Tenderfoot Days

Masonic, Occult and Esoteric Online Library

Home / Publication Library / Tenderfoot Days / The Co-Operative Industry of Utah

Tenderfoot Days

By George Robert Bird

The Co-Operative Industry of Utah

VERY suggestive of the Mormon view of industry and business are the two symbols chosen to represent the co-operation of the people in making the desert into a garden, and that garden to bloom like a rose. I use that term as it was a favorite expression in those formative days by all the Mormon settlers with whom I talked about their business lives.

For these people were a very practical people. They were enthusiasts in their religion, but never dreamers, monks, nuns, and transcendentalists like so many of the earliest enthusiasts of religious history.

These symbols were two: a hive and an eye. The hive was a bee-hive of platted straw with conical top; and the eye was a single eye within a circular ring, wide open and viewing you as you regarded it. What did these symbols mean? The first meant the industry of the busy bee- making sweets out of the wild flowers and desert plants so that they became of commercial value.

So the Saints were makers of values, through their industry, as they toiled on the land allotted to them, and watering it by furrows so that the desert should bring forth and bear a hundred fold.

The second symbol meant that the eye of the Lord, which seeth single and true, was on them always as they worked; and they must deal fairly one with the other, neither cheating nor defrauding their fellow man. This was where their religion stepped in to keep straight their industry. For want of it now-a-days, business is much like the shark's life, existing to bite one another.

You can imagine the effect of these ideas, voiced by the symbols on the front of every store in Mormondom. These suggestions of industry and probity are excellent and sufficient. Absorbed as they were in time by the subconscious mind of a generation of a people, the effect was a toiling busy crowd at work on the land, the foundation of any and every commerce. Every man, woman and child was a worker, with no drones or bums allowed.

Of course they raised produce, of course they needed warehouses, stores, and selling markets; and so arose the Institution which made business a unit, and was the first Trust formed in the Territories-Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution.

The institution was Zion's and thus the probity suggested by the watchful eye of God was over all its transactions. In fact, we find these Latter Day Saints actually fulfilling, to their ability, the old-time cry of the Jewish prophet Micah-"Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God."

They made some bad breaks in this good order of life at times, as all do who are even of the best people, and we would be sour curmudgeons, indeed, if we allowed a dislike for some of their teachings and some of their practices to blind us to the hearty effort, on their part, to be just in their business relations as well as good in their religious life.

It certainly was a stroke of genius, when the idea of God being a witness to every business dealing was suggested by the "Onlooking Eye"; associated with the "Honeykeeping Hive," on the front of their places of business in city, town and hamlet, and even in the outlying country store.

Of course being simply humans, they slipped a cog in this wheel of commerce. This great cooperative store, handling the business of all workers, tended to become a trust; to object to competition; to make arbitrary rules and penalties for those obnoxious to the managers and leaders.

Where will you find men, who are fit for leaders, who do not soon boss, instead of simply directing, their employees and their customers?

I knew many cases where men who were lax in their religion were punished by these business stores, in being "boycotted," so they could not sell their goods or buy the commodities they required.

With all its faults this co-operation was a living business spine to carry business nerve and force to every section of the territory, and build up both its products and its trade.

The main plant of this great business house was in Salt Lake City, but each town had its store, and at the stores everything could be sold that was produced in the country and was in a saleable condition, and everything from a needle to a steam engine could be bought if wanted. It could be paid for in money or in kind.

At first it was all trade, like that of the early settler in the East and west of the Mississippi.

But industry breeds wealth and so it was not long before the sod houses gave way to clapboarded structures in the city, and to adobe houses-sunbaked brick-in the towns and countryside.

It was a day of one price, and since there was but one business house, there was no opposition. That house representing the interests of the people and only charging a fair profit on the time and capital invested, was popular to the last degree. There was no effort nor desire to build up a millionaire institution or make a great fortune for any individual.

Of course since there were some very shrewd Yankees among the leaders of the church, it follows that they made the best of their opportunities when trading through this mercantile house, and put things so that they personally profited by their inside knowledge of market prices.

Still there was lacking the graft of modern business and the insane desire, bred by such men as Gould and his confreres of that day in the East, through their speculations, to smash financially every competitor in their own line of operations. It was before the days of millionaires and trusts but, even then, the shadows of these business evils were overhanging the land.

This co-operative business house gave the church a chance to execute a little side business of its own.

Since it handled nearly all the products raised by the people, and since these people had obligated themselves to pay a tithe or tenth to the church, here was the chance to collect these dues in regular Old Testament fashion.

Now the church of the Latter Day Saints is nothing if it is not obedient to the Old Testament. This we shall presently see when we consider its teachings and its theology. While a modern expression of religion, yet that religion is stamped with the old patterns of Jewish days, and so the tithe or tenth part of one's income became the scale of giving, and so through these produce stores the church collected its tithes and filled its ecclesiastical coffers.

Religion is nothing if it does not take up a collection. The old story is in point, that tells of a shipwrecked crew, afloat in the south seas, in the ship's long-boat. A pitiless sun and but few showers, with scant rations saved from the wreck, soon brought the hardened crew to a religious mellowness; and some one urged a religious service to propitiate the Power of Heaven in their distress. As none could pray, and there was no preacher aboard the boat, and moreover their singing powers were limited to sailor shanties, for none remembered their childhood hymns; this religious service consisted in taking up a collection by passing the hat. No sailor failed to remember that function of a religious service, and since it was all they could do, they did that one thing. They felt better after this collection since they thought the Lord would look after-"Poor Jack," since he had looked after the interests of the Lord's church.

I do not mean to say that this ideal church finance was always carried out. There are too many kickers in every kind of thing of human management. But a lot of tithing came to hand by way of the Co-op, as it was called for short, and many were the sneers of outsiders as they spoke of this "cinch" the church had on the industry of the land.

"Who wouldn't be a leader, and even a Mormon, with such fat pickings coming in from the fields?"

Such resources were stable, and unlike the voluntary offerings, which support the usual ecclesiastical efforts of the denominations. So Zion could build stores, schools, ward houses and meeting places, until finally a temple was built that took forty years to finish.



Masonic Publishing Company

Purchase This Title

Browse Titles
"If I have seen further than
others, it is by standing
upon the shoulders of giants."


Comasonic Logo

Co-Masonry, Co-Freemasonry, Women's Freemasonry, Men and Women, Mixed Masonry

Copyright © 1975-2024 Universal Co-Masonry, The American Federation of Human Rights, Inc. All Rights Reserved.