MARK TWAIN’S PERSPECTIVES ON MORMONISM
Note: All quotations are from the book titled “ROUGHING IT” written by Samuel L. Clemens. In the summer of 1861, he accompanied his brother Orion on the overland stage coach out west who had just been appointed the secretary of the Nevada Territory.
“I am not given to exaggeration, and when I say a thing I mean it.” Page 85
Meeting with a “Destroying Angel”, pages 85-86
Half an hour or an hour later, we changed horses, and took supper with a Mormon “Destroying Angel.” “Destroying Angels,” as I understand it, are Latter-Day Saints who are set apart by the church to conduct permanent disappearances of obnoxious citizens. I had heard a deal about these Mormon Destroying Angels and the dark and bloody deeds they had done, and when I entered this one’s house I had my shudder all ready. But alas for all our romances, he was nothing but a loud, profane, offensive, old blackguard! He was murderous enough, possibly, to fill the bill of a Destroyer, but would you have any kind of an Angel devoid of dignity? Could you abide an Angel in an unclean shirt and no suspenders? Could you respect an Angel with a horse-laugh and a swagger like a buccaneer?
There were other blackguards present – comrades of this one. And there was one person that looked like a gentleman – Heber C. Kimball’s son, tall and well made, and thirty years old, perhaps. A lot of slatternly women flitted hither and thither in a hurry, with coffee-pots, plates of bread, and other appurtenances to supper, and these were said to be the wives of the Angel – or some of them, at least. And of course they were; for if they had been hired “help” they would not have let an angel from above storm and swear at them as he did, let alone one from the place this one hailed from.
This was our first experience of the western “peculiar institution,” and it was not very prepossessing. We did not tarry long to observe it, but hurried on to the home of the Latter-Day Saints, the stronghold of the prophets, the capital of the only absolute monarch in America – Great Salt Lake City.
Mormon Booze, pages 88-89
By and by the Acting Governor of the Territory introduced us to other “Gentiles,” and we spent a sociable hour with them. “Gentiles” are people who are not Mormons. Our fellow passenger, Bemis, took care of himself, during this part of the evening, and did not make an overpowering success of it, either, for he came into our room in the hotel about eleven o’clock, full of cheerfulness, and talking loosely, disjointedly and indiscriminately, and every now and then tugging out a ragged word by the roots that had more hiccups than syllables in it. This, together with his hanging his coat on the floor on one side of a chair, and his vest on the floor on the other side, and piling his pants on the floor just in front of the same chair, and then contemplating the general result with superstitious awe, and finally pronouncing it “too many for him” and going to bed with his boots on, led us to fear that something he had eaten had not agreed with him.
But we knew afterward that it was something he had been drinking. It was the exclusively Mormon refresher, “valley tan.” Valley tan (or, at least, one form of valley tan) is a kind of whisky, or first cousin to it; is of Mormon invention and manufactured only in Utah. Tradition says it is made of (imported) fire and brimstone. If I remember rightly no public drinking saloons were allowed in the kingdom by Brigham Young, and no private drinking permitted among the faithful, except they confined themselves to “valley tan.”
State Visit with Brigham Young, pages 92-93
The second day, we made the acquaintance of Mr. Street and put on white shirts and went and paid a state visit to the king. He seemed a quiet, kindly, easy-mannered, dignified, self-possessed old gentleman of fifty-five or sixty, and had a gentle craft in his eye that probably belonged there. He was very simply dressed and was just taking off a straw hat as we entered. He talked about Utah, and the Indians, and Nevada, and general American matters and questions, with our Secretary and certain government officials who came with us. But he never paid any attention to me, notwithstanding I made several attempts to “draw him out” on Federal politics and his high-handed attitude toward Congress. I thought some of the things I said were rather fine. But he merely looked around at me, at distant intervals, something as I have seen a benignant old cat look around to see which kitten was meddling with her tail. By and by I subsided into an indignant silence, and so sat until the end, hot and flushed, and execrating him in my heart for an ignorant savage. But he was calm. His conversation with those gentlemen flowed on as sweetly and peacefully and musically as any summer brook. When the audience was ended and we were retiring from the presence, he put his hand on my head, beamed down on me in an admiring way and said to my brother: “Ah – your child, I presume? Boy, or girl?”
