"Your Fathers, where are they? And the Prophets, do they live forever?"
THERE he goes! The fraud 1 The cheat 1" Ole Petersen, of Ephraim townsite, in
the San Pete valley, added some vigorous oaths and gestures to these words. He was
an angry man striding back and forth on the front porch of the only public hotel
in the little town.
I had gone to meet this tow-haired Scandinavian in the month of June, 1877, with the interests of the Liberal work at heart. He was one of a few, in that section, who was opposed to the backing of the Mormon Church.
This valley was mainly settled by people from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. They had renounced the stately Lutheran Church of their country, and had welcomed, with enthusiasm, this Latter Day faith. It fed their fanaticism with promises of forty acres of land, in each man's name, as a gift of a new, practical religion, now existing in free America. These people had come over to receive their new start in life. By their industry they had made homes for themselves in this broad valley. Everything of their own here, they owed to the church. Why should they not stick to it? Now what was the matter with Ole Petersen, that he should revile the head of that church, as he was passing through this town of Ephraim? He was an apostate of the most violent kind. He had reacted powerfully against the Church, which had brought him out, as a boy with his father's household, years before. He had cause for it, and that cause was concrete in the person of Brigham Young, who was just then in full view of this incensed son of the North Seas.
He had lost his property, and that loss had caused his apostasy. All this was due to some fine real estate machinery on the part of Brigham Young's office. His titles were voided and he was now almost penniless. He had been too free of speech, for Ole Petersen was a tonguey man, and the Church had paid him up for his talk, by taking away his estate. This was done through some such crooked financial trick, as happens nowadays in California, when an eastern tenderfoot is fleeced by a real estate broker, whose office is on the curb of the street.
Of course Ole Petersen laid all of his troubles and losses to the autocrat of Utah's finances, Brig-ham Young. And now this prophet was passing by. He was taking his last ride from St. George, in southern Utah, where he had wintered, and was on his return to headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Brigham had been sick. The strokes of time began to tell on his giant frame; and to face the winter in the low altitudes of St. George, below the rim of the basin and near the border of Arizona's canyons, was deemed the best for him. But a man of affairs must attend to his affairs. Certain events of late, like the successful prosecution of John T. Lee for the Mountain Meadows affair, and the odium that the hanging of this culprit had brought on the Church, made it necessary for the ailing prophet to get back to his seat in Salt Lake City. So as soon as his strength would permit, he started on a stage ride of two hundred miles to the terminus of the railway, some hundred and ten miles south of the city. It was a ride through an almost hostile territory, since through this end of the country the dead Bishop had a host of relatives and friends, who were angry and incensed at the coup the government had made.
Lee's own family were out with threats to shoot the head of the Church, and, while Ole Petersen was no relative, he was hot in sympathy with these threats.
This was Brigham Young's last outing, though he did not know it. He was not to fall from the shot of some vengeful Mormon, but from the stroke of disease. Dysentery carried him from the sight of man the following August.
I had seen him two years before robust, though aged. I caught a glimpse of him as he was now passing by. He went fully armed and protected like some European monarch in danger of assault from disaffected subjects.
A cloud of dust announced the coming of the cavalcade. He had left Manti, the county seat, which like St. George was a temple city. In these temple cities the rites of polygamy could be given as well as in Salt Lake City itself. In this manner the means of entering into polygamy was brought to men's doors and the long ride and expense of a journey to Salt Lake was avoided.
Brigham had a great many friends in this valley who took pains to protect him from Lee's two sons, who were out to shoot.
"Here he comes I Here he comes!" Such cries brought me out on the hotel porch, with Ole Petersen.
I had been talking with him, but found him a restless listener. He was really listening for the cries to herald the passing prophet. He fidgeted and fretted. He was short and sharp in his answers, and impatient in his manner. He ran his hands through his hair, and pulled his long flaxen beard again and again.
"That d-d cheat is coming through here today. I'd like to take a shot at him."
"What has he done to you that makes you wish to shoot him?"
I will tell his story in a few words. His parents had died soon after settling near Ephraim and they had left other property than the ranch they had received from the Church. His people had means to invest, when they first came over from Sweden. Being a minor the Church had taken charge of this property until he should come of age. As soon as he had grown up, the Church ordered him on a mission to Sweden to make converts of his fellow countrymen. He knew what this meant, since a Mormon missionary was sent forth at his own charges and had to make his own way and provide for his own expenses.
It was a very hardy and wonderful experience that the Mormon missionary had to face, if sent on a mission. Nothing but the hottest faith and zeal could meet the need. Now Ole Petersen had cooled off from the faith of his people. He had seen some things since childhood that he did not like, and there were many things he could not believe. He had been born with a brain that wanted to think out things, and not take them for granted just because they were spoken with authority.
