The civil war, one of the bloodiest and most harrowing wars the US has ever been a part of. The battlefields and lives lost haunt us to this day. Cities all over the country still celebrate and reenact the biggest of these conflicts today. The motives and ambitions behind the conflict are well known, as well as the biggest players in the war.
However, just before the civil war got into full swing, a smaller, controversial “war” was taking place.
They called it “The Mormon War,” and while its casualties were few, the effects of it can still be felt in the Utah today, and, if you know where to look, the ghosts can be too.
Welcome back everyone after that long Covid fueled break, to Strange and Unexplained: Utah episode seven, Camp Floyd.
Its 1857, Brigham Young and his Mormon pioneers are getting ready to celebrate 10 years of having settled the Utah Territory. Young himself has been appointed governor of the territory by the then president, Milliard Fillmore, in 1851, and despite several non-Mormon government appointees, the LDS church had managed to keep a hold of the power in Utah. But they’d kept that power through brute force, and in some cases, bullying and scare tactics.
Many gentiles, (non lds), officials resigned their posts and quickly took the long road back home to the east coast to get away from the tight control the Mormons had on the territory. And as each of them came back, they had some disturbing things to say to the president about their time in Utah. Some had scores to settle, they didn’t care for the way Young and his Mormon's had treated them, or the way they had ignored the federal law of the land and sought instead to have their bishops solve legal disputes, or the fact that about 25% of the Mormons living in Utah still practiced polygamy.
Now a lot of the country had some very strong feelings about that practice, most people wanted it outlawed. But Utah wasn’t a state yet, and because of popular sovereignty, (or a doctrine that was used in the 1900’s that gave territories seeking statehood the ability to decide its own law about things like slavery and to a lesser, loop whole extent, polygamy), and the compromise of 1850, (which consisted of five separate laws that were meant to further defuse the tensions between free and slave states and the new territories joining the union.), Utah was able to continue doing as it had done. [JB1] [JB2]
Soon the new president, James Buchannan, began to hear whispers about a Mormon rebellion, and an uprising in the west. As more and more federally appointed officials began to run home to Washington with their tail between their legs, whispering in the president's ear about Brigham Young setting himself up as some kind of King in the middle of the land that they were trying to manifest destiny, Buchannan became more and more upset.
These fears were made all more real by a man named James Strang. He was one of several successors to the LDS church after Joseph Smith was murdered in Nauvoo. He tried to claim that he had letter from Smith proclaiming him the next leader of the church. He then set himself up on Beaver island in Michigan proclaiming himself a king and prophet.
From the inception of the LDS church, people have feared and hated it as some new upstart religion that was heretical and a threat to the natural order of things. And if you have ever spent any real time around a member of the LDS church you know that they have a very particular way of doing things. They are a religion unique unto themselves.
And when you’re used to dealing with religions that are hundreds if not thousands of years of old, been around longer than the country they were trying too hard to build, a religion that teaches that they are the real and true religion, and people aren’t going to take you seriously. And more than that, people are gonna get real upset real fast when you start calling their faith into question.
Side note here, I am not saying that members of the Mormon church went around calling other faiths into question. But when you have so many people changing from well-established faiths to this newer, in some cases upstart faith, it makes people question things.
Think about it like this. You and a group of four friends go to a restaurant you all love. You’ve never been there all together before, but you all love the food there. You sit down, talking and catching up, and the waiter comes around to take your order and all four of your friends order the same thing, the waiter even comments on what a great choice it is. Wouldn’t you wonder what you were missing out on with your dish? Or maybe you’d wonder if what they ordered might be better?
Regardless, people at the time were very upset with the LDS church and they were a problem that seemed a lot easier to solve then the issue of slavery. There wasn’t an easy way to unite the country under the banner of slavery or freedom, but those polygamous Mormons, that’s a problem we can solve.
In fact, one Missouri governor, Lilburn Boggs, issued executive order 44 on October 27th, 1838. Order 44, more commonly known as the Mormon Execution order, was exactly that. Boggs claimed that the Mormons were openly defying the law of the state, and that through their defiance, they were making war on Missouri. He said, “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace-their outrages are beyond all descriptions.”
Exterminated or driven from the state.
