Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Orders to Starve Gentiles

Did Brigham Young give orders to starve Gentiles?


A FairMormon Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods
A work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims


One Nation under Gods, page 244-245 (hardback and paperback)

...as the wagon-train traversed the southern route, conflict erupted between the emigrants and the Mormons, who refused to sell badly needed food and supplies to the travelers. Such conduct was unthinkable to the Baker-Fancher company. They had no idea that the refusals were in obedience to Brigham's prohibition on trading with Gentiles.

Author's Sources


Endnote 82, page 566 (hardback)

82. On August 2, 1857, just one month before the massacre, Brigham Young wrote to [sic] a letter to church leaders telling them to make sure that no one sold as much as "one kernal" of food to the Saints "enemies" (Brigham Young letter to Bronson and Haight, August 2, 1857, MS 1234 LDSCA). (emphasis added)

Endnote 82, page 564 (paperback)

82. On August 2, 1857, Young wrote a letter telling church leaders to make sure no one sold as much as "one kernal" of grain to their enemies (Brigham Young, letter to Bronson and Haight, August 2, 1857, MS 1234, LDSCA). Some Mormons claim that this referred not to food, but only to "grain" for animals. But many documents indicate otherwise, see Will Bagley, Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002, 111, 115) and Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988, 250, 317). (emphasis added)

Similar charges in other works


Question: Did Brigham Young issue orders that no food or grain should be sold to "Gentiles" that were passing through Utah?

The full context of the letter from Brigham is totally and utterly lost in an effort to cast Brigham in the worst light possible

The critical book One Nation Under Gods mentions "Brigham's prohibition on trading with Gentiles." The author states that "on August 2, 1857, Young wrote a letter telling church leaders to make sure no one sold as much as 'one kernal' of grain to their enemies. The author cites "Brigham Young letter to Bronson and Haight, August 2, 1857, MS 1234 LDSCA." [1]

In attempting to identify reasons for conflict between Utah Mormons and non-Mormon emigrants and travelers, the author uses a letter from Brigham Young out of context and insert words into the text that don't exist. All this, without even having a complete copy of the text of the letter the he used as documentation. The author has twisted and contorted this letter to serve the purpose of placing Brigham in the light of being a ruthless governor, attempting to starve the "Gentiles," while stocking up on weapons and ammunition. The full context is totally and utterly lost in an effort to cast Brigham in the worst light possible. It is simply misleading to omit the underlying reasons for Brigham's instructions.

The critics' version of the letter from Brigham Young

When asked for a copy of the text of the letter from Young to Bronson, the author provided the following:

Bishop Bronson, Dear Brother,

I wish you to notify all Presiding elders within Millard County to have the Brethren in their district to save all their grain, nor let a kernal [sic] go to waste or be sold to our enemies. And those who persist in selling grain to the gentiles, or suffer their stock to trample it into the earth I wish you to note as such. Let the Bishops get all the grain not necessary for immediate use, into their hands, if possible…. Save your ammunition, keep your Guns and Pistols in order, and prepare yourselves in all things-particularly by living your religion-for that which may hereafter come to pass. Praying that God may add to you his blessing.

I am your Brother in Christ

Copy sent to president I.C. Haight for the Bishops and presiding Elders in and south of Iron County.

The author did not have a copy of the actual letter. He only had an abbreviated and incomplete copy obtained by someone else

Here is the complete letter (The author didn't know the contents of the omitted portion) from the Church Archives (with the omitted portion in ellipsis, above, written in BOLD ALL CAPS, below):

I wish you to notify all Presiding elders within Millard County to have the Brethren in their districts to save all their grain; nor let a kernal [sic] go to waste or be sold to our enemies. And those who persist in selling grain to the gentiles, or suffer their stock to trample it into the earth I wish you to note as such. Let the Bishops get all the grain not necessary for immediate use, into their hands, if possible; AND BY HAVING GOOD STOREAGES, TAKE MEASURES TO PRESERVE IT AS LONG AS MAY BE NECESSARY.

LET EVERY POUND OF WOOL BE USED TO THE BEST ADVANTAGE IN MANUFACTURING COMFORTABLE CLOTHING AS IT MAY HEREAFTER BE HIGHLY IMPORTANT TO US. Save your ammunition, keep your Guns and Pistols in order, and prepare yourselves in all things-particularly by living your religion-for that which may hereafter come to pass. Praying that God may add to you his blessing.

First, the intent of Brigham's orders was not to "starve" the travelers by withholding food. There was absolutely no malice involved, using this source as a reference. The obvious purpose was conservation and having the bishops store all the grain they could and not let "one kernal" go to waste, period. Of course, the reader wouldn't get this from the selective quoting the author uses or without the entire context and the omitted section about storing and preserving it as long as possible.

Second, there is no mention of "food." The author's assertion that food was implied by Brigham, as an item not to sell or trade with the emigrants, has no basis. This letter only mentions grain, which was used for feeding livestock or could be turned into flour for obvious food purposes. It has been pointed out by others that traveling emigrants would have had no use for grain as food. They didn't have mobile wheat grinders. The grain would have only been used for livestock. Had Brigham meant food, he would have included many other food items that were in the possession of the Utah residents. Brigham's deposition in John D. Lee's trial also demonstrates that was exactly what he was talking about.

Counsel and advice were given to the citizens not to sell grain to the emigrants to feed their stock, but to let them have sufficient for themselves if they were out

Was any counsel or instructions given by any person to the citizens of Utah not to sell grain or trade with the emigrant trains passing through Utah at that time? If so, what were those instructions and counsel?

[Brigham Young] Answer -- Yes, counsel and advice were given to the citizens not to sell grain to the emigrants to feed their stock, but to let them have sufficient for themselves if they were out. The simple reason for this was that for several years our crops had been short, and the prospect was at that time that we might have trouble with the United States army, then enroute for this place, and we wanted to preserve the grain for food. The citizens of the Territory were counseled not to feed grain to their own stock. No person was ever punished or called in question for furnishing supplies to the emigrants, within my knowledge." (The Mountain Meadows Massacre by Juanita Brooks, p. 286)

Third, this conservation and preparation effort was not limited to "food" and "weapons" as the author would have his readers believe. In the context of the letter, wool and clothing and storage of grain are also mentioned, giving us a larger picture that malice toward the "Gentiles" was not the intent; preparing for battle with and deprivation of the "Gentiles" was not the purpose. Conservation, preparing for hard times, and the imminent arrival of the Army were the purposes.


Notes

  1. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, Endnote 82, page 566 (hardback)