Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Utah Historical Quarterly special issue on the Utah War

Volume 76, Number 1 (Winter 2008 Issue)
Winter 2008 Utah Historical Quarterly


One hundred and fifty years ago a federal army of nearly two thousand soldiers under the command of Col. Albert Sidney Johnston huddled in their makeshift quarters at Camp Scott near the ruins of Fort Bridger in southwestern Wyoming to wait out the bitter winter and prepare to march into the Salt Lake Valley later in the spring of 1858. Meanwhile, Mormon spies kept watch on the soldiers from the heights of Bridger Butte a few miles west of Camp Scott while the territorial militia continued preparation of defense fortifications in Echo Canyon and elsewhere along the trail in anticipation of battle with the federal troops when they moved into the Mormon stronghold.

The year 1857 had been an eventful and difficult year for Utah and the nation. The fight over whether Kansas would be a "free" or "slave" state generated national attention to "Bleeding Kansas,"—a prologue to what became a full-scale Civil War in 1861. At the same time the United States Supreme Court increased tensions in the landmark decision in the Dred Scott case, when it decreed that all African Americans were not citizens and that the sanctity of property rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution included the human property of slaveholders. As Kenneth M. Stampp wrote in his classic study of the United States on the eve of civil war, America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink, "1857 was probably the year when the North and South reached the political point of no return—when it became well nigh impossible to head off a violent resolution of the differences between them."

Tensions were no less severe in Utah as newly elected president James Buchanan acted in the spring of 1857 to replace Brigham Young as territorial governor with Alfred E. Cumming. Unconvinced that Mormons would accept the new governor, Buchanan directed the United States Army to provide a substantial and suitable escort for the newly appointed governor and in so doing precipitated what has long been known as the Utah War. As the Utah-bound expedition made its way along the well-traveled Oregon- California Trail toward Utah, approximately one hundred and twenty California-bound emigrants were killed by Mormons at Mountain Meadows in southwestern Utah on September 11.

This special issue of the Utah Historical Quarterly examines the background, issues, individuals, and consequences surrounding the Utah War. Not only did the North and the South stand on the brink of civil war in 1857, but so did the East and West as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, political upheavals, and the Utah War exacerbated tensions and hostilities in Utah, California, and surrounding territories that were no less volatile than those of slavery and states' rights in Kansas and the South.

Our first two articles offer differing, yet complementary views on the causes of the Utah War. They address such questions as how the decision was reached to send a federal army to Utah, and what roles United States President James Buchanan and Mormon leader and Utah Territorial Governor Brigham Young played in launching the impending conflict.

In an effort to give a visual understanding of important sites and events associated with the Utah War, our third article illustrates the landmarks along the more than eleven hundred mile journey undertaken by the federal army from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to Camp Floyd, forty miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Less than a decade later, Civil War photographers like Mathew Brady, would use the medium of photography to convey the death and horror of war to a shocked America.

Our fourth article, with its focus on Sam Houston, reminds us that statesmen of all generations have the right and duty to speak out on controversial matters and, as Sam Houston did with the Utah War, make their opinions and recommendations a part of the public discussion.

Although the Utah War saw no actual battles and few deaths, our final article, in recounting the thirty-year Spencer-Pike affair, instructs us that the threat of violence was real and that hostilities and animosity took decades to ease and disappear. There is no doubt that the Utah War was a significant event in Utah and American history.

In 1858 Abraham Lincoln said in reference to the United States and slavery, "a house divided against its self cannot stand." Just as the nation had to deal with the issue of slavery to insure its continuation, so did the Territory of Utah have to come to an understanding and acceptance of its relationship with the rest of the nation. That process was accelerated, if not begun, with the Utah War.

A Lion in the Path: Genesis of the Utah War, 1857-1858
By David L. Bigler

And The War Came: James Buchanan, the Utah Expedition, and the Decision to ntervene
By William P. MacKinnon

The Utah War: A Photographic Essay of Some of Its Important Historic Sites
By John Eldredge

Sam Houston and the Utah War
By Michael Scott Van Wagenen

The Spencer-Pike Affair
By Richard W. Sadler

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