Now this has nothing to do with Camp Floyd directly, but I wanted to tell you a little bit about what the Mormons had gone through before they made it to Salt Lake. If you’ve listened to the show, you know the story of what happened to church founder Joseph Smith. I’m telling you this so that you can start to understand the kind of mindset Brigham Young, and his followers were in. That might help to explain why they choose to live as isolated as they could, and why they reacted the way they did to the government reaching across to Utah to try and control it.
Which brings us to our illustrious Camp Floyd. By 1857 President Buchanan had heard about enough from his people, specifically his secretary of war John B. Floyd, about the kind territory Utah was shaping up to be. He mustered no less than 2,500 troops and another 1,000 civilian employees and sent them west on the same trail the Mormons had cut out ten years before and were still using to make their way to their Zion. The army was coming to remove Young as the governor of the territory and to bring the Mormons of Utah to heel under the federal government.
The thing is, no one told Brigham Young that he was no longer the governor, or that the army was coming to make sure these rumors of insurrection and rebellion were nothing more than that. Word eventually reached them about the army headed to them. It’s rumored that there was a Mormon man in the army train, using the marching of the army to carry him home. Whether it was through him or threw the hundreds of thousands of people who saw this massive army marching, word got to Utah.
But here’s the crazy thing, Utah had no idea why the army was marching!
And they had seen the army come at them before. This time, they would be ready.
Preparations were made, the Nauvoo legion, or the Mormon militia, was called up. But they were only about 1,100 informally trained men verses more than twice their number in military strength. So, instead of riding out to engage the army directly, the legion was ordered by Daniel H. Wells, the Lieutenant-General of the Nauvoo legion, to “annoy them in every possible way.”
They took that to heart. The burned the grass lands before the army, scared off the army’s livestock, put blockades in the road, they even put-up damns to deprive the army of clean water. They didn’t even the army sleep. By coming in the night, scaring the livestock, lighting things on fire, and just hurrahing them at every opportunity.
They may have fired a few shots at each other here and there, but they never had a full-on battle. The Mormons were successful in keeping the army at bay until winter set in. The army itself had been so ill prepared for the mountains they had to cross, on top of losing so much to the Legion on the trip, that when you factor in the early onset of winter, Johnson and his men had no choice but to set up a hastily built camp near the burned out remains of Fort Bridger. They called it Camp Scott.
And for all accounts, it was terrible place to be.
Meanwhile Young was preparing his people for army’s inevitable arrival. He declared a state of martial law, had the people of Salt Lake getting readying to run if it came to it. They had preparations in place so they could run north or south, depending on how the army came in. They were also ready to burn the city to the ground before they would see all of their hard work turned over to the US government. They would raze the city, and slaughter ever last head of cattle if it came to it.
Thankfully, it never came to it.
By the time the winter slow had thawed enough for the Army to come into the valley, enough time had passed that peaceful negotiations were able to take place. Young, you see, had reached out to Thomas L. Kane, who had been a friend to the Mormons as they made their way west. He explained things to Kane and asked for his help again. Kane, in turn, contacted President Buchanan. He asked the president to allow him to act as a middleman to help both the Mormons and the government reach a peaceful solution. Now this put the president into quite the pickle. Only a few weeks prior to this President Buchanan had made his feelings about the “Mormon Crisis” very, emphatically clear in his State of the Union address. He had even gone so far as to ask congress to allow him to swell the size of the army. It was a very hard stance and most of the country was behind him in this.
But what he wasn’t telling people was his fear that the Moorman’s would be able to easily best the portion of the army he had sent to the Utah Territory. Buchannan knew enough to realize that his presidency would not survive the loss of that defeat. Instead of rolling the dice on the army, he told Kane that he would be willing to pardon the Mormons for everything that had happened if they were willing to submit to the rule of the government.
Kane's roll was completely unofficial, and it was a hail Mary pass if ever there was one. The president didn’t stop working on the army, nor did he say anything about Kane and what he was being sent out to do.
Kane wasted no time; he knew that the Army was already there and that the winter would only hold the army off for so long. So, despite the freezing temperatures, the snow falling down all around him, and the hostility toward Mormons and anyone following their trial, Kane was on his way. To be safe, for both is protection and that of the President, Kane traveled under the assumed name of “Dr. Osborne.”
