldiers and one Sioux. The cow wandered off; some Sioux found, killed, and ate it; the Mormons told the soldiers; the soldiers over-reacted; and the Sioux killed them all. Later (much later) commentators called the event the “Mormon Cow Incident,” the “Case of the Mormon Cow,” and the “Mormon Cow War” (see Figure 1). [15] Contemporary reports focused on Indian depravity and American honor: Indian soldiers mercilessly killed everyone—never mind that they were attacked with two cannons; American soldiers died bravely—never mind that they took almost thirty armed men and two cannon to complain about a deserted, lame cow. The take-home message here is that, in the American West, Euro-Americans almost always measured civilization and savagery relative to a constructed identity for Native American Peoples. Whatever else Mormons were, they ranked higher than Indians.

Soon after the Church’s organization, anti-Mormons charged that Mormons associated with, acted like, and were like “the savages.” [16] One Mormon defense involved counter-accusations of savagery. “You’re savage.” “Am not. You are.” “Am not.” “Are, too.” And so on. After their incarceration at Liberty (1838), Hyrum Smith and companions claimed that during one week the Liberty guards offered only human flesh as food. [17] Further, the guards boasted that the meat had been carved from dead Saints; they called it “Mormon beef.” [18] Mormons cited the story repeatedly in subsequent decades. [19] “I’m not savage. You are.”

Liberty Jail, Liberty, Clay County, MOAn 1886 journalistic interchange illustrates the process. The Liberty Tribune of Liberty, Missouri, published a brief piece on the Liberty Jail, including an engraving and noting that “This antique edifice may be said to be historic. In the year 1838 Joe Smith, the famous prophet of the Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, was immured within its walls.” [20] I might be reading too much into the limited text, here, but it sounds like Renan’s “joy of fratricide”: shared history can make an “us,” even if that history is mutual antagonism. The Liberty editors seem to have moved into a new time. The Deseret Evening News in Salt Lake, on the other clock hand, still inhabited the old time: “It was in this same Liberty Jail that the brethren…were subjected to the most inhuman treatment that the ingenuity of demons could devise.” [21] Penrose goes on to re-tell the Mormon-beef tale and then remonstrates that

If the present inhabitants of Liberty know of these things they ought to never think of that jail but with a sense of the keenest shame. It ought to remain to them a standing reproach for the dark deeds perpetrated within its unhallowed precincts, and the inhuman treatment to which inspired servants of God were there subjected.

It turns out that the Missouri editor hadn’t forgotten after all or Penrose’s piece brought to the surface some repressed memories.

It is not denied that the Mormons were subjected to some harsh treatment at the hands of the people of Jackson and Clay counties; but we submit that it was nothing more than their just deserts, brought on by their own absurd, unlawful and fanatical theories and practices. [22]

More to the point, the Liberty Tribune expostulates that

The charge that, whilst the prisoners were confined in jail at Liberty, they were fed on or offered ‘Mormon beef,[’] or human flesh, is as false as Dicer’s oaths, [23] and is too preposterous to be entertained even for a moment by any other than the most ridiculous Mormon fanatic….

At stake, of course, is more than who gets the nice seats at the community church and gets to stick out their pinky whilst sipping expensive liquids. The Mormon sense of “Manifest Destiny” gave them the right—as the chosen, more civilized, more righteous people—to displace the pre-inhabitant savages. Vice versa and five decades later, American Manifest Destiny dictated that the forces of Anglo-Saxon, American civilization qualified its denizens to displace Mormon and Indian savages.

