Emigrant Impressions of Salt Lake City

“To the Argonauts of ’49, the Mormons were a fascinating enigma. They had declared themselves an independent state and were functioning in that status; but actually the group was a more or less benevolent dictatorship with Brigham Young at the head, and he, partly from the exigencies of the situation and partly from temperament, would not tolerate adverse comments.

To the men of the migration who kept journals (rather a superior group on the whole) this gag rule was the most offensive item encountered. For the kindly and helpful people as a whole they had very little but praise. The Mormons were quite destitute of comforts, but industrious and thrifty. Furthermore they were destined to succeed. What little they had, they shared with those in need of help, and many an invalid remained in Salt Lake City to be nurtured back to health. The chief elders were masters of budget balancing. They carefully trained their people to turn the needs of the migration to good account, and blacksmith shops and vegetable gardens brought marvelous returns. At first they refused coin, which had no value to them, and would only accept articles that were ‘hard to come by.’ Coffee and sugar are most often mentioned, but by 1852 they had sent to France for the sugar beet and had it under cultivation.

To the women of the migration this large settlement of adobe houses was a welcome sight, and the reassuring glimpses of ordinary women like themselves at home in neat kitchens gave them confidence. Of course they had a perfectly human and rather excited curiosity about a community where the men might have all the wives they could support, and where spinsterhood was unknown. Some women of the wagon trains, both young and old, went fo farther west. . . .

Irrefutably, the Mormon doctrines attracted undesirables as naturally and unavoidably as adventurers followed the lure of gold to California, and often it was these low-minded marqueraders who brought contumely upon the whole colony. But, in the main, the people themselves were kindly and well ordered.