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
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.