Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Brigham and bowie knife

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Brigham and the Bowie knife—threatening apostates?

A FairMormon Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims


One Nation under Gods, page 236 (paperback only)

After "relating a dream wherein he had slit the throats of two men 'from ear to ear' with a bowie knife" Brigham said: "I say, rather than that apostates should flourish here, I will unsheath my bowie knife, and conquer or die...Now, you nasty apostates, clear out, or judgment will be put on the line, and righteousness to the plummet."

Author's Sources


Endnote 52, page 561 (paperback only)

Detailed Analysis

There is also a man down the street who tried to exhibit the endowments to a party who was here. You will see what becomes of that man. Do not touch him. He has forfeited every right and title to eternal life; but let him alone, and you will see by and by what will become of him. His heart will ache, and so will the heart of every apostate that fights against Zion; they will destroy themselves. It is a mistaken idea that God destroys people, or that the Saints wish to destroy them. It is not so. The seeds of sin which are in them are sufficient to accomplish their destruction.

- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:262. (12 August 1866).

Once again, the lack of context distorts Brigham's intent. His speech begins by saying:

Let me ask this congregation, that portion of it that was in Jackson county; and again that portion that was in Kirtland in the days of Joseph, and in leaving Kirtland; then those that were in Caldwell and Davis counties, Missouri; then ask those who were in Nauvoo in his day, and after he was slain; these portions of my congregation which I have mentioned I will ask, what has produced your persecutions and sorrow? What has been the starting point of all your afflictions? They began with apostates in your midst; these disaffected spirits caused others to come in, worse than they, who would run out and bring in all the devils they possibly could. That has been the starting point and grand cause of all our difficulties, every time we were driven. Are there not witnesses of this, here?....
Now think a moment, reflect, and ask yourselves what do we see here? I am coming nearer home, I am coming to this place; what do we see here? Do we see disaffected spirits here? We do. Do we see apostates? We do. Do we see men that are following after false and delusive spirits? Yes. When a man comes right out, as an independent devil, and says, "Damn Mormonism, and all the Mormons," and is off with himself, not to Texas, but to California, (you know it used to be to Texas), I say he is a gentleman, by the side of a nasty sneaking apostate who is opposed to nothing but Christianity. I say to the former, Go in peace, sir, go and prosper if you can. But we have got a set of spirits here worse than such a character....
I heard that a certain gentleman, a picture maker in this city, when the boys would have moved away the wagon in which this apostate was standing, became violent with them, saying, Let this man alone, these are Saints that are persecuting (sneeringly). We want such men to go to California, or anywhere they choose. I say to those persons, you must not court persecution here, lest you get so much of it you will not know what to do with it. DO NOT court persecution....

Brigham has nothing violent to say about those who leave the Church, or say "Damn Mormonism, and all the Mormons," or who want to leave. Those of whom he is wary are those who remain among the Saints, "became violent with" the Saints, and who seek to "run out and bring in all the devils they possibly could." Brigham is announcing that the Saints will no longer tolerate violence and aggression from their enemies.

The dream: full context

Brigham tells of his dream, which reinforces this perspective:

I dreamed that I was in the midst of a people who were dressed in rags and tatters, they had turbans upon their heads, and these were also hanging in tatters. The rags were of many colors, and, when the people moved, they were all in motion. Their object in this appeared to be, to attract attention. Said they to me, "We are Mormons, brother Brigham." "No, you are not," I replied. "But we have been," said they, and they began to jump, and caper about, and dance, and their rags of many colors were all in motion, to attract the attention of the people. I said, "You are no Saints, you are a disgrace to them." Said they, "We have been Mormons." By and bye, along came some mobocrats, and they greeted them with, "How do you do, sir, I am happy to see you." They kept on that way for an hour. I felt ashamed of them, for they were in my eyes a disgrace to "Mormonism." Then I saw two ruffians, whom I knew to be mobbers and murderers, and they crept into a bed, where one of my wives and children were. I said, "You that call yourselves brethren, tell me, is this the fashion among you?" They said, "O, they are good men, they are gentlemen." With that, I took my large bowie knife, that I used to wear as a bosom pin in Nauvoo, and cut one of their throats from ear to ear, saying, "Go to hell across lots." The other one said, "You dare not serve me so." I instantly sprang at him, seized him by the hair of the head, and, bringing him down, cut his throat, and sent him after his comrade; then told them both, if they would behave themselves they should yet live, but if they did not, I would unjoint their necks. At this I awoke.

Brigham's dream leaves those who "are no Saints" and "a disgrace" alone. Even "mobocrats" do not stir him to act violently, only those who are an immediate threat to his wife and child. The dream about the violence applies only to "two ruffians, whom I knew to be mobbers and murderers, and they crept into a bed, where one of my wives and children were." Thus, these two characters are known murderers, and are putting Brigham's family at risk. "If they would behave themselves," concluded Brigham, "they should yet live."

To be left alone in safety

Brigham then makes this explicit in his concluding words:

I feel to say to Jew and to Gentile, Let this people alone in these valleys of the mountains, or you will find that which you are not looking for. We are on the Lord's side, and we have the tools to work with. But shall this people sink? No. The time has come that Israel shall be redeemed, and they never shall be trampled under foot again. Now is the time; Joseph told us, before he was killed, the set time to favor Zion had come. I want you to hear, Bishops, what I am about to tell you. Kick these men out of your wards. If you want to apostatize, apostatize, and behave yourselves. You shall not disturb my peace, nor the peace of this people....disturb not this community, or else you will find judgment is laid to the line. Do not court persecution, for, remember, you are not playing with shadows, but it is the voice and the hand of the Almighty you are trying to play with, and you will find yourselves mistaken if you think to the contrary. (emphasis added in all cases; ALL CAPS in original)

Once again, Brigham and the Saints want to be left "alone." If they apostatize and "behave [them]selves," no problems will come. But, the Saints on the frontier will not tolerate those who seek to use violence and terror to "disturb my peace, nor the peace of this people." His rhetoric is aggressive, but focused only on those who are acutely dangerous—a necessary stance when living on the nineteenth century frontier, where the only law and defense of the innocent was that which people could enforce themselves.