"...Most people don't realize that Brigham Young actually promoted the mining of gold under his direction and control. Over eighty thousand dollars in gold went into the Mormon mint between 1848 and 1851 ... Had it not been for these nineteenth century gold diggers, the infant Mormon economy in the Salt Lake Valley might well have foundered"
"Brigham Young realized the allure of gold, and in order to keep his people in Deseret, he publicly preached against gold mining. At the same time, he confidentially called or authorized men to go into the gold fields as gold missionaries ... tithing payments were entered into a log known as Brigham Young's Gold Dust accounts. ..."
Title: Mormon Gold: Mormons in the California Gold Rush Contributing to the Development of California and the Monetary Solvency of Early Utah
Author: J. Kenneth Davies and Lorin K. Hansen
Publisher: Granite Mountain Publishing Company
Year Published: 2010 (Second Edition)
Number of Pages: 435
Binding: Cloth (also available in paperback)
Reviewed by Vickie Cleverley Speek for the Association for Mormon Letters
Mormon Gold is a masterful study of the impact Latter-day Saints had on the economy and culture of early California, particularly the gold rush days of 1848-57. This second edition, revised and edited by Mormon historian Lorin K. Hansen, updates and enlarges J. Kenneth Davies' classic study that has been long out of print.
J. Kenneth Davies is a distinguished Utah labor historian and active labor arbitrator. He is a retired professor of managerial economics from Brigham Young University where he taught classes in labor and economics. Davies's interest in Mormons in the California gold fields began as he researched the uneasy relationship between Utah mine workers and members of the LDS church. The roots of the antagonism seemed to reach back to Brigham Young's public policy during the California gold mining era.
Also retired, Lorin K. Hansen became interested in Mormons living in California after living for many years near Fremont, California, which was the location of an early community developed by Mormon passengers from the ship Brooklyn and members of the Mormon Battalion. He is the co-author of Let This Be Zion, a history of Mormon activities in the Fremont area, and has authored several articles, including two on the voyage of the ship Brooklyn. Hansen holds a doctorate degree from UCLA in physics and worked mostly in the field of low energy plasmas and the generation of electrical power.
Mormon Gold is an absolutely gorgeous book, a real treasure, inside and out. The book is larger than normal, measuring about 11.25 by 8.5 inches, and is an inch and a half thick. The white and gold dustcover contains a full-color illustration depicting the moment gold was first discovered at John Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The book itself is deep-green cloth with gold embossed lettering.
Nearly every page of the 435-page book contains an illustration, map, biography, or drawing relating to some aspect of Mormons and the early history of California. I counted fifteen maps, 127 illustrations, chapter notes, four appendices at the end of the book, at least one appendix after each chapter, and a fifteen page bibliography. The book also contains a general index, a subject index, and a twenty-two page name index. Many of the illustrations date from the early 1850s, reproduced courtesy of libraries, museums and archives across the county.
This second edition of Mormon Gold contains twenty-five chapters of new insights and fresh research compiled from diaries, journals, and important documents kept by some of Mormonism's earliest and most ardent adherents. The work also details the development of Deseret's first monetary system set up with gold brought to Salt Lake City from California.
The role Mormons played in both the initial discoveries and subsequent mining of the yellow metal has been neglected in large part due to the misconception of Brigham Young's actual policy toward gold mining. His public, negative attitude toward gold mining is well-documented and well-known. Most people don't realize that Brigham Young actually promoted the mining of gold under his direction and control. Over eighty thousand dollars in gold went into the Mormon mint between 1848 and 1851, money that was used to support the fledgling LDS communities in Utah. Thousands of dollars more of gold monies remained in private hands used to buy supplies and capital goods. Had it not been for these nineteenth century gold diggers, the infant Mormon economy in the Salt Lake Valley might well have foundered (xvii).
Brigham Young realized the allure of gold, and in order to keep his people in Deseret, he publicly preached against gold mining. At the same time, he confidentially called or authorized men to go into the gold fields as gold missionaries. He sent apostles Amasa Lyman and Charles C. Rich to California in 1849 to direct the work of the miners and collect their tithes. These tithing payments were entered into a log known as Brigham Young's Gold Dust accounts. Young also encouraged LDS who were successful in the gold fields to travel back to Utah with their gold and trade it to the church for land and items for settlement.
Unfortunately, the confidential nature of these calls meant there were many faithful Mormons involved in the gold rush who were considered by the general LDS population to be less than perfectly obedient people they had defied the prophet. This almost mortal sin became something to be hidden from coming generations; thus, the story of Mormons and gold became lost in history.
Using a variety of sources, including diaries, journals, and the gold dust tithing accounts, Davies and Hansen relate the story of the five groups of Mormons who arrived in California before gold was discovered, the discovery and early mining of gold at Sutters Mill and Mormon Island, and the efforts of Mormon Battalion members traveling back to their families in Utah to construct to a new pass over the Sierras. The authors document the calling of gold missionaries, the use of Mormon guides to the gold mines, Apostle Lyman and Richs efforts to collect the gold, and the observations of LDS missionaries who traveled through California on their way to the Sandwich and Society Islands. They also relate the biographies of individuals and families who went to the gold fields, the experiences of Saints at Mormon Station and Carson Valley in Nevada, the settlement of San Bernadino, and the recall and final exodus of the Mormons back to Deseret in 1857.
The book suffers from a few editing mistakes; for instance the index says information about Brigham Young's gold dust accounts can be found on page xxi. There is no such number, as the preface ends with xx. I think the book is almost a little too long. I was almost overwhelmed by the amount of information, unfortunately, some of it redundant. There were so many names, it was hard for me to keep track and I felt like I was flipping back and forth between the pages.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of Mormons in the California gold rush, researching the economics of the fledgling Mormon settlements in Utah, or looking for Mormon ancestors in California during this time frame. For those persons, especially, the book is absolutely invaluable. I also recommend it for the abundance of historical illustrations and maps. This is a beautiful book, worth its weight in gold.