He took a ship through Panama and then up to San Francisco, the regular passes in the north were completely beset by snow. There was no way through until the thaw. And there was no way the tenuous peace would last that long. So, he sailed back through to what is now Las Angels where he met up with a few Mormons and they took him through the back end of the California trial, passing through Vegas on their way to Salt Lake City.
Here things get murky. We know that Kane arrived in February 1858, and we know that he met and negotiated with Brigham Young, but whatever they talked about, whatever negotiations took place, we don’t know about them. All we know is that after speaking with Young, in March Kane traveled to Fort Bridger and spoke with Governor Cumming about his entrance into Salt Lake City. Somehow, he convinced the man to travel into the city, without his military guards, and meet with Young. Personally, I don’t know that I would have gone in that exposed. Especially given all the anti-non-Mormon feelings that had been prevalent in the territory since its founding.
But Cumming rode in with Kane and was installed in his office as governor. Not before having to ride past a huge line of the Mormon militia, of course. Despite all his misgivings about his new office and the people he would be serving, Cumming wasn’t a bad sport about it. He actually became a moderate voice for the territory. He opposed the way that the president and many of the members of congress were about the Mormons, including the hard line that Buchanan had taken in his state of the union address a few months earlier.
This, of course, did nothing to assuage the fear that Young felt about prosecution from the army when they entered the valley.
Around the same time Kane was making his way into Salt Lake City, President Buchanan stated to come under fire about the Mormon Crisis. With senators like Sam Houston, bout of Texas who stated that an all-out war with the Mormons would be “one of the most fearful calamities that has befallen this country . . . an intolerable evil.”
So, in April, Buchanan sent an official peace commission to Utah. In it he said a lot of what had been said to Kane, that he would pardon the Mormons for any acts they had taken toward the start of this “war” if they would submit to government authority. The president went on to say that he would not interfere with their religion, and he even hinted that if Young came to heel, there wouldn’t really be a need for the army to be in there except a small portion for the keeping of “Indians in check.”
Of course, Buchanan wasn’t taking the same, “we can all live together in peace” stance with the Mormons as far as the rest of the country was concerned. He issued a proclamation on April 6,1858 in which he said he would pardon the Mormons, but that they should, “expect no further leniency, but look to be rigorously dealt with according to their desserts,” and about the army he said they, “will not be withdrawn until the inhabitants of that territory shall manifest a proper sense of duty which they owe this government.”
Young accepted these terms, of course. But he staunchly denied having ever been in rebellion with the US Government.
In June the army, still under Johnson's control, entered a still mostly abandon city. And Johnston was mad, like really mad. He and his men had gone through so much at the hands of the mulita, animals killed or run off, fires everywhere they turned and then there was the attacks by the Native people of Utah orchestrated by the Mormons. He was livid. So livid in fact that he had been heard saying, he would “give his plantation for a chance to bombard the city for fifteen minutes.” A LT. Col. Charles Ferguson Smith said that “he did not care a damn who heard him; he would like to see every damned Mormon hung by the neck.”
One of the conditions of the negotiation between Young and Buchanan was where the army would be housed in the valley. It was said that the army would have to be “at least one day's ride by horse from Salt Lake City.”
That put them roughly 50miles outside of the city
So, on June 26, 1858, about 3,500 soldiers and civilian employees rode through emigration canyon, through Salt Lake, and south to Cedar city first, and in a few months’ time, to Fairfield Ut, a small town that had been established only three years earlier.
Under the orders of General Johnston, Lt. Colonel D. Ruggles began to lay out the plan for what would eventually become Camp Floyd. The camp was large, and consisted of many different types of buildings, from barns, to workshops, stables, storehouses, corrals, barracks, and more. The used everything from wood, to adobe, to stone mined from the Oquirrh mountains. Soldiers began to arrive in September and were put to work building their own barracks. They even damned the stream to build a mill for the corn.
On November 9th, 1858, Camp Floyd was officially dedicated, and the flag was raised.
Something fun to note here, most of the materials and labor for the camp were purchased and hired locally. Which means, you guessed it, the Mormons they were there to watch, and possibly fight, were the same people now helping them get the camp built. They sold the army about 1.6 million adobe bricks for about a penny each, a fair price in those days. The men building when those bricks were the Mormons because who knew better how to build with that material then the people that had been using it for the last decade. Even the lumber they used for the barn and the officer's floors was milled and sold by the LDS church.
