On May 10th at Promontory Summit near Brigham City, Utah, visitors celebrated the 138th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike which completed the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The day before the commemoration Lee Benson of Deseret Morning News wrote an article he titled “138 years makes a big difference.” Commenting on the fact that Utah’s governor would be attending the festivities at one of two Utah celebrations this year, Mr. Benson wrote,
What a difference 138 years makes.I bring this up because on May 10, 1869, the last place you would have found the leader of Utah’s people, Brigham Young — he wasn’t officially governor but as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he might as well have been — was at the ceremony of the golden spike.
The Mormon leader purposely stayed away from Promontory Summit that day. He left instead for southern Utah, removing himself as far as possible from the historic event.
He had 1.2 million reasons.
That is how much money he claimed the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads owed Mormon workers who helped build the railroad.
As Mr. Benson tells the story, he explains that the railroads ran into money problems and stopped paying the Mormon workers. But the railroad executives reassured Brigham Young:
“You will be paid, be patient,” Durant and Stanford told Young, who turned around and told his Mormon laborers the same thing.But they never were…
Attempts by Young to recover anything — even at pennies on the dollar — were rebuffed.
One small concession by the railroads was that any Mormon who had worked on the railroad could ride free to California.
Other than that, nothing.
According to the Utah Historical Society, Mr. Benson has got it wrong. A lesson plan (pdf file) for students and teachers provided by the organization says this:
After the rails were joined, the Union Pacific’s financial problems continued to grow. Aside from resources Durant had siphoned off, contractors had stolen much material that the UP had paid for, or at least signed for. Among the many creditors was Brigham Young, who bombarded the company headquarters in Boston with demands for payment in full. The UP had no money, but it did have equipment left over. Young was desperate to have a branch line, to be owned and controlled by the Mormons, running from Ogden to Salt Lake City. Finally, in September 1869 a deal was made. The UP gave the Mormons 4,000 tons of iron rail ($480,000), 144 tons of spikes ($20,000), 32 tons of bolts ($5,600), 4 first-class passenger cars ($5,000 each), second-class cars, mail cars, flatcars and boxcars. The total value that Young signed for was $599,460. The Mormons got started on their railroad immediately and had it in service in a few months.
Six hundred thousand dollars is nowhere near $1.2 million, but it’s certainly a far cry from “nothing.” Why is it that Mormon-told Mormon history is always exaggerating the “victimhood” of Mormons?
When I first read Mr. Benson’s article in Deseret News I had no notion that the report might not be accurate. I only researched the story a bit because it had reminded me of another event from Mormon history, this one coming in the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Most people who know about the Mormon massacre of 120 emigrants passing through Utah in 1857 are horrified by the murders and the treachery of those who did the killing. But many do not know much about what happened afterward. Seventeen young children had been left alive, orphaned after the brutal deaths of their parents. The day after the massacre Latter-day Saint John D. Lee disbursed the homeless children among Mormon households in southern Utah for care and feeding. The children remained in these Utah homes for two years.
In 1859, after much trial and effort, U.S. Indian Superintendent Jacob Forney recovered the orphaned children. The Mormons claimed the children had initially been taken captive by Native Americans, who required the Mormons to purchase the children if they wanted them. This was untrue; the children had never been outside the care of the Mormons. Nevertheless, according to Massacres of the Mountains,
…as if desirous of adding a little more to the awful infamy of this affair, all the Mormons who had custody of these children put in claims for the purchase-money expended in buying them from the Indians, as well as for their maintenance, the total claimed amounting to over $7000. Of this amount Forney paid $2961.77 for what he considered proper charges, and reported as to the rest that he “cannot condescend to become the medium of even transmitting such claims to the department.” (J.P. Dunn, 307)
Whoa. I think I’ll just stop here and leave it to you to sort out the implications.