Friday, October 23, 2009

GQC: The Gold Mission

This is a continuation of my retracing George Q. Cannon's 1849 journey.

In December 1848, the LDS Church attempted to mint gold coins from gold dust brought into the Salt Lake Valley by the Mormon Battalion. The Church was later forced to switch to a paper currency because of a lack of satisfactory equipment to manufacture the gold coins. However, as overland trade increased with non-Mormons, there was an increasing need for a currency that would be acceptable to the non-Mormons. Therefore, the Church ordered the proper equipment, withdrew the paper currency, and began to coin their own $2.50, $5.00, $10.00 and $20.00 gold pieces on September 12, 1849.[i]

Publicly, Brigham Young was denouncing any efforts by the Mormons to join the gold rush. For example, on July 8, 1849, Young stated:

If you Elders of Israel want to go to the gold mines, go and be damned. If you go, I wouldn’t give a picayune to keep you from damnation….I advise the corrupt, and all who want to go to California to go and not come back, for I will not fellowship them. Prosperity and riches blunt the feelings of man. If our people were united, I would send out some of our men to get gold who would care no more for it than the dust under their feet, and then we would gather millions into the Church. Some men don’t want to go after gold, but they are the very ones to go.” (emphasis added)[ii]

In September 1849, Brigham Young recorded the following in his journal:

Fourteen or fifteen of the brethren arrived from the gold country, some of whom were very comfortably supplied with the precious metal, and others, who had been sick, came back as destitute as they had been when they went on the ship Brooklyn in 1846. That there is plenty of gold in western California is beyond doubt, but the valley of the Sacramento is an unhealthy place, and the Saints can be better employed in raising grain and building houses in this vicinity than in digging gold in Sacramento, unless they are counseled to do so. (emphasis added)[iii]

Notwithstanding the public rhetoric which was necessary to keep the Saints from rushing to the gold fields, shortly after the Church began to mint gold coins, an unpublicized program was instituted by the Church to increase the supply of gold dust in the Salt Lake Valley.[iv] Loyal, young Mormon men were called by Church leaders to go to California and mine for gold. The possibility of such a “gold mission” was alluded to by Brigham Young in his public and journal statements above. It appears, however, that rather than make the call a direct one from the Church, a Church leader would enter into a partnership with a young man, agree to pay the young man’s expenses and then share in a portion of the young man’s profits. It is unknown whether Church leaders were actually representing the Church (with the Church bearing the expenses and receiving any gain); or whether the Church leaders were representing themselves with the approval of the Church (personally bearing the expenses and receiving any gains). Either way, the amount of gold dust would be increased in the Valley without publicly involving the Church in its sanction. If the young men were successful, the public rhetoric and lack of Church sanction would still keep the barriers up for other faithful Church members desiring to go to the gold mines. If the young men were not successful, the Church leaders could use their examples to add credibility to their advice to stay in the Salt Lake Valley.

To preside over these young “gold missionaries,” Apostle Charles C. Rich was issued a call by Brigham Young at General Conference in October 1849. Rich was instructed to journey to California to assist Apostle Amasa Lyman who had been appointed in April 1849 to preside over the Church there. Rich was instructed to gather together and organize the members of the region and to “collect tithing, receive donations for the perpetual emigrating fund for the gathering of the poor of the church, and not to neglect the preaching of the gospel.”[v] On November 2, 1849, after the gold missionaries had left the Salt Lake Valley, the First Presidency wrote the following to Amasa Lyman:

Let all the brethren when they return, or send, bring or send their Gold Dust instead of foreign coin, as our mint is in good condition, and in active operation, and pure Gold is the most popular at home… We anticipate that nearly, or quite every man who has gone from here this fall to the diggings, has gone in good faith and feelings and will come direct to you for Council and instruction.[vi]

We have very little direct information about the callings of the “gold missionaries” and their arrangements, but the story of Henry Bigler appears to be illustrative of the callings of all of the young men, particularly given the bits and pieces of the other callings we are aware of.

