“California Saints” by Richard O. Cowan and William E. Homer

I thought I should learn some more about my newly adopted state.

Mormons were key players in the early history of California (the history of U.S. California, that is), primarily via the Mormon Battalion and the immigrants from the ship Brooklyn.  During the 1850’s however, official activities all but ceased until the twentieth century.  The lack of emphasis on California settlement was partly due to the Gold Rush.  There was a lot of interest in California and thousands were flocking to the state; the Mormons could never be a majority and control their own destiny like they could in Utah.  Another reason was the fallout due to polygamy, announced in 1852, and the subsequent Utah War – the Church had more pressing concerns at the time than trying to encourage California growth.  Indeed, the official policy everywhere, up until around the turn of the century, was that of gathering – missionaries went out into the world, but always encouraged their converts to emigrate to Utah.

With all that in mind, it is no wonder that Brigham Young didn’t think too highly of California.  (Although, interestingly, he did call several on “gold missions” early in the Gold Rush to get money for the struggling Church.)  When Sam Brannan excitedly told Brigham Young about the wonders of California in 1847, Brigham said, “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 potatoes and eat them; and I calculate to stay here.”  Even though the climate and terrain was tougher, there wasn’t competition in Utah from other immigrants.  The Church had found its place of refuge.  I get the impression that Brannan probably never understood why Brigham wanted to stay in Utah.  But then again Brannan seems to have had other motives at heart than furthering the success of the Church.  He’s an interesting character.

Some more from Brigham: “Our feelings are in favor of that Policy <encouraging settlement in “Western California” (vs “Eastern California” = Utah) >unless, all the offscouring of Hell has been let loose upon that dejected land, in which case we would advise you to gather up all that is worth saving and come hither with all speed.” (after beginning of Gold Rush and the unsavory characters it drew to California)

“…hell reigns there, and that it is just as much as any ‘Mormon’ can do to live there, and that it is about time for him and every true Saint to leave that land.” (1857)

I haven’t written much yet about the twentieth century history that this book covers…  “The church in California grew and grew.”  There we go.  Really, there is just too much going on to coherently follow anything in the ~100 pages of this book devoted to the time period.  Some interesting snippets, but I didn’t get any impressions beyond growth.


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