Burr and the Mormons

“The short period between 1852 and 1855 was in general a peaceful interlude in the relations between the Mormons and the nation. Although Steptoe, [Secretary Benjamin G.] Ferris, and [Indian Agent] Holeman had raised brief disturbances, the years were as free of painful incident as any before 1896,  when Utah gained statehood. But the harmony, such as it was, soon faded. Within a few months voices more powerful and strident than those heard in the past were demanding federal intervention in the Mormons’ country: and a stormy petrel reached Salt Lake City in the person of David. T. Burr, the newly appointed surveyor general of the Territory.

Almost at once Burr ran into trouble with the inhabitants on the Valley. their title to the land they occupied was tenuous at best, in the absence of an Indian treaty or congressional enactment. Knowing this, they looked upon a survey of their region as a move preliminary to their eviction by the Government. Their fears had some justification, for Burr soon wrote to his superiors that the Church had illegally appropriated areas of the public domain, a reference to the recent introduction of an experiment, tried without success in earlier communities, to persuade the Mormons to deed their properties to the Church.

In alarm, the Saints sought to impede the surveyor general’s labors in every way possible, using intimidation, violence, and their influence over the Indians. . . .Garland Hurt, whoe position as agent brought him into greater difficulties than Holeman had encountered . . . charged that a bishop had stirred up the Indians in southern Utah by circulating the lie that surveyors were really a posse sent in disguise to arrest Gunnison’s murderers. Other Mormons in Fillmore, Hurt added, had stoned a house where Burr and his men had stopped for the night.The surveyor general himself reported the Mormons’ removal of corner posts, the theft of animals, and other obstructive acts, none of which could be prosecuted in the Church-controlled courts.

In the spring of 1857 Burr gave up his work in Utah, offering a number of explanations for his decision. His life was in fanger, for the priesthood was denouncing him from the pulpit. One of his associates . . . had been beaten nearly to death, perhaps permanently crippled, by a grouop of the infamous Danites. . . . and Brigham Young had ominously declared in public that his, Burr’s, work was at an end. In this lawless atmosphere three apostates had been murdered; Burr’s friends predicted the same fate for him if he remained.

As was frequently the case in more significant episodes, the truth about Burr’s clash with the Mormons is not easily found. . . .From the statements of burr, Hurt, Crain, Mogo, Wilson, and Landon it appeared that the people of the territory were, if not actually rebellious, at least ready to impede the work of duly appointed federal representatives.”