William P. MacKinnon, In the Valley of the Dry Bones: Utah War Linkages and Interconnections

By April 17, 2008

This is not a verbatim report. It has been slightly reworked for clarity and smoothness from notes I took as I typed almost as fast as I could. Any errors in facts, or lack of grace in delivery are my responsibility. Enjoy!

Utah Valley Historical Society Lecture
William P. MacKinnon
“In the Valley of the Dry Bones: Utah War Linkages and Interconnections”
Provo Public Library
April 16, 2008, 7:00 p.m.

Ardis Parshall (Introduction)

2007-2008 is the sesquicentennial of the Utah War. The completion of this book was not planned to coincide with anniversary, though Bill has been researching it since the Centennial! He was introduced to the Utah War by Howard Lamar at Yale during his sophomore year. He chose instead of pursing advanced degrees in history to attend the Harvard Business college. He was the vice President of General Motors. He left GM after 25 years and began his own management consultant business. He has just concluded a term on the board of the Mormon Historical Association. Everything I am is because he took a chance on an unknown and unproven research assistant. He is author of numerous articles in the Utah Historical Quarterly. His research is enriched by his insistence on following every clue. Good enough is never good enough for him. This tenacity has allowed him to produce volume 1, the first of two, of a documentary history of the Utah War and contains virtually all new material that has not appeared in any venue. He’s managed to weave all the threads of this complex tale into one coherent volume. It’s a page turner, something like a novel, something you don’t often hear about documentary histories.

He will be appearing at 10 different venues this week and he has drafted 10 different lectures on different facets of the Utah war for each venue. You could go to all of them an hear something different.

Bill MacKinnon:

As Ardis indicated, we came from Santa Barbera, CA to visit Utah, principally to launch my new book: At Sword’s Point, Part 1. People have asked me when it came out. I don’t know, I’ll say it was at a loading dock at Norman, OK last week and got to a loading dock in SL before that. It will be available in a few days at BYU and Pioneer, is at Ken Sanders, soon at Benchmark. There are historical societies that I’ve spoken at, last night it was the Utah Westerners, tomorrow the Utah Crossroads Chapter of the Oregon-California Trails Association. Next Monday at Weber State. Tomorrow morning with a group of archivists, Friday with some senior missionaries and staff of the Utah State Historical Society, Saturday a little signing at Ken Sanders, on the way to the airport at Benchmark the same thing on Tuesday. This is Wed., so I must be in Provo.

I am here specifically because of two people that are here tonight, and they asked me to be here. Linda and Robert Carter. Pat and I have lived in Michigan until recently, we’ve known them from a distance and they’re two wonderful people and historians, each with slightly different interests. Linda is our Handcart experience authority. When they ask us to do something we do it. I was asked if we’d talk with OCTA, so I’m on the hook for those reasons. The title of the talk is: In The Valley of the Dry Bones, Utah War Linkages and Interconnections. It is said that everyone is related to everyone else in Utah. With polygamy and large families, it’s an exaggeration not too hard to believe. Mike Leavitt once mentioned to me that he thought he had a million relatives descended from two families in NH. I’ve come to the same conclusion about this confrontation, there are extraordinary connections. The title of this lecture comes from the name of Ezekiel’s vision. I wasn’t referring to Utah Valley as the valley of dry bones, maybe dry throats for the drinkers.

