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19th Century Brigham Young Cornerstone Latter-day Saint History

How Well Do You Know Brigham Young?

There are scores of lesser-known facts from his life that range from coining the term “pony express” to getting a bad rap in the Journal of Discourses.

Brigham Young is one of the most well-known figures in the history of the American West. But there are scores of lesser-known facts from his life that range from coining the term “pony express” to getting a bad rap in the Journal of Discourses. Similarly, many popular stories about Brigham Young fall into the realm of myth. For example, you won’t find his hearse at Disneyland—and he didn’t miraculously leave room in the Salt Lake Temple for elevators.


Cornerstone content. This article is frequently updated.


Brigham Young sometimes acted out his sermons

Thanks to the shorthand notations of George D. Watt, we have an idea of the church president’s personality during speeches. Reporters like Watt often included not only the words of pioneer speakers, but also their body language:

Watt noted that Brigham Young sometimes acted out what he was saying, pretending to weep when he described people weeping—or searching his pockets when talking about searching for something. This is the closest we can get to their actual words.

What’s Noteworthy about the 1851 Missionary Journal of George Watt?

He had a “pulpit personality”

Brigham seemed to purposefully adopt an aggressive tone when speaking in his role as President of the Church. Chad Orton refers to it as Brigham’s “pulpit personality,” and admits that Brigham could sometimes be his own worst enemy. But there was also another side to Brigham:

What Latter-day Saints understood at the time, but is largely not understood today, was that along with his hard-speaking, law-giver temperament, Brigham regularly manifested a soft side that differed from this pulpit personality. They also knew from first-hand experience that many of the other stories about Brigham that people embrace today were also not an accurate reflection of the man.

Chad Orton Looks at Brigham Young in 40 Different Ways

Brigham once took on the appearance of Joseph Smith

Six weeks after the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham addressed the Saints. He and Sidney Rigdon both professed claims to the church leadership. Long story short, Brigham won the day. Many in attendance later said that Brigham took on the “mantle of Joseph,” and remarked that he both looked and sounded like the Prophet.

Fun fact: Two researchers believe that they’ve discovered a Joseph Smith photograph.


Brigham might have received a letter from one of your ancestors

If any of your ancestors lived in Utah prior to Brigham’s death in 1877, there just might be a letter from them in the Brigham Young Office Files.

The Church History Department has copies of almost 14,000 letters that people sent to the pioneer prophet. Many of them deal with people approaching the prophet with their personal problems. He received so much correspondence of this nature that historian Leonard Arrington called him the “Dear Abby” of the Utah Territory.


His missionary service continues to inspire Latter-day Saints

Brigham and several other prominent leaders left their families to serve proselyting missions in the early days of the church’s history. In 2004, Elder Russell M. Nelson used their examples to inspire contemporary Latter-day Saints:

No senior missionary finds it convenient to leave. Neither did Joseph or Brigham or John or Wilford. They had children and grandchildren too. They loved their families not one whit less, but they also loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him.

Inspiring Russell M. Nelson Quotes from Every General Conference

Brigham Young may have coined the term “pony express”

Brigham created a “swift pony express” company three years before the legendary Pony Express. “That idea of a pony express was likely already in circulation,” said BYU’s Devan Jensen. “However, Brigham Young was probably the first person documented to use that precise wording (in 1856).”

The short-lived Brigham Young Express and Carrying Company was a contributing factor in the Utah War.
The Brigham Young Express and Carrying Company included a “swift pony express” that predated the legendary Pony Express mail service by three years.

People want to know how Brigham Young died

The most common Google search query for the early Latter-day Saint leader is: “How did Brigham Young Die?” The real answer is that we don’t know. However, a contemporary analysis of the medical records suggests that Brigham died of a ruptured appendix.


And how many wives he had

The second-most common question about the prophet deals with how many wives Brigham had. For inquiring minds, most scholars put the number at 55 or 56.

Fun fact: Brigham had 56 children with 16 wives. According to Chad Orton, that also shakes out to 314 grandchildren and 703 great-grandchildren.