The Progressive, Assimilating Golden Calf [Back to TOC]

Another frequent Mormon bovine instantiation involved allusions to the Aaronic Golden Calf, most commonly representing greed or idolatry. [24] The application to Mormonism was hardly unique; golden calves showed up in many places (see two cartoons). A fairly typical assessment of “the reverend guides and directors of the Mormon people” claimed that “as usual with their class in all ages and countries, these men are inveterate worshipers of the golden calf. They bow before it, it fills their imaginations, and concentrate their desires.” [25]

Accusations of idolatrous greed could, however, point in other directions:

It is true we have within our borders Mormonism, and Mahometanism, and even Buddhism…. But these are mere barnacles sticking to the great body politic. They are no part of American civilization. …But… if we are ever to be a great nation hereafter, the protesting, puritanic Christianity of progress must keep the lead…. It will naturally rise over all paganisms because it is better. But there is one idolatry that makes it tremble already—the Moloch of selfishness. Men again dance round the Golden Calf.” [26]

Mormons took up this line with enthusiasm: “To-day many of the ministers…preac[h] for filthy lucre, not righteousness. These have bowed down to the golden calf.” [27] Priestcraft and selfishness were, of course, not new accusations in sectarian tussling and Mormons gave and took many such swipes in their first century (and since). However, as Progressive sentiments built momentum near the end of the nineteenth century, the stakes raised. Sectarians could co-opt the popular critique of modern greed and use it against their rivals.

The consequences of such strategies and trends varied for Mormonism. On the one hand, Mormon economic and political power had grown considerably. Even though Mormon centralization began to weaken, increased Mormon population and prosperity led to an overall increase in Mormonism’s temporal power—especially in comparison to many of the “mainstream” churches. Thus, Mormonism found itself relatively more vulnerable to profit-based criticism. Extensive church involvement in business trusts, such as the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, did not help in this regard. [28]

On the other hand, focusing on economic and political organization shifted the terms of debate in Mormonism’s favor. The “tribe” to “trust” transition reversed the action/essence trend in gender, race, and national identity described above. The Mormon “tribe” was inherently un-American, non-White, and the wrong kind of man- and womanly; the Mormon “trust” was dangerous and did bad things but only needed a stern talking-to and maybe a Sherman-Anti-Trust whipping before it would behave.

Also: despite all the Progressive cant and impassioned editorials, “capitalist,” “individualist,” and “profit-oriented” still described—in broad terms—American actions very well. To say that Mormons “danced around the gold calf” was one of the most inclusive things written in an American newspaper about Mormonism up to that point. In retrospect, the sea change was like the difference in antagonism between two groups trying to play different sports on the same field and the same two groups opposing each other in the same sport on that field.

The Contradictory, Galloping Golden Calf [Back to TOC]

Like many social and cultural changes, the difference only seems clear or quick looking back. While it was happening, motifs of the simultaneously rich and poor Mormon overlapped in a familiar, contradictory pattern. The idea of greedy, rich Mormons mounting a meaningful assault on the nation by subterfuge and intrigue—while living in small houses with unhappy women, dirty children, and little money—beggars the linear imagination. [29] In a similar way (but larger scale), descriptions of African-American males as simultaneously stupid, lazy, disorganized, cowardly—and involved in a massive, secret conspiracy to overthrow White rule by force—send smoke out logician’s ears.

The contradiction defused fears and tensions. Making acquisitiveness a moral characteristic of Mormonism turned it into a far less ferocious bugbear. Mormon greediness revealed its moral degeneracy while poverty revealed its practical incompetence. Thus, neither God nor Mammon really fought for the Mormon—meaning hard-working, God-fearing, daughter-raising Americans could sleep peacefully at night. The contradiction also played into the same gender / race / nationality critique as above: (supposedly) choosing not to care for their families despite wealth made Mormons less White, less manly, and less American.

Sorting through the chromosomes of cows and steers and heifers and bulls and so on highlights another feature of mid-Mormon discourse: the “Mormon” was male. Other than a few scattered “Mormonesses,” “the Mormon and his wives” populated newspapers and magazines. As has been observed in detail elsewhere, the obstinate Mormon-ness of Mormon women stuck in many craws. The idea of White women choosing such a path undermined the logic of both Early Republic and Victorian social models: impure women led to dysfunctional homes led to societal collapse. Thus, by focusing on the leadership and the men (and denying the Whiteness), anti-Mormonism reduced existential anxiety. It were one thing to have dupes and abused women—the “cattle”—burdening the nation, but quite another to have rational folks with “American” genealogies and “White” skin willfully and informedly pursuing such heresy in quantity. [30]

