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Earliest Mormon Newspaper in Utah
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Reports proceedings of the Mormon Church, Indian attacks, missionary activities in London, international events such as the Crimean War, and the first laying of stone for the Washington Monument. Front page includes excerpts from History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, later published in full by the Deseret News itself, and a “Discourse” by church leader Heber Kimball.

[UTAH/MORMONS]. Newspaper. Deseret News, No. 23. Great Salt Lake City, Utah. August 17, 1854.

Inventory #21713       Price: $1,000

Historical Background

The first prophet and leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), Joseph Smith, Jr., was murdered in Carthage, Illinois in 1844. A central theme in the early history of the Mormons was the unwillingness of American society to tolerate their presence. Brigham Young acceded to Smith’s leadership role as President of the Council of Twelve Apostles, and determined to form a new state in the Mountain West. Young brought the first band of pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley in July, 1847, when Mexico still theoretically ruled the territory. Over the next two decades, more than 70,000 followed.

In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo secured American control of the Mountain West. Utah Territory was established as part of the Compromise of 1850. With cooperative labor and cutting-edge irrigation techniques, the Mormons established settlements at the Great Salt Lake and throughout the Mountain West, from Idaho to California to Mexico. Fillmore was the territorial capital between 1850 and 1856. Young called their vast territory “Deseret,” a word Joseph Smith had taught meant honeybee. The work of bees provided a metaphor for the cooperative labor necessary for the Mormons’ pioneer society to survive.

By the order of the Council of Twelve Apostles, William Phelps had purchased a printing press for Deseret, and Howard Egan brought the equipment and supplies in a yoke of wagons in 1849. With this press, Deseret printed its first currency, made possible by the participation of many Mormons in the first year of the gold rush in California. Young and the Mormon political leaders also used the press to print a territorial constitution and publish the earliest laws.

Just a year later, in 1850, territorial Secretary of State Willard Richards wrote the prospectus for what he called the Deseret News, the first newspaper of the territory, and published the first issue on June 15. “If Brigham Young was the Washington of Deseret’s pioneers,” Wendell Ashton writes, “William Richards was the Franklin.” Richards’ masthead proclaimed “Truth and Liberty” as the values of his paper. His shop was located in the mint building in Great Salt Lake City, even though the capital was at Fillmore until 1856.

When Richards died in 1854, Young instructed Albert Carrington to assume the position of editor. In the mid-1850s, conflict between Deseret/Utah and the U.S. government intensified, based in part on mainstream opposition to the Mormon practice of plural marriage (polygamy).

In 1857, the U.S. government sent military personnel under future Confederate general Albert S. Johnston—the “Utah Expedition”—to take down Brigham Young, end Mormon rule, and install Alfred Cumming as the new territorial governor. That year, Mormon militia and Paiute Indians killed 120 immigrants from Arkansas in what has become known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Johnston and Young reached an accord whereby Cumming became territorial governor but Young retained de facto power over the territory.

References

Ashton, Wendell J. Voice in the West: Biography of a Pioneer Newspaper (New York, 1950).


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