He received a letter from someone claiming to have seen the Bear Lake monster

The Bear Lake monster is the Utah-Idaho equivalent of the Loch Ness monster (some people even believe they’re the same creature). A report of a sighting crossed Brigham Young’s desk in 1874—about six years after the first eyewitness claim was published in the Deseret News.

William Budge, a Paris, Idaho resident who would go on to serve as a stake president, wrote about his encounter in a letter to the Prophet:

The monster, Budge claims, was seen by himself, William Broomhead, and Milando Pratt . . . He was soberly adamant that he and his companions had witnessed firsthand an unidentified animal of some sort moving in the lake.

Jay G. Burrup, “Gems from the Brigham Young Office Files.”

Brigham complimented the Tabernacle Choir 127 years after he died

Okay, so it wasn’t really him. But an actor dressed as Brigham Young gave a nod to the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square (formerly Mormon Tabernacle Choir) when it received an award in 2004.

“Handsome, aren’t they?” said actor James Arrington. “The first choir was not nearly as handsome. You look better fed, I’d have to say. And there’s not a beard among them, President (Hinckley)!”

Not to be outdone, the choir then sang “Happy Birthday” to the deceased prophet’s doppleganger.


There’s a reason he was called “Brother Brigham”

Brigham was exceptionally down to earth. His fellow Saints in Utah called him Brother Brigham because of his genuine love for them, along with his frequent personal correspondence and his willingness to roll up his sleeves and get to work.

“When Brigham asked people to do hard things, they knew he had set the example,” said Chad Orton. “He regularly did what many leaders would have left to others.”


He said that Joseph Smith didn’t write the Lectures on Faith

Generations of Latter-day Saints believe that Joseph Smith wrote the Lectures on Faith. Elder Bruce R. McConkie even lobbied to have them included in the Pearl of Great Price. However, historians don’t believe there’s any evidence to back up the assertion.

Interestingly, Joseph’s prophetic successor attributed authorship to an early member of the First Presidency:

Scholars who have examined the scant historical documentation argue that Sidney Rigdon was the author or at least a heavy collaborator in producing the lectures. Indeed, Brigham Young called them the lectures “Brother Sidney prepared.”

Church History Topics: Lectures on Theology (“Lectures on Faith”)

The prophet had a multi-layered personality

The Lion of the Lord has come to be known for his fierce rhetoric, but he could be equally passionate about the things of eternity:

At times, he displayed an intense spiritual fire, whether that manifested itself in speaking in tongues or through his discourses. He could also be incredibly down to earth. He danced with the Saints in the Nauvoo Temple and at Winter Quarters.

John Turner on Brigham Young

Brigham Young administered temple ordinances at Winter Quarters

The Latter-day Saint exodus from Nauvoo to the Great Salt Lake Valley included an agonizing layover in Winter Quarters. Historian Richard Bennett said that the temple endowment is part of what gave the pioneers the faith to endure their sufferings:

This also explains how it was that at Winter Quarters, Brigham Young began to offer temple ordinances of sealings and other blessings to a people in great suffering and need.


Brigham’s first marriage had a different tone than Joseph’s

Joseph and Emma Smith had their fair share of ups and downs. Polygamy brought them to the brink of divorce, but they constantly worked on their communication.

“I love that in Nauvoo, when Joseph and Emma had very little privacy, that they would take their carriage or ride horseback out into the country to have a private conversation and come to terms with each other,” said historian Jenny Reeder.

She also noted that Joseph shared more with Emma than Brigham was probably comfortable with:

I think [Joseph] still shared quite a bit with [Emma], more than what Brigham Young preferred. I think Brigham Young and Mary Ann Angell had a much more traditional relationship, that Emma, in a way, in her active participation may have threatened Brigham.

Jenny Reeder, The Remarkable Legacy of Emma Smith

Brigham’s conversion took time

The early Latter-day Saint leader was one of Joseph Smith’s most stalwart friends, but it took time for him to believe in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

“I examined the matter studiously, for two years, before I made up my mind to receive that book,” he said in an 1852 Deseret News Weekly article. “I wished time sufficient to prove all things for myself.”


He offered the dedicatory prayer for the Salt Lake Tabernacle

The Salt Lake Tabernacle took 12 years to build and was home to the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square for more than a century. Aside from the Salt Lake Temple, it’s one of the most recognizable early Latter-day Saint buildings.

