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Tenderfoot Days

By George Robert Bird

Behind the Curtain

AFIELD fence in Utah often occasions a marked contrast in the appearance of the soil. On one side of it there is green alfalfa, peach and plum trees as thrifty as the best, due to the little rills of irrigation water. On the other side of the same fence there is nothing but the silt and sand of a pure desert, the habitat of sage brush and the horned-toad.

The two sides of a shield are often quite different; and there are two sides to Mormonism, as in most religions. I have shown you the fair and fertile looking side, but in order to be true to the facts, as I saw them, I must show you the other.

I am not the critic or judge in this matter. The reader can occupy that position, if he so desires. Otherwise time and the great future must unite to be it, and will pronounce a true judgment. I am but a recounter of my own observances and experiences.

First a few words about the Mormon Rurales, Rough Riders or Destroying Angels. These were the Danites, or Mormon military police, and their work was for both Church and State.

These strangely gathered people were isolated, enthusiastic, then intolerant, and afterwards crafty and cruel in the administration of their public affairs. Many vile things have been said of the Mormons. I do not join in that abuse. Where so much smoke has arisen there must be some fire as the cause of it.

We know that the Mormons, as an outgrowth of the persecutions they endured in the East, and as a defensive measure, organized a militia, called the Nauvoo Legion. It drilled openly and was perfected as an engine of war shortly before, and also during, the days of the Civil strife in the States. Those days saw interests, so paramount to an insignificant evidence of Mormon disloyalty, that amid the rush of events and the crash of war, no notice was taken of this Legion, or steps enforced to put it down.

In the Utah of my experience, this Legion was kept sub-rosa; yet remained intact as a military arm, of Mormon interests, and could be used at a moment's call. It had been the great reserve force of the Territory in the past and was the power behind the throne which enabled Brigham Young to execute his will in the days of the 5o's. In fact, the Mormon police or Rurales, popularly known as the "Danites" or the "Destroying Angels"; using the biblical phraseology so common among these people, were really the active and executive arm of this militia.

Thus the Church had something more than moral force to give power to its mandates. It had a physical force, like any country armed to meet its foe, or put down rebellion within its own borders.

These were picked men in horsemanship, and the use of weapons. They were "Angels" of help to their own kind, but "Destroyers" of all opposition. They had a picked leader in the person of Porter Rockwell, and an able second in Bill Hick-man, both men of that period, and the products of the open wild life of the far West.

Porter Rockwell was a romantic person in appearance. Well proportioned, with dark aquiline features, bright black eyes, and long curling hair, he was a brunette Custer in his style and charm of leadership.

Probably his most important act was leading his band south in pursuit of the Missourian overland party of emigrants, the especial objects of hate; since it was in Missouri that Joseph Smith and his brother had been slain by the mob.

I had some facts given me by a little man, whose name was Little. He was indeed insignificant to look at, but a perfect wasp in the sting of his words when he was willing to talk about these things, "behind the curtain" as he called them. He had a small farm at a little town called Benjamin near the borders of Lake Utah; and was well acquainted with Rockwell and his band. What his former relationship to the Danites was I never could get him to tell, but he had inside knowledge of many dark deeds of those early days.

"Old Brigham used to hunt down these apostates with Rockwell's men, like you'd hunt rabbits in the brush."

"What did he do with them when he caught them?"

"Sent 'em to hell across-lots. That's the way the old prophet talked of them as knew too much, and had dropped out the Church."

"Well, what does that phrase really mean?"

"Just this. You never saw those men alive again. They were caught slipping through the canyons, east or west, but they never got clean away. If any one asked for them it was said that 'the Injuns raised their hair.' "

"You mean that they were killed and scalped?"

"Yes. But they weren't killed by Injuns, though their scalps might hang at a Piute's belt."

That was as near as I could get Little to say who killed them. You can reach your own conclusions.

The Mormons had a crude doctrine, which they derived from the Old Testament theology. Human blood might be shed when necessary. The red line is seen running through these Jewish writings. The Mormons called this doctrine "Blood Atonement," and meant by it, that the shedding of a man's blood, though it destroyed his body, was the means of saving his soul from final apostasy. To the Latter Day Saint, who was initiated in all his religious ritual, it was the unpardonable sin to forsake the Church of the Latter Days, once you had become a member.

I tried to get Little to give me the names of these men who died, because they had dropped out of the Church, and also the dates and places of their deaths. He was mum.

"See, I've had to take a fearful oath to keep silent. I dare not tell. The Church, here, is a secret order, and has its penalties, which are carried out."

"Well there is no fear of that now that Brig-ham is dead at last, is there?"

He only shook his head. This conversation was in October, 1877, two months after the autocrat of the Mormons had died in Salt Lake City.

I met Bill Hickman when in Bingham Canyon at the mining camp. This was in 1875. Porter Rockwell was not living then, and Hickman had himself dropped out of action, although you could not say that he was an apostate. He was a stout-built, cynical-featured man, with an eye that glittered and said things; but his lips were silent as to the past. He was not put out of the way, because, as he himself said, "I know too much for them to do it."

He was still an active man, although his hair was grey; but his mount of a horse was like that of a cowboy in the round up days, and you could see that his home was in the saddle. He dropped to his feet with the soft touch of a cat, and in his earlier years he must have been a hard man to handle in a fight.

Both Rockwell and Hickman were at Mountain Meadows in '57, when the hundred and fifty Mis-sourians, on their way to California, were killed to the last man and child by the Indians (?).

It would have been a great thing to have gained an account of that massacre from Hickman, but when asked, he only answered with a shrewd lift of his eyes.