So he refused the mission, and decided to stay and work his property himself. This did not suit the Church, which had long used his property, and did not intend to surrender the control of it.
He was disciplined for his disobedience, and it was declared that he had forfeited his rights, and the Church further claimed that the investments made by the parents had proven failures, so there was very little due him.
This little he was given. He was mad all through, and left the Church's jurisdiction; and was counted an apostate to whom the Church owed nothing. He interviewed Brigham Young, who had been very rough with him. He had gone away in a hot-headed rage, and his little home being in this fanatical town of Ephraim, he had had a fighting time with words and blows.
Yet he had the old Viking spirit, which kept him on the field. He had not sold out, and left for other parts, but stood his ground. He was trying to get a Liberal school into this seat of Mormonism. That was how I happened to meet him that hot day in June.
If all this had occurred ten years earlier, Ole Petersen would have been "sent to hell across lots," like many others who had fought the Church of their early faith.
"Here he comes! Here he comes!"
These repeated cries brought Ole out into the dusty road, as the trotting cavalcade came up the street.
Thirty Piute warriors in paint, feathers, and blankets, rode first with their guns across their saddles. These "Battle Axes" of the Lord had watchful eyes for any movements that looked like action. Ole eyed them as fiercely as they eyed him, and the others in the crowd.
Next came a four horse covered carriage, with an armed rider on each side of the vehicle. Within, and yet in view, sunk back in the rear seat, with a tired air of a sick man, sat the Prophet. I caught a full view of his grim, grey bearded face, sicklied over by long illness, with a sallow tint so unlike the rugged hue that I had noticed in the Tabernacle two years before. He looked annoyed as he leaned slightly forward, when he caught the sound of Ole Petersen's strident voice. "Oh! you Cheat! Oh! Church Fraud! You coward to forsake your tools! You are the man that they should have hung instead of Lee!"
Ole Petersen's arms were in the air, but without weapons; and this lanky, angry man shook his fist at Brigham, as he rapidly drove past. A motion with a weapon, and there would have been a hail of bullets about us.
The last I saw of Brigham Young was the tightening of the mouth until it was a thin, firm slit within a grey bearded face, that you see in the characteristic pictures of this Mormon leader. His hands clenched the seat as the carriage swayed; and I had looked my last at the passing prophet. He looked the sick man that he was.
"May you die the death! May God strike you down!" This was Ole's parting shot as the carriage, and its advance riders, swept on. As events showed, these words were more deadly than any shot that he might have fired.
Thirty white guards followed close in the rear, garbed like cowboys and armed. These men grinned at us, and some few of them sneered at the angry Swede, vociferant in the roadway. Then the dust rose up, and hid them all from sight.
I never thought that Ole's imprecation would be so soon fulfilled. I could see death in the eye of this aged despot, and so expected his passing from the world would not be long delayed. But hardly two months elapsed when word came south that the President of the Church of the Latter Day
Saints had left for the bourne from whence no traveler returns.
There are some ancient faiths that proclaim their saneness of life and creed, through the succeeding ages and changes. But all such become inert, and if seemingly quick with life, it is but a galvanized vitality like the movements of a dead toad under the electric spark applied to a limb.
See how intact China, the oldest of all countries, has remained after the first discoveries and civilization. It would not change. It would not learn. So with Buddhism. It was content to meditate and forego action. It held its ground for ages by the force of some fine, if not beautiful, ideas, but where it lives to-day it is a quiescent faith, its force lost to any dominance of the world.
Mormonism has truth elements within its bosom, and because of this, it will live and thrive; but unless it sloughs off the anachronisms and superstitions, it will be weighted with a corpse that will hold it to a body of death which will retard its power. But it has a practical element welded to its theories, and this may cause it to change with the times, and keep up with those times as they change.
A heavy step in the entry, and a sharp knock on the door, of the Liberal Hall, in Mount Pleasant, and I opened to admit Ole Petersen, an excited and delighted man.
"You've heard the news? That Rascal's gone to his account. My curse came true!"
There were many who felt like Ole Petersen, but a great mourning was made throughout the territory, as this modern Prophet passed from among his people.
I soon got word from superficial observers of the conditions in Utah, that now the Master Mind was gone and his voice silent, the Church, which he had built up, would crumble and break. This was the general idea, just then, but it was a false one.
This singular mixture of the practical and the spiritual, withstood a change of leaders with about the same ease that a kingdom meets the cry of, "The King is dead! Long live the King!"
The old order of things went on under a new management. The system was well fitted to meet greater changes than a death could bring, and even to face a new condition, and prosper in a new environment, if necessary.
Next: Chapter XIII: The Mixed Multitude