Following brief opening remarks, and the singing of a hymn written by Eliza Snow for the occasion, Brigham Young offered a dedicatory prayer for the building on October 6, 1867. The American Moses included a plea that the pioneer saints could grow in holiness and unity:

We pray that the Holy Ghost may be given unto us to bring us unto all truth and holiness, to [enlighten] our understanding, to enlarge our views pertaining to [the] heavens and to [the] earth, and all creations of God, to inspire us to faithfulness, to [meld us] to a oneness so that we may be the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lost Sermons: Brigham Young, October 6, 1867, Transcribed by LaJean Purcell Carruth.

He had an expansive view of revelation

The Council of Fifty minutes are a gold mine for Latter-day Saint history. The records include details from meetings to draft a new constitution, plans to move to the American West, and even nuggets about theology.

In one instance, the minutes record Brigham’s statement to the council:

He supposed there has not yet been a perfect revelation given, because we cannot understand it, yet we receive a little here and a little there. He should not be stumbled if the prophet should translate the bible forty thousand times over and yet it should be different in some places every time, because when God [speaks], he always speaks according to the capacity of the people.


Brigham Young didn’t think the Joseph Smith Translation was complete

Brigham expressed some discomfort when early church leaders quoted from the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST):

Perhaps one of the most interesting moments in the history of the Joseph Smith Translation came when it was first published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1867. When some early leaders quoted from the 1867 edition in conference, Brigham responded by calling that edition into question and suggesting that the Prophet had not yet completed it and that it would not be used as the Bible of the Church.

Meet New Testament Scholar Thomas Wayment


Brigham thought of Zion’s Camp as a success

One of the most common misperceptions about Zion’s Camp is that it failed. However, while the participants didn’t accomplish their stated objectives, most of them—including Young—saw it as a success.

“They depicted it as a formative event in their lives where they clearly saw God operating on their behalf and where they were able to see Joseph Smith’s leadership up close,” said historian Matt Godfrey. “At least for most participants, the expedition was not a failure but a period of spiritual growth for them.”


He was the subject of the first newspaper Q&A

Brigham Young sat for a two-hour interview with the journalist Horace Greeley in 1859. Greeley went on to publish his account in the New York Tribune. “Today, historians consider it the first newspaper Q&A interview ever published,” said Peter Carlson.


He believed that God progresses in knowledge

The nature of God’s progression is an open question in Latter-day Saint theology. Brigham believed that God progressed in knowledge, while his doctrinal sparring partner, Orson Pratt, took the opposite point of view.

The debate has continued into the present day. “I found it interesting that Brigham Young . . . and Elder McConkie . . . disagreed about this issue,” said Tim Morrison in an interview about the first 60 years of BYU Studies Quarterly.


Brigham Young organized the only Latter-day Saint Civil War unit

The prophet authorized the only direct Latter-day Saint involvement in the Civil War, namely a unit of 120 men charged with protecting overland mail and telegraph stations from Native Americans:

The men performed their work admirably, encountered no real fighting, pursued only a few Indians, and received compliments from the United States government for their service.

“Chapter Thirty: The Civil War Period,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 381–91

He named a city after President Millard Fillmore

Brigham Young was appointed as the first governor the Utah Territory in 1851 by President Millard Fillmore. He went on to name Utah’s first territorial capital “Fillmore” after the the 13th president of the United States.


Brigham presided over the Salt Lake School of the Prophets

Joseph Smith originated the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio, in December 1832. The school disbanded in 1837, but Brigham Young reorganized it in 1867.

“Brigham Young revamped the school through his own vision of what he thought it should be at the time,” said Devery Anderson. “Times and needs had changed, and he saw no need to duplicate Joseph Smith’s exact format, but he was cognizant that the organization had been founded based on revelation and felt the need to honor that.”

Fun fact: John Taylor also organized a Salt Lake School of the Prophets in 1883. He took a different approach and attempted to restore much of Joseph Smith’s original philosophy.