Further, focusing on leaders and the patriarchy lessened the ideological stakes. Assimilating peoples into an empire could be grubby work that didn’t match the imperial recruitment brochures. Disenfranchising, incarcerating, and impoverishing a few evil, male leaders reduced cognitive dissonance for “freedom-loving” Americans. Rhetorically, anti-Mormonism crusaded to bring democracy to Mormons; Mormon pens and pulpits, of course, claimed precisely the opposite, that Mormonism defended democracy against tyrannical apostates from true American-ness. Along the same lines, the women-and-children-first rhetoric co-opted, in some cases, feminist efforts. A commentator could use anti-Mormonism to trumpet concern for women while not giving up anything he/she cared about. Finally, the evil-leader strategy provided a rhetorical out. If someone happened to know an upstanding Mormon then it were small potatoes to wave hands and claim artful deception, insignificant cattle, or maverick. [31]

Orientalism provided another potential—and potentially contradictory—application of bovine symbology. However, the few “sacred cow” and “holy cow” usages I found lacked Orientalist connotations. [32] I found an RLDS source labeling the “Adam-God” a golden calf and another source identifying Mormonism itself as the idol, but the calves generally invoked “wicked Israel” rather than “Oriental Egypt.” [33] I have not explored whether the irony of rhetorically aligning “pure” Anglo-Saxon Christianity with Judaism ever struck contemporaries. A variety of other Mormon cows lumbered through the archives, but none struck me as exposing unseen aspects of the Zeitgeist. [34]

Rounding up

The Mormon cattle motif—like Mormon crickets, Mormon lice, and Mormon flies—emphasized the herd / swarm / collective aspects of Mormonism, with the concomitant idea of evil-leaders / duped-followers. Bovine metaphors also helped construct gender, race, and nationality distinctions while conveying passivity, lasciviousness, and greed. However, despite ill intentions, golden-calf discourse positioned Mormons more securely within the American body politic.


[1] Donald K. Sharpes, Sacred Bull, Holy Cow: A Cultural Study of Civilization’s Most Important Animal (New York: P Lang, 2006). I do not here opine whether or not the cow really is civilization’s “most important animal.”

[2] Figurative communication is mostly wasted on Deacons, which is what I was last I saw it. Johnny Lingo (Brigham Young University / Encyclopedia Britannica, 1969).

[3] One of my favorite editing quotes comes from Sarah Lyall writing about David Halberstam: “Here’s what’s really been upsetting me about War in a Time of Peace. You hint at it when you say, quite reasonably, that “an editor who wasn’t afraid of Halberstam could have done some judicious pruning.” Judicious pruning? Someone needed to take a machete and go on a murderous anti-verbiage rampage, whopping out whole sections of the forest.” Sarah Lyall, “David Halberstam’s breathless, deathless prose,” Slate <www.slate.com>, 2001 Sep 06.

[4] Benjamin G. Ferris, Utah and the Mormons: The History, Government, Doctrines, Customs, and Prospects of the Latter-day Saints… (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1854), 249. The Ecclesiastical document, “Mormon bull,” appeared in print in 1842: “the pontifical bull is harmless in comparison with the Mormon bull, (Joe’s letter of marque and reprisal,) as the latter terminates… in murder, coldblooded, Danite murder!” John C Bennett, letter to the Louisville Journal, 1842 Jul 30, reprinted in John C Bennet, The History of the Saints; or, An Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism (Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842), 217.

[5] I’ve already packed my books, so no cite. The general trend in the mid-nineteenth century was, “Bound because Black” to “Black because bound”—with gradations proportionate to degree of bondage as wage laborer, indentured servant, and so on.

[6] Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York: Routledge, 1995).

[7] Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, or The Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism… (Hartford: Dustin, Gilman & Co, 1875), 292.

[8] Both eras held much in common and the action/essence distinction should not be interpreted rigidly, but there does seem to be a general shift from practical to existential horror. See also: Jennie Anderson Froiseth, The Women of Mormonism; or, The Story of Polygamy as Told by the Victims Themselves (Detroit: CGG Paine, 1887; first edition, 1881), 30 and passim.