On October 7, 1849, Henry Bigler was approached by Father John Smith, Patriarch of the Church. Father Smith told Bigler that Brigham Young had authorized him to “fit out” a person and send him “to the gold mines” of California so that Smith could “get some of the treasures of the earth” and “make himself comfortable in his old age.” Father Smith called upon Bigler because he could “trust” him and had “confidence” that he “would do right.” Father Smith told Bigler to go with Apostle Charles C. Rich who would be leaving with a company in a few days for the gold mines. Bigler noted in his journal “some struggle” with his “feelings.” After all, President Young’s “counsel” to the Saints was “not to go to the gold mines,” and those that went, contrary to Young’s counsel, were looked upon as “jack Mormons.” Bigler consented to go, but with some “reluctance” and sorrow.[vii] Father Smith agreed to pay the “expense of fitting out” Bigler for the gold mines and Bigler was to be “prudent” in his expenses while there. After “all the expenses were paid,” Bigler and Father Smith would each share in one-half of the gold.[viii]

Three days later, on October 10, 1849, Father Smith sent for Bigler and told him he wanted to bless him. He then “laid his hands” on Bigler’s head and “blessed” him “in the name of the Lord.” The next morning, as Bigler waited for James Keeler to pick him up in his wagon to begin the journey to California, Bigler records:

I experienced what I shall not here attempt to describe. I walked back and forth across my floor and my feelings were spent in a complete shower of tears. Every thing I looked upon seemed to sympathize with me and say, ‘go in peace,…be faithful and all will be right.’[ix]

George Q. Cannon’s description of his call and his feelings, written 20 years later, is more circumspect and less detailed than Bigler’s. However, he leaves little doubt that he considered the trip an assignment from the Church and one that was personally distasteful to him. He mentions that the “gold discoveries in California” and the influx of “gold seekers” in 1849 “had their influence in prompting the calling” of him and “others to go to California.” He states:

It was in the fall of that year that we were selected. We formed a company, and were joined by some few whose only motive in going was to enrich themselves by digging gold….There was no place that I would not rather have gone to at that time than California. I heartily despised the work of digging gold. I thought it very poor business for men to be running over the country for gold….There is no honorable occupation that I would not rather follow than hunting and digging gold. My instructions were to go to California and be guided by the counsels of Elders Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich, two of the Twelve Apostles. The former was already in California, having been sent there in the spring of 1849, and the latter was on the point of starting there, having been called at the conference to go on a mission to that country.[x]

Cannon’s feelings were shared by his then future wife. In a letter written years later to Elizabeth Hoagland, Cannon reminded her of her reply to his question, "I am only called for a year to California. Would you prefer that I went for perhaps three years to France?" She replied, “I would rather you went to save souls than to find gold, even though the time be longer."[xi]

Cannon was outfitted by his Uncle, John Taylor, one of the Apostles. He makes no mention of any arrangement between them to share in the profits, but there likely was one.[xii]

James Keeler was sponsored by Thomas Callister, who covered the expenses of outfitting Keeler. Callister was Father Smith’s son-in-law and later the first President of the Millard Stake.[xiii] It appears that Callister and Father Smith were working closely together (possibly pooling resources) as Bigler and Keeler were traveling companions, shared horses and both received a blessing from Father Smith at the same time.[xiv]

William Farrer was outfitted by Joseph Horne who was to receive one-half of the gold Farrer obtained.[xv]

