Mormons and California’s Gold Rush

The folks over at RealClearHistory have enjoyed my weekly column so much that they’ve invited me to write a second weekly column for their Historiat blog. I was tasked with writing the introductory essay for a blog that has been dormant for 3 years. Here’s an excerpt:

Initially the Mormon leadership in Nauvoo sought to establish a new homeland in northern California – which was far enough away from the American, Mexican, and British governments to be considered safe – and Brannan was tasked with the initial wave of settlement. Once Brigham Young reached the Salt Lake valley, however, he changed his mind and decided that the state of Deseret should be run from Salt Lake City instead of northern California. Much of this decision had to do with the fact that the trek from Nauvoo, Ill. to Utah was so arduous, and there was little inclination to keep pressing onward to northern California through the Great Basin’s high altitude desert. But Samuel Brannan’s success in San Francisco, coupled with his earlier wayward fancies, also played a part in Brigham Young’s decision to establish the Mormon church’s capital in Utah instead of northern California. Samuel Brannan was competing with Brigham Young to be the leader of the Mormon church.

Please, read the rest. I am not quite sure if there will be a specific day assigned for my Historiat posts, but my regularly-scheduled Friday column is still a thang.

I haven’t seen anybody here explain why Trump’s protectionist tariffs are horrible (yet), so here’s Jacques on the topic. Here is the NY Times on the same topic.

3 thoughts on “Mormons and California’s Gold Rush

  1. I read the full article as well, and I come away with one comment: Citations needed. I’ll focus just on the claim that Brigham originally planned to settle in California, but changed his mind once there was a fight for Church leadership with Brannon. It’s rather well-established that both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had spoken about planting the Mormons in the Rocky Mountains, not in California. I can quickly find several LDS publications (1936, 1997, and the 2003 Institute manual) explaining that the purpose of Brannon’s group was to be a way-station to assist other Saints arriving from the Pacific towards the intermountain west. The very charter Brannon used, written by apostle Orson Pratt, called for them to go California “as the distance to travel from that point to their probable destination in the Rocky Mountains, it was thought, would not be so great, and the trip would be attended with much less expense” (http://files.lib.byu.edu/mormonmigration/articles/StoryOfSamBrannan.PDF) Joseph Smith as early as 1842 had spoken of the Saints settling in the Rocky Mountains, and Brigham’s talk was all of the Rockies, not California (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/07/a-place-prepared-in-the-rockies?lang=eng.) The Discourses of Brigham Young has a citation that, when Brannan arrived and started encouraging them to continue on to California, Brigham was already against the idea: “[On 30 June 1847,] when the Pioneer company reached Green River [about 80 miles east of the Great Salt Lake Valley], we met Samuel Brannan and a few others from [San Francisco,] California, and they wanted us to go there. I remarked, “Let us go to California, and we cannot stay there over five years; but let us stay in the mountains, and we can raise our own potatoes, and eat them; and I calculate to stay here.” (DBY, 475).”

    Judging from the Wikipedia article on Brannon, it’s clear you either used it or its source, a 1943 book about Brannon that I don’t have at hand to compare. It would not surprise me if Brannan had later written that version of events to make himself appear grander.

    There’s nothing in the LDS Church literature at least claiming he tried to take over the church from Brigham, but I don’t mind so much someone putting that spin on things. I do have access to an 1847 diary of the time when Brannon met up with the advance company in Wyoming, which doesn’t speak of frictions, but only of his being sent out to be a “driver” for some of the Mormon Battalion to find shelter in California. He was later redirected back to the main body of Saints and came along willingly. It’s only after that, when they arrived in the Salt Lake valley, that “Brannan argued with President Young and then shouted : “If you won’t come to California with me, I return alone, through with you and your Church.”” (StoryOfSamBrannan)

    While I don’t expect others to necessarily take all the LDS Church sources to be definitive and the last word, before *I* can accept the alternative version you’re presenting for some of the events in the story, I’m going to need some sources.

    • Look like I misspelled Brannan’s name several times, but I don’t see an edit option on here. Oops.

    • Thanks for checking it out Dr Watson!

      The few sources I used were no doubt a bit more secular than yours, to be sure, and RealClear‘s backend platform sucks so we try to keep links light, but as a Mother Lode native (“Placerville” is my hometown) my end goal with this piece was to try and Make the Mother Lode Great Again by drumming up interest in CA’s gold rush.

      Brannan seemed like the perfect cantankerous historical figure to make that happen!

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