Facial Hair Friday: Brigham Young

Today’s post comes from Thomas Richardson, an archives technician at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

It’s not everyday that someone receives the nickname “Moses” for their work. In the 1840s, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) embarked on a mass migration across the Great Plains into the Rocky Mountains. When they arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, Young was quoted as saying “This is the right place.” For this effort in organizing the mass migration of pioneers westward, Brigham Young has often been called the “American Moses.”

Brigham Young, ca. 1861-1865. (National Archives Identifier 94272071)

Young was born on June 1, 1801, in Vermont and moved to upstate New York in his childhood. He left home at age 16, becoming a carpenter’s apprentice. He worked a variety of jobs before moving to Mendon, New York, where he became friends with Heber C. Kimball (an early LDS church leader). On April 14, 1832, he officially joined the new church. He met Joseph Smith, Jr., the church’s president and prophet in Kirtland, Ohio, and within three years, Young was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. 

During the church’s early years, Young and other leaders moved to different states and counties almost constantly in accordance with mission work and harsh criticism from the public. Many people condemned the Saints and Joseph Smith and endured harsh retribution as a result. Smith was martyred in 1844, and for nearly three years, church leaders debated their organizational future. Young emerged as the new president in 1847. 

Between 1847 and 1858, Young oversaw the colonization of Salt Lake City and was appointed the first Governor of the Utah territory by President Millard Fillmore. Settlers built hundreds of roads, bridges, forts, canals, and post offices and formed a state militia. Young also served as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and after a handful of skirmishes, he established a relative peace among the Utah natives. 

In 1857, fears of an armed conflict between the LDS community and the federal government were rampant, and many prepared for war. Incidents like the Mountain Meadows Massacre worsened relations between the two parties, and in July 1857, an army expedition led by Col. Albert Sidney Johnston marched to Utah. Young organized defensive efforts and called up state militias across the territory. The short-lived “Mormon War” ended without any major battlefield confrontations, but in exchange for federal protection and no reprisals, Young agreed to step down as Governor of the Utah territory. 

Young served as president of the church for 29 years, the longest tenure of any church president. During that time, he oversaw the construction of Salt Lake City and church temples; fostered business ventures in the territory, especially railroads; and organized a school that later became Brigham Young University. He died on August 29, 1877, from a ruptured appendix and other gastrointestinal maladies. 

For his efforts in leading his people to a new homeland and creating a new community for his church, it’s no surprise that he got the nickname “the American Moses.”

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