Albert K. Thurber and Jacob D. Burnham were outfitted by Benjamin F. Johnson of the Council of Seventy. Johnson told Thurber that Brigham Young had “authorized” him “to send a few men…to prove them.” Johnson was to “get one third” of what each of Thurber and Burnham made and Thurber and Burnham were each to “receive one third of what” Johnson “made at home.”[xvi]
[i] Arrington, Leonard J., Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1900, Bison Book 1966, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, pp. 71-72 (hereafter cited as Great Basin Kingdom) David Cheesman noted in 1850 that “$5.00 and $10.00 gold pieces” were “in general circulation. There was no alloy in the coin, but the color of native gold. The inscription on one side of the coin was ‘Holiness to the Lord.’” (Cheesman Memoir, p. 285) [Need Description]
[ii] Manuscript History of the Church, Brigham Young Period 1844-1877, in 1849, pp. 100, 102 (hereafter cited as History of Brigham Young); Campbell, Eugene Edward, “The Mormon Gold Mining Mission of 1849,” BYU Studies 1, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Autumn 1959-Winter 1960), p. 22 (hereafter cited as Campbell/Gold Mission)
[iii] History of Brigham Young, p. 144; Campbell/Gold Mission, p. 21
[iv] Great Basin Kingdom, pp. 72-73; Eugene Campbell states that the conclusion by Arrington that the Church leaders made the calls to get more gold dust to supply the mint is a scholarly guess, but there is no evidence to support the conclusion. (Campbell/Gold Mission, p. 24)
[v] Arrington, Leonard J., Charles C. Rich: Mormon General and Western Frontiersman, Provo: Brigham Young University Press 1974, pp. 138-139 (hereafter cited as Arrington/Charles Rich); 3:340 CHC)
[vi] Cannon, George Q., The Journals of George Q. Cannon (Volume 1): To California in ’49, edited by Michael N. Landon, Adrian W. Cannon and Richard E. Turley, Jr., Deseret Book Company, published in collaboration with the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1999 (GQC Journal), p. 3, n. 8. George Cannon’s and William Farrer’s journal entries are often identical. It appears that Cannon actually kept his journal on the trail and that Farrer later copied Cannon’s journal and supplemented it with details from his own memory. (GQC Journal, p. xxvi [Landon note]) The majority of my work on this project took place before Cannon’s contemporary journal was available. Therefore, Farrer’s journal, which was available (and identified as “Farrer” herein), and Cannon’s retrospective “A Trip To California,” based on Cannon’s original journal (and identified as “Cannon” herein), were used primarily. When “GQC Journal” is referenced, it will usually be to material in Cannon’s journal that was not contained in Farrer’s journal or Cannon’s retrospective “A Trip To California” account. When referencing “GQC Journal” and citing editorial materials, rather than Cannon’s original journal, a reference to “Landon” will usually be made in the citation.
[vii] Great Basin Kingdom, p. 73 (citing Bigler’s Journal, Book A, pp. 162-163 (96-97)); Bigler’s Journal Book A was re-written and amplified from his original journal at a later date. (49ers, p. 142)
[viii] 49ers pp. 142-143, n. 1 (citing Bigler’s Book A under date of October 11, 1849)
[ix] From the journal of Henry W. Bigler, Journal Book B. The diaries and papers of Henry W. Bigler are located at the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California. (49ers, p. 142). The original journal of Bigler that covers this period is known as Journal Book B. This is the journal I have used. The journal was copied, re-written and amplified at a later date and is known as Journal Book A. Any references to Journal Book A are specifically identified herein. I have used Journal Book B which is the journal covering this period. I am aware of two sources with copies of Journal Book B. A typescript of Journal Book B., covering the period from October 8, 1849 to November 15, 1850, is located at the Utah State Historical Society. A copy of Journal Book B, covering the period from October 8, 1849 to January 18, 1850 is contained in 49ers, pp. 142-180. Hereafter, a reference to “Bigler” shall be a reference to Journal Book B and the specific reference will be found at or about the date in the Journal being covered by the material.
[x] Cannon, George Q., “A Trip To California,” a monograph, published by Sun Lithographing Co.; originally printed as “Twenty Years Ago; a Trip to California,” in the Juvenile Instructor in 1869; also contained in 49ers, pp. 218-261; based on an original journal of Cannon. Hereafter, a reference to “Cannon” shall be a reference to this article and the specific reference will be found at or about the date in the article being covered by the material.
[xi] Cannon Family Historical Treasury, 1967 by the George Cannon Family Association, edited by Beatrice Cannon Evans and Janath Russell Cannon, p. 119
[xii] Cannon
[xiii] 49ers, p. 143, n. 2; Jenson, Andrew LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 527 (hereafter cited as LDS Bio)
[xiv] Bigler
[xv] 49ers p. 193; Joseph Horne was a captain of 50 during the 1847 pioneer trek across the plains. (LDS Bio, p. 806)
[xvi] 49ers, p. 117, n. 23; Campbell/Gold Mission, pp. 23-24

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