I hope to present some vignettes, human stories of great color that came out of the war. One discovery leading to the other so you can see how the mind of at least one historian works. Everyone clear on what the Utah war was? It was a conflict over power and authority in this area, whether it would be a theocracy or a federal territory, a ward of congress like any other. It played out as an armed confrontation after the president decided to replace Gov. Brigham Young, and pitted an expedition of what came to be about 1/3 of the American military force, and pitted them against one of the most experienced militias in the nation, the Nauvoo Legion. It was kicked off in the spring of ’57 when the President decided to replace Young as governor, but the conflict was 10 years in the making, there were a couple of instances in March of ’57 that were the flash points. It didn’t end on one day either. The march through SLC didn’t end it. It took 11 hours to march through. The conflict went on for decades, until in the early 20th century they began to work themselves out, we even have some remnants of that among us today. The reception of the announcement of the Escalante-Grand Staircase Monument by Pres. Clinton was so poor that he announced it on the Arizona side of the Grand Canyon.When you go to Nevada, you encounter the Sagebrush rebellion. That anti-federalism is rooted in the Utah war. That’s the short version of what the Utah war was. I prefer to call it the Utah War rather than Expedition. Expedition is a one sided characterization. What about the Nauvoo legion? What about the population of Utah? I don’t like “Johnson’s Army” either. It trivializes and localizes in a way it should not be. Vignettes: Some of these are recorded in volume 1 here, some in volume 2, due out in 2009, some in neither book. There is material you haven’t seen before. Even the photos are new. Many never seen and some never seen in Utah. On this leaflet is a photo never been seen anywhere. I found it through a grand daughter. It is of George Washington Cherry. Tonight I will not read a script, this is not an academic paper, this is tailored to Utah Valley. It’s a set of notes rather than a canned talk with this group in mind.A man who was a part of the war in an unusual way–he was on two sides of it. Private Charles Henry Wilcken. A member of Light Battery B, also known as Phelps Battery. Wilcken emigrated to Germany in June 1857 as the Utah Expedition was being formed. He had in his pocket a decoration, a Prussian army iron cross. He had served in the Prussian army, couldn’t find a job, and rather than turn to a life of crime he joined the army and was ordered to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas to come west in the Utah Expedition. Because he had been in the Prussian Army, he had thoughts of how an army should be. He was shocked at the drunkenness, the slackers, and it turned him off. “Do I want to spend my time with this crowd?” He asked himself. CHW decided no at Ft. Bridger. He convinced Phelps to let him go hunt quail and he never came back. From his diary, and the record of the Nauvoo Legion is described his entrance across the Legion lines. He was called “the big man” or the “big Dutchman”. He passed into the Salt Lake Valley, converted, sent for his family, and spent the rest of his life in Utah. His jobs included some interesting ones, body guard, nurse, coachmen, and pallbearer for Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor and was an adopted son of George Q. Cannon. A remarkable life that he spent among the leaders of Utah. Some linkage that is interesting to me. CHW’s connection to three candidates for president. Phelps, who ran in 1880 on the American Party ticket. Phelps was a Vermonter and went back to run for office. He only got about 800 votes in the nation, not very successful. The other two, his descendants, George Wilcken Romney, and Mitt Romney. Romney is also a descendant of Parley P. Pratt, whose death was related in some portion to the Utah War. Because of the complexity of it, he’s one of my favorites.Another you’ve never heard of–Rooney Lee, 2nd oldest son of Robert E. Lee, Jr. He was at Harvard in ’57 and decided his lifelong ambition was to serve as his father in the army. Robert E. Lee never wanted his son to get into the army, so he sent his son to Harvard, but he wanted to so he dropped out and got in, got a commission as a 2nd lieutenant. Now he is a major general in the confederate army, youngest, wounded, taken captive, his captor is Lieutenant Colonel Spear, from Boston. They recognize each other. Why? They’d both met in Utah, 2nd lieutenant, Spear was a sergeant-major. They had some interchange in Utah, met again in a battlefield in Virginia one capturing the other. Lee’s career after he was released from captivity is well known. Spear went on too, though he could barely read and write he was a brigadier general, left the service, took on a new cause after the war. He was an officer in Fenian Army, it attempted to invade Lower Canada and take it away from the British. An assault from Vermont to Montreal. It failed, and he lived out the rest of his life in NY in poverty. Interesting linkages between those two men. Samuel Spears’ connection I wouldn’t have known without comparing notes with Curt Allen of Centerville a descendant of Andrew Jackson Allen, one of Lot Smith’s raiders. Why would the descendant spend so much time tracking the troops? The linkage is cold winter weather. The agony of ’50 and ’51 in the cold of Korea was what got Colonel Allen interested. Had he not served in Korea, I wouldn’t’ have known Spear and he wouldn’t have known about Rooney Lee.

