top of page
Episodes: Blog2

Episode 7: Camp Floyd

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