He had a rough childhood

Brigham’s early years left something to be desired. He spent most of his youth in New York and had a challenging relationship with his father. “It used to be a word and a blow, with him,” Brigham once said. “But the blow came first.”


Brigham thought he was going to hell as a child

Physical abuse wasn’t the only negative aspect of Brigham Young’s upbringing. The future church president was also overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and perfectionism.

“I had not a chance to dance . . . and never heard the enchanting tones of the violin, until I was eleven years of age; and then I thought I was on the high way to hell,” he wrote in an 1854 edition of the Deseret News. “I shall not subject my little children to such a course of unnatural training, but they shall go to the dance, study music, [and] read novels.”


Brigham Young (and one of his clerks) gave his daughter the wrong name

Brigham’s daughter, Susa Young Gates, has a strange name. It wasn’t popular at the time (or any time), and there’s a reason it looks like someone accidentally left off the “n” in “Susan.”

According to biographer Romney Burke:

Susa was originally named Susanne after the midwife who delivered her. When Susa was an adult, her father Brigham Young insisted (erroneously) that he had named her Susan as an infant after his sister.

Susa acquiesced to his desires that she become Susan, but when Brigham’s will was read several months later after his death, one of Brigham’s clerks had mistakenly written her name as “Susa.

It was insisted that Susa sign all of the legal documents as “Susa,” and thus, she became Susa for the rest of her life.


Brigham Young didn’t miraculously leave room for elevators in the Salt Lake Temple

You’ve probably heard the legend: Brigham Young left large empty shafts in the shell of the Salt Lake Temple during construction. Many years later, the spaces turned out to be the exact size needed for modern day elevators.

Except they weren’t. And he didn’t.

“Elevators were invented 100 years before the temple,” said Keith Erekson, director of the Church History Library in Salt Lake City.

Erekson said that Latter-day Saints can be especially susceptible to religious myths when they assume prophets are perfect. “It also sets people up for a hard fall whenever they eventually learn that Joseph Smith and every other prophet made a mistake.”


He thought of handcarts as a trial of faith

Few things are more connected with the Latter-day Saint westward exodus than handcarts. However, while financial difficulties largely mandated the unique transportation choice, they weren’t the only rationale Brigham Young had in mind.

Come, Come Ye Saints by WIlliam Clayton evokes thoughts of pioneers suffering hardships as they crossed the plains while pushing handcarts.

He also wanted to fill the Salt Lake Valley with those who had the greatest faith. In 1885, Brigham and the First Presidency released an epistle in the Deseret News:

If any apostatize . . . so much the better, for it is far better that such deny the faith before they start than to do so, for a more trifling cause, after they get here; and if they have not faith enough to undertake this job, and accomplish it too, they have not sufficient faith to endure, with the saints in Zion, the celestial law which leads to exaltation and eternal lives.

Thirteenth General Epistle of the First Presidency, 29 October 1855.
Brigham Young and the First Presidency emphasize the importance of having "faith to endure" in an 1885 general epistle.
Brigham Young and the First Presidency emphasized the importance of having “faith to endure” in an 1885 general epistle.

You won’t find Brigham Young’s hearse at Disneyland

Brigham Young’s body was never transported in a horse-drawn funeral carriage after his 1877 death. That means the rumors you’ve heard about his hearse being located outside the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland aren’t true—because he never had one.


One of his biggest challenges was . . . Republicans

Just not for the reasons you might think. Historian Matt McBride says that Brigham Young’s three largest challenges in pioneer Utah were Republicans, money, and marriage:

I say this not to be provocative, but to point out how much things have changed in the past century and a half . . .

Americans of all political and religious stripes felt a similar disdain for the practice of plural marriage. But the Republican Party platform famously characterized polygamy as one of the “twin relics of barbarism,” and its party leaders in congress led the effort to introduce legislation that would place tremendous strain on the Church and its members.

