Finding Mormon References in the Strangest Place

By June 1, 2010

This summer I am doing some freelance research for a family on one of their ancestors who edited a small community newspaper in Marion, Ohio from 1877-1883. The man, George Christian Sr., was Warren G. Hardings’ neighbor and his son became Harding’s secretary during his senatorial and abbreviated presidential years. Although Christian probably is not particularly relevant to the readership of this blog, I have been surprised to see how often Mormons make an appearance in Christian’s newspaper, the Marion Mirror. The first few references to Utah in the paper comment on the twenty year anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre as well as John D. Lee’s 1877 trial and subsequent execution. I was surprised that coverage of the trial had made it into such a small town newspaper in the Midwest–though this might reflect the revolutionary effects of the telegraph on journalism of the time than the importance. This story was one of at least six or seven that my research partner and I have come across while looking through the small Democratic-leaning paper. The references are generally negative in tone and usually gleaned from the pages of larger newspapers. I was particularly intrigued by the following notice on May 24, 1877:

A New York Herald special from Salt Lake City says the arming and the drilling of the Mormons continues throughout Utah and there is much alarm among the Gentiles. Gov. Emery has written to the Secretary of War at Washington asking for more troops to be stationed at Camps Douglass, Cameron, St. George, Logan and Fort Hall. (1)

Sometimes I bemoan my own ignorance about certain aspects of Mormon historiography. Does anyone have any ideas over what the Latter-day Saints were mustering at this time? And why would such a apparently small event become a national news story? I do know this is about a half a year before Brigham Young’s death.  Marion is about 130 miles south and west of Kirtland, so I don’t think its proximity to the former Mormon settlement would have created such interest. I do know that there was at least one prominent Mormon citizen in town because I saw his obituary.  I will try to include any more gems from the Marion Mirror that I find in the next few months.

(1) George Cristian Sr. and James Newcomer Sr., eds., no headline, Marion Mirror, May 24, 1877, page 2.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Joel, this reminds me of an article I found in the New York Times online archives. “Brigham Young’s Domain: The Excitement in Utah . . . Reports of Arming and Drilling… ” Published June 4, 1877.

    I found this in Quinn’s Extensions of Power p 773: 2 June 1877 Deseret News story that reporter for New York Herald claimes there were two attempts to kill him during past week in Salt Lake . . . the News dismisses it as a ‘vile plot gotten up . . .”

    I have more on what was going on in my notes, but I will have look at it later when I have more time. Perhaps another reader came give you more information.

    I was surprised to find out how often articles on Utah and the Mormons appeared in the Times. I also remember that there was a list of the alleged participants in the Mountain Meadows Massacre that published in the Herald about this time and picked up and republished twice in the Salt Lake Tribune. This was just a few weeks after J. D. Lee’s execution–I wonder if perhaps there were rumors that the government was going after more of the perpetrators.

    Comment by Susan W H — June 1, 2010 @ 10:46 am

  2. Joel, 1877 was the 20th anniversary of Mountain Meadows, but it was the very year (in March), not an anniversary, when Lee was executed. There was no Mormon mustering, no trouble of any kind — although the national press would dearly have loved for there to be a rebellious uprising on the part of the Mormons, and some politicians would have loved the opportunity to send troops. There are all kinds of false reports being sent in press dispatches about Mormon plans at this time. There was nothing to any of them.

    I’m not surprised that echoes of this reached even Marion. Lee’s execution was A Big National Deal, and you’re seeing a little of the aftermath from that March still filtering into your paper in May.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 1, 2010 @ 10:55 am

  3. Interesting find, Joel. I’m fairly weak on the 1870s, but this is what I found. Neither Bigler nor Alexander have anything on this, and there’s some reason to suggest that this was a false rumor. According to Bigler, Utah governor J. Wilson Shaffer shut down the Nauvoo Legion (UT’s territorial militia) in 1870, and although there were some attempts thereafter to muster the troops and keep the organization alive, they essentially ceased to exist as an organization after Shaffer’s order (Bigler, Forgotten Kingdom, 285-88). Wikipedia’s entry on the Legion concurs, although it clarifies that the Legion was forced inactive in 1870, but not official disbanded until 1887 with Edmunds-Tucker. Furthermore, Alexander indicates that Emery was a moderate governor, and fairly popular (he’s the only governor to have a UT county named after him). “Perhaps because of his evenhandedness, Emery’s administration proved eminently satisfactory to the Mormons” (Alexander, Utah: The Right Place, 185). If there was a conflict in 1877, it wasn’t on Alexander’s radar.