[9] I am not aware of Hyde’s source or corroborating records, but the statement seems plausible for Kimball’s personality. I give just three of many examples here: “The Mormons call their wives their cattle; they choose them pretty much as they choose cattle; and that great pink of delicacy, Heber C. Kimball…calls his women his cows” John Cradlebaugh (a territorial judge in Utah), in a speech, as reported in Nashville Daily News (1860 Mar 25), as cited by Edwin Brown Firmage and Richard Collin Mangrum, Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001 [reprint]), 133; William Warner Bishop quotes the same material in the introduction to John Doyle Lee’s Mormonism Unveiled, or, The Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee (St Louis: Bryan, Brand, & Co, 1877), 27; “It used to be said that one must have three [plural wives] to be wholly acceptable in respectable society, and the biography of apostle Heber C. Kimball credits him with forty-five wives, whom he lovingly designated as ‘cows.’” Theodore Schroeder, “Polygamy and the Constitution,” The Arena 30:204 (1906): 492-497 [494]; “Apostle Kimball used to refer to his wives as ‘my cows.’” Hans P. Freece, “Polygamy,” Utah, 1906 Oct, The Letters of an Apostate Mormon to His Son (Elmira, NY: Chemung Printing, 1908), 14.

My personal favorite comes from humorist Artemus Ward: “Brother Kimball is a gay and festive cuss…. He has one thousand head of cattle and a hundred head of wives. He says they are awful eaters.” Artemus Ward, “The Lecture,” first delivered in London, 1866 Nov 13, The Complete Works of Artemus Ward (Charles F. Browne) (London: Chatto & Windus, 1899), 378. [Back to TOC]

[10] As evidence, he claimed that “many” Mormon men “frequently sleep with two of their wives in the same bed” and that “Heber C. Kimball does not scruple to speak of his wives, on a Sabbath, in the Tabernacle, and before an audience of over two thousand persons, as ‘my cows!!’ [sic].” John Hyde, Jr, Mormonism: Its Leaders and Designs (New York: WP Fetridge & Co, 1857), 57.

[11] William W Bishop, introduction to JD Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 27.

[12] John Muir, Steep Trails, edited by William Frederic Badè (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918), 110-1. The cited text comes from a letter written in Salt Lake City, 1877 May 15.

[13] Mayne Reid, “The Wild Huntress, Chapter 93: The Corralled Camp,” Chamber’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts 14:362 (London: 1860 Dec 08): 576. Huntress appeared serially from 14:340 (1860 Jul 07) to 14:365 (1860 Dec 29); it was republished as a book (3 vols, London: Richard Bentley, 1861).

A 1918 piece in the Mormon Young Woman’s Journal criticized “over-rested,” “over-massaged” women “whose time is monopolized by THINGS”: “much powder and paint can not conceal the innocuous, bovine expression which she habitually wears. She has an adipose intellect; a lethargic soul.” Jean Brown Fonnesbeck, “When a Girl Marries,” The Young Woman’s Journal 29:6 (1918 Jun): 338-41 [340]. [Back to TOC]

[14] Ambrose Bierce, San Francisco Examiner, 1890 Oct 13, as quoted in, “What the Papers Say,” no author listed, The Deseret Weekly 61:18 (1890 Oct 25): 594-5. The quoted sentence began with “In as manly, straightforward and definitive a way as it could have been done, the Mormons have abjured polygamy and promised to obey the law….” I have not examined whether Bierce ever regretted his evaluation in light of Mormon waffling.

[15] Many refer to the event as the “Grattan Massacre” after the commanding officer. The conflict ended the 1851 Horse Creek Treaty truce and led to the Sioux Wars, which reduced the Sioux over the subsequent thirty-five years. I have not searched in detail, but “Mormon Cow War” and similar seem to come far after the original event. For preliminary example, the New York Daily Times’s initial reporting gave the Mormon connection only tangential ink. NYDT 1854 Sep 12 p8, Sep 18 p2, Oct 24 p2, Nov 09 p6, Nov 23 p3. The earliest “Mormon Cow” label I’ve noticed comes from the early 1910s.