Matt McBride, ‘Saints’ Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand

He had 10 siblings

The man most synonymous with pioneer polygamy came from a large family that included six sisters and four brothers:

  1. Nancy Young
  2. Fanny Young
  3. Rhoda Young
  4. John Young Jr.
  5. Nabby Young
  6. Susannah Young
  7. Joseph Young
  8. Phineas Howe Young
  9. Brigham Young
  10. Louisa Young
  11. Lorenzo Dow Young

He excommunicated his adopted son

John D. Lee was “adopted” into Brigham Young’s family through an early Latter-day Saint sealing ordinance. The prophet would go on to excommunicate Lee for his prominent role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Side note: Although John D. Lee’s membership was posthumously restored in 1961, historian Thomas G. Alexander says that it’s a mystery why Brigham waited so long to excommunicate Lee in the first place.


Brigham didn’t learn of the martyrdom until three weeks later

Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered in the Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844—but Brigham didn’t learn of the tragic events until July 16.

The news deeply affected him. Young later recalled:

I felt then as I never felt bef[ore]. My head felt as tho my head [would] crack.

Six Days in August: Brigham Young and the Succession Crisis of 1844

He testified of Jesus Christ

He spoke often about the importance of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and clamed that his knowledge of the Savior came from heaven:

I testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world; I have obeyed His sayings and realized His promises, and the knowledge I have of Him, the wisdom of this world cannot give, neither can it take away.

Brigham Young, the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, testifies of the living reality of the Son of God.

You can visit the Brigham Young winter home

Brigham lived in St. George during the winters months in the 1870s. In addition to remodeling the home, the Utah Territory governor constructed an office where he could see to Church business such as the construction of the St. George Temple and the settlement of Southern Utah. You can get a firsthand look of the Brigham Young home courtesy of a free in-person or virtual tour.


The prophet took shopping seriously

Joseph Smith taught Brigham the importance of eliminating poverty. The Utah prophet took the lesson to heart. He founded ZCMI in 1869 with the intent to increase economic parity among Latter-day Saint pioneers, even going so far as to threaten excommunication for those who didn’t shop at the Zion mercantile:

This sounds extreme to us today, but I think it indicates the seriousness with which Brigham viewed the system. He really did view this as an essential step to establishing Zion—and either you were in or you were out.

Jeffrey Paul Thompson, The History of ZCMI

He founded the Brigham Young Academy in response to secular trends in education

Brigham Young was troubled by attempts to separate education into separate realms of religiosity and secularism. He founded the Brigham Young Academy in response to these trends and envisioned an approach that avoided any instructional material which:

speaks derogatory of the Savior, of the prophets and of the bible; that misrepresents or speak lightly of the divine mission of Joseph Smith, or the principles of the everlasting Gospel, or that falsifies the history of the church.

Brigham Young, as quoted in “Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser.”
A BYU University Communications documentary about the founding of Brigham Young University and the school’s early history.

Brigham Young didn’t order the Mountain Meadows Massacre

Some think that Brigham Young may have ordered the Mountain Meadows Massacre. However, according to research presented by Richard Turley in Massacre at Mountain Meadows, the prophet wasn’t directly involved.

Historian John Turner came to the same conclusion in his biography, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, as did Thomas G. Alexander in Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith:

He did not order the Mountain Meadows Massacre. There is no evidence that he did so, and in fact, the currently available evidence leads to the conclusion that he did not.

Moreover, as early as 1859 he tried to make arrangements to bring the perpetrators to justice. He actually sent apostles to let them know that they must stand trial, and at least three of the major leaders hired attorneys in the belief that they would soon go to trial. Federal officials torpedoed his efforts.

Thomas G. Alexander, Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith

That doesn’t mean he was blameless

Brigham Young didn’t order the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but he set the stage for what happened in one of the worst slaughters in American history. In particular, Brigham’s fiery rhetoric during the Mormon Reformation inspired extremism and violence, including the September 1857 attack on the Baker-Fancher Party.

Historians Matt Grow and Jenny Lund discuss the life and character of Brigham Young, including the prophet’s regret for some of his violent rhetoric.

There is only one canonized Brigham Young revelation

Section 136 of the Doctrine and Covenants is the only Brigham Young revelation in the ongoing Latter-day Saint scriptural canon. “This inspired document soon became the revelation of the exodus, a message of enormous hope and encouragement,” said historian Richard Bennett, while serving as the president of the Mormon Trail Center in Omaha, Nebraska.