    Comment by David G. — June 1, 2010 @ 11:02 am

  4. It appears that the request was made in response to public pressure. In the May 15th edition of the Salt Lake Tribune, it discusses some “war spirit” being expressed in Logan and St. George (on May 20th, it specifies that a “Mountain Meadows man” had stolen into the Logan public square–whatever that means–given the circumstances, he probably was a radical agitator looking to commemorate the MMM). The article implies that Gov. Emery was actually slow to the draw, as his request for troops was not “a day too soon.” A few days later, it talked of how Colonel Dame was beginning to mobilize the Iron County militia by inspecting their weapons and starting to recruit.

    The most helpful article comes from the May 26th edition. It contains an interview with Emery about his stated reasons in requesting for more troops. In it, he cites no event, no major incident aside from a general “feverish excitement among the Gentiles” (interesting that a Gentile governor would refer to them as such to a hostile newspaper like the Tribune). Most fascinating is a comment Emery makes about how un-American the Mormons are: “The Mormon people of this territory are largely foreigners, and it is impossible to recognize them as American citizens in the highest sense of the term.” They were not republicans and utterly divorced from what made the American government function. Emery basically says that because the peoples of Utah are so different (Mormon/Gentile, Sunni/Shi’a) that the troops will have a “salutory” effect. He does discuss the supposed murders that took place over the past thirty years and offers a blanket condemnation of the Mormon leadership for being complicit in them–but offers no real reason for believing this claim other than that the Mormons were just religious zealots bent on murder.

    The May 23rd edition of the Deseret News maintains too that Emery made the request to satisfy the “slander-mill” people. The editorial makes no reference to any inciting incident but, predictably, criticizes the cost that more soldiers would be. Other references in the newspaper are almost blah about it: “Let the troops come,” one editorialist says. While the reports of mobilization were strictly rumor, DN claims, “the non-Mormons have allowed these reports to fill them with fear.” It is right that “the Government should [therefore] stretch out its arm over them until their fears are dispelled. Let them come by all means.”

    Another report in the same edition provides some details about how talk of uprisings–both Mormon and Indian– was standard fare, always based on secretive rumor-mongering that refused to come to the light of day. Only two years previous, Emery had been “thrashed” into requesting troops to quell an apparently peaceful group of Indians: “a grand farce.” But, the editorialist notes, with some frustrated complacency: “[Mormons] can stand being lied about probably better than anyone else…if men want to make themselves look ridiculous, we can’t help it.”

    Basically, it looks like a non-incident–an escalation of troop presence just because the Mormons were, well, Mormon.

    Comment by Russell — June 1, 2010 @ 11:14 am

  5. Ardis,

    Thank you for clearing up the timeline regarding the massacre and Lee’s execution. I didn’t make that apparent enough in the original post.


    Thanks for the supporting information from the Tribune. It sure is nice to have it searchable. I think the mystery is solved as far as to what event the paper was referring. I guess my most important question is how did it end up in such a small, unimportant newspaper in the middle of nowhere.

    Comment by Joel — June 1, 2010 @ 11:42 am

  6. Yes, it is interesting how that would be. Speaking for myself, I think we forget how large the Mormons loomed in that era as the “stock villain.” Given how frequently they showed up in adventure novels and the like, I really do believe that they were the equiv. of the token Islamic terrorist. By that point, the anti-Irish fervor of the 40s/50s was beginning to calm down, so they didn’t have a neighborhood villain to accuse anymore.

    Further, Ohio was the homestate of Rutherford B. Hayes, the president who pulled out the troops from the Reconstruction South. Marion is not far from Hayes’ hometown, so Hayes’ policies would clearly be on their Could the newspaper be pointing to the Mormons as the next target for Reconstruction?

    Comment by Russell — June 1, 2010 @ 11:59 am

  7. Russell,

    Since it is a Democratic paper, it hates everything about Hayes. They publish the popular and electoral vote counts every week for six months to remind everyone of what they think is Hayes illegitimacy. I agree with you that Givens has proven Mormons’ value as stock villains in the 19th century. But the Democrats never like Southern reconstruction and it does not seem that they are pushing for something similar in Utah at the time–at least not explicitly.

    Comment by Joel — June 1, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

  8. Oh yes…I overlooked the part about it being the Democratic paper. Duly noted. (and btw, that sentence should have read: “on their minds.”)

    Comment by Russell — June 1, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

  9. I was doing some research in Nebraska and found an interesting reference to the Mormons. Seems the town’s folk had heard that the Mormons were being driven out of their homes (wish I could remember where and when) and had stopped in their county. The town’s men decided to ride out and encourage the Mormons at gunpoint to move on. When they reached the camp, they were moved by the condition of the Mormons and instead went home, gathered supplies, and retruned to give them to the Mormons.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — June 3, 2010 @ 5:56 am


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