There was a man whom I knew, an old soldier of Uncle Sam, who was one of the first of the soldiers who came to the Territory prior to the Civil War when the Government thought it wise to have a military camp in the neighborhood of Salt Lake City.

This man fell in love with a daughter of Utah, a buxom young woman, who beguiled him into joining the Mormon Church in order to marry her. He was never at heart a very loyal Mormon, and so was in a frame of mind to give impartial testimony.

John Bennet was of Scotch birth, and could never get away from the conscience for truth, which he had imbibed from the Old Kirk.

I met him in American Fork, and found he knew a good deal of the past of the Danites, and was willing to talk.

"Were you here in 1857, when the Missouri party went south?"

"Yes, I saw them go through this town, a tired looking lot."

"How did you treat them?"

"None of us loved a Missourian. They had badly treated us fourteen years before and we had

not forgotten. These emigrants were hard up and wanted to buy supplies from us. We wouldn't sell them a thing."

"Didn't you do anything for them?"

"Just a little. I had no personal reason to hate 'em, so I gave, to a tall thin man with a big family, a sack of flour and a ham on the sly."

"You say on the sly; was there a watch kept over them by the Mormons?"

"Yes, and a close one. The order had gone out to let them feed themselves, if they could, and not to take their money for any food; so I had to be cautious. I felt pity for the sick wife of this man, she looked so worn, and had such hopeless eyes. I fancy she foresaw the fate awaiting them farther south."

"Did they stop here?"

"Yes, they camped a day, just outside the town, to rest their beasts, and fill their water casks from the lake three miles away. I talked to one man, who wanted a drink for his wagon-load of young ones. My house was not far away. I noticed his hat as he took the bucket I gave him. It had once been a fine felt hat and white. It was very dirty from use, but he wore it so it resembled a sugar-cone, with a string band around the bottom. It looked like those conical hats the Mexican greasers wear, only theirs are straw made and this one was fine felt."

"Did you ever see him again?" "No, but I saw his hat; I'll tell you about it. After these people went on, a little rested, with water but no food from us, all was quiet for a day or two; then a band of the Danites rode into town, with Bill Hickman at the head of them. I didn't see Porter Rockwell, for I understood that he had gone ahead, with a select few, to keep close trail on the emigrants.

"They kept pretty mum. They were all around and rode good horses, and seemed in a great haste; for they left in a few minutes, in a cloud of dust."

"Did you see this band again soon?" "Yes, in about ten days I suppose, they came back a weary looking lot; but this time they had something to say."

"What was their report?" "That the Missourians were all killed by the Indians, who had caught them unawares and sick at Mountain Meadows, far to the south and every man, woman and child had been scalped." "How did they speak of this massacre?" "Well, they said, it served 'em right. They got their dues for what they did us years ago! The Indians have saved us a lot of trouble." "Did the Danites show any signs of being in the fight?"

"Yes, a few had wounds. They all had more weapons than they needed apiece. And one man, I am certain, wore that conical white felt hat that had been on the head of the tall, lean Mis-sourian whose family I watered at my place. I was curious and got near to him to ask about it, but he wouldn't talk. Yet I saw a bullet hole in that hat, that showed that its wearer had been in a fight, before it fell from the head of its first owner."

The Battle Axes of the Lord, the Piutes were a good disguise for the Danites, and scape-goats for the blame of this massacre. There is little doubt, both Utes and Destroyers, were together in the deed. Doubtless they looked like a band of hostile Indians. In that far-away meadow, the grass was red with blood, shed to avenge an ancient wrong, done by other Missourians, and in this was fulfilled, to the letter, the old Jewish cry of, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." The avengers of blood got the blood they sought after fifteen years of vengeful waiting. The mills of time grind slow, but they grind most surely their grist.

The Piutes of the San Pete and Sevier valleys had the odium of this massacre in the eyes of the public for many a long day. There were those who knew enough to be dissatisfied with this stereotyped explanation, and it took twenty years more for justice to bring the evil doers to its bar. It was in the spring of 1877 that one saw a satisfied expression on the face of every Gentile in the Territory. The United States Courts, after years of examination and preparation of the case, at last had prosecuted to the full extent of the law the murderers of the emigrants of '57.

The culprit was no Indian. He was a white man. It might have been Brigham Young himself, since he was autocrat of both Church and State in those days. He skillfully evaded the blow, which he saw was inevitable, and it was allowed to fall upon the local Bishop, John T. Lee. He was the responsible person, through whom, the authorities carried out their purposes in that locality. Although promises were made to him that he should be safe-guarded from government prosecution, he was allowed to carry all of the responsibility to the last.

Having been found guilty by the government, the higher-ups let him go, as a sacrifice, and he was "hanged by the neck until dead."

Everywhere that I went I noted the dismay of the Mormon that the government could ferret out so old a misdeed. No effort of the Church could offset the chagrin of the people.

I suppose many other deeds, committed in the same high-handed and fanatical way, were troubling the leaders. They feared that they also might be brought to the bar of justice, and the guilty ones punished. There is no question that a good deal of killing took place between 1850 and 1865 that was not due to accident, Indians, personal quarrels of a frontier population, but was the result of fanaticism.

It went about arresting men and women, who were not staunch of faith, and was not content with putting them into prison on manufactured charges, but put them to death in a quiet way.

But it was the spectacular and wholesale killing, together with the vengeful boastings of the Church, that called so much attention to the Mountain Meadow's crime and so brought the sword of Justice to smite in behalf of the law.

As we study human nature and history, we find this strange mingling of good and evil in religion, the red and white line woven into one strand. It is hard indeed, as human beings, to be the judges of such people and their acts. They endeavored to do well and right, but they fell through the influence of an over-zeal, which swept them away to folly and the spilling of blood in the name of the Lord.



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