Incident: Mary Beth Norton, Carol Sheriff, David M Katzman, David W Blight, Howard Chudacoff, Fredrik Logevall, A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, Brief Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 337; Case: Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1997), 223; War: Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall, Crimsoned Prairie: The Wars between the United States and the Plains Indians During the Winning of the West (New York: Scribner, 1972), 17. See also the chapter entitled, “The Mormon Cow,” in Addison Erwin Sheldon, History and Stories of Nebraska (Chicago: University Publishing Co, 1914), 97; Richard Jepperson, author, Ken Mundie, illustrator, The War of the Mormon Cow: Being the First Part of the Crazy Horse Chronicles (Park City, UT: String of Beads Publication, 2000); Stanley Buchholz Kimball, Historic Sites and Markers along the Mormon and Other Great Western Trails (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 127.

[16] Paul H Reeve, MHA 2009 presentation.

[17] “We were also subjected to the necessity of eating human flesh, for the space of five days, or go without food, except a little coffee, or a little corn bread, the latter I chose in preference to the former. We none of us partook of the flesh except Lyman Wight; we also heard the guard which was placed over us making sport of us, saying that they had fed us upon ‘Mormon beef.’ I have described the appearance of this flesh to several experienced physicians, and they have decided that it was human flesh. We learned afterwards, by one of the guard, that it was supposed that that act of savage cannibalism, in feeding us with human flesh, would be considered a popular deed of notoriety; but the people on learning that it would not take, tried to keep it secret; but the fact was noised abroad before they took that precaution.” Hyrum Smith, affidavit in “Municipal Court of the City of Nauvoo, Illinois,” Times and Seasons 4:16 (1843 Jul 16): 255-6; Also, with changes: History of the Church, 3.420.

“[Lyman Wight] said, ‘The jailor…fed us on a scanty allowance of filthy and unpalatable food, and for five days on human flesh; from extreme hunger I was compelled to eat it.’ The guards inquired, ‘How do you like Mormon beef?’” Brigham Young, “History of Brigham Young,” Millennial Star 27:30 (1865 Jul 29): 471 [471-3]; also, with changes: HC 3.448.

[18] “One of the prisoners suspected that at one time an attempt was made to feed them upon ‘human flesh,’ basing his suspicion upon the appearance of the meat and the fact that one of the guards made sport of the prisoners, saying that he had fed them on ‘Mormon beef,’ but this boast might have arisen from the fact that ‘Mormon’ cattle were brought in and killed for beef. Bad as the Missourians were, they are entitled to the benefit of the doubt that exists in the case of such a revolting crime.” Brigham H Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1.521.

A Google-snippet of Samuel Woolley Taylor, The Kingdom or Nothing: The Life of John Taylor, Militant Mormon (New York: Macmillan, 1976), 54, comments on the subject: “ ‘Mormon beef,’ John Hogarth said with a grin, ‘horsemeat. Trouble with those guys, they can’t take a joke.’” I have not examined the source; it could be fictional for all I know. At any rate, “it was just joking / bravado / cruelty / mob psychology” seems to me a plausible explanation. See also: Bill McKeever, “Mormon Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner – Or Is It?Mormonism Research Ministry, <www.mrm.org>, accessed 2009 Aug 11; Sandra Tanner, “Letters to the Editor: Joseph Smith and ‘Mormon Beef,’” 2005 Sep 12, Utah Light Ministries, <www.utlm.org>, accessed 2009 Aug 11.

[19] For context on “remembering” Missouri, see David W Grua, “Memoirs of the Persecuted: Persecution, Memory, and the West as a Mormon Refuge,” Master’s Thesis, Brigham Young University, 2008 Dec. Print retellings appeared in, for examples, 1853, ’65, ’68, ’76, ’88, ’92, 1900, ’00, and ’02. (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith… (Liverpool: Orson Pratt, 1853), 244; Millennial Star 27:30 (1865 Jul 29): 471 [471-3], 30:48 (1868 Nov 28): 757 [753-7], and 38:30 (1876 Jul 24): [467] 465-7; Contributor 7 (1885): 447; Historical Record 7:1-3 (1888 Jan): 456; OF Whitney, History of Utah (SLC: GQ Cannon, 1892), 164; GQ Cannon, History of Joseph Smith Written for Young People (SLC: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1900), 156; BH Roberts, The Missouri Persecutions (SLC: GQ Cannon, 1900), 268; and Improvement Era 5:11 (1902 Sep): 838.)

