Using six decades of research, historian William MacKinnon has created a masterful two-volume documentary history of the Utah War. In creating this helpful collection, he did not reprint documents that were overly long or readily available from other sources. The two volumes tell “the story of the Utah War’s origins, prosecution, and impact” and highlight “a crucial crisis in the history of the Mormon people” (part 1, 12).
In part 1, MacKinnon describes “an escalating series of incidents” involving “virtually every aspect of federal-Mormon interface: the quality of mail service; the jurisdiction of county, territorial, and federal courts; the evenhandedness of criminal justice; [and] Indian relations” (part 1, 43). He identifies the territorial resolution of January 6, 1857, as a pivotal moment; the resolution declared, “We will not tamely submit to being abused by the Government Officials, here in this Territory; they shall not come here to corrupt our community, set at defiance our laws, trample upon the rights of the people, [and] stir up the Indians” (part 1, 71). Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson called the resolution “a declaration of war” (part 1, 102).
In part 2, MacKinnon documents Kit Carson’s claims that Mormons tried to persuade Colorado Utes to join forces with them; the US Army’s exploration to see if the Colorado River could become a supply route; and Brigham Young’s proposal for a “Standing Army of Israel” (part 2, 67). MacKinnon discusses US senator Sam Houston’s support of the Mormons and Utah Territory Supreme Court chief justice Delana R. Eckels’s attempts to “poke the bee hive” by prosecuting polygamy (part 2, 385). The book offers ample evidence that the territorial governor Alfred Cumming was more articulate and politically adept than earlier historians have given him credit for. The illuminating analysis of the Utah War in the “Conclusions” section is alone worth the price of the volume.
Although some readers may quibble with the books’ interpretations, MacKinnon has performed a remarkable feat in finding and reproducing these vital documents. These books will appeal to readers who are interested in learning about Mormon history, the Utah War, Manifest Destiny, and the colonization of the American West.