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- Under the Prophet in Utah - 3/45 -
anything but the largest measure of justice that my soul was big enough to comprehend. By such engagement I write now, bound in a double debt of obligation to the nation whose magnanimity then saved us and to the people whom I humbly helped to save.
Frank J. Cannon.
Under the Prophet in Utah
In the Days of the Raid
About ten o'clock one night in the spring of 1888, I set out secretly, from Salt Lake City, on a nine-mile drive to Bountiful, to meet my father, who was concealed "on the underground," among friends; and that night drive, with its haste and its apprehension, was so of a piece with the times, that I can hardly separate it from them in my memory. We were all being carried along in an uncontrollable sweep of tragic events. In a sort of blindness, like the night, unable to see the nearest fork of the road ahead of us, we were being driven to a future that held we knew not what.
I was with my brother Abraham (soon to become an apostle of the Mormon Church), who had himself been in prison and was still in danger of arrest. And there is something typical of those days in the recollection I have of him in the carriage: silent, self-contained, and--when he talked--discussing trivialities in the most calm way in the world. The whole district was picketed with deputy marshals; we did not know that we were not being followed; we had always the sense of evading patrols in an enemy's country. But this feeling was so old with us that it had become a thing of no regard.
There was something even more typical in the personality of our driver-- a giant of a man named Charles Wilcken--a veteran of the German army who had been decorated with the Iron Cross for bravery on the field of battle. He had come to Utah with General Johnston's forces in 1858, and had left the military service to attach himself to Brigham Young. After Young's death, my father had succeeded to the first place in his affections. He was an elder of the Church; he had been an aristocrat in his own country; but he forgot his every personal interest in his loyalty to his leaders, and he stood at all times ready to defend them with his life--as a hundred thousand others did!--for, though the Mormons did not resist the processes of law for themselves, except by evasion, they were prepared to protect their leaders, if necessary, by force of arms.
With Wilcken holding the reins on a pair of fast horses at full speed, we whirled past the old adobe wall (which the Mormons had built to defend their city from the Indians) and came out into the purple night of Utah, with its frosty starlight and its black hills--a desert night, a mountain night, a night so vast in its height of space and breadth of distance that it seemed natural it should inspire the people that breathed it with freedom's ideals of freedom and all the sublimities of an eternal faith. And those people--!
A more despairing situation than theirs, at that hour, has never been faced by an American community. Practically every Mormon man of any distinction was in prison, or had just served his term, or had escaped into exile. Hundreds of Mormon women had left their homes and their children to flee from the officers of law; many had been behind prison bars for refusing to answer the questions put to them in court; more were concealed, like outlaws, in the houses of friends. Husbands and wives, separated by the necessities of flight, had died apart, miserably. Old men were coming out of prison, broken in health. A young plural wife whom I knew--a mere girl, of good breeding, of gentle life-- seeking refuge in the mountains to save her husband from a charge of "unlawful cohabitation," had had her infant die in her arms on the road; and she had been compelled to bury the child, wrapped in her shawl, under a rock, in a grave that she scratched in the soil with a stick. In our day! In a civilized state!
By Act of Congress, all the church property in excess of $50,000 had been seized by the United States marshal, and the community faced the total loss of its common fund. Because of some evasions that had been attempted by the Church authorities--and the suspicion of more such-- the marshal had taken everything that he could in any way assume to belong to the Church. Among the Mormons, there was an unconquerable spirit of sanctified lawlessness, and, among the non-Mormons, an equally indomitable determination to vindicate the law. Both were, for the most part, sincere. Both were resolute. And both were standing in fear of a fatal conflict, which any act of violence might begin.
Moreover, the Mormons were being slowly but surely deprived of all civil rights. All polygamists had been disfranchised by the bill of 1882, and all the women of Utah by the bill of 1887. The Governor of the territory was appointed by Federal authority, so was the marshal, so were the judges, so were the United States Commissioners who had co-ordinate jurisdiction with magistrates and justices of the peace, so were the Election Commissioners. But the Mormons still controlled the legislature, and though the Governor could veto all legislation he could initiate none. For this reason it had been frequently proposed that the President should appoint a Legislative Council to take the place of the elected legislature; and bills were being talked of in Congress to effect a complete disfranchisement of the whole body of the Mormon people by means of a test oath.
I did not then believe, and I do not now, that the practice of polygamy was a thing which the American nation could condone. But I knew that our people believed in it as a practice ordained, by a revelation from God, for the salvation of the world. It was to them an article of faith as sacred as any for which the martyrs of any religion ever died; and it seemed that the nation, in its resolve to vindicate the supremacy of civil government, was determined to put them to the point of martyrdom.