Despite all the issue with the army, and the tense standoff that the winter before had brought, the army coming in and building their camp was a huge boon to the economy of the territory. And they needed it. Utah was failing financially. The cost of having so much brought to them over the trial was expensive and it nearly bankrupt them.
Soon the church and the camp were buying and selling everything. From clothing to potatoes, they even set up a general store near the camp. Having things like this set up was also a huge asset to the people trying to make their way to California, caught up in the gold rush.
There were other people who benefited from the camp being installed full of young able-bodied men. In the short time it took the army to settle there, they transformed Fairfield into the third largest city in the territory. A town of travelers, merchants and other more colorful people, just as interested in the wealth of the army, built up what would later be called Frogtown. Which sounds a bit like a shanty town. Gambling, drinking, and the murders were common everyday happenings in Frogtown. Many soldiers lost whole months’ worth pay gambling it away at the saloons that lined Main Street Fairfield.
A man named John Carson saw a golden opportunity in the travel that was now cutting through southern Utah. With the army based there, they were improving roads, making them wider and easier to pass, which meant that more people would pass that way on their way to Salt Lake, to California, to Nevada. Even officers and army officials that needed to check on the base would need a place to stay, right?
John Carson took the modest adobe and stone home his family was living in and turned it into a two-story inn. And Carson was smart. There was a ton of low end, pay by the hour inns and taverns down in Frog town that did not discern about who they allowed to stay there. By not allowing the regular joe into his establishment to drink and gamble, he set his inn apart as more high-class kind of place. Havin an inn where drinking wasn’t allowed all in Utah made it a huge success.
Once the main route to California was laid out, Carson’s inn became a major stopping point for the wealthy on their way west as well as for the pony express. He saw actors and actresses, high ranking military personnel, and hundreds of wealthy settlers headed to California.
The Inn still stands today – one of only two standing structures from the original camp. One of the results of this war on Utah, and the presidents poor planning was that the democrats lost control of the white house and republican Abraham Lincoln was elected. As I’m sure most of you know, once Lincoln was elected, we were on the path to Civil war.
John B. Floyd, the secretary of war for whom our camp is named – split with the union and joined the south. It came out later that the biggest reason why Floyd was so bent on the then president doing something about the Mormon problem, was because he was trying to get the Union to blow through its money making it weaker an easier for the south take over. Once Floyd had tuned tail and run, the government promptly renamed the camp, calling it Camp Crittenden after the new Secretary of War: John J. Crittenden.
In 1861 as the Civil War was ramping up, soldiers were called east to help defend the union, (not that all their sympathies allied with the union), and the camp was quickly abandoned.
In an attempt to recoup some of the loss of the camp and the Army’s very expensive stay there, Col. Phillip St. George Cooke was ordered to initiate a fire sale of all camp goods. If could not be reasonably carried back east with the men, then it was sold at rock bottom prices to anyone with the money to buy it. It is estimated that $4 million dollars' worth of supplies was sold for about $100,000. War was coming and there was not time to nitpick or haggle.
What they couldn't take with them and sell, Cooke destroyed. He gathered all the surplus munitions, took them out into a field, and blew them up. Then he burned every camp building he could. From the barn to the officers' quarters, if it could burn, he burnt it. The last troops left the camp on July 27th, 1861.
In less than two months this massive, third largest city in Utah, was reduced to 18 family's, still eking out an existence in Fairfield. The stone walls were carried away, the adobe reduced to mud by the weather, now all the remains of this once massive Army Fort are the Pony Express inn, now a museum, the Commissary building, and the cemetery.
In 1959 a program in Utah set out to preserve what was left of the fort and its buildings, turning it into a State Park and museum that we all know and love today.
Now for the SPOOKY!!!
With a location like this, hauntings and stories of the unexplained abound! Last October I had the privilege of going to their event called “The Ghost of Camp Floyd”
During this event a park employee gathered all of us at the old schoolhouse and told us a little bit about the history of the park. She then gave us examples of some photos and evp’s that have been captured there. She had a list of apps that the regulars used and then they turned us loose on the park. We were allowed to wander for hours among the schoolhouse, the commissary building and the Stagecoach Inn. You could also go to the Cemetery, but it was a little further away from where we were.