The Brighamites didn’t just write about “Mormon beef.” Conference talks and tourist records suggest the Mormons talked about it, too. Jules Remy and Julius Lucius Brenchley, A Journey to Great-Salt-Lake City, 2 vols (London: W Jeffs, 1861), 1.316, translated republication of Voyage au Pays des Mormons, 2 vols, (Paris: E Dentu, 1860), 1.270; George A Smith, “Historical Address,” Salt Lake City, 1868 Oct 08-9, transcribed by David W Evans, JD 13:108 [103-124].

Josephites also remembered: HCRLDS (Lamoni, IA: 1897) 2.685-6; Daniel MacGregor, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder: The Gospel Restored, 2nd ed (Lamoni, IA: Herald, 1911), 127; Google Snippet: Vision: A Magazine for Youth 24 (1911): 76. Interestingly, MacGregor and Vision up the number from five or so to “Fifty or sixty of the Saints.”

[20] As quoted in Charles W Penrose, ed, “Missouri Memories,” Deseret Evening News, Salt Lake City, UT, 1886 Feb 27, p2, c2.

[21] “Missouri Memories,” Deseret Evening News, 1886 Feb 27. No offense to Penrose and no irreverence toward Missouri suffering, but I must hang out with more creative demons than Penrose if the “most inhuman” his can do is suspicion of involuntary cannibalism.

[22] No author listed, “Memoirs of the Mormons,” Liberty Tribune, Liberty, MO, 1886 Mar 12, p2, c4-5.

[23] A “dicer’s oath” is that of a gambler swearing to give up gambling—false and flagrantly unreliable. See Shakespeare, Hamlet, III.4, when Hamlet confronts his mother about her fratricidal, brother-in-law husband: “Such an act / … / … makes marriage-vows / As false as dicers’ oaths….”

[24] A typical example: “[M]y servant Almon Babbitt…aspireth to establish his counsel…; and he setteth up a golden calf for the worship of my people” (D&C 124:84). A 1943 Mormon-friendly history followed suit: “Samuel Brannan was not the only Latter-day Saint guilty of lifting eyes to the golden calf. A spirit of worldliness seems to have permeated the entire San Francisco colony through that winter of 1847-48.” Paul Bailey, Sam Brannan and the California Mormons (Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1943), 77.

My favorite, describing an army mule: “He could look as sober as though his whole intellect were grinding on the plus and minus of some unsolved problem, like that, for example, which the Book of Mormon and Mohammed’s Koran and Clarke’s Commentaries with all their attention to detail have neglected,—whether Aaron’s golden calf was a Holstein or a Jersey.” Henry A Castle, “The Army Mule,” in Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle, 2nd Series, Papers read before the Minnesota Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1887-1889, edited by Edward Duffield Neill (St. Paul: St. Paul Book and Stationary Co, 1890), 338-366 [345]. [Back to TOC]

[25] Austin N Ward, The Husband in Utah, or, Sights and Scenes among the Mormons: With Remarks on their Moral and Social Economy, edited by Maria Ward (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1859), 280. John C Bennett made a similar, earlier critique: “Many of the poor Gentiles…go to Nauvoo, …but the golden calf is not to be found there! Joseph has fled….” Bennett, History of the Saints, 278. These two examples are easily multiplied. Perhaps curiously, I have not yet noticed any golden calf / golden plates quips.

[26] William A Phillips, “The Age and the Man,” in Echoes of Harper’s Ferry by James Redpath (Boston: Thayer & Eldridge, 1860), 361-383 [370]. “The patriarchal Mormon, waxing fat in the material prosperity of flocks and herds and wives, snaps his fingers at a Republic that consecrates the tables of the money-changers….” No author listed, “The Golden Calf,” Christian Union, reprinted in Friends’ Intelligencer 33:43 (Philadelphia: 1876 Dec 16): 679 – 680 [679].