Captain GW Cherry, the man who almost destroyed my marriage. My first wife passed away. In the mid 60s I was at work in NY at GM, it was 1966. My wife was on the other end of the phone. Question: What was the name of that girl you used to take out in San Francisco? A leading question. Why do you ask? I asked, stalling. There’s an envelope here, reeking of perfume from CA. I don’t know anyone there, why don’t you open it. No, when you get home we will. It was from this man’s granddaughter, the youngest child of three marriages. What had happened? In the course of my studies, Albert Sidney Johnson created a volunteer battalion at Ft. Bridger, forced 400 teamsters into a volunteer battalion and elected 4 company commanders. GWC was one, he had fought two years earlier and got dragged in to the Utah War as a civilian teamster. I wrote to the mayor of the town on his discharge papers and never heard a word until the note from the granddaughter arrived. When the letter got to the mayor, there was no mayor, so it was given to the closest thing, man who manned the local gas station. So he gave it to a member of the family and she kept the letter on her bureau for two years. She gave it to her cousin at a reunion. This cousin had the papers and that photograph and got in touch with me. We corresponded for years. I got some of them in a trunk in her attic, that’s one of the note in a bottle thrown out to sea stories, but it almost destroyed my marriage, for 10 minutes.

The next story borders on mythology. You might not think of Yale as a hotbed of western history, but has one of the best libraries anywhere. Many of the founders of the Texas Republic were from Connecticut. There is much on the Utah War specifically. The curator is about 90-91 at this point. At some point in the early 70s I heard a myth he picked up. He had to spend time at Washington in the Navy yard. He related a rumor he picked up that there was a marine corp. officer in the Utah War. This rumor circulated in Washington for 120 years, but no one could get to the bottom of it. One lone marine officer in Utah, they know because he overstayed his assignment, got attached to a young lady, said he couldn’t come back because of the deep snow, but if the letter can get back why not him? But no one could link a name to the story. Marines among army people? It got my attention. Archie’s office is it true? I don’t know. Years later in the middle of the night I couldn’t sleep. I pulled a book off the shelf, and read a memoir of a civilian who accompanied the army. He wrote his memoirs in the 20s. He described a buffalo hunt as his regiment went west to Utah. He recorded that a Lt. Browning was gored by a buffalo and he was described as a Marine. I wrote to the national archives and an outpouring of reports came on Browning and his war service. He put down to go as an observer so it would hone his professional skills. In reality he wanted to get away from his skipper, he had been court marshaled. He put in to be an observer, and he was sent. Browning came back eventually. They told him he had to come back. He went to California and through Panama. He left so fast that his clothes stayed at Camp Floyd. He went down with his ship at the beginning of the Civil war.

There are other stories. One runs to a knife fight in Provo. You probably know the name of the hotel, Bullock’s hotel. Starting in the spring and summer of ’58, the New York Times sent dispatches from an unknown reporter; he’s called “Mr. Filmore” in Brigham Young’s papers. I found myself wondering who he was. Through an interesting chain of events starting in Will Bagley’s office, I found out he kept a diary in code describing his work in Utah and that it had been decoded. That still didn’t give his name, so I asked Ardis to check out Kansas references. We found it was Lemuel Fillmore, nephew [actually second cousin, once removed] of Pres. Fillmore. What does this have to do with Provo? In the move south there were negotiations with the president’s emissaries. It was the New York Herald he worked for, not The Times. The Times reporter sent dispatches also from the hotel. George Albert Smith described a knife fight between them in his papers. Sounds like Fillmore was on the short end of the stick, the general authorities had a good time with it. Thanks to Will and to Ardis we found out who that unknown reporter was.

In middle of the Civil War, along the Kansas-Missouri border, Confederate guerillas went to Lawrence, Kansas, sacked it, and murdered many people. One of the corpses was Lemuel Fillmore. The leader of guerillas, Quantrill. He had also been in the Utah War as a civilian, camp cook at Camp Floyd. He went on to be one of the most notorious guerrillas of the war. His head ended up in a refrigerator until recently.