It was night, it was October, it was cold, and it was spooky.
I started in the schoolhouse since most people cleared out and headed elsewhere. Now the schoolhouse there isn't part of the original buildings. It was built around 1898 and the town has taken excellent care of the structure, enfolding into the state park at its creation on May 16th, 1964. Still an awesome older building and definitely worth checking out.
I set up at the teacher's desk, with six years of teaching experience this felt like the most natural place to sit. Once everyone had left and room was dark it took on a whole other feeling. Gone was the nervous excitement of the crowd getting ready to ghost hunt – now the room was filled with the kind of hushed tension that comes from a school room. There was this strange undercurrent in the room.
If you’ve ever been alone in a classroom and felt the overwhelming sense that you shouldn't be there –like teacher is going to be mad that you’re there. It felt like that. I’m still going through the videos and the audio recordings, but I’ve already found at least two evps’ from the room and I’m excited to keep going through the audio to see what else there is.
After a larger group began to file into the classroom, I knew it was time to head out. So, I packed up my equipment and headed out into the street.
It was a cool October evening, and the sun has already set leaving the street completely black save the yellow halo of light from one streetlamp. I attempted to take a video here, but the IR on my camera was not great, and everything, except the ground, was too far away to be captured.
After a few failed attempts on the street, I headed to the old commissary –an original building that has been preserved and turned into a gift shop/museum. It was filed with items like original soldiers' uniforms, things they made and sold while waiting for orders, a cannon. All of which would probably have been cooler to see with the lights on, but as it was the building was completely dark, and I, completely alone, so I thought.
After entering I made my way past the snack and gift shop area and into the exhibits. I had my voice recorder going, half out of my pocket, my camcorder recording, and my Sony a6000 taking still frames with the flash. I had gone right and come around the main cannon display, putting a wall between myself and the door, when I started to hear the footsteps.
Naturally I assumed someone else had come in. It wasn’t a large group but there are only three buildings that you can explore. I quieted down on my talking to anything in the room and started to just take photos. The person in the room, a man I thought by the sound of his footsteps, was obviously moving much faster than I was. I heard the steps come up behind me, instinctively I stepped back and out of the path and apologized for being in the way, do you guys ever apologize awkwardly for no reason?, and waited.
And then waited some more
And then had the biggest feeling of chills since I had entered the camp.
As I’m sure you guessed, there was no one there. I was completely alone. These footsteps were not something that I heard in the background that I could explain way by saying it was someone outside, or an echo of my own foot falls. They were loud, heavy, and distinct. These steps were so real I could almost see a man in my mind's eye walking quickly through the museum, eager to be done with the hunt.
BUT THERE WAS NO ONE THERE!
Now I was torn, stay and investigate, or get out of dodge.
I looked around, calling out to anyone, but no one responded.
Then my camcorder died. I had no flashlight on, I was using my night vison on the camera to see where I was going. With the, what should have been a fully charged camera, dead, I was in the dark. Panic got me then and I managed to snap a few photos before my Sony died too. Hands full of dead electronics, without a single light, in a place I’d never been, with what was tantamount to a ghost very near me, I uh, well let's just say I might have lost my cool for a moment.
Chills running up and down my spine I started to beat a hasty retreat to the exit.
Or I tried.
It was really dark in there.
And by the time I had managed to bump and shuffle my way to the gift shop area, I’d also gotten the dead camcorder into my bag and pulled my phone out. Just into to get the flashlight on and blind the next group coming into the museum.
One of them made a startled “ooh” sound so I made the very dignified sound of screaming like a little girl. There was an awkward few second of staring back and forth followed by me hastily beating a retreat to my vehicle to replace batteries.
I have found no evidence of the footsteps on the video, my hope is that I can find some sound on the recorder I have, once I finish sifting through the hours of audio recorded that night.
Now for the Stagecoach inn.
This building is odd in the way it's built with small doors balcony that it's just the most adorable thing, to see it in daylight. But nighttime is a whole other story. The first floor has that feeling like an old pair of slippers, well used, a little worn out, but comfortable all the same. I got the feeling of a lot of foot traffic, lots of people coming and going. Not all of it was good, some of it felt downright scary, but it was all muddled in the overwhelming amount of energy that had passed those doors.