President Young avoided using the phrase “thus saith the Lord”

Many people have wondered why there aren’t more Brigham Young revelations in the scriptures—and why he didn’t preface commandments with “thus saith the Lord” like his prophetic predecessor, Joseph Smith.

Historian Christopher Blythe says that Brigham addressed his lack of dialogic revelations several times:

He explained that when a revelation was placed into the words of deity and the Saints were not abiding its precepts, they risked greater condemnation than if it was just given as encouragement from a church leader. He argued that the Saints should not expect new revelations when they hadn’t lived up to the “thus saith the Lord.


He believed that Jesus was married

Latter-day Saints have long debated whether Jesus was married—and the Lion of Lord thought that he was. “Brigham seems to have first suggested that Jesus was married in 1847,” said Blythe. “He told listeners that the scene of Mary washing the Savior’s feet was exactly like how other women would come meet their husbands after the resurrection.”


Brigham Young interpreted Lorenzo Snow’s couplet literally

Joseph Smith taught of humanity’s potential to become like God in his famous King Follett Discourse. However, it wasn’t a new idea for the early Latter-day Saints. Joseph had previously taught the doctrine and Lorenzo Snow produced a famous couplet explaining the same idea:

As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may become.

Lorenzo Snow

According to BYU philosopher James Faulconer, Brigham Young took both halves of the couplet literally:

One the one hand: There never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity.

On the other hand: [Eternal matter] is brought together, organized, and capacitated to receive knowledge and intelligence, to be enthroned in glory, to be made angels, Gods . . . . This is what you and I are created for.

James Faulconer, Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse: Is it Central to Latter-day Saint Doctrine?

Visitors waited on a bench to see the prophet

James E. Faust gave a speech at Brigham Young University as a member of the First Presidency in 2001. He recounted President Howard W. Hunter telling a story about a man who wanted to see Brigham.

While the story is fascinating in its own right, President Faust included a small detail that conjures up images of what it must have been like to wait for a meeting with the pioneer leader:

In those days visitors sat on a bench and moved along the bench as they waited for an appointment with the president.

James E. Faust, “Brigham Young: A Bold Prophet”
An 1860 Charles W. Carter photograph of the Lion House and Beehive House. Brigham Young used the Lion House as an office. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He was suspicious of Freemasons after the martyrdom

Freemasonry played a significant role in early Latter-day Saint history, and many church leaders belonged to Masonic lodges. According to Cheryl Bruno, things changed after the death of Joseph Smith:

Many leaders—including Brigham Young—believed that Freemasons in Illinois and nationwide had conspired to kill Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and that non-Latter-day Saint Freemasonry operated contrary to the interests of the Church.

How Did Freemasonry Influence Joseph Smith?

Brigham’s rhetoric changed after the Utah War

The Utah War of 1857–58 had a softening effect on Brigham’s oratory. After a drawn out conflict with the United States soldiers sent by President James Buchanan, Brigham began to approach things differently.

“During the Reformation of 1856–57, Brigham Young preached Blood Atonement,” said Thomas Alexander. “After the Utah War, he began to preach peace and love, and he urged others to do so.”


Brigham didn’t have Joseph Smith killed

Contrary to what you may have seen in FX’s Under the Banner of Heaven, there’s no evidence that Brigham Young tried to have Joseph Smith killed.


Brigham had nearly a dozen counselors in his First Presidencies

Brigham Young had 11 counselors during his time in the First Presidency from 1847–77:

  • Heber C. Kimball
  • George A. Smith
  • John W. Young
  • Willard Richards
  • Jedediah M. Grant
  • Daniel H. Wells
  • Joseph F. Smith
  • Lorenzo Snow
  • Brigham Young Jr.
  • Albert Carrington
  • John W. Young

His conflict with Emma Smith may have impacted the Relief Society

The minutes from the first meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo illustrate Emma Smith’s leadership. They also represent the Prophet Joseph Smith’s only recorded teachings specifically for women. However, Brigham’s friction with Emma may be one reason that he called for a temporary (but long-lasting) cessation of Relief Society meetings after the martyrdom:

Tensions between Brigham Young and Emma Smith, Joseph Smith’s widow and president of the Relief Society, likely fueled Young’s concern about Relief Society meetings.