[27] Robert L Anderson, “Indifference to Religion,” Millennial Star 65:4 (1903 Jan 22): 54-55 [55]; “All this [social inequity] is occasioned by the worship of the golden calf.” No author listed, “The Rich and Poor,” The Deseret Weekly 44:20 (1892 May 07): 642 (“social inequity” is my gloss); “[T]he Israelites…would have a golden calf made, which they might worship. …The Stockton Independent… declared that in these United States nothing could be successfully pitted against that potent dollar…. We could hardly believe that any newspaper…would come out so boldly…and avow that money…was the great motive power that impels…action against Mormonism….” No author listed, Salt Lake Telegraph, reprinted in “The Golden God,” no author listed, Millennial Star 29:32 (1867 Aug 10): 502 [502-503].

[28] Matthew Godfrey, Religion, Politics, and Sugar: The Mormon Church, the Federal Government, and the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, 1907-1921 (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2007).

[29] Caveat: some polemicists focused on Mormon leaders, who were acknowledged to be intelligent, ambitious, wealthy, and capable, making the critique more sensical.

[30] If people like “us” can be so wrong, then the nation is in imminent peril. Ergo, “those people” are not like “us.” Assuming inherent difference rather than social construction and agency (1) simplifies coping strategies, (2) avoids questions about construction of the “us” position, and (3) avoids fears of becoming “that.”

[31] The formation of American anti-Soviet Union rhetoric in the 1930s through 1950s followed a similar pattern. See the note somewhere up above about the books already being packed.

[32] “Because such birds [California gulls] saved the Mormon pioneers from a plague of grasshoppers, they are regarded with a reverence almost akin to that paid to the sacred cow….” Herald of Gospel Liberty 104 (1912): 1200. The only “holy cow”/Mormon I found pre-1920 came from a Mormon source describing Hinduism. JH Ward, Gospel Philosophy: Showing the Absurdities of Infidelity and the Harmony of the Gospel with Science and History (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1884), 16.

[33] “The necessity for some synthesis thus drives men to set up strange gods…. Moses is lost on the summit; let us make a golden calf. So we have Mormonism and new “religions” by the score.” Social Reform Society, Edinburgh University, “Report for 1885-1886,” Christian Socialist 4:38 (1886 Jul), 5. [On the Adam-God Theory]: “O shame on Brigham Young…. He is as bad as Aaron, who made a golden calf for Israel to worship.” No author listed, “Brigham Young’s God examined and refuted by the Scriptures of truth,” The True Latter Day Saints’ Herald 1:11 (1860 Nov): 259-265 [264]. The interpretation of the golden calf as Baal or some Egyptian fertility god, would have made for a nice smear, but I haven’t identified any such usage. Tangentially, see Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Aaron’s Golden Calf,” FARMS Review 18:1 (2006): 375-387.

[34] Bovine associations appeared in other guises, such as the 1885 poem encouraging authors to “Be not like those Mormon ‘cattle,’ / Give your hero but one wife,” and the 1913 novelist who disregarded such sage counsel and warned a character “to discontinue his rambles with Clara, and not…to shake a red flag in the faces of the Mormon bulls.” A bull in Illinois, with the patriotic foresight to slide into the light on 1893 Jul 04, acquired the name “Mormon.” In what might be described as a case of imperial envy, one William Jarman took the Brigham-Young-as-American-Moses idea to another level:

Brigham could play a tripartite roolv-pooly game of Moses, Aaron, and Joshua: Moses to lead the sorry crowd; Aaron to work Golden Calf affairs; and as the Modern Yankee, Joshua, plunder Mexico, whip the “Greasers,” and “Possess the Land.”

According to the Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor, some called Brigham Young, “The Mormon Bull,” though I have not yet corroborated such usage. Presumably the “bullishness” described his personality or his polygamy. In his prison diary, John D Lee wrote a few lines “as a take off on our diet & My treatment here in Prison”:

Old Mormon Bull, how came you here?
We have tugged and toiled these many years,
we have been cuffed and kicked with sore abuse
and now sent here for penetentiary use.
We both are creatures of some Note.
You are food for Prisoners and I, the scape goat.

