As you may know, Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints, are not exactly well-liked by everyone. In fact, tensions have led there to be several conflicts between Mormons and fellow Americans, including the 1838 Mormon War, the Illinois Mormon War, and the Utah War. Our focus will be on the latter, as it involves the US government as a belligerent.
James Buchanan's presidency, Utah was considered a US territory and not
yet a state. In 1847, Mormon pioneers had settled in Salt Lake Valley.
Under the guidance of Brigham Young, the settlers petitioned to become a
US state and formed their own state constitution. Mormons were the
majority in the great Salt Lake Basin, where they resided, and President
Fillmore formally appointed Young as governor of the territory. Yet
tales of Mormon polygamy had given much of the country a negative
opinion of the Mormons, starting a controversy on the Mormon people
governing the Utah territory.
Many federal officials sent to
the Utah territory were prejudiced against the Mormons, and took issue
with the Latter-Day Saint's polygamous practices and the lack of clear
distinction between church and government. For their part, the Mormons
held a certain hostility for many government representatives who they
felt had chased them out of the eastern lands and forced them into the
Utah territory. When tensions rose and some federal officials moved back
East to avoid dealing with the Mormons, President Buchanan saw it as a
sign that the Mormons were getting too rowdy and rebellious.
replaced Brigham Young as governor with Alfred Cumming, and he sent
2,500 troops to accompany Cummings and oversee the turnover to new
leadership. Though these troops were ordered to not be on offense,
Mormons felt threatened. They felt that they would be oppressed, being
overtaken by a non-Mormon group, and they prepared to evacuate as well
as burn their own homes and crops in retaliation. Upon delivering this
message to the US army troops, US Army Captain Van Vliet stated his
support for the Latter-Day Saints and for the end of the Utah War.
battles actually occurred during this war. Frequently, the opposing
forces clashed. The Mormons raided from the US army troops, and the US
army troops fired some shots at the Mormons, killing no one. In November
of 1857, Cumming declared that Young and his followers were guilty of
treason and prepared to attack. In the winter, negotiations began, and
Young traveled with US army troops to formally hand over leadership to
Cumming. Following this, Cumming became a moderate voice against the
more anti-Mormon voices amongst the community. Nearly 30,000 people were
relocated as Young's followers moved South and away from their former
territory. Buchanan pardoned the Mormons from the treason charges, which
Young happily accepted while denying that Utah had ever rebelled
against the government.
Ultimately, the US troops saw
casualties of less than 50 men, while the Mormon casualties are unknown.
Upwards of 100 civilians were also casualties in this short war.
Sources: Wikipedia, Smithsonian Mag, Info Please, History to go