Archive for February, 2015

February Announcement for the Utah Westerners

BRIGHAM’S BASTION

PIPE SPRINGS AND ITS PLACE ON THE MORMON FRONTIER

JOHN A. PETERSON

In the spring of 1870 Congress nearly passed the Cullom Anti-Polygamy Bill which would have authorized President Ulysses S. Grant to send up to 40,000 troops to Utah in what would have been a much larger version of the “Utah Expedition” that precipitated “the Utah War” of 1857-58.  Planning for just such a possibility, for over a decade Brigham Young had been designing a massive battlefield in the broken desert landscape of southern Utah.  It ranged from the Rim of the Great Basin to the Grand Canyon.  “If you want to know why we want to Settle this Southern Country,” he had told the St. George Saints in 1869, “one reason is this: If the Nation Makes war upon us we want some place to go to whare we Can have a safe place to keep our women & Children in while we have to defend our homes.”  Red rock retreats like Kolob, Zion, and Snow canyons provided hideouts, while the region of Utah’s Dixie provided scores of desert battlefields advantageous to the Latter-day Saints.

As the United States War Department prepared itself to mobilize its troops against polygamy and the Mormon theocracy, Young and an armed escort journeyed from St. George to Kanab.  The prophet’s purpose was to view certain strategic points of his proposed battlefield and to survey portions of a potential escape route should the coming storm require another Mormon Exodus—this one to Arizona and Mexico via an obscure crossing of the Colorado at what would soon be called Lee’s Ferry.

Young and his retinue also searched for a suitable location to build a fortified hideout just south of the Utah-Arizona border which could be used as a safe-house outside the jurisdiction of Utah’s federal officials. There, if necessary, he and other church leaders could hide should they be prosecuted for polygamy and murder. The structure could also serve as a Nauvoo Legion command center should War actually breakout between the Church and the United States.  At a strategic bottleneck between the towering Vermillion Cliffs and an impenetrable tributary of the Grand Canyon, Young determined to build his stone fortress at Pipe Springs, known to be one of the few constant sources of potable water in the area. He named the fortress “Winsor Castle.”  Its strong walls could also serve as protection from Paiutes and Navajos who would certainly be tempted by the church’s large herds of cattle there.

Before long, the Grant Administration sponsored an “Anti-Mormon cabal” whose alleged purpose was to provoke the Mormons to commit “rebellious acts” that would “require” the president and his War Department to capture and or/execute Brigham Young and “drive the Mormons out of Utah.” The ostensible goal was to destroy the Mormon theocracy, leaving the cabal in control of the newly discovered Utah silver mines and much more. However, before a showdown between the two forces could occur, Young fled to southern Utah “in order to protect his health.” Meanwhile, Grant contemplated sending a posse, troops, or both, after “the fugitive.”  John Peterson will discuss the whole affair, its resolution, and consequences, focusing especially on the role Pipe Springs played in it.

John A. Peterson received a PhD in history from Arizona State University. He has taught in the Seminary and Institute program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 35 years. He is the author of the highly regarded book, Utah’s Black Hawk War, published in 1998 by the University of Utah Press, which received the Mormon History Association’s Best First Book Award in 1999. Kirkus Reviews assessed the book as “a first-rate investigation into a little-known episode of the Indian Wars,” adding that the book is “accessible to—and highly recommended for—all readers with an interest in western history.” Peterson recently completed a comprehensive history of Pipe Springs, a work commissioned and sponsored by the National Park Service.

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February 11, 2015 at 10:06 am Leave a comment


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