I think one of the more interesting connections concerns the future of the Pacific Coast. In late November ’57 the Russian Ambassador goes to see Buchanan. Word is backwashing from the Lot Smith raid which burned 76 supply wagons around Green River, now southwest Wyoming. When news of that damage got to Washington, it sent a shockwave. The country wasn’t expecting any resistance, but when a small group causes so much havoc, there are real fears as to whether it would be an embarrassment and failure. The Russian Ambassador says he picked up in San Francisco a rumor that Brigham Young and 50,000 men were on the verge of migrating to the pacific coast via Montana to take Alaska from the Russians. There were only 800 Russian troops at Sitka, they were up to their ears fighting the Tlingets. Is this true? Buchanan sighed, “Hell, I don’t know, but I wish they’d go, I can’t control these people. I wish they would leave. He went and wrote to his boss, the Foreign Minister of Russia. When the memorandum got to St. Petersburg, Czar Alexander in french wrote on the memorandum “Better sell now”. Czar Alexander was worried that the Mormon Americans would take it w/o compensation as they saw Americans take Texas, Utah, etc. It was better to sell it, so authorizations were made to negotiate a sale. It took 10 more years and the Civil War got in the way, but that got the ball rolling. His counterpart in the British diplomatic services fired off a memorandum to his superior, worried about British possessions in Vancouver‘s Island. It’s 10 times the size of Long Island. Almost uninhabited. The British realized how vulnerable they were. They had put the Hudson‘s Bay Co. in charge of it and they realized the Company couldn’t defend against the Nauvoo Legion, so Queen Victoria in ’58 took the territory out of the Hudson‘s Bay Co. hands and created British Colombia. They also wanted to keep out American gold rushers. So, the creation of BC came about partly because of the Utah War.

The rediscovery of the Grand Canyon. It was discovered by a small detachment at the end of ’57. They were not a part of the Utah War, but was sent to find the head of the Colorado. Ives. After Lot Smith news arrived, the President sent a dispatch through Panama and California, not only to find that, but also to determine if troops could be moved through the Virgin river through Nevada, if Utah could be invaded from the South and they stumbled on the Grand Canyon. That wouldn’t’ have happened had it not been for Utah war. I could go on for a long time more. Some is in At Sword’s Point, and others in Part 2.

One more…the most recent one I’ve encountered. All of this has not been discovered, it’s not all locked up in this book or the next one. This is the tip of the iceberg, maybe that’s a little exaggeration, but it’s not far off. There is a tremendous amount of material and so much to be understood.

Wade Allenson, he comes from an isolated part of San Rafael Swell, in east-central Utah. I’ve never talked to him, but he and his dog were hiking in that area, looking for pioneer inscriptions and he came across one and photographed it. It hit my inbox late one night as an email from Ardis who got it from a friend at LDS Archives. He got it because Wade was a boyhood friend. What did it say? Under an overhanging ledge in a wash. COG [diamond symbol], 5 INFYHe

. The inscription was by Martin Mullins, an Irish immigrant, 1st sergeant in company G, 5th infantry. They passed through the San Rafael Swell on their way to New Mexico. One month later he shot his fiancé and himself. I didn’t know they’d been there or about that inscription. I didn’t know about that inscription. The diamond is the sergeant symbol that army men wear to this day.

Not everything has been discovered, there is a tremendous amount of material. It’s out there. If you have your antenna up you’ll pick up a lot of these connections and linkages. There is tremendous material and I think some of this stuff is in Europe. 1/2 [?] of the army at that time was not born in the US. Those people, who could read and write, were sending mail and photos to Europe. I think only a handful of that material has been brought back to the US. It’s still back there. One of my thoughts in accepting this invitation was to raise the mater of how much is out there, how much is in your own basements, attics, or desks?

I urge you to keep your antenna up and searching.


Curt [Curtis] Allen for camp Floyd info.

Q: Was this Utah War an embarrassment?

