Review of Desert Saints by N. Anderson.
This book began as a community study of a town in the southwest corner of Utah where the author, himself a Mormon, had lived, and in which there was an abundance of documentary records. Whether the material available was not enough for a book or whether the interest of a loyal son of the church led him to want to tell the story of his people, the result has been an-other history of the Mormons from the first vision of Joseph Smith to the present time-an account told with due regard to sound historical methods and with admirable objectivity.
The story has been told many times, oftener by foes than by friends, but it is a thrilling tale by whomever told. Joseph was not fifteen years old when he saw his first vision and only seven-teen when the angel Moroni told him where the golden book lay buried. He was not allowed to see it until he was twenty-one, but by the time he was twenty-four the translation was published and is still the Holy Scriptures of the Desert Saints. This was in 1830. One is surprised to read of the rapid growth of the sect, for an "army" of five hundred men was organized three years later to defend themselves against their enemies, and in 1838 there were some fifteen thousand who moved from Missouri to Illinois. And when the prophet was murdered by a mob in 1844, there were thirty thousand of the faithful around Nauvoo, in spite of many defections.
They marched across the desert, fifteen thousand of them in bands small enough to travel safely, and some of them pushed hand carts all the way. They were going to a foreign land-Mexico had not been conquered—and to an unknown destination. It is an epic story of courage, endurance, and devotion of which the Mormons are justly proud. They sought isolation for their theocracy and in a measure succeeded, but opposition and persecution was their lot for years to come.
Intimate glimpses of life under an ecclesiastical hierarchy are given in the material on the community mentioned above. One story, which the author had to question, is still believed and told. It concerns a good man who was derelict in his duty, since he had only one wife. Admonished by Brigham Young, he asked one neighbor for her daughter, but the daughter was too young. Another request for a daughter of an-other neighbor brought the same answer. Very shortly after, one of the mothers appeared, telling how she and her husband had prayed and felt it was God's will that the girl should marry him. Immediately the second mother appeared with an identical story. When all was explained, he married them both, and he left many descendants. And so did many others. There is a group photograph of the Terry family. Father Terry has today more than nine hundred living descendants. The first wife is responsible for about six hundred, for she had twelve children. Brigham Young encouraged polygamy to in-crease the Mormon population, and his success is undeniable.
The sociological interest in the book is secondary to the historical account, but there is much on the sociology of religious sects which will interest scholars. And, because the book is happily free from the technical jargon some-times encountered, the book will interest and profit anyone who wishes to read a fresh account of this unique chapter in our national past.
Lake Forest, Illinois