Getting Mormon Contracts Honored, pages 94-96
Mr. Street was very busy with his telegraphic matters – and considering that he had eight or nine hundred miles of rugged, snowy, uninhabited mountains, and waterless, treeless, melancholy deserts to transverse with his wire, it was natural and needful that he should be as busy as possible. he could not go comfortably along and cut his poles by the roadside, either, but they had to be hauled by ox teams across those exhausting deserts – and it was two days’ journey from water to water, in one or two of them. Mr. Street’s contract was a vast work, every way one looked at it; and yet to comprehend what the vague words “eight hundred miles of rugged mountains and dismal deserts” mean, one must go over the ground in person – pen and ink descriptions cannot convey the dreary reality to the reader. And after all, Mr. S.’s mightiest difficulty turned out to be one which he had never taken into the account at all. Unto Mormons he had sub-let the hardest and heaviest half of his great undertaking, and all of a sudden they concluded that they were going to make little or nothing, and so they tranquilly threw their poles overboard in mountain or desert, just as it happened when they took the notion, and drove home and went about their customary business! They were under written contract to Mr. Street, but they did not care anything for that. They said they would “admire” to see a “Gentile” force a Mormon to fulfill a losing contract in Utah! And they made themselves very merry over the matter. Street said – for it was he that told us these things:
“I was in dismay. I was under heavy bonds to complete my contract in a given time, and this disaster looked very much like ruin. It was an astounding thing; it was such a wholly unlooked-for difficulty, that I was entirely nonplused. I am a business man – have always been a business man – do not know anything but business – and so you can imagine how like being struck by lightning it was to find myself in a country where written contracts were worthless! – that main security, that sheet-anchor, that absolute necessity, of business. My confidence left me. There was no use in making new contracts – that was plain. I talked with first one prominent citizen and then another. They all sympathized with me, first rate, but they did not know how to help me. But at last a Gentile said, ‘Go to Brigham Young! – these small fry cannot do you any good.’ I did not think much of the idea, for if the law could not help me, what could an individual do who had not even anything to do with either making the laws or executing them? He might be a very good patriarch of a church and preacher in its tabernacle, but something sterner than religion and moral suasion was needed to handle a hundred refractory, half-civilized subcontractors. But what was a man to do? I thought if Mr. Young could not do anything else, he might probably be able to give me some advice and a valuable hint or two, and so I went straight to him and laid the whole case before him. He said very little, but he showed strong interest all the way through. He examined all the papers in detail, and whenever there seemed anything like a hitch, either in the papers or my statement, he would go back and take up the thread and follow it patiently out to an intelligent and satisfactory result. Then he made a list of the contractors’ names. Finally he said:
‘Mr. Street, this is all perfectly plain. These contracts are strictly and legally drawn, and are duly signed and certified. These men manifestly entered into them with their eyes open. I see no fault or flaw anywhere.’
Then Mr. Young turned to a man waiting at the other end of the room and said: ‘Take this list of names to So-and-so, and tell him to have these men here at such-and-such an hour.’
They were there, to the minute. So was I. Mr. Young asked them a number of questions, and their answers made my statement good. then he said to them:
‘You signed these contracts and assumed these obligations of your own free will and accord?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then carry them out to the letter, if it makes paupers of you! Go!’
And they did go, too! They are strung across the deserts now, working like bees. And I never hear a word out of them. There is a batch of governors, and judges, and other officials here, shipped from Washington, and they maintain the semblance of a republican form of government – but the petrified truth is that Utah is an absolute monarchy and Brigham Young is king!”
Mr. Street was a fine man, and I believe his story. I knew him well during several years afterward in San Francisco.
Useful Polygamy, pages 97-98
Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter. I had the will to do it. With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here – until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically “homely” creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, “No – the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure – and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.”
The Mountain Meadows Massacre, pages 116-117
At the end of our two days’ sojourn, we left Great Salt Lake City hearty and well fed and happy – physically superb but not so very much the wiser, as regards the “Mormon question,” than we were when we arrived, perhaps. We had a deal more “information” than we had before, of course, but we did not know what portion of it was reliable and what was not – for it all came from acquaintances of a day – strangers, strictly speaking. We were told, for instance, that the dreadful “Mountain Meadows massacre” was the work of the Indians entirely, and that the Gentiles had meanly tried to fasten it upon the Mormons; we were told, likewise, that the Indians were to blame, partly, and partly the Mormons; and we were told, likewise, and just as positively, that the Mormons were almost if not wholly and completely responsible for that most treacherous and pitiless butchery. We got the story in all these different shapes, but it was not till several years afterward that Mrs. Waite’s book, “The Mormon Prophet,” came out with Judge Cradlebaugh’s trial of the accused parties in it and revealed the truth that the latter version was the correct one and that the Mormons were the assassins. All our “information” had three sides to it, and so I gave up the idea that I could settle the “Mormon question” in two days.
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