No author listed, “Please be Cheerful (Advice to Modern Novelists),” Punch (1866 Dec 01), reprinted in Parodies of the Works of English and American Authors, Vol 2, edited by Walter Hamilton (London: Reeves & Turner, 1885), 11-12; Josiah F Gibbs, Kawich’s Gold Mine: An Historical Narrative of Mining in the Grand Canyon of Colorado and of Love and Adventure Among the Polygamous Mormons of Southern Utah (Salt Lake City: Century Printing Co, 1913), 167. Gibbs had previously written (the unfavorable to Mormons) The Mountain Meadows Massacre (Salt Lake City: Salt Lake Tribune Publishing, 1910); “[B]red and owned by West & Duncan, Windsor, Ill.” Calved July 4, 1893. American Hereford Cattle Breeders’ Association, The American Hereford Record and Hereford Herd Book, vol 14 (Columbus, MO: EW Stephens, 1895), 420; William Jarman, U.S.A., Uncle Sam’s Abscess, or, Hell upon Earth for U.S., Uncle Sam (Exeter, England: H Leduc, 1884), 25; Alleen Pace Nilsen and Don Lee Fred Nilsen, Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 2000), 310; John D Lee, A Mormon Chronicle: The Diaries of John D. Lee, 1848-1876, vol 2, edited by Robert Glass Cleland and Juanita Brooks (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1955), entry for 1875 Oct 29. Punctuation and format partially modernized. [Back to TOC]

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. […] View post: Juvenile Instructor » Neither Johnny Lingo nor the Eight-Cow … […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Neither Johnny Lingo nor the Eight-Cow … « cattlefarming — August 13, 2009 @ 8:56 pm

  2. Whew! What a read!

    “bovine rage of these orthdoxen” Bierce was a punny guy.

    “on the other clock hand” You’re not bad yourself.

    Further abuse of your perma powers in this vein may result in widespread acclaim (or at least a few more encouraging comments). This is brilliant stuff, Edje.

    Perhaps the conception of the Mormon as non-white and un-American survives in chestnuts such as the horned Mormon. Holy cow, indeed.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — August 13, 2009 @ 11:08 pm

  3. Thanks, Ben. Without the nerd humor, this stuff can get, *ahem*, long-winded and dry.

    “Holy cow, indeed.” Ha! I hadn’t thought of the horn angle (and I left out the 12 oxen holding up baptismal fonts, etc.). I’ll have to go looking for horns. My impression was that they were related to the cuckold tradition or simply demons.

    But whatever the origin, you are, in my opinion, exactly right: Mormon identity was constructed as emphatically Other and the “horns” bit is just a relic of different times. Thanks for reading in detail.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 14, 2009 @ 1:31 am

  4. For more on Mormon horns, SC Taysom had a very interesting post last year:
    http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/thomas-odea-john-a-widtsoe-and-the-de-horning-room/

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 14, 2009 @ 2:46 am

  5. I would so like to make a meaningful comment here, and even more add a source for your consideration, but I can’t. I’m overwhelmed. I’m envious. I’m looking forward to seeing your life movie (if my seminary teacher was right — not likely) so I can watch your mind at work.

    But even though it’s just “Wow!” you deserve to hear that much, to know that yet another reader had read all the way through and is impressed.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 14, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  6. Lolz! Sorry, that’s all I got. Ditto Ardis.

    Comment by sister blah 2 — August 14, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

  7. Oh yeah! SCT’s post had a lot of fantastic finds in the comments. Cool.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — August 14, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

  8. Ardis and SB2: thanks, so very much.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 14, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

  9. edje,

    Isn’t it against our religion to have this much fun and laugh this much? Posts like this are really gateway drugs to the hard stuff, like belly laughs and rolling on the floor.

    Thanks!

    Comment by Mark Brown — August 14, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

  10. Mormon history = the tobacco of humor

    = )

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 14, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  11. I’m beginning to suspect that your creativity is boundless.

    Comment by SC Taysom — August 14, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

  12. Great post, again Edje!

    Comment by Jared T — August 14, 2009 @ 4:31 pm


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