Young, Brigham (1801-1877), led the Mormons from Illinois to what is now Utah, and established their church there. Young was the second president of the Mormon church, which is officially called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He became the Mormon leader in 1844, after Joseph Smith, the church founder, was shot to death. Young was a tireless worker. A strong will, engaging personality, and deep convictions made him an outstanding leader.
Early life. Young was born in Whitingham, Vermont. His father, a farmer, had fought under George Washington during the Revolutionary War. In 1804, Young's father took the family to western New York. Young spent most of his early years on his father's farm. He attended school only about 12 days. As a young man, he worked as a painter, glazier, and carpenter. In 1829, Young settled in Monroe County, New York, near Joseph Smith's home. He studied Smith's religious teachings and was baptized into the church in 1832. In 1833, he joined the Mormon settlement at Kirtland, Ohio.
Mormon leader. The Kirtland community broke up, and non-Mormons (called "gentiles" by the Mormons) drove them from Independence, Missouri, in the 1830's. Young, Smith, and other church members then settled in Far West, Missouri. Anti-Mormonism also developed there, and non-Mormons imprisoned Smith and other leaders on what Mormons believe were false charges in 1838. But Young led between 5,000 and 8,000 Mormons to safety in Illinois.
Young was one of the church's most successful missionaries. From 1839 to 1841, as a missionary in Britain, he converted many people to his faith and arranged for them to come to the United States. Young was preaching in New England in 1844 when Joseph Smith was shot by a mob at Carthage, Illinois. Young hurried back to Illinois. Young made a powerful speech that rallied members of the church. He was the undisputed leader of the Mormons from then until his death.
Settles in Utah. Non-Mormons forced the Mormons to leave Illinois in 1846. Starting in midwinter, Young led his followers on a long journey across the Mississippi River and through Iowa to the region near present-day Omaha, Nebraska. But Young decided that there could be no lasting peace for his people until they were completely separated from the gentiles. So, in 1847, Young led an advance party of 148 Mormon settlers west to a previously planned refuge in the Great Basin. When the group arrived in the Great Salt Lake valley in what is now Utah, Young said, "This is the right place. Drive on." He supervised the migration of thousands of other Mormons to the valley. Young was formally elected president of the Mormon church in 1847.
The Mormons prospered in Utah. Under Young's leadership, they developed irrigation techniques, and parts of the barren desert blossomed into rich and fruitful land. The United States government established the Territory of Utah in 1850 and made Young its first governor. Young still found time to direct missionary work and set up hundreds of Mormon settlements in the West.
But the move to Utah did not end the Mormons' troubles. Gentiles came to the territory, and some who opposed them held political posts under the United States government. False reports circulated that the church was in rebellion against the government. These reports alarmed the federal government. In 1857, President James Buchanan replaced Young with a gentile governor and sent troops to Utah. The Mormons prepared to defend themselves, and the Utah War (also called the Mormon War) followed. However, no battles were fought between the Mormons and the federal troops. Although the Mormons raided some troop wagon trains as a delaying action, they then temporarily abandoned Salt Lake City to the army. The troops established a camp near the western mountains. During the winter of 1857 and 1858, Young and the federal troops discussed peace terms. The hostilities ended in 1858 when Young accepted the new governor and President Buchanan fully pardoned all concerned. Even though Young stepped down as governor, he remained the most powerful man in Utah until his death.
Young's place in history. Critics have accused Young of intolerance to opposition. Many people opposed his practice of polygamy. Young took a number of wives, 16 of whom bore him children. But Young's leadership and pioneering efforts rank him as one of the most important colonizers of the American West. Mormon history records that Young brought 100,000 people to the mountain valleys, founded more than 200 cities, towns, and villages, and established many schools and factories. A statue of Young represents Utah in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.