There was a chair, though, a dark colored rocking chair near a piano on the first floor. When I first walked in there was no one else on the floor. I could hear what I assumed was another group upstairs, but the first floor was dark. I walked on the path, past the hearth, the piano and the chair, and then stopped. I thought I heard the chair move. Turning back, I looked, but it was still. I looked around, my flashlight cutting the darkness in a thick circle around the room. But, as I had thought, no one there, and the chair was still.
Maybe the long nights were catching up to me?
The rooms were oddly shaped and put in places that were at odds with my modern sense of how a home should be laid out. But seeing all of the old kitchen items and the bathtub, it was still pretty cool.
Now, I am not a small person. Short yes, round ish, also yes. And these stares were so steep and narrow that I almost didn’t go upstairs for fear I would fall. I put my equipment into the bag and made my way, one step at a time, hands and feet both working, as I went unsteadily up the death trap stairs. Once upstairs I wished I had stayed away. It was cold, despite being a warm early October evening, and after my experiences in the commissary building, I was on guard.
But this is a much larger building, and it had other people in it. I had seen them come in before and after I did. We were all exploring in the dark.
My feelings of unease only got worse from here.
I followed the flow of the tour, conveniently roped off so we didn’t stray too far off course, and eventually found myself facing a room I did not want to go into. I t was dark, of course, but more than that, it was cold. Colder than I could account for in an upstairs room of a stone building after a long day baking in the sun with now air conditioner to speak of. It is 100% possible that there was another explanation for the cold, but not one that I could think of in the moment. Aside from that, the room felt wrong.
Angry almost. If such a feeling can be attributed to a room. I could tell very immediately and with no uncertainty that I was not wanted in that space. The only problem is it’s a one-way tour, you enter the inn through a certain door, follow the roped off trail, and then exit through a different door. I could hear people behind me, coming up the murder stairs, I either had to push past people on the stairs that I didn’t want to take going up, or face the room and the incredibly unsettling feeling it gave me.
In the end I decided that pushing through the room was best. I hurried to get past the bed and trunk in the corner and stopped when I came to the door there. There was a huge whole in the wood. What looked like a bullet hole that had been worn smooth and enlarged over the decades. A sharp chill running up my spine set my feet moving again, and I was quickly headed out of that room and down a set of stairs that seemed much safer.
By the time I was back to my truck I was exhausted. Like the batteries on my equipment, I was drained. Something that I had learned later in life was that if I visited an active area or place, by the time I leave I’m so sleepy I can’t keep my head up.
I once visited the first Idaho jail with a friend. It was old and full of terrible rooms, including the one where they would hang people, and disturbing history. Once we had left the building and got on the road, I couldn’t stay awake. My head would drop to my chest and I all but passed out in the passenger seat. There appears to be direct correlation between the level of an activity in a certain place, and the level of tired I am when I leave.
I want to thank you all so much for sticking around and waiting this long for the next episode to drop. I can’t tell you how much it means to me. With the influx of new help as far as equipment operators and editors, we should be getting more episodes out at a better pace and getting the videos up.
One final note before I sign off. As some of you may recall, one of the earliest episodes I put out, I mentioned OBO Auto sales in Midvale Utah. (They’re still fantastic if you need a car by the way.) Well, the other day my husband and I went to National Auto Plaza in Murray to get a vehicle by trading mine in. The short version of the story is that after being there for almost four hours with all three of our sons, and speaking to a salesman and eventual the manager Matt. We were sold a car under the impression that our payments would be a certain number, only to find out that they are, in fact, much more expensive.
The manager either lied to us about the payment amount or the finance guy changed it without telling us. We didn’t realize until we were outside the 30 days where we could return it, and when we reached out to them to correct the mistake, we were basically told that we were wrong, sucks to be us, try to refi in six months. I cannot emphasize this enough, if you need a car, and you want to work with honest people, DO NOT got NAP in Murray. Save your time and your money and go somewhere else.
Thank you, guys, so much for sticking around with us here at S&U. Stay safe, stay spooky, and, as always, stay strange.