It was with this prospect before us that we drove, that night, up the Salt Lake valley, across a corner of the desert, to the little town of Bountiful; and as soon as we arrived among the houses of the settlement, a man stepped out into the road, from the shadows, and stopped us. Wilcken spoke to him. He recognized us, and let us pass. As we turned into the farm where my father was concealed, I saw men lurking here and there, on guard, about the grounds. The house was an old-fashioned adobe farm-house; the windows were all dark; we entered through the kitchen. And I entered, let me say, with the sense that I was about to come before one of the most able among men.
To those who knew George Q. Cannon I do not need to justify that feeling. He was the man in the hands of whose sagacity the fate of the Mormons at that moment lay. He was the First Councillor of the Church, and had been so for years. For ten years in Congress, he had fought and defeated the proscriptive legislation that had been attempted against his people; and Senator Hoar had said of him, "No man in Congress ever served a territory more ably." He had been the intimate friend of Randall and Blame. As a missionary in England he had impressed Dickens, who wrote of him in "An Uncommercial Traveller." The Hon. James Bryce had said of him: "He was one of the ablest Americans I ever met."
An Englishman, well-educated, a linguist, an impressive orator, a persuasive writer, he had lived a life that was one long incredible adventure of romance and almost miraculous achievement. As a youth he had been sent by the Mormon leaders to California to wash out gold for the struggling community; and he had sent back to Utah all the proceeds of his labor, living himself upon the crudest necessaries of life. As a young man he had gone as a Mormon missionary to the Hawaiian Islands, and finding himself unable to convert the whites he had gone among the natives--starving, a ragged wanderer--and by simple force of personality he had made himself a power among them; so that in later years Napella, the famous native leader, journeyed to Utah to consult with him upon the affairs of that distressed state, and Queen Liluokalani, deposed and in exile, appealed to him for advice. He had edited and published a Mormon newspaper in San Francisco; and he had long successfully directed the affairs of the publishing house in Salt Lake City which he owned. He was a railroad builder, a banker, a developer of mines, a financier of a score of interests. He combined the activities of a statesman, a missionary, and a man of business, and seemed equally successful in all.
But none of these things--nor all of them--contained the total of the man himself. He was greater than his work. He achieved by the force of a personality that was more impressive than its achievements. If he had been royalty, he could not have been surrounded with a greater deference than he commanded among our people. A feeling of responsibility for those dependent on him, such as a king might feel, added to a sense of divine guidance that gave him the dignity of inspiration, had made him majestical in his simple presence; and even among those who laughed at divine inspiration and scorned Mormonism as the *Uitlander scorned the faith of the Boer, his sagacity and his diplomacy and his power to read and handle men made him as fearfully admired as any Oom Paul in the Transvaal.
When I entered the low-ceilinged, lamplit room in which he sat, he rose to meet me, and all rose with him, like a court. He embraced me without effusion, looking at me silently with his wise blue eyes that always seemed to read in my face--and to check up in his valuation of me-- whatever I had become in my absence from his regard.
He had a countenance that at no time bore any of the marks of the passions of men; and it showed, now, no shadow of the tribulations of that troubled day. His forehead was unworried. His eyes betrayed none of the anxieties with which his mind must have been busied. His expression was one of resolute stern contentment with all things--carrying the composure of spirit which he wished his people to have. If I had been agitated by the urgency of his summons to me, and he had wished to allay my anxiety at once, the sight of his face, as he looked at me, would have been reassurance enough.
At a characteristic motion of the hand from him, the others left us. We sat down in the "horsehair" chairs of a well-to-do farmer's parlor-- furnished in black walnut, with the usual organ against one wall, and the usual marble-topped bureau against the other. I remember the "store" carpet, the mortuary hair-wreaths on the walls, the walnut-framed lithographs of the Church authorities and of the angel Moroni with "the gold plates;" and none of these seem ludicrous to me to remember. They express, to me, in the recollection, some of the homely and devout simplicity of the people whose community life this man was to save.
He talked a few minutes, affectionately, about family matters, and then - straightening his shoulders to the burden of more gravity--he said: "I have sent for you, my son, to see if you cannot find some way to help us in our difficulties. I have made it a matter of prayer, and I have been led to urge you to activity. You have never performed a Mission for the Church, and I have sometimes wondered if you cared anything about
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