The First Fifty Years of Relief Society


Brigham asked Eliza Snow to restart the Relief Society

The prophet commissioned Eliza Snow to reorganize the Relief Society in 1867. “She spent the rest of her life teaching, exhorting, and administering to women in many ways,” said historian Lisa Olsen Tait in an interview about women and the priesthood.


Young wasn’t happy that Orson Pratt published the plural marriage ceremony

Orson Pratt published the verbatim plural sealing ceremony in his periodical, The Seer. It included “descriptions of the actions taken by the first wife, groom, and plural-wife-to-be during the marriage.”

Historian Brittany Chapman Nash said that Pratt “did history a great favor” by publishing the account, but added that it was “all much to Brigham Young’s chagrin.”


He gets a bad rap in the Journal of Discourses

George Watt did modern readers a solid by recording Brigham Young’s body language, but he was far from perfect. In fact, shorthand transcriptions from reporters like Watt are one of the primary reasons that Brigham gets a bad rap in the Journal of Discourses.

It’s highly likely that every discourse in the 26-volume series contains serious mistakes. “It is very, very common for these errors to be significant,” said LaJean Purcell Carruth.

A sample transcription from the Journal of Discourses illustrates additions and deletions made by recorders such as George D. Watt and David W. Evans
Shorthand reporters like George Watt often crossed out Brigham Young’s words or added comments of their own in published versions of the Journal of Discourses.

“Brigham Young—as he really spoke, according to the original shorthand records—was a powerful speaker,” said Carruth. He comes across as a kinder person when you look at his actual words:

Watt also changed many of Brigham Young’s questions to statements. Those modifications obscured his intent, making him come across as accusatory when in fact he was quite understanding.

Brigham Young’s actual words, according to the shorthand record, present a much kinder, more thoughtful man than what we have in the Journal of Discourses.

LaJean Carruth, “What’s Really in the Journal of Discourses?”

Richard Bushman thinks that Young is a “fall guy”

Latter-day Saint history entered a new era when Richard Bushman published Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. The historian continues to produce scholarship, and has a book on the gold plates in the works.

Among his current thoughts are that Brigham Young is unfairly treated. “My heart goes out to Brigham right now,” Bushman told the Salt Lake Tribune. “He’s becoming the fall guy. We really need someone to go through his biography and treat the latter half of his life empathetically.”


Brigham isn’t buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery

The Salt Lake City Cemetery is home to the gravesites of 12 Latter-day Saint prophets, but Brigham Young isn’t one of them. His resting place lies in an alcove about two miles to the west, next to an apartment complex named in his honor.

Most of the graves in the Brigham Young Family Cemetery are unmarked, but those with names include several of his wives and children:

  • Lucy Ann Decker
  • Emmeline Free
  • Eliza R. Snow
  • Joseph Angell Young
  • Alice Young Clawson

He was almost on the hook for a big tax bill

The government’s Internal Revenue Assessor tried to make early Church leaders pay taxes on tithing. Interestingly, Brigham Young would’ve been personally responsible for the initial $60,000 bill. According to Samuel Brunson, the Church went so far as to instruct local leaders to stop collecting tithing until the matter was resolved.


Brigham didn’t get along with Jim Bridger

Brigham Young and Jim Bridger met only once (so far as we know). They camped together on the evening of June 28, 1847, and Bridger detailed his knowledge of the great basin. They exchanged courtesies the next morning, with Bridger inviting Young to his fort, and Young writing Bridger a pass to ride the Latter-day Saint ferry.

The meeting went well, but the relationship soon soured. For reasons we don’t know, Young became suspicious that Bridger was plotting against the pioneer saints. The mountain man tried to explain the misunderstanding in a letter to “The President of the Salt Lake Valley,” but his claims of innocence fell on deaf ears.

Brigham once stated, “I believe I know that Old Bridger is death on us, and if he knew 400,000 Indians were coming against us, and any man were to let us know, he would cut his throat.”

The Latter-day Saints acted on the prophet’s animosity numerous times throughout the years, culminating in the seizure of Fort Bridger while the mountain man looked on from a hiding spot with a spyglass.


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By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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