A: I think it was and to BY as well. There were not many winners in the Utah War but it had a tremendous impact. Many dismiss it because there was no large body count, they don’t’ call it a war. To me it passes the duck test, if it walks like a duck, if it talks like a duck, if it acts like duck, then it’s a duck. Buchanan couldn’t wait to get out of the presidency. He is said to have told Lincoln, if you’re as happy to get in as I am to get out, you’re a happy man indeed. When Lincoln came into office there was no money and the largest garrison was at Camp Floyd. The greatest killing of civilians until Oklahoma City was the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The largest movement of civilians was the move south. All told the death toll almost reaches 157. That’s a war to me. It was an embarrassment to the army also. Why, you never hear anything about it in Army publications. Next to American occupation of Northern Russia in 1919, it is one of the most unknown episodes in American military history. It was originated and led by future Confederates, so embarrassment. There is some pride that the Nauvoo Legion kept them out in the winter, but winter probably had more to do with it. And there would be heartburn over Mountain Meadows Massacre which was executed by Nauvoo Legion troops. It was an operation of the Nauvoo Legion. Mormon pride about the Lot Smith campaign, but a lot of heartburn over the MMM.

Q: Walker Brothers heroes of Utah War?

A: They came out all right. They really came in after that, not really in the middle of it.

Q: Was that the first army surplus? They bought up what was left when they (the troops) left for the civil war?

A: It was a fire sale. Brigham Young was happy to buy some of that up. There were some private purchasers like the Walkers. The army burned up the gunpowder and the rifles. BY miffed, took it as an insult.

Q Army deserters. Did the army go after them? There is one case where the deserter was pursued all the way to California. In other cases they were just let go. An unknown number stayed and converted and married Utah women. For years, some were under some apprehension of being caught. Wilcken would carry in his pocket a letter from the commanding general of the Nauvoo Legion saying he’d been captured and was an unwilling absentee…he carried it because he was afraid a Provost officer would catch up with him in NY. The thrust of the letter was he didn’t desert, he was captured. Which wasn’t quite the case.

Thank you for your warm welcome.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks for the summary Jared!

    Comment by Joel — April 17, 2008 @ 7:09 am

  2. Terrific and accurate report, Jared. Judging from the sound of your computer, you type well over 100 wpm, don’t you?

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — April 17, 2008 @ 8:18 am

  3. Fascinating.

    Thank you for your efforts in making this available.

    Comment by Mark IV — April 17, 2008 @ 8:36 am

  4. Thanks for the notes, Jared. Sounds like he told some great stories.

    Linda is our Handcart experience authority.

    Does anyone know if she is still working on a book?

    Comment by Justin — April 17, 2008 @ 8:48 am

  5. Ardis, could we call it “unquestionably authentic and correct in every detail”?

    I’m actually not sure how fast I type, I haven’t taken a speed test since sophmore year (High School) when I learned to type. If it’s fast, then it’s only because I butcher it with a 75% error ratio–Ben is my witness.

    Comment by Jared T — April 17, 2008 @ 9:22 am

  6. Ha!

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — April 17, 2008 @ 9:55 am

  7. Jared, your the man.

    I am very jealous of you Utahan’s having these great experiences with Bill. Thanks for allowing me to share in your wonderful time.

    Comment by Joe Geisner — April 17, 2008 @ 10:12 am

  8. Muchas gracias, Jared.

    Comment by David G. — April 17, 2008 @ 10:29 am

  9. Awesome.

    So are you going to all 10 of these lectures?

    Comment by Randy B. — April 17, 2008 @ 10:49 am

  10. I wish I had that time. I hope to go to Benchmark Books on Tuesday.

    Comment by Jared T — April 17, 2008 @ 10:51 am

  11. If it?s fast, then it?s only because I butcher it with a 75% error ratio?Ben is my witness.

    Come on Jared, it’s only like 63% ;). Regardless, it’s pretty impressive transcription skills.

    Comment by Ben — April 17, 2008 @ 10:55 am

  12. Excellent. Thanks, Jared. I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to attend, so this is a great resource. Thanks again.

    Comment by Christopher — April 17, 2008 @ 11:16 am

  13. Yes, thank you very much. This is simply wonderful.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 17, 2008 @ 11:39 am

  14. These transcriptions are a huge part of why I keep coming here. Don’t mean to mostly be a taker without as much to contribute, but there you are. Keep it up, folks, this is good stuff.

    Comment by kevinf — April 17